FUNERAL FOR A FRIEND
"Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s
"I don’t belong here. I shouldn’t have come here."
That was all Buffy could think as she sat near the wall of Willow’s living room. They and their other friends had gathered together for the funeral of Willow’s love. Ten days ago, Tara O’Neil had finally lost her two-year long struggle with a brain tumor. Willow had chosen to hold a wake for her beloved at the condo which they shared. Willow’s parents, Tara’s parents, Buffy’s mother Joyce and her second husband Rupert Giles, Xander, Cordelia, their daughter, they were all there. All providing support for their friend. Which is why Buffy was there.
She felt dirty.
She liked Tara. She really did. She was glad that Tara was a part of Willow’s life. After the crash and burn that ended her relationship with Oz, the happiness that marked her love for Tara was as transcendent as the sunrise, and just as beautiful.
And all that Buffy could think was, ‘why doesn’t she feel that way about me?’
Buffy had her own relationship horror story at the time, a man named Riley Finn. He seemed like a sweet guy, but turned out to be a gun-toting, khaki wearing GI-Joke. Captain Testosterone! By the time she had extricated herself from that fiasco, she started to rethink her life. Her relationships. After all of the mistakes she had made in her eternal search for Mr. Right, there was only the one constant; Willow, ready to pick up the pieces, a half-gallon of rocky road in one hand, an ice cream scoop in the other. She always was there for her. Willow.
It hit her like a thunderbolt. She had been standing too close to see it, but once the first realization struck, the rest fell into place, like puzzle pieces. Willow. She was better for her than any man she had ever known. She was the one.
The one who Buffy loved.
And, by the time Buffy figured that out, it was too late. Willow had found Tara.
Buffy could have challenged the young blond witch’s claim on Willow’s affections. Who had known her longer? Who first helped break Willow out of her shell? Why should Tara be so damn lucky? She had a thousand arguments in favor of fighting Tara for Willow’s love, fueled by passion and logic, guts and reason. And she was prepared to use them.
Until she saw the look in Willow’s eyes when she was near Tara.
Buffy realized that she had no right to break them up. There was no denying what the redheaded wiccan felt for Tara. No denying that her love was returned. And Buffy knew that she had no right to come between them. All she would do was destroy something beautiful, and have Willow hate her for the rest of her life. And Buffy would die before letting that happen.
So she stepped back. She moved into the first single dorm available, allowing Tara to move in with Willow. She kept in touch with the two witches, but it wasn’t quite the same. Watching them hold hands, steal sweet kisses, gaze into each other’s eyes, Buffy felt more and more like a third wheel. At some point Tara sensed this, and made motions to include Buffy into their public activities. She even made an earnest effort to set Buffy up with someone nice. She found a young man named Kevin, brown hair, hazel eyes, disarming smile. Even though she dreaded the initial blind date, Buffy had to admit at the end that he was infinitely nicer than Riley. She even went out with him three more times after that, and at some point even initiated lovemaking.
It was a comedy of errors. He was kind, but clumsy, his efforts at seduction having all the grace of Pepe LePew, with much the same result. At least he wasn’t as persistant. They had mutually made the ‘still friends’ agreement, which meant that they would greet each other once or twice as they passed on the campus, and then each forget the other’s existence.
Buffy had since abandoned the dating scene altogether. She had realized, the hard way, that there was only one person for her, one true love, and her name was Willow. And Willow had found her true love in Tara. Buffy had to accept that. She thought that she had accepted that. That she was cool with that. But there was always that twinge of jealousy as she saw Willow kiss Tara, or lavish her with affection. She wanted to be Tara. She wanted to be the object of Willow’s affection so badly, and she knew that it would never happen. So she distanced her self from Willow and Tara. She had buried herself in her studies, taking on an internship as a research assistant at the Sunnydale Museum of Ancient History. As time went on, she graduated from college with honors, took on a satisfying job at the museum. And since the Hellmouth had collapsed after Adam and his demons tried to control it, there was no more need for a Slayer. For the first time in years, she had her life to herself. She was, if not happy, then content.
Occasionally she ran into Willow and Tara; they were still happy together, and she was happy for them. The two witches shared a pew on the bride’s side when Buffy’s mother finally married Buffy’s former watcher Rupert Giles(Buffy was the bride’s maid). They sat on the groom’s side when their long time friend Xander Harris married his high school sweetheart Cordelia Chase(a whirlwind courtship following his breaking off with ex-girlfriend Anya). They got together off and on for about a year after that. Willow and Tara were still happy, but Tara had grown more reserved than Buffy remembered her. More quiet.
Three weeks later, Willow called Buffy at her apartment. Panicked, she begged her to come and drive Tara to the hospital. Tara was weak and unconscious, and Willow was severely wigged out at her lover’s condition. Buffy broke the land speed record driving to Willow and Tara’s place, and broke it again rushing them to the hospital. The doctors kept Tara overnight for observation.
The verdict was a malignant brain tumor. The doctors had recommended chemotherapy, but the growth was too far advanced to remove successfully. All it did was cause Tara’s lovely blonde hair to fall out. After six months of this, the doctors finally gave up and told Willow that she could only keep Tara comfortable until the end. Willow refused to give up, and she devoted the following year to finding an alternative cure for Tara’s cancer. She consulted every herbalist, every holistic doctor, every snake oil salesman she could find.
Buffy helped as much as she could, doing grocery runs for Willow, making sure that bills were paid, keeping Tara entertained with horror stories based on her own exploits as a Slayer; Tara especially liked hearing about Angelus, and how Buffy had to sacrifice her beloved Angel to save the world from Alcatha. Willow, upon hearing Tara saying that, rolled up her eyes, and said, "She loves sappy endings, she’s a die-hard Danielle Steele fan." Tara just stuck out her tounge at Willow, and Buffy laughed at the two lovers. It did her heart good to hear them laugh again.
Finally, after Willow had exhausted every avenue of research available to them, Tara just told her to stop. She wanted Buffy there as a witness; she wanted no more extraordinary measures taken to keep her alive for only a few more months, or days, or whatever. Willow was not hurting for money; ever since she graduated from college, she was a highly sought after computer code writer, and was drawing down six figures a year. But she had practically taken a year off of her job to look after Tara. And the cures she had attempted, either conventional or magical, were costing money. Tara took Willow’s hands in her own weakened hands, and told her to simply let the tumor run its course. Whatever time they had together, she wanted to spend it with the one she loved.
Buffy continued to visit her friends for the last few months. She brought movies, gifts, smiles and stories. She was there with Willow when Tara went into her final coma. And she held the redhead in her arms when, after speaking with Tara’s parents, Willow consented to pulling the plug on her life support.
Buffy still felt guilty for Willow losing Tara. She had loved her deeply, only to see her love another. Did she somehow curse them, jinx their relationship? Crazier things had happened near the Hellmouth. A small daemon whispered in her ear, "Soon you can make your move. Keep playing the comforting friend and she’s all yours." And that thought just made her feel worse. She felt that she had betrayed Willow, just by loving her. And she had vowed to keep the secret of her love to the grave.
Willow and the other witches in their coven held a private funeral service for Tara. Only the coven proper were invited. They chanted and sang, commending the soul of their sister Tara O’Neil to the Goddess.
Willow hit upon the idea of an Irish wake for Tara. Rather than mourn her loss, she wanted to celebrate Tara’s life. A quietly festive mood reigned within the condo, as Willow reminisced about her beloved. Little personality quirks, her passion for peanut butter ice cream, the way she had charmed Willow’s parents, who were initially opposed to their daughter entering into a lesbian relationship. Xander and Cordelia spoke lovingly of how Tara had been the midwife for their two-year-old daughter, whom they named Tara Angel Harris, just weeks before the tumor had been diagnosed. It had been close to a breach birth, but Tara had managed to rotate the child within the womb. She had strength that belied her demure appearance, and that impressed the Harris family greatly.
Finally, it was Buffy’s turn to speak of the deceased. Buffy blanched at first, her guilt over the love she still harbored for Willow crashing in on her. But one look from her friend, her beloved, her secret love, and she knew that she could not refuse her. She stood up, taking her glass of root beer(six years after the Cave Slayer incident, and she still couldn’t touch real beer), and made her statement;
"I can’t say as much about Tara as the rest of you have, because, sadly, I’d been a bit out of the loop these last few years. And I deeply regret that. I got to know her better over the last few years as she fought the brain tumor that was killing her. But even at the end, she never lost the indominable spirit that made her special. Nor did she ever lose her innocence, even in the face of evils like Adam and the Initiative.
"Finally, I can say that Tara O’Neil was a special person for one real reason; she loved Willow Rosenberg, and was loved by her. To win Willow’s love, she’d have to be pretty incredible. A toast, then, to the memory of Tara O’Neil," she declared, raising her glass. "May she be in Heaven a half-hour before the Devil knows she’s dead!"
"Here, here," Giles answered, and glasses touched. The wake eventually wound down; Xander and Cordy were the first to go, as they had a sleeping little Tara to put to bed. Giles and Joyce left next, followed by Tara’s parents and Willow’s folks. "Do you need anything, honey?" Ira Rosenberg asked Willow.
"No, daddy," Willow insisted. "I’ll be fine."
Ira and Sheila hugged their daughter, saying their goodbyes. As they left, Buffy started to head for the door, saying, "Well, Willow, I’d better get going. Look, you call me if you need anything?"
"Could you stay, please, Buffy?" Willow asked. "I need to show something to you."
"Please, Wills," Buffy protested. "You don’t want me around."
"I do too, Buffy," Willow produced her most lethal weapon; her resolve face.
Buffy looked at that face, saying, "God, Wills, I missed seeing that." Her eyes sparkled with tears. Willow looked at her friend’s face and asked, "You okay?"
"No," Buffy suddenly blurted out. She didn’t want Willow to see her like this, but she couldn’t help herself now. Her tears flowed freely as she continued; "I’m standing here next to the woman I love more than life itself, and I have to say I’m sorry that she lost her love, when all I want to do is take her in my arms, and kiss her, and love her, and I can’t do that, no, I’m not okay! Look, I know I just blew our friendship out of the water, I’ll just leave, you can forget you ever met me, you’ll be happier this way--"
"BUFFY!" Willow had to shout to silence Buffy’s wailing. Buffy stopped, and just looked at her, looking as though she had been physically struck.
Willow calmly approached her friend, saying gently, "Now that I have your attention, a few things. First, I’m the one with a reputation for babbling, not you. Second, there is nothing that you could say that would make me not want to be your friend. Third, I know how you really feel about me. And fourth, so did Tara."
Buffy didn’t believe what she heard. She looked at Willow, waiting for the other shoe to drop. "Wha...how did you know that I loved you?"
"Tara knew all the time," Willow answered quietly. "She had often said how lucky she was to have me, considering the competition. That was you. She knew that you loved me, from the day she met you. The real you, not when Faith was in your body," she added quickly, causing Buffy to groan audibly.
"Buffy," Willow continued, placing her hand on her friend’s arm, "Tara never hated you, or begrudged you for how you felt. She knew about you, about how I felt about you. She had accepted that."
"How you felt?"
"Buffy," Willow explained, "I defy anyone who ever says that you can’t be in love with two people at the same time. You were just too involved with Riley, so I didn’t approach you then. And Tara was there." She lowered her head. "I’m sorry for keeping this from you, but you and I had gone on with our lives. I just didn’t want to do anything that would lead to an awquard situation. And I never wanted to lose you as a friend either."
"That would never happen, Willow," Buffy exclaimed immediately. "But you said that you had something to show me?"
Willow walked over to the TV cabinet, and pulled out a video cassette. "Just before Tara...before she went into her coma, she made this video. She wanted me to play it for you after she died." Buffy, amazed that Tara would want to say anything to her, sat down on the sofa, as Willow turned on television and the VCR, and put in the tape. She sat next to Buffy as the tape started.
The image was of Tara, sitting on the sofa, her face looking straight into the camera. Her face was sunken, and her head was wrapped in a colorful scarf to hide her scalp, her hair just barely growing back. She coughed a little and began to speak;
"Hey, Buffy. I guess if you’re seeing this, that means I’m dead. I’m making this tape to make sure that Willow will be taken care of. And the only person I can trust to do that is you.
"I know that you love Willow, Buffy. I know also that Willow loves you. Not that she loves me any less for it, and I thank the Goddess for that. But I always knew that I didn’t have all of her heart. You have always occupied a special place in Willow’s heart, and you own half of it. I consider myself blest that she entrusted me with the other half.
"I’ve recently finished writing my last will and testament. No big surprise, I’m leaving everything to Willow. But I’ve made an addition; being of sound mind and weakened body, I hereby bequeath to Buffy Summers my half of Willow’s heart. I want you to take care of her. She’ll need you.
"She’ll need time to mourn. Give her that time. But only six months, do you hear me, Wills? Only six months. After that, Buffy, I want you to make sure that she’s happy, that she’s safe. That she’s loved. Wine and dine her, send her flowers, seduce her, take her to bed and make love to her. Do whatever it takes to make her yours. I want her to know that she’s loved, and I won’t be here to love her much longer. Make her happy..." The camera started to shake. "Willow? Willow, put that damn camera down and come here!" Tara held out her arms, as the camera rested on the coffee table, and Willow rushed from behind the camera to accept her dying lover’s embrace. The last thing the camera caught before the video stopped was Willow sobbing in Tara’s arms.
Buffy struggled to swallow down the lump in her throat. She looked at Willow sitting next to her, and saw the tears flowing down her cheeks. She placed a hand on her shoulder, and Willow melted into her body. The two friends held each other desperately, drawing strength, hope and love from each other in the embrace. Willow lifted her head to Buffy, and allowed their lips to touch, just briefly.
When Buffy felt the pressure of Willow’s lips on her own, she had to summon all of her will power to break away. After she pulled back, she looked at Willow, and said, "I’m sorry."
"Why?" Willow asked simply. "I’m not."
Buffy sat on the couch, still in Willow’s arms. "I’d better be going now, I have to work tomorrow." She extricated herself from Willow’s embrace, fetched her coat from the closet, and started for the front door. She turned toward Willow and said, "And thank you for showing the tape."
"Glad to," Willow answered.
"She was incredible, wasn’t she?"
"Yeah," Willow agreed, a sad smile forming on her face. "You’re pretty incredible yourself."
"Thanks," Buffy started for the door, and stopped. She straightened her back, and decided to risk her heart. She turned back once more and said, "Willow, two things. One, you need anything, you call me. Anything at all. Grocery run, a shoulder to cry on, anything at all. You hear me?"
"And two," Buffy finished, "I’ll give you the six months, like Tara said. After that, I intend to prove myself to you. To prove my love. Tara made it clear that she wanted you to be happy, and I want to be the one who makes you happy. So be prepared. You have six months. Good night." She stepped out of the door, into the cool night, heading for home.
Willow stood in the doorway, watching Buffy’s car pull away. She smiled at herself, finding that she was looking forward to the end of the six months.
Far, far away, Tara O’Neil paused on her way to her final destination. She looked back at the elfin features of her beloved, as she watched the car drive off, and smiled. She knew that Willow was in the best of hands.
"Be happy, Wills," she said one last time, before passing on.