DISCLAIMER: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and all the slayerettes belong to Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: These stories contain adult material with scenes of women loving women. Consider this story to have a R rating. If this is illegal in your state or you are underage, please go to a more appropriate site now.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Tears of the Goddess
By Lisaof9



Willow Rosenberg paced the small dorm room and them smiled down at the tiny kitten curled into a ball on the twin bed.

"Your mother is late, little Miss," Willow told the kitten as she sat on the bed. "She said when she dropped you off she’d be back in an hour. It’s definitely been more than an hour."

The kitten purred loudly and twisted so that her black and white belly was exposed to her second mother.

"Spoiled, just like your mommy." A silly grin covered Willow’s face as she thought about how much she enjoyed spoiling Tara.

The door opened and Tara came in. A warm smile transformed her features when she saw Willow. "Hey, I missed you." Tara put her packages onto the table and hurried to the bed. "I see you’re keeping Miss Kitty Fantastico happy."

"Actually, she was keeping me company while I missed you." Willow wrapped her hands around Tara’s waist and hugged the blonde Wiccan without getting off of the bed. "Did I mention missing you? Cuz there was much missing while you were gone." Willow rubbed her cheek against Tara’s belly.

"Much missing," Tara agreed seriously. She ran her hands through Willow’s cropped red hair. "There was much missing while I was out shopping too."

"Shopping?" Willow smiled as she pulled away from the warmth of Tara’s body. "As in presents?" She looked up like a hungry puppy.

"There might be something of a present-ly nature in your future." Tara gently pushed Willow onto the bed and straddled her. "How much did you miss me?" she asked with a wicked smile.

"Tons, many tons." Willow rested her hands on her girlfriend’s rounded hips. "Miss Kitty had to console me."

"I suppose that will do." Tara leaned down and nipped Willow’s lips. Both women moaned when Tara’s playful nips became a slow, gentle kiss. "I missed you, my Willow," Tara whispered as the kisses became more urgent.

Miss Kitty Fantastico chose that moment to mew and climb onto Tara’s back.

Tara laughed into Willow’s mouth. "Guess she missed me too?" She lifted her body up and caressed Willow’s flushed cheek.

"We had an ‘I miss Tara party’. I was president and Miss Kitty was acting secretary, though her typing skills leave something to be desired." Willow reached behind her lover’s back and picked up the impatient kitten. "You missed your mama, didn’t you?" Willow put Miss Kitty onto her own chest and scratched the kitten’s chin. "Didn’t you?"

The kitten mewed her agreement and then closed her eyes and purred contentedly.

Tara ruffled Miss Kitty’s silky fur and then leaned over the black and white bundle and kissed Willow’s nose. "I missed you, I pined for you, and there was a little yearning as well."

"Well, with all that missing, pining and yearning…I am thinking you must have done some serious present buying. What did you get me?" Willow asked with an excited wiggle.

"Oh, yes," Tara said seriously. "I have many things of a present-ly nature." She climbed off of her lover and went to the paper bag near the door. "First, I have chocolatey goodness." Tara lifted a round object up for Willow’s approval.

"It’s pink," Willow said. "Why is a chocolate orange…pink?" She sat up and settled Miss Kitty onto her lap.

"Well, it’s a raspberry flavored chocolate…orange shaped treat…" Tara’s voice trailed off as she stared down at the candy. "Why isn’t it shaped like a raspberry?"

"I love raspberry!" Willow held out her hand and smiled.

"I know," Tara said as she walked to the bed while staring down with a puzzled expression. "Present number one," she said as she handed it to Willow.

"Yum," Willow said as she ripped open the foil.

Tara sat next to Willow and watched as her girlfriend studied the treat before smacking it against the headboard and then biting into one of the small pieces.

"This is so much better than the orange," Willow said around the candy. She smiled and put down the gift. "Thank you."

"It’s not much." Tara looked down at the floor and then slowly brought her eyes up and met Willow’s. "This is your real present." She reached into the bag and carefully lifted a black velvet pouch with both hands. "It’s kind of a gift for both of us."

"What is it?" Willow moved closer. She realized by the expensive velvet and the cautious way Tara was handling the object that it must be something fragile and there was electricity in the air that told her it was probably magical as well.

"It’s a matched set of crystals from Greece," Tara said. "Well, actually the stones are from the Black Mountains but they were consecrated in Greece." She slid her hand into the bag and pulled out the two clear stones. "They’re called Diana’s tears, or sometimes, Artemis stones."

"Oh, my god…I mean…goddess…goddesses." Willow stared, afraid to touch them. "How did you find them? Are they activated? They’re still clear so they haven’t been activated…right? Do you want to activate them?"

"You know what they are?" Tara smiled shyly.

"Well, yeah…" Willow took Tara’s hand in both of hers. "As soon as we…you know… I kinda' researched the whole umm…lesbian thing as far as magic goes and found them."

"And?" Tara locked eyes with Willow.

"You want to?" Tears filled Willow’s eyes. "Oh, Tara, I thought it was just me. I didn’t know that you thought that we… that I…that you… we…"

"I want to." Tara squeezed Willow’s hand.

"Do you think it’ll work?" Willow took the two stones and squeezed them in her hand. "Wow, they’re warm."

"It’ll only work if it’s meant to." Tara cleared her throat. "I know it’s soon, but I love you, Willow. I want to be with you forever. This connection we have, our magic…I know it means something. I feel it every time we do a spell or even when we just—"

"Touch," Willow finished with a warm smile. "I know. I feel it too and I want to do this. Tara, we’ve been dating…officially for almost a year…" She smirked when she saw Tara blush. "Yes, I know exactly when our anniversary is, missy. And…I know what’s in my heart…you."

"When do you want to do the bonding?" Tara’s blue eyes were unfaltering and there was no hint of her stutter.

"Now." Willow tossed Miss Kitty onto the floor and wrapped her arms around Tara’s shoulders. The stones were still in one hand and she could feel them growing warmer. "Let’s bond our souls right now."

"You know what we have to do, right?" Tara asked as she suddenly forgot how to breathe.

"Well, we do that anyway." Willow blushed deep crimson.

"I know." Tara blushed a matching hue. "But we have to keep doing that for twelve hours."

"Twelve hours?" Willow smiled wickedly. "Like that first weekend we spent in LA?"

"We never did get to see any sights." Tara smiled as she moved closer to her lover.

"Speak for yourself." Willow draped both arms over Tara’s shoulders. "I saw plenty of sights."

"I’ll have to keep us grounded during the ritual." Tara kissed Willow’s forehead. "Since I asked you. Then next month, you have to do the grounding."

"We get to do the ritual again?" Willow’s eyes lit up mischievously. "Twelve hours? Cool."

"Very cool," Tara agreed. "And we have to do a ritual bath first."

"Good thing you got that camping bathtub then." Willow smiled and then nibbled on Tara’s bottom lip.

"Hope we don’t run the whole dorm out of hot water again."

"It’s for a great cause," Willow pointed out.

"Let’s do it," Tara said. "I mean the ritual," she added quickly.

"I knew what you meant, silly." Willow ran her hands through her lover’s honey silk hair. "I love you, Tara Maclay."

"And I love you, Willow Rosenberg." Tara smiled as she backed up and led Willow toward the bag of supplies. "It’s almost eleven, so we should start by noon. It’s best to end the ritual after the witching hour."

"Midnight, very witchy." She pulled Tara to a stop. "Do we have to…you know, do it for all twelve hours? Won’t we get, um, sore?"

"Making love isn’t just that," Tara whispered. "But we already know that." She smiled. "I think we mainly have to keep in physical contact and express our love."

"But…we can do…that?" Willow asked and then bit her lip. "Right?"

"Oh, yeah," Tara said with a sensual smile. "Definitely."

Willow was lying on her back, exhausted, but she couldn’t sleep. It was just after two in the morning and Tara had just drifted off into a deep slumber. The ritual had seemed to take only minutes, yet when the sacred crystals finally glowed bright orange and then flashed and changed color to a deep purple and then back to clear, over twelve hours had passed.

Tara was beyond exhausted, having not only made love with Willow the entire time but also kept them both grounded during the ritual. Several times during the intense ritual Willow felt as if her soul was floating from her body, but Tara’s gentle voice and strength of spirit was always there to guide her back. They were bonded, and both of the young Wiccans were deliriously happy.

Willow smiled as she looked down at Tara. The young blonde was nestled with her head on Willow’s pillow and her arm draped over Willow’s chest. Tara was so exhausted that she couldn’t even grip Willow’s arm the way she normally did. Her hand hung limply over Willow’s body, and her breathing was punctuated with fitful snorts. Willow thought it was the most adorable thing she had ever seen, that is, until Tara began humming in her sleep. It was the song that had played the night the two had danced on Tara’s birthday, and Willow remembered the night with a huge grin.

Tara mumbled, then squeezed Willow closer. "Um, Buffy’s here," she mumbled.

Willow smiled and kissed Tara’s temple. "Shh, you’re dreaming, my love."

Seconds later the lock clicked and then the handle on the dorm room door turned and a blonde head peeked in.

"Buffy?" Willow whispered.

"Will? You’re awake. Cool." The Slayer came into the room, tucked her spare key into her pocket, and reached for the light.

"Leave it off," Willow said in a hurried whisper. She looked down, but Tara’s only reaction was to snuggle closer and toss one leg over Willow’s hip.

Buffy closed the door and moved through the darkened room to the spare bed that used to be hers. "Hey, Will, why the hush hush?" She quickly saw the reason. "Oh, sleep-over…" Her eyes widened when she realized that Willow and her sleeping girlfriend were not wearing tops, at least with their bare shoulders peeking out of the blankets it didn’t look like they were wearing tops and Buffy suddenly realized that they probably weren’t wearing any bottoms either. "Um, maybe I should go."

"We have a spare bed," Willow whispered. She reached down and pulled the blankets higher until she and Tara were both mostly covered.

"My Willow," Tara said with a sigh. She left a sloppy kiss on the bare shoulder under her cheek and wiggled closer. "Love you."

"I can’t believe she hasn’t woken up," Buffy said as she stared at the blonde sprawled across Willow.

"Um, well, she’s kinda’ tired," Willow babbled. "And um, right now, I’m thinking she’d sleep through just about anything, though she did know you were coming…I mean stopping by."

"Tired, huh?" Buffy tossed back the covers on the spare bed. "Willow, you little sex machine."

"It’s not like that," Willow insisted. "We did a spell, and well…it…" Her voice trailed off when she realized how accurate Buffy’s joke was considering the spell they had just cast.

"Hair smells great," Tara mumbled. She nuzzled into Willow’s hair and giggled in her sleep and then licked the redhead’s neck. "Taste better."

Buffy laughed, concealing her mouth with her pillow but carefully leaving her eyes uncovered so she could watch Willow blush in the dim lighting. Buffy had excellent night vision and she was well suited to near darkness, as were all Slayers.

Willow’s hand caressed Tara’s back as she tilted her face so she could feel the softness of her lover’s cheek on her own.

"You two are just too cute for words," Buffy said seriously. "My god, she loves you so much that she can’t even stop telling you when she’s asleep." She felt a slight twinge of jealousy as she wondered what a love that strong would feel like.

"Oh, Buffy, I never knew I could love anyone like this," Willow gushed. She twisted so she could see her best friend and sighed as she felt Tara mold to her back.

"Willow," Tara whimpered, not satisfied with her lover’s back. She groaned as she ran her hands down Willow’s body, tugging to get her redheaded pillow back where she liked it. "Don’t leave me," she asked sleepily.

‘Wow,’ Buffy thought as she saw the love fill Willow’s eyes.

"I’m here," Willow said as she rolled onto her back again. She sighed contentedly as Tara climbed back onto her chest and began humming their song again while she ran her hand through Willow’s hair.

"She serenades you in her sleep?" Buffy asked incredulously.

"Only after we’ve…" Willow’s eyes widened and she felt her face burning. She wondered if her cheeks were glowing. "Umm…"

"Oh god, Will." Buffy laughed. "Normally, that would fall into the ‘too much information category’…but your face is so red right now."

"You can see?" Willow asked. "What else can you see?" She tugged the blankets higher until Tara was completely covered to her neck.

"Slayer vision," Buffy explained. "Never knew Tara had such nice skin," she added wickedly.

"Buffy!" Willow said in a mock angry whisper. "Hey? Why are you here? You were supposed to be off with Riley."

"His commando friends called him away for some GI Joe reunion deal." Buffy yawned. "I was patrolling and didn’t feel like walking all the way home." Buffy rolled onto her side and stared at Willow. "This is okay, isn’t it? I’m not like…intrusion Buffy, am I?"

"No," Willow said quickly. "You’re always welcome… though if you came by a few hours earlier…"

"Willow!" Buffy giggled.

"No, really Buffy, you can come by any time," Willow promised. "Even when Tara and I…" Willow stopped midsentence.

"When you what?"

"When we move in together," Willow said quietly. "You’ll always be welcome."

"Move in?" Buffy stared for a moment as that thought sank in. "Wow, cool."

"Yeah," Willow agreed dreamily.

"Oh, you’ve got it bad, Rosenberg."

"Yeah," Willow said again even more dreamily.

"Night, Will."

"Night," Willow said.

"Night love," Tara mumbled. "nn Buff too," she said as she rubbed her cheek on Willow’s bare chest.

"Night, Tar." Buffy shook her head and smiled. She had never seen Tara so demonstrative and she liked it. She was glad to get a small glimpse of the love the quiet blonde shared with Willow.

Tara woke up to the familiar sensation of her forehead resting against Willow’s. Their bodies were intertwined with their arms draped gently over each other. Tara smiled and eased back so that she could focus on Willow’s features without crossing her blue eyes. Her smile widened when she saw her lover. She always felt full of wonder when she watched Willow sleep, amazed that the gentle young woman loved her of all people.

Willow’s eyes flickered open as if she could feel her lover’s eyes on her skin. She sighed and pulled Tara closer and pressed their lips together in a sweet kiss. "Morning, soulmate," Willow whispered.

Tara giggled and kissed Willow’s nose. "Good morning, soulmate," she responded. She stretched her back, arching against Willow and then moaned sensually as their breasts made contact. She tilted her face and gave Willow a less chaste good morning kiss. "Last night was incredible," she said huskily.

"Mmm, yes, it was," Willow agreed as her hands moved across Tara’s bare back. Her eyes were half lidded and filled with passion, then suddenly her eyes shot open and her body went rigid. "Buffy’s here," she whispered in a near panic.

"So?" Tara asked as in hushed tones. She twisted her body and saw the Slayer sleeping in the spare bed and then turned back to her lover. "Let her sleep. She was busy saving the world last night, right?"

"Probably," Willow agreed as she felt Tara slide back against her, a perfect fit like the last piece snapping into a jigsaw puzzle. She gave Tara a quick kiss.

"This is my favorite time of the day," Tara said as she ran her hand behind Willow’s head and played with her silky hair. "Well, it is since I met you." She smiled shyly. "I love this time together when we cuddle and talk first thing after we wake, like my dreams were just the coming attractions to the real thing." She moved her hand down to Willow’s neck and gently massaged the muscles. "You are the real thing, my Willow."

Willow smiled and bit her lip, afraid that if she tried to answer right away she might cry, so she just nodded.

In the next bed, a very awake Slayer was torn in two directions. On the one hand, she really should alert her two friends that she was wide awake, but on the other, who was she to intrude on Tara’s favorite time of the day with Willow? She couldn’t decide, so by default she kept her eyes closed and her body still.

"Is Buffy okay?" Tara asked. She was now tracing Willow’s reddish eyebrows with one fingertip. "She was supposed to be with Riley."

"She’s fine, something came up," Willow said when she finally found her voice. "Mmm, I love it when you do that." Willow tilted her face as Tara caressed her cheek with the back of her fingers.

"When we get our house, can we get at least two bedrooms?" Tara asked suddenly.

"Wanna’ have an altar room?" Willow smiled lazily and stretched, squeaking as her back crackled.

"Hmm," Tara thought for a moment. "Make that three rooms." She pressed her bare chest into Willow’s and inhaled sharply as if her body was electrified by the contact. She fought to bring her breathing in check. "I want to have a spare bedroom so Buffy can have a place to sleep if she’s out on patrol and gets tired," Tara explained. She hoped that by talking about the young woman in the next bed her libido would calm down out of respect for Buffy.

"A room for Buffy?" Willow smiled brightly. "I love you so much." She hugged Tara until the blonde witch squeaked. "What about Xander?" Willow asked playfully.

"He can have the couch." Tara nipped at Willow’s lower lip. "Or the floor if Mister Giles stays over. We’ll get Xander and Anya one of those Scooby Doo sleeping bags and keep it in the closet."

Willow giggled and snuggled closer.

Buffy bit her own lip to keep from laughing. The thought of Xander in a Scooby sleeping bag was quite an image. She was also touched by Tara’s concern for her. Not many people worried about where the Slayer slept.

"I don’t want an apartment," Tara whispered.

"Definitely a house," Willow agreed. "And not one of those stuffy new ones."

"An old one, with tons of character and history." Tara’s hand moved down and rested on Willow’s hip.

"But no ghosts," the two said in unison and then giggled.

"With a fenced yard so Miss Kitty can play outside," Willow suggested.

"And we can put in an herb garden for all the magical stuff we need and spices too." Tara smiled as she thought about her future with her lover. "And we can get Kitty a bowl with her name on it, well, not her whole name because that would have to be a really big bowl."

"We’ll monogram it with her initials," Willow suggested "MKF."

"Yeah," Tara said happily.

‘Okay,’ Buffy thought. ‘While this is just so damn domestic and adorable, I really need to announce my presence here. Feeling a bit like an auditory voyeur.’

"I should get up," Tara said, but she didn’t move away from her in lover, in fact, she snuggled closer. "I’ll go get us all hot cocoa." She kissed Willow, as if the thought of leaving the redhead required some physical contact to soothe her soul. "I mean, Buffy’s the Slayer. She saves the world every night. The least I can do is bring her cocoa in bed."

"She’s more of a mocha girl," Willow said as she leaned closer and kissed Tara a bit more sensually. "And you are wonderful." Willow’s hands tangled in Tara’s hair and she pulled her closer.

‘Mocha!’ Buffy thought. ‘I’ll just wait ‘til Tara goes and then "wake up" once she’s no longer naked. I really don’t want to see Willow’s girlfriend naked.’ She heard the change in the sound of the kisses in the next bed and cringed. ‘God, please…do not let my sweet, innocent Willow have some heavy-petting-make-out session while I am in the next bed.’

Tara whimpered but managed to ease away from the tempting kiss. "I should go."

Willow gave Tara her best pout.

‘Yeah, going…good idea. Naked Tara should go,’ Buffy thought.

"I’ll be right back." Tara eased out from under the covers and then leaned down and gave Willow a searing kiss that left her breathless. She grabbed a shirt and pulled it over her head and tossed Willow a nightshirt. "Put that on," she whispered to her lover and then looked over at the Slayer. "I don’t want you running around naked. I get naked Willow. Buffy can borrow research Willow, or movie Willow, or maybe on occasion… silly babbling Willow. " She smiled as she quickly finished dressing. "But naked Willow is all mine," Tara said in a mock growl. She leaned down and touched her forehead to Willow’s. "I’ll miss you."

"Hurry," Willow said quietly. She put the nightshirt on and watched her lover tiptoe out of the room and then sighed contentedly. She rolled onto her side and looked over at Buffy. Miss Kitty had claimed the Slayer during the night and was perched on Buffy’s hip. Willow watched as Missy Kitty yawned and then settled her chin on Buffy’s side. "I see you’re quite comfortable there, little miss," Willow said to the furry bundle. "Enjoying the show?"

Buffy’s eyes shot open and she rolled over, dislodging the kitten. "I didn’t mean to eavesdrop…"

"Buffy?" Willow’s eyes widened. "I was talking to Miss Kitty…" Willow’s face turned bright crimson. "You’re awake?"

"Busted." Buffy blushed an equally bright red. "I’m sorry, Will. I just didn’t want to interrupt. It’s your morning snuggle time. I tried not to listen…but with it being Tara’s favorite time I felt awful being here and I didn’t want to make her miss it and then there was the whole mocha thing and she seemed to have her heart set on actually bringing it to me while I slept…"

"Buffy," Willow said loudly. "Breathe."

"Yeah, well, I am in babble mode but please don’t be angry." Buffy stuck out her lip and used her secret weapon, Slayer puppy dog eyes.

It worked.

"I’m not mad." Willow giggled. "Nice pout, by the way."

"That was not a pout," Buffy said indignantly. "That’s my ‘please-don’t-be-mad-at-me-Willow-and-can-I-have-some-movie-Willow-time-later-today-and-definitely-save-the-naked-Willow-time-for-Tara’ face."

Willow’s eyes widened.

"Is it working?"

Willow laughed and tossed a pillow at her friend. "Yes, you Slayer dork."

Willow and Buffy talked while they waited for Tara, catching up on some things, and not mentioning others. Willow didn’t reveal the nature of the spell she and Tara had cast the night before, and Buffy didn’t reveal the growing rift between her and Riley.

"So then, he just stared at me and said, ‘well, whatever makes you happy.’ And I couldn’t believe it," Willow said.

"I can’t believe you came out to your dad," Buffy said. She fluffed her pillow and sat with her back against the wall. "What did your mom say?"

"Um, well, dad and I kinda’ agreed that mom isn’t quite ready." Willow’s eyes lost the spark that had filled them moments before. "But dad did say he wants to meet Tara," she added with a glimmer of hope.

"Well, that’s a plus," Buffy said with a half smile.

The door handle shifted and then voices in the hall caught Buffy and Willow’s attention.

"It’s locked," Tara said from the hall. "Here." There was the sound of keys rattling and then the door opened.

"Tara?" Willow moved to the door and then ducked behind it when she saw a tall, muscular, young blonde man next to her lover.

"Hi, Willow." Tara smiled and held out a small box that had three cups of mocha. "This is Michael. He’s um, a friend of Riley’s." She raised her eyebrows meaningfully. "You know…one of his special friends?"

Buffy practically leapt from her bed, ignoring the fact that she was only wearing a tee shirt and skimpy underwear. "What’s he doing here?"

"I was walking Miss Maclay to her room," he said shyly as he stood in a military parade rest stance in the hall. "There was a hostile near the coffee house and I felt it best if she wasn’t unattended." He looked directly into Buffy’s eyes, purposefully not looking at her bare legs. "I recognized Miss Maclay as one of your friends," he added.

"Hostile? What hostile?" Willow grabbed Tara and began running her hands over her lover for any sign of injury.

"Vamp," Tara said and the shrugged her shoulders. "He was in the shadows and tried to yank me off of the path."

"During the day?" Buffy grabbed Michael and pulled him into the dorm room. "Do you know anything about this?"

"No, Ma’am," he said politely. "I just saw the hostile grab Miss Maclay and I chased him off."

"Are you okay?" Willow felt tears welling up in her eyes.

"I’m fine." Tara rolled her eyes bumped her hip into Willow’s.

"You should go over to the health center and get checked," Michael said quietly. "He hit you pretty hard."

"Hit?" Buffy and Willow asked in unison.

"You didn’t mention any hitting," Willow accused. "Where?"

"My stomach," Tara whispered. She looked down at the ground, letting her hair cover her face. "I hate being hit, and the stomach is the w-worst," she stuttered. "It hurts but at least it doesn’t leave any marks that s-show."

Willow pulled up Tara’s top and ran her hand over a small bruise on her lover’s belly. "I’m going with Buffy on patrol tonight and I am personally gonna’ stake that vamp." She didn’t mention Tara’s comment about being hit or that what she really wanted to do was to find Tara’s father and beat him until he developed a stutter.

"What can you tell me about the vampire?" Buffy pulled Michael aside.

"It was odd him being out after sunrise, but he was wearing a black robe that covered him pretty well." He cleared his throat. "He seemed to target her," he added in hushed tones.

"What do you mean?" Buffy moved closer and lowered her voice.

"I saw him right before she got to him. He let several others pass by, but when he saw her, he moved closer to the path." He looked over at Tara and flexed his hands. "He didn’t try to bite her. He sucker-punched her and dropped her to the ground. When he saw me he ran, but I didn’t want to chase him until I made sure she was okay."

"Thanks." Buffy gave his shoulder a gentle squeeze. "So, you here for that big reunion deal?"

"No, I was just getting off of patrol. Since the Initiative shut down, a few of us stuck around to keep things under control. I uh, saw Miss Maclay and decided to get some coffee. That’s when I saw the vamp ahead of her in the tree cover."

Buffy looked over at Tara. She was playfully swatting away Willow’s hands as the redhead attempted to give her a complete physical.

"I should go," Michael said as he actually blushed. He moved toward the door and then paused as he looked over at Tara. "You should be safe now."

"T-thank you so much," Tara said. She smiled warmly at the young man. "And thanks for helping me get the mochas."

"You went for mochas after you were attacked?" Willow asked as her eyes flashed. "You were hurt! Why didn’t you come back here?"

"Well…" Tara bit her lip. "I wanted Buffy to wake up to mocha. Michael ran off the vampire and he was nice enough to offer to help."

Willow glared at her girlfriend but there was more loving concern in her eyes than actual anger.

"Miss Maclay?" Michael asked quietly.

"You can call me Tara. You did save my life." She looked back at Willow and handed her a mocha.

Willow smiled and took a long sip.

"Thanks," Michael said warmly. "Well, um, Tara, I noticed that I’ve never seen you with any guys except that Xander guy and the English guy…"

"Uh huh," Tara said, completely missing his point. "Xander’s a sweetie."

Buffy held her breath as she felt a twinge of sympathy for Michael. He was about to go down in flames. She bit her lip and looked over at Willow. ‘Oh, my… Jealous Willow,’ Buffy thought. Apparently he might go down in flames courtesy of a fire spell cast by an angry redhead.

Willow moved closer to Tara and grabbed her hand possessively and glared at Michael, but he was almost as clueless as Tara was.

"Yeah, so I was wondering…" Michael said as he wrung his hands together. "If maybe you’d like to go to a movie sometime or maybe dinner?" He dipped his head and smiled. It would have been charming if he hadn’t been asking a lesbian out on a date right in front of her girlfriend.

Buffy held her breath as she watched Tara’s face go completely pale. The Slayer shifted her gaze and saw that Willow’s face was turning red, but it wasn’t a blush. ‘This could be interesting,’ Buffy thought as she wondered how Tara was going to handle the awkward situation.

Tara smiled a bit sadly. She understood what it felt like to make a social error of epic proportions. "Michael?" She stepped a bit closer, dragging Willow along with her. "I’m honored, and if I hadn’t already met the love of my life, and I didn’t only date women, I might have considered it." She gave Willow a look of complete devotion and squeezed her hand. "Willow is the only one for me, but thank you anyway."

Willow smiled and her chest seemed to puff out a little as she straightened her back.

"Oh," Michael said slowly, then his eyes widened as he got the clue just lobbed at him. "Oh," he said again. "I’m sorry…" He looked over at Willow. "I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to… I just didn’t realize she was with anyone…"

"She is very with me," Willow said gently. "But I can understand why you’d want to ask her out," she added gracefully, though her hand did wind its way around Tara’s waist.

"I’ll be going now," he said as he backed toward the door. "Sorry," he said again.

"Thank you, for saving Tara," Willow said sincerely.

"I’m just glad I was there," he said as he opened the door and ducked out of the room. "Bye." He slammed the door and hurried down the hall.

"Tara, you little hottie," Buffy said as she giggled uncontrollably.

"I feel so bad for him," Tara said sadly.

"Yeah, well, if he keeps looking at you like that I’m gonna’ make him feel a whole lot worse." Willow ran her hands over Tara’s hips. "Who does he think he is… hitting on my girlfriend?"

"Right in front of you, even," Buffy pointed out.

"Yeah!" Willow said as she glared at the door.

"Willow," Tara turned her lover toward her. "It doesn’t matter." She kissed Willow tenderly, ignoring the gaping stare from the Slayer as Buffy blushed. "I love you. I’m never going anywhere," Tara swore. She ran her hand through Willow’s hair. "Now drink your mocha while it’s still warm."

"Yeah, well…" Willow felt the anger drain from her body as Tara leaned into her and rubbed her back. "You’re not?" Willow asked shyly.

"Nope," Tara promised. She leaned closer and her lips met Willow’s.

"Um, Slayer…still in the room here?" Buffy cleared her throat loudly.

Tara smirked mischievously and then deepened the kiss. When she pulled back Willow had a dazed look on her face. Tara turned toward Buffy. "I’m sure you’ve seen scarier things on patrol."

"Scarier maybe," Buffy agreed. "But on the embarrassment scale… this is right at the top."

"Why?" Willow asked as she turned in Tara’s arms so that her lover was spooning her from behind. "You and Riley do it all the time."

"Well, when Riley and I do it…it doesn’t seem so… intimate," Buffy admitted. "When you two just look at each other, I feel like it’s a crime to interfere."

"Really?" Willow asked brightly.

"Really," Buffy said sincerely.

"Cool," Tara said as she nuzzled her girlfriend’s neck.

"Um, doing it again," Buffy said as she tapped her foot.

"It’s just…I finally feel comfortable doing this in front of you," Tara said sheepishly. "You should see us when we’re alone."

"Not helping," Buffy said. "Besides, I saw quite enough of ‘snuggle action Tara’ last night. Although that humming thing? Gotta’ love that."

Tara felt her cheeks burn. "I was…humming?"

"Yup," Willow said with huge toothy grin. "Our song."

"W-well, what do you think that vampire w-was doing out during the day?" Tara asked as she tried to change the subject.

"I don’t know," Buffy said. Her playful expression disappeared as she wondered why a vampire would risk going out in the sun to attack, and more importantly, why it was targeting Tara.



Buffy escorted Tara and Willow over to see Giles. They knocked on the door and waited.

"Buffy, thank goodness you’re here." Giles rubbed his temple and guided the Slayer inside.

"What’s up?" Buffy asked. "End of the world…again?"

Willow tugged Tara along at her side, refusing to let her go for even a second.

"Well, where were you last night?" Anya asked from the counter where she was pouring a glass of juice. "You’re the Slayer. Aren’t you supposed to be Slaying? Xander and I got attacked by vampires. Aren’t you supposed to keep them away from people?" She looked over at Giles. "Can you dock her pay or something? She really is slacking off."

"Is Xander okay?" Willow asked.

"You can’t sleep with him," Anya said.

"He’s fine," Giles said. "A few bumps and bruises, but he’s plenty well enough to eat all of my breakfast cereal and the donuts."

"Hey, I gotta’ keep my strength up to fight vamps," Xander said as he came out of the small pantry. He was eating dry cereal out of the box. "G-man was holding out on us. I scored Cocoa-puffs." He held up the box. "Leave it to a Watcher to have cereal with a vampire spokesman."

"Are you sure you’re okay, Xander?" Tara asked. "Anya said some vampires attacked you."

"Ah, fine," he said as he waved the box of cereal at her. "They were no match for the Xan man."

"I especially liked the way you screamed like a girl and ran," Anya said with a smile. "They never expected that."

"Tara was attacked too," Buffy said darkly.

"Indeed?" Giles adjusted his glasses as he moved closer to the blonde Wiccan. "Are you all right?’

"Fine," Tara said with a nod.

"He hit her," Willow said as her eyes narrowed. She wrapped her arm around her lover’s waist and then ran her free hand over the blonde’s belly.

"Did you scream like a girl?" Anya asked.

"Um, no," Tara said and then smirked.

"One of the former Initiative goons saved her," Buffy said. "And then he asked her out on a date." The Slayer smiled brightly as she watched Willow’s face twist into a scowl.

The doorbell rang and Giles turned. "Who could that be?" he asked as he went to the door.

"Check the peephole," Willow said. "That vamp attacked Tara this morning, after the sun was up."

"How odd," Giles said. "Perhaps something is going on." He looked out of the peephole and then opened the door. There was a package on the stoop. He stepped outside and bent down to get it and he was yanked off of his feet. "Dear lord."

"Buffy!" Tara yelled. "He’s got Giles!"

The Slayer ran outside in time to see Giles being dragged away by someone in a long black cloak that had smoke coming off of it in tiny wisps.

"Okay, this is really pissing me off." Buffy ran to the attacker and yanked his hood off.

The vampire howled as the sun hit his skin. He released Giles and pulled his hood back over his head.

"Giles!" Willow ran over to the Watcher and stood in front of him with a stake in one hand.

"Not really liking this attacking my friends thing," Buffy said as she kicked the vampire.

"His will be done," the vampire said. He backed away and peeled off his robe and burst into flames.

"Okay, that was just weird," Willow said.

Tara hurried over to Willow and stood as close to the redhead as possible. "Are you okay?"

"Fine," Willow whined. "I wanted to stake that vamp who hurt you."

"That’s not the same one," Tara said. "The vampire who attacked me was a blonde."

"We should get inside," Giles said. He turned and saw Xander and Anya waiting just inside the safety of the door. "No need to stay out in the open."

"What happened to the good old days when the vampires only came out at night?" Buffy sighed dramatically and stomped into the house.

The group spent several hours searching for any mention of vampires that hunted during the day but none of Giles’ books had anything similar. They finally decided that they would stick together until they could find out who was after the Slayer’s dearest friends.

"I called my mom," Buffy said as she came into the room. "She’s over at the museum and Dawn is with her. I need to go get them and take them home."

"I’ll drive," Willow offered. "I haven’t gotten much use out of my driver’s license."

"You look so cute when you drive," Tara whispered.

Willow blushed.

"Yes, well, go right ahead and take my car," Giles said sarcastically.

"Thanks," Willow said as she reached up and took his keys from the peg on the wall.

"I was being facetious," the Watcher noted.

"We need to swing by and get Riley too," Buffy said. She looked over at Tara. "You mind waiting here? We won’t all fit."

"Next time I’ll have you pick out my car," Giles said as he flopped onto the couch.

"I’ll be fine," Tara said. She smiled shyly and hugged Willow. "I’ll miss you," she whispered.

"You never hug me!" Anya said as she slapped Xander’s arm.

"Ouch," Xander said. He rubbed his arm and winced. "And I might add, ouch."

"We won’t be long," Willow promised.

Tara nodded and dipped her head.

After making sure Dawn and Joyce were safely tucked in at home, Buffy and Willow went by Riley’s only find that he had left to go to Giles’. The two friends made their way back to the Watcher’s house. They pulled up in front of the house and Willow felt her stomach clench.

"Something’s wrong," Willow said as she jumped out of the car and sprinted toward the front of the house. She could see that the front door was open and the window was broken.

"Wait for me," Buffy yelled as she hurried after her friend.

"Tara?" Willow yelled as she burst through the door. She stopped as she looked at the room. The furniture was overturned and several lamps were shattered on the floor. "No…"

"What happened?" Buffy asked as she wandered through the room. "How could a vampire get in here? Giles would never invite a stranger in, especially with all the trouble we’ve been having."

"What are we gonna’ do?" Willow asked. She looked into Buffy’s eyes hoping to see some sign that the Slayer had a plan.

"We’re gonna’ find them," Buffy said as she picked up a piece of the debris.

They spent the day driving around Sunnydale checking all of the places the vampires usually hid. By the time night fell, they headed down to the docks. It was the only place left to look. They found a small group of vampires wearing the same black robes and quickly intercepted them.

Buffy was the chosen scourge of the demon world, and she sighed as she stared at the small, fanged mob in front of her and rolled her eyes. "I hate it when they get creative," she said as she glanced over at Willow.

"Well, I’m not very fond of them even when they aren’t feeling artistic," Willow said as she waved her large wooden cross at the nearest vampire.

"Guys, I am really not enjoying this whole thing, so if you don’t wanna’ be Dust Buster fodder, step aside and let us go get our friends." Buffy grabbed the closest vampire and staked him, stepping out of the way to avoid getting smoldering dust in her hair. "Have I made my point?" She raised one eyebrow as she twirled the stake in her hand.

"I am Judas, and I speak the words of our Lord." The lead vampire took a step back and began chanting. "Though I walk through the valley of light, I will fear no Slayer, for thou art with me."

"Is this your idea of a joke?" Buffy said as her eyes widened.

"Our Lord will not let the Slayer harm us," snarled one of the smaller vampires.

"Tell that to dusty," Buffy nodded at the pile of ash that had been a vampire moments before.

"They’re wearing matching outfits," Willow whispered as she scooted closer to Buffy. "That’s organized. I don’t like organized when it comes to vamps."

"Will," Buffy said with an exaggerated sigh. "Less babble, more info. These naughty vamps have our friends."

"I know that," Willow yelled. Her eyes were angry and fear made her green eyes the color of a storm swept sea. "My point is, well, I don’t have a point, but they are organized. Maybe they’re a cult? "

"You cannot understand what we are," Judas said. "But tonight your friends are having their Last Supper, and when the sun rises, bathing this retched town in its unholy light, the crucified bodies of the Slayer’s men will greet the dawn."

"Not liking the sound of that," Buffy said under her breath.

"What about the women?" Willow asked before she could stop herself. She was frightened that something might have already happened to Tara.

Judas laughed. "We need something for our meal." He smiled and licked his needle sharp fangs.

"If you hurt her…them…I will kill every one of you myself," Willow said dangerously. "And it won’t be some quick staking. I’ll tie you down and melt every inch of your skin with holy water and then I’ll get creative."

Buffy’s eyes widened as she looked at her best friend. "Um, Will?" Buffy cleared her throat. "Can we worry about torture techniques after we rescue everyone?"

Willow nodded but her eyes were locked on the lead vampire.

"You have potential," Judas said as he dipped his head. "Perhaps after I finish with our mission I will return for you. You would make an excellent disciple."

"Less talking, more dying," Buffy said as she did a back flip and staked an unsuspecting vampire who had been glancing around the deserted wharf. She spun and leaped into a roundhouse kick that sent another vamp flying into a stack of crates.

"Tell us where our friends are," Willow said as pulled a stake out of her sleeve and then kicked a heavyset vamp in the crotch. He snarled, but doubled over. As he straightened up, Willow plunged the wooden weapon into his chest, not even pausing before she yanked the stake out and turned back to Judas. "Where are they?"

"As I said, having their last meal." Judas smiled, his face morphing back to his human form. "Perhaps I should drain you now. A light snack is always tempting."

"Okay, here’s the deal." Buffy charged at two more vampires and quickly dispatched them. "You give us our friends, and I’ll let you walk away." She brushed some dust off of her arm and then moved next to Willow. "Otherwise, in the words of John Travolta, I’m gonna’ get mid-evil on your ass."

"Medieval," Willow corrected. "And it wasn’t John Travolta. It was that Marsellus guy."

"Whatever," Buffy said in a huff. She looked at Judas. "Anyway, I’ll just kill you all and start searching warehouses because that’s pretty much where you wharf vamps keep people."

Judas glanced over his shoulder at a large warehouse and then spun back to face Buffy. "Perhaps I would have went for your deal if you had offered it when you first arrived, but you have lost your advantage, Slayer." He waved his arms over his head. "Attend me, my disciples," he yelled.

"Disciples? Oh, brother," Buffy said and rolled her eyes.

"Um, Buffy?" Willow said with a squeak.

"I’m bantering, Will," Buffy whispered.

"Buffy," Willow said insistently. "I’m thinking we need to stop bantering and starting running."

"What?" Buffy turned and saw group of vampires coming down the alley. They all wore the same black robes as Judas. "I am really not liking where this is heading."

Inside a large storeroom in a warehouse the Scoobies were trying to escape. They were trapped in a huge room that had scattered crates on the floor left behind years earlier when the building had been condemned. A single light bulb dangled from a bare wire overhead. Dust covered everything except a long table at one end of the room with a black silk cloth. It was covered with trays of fresh fruit, sliced cheeses, and broiled meats, and it had ornate china and silverware.

"Can you see anything?" Giles asked. The Watcher was trying to find some way to open the large steel door that was keeping the small group trapped in the abandoned warehouse.

"Looks like Buffy is still in the bantering stage," Xander said. He had climbed on top of several empty crates and was staring out of the window at the wharf below. "Ooh, Willow just dusted a vamp…wait…make that two for the Willster."

"Is she okay?" Tara asked. She looked up from her bookbag, her blues eyes narrowing with worry.

"Your little Wiccan girl is doing damn fine," Xander said. "I think the calvary is well on its way."

"Well, we can’t stop trying to escape," Riley snapped. He was trying to use a piece of wood to remove a vent cover.

"I’m just the play-by-play guy," Xander whined. "And I don’t think Giles is stopping his manly escape attempt."

"Anya," Giles chastised from the door. "You really shouldn’t eat that."

"They said it was our last meal," Anya said as she bit into a piece of sliced mango. "Since Xander won’t give me orgasms with you all here, I might as well eat."

"Yes, well, I really can’t argue with that logic," Giles said as he blushed deep crimson. "I just thought that eating food left behind by members of a vampiric cult might not be a good idea. There’s no telling what they might have put in it."

"You mean like poison?" Anya asked as she took another bite of mango. "Not gonna’ happen. Why would they poison us? It ruins the flavor of the blood. Makes it all bitter and icky."

"And you would know this…exactly how?" Giles asked.

"Demons talk. "Anya grabbed a huge strawberry and popped it into her mouth. "You humans trade recipes…demons discuss the best way to get the most flavorful meal out of a human." She wiped her mouth and burped.

"Charming," Giles said, reflecting his views on the recipes and the social grace that Anya just revealed.

"Is there any salt over there?" Tara asked.

"Umm, yeah." Anya held up the shaker. "These vamps really know how to fix a meal." She glared at her boyfriend by the window. "Xander, you better be taking notes. Pizza is not a complete meal. This is a meal." She pointed at the table.

"I need that salt," Tara said as she placed items from her bookbag onto the floor.

"So?" Anya asked.

"Could you bring it to me?" Tara asked harshly.

"I am eating," Anya pointed out.

"And Willow and Buffy could be dying," Tara said angrily. She was terrified that something would happen to Willow and she could not survive losing the fire-haired Wiccan.

"All…right," Anya relented. "Fine, I guess I’m a waitress now. Do you want the pepper too?"

"Check out action-wicca Tara with the optional attitude package," Xander said. He had never seen Willow’s shy girlfriend raise her voice and he had certainly never seen her lose her temper. Until now, he didn’t think the mellow blonde even had a temper.

"What are you doing?" Giles asked as he walked closer to the Wiccan supplies Tara had carefully placed around herself. "Aren’t those the same herbs you used for that… Tara, that won’t work."

"It will," Tara said as she took a clear crystal out of a black pouch. "I found a way around the problem."

"Salt," Anya said as she shoved the shaker at Tara.

"Thank you," Tara said. She took the shaker, giving Anya a weak smile in lieu of an apology.

"I expect a tip," Anya said. "It’s traditional to tip waitresses."

"Whatever you’re doing, you’d better hurry," Xander said grimly. "Buffy and Willow were holding their own, but the vamp National Guard just showed up…all of them."

Tara’s eyes widened and she opened the shaker and poured it into four piles, one at each directional compass point. She took a bag of crushed herbs and connected the points until a ring of the magical mixture surrounded her creating a ring just over eight feet across.

"The salt’s new," Giles observed.

"I need your help," Tara said even as she continued positioning items inside the circle.

"That’s a mirror spell," Anya said.

"What’s a mirror spell?" Riley asked, finally giving up his fruitless attempt to pry open the vent.

"It gives one person the use of the skills of another," Giles said. "Tara, when we tried this last month…Willow nearly shattered her hand. She wasn’t meant to have the strength and skill of a Slayer."

Riley hurried forward. "She can give Willow Buffy’s powers? Why Willow? Give them to me."

"Way to face reality, Riley," Xander said. "In case you haven’t noticed, we are in here…and Willow is down there… with the army of vamps."

"Each of you, stand at one of the cardinal points, near the salt." Tara sat cross-legged in the center of the large circle. "Careful," Tara yelled. "Don’t cross the line."

The others quickly did as they were told.

"Now, repeat after me," Tara said. "Break not this circle created from the heart."

The four friends dutifully repeated Tara’s words. Anya tilted her head to one side and gave Tara a curious look.

Tara continued, "Until it is done, be kept apart."

They repeated the words, but Anya’s eyes widened.

Tara nodded. "So mote it be." She dipped her head and began a chant in ancient Sumerian. She had memorized it when she and Willow had found it months earlier. It was the mirror spell. When they had tested it over a month earlier, Willow had been in the gym behind the magic shop. The redhead had tried some flips and kicks and then punched the heavy bag with all her might. The impact, with Slayer enhanced strength, had put a hole in the leather bag and sent Willow to the emergency room with a badly bruised hand. The bones had been displaced, and she had been lucky that she only hit the bag once. Giles explained later that Slayers were more than skilled and strong; they also had bodies capable of withstanding that pressure as they impacted with most things. Demons’ heads were harder than any punching bag.

"What about the injuries?" Giles whispered as the small stone in front Tara began to glow bright blue.

Tara had already come up with a solution. She raised her head and spoke in a clear voice. "In the name of sacred Artemis, I invoke the right of the bonded."

"You’re not really gonna’ do that are you?" Anya took a step back and shook her head.

"What is the right of the bonded?" Fear filled Giles’ voice.

Tara ignored everyone and focused on the glowing crystal. "All harm that comes to her, by Artemis’ name, I ask that it fall on me." Tara’s head fell back and her body went rigid. The blue crystal flashed and then went dark and Tara slumped forward and rested her hands on her knees to keep her balance.

"What have you done?" Giles ran toward her, intent on disturbing the circle and thereby breaking the spell. He reached the herb ring and was tossed back.

"We can’t cross those herbs," Anya said as if she were talking to a child. "We chanted a blocking spell. None of us can reach her now."

"Did that mirror thing work?" Riley asked.

"Xander, the window," Giles said as he pointed to the only view of the battle below.

"This is not good." Willow’s eyes widened as she tried to count the approaching vampires. She kept losing count after forty, but the vampires were milling around her and Buffy so it was difficult to get an accurate count.

"Um, I’m thinking running would be good," Buffy agreed as she held out a cross to keep the closest vampires away.

"Buffy?" Willow squeaked. She yanked on the Slayer’s arm.

Buffy glanced toward Willow and saw more vampires blocking their escape behind them. "Well, this sucks." She grabbed Willow and pressed her back to the corrugated tin wall of the building. "Stay out of the way," Buffy said quietly and then handed Willow the cross. She pulled a second stake from her coat sleeve so that she had one in each hand and faced down the undead mob. "Okay, one Slayer…no waiting. Who’s first for being dusted?"

Three vampires moved in toward Buffy and she used a leg sweep to knock two of them down. She leaped between them and staked both at once. The third made a move for Buffy while she was on the ground but Willow staked him from behind. She screamed as another charged her but she ducked and staked him as he ran past her.

"Whoa," Willow said as she stood up and staggered to one side. "Tara?" she whispered. She looked down at her fist, remembering the mirror spell and the injury it had caused. "Well, better a broken hand than being sucked dry," she said. "I think your back up just got here," Willow said uncertainly.

"Where? Who?" Buffy asked. She had a vampire in a headlock and used him as shield as she looked over toward Willow.

"Here… and um…me?" Willow said slowly. She took a deep breath and moved further away from the wall and then executed a perfect backflip onto the nearby crates. "Hey, cool," she said with a smile.

"Willow?" Buffy’s eyes widened. The vampire tried to squirm loose so Buffy shifted her grip and staked him from behind. His dust fell to the ground and the other vampires surged forward.

Willow jumped over Buffy’s head as she used a roundhouse kick to take out the two closest vampires. She landed in a casual pose as the vampires backed up to figure out what had just happened.

"Hey, no pain." Willow smiled brightly. "Tara, I love you," she added with a smile.

"Care to explain that, missy?" Buffy asked as she kicked a vampire in the chest and then staked the one beside him.

"Tara and I have been working on a spell that will let me temporarily have skills like you," Willow said with a grunt as she staked a vampire and then spun and rapidly dispatched two more.

"Your girlfriend rocks!" Buffy said. She did a backflip and landed next to Willow. "It’s like working beside Faith with none of the skank factor."

"We’re like the wonder twins!" Willow agreed.

"You will die together," Judas said as he pushed to the front of the mob.

"I’m hearing a lot of talking from you but I am not seeing a whole lotta’ killing," Buffy said as she rested one hand on her hip.

"Um, yeah, what she said," Willow said.

Buffy glanced over at Willow and raised one eyebrow.

"I guess the bantering skills didn’t transfer," Willow said with a lop-sided grin.

"Then let’s just kick some ass," Buffy replied with shrug of her shoulders.

The two fought side by side, their years of friendship giving them an innate sense of what the other was about to do. They killed vampires in a blur of motion as if Willow had been born to slay. After the mob was cut almost in half the vampires became hesitant, which gave Buffy and Willow even more time to take the offensive.

Xander ran to the window and scurried up the crates. "Lota’ vamps, Buffy’s holding them back with some stakes and crosses…and Willow…oh my…"

"What?" Giles demanded.

"Willow…" Xander shook his head. "Willow just did a backflip over about a dozen of the vamps and did a perfect landing on a nice little crate." He turned toward Tara. "I guess that would be what the mirror spell does."

Tara said nothing and her eyes squeezed shut as she channeled her energy into sending Willow whatever power she could.

"Willow’s leading with a roundhouse kick." Xander smiled as he watched.

Tara winced and doubled over, grabbing her foot.

"Break the spells, Tara," Giles ordered. "Both of them." He threw his body against the unseen barrier keeping him from the blonde Wiccan.

Tara whimpered and grabbed her right hand and cradled it to her body.

"Tara, damn it. Stop this at once," Giles insisted. He watched as her hand swelled in front of his eyes.

"Willow just took out three vamps," Xander yelled. He cringed. "Ouch, Will shoulda’ ducked."

Tara pitched forward, her left eye squeezing shut as a cut appeared across her eyebrow. "Willow," she whispered.

"Break the spell!" Giles was frantic, slamming into the magical barrier again and again.

Riley stared in horror as Tara jerked her head to the side and her lip swelled. A trickle of blood rolled down her chin.

"Humans. I will never understand self-sacrifice," Anya said. She crossed her arms over her chest and turned away as Tara’s left hand began to bruise.

"Tara, you must break the spell," Giles said slowly. He knelt beside the herb circle and tears welled up in his eyes. "Tara, please. You can’t survive much more of this."

Tara shook her head. "I won’t let her die," she said through clenched teeth. She moaned and toppled forward as the sound of her ribs cracking punctuated the severity of the situation.

"Bloody hell!" Giles yelled. "Trading your life for hers isn’t the answer."



Willow and Buffy continued to devastate the mob of vampires. They fought with blinding speed and in perfect harmony. Neither of the young women had any idea of the toll it was taking on Tara. They brawled with an almost euphoric sense of purpose, relaxed and focused on defeating the fanged cult.

"Gotta say, I am liking the new and improved Slayer Willow," Buffy said as she ducked a punch. Willow was there to dust the vampire as soon as he was off balance.

"Me too." Willow smiled. "This is fun… well not fun… but it doesn’t suck."

"Willow!" Buffy yelled as she pointed behind the redhead.

Willow turned just in time to see the fist coming. It hit her, knocking her back but she straightened up immediately. "Okay, that was just rude," Willow said. "Buffy and I were bonding." She leaped at the vampire and beat him senseless before staking him.

Buffy continued fighting, but she was confused. Even she would have been hurt by the brutal hit. "Willow, anything else you wanna’ tell me about that spell? …Cuz that hit shoulda knocked you out cold."

As if to make the point, the tall vampire Buffy was struggling with caught her with a right cross. She staggered back and wiped her lip and her hand came away streaked with blood.

"Oh, you are so dusted, mister!" Buffy staked him and then yanked out the stake and stabbed him again as he turned to dust.

"Tara must have put a protection spell on me," Willow said she continued fighting. She didn’t pause or even slow down as she continued to fight. Vampires poofed as she staked them and moved onto the next before the dust could settle. "I love her so much. What a thoughtful gift." Willow had a goofy grin as she fought. "Hey!" she yelled when one of the vampires kicked her in the ribs. She spun and kicked him and then staked him and spun the stake in her palm like she had seen Buffy do so many times. "This is so cool."

Buffy shook her head when she saw Willow simply absorb what should have been a disabling blow. "Maybe I should get a cute Wicca girlfriend."

"She is cute isn’t she." Willow beamed. "Ew," she said as she spit dust out of her mouth. The wind had shifted, blowing her latest victim back onto her face.

"Don’t you hate it when that happens?" Buffy asked. "And yes, your girlfriend is very cute."

"I can’t wait to tell her how great this spell worked," Willow said proudly. She swept a vampire off his feet and staked him while he was on his back.

"Behind you," Buffy yelled. She was struggling with two vampires of her own and couldn’t get over to help Willow as Judas moved in behind her.

"And now you die," he said with a growl and then grabbed Willow and slammed her into the building. "I would have preferred to turn you, but killing you will have to suffice." He lifted her up and slammed her into the wall again. He smiled as he saw her head leave a dent in the wall.

"Like I’d join you." Willow kicked him in the stomach but he grabbed her leg with his free hand and swung her into the air by her foot and slammed the back of her head into the pavement. She twisted and grabbed his legs without even slowing down and yanked him off his feet. "Not so nice when it’s you on the cold ground is it?" Willow said as she scrambled to her feet.

"Will!" Buffy yelled. She tossed a stake through the air toward the Wiccan.

Willow caught the stake and pressed it into Judas’s chest, pinning him place. "Sorry I don’t have some cool banter, but I’m new to this." She shifted her weight and the stake impaled him. He dissolved in a cloud of dust and Willow stood and faced the dwindling vampire forces. "Your fearless leader is pretty much dead. Now is when you run." Willow smiled, pleased with her attempt at vampiric taunting.

Four of the vampires snarled and ran at her.

"Hey, I’m supposed to taunt you," she said as she took a step back. "All the Slayer types do it." She blocked the first three vampires but the third had a dagger and sliced at her.

Most of the other vampires could see that they had lost and began hurrying away. Buffy staked one last vamp and then ran to help Willow. Between them they were able to kill the four vampires quickly, with Buffy dealing with the vampire who had the dagger.

"Tara gave me this sweater," Willow whined as she looked down at a huge slash in the front of her pink garment.

"I’m sure she’ll get you a new one." Buffy wrapped her arm over Willow’s shoulder. "You kicked some major ass, young lady."

"I did, didn’t I?" Willow smiled. "Let’s find the others. I can’t wait to tell Tara."

"Judas kept looking at the building over there." Buffy pointed across the wharf. "Plus, it has a light on and it’s supposed to be deserted."

"Smart," Willow said with a grin. "That’s why you’re the Slayer."

"I thought that last vamp had you with the dagger," Buffy said, her throat suddenly thick with emotion. "And when Judas was pounding on you…" Buffy shivered. "Tara’s spell really is something."

"Yeah, she is… I mean it is." Love covered Willow’s face at the mere mention of Tara’s name. "Let’s go get them."

Giles fought to get through the invisible barrier even though he knew it was hopeless. He couldn’t stop trying to reach Tara. Every second that passed saw a new bruise or cut appear on the young blonde’s body. She had passed out after only a few minutes and her limp form showed every injury that Willow should have been enduring.

"Oh, god," Xander said from the window. He twisted his head as he tried to watch the fight below and keep an eye on Tara. He cringed as he watched Willow slammed into the side of a building. "Why isn’t Buffy helping her?" he whispered. His face paled when he saw Willow lifted up and slammed into the pavement. He turned and saw Tara’s deathly still body inside the circle. "Do something, Giles!" Xander yelled.

"I’m trying!" Giles answered. He was covered in sweat from his repeated attempts to get through the mystical forcefield but he couldn’t get any closer to Tara.

"Tara," Riley called as he slammed into the same invisible wall. "Tara, wake up. Let us in," he pleaded.

"She can’t hear you," Anya pointed out. "I’ve seen really nasty injuries before and she does not look good." Even Anya had lost her appetite at the site of Tara’s battered body. The blonde had lost consciousness and now lay on her side with a growing pool of blood spreading out from under her face. "Ew," she said as she saw a fresh spurt of blood from Tara’s belly. A second pool of blood formed as the wound seeped onto the cold floor of the warehouse.

"Did you see they way I flipped over that vamp?" Willow asked excitedly. "Just went flying right over him all Matrix-y."

"I saw," Buffy said tolerantly. "Definitely something right out of the Matrix. Just no slow motion action." Buffy headed up the stairs with Willow on her heels. "Keep on your toes," she cautioned. "They may have guards."

"Wouldn’t they have left when we liked kicked their army’s butt all over the pier?" Willow spun her stake in her hands, twirling it continually as they hurried to the second story.

"Good point," Buffy conceded. They rounded the corner and looked down a long hall. "Hmm, no vamps, just the way I like it."

"Ooh, a barricade!" Willow said happily. "On that door. That must be where they’re holding them." She pointed at a large metal door that had a crate pushed in front of it.

"Let’s move the crate and see." Buffy reached it first and Willow helped her push it aside. "Great, it’s locked," Buffy said as she tried the handle. "Okay, miss junior Slayer. Help me kick it in."

"Cool!" Willow bounced on her toes imagining how surprised Tara was going to be to see her bursting into the room like a superhero. "Should we do a roundhouse kick like Steven Segal… or maybe a flip kick like Jackie Chan?"

"How ‘bout we just kick it on three?" Buffy shook her head. "One… two…three." They kicked the door and sent it flying off its hinges into the room.

"Willow and Buffy to the rescue," Willow said with a charming grin as she leaned into the room.

"Buffy!" Giles yelled. "Get in here. Dear lord, hurry."

Xander moved to intercept Willow so she wouldn’t see Tara. "Willow, wait. You need to stay back."

Riley ran to Buffy and yanked her into the room past several crates that blocked Tara from view. "Break the circle, hurry, Tara needs you." He spun and ran back and grabbed Willow by the arm as she tried to move past Xander. "You can’t go in there," he said.

"Let me go," Willow said. "Tara?"

Buffy saw Tara and ran toward her. "Help her!" she yelled at Giles as she moved closer.

"I bloody can’t!" Giles said. "You have to break that line of herbs. She blocked all of us out of the circle." He ran into the invisible barrier and bounced off. "Hurry, damn it."

"What’s wrong with Tara?" Willow demanded. She could hear Buffy behind the crates and the fact that she couldn’t hear Tara was making the redhead panic. Willow didn’t want to hurt Riley with her new Slayer strength but her patience was reaching its limits.

"Just wait." Riley held her arm. "Xander, go call 911."

"911?" Willow’s eyes flashed and she tossed Riley across the room, sending him crashing into the wall.

"Willow, you don’t want to…" Xander stepped out of the way when he saw the determined look on her face. "I’ll get help." He bolted out the door, but then paused. "Um…are there vamps out there?"

"I’ll go with you." Anya grabbed a stake Buffy had dropped and hurried to Xander’s side. "Come on, I hate watching people die," she whispered as she pulled him out the door. "Well, ones I like and I didn’t kill."

Beyond the crates, Buffy ran past Giles and kicked the herbs. A green light flashed as the barrier fell. Giles hurried to stop Willow.

"Tara?" Buffy knelt next to her. "What the hell did those bastards do to her?"

Willow staggered as a wave of dizziness hit her when the spell broke.

"Easy, take a deep breath." Giles steadied her as he tried to keep her away from her bloodied lover.

Willow rushed past him and froze when she saw Tara. "No!" She fell to her knees beside her lover and reached out for her.

"Don’t move her," Riley yelled. "She might have a spinal injury." He moved closer, taking his shirt off. "Press this into the wound on her belly." He surveyed the damage even as he knelt between Buffy and Willow.

"What happened?" Willow sobbed. She reached out to touch Tara, and then paused as she realized that she didn’t see any part of her lover that wasn’t injured.

"She did the mirror spell," Giles said as he paused just behind Willow. "She didn’t want you to be injured so she… cast a spell that allowed her to take any damage that you should have suffered." He rested his hand on the thin redhead’s shoulders. "She blocked us out of the circle. We couldn’t reach her."

"No," Willow whispered. Tears ran down her cheeks. "I did this to her."

"No," Giles said as Buffy and Riley worked on Tara. "She did it because she couldn’t stand the thought of anything hurting you."

"Hurting me?" Willow yelled as she looked over her shoulder at the Watcher. "And this isn’t hurting me?" she said as she pointed at Tara’s crumpled body. She turned back toward Riley. "How is she?"

Riley didn’t answer as he carefully pried open one of Tara’s swollen eyes. The pupil was completely dilated. He crouched lower and checked the other, frowning when it was dilated as well. He ran his fingers over her scalp and sighed when he felt swelling and a soft, pulpy area at the back of her skull. "We can’t wait for the ambulance. We need to get her to the hospital, now."

"Her head’s really bleeding," Buffy said. She was pressing Riley’s shirt into the stab wound on Tara’s belly. "I should put some pressure on her scalp."

"No," Riley said harshly. "No pressure. Her skull is fractured and if we move the bone we could make it worse."

"How are we gonna’ move her?" Willow asked. She touched Tara’s bruised hand. It was cold and lifeless. She stroked the swollen, tight skin with one finger. "Tara, I’m here," she whispered as she leaned over her lover. "You’re gonna’ be okay, baby. I promise."

"We need something flat," Riley said. "We can’t risk moving her spine."

Buffy scanned the room until her eyes stopped on a closet. She leaped up and ran to it and ripped the small wooden door from its hinges. She looked at the doorknob and quickly punched the handle out of the door’s frame. "Will this work?" she asked as she balanced it next to her.

"Perfect," Riley said. He prodded Tara’s chest. "Damn it," he mumbled when he felt several broken ribs.

Buffy put the door beside Tara and looked to Riley. "How do we do this?" she asked quietly.

"We have to be careful not to move her spine," Riley said.

"I’ll do it," Willow said. She held her hands over Tara and nodded for them to move back. As soon as they were clear Willow mumbled something in Latin and Tara’s body lifted into the air. She levitated her onto the door and slowly settled her in place.

"Good job, Will," Buffy said as she rubbed her friend’s arm.

"We need to go," Riley said. He had his fingers pressed to Tara’s throat and could only feel a weak, thready pulse.

Willow nodded and they lifted the door and carried Tara toward the hallway.

The Emergency room at Sunnydale Memorial Hospital was slow for the graveyard shift. Doctor Maggie Doyle signed her last patient over to admitting and then went to get a cup of coffee. She had taken the job at Sunnydale Memorial after a disastrous personal crisis and a nasty legal case at her old job. She had been harassed during her residency by a surgeon with an overactive libido and as soon as her residency was finished, Maggie Doyle got the hell out of Chicago.

The where didn’t really matter to the petite doctor. All that mattered was that she was as far from Chicago and County Medical as possible. So, when her cousin suggested that she come west, she did a search for ERs that wanted fresh meat. She told her cousin about the position at Sunnydale Memorial and he had laughed and told her that fresh meat might be exactly what they were looking for. Six months later she had the job and her favorite cousin was dead. He never got the chance to elaborate on his comment, though after one week at Sunnydale Memorial, Maggie had a good idea that she had moved into a town with more to worry about than a pigheaded surgeon.

Oddly enough, the troubles that plagued Sunnydale bothered Maggie less than the legal and political things she had dealt with as a resident. Monsters she could deal with. Well, she didn’t actually deal with the monsters, just their aftermath. Doctor Doyle worked the graveyard shift, which in Sunnydale pretty much meant what it sounded like. Her nights were filled with unexplained injuries and gruesome bite wounds that looked like they came out of a Bela Lagosi movie. Maggie wished her cousin had at least given her a heads up. She had made the mistake of asking a coworker about the numerous ‘blood loss by unknown means’ reports on file and almost been fired on the spot. Now she knew enough to just take care of her patients and ignore the supernatural goings on. It reminded her of her summers with her relatives in Ireland.

That side of the Doyle family always had some big secret and as a young girl Maggie had been hell-bent to figure it out. When she finally did get to the bottom of the secret, which she discovered by walking into her favorite aunt’s room unannounced, she fainted. She woke up more than a little embarrassed and staring into the face of her beautiful aunt, who moments earlier had not even looked human. That was Maggie’s introduction into the supernatural, and she made a point to never talk about the Ireland Doyle’s when she was in the states.

The American Doyle’s were all cops, and they didn’t talk about such nonsense, but Maggie began to look forward to her summer visits to Ireland. She would spend a month there each summer with her cousins in Tullamore. It was tiny town in County Cavin, and apparently it was also a favorite place for demons and humans to mingle. Maggie loved hearing tales of Celtic beasties who married into the Doyle clan. Besides, as she got older, her beastie relatives were a lot more accepting of a lesbian cousin than Maggie’s own parents. When Maggie had come out to her father, he had cut her out if his life and refused to speak to her for almost a year. It had been pure agony. Maggie was a daddy’s girl, and had even considered going into the police academy like so many of her uncles, brothers, cousins, father, and grandfather. Her life changed on one of her trips to Ireland. Her Aunt Brigit, or Brighid if you spelled it correctly, had pointed Maggie down the path to med. school and Maggie had never looked back.

Maggie took a long drink of her coffee, grimacing when she realized that it was thicker than stale pudding. She sighed and leaned back into the well-worn couch in the doctor’s lounge and put her feet on top of the equally well worn coffee table.

"Doc, we got a nasty one," Kathy Trent said as she pushed open the door to the lounge. "Some college kids just brought in a girl. She’s a mess."

"Let’s do it." Maggie climbed to her feet and tossed her coffee down the drain and then flipped off the coffee maker so the next person who wanted coffee wouldn’t find a gummy mess in the bottom of the pot.

"They’re in trauma one," Kathy said as the rounded the corner. "Massive head trauma, stab wound, and more broken bones than I can count."

Maggie pushed the curtain aside and saw a small mob around her patient. "All right, everyone wait outside. Give me some room." She pushed her way past a middle-aged man who looked like he belonged in a library, except for the blood covering his tweed jacket.

"Tara, wake up. Please," Willow sobbed. She was standing at the head of the bed and running her fingers through Tara’s blonde hair trying to smooth the bloodied, matted mess into something that resembled the well kept style Tara usually wore.

"I need you out of here," Maggie said gently. She saw that her patient was lying on her side on top of a door. "I need a backboard and a C collar," Maggie yelled over her shoulder. She scanned the blonde on the table, happy to note that one of the nurses had already started two IVs and put an oxygen tube over her nose.

"She’s got head trauma," Riley said as he stepped away from Tara. "Both pupils are blown and she’s been unresponsive for half an hour at least."

"Who are you and what took you so long to get her here?" Maggie asked as she shined her penlight in Tara’s eyes. "Damn it," she muttered, then turned her head when she saw Nurse Trent coming in with a backboard. "Kathy, we need a CT and a complete spinal work up. Jesus, I need to get at that stab wound."

"Is she gonna’ be okay?" Buffy asked from behind Willow.

"I thought I told you people to clear out?" Maggie said without looking up. Nurse Trent moved behind Tara and a shorter blonde nurse came around with her. They carefully positioned the board and rolled Tara onto it. "I’ve got the head," Maggie said as she cradled Tara’s face between her fingers.

The short blonde nurse glared at Willow. "You need to leave."

"I’m not leaving her," Willow said defiantly. She glanced over at Giles and Buffy who were backing out of the room. They both looked away thinking they had no choice.

"Are you family?" the short nurse asked sarcastically.

"Gloria, just escort her outside," Maggie snapped.

"If she’s not family, she has no business here," Gloria pointed out.

Maggie could tell by the way the petite redhead looked at her patient that the two were more than friends, but as much as she wanted to respect that, the hospital had strict policies. "Miss?" Maggie said looking over at Willow. "I’m sorry, but unless you have legal authority to be here, you need to leave."

Willow’s eyes widened and for a brief second she almost smiled. She glared at the short nurse and crossed her arms over her chest. "I have power of attorney," Willow said calmly. "If you check your records, Tara and I have a dual power of attorney on file. Check under Rosenberg and Maclay. I am her family."

Buffy looked almost as shocked as the short nurse named Gloria.

"The Records office is closed until morning," Gloria said as she took Willow by the arm.

"That’s your problem, not mine." Willow yanked her arm out of the nurse’s grasp and moved toward Tara. "I’m not leaving and you can’t make me."

The nurse started to move toward Willow but she never got the chance.

"Gloria, Miss Rosenberg is to get every privilege afforded any spouse until further notice. Is that understood?" Maggie asked as she cut away Tara’s blouse and got her first good look at the stab wound. "And call surgery and tell them we’ve got a belly wound for them. It might have ruptured her spleen."

"No," Willow said as she moved closer.

"Move up by her head," Maggie said gently. "Stay outa’ the way, honey."

Gloria tossed one last glare at Willow before moving out of the small room.

"How is she?" Willow asked as the dark haired doctor worked on Tara.

"I can’t really say yet," Maggie lied. "Not until we get the CAT scan and x-rays." She glanced up from cleaning the belly wound to look into the redhead’s eyes. "I’ll do everything I can."

Willow nodded and leaned down and kissed Tara’s forehead. "Can you get her a blanket?" Willow whispered. She looked down at her lover’s exposed body. Her shirt was gone and the nurse called Kathy was cutting off her jeans. "She hates being cold," Willow added.

"We have to find all her injuries first," Maggie said as she examined the stab. She probed it with her gloved fingers and then packed it with gauze. "Kathy, tell surgery the bleeding’s slowed. It may have missed the spleen after all."

"That’s good. Right?" Willow asked hopefully.

"Yeah," Maggie said with a half smile that never reached her eyes. She didn’t point out that the redhead’s lover was barely breathing on her own and that her eyes showed the telltale signs of brain death. "What happen to her?" Maggie asked as she gently examined Tara’s battered hands.

"Um… a… a gang. They beat her up," Willow lied unconvincingly.

"A gang, huh?" Maggie let the answer hang in the room.

"It’s all my fault," Willow sobbed. "She never would have been hurt if it wasn’t for me."

Maggie frowned when she saw the amount of damage to both of Tara’s hands. It looked like she had been run over by a car, except there were no abrasions from the pavement. She looked over at Kathy who was adjusting the oxygen to a richer mix to try to get Tara’s blood oxygen up. "Kathy? Can you go check on that CT scan and x-ray?"

Kathy looked up and nodded and hurried from the room.

"Miss Rosenberg?" Maggie asked as she moved down and examined the obvious fractures in Tara’s legs. "Is there anything you’re not telling me? I need to know what happened if I’m gonna’ help her." The gentle question felt like a lie. Maggie had seen head injuries like Tara’s, but they usually came in from motorcycle accidents when the victim hadn’t been wearing a helmet. Those same injuries were what had earned the fast bikes the nickname of ‘donor-cycles.’

"It was a big, nasty gang," Willow whispered. "They were really strong."

Maggie noticed a light layer of dust on Willow Rosenberg’s shoulder. Maggie had ended up with a similar layer of dust one night when she left work before sunrise. Only the warnings from her Aunt Brigit had saved her life. Aunt Brigit had told Maggie about certain citizens of Sunnydale and how best to dispatch them.

"Miss Rosenberg," Maggie said quietly. "Did this ‘gang’ have really bumpy foreheads and an aversion to the sunlight?"

Willow’s head shot up and she stared at the doctor with her jaw slack. She looked down at Tara and then back at the doctor.

"I’ll take that as a yes," Maggie said. She moved up to Tara’s throat and carefully checked her neck under the cervical collar. "I don’t see any neck wounds."

"She wasn’t bit," Willow whispered.

Maggie nodded, glad to know that if the blonde wasn’t going to survive at least her lover wouldn’t have to suffer knowing that Tara would soon be one of the monsters that roamed Sunnydale after dark.

"You know about…them?" Willow asked as she scrunched her face and bared he teeth.

"I work in the ER on the graveyard shift. How could I not know?" Maggie let out relieved sigh when the curtain pulled aside and the x-ray technician came to get Tara. "Okay, Miss Rosenberg, you’ll have to wait while she goes to x-ray. I’ll let you know as soon as she’s finished."

Willow paused long enough to leave a lingering kiss on Tara’s forehead. "I’ll be waiting for you, love." She felt her throat clench and prayed Tara would wake up soon. She looked over at the doctor and they locked eyes. "Do everything you can. Tara and I bought the most comprehensive policies possible."

"We will." Maggie shook her head as they wheeled Tara out. Money and insurance helped, but sometimes the damage was just too severe.



Buffy Summers was used to taking action. When someone she cared about was in danger, she reacted. She killed things. She did her job. Pacing in a waiting room was not on the Slayer job description, especially when Willow was only a few yards away with Tara. She knew her best friend would be worried sick and leaving Willow alone felt like a betrayal. It added to Buffy’s mounting guilt. She went over in her head every possible way she could have found Tara and the rest of her friends before the blonde witch would have been forced into her drastic decision. Now it was too late, Buffy realized. The damage was done. She heard the door open and spun around.

"What’s happening?" Buffy half yelled when she saw Willow walk into the waiting room.

"They took her for x-rays and a CAT scan," Willow said as she slumped into a nearby chair.

"Willow, we’re here for you." Buffy knelt in front of her friend and rested both hands on the petite young woman’s knees. "That was some bluff in there," she said with a smile. "Power of attorney on file?" Buffy shook her head. "Even I wouldn’t have thought of that."

"I wasn’t bluffing," Willow said as tears streamed down her cheeks. "Tara and I spoke to a lawyer who came to advise the lesbian group on campus. We figured with all of the dangerous stuff we do…we should have our legal rights taken care of." Willow sniffled and buried her face in her hands. "I just always figured I’d be the one in the hospital."

"I’m so sorry," Buffy said as she awkwardly squeezed into the chair beside her friend. She gathered the redhead in her arms and held her while she cried.

"I still don’t get this whole self-sacrifice thing," Anya said. She was sitting next to Xander on the couch.

"They love each other, An," Xander whispered as he pulled her closer. "I’d do the same thing for you…if I had the witchy powers and you were fighting the undead," he added quickly.

"You would?" Anya hugged Xander to her and cried. "You stupid jerk. I don’t want you all bloody and dying. Neither of us has to fight vampires. Let Buffy do it."

"Yes, well, on that note perhaps someone should call Mrs. Summers and let her know that Buffy won’t be coming home tonight." Giles cleared his throat and stood.

"No," Buffy said as she ran her fingers through Willow’s hair. "Mom knows not to expect me ‘til after daylight. Besides, there’s no reason to ruin her sleep with such bad news."

"She’s going to be okay," Willow said through clenched teeth.

"Yes…of course," Giles said quickly.

"Willow…" Riley said slowly. He had been leaning against the wall in the far corner. He pushed off of the pale blue wall and moved toward Willow. "She’s hurt really bad. I’ve seen guys with head injuries like that and it’s not something…"

"No!" Willow yelled. "Don’t you dare say what you’re about to say." She pushed Buffy away and jumped to her feet and rushed toward Riley. "You will not say those words. Do you understand? She’s going to be okay." Willow poked Riley’s broad chest to punctuate her words.

"Okay," he relented. He looked over at Buffy and his eyes told her what Willow refused to believe. Tara would never be all right again.

Buffy felt a fresh wave of tears roll down her cheeks and she wondered how many more of her friends would she have to watch die. Faces filled her mind. Kendra had been a Slayer and yet Buffy could still picture her lying on the floor of the library with her throat slit. Jenny had been a witch, like Tara, and that hadn’t saved her from Angelus. She remembered how devastated Giles had been when he lost Jenny. One look at Willow told her she was about to learn a new definition for devastated.

Tara was moved directly into surgery after her CAT scan and x-rays. Doctor Doyle had the unpleasant job of explaining what the tests had found.

"Miss Rosenberg?" Doctor Doyle said as she looked into the waiting room.

"Tara?" Willow was off of the couch and halfway to the dark haired doctor in an instant. "How is she? Did she wake up?"

"Uh, no," Doctor Doyle said carefully. "We sent her to surgery. I need to talk to you in private."

"You can talk to me here," Willow said as she felt Buffy’s arm snake around her waist. "They’re family too.

Buffy gave Willow a gentle squeeze and nodded.

"Okay," Maggie said slowly. She noticed the matching layer of dust on the one Willow called Buffy. ‘These kids shouldn’t be messing with things they don’t understand,’ she thought grimly. She wondered how long it would take before she saw the rest of them in her ER, or perhaps the morgue. "Miss Maclay is in surgery, like I said. They’re fixing the damage caused by the stab wound."

"What about the head trauma?" Riley asked.

"Uh…" Maggie looked around the room and took a deep breath. "The CAT scans showed more damage than we expected."

Willow gasped and her legs threatened to buckle but Buffy held her up.

"Her autonomic functions are intact, but there was a lot of damage to her higher functioning," Maggie said grimly.

"But they’re fixing that, right?" Willow whispered.

"Miss Rosenberg… Willow…." Maggie moved closer and took Willow’s hand. "We can’t fix everything. The brain is a specialized organ and it doesn’t do very well when it gets damaged."

"What are you saying?" Buffy asked. "My Mom had a brain tumor removed, and she’s fine now."

"A brain tumor is a foreign body," Maggie explained. "Tara has trauma to her tissue. There’s a great deal of swelling and that’s done even more damage."

"So she’s gonna’ die?" Anya asked bluntly. "I told you she looked like she wasn’t gonna’ make it."

"Shut up!" Willow spun and gave Anya a look that made the ex-demon take two steps back.

"What does all this mean?" Giles asked.

"It means that when she comes out of surgery, if she survives, we’ll put her in a room and make her comfortable." Maggie cleared her throat. "Then we wait to see how extensive the damage is."

"Didn’t the CAT scans already tell you that?" Riley asked. He didn’t want Willow having any false hope.

"It’s bad," Maggie admitted. "And you need to notify any other family members, but I have seen some patients with severe cranial trauma actually wake up."

"And they were fine?" Willow asked hopefully.

"Not exactly," Maggie said. "If your partner does wakes up, she may not ever be aware of her surroundings. She probably won’t be able to speak or even understand language. The broca’s area was almost completely destroyed. That’s the speech center. There was also massive trauma to the frontal lobe, which is where the higher reasoning is."

"She’s going to be okay," Willow said as she leaned into Buffy. "I’ll see to it."

"Willow," Giles said with a warning tone in his voice. "You shouldn’t even consider taking action on this." His eyes narrowed. "Tara made her choice."

"Look, I don’t know what you think you could do, Miss Rosenberg, but the best thing you can do right now is get some rest. She’ll be in surgery for at least two hours. After that, we’re putting her in a private room. I’ve made arrangements for an extra bed to be moved in there so you can be near her."

"Thank you," Willow said. She was going through her head trying to remember any spells that might help her lover. The problem was, healing spells didn’t usually work on anything more serious than a minor head cold.

"I’ll check in on her before I go off shift," Maggie said as she gave Willow’s arm a gentle squeeze.

Six days later Willow still had not left Tara’s side. The doctors repaired the damage to her spleen, which had been nicked, and they set her broken arms and legs but the blonde Wiccan showed no signs of waking up.

"Okay, sleepyhead, time to get up," Willow whispered as she washed Tara’s face with a warm washcloth. She had taken on the job of bathing her lover, not wanting strangers to touch Tara in such intimate ways. Tara was painfully shy and just the thought of some stranger washing her most personal areas would have made Tara blush for a week. Willow didn’t mind. It gave her a chance to do something besides cry. "I really miss your beautiful eyes," Willow said. "So open them up." She kissed Tara’s cheek, letting her lips linger. "I miss you," she said as she pulled away.

She looked over her shoulder toward the door. She had pulled the curtain around the bed so that no that one could walk in and see Tara while Willow was washing her bruised body. Buffy and the others had gone back to Giles’ to find more information on the vampiric cult that had put Tara in the hospital. Giles wanted to be certain they wouldn’t regroup and try again.

"You have to get better." Willow’s eyes had dark rings under them and the redhead looked like she had dropped almost as much weight as Tara had. Willow glanced toward the door one last time and then held her hands over her lover’s forehead. "I give to her that which her soul gives me…life," she whispered. Her hands glowed orange and tiny tendrils of energy flowed from Willow’s hands to Tara’s head. After a few moments, Willow slumped onto the bed beside her lover. The redhead was covered in sweat and panting from the exertion.

"Is that what Mr. Giles warned you not to do?" Maggie Doyle asked from behind Willow.

"What?" Willow squeaked. She spun and looked at the doctor, trying to come up with some explanation.

"Are you a witch?" Maggie asked as she went to the bed and took Tara’s pulse.

"How can you be so calm about this?" Willow watched the doctor as she worked.

"This is Sunnydale," Maggie pointed out. She used her stethoscope and listened to the faint beating of Tara’s heart and noticed building congestion in her lungs. "I guess you’re the reason she’s doing as well as she is."

"She’s still not waking up," Willow pointed out bitterly.

"No, but with her injuries, I half expected her to be gone already," Maggie said sadly. Her tone was gentle and let Willow know that she didn’t like the idea of losing Tara either. "So, are you a witch? Or something more exotic?"

"I’m a witch." Willow felt tears falling down her cheeks again. "Not that it’s doing Tara a damn bit of good."

Maggie’s eyes narrowed and she tilted her head to one side as she remembered the day her Aunt Brigit had convinced her to become a doctor. "Willow, is Tara a witch too?"

Willow nodded. "Are you? I mean…you know so much about everything and well…"

"No," Maggie said. "But…I …"Maggie paused. She didn’t want to get Willow’s hopes up only to have them dashed. "I need to know more about the night this happened. Please," Maggie pleaded.

"Okay," Willow said. "The things we were fighting were vampires, part of a cult…"

"Willow!" Buffy said as she came around the curtain. "What are you doing?" Willow had already told Buffy that the doctor suspected they had been attacked by vampires but Buffy didn’t want her best friend sharing all their secrets. For all they knew, the doctor could be a demon.

"I need to know," Maggie said as she watched Buffy rush to Willow’s side. "Please."

"Who are you?" Buffy demanded.

"I’m a doctor." Maggie smiled. "I thought the white coat and stethoscope pretty much made that fact clear."

"No, who are you and what do you know about vampires?" Buffy took a menacing step forward.

"I am a doctor." Maggie saw the muscles in Buffy’s arms ripple as the blonde took a defensive posture in front of Willow.

"Doctors don’t ask questions about vampires," Buffy challenged.

"This one does," Maggie shot back. "Now, if you’ll let Willow and I finish our conversation, maybe I know a way to help Tara."

"If you can help Tara why the hell haven’t you done it already?" Buffy moved closer, her body language conveying her anger.

"Because, until I walked in here and saw Samantha Stevens over there doing a spell, I had no idea I could help." Maggie cleared her throat. "Okay?"

"What kind of spell?" Buffy spun and leveled her angry gaze on Willow.

"Just a little transference of energy." Willow wouldn’t meet Buffy’s eyes.

"Which explains why Willow looks like shit," Maggie pointed out. "Did you give her part of your life-force or just energy?"

"Just energy," Willow said defensively. "Besides, I couldn’t find the ingredients for the spell to transfer life-force," she added in a tiny whisper. "You have no idea how hard it is to find moss from Stonehenge."

"Willow, you’re putting yourself in danger," Buffy said in a growl.

"Gee, like Tara did?" Willow responded bitterly.

"Great, so we can have two martyred witches in ICU!" Buffy yelled.

"Excuse me, but can we get back to my questions?" Maggie said curtly.

"What do you need to know?" Willow asked.

"Okay," Maggie said as she cautiously moved past Buffy. The blonde was strung as tightly as a harp and she looked like she was about to snap at any second. "I may have something to help. If certain criteria are met and if I can get the things I need."

"And what criteria would that be?" Buffy asked. "Does Willow have to sign over her soul? Make a human sacrifice?"

"Um, I think you drink way too much coffee and watch way too many movies." Maggie looked back at Willow. "You and Tara are both witches, right?"

"Yeah," Willow said. She was struggling not to smile at the doctor’s comments to Buffy. The Slayer was not amused. She was studying the doctor looking for any sign that she might be more than she appeared.

"How come we never see you in the daylight?" Buffy asked.

"Because I work the graveyard shift," Maggie said. "Oh, god." She rolled her eyes and held out her hand. "I have a pulse."

Buffy verified the doctor’s pulse but held her hand a bit longer than was necessary. "You don’t want to cross me."

"Yeah, whatever, butch," Maggie said as she turned to Willow. "This is very important. Were Tara’s injuries cause by…" she paused, and looked over at Buffy and then shook her head. "Were they caused by anything…supernatural… or mystical?" Maggie half-expected both girls to look at her like she was insane. Instead, they looked at each other with raised eyebrows.

"Yes," Willow said firmly.

"Good," Maggie said. "I don’t mean good that she was hurt I just mean that it’s good that it fits with the thing that I…"

"You’re babbling," Buffy said. She allowed a tiny smile. "It’s actually pretty fitting considering who you’re taking care of."

"Was she injured during what could be considered a…selfless act?" Maggie hoped the answer was yes.

Willow nodded and her eyes widened. "Why?"

"Because, that meets the criteria…at least as well as I can remember." Maggie rubbed her temples. She looked toward the small window. The sky was growing pale, which meant her shift was almost over. "My shift is over at seven," Maggie said. She looked at her watch. "Oh, it was over at seven. Let me sign out and I’ll come back. I may have something."

"Wait, you just can’t drop that on us and run." Buffy intercepted the doctor and grabbed her arm, meaning only to ask another question, but the doctor reacted to the implied threat and Buffy's fierce grip. Maggie spun out of Buffy’s grasp and twisted the Slayer’s arm behind her back in one fluid motion and shoved her into the nearby wall. The small doctor pressed every ounce of her weight into Buffy’s thigh to keep her off balance and secured against the cold wall.

"I know you’re worried about your friends," Maggie said in a gravelly whisper. "But don’t you ever put your hands on me again." She pushed away from the shocked blonde and straightened the sleeves on her white lab coat. "I don’t like anyone getting rough with me."

"Point taken." Buffy nodded as she rubbed her arm. She could have broken the hold the doctor had on her, but not with out using some serious Slayer strength that might have injured the physician. "Can you at least tell us how you might be able to help?" Buffy asked politely.

"I knew someone who had certain…mystical ties. I saw a book with a spell that’s supposed to heal any injury if those conditions were met." Maggie glanced at Buffy’s arm and the way she was rubbing it. "Did I hurt you?" she asked quietly.

"Nope," Buffy said cheerfully. "Just surprised the hell outa’ me."

"I grew up around cops," Maggie explained. "Someone hurts me and I react. You’ve got quite a grip."

"Oh, god, are you okay?" Buffy stepped forward. She hadn’t meant to injure the doctor but with her strength she could break bones without even trying.

"Fine. You’re just a lot stronger than you look." Maggie cleared her throat. "I need to clock out and get something out of my locker and then I’ll be back."

"I’m sorry," Buffy said. "About the arm and for doubting you."

"It’s Sunnydale. Doubts are good." Maggie hurried from the room.

"Wow," Buffy said as she turned back to Willow. "Will?" Hey…"

Willow had tears running down both cheeks and she looked terrified.

"What is it? This is good news." Buffy ran her hand through Willow’s hair.

"I’m afraid to hope," Willow whispered. "If I think she’s gonna’ be okay…and she’s not…I just can’t take it."

"Shh," Buffy pulled Willow into a hug. "Let’s hear the doc out."

After a few minutes Willow pulled away from Buffy. She leaned down and kissed Tara’s cheek. "This has to work," she told her lover.

"I should call Giles," Buffy said as she moved out of the room to give Willow some privacy with Tara. "He is the book man after all."

Willow nodded but didn’t look up.

Part 5

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