Something Gray Chapter 22/26

This entry is part 22 of 26 in the series Something Gray
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Chapter 22
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A/N: Some dialogue taken from “New Moon Rising” (s4) by Marti Noxon and “First Date (s7) by Jane Espenson altered slightly for my purposes.

Willow and Tara spent a couple of intense nights ‘sussing things out’ as Spike had suggested.
“No wonder you were so scared of being around us! I still don’t understand why you believed you were a demon just because your czar of a father said so.” Willow had been moved to tears at the stories Tara had told of her childhood and her mother’s subjugation by a man far beneath her in mental and emotional abilities. Tara had been terrorized from the time she was old enough to be aware. The fact that the girl had survived at all, much less survived as a strong and intelligent person of integrity was astounding to Willow. Her attraction had grown by leaps and bounds.

By the time Tara admitted to being a lesbian and being attracted to her, Willow had already found herself hoping for just that thing. ‘Guess it isn’t just in an alternate universe where I’m kinda gay,’ she marveled.

Willow shared her own past as a misfit who’d come into her own as the Slayer’s sidekick. She told Tara all about Oz and how her heart had been so badly broken by the boy, even though she admitted that Oz was still a decent male for all of it. “It was just the call of the wild, you know. He had a whole ‘White Fang’ moment and then just slunk off out of town instead of working it out. I could have forgiven him for Veruca, but I just can’t get past his not staying to make things right.”

The second night had led to the most amazing physical experience of either girl’s life. “Is it always like that? I mean, girl to girl?” Willow had surprised herself with the wild abandon she had shown with Tara. She had always been a bit shy and awkward with Oz, even after they had been together for a while.

“I don’t have much experience myself. I knew I w..w..was attracted to girls from the start. Boys always were so rough and shaped funny, but I think it’s special with you. Kind of like magic without doing magic.” Tara looked at her shyly from under her lashes.

“I want to make this more than an experience. I think I’d like to try for something more lasting,” Willow confessed. “Maybe we could look at a room off-campus and share. I don’t think Buffy will mind losing a roommate. I just like having something that’s all mine.”

“I am, if you want me… yours.” Tara blushed prettily. “Do you like cats?”

“In general or a specific cat?” Willow chuckled. “Why?”

“I thought we might get one since we won’t be in the dorms. I always wanted a kitty and since it looks like I may be getting everything I wanted, why not a cat?” Tara took Willow’s hand and clasped it firmly.

“I think it’s about time you get everything you want. I’m just glad I’m one of those of things.” Willow squeezed her hand in return.

The giddy girls were walking hand in hand on the cloud of early romance as they headed towards Giles’ apartment. Buffy had called for the group to gather right away. Much to Willow’s pleasure, Tara had been included in the invitation. Perhaps it wouldn’t be as hard to reveal her new love as she had feared.

“I’m so happy your friends want me to be part of the group. So what’s the meeting about?”

“Don’t know. Buffy was all tight-lippy, but she sounded really anxious. An anxious Slayer is not a good Slayer either. I’m thinkin’ another apocalypse.” Willow furrowed her brow in worry.

“I never knew you could have more than one. My old Sunday School teacher would be shocked,” Tara broke into giggles, “Of course, she’d be shocked by everything in my life, for that matter.”

Willow joined in the laughter. “We usually have at least one a year. For some reason they happen in May and usually on a Tuesday, but I haven’t figured out why for the timing. I’m thinking it might be something to do with the planetary alignment or something like that. It gets kinda quiet with demon activity in the summer and that’s another puzzle.”

“Maybe demons go away on vacation in the summer?” Tara teased.

They were still smiling at the thought of beachcombing Fyrals and fungus demons as they entered the somber chambers of Buffy’s former Watcher.

Tara’s eyes immediately were drawn to Riley Finn, who was perched on the arm of the chair where Buffy sat. She could tell that the young soldier was more than slightly interested in the Slayer, even though Buffy gave no sign of noticing his interest.

“Now that everyone has arrived,” Giles began, “let’s get right to it, shall we? Riley has discovered that our information is correct and the doctors in his organization are more than prepared to look upon Buffy as just another Hostile to be examined.”

“I was shocked!” Riley had tried hard to disprove the accusations only to have Maggie Walsh admit to them herself, and with pride. “I don’t think they know I disapprove; I can disguise my feelings pretty well. I still haven’t got anything in black and white though.” He lightly touched Buffy’s shoulder and vowed, “I swear I won’t let you get hurt, Buffy.”

“Slayer here,” Buffy reminded him with a smile. “Kinda able to take care of myself.” She saw the disappointment and hurt on Finn’s face and added, “But I appreciate the thought.” She moved from under the hand that he had let linger on her shoulder.

“Fine, then. Riley will continue to try to find the concrete evidence we need to insure the Council will chose to act on Buffy’s behalf and we shall endeavor to keep her from harm’s way in the interim.” Giles nodded to the commando. He felt a bit uneasy trusting this fresh-faced newcomer. Something about the boy didn’t seem as straightforward as one would think. “I believe we should continue to explore our other options in that regard at the same time. It never hurts to have a secure backup plan.” He looked pointedly at Willow and knew she understood that she was to continue her attempts to hack into the Initiative’s computer system.

“On it,” Willow assured him. “My laptop’s back in fine form, so no more long nights at Mrs. Summers’ gallery.”

At a look from Giles, Willow swallowed back any further information about her assignment.

“Tara, have you been troubled by those ruffians since we spoke with them?”

“No. Well, I have seen them both on campus. The coach won’t even look at me, but the boy who was so scary…” Tara shuddered, “I don’t think he’s going to let it drop, not for good anyway. He just looks at me like he hates me and then smirks.”

“Perhaps another visit is in order,” Giles mused. “I’m certain Spike will want another go at the bounder.”

“Where is the evil undead anyway?” Xander piped up. “He’s been noticeably missing lately and I don’t want to break out the party hats too soon if he’s just off on a drunken binge or something like that. Please tell me he got a call from Dru and left town!”

Buffy was frowning at the mention of the vampire she had just started to really see as an individual. “I don’t know where he is. I haven’t seen him in a few days. I stopped by his crypt to see if he wanted to patrol with me, but he wasn’t there. I’m kinda worried.” She looked at Giles with wide eyes. “You don’t think that guy Steve found him, do you? Now that he knows Spike’s a vampire he might have used a stake this time!”

“It’s unlikely that any of those boys would have found Spike’s residence so quickly, but I will try to see if they are involved when I deal with the way they are still troubling Tara.”

Giles noticed how concerned Buffy appeared over Spike’s welfare and determined to speak privately with her when the meeting concluded. Accepting assistance from Spike was one thing, having his Slayer too emotionally involved with another vampire was quite another.

“Well, that was a thrilling hour!” Anya snarked. “I have precious little time alone with Xander as it is and if I’m going to give up valuable orgasm time for his demon hunting hobby, I’d hope for more than a ‘no progress’ report!”

“What is brewing is of utmost importance and we cannot afford not to keep abreast of any and all progress…,” Giles began in exasperation. As he was speaking, the door opened to reveal a short, sheepish young man with alarming orange hair.

“Hey,” Oz offered as a greeting. He glanced around the room noting the old and new faces. He began to look uncomfortable, as did his old friends.

“Oz,” Willow whispered and paled slightly, “When did you get back?”

“Pretty much now.”

“Are you here to stay or just doing a drive-by, ‘cause I gotta say I’ve missed the extra testosterone.” Xander beamed at his friend.

Introductions were made swiftly and Oz was brought up to date on the Initiative situation.

“So…um…you didn’t answer Xander’s question. Are you staying for a while?” Willow was torn between elation that Oz had returned at all and the angst she could feel pouring off Tara, who had yet to speak a word.

“Thought I’d crash at Devon’s, but I was hoping we could talk later.” Oz was not sure how welcome he was going to be, considering the way things had ended between he and Willow. Still, he had left for the best of reasons and returned for even better ones. “It’s great to see you guys again. Let me know if I can help with the latest Scooby caper.” With that, Oz turned and left the gaping group.

Buffy laid a sympathetic hand on Willow’s arm. “You okay?”

Willow looked dazed. Tara backed quickly toward the door, nearly tripping on a footstool in the process. “I just realized…um….I’m late for a study group.”

“Wait! Tara, please wait!”, Willow rushed to her new lover’s side. “We need to talk too.”

~~~

After the two girls left, Buffy answered Riley’s questions about Oz and Willow and their breakup. “The thing is that before the breakup, they were doing great! I mean, she was totally dealing with Oz being a werewolf. It wasn’t even…..”

Riley looked appalled. “Oz is a werewolf? Willow was dating a demon? I thought she was smart! I didn’t think she was that kind of girl.”

Buffy’s mind flashed to Angel and also to her current undeniable attraction to Spike. Her hackles rose. “What kind of girl is that?” Her tone of voice should have alerted the soldier to her displeasure.

“You know, into dangerous bad boys.”

“Oz isn’t dangerous! He has the sweetest disposition of anybody I’ve ever met. What happened to him wasn’t his fault. God, I never thought you were a bigot too! I thought you were different–that’s why we thought we could trust you.”

“Whoa! How did this get to me being a bigot? I’m just saying it’s a little weird to date someone who tries to eat you once a month.”

“What’s so weird about someone eating…,” Anya began, only to have a horrified Xander put his hand over her mouth immediately.

“Time for us to go,” Xander herded his one-track minded girlfriend from the Watcher’s apartment as Buffy and Riley continued their argument about dating demons.

“Looks like I’ve got a lot to think over,” Riley said in parting as he huffed out behind them.

“Buffy, a word if I may?” Giles said as Buffy prepared to follow and continue her rant about Riley and his closed mind.

With a sigh, she sat back down and waited to see what Giles had to say about Oz’s return. To her surprise, his topic hit a bit closer to home than that.

“Buffy, it’s about Spike.” At her look of confusion, he closed his eyes and ventured into the breach. “I am concerned that your new open-minded approach to all things demon may be causing you to lose sight of the fact that Spike is an evil, soulless demon. A vampire much as Angelus was and therefore dangerous…even with the chip.”

“He can be a good man, Giles, I feel it. You’ve seen him lately. He’s helped out and he really cares about people…well, some people…okay, me and Tara and Mom.” Buffy didn’t want this discussion but knew there was no avoiding it. “He can choose good, just like Mom said, Giles. He’s never gonna get there if we don’t give him the chance though. You’re right, he doesn’t have a soul, nothing to help him know how to act. We have to show him. He wants to change, I know it.”

“Buffy,” he looked at her sadly, “I want more than that for you. Your feelings for him are coloring your judgement. I can hear it in your voice, see it on your face. You are beginning to care for him and that way lies a future filled with pain. I don’t want that for you. After Angelus, you should know how badly this will end.”

Buffy was annoyed. “Spike isn’t Angel or Angelus. He’s Spike; he’s different.” She rolled her eyes at the closed off look on her Watcher’s face. “You think I’m losing sight of the big picture, but I’m not. Spike was changing before the chip–ask Mom. Heck, just think back…do you know of any other vampire that would have come to join with us against Angelus? The chip is a muzzle and I think it was wrong–everything about the Initiative is wrong. You can’t beat evil by doing evil. I’m getting to know Spike, really know him as a person, not just a vampire, and I know we can count on him.”

Giles was exasperated. “Yes, you are relying on him and he is relying on you too. There is a connection between the two of you that only grew after that deplorable spell that Willow cast. I have eyes. I see far too much and all I can see is disaster!”

“You aren’t looking at the right place then.” Buffy rose and walked out before Giles could counter her argument.

~~~

“Tara, wait up!” Willow ran to catch up with the girl she had been looking at as her future. She could tell from Tara’s body posture that she had been crying. “Please, sweetie, just because Oz is back, it doesn’t have to change anything!”

“You still care about him though,” Tara said sadly. She could read the conflict in Willow’s eyes from a mile away. “That’s natural. It hasn’t been that long and you two were so close.”

“Oz and I have things we have to talk about and get some closure, sure, but I know what I want. You don’t think I just jumped into this relationship with you, do you?” Willow moved to draw Tara into a hug but pulled back seeing the tense set to Tara’s shoulders. “I can’t shut him from my life, but I don’t want to move backward. Being with you showed me things about myself, things I never knew or suspected. I think we have a chance for something wonderful between us and I don’t want to throw that away. Don’t give up on us now when we just became an us…please?”

“I’m scared,” Tara admitted. “No one has ever chosen me before. I don’t know if I can take it to have everything, everyone I ever wanted, only to lose you.”

“You haven’t lost me or anything else. “ Willow was never going to lie to this precious girl and certainly not about Oz. “Look, I have to talk to him. You’re right that we have a lot of history and we need to deal with all the ooky stuff from before he left. I’ll have coffee with Oz tonight and talk it out. I can’t promise I’ll tell him about you right away, but he’ll know that we aren’t just going to pick up where we left off. He lost that right when he left me like that.”

Willow squeezed her hand, begging Tara to understand what she didn’t fully understand herself.

~~~

Riley was seriously torn. On one hand, all of his instincts told him that the Initiative’s plans for Buffy were evil on a level he had never thought his organization capable. On the other hand were the murky values he was discovering in the very girl called to champion the cause of good. There was no question that he would do all in his power to prevent Miss Summers from being reduced to a lab specimen–or harmed in any way, for that matter–but he was less sure of becoming involved with a group of humans so willing to overlook the very nature of evil represented by demons.

He had done the right thing in reclaiming Hostile 17. The creature had insinuated itself into that small band of demon fighters and clearly muddled their thinking. Even chipped, the beast was a threat to all that was good and decent.

Riley thought back to the various vampires the Initiative had studied and the mistakes made along the way. He wondered if the doctors had remembered to keep the internal organs attached during the vivisection they had scheduled. He had other things planned for the vampire before it could be vacuumed up with the rest of the trash.

‘Now there’s a werewolf in town too and it’s a friend of Buffy’s,’ Riley brooded. ‘Can’t let that just run tame, but I really don’t want to make an enemy of the girl. Wonder if there’s a Frankenstein monster in this town too?’

“Yo, Ri, how they hangin?” Forrest smacked his fellow soldier so hard he nearly knocked him over. “Any progress on the hot girl safari? I mean Wonder Woman isn’t my bag, but I can get down with the serious babe factor.”

“Buffy’s just a friend,” Riley said dejectedly. “Besides, I’m her TA and as much as that’s just my cover, I don’t want to lose my position by breaking that rule.”

“Right!” Forrest chuckled, clearly not believing a word. “That vamp you brought in has made for one happy mamma. Who’s mom’s favorite boy now?” He grinned as he teased his comrade. “That one has lived longer than any of the other chipped things so far. The med staff is in heaven checkin’ that one out. Bet you could even get some extra R&R time if you asked right about now, bro.”

“Don’t need the time. I’m due to head back to Iowa on leave pretty soon and that’s plenty. Got a mission to take care of, after all,” Riley replied with a glum voice.

“Well, I’m planning a trip to Florida and some of that ‘Girls Gone Wild’ action, if you know what I mean. Nothing like hot babes on a beach to make this soldier stand at attention,” Forrest grinned and nudged Riley. “You should tell the old folks you’ll see them next leave and go with us, man.”

“Naw, I love my grandparents. There’ll be hot babes enough later,” Riley had a mental flash of Buffy in a bikini and nearly groaned in want.

“Your loss, my gain, my man,” Forrest took the other pathway from the one Riley trudged. “Catch you later back at the house. Gonna do a last report for the day and see if there’s any special mission tonight. Got a party to attend if we’re free.”

“I might join you there,” Riley offered. “I’m going to catch up with Graham and see if he’s managed to track that Y’shilac demon we nearly treed yesterday. Let Professor Walsh know we’ll be in before shift’s end–with or without the slimy thing.”

~~~

Willow sipped her cappucino and didn’t notice the froth on her upper lip until Oz gave her a half grin and wiped it off with his index finger. She blushed, suddenly gauche and young once more. It might be over, but Oz could still get to her with his quiet gentleness and humor. “This is all so weird. It feels kinda like a dream. I did dream of you coming back, you know, for a long time. I had to wake up though.”

Oz grimaced. He had a feeling things weren’t going to go as well as he had hoped.

They sat at an outdoor table at the Espresso Pump with an awkward tension between them that was foreign. Clearly they had both changed in ways they had yet to discuss. “Sorry.” As always, he used words as if they cost a fortune and he was on a budget. Maybe that had been the problem. When the words would have helped them traverse the rapids, his actions had plunged them into dangerous waters.

Oz pointed up and smiled, “Look at the sky.”

Willow looked and noted, to her shock, the full moon. “How?”

“Did what I wanted. Leashed the wolf.” Oz was proud of his accomplishment even if it had come at such a dear cost.

“Where did you go?”

“Lots of places. Met lots of people, tried lots of things. Finally got the answers inside me,” Oz took a drink of his espresso and waited for her reaction.

“That’s wonderful! I’m so happy for you. Really.” Willow was in tears. Life was funny in a not so funny way. This was just the latest example for her to stumble over.

“I talked to Xander,” Oz ventured. “He said you don’t have a new guy.”

“No new guy,” Willow agreed. “Oz…we’re both different. Things have happened. You found something new about yourself that lets you not go all wolfy…and I’ve discovered some things about me too.”

“That’s what college is all about. Mine just turned out to be Tibet and a bunch of monks.”

Willow squeezed his hand. “Look at the world traveler! I’m still just the small town girl who dabbles in computers and magic.”

“You’ll never be a ‘just’ ,” Oz said with an intense gaze. “Nice new friend.”

Willow nearly jumped. “You mean Tara? Yes, the nicest! We’re getting an apartment off-campus.”
Oz nodded but said nothing.

“Oz, I need to just come out and say it.” Willow steeled herself for a bad reaction. “I don’t have a new guy, but I do have someone new. Tara.”

Oz didn’t blink an eye at the revelation.

“She’s special. We connected right away. It was like finding a part of me that had been missing.” She noticed her former lover tensing just before the handle on his cup snapped. “I don’t want to hurt anyone–not you, not Tara!”

“My fault,” Oz muttered. “Meditated a bit too long, I guess. Thanks for the talk. You’re looking fine.”

Oz rushed from the coffeehouse blinded by tears. He could feel his control slipping as he ran. ‘Gotta get somewhere safe!’ All too quickly he could feel the change come over him as bones moved and an ancient presence took control of his mind and body and Oz knew no more..

Originally posted at http://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/200753.html

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