DISCLAIMER: I own nothing but enjoy trying to play with the characters a bit.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is my first attempt at a B/T flavored fic, feedback is appreciated.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

The Heart Loves Who It Will
By Gina



Sometimes in life one comes upon a quandary; they aren't sure of where they fit in or how to find out just where it is they belong. It feels as if a big rig truck is rolling the mind down a big lost highway, stopping at each intersection to see which way you need to turn.

This was how Buffy Summers felt once she regained her bearings after Willow pulled her out of heaven with the aid of the other Scoobies. She felt this way, until one night after weeks of trying; beautiful sky-blue eyes penetrated their way into the very depths of her soul. They warmed her inner being, made her feel alive again and not with sex or kisses, brutality nor pain. It was just with words of comfort and understanding that Tara Maclay made Buffy Summers live again.


Chapter One

It had been two weeks since Buffy was brought back from the dead. Willow had taken over during the summer of her absence, convincing herself and the Scoobies they couldn't leave Buffy in a hell dimension. The problem was, Buffy seemed dazed and confused upon her return home coupled with sporting a very unhappy demeanor.

This troubled Tara who had helped Willow resurrect Buffy against her better judgment. She couldn't understand why Buffy was so glum and distant; it was as if she didn't want to be in Sunnydale nor with her old friends. This made Tara fear Willow had miscalculated the situation entirely but she tried to push it in the back of her mind as she tossed and turned in the bed she shared with Willow.

Willow was the love of her life but seemed to change since Buffy's death and before that even if Tara had thought about it. During the days of the Scooby gang having to take over Buffy's duties; Willow had grown accustomed to using magic more. She was communicating with them like a drill sergeant to be precise, telling them move this way and that as she would spot out potential dangers from her hiding place. Tara was growing very concerned over this behavior which only worsened as time went on; Willow had begun using magic for everyday life. Tara had not yet brought the matter up to her as they were busy dealing with everyday life matters such as school, taking care of Dawn and the little thing called Buffy is home.

She turned over in the bed once more before she decided to get up. Just because she couldn't sleep didn't mean she had to wake Willow up. Tara got up out of bed and gently kissed her sleeping girlfriend. Willow slept oblivious to Tara's problems, which was another thing that wasn't of the norm. Willow and Tara had always talked, always worked to keep potential problems away but it seemed those days were gone and had been really since Tara's mind was returned to her a few months ago.

Tara walked quietly down the stairs and made herself a cup of tea; being as that sometimes helped her sleep and looked out the kitchen door. The skies were dark except for the dim light of the moon which showed a silhouette of a still figure sitting in the grass. She sipped her tea and focused her eyes enough to see that it was Buffy.

She stood silently watching the slayer for what seemed ages but Buffy never made a single motion of any kind nor glanced Tara's way. Tara then decided she should go out to see if Buffy might want to talk. She pulled on her slippers, made another cup of tea and headed out into the back yard with Buffy making no move to give Tara a sign she noticed her coming.

Tara stood there a few minutes quietly then extended her hand in front of the slayer and offered her the tea. Buffy lifted her eyes towards Tara and accepted the warm drink. She didn't speak but the eyes told it all, they were emotionless and void. "Buffy?" Tara questioned in a hushed voice. "Are you all right?"

"Of course," Buffy said flatly as she looked her hands over which still had marks on them from where she had to dig herself out of her own grave not so long ago.

Tara looked at Buffy's hands also and shivered outwardly at the thought of what awaking in your own coffin must have felt like. "I'm s-s-s-s-sorry Buffy," Tara managed to stammer out feeling bad for the slayer. It was hard seeing Buffy like this as Tara could easily remember the headstrong, determined hero, the soothing friend, the one who could carry the weight of the world. Now before her, sat a lost little girl waiting to be found and maybe not even caring if she happened to be found.

Buffy looked into Tara's compassionate eyes and recalled how they always strengthened her though she never told anyone. Tara was a stronger person than she probably would ever realize and Buffy was surprised that an old memory was swirling its way through her non-feeling inner being in an attempt to reach the surface. How she wished she could feel again, truly laugh again, and most of all, live again.

Tara saw something flash across Buffy's features for a brief moment. She wondered what it was but knew that, if just for an instant, something positive was registering to the blonde slayer. "Buffy, is there anything I could do for you, I mean," Tara trailed off not really knowing what she meant but wanting to help if she could.

"Maybe you can come with tomorrow night on patrol?" Buffy offered softly not knowing why but thought the blonde's company might help her in some way.

"I-I'll tell W-" Tara was about to agree that her and Willow would go on patrol but Buffy cut her off.

"No, just you please?" Tara fully understood that Buffy needed to be alone and not pushed. She needed to have someone there should she decide to talk and Tara probably was the only choice that wouldn't prod her into talking. That was the explanation she quickly came up with as to why Buffy didn't want Willow to be there. "Ok Buffy, just the t-t-t-two of us." Tara genuinely smiled at the slayer and hoped someday soon Buffy would smile back. For once Buffy smiled that classic grin of hers, she could truly say Buffy was home.

As Tara awoke the next morning, she wondered why she was stuttering slightly the night before. She hadn't done that in quite some time that she recalled. She kissed Willow's sleepy face a few times. "We have class this morning Willow and you need to eat breakfast."

"mmmmmm," Willow kissed her back. "I'd much rather stay here. I got cold last night, did you get up for any length of time?" Willow asked as she stretched lazily.

"I went outside and gave Buffy some tea. Willow, I'm going on patrol with her tonight, she asked me to." Tara said leaving no room for argument.

Willow wondered why Tara was invited and not her but decided Buffy just needed a little time and maybe was more comfortable around someone she didn't know as well right now. "Pancakes, sausage and a big glass of juice sounds yummy." Willow smiled at Tara as her stomach decided it was hungry.

"I'm sure Dawn will agree," Tara got up from the bed and trudged to the bathroom to get ready for breakfast.

Willow sat on the bed for a few minutes in an attempt to pick herself up. She had felt dragged out the last couple of days and knew it was due to lack of magic usage. 'just a little something later on will be good' She got up and headed down the stairs where Tara and Dawn were already in the kitchen. "Can I help?" Willow offered more than asked. "Maybe take care of the dishes," she pointed over at the pans Tara was now finished with.

"Sure," Tara said as Buffy came down the stairs. This was the first time she'd joined them for breakfast and it pleased both Tara and Dawn but Willow didn't seem to notice.

"Great," Willow said and waved her hand and the pans were clean, and then breakfast was placed on paper plates with the previous breakfast setting all cleaned up and put away.

"Willow!" Tara said as she turned towards her girlfriend with anger in her eyes. "If you all will excuse me-" Buffy's hand on her arm stopped the blonde witch in mid-sentence.

"Tara don't, let's eat and deal later." Buffy offered in way of help which made Dawn beam. Her sister seemed more like herself this morning but why was the big question.

"Tara it's ok honey," Willow reassured. "It was just a little practice spell, no harm done." She kissed her lover as Tara begrudgingly sat down for breakfast.

"I think it was childish!" Dawn piped up.

"You're one to talk about childish acts," Willow added angrily. She had promised to keep Dawn's shop lifting secret but was about to blow the big mouthed brat out of the water. How dare she speak against her like that.

"Stop it!" Tara said sternly. "Lets eat then go about our business seeing as we can't be civilized long enough to carry on an adult conversation."

"That's because some of us aren't adults," Dawn said as she shot daggers at Willow with her eyes.

"I wish I had some business to attend to," Buffy said so softly nobody heard her. She then got up from the table, having finished her plate and went out the door.

"That's another thing that needs addressed," said Dawn as she got up to get ready for school. "My sister is just a shell of her former self."

Willow's hand shot out and grabbed Dawn. "Your sister is home! Be thankful, nobody else could do what I did!" She jumped up from the table and ran up the stairs.

"Tara she's really going off the deep end." Dawn said going up the stairs herself.

Tara stood in the kitchen looking out the back door. She felt as if she had really made a mess of things but knew; deep down, none of this was her mess. She only felt the need to help Buffy become more like the person she used to be and not out of obligation or responsibility. She wasn't sure what to do about Willow but something had to be done before it was too late.


Chapter Two

Tara watched Buffy on patrol that night. Like a well-oiled machine Buffy staked vampires left and right, with more speed and agility then before her death. Gone were the smart remarks in between staking that Buffy had grown famous for; gone was the girl talk and laughter that Buffy loved doing between demon fights. This all made Tara very sad, she was coming to the conclusion that a dire mistake had been made when they brought Buffy back, one that they possibly couldn't repair.

Spike came out from behind a tree towards them. "Did the slayer tell you she came back wrong?" He said in a bitter tone hoping it would get some sort of emotion out of Buffy.

"What?" Tara questioned uncertainly.

"Watch this," he punched the slayer and made no sign of his chip activating. "Red witch screwed her up!" He shouted in true anger. He too was glad to see Buffy home but it hurt him to see the shell of the slayer he'd once loved.

Tara stood looking at the two of them. Buffy just stood there looking off into the night as Spike ranted. Tara was certain now they'd made a big mistake; no doubts were left in her mind. As she looked at Buffy the tears began to flow, then it happened.

Buffy looked at Tara's face and saw the tears falling. She jumped on Spike with a fury of punches and kicks. "You make her cry again vampire and I swear I will stake you!" Her voice rose in such an angered tone that it chilled Spike to the bone. Somehow he knew she would do it and that intrigued him as to why she was reacting so strongly.

"I'm out of here slayer," he said then sauntered off into the darkness letting a plan to bring back the slayer form in his mind.

"Tara?" Buffy spoke softly and placed her hand on the witches arm. "Do you think I came back wrong?" There was such a pleading look in Buffy's eyes that Tara could barely stand to look at her. Buffy was desperate for some sort of answer and Tara wasn't sure she had the answer.

"No Buffy, it has to be just a glitch of some kind," Tara said with a notable stammer on each word she spoke. "B-B-Buffy w-w-w-where d-d-d-d-did Willow take you from?" It was a question Tara had to know the answer to.

"Heaven," Buffy said softly. She hadn't planned to tell them but it felt right telling Tara. "I feel like I'm living in hell Tara. I don't feel anything, no love, hurt, life, there is just emptiness inside of here." Buffy said and sadly looked away from the trembling woman.

Tara took in all that Buffy was saying and hoped that Buffy would let her help her. Tara felt that was the least she could do for partaking in bringing her back and she hoped her help would eradicate some of the guilt that was overwhelming Tara. "I'm so sorry Buffy," she says continuing her stammer.

"It's not your fault Tara," Buffy said quietly. "I just wish I could find something that would make me feel again." She pulled Tara into a tight hug trying to calm the woman who was obviously guilt-stricken over what they had done. "Lets go home," she says turning them towards Revello drive.

Tara sat quietly in the bedroom thinking as Willow slept. She couldn't believe they'd made such a huge mistake. They had selfishly brought Buffy back and justified it by making themselves believe she was in some form of hell dimension. Tara chastised herself mentally. 'You should have known Tara that a person as good and noble as Buffy Summers would not be trapped in hell.'

Willow rolled over and put her arms around her girlfriend. She opened her eyes a little and kissed Tara's smooth skin. Then her eyes popped open all the way. "Tara, have you been crying?" She leaned up on one elbow.

"It's nothing Willow. I just feel so bad for Buffy and wish I knew how to help her." Tara assured her girlfriend making a mental note to have a magic discussion soon. "It's all right," she kissed Willow gently. How she loved the woman who was now snuggled next to her. "I love you Willow."

"I love you too Tara." Willow said and kissed her passionately.

Tara knew Willow loved her but also knew she may have a hard road ahead of her when she confronted her about the magic. She wasn't going to do that tonight though. She needed comfort and to be held so she could relax at this moment.

The next evening the gang had gathered for dinner at Buffy's house. "So when do we tell them?" Anya prodded Xander.

"An please," Xander chastised.

"Well if you want to get married don't you think your friends should know?" Anya blurted out receiving stares from everyone.

"That's great!" Willow beamed with delight. "I can get an engagement party going like real quick."

"I'm sure you can with that mojo of yours." Xander added in a frustrated tone. He too had seen the changes in his friend and didn't like them much.

"Xander there is no harm in a little magic to help spruce up what would be a dull event." Willow said in an assuring tone.

"Willow you are using magic to spruce up your entire life and those around you. That is wrong," Tara said softly. She didn't plan to have this particular conversation just now in front of everyone but felt it was time to say something. The opportunity had presented itself for Tara to give a little insight on her feelings on the subject and so she took it.

"Tara I have come a long way with magic and need to practice. I did this all for you if you will remember." Tara's eyes glazed over with anger as Willow spoke.

"That was so not a good move Willow." Anya chimed in as she motioned to Tara's angered face.

"What you did for me was special Willow and I will thank you for it for the rest of my life. How dare you throw it up at me though to try and get me to feel guilty so I will keep my mouth shut!" Tara's voice was raising more than she had anticipated. "You used magic to help me, now you're playing with it as though it is a new toy and it is helping nobody. You're getting in to deep Willow, it is changing you." Tara pushed herself back from the table to leave the room.

As Tara stood up, she looked the group of friends over, her stomach began to clinch up and her chest tightened. She recalled the evening and conversation at breakfast in which Dawn showed her disgust for the entire situation and indeed Tara felt that same wave of disgust wash over her as Dawn surely had. What was happening to her Willow, did she even know the woman she'd fallen so deeply in love with? Was that love enough anymore? Was the bond they shared ever really enough or just some illusion of Tara's?

"Tara," Willow stood, as did Buffy. "I used magic to bring you back, now I'm using magic to have a little fun and to learn how to use it. Are you jealous because you can't do these things?"

Tara's face dropped significantly upon hearing Willow's words. She was hurt by them deeply but knew this was just a ploy of Willow's as she tried to spin a web of guilt and submission from Tara. "I'm not jealous in the least Willow. I'm scared for you," Tara looked at her lover with sad eyes. "You get cranky when you don't do a spell; don't you think I don't notice? It is as if you are addicted to the magic and plus thinking you are the only one who can do this and do that. Let me tell you something, you will run across someone who can do what you have done plus more and will get yourself into a heap of trouble. I am scared of that and that I'm losing you to magic!" Tara's voice was firm but breaking as she tried to fight off the crying that always came with the tears that began to trickle down her cheeks.

"Tara, don't make me choose!" Willow bellowed angrily. Anger exploded from the redhead so much that, without thinking, she sent the dishes flying to the floor.

"You see Willow, you lost control and I think you need to sit down and think about this." Tara turned to leave but Willow grabbed her arm garnering shocked looks from the others.

Tara dropped her head and cried all the more as Willow so violently grabbed her arm. She had changed so much and all because of magic. Tara once believed Willow would never do anything to harm her but now she didn't know what to believe.

Buffy moved quickly jerking Willow away from Tara. "Don't ever do that again Willow. Look at yourself, you are not the Will I knew and if bringing me back caused you to turn like this I wish you would have left me in that grave because I do not like what I'm seeing."

"Will we all love you," Xander said hoping to not make his life-long friend feel as though she were being ganged up on. "You and Tara have a special thing, don't let the magic ruin it." He stood up followed by Anya.

"Could you two stay here?" Buffy asked as she pointed towards the door that Tara had just exited.

"Uh, sure," Xander said not wanting to but hoping he could help his friend relax and see that she was going to lose Tara if she didn't cool it with the magic.

"Tara?" Buffy called as she went out the back door. "Tara, it will be all right." She strode next to the blonde who was walking around the back yard aimlessly.

"It's ok Buffy; you have your own stuff to deal with. I'll be ok." Tara tried to put up a strong front but the slayer knew better.

"Tara," Buffy said softly as she placed a hand on Tara's arm. "You're helping me now let me help you. I want to help you, I feel like I have a purpose when I'm-" a strange look briefly crossed Buffy's features. "Uh, anyway just let me help you ok?"

Tara half smiled at the slayer realizing this was, in some strange way, bringing Buffy back to them. "Can't argue with a slayer," she replied as Buffy hugged her with a mixture of adoration for Tara and sadness for what was going on playing on her face.

"That's right," Buffy smiled as she looked into Tara's sad blue eyes. 'Such pretty eyes, so real and loving.' "Tara, you are a wonderful person and I have to believe Will still has enough sanity inside her to see that." 'Willow doesn't even deserve you Tara, not now anyway.' "We have to believe she will stop the magic for you Tara." Buffy didn't believe a word she was speaking to Tara but was grasping at anything that might make Tara feel better. She did feel Willow didn't deserve Tara but was certain that Willow would not stop the magic for the most kindhearted woman Buffy had ever met besides her mother.

"T-T-That's just it Buffy," Tara spoke as the tears fell and Buffy gently wiped them from her face. "She has to stop for herself, not me. It won't work if she can't see what is happening to her enough to change for herself and that pains me because I'm afraid she's not going to see it in time."

"No matter what happens Tara," Buffy said as she kept her gaze on the woman and never saw who came out the back door. "You have friends, family; we're your family now."

"Um, Tara," Dawn said not wanting to interrupt the moment she was witnessing. It was interesting how Tara seemed to bring Buffy's emotions to the forefront and all Dawn could do was wonder why. "Willow is sorta well, sorta sad and wants to talk to you."

"Go," Buffy said and gave Tara's shoulder a pat and a reassuring smile. "I'll be right here if you need me." She broke herself away from Tara who hesitantly went into the house followed by Dawn.

Buffy slowly trudged her way towards the house deciding on not patrolling tonight. She wondered what it was about Tara that was stirring things inside her, feelings of warmth and caring, feelings she, just yesterday morning, yearned for and feared she'd never find. Whatever was the cause of the feelings, they felt good and she was glad though she knew it would be awhile yet before she was complete again if ever. It would be awhile before she wanted to live again, if ever. At least she had some fleeting moments of emotion rather than just going through the motions and was glad Tara was there to help her have these moments.


Chapter Three

Tara walked in the bedroom where Willow sat waiting on her. She looked in Willow's eyes seeing sadness there. It made Tara feel bad for her love but she also knew she had to stand her ground where the magic usage was concerned. She had to do it if for no other reason than for Willow's safety. She knew Willow was on the road to do permanent damage to herself and possibly those around her and it pained her deeply.

"Tara I don't want to fight with you over this," Willow said softly. "I love you and I don't wanna lose you. I promise I will go without magic for one week; if you will just give me a chance."

Tara looked again at Willow whose eyes were begging. "I love you too Willow. I just am afraid for you and what will happen if you don't stop this." Tara caressed Willow's cheek as she spoke. "I don't want you to have to prove anything to me but, for your own self, I will accept your promise of not using for a week." Worry creased Tara's face as she accepted Willow's offer. Part of her wanted to believe Willow could do it for her but the larger part of her felt Willow was setting herself up for a big let down because she wouldn't be able to go a week without the magic.

Willow's face beamed with delight as she put her arms around Tara. "I'm so glad to have you in my life Tara," she kissed her passionately.

"We should get some sleep now," Tara said as she laid her emotionally worn out body down on the bed. She wasn't ready for intimacy and that scared her. She didn't want to pull away in that way but it was happening. She hoped that, in time, she could be relaxed enough with Willow to share her love in that way but not this night for certain.

The next evening, Buffy and crew had decided to throw an impromptu engagement party for Xander and Anya. Willow offered eagerly to get things ready while the others were busy with work, school and so forth. She had been working for half an hour getting things ready. 'Just one little spell to speed things along, it won't hurt and Tara will never know.'

When the gang arrived Tara noticed right away that the party was a little extravagant. She looked at Willow with questioning eyes. "Tara I've been working hard all day and-" she trailed off as Tara turned and started talking to Dawn and her friend Janice who were planning to go out for a bit shortly, having met Buffy's demand of at least appearing at the party.

Willow looked at Tara to gauge the situation. Her stomach was getting a sinking feeling. 'How are you going to get out of this one Rosenberg! You know Tara isn't stupid!' "Tara?" Willow questioned softly.

"Later Willow," Tara gave her an assuring look. She knew Willow had promised no magic for a week and had to think of some sort of reprimand. 'This isn't right Tara, now you're reprimanding her like a child.' She also knew how excited Willow was for her friend getting married and planned to overlook it just this time once they spoke later.

Buffy looked at Tara with a worried glance as Willow slipped up the stairs. "She's got to stop this," Xander said trying to make his point without letting the few coworkers of his who had arrived know about the situation. He had gained a few normal friends and would rather keep them in the dark on certain things so as to keep them normal.

"Let me just go see what she's doing." Tara said quietly, more to Buffy than the rest of the party attendees.

As Tara walked in the room, she saw Willow with a leaf in her hand and some herbs. She instinctively put up a barrier spell around her. She was dumbfounded to realize she did the right thing as she heard Willow mutter, "forget."

When the flower didn't wilt, Willow looked up in surprise then utter panic spread across her face when she saw that Tara stood just inside the room. Tara's face looked blank but the tears did fall from her eyes. "I can't believe what you were going to do to me Willow!" Tara shouted which was followed by Willow hearing someone coming up the stairs.

"Tara, I-I-I panicked, I-I-I didn't mean to-" her words were cut short by the blonde putting her hand up as Buffy now stood behind her.

"No Willow! After what Glory did to me, you were going to mess with my mind! I can no longer trust you! I have to go!" Tara's anger was expressed greatly on her face but more so, her features showed great pain and anguish. "I gave my all to you Willow and you tried to alter a part of me."

"Tara please, you can't leave me," Willow begged as tears fell from her face. "I can't beat this without you Tara, I need you."

"You can't beat it with me apparently," Tara said in a somber voice that was racked with sobs. "I warned you Willow of what would happen to you if you didn't stop." She turned to leave with Willow still begging.

"Tara," Buffy said softly touching the shaking Wicca's arm. "I'll come with."

Tara please don't go," Willow said desperately.

"Will, give her some time. I'll go with her to make sure she's all right." Buffy said but knew her words weren't going to calm the situation as Tara headed out with tearstained eyes.

The sun was just poking its way into view when Tara awoke the next morning. She was on a park bench with Buffy protectively by her side. Neither woman spoke much the night before; they just sat in their own personal grief. Tara for her love, the one she thought was true but the realization that magic was Willow's true love was sinking in. Buffy for her friend whom had somehow slipped away from everyone; this was not the Willow she knew and loved.

Buffy was feeling pain for Willow, anger for Tara being hurt like that and sadness for her friend. It seemed there was nothing more she could do so She simply sat with Tara all night till sleep overtook her. She wiped many tears from her face and gave many supporting hugs. Her heart truly bled for this woman who exuded all that was good and was somehow pushing her way through Buffy's walls making her desire to laugh and smile again. For this, Buffy knew she could never repay her. Tara was pulling Buffy from the depth of darkness, the inner-bindings of coldness and putting a little fire back in her soul. She was doing it all with a warm smile, a kind word and occasional hug or two. Tara Maclay was a true blessing in Buffy's life and Buffy was determined to stop Willow from further hurting her at any cost.

"Tara," she said softly. "Lets get you home and showered," Buffy patted her tummy. "Besides, I could use some of those funny shaped pancakes."

Tara smiled despite her sadness. "I don't know Buffy," she stammered. "I can't face Willow."

"Yes you can because you've got the slayer's strength right here," she placed her arm around Tara's waist. "It's all yours, use it for courage until we sort this mess out."

Tara somehow felt at ease with the support of the slayer. She knew her heart was in for a rough road and Willow would probably make it more rough but something deep within her being felt that, with the help of the slayer, she could make it through.


Chapter Four

Willow awoke early that morning in a damp alley. She tried to focus herself so she could remember just how she got there. Her clothes were wet, hair a mess and head was pounding.

She had de-ratted Amy after Tara left. She was so angry that Tara had left her without trying to understand her predicament. She was thinking how selfish Tara was being and looked at Amy's cage. She quickly came up with the idea to break the rat spell on Amy in hopes of having a fun magic partner. "Now it's time for the party to begin," she said in a devilish voice.

So after the two had spent an hour in Willow's room catching up on the time Amy had missed, they ventured out into the late night. Amy remembered this guy who used to juice her up with magic before she turned herself into a rat. Willow had no idea the depths of magic Amy was heading towards back then but knew now.

Amy had taken her to this guy, Rack was his name and he lit her up with a magic so strong that she floated around the room for what seemed an eternity. When she came back down to the floor her energy was crackling with dark magic and she wanted to have some fun.

They headed over to the Bronze where they performed spells to liven up the place; spells such as a better ambiance and making most everyone attracted to them. She recalled Amy going off with Spike for some reason which wasn't going to please Buffy if she had any emotions left to become displeased.

Willow grew bored with the Bronze after dancing with a few girls and realizing they just weren't Tara. She hopped in a car and drove around and then this demon started after her. He was banging on the car windows and such. She remembered the thud as the car connected with a human due to her careless driving. She remembered jumping out of the car and running for what seemed an hour. She got to this alley, laid down on the dirt and began to sob. Everything that she'd done was coming back to her at that moment and she cried a river of tears; calling out into the empty night for help but none came. She was all alone with her world closing in on her fast.

"Willow!" The not so soothing voice of Tara calling out to her jerked her out of her reverie. Her body was trembling and the tears were falling hard.

"I-I-I-I-I may have killed someone." Willow choked out between racked sobs which were so strong you could see her chest heaving. "Down the other end of Wilshire Drive I-I-I," Buffy broke out of the alley in a sprint as Tara stood looking at Willow.

"Willow," she came closer to the distraught Wiccan putting her hand on her trembling arm. "Willow, you need to get cleaned up."

Willow tried to stand but her throbbing head and dizziness from the magic withdrawal had made it impossible. Tara helped her to her feet and let her lean on her. "Willow, what happened?"

Tara walked in the front door of Buffy's house holding Willow up. Giles took one look at her and a knot welled up in his stomach. He remembered his days with the dark magic and knew that look all to well. Something had gone terribly wrong in young Ms. Rosenberg's magic trek. "Dear Lord!" He exclaimed as Dawn looked at the two women with a shocked but non-sympathetic look.

"She needs to get cleaned up and have some coffee." Tara said trying to hide her concern from the witch. She knew Willow needed help but feared if she were the one helping to much, Willow would fall back on her strength and not truly learn her lesson. She also knew she couldn't just throw her aside either.

Buffy came through the door in an angered huff. She was still trying to gain her emotions but the only one she could seem to muster for her long time friend now was anger. She had gone to where Willow told her to and there in a ditch well hidden by the trees laid the still body of Dawn's friend Janice. Willow had killed a young girl for no other reason than that of a selfish one. She wanted to use magic and wallow in her own self-pity for Tara having left and poor Janice paid for it all. "Giles," Buffy said softly upon seeing her watcher. She didn't regard him happily or sadly, just a quick nod. He took notice to this as she looked at Willow with angered eyes. "Janice is dead," Buffy hissed out at the redhead.

Giles took note of this also. A year ago, Buffy would not have dreamt of letting such a bad piece of news out in such a fashion but now she did simply because, he concluded, she was going through the motions. Slay, come home, sleep, go slay with only brief moments of her former self emerging from the shell that now was Buffy Summers. He too felt anger well up inside him; Willow had acted in a totally selfish way even if her intentions were good.

Tears fell down Dawn's cheeks as she looked at Willow with a loathing in her eyes. "I hate you! I hate you and your magic! I wish you would have died, you murderer!" The teen raced up the stairs and slammed her door.

A ray of emotions began to play on Buffy's face as Tara touched her hand in a calming gesture while still holding onto Willow who looked as though she wanted to harm herself. She felt for Dawn, wanted to help her, felt for Tara knowing the predicament she found herself in and knew it was time to do the Buffy thing. "Tara," she began softly. "I'll take care of Will and you go talk to Dawn." She hoped beyond all hopes that this would alleviate some of the stress from Tara.

"I'll help you with Will," Xander offered not knowing what to say or do. He was upset at his friend earlier but now he felt hurt for her.

Tara looked between Willow and Buffy not knowing what to do either. She wanted so badly to comfort her recent ex-lover but knew that could be costly for several reasons. She didn't want Willow depending on her forgiveness then using magic to stop her pain nor did she know if she could look her in the eyes. First she tried to take her memory and then she murdered someone. Somewhere deep within Tara's heart, she knew Willow never intended for things to go this far but it happened because she refused to take heed to the urgent warnings of others.

Willow was now paying a heavy cost for her enormous lack of judgment and will power. It hurt Tara to see her in this shape but on the other hand, Willow had broke Tara's trust and heart when she tried to perform a spell on her. Also, though she didn't mean it, Willow carelessly took another human life. These were things Tara didn't know if she could ever get past in order to rebuild a relationship with Willow but there was one thing she knew she had to do for her own peace of mind. "N-N-N-o Buffy," she stammered with shaking hands. "You go take care of Dawnie, I got Willow."

Buffy looked at Tara and for the first time since she was resurrected, tears fell from her eyes. She felt hurt deep down for this lovely woman who glowed with compassion. She wanted nothing more, at that moment, then to take the broken yet strong woman into her arms and shelter her there. She didn't understand this overwhelming need to protect Tara both physically and emotionally but it was there and growing stronger. "All right, Buffy said as she shuffled up the stairs to try and help Dawn wondering just what was to come for the battered Scooby gang in the near future.


Chapter Five

Tara helped Willow clean up and got her in the bed. She then got her a nice hot cup of tea to help her relax. She found herself torn knowing that Willow had killed a big part of what they had, a part Tara was realizing would never come back.

She loved Willow and always would but that desire to be with her, hold her, kiss her and spend all her time with her was slowly dying. Tara feared what would happen once she and Willow had this discussion and knew now was not the time. Nor was it the time to break the news to her because of her current mental state. "Willow, we can get you the help you need to beat this dark magic. You are a good person Willow and I know you can do this." Tara said as she refrained from rubbing Willow's cheek. Part of her did want to hold and comfort her but she feared she would fall back into something with Willow to try and keep her sane. She knew this would be the wrong move too.

"You're all the help I need Tara," Willow said tiredly as she closed her eyes. "Could you just hold me please?"

"Of course," Tara stammered not knowing quite what else to do. She wanted to comfort the woman but as she held her in her arms she could feel a difference.

She felt as if she were holding a broken friend in need of serious comfort. She felt as if it were a duty as someone who cared rather then a want of a lover to comfort. As Willow slept, Tara wept for the love she now knew was lost to her. Magic had taken it all away and this disgusted her so much she felt as though she'd never want to ponder doing another spell.

Tara wondered how this all happened knowing it was because of Willow's careless attitude when using magic but couldn't bring herself to blame the woman. In fact, she found herself searching for reasons to blame herself for the entire mess. She and Willow had a love that most couples only dream of, a love that one would think would last forever but just like that, it was dying and it broke her heart.

Early that next morning Tara slipped out of bed and went out in the front yard for some fresh air. She had barely slept the night before and wanted to try to get herself revived with some fresh air before the others realized what a shape she was in. Willow was the one in need of help and Tara planned on sucking her own troubles up until Willow got that help. She was never one to let her problems upstage those of another person and it wasn't going to start now.

What she wasn't counting on though Was that Buffy already stood outside looking at the early morning sky. "Hey Tara," the slayer looked at her with concerned eyes. "You don't look so hot."

"I don't feel so hot but I'll be fine." Tara said determined to not show her hurt.

"So um, how is Will?" Buffy asked watching the body language of the blonde witch to try and gauge her mental stability.

"I'm afraid she's going to need more help than we can give her," Tara said with a frown on her face.

"She's got you Tara," Buffy said as she felt a pang deep inside. "You can get her through anything. You have me without even trying."

"That's just it Buffy," Tara sat down on the step. "I couldn't get her through it," before she could stop them, the tears began to fall. "I tried so hard and I couldn't, my love wasn't strong enough I guess and now she needs my love more than anything and I want to give it to her but it's just not there now."

Buffy was taken aback slightly having never seen Tara talk so much at once. She felt hurt for the sobbing woman whom she quickly wrapped up in her arms. "It's all right Tara. You can't help what you feel or don't feel. Life pushes us to feel things we don't mean to feel sometimes," Buffy was speaking to Tara regarding her feelings towards Willow but was beginning to understand that she was speaking of herself too. She knew she was fighting the notion of having feelings for this paragon of goodness and it made her wish she had stayed that cold emotionless slayer.

"I know that if I did go into a relationship with Willow now, it would only hurt her in the long run." Tara began trying to pull herself together which she was finding easy to do in the arms of the slayer. "She would hold me there out of fear; fear that if I left magic would take over her again like she couldn't stop it without me."

"Are you sure that's not already happening?" Buffy asked wiping the tears from Tara's face. "I know you want to help Will but are you afraid that if you tell her the feelings are going away, she will slip into some sort of magic dark thingie and not get out?"

Tara looked up at Buffy knowing that was partly the truth. "I want to help Willow, I really do but because I care as a friend not a lover. Willow won't let me help her any other way than a lover I'm afraid. I didn't kiss her last night but I held her and the desire for her wasn't there." Tara stammered out trying to stop herself from crying again. "Buffy part of me wanted it to be there because I know no matter what Willow has done, she loves me with all her heart and I know I could never find someone who would care for me like that again. Then the other part of me, well it's all messed up. I just don't know anymore."

Buffy wanted nothing more at that moment then to tell Tara just how much she had helped her and how, though she didn't know the extent of them, she was getting feelings for her. The more sensible part of Buffy however, knew that was not the right move to make and probably never would be. "Tara I'm here for you and I'll help you however I can," was all she could think to say.

Neither woman saw Xander spying on them from around the corner. He sympathized with Tara greatly but knew his friend needed help in a bad way. He also knew if she didn't get help before she found out she had ruined her relationship with Tara forever, she would go off the deep end. One more thing he knew was she needed help from someone who had been in her shoes and was going to see that she got that help no matter what he had to do.

"Tara!" Dawn's shouts from the house made both women jump to their feet. "Willow is in a bad mess, she needs help."

Tara raced up the stairs to the room she shared with Willow as Buffy trailed behind. As she went inside, Buffy decided to stay outside and watch. "Willow," she said softly.

Willow was lying in the bed having, what appeared to be convulsions. Beads of sweat dripped down her face and she was white as a sheet. "Willow," Tara said again and gently touched the woman's arm. "It's all right Willow."

Buffy watched the goings on and her heart did ache for Willow. The magic had destroyed her once bubbly vibrant friend and there was nothing her slayer gift could do to stop it. She noticed that the convulsing seemed to calm at Tara's touch and soothing words. This both made her feel glad and sad because of her own feelings for Tara. She knew, upon witnessing this, she could never do anything to jeopardize Willow's recovery and telling would do just that. She began to think maybe Tara did still love Willow and all that had happened was clouding her thought process. 'The duty of a slayer, sacrifice happiness for the good of the world.'

As she turned to go down stairs she heard Dawn yelling at Xander. It was something about, why are you leaving now and for at least two days. Buffy couldn't figure that one out either but decided a short nap was better than trying.

Meanwhile Tara sat with Willow watching the woman calm down just by her presence. This pained her heart deeply knowing what she knew about her feelings. "Tara," Willow said in a frail voice. "I wish I never knew a thing about magic because then I would have you completely and I'm afraid I'll never have that again. I don't know what I'd do if you weren't here with me Tara."

"I'm right here Willow." Tara said but was careful to avoid the bulk of Willow's statement, and wondered if the time ever would be right for her to tell her. She knew that if that time came, it would be the most difficult thing she had ever done next to going through her mother's death. Once upon a time, she couldn't imagine herself with Willow, now she wondered if she would ever be free.

Xander Harris sat in a room waiting. He was about to do something he never, in his wildest dreams, thought he would do. He wondered if he was doing the right thing or if this was out of desperation to get his friend help and Tara released from the obligation of doing it all though he knew she'd continue to help. Tara was like that and he loved that quality about her. She had qualities most people lacked, the main one being selflessness. He knew she'd stay unhappy with Willow for an eternity if that is what it took to keep her from going off the deep end and nobody should have to do that. He shook his head thinking, who knows, once this is all over and Willow is better Tara will be able to heal and love her again.

His time for musing had ended though, it was now or never as the dark slayer was lead into the room by a prison guard.


Chapter Six

Faith stood placidly on the other side of the glass looking at Xander. He was the last person she thought she'd ever see and wondered why he'd decided to visit her. As she looked him over, she saw the worry lines creasing on his brow. "Sup Xan," she said casually not wanting to sound eager to know the answer.

"It's willow," he said not knowing where to start. "She's gone off the deep end and Tara doesn't love her anymore but is trying to help her and I fear what will happen if we don't get her help before she finds out Tara's feelings. Faith, she went crazy with magic and killed someone. It is eating her up inside but I'm afraid she will go over the edge totally if someone doesn't help."

Faith couldn't help but smirk. Xander was one of the ones who were ready to feed her to the wolves and rightly so. "So what do you think I can do for Red.? Get her to fall in love with me so Tara can be free?" Faith blinked her eyes in utter distain hoping that wasn't his plan.

"Faith," he looked her over. "Honestly I don't think anyone could fall in love with you. Especially someone who knows how cruel you are but the fact remains Willow needs help from someone who might understand what she is going through."

"Well so long as the love part isn't in the deal I'm game." Faith said unwilling to get involved in such emotions. She had changed in many ways for the better but was in no way looking for someone to fall for her and start getting all clingie.

"Angel has arranged everything," Xander said and stepped back from the glass. "All you have to do is get out and he will take it from there."

"No problem," Faith said as she easily broke through the glass and grabbed Xander's arm to help speed him up as the two darted their way free from the prison.

Tara sat out in the yard later that evening. It was nice to feel the cool air against her emotionally drained body. The birds chirping seemed to give a fake sense of calm to this little town and the most uncalm thing of them all now lie dormant in the living room. The magic that dwelt within Willow which Tara had watched the woman who used to hold her heart in the palm of her hand struggle with nearly all day.

Willow had finally drifted off to sleep so Tara took that opportunity to get some much-needed relaxation. She was torn on what to do. The easy answer was taking Willow back and loving her but she would have to be deceitful to do that. There wasn't a deceitful bone in Tara's body this much she knew. The one thing she had to hide was her growing fondness of Buffy's company. She didn't know the extent of fondness and refused to let her mind contemplate it. Buffy was Willow's best friend, a good friend of hers and emotionally messed up herself. Not to mention the little fact she was straight. This enabled Tara to easily dismiss any thought her mind could have for the blonde slayer from even surfacing.

"Tara," Buffy said as she gently placed her hand on the woman's arm.

She was obviously in deep thought of something and Buffy didn't want to disturb her. She missed the time she and Tara had been able to spend together and wanted to sit with her if nothing more. "Are you all right?"

"I'll be fine Buffy thanks," Tara said with a half-hearted smile. "This isn't easy at all."

"I know it's not and I wish there was something I could do for you." Buffy's eyes showed concern for the Wiccan. "You have done so much for me Tara, you could never know." She pulled the woman into a big hug; neither saw that Willow was watching from inside the house. "You made me feel again Tara," Buffy didn't know why she was doing this but felt it would somehow give Tara a little confidence in herself back. "For that I will be forever indebted to you, not because I have to but because I want to. You with that great smile and comforting ways gave me back the gift of life and I want to return the favor by helping you in whatever way possible."

Tara looked up into Buffy's eyes which held so much compassion. She had begun noticing changes in the slayer but wasn't going to attribute any of them to herself. She was just Tara, nothing special but now here was the slayer hugging her and telling her she was the reason that Buffy now truly is alive again. "I-I-I had no idea," Tara muttered.

"Tara," Buffy looked into her eyes then pulled away quickly. "I'm sorry if I made you uncomfortable but it's the truth. I noticed the stutter and I didn't want to make you feel uncomfortable." Buffy chastised herself big time fearing she had just pushed the woman away having not paid attention to notice that Tara's stammer was usually present when Buffy was around.

Willow, who was close enough to the window to hear some of the conversation, took notice however and was none to happy about it as Xander's car pulled in the drive. Before she was able to regain her composure, her eyes raged black with jealousy exploding the window with a big wind. "Willow!" Tara shouted as Buffy stood froze in her place gawking at who got out of the car with Xander. "Just what do you think you're doing to my Tara?" Willow shouted at Buffy and sent her flying across the yard then found herself standing face to face with the dark slayer.

"Willow stop!" Tara yelled as Faith punched her hard in the side of the head.

"Hi to you too Red." Faith said as she scooped the unconscious redhead up and strolled inside.

"Xander," Buffy shouted as she got up off the ground with a little help from Tara. "What the hell are you doing?"

"I'm getting Will some help and Tara needs some relief from her inner turmoil!" He shouted back at Buffy. "Faith is the only one I know of who could half way understand what she is going through but if you two need some kinda private moment I'd suggest you do it out of Willow's sight." He stomped angrily inside the house.

"He's right, Tara stammered looking guilty.

Buffy stood trying to sort out her thoughts and instinctively put a hand on Tara's now trembling one. "Tara we weren't doing anything wrong," she said in a frustrated tone. "We're just two friends trying to comfort one another in our time of need and if he wants to help Willow in that way, he will do it elsewhere."

Tara shook her head knowing Buffy was right, the two had done nothing wrong but also knowing, Buffy was surely home. She showed Tara that with her little temper tantrum she just displayed and Tara thanked her with a smile. "What?" Buffy asked rather confused.

"I don't agree with what you just said Buffy but it shows me, you're truly back, the impulsive behavior." Tara smiled again as Buffy shrugged at her.

"I guess I am back," Buffy returned the smile.

Late that night, while everyone slept, Faith was doing her new job of watching over Willow. The woman jerked in her sleep violently as her body began to sweat and tremble. Faith wasn't sure what to do so put her hand gently on Willow's. "No, help me please, don't leave me," Willow's high-pitched yet soft voice begged. "I'm drowning and I can't get free."

Faith furrowed her brow at that statement. She knew all to well the feeling of drowning in darkness, that there was no escape and it would swallow you up until there was nothing left but a shell of your former self. "It's ok Red," she said in a soft but husky voice that dripped with pain for the girl.

Willow gripped her hand tightly as if she was hanging on to her last thread and indeed Faith probably was her last thread of sanity at this point. "I got ya Red," she spoke again and moved the redhead closer as Willow's eyes fluttered open and the tears gushed from them like an angry river.

"I want to die, it hurts so bad! I want to hurt them all and show them how bad I hurt!" Her eyes shot black as Faith just sat there holding on to her hoping above all hope that Willow could regain her composure as she was in no way ready to be blasted worse than she saw Buffy get earlier.

She stared at Faith with eyes that didn't look like Willow was even dwelling in the body. If not for Faith's resolve she would have been chilled to the bone at the new sight of the woman. "You will help me won't you Faith."

Her voice was thick with darkness and Faith knew she should be backing off now but this was Faith. She looked right into those evil looking black eyes and said, "fuck no but I will help Willow!"


Chapter Seven

It was quiet in the house the next morning when Buffy got up. She had a restless night of sleep; wondering why Xander made such a choice of people to help Willow and what was to happen with Tara. She felt selfish for thinking of Tara first but the woman had wove her way into Buffy's heart and the thoughts couldn't be helped.

Faith stood watching Buffy for a minute then spoke. "B, I know you don't like me but Angel does. If you have trust for him, you need to trust me or Red isn't gonna get better."

Buffy looked up at the dark slayer sharply, offended that Faith was insinuating only she could help Willow. "When did you become so versed in matters of emotions that you can help Will and we can't?"

"Since I became a murdering lost kid and learned to pay for it every day that I live." Faith shot back trying to keep her anger in check. "Look B, I know you love Red and all but honestly I don't think she's going to recover here. She won't be able to handle watching Tara slip away from her and you and Tara won't be able to free yourselves to have a little happiness because you both would feel guilty. Now I don't know Tara's feelings but I know yours. I can see it in your eyes; you are getting feelings for Tara and that would push Willow over the edge more so than I was." Faith said with confidence in her voice as Giles finally stepped out of the kitchen.

"She's right Buffy," he pulled his glasses back on his face as he spoke. "I'm not saying neither you nor Tara will ever act on your feelings; nor do I believe that is the most important objective here. The fact is, young Willow is drowning fast, and Faith understands what she is going through and possibly how to help her get back on her feet. Tara is obviously losing the love she had due to Willow's actions towards her and there is no way Willow could begin to grasp that in a good way with the emotional state she is in. Tara will never walk away from Willow in the shape she is in and I for one, think Tara has done all she can. She and Willow both need the opportunity to have a clean break. Most importantly, Willow needs the best chance she can have at healing properly."

After he finished speaking, he held out an envelope to the slayers. "I took the liberty of making reservations for London for Willow. I thought it best for someone to accompany her and I do believe Faith is the better choice to go. Tara has tried everything she can and probably needs a little emotional help herself at this point."

Buffy stood in deep thought, her slayer resolve caving in. She knew this had nothing to do with her interest in Tara but the well-being of her friend, Willow. She hated to admit it but Giles and Faith were right. "All right," she said with a slump of her shoulders. "If you hurt her Faith," she gave a death glare.

"I told her a long time ago, while vacating your body that I would never hurt her." Faith said as she walked off leaving Buffy with a new realization upon her face. She had thought for a long time that Faith was Jonesing after her but realized it wasn't her after all.

Tara sat in Buffy's room in tears. She had tried so hard to help Willow, to continue loving her and though a part of her always would love Willow, the passionate love was gone. She had wanted to both see Willow through this and be free to pick the pieces of her own life up. She knew that was an impossible task though and it hurt her badly. She had to decide whether to prolong the inevitable and continue being Willow's anchor or let her go get help from a witches coven, in turn preparing to set them both free. "Tara," Buffy said rubbing her hand gently over the blonde's cheek.

"I can do this Buffy," Tara said with no stammer at all.

With that she rose and knocked on Willow's door. "Come in," Willow said knowing who was on the other side. She would know Tara's knock, soft footsteps, everything about her forever because she was her forever.

Tara walked in the room examining Willow with her eyes. She looked thin and pale, as if everything that once made her a vibrant young lady was gone. She knew more than ever now that what she was about to do was in the best interest of Willow. Though she was having ever-growing feelings for Buffy, Tara resolved, she would not act on them even if Buffy were interested. At least not until Willow was strong enough for Tara to explain to her properly why they couldn't regain what was so tragically lost to them.

Willow gave a weak smile at Tara that for an instant, made Tara second guess herself. There was pure love in that smile but upon quickly checking the aura, Tara knew the darkness was still there waiting to consume Willow. "Willow I have to tell you something." Tara began a bit shakily.

"Tara if this is about my outburst last night," Willow began with a look of shame on her face. "It was all a mistake and I won't let it happen again. I'm so sorry Tara, please."

"Willow," Tara put a calming hand on the trembling woman. "No you can't stop it and I know this now. The magic is in control of you Willow and it hurts me to know that I can't stop it." The tears began to fall down Tara's face as she spoke. "I've been talking to Giles Willow and," she wiped her eyes and tried to compose herself. She didn't want Willow to think she was going along with a half thought out Scooby plan. "Willow, he knows of a coven who can teach you to control the magic and help you defeat the darkness. This is something I wish I could do from the bottom of my heart but I can't. Willow, for your own health, I hope you will think it over and decide to go get some help."

Tears fell down Willow's face as Tara spoke. Deep down she knew Tara tried her best to help her and on top of the dark magic, she was fighting another battle, that of killing someone. She knew it was a losing battle and that she needed help in the worst way. "Will you be coming with me?" Willow asked tentatively but knew the answer before Tara opened her mouth.

"I would love nothing more than to come Willow but I'm not the best person to help you through some of the things you need help with. I wish it was but I've come to realize love isn't always enough. This is why we've decided for Faith to go so that she can get you through some of your emotions."

Willow knew Faith understood better than anyone what she was going through and was so glad Faith refused her dark enticements the night before. "You're right Tara, I'll go." She said trying to smile but felt fearful of what was to happen. "Tara, could you stay with me tonight? I mean if I'm leaving tomorrow because it will be a long time maybe before I get back."

"Of course Willow," Tara said as she moved to the bed and swept Willow into a tight embrace. She knew this was the right thing for her to do. Willow had easily accepted this idea of help and Tara thought it would be cruel to leave her alone during her last night at home.

Willow awoke the next morning to an empty bed but the smell of breakfast told her where Tara was. She looked up and saw Faith standing there. "Just thought I'd come wake you for breakfast," she moved the tray over to Willow. "I didn't think you should see D right now, she's still upset and you might want to y'know; get a little emotional strength before you see her."

"Thanks Faith," she said softly. "They aren't going to say good-bye are they."

Willow's face looked sad but understanding. "Xan is taking us to the airport, B and Tara well, it's hard to let you go Red and Giles is watching after D."

"She's very angry isn't she," Willow looked at Faith with anguished eyes. "I can't say I blame her, how do you deal with it all Faith?"

"You'll learn that all in time Red," she lifted the glass of juice to Willow's mouth. "C'mon, we've got a long flight ahead of us. You need to get some food in ya."

After Willow and Faith had left, Dawn went shopping and Giles to do some research. Buffy and Tara sat quietly on the sofa. "Tara I know this is killing you inside but I'm here for you," Buffy gave her a gentle pat on the arm.

"I feel both relieved and guilty," Tara muttered. "She was my love Buffy, how did it get this way?"

"Life got in the way and made things all screwy. It sometimes happens no matter how hard we fight it." Buffy's face showed a tinge of sadness. She was in Tara's place before but her only option was to run her love through with a sword, all to save the world. "I understand where you're coming from. It took me a long time to deal with Angel but I got through it because Willow was there to help me. Now I'm here to help you and Faith is there to help Willow."

Tara gave a small smile as Buffy hugged her. "I guess Xander won't be coming back here," Tara said more observing than a question.

"No I think he's still upset with me, Anya will take care of him." Buffy smiled as Tara relaxed into the back of the sofa. "How about you get a nap," Buffy said as she stood and gently pulled Tara up. "You look worn out and could use the rest."

"Yeah that sounds like a plan," Tara said as the two headed up the stairs.


Chapter Eight

Spike sat with Dawn in the living room waiting for Buffy and Tara to wake up. He'd crept in that night just after the sun had set. They were watching Passions, which Dawn remembered to tape for him, and eating pizza. "So Niblet, are you fairing ok?"

"I'm better now that Buffy is better," Dawn smiled genuinely at her vampire friend who had gone to great lengths to take care of her when Buffy died. "I think Tara has helped her a lot.

"She's a good witch," he muttered trying to keep up his facade. He was happy Buffy was doing better on one hand; but unhappy it wasn't he who made her better.

"I'm glad Willow's gone to get help," Dawn said as she crunched her ice rather loudly. "Maybe she'll get to come back for the big wedding."

Spike laughed, "Nancy-boy will never make it." He chugged down his beer. "A game of cards?" He asked the teen pulling a deck out of his coat trying to find something to do until Buffy woke up.

Buffy had gone up to sit with Tara till she fell asleep. She didn't plan to fall asleep herself but that's what happened. She rubbed her eyes and stretched feeling a warm comforting feeling having Tara next to her. 'Cool it Summers, this can never happen. Willow will come home and somehow Tara will forgive her and all will be well in the land of true love.'

Tara rolled over and brushed Buffy's arm with her hand. The small contact awoke the blonde immediately. "I-I," she looked at Buffy and gave a small smile to show her gratitude for the slayer staying.

"I fell asleep too," Buffy said groggily, as her nose caught the scent of pizza. "Now I'm starving," she rose from the bed trying to get out of the now awkward situation. "Let's go eat Tara."

"Buffy, I'm, I'm not really hungry," Tara said feeling mentally and physically drained.

"I don't recall that being a question," Buffy said then took hold of Tara's hands and pulled her up gently to a sitting position. "Slayer's orders, Tara needs to eat."

For a brief moment, their eyes locked and they were motionless until Tara broke the moment with a relenting smile. "How about you have pizza and I'll have something a bit lighter." Tara offered hoping that would appease the slayer who wasn't taking no for an answer.

"No, think of it Tara," Buffy said grinning down at the wiccan. "Yummy cheese dripping off the pizza into your mouth," Buffy mentally shook herself at the image this gave her. Tara's soft lips with dripping cheese and how she would enjoy helping her clean it off. "Let's go," Buffy said pulling her gaze away from Tara's mouth.

Dawn and Spike were in the middle of their card game when the two women came down the stairs giggling. Dawn was the first to look up taking notice of the real smiles that played across both her sister and Tara's faces. She too began to smile noting that this was starting to feel like home again. "Pizza?" Dawn quickly offered getting them plates then raced to the kitchen for drinks.

"Niblet is turning into a fine hostess," Spike said as he flashed an outward smile that was not there inwardly.

"She's growing up into a great Summers woman, Tara smiled.

"I think she needs to change her last name to Maclay," Buffy said in a playful tone but felt it was partly true. Tara had taken Dawn under her wing quickly and the benefits of that were showing very well.

Dawn returned with the drinks for the two women who were enjoying their pizza. Buffy let a bit of cheese drip down her bottom lip and grinned sheepishly at Tara. "Cheese Tara," she said softly as the blonde started laughing.

"Would you like some help getting that off?" Spike queried licking his lips.

"Get over yourself Spike," Buffy said then flicked a pepperoni towards him but purposefully aimed more at Tara.

Tara deflected it with her finger and it hit Dawn on the nose. "Wrong move Tara!" Dawn stood up squirting her bottle of water at the witch who ducked and it hit Spike.

"Food fight slayer style!" Buffy roared with laughter flicking a large piece of ice at Tara and it hit its mark, down the front of her shirt and between the breasts.

The gang didn't see where it went but knew by Tara's blushing reaction. "Bulls eye!" Buffy shouted as Spike prepared to soak the slayer but she ducked and the smelly beer hit Dawn who cringed.

"Tara," Buffy walked over and held her hand out in way of a truce. "Um, you can see through that, to much water." She laughed knowing it wasn't true but was banking on Tara giving a much to quick reaction to think and she did by depositing a strip of cheese with the flick of the wrist down Buffy's shirt. She knew the pizza had cooled enough that it wouldn't burn the slayer but was still drippy.

"This is war Maclay!" Buffy took a fighting stance while smiling broadly.

Tara got up and raced up the stairs before Buffy could launch her half-eaten piece of pizza at the blonde. Dawn smiled as Buffy turned and ran after her leaving Spike to lick his wounds.

She caught up to Tara heading passed the bathroom and remembered her unused, now cold, bath water. Tara had bathed before her nap and Buffy planned to do so once Tara fell asleep but hadn't made it yet.

With slayer reflexes, she grabbed Tara and planned to deposit her in the cool water thus claiming the win. Tara managed to trip her up though and they both toppled in the tub. "You're good witch," Buffy hissed laughing harder than she'd laughed since quite some time before her death. She felt vibrant and free and it was exhilarating to say the least.

"You cheated slayer," Tara pointed at her smiling her beautiful full smile. She too felt alive and free, something she used to dream she would only feel with Willow.

At the thought of Willow Tara's face dropped momentarily. Buffy reached out a hand quickly to touch Tara's arm being certain she'd done something wrong. "Tara?" She questioned with a hesitative voice.

"It's not you Buffy," Tara shook her head. "I-I was having a great time and I needed this really. I just felt bad for a minute, here Willow is struggling to regain some semblance of life and maybe even hoping I'll be here waiting and I-I-I'm laughing and having fun and I didn't think I should do that because she can't."

Buffy quickly enveloped the woman in her arms. "Tara, never feel guilty for laughing because laughter is the most important thing in life. Well one of them, at one time, not so very long ago, I would have killed for some real laughter and you put that laughter back in my soul Tara. Besides, Willow is with Faith and being all stiff upper lipped serious girl isn't her deal."

"Buffy," Tara said as she smiled being taken aback at how quickly Buffy had erased her somber mood. "We're wet, our clothes are um well, definitely reveling now and I'm cold."

Buffy quickly jumped from the tub playing the part of the chivalrous slayer. She grabbed up two towels and held out her hand as an offering of help for Tara to get out. "Well then come Lady Tara, we can't have you freezing." She said with her best smug look as she led Tara to her room. "I thought it best for you to stay here," she said turning serious for a bit. "I mean, I thought it would be easier for you being as your room was shared with Willow and that we could switch tomorrow if you'd like."

Tara smiled at Buffy with growing warmth deep in her heart that showed on her face just as every emotion did with Tara. "Thanks Buffy," she said.

"You're very much welcome," Buffy said smiling at Tara with rising hopes she was reading Tara's face right. Maybe, someday down the road, it would indeed be Buffy and Tara as a couple and if that is what Tara wanted Buffy would help her find a way over the Willow obstacle. "I'll let you go get dressed and then we can lounge in here with drinks and a movie if you don't want to be alone." Buffy offered giving Tara a hug and light kiss on the cheek unwilling to press her luck at this point.

As Buffy left the room, Tara stood for a few minutes replaying the night and smiling. She knew now that her feelings were growing for Buffy for sure. Buffy made her feel happy inside again, cared for and free of all the heartache she'd endured of late. She still vowed though, she could not attempt to carry on a relationship with possibly Buffy or anyone else until Willow was strong enough for Tara to properly set herself free from her.


Chapter Nine

The sun shined dimly through the window as evening fell upon the London countryside. Willow and Faith had been in London for a week now and things were looking up for the Wiccan. She missed home, but something deep within told her it wasn't home anymore. To much had happened, to many bad runs with her friends and there was that haunting face of Janice back there.

Janice now haunted her dreams more so than the dark magic was tugging at her. She had learned several techniques from the coven on how to channel energy to the earth when it festered up inside her and threatened to break into something dark and evil. She also was learning better concentration methods to help her focus. Daily meditations and learning the proper usage of magic and energy were also being learned to both help her understand it all and to help cleanse herself of to many lingering withdrawal symptoms. This truly was an addiction much like that of being hooked on a heavy drug and Willow was determined to beat the habit for herself now rather than to keep Tara with her. This she felt was a plus because unless you change for yourself, it usually falters along the way.

"Red," Faith's low husky voice called from the doorway of their room. Throughout the few days that Willow had been tirelessly working on kicking the magic addiction and dealing with the emotional turmoil killing Janice was putting her through, the one constant was Faith. "I got you some dinner here and those witchie ladies said for you to take a day off of everything but the meditation. They said your recovery includes a lot of rest."

Faith sat the tray of food down in front of Willow and she ate a little. "Faith, I don't know if I can rest. Whenever I go to sleep the nightmares come and then I wake you and you have to sit with me as if I were a big baby and I," Faith put her hand up and stopped Willow in mid-babble.

"I'll get ya all relaxed," the dark slayer smiled at Willow. She was very fond of her for a long time but never let it show. She felt she was now in a position to let it show because she was Faith and didn't really care much that Willow may have someone back in Sunnydale waiting for her. She wasn't so sure Tara was really waiting for Willow but if she were, though Faith wasn't a bad guy anymore, didn't mean she didn't live by her motto, Want Take Have.

She didn't plan on bedding Willow for kicks or anything and truly wanted to help her heal her inner demons that plagued her every waking and sleeping hour. She saw no harm though in letting Willow know how she felt but wasn't quite sure when to do it or how as Faith was never one for tact or proper timing.

Her task wasn't going to be as hard as she thought though because the one thing Willow Rosenberg had was an addictive personality, meaning she was very easily drawn to whatever or whomever was making her feel special. At this moment, that someone was Faith and Willow was growing very addicted to the dark slayer, though in a more healthy way.

Tara and Anya got back to Buffy's around 7:30 pm. They had spent the better part of the afternoon shopping for the lavish wedding Anya was planning and enjoying themselves. "So now we need to go through the list and make certain I've got everything." Anya said as she sat her bags down.

"I think we should leave that to Dawn and Buffy," Tara said warily.

"I've got to get ready for patrol," Buffy said then made a hasty retreat up the stairs.

"I think weddings give her the wiggins," Dawn offered as Xander sat down the boxes containing the dinner he'd just gone out and purchased for everyone.

Tara smiled knowing the only problem with Buffy was that she wanted no part in planning a wedding. "I'll get the plates," Tara said and headed out to the kitchen.

Over the last few days, Tara had grown rather content with life at the Summers home. The house seemed to breathe laughter again and continuity, two things Tara sorely missed in the few weeks preceding Willow's departure to England. She briefly wondered if she should call to check on Willow then kicked herself mentally. 'You're the last thing she needs right now Maclay.'

Tara shook her head, scooped up the plates, a two liter of Pepsi and glasses then shuffled back to the living room. Giles had now joined the group and Buffy was standing at the foot of the stairs with a smile on her face. Tara glanced at her and smiled. She was so happy to have Buffy home, the full package that is. "Someone want to give me a hand?" Tara questioned as Giles grabbed the plates.

As the gang ate and talked of the mayhem the big wedding could be with a guest list filled with humans as well as demons the phone rang. Tara heard Giles ask someone if everything was all right, then his mention of how late it was over there told her the caller had to be Willow or Faith.

As the hour grew late in London Willow awoke from yet another dream of killing Janice. Her palms were sweating and her face a mask of anguish and fear as she screamed out into the quiet room. Faith was there as always to comfort her. "Red," was all she said as she moved to the bed and took the now sobbing girl into her arms. "I gotcha, it's all right."

Willow's state seemed to relax instantly in Faith's embrace and both women noticed it. "Do you really Faith? Will you leave me like Tara did?" Willow questioned in a small frightened voice.

Though she understood why Tara had to pull away from her, it still hurt deeply and she feared everyone would eventually react the same way. Willow knew Tara tried to help her as best she could under the circumstances but she took away the embraces and intimacy. Willow was not of the most secure people and felt she needed showings of affection to let her know someone was there for her. Willow needed something more than help from a friend to get through this and Tara just couldn't do it thanks to Willow's own stupidity. "Red I know what it's like to deal with this on your own." Faith said and gently rubbed circles on Willow's cheek with her thumb. "I won't bail on ya, I promise."

Upon Faith having spoken those words, the two women looked into each other's eyes for what seemed an eternity. They both found unhealed wounds there but most of all; found a need to be loved. Having realized those things in each other's eyes spawned mutual kisses, which lead to mutual touching, and more kisses. Then the two held each other for a long time letting the emotions wash them clean as they began their journey of healing together.

Tara's face played out a plethora of emotions as she spoke to a teary-eyed Willow. Never in her wildest dreams did she think she would hear Willow speak the words of letting go. Tara had known for some time the words needed spoken but wanted to wait for the right time. As usual, Willow was the one who decided the right time. "I wish you the best Willow and will always be here should you need me." Tara said in closing to their brief phone conversation, which seemed to drag on forever.

As she hung up the phone, part of her felt betrayed. She had fought off her own feelings to keep Willow from anymore hurt but Willow did not. Willow couldn't even wait until the two had a chance to end things properly before she landed herself in another woman's arms. Tara knew what Willow had done to Oz with Xander some years ago and now it was done to her, though with different circumstances.

Tara supposed Willow was a searching soul that would make mistakes such as this until she found her resting spot. She truly hoped she had found it with Faith so the brunette slayer didn't have to go through the same treatment. Though Tara was glad for Willow, to hear that she seemed to be on the road to recovery, she was sad for the chapter in her life she thought would go on forever. The chapter was now closed and Tara never really got to state her feelings. Per usual, it was Willow who dictated the ending and Tara stood by quietly allowing her to do so. She figured maybe it was better this way; that Willow couldn't have handled the rejection from Tara.

As she stood there in deep thought Buffy came to her and touched her arm with a look of concern on her face. "It's all right Buffy," Tara said and mustered a small smile. "W-W-Willow set me free."


Chapter Ten

Tara managed to put on a happy face for the rest of the evening. Inside though, she was torn. She was glad this was over and the ties to Willow were cut but hurt that it wasn't done in a more dignified way by Willow. It felt like another nail in the thing Tara thought was there love was driven in to show her it wasn't love at all on Willow's part. As she headed for her room, Buffy stopped her. "Tara I know it's late but," Buffy looked the blonde over not really knowing what to say.

Part of her was thrilled Willow was out of the picture but another part of her hurt for Tara because of how it was all handled. "I thought maybe we could talk." Buffy offered, as she wanted nothing more than to comfort the sad woman.

"I should be happy that my job was done for me. I fretted many a sleepless nights on how I was going to tell Willow how I felt without hurting her then look what she does. Buffy I'm not upset that I wasn't the one to end things but couldn't she have ended it before making out with Faith?" The look on Tara's face was one of anger, betrayal and relief as she spoke to Buffy who stood listening intently.

Buffy pulled Tara into a big hug and wiped a trickling tear from her face. "Tara, Will loved you so much and I'm sure she always will. She can be a royal screw up at times but she means well. I mean, from how she was viewing things, if I know Willow, was that she had to end it before things went further with Faith because she loved you."

"You're probably right," Tara smiled at Buffy genuinely. "Thanks Buffy, you seem to know how to make me feel just a little bit better." Though Tara still was sad, she let what Buffy said sink in and realized that had to be the case and that Willow wasn't doing things how she did them to cause Tara hurt but rather to make it as easy as possible on her.

"Let's get some sleep now," Buffy pointed Tara towards her room. "It's late and has been a long day."

Buffy released Tara from her arms and kissed her on the cheek as Tara made her way to her room. "Slayer, treasure that kiss on the cheek because if you're smart that is all you will ever get from Tara." Spike hissed as Buffy ignored him and went to bed.

Dawn and Buffy were at a coffee shop that next afternoon. They'd purchased their gifts for the soon to be newlyweds and a few things needed at the house. "So Buff," Dawn beamed. "I think things are getting back to normal around here."

"As normal as they can on a hellmouth," Buffy said as she lazily sipped her drink.

"Well I've noticed you and Tara all chummy," Dawn fished for information from her sister with a smile upon her face.

"Tara is a great person," Buffy said not wanting to seem too excited about the Wiccan to Dawn in the event things didn't work out as Buffy hoped they would.

"Well, there is someone I like and I thought maybe if you and Tara were starting to get something going on," Dawn lowered her head in embarrassment.

"You were hoping I could help things along with you and this someone you like. Does he have a name?" Buffy enquired rather enjoying this time she and Dawn were now able to share.

"I'd rather not say just now," Dawn fidgeted in her seat. "I don't think he likes me anyhow."

"Why not?" Buffy asked as she finished her drink. "You're a great girl, pretty, smart, well most of the time and a Summers girl to boot. He surely has to like you."

"Because he likes you," Dawn blurted out in a moment of bravery, which caused Buffy's eyes to bulge out as she realized who it was.

"No, Spike is out of the question!" Buffy huffed angrily and rose from the table.

"Why is that, because you want to keep everyone for yourself? I see you truly are home!" Dawn shouted before she jumped to her feet and stormed out of the establishment.

Buffy walked back home rather briskly. Her anger was boiling tot he surface with each step she took down tot he basement of her house. "Spike, get up and get out!" She shouted and jerked the vampire up by his shirt collar.

"Slayer I haven't done anything yet, what's your bag this time!" Spike shouted but received a slap from the angered slayer in return.

"I want you out of here right now, never come near Dawn again!" She turned her head to see Tara was standing at the foot of the stairs.

"Buffy," Tara said in a calming tone. "Let's go talk about this before you do something you might regret."

"There is nothing to talk about Tara," Buffy's eyes blazed with rage. "He's got himself to close to Dawn and now she likes him! I will never allow that to happen and it would be like him to pull some stupid stunt with her to get at me!"

"Buffy," Tara ventured deeper into the basement and placed her hand on Buffy's arm. "Let me talk to Dawn and at least let Spike stay till sunset."

"Listen to the smart one slayer. After all, she's the one who will be around when your slayer time is ended which could be tomorrow. She will be the one taking care of Niblet!" Spike shouted angrily but his words were more to let the fact that it would be bad for Buffy to get involved with Tara sink in. He wanted her to see that he was her only logical choice because her calling eventually was to die again and she wouldn't want to put Tara through that.

"Tara you can talk to Dawn," Buffy said as she looked at Spike. "You find a way to get yourself out of my house now or I will get you out very fast." She pulled a stake from her jacket and readied to plunge it at Spike.

"You know Buffy when she gets like this Spike," Tara spoke softly as always. "I think you should go."

Tara turned towards Buffy who had her feet planted firmly and the resolve look planted firmly on her face. "Buffy, the thing you don't want to do is turn Dawnie against you. I'm afraid you might do just that if you force him out of here so quickly." Tara tried one more time to get Buffy to listen to the voice of reason.

Buffy's jaw lowered and her stance relaxed slightly. "All right Tara, for you I will give him a chance. Be looking for a home Spike and you will tell Dawn it was your idea to leave." Having said that Buffy turned and headed back up the stairs with Tara behind her.

"Buffy," Tara said as she sat next to Buffy on the couch. "Are you all right?"

"I am now, thanks to you Tara." Buffy smiled at the blonde whom she believe to be her savior. "He's right though Tara, my destiny is death and if I go soon, you will be here for Dawnie."

"Buffy," Tara said quietly as she placed her hand on Buffy's arm. "If you want to look at it that way, it is all our destinies to die. I may go first, that's something we can't know for sure. All any of us have is the here and now and we should make the best of it rather than fretting over what may or may not happen in the future."

Spike's words were doing a bang up job on Buffy. She was starting to believe that pulling away from Tara was the best thing to do for all involved due to her calling. In an instant though, the soft words spoken by Tara Maclay erased all the doubt. Buffy had the here and now for however long it lasted and wanted nothing more than to spend her every here and now moment with Tara. "Once again, you're right Ms. Maclay." Buffy smiled as she looked into Tara's blue eyes that she was certain she could stare into for an eternity. "Tara," Buffy was attempting to muster up all the slayer courage she could find for this next venture. "You are one special lady because without even realizing it, you brought me from the brink of spiritual death. You pulled me out of my shell and taught me that people are people, gender doesn't matter." Buffy looked down at the floor then back into Tara's eyes, which seemed to strengthen her as Tara was hoping they would. "Since gender is no longer important to me, if it's not too soon for you, would you like to go out to dinner with me?"

It seemed a year had passed before Tara finally spoke and Buffy had grown more nervous by the second. "Of course I would be honored to go out to dinner with not the legendary slayer but Buffy Summers."

Tara's words warmed Buffy's heart; for a lifetime it seemed people knew her as the slayer first but not Tara. She wanted to know Buffy first and the prospect of that excited Buffy tremendously. So tremendously, that, without realizing it, Buffy placed a gentle kiss on Tara's lips. "You're a great human being Tara Maclay," Buffy said softly and smiled having realized she didn't mind kissing women at all.

Chapter Eleven

Buffy paced nervously in the living room. Anya had shoed her out of the upstairs area earlier when she decided she was going to help Tara get ready. Buffy couldn't recall a time in which she felt so jittery before a date but she felt good about the feeling. It felt as if she were going on her first date ever, which is just what she was doing in a sense.

Her relationship with Angel was a good one for the most part but not much in way of formal dates. She had dates with Riley but tenseness due to secrets on both sides, stopped that encounter from being as free flowing as it should have been. With Tara, there was none of that, just a first date between two women who knew everything there was to know about each other and Buffy hoped it would go well.

Tara came down the stairs dressed casually in a nice skirt and top that accentuated the beauty in her eyes and face. Buffy was dressed casually too, in jeans and a frilly top with a stake tucked away in her jacket pocket. "Are you ready?" Buffy asked as she looked at the floor.

"Sure, Tara said with a smile on her face as Dawn grinned widely at the two women from the kitchen.

"Anya," Buffy's eyes questioned the ex demon as she took hold of Tara's hand and turned towards the door.

"Yes Buffy," Anya said in response to the glance. She knew she was to keep an eye out on Dawn tonight and couldn't have agreed more with Buffy's distaste in Dawn's latest crush.

"Well then, we're off." Buffy flashed a smile at Dawn and Anya as she and Tara left the house.

The two walked a short distance to a small cafe where Buffy had made reservations for dinner. She wasn't made of money but she wanted to do something especially nice for Tara. Tara had done so much for her and she wanted to show her appreciation plus the added bonus of making a good impression on the first date.

"This is a nice restaurant," Tara said with a slight stammer as the two were seated at their table.

Buffy noticed the stammer was still there and began to realize just what this stammer meant. It was a stammer that arose when Tara either liked someone and was fearful of rejection or felt inferior in the presence of someone. Buffy hoped beyond all hopes the stammer was because Tara liked her. "Mom and I used to come here for celebrations and this is a celebration." Buffy beamed happily. "It's a celebration of me coming home in the truest sense and getting a date with the most genuine person anyone could ever know."

Tara smiled at Buffy. Her relationship with Willow was great but Willow seemed to spend most of her time trying to impress someone in order to meet their approval or get them to like her. Buffy was just Buffy. An honest, compassionate person whom sometimes lacked in the common sense department but she was a real package. What you saw was what you got with Buffy and Tara liked that. She knew deep within there would be no surprises down the road and that pleased her greatly.

The two sipped glasses of wine while their dinner of steak and potatoes with a salad was being prepared. "Tara, I'm so glad we got the chance to do this." Buffy smiled as the waiter brought the food to the table.

"So am I Buffy," Tara said having enjoyed the small talk between them while they had waited on their meal.

Buffy held up her newly poured glass of wine. "Here's to new beginnings," the two clanged their glasses together lightly with content looks on their faces and relaxed body language to go with it.

Tara took Buffy's hand and gently kissed it. "Thanks Buffy."

"For what?" Buffy questioned with growing hopes there would be more soft Tara kisses later.

"For being you," Tara said as they began to eat.

After the meal, Buffy stood and walked over to Tara. "So would you like to dance?"

"I'm not very good at it but sure," Tara said following Buffy to the dance floor.

Buffy had watched Tara and Willow dance the night of Tara's birthday party and knew Tara was a graceful dancer. She drew the shy woman closer and the two began to dance with a few light kisses shared during the dance.

Buffy felt so at ease dancing with Tara, as if she was finally where she belonged snuggled safely in Tara's loving arms. She had never willingly admitted before that even the slayer wanted to feel safe and secure rather than always having to be the one to secure. These were feelings she'd always had though but had to push them back in her mind because it was her duty to be the strong one. With Tara though, she knew she didn't have to always be so strong and that Tara would do her best to secure Buffy as she would Tara. "Tara this is great, I'm enjoying your company more than I have anyone's in, since I can remember." Buffy said then lightly kissed Tara's soft lips.

"Me too Buffy," Tara said with a smile and returned the kiss. "I feel like the world is at peace again for me at least."

That is exactly how Tara truly felt. She once believed Willow would be the only one who could give her such a feeling of happiness and security but was blessed with a second chance at this feeling. She planned to do all she could to not mess this chance up as well as to make Buffy happy. Buffy warmed Tara's heart and filled it with happiness and Tara hoped she would be able to return the feelings in Buffy's heart, which had seen much sorrow and sacrifice.

As their dancing ended, Buffy pulled Tara in a closer embrace and held her there for a moment. She felt as though her world could stay at this point forever and she would be happy with no regrets. "Tara, you're such an amazing person. I really want to spend as much time with you as possible. I want us to get to know each other on a higher level and to share all the happy times this hellmouth will let us share."

A smile beamed across Buffy's face as Tara simply nodded in agreement to what she had just said. "I would be happy to spend my time with you Buffy," Tara said and kissed her again.

Anya paced the living room of the Summers house nervously. Dawn had done well all evening and gone up to bed early. Anya noticed that Dawn had left her book on the table so took it up in case Dawn was doing homework. When she entered the room, she caught a glimpse of Spike easing the teen out the window. When Spike gave her a look, she knew right away that this was some form of plot to antagonize Buffy so decided to not interrupt the date and waited on the two women to get home.

The door opened and Anya greeted the two smiling women with a disgusted look on her face. "Dawn has gone off with Spike. I couldn't get hold of Xander; he must not be back yet from his work trip."

Buffy's eyes glazed over with anger. "Why didn't you call?"

"Buffy," Tara said calmly and gave Buffy a reassuring glance. "Not now, just find Dawnie."

Buffy knew Tara was right and shot out of the house in a sprint after telling the two women to stay put. "Tara I really didn't mean to," Tara smiled at Anya to reassure her it was all right.

"Bit, it's all good," Spike leaned back in his chair with a crooked smile on his face. "Buffy shouldn't get mad; after all, we're two people who enjoy each other's company."

Dawn smiled as Spike touched her hand. The two had been out of the house for two hours and had several drinks. "I'm having a good time," Dawn said oblivious to Spike's advances though she did enjoy his soft caresses on her hand.

He leaned over and kissed her aggressively. She was into it at first and returned the kiss then began to pull back as his hands began to wander beneath her shirt. "What's wrong Bit," Spike chuckled. "I thought you liked me, this is what people do when they're attracted to one another."

He drew her on his lap and began to kiss her more as he fondled her breast. "Spike stop!" Dawn shouted as she grew more afraid.

He backhanded her straight away. "You Summers women are teases, you won't get away with this Bit!" As he leaned over the fallen teenager a fuming slayer burst through the crypt door.

Chapter Twelve

Buffy stood poised inside the crypt with a masked look on her face. Her actions seemed primitive and emotionless, those of a true slayer. "Have you come to rescue your darling sister slayer? Many times, you could have staked me but you didn't! Don't you know the reason for that?" Spike bellowed out in a huff until he looked in her stony eyes. He knew if he didn't get out of there now that, his time was short. "You want me is why you couldn't stake me!" His ego decided to take one more jab before he attempted to make a run for it.

In a flash Buffy jumped in mid air, swung around and booted him with her heel to the ground. She swiftly landed and with great ease ended the undead life of William the bloody.

She turned towards her sister who was curled up in a ball sobbing uncontrollably. Buffy knelt down beside her and touched her arm cautiously. "It's all right now Dawnie, he's gone."

Dawn suddenly jumped to her feet and smacked Buffy across the face. "I can't have a life, nobody likes me, and it's always all about you, Buffy Summers!"

As dawn raced from the crypt, Buffy rubbed her stinging jaw. She had just saved Dawn from what was surely going to be a raping and a slap was the thanks she got. Anger rose within her as she too sprinted out of the crypt, hell bent on straightening Dawn out.

Tara sat alone in the living room awaiting Buffy and Dawn's return. Anya had decided it best for her to make a quick exit until Buffy had time to calm down. 'And so it goes in Sunnydale, what a first date.' Tara shook her head as the front door flung open and Dawn came in.

She raced for the stairs but Tara caught her with a gentle hand on her wrist. Dawn looked dirty and slightly battered to Tara and she wanted to know what had gone down. "Spike used me, he wanted Buffy all along just like everyone else does! She staked him, now leave me alone!" Dawn broke away from Tara's grip and raced up the stairs.

Tara stood staring out the window wishing Buffy would hurry up so she could get the rest of the details. She knew something bad happened to cause Buffy to stake the vampire and feared the worst as the door quietly opened.

"Is Dawn here?" Buffy huffed angrily. "I need to talk to her!"

Tara turned to look at Buffy whose face played out a plethora of emotion, anger being the most prominent. "Tara, he was going to rape her so I stopped it and," Buffy's lip quivered as she spoke. "I, well, she then slapped me, blamed me and took off. Now it's time she and I have a talk because she can't continue acting like a spoiled brat!"

Tara moved quickly to the slayer and enveloped her in a firm but gentle hug. "Buffy, you've got to calm down and see her point. She's a teenager who got her heart ripped out tonight by someone she cared for a great deal plus the fact she was almost raped." Tara kissed the tip of Buffy's nose as well as both cheeks. "Buffy, she's just lashing out because she's scared and hurt. Let her calm down and hopefully sleep and try to calm down yourself. Dawnie needs to be shown love right now rather than anger."

Buffy's resolve faded quickly as she listened to Tara speak. She knew Tara, once again, was right. "Tara, you don't know how blessed Dawnie and I are to have you in our lives." Buffy put her arms around the blonde and firmly kissed her softly on the lips. "Maybe, if you don't mind, I can get a shower and you can stay with Dawn tonight. I think she needs you, you're the closest thing to a mother she has now."

"All right Buffy," Tara said with a small smile and kissed her slayer as she headed towards Dawn's room.

Tara awoke the next morning with Dawn in her arms. The girl had cried on her shoulder for what seemed hours though it was just a short time. She fell asleep quickly and Tara stayed with her for comfort. Her heart wept for this young girl whom she was watching quickly grow up and she wanted to do whatever she could to help her heal, to help rebuild the gap this mess put between her and Buffy.

As Tara moved to get out of bed, Dawn's eyes fluttered open. "Tara thanks so much for listening to me. You're the greatest person in the world and you're right, this isn't Buffy's fault."

Dawn rose from the bed behind Tara ready to make things right with her sister and start the healing process. She had dreams most of the night about what might have happened if Buffy didn't show up to save her and that, coupled with Tara's soothing words, helped her to see just who was at fault here.

As Tara and Dawn headed down the stairs arm and arm, they both shrugged having smelled food being prepared in the kitchen. "You know we will have to eat that," Tara said flatly, as Dawn giggled knowingly.

The two made their way to the kitchen where, thankfully, Xander was cooking breakfast as Buffy and Anya finished a conversation about last night. The sad for Dawn but small smiles on their faces told Tara that all was well between the ex demon and slayer.

Dawn looked down at her sister and a tear trickled down her cheek. Buffy returned the gaze finding love rather then hurt and anger in Dawn's eyes. She got to her feet and wrapped Dawn up in a slayer hug as the two cried. Not a word was spoken, conversation wasn't needed, both sisters knew all was good between them and that was good enough for them.

Tara soon joined the hug, as did Anya and then Xander. They all shed tears for Dawn, Willow and the future. Not all were sad tears because they all felt good about the future, but they were all needed tears nonetheless as the remaining Scooby gang was reconnecting on a higher more adult level then ever before and all knew Tara was a big part of the reason they were able to do this.

As they stood hugging and crying, Tara knew in her heart Willow would never return to Sunnydale but she would be all right for she too had her own slayer to love her, protect her and more importantly, understand her. Tara was finally feeling an inner peace with the choices she and Willow made and somehow knew that Willow felt it too at this very moment.

As Buffy broke away from the hug and placed a gentle kiss on her new and hopefully lifelong lover's lips, she felt normal, that all was well in the world if just for a brief moment. Buffy knew in her heart that she had made a good decision finally in her life and it would be one never to be regretted. These brief moments of normalcy were far and few between for a slayer and Buffy planned to do her best to savor this moment for as long as she could as she smiled over at her long time friend and his bride to be.

"Wouldn't a double wedding be cool?" Dawn asked smiling as she dried her eyes.

The End

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