Three Years in Hell, A Lifetime of Pain
By Bill Gopher and Red Demon
Pairing – Beth/Faith (well it will be at least! [g]), Willow/Tara
Spoilers - Not really, no. The story starts 3 years after what would have been Season 5. So everything after the beginning ep of Season 5 (The Freshman) never happened. Well mostly up to Season 5 everything stays the same, except for Faith that is [G].
Summary – This is an AU where Buffy is framed for the murder of Deputy Mayor Finch and ends up in the US Marines.
Feedback – Thoughts, ideas, suggestions, criticisms are all welcome at email@example.com .
“It reminds of us of all that was once good, and that could be again.”
James Earl Jones
Beth moved over to Giles and quickly checked his pulse while Anya pulled out the First Aid kit and handed Buffy some smelling salts.
Anya watched Buffy for a moment, “Have you killed anyone and should we expect the police anytime?”
Beth ignored the irritating ex-vengeance demon, “Giles it's me Beth, uhhmmm Buffy.”
Giles focused his eyes towards the voice and stared for several seconds. “Buffy, you're here,” he whispered and pulled Buffy into a tight hug. “I can't believe it, I thought I'd never see you again.” Giles felt Buffy stiffen but didn't say anything. Stepping back he looked at Buffy carefully; gone was the young girl he knew and loved as his own daughter. He saw her once long, blonde hair was now light brown and cut short, her features were more pronounced and chiseled, and her bearing was proud.
But it was the look in Buffy’s eyes that had him worried. She had changed, and not just in her physical appearance, but something on the inside. There was a hardness in her eyes that wasn’t there before and there was something else he couldn't put his finger on.
Beth had watched Giles step back and look at her carefully, she saw the pride in his face and she also saw a look of concern quickly flash on his features and was masked almost as quickly.
“Buffy how long have you been in Sunnydale?” Giles asked.
“Just a few minutes actually...”
“I need to know if I have to get the broom to sweep up all the donut crumbs from the police again.” Anya complained as she stood back and watched with her arms crossed.
“Anya do shut your bloody mouth for once and go away.” Giles said, annoyed.
Anya looked surprised at Giles' outburst, before she wandered away from the two of them.
“Do you need a lift to your house?” Giles asked.
Beth hesitated, unsure for a moment before answering. “Yeah.”
Beth pulled out her cell phone and dialed Taylor’s house as she sat in Giles’ car. Beth heard the click as the phone picked up and then the muffle of the phone being dropped.
Giles noticed the smile spread across Buffy’s face and wondered briefly whom she was calling.
“Hello, Taylor residence,” Beth heard the little voice recite the words she'd spent months trying to teach him.
“Hey Sammy, Its Auntie Beth.”
Giles frowned, [Auntie Beth?] but he saw the mischievous look as she spoke to this Sammy. For a moment she was the girl from three years ago and then it passed.
“Auntie Beth, hi! Are you coming over from the base today? Daddy’s having a BBQ.”
“No Sammy I can't come to your Dad's BBQ today.” A look of longing crossed Buffy's face for a moment as Giles watched her and then the playful smile returned.
“I'm visiting friends. But I promise to be back for your birthday.” Beth said.
“Awww, Auntie Beth. That's not for weeks and weeks!” Sammy complained, as his favorite playmate wasn’t going to be there.
“Yeah, but then you can show me all the stuff I missed out on while I was away.”
“Okay,” Sammy said sadly.
“But I’m gonna be there for your birthday, you're gonna be seven! And you know I wouldn't miss that.”
“Yeah, I know.” Sammy said, still disappointed.
“I need you to give your Dad a message and its important okay?” Beth said knowing that Sam would take the message seriously.
“I can do that Auntie Beth.”
“I know you can, Tell you dad that Auntie Beth said to call off the SR Teams and I'll call him tomorrow.”
“Okay, got it!” Sammy said more cheerfully at being given something important to do.
“Good. Now you go have fun and try not to get the barbecue all over your dad and tell him the message, okay?”
“ ‘Kay, bye Auntie Beth,” Sammy replied.
“Talk to you soon squirt.” Beth said before she ended the phone call and put the cell phone away in her pocket.
Giles pulled onto Revello Drive just as Buffy finished talking on the cell phone. “We’ll be at your house in a minute.”
Beth looked over at Giles, “How have Mom and Dawn been?”
“There have been some changes, but that’s something you really need to discuss with them Buffy.” Giles said evasively. He pulled his car into the driveway of 1430 Revello Drive, “We’re here, are you ready?”
“As I’ll ever be.” Beth looked out the car window and the house she had once called home.
Giles walked up to the front door, Buffy was just in front of him. As they got to the front door it opened and Joyce stood sideways facing the stairs, “Dawn, Giles is here!” Joyce called out.
Turning Joyce looked straight at Buffy for several seconds shock and recognition on her face, “Bu...?” and collapsed as she fainted.
Buffy dropped next to her Mom and leaned over her checking to see if she was okay when she heard Dawn call out, “MOM!!!” as she was pushed aside.
“Buffy you do seem to be having a unique affect on people today.”
“Gee thanks Giles,” Beth replied sarcastically.
Beth looked up at her Dawn who was no longer the little girl she remembered. Now she was a tall and beautiful young woman, her hair was still long, only now it hung down past her shoulders.
“Buffy?” Dawn squeaked before she grabbed Buffy and the two held on, hugging each other as if they were afraid to let go.
“I thought I'd never see you Dawnie,” Beth whispered softly.
“God Buffy, it’s been sooo long.” When they heard Giles clearing his throat behind them. The two sisters parted and looked over at Giles.
“Your mother is still unconscious, so why don't we take the greetings and her inside.”
Beth quickly pulled out of Dawn's arms and knelt next to her mother and motioned for Giles to help her.
“Is she okay? Maybe we shouldn't move her, it could be...” Dawn babbled nervously.
“Dawn! She just fainted and she'll be fine in a minute. Giles we lift on three, Three!”
Dawn was pacing up and down in front of the couch where her mom lay, worrying about the tumor, when a hand grabbed her arm and she saw it was Buffy.
“Dawn, what is wrong with you? Mom just fainted she'll be fine.”
“No she won't! Buffy you don't understand. Mom was real sick a couple years ago....” At Buffy's puzzled look she quickly hurried. “She had headaches and the doctors found a tumor in her brain. They had to operate and it almost killed her.”
“What!” Buffy exclaimed in shock.
“Yeah, so when she collapsed it brought everything back again.” Dawn felt herself being pulled into Buffy's arms.
“It's ok, Mom'll be fine.” Beth said softly to her sister.
“Dawn?” Beth heard her mom call out.
“Dawn?” Joyce called. She saw Dawn and a young woman behind her who was in fatigues. “What happened? The last thing I remember was answering the door, and why is there a soldier in our home?”
Dawn knelt next to her mom on the couch, “You fainted, and the soldier, umm...” she trailed off noticing the way Buffy's shoulders stiffened.
Turning around Beth faced her, “Hi mom, it's me. Beth.”
“Maybe this wasn't such a good idea Giles,” Beth turned and started walking past the couch.
“Buffy, no don't! Please, don't disappear on us, on me again.” said Dawn.
“Buffy??” Joyce whispered and sat up to look at the young soldier in her living room, only this wasn't ‘a’ soldier, it was Buffy and she was here. “Come here, I need to see you.”
Beth was shocked at how weak her mom sounded. Beth moved back over towards the couch by her mom, and was pulled down into a hug “I've so missed you.”
Beth moved over towards the couch, keeping her eyes down. “I've missed you so much.” she heard before being pulled into a hug.
“How can you miss me?” Beth asked as she pulled back. “Don't you hate me or blame me for what happened? I almost destroyed this family.” The last words were said so softly Joyce almost didn't hear them.
Joyce pulled away from Buffy, taking in the lines on her face and the worry in her eyes. “Hate you? Buffy you're my daughter. Why would I hate you? I love you and Dawn more than anything.”
“Because you never answered any of my messages I sent to you. And I saw the look on yours and Dawns’ face when you looked over towards me. There was so much hurt and anger. That hurt more than anything else. That you believed I had killed Finch and wouldn't talk to me,” she finished in a small voice.
Joyce grabbed her daughter's hand, noticing the small scar. “Buffy, what letters? We didn't get any letters.”
“What do you mean?” Buffy asked angrily as she pulled out of her Mom’s hug. “I've been writing you and Dawn for the last 3 years. They've all been returned ‘Refused by Addressee’.” She stood up from the couch, dropping Joyce's hand. “If you love me like you say you do then why did you return them?”
Giles watched as Buffy paced in front of the couch. “Buffy, your mother is telling the truth. We didn't get any letters.”
Beth turned around, “Stop lying to me. They all say ‘Returned by Addressee’.” She pulled out a stack of letters from her duffle bag and tossed them at Giles feet.
“Buffy, your mother and I never saw any of these letters.” Giles bent over to pick up the letters lying at his feet.
“He's telling the truth Buffy we never got any of them, why would we lie about this?” Joyce asked, confused.
“Stop calling me Buffy, my name is Beth. Buffy ‘died’ three years ago!” Beth saw her mother flinch as she said that but she was too angry to stop. “You're lying to me, why?!?”
Dawn grabbed Buffy and shook her, “Beth STOP! We wouldn't lie to you, we're your family and so is Giles,” Dawn said loudly to get through to her sister. “We love you and it hurt us just as much to lose you that way and never hear from you. Would you have done that to me if I had been in your place?” she said softer as she saw Beth start to calm down.
“No, I couldn't do that. You're everything to me Dawn, you’re family.” Beth sagged down as she started to shake. Dawn dropped next to Beth and pulled her into a hug. “You don't have to be strong all the time.”
“I have to be... I don't have anyone else.” Dawn felt her shirt start to get damp and looked down at Buff...Beth. She looked so small, so lost but most of all scared and Dawn recognized it because she was scared of losing everyone too. “That's not true, you have me and mom and Giles, you're not alone and we're not leaving you.”
“Bu..but why then?”
“But why what Beth?”
“You never hated me for what happened then?” Beth asked in a small voice.
Joyce moved over by Beth and gently raised her face with her hands. “Beth, you're my daughter and my family. If you saw me angry, it was over how I heard you were being treated and being kept from you.”
“I love you Beth and nothing will change that.” Joyce and Dawn pulled Beth into a close hug, Beth felt the tears start to well up and for once she let them fall. She was tired of being the strong one, tired of having to hold all her feelings of hurt locked away. Joyce felt the dam burst and pulled Beth tighter. “I don't know why baby. I just don't know.”
Giles flipped through the letters, noting the dates and trying to calculate where they would have been for each. He couldn't help the anger that was starting to rise from the pit of his stomach as he heard Beth's heart broken sobs heart from the pain they had inflicted on his daughter. [Calm yourself, save your anger for later. Right now Buffy needs you, later we can figure out who did this and when we're done with them, why they did this.]
Giles walked over to his family and wrapped his arms around them and held them close.
Beth sniffled as they pulled apart when suddenly something struck her. She looked at Dawn and her mom then Giles. “What do you mean we? Is there something I need to know?”
Joyce moved her left hand with the wedding ring to the side, “What are you talking about Beth?” She had hoped to tell Buffy later. But that seemed to no longer be an option.
“Mom I heard Dawn say ‘we're not leaving you’ and she didn't mean you and her,” Buffy glanced over at Giles and looked at him carefully, searching for something out of place when she noticed the gold band with diamonds on his left ring finger.
Several things that were said earlier started to click in her head, “Mom, when were you going to tell me?” Beth asked, she already suspected the truth but wanting to tease her mothers nervousness over the subject.
“Uhhmm, tell you Beth?” Joyce asked as she tried to avoid the answer.
“Yes, when did you and Giles get married?” Beth said trying to keep a serious face. Beth saw her mother’s nervous reaction and pulled her in a hug. “Congratulations Mom,” she said with a large smile.
Joyce let the breath she had been holding during all this. She had been nervous over Beth's reaction to her marriage to Rupert, but she hadn't wanted to drop this on her now after everything.
Beth looked at Giles, taking in his nervousness. “I admit I'm surprised, but I've thought of Giles as my father for a while, and as long as he's making you happy,” Beth caught his eye. “I won't have to stake him.”
“I was afraid after what just happened that telling you would be too much.” Joyce looked at her Beth's face and saw the happiness in her eyes. “Thank you Beth.” She paused for a second. “It’s strange calling you by that name.”
Giles had reigned in his temper and started listing contacts he needed to speak to when he heard Beth's comment about staking him. “Well that's good to know then. Since I plan on keeping Joyce very happy for the next 99 years.”
Dawn chuckled and rolled her eyes. “I'm hungry.” Giles ignored her that child had been hanging around Xander too much. “Beth, do you want to see Willow and Xander today? I can ring....”
“Willow's still here? And Xand also?” Beth asked feeling both excited and apprehensive.
“Beth, there's a nice little restaurant that just opened up Broadway.”
“Bistro Bella Vita?” Dawn whined, her lower lip jutting out. Beth drifted back to when she, Taylor, Mary and Sammy were going out for a nice dinner several months ago. “Aww mom, I don't wanna dress up. Can't we stay home?”
Beth was quietly amused how Sammy and Dawn both hated to dress up and unconsciously smirked. Dawn looked over at Beth to see her grinning over something, “Hey Beth, what are you grinning over, it's not like you don't have to dress up you know. It’s not fun!”
“It's not that bad, when compared to a 15K run with a full pack.” Beth replied.
“Uhhhh, yeah. Ok.” Dawn replied not quite sure what he sister meant. She had gotten a little strange over the last 3 years. [Oh well, I guess that's what the military can do to you] she mused and stuck her tongue out at Beth before running up the stairs to her room to find ‘something’ to wear tonight.
As Dawn ran up the stairs both Summers women called out, “Dawn, don't run up the stairs!!” Both women looked at each other and smirked.
“Practice from yelling at Sammy not to do the same thing Beth?” Giles asked.
“Yes and lots of it, you get in the habit once you're an Aunt to a six year old,” Beth replied with a silly grin on her face.
Joyce looked at Beth. [Aunt, Beth's an Aunt?] surprise was written across her face.
Giles chose this moment to exit, “Ladies, I just need to make some phone calls. I'm sure you can find something to discuss,” and walked quickly out the room and towards his study.
Beth saw the look on her Mom's face and couldn't resist teasing her just a little with her answer. “Yes.”
“That's it? Just yes? Don't I get more?" Joyce asked.
Beth sat down on the couch, “Okay, yes I'm an Aunt to Samuel Taylor, and he's six going on seven years old. Better Mom?” She had really missed being able to tease her mom and this was soo much fun as she watched the myriad looks on her face.
Joyce quirked an eyebrow at her daughter as waited for the rest.
“Sammy's a good kid but he takes after his father, he has a talent for mischief and getting in trouble. If he can't find any mischief, he'll go out and make it,” Beth finally answered.
“Do you work with his father?”
“He's a good friend and he's helped me through some stuff.” Beth answered, avoiding her Mom’s question.
As Giles walked into the study he felt the first tear start to fall from his eyes and slumped down beside the closed door. His insides were a knot, from all the emotions he'd kept bottled up; fear, happiness, anger but most of all relief that Buffy was back and okay. He remembered countless nights of sitting and staring at the phone and dreading the call that would tell him Buffy was dead or hurt.
Giles thought about how Beth's mail had been returned to her. [Someone wanted to keep her from communicating with her family, but why?] he wondered. Pulling out a small black phonebook with some numbers he thought he'd never use again.
“Dawn you need to move it! It's 1830 hours already!” Beth spoke loudly into the bathroom door where Dawn was ‘finishing up’.
"What are you talking about Beth? It's only 6:30 and I'll be ready in a minute.”
“That's what I said Dawn, and you've been saying that for the last half an hour.”
“Alright, alright. I'm coming out now.” Dawn muttered, as Beth walked back into her bedroom in irritation.
Dawn knocked on Beth's door, “Okay, you can come out now. I'm ready.” Dawn saw Beth as she stepped out of the bathroom. “Oh. My. God! Beth?” she briefly felt the earring drop from her fingers, but was too shocked to care. “Mom is gonna freak when she sees you.”
Beth looked down at her dress uniform with a smile. No matter how many times, the reaction was always the same.
Beth looked at her sister, silently contemplating when the dorky teenager turned into a beautiful young woman. “Your pretty freak worthy yourself Dawn.” Dawn stood in front of Beth dressed in a red, sleeveless dress that stopped just at her knees. Her hair was pulled back in a French braid and Beth saw a pair of diamond studs in her ears.
Beth felt pride at how much Dawn had grown from the gangly 15 year-old to this 18 year old, beautiful, young woman that stood before her.
Beth pulled her sister into a hug, “I love you Dawnie,” she whispered and then stepped back. “You ready to go downstairs?”
And the two Summers’ sisters started down the stairs where Giles and Mom were waiting for them.
Giles was waiting with Joyce downstairs when he heard voices and looked over towards the stairs. Dawn was the first he saw, she was dressed in the lovely red dress he had seen her carrying recently, [God she has grown hasn't she...] Giles felt a burst of pride as he watched Dawn walk down the steps.
“Dawn,” he started t ask “where's Be....” the words froze in his throat as he saw Beth come down the stairs wearing her Marine Dress uniform. The navy blue slacks with a red stripe down the side and the black jacket with gold buttons and the Eagle, Globe and Anchor insignia on the collar shined brightly. On the arms of the jacket he saw the green chevron on a blood red field and beneath it were two crossed rifles. A few ribbons were on the left chest of the jacket and finally the white hat under her arm and white gloves to finish off the entire image.
Willow and Tara stood outside the Bistro Bella Vita entrance waiting for Giles, Joyce and Dawn to arrive. Xander and his fiancée Anya stood a few feet away talking.
“Tara, did you get the feeling Giles was hiding something?” Willow asked.
“No, he seemed like Giles usually is,” Tara answered her lover. [Well not quite, but I'm sure that he wants to surprise Will about something. No need to say anything,] she thought.
Will eyed Tara carefully, she could swear that Tara ‘knew’ something about tonight. [Damn, I guess I'll have to find out like everyone else this time.]
Willow saw Giles’ car drive up and pull into the parking lot. She only got a quick look, but she would swear she saw four people inside.
A few minutes later Willow saw four people walking towards them. [Four people?] she thought puzzled and counted them out, “Giles...Joyce...Dawn...and a soldier?” she whispered, catching the attention of Tara who looked over at the group headed their way and a crooked smile blossomed on her face.
Seeing the smile on Tara's face Willow knew something was up. [Tara, what's going on?]
“Mm..mmaybe you should ask Mr. Giles, Willow.”
Willow saw the group halt about 15' away and Giles started walking alone towards her. “Willow, Tara! Good evening ladies.”
“Giles, who is that with you?” Willow asked.
Tara ‘felt’ the satisfaction and happiness rolling off of Mr. Giles in waves, glancing at the party she looked at the soldier and her suspicion as to who it was, was confirmed.
“Why don't you go ask Dawn or Mrs. Summers who it is Willow?” Tara asked innocently.
Willows’ suspicion that her lover ‘knew’ what was going on was confirmed with her innocent little question. But she headed on over towards Dawn and Joyce.
She saw the fourth person was a soldier and a Marine at that when they turned towards her. Willow stared for several seconds in shock, [That can't be....], but it was as she recognized who it was and ran towards her.
“Buffy!!!!!!” she cried out and ran into her out-stretched arms and felt them hug her. “Buthowdidyouwherehaveyoubeen?what'sgoingon?” She took a deep breath. “This isn't some sick joke?”
Beth saw Willow as she walked towards them and then as she called her name and ran towards her. Suddenly she was pulled into a tight hug and was greeted by the bubbly Willow-speak. “Willow, Willow! Slow down.”
Tara grinned as she watched the two of them together, she was happy for Willow that she now had a chance to see her best friend again and she knew how much the trial and her disappearance afterwards had hurt her. She watched all five of them walk on over here at the front entrance.
Stepping back to look at Buffy, Willow saw the short blonde hair; her face was mostly the same. But now there was leanness to her features and her eyes... Willow saw the joy on her friends face, but her eyes were what caught her attention. She saw the pain hidden in them and how she had changed as well.
Xander saw Mr. G, Dawn, Willow and....Buffy??? Anya had told him earlier that Buffy was back, but on some level he really hadn't been able to believe it. But actually seeing her changed that, he walked over to Buffy and threw his arms around her and swung her around.
“Buffy! You're really here!” Looking at her, “Like the new hair,” Xander teased, knowing how Buffy loved her long hair.
“Thanks, you look good too. Is that Anya over by Giles and Tara?” Beth asked, she remembered Xander was seeing her, but didn't know much about her other then she 'was' a vengeance demon before she lost her powers. Xander just beamed at the mention of his fiancée's name.
“Yep.” Grabbing Buffy’s hand Xander pulled her towards his waiting fiancée.
Beth looked over at Willow and whispered, “Is everyone engaged now? First I find out about Mom and Giles, now Xander and Anya. What about you two? Have you tied the knot yet?”
Willow blushed furiously at Beth's comment, “Ummm...” Tara heard Beth's question and leaned over wrapping her arm around Willow's waist, “Actually Willow and I were Handfasted by our coven last Candelmas,” she said very proudly and kissed Willow on the lips. Which only caused Willow to blush even more and made Beth chuckle.
“Then I guess congratulations are in order for you two.” Beth leaned over to Tara, “But if you hurt her I'll beat you to death with a shovel.”
Tara just smiled, “Thanks for the warning, but I think you'll have to get in line behind Xander, Giles and Mrs. Summers first.”
The group walked into the restaurant with Willow, Beth and Xander following at the rear as they talked.
As Beth was listening to Willow, she heard a voice from a nearby couple, “God, you'd think they'd have rules about letting the military in here. I thought they had standards at this restaurant.” “Now, now dear. I'm sure they paid the Maitre D' well to get in here,” the man’s voice replied in a snobbish voice.
Turning, Beth saw the couple that she'd overheard and smiled at them. [Rich brats, probably never did an honest days work.]
“Buffy? What's wrong?” Xander asked.
“Nothing,” Beth lied and focused her attention on her two friends, but she couldn't help feeling like someone had spit on all the sweat and blood she'd shed over the last three years.
“So Xand, when did you pop the question to Anya?” Beth asked curiously. She had noticed he had changed, but this was a ‘big’ step from the boy who lived in the basement of his parents' home to the man who was standing in front of her.
“Oh, you want to hear about that? Its not that big, what about you though. How do you like being in the military? If I remember right you never really liked to follow the rules, or get up early,” he teased.
Beth looked at her Xander as he tried to switch the conversation. “Nice try Xander, but we're talking about you and Anya. So give. Let's hear all the juicy details,” she said with a smirk.
Sighing, “Will and I had a run in with a demon about a year and a half ago and I got a little hurt, that was sort of a wakeup call I needed to change things in my life, and Anya was just one of things I needed in my life.”
Frowning at Xander, Willow looked at him severely, “A little hurt?? You had a broken leg and some second degree burns from that fire demon and you were in the hospital for a month.”
“Okay, okay. I got hurt bad. But it was what I needed to look at things. So I took Anya out to dinner on Valentines Day at Mario's, and asked her to marry me.”
“Uh huh, how about you gave her this completely romantic dinner that night, and told her ‘you couldn't imagine her not being in your life’ or how she cried when you asked her to marry you. You left a few details out there.” Willow added as she watched Beth smile broadly and it was Xander’s turn blush.
Beth threw her arm around Xander's shoulders, “Xander, I'm damn proud of you and that I'm ‘your’ friend.”
The Maitre D' cleared his throat. “If you would follow me, your table is ready.”
Giles, Xander and Willow all seated their respective partners; Beth sat down in between Dawn and Willow.
The Maitre D' looked to Giles as he was seated, “Your server will be with your momentarily sir. Enjoy your meal.”
“Thank you,” Giles replied.
Moments later their water glasses filled, the server came by. “Good evening. My name is Tomas and I'll be your waiter for this evening. We have several specials today…” Tomas listed the specials of the day before he handed them their menus and walking away.
Tara looked over past Willow and towards Buffy, “Buffy do you really think we should be having a war that we obviously started? I mean look at what happened in the US Embassy in Paris, with all those students that were killed by the soldiers there.”
Willow looked at Tara with an angry look on her face, “No, Tara. Don't.....”
Beth felt her shoulders stiffen at Tara's question, she had known two of the US Marine Embassy Guards who were killed there. She stifled back her angry response and took a deep several deep breaths to calm herself.
“Tara, this is a pleasant dinner. Lets not bring that up right now, ok?” Willow said, trying to cut her lover off from her personal crusade against the war.
“But Willow, people died there and over what?” Tara asked.
Anger glittered in Beth's eyes at Tara's question, “Yes Tara, people did die there, including Marines who were protecting the Embassy and the civilians inside,” her voice was cold and angry.
“This isn't what we're here to talk about Tara, this is to celebrate Buffy's return,” Xander broke in.
“Yes indeed, I suggest we move on to a different subject. I'm sure you can ask ‘Beth’ about it later Tara.” Giles stressed.
Willow grabbed Tara's hand, “Tara, just drop it. Now is not the time for this, we've had this discussion before and you know my feelings about it.”
Tara looked around and saw the anger clearly on Beth's face, as well as Xander and Willow's, and realized how her question had sounded.
“I'm sorry Buf...Beth. I didn't mean to...” Tara stood up, knocking her chair over in her haste to get out of the restaurant.
“I'm sorry Buffy, she shouldn't have....” Willow said as she tried apologizing for Tara.
“Will, its okay. Just tell Tara I'm not angry at her and bring her back.”
Beth felt tense inside but she was determined to forget it. She understood that Tara hadn't meant anything by her questions, she knew many civilians felt the same way. They just didn't understand.
Willow caught up to Tara in the parking lot, Tara's face was streaked with tears.
“Tara wait!” Willow called out and stopped in front of Tara.
“Nnn..no Willow. I can't believe I said that it...” Willow gently pushed Tara's face up so she could look into her eyes.
“Its okay Tara, Buffy understands. She asked me to tell you she's not angry with you and wants you to come back.”
“Bb..but Will,” Willow put her finger over Tara's lips.
“Ssshhh, Tara look at me. Buffy doesn't say things that she doesn't mean, so come back with me.”
“I ruined dinner Willow, I can’t.”
“Nothing’s been ruined unless you leave Tara, yes Buffy was upset a little, but she has that right, we don't know what she's been through. Please? For me, come back to dinner. I promise to make it up to you,” Willow replied mischievously.
Tara took the tissue Willow held out for her and wiped at her eyes. “Well since you're ‘offering’ to make it up, how c-can I refuse,” she paused taking in the beauty of her lover. “I love you Willow Rosenberg,” Tara leaned down pouring all her emotions into the kiss.
Meanwhile as Will and Tara walked back into the restaurant....
“So Buffy, what's up with this Beth?” Xander asked to break the silence that had descended since Tara and Will's sudden departure.
As Beth was about to reply she saw Tara and Will and smiled at Tara. “Hi there, everything ok?” she asked Will.
“Bu-Buffy, I'm sorry about what I asked, it wasn't very nice and it put you in an awkward position.”
“It's okay Tara, I was just caught off-guard with the question.”
Beth waited until Will and Tara were seated before answering Xander's question.
"Well Xander, they weren't going to call me 'Buffy' at Boot Camp or anywhere else. So I just had my first name changed, and well I'm not ‘Buffy’ anymore. Anyhow my life is different and so am I, so I'd prefer if you'd call me Beth.”
Willow noticed Buf...err Beth's face as she was talking to Xander, and how her features had gone ‘cold’ as she brought up her past however briefly.
Xander was quiet after she replied, “Oh, okay.” [Way to go Harris, bring up the painful stuff] Xander chastised himself mentally. “Oh, Will, I just got a call from Faith. She says that the powder you gave her to track the Polgara demons last week worked great. But she wanted to know if you can come up to LA, she has a problem that needs some strong Wicca backup.”
Willow turned to see a dark look on Beth's face, “You want to tell me something Will?” Beth asked angrily. “How can you help her after what she's done? She's a murderer.”
“Beth, she's changed. She's not the same person she was, she's trying to make amends for what she did. I know she's different now.”
“And how do you ‘know’ that Will?” Beth asked sarcastically “Magick?”
Willow turned to face Beth, she knew this would be a sore spot with Beth but she had to face that Faith had changed. “Beth, are you the same person you were three years ago? No, you're not, none of us are. We've all changed and so has she, you've got to get past this anger with her at some point. Go see her, yell at her, whatever it takes to get this out. But you have to deal with the fact that not only have I been helping her, I'm going to keep helping her and I trust her.”
“And you trust her? Why? Because you cast some spell that tells you, you can?” Beth said sarcastically. “You can't trust her, she tried killing you how many times Willow?”
“And what about Angel Beth? How many people did he kill, maim and torture as Angelus in 150 years? But you trust him, right!” Willow knew she had made a point finally as Beth went silent.
“I just don't want to see you get hurt Willow, I still remember how she hurt you.” Beth answered in a quiet voice.
“I know that Beth, but you haven't seen her. She's changed a lot.”
“Maybe I'll go see her later this week before I head back. But no promises.”
Willow kept her eyes on Beth as they walked through the cemetery. She really couldn't believe that her best friend was back, but dinner had been frustrating. Beth was so different from Buffy in many ways that Willow didn't know how to talk to her anymore. Things didn’t seem to get any easier when Beth had insisted on going on patrol with her. So far she'd managed to steer them away from any trouble, [It's been three years!! What is she trying to prove?] Willow thought angrily. [For all that she's changed, she's still thinks it's her responsibility.]
Stopping, Willow cast a cantrip and a stake appeared in her hand. She motioned for Beth to stay behind her, but Beth stayed where she was. Willow felt the breeze pick up and knew trouble was about to start. Before she had time to complete the thought four burly vamps who looked like their faces had been bashed in one too many times stepped out from behind a mausoleum. “Hey it's the Wicca, kill her and her friend!”
Two of the vamps rushed at Beth, Willows' eyes flashed green fire, “Solaris Luminae!!!!!!” and a ball of yellow energy formed in her hands and flew at one of the vampires. As the ball of energy hit him, the vampire cried out as he turned to dust.
Beth had managed to dust one of the vamps, but as she fought this one she felt slow despite all the training she'd had in the last three years. She chuckled for a second, fighting vampires just wasn't very high on her priority list. Beth scolded herself for getting out of practice when the vamp finally managed to land a hard blow to her face that knocked her back into a tree
Beth felt herself being picked up and the vampire’s fangs sink into her neck.
Willow distracted by trying to keep an eye on Beth was holding her own when she saw the vampire Beth was fighting throw her into a tree and then sink his fangs into her.
“NO!!” Willow yelled. “Ergane Cerinus!!” she chanted and the vampire was thrown back and a shield formed around Beth. “No more games. ‘Incendium Viburnum!!’ ” Willow cried out and large ball of red energy appeared over her right hand. Gesturing she ‘threw’ it at the vamp that attacked Beth, as it hit him he was consumed in fire, turning to dust. The other vamp thinking to flee…ran.
As he ran away, Willow looked up at the sky and pointed at the fleeing vampire. “Fulmen!!” she chanted, the stars disappeared behind clouds and a bolt of lightning came streaking down and incinerated the vampire leaving only a cloud of dust in the air and a burn mark where he had been. The sky cleared and the stars were once again visible.
“You okay?” Willow leaned down closer to Beth who was sitting up and tried to remove Beth's hand from her neck only to have Beth refuse to move her hand.. Blood had started to seep thought Beth’s fingers and leave a trail down her forearm. As she continued to try and move Beth’s hand away so she could see the wound.
Beth jerked her arm away from Willow but instantly regretted it when her vision blurred and she stumbled.
Willow saw the confusion and panic clearly visible on her face. “Buffy! Stop it. It’s me…Will. I'm not going to hurt you.” Beth stopped backing away and Willow saw something she thought she'd never see, Beth was afraid of her.
“You don't have to be afraid, it's me, Willow.”
“I'm not afraid of you,” but Beth used the tree next to her to stand up. As she stood up, a wave of nausea hit her and she felt her stomach heave as she lost all of her dinner. Beth felt Willow's hands steady her and keep her from falling as she vomited, [This is Willow, my best friend. I..I just, I just....] Beth knew in her head that Willow would never hurt her, but the raw power Beth had seen Willow use scared her. “I'll be fine now Will,” Beth said slightly more brusquely than she intended.
“No you aren't Beth. You're hurt and I'm taking you back to your house” Willow answered, hurt by the cold tone in her friends voice. [Just give her some time, she hasn't seen you in three years and you go casting spells like water around her. She just needs a little time to sort it out is all,] Willow rationalized to herself.
“What the hell was that?” Beth motioned to the area where the burn mark from the lightning strike on the vamp.
Willow looked at Beth, “What do you mean? I just killed some vamps that ‘almost’ made dinner out of you! So what are you talking about?!?” Willow replied angrily.
“No Willow, you didn't just kill them, you completely obliterated them like they were nothing and those spells. Where the hell did you learn them??” Beth was upset but she knew that it wasn't really at Willow or even the powerful spells she had cast, although that did worry her.
It was that she could have gotten herself and Willow killed, she was so arrogant that she could handle this patrol as if nothing had changed, but it had and now she had to face things. Including how Willow and the others had changed. She needed to get away and think about things clearly first thought. [LA isn't that far, and I'd like to see how Angel and Cordy are doing.]
Willow looked in shock at that language Beth had used. It hadn't struck her at first, but now... “Beth, when did you start swearing like a sailor?”
“It's not that bad Will, its only the word hell,” Beth rolled her eyes.
Willow noticed that the frightened look on Beth’s’ face had gone, and she seemed calmer now. [See Will, I told you she just needed time to relax about your spells. You were just throwing them around like water and she is your best friend, three years or no.]
“Uh huh, and when we go to Willy's you’ll share some of your ‘colorful adjectives’ with him too?” she teased Beth.
Beth noticed her hand was wet and sticky, [Aw damn!] she thought and brought her hand up to her face and saw it covered in blood. As she stared at her hand, Beth felt her vision tunnel and start to go gray, and her legs buckled beneath her when Willow caught her to keep her from falling.
“You're going home Beth.”
“No arguments from me Will, I really don't feel good.”
During the trip back to her house Beth was quiet as she thought about what happened. “Hey Will, are you going to LA?" she asked casually.
Willow turned her head to look at Beth before answering, “Uhmmm, yes I am. Why?”
Beth looked at Will, “Actually I'd rather if you didn't.”
“What? I thought we settled this about Faith over dinner.”
“I've been thinking about what you said over dinner, and I've decided to go to LA in a few days. Maybe you're right and I do need to, as Cordy once put it, ‘Spank my inner moppet’ and settle things with Faith.”
Willow walked Beth to the front door, “Are you gonna be okay?”
“Yeah, I'll be fine Will.” Beth smiled, “G'night.”
Beth let herself into the house and moved into the bathroom, peeling off her bloodstained and torn shirt. [Ouch, crap that hurts! I forgot about this part of Slaying.] Taking out some peroxide and a dark towel, Beth soaked the towel with water and cleaned the wound on her neck. Then she poured the peroxide over the wound and put a large gauze bandage over it. Moving out she headed up the stairs, [God I'm glad Mom's not here. I'm really not in the mood to explain this to her now.]
Beth walked to her bedroom, stepped inside and pulled on a clean sleeveless undershirt before reaching for her cell phone and knocked the book she had been reading off the bed.
As the book bounced off the bed it fell open and a piece of paper and a dollar bill fell out. Bending over, Beth picked up the dollar and the folded piece of paper.
I know you're going to be nervous about seeing your
family & friends after all this time. But they'll be just as nervous to see
you. I've listened to you talk about your Mom & Dawn, and I don't think they
ever could hate you. Not the way you've spoken about them, there's too much
love in your family for them to do that to you. Right now I'm sure you're rolling your eyes at how 'mushy' this is.
Just give them time to get used to you as you are now, it's
been three years and it'll be hard for them to not see you as you were. Just
as you can’t expect Dawn and your friends Willow not to have changed either.
Give them the space they need to get used to you and do the same for them.
Above all, you know that Mary, Sammy and I care about you, so if you need to
talk, call me. I'll be here for you.
Beth heard a knock on her door as she started to dial Taylor and turned the cell phone off and placed it on the bed, “Come in”. She saw the door open and her mom and Giles walk into the room. “Hi Mom, hi Giles. What's up?”
Joyce walked over, “I just wanted to talk to you. It's been so long.”
Joyce looked at Beth when she noticed a large bandage that was bloodstained on her daughters’ neck, “Beth! What happened to you? You were fine when we left the restaurant, where you attacked?”
Touching the bandage on her neck, “Mom it's nothing. Will and I got jumped by some vamps, but I'm okay.”
Giles moved closer from the doorway to Beth, “And what were you doing patrolling last night with Willow? I thought she had more sense then to let you go with her.” Giles shook his head.
“Its not Wills fault Giles, so don't blame her. I pushed her to let me go and it was my fault I got hurt.”
“Okay?? Buffy, you were hurt. How can you be okay?!” Putting her hand on her mom's shoulder, “Really, I'm okay. Slayer healing, one nights sleep and I'm better. Really.” Beth saw how worried her mom was. “I'm okay, really mom,” and smiled.
“That’s not the point Beth, she shouldn't have let you go out with her. You haven't been slaying for over three years, you could have gotten both you and her killed,” Giles said angrily.
“Giles, I learned my lesson and Will and I are fine. Okay?”
Joyce picked up Mr. Gordo off the bed. “I don't really know much about what you do in the Marines Beth.”
Beth had known this would come up and she uneasy felt telling about telling mom, but she knew that she had to tell her. "Uhmm, when I finished Boot Camp I was assigned to the 4th Batt/1st Marines” she hoped Mom wouldn't ask what the 1st Marines did or her MOS.
“What sort of unit is the 4th Battalion, Beth?” Giles asked, seeing his wife's confusion.
“It's an infantry unit.”
“Infantry? But you're a woman Beth!” Joyce replied anxiously.
Beth shifted uncomfortably on the bed, “Congress passed a law that allows women in combat positions now Mom. Besides I'm not with the 4th Battalion anymore, I was transferred so you don't have to worry.” Beth hoped this partial truth would be enough for Mom. She didn't want her to worry about her, especially now that she was still with the 4th Battalion, only now it was part of the 13th MEU.
Giles looked down at Beth and noticed a tattoo on her right arm, it was a bulldog pushing the US flag upright, above it were the letters USMC and below it in a banner it said 13th MEU. “Interesting tattoo Beth.”
Joyce looked at her husband and then back at Beth’s arm. “What is the 13th M-E-U, I believe it says, that you have so prominently displayed at the bottom?” Giles asked.
“Oh that,” Beth looked at her tattoo nervously. “That would be the unit I'm with now. But that's not really important though.”
Joyce saw the nervous smile her daughter had made, “Beth the only time you smile like that is when you're hiding something, liked the time you broke the lamp when you were eight. What does that M-E-U stand for?”
Beth sighed loudly, “It stands for Marine Expeditionary Unit, it's a rapid deployment, combined arms unit. I've been in it for the last year.”
Joyce reached for Beth's hand, “Honey, I don't understand what that means.”
“Joyce, it means that Beth is part of an infantry unit, doesn't it Beth.” Giles stated. “How soon is your unit shipping out?”
Beth looked down at her hands. “We’re not sure. We’ve picked up our training and there’s a buzz going through the unit.” Beth looked from her mom to Giles, noticing the fear in both their eyes.
“Mom, its gonna be okay. This is what we’ve been training for.” Beth tried saying reassuringly.
Standing up suddenly Joyce started pacing back and forth, “You’ve been training to get killed or blown-up or something?!?” Joyce yelled at Beth, tears rolled down her cheeks.
Beth got up from the bed and moved over to her mother and put her arms around her, “No, not to get killed. To protect my family and my country. It’s what I took an oath to do.”
“I’ve seen the news reports Beth, so many people are getting hurt and killed. I don't want my last image of you to be as they bring you back in a body bag in some news footage on the TV.” Joyce pulled Beth into fierce hug. “I just got you back, I can't lose you.”
“You won't. I'm tough and so are the members of my squad. We watch each other's back. I'm going to come home to you, both of you,” Beth reached out for Giles and pulled him into the hug with her Mom.
Giles heard Joyce breathe hitch in her throat and he pulled her closer to him.
“I promise,” Beth whispered before taking a step back and cocking an eyebrow. “Besides Taylor said he'd curse me with his wife's food if I got hurt.”
Beth picked up the phone after Giles and her Mom had left and dialed Taylor's house, Beth listened to the phone ring as she waited for someone to pickup. “Hello” she heard Mary say.
“Mary, hi. It's Beth.”
“Beth! How are you? Is everything okay at home?”
“Yeah it is. I just wanted to talk to Taylor about some stuff though. Is he home?” Beth asked.
“Yes, he's out back, let me go get him. Hold on one sec Beth,” Mary heard the tenseness in Beth's voice and knew something was wrong as she walked over to her husband.
“Steve, Beth's on the phone for you,” she heard in the distance
“She is? Okay. I'll pick it up out here,” as he picked up the cordless phone next to him.
“Beth? What's up?” Taylor asked, concerned that she was calling back after she had left the message she was ok with Sammy. “Sammy gave me your message, if you were calling to check on that.” He heard her chuckle but noticed something else in her voice. “Are you okay?” Beth sighed, wishing that she wasn't across the US talking to him on a phone. “You sound hurt? Did something happen?” He frowned when she didn't respond. “Beth did you try to do something heroic again?”
“God Taylor I was so weak. A vampire beat me Taylor, a vampire.”
“Okay a vampire beat you, it happens to everyone, well so to speak. What's really bothering you about that Beth?”
“I...I felt so useless, that's why. Cause her I am ‘the big, bad Slayer’ and Will had to save me. I'm the one who's supposed to do the saving, not her. She's been patrolling for three years because of me not being there and I know she's been hurt.”
“Yeah Beth, you ‘are’ the Slayer. But you know that means you can't be responsible for everyone.”
“But nothing Beth, stop trying to take the responsibility for everything on your shoulders. What you have to ask yourself is this, Have you done everything you could? IF the answers yes, then leave it alone. She's grown up and changed just like you have and likely she's stronger a person since you weren't there. Would you want to change that?”
“No...I wouldn't.” Beth replied quietly
“Good, now what else is bothering you? And don't deny it, I know you Summers. So spill.” Taylor teased her, trying to break her out of the black mood she was in.
“I told Mom about being in the infantry. I'm not sure how she took it other than the look of fear on her face as I told her.”
“Did she run out the door screaming or tell you that you're never to step foot in the house again Beth?” Taylor asked.
“No she didn't.” Beth replied slightly thrown by Taylor's question.
“Then your families handling it a lot better then mine did. I think your mother especially just needs time to get used to the idea. She still sees you as her ‘little girl’ in many ways and this is a hell of a wake up call that that's not true anymore. Just be patient with her, okay Beth?”
“You're right, I just didn't expect to have to tell them so soon though.”
“So how was the barbeque?”
“It was a smashing success as always,” Taylor said proudly.
Beth chuckled into the phone after she heard Taylor, “And did you have to cart Ramirez out of there and back to the base? Or did you leave that for the rest of the squad this time?”
“No, this time I let them have Ramirez's drunk butt to carry home,” Taylor replied as he laughed. “But I can tell in the tone of your voice that what happened with Willow wasn't the only thing bothering you.”
“Faith? The other slayer that was in the hospital?”
“Yeah that's her. But she's not in the hospital anymore.”
“She's not? When did this happen?” Beth chuckled, “That's what I'd like to know,” before fingering the letter still clutched in her hand. “She's in L.A. fighting vamps and she needs Willow's help.”
He could hear the desperation in her voice. “And you want to go instead, right?”
“No. Yes. I don't know, yeah I guess I do. They say that she's changed,” Beth heard him chuckle.
“Stop laughing at me Steven Jonathon Taylor.”
“I'm not laughing at you Beth.”
“Right, you're laughing with me.”
“Exactly. Anyway, tell me more about Faith.”
“Faith's in L.A.”
“You already said that Beth, are you getting senile in your old age?” he teased. “So…Faith's in L.A. and you want to go see her.”
“Yeah. But I put her in a coma Steve.”
“Hmmm, and there's something else about Faith that's bothering you Beth, what is it?”
“Isn't that enough?”
“Not with you it isn't. If you put her in a coma, it was for a good reason. Now what else is bothering you about this Faith?”
Sighing defeatedly, “Okay. Before she ‘turned’ so to speak, everything felt ‘right’ with her and after...’that night’, everything changed. It was like the Faith I knew never existed and in her place was this evil creature. And now Willow's telling me she's changed, but I can’t get past all the evil she did....”
“And now you're not sure if you can get past how you remember her as being evil?”
“Well Beth, there isn't an easy answer here. But Willow was right that you should go see her because it sounds like there's more to this story then you're telling, and this is something you should deal with before we leave. One way or the other you have to settle things between the two of you.”
“It sounds like I have 2 votes in the ‘YES’ category to see Faith then.” Beth replied
“No, there are two friends telling you that they think this is what you should do, you get to make that decision yourself. Whatever you decide, you know I’ll back you.”
“I read the letter Steve and...thank you.”
“No need for thanks Beth. Semper Fi Beth.”
“Always Faithful... and you wonder why Mary married you.”
“It's late Beth and you need rest. I'm here if you need me, okay?”
“Thanks Steve. Talk to you in a few days.”
End Chapt 3