Willow disappeared around the same date every year. It was a little tidbit every one of her friends had made a point to tell him. They had also made a point to tell him not to try and find her. She always got a little twitchy a week or so before and then she would just be gone when he woke up one morning. She would return a few days later; a little distant, but more calm. The distance didn’t last long and soon she would be back to the Willow he knew and loved.
For five years, Lindsey abided by their wishes, even though it pained him to see her suffer. And he never asked any questions, which nearly killed him, but if Willow wanted him to know where she went she would tell him. He hoped she would anyway. So he was more than a little surprised to get a phone call from Buffy telling him where to find his witch this year.
He pulled up to the Sunnydale Crater and sat in his car for a few minutes, just taking in the scene. Willow and Dawn were sitting at a picnic table that overlooked their former home. There were two half-empty bottles of Tequila, two shot glasses, a salt shaker, and the remnants of several limes on the table between them. He was a little surprised to see Dawn there, but was also glad that Willow wasn’t drinking alone.
Lindsey looked around, but couldn’t see any sign of anyone else. Finally, he got out of his car and slowly made his way towards his two favorite women. He could hear their sniffles and as he got to the table, he could see tear tracks on their flushed cheeks. He was starting to get the feeling that he shouldn’t be there.
Willow’s attention was firmly on the crater, but Dawn blinked and raised bleary eyes to meet the shadow that had fallen over the table. “Linds?” she slurred.
“Hey, Dawnie,” he said softly.
She tried to focus on him, but couldn’t decide which one was real. “What’re you doin’ here?”
“Buffy called me. Told me to come out.”
Dawn nodded and started to tip to one side. Lindsey caught her and eased her down so she was lying on the bench. “Huh. You really are family now. This is bigger than the shovel speech,” she muttered as she passed out.
Lindsey couldn’t help his bemused chuckle as he turned Dawn onto her side. She never failed to make him laugh, whether she meant to or not.
Once he was sure she wouldn’t choke in her sleep, Lindsey turned his attention to Willow. Silent tears coursed down her cheeks as she stared at the slowly greening hole that used to be her hometown.
Lindsey straddled the bench as he sat down next to her and resisted the urge to put his arm around her. He figured she wouldn’t appreciate it just yet. “Willow?” he asked hesitantly.
“Eight years,” she murmured, barely loud enough for him to hear. “My girl has been gone for eight years.”
He got it then. Tara. She was remembering Tara. As much as Willow loved him, and he knew she really did, she still had feelings for the dead witch. He didn’t begrudge her those feelings; quite the opposite, in fact. It showed just how big his girl’s heart was. That’s what he tried to convince himself of anyway.
Sighing, he ran a hand over his face and through his hair. Buffy could’ve warned him that he was crashing a memorial. “Want me to leave, darlin’?”
She didn’t answer as she poured another shot and lifted it to her lips. Lindsey stayed her hand and she finally looked at him. “Lindsey?” she asked in confusion.
He gently took the glass from her and set it out of her reach. She frowned at him, but didn’t move away when he held both of her hands. “You can’t mix your tears with those from an agave plant.” Her eyes darted to the table and he ducked his head to make sure she looked at him again. “I’ve danced with him myself and he’s never been a friend.”
“That sounds like something out of a song,” she said thickly.
“It is,” he agreed. “Doesn’t mean it ain’t true. It’s also personal experience talking. Drinkin’ yourself stupid won’t help with the memories or the feelings. Would Tara want to see you or Dawn this messed up?”
Willow’s breath hitched. “Prob’ly not.” She looked at him with liquid eyes and he couldn’t help reaching up to gently wipe her tears away. “I think she would have liked you,” she said softly. A bittersweet smile twisted her lips. “She had a thing for bad boys and poets.”
Lindsey raised his eyebrows at that. As far as he knew Tara had never been interested in guys. Willow caught his look and explained. “She liked Spike. I think they got along best outside of him and Dawn. She let a few things slip once.” Her eyes got misty and he let her drift in her memories for a bit. Willow blinked and focused on him again. Her eyes filled up and her voice broke when she said, “I can’t remember what her voice sounded like. I’m forgetting her, Lindsey. I’m forgetting my girl!”
Lindsey hauled Willow into his arms as she had a complete meltdown. He held her as she sobbed out her grief, resting his cheek on top of her head, and tried to think of something to say when she was ready to listen that didn’t sound trite or cliché. He was coming up empty.
“Tell her I said it’s okay to let me go.”
Lindsey jerked his head up and stared at the translucent form floating just behind Willow. He’d seen enough pictures to recognize her. “Tara,” he whispered.
A sad smile crossed her face as she looked down at Willow, who had finally cried herself out and succumbed to sleep. “She holds so much inside; tries so hard not to burden anyone, even after all this time,” she said softly. Her gaze drifted to Dawn. “At least she shared her pain with someone.” Tara looked at Lindsey. “It should have been you.”
Lindsey shook his head. “Naw. I never knew you. From what they’ve let slip over the years, Dawn knew you best after Willow. It’s only right they remember you together.” He looked down and ran a gentle hand over Willow’s back. “What I’m wonderin’ is why Buffy told me to come here. This was private.”
“I asked her to bring you here,” Tara replied.
Lindsey looked up at her. “Why?”
She gestured to Willow. “I can’t get into her dreams. She’s so afraid of something bad getting in that she keeps her shields up even in sleep. It’s been very frustrating.”
“I can imagine,” he said dryly.
Tara smiled at him and his breath caught. She really was beautiful when she smiled. Her smile widened and she said playfully, “Willow wasn’t wrong. If I had liked men that way I really would have liked Spike…and you.” She laughed lightly when Lindsey flushed. He couldn’t believe a ghost had gotten him to blush. Tara sobered and said, “You’re good for her, Lindsey McDonald. I wanted to meet the person that helped her find her balance. And I wanted to try and find a way to let her know that it was okay to move on.” She gestured to the table and the drunk, sleeping women. “This isn’t healthy.”
“No,” Lindsey agreed, “But it is effective; for a while anyway. They miss you.”
“I miss them, too.”
Silence fell as they both stared at Willow and Dawn. An idea came to Lindsey, but it was crazy. It was from a movie for Gods’ sake. But it also kinda fit with their brand of weird, so maybe it would work.
He looked at Tara. “You ever see the movie ‘Ghost’?”
Tara blinked at him. “The one with Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore?”
“Yeah, a long time ago.” Tara snorted delicately in amusement. “Obviously.”
Lindsey grinned at that. Damn, he wished he’d known Tara in life. But then again, maybe not. He wasn’t the mostly good person he was now when she was alive. His grin faded and he rubbed his forehead. A guy could get a headache trying to figure this shit out.
“Any particular reason for the non sequitur,” Tara asked when he’d been silent a tad too long.
Lindsey got his mind back on task. “That scene where he took over Whoopi Goldberg’s body so he could talk to his girl,” he answered. He looked up at Tara. “Think you could do something like that?”
Tara thought about it for a moment then shrugged. “I suppose it can’t hurt to try. You’re willing to let me do that?”
Lindsey didn’t even hesitate. “Of course.”
Tara moved closer and let her hand drift over his cheek. Lindsey shivered at the sensation, but held her gaze. “You’re quite a man, Lindsey McDonald.”
“I haven’t always been,” he said honestly.
Tara waved him off. “Nobody is perfect, especially in this group. We’re all shades of grey.”
Lindsey closed his eyes and leaned into her ephemeral touch. He’d only felt that kind of acceptance from the woman sleeping in his arms. To have the spirit of his girl’s lost love say that to him…his breath hitched and he felt an unfamiliar sting of tears in his eyes. “You must have been a hell of a woman, Tara Maclay,” he murmured once he’d gotten himself under control. He opened his eyes in time to see Tara blush and he took a moment to marvel at the fact that it was possible for a ghost to do that.
“Thank you. Willow certainly thought so.” They smiled crookedly at each other then Tara frowned. “This should feel more awkward, shouldn’t it?”
Lindsey shrugged. “You’d think, and yet…”
“Yeah.” Tara stared at him for a moment longer then shook her head. “Okay, let’s see if this will work. Ready?”
“As I’ll ever be.” He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Come on in,” he invited.
Lindsey closed his eyes and shivered as he felt Tara settle inside him. She gently pushed him aside and then he was a spectator in his own body. It was one of the strangest things he’d ever felt, and that was saying something with the life he’d led.
He watched his hands shake Willow awake and smiled at her grumpy look as she sat up and shifted off his lap. “Lindsey?”
“Not exactly,” Tara said and even he could tell that his voice was different. This was an incredibly weird experience.
Willow frowned and her eyes started to change color. “Who are you and what are you doing in my boyfriend? Get out!”
Tara grabbed her hands. “Willow, it’s Tara.”
Willow’s eyes widened. “No,” she breathed. “No. That’s not possible. I don’t know who or what the hell you are, but if you don’t stop right now I’ll make you sorry!”
“When did morning happen?”
Willow stopped struggling and stared at the thing possessing Lindsey’s body. “What?”
“When did morning happen,” Tara asked again.
That was what she’d asked Tara when they’d woken up on their last morning together. No one and nothing should know that except the two of them. “After the moon went down,” Willow answered after a moment. She stared at her boyfriend and then her breath caught at the smile on his face. It was Tara’s smile. “Tara?”
“Hi, baby,” she said softly.
“Lindsey let me in. It was the only way I could talk to you.” She smiled again and cupped Willow’s cheek. Willow closed her eyes and leaned into the touch. “I don’t think I could have picked anyone better for you if I couldn’t be with you. I’m so happy for you.”
Willow sniffed as she opened her eyes. “I still miss you so much.”
“I know. I miss you, too.”
“I’m forgetting you and I don’t want that to happen,” Willow said fretfully.
Tara shook her head. “I’m always with you, here,” she touched Willow’s temple, “And here,” and then she touched Willow’s chest; just over her heart. “You may forget some of the details, but you’ll never forget me. And that’s as it should be. You’ve got someone who loves you almost as much as I did. It’s okay to move on.”
Willow started to shake her head, but Tara stopped her. “I’m telling you that it’s alright, baby.”
Willow opened her mouth, but a groan from the other side of the table stopped her from saying anything. Tara and Willow both looked over as Dawn sat up with a hand to her head. “Ow,” Dawn almost whimpered. “Tequila bad.” She squinted one eye open, but shut it quickly. “Evil little Mexican,” she muttered.
Tara giggled and even Willow smiled. Dawn chanced opening her eyes again and locked gazes with Tara. Forgetting all about her head, she nearly screeched, “Holy shitcakes! What’s Tara’s spirit doing inside of Lindsey?” Then she blinked. “Okay, that sounded kinda naughty.”
Willow giggled then clamped a hand over her mouth, like she felt like she shouldn’t be laughing. Tara laughed outright and so did Lindsey. Dawn stared at them. “Dude, that is so trippy.”
“I’ve missed you, Dawnie,” Tara said once she stopped laughing.
Dawn finally realized just who was sitting across from her and she squealed as she stumbled around the table and nearly tackled Tara to the ground. Tara ‘oofed’ but managed to keep her seat. It was an awkward position, but she didn’t care. “Thank you for staying with me,” she whispered in Dawn’s ear.
Dawn flinched at the reminder of being the one to find Tara’s body and started crying. Tara pulled Dawn down between her and Willow and they both wrapped their arms around the crying girl.
So many tears shed for something that happened so long ago. Lindsey hoped that this meeting would finally give the girls some closure. He felt honored that he was being allowed to witness the reunion, but part of him wished it was over. He was starting to get a bad feeling.
As if she’d read his mind, and it was entirely possible that she had since they were sharing space, Tara pulled back and murmured, “I don’t have much time left. I’m sorry.”
Dawn sniffed loudly and wiped the back of her hand under her nose like a five-year-old. Lindsey rolled his eyes and let Tara know where his handkerchief was. Tara pulled it out of his pocket and handed it to Dawn who smiled sheepishly as she took it.
Dawn took a moment to tidy up then kissed Tara gently on the lips. Lindsey knew there would be many moments of weird to come when he felt Tara kiss her back, albeit briefly. Dawn was like his little sister and he was fairly certain that’s what Tara and Dawn’s relationship had been like, too.
“Chill,” Tara muttered in his head. “We’re just saying goodbye.”
“It’s still weird,” he huffed.
Tara blew a mental raspberry at him then spoke to Dawn when the kiss ended. “You just freaked Lindsey out.”
Dawn chuckled. “Like I was gonna give up a chance at a two-fer.”
“Hey!” Willow piped up from behind her and lightly slapped the back of her head.
Dawn ducked her head then twisted to see Willow smiling at them. “You’ve got good taste,” Dawn said matter-of-factly.
Willow’s eyes drifted over her shoulder. “I know.”
Lindsey felt a pull that was not pleasant. “Tara,” he said urgently.
“I know,” she answered back.
Dawn must have felt her tense, because before Tara could say anything Dawn hopped up and said, “I’ll let you two say goodbye.” She hugged Tara and whispered, “I love you and I miss you.”
“Me too,” Tara whispered back as she squeezed Dawn one last time. Dawn patted Willow’s shoulder as she walked by and went to stand at the memorial marker the Council had erected.
Willow stared at Tara helplessly. “I don’t want you to go,” she said plaintively.
Tara raised one eyebrow. “You’d rather me stay and take over Lindsey’s body?”
Lindsey sucked in a breath and tried not to panic at the thought that Willow might say yes. Tara tried to assure him that Willow wouldn’t, but the fear remained.
Willow looked horrified. “Goddess, no!” Then she paused and a look of sad resignation came over her face. “This is really goodbye, isn’t it?”
Tara shrugged. “If you’d let your shields down while you were sleeping once in a while, I might be able to visit, but yeah, I think this is it.”
Willow bit her lip. “I’ll work on that.”
Lindsey felt the pull again, more insistent this time, and his body convulsed for a few agonizing seconds.
Willow sucked in a breath, realizing there was danger in what Tara and Lindsey were doing, and cupped Tara’s face. “I love you, Tara. I will always love you and I am so very grateful you gave me this chance to tell you one last time.”
Tara mirrored her, cupping Willow’s face as well. “I love you, too, Willow. Goodbye.” Then she kissed Willow for the last time.
“Thank you, Lindsey,” Tara said softly.
“You’re welcome, Tara,” he said sincerely.
Then she was gone and he was back in control and still kissing Willow.
Willow could tell the moment he wasn’t Tara anymore. She gentled the kiss and finally pulled back to look at her boyfriend. She searched for something to say and finally settled on, “Thank you.”
Lindsey smiled faintly at her and brushed her hair away from her face. “Anytime.”
“I love you,” she said, hoping beyond hope that he believed her. It was the truth, but the last hour or so was enough to cast doubt on that. “It’s just-”
Lindsey placed a finger over her lips. “I know. Tara and I talked for a while before, well, before. She’s worth that kind of devotion.”
“So are you,” Willow mumbled from behind his finger.
Lindsey let out a breath he hadn’t realized he was holding and pulled Willow closer. She buried her face in his neck and wrapped her arms around his waist. Now that it was over, he was starting to feel the strain of the last few hours. Hell, the last few years. Competing with a memory was hard, so he’d done his best to not even try since he and Willow had gotten together. Now, though, he realized just how much he had been, intentional or not, and he wasn’t sure how to feel about that.
He started to shake and Willow held him tighter. “I’m sorry,” she said against his throat.
He wanted to say there was nothing to apologize for, but he couldn’t. He couldn’t say anything at the moment.
Willow sat up and studied him. She bit her lip and was hit with the stunning realization of how unfair she had been to him since they’d gotten together. She’d been so worried about forgetting Tara that she hadn’t fully given herself to the man in front of her. And he had known and had never said a word.
Willow’s eyes widened and she covered her mouth with her hand. “I never realized,” she breathed out.
Lindsey just looked at her. This really wasn’t how he’d envisioned his day going. Even when he’d started talking to Tara’s ghost and had invited her in so she could talk to Willow, he hadn’t anticipated just how betrayed he would feel once he had such incontrovertible proof that Willow still loved the other woman.
Lindsey rolled his head on his shoulders, trying to let the tension go. He chuckled humorlessly and scrubbed his hands over his face. “I haven’t got a fuckin’ clue what to do right now, Willow,” he said tiredly.
“Don’t give up on me,” she offered meekly. He looked at her with one eyebrow raised and she said in a stronger voice, “I have been horribly unfair to you. I see that now. Boy, do I see that now. I didn’t realize how much trying to hold onto Tara’s memory was hurting you. Or us. I don’t have an excuse. I have no right to ask for your forgiveness, but I hope you’ll be able to. I don’t want to lose you, Lindsey. I love you.”
“You love her more,” he said without thinking. And just when had he turned into a teenage girl?
“I don’t,” Willow insisted. She blinked and sat back as the truth of her words settled inside her. Wow. She took Lindsey’s hand and made sure he was looking at her when she repeated, “I don’t. Yes, I do love her and a part of me always will, but she was right: it’s okay for me to move on. And I have. To you. I just didn’t know it until now.”
“Thanks,” he said somewhat bitterly.
Willow flinched. “Okay, that didn’t come out right.” She sighed then tried again. “Loving Tara, missing her…it was comfortable in a way. It was something I knew and I had no idea how to let go of it. I didn’t even know I needed to.” She cupped Lindsey’s cheek and was heartened when he leaned ever so slightly into her touch. “What you did for us today, letting us say goodbye, I can’t even begin to thank you for that gift.” Her eyes flicked over Lindsey’s shoulder to where Dawn was waiting then settled back on Lindsey. “Dawn and I, we all needed that closure.”
Lindsey nodded. He could understand that. He did understand. Didn’t mean he wasn’t still hurt. And Jesus, he couldn’t remember ever feeling this petulant; not even during the deepest part of his ‘hate Angel’ phase.
Willow shifted at Lindsey’s continued silence then finally asked, “What do you need from me?”
He thought about it and realized there was only one answer. “Time.”
Willow sucked in a breath and Lindsey held up a hand. “I’m not leaving you. I’m not going to make that kind of decision in the heat of the moment. I just need some time to get my head around all this. I thought I was gonna be okay with it, but it’s pretty obvious that I’m not, and it’s gonna take me a bit to reconcile everything.”
Willow was reminded of the aftermath of her Fluke with Xander; how Oz had also asked for time and how she’d tried to rush him. She wasn’t going to make that mistake twice, no matter how much it hurt to wait. It was nothing less than she deserved.
So Willow took hold of her courage and her hope that everything would be alright in the end and nodded. “Okay.” She scooted back then stood up. She looked at Dawn- who was biting her lip and looking pretty worried herself- and tried to smile, but it was a lost cause. She bent down and pressed her lips to Lindsey’s cheek. “I’ll see you at home?”
Lindsey nodded. “I’ll be home later.” He caught her hand a pressed a kiss to her palm. “Promise.” Willow relaxed a little at that. Lindsey always kept his promises to her.
Leaving Lindsey sitting at that table was one of the hardest things she’d ever done, but she knew she had to for both their sakes. She collected Dawn and was grateful the younger woman didn’t ask her any questions until after they’d teleported back to Dawn’s apartment.
Lindsey sat still for a long moment then picked up the forgotten shot glass full of Tequila. He stared at the glass and muttered, “I might not find what I’m lookin’ for, but it’ll at least help me forget for a little while.”
Knowing he was making a mistake, but not really caring, Lindsey tossed back the shot then poured another.