Title: As He Holds Her (Holding: Tara's Remix)
Fandom: Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Title and URL of Original Story: “Holding”:
Author and Website of Original Author: Izhilzha: http://www.fanfiction.net/u/161888/
Summary: In the aftermath of “Grave,” Xander is watched by a loved one as he watches over Willow.
Time Frame: Just after “Grave,” with spoilers for the first six seasons of BtVS. Also contains story elements relating to my story "We Wait," which can be found under my author name at fanfiction.net.
Disclaimer: They're all Mr. Whedon's--I'm just having a quiet moment with some of them.
Rating: PG-13, for themes and language.
My thanks to Izhilzha for providing a lovely story for me to remix. :-)
AS HE HOLDS HER
He doesn't know I'm here. Which is not a big shock, really. I mean, hello—invisible and incorporeal here. But the way I really know that he's clueless about my presence is that I can see the pain on his face. If he knew that I was here, or if Willow was awake, he'd never let either of us see it. That's my girl's best friend—it takes something like a troll intentionally breaking his wrist to get him to scream, and even then it took a conspiracy between me, Willow, and Anya to get him to actually take a few days to deal with that brutal injury. Glory broke my hand before she scrambled my marbles—I know how much pain he was in. He thinks he's alone, so he's letting his guard down.
I look at him and wince as I watch him cradling Willow gently as he twitches in pain. He's bruised in several places—he took some shots even before he confronted Willow, and never even paused. Willow's assault on him was a relatively feeble one from the beginning—she could have vaporized him on the spot if she really had wanted to—but I can see the scorch marks on his clothing and see the dark stains that suggest some painful if not life-threatening burns lie beneath. Even dead, I can still read an aura with the best of them, and that ability is telling me that Xander needs several days of bed rest at least—preferably at a hospital. Mind you, I know it probably won't happen—knowing Xander, even if everyone else is alive and well, he'll insist on watching over Willow instead of dealing with little things like keeping from going into lethal shock. Damn it, there are times I wish that I had been the one dating him all these years, so I could have the best opportunity to kick his ass for pulling stupid stuff like this. All right, so it saved the world this time. Again. Doesn't mean I have to like it.
Willow shifts slightly in Xander's arms. Her face looks almost peaceful—a startling contrast from the sight that had met my newly incorporeal gaze after I had fallen lifeless to the floor in the master bedroom of the Summers house. In the instant of my death, I heard a quiet voice saying, “Tara—your time as a living human being has finished its span. You may go on to the reward that your deeds have earned you—or you may linger, so as to bear witness to what is to come and to possibly aid when the circumstances permit. Choose wisely.”
It was an easy choice, and made more so by the confirmation of what Buffy had told us—there was something better waiting for us on the other side. I could see how knowing that might make someone stop caring about what happened on this earth after they died. . .but it just made me want to try harder before I had to leave for good. I called out my answer, and my vision cleared to a horrible sight: Willow holding my body with eyes that had gone black with dark magic and rage.
I had two companions—a dear friend and mentor, and the lost love of another friend and mentor—and we watched helplessly as Willow rampaged. By unspoken agreement, we split up, though we ended up coming back together as the subjects of our observation converged on the Magic Box. The feeling of helplessness grew as Willow overwhelmed the others, and I feared all was lost when Giles' unexpected entrance shocked everyone in the shop—living and dead. I could see Jenny's relief when Giles bound Willow—but I knew it couldn't last, and being unable to warn them was rather inconvenient when Willow mesmerized Anya. As the situation dissolved into chaos, we were divided again—leaving me to make the horrified realization of what the white magic that Willow drew out of Giles had done to Willow's mental balance in her dark magic addled state. Willow left Giles mortally wounded and diverted Buffy's attention with a trivial exercise of her powers. No one was left to stop her, and I despaired.
“Xander's a sweetie.” I told Willow that once, when I was still hiding what I believed to be my dark secret from everyone, and Willow wondered if Xander had said something to offend me. It's true—except for his occasional blowups with Buffy, he's probably the gentlest man I've ever known. It isn't a soft nice, though—if he thinks something is wrong he'll keep after you until you give it up. Even with Buffy. . .I think that the main reason he reacted so badly to the news she had been sleeping with Spike was guilt on his part that he had missed the signs. Looking back on it, it should have been obvious that Xander was going to be the one to save the day here. Willow wasn't hiding her intentions, and Xander knew where to find her. Willow had more raw magic than any being on this Earth, and Xander had nothing but his raw determination, tolerance for pain, and his love for a girl he had known since they were babies. She never had a chance, and—as she slumbers after having succumbed to absolute exhaustion from extreme magic use and bitter sobbing—she's never been safer than she is in his arms right now.
I hear a satisfied sigh next to me, and turn to see Joyce watching Xander and Willow with an expression fitting for the substitute mother she had been for both of them. She walks up next to me and reports, “The dirt monsters—I really wish that sounded more bizarre than it does—that were attacking Buffy and Dawn went poof when Willow gave up. Dawn managed to do a thing or two with a sword that had Buffy impressed. Another of my daughters keeping secrets from me—somehow, I just can't seem to get mad about it.”
A dark-haired beauty drifts into view, and Joyce and I unconsciously draw breaths that we don't need any more as Jenny comments: “Rupert will be fine—he wasn't hurt badly and the plan was for Willow to consume that light magic all along. . .nearly apocalyptic consequences notwithstanding. Anya is taking good care of him.” Her gaze falls on Xander and Willow, and she shakes her head in mild amazement as she whispers, “You always had a way of coming through when we needed it, Xander.” She moves over and crouches down next to the slumbering woman as she whispers, “You have a hard path in front of you—thank the Powers that you have some good people looking out for you.”
I see the affection on her face and mourn for a life cut all too short before practical matters urge me to pipe up: “Uh, it looks like the world isn't going to be incinerated right now—what comes next?”
“We wait for the others to find them.” Joyce looks out at the eastern horizon, where the sun is peeking out and casting golden rays on Willow's hair. I feel a pang for what I have lost as Joyce looks down at Xander's pained expression and adds, “Until then, I don't feel right leaving them alone. We have plenty of time to go over everything else later.” Jenny nods in agreement, and Joyce concludes, “We never know when we might be able to do something that helps—for right now waiting is the best thing for us to do.”
I see tears appear in Xander's eyes—they glitter in the sunlight as they splash into Willow's hair. I look at the others and nod as I reply to Joyce:
“The very best.”
Closing note: Aside from the original story, I borrowed some themes from “We Wait,” a story I wrote back in 2002:
I've always been fond of “Xander waits until he's alone to unload emotionally” stories, but this particular situation—along with my remembering “We Wait”--suggested to me that looking at the situation from a slightly different perspective might work.