DISCLAMAIR: All things Buffy belong to Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, and lots of people in expensive suits. Iím not making any money here, just trying to create a happier Buffyverse for my favorite characters.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Adheres to Buffy canon up to "Who Are You?" Spoilers for S4 after (and including) "This Yearís Girl" and the Angelís episode "Sanctuary."† Many thanks to Val for the beta and encouragement.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

By Rebelrsr


Chapter Sixteen

"Maybe you're right, Mom," Buffy smiled at her mother's look of disbelief. "Not joking, really. Tara was able to see it wasn't me in my body at the Bronze so she must be pretty good at seeing auras or whatever." The Slayer looked at the redhead next to the bed. "We're going to have to trust her about Faith, no matter what. I'm not ready to go after Adam myself." She stroked Willow's face. "I'm thinking it's time we all grew up, Will. Let the past go."

"But, Buffy-"

"No, Will." The Slayer interrupted the flustered girl. "We need Faith, and somehow Tara convinced her to come back and help out. Be honest, baby, if you were Faith, knowing how much we all hate you, would you come back? I would have laughed at Tara and kept on running."

"Faith didn't have a choice about coming back." Joyce smiled faintly at the pair of confused looks she received. "Whatever else she may have done, Faith is still a Slayer. She can't ignore that any more than you can, Buffy."

"She ignored it just fine while she was working for the Mayor," Willow snapped. "I mean, hello, she held me at knifepoint and she killed that professor."

The older Summers frowned. "Well, I don't know the whole story. Someone," she flicked a sharp glance at her daughter, "keeps me out of the loop on most things. But I saw her today. She's not doing very well with being here." Joyce hesitated. She didn't want to divulge the brunette Slayer's breakdown, but she needed to find a way to get Willow to back down from her anti-Faith stance. "Look, Willow, whatever reasons you have for not liking Faith, you have to put them aside right now." Without shame, the blonde woman used her trump card. "It's either Faith or Buffy heading out to face Adam. Make your choice."

The young witch looked less than pleased. She frowned, crossing her arms over her chest. "I don't trust her."

Sharing a look with her mother, Buffy fielded this objection. "Baby, I get that you don't trust her. But you told me earlier you trusted Tara. Has Tara ever lied to you? Been wrong when she's read someone's aura?" Buffy slowly rolled onto her side so she could face the redhead. "You and me – we can't see what Tara does. What if she's right about Faith? Can we risk letting a bunch of people die just because we're too stubborn to admit we're wrong?"

Staring at the bedridden blonde, Willow mulled over what she'd just heard. Finally, reluctantly, she replied, "I guess you're right. Tara is a really powerful witch. She told Giles earlier that she can see surface emotions in auras, but I think she really sees more than that. Plus, she doesn't give her trust very easily." She looked away from Buffy momentarily, thinking about some of the stories the blonde witch had told her about her family. "I'll shelve my feelings about Faith until after Adam's been destroyed."

The admission was reluctant, but Joyce relaxed slightly. "Good. Now we just need to get the men on board before Faith and Tara arrive."

Swallowing a mouthful of food, Faith smirked. "Yeah, Blondie. I think you've said that before. You're gonna be awfully busy after the big showdown."

Tara raised an eyebrow questioningly. "I am?"

"Hell, yeah. That's twice you told me we gotta have a big heart to heart once the Tin Man's out of the way. And," the smirk got bigger, "we have a little unfinished business to take care of."

The blonde could feel her face heat, but responded smartly, "It seems we are going to be busy, then. I'm not doing either of those activities alone." The brunette nearly choked on her food as she laughed. "Now," Tara glanced at the clock, "we have a couple of hours before we need to leave for the hospital. Although my power reserves are in better shape than this morning, I'm going to need to do some meditation." She smiled teasingly at the still eating brunette. "We also need to see what we can do about your clothes."

"No worries, T. I'll just use one of your belts," Faith replied.

"I don't think you want to go to the meeting in my retro-60s flower power pants," the witch commented. "Somehow, it takes away from your bad girl, evil killing persona."

Finishing up the last of the leftovers, the Slayer stretched out on her stomach propping herself up on her crossed forearms. "Think it would keep Red from using her magic on me?" Despite the humorous tone, Tara could tell Faith was uneasy about the upcoming meeting. "I mean, if it keeps me in one piece, I'm willing to look like a hippie."

The blonde laughed at the vision of Faith in her embroidered bell bottoms and a paisley top, flower stuck behind one ear. "Maybe some other time," she said. When we don't have an audience and you aren't trying to hide your emotions with jokes. "I'll take your other clothes down to the laundry room. We should have enough time to run a load through." She climbed to her feet and began grabbing supplies and clothing.

Faith looked away from the witch. "Hey, Tara?"

Tara looked up in surprise. It was the first time since their initial meeting in the Bronze that the brunette had used her full name. "Yes, sweetie?" she asked, concerned.

"Thanks for all this." The younger girl moved slightly and waved a hand at the room. "I mean, you put yourself out on a limb for me. I –" she struggled to put her thoughts into words. "Just wanted to say thanks for trusting me enough to let me stay and helping me get back on the right side of the fight."

"It's my pleasure, Faith." Tara was very glad the embarrassed Slayer wasn't looking in her direction. The shy, hesitant words from the normally brash and confident brunette brought tears to her eyes. Blinking the tears back, the witch tried to diffuse the heavy emotion with humor. "Promise you won't sneak out for another shower or a trip to the Pump?" she asked, hand resting on the doorknob.

Dimples just peeking out, Faith nodded. "Sure, T. Don't want to cause any more waterworks today." With a chuckle, she continued, "Save 'em for when we meet with the Scoobs. Sure to be plenty of heavy hitting and nasty comments then."

Growling a little, Tara dropped her bundle of laundry and stalked toward the prone Slayer. "You know, I'm really hurt you still don't trust me to keep you safe," she said. "What do I need to do to prove that I won't let anyone," she emphasized the word, "hurt you?"

Startled at the blonde's vehemence, Faith sat up. "Whoa! Damn, Tara, I didn't mean anything. I was just trying to lighten things up."

"In case you missed it, I'm not laughing." The witch wasn't going to let this go so easily.

"Yeah, got that." Faith looked directly at the older girl for the first time since the aborted love making earlier. "T, I got no doubts you'll get between me and anyone trying to take me on." The brown eyes were filled with new emotions: fear, concern, and maybe, just maybe, Tara thought, something more intense than simple friendship.

"As long as we're clear on that point, Slayer." Tara stepped back, breaking the tension slightly.

"We're more than clear, Witch," Faith mocked the blonde's choice of names. "Now, since you said no hippie clothes and I don't really want to face the gang naked, can you go wash those clothes already?"

Shaking her head and laughing, Tara picked up the pile from the floor and headed out of the room,

Buffy fell asleep waiting for Giles and Xander. Sitting close and resting against the edge of the bed, Willow kept an uneasy vigil over the blonde. Periodically, she glanced at Mrs. Summers who sat perched on a chair across the room. Willow wanted to talk to her surrogate mother about the afternoon's startling revelations, but this didn't seem to be a good time. Contemplating the meeting coming up, the teen felt a leaden ball grow in the pit of her stomach. What do I say to them? I mean, I didn't really mean everything the way it sounded, but, damn it, some of it was the truth. Sighing and gently stoking the arm closest to her, Willow acknowledged that she was simply going to have to apologize and hope it was enough.

Nearly an hour passed before a light tapping sounded from the doorway. Giles and Xander stood there, both wearing hesitant expressions. Mrs. Summers walked over to them while Willow gently shook the Slayer. "Buffy? Come on, sweetie. The Scooby gang is here. It's time to talk," the witch tried. As she had noted the other morning when she woke wrapped in Buffy's arms, the blonde slept like the dead. Getting a bit more energetic in her shaking, Willow tried to wake Buffy. "Hey, Slayer, rise and shine. Xander and Giles are here to see you." Finally, she noted a change in the other girl's breathing. "That's it, sweetie. Open your eyes so we can get started."

Hazel eyes crept open. "Get started with what, Will?" The Slayer's voice was rough with sleep. "Didn't you get enough groping earlier?"

Willow's face exploded into flames at the husky teasing. Joyce snickered, while Giles and Xander seemed frozen in shock. "Um, no, sweetie. Remember the meeting with Xand and Giles? It's started without you."

Although Buffy's eyes widened a bit as her brain caught up with the witch's words, she smiled naughtily. "Too bad. Was wanting to pick up where we left off." Rubbing sleep from her eyes and carefully pushing into a more seated position, the Slayer greeted the two Scooby statues. "Hey, guys. Sorry about not being ready for the big meeting. Did Mom and Willow fill you in on everything?"

Recovering slightly, the ex-Watcher replied, "Ah, no, Buffy. I'm afraid we've just arrived."

"Oh, OK. Then we can do the whole explaining thing now," she said. Grasping her witch's hand, the Slayer continued. "I know I've missed a lot of drama the last couple of days, but can we hold off on the heartfelt apologies Willow has planned and get down to business?"

Smiling slightly, Willow squeezed the hand holding hers. "Buffy, you don't have to protect me. I'm OK." Turning to face the others, the witch forced herself to meet their eyes. "Giles, Xander, I don't even know where to begin. What I said in the chapel was uncalled for and not exactly the truth." She frowned. "I can't explain it. Ever since Faith showed up in my room, I've been Overreacting Girl."

From the minute Buffy had woken up and asked about the groping, Xander's attention had been focused solely on the by-play between the two girls. Finally shaking off his preoccupation, the young man looked at his oldest friend. She was wearing the same clothes she'd had on when they'd found Buffy. Dark circles ringed tired green eyes and her hair stuck up in an interesting and asymmetrical spike pattern. It was obvious she was running on nerves alone. Despite a lingering resentment for his college-attending friends, Xander knew Willow hadn't intentionally shut him out. "Hey, Will, you're my best friend. This little bump in the road isn't going to change that." He bent over awkwardly and hugged the much smaller girl. "Just – let's try not to get so wrapped up in our lives that we lose contact again. I'll come out of my basement and stop pouting," he grinned, "if you and the girls venture off campus every once in a while."

"Oh, Xand, I promise," the redhead choked out.

"Now, just so I know you're sincere and all, what's the what with you and Buffy? You guys seem closer than normal." He tugged at a strand of red hair. "Is this the reason you were so hesitant to commit to Tara?"

Willow couldn't answer the question. She stared at the brown-haired boy in shock. Thankfully, there were more pressing issues at hand, and Giles stepped in to remind the teens of their jobs. "Perhaps we should spend our time more constructively? Hmmm?" Reluctant amusement showed in his eyes, but the years dealing with the outrageous bunch of students gave him experience in hiding his own sense of humor.

Sucking in a huge breath, the young witch nodded rapidly. "Good-good idea, Giles," she said. However, she wasn't ready to move on entirely. She had yet to tell the older man just how sorry she was for lashing out at him.

The ex-Watcher noticed her bracing herself and guessed at her actions. "Willow, my dear, it's forgotten. Although your delivery was a bit harsher than necessary, your point was valid. It's bloody humiliating when someone nearly half your age can see what's going on before you can." He gave his trademark half smile. "I'd say the Scooby gang is back and ready for action, yes?"

Before the redhead could respond, a voice drawled from the door, "Sure hope the forgiveness train still has a few empty seats."


Chapter Seventeen

Five heads swiveled at the statement. Tara and an unknown blonde stood in the doorway. Strain marked the older witch's face. Before the gathered Scoobies could reply, she dragged her companion into the room, closing the door behind them. When the door thunked shut, Tara sagged against the other girl, whispering an incantation.

"Whoa!" Xander stumbled back a step when the "blonde" holding Tara morphed into Faith.

The brunette Slayer didn't even glance his way. Picking up a nearly unconscious witch, she carried the older girl to the chair Mrs. Summers had vacated earlier. Settling her bundle in the chair, the Slayer knelt down, peering at the witch. "T? You gonna be OK?"

Nodding slightly, wincing at the stabbing pain the motion caused, Tara said, "I'll be fine, Sweetie. I just need to rest a minute."

The brunette didn't really believe that, but stood and moved to stand behind the seated blonde. Without thinking, she rested her right hand on Tara's left shoulder. Her actions didn't go unnoticed. Green eyes narrowed in anger. Shooting out of her chair, Willow snarled, "You bitch! You've been here less than a day and you've got your hooks into my girlfriend." The red-haired witch began to pull in power. This time, I'm not going to screw up the language. As she began the incantation, Tara looked up. The older witch's eyes glowed an eerie blue and a sheet of pure power surrounded Faith.

"I won't let you touch her, Willow." Tara's voice rang with more authority than her former girlfriend had heard from the usually shy woman.

The redhead refused to stand down. She extended her senses, testing the strength of Tara's magic. The shield was strong, but fluctuated as the other woman staved off exhaustion. Watching the shield carefully, Willow began to time the drops in power.

"Stop it, Will." The young witch shifted her focus to the blonde on the bed. Buffy was pale and tears stood in her eyes.

Realizing what she had said, and what she had been preparing to do, Willow released the power and looked at the obviously upset Slayer. "I-" she started to explain, then stopped. "It's just that Faith…" Her words trailed off. Forcing herself to meet her Slayer's hazel eyes, the redhead nearly whispered, "I'm sorry, baby. I'm still letting the red hair take control of my mouth." She leaned down, brushing a quick but thorough kiss on the blonde's lips. "My girlfriend is right here."

Faith shattered the tender scene. "Well, hell, B. Looks like you and me got some serious catching up to do. I spend eight months asleep and wake up to find out you're playing for the home team. Kinda makes me wonder what else you got to tell me." She smirked at the other Slayer. "Gonna have to wait, though. Blondie's got some promises to keep before I'll be available."

Tara looked even more worn out than before. She was listing to one side in the chair, but she roused enough to smack the brunette in the thigh. "Faith!" she protested, blushing brightly.

"Ow, damn it, T." Faith pouted, then noticed Xander smirking from across the room. She straightened and seemed to draw inward. "Ah, X-Man, look-"

The young man held up a hand. "Stop, Faith. Just stop. We both did some stupid things in the name of hormones. Can we just not rehash the whole mess?"

The Rogue Slayer hesitated, but finally nodded her agreement. The teen bounced in place, unable, or unwilling, to make eye contact with the adult members of the gang. Giles knew she was more than likely thinking of running. "Perhaps we could delay the rest of this discussion? I would like to see if Spike's disks have anything useful."

Willow reacted as though poked with an electric cattle prod. "Oh, yeah. Hey, I decrypted the files. Or, well, they decrypted themselves, but I almost had it" After a brief hesitation and a quirky smile, she rattled on. "Adam's got some secret lab in the Initiative, but it didn't say where. The disks had schematics for Adam and a bunch of new hybrid things he's planning on building. There was even a time table of sorts leading to some kind of final phase, but I couldn't find any real information on that, either."

"Hey, Adam mentioned that, the final phase, in the cave. He said since I was there, he would have to move up the completion date." She shrugged slightly. "Could you tell what demons he was planning on using for the construction?" Buffy asked.

"Um, a bunch of different ones. I could pull up the file if you really wanted to check."

Willow sounded hesitant, and Buffy laughed. "It's OK, Will. You don't have to let me touch your laptop. But, do you remember any specific demons? The last time I was down in the Initiative, the containment cells were overflowing. I mean, the cells are supposed to only house two, maybe three demons at a time. There were twice that in each cell. Riley said they were even cutting back on patrols and calling for more troops to help control things." The Slayer frowned in thought. "You know, those demons were too easy to catch. It's like they wanted to be there."

"Good Lord," Giles interjected. "The Trojan Horse."

"Adam's going to attack the Initiative from the inside," the Slayer summed up.

Xander nodded. "Makes sense. Demons versus soldiers – massacre, massacre."

"And Adam has a neat pile of body parts to start assembling his army," Willow joined in. "Diabolical, yet gross."

Xander walked over and sat gingerly on the edge of Buffy's bed. "Was there any information on security measures? Troop strength?" He looked at the redhead. "I can access my soldier memories to help us plan a way in."

"I really wasn't looking at that," the young witch said apologetically. She grabbed her laptop off the floor and opened it. "Hang on. Let me get the file up and we can all take a look." Propping the computer against the Slayer's side she began typing furiously. After a few minutes, diagrams appeared on the screen. Willow gestured for Xander and Giles to move closer. "Here," she said, pointing to one image in particular. "It's the blueprints for the facility."

Both men peered at the tiny screen. "If I were in charge, I'd put guard posts here, here, and here." Xander pointed at locations inside the underground base. "It's tactically sound. Of course, without troop numbers, it's only an educated guess."

"Willow, dear, how do you know there's a lab behind Room 314?" Giles asked. He gestured vaguely at the laptop. "These plans don't show any such facility."

The girl grinned at the older man. "Sure it does, Giles. You just have to know what to look for. See these blue and yellow lines?" She indicated the lines with a slender finger. "They're air ducts and conduits all running into there – right behind 314."

Sounding faintly irritated, Giles said, "That doesn't explain-"

Willow cut him off. "Why would you have electricity and filtered air running to nowhere? There's a lab back there."

Tara watched the gathered Scoobies in bemusement. She understood, finally, why Willow had been so sure they would find a solution to the Adam problem. The four core members of the gang worked seamlessly, integrating their various skills and expertise. They were oblivious to the three remaining people in the hospital room.

Straightening a bit from her position against Faith's leg, the witch glanced at Joyce Summers. The older blonde watched the strategy session in confusion. It was obvious she had little experience with the process. Opening her senses slightly, Tara saw that the eldest Summers was anxious about the coming fight, but her concern was for the Scoobies rather than herself.

Frowning, she relaxed back against the brunette again and smiled when she felt a hand stroke her hair. The brief contact allowed the blonde to sense Faith's aura without having to look. Despite the restless energy the girl had tightly caged, there was very little resentment at her exclusion from the planning. She was, Tara realized, waiting for the Scoobies to tell her what to do. It was an uncomfortable realization. Tara had been a part of the Scoobies for only a short period, but the gang had listened to her suggestions regarding Adam and, in fact, had actively sought her magical expertise. The younger Slayer did not have even that level of acceptance from the four figures examining the computer screen.

She remained silent for a few more minutes as the Scoobies began exchanging ideas on how to get into the secret lab. "Um, guys?" She asked hesitantly. No one actually moved from their positions around the computer, but Buffy and Giles did glance in her direction. "If A-Adam has this ev-evil p-plan, why would he want B-Buffy there?"

"That's an easy one, Blondie," Faith said. "He figured B would even the kill ratio. Gotta have enough demon parts to match with the human ones."

Xander agreed. "Yeah, I think Faith's right. But, that brings up another big question." He looked at Buffy. "With all this information we've got, I'm wondering…Adam's not worried you're going to kill, say, him?"

The blonde Slayer dropped her eyes. Finally, she admitted, "No, he's really not."

The assembled gang absorbed that information in silence. Xander stood and moved to lean against the wall. "Does anyone else miss the Mayor, I just wanna be a big snake?"

No one answered his question, but Tara felt the Slayer behind her stiffen. Through the contact she maintained with the younger girl, the witch felt a sharp stab of pain and grief at the query. Feigning greater weakness, she leaned heavily into the brunette's leg, going so far as to wrap a hand around her jeans-clad pillow.

The sorrow she sensed was quickly replaced by concern. "T? You OK down there?" the girl asked.

"Just tired," Tara answered truthfully. Turning her eyes back to the bed-ridden Slayer, she asked, "Shouldn't we warn the Initiative?"

"They're not going to listen to me," Buffy exclaimed.

"Riley?" Willow questioned.

Xander shook his head. "Don't think so, Will. Remember? It looked like Riley cleared out when we were at the high school."

"Hey, B? Maybe I'm way off here, but, wouldn't the Initiative know there was a lab in their base?"

"You'd think so, but Professor Walsh played by her own twisted set of rules. If they knew about the cyborg assembly line, I don't think they'd have caught all those demons," the blonde Slayer answered.

"OK, then, when do we go in?" the brunette asked. She didn't sound exactly eager, but she was obviously ready to end the planning session.

"Well, I need to gather the supplies," Giles said. "And," he looked at both witches, "I daresay Tara and Willow could use a bit of rest before the casting the spell."

"Mom and I need to see about getting me out of here," Buffy added. When everyone looked at her in shock, she raised an eyebrow. "I'm not sitting here while the rest of you go after Adam. I may not be up to kicking his ass the way I want, but I should be fine for regular demon killing."

Joyce disagreed. "Buffy, the doctor said you would be fine if you took it easy."

"Remember earlier you said you understood that I couldn't quit? Well, I'm the – " she looked at Faith, "a Slayer, and we don't sit on the sidelines. Find a way to get me out, or I'll grab some clothes and walk out without their approval."

The little speech didn't go over well with the elder Summers, but she gave her assent reluctantly. "Fine. I'll see what I can do." She looked at Giles. "Rupert, we'll need to switch vehicles. Take the Jeep and the rest of the children to my house. I'll follow later with Buffy in yours."

"Of course, Joyce," the ex-Watcher agreed. "I'll go to my apartment after they are all settled for the items we'll need."

Tara added, "Then you need to come back to the Summers' house, too, Mr. Giles. I think it would be best for all of us to stay together, in case Adam decides to eliminate any possibility of a threat."

"Good. Let's get going, then." Buffy was a force to be reckoned with now the decisions had been made. "Tara, are you going to be able to disguise Faith on the way out?"

The blonde witch never had a chance to respond. "Hey, B, don't worry about it. I'll just keep my head down. Ain't like the Sunnydale PD is real good at their jobs."

"No, Faith, we can't take that risk," the older Slayer said.

"I can do it." The gang looked at Willow in surprise. For her part, the redhead looked directly at her ex-girlfriend. "Just tell me which spell to use and I'll get us out of here."


Chapter Eighteen

The ride in the Jeep passed quietly. Both witches were asleep, drained by their magic use. Faith sat with her head tilted against the back of the seat. It felt good to be outside. She extended her Slayer senses, looking for vampires or demons. Nothing, not even a mild flare on the horizon. Frustrated at the lack of action, she dropped her chin, being careful not to disturbed the heads resting on both her shoulders. Smiling a bit at the blonde hair fanned across her right side, the Slayer glanced up to see Giles watching her in the rearview mirror. Automatically, she lost the smile, stiffening – until she saw the twinkle in her ex-Watcher's gaze.

Finally, they pulled into the driveway in front of the Summers' house. Giles and Xander hopped out, leaving Faith to wake two very uncooperative witches. "Um, Red? T? We're here." Eyes widening in horror, the brunette watched Willow turn slightly, burrowing into her side. Swallowing hard as visions of an angry Buffy danced in her head, Faith tried a little harder. Shaking her shoulder and bouncing the red head up and down, she called, "Willow! Willow, get up! Come on, damn it."

Mumbling, the young hacker raised her head, eyes mostly closed. "We're here?" she asked indistinctly. Then the words made sense and her eyes shot open. "Oh, hey, we're home." Completely ignoring the astonished Slayer, she jumped out of the car.

"You're welcome, Red," Faith called after her.

Tara's laughter followed the sarcastic remark. "Don't worry, sweetie. She'll forgive you eventually."

"If you say, so, Blondie," the Slayer almost succeeded in sounding indifferent. "Come, on, let's get you into bed."

"Hmmm, got plans, do you, Slayer?" the older girl asked.

Chuckling ruefully, Faith nodded. "Hell, yeah, Witch. Been plotting ever since you cut me off this morning." Both girls climbed out of the Jeep and walked up the front steps. Before the brunette could open the door, however, Tara caught her hand.

"About this morning…" The blonde hesitated. "I made a mistake."

The Slayer nearly staggered from the unexpected verbal blow. Sucking in a huge breath and fighting a wave of nausea, the younger girl stepped away.

The movement alerted the witch something was wrong. Seeing how pale Faith had gotten, Tara asked, "Faith, sweetie, what's wrong?"

"I thought… I mean, hell, Tara, did I do something? I mean, you seemed OK with everything at the hospital, and now?" The younger girl tried to make sense of the last few minutes.

"Do something? Faith, what are you…" Replaying the conversation, Tara realized she'd caused the Slayer's withdrawal. "Oh, Goddess, sweetie, I didn't mean it like that." She moved into the brunette's personal space, wrapping both arms around the girl's waist. Looking into pain-filled brown eyes, she continued, "I wanted to tell you it was a mistake to call a halt this morning. I swear, Faith, I never thought wanting you, touching you, was a bad decision." She pressed a light kiss against the Slayer's throat, feeling the pulse beneath begin to race. Leaning back, she whispered, "Let's get inside, Slayer. You aren't the only one who's been making plans."

Opening the door, Tara pulled the dazed brunette into the house. Giles and Xander were sitting on the couch. "Where's Willow?" she asked.

"Oh, Tara, my dear, she decided to use Buffy's room. Before she left, I believe she mumbled something about you using the guest room." Giles answered.

"Yeah, Faith, looks like you and me are stuck with the floor," Xander said, grinning and gesturing to a nest of blankets beside the couch.

Eyebrows rising in disbelief, the Slayer shook her head. "Hate to burst your fantasy there, Xan-Man, but, if I gotta crash on the floor, I'm doing it upstairs. Just in case Red decides to make good on earlier threats, I'm sticking close to my bodyguard here." She jerked her chin at the witch next to her.

"But, that means I'm stuck with Giles," the young man whined.

The Englishman smirked. "That might not be as bad as you anticipated, Xander," he intoned. "Just imagine what Anya would say if she knew you'd slept with Faith."

Xander's eyes nearly popped out of his head, "Oh, yeah. Good point, Giles," he stammered. "I'm just going to crawl into the blankets and you girls can go right on upstairs."

Laughing at his antics, Tara grasped Faith's hand and began to lead her upstairs. "I didn't know Mrs. Summers had a guest room," she remarked.

"Hmmm, she mostly uses it as a storage room. B showed it to me one time. We're gonna have to move some stuff to get to the bed." The Slayer watched the witch in front of her. "Damn, T, Red ain't as smart as she likes to think."

Looking back in confusion, Tara replied, "What are you talking about?"

"Just admiring the view from down here, Blondie. Can't imagine how Red chose B over you."

Blushing at the huskily voiced compliment, Tara said, "Faith, I'm not –"

"Don't go there, Blondie. You're beautiful, and if you've changed your mind about waiting, I'm going to show you how happy I am Red's an idiot," Faith declared.

Shivering in excitement, Tara quickened her pace up the stairs. "In that case," she said, opening the door down the hall from Buffy's, "you get started moving this stuff," gesturing to the piles of clothing and artwork, "and I'll make sure we have all the privacy we need."

Faith squeezed by the witch standing in the doorway. "Sure, Blondie. I can do that. But what do you mean about the privacy?"

Tara closed the door and sketched a pattern in the air. Where her finger passed, a trail of green light followed. "I'm going to make sure we don't keep the rest of the house awake all night."

Laughing, the Slayer grabbed clothes from the bed and started piling them in a corner. "You a screamer, T?" she asked, grabbing another armful from the bed.

Tara blushed, but didn't answer. Letting the green light slowly brighten, she chanted quietly. With each word, the light expanded until the lines became shimmering waves of power. The witch waved her hands outward and the green waves flowed along the walls, meeting and merging in the corner Faith was using for the stored items. A final explosion of light marked the merger and then the light disappeared.

The Slayer glanced back at the witch after the flare of green. "Hey, Blondie, what's up with the magic? I thought we were here to get you all rested up for tomorrow?" Grunting with effort, she dropped the last of the clothes on the floor and started shifting Joyce's strange art collection.

Shaking out the tension in her shoulders, Tara turned to watch Faith. "This was an easy one. Besides, I'm not as bad off as I let on." At the Slayer's accusing glare, she tried her best puppy dog look. "Xander's comment about the Mayor caught you off guard. I didn't think you wanted the Scoobies to know how much you really loved him."

The Slayer stopped moving. She looked shocked. "How did you know?"

"Remember when I escorted you out of Buffy's room I told you I could tell if you were lying?" At the brunette's confused nod, Tara went on. "I can read auras. With you touching me at the time, I felt your reaction." She waited anxiously for Faith's response.

"So, you can do this aura thing with everybody?" The younger girl went back to moving artwork.

"Yeah, I can," the blonde answered. "I don't usually. Sometimes, though, emotions just jump out at me." Faith had finally cleared the bed and a path to the door. Approaching the Slayer, Tara pressed against the brunette. "See, right now, you seem to have some excess energy."

"Whoa! Blondie, I thought you were the shy witch," Faith joked, sliding her hands down the older girl's back.

Leaning in, Tara brushed her lips over the Slayer's before gripping the T-shirt Faith wore. She pushed the shirt up slowly, hands splayed to touch as much warm skin as possible. "I'm only the 'shy witch' in public, Slayer. Right now, with just you, I know exactly what I want." She caught the pouting lips in a deeper kiss, tongue dueling fiercely with Faith's. Finally pulling away, she panted, "And I'm going to make sure I get exactly that."

The brunette was flushed; her eyes nearly black with desire. "So, T, tell me what you want. Don't plan on you doing all the work." She brought her hands between their bodies, finding and releasing the hook on Tara's skirt. The material dropped to the floor. Gliding her palms over the newly revealed skin of the witch's legs, Faith begged, "Help me out a bit here, Witch. I don't want to go too far, too fast. Hurtin' you ain't part of the plan."

Tara ignored the plea. It was time to show the brunette she wasn't worried the Slayer would lose control. The witch resumed her quest to remove Faith's shirt, stopping again as her hands found the other girl's breasts. Smiling in triumph as the nipples hardened under her palms, the blonde gave in to temptation. Drawing in a small amount of energy, she whispered a short spell, pushing the Slayer onto the bed at the same time. The move surprised the vastly stronger brunette who lay looking at her companion in shock.

With revenge clearly on her mind, the younger girl tried to push herself out of her prone position, but couldn't move. "What the fuck, Blondie?"

Climbing astride the Slayer, Tara bent down to nip at the girl's neck just below her ear. Despite her unease at the situation, Faith groaned and bucked at the sensation. "You see, Slayer, your strength isn't a problem. You won't ever hurt me." The witch licked the reddened area her teeth had made before gliding slowly down to the pulse point. Sucking the flesh into her mouth, Tara marked the tender area, feeling the Slayer's pulse pounding under her tongue and the body beneath her arching in response. Sitting back and looking into the intense eyes below her, the witch said softly, "The spell reacts to intent, Faith. As long as you aren't trying to get up or leave, you'll be able to move. So, feel free to twist and writhe as much as you like."

Down the hall, Willow felt the initial surge in power as Tara insulated the room. At first, the witch wrestled with a desire to stop the lovemaking she knew was planned. However, exhaustion and the image of Buffy's tear-filled eyes from earlier convinced her to stay where she was. Pushing thoughts of Tara and Faith from her mind, Willow concentrated on the faint scent of sandalwood in Buffy's pillow. The smell drove the last images of the two down the hall away. It was a uniquely Buffy smell, and the witch turned her thoughts to her own missing girlfriend. She was worried that her Slayer was pushing too hard and returning to active duty too quickly. Still, the redhead thought, on the edge of sleep, Buffy'll need someone here to take care of her. Wonder if she'd be interested in some tender loving care from Nurse Willow?

Part 19

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