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 Lisa Countryman

 

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

The underground section of Sunnydale was unsettling in the best of situations. Climbing through the spider web covered ruble without a flashlight was not the best of situations. Add to that that both Tara and Willow were only wearing bras to cover their upper bodies and it made for an uncomfortable journey.

"Maybe we can cast a light spell," Tara whispered as she held her lover’s hand. They were slowly making their way through the rubble of Sunnydale High School.

"I don’t think I want any more attention from the local residents," Willow said. "It’s bad enough that we’re sneaking through vamp central in our bras." They had staked two vampires in the catacombs but luckily hadn’t seen any in the abandoned high school, which Willow had pointed was most likely due to it being prime vampire hunting hour above ground.

Tara looked down at her black lace bra and blushed.

"We should go to Buffy’s house," Willow whispered. "And get some clothes while we call the others."

Tara nodded again and her blush deepened.

‘What?’ Willow asked with her mind.

‘We have to get to Buffy’s house,’ Tara pointed out. ‘And we’re in our bras.’

‘I know all the sneaky paths,’ Willow assured her lover. ‘With minimal exposure.’ She giggled. ‘Well, as minimal exposure as two witches prancing across town in their bras can have.’

‘I refuse to prance,’ Tara sent, but she did smile.

They reached Buffy’s house without being seen by any vampires, but several late night joggers and a woman walking her dog got an eyeful. Willow pulled Tara to the back door of the Summers’ house and grabbed the spare key from its hiding place under a fake rock. There were two stakes next to the key, silent testament to the inconveniences Sunnydale had other than locking your keys in the house.

"Willow, what a surprise," Mrs. Summers said when she saw the two young women come into her kitchen. "Tara, I’m glad you’re all right. I was so worried while you were in the hospital." Buffy’s mother seemed unfazed by the scene of the two Wiccans wandering in only half-clad. "Vampires?" she asked as she got up from the table where she had been having a cup of coffee.

"Um, yeah." Willow was now blushing from the roots of her hair down to her belly, which was normal when she was embarrassed, but without her shirt to cover her, it was now obvious to all.

"Hi, Mrs. Summers." Tara was hiding behind her lover with a matching blush.

"You two grab some clothes from Buffy’s closet," Joyce said as she opened the refrigerator. "I’ll make you some cocoa." She smiled and waved them out of the kitchen.

"Is she always like this or is it the brain surgery?" Tara whispered as the hurried up the stairs.

"She’s pretty much like that." Willow yanked Tara into Buffy’s room. "Her Scooby job is cocoa. It’s a small job, so she takes it very seriously."

"I see," Tara said, though she really didn’t.


"So you didn’t hear anything at Willy’s?" Buffy asked as they drove back to Maggie’s apartment complex.

Angel shook his head.

"Well, that has to mean something," Buffy said. "There’s always some buzz at Willy’s. It’s like demon Cheers- everyone knows everyone. If they aren’t talking then something must be up."

"Brilliant deduction." Spike shook his head. "Nothing’s up, so something must be up. Guess that means the Vatican is the hot spot for dating and free love."

"You wanna’ ride in the trunk?" Buffy looked over the seat and smiled. "Because we can pull this car right over, mister."

"Wonder how many pieces Red’s been carved into by now?" Spike asked as he leaned back into the seat.

Buffy’s face contorted with rage.

"All that time wasted going to save the doc." Spike rubbed his chin. "Plenty of time for a good old fashioned feast, complete with a slow skinning."

"Buffy." Angel grabbed the Slayer and kept her from leaping into the back seat. "He’s just trying to get you angry."

"It’s working." Buffy took a deep breath and looked down the highway.

"You made the wrong call, Slayer," Spike said calmly. "The Copper could'a saved the doc. Now, your witch friends are demon fricassee."

"Shut up," Giles said angrily.

"Truth hurts." Spike looked at the passing scenery.


"Good cocoa," Tara said over the rim of her mug.

"Want some more?" Joyce smiled brightly and reached for the pan.

"No thanks." Tara blushed and put her mug onto the table.

"Look who I found," Willow said with a smile. She was hiding behind the wall so only her head was leaning into the kitchen.

The blonde turned and saw Dawn standing in the doorway. "Hey, you. Get over here." Tara held out her arms to the young girl. A bright grin lit up the blonde witch’s face.

"I was so scared." Dawn fell into Tara’s arms. "Are you okay, really?" she asked in a tiny voice.

"I’m fine," Tara promised. She smoothed the younger girl’s hair into place and even left a quick kiss on her head. She adored Buffy’s younger sister. In some small way Dawn was the sister Tara had always wanted. "I’ll be beating you at thumb wrestling in no time."

"You wish." Dawn pulled back and stood. "I’ve been training with Miss Kitty."

Tara looked over at Willow expectantly.

Willow stepped out from behind the wall and smiled. Miss Kitty Fantastico was snuggled onto the redhead’s chest.

"Oh." Tara bit her lip and sighed.

"She missed her mommy." Willow dropped to her knees beside Tara. "And your mommy missed you." She scooted Miss Kitty half onto Tara’s lap and the kitten purred like a freight train motor.

Tara rubbed Miss Kitty’s belly as she kissed Willow’s head. ‘I’m sure she missed you too, love.’

‘We’ll get her a nice kitty condo when we get our house,’ Willow answered.

‘All I need to be happy is you.’ Tara sighed happily.

‘Yay,’ Willow responded.

"So, where’s my superhero sister?" Dawn flopped into a chair next to Tara. "Off saving the world?"

"I tried calling Maggie’s," Tara told Willow. "No one’s there. We should probably head over there." She leaned down and kissed Miss Kitty’s nose. She giggled when the kitten lightly touched her face with her two front paws and mewed.

"Why don’t you girls take my car?" Joyce offered.

Willow’s eyes opened wide like saucers. She looked from Buffy’s mother to Dawn. Dawn wore an equally shocked expression, as did Tara.

"What?" Joyce asked. "I can’t drive yet, and it’s not like Dawn can use it." She walked over and rested her hand on Tara’s shoulder. "I’d feel better if you two weren’t walking around out there at night. We all thought we’d lost you."

"And you’ll let us drive your car?" Willow was warmed by Buffy’s mother openly showing that she cared for Tara. She was also more than a little excited about driving the Jeep.

"You haven’t crashed Giles’ new sports car yet," Joyce pointed out. "I let Buffy drive my car once and she crashed it. You couldn’t possibly do any worse."

"She was saving the world," Willow said. It was the standard excuse all of the Scoobies used when referring to ‘the crashing of car incident.’

Joyce reached into a drawer and then held up her keys.

"Okay," Willow said with forced disinterest.

Joyce smiled and put the keys into Willow’s palm and gave her hand a gentle squeeze. "Have fun saving the world, dear."

‘We’re driving!’ Willow sent to her lover. ‘As in have wheels will travel. Witches on wheels.’

‘Four wheeling Wiccans.’ Tara giggled.

"Everyone gets to save the world but me," Dawn whined.

"You’ll have your day, Dawn." Tara handed Miss Kitty to the young girl. "We should go. Buffy and the others might be worried."

"Buffy worry? Yeah, right." Dawn tickled the kitten and smiled.


"My best friend’s dead and it’s all my fault," Buffy said as she paced around the parking garage. She kicked the wall and then hopped on one foot when the cement didn’t give. "How can demons not leave any clue?"

"You can’t blame yourself." Giles leaned down and looked into her eyes. "You couldn’t have known."

"Get Cordelia," Anya said. She was standing with Xander near the elevator. They had rushed over as soon as Buffy had told them about their missing friends. "Maybe if she walks around in here she’ll have another vision." Anya waved her hands in the air. "They’re witches. Can’t we do some ‘find the witches spell?’ What use are all those books if you can’t find two witches?" She went to Xander and sighed. She fought with Willow constantly, but she also knew the redhead was Xander’s best friend. Losing her would kill him.

"Maybe Cordy can help," Xander agreed quietly. "We’ve got nothing here." He walked over to where Kate was studying the area of the attack. "Why can’t you find some clue? Quincy always finds some clue by the first commercial. You’re like well into the credits here, and no clues."

"It’s pavement," Kate said angrily. "I can’t get shoeprints from pavement."

"You’re doing everything you can," Maggie said quietly. She was leaning against the wall watching Kate work. Her experience with Shannon had left her drained, but she refused to rest. As a doctor, she had ordered Cordelia to get some sleep, but somehow that didn’t apply to her own exhaustion.

"I can always go scout the graveyards," Spike suggested.

"If you hadn’t let Shannon go, maybe we’d know what happened!" Buffy yelled irrationally. She knew the men hired to take Maggie had left the two Wiccans on the parking garage floor and that Shannon didn’t know anything, but yelling at Spike added a sense of normalcy to the Slayer’s spinning world.

"Well, fine." Spike flicked his cigarette onto the ground and then lit another. "I just thought I could scout for a nice, fat, happy demon that looked like he just finished a two course Wiccan meal. Although, whenever I picture a Willow-Tara sandwich, it never involves bloodshed. Well, not a lot."

"I’m gonna’ stake him." Buffy ran toward Spike but Angel caught her midstride.

"This isn’t helping," Angel said quietly.

"Nothing is," Buffy said between clenched teeth.

Headlights coming toward them stopped any further discussion as the car pulled into the visitor’s parking.

"Mom?" Buffy whispered as soon as she recognized her mother’s Jeep.

The Jeep doors opened and the two Wiccans jumped out.

"Hey," Willow said with a casual grin and a wave. Tara came around the car and took Willow’s hand and they walked toward the small crowd swinging their arms between them.

Buffy sprinted across the parking lot toward the witches. Willow and Tara stopped and spun to look the other way, certain that some demonic force was about to attack from behind them. They turned back around just as Buffy hit them in a gigantic hug that pushed them both into the back of the Jeep.

"B-buffy?" Tara stuttered. She wrapped her free arm around the Slayer and looked over at Willow. ‘Is someone dead?’ she asked her lover.

"Is someone dead?" Willow asked as a lump formed in her throat. She pushed Buffy away. "What happened?"

"Where were you?" Buffy yelled.

The others hurried over, breaking up the reunion.

"You’ve been joy-riding!" Anya accused. She pointed at the two witches. "You’ve been joy-riding and I was worried. You’re bad, bad people." She turned to her lover. "Tell them, Xander. They’re very bad."

Xander shook his head and grabbed Willow and lifted her into the air, squeezing her tightly. "You really scared me, Willster."

"So, you know about Thanatos?" Tara asked.

"Thanatos?" Anya’s jaw dropped. "You went joy-riding with Thanatos?"

"More likely they were nabbed by him," Spike said. He walked closer and shook his head. "Though that can’t be right. They wouldn’t be here if ol’ Thany had them."

"Who is Thanatos?" Buffy asked. "And if he nabbed them, Mister Pointy and I intend to have a talk with him."

"He’s a vamp," Tara said.

"An old vamp, like Kakistos," Willow added. "All goaty and he had really gross hooves, and a snake tongue. Yuck."

"You were abducted by Thanatos?" Giles moved closer and seemed genuinely disturbed.

"Way to state the obvious," Spike said. "Did they teach you how to repeat everything in Watcher school?"

"So an old goaty vamp had you?" Buffy grabbed Willow and did a quick check for injuries and then moved over to check Tara as well. "You got away. Did you stake him?" She looked at Tara and smiled proudly. "You flamed him, didn’t you?"

"Kind of," Willow said. She rubbed her jaw and winced.

"There was flaming but he got away." Tara frowned as she thought about their evening. "Well, we got away, since he was the one doing the hunting."

Buffy leaned down and frowned at the small cut on Willow’s neck. She ran her finger over it and decided that Thanatos was going to pay, with interest.

"You took on Thanatos and you lived?" Anya raised both eyebrows.

"What’s so special about this guy?" Buffy asked.

"Death," Angel said as he stepped beside Buffy. He nodded to Willow, his way of showing his muted glee. "Thanatos is Greek for ‘death,’ and he takes that name seriously."

"He should take it seriously," Anya said with obvious veneration. "He earned it. Have any of you read ancient history?" Her eyes glazed over as she spoke. "He’s only mister ‘And Death rained down and smite all…’ He’s a bloodshed connoisseur. Need a town cleaned out? Enemies vanquished? He’s your guy."

"Anya, you’re scaring me," Xander whispered.

"He’s a scary guy," Anya agreed.

"No, I think he means the way you’re drooling over mister death, " Willow said as she moved closer to Tara. "You’re scaring me a little too."

Tara shrugged her shoulders and nodded in agreement.

"I was a demon for eleven hundred years," Anya whined. "These are the things demons are impressed with. I heard about Thanatos for centuries. He’s a legend. It’s like one of you meeting that Elvis guy."

"Elvis is dead," Maggie pointed out.

"So’s Angel but I don’t see anyone holding that against him," Anya said as she rolled her eyes.

"We should really go inside," Kate pointed out. "Not to interrupt this whole dead versus undead discussion, but we don’t want to get caught in the open if Shannon comes back. Let’s take this upstairs?"

"Righto," Spike said. "Lead on."

"No," Buffy said as she grabbed Spike and tossed him toward the exit. "You are so not invited."

"I have information on Thany," Spike said as he walked away.

"Like you know Thanatos." Anya laughed. "He doesn’t mix with lesser vampires unless they’re his protégées, and he hand picks those and trains them for decades."

"Oh, I know him," Spike said angrily. He watched Angel raise both eyebrows and then Spike cleared his throat. "Okay, so I know of him."

"What’s the big deal if we let him come up?" Maggie looked over at Buffy with a confused expression.

"If you invite him in, he can come back any time he wants," Kate explained. "Right now he’s got that neuter chip, but if it breaks or he gets it out, he could come back and kill you in your sleep."

"You think it might break?" Spike’s eyes lit up. "Just stop working on its own?"

"Now there’s an unpleasant thought." Willow shivered.

"W-we should get inside," Tara said. "I’m getting a weird feeling."

Maggie nodded and they moved toward the elevator.

"What about me?" Spike whined.

"Don’t call us," Buffy said sarcastically. "We won’t call you."

"Fine, see if I come save your scrawny necks again." Spike wander toward the exit. "Nancy boy Angel needs driving lessons anyway. Almost bounced me to death in that trunk…if I wasn’t already dead."

"You put Spike in the trunk?" Willow asked. "How come we never thought of that?"

"Shut up," Spike yelled over his shoulder as he walked away.

They went up to Maggie’s apartment and called for pizza. Now that everyone was safe, food became a priory. Kate spent a few minutes yelling at the building’s security chief for letting the kidnappers into the garage complex. He had explained that the guard had let them in after the kidnappers had shown their credentials and said that they were servicing the security cameras. He swore it wouldn’t happen again.

"Where’s she sleeping?" Anya pointed at Cordelia with obvious distaste. "She can’t sleep with Xander. He’s mine."

"There’s plenty of room on the floor," Giles said. He cringed at the thought of spending another night a few feet away from Anya and Xander. The previous night Giles had been awaken several times and heard Xander pleading with the former demon to keep her hands off certain private parts of his anatomy. Giles doubted young Xander could fend off Anya another night.

"Excuse me?" Cordelia gawked at Giles. "You expect me to sleep on the floor?" She smiled, but it was not a friendly gesture. "I don’t think so," she said and then scrunched her nose.

"You’re not getting my couch," Buffy said around a mouthful of pizza.

"And we like that nice, big, king-sized bed." Willow smirked and looked over at Tara. "A lot."

"King-sized bed?" Cordelia raked her eyes up and down Willow’s petite frame and then did the same to Tara. "You two are not hogging a king-sized bed." She stood and stretched. "You’ll share with me," she announced. Her brow furrowed. "Buffy’s skinny, so she’ll sleep with us too. That way you two won’t get any ideas about converting me."

"Wiccans don’t convert," Tara pointed out. "We don’t even recruit. Going door to door just isn’t our style." She smiled innocently.

Cordelia stared at Tara not knowing quite what to say.

‘She doesn’t mean to Wicca,’ Willow said with her mind and then giggled.

‘I know,’ Tara responded wickedly. She looked over and winked at her lover.

"Whatever," Cordelia said with a frustrated sigh. She had hoped to bait Willow or her girlfriend and was disappointed that neither was willing to banter.

"It’ll be a slumber party." Buffy smiled. "Girl’s night."

"I’m a girl," Anya whined. "It’s discrimination the way you never invite the ex-demon."

"What about Xander?" Cordelia asked. "You gonna’ leave him all alone while you squeeze into bed with us?"

"Well, I…" Anya looked over at Xander and then back over to the others. Her eyes lingered on Tara a bit too long and she noticed Willow giving her an angry glare. "Fine, have your little slumber party. Xander and I will have sex."

"You will not," Giles said harshly. "And I get the couch."

Xander sat quietly chewing his pizza. He wasn’t about to step into the middle of this argument, and he certainly wasn’t about to share his fantasies about what a Buffy-Cordelia-Willow-Tara sleepover might include. He smirked and tried to keep the lustful leer off of his face.

"I see how it is," Anya whined and waved her finger at the others. "This is demonism. Just because I was a demon, you think you’re better than me. All the humans get their accommodations upgraded, but Anyanka is still on the floor. I’m calling the UCLA. They’ll sue you."

"I think you mean ACLU," Tara said as she crinkled her brow. "Unless you want special status for matriculation in the fall semester."

"Xander, they’re making fun of me." Anya hit her boyfriend’s shoulder.

"And yet, it’s me that you’re hitting." He rubbed his arm.

"Make them stop." Anya hit his arm again.

"Yeah, Xander," Cordelia said with a sweet smile. "Call the UCLA."

"Why don’t you go have a vision?" Anya asked. "It was very entertaining to watch you fall onto the floor and twitch. Better than cable even."

"All right, that’s quite enough." Giles stood. "The sleeping arrangements have been settled so there’s no need for further bickering." He tossed his paper plate into the garbage can. "I’ll go see what Angel and Detective Lockley have uncovered."

"And Angel gets the floor too, I suppose?" Anya let out a long sigh. "Demon… floor. Definite pattern here."


"I’ve never been to a slumber party," Tara said as she changed into a tee shirt and sweats that Maggie had loaned her. "I can get some snacks, and left over pizza and bring it in here," she added excitedly. "Maybe some popcorn."

Willow froze. She had been changing into her own sleepwear and the sudden knowledge that her lover’s strict family had deprived her of something as innocent as a sleepover nearly broke the redhead’s heart. "Oh, Tara." She pulled on her shirt and then moved to hug her lover from behind and kissed her neck.

"Umm," Tara whimpered happily. "Is this part of the slumber party ritual? The kissing of the neck before bed?"

"No," Willow said with a possessive growl and a quick squeeze. "This is just for you and me." She smiled as Tara turned in her arms and they embraced, both content to just look at each other for a moment.

"You know, Anya probably hasn’t been to a slumber party either," Tara pointed out.

"You’re probably right." Willow’s brow furrowed. "I guess we could invite her in here while we talk or have snacks and then send her back to Xander later."

"At least Mister Giles will get some sleep." Tara giggled.

"Poor Giles." Willow began giggling as well. She leaned forward and nipped her lover’s lower lip. "All us over-sexed youngsters," she whispered. She moaned as their lips met in a slow kiss.

‘I could never be over-sexed with you.’ Tara whimpered and her hands tangled in Willow’s red silk hair. ‘I can’t seem to get enough of you.’ The kiss continued, slowly building as her hands began to roam the familiar territory of Willow’s petite frame.

‘Gotta’ say I am loving this telepathy,’ Willow sent. ‘Mouth free talking. I like it.’ She gently explored with her tongue even as she fought to get a breath. Tara was her air, more necessary than anything else on Earth. She vaguely noticed her legs relaxing but couldn’t, no, wouldn’t stop the kiss.

Tara whimpered again without breaking the contact. She felt both of their bodies drifting off of the floor like the night they had danced on her birthday. ‘I like the stand-free kisses,’ Tara sent playfully. She moved her legs up and wrapped them around the smaller woman’s body.

‘Being a witch rocks.’ Willow’s hands drifted down and squeezed her lover’s firm behind. ‘I could kiss you like this forever, well not forever, but for a really, really long time until we had to stop for food or water…’

‘I love it when you babble.’ Tara managed to get one hand squeezed between their intertwined bodies and almost had it under Willow’s shirt when she heard someone clearing their throat.

"Get this outa’ your system now," Buffy said with mock anger. "Because when we all get in bed, no smoochies." The Slayer had both hands on her hips and a scowl to match.

"Buffy!" Tara squeaked. She and Willow dropped to the floor, stumbling as they tried to untangle. "W-we, I, w-we." Tara looked like the proverbial deer caught in the headlights.

"Ever heard of knocking?’ Willow asked. She was still holding Tara in her arms, which was difficult considering her lover was squirming a great deal.

"I read about it once," Buffy said as she went over to the bed and tried to decide which side she wanted. "Lots of pounding on door-like things… didn’t sound like something I’d enjoy." She smiled deviously and raised both eyebrows as she studied Tara’s red face. "Though I may have to give it a try."

Tara blushed darker and buried her face into Willow’s shoulder.

‘You’re cute when you blush,’ Willow sent.

Willow!’ Tara’s blush deepened further and she eased back and gave her lover a pleading look.

"Okay," Willow said as she stepped away from Tara. "Buffy and I will go forage for snacks." She grabbed the Slayer’s arm and towed her out of the room so Tara could compose herself.

"Forage? Snacks?" Buffy stumbled alongside her best friend.

"Every slumber party must have snacks," Willow informed her. "It’s a law, well, a rule... Okay, it’s a strongly worded suggestion, but it’s very important."

"Cool." The Slayer relaxed and let her smaller friend drag her down the hall. As they entered the kitchen Buffy saw Angel and Giles stop talking. "Where did you go off to?" she asked in a challenging tone.

Now Angel looked like the deer in the headlights.

"You went after Thanatos, didn’t you?" Buffy demanded. "Without me?"

Willow’s eyes widened. She knew the quiet vampire had disappeared after dinner but she hadn’t thought he would go after Thanatos alone.

"Buffy, calm down." Giles stepped forward to intervene.

"You knew?" Buffy accused. She was hurt that her Watcher had kept it from her.

"I suspected," Giles admitted. He wouldn’t look into Buffy’s eyes.

"He’s gone," Angel said. "Completely cleared out."

"What?" Willow asked. "How can he be gone? He was just there, and he had a lot of stuff, tons of stuff. You can’t just move like that. There’s packing to be done and I can’t imagine you can even get a moving van underground and who would do the packing? Do they even having packing demons?" Her eyes clouded. "He’s gone?" She wanted him vanquished, not roaming around or coming after Tara again.

Angel nodded.

Buffy’s jaw clenched and her eyes narrowed. She didn’t like the bad guys getting away, and lately that was all that seemed to happen. ‘First Shannon and now Thanatos,’ Buffy thought. ‘Great job, Slayer.’

"What are we gonna’ do?" Willow looked from Giles to Angel and then to Buffy. "Thanatos was very determined to hurt Tara. If he’s loose he could come after her again." Her voice cracked and she paced the small kitchen. "What if he comes when you’re not here?" She spun and looked at Buffy as tears filled her gentle emerald eyes. "You have to protect her."

"I will," the Slayer vowed, praying it was a promise she could keep.

"Buffy?" Willow’s lip quivered.

"I swear it." Buffy closed the distance and pulled Willow to her. "Shh," she whispered. She could feel her friends tears on her neck and it made her own eyes water. She looked past Willow and locked eyes with Giles. "Call the Council and find out everything about this vamp." It was a request that spoke volumes. Buffy didn’t trust the Council and she was always hesitant to ask for their help. She didn’t want to owe them anything. Right now, she would ask favors of the devil himself if it meant stopping Willow’s tears.

Giles nodded. He knew exactly what the request meant. Buffy, the Slayer, the chosen killer of vampires, was scared.

"What’s wrong!" Tara burst into the room with a panic-stricken look of abject terror. "Willow?" She saw her lover in Buffy’s arms and rushed to her side.

Buffy eased Willow toward Tara. The redhead went willing, falling into her lover’s embrace and crying harder.

‘What is it?’ Tara asked with her mind as she kissed Willow’s temple.

Willow shook her head and held tighter.

‘Willow? You’re scaring me.’ Tara looked over at Buffy, but the Slayer took Angel and Giles out of kitchen and into the living room.

‘Thanatos is gone,’ Willow sent. ‘Angel went after him and he’s gone and we don’t know where he is and he can come after you any minute and I don’t know what to do…’

"Willow," Tara said gently. She lifted her lover’s chin and caught her eyes. "I’m safe. You’re safe. We’ll be careful." She kissed Willow’s nose. "I promise." She smiled disarmingly. "Besides, we’ll do the second ritual in a few weeks and then I’ll be able kick his goat butt."

Willow smiled but she wasn’t convinced.

"Well?" Buffy demanded as soon as she got Angel and Giles into the living room. "Why would this super-vamp run?"

"Could be any of countless reasons," Giles said unconvincingly.

"Yeah," Angel agreed lamely.

Buffy glared at them both.

"Perhaps he was intimidated by Tara’s powers." Giles removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes. "She is showing considerably more growth than I expected."

"And what about that?" Buffy moved closer. "In case you haven’t noticed, it’s not just her witchcraft that’s getting stronger. Suddenly she’s like ‘confidence girl.’ She goes charging in with a kick butt, take names later attitude."

"Her personality does seem more pronounced," Giles agreed. "But I think that she is just coming more into her own. Her aggressive attitude has only been in protection of Willow." He sighed and put his glasses back on. "She’s not acting differently so much as she is exaggerating her existing behaviors."

"So why isn’t she shy?" Angel asked. "Shy Tara, that’s all I ever heard." He looked toward the kitchen. "That is not shy."

"That could be due to the bonding." Giles walked over to the fire and warmed his hands. "She would certainly be more sure of Willow’s love." He smiled lovingly at Buffy. "Knowing you’re cared for does add to one’s confidence level."

"And the mega-powers?" Buffy moved next to Giles and enjoyed the warmth of the fire and her Watcher’s fatherly smile.

"That is more disturbing." Giles looked over at Angel. "How much damage did she do in Thanatos’ lair?"

"A lot." Angel frowned. "About twice what she did in the alley behind the magic shop."

Buffy gave him a questioning glance.

"I went by to compare the damage after I saw what she did to the underground church," Angel explained. "She’s definitely stronger."

"And she was able to escape," Giles pointed out. "After the encounter in the alley, Tara could barely stand." Concern covered his features. "After attacking Thanatos, she and Willow were able to flee."

"How strong will she get?" Buffy asked as a knot formed in her stomach. "Will she be dangerous?"

"She’s already quite dangerous," Giles pointed out.

"Will she be dangerous to us?" Buffy asked in a harsh whisper.

"I don’t think so," Angel answered. "She’s only used her powers to protect." He thought for a moment. "Maybe that’s why Thanatos left. Maybe he knows how strong she’s going to be and he didn’t want to face her."

"That’s a chilling thought," Giles commented. "Thanatos has defeated Slayers. That he would run from Tara is quite telling indeed."

"Slayers? As in plural?" Buffy glared at Giles. "And you neglected to tell me this…because?"

"I told him," Angel cut in. "Thanatos is ancient, thousands of years old. He’s killed dozens of Slayers."

"Again, why am I just finding this out?" She was glaring at Giles with disappointment and anger warring for dominance in her tone.

"I didn’t know," Giles admitted.

"Thantos is known for killing the Slayer’s Watcher so no record is kept of his conquests," Angel said quietly. "That way no one knows what to expect."

"Okay, so how come you didn’t share this info?" Buffy pinned Angel in her angry gaze.

"I just found out most of it," he admitted. "I called a nightclub owner I know. He has a lot of connections and he told me most of this." Angel didn’t volunteer that he now owed that same nightclub owner four kareoke songs and a black leather jacket. "Thanatos keeps a low profile. That’s how he’s lived this long."

"There must be something in the ancient chronicles." Giles was worried. His lips pressed into a thin line as he considered what to do next.

"You should rest," Angel said. "We can’t do anything else tonight."

"So much for the slumber party," Buffy grumbled. She was suddenly not in the mood for a night of girl-talk and hair braiding.

 

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

Cordelia took charge of sleeping assignments. She decreed that Tara was to sleep on one side of the bed, next to Willow, then Buffy, and then Cordelia was to get the other side of the mattress. It was a systematic arrangement she assured the others, with each person next to someone they were most comfortable with. After much tossing and turning, as well as a few elbows rammed into ribs, the four young women finally went to sleep.

Cordelia was the first to wake up when Buffy’s hand landed across the seer’s face. She shoved the offending limb away and rolled over to face the Slayer. She smirked as she looked at Buffy. The blonde known for always looking great even when fighting vampires had a world-class case of pillow-hair. Cordelia lifted onto one elbow and took a peek at Willow and her breath caught in her throat. She had never seen the bookish nerd so relaxed, so comfortable, and so obviously in love.

Willow was curled happily into Tara’s arms. The blonde witch was on her back and held Willow half onto her chest with a gentle strength that conveyed devotion and protection on a level Cordelia had never known. ‘I wonder how it feels to be that loved?’ she thought. She let out a startled gasp when Buffy sat up and blocked her view.

"Are you pulling an Anya?" the Slayer whispered sleepily.

Cordelia crinkled her brow, confused, then rolled her eyes. "No," she said in a hushed whisper.

Buffy raised a skeptical eyebrow.

"They just look so…happy," Cordelia admitted. "Like…the real thing."

Buffy turned her head around and looked. A smile covered the Slayer’s face as she looked back at Cordelia and settled onto her own pillow. "They are the real thing," she whispered.

"Willow and a chick," Cordelia whispered incredulously. She settled onto her pillow and studied Buffy. "You okay with that?"

"She’s my best friend," Buffy said quietly. "I freaked a little when I found out, but then I realized I was being a big fat jerk."

Willow shifted further onto Tara’s chest, smacking her lips as she fought to stay asleep despite the whispered voices nearby. "Tara, the frogs, kill the frogs," she mumbled.

"Shh." Tara twisted her head and left a soft kiss on the redhead’s ear.

Cordelia rolled her eyes, but her face was full of awe.

"Frogs, big frogs." Willow tossed one leg over Tara’s hip, needing to feel her lover’s warmth.

Buffy fought to keep quiet, but her chest bounced with repressed giggles.

"Willow," Tara whispered, her voice thick from the night’s sleep. "No frogs, honey. Just me." She sounded as if she wasn’t quite awake, but the love and patience in her voice was unmistakable.

Cordelia and Buffy locked eyes and smiled. Buffy nodded toward the door, hinting that they should probably get up.

"Oh, Willow," Tara said in a husky, sensual rumble. She was waking up and the fact that her sleepy lover was now teasing her nipple through her tee shirt was speeding up the process.

Buffy’s eyes widened as she realized that she might very well be present for another awkward situation involving her best friend’s love life. She looked over at Cordelia and saw that the seer had similar fears.

Cordelia motioned to the door as she tried to back off of the bed without moving too much.

Willow whimpered, and then let out a sexy moan that sounded more like a growl.

"Make love to me," Tara asked as she lifted Willow on top of her body. Her eyes were still closed, but she sounded more awake as she guided Willow’s face down into a tender kiss.

"Excuse us," Buffy said loudly. "We’ll just be leaving now."

Willow and Tara let out matching squeals that left Buffy’s ears ringing.

Cordelia rubbed her ear and then smirked at the Slayer. "Smooth," she commented wryly.

"Oh, god," Willow whined. She was straddling Tara in what was obviously a frequent morning occurrence. Not knowing what to say, she yanked the covers over her head and hid.

"At least wait ‘til we leave the room," Cordelia said as she climbed off of the mattress.

"No! W-we weren’t gonna’…" The covers flipped down and Tara looked like she wanted to bolt from the room. She shook her head from side to side as her entire face turned the color of a ripe apple.

"Yeah, save it for someone gullible," Cordelia said. She grabbed Buffy’s hand and jerked her from the bed. "Willow, nice wake up call, by the way. Beats the heck out of a clock radio."

"Oh, no," Willow whimpered. She scooted down Tara’s body trying to find the blankets to hide under.

"Willow," Buffy said in a chastising voice. "Slow down. We’ll be gone in a second."

Willow sat straight up as she realized what Buffy was implying and exactly where she had been crawling. She looked at the Slayer, then at Cordelia and her embarrassment faded. "We were both asleep," she pointed out grouchily. "I’ll bet you two have done lots of things when you were half-asleep without realizing what was going on."

"Oh, yeah," Cordelia said. "From the way you’re straddling her, I’ll just bet you were gonna’ ‘do’ something, or should I say…someone."

"You just keep diggin’ that hole deeper, Willow," Buffy said with smirk.

"We love each other," Tara said with a false show of bravado she didn’t feel. She was proud to be with Willow, but she wasn’t very keen on literally ‘being with’ her in front of witnesses. She moved her lover off to one side. "And we were sleepy," she added quickly.

"The sleepy defense," Buffy said as she pushed Cordelia toward the door. "I’ll write that one down." She giggled as she stumbled into the hall.

"Are they always like that?" Cordelia yawned. She glanced down the hall toward voices in the kitchen.

"I think they’re pretty…affectionate when they’re alone." Buffy burst into another fit of giggles. "Or when they think they’re alone." She pointed toward the kitchen. "Come on, I smell coffee."

"Um, not to break the mood, but you might wanna’ spend a little quality time with a hairbrush." She pulled the Slayer to a stop and pointed to her head. "I mean, you and I are getting along fairly well, and I know nothing ruins my day like walking into a room full of people with pillow-hair."

"Pillow-hair?" Buffy’s eyes widened. "Thank you." She gave Cordelia a half-hug and ran towards the bathroom.

"Guess Willow isn’t the only one who’s affectionate in the morning." She turned and followed her nose toward the scent of fresh brewed coffee.


Maggie snuggled closer to her warm pillow and yawned with a squeak. She was still sleepy and wanted to stay in the warm bed all day. Then it suddenly occurred to her that her pillow was soft and lumpy and moving. She lifted her head and saw a mirth-filled set of blue eyes watching her.

"Morning," Kate said. She didn’t move her arms, which were draped around the doctor’s shoulders.

Maggie smiled and shook her head. "I guess acting like we’re surprised this happened is pointless." She nodded toward their interlocked bodies.

"Yep." Kate ran her hand through Maggie’s hair and tucked the dark curly locks behind the doctor’s ear. She frowned and moved her hand to caress the bruise on Maggie’s cheekbone. "How are you?"

"Right now?" She smiled and raised her eyebrows up and down. "I’m good." She settled back onto Kate’s chest and reveled in the comfort the position provided. "I’m very good."

Kate laughed softly and pulled Maggie even closer.

"You make a nice pillow," Maggie whispered. Her hand traced patterns on the detective’s shoulder, each circle dipping a bit lower until she was tracing the collar bone that peeked out of the low cut nightgown Kate was wearing.

"Maggie?" Kate closed her eyes and tried to slow her pounding pulse. Every touch was pushing the detective toward taking a step she wasn’t sure either of them was ready for.

"Um hmm?" Maggie responded. She continued tracing her finger over the soft skin, smiling when she saw gooseflesh erupt under her caress.

"I like you." Kate drew in a ragged breath. "I like you a lot."

"Well, that’s good considering we’re in my spare bed cuddling." Maggie tried to keep the moment light.

"This isn’t normal for me," Kate whispered. "I don’t just…"

"I know that," Maggie said as she sat up and looked down at the detective. "This isn’t normal for me either." She pushed the blonde hair out of Kate’s eyes. "You realize, I haven’t even dated in two years."

"I haven’t had a date in three." Kate cleared her throat. "Unless you count the last few days."

"Do you want to count the last few days?" Maggie studied Kate’s gown as she plucked at the seam, not sure she wanted to see the other woman’s reaction.

"Maggie, look at me." Kate took the doctor’s face in her hand and made lingering eye contact. "I’d like that very much."

"Good." Maggie smiled shyly. She took a long, slow breath to clear her head. "It’s a good thing I’m in bed, because I’m feeling lightheaded," she admitted with a crooked grin.

"Are you all right?" Kate tensed and moved her thumb over the dark bruise shadowing Maggie’s eye.

"Having you here looking at me like that is more earth shattering than getting kicked in the head." Maggie waggled her eyebrows. "Makes my head spin."

Kate scrunched her brow, then blushed. "Oh," she said after a moment.

"Red’s a good color on you," Maggie teased. She traced the detective’s cheek.

"You sure you’re okay?" Kate asked. She wanted a subject that didn’t include her ability to turn the color of the lights on a patrol car. "I think you should’ve had those ribs x-rayed."

"It’s fine." Maggie curled around Kate’s chest, not wanting to look into her eyes. The detective seemed to be able to see right into Maggie’s soul and it was unnerving. The stayed there for a moment and then decided to take a chance. "I didn’t want the people I work with seeing me as a victim."

"Oh, Maggie," Kate said quietly as she ran her hand over the doctor’s back. "There’s nothing to be ashamed of. Shannon is the criminal, not you." She wanted to kiss Maggie on the temple, but decided against it.

"I know, but it’s embarrassing," Maggie admitted. "I don’t like feeling weak."

"You are one of the strongest people I know, except for Buffy, but she’s like Wonder Woman strong," Kate said. "You’re strong where it counts."

"How do you know that already?" Maggie shifted her weight onto her elbow and looked at the blonde under her.

"Because, after all you’ve been through, you still have a gentle heart," Kate said with a certainty made her voice tremble. She looked away. "I’m not that strong." She thought about her father’s death and how she had shut out everyone in the aftermath. "I couldn’t handle what you’ve been through."

"I hope you never have to go through what I have." Maggie shivered at the thought of Kate suffering.

"Did she hurt you?" Kate asked, then cringed. "I mean, I know she hurt you last night, I just…did she hurt you when you were together?" She touched Maggie’s swollen cheek hoping to soothe her pain.

"No, she didn’t. At least not physically." Maggie snuggled onto Kate’s chest and inhaled the blonde’s scent.

Kate rested her hand on the back of Maggie’s shoulders and let her fingers play in the baby soft hairs at the nape of the doctor’s neck. She waited for the other woman to speak, knowing she needed to compose herself.

"She was gentle at first," Maggie said in a near whisper. "Until she thought one of the other doctor’s at work was checking me out. Then she…" Maggie shivered and closed her eyes tightly. She swallowed as the memory brought bile to the back of her throat. "She would lose her temper, and yell, break things, but she never actually hit me. Towards the end, I couldn’t even go to the store without her thinking I was sleeping with the checker at the A&P."

"I’m sorry you had to go through that," Kate said sincerely.

"Wasn’t that bad." Maggie sniffled and dragged one hand across her eye. "It was after we broke up that things went to hell." She laughed bitterly. "She saw me at the shooting range with a guy I used to work with, and it pushed her over the edge. She went off the deep end, sending me flowers, calling 30 or 40 times a day, showing up at the hospital, and most disturbing, crawling into bed with me one night."

"Ew," Kate said with a shudder. "And Betty let her get in?"

Maggie laughed and rolled back onto her elbow so she could look into Kate’s eyes. "I was in the on call room. They didn’t like me bringing Betty to work."

"Good, I’d hate to think Betty was slacking off." Kate smirked and ran her hands down Maggie’s back.

"Betty doesn’t slack off." Maggie leaned down and pressed her forehead against Kate’s. "Anyway, you smart ass… Shannon climbed into the bed with me at work. I lost it. I called security and had her arrested."

"Good. They should have kept her."

"Yeah, well, I have tons of cops in my family, but so does Shannon." Maggie frowned and her brown eyes narrowed. "She also has an uncle who’s a judge. The charges were dismissed. They said the hospital wasn’t private property and that Shannon thought I was interested, that I led her on."

"Bastards," Kate spit the word out like it was as bitter as she felt.

"One year and five restraining orders later, Shannon decided to ‘convince me’ how serious she was." Maggie felt her body go numb.

Kate waited patiently, using her hands to keep the other woman grounded.

"She was outside when I got home and she had a gun." Maggie looked into Kate’s eyes. "She pulled me into my apartment and handcuffed me to a chair and spent the next nine hours explaining why we belonged together." Maggie squinted and smirked sarcastically. "Of course, that chrome-plated, nine millimeter she held to my temple the entire time kinda’ ruined any romantic effect."

"Why isn’t she in prison?" Kate asked through clenched teeth.

"She didn’t leave a mark on me," Maggie explained. "Other than some chaffing from the cuffs, I looked just fine. It was her word against mine. That’s when I moved into my first secured apartment." She leaned down and squeezed Kate, needing the contact. "Two months later, someone jumped me on my way out of work. I couldn’t ID the perp because they threw a blanket over my head and took me to the ground. I couldn’t testify to it in court, but I know it was a nightstick pressing me to the pavement. Whoever it was hit me a few times and copped a cheap feel."

‘Where the hell was security?’ Kate thought. She didn’t ask though, instead she just held Maggie while she talked.

"Another month later, Shannon confronted me at work. She damn near tore my arm off. That time I had bruises and coworkers who could testify as to who put them there." Maggie sighed and bit her lip. "She was ordered to get two months of therapy and given six weeks off…with pay. I pretty much knew I was on my own after that so I found the job out here."

"What about your old job?" Kate asked. She knew how devoted Maggie was.

"That’s a whole ‘nother can of worms." Maggie sat up and ran her hand down Kate’s belly and sighed. "Ask me some other time."

"Anything you need, Maggie, just ask." Kate took a cleansing breath and tried to figure out why just hearing about this woman’s pain felt like a knife being driven into her own gut.

"Right now, I could use another hug." Maggie bit her lip. "You’re a wonderful pillow."

"I can do that," Kate agreed contentedly. She guided Maggie onto her chest and snuck a kiss onto the brunette’s forehead.

"Since I have you at my beck and call," Maggie said thoughtfully. She paused, trying to think of the best use for her new blonde servant. "I would love some coffee."

"I deliver great coffee," Kate promised. "I can drive to the nearest Starbucks’ in under ten minutes. Just don’t ask me to make coffee."

"Oh?" Maggie played with the fabric covering Kate’s belly, slowly walking her fingers up the slope of the detective’s ribs.

"Not unless you want to use all of your medical skills." Kate bit off a moan when Maggie’s hand accidentally brushed the bottom slope of her breast. "My coffee could be used as a lethal weapon."

"I’ll make a note of that." Maggie yawned and rubbed her cheek into the softness of the woman beneath her. "For today, we’ll just go get coffee in the kitchen. I’ll even make it."

"Deal," Kate agreed as she snuggled happily.


Buffy sipped her third cup of coffee and wondered where Riley was and what he was doing. Since he had run out at the hospital she hadn’t heard from him and she was becoming irritated. They had been growing apart and lately he had been disappearing at night. She supposed he was out hunting vampires on his own, and that was not a pleasant thought. She looked down into her mug. The coffee was pale, with almost as much cream as coffee. Riley liked his coffee black.

"Hey," Angel said as he poured himself a cup of coffee. He held the beverage in his hands and let it warm his fingers. It was odd, he thought, he had been cold so long he sometimes forgot the sensation of his skin being warm.

"Hey," Buffy answered. She glanced at Angel and then at the chair across from her. She and the reclusive vampire didn’t need many words to get their points across.

Angel sat and sipped his coffee and looked around the kitchen.

"What did you find out?" Buffy asked. She could tell he had information, information that she wasn’t going to like.

He raised his eyebrows in silent question.

"You’re doing the ‘everything in the room is more interesting than Buffy’ thing." She put her mug down and leaned forward and rested her elbows on the table. "What’s the bad news?"

"Um…" He turned his head and stared at the door. "Giles," he mumbled.

"Giles is the bad news?" Buffy crinkled her brow.

The door opened and Giles went directly to the cupboard and retrieved the tea. "Good morning," the Watcher said as he put a pot of water on to boil.

"Giles, it’s the twenty-first century," Buffy said. "Microwave." She pointed to the appliance.

"The old ways are better in some cases," Giles said as while readied his tea bag and cup. "Did you sleep well?" he asked without turning.

"Like a log," she responded, but then frowned. "Logs don’t sleep. Who came up with that saying? It was an English guy, wasn’t it?" There was a playful, accusatory tone in her voice. "I’ll bet there’s some long, boring story about some English guy and his English log and probably an English castle."

"Undoubtedly it does involve a castle," Giles said as he turned. "Though I’m quite sure the log was Irish."

Buffy rolled her eyes.

Giles sat and looked at Angel. The vampire was still looking around the room. "You have bad news?" Giles asked.

"See?" Buffy said to Angel. "I told you. You have that look."

Giles looked at the vampire expectantly.

"Thanatos went to Central America, " Angel said. "He left by ship last night."

"Okay, I’m the Slayer," Buffy said as she glared at Giles. "I save the world on a nightly basis. Thanatos is a walking goat who kills because he likes it, yet he is the one who gets a vacation cruise package. How come I don’t get to go an a cruise?"

"He was in the cargo hold," Angel pointed out.

"Yeah, well, I never get to go anywhere." Buffy crossed her arms over her chest.

"If you like," Giles suggested," I can take that automobile off of your Christmas list and replace it with mailing you freight class to a third world country." He stood and went to the stove and got his boiling water.

"So, how did you find out his vacation itinerary?" Buffy turned to Angel and ignored her smart-mouthed Watcher.

"I know a sloth demon down on the docks," Angel said. "He loads special cargo, special cargo of the ‘undead-bursts-into-flames-if-it-gets-exposed-to-sunlight variety.’ An ancient vampire paid triple the normal fee so he could get on a ship last night."

"I could go after him," Buffy said with a smile. "Just book me a trip to sunny Central America."

"Yes, I’m quite sure you’d have the sunbathing beaches Vampire-free in no time." Giles sat next to Buffy. "However, I don’t think your getting a tan will help defeat Thanatos."

"So what do we do?" Buffy whined.

"About what?" Kate asked as she came into the room.

"Do you have news about Shannon?" Maggie asked. She was behind Kate and had to rest her hand on the detective’s hip to squeeze past her to get to the coffeepot.

"No." Buffy let out a long sigh. "Thanatos beat feet outa’ Sunnydale. Well, beat hooves."

"That’s good, right?" Maggie handed Kate a cup of coffee and then poured her own.

"Except that I can’t kill him if he’s not here." Buffy sounded like a spoiled child who had just been told she couldn’t have dessert. Her eyes darkened. "And that means Tara is still in danger."

"My source said he paid for return passage in eleven months," Angel said as he stood so Maggie could take his chair.

"That doesn’t mean anything." Kate took a long drink of coffee as all eyes settled on her. "Well, he’s a careful guy. He wouldn’t broadcast his real plans. He could always come back early or not at all."

"So what do we do?" Buffy asked again.

"Nothing," Giles said firmly. "At least you don’t." He reached over and rested his hand on Buffy’s. "I will do what I do best, which is research. You will do what you do best, which is…killing things."

"Hey!" Buffy tried to look offended, but he was right.

"What about Shannon?" Kate asked.

"I have to go back to work tonight." Maggie looked as nervous as Kate felt. "I don’t want her showing up there."

"I’ll go with you," Kate said. She looked over at Angel and raised both eyebrows.

"Oh, and I’ll hang around outside and watch the exits." Angel looked at Buffy.

"And… I’ll… kill things?" Buffy said slowly.

"I don’t want to take you away from your duties. I know how important killing is." Maggie smirked and looked down at the table.

Anya pushed the door open and leaned into the room. "Doctor demon cousin lady, you have a call." Anya rolled her eyes. "I am not a secretary." She spun and left.

"What’s her problem?" Buffy leaned around Giles and stared at the door.

"I do believe she’s feeling rather on edge due to the sleeping arrangements." Giles blushed. Twice the night before he had been awakened by Xander loudly fighting off the former demon’s advances and then her even louder protests that he didn’t love her.

"Yeah? Well, the rest of us haven’t been getting any ‘snuggle time’ either, and you don’t see us being rude." Buffy waved her hand at the others in the room. Her eyes stopped on Kate. "Well, okay, some of us are going without ‘snuggle time.’ but still, I think I made my point…and I am shutting up now." She furrowed her brow. "And Maggie has a phone call so quit looking at me."

Angel and Giles looked around the kitchen while Maggie cleared her throat and stood.

"I’ll go get that." Maggie headed for the living room.

"And I should… go with her," Kate said. She bolted from the room hoping no one noticed that she was blushing. "Might be police business."

"Right." Buffy rolled her eyes. As soon as they were both gone she turned to Giles. "So, we’re gonna’ stake out Maggie until we catch this bitch, right?"

"That was the plan." Giles sipped his tea.

The door opened and Willow came in like a mouse sneaking into a room full of hungry cats. "Hi," she said meekly. "Oh, coffee, coffee is good, nothing like coffee in the morning to make a morning a morning." She filled her cup and stared down at it and frowned. "No froth. I love froth."

Giles gave Willow a confused glance.

"She’s really more of a mocha girl," Buffy whispered loudly.

"I see." Giles looked down at his tea and wondered how many new ways Americans would find to bastardize their morning beverages.

"You and Tara just get out of the shower?" Buffy asked innocently. Her eyes sparkled with mischief.

Willow’s eyes opened wide like dinner plates.

"I mean, clean is good," Buffy added.

"Buffy, you can tease me all you want, but please don’t give Tara a hard time." Willow put her mug on the counter and went to the Slayer and knelt in front of her. "Tease me, taunt me mercilessly, make merry at my expense, but please, Buffy." Her gentle eyes were pleading and a bit panicked. "She’s very shy."

"I won’t tease her," Buffy promised as she rested one hand on Willow’s shoulder. "But she sure didn’t seem shy this morning."

Willow blushed.

"This morning?" Giles asked. His eyes widened behind his glasses. "She? They? With you and Cordelia in the? With you there?" He was mortified. "Willow!"

"No! We didn’t…" Willow shook her head and stood. She backed against the counter and wrapped her arms over her chest like a shield. "There was no, and we didn’t, and not in front of…"

Angel looked over at Buffy and raised one eyebrow.

"Tara and Willow kinda’ forgot they were sharing a bed when they first woke up." Buffy giggled as Willow squirmed. "I announced my presence before they got too hot and heavy."

Angel’s face blanched. It was obviously more information than he wanted.

"You’re worse than Anya," Giles accused.

"Giles!" Willow yelled. "How could you say that?"

"I go out of my way to not have…images," Giles said as he tossed the rest of his tea down the drain. "Now, thanks to you and Buffy, I have images. Images I do not want. You and Tara are like daughters to me and now, I have images. Bloody hell! I have actively not formed images through all of this transudance fiasco and now I’m just having my tea and suddenly…images! I’m truly becoming Americanized because now I have to call a therapist. " He stormed out of the room. "What I really need is to steam clean the inside of my skull."

"You broke my Watcher," Buffy looked at Willow and whined.

"I did not!" Willow was near frantic. She looked at the door and frowned. "I broke Giles. Oh, goddess, I am worse than Anya."

"I think I should go." Angel stood. "Maggie…Kate… phone call." He shuddered and hurried out the door.

"Oh, no!" Willow said as soon as the door closed. "I broke Angel too."

"You didn’t break him," Buffy said as she giggled uncontrollably. She wrapped her arm over the redhead’s shoulder and gave her a lopsided hug. "You just…gave him… images." Buffy laughed hysterically and bent over bringing a very mortified Willow with her.

Tara came in with a worried expression. She had felt Willow’s discomfort, but now she smiled at the scene in front of her. She leaned against the wall and just watched, wanting to remember seeing the normally overworked Slayer in a moment of happiness.

"Tara, hi," Willow said. A wide grin covered her face without any conscious thought. Seeing Tara just did that to her.

"Hi, Tara," Buffy said as she sucked in a breath. She cleared her throat and gave the blonde witch a curious glance and wondered why she was leaning against the wall watching the exchange.

"Sorry." Tara looked away and then focused on Willow. "It’s just that you both seem so happy. I wanted to remember this moment." She looked at Buffy. "It’s nice having an image of you that doesn’t involve dusting vampires."

"Image?" Buffy put her hand over her mouth and ran for the door, but not before bursting in howls of laughter.

"Did I say something funny?" Tara went to Willow and took her hand.

Willow shook her head and pulled Tara into a hug. "I think I broke Giles." She held her lover tight. "And maybe Angel."

Tara’s brow furrowed as she held Willow. She comforted the smaller woman and waited for her to explain. Willow said many things that needed further explanation and Tara was patient enough to wait. This was obviously one of those times.

Buffy went into the living room and her mood changed. She saw Maggie sitting with Kate holding her hand offering comfort. "What?" Buffy asked as she hurried closer.

Maggie looked up at the Slayer and sighed.

"Shannon’s back in Chicago," Kate said quietly.

"Did they catch her?" Buffy asked. She noticed Cordelia next to the fire. The seer looked troubled. "What?" she asked again.

"That nutjob is working the system," Cordelia said disgustedly. "She kidnapped me and now she’s just gonna’ walk away." In typical Cordelia fashion she didn’t bother to mention Maggie’s abduction or beating.

Buffy looked to Kate for an explanation.

"Shannon admitted herself to a psych facility in Chicago." Kate had Maggie’s hand clasped between both of hers and was lightly stroking it. "She’s got her family lined up behind her and they’re not about to let her be extradited."

"Okay, too much legal talk." Buffy clenched both her hands into fists. "I like it when I see the baddies and deal with them. I am so glad vampires don’t have lawyers."

Angel nodded and decided not to point out that in LA, Wolfram and Heart specialized in representing demons.

Willow and Tara came in and stood quietly next to the door. The tension in the room was palpable so they waited to hear what was going on before interrupting.

"So now what?" Cordelia asked. She scooted her back closer to the fire to ward off the chill covering her body despite the warmth of the room.

"We can’t do anything," Maggie said angrily. She stood and walked over to the desk near the door and stared at it without really seeing it. "She wins. Just like every time before." Maggie turned. Her face was full of anger and hurt and more than a little fear. "So I go back to work and wonder when she’s gonna’ show up and finish what she started."

"You said California has the best stalker laws in the country," Willow said. "Why don’t they go get her?"

Maggie laughed bitterly. "The second Shannon checked into the pysch hospital, she effectively tied our hands. Her doctors will argue she wasn’t in her right mind."

"Well, duh!" Cordelia said. "She’s off her rocker. Get her back out here and put her in prison."

"It’s not that simple," Kate said. "We can’t yank someone out of treatment without cooperation from the Chicago officials."

"Or the Sunnydale ones," Maggie added.

"Turner’s an ass." Kate went over to Maggie and stood next to her offering support. "We’ll go over his head."

"That cop from the hospital?" Buffy asked.

"He doesn’t consider this a priority case," Kate explained. Her eyes narrowed as she pictured the smug look that must have been on his face when he told Maggie he wasn’t pursuing extradition.

‘This is very bad.’ Tara took Willow’s hand and moved closer to her lover. ‘I don’t like it.’

‘I know,’ Willow sent back. She let go of Tara’s hand and wrapped her arms around her lover instead. ‘But it’ll be okay.’

"I need to go to the shop and workout." Buffy was shaking with pent up anger and frustration. "All this build up and no resolution is making me a very unhappy Slayer."

"Buffy, we’re doing all we can." Giles moved closer.

"Which is a big fat nothing." Buffy backed away. "I need to hit something, or better yet kill something. Maybe I can go find a vamp nest."

"Vamp nest?" Xander came into the room toweling his damp hair. "I’m in for dusting a vamp nest."

"I’m in mood for more of a solo, kill everything that moves kind of gig," Buffy said. "But thanks anyway."

"What’s got the Slayer so… slayer-esque?" Xander asked.

"Thanatos left by ship this morning," Giles said.

"And crazy Shannon ran back to Chicago and we can’t get her either," Willow added grouchily.

"Bummer, no closure for the Buffster." Xander gave her a sympathetic glance. "Let the nest pillaging commence."

Maggie looked at the people filling her home and wondered when killing and pillaging became viable stress relief options.

"We should probably clear out," Giles said. He seemed to recognize the bewildered look on the doctor’s face. "We will of course keep in touch to make sure you’re safe."

Maggie nodded and wondered what a vampire nest looked like and how exactly you went about pillaging one. Her face paled.

"I’ll stay," Kate offered. "And go with you to work tonight just to be safe."

"Big surprise there," Cordelia said with a sarcastic grin. "You can find your own way home." She went to Angel’s side and glared at him. "As soon as the sun sets, we are so outa’ here."

Angel nodded. He had things to take care of in LA, not the least of which was finding out what had become of Darla.

"So it’s a wrap?" Xander asked. "We can go our separate Scooby ways and regroup at the magic shop tonight?" He sighed and looked around the cozy living room. "Gonna’ miss Club Doyle. I still haven’t got to try that Jacuzzi or the king-sized bed chock full of Wiccans."

Anya slapped her boyfriend in the back of the head.

"Yes, but I’m sure Anya will be pleased to have you to herself." Giles cringed. "Any future sleep-overs will involve me having my own room or I will choose to pass on the experience."

Buffy started to make a remark about sharing a bed with two lovesick witches but she stopped when she saw Tara look down at the floor and blush. "Okay, let’s go," Buffy said quietly.

Willow gave Buffy a grateful half grin and then pulled Tara closer. The blonde Wiccan seemed to be studying the carpet. Her golden hair had fallen so that it half covered her red cheeks and she was leaning against Willow’s shoulder.

"Thank you," Maggie said sincerely.

"No problem," Buffy said. "It’s what we do." She went over to the doctor and hugged her. "Thank you for saving Tara," she whispered so that only Maggie could hear her. When they broke apart they both glanced over at Willow, knowing the petite witch would have been devastated to lose her lover.

Maggie smiled knowingly at Buffy and something special passed between them. Maggie knew that by saving Tara, and therefore saving Willow, she had put the Slayer in her debt, a debt she knew Buffy would be happy to repay no matter what the cost. She just hoped that it was one marker she never had to call in. She shivered and leaned into Kate’s shoulder. With Shannon still out of jail, it was very likely that she would need Buffy’s help someday.

Kate wrapped her arm around Maggie and hugged her as if knowing how fragile the doctor was. No one in room knew it, but they would all be together sooner than any of them realized.

 

CHAPTER NINETEEN

The next weeks were full of things to keep everyone’s minds off of Thanatos. For Buffy, her heart was breaking. Riley showed up a day after she left Maggie’s. Two days later, Spike showed her where the former commando had been spending his nights. He had been letting female vampires drain his blood in some sick, twisted blood letting orgy house. A horrible fight and one night later, Riley was gone, off to the jungles of Central America. Buffy wondered if he would run into Thanatos. She hoped not.

Another week passed and Tara found that her skills were temporarily gone, which was right on schedule according to Giles. His research said that the mate who initiated the bond would lose her powers the week before the second ritual. Unfortunately, that coincided with the appearance of an angry troll who was Anya’s ex-boyfriend. Even without Tara’s new powers, the troll was easily defeated and Buffy had a shiny new troll hammer to add to her weapon collection.

As the two Wiccans prepared for the ritual, they looked forward to Tara getting her powers back. Giles on the other hand was worried. He was getting all of the information he could on the ritual in hopes of understanding exactly how powerful Tara might become. Willow’s abilities were still growing despite the fact that her scar was a full moon. He realized it was a blood moon, a portent of evil, and he urged Willow to avoid using any dark magics.


Buffy was working the counter at the magic shop. She hadn’t seen any sign of Glory lately and she was glad. She had lost all of her battles with the hell goddess so far and she didn’t relish the idea of a rematch. Thankfully, Glory was currently keeping a low profile.

"Hey, Willow." Buffy saw her best friend come into the magic shop and stood to greet her. "How you doing?" It was almost closing, which was the only time Giles would leave the Slayer in charge. Even she couldn’t lock a door incorrectly.

"Good, I’m good." Willow blushed as she went to the counter and began gathering herbs. She paused and turned to look at the Slayer. "How are you?" Her eyes were sad. She knew Buffy missed Riley.

"I’m good." Buffy leaned her body over the counter. "Herbs?" She dangled her feet in the air as she tried to see exactly what Willow was doing even though she didn’t know what the any of herbs did. "Gonna’ do a spell? Anything Slay-worthy? I could come by, maybe do a sleep-over with you and Tara?"

"No!" Willow spun, dropping her bag of herbs. "I mean, no, thank you." She picked up the bag and stood, her hands picking at the plastic.

"Willow?" Buffy jumped down from the counter and came around to the where the nervous Wiccan was standing. "What’s wrong? You’re acting twitchy." Her eyes widened as she panicked. "Are you and Tara okay? You guys can’t break up. You two are so perfect together! Willow, whatever it is, apologize and beg her to forgive you."

"We’re fine." Willow looked confused. "And why would you assume I needed to apologize?" Her lips tightened. "I am a very good girlfriend I’ll have you know."

"I know, but if you’re fighting, placing blame is the worst thing." Buffy took Willow’s hand. "You promise you’re not fighting?"

Willow blushed and bit her lip.

"Will?"

"We are SO not fighting." Willow smirked. She looked up at Buffy without lifting her face in an exact mimic of Tara’s shy glance. "We’re doing the second ritual tomorrow morning."

"Ritual?" Buffy scrunched her face and then her mouth fell open. "Oh, the ritual! The ‘do not disturb’ ritual… Oh, well of course a sleep-over would be bad, very bad." Buffy paused and tilted her head to one side. A wicked grin covered her face. "So, what is the ritual?"

"It’s private," Willow said with a mischievous smirk of her own. "Very private."

"So, you two are outa’ commission tomorrow morning?" Buffy decided to let her friend off of the hook. "You two wanna’ celebrate after at the bronze?"

Willow blushed and mumbled quietly.

"What?" Buffy leaned forward.

"The ritual lasts twelve hours," Willow said. She blushed and crossed her arms over her chest.

"Twelve?" Buffy’s jaw dropped and she stood with her mouth agape. "Twelve? Twelve hours?" She began giggling. "I guess you’ll be too tired for the bronze." She turned and went back to the table where she had been working. "Willow Rosenberg, sex machine. Go, Willow."

"Buffy, it’s a sacred ritual, the Great Rite in its most sacred form." Willow stomped her foot but her bright red face made her less than convincing.

"I’m sure both of your forms are very sacred." Buffy sat and put her head on the table. She flapped her arm at Willow. "Now go, before I start getting… images."

"I’ll call you in a few days." Willow glared at Buffy. "We’ll check in when we finish and bring our Artemis stones by for Giles to check. Take care of yourself." She left with the herbs and she had a smug grin and a happy spring in her step

"I will. Have…fun." Buffy left her head on the table and giggled. She wondered how she could casually drop her latest bit of information on Giles.


Tara rolled over and looked at her lover. Willow was sleeping, curled around Tara’s arm with a gentle yet possessive grip and her face was curved into a half smile. The redhead nuzzled closer and left fleeting, sleep-softened kisses on Tara’s arm.

Tara yawned and looked at the clock, cringing when she saw it was only six o’clock. ‘Darn seven o’clock class,’ she thought as she realized that she wouldn’t be able to get back to sleep. The three day a week course had Tara’s internal clock set to wake her up entirely too early. She looked at Willow again and smiled. Being awake first wasn’t so bad if she could study her beautiful lover uninterrupted.

An hour later, Tara had all of the freckle constellations on Willow’s face named and memorized. She was looking at the "Kitten Nose," a three freckle pattern near Willow’s cheek, when Willow’s green eyes opened and caught Tara’s.

"Morning," Willow whispered huskily. She smiled and closed her eyes again as she stretched with a squeak. "Sleep well?" She opened her eyes and quirked her lip. "What?"

"You’re so beautiful," Tara responded honestly. She leaned over and slowly gave her beloved a good morning kiss that got the attention of every nerve in Willow’s body.

"We starting early?" Willow asked with a giggle. She ran her hands down Tara’s bare back and tickled her hips.

"The ritual." Tara smiled. "We need to have our baths and then smudge the room."

Willow nodded and moved her hands up her lover’s sides to cup her full breasts.

"Mmm." Tara’s head fell forward onto Willow’s chest. "Honey, we should wait."

"Don’t wanna," Willow whined. She looked over at the clock. "We won’t start the ritual for another three and a half hours."

"Well, I don’t want you to be deprived," Tara said sensually. "But, three and a half hours doesn’t really give us time to make love and get ready for the ritual."

"Oh," Willow said with a frown. She bit her lip and traced Tara’s cheek with her fingers. "You’re right. I don’t want to rush loving you." She kissed her blonde lover and moaned. "We should get up, now." She scooted off of the bed and rolled onto the floor. "If I don’t get up right now, I won’t get up at all."

"It’s gonna’ be a long three and a half hours." Tara watched her lover’s bare body as she sauntered away from their shared bed. ‘Cute butt,’ she sent with a giggle.

‘Hush, you,’ Willow responded playfully and added bit more sway to her step. She reached the closet and turned and crossed her arms over her bare chest. "We have a ritual to get ready for, missy."

They prepared for the ritual, cleansing their bodies, auras and the small dorm room. Miss Kitty was prepared as well. They cordoned off an area for her with food, water, and a litterbox, along with more toys than any ten kittens could play with in all nine of their lives.

As with the previous ritual, the twelve hours passed more quickly than either had imagined possible. The tender touches and passionate love making left them sated and tired but when the crystals glowed bright white and then flashed purple neither was ready to stop loving the other.

"That’s the end of the ritual," Willow whispered as she continued to kiss Tara’s throat.

"Mmm hmm." Tara had her hands tangled in Willow’s sweat soaked hair. She was guiding her beloved down to her chest.

"Should we…stop?" Willow nipped Tara’s collarbone and then soothed the bite with her warm tongue.

"You stop now and you’re gonna’ see frustrated Tara."

"Can’t have that," Willow said sagely. She giggled and moved her lips to the blonde’s pert breast. She moaned as her lover’s nipple hardened further. "You taste so good, Tara. After all these hours, it’s still not enough." She moved on top of her partner and shivered as their bodies intertwined again.

"Never enough," Tara whimpered. "I need you. Oh, Willow, I need you right now." She arched into the petite redhead.

"You have me," Willow whispered smugly. She moved her mouth up and left tiny kisses around Tara’s ear. "Where do you need me?" she asked wickedly. She nipped Tara’s throat. "Here?" She moved down and kissed Tara’s smooth shoulder. "Here?"

"Willow," Tara whimpered again. She wrapped her legs around Willow’s waist. "You know where I need you." She was trembling and panting in desperate gasps.

"Tell me," Willow demanded. She nibbled on Tara’s collarbone and then kissed her aching, taut nipple. "Here?" She giggled when her partner growled in frustration. "Tell me, love."

"Inside," Tara said as she lifted her hips. "Now," she added with another growl.

"Oh," Willow said innocently. "Is that what you need?" Her hand took a leisurely trip down Tara’s body, taking note of the gooseflesh erupting beneath her fingertips.

When Willow’s hand reached the place both women desperately needed it, the Artemis stone crystals began humming inside their velvet pouch on the altar a few feet away. An orange glow lit the room.

Tara’s body shook and tears of joy spilled from her sea blue eyes. "My Willow," she whispered. "Look at me. I need to see your eyes, love."

"Always," Willow promised. She smiled warmly and gave her soulmate a slow, sweet kiss even as her fingers continued loving Tara. She eased back and lost herself in eyes so blue they might have been the sky before a storm.

Tara held Willow’s waist, luxuriating in the intimate press of the petite yet powerful body on top of her own. She loved the feel of Willow on her, with her, in her, seemingly all around her while possessing her soul. She stared into eyes the color of grass on a warm summer’s day and couldn’t look away if she tried.

Finally, after long minutes, Tara’s eyes flickered shut as the storm overtook her and she crashed back to herself with a deep, loud keening. The sound of her pleasure brought Willow with her and the tiny redhead collapsed on top of Tara. A flash of white light surrounded them and both witches felt suddenly light headed.

"Wow," Willow whispered hoarsely after a few moments of resting her face on Tara’s sweat kissed breasts. "I think the Earth moved," she added in a giggle.

Tara slowly came back into her senses and then stiffened. "Um, Willow?" she whispered in a shaking voice.

"Yeah?" Willow asked happily. She was using Tara as a pillow, with her face nestled on firm but soft cleavage and her eyes refused to open.

"I think we moved," Tara whispered. She could feel her back pressed on something hard and cold and nothing like the bed they had been making love on, in fact it wasn’t even the soft carpeted floor where they had also spent hours lost in other’s caresses. "We’re not in the dorm," she added, her voice shaking.

"Huh?" Willow pried her eyes open but refused to lift her head. "This is not the dorm," Willow agreed. She sat up and looked around. "Where are we?" she looked down at Tara. "This is SO not the dorm, and we are here and we are still naked." She pointed at their nude forms.

"I have no idea," Tara admitted. She scanned the dimly lit room they found themselves in. It was marble, marble everywhere. The floor was white marble polished to a sparkling glasslike sheen and the walls were marble as well with columns on each side of the only door. Torches along the walls provided sparse lighting and there were no windows. Tara sat up carefully, stood, and then pulled her lover up beside her. "W-willow?"

The redhead shrugged.

"Welcome." A woman walked into the room. Her voice was melodious and sensual. She smiled as she wandered closer. She was naked as well, yet didn’t seem to notice or at least she didn’t seem to mind.

Willow squeaked and tried to cover herself.

"Where are we?" Tara stepped in front of Willow, shielding her from the newcomer. "Why did you bring us here?" Tara covered the pale blonde hairs between her legs with both hands.

"And who are you?" Willow pressed her body to Tara’s back, hiding, but she peaked around her girlfriend’s arm to glare at the stranger. She noticed Tara was busy covering her lower areas so she cupped her lover’s breasts. "And why did you bring us here? And are you gonna’ try to kill us because I don’t think that stealing us and bringing us naked to some strange marble room is very fair. And, and…the nakedness? Well, it’s just… well, it’s just too lacking in the clothing area."

"The human form is beautiful," the woman said as she came closer. "Especially the female form." She looked at Tara’s face and smiled. "You’re blushing." She waved her hand and a flash of light made Willow and Tara squeeze their eyes shut. "Better?"

Tara looked down and let out a relieved sigh. She was now wearing a pristine white toga. She reached back and felt Willow’s hip beneath the same fabric. "Thank you," she said. "What should we call you?"

"Have you been away so long?" The woman stepped forward and cupped Tara’s cheek and then left a tender kiss on each side. "You served me well, Belen. It’s good to see you."

"Served?" Willow asked as she came out from behind Tara. "Oh, my… you’re Artemis, aren’t you."

"Yes," Tara said calmly. Her eyes were locked on the goddess.

"You know Artemis?" Willow looked at her lover with absolute awe and adoration.

"Not in this form," Artemis said sadly. She walked over to Willow and smiled. "You served me as well, a long time ago."

"I think I would have remembered that." Willow squeezed Tara’s arm and scooted closer. "Meeting and serving a goddess is not something you just forget. It’s definitely memorable, and I think I would remember it."

"Still the lalage," Artemis said with a laugh. She touched Willow’s cheek and smiled fondly. "You haven’t changed."

"Lalage?" Willow crinkled her brow.

"It means, babbler," Tara explained. She smiled at her lover, then frowned and looked over at Artemis. "How did I know that?"

"You both served me well in the ancient time," Artemis said. "You came before me to bond then, as you do now."

"We read about the ritual, and it never mentioned meeting a real live goddess." Willow eyed the woman skeptically.

"This was a special case." Artemis ran her hand through Tara’s hair and sighed. "You love her still?"

"With all my heart and soul," Tara swore.

"Be with her, Belen, with my blessing."

Willow watched as the goddess touched Tara with reverence and affection. A flash of jealousy washed through her. "Her name is Tara."

"Yes, but it was Belen first," Artemis turned to Willow. "And yours was Damara." She laughed when she saw the fire in the redhead’s eyes. "You both served in my temple. You couldn’t be together without my blessing then, and I gave it. So don’t take that jealous tone with me, little one."

"Willow, please don’t get butch with a goddess," Tara whispered. "She might turn us to stone or something."

"No, I just wanted to look into your eyes," Artemis said sadly. "They haven’t changed that much." She smiled at Tara again. "You’ve performed the ritual and are bonded. You have my blessing again."

"Thank you," Tara said sincerely. "Do we bond in every lifetime?" she asked timidly.

"Some," Artemis said. "Your paths cross many times, but only rarely have you performed the ritual." She looked off toward the door and frowned. "I must go now."

"That’s it?" Willow demanded. "You suck us out of our realm to this…this wherever it is to just take a peek?" She stepped between her lover and the goddess. "You have goddess powers. Why couldn’t you just look through some goddess thing? Don’t you have some divine surveillance system?"

"Protect her heart," Artemis told Willow. "As you always do." She ignored the redhead’s taunts and turned to Tara. "You will not remember this visit, but I will."

Tara tilted her head to one side and scanned the room. "Was Thanatos here too?"

Artemis paled and stepped closer. "If the demon has returned, you must remember all that you were."

"Were? What were? What was she?" Willow took Tara’s hand protectively.

"I cannot explain," Artemis said. She took Tara’s face in her hands and looked into her eyes. "If the time comes, you will know. Then you must remember," she added in a whisper and then pressed her lips to Tara’s forehead. "For now, forget, my Belen."

Tara’s knees buckled and only Willow’s supportive arms kept her from falling.

"What did you do to her?" Willow demanded. She was struggling to hold up her lover who was suddenly heavy in her arms.

"What I had to," Artemis said sadly. She rested her palm of Willow’s forehead. "Forget," she whispered. "And protect her." The room flashed white and the two Wiccans were gone.


Willow opened her eyes and realized that she was sprawled across Tara’s chest. She smiled. It was one of her favorite locations. "Tara?" she asked quietly. She shifted her weight onto her arms and looked down at the exhausted blonde. "Hey, love?" She kissed Tara’s forehead.

Tara didn’t move other than taking slow, steady breaths.

"Tara?" Willow felt her chest constrict as she remembered the days spent beside her lover’s bed in ICU. "Wake up." Willow’s voice cracked.

Tara wiggled her nose like a bunny and slapped at a stray piece of hair tickling her cheek.

"Tara?" Willow whispered as she pushed the hair behind the blonde’s ear. "I need you to open your eyes, love." She was relieved by her lover’s movements, but was still concerned.

Blue eyes flickered open and Tara gave Willow a lazy grin filled with love. "Hey." She reached up and ran her hand through silky but disheveled red hair. "We’re bonded."

"We were already bonded." Willow leaned down and left several quick kisses on Tara’s lips. "Now it’s official."

"You tired?’ Tara asked with a sensual smile that melted Willow’s heart.

"Yeah, but it’s a good tired." She yawned as if on cue.

"How come I’m more tired this time even though you did the hard work?" Tara settled Willow onto her chest and wiggled into a comfortable position.

"I think we both did our share," Willow said smugly. "And I don’t call that work."

"I meant keeping us grounded, you vixen." Tara giggled.

"Oh, well the grounding. Yeah, that was work." Willow yawned again and tossed a leg over Tara’s hip. "Sleep." She smacked her lips. "Need sleep now."

"Sleep is good," Tara agreed. She yawned and then squeezed her lover playfully. "You’re making me yawn."

"Sleep, now." Willow mumbled. "We’ll talk more later, I mean earlier, I mean, in the morning."

"It is morning." Tara looked over at the clock. It was almost two a.m.

"Good. Sleep now." Willow closed her eyes, content in her beloved’s arms.

A tiny mew broke the momentary silence.

"Miss Kitty?" Willow sat up and then crawled from the bed.

Tara smiled and rolled over and hugged a handy pillow. She felt the bed dip when Willow crawled momentarily behind her and then a cold nose nuzzled her neck.

"Willow, your nose is cold." Tara giggled as tiny, furry ears tickled her neck.

"Dork," Willow said as she blew out the candles around the room and came back to the bed.

"And your face is all fuzzy," Tara said. She reached back and scooped up the kitten. "You’ve lost weight and changed color." She held the purring bundle to her bare chest. "Ouch. Sharp claws and naked witches do not mix."

"Want a tee shirt?" Willow asked, hoping the answer was no.

"Nope." Tara repositioned the kitten on top of the blanket.

"Good." Willow crawled in behind her soulmate and cuddled against her. "Naked is good. I like naked. But naked is not good for Kitty because then she’d look like that cat on Austin Powers, and that’s just wrong." She paused and nuzzled Tara’s neck. "I’m babbling, huh?"

"Yes, my lalage," Tara whispered as she drifted off to sleep.

"I am your babbler," Willow said as she joined Tara in slumber. Neither noticed Tara’s use of an ancient language neither of them spoke or the danger it foretold.


Morning came in Sunnydale as it always did. The sun broke over the horizon sending vampires and other denizens of the night scurrying for dark places to hold up until they could hunt again come darkness, and students of UC Sunnydale began moving around the campus like sleepy ants going out to steal bits of knowledge. Two students were missing from the morning flurry.

"Meow." A tiny, wet nose poked into Willow’s eye. "Mrrow." A tiny foot poked the redhead’s nose.

"Bad Kitty," Willow mumbled, but she was smiling. She opened one green eye and saw two brown eyes studying her intently. "Hi, sweetie," she whispered.

A loud purr was the only response the feline offered before sprawling across Willow’s neck. The tiny motor rumbled against her throat as Miss Kitty Fantastico settled onto her second mother’s chest.

Willow looked slightly to her left and saw Tara snuggled against one arm. ‘This is good,’ Willow thought. ‘My life is good.’ She reached over and brushed the stray strands of hair off of Tara’s relaxed face. Miss Kitty took offense to someone else being petted and mewed indignantly. Willow giggled and obediently gave the black and white furball a few loving strokes.

Tara groaned and snuggled closer to her lover and then her eyes slowly cracked open with some effort. She saw Willow looking at her and she smiled. "Hey."

"Morning, my soulmate," Willow said proudly. Her smile brightened. "I love saying that. Soulmate. You’re my soulmate. I’m your soulmate. Mates of the soul, our souls are mated."

"I understand the concept," Tara said playfully and then shook her head and repositioned her face on Willow’s pillow and gave the crimson-haired witch a kiss on the cheek. "Morning, soulmate, love of my life, babbling Willow."

Willow’s eyes suddenly shined as she was overcome by emotion.

Miss Kitty mewed and then stumbled to her feet and wandered the few steps over to Tara. She yawned in the blonde’s face and then bumped her head into Tara’s forehead.

"Good morning to you too, Kitty." Tara gave her a thorough rub on her back. She looked over at Willow. "Maybe she’s our soul cat?"

"Silly." Willow rolled her eyes and sighed. She gave Tara a chastising look, complete with her lip curled up on one side. "Of course she’s our soul cat."

They stayed there, both petting the gangly kitten, who wouldn’t be a kitten much longer, and their eyes never broke contact. Miss Kitty, content with her morning allotment of mommy pets, turned around and sprinted to the edge of the bed and launched herself towards the closet in search of some toy that she just remembered she desperately needed.

"We should get up," Willow whined. In truth, she had no interest in leaving the bed or the woman she was sharing it with.

"Yeah," Tara agreed. She draped her arm over Willow and pulled her closer. "We should." She nibbled on her lover’s lower lip. "Later."

"Later is good." Willow sank into the kiss and decided she could miss one complete day of classes.

"We really should go see Mister Giles." Tara eased away from a particularly searing kiss.

"Giles?" She looked at her lover incredulously. "Are you having images of Giles when you kiss me?"

"Ew!" Tara laughed and gave Willow a playful smack on the belly. "No, I am not. We need to go see Mister Giles about the crystals." She cringed. "And Yuck. How could you say that? He’s like, ‘father-librarian-tweed-man.’ And I love you, you nut."

"He plays the guitar," Willow pointed out. She stretched her back with a squeak and then yawned. "That’s kinda’ sexy."

"Willow, I love you, but if you keep this up, I am going to have your lesbian card revoked." Tara gave Willow a stern look and her eyes narrowed tightly.

"I never got a card." Willow’s eyes widened. "Is there a card? Hello? Gay now! Is there a manual too? Why don’t I have one? What happens if we get caught and I don’t have my card?" She noticed a slight curve of Tara’s lip and knew she’d been had. "Where’s your card? Have you been practicing without a valid license?" She leaned over and ran her tongue over Tara’s lips. "Hmm? That could be serious."

"I’m very serious about you." Tara pulled Willow to her and kissed the smaller witch with torturous determination. She was tender, yet thorough and let the passion build as their tongues danced an age-old pattern.

"We need to get up." Willow reluctantly scooted away. She looked down at the tangled sheets and smirked. "And we need to clean up."

Tara rolled onto her back and nodded. She knew Willow was right so she sat up, and her head spun. "Whoa, headrush," she said as she grabbed her lover’s arm.

"You sat up too fast." Willow smirked smugly. "Willow kisses are known for their ability to make beautiful women swoon."

"How many beautiful women have received Willow kisses?" Tara rubbed her forehead as her sense of balance returned.

"One," Willow admitted. "But she is the most beautiful woman ever."

"You nut." Tara blushed and moved to the edge of the bed.

"Why do you do that, Tara?" Willow stood and hurried around the bed before her lover could stand. "Don’t you know how beautiful you are?" Willow smiled down at her beloved. "You’re everything to me. And you are incredibly beautiful, inside and out." She cupped Tara’s chin and kissed her nose. "And don’t you forget it."

"I love you, Willow." Tara looked down at the floor as her blush crept down her chest and covered her firm breasts.

"Come on." Willow yanked Tara to her feet. "Let’s get up."

"Oh… not good." Tara’s legs buckled. She held onto Willow and still barely kept from falling. "That headrush just had a sequel."

"Are you okay?" Willow asked when Tara took a shaky step back.

"I think I spent too much time on my back," Tara explained. Her eyes shot open and her blush darkened. "I mean laying down!"

"You sit." Willow guided Tara back to the bed. "I’ll get you some instant cocoa and you will stay here and relax while I get a shower." She went to the microwave as she continued issuing her orders. "When I come back, you’ll get your shower while I clean the room." She started the microwave and turned. "And no arguing." She put both hands on her naked hips.

"I would never argue with a naked witch while she’s performing her sacred microwaving," Tara said solemnly. She smirked. "The microwave is the modern caldron."

Willow moved her arms over her chest and flashed her resolve face.

"Nice view." Tara’s eyes were drawn to the fiery red patch of hairs just below Willow’s flat tummy.

"You will rest." Willow went to the closet and gathered her shower things. She peeked out from behind the door and smiled sensually. "And if you’re very good, I might let you see a few other views before we go to the magic shop."

Tara smiled wickedly and sat on the edge of the bed.

Willow returned freshly showered and sent Tara on her way. It was nice sleeping in because the normally crowded showers were empty now that most students were in class. Willow straightened the room, putting away all of the ritual items except the two black velvet bags that held their Artemis stones. She didn’t look inside the bags. She wanted to open them with Tara. She went to the rumpled bed and stripped the sheets and replaced them with crisp clean ones from the closet. She was feeling quite domestic and wondering what sharing a house with Tara would be like. She decided it was going to be perfect, like everything with her beloved blonde witch.

A pounding on the door broke Willow from her daydream. She carefully opened it, wishing that she had a peephole, since UC Sunnydale did have the highest student mortality rate of any campus.

"Willow?" It was Mark Adams; the assistant Resident Advisor was in a panic. "Is Tara epileptic or diabetic?"

"What happened?" Willow felt her entire world drop out from under her as she pushed past him and ran toward the bathrooms.

"She collapsed in the hall," the RA said as he hurried to catch up. They rounded the corner and saw a small group gathered in a circle around Tara. The blonde was sprawled unconscious on the carpet.

 

CHAPTER TWENTY

"Let me through," Willow shouted. She pushed between two freshmen and saw Karen Wilson sitting with her hand on Tara’s shoulder. "Tara?" Willow yelled.

"What should I do?" Karen asked. She was the secondary RA and seemed to be in over her head.

"Oh god, no." Willow fell to her knees and pulled Tara’s face into her lap. "Baby?"

Tara’s eyes flickered open. She gazed around, her blue eyes not yet focusing on anything, and then she saw Willow and smiled.

"Hey." Tara looked up, obviously embarrassed. "Kinda’ took a header."

Willow checked for any damage and then turned to the RA. "What happened?" she asked Karen.

"She was coming out of the bathroom and I said hi to her and she just keeled over." Karen was pale. When she had agreed to be the Resident Advisor she hadn’t signed up for fainting coeds.

"I’m fine," Tara said shyly. She tried to sit up, wishing that her hair would cover her face. It was still damp from her shower and it stuck to her scalp refusing to hide her eyes. "I just want to get back to my room."

"She should see a doctor or something." Karen was stunned as she watched the petite redhead casually lift her girlfriend from the floor. "Stronger than she looks," she added under her breath.

"She will see a doctor," Willow said through clenched teeth. She was staring into Tara’s eyes, letting her know it was not open for debate.

Tara sighed and leaned against Willow. She knew she couldn’t argue while Willow was frightened, and right now, Willow was very frightened. So was Tara.

They slowly made their way back to the dorm room. Willow kept her arms around Tara as if she were the most precious cargo in the world, and to Willow, she was.

"I’m calling Doctor Maggie," Willow said as she guided Tara onto the bed. She ran her hands over her lover looking for any sign of injury. "Your hair’s wet. You’re gonna’ catch a cold." Willow frowned and grabbed a towel and began rubbing Tara’s head with gentle strokes.

"I’m okay," Tara whispered. "I just fainted."

"And since when is fainting okay?" Willow demanded. She looked down and saw red streaks of blood on the towel and pressed it to Tara’s scalp. She leaned over and grabbed the phone and shoved it at Tara. "Call Maggie and see if she can meet us at the magic shop. If not, you’re going to the ER. Right now."

"Okay," Tara relented. She looked at Willow and saw the terror still tinting her green eyes. "I’m sorry I scared you."

Willow nodded, her lips pressed into a tight, worried line. She continued holding the towel to a small gash on Tara’s scalp as the blonde called Maggie and then Giles. When she spoke to the Watcher, Tara conveniently left out any mention of fainting.


Giles rounded up the Scoobies and waited for Willow and Tara to arrive at the magic shop. He suspected they had performed the second ritual and were coming over to show him the Artemis stones. He wondered, not for the first time, why the crystals were also call Diana’s tears. He was more than a little concerned.

"It’s early. Why am I here early?" Anya asked as she paced the magic shop. She turned and stared at Giles. "Do I get overtime?"

"Anya, this is Scooby time," Xander explained. "And hey, do we get overtime?" He turned and stared at the Watcher. "Why don’t we get paid?"

"Fighting evil is a higher calling," Giles said with an exasperated sigh.

"Higher calling?" Buffy came through the door at the tail end of the conversation. "Gotcha. Are we to the part where Giles says that saving humanity is its own reward so we don’t need a 301K and then he placates us with donuts? "

"Nope," Xander said with a smile. "He was just getting to that, and it’s a 401K." She turned to Giles. "So, where are the donuts?"

"I am not that predictable." Giles went behind the counter and lifted up a bakery box. "I brought cupcakes." He smiled triumphantly. "With lots of that sugary frosting you all love so much."

"Yeah, that makes up for no retirement package." Anya flipped open the box and grabbed a cupcake. "Though, with the life expectancy of Slayers and their friends, a retirement package does seem like a waste of time and money."

"So, why the early Scooby meeting?" Buffy eyed the cupcakes and smiled when she saw her favorite, chocolate with white cream frosting. "This is seriously cutting into my sleep time."

"Actually, Willow requesting the meeting." Giles lifted a bag from the floor and reached in. "Coffee anyone?"

"Cupcakes and coffee?" Anya frowned. "Is the world ending again?"

"I think they’re bringing the Artemis stones," Giles said quietly. He took his cup of tea from the bag and went to the bookshelf. "We need to check them against the Tolman color charts."

"They spent the whole night having sex and we had to kill a slime demon?" Anya hit Xander’s arm. "I got green slime in my hair and they got to get…well, each other. Why do I let you drag me into these things?"

"Because you love me?" Xander rubbed his arm.

"Let’s leave the how to of this ritual out of the discussion," Buffy suggested. "I think we’ll all be happier."

"Quite," Giles agreed. "I have the color chart here." He brought the book over to the large oak table and put it in front of Buffy. "The color ranges from clear to lavender. Notice that it encompasses all of the blue and red spectrum but none of the yellow."

"So… witches are not autumns?" Buffy asked.

"Autumns?" Confusion covered Giles’ face.

"Yeah, color types. Only autumns can really get away with wearing yellows." Buffy stared at her Watcher. "You really should study more."

The door opened and Maggie Doyle walked in. "Hello?" she asked as she looked down toward the others.

"Maggie?" Buffy’s senses went on alert. "Did you hear from Shannon?"

"No," Maggie said as she went toward the Slayer with a half grin. "I got a professional call from two witches." She looked around the room. "And just where are they? They were supposed to be here."

"Why?" Buffy and Giles asked in some strange version of Slayer-Watcher stereo.

"Apparently Tara had a seizure," Maggie explained. She spotted the bakery box. "Donuts?" She moved closer.

"Cupcakes," Anya said sarcastically. "It’s the Scooby retirement plan. Eat now, die later."

"You people are way too weird," Maggie said, but she did take a cupcake.

"Could you get back to Tara having a seizure?" Buffy was worried.

"She fainted in her dorm," Maggie said around a mouthful of cupcake.

"Why didn’t she tell me that?" Giles hurried to his bookshelves.

"You know what that could mean, right?" Anya said as she pushed past Xander and went to Giles. "Her body is overloading." She rubbed her lip as she considered what else that meant. "She’s really strong," she said with a sensual grin.

"Hey?" Xander stepped in front of Anya. "Hey, hey, hey? I am in the room here."

"Yes, but you’re impotent." Anya waved a hand at him.

"I am not!" Xander said as he jumped back as if burned. "I’m not," he said again as he looked at the others in the room. "I am SO not."

"Mystically speaking," Anya clarified. "Physically, he’s more than adequate, but he’s got nothing going on magically."

"Okay," Buffy said as she back flipped and landed next to Anya. "Anyanka? The last thing you wanna’ do is start lusting after Tara." She pulled a stake off of the counter and snapped it in half. "I really can’t stress the ‘last thing’ part of this too much."

"I am not lusting," Anya said as she swallowed slowly. She looked at the splintered remains of the stake in Buffy’s hand. "I was just taking note of her mystical attributes."

"Back to Tara fainting." Xander looked to Giles desperately wanting a subject change. "Sounds bad, sounds fainty."

"Keep your ex-demon hands and eyes and mind off of Tara’s attributes," Buffy said in a low growl. "Or I will show you a few of my Slayer attributes." She spun and grabbed Xander. "Put a leash on her or I will." The threat in her eyes was unmistakable.

"Buff, she’s mostly kidding," Xander explained. He looked over at Anya. She was pale and more than a little frightened. "Anya loves me," he said with certainty. "And I love her. It’s just her demon past coming up and it’s a harmless fascination like I used to have with y—" His eyes widened. "Like lots of people have."

Buffy glared but released him and walked over to Giles. "So, why is Tara fainting?"

The door to the shop opened and Tara came in. Of course Willow was walking beside her offering overprotective support, despite the fact that the blonde was smacking away her lover’s hands.

"I’m fine." Tara rolled her eyes and tried to side step her lover. "Good morning." She smiled and then waved at Doctor Doyle.

"Hi." Willow smiled at her friends and then refocused on her girlfriend. She flashed her resolve face and then tossed in a pout. Tara relented and leaned onto her smaller lover.

"Hi guys. What’s up?" Maggie asked as she put her half-eaten cupcake down. She met them halfway to the table and helped walk Tara to the oak desk. "Sit," she ordered.

"How come she gets to grope Tara?" Anya asked in a whisper.

"She’s a doctor," Xander responded, keeping his voice down so Buffy wouldn’t get involved.

"What happened?" Maggie took Tara’s face in her hands and looked into her eyes.

"I k-kinda’ fainted." Tara blushed crimson. "But I’m fine now." She looked over at her lover. "W-we took a cab over so I wouldn’t tax myself." She rolled her eyes again.

"She hit her head," Willow said in an accusing tone. "There was blood, and swelling, lots of swelling, and the blood was very bloody."

Maggie smirked as she ran her fingers through Tara’s hair feeling for any injury. She felt the young blonde flinch. "There?"

Tara nodded.

"Lemme see." Maggie leaned behind her and pulled her hair back, gently probing the large bump and the small cut. "Took a pretty good thump," Maggie said. She reached over and grabbed her medical bag and got her penlight. "Open," she ordered as she shined the light in Tara’s eyes. "Hmm." She looked in the other. "Umm hmm." She tossed the light into the medical bag and took out a blood pressure cuff and wrapped it around Tara’s arm and then put on her stethoscope.

"What hmm?" Willow pressed closer. "Is that a good hmm, or a bad hmm?"

"Give ‘em some room, Will." Buffy wrapped her arm over Willow’s shoulder and guided her away so the doctor could work.

Tara watched with an owlish expression as Maggie worked. She cringed slightly when the blood pressure cuff squeezed her arm but it only lasted a second before Maggie slowly released the pressure.

"You’re fine," Maggie said as she caressed Tara’s cheek. "But I have no idea why you fainted. Have you been eating regularly?"

Tara and Willow both nodded.

"Any history of fainting?" Maggie held Tara’s wrist and felt her strong pulse.

Tara shook her head as Willow was making mental notes of her beloved’s medical history.

"Family history of diabetes or epilepsy?" Maggie felt under Tara’s jaw, checking the glands to see if they were swollen.

"I don’t think so," Tara said slowly.

Maggie paused and whispered into Tara’s ear.

"No!" Tara’s eyes shot open wide and she blushed so deeply that her blonde eyebrows stood out in sharp contrast. She shook her head from side to side. "No, I… No. No, definitely no."

"What?" Willow moved closer.

"Okay," Maggie said with a disarming grin. "I didn’t think so, but I had to ask."

"Oh," Buffy said with a knowing smile. She looked over at Giles who was clearly confused. "She musta’ asked if Tara is pregnant."

"What kind of a doctor are you?" Anya demanded. "She’s a lesbian for god’s sake."

Willow looked like she agreed with Anya.

"I had to ask," Maggie said as she shook her head. "It’s one of the most common causes for college women fainting."

"I believe there’s a more mystical cause in this case." Giles cleared his throat. "Are you quite sure Tara wasn’t injured in the fall?"

Maggie nodded and gave Giles her full attention. She wanted to know why a seemingly healthy woman would collapse. She hoped it wasn’t a symptom that her previous head injury hadn’t healed, though she hadn’t seen any sign of that in her cursory exam.

"She and Willow performed the second bonding ritual last night," Giles explained. "If Tara received a large amount of mystical power, it may have temporarily overwhelmed her."

"The crystals," Tara whispered. She looked over at Willow with a questioning expression.

"We were so caught up in everything else we didn’t even look at them." Willow dug into her pocket and pulled out the black velvet pouches. She paused and moved next to Tara and handed her a pouch marked with a tiny flower. "You open mine," she whispered.

Tara smiled and left quick kiss on her lover’s cheek. She reached into the bag and pulled out a lavender stone.

"Wow." Anya’s eyes widened as she looked at Willow with a new level of respect.

"Oh, pretty," Willow said as she wiggled and sat on the table next to Tara. She reached in and pulled the stone from the bag in her hand. "Oh my…" She crinkled her brow and held it out to Giles. "It’s black." She frowned. "Why is it black?"

"I didn’t think it could be black?" Tara frowned. "Did we do the ritual wrong?"

Giles shook his head. The stone was so dark you couldn’t see into the crystal, a stark contrast to Willow’s which looked like a fine gem.

"Talk about your letdowns." Buffy sighed and glared at Giles. "Your books were wrong. See why I don’t study?"

"Anya?" Xander asked. He leaned down and tried to get his girlfriend’s attention. She was staring slack jawed at Tara’s stone. "An? Honey?"

Anya lifted her eyes and stared at Tara. "It can’t be," she whispered. She moved slowly toward the blonde and then reached her hand out to Willow. "May I?"

Willow slowly gave the dark stone to Anya. She gave her a suspicious glare as the former demon looked at the stone.

Anya looked around the room, then ran to the window and held Tara’s stone up to the sunlight. "Dear god," she said as her eyes widened. The sun hit the stone and illuminated it and revealed what they couldn’t see in the dimly lit room. The stone was purple, only it was a purple so deep that it looked black. As the sunlight filtered through the stone it sent an amethyst beam of light from the stone.

All heads turned and stared at Tara.

"W-what?" she asked sheepishly. "I didn’t do anything."

"That’s off the mystic scale," Giles said in a hushed whisper.

"It’s damn near off the human scale," Anya said as she walked back toward the others. "Are you sure you’re not a demon?" She studied the stone, caressing it, and smiling sensually.

"She’s not a demon," Willow said angrily. "She’s human."

"Have you ever seen a stone this color?" Giles asked as he took the crystal from Anya.

"No," Anya admitted. She looked at Tara and licked her lips. "But I saw one almost that dark. It belonged to a wizard." Her eyes lit up. "He had serious powers. He could even bestow demonic powers on regular humans." She waggled her eyebrows.

"She’s not giving you back your demon powers," Willow said as grabbed Tara’s hand.

"I thought wizards were just something you bought little figurines of at the mall," Xander said. "Or some huckster in the movies who hides behind a curtain."

"There have been a few wizards." Giles frowned. "Most were lured into service of the dark forces."

"Luke, come to the dark side," Xander said in his best Darth Vader voice.

"Shut up!" Buffy shoved him several feet away. The Slayer was terrified. If Tara was some kind of wizard and was lured into serving evil, it would be Buffy’s job to deal with her. Buffy had no desire to kill her best-friend’s soulmate.

"But t-they weren’t all bad, right?" Tara asked shyly.

"A few took up service of the light," Giles said. "But they…" He took off his glasses and rubbed the lenses with a handkerchief.

"They what?" Willow scooted closer to her lover.

"They were killed," Anya said flatly. "Demons don’t like someone with that kind of power fighting for good. It’s kinda’ like a Slayer, everyone wants to be the one to kill her." She saw the angry looks from her friends. "But not me." She smiled and backed against Xander. "Human now…no killing of Slayer’s for me."

"The positive mystics of this level were generally in service of some religious sect," Giles explained. "They would have kept vigil over relics or other mystically charged items."

Buffy felt her stomach lurch. She locked eyes with Giles as she realized someone like Tara would have probably guarded things like ‘the Key.’

"Oh dear." Giles paled. He nodded at Buffy as the same thought raced through his mind.

"What?" Willow demanded.

"Nothing," Buffy said. She moved forward and grabbed the crystal and handed it back to Willow. "Put that thing away before someone sees it."

"Giles?" Anya asked as she went over to him. "The wizard stones that I’ve seen…they… they…"

"What?" Giles asked gently. He could see that the former demon was spooked.

"They were always clear." Anya glanced back at Tara. "I’ve never heard of one as completely charged as…" she nodded her head toward Tara. "Ever," she added meaningfully.

"Then we’ll just have to do more research," Buffy said with forced cheer.

Giles opened his mouth to comment but realized he was speechless.

"What? I can research," Buffy said defensively. "Remember? I was good with the retaining of information thing."

Giles nodded and then walked toward the bookshelves.


Maggie talked with Buffy as Giles and Willow dug through the stacks of ancient texts. Tara helped, but she seemed distracted.

"So, no word from Shannon?" Buffy asked as she led Maggie to the far end of the shop. The Slayer had been stopping by the ER every night on patrol to check on the doctor and so far everything was fine.

"Actually, I’m getting daily updates." Maggie blushed. She reached over and picked up a small incense burner shaped like a dragon and turned it over in her hand. "Kate’s been calling the psych hospital every morning to make sure Shannon’s still there."

"Sounds pretty devoted." Buffy smiled and bit her lip. She picked up a bag of cone incense and looked it over. Both were nervous about a personal conversation but they liked each other and were trying to open up.

"She is." Maggie cleared her throat and pulled Buffy further away. "She came up the weekend before last, and I went down to LA on my days off last week." She reached back and pushed her thin jacket aside revealing a black leather holster cradling Betty. "She gave me this," Maggie said proudly.

"And that would be a shiny new holster?" Buffy scrunched her face and leaned closer. "The traditional cop first date gift?" She frowned. "And here I thought leather was the traditional third date gift."

"It’s not just a holster." Maggie gave Buffy a disgusted glare. "It’s a Gould and Goldrich, small of the back holster. All the SWAT guys swear by them. It has hand-formed leather and tension screws so I can adjust the draw pressure." She smiled like the Cheshire cat and crossed her arms over her chest.

"Must be love," Buffy said slowly. "I mean, what with tension adjustments and all." The Slayer looked completely out of her element. "Now, if she gave you a stake, or a crossbow," Buffy smiled. "That I could understand."

"She was upset that Shannon was able to just yank my old holster loose." Maggie looked down at the floor. "This one is much easier to conceal and it’s easier for me to access."

"Easy access, got it." Buffy nodded sagely. "And it’s kinda’ at an angle so your wrist doesn’t get all twisty." She frowned as she realized that her comments sounded somewhat naughty.

"Exactly," Maggie said with a smile and then blushed. "It was very thoughtful."

"Yeah, it was," Buffy said sincerely. She realized when it came to gifts, it wasn’t so much picking what the world saw as romantic as it was picking something your date liked. She smiled and watched as Maggie pulled back her jacket and ran her hand over the rich black leather. ‘Good choice, Kate,’ Buffy thought. ‘She loves it.’ Buffy cleared her throat. "So when is tall, blonde, and beautiful coming up to see you again?"

"This morning," Maggie said. "I actually called her and asked her to meet me here." She bit her lip and gave Buffy an embarrassed smile. "She was on her way up. Tara called me as I was leaving work. Kate was planning on meeting me for breakfast."

"Cool," Buffy said. She picked up a unicorn candleholder and frowned. "I wonder if these are real, you know, somewhere in the whole mystic world?"

"How should I know, you’re the Slayer." Maggie looked at the horned beast. "Sure hope the horn grows in after they’re born."

"Ew!" Buffy tossed the offending item onto the counter. She looked at Maggie and decided to go with a sudden impulse. "Wanna’ workout with me?" She nodded toward the back of the shop.

"Cool," Maggie said with a huge, mischievous smile. "Never worked out with a superhero before."

"Don’t let Kate hear you say that." Buffy tugged the doctor toward the back room where she normally spent hours exercising and honing her Slayer skills.

Maggie blushed but she followed the Slayer into the back room.


"Detective Lockley?" Giles asked as he looked up from his text. "Good to see you." He stood and went toward the door.

"Where’s Maggie?" Kate asked. She was pale and her eyes darted around the shop.

"She’s with Buffy." Giles hurried to her side. "What’s wrong?"

"Shannon was released last night on her own recognizance." Kate rubbed her hands trying to warm them. Gripping the steering wheel the last thirty miles kept the blood from reaching her fingers and they were cold. "I called to check on her a half an hour ago and the doctor said she was ‘greatly improved and shouldn’t be a threat to anyone.’ Guess they do good work there. Psycho bitch to Mother Teresa in two weeks."

"We should call Angel," Giles said. "He was helpful before."

"No," Kate said as she took Giles’ arm. "That’s not a good idea." She pulled him around to face her. "He’s not in a good place right now. In fact, from what Cordelia told me, he’s in a very dark place."

"Has Angelus returned?" Giles paled and unconsciously looked back toward Buffy as his heart ached for her.

"No, but he’s not himself." Kate sighed and shook her head. "We’re better off without him."

"Has he hurt anyone?" Giles asked quietly. He didn’t want Buffy to overhear and then go rushing off to LA.

"Not exactly." Kate spoke in quiet tones as well, for the same reasons. "But he did let Darla and Drucilla eat half a law firm just because he didn’t like the lawyers."

"No one likes lawyers," Giles said as he paled further. "That doesn’t justify letting them be eaten." His eyes widened. "Did you say Darla? I thought she’d been returned as human?"

"Not anymore." Kate cringed. "Drucilla turned her and the two of them have been on a bit of spree."

"I assume you mean killing spree and not shopping," Giles said as he pulled Kate further away from the back of the shop. "Though with those two, it could be a bit of both."

"Yeah, well, actually, it’s been a lot of both." Kate frowned. "I doubt I can get any time off to watch Maggie. The brass has been keeping me pretty busy chasing down Dru and Darla." She rubbed her temples. "If I have to, I’ll take vacation or sicktime." She looked into Giles’ eyes. "And if they won’t give me the time off, I’ll resign."

"We’ll keep her safe," Giles promised. "Besides, we don’t even know if Shannon’s going to come to Sunnydale again." He puffed out his chest and tried to look convincing. "She saw a bit of the darker side of things. She might not be too keen on having a repeat visit."

"Funny, seems like she’d fit right in," Kate said darkly.

They both fell silent. Each knew that Shannon was crazy enough to come to Sunnydale to get Maggie. They hoped they would be able to stop her before she actually did any more damage.

Part 21

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