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 TWENTY-ONE

Kate continued to brief Giles about Shannon and her past actions, but the Watcher was preoccupied. He kept looking over at Tara and wondering exactly how powerful she might become. When the back door burst open, he was taken off guard.

Giles turned and then frowned. "Spike," he said with a sigh. "I suppose paying customers are taking the day off."

"I’m here to do you a favor," Spike said angrily. He had his jacket pulled over his head, but even with the black leather shielding him he was smoldering. "So don’t take that tone with me, Watcher-boy." He swatted at his smoking elbow. "Risked my life too, I might add. You really should put in a sewer access to this place."

"Yes, well pardon me if making the shop undead accessible isn’t on my top ten list." Giles gave the vampire a withering glare. "Why are you here?"

"I have info for Red and her cute lil’ bird." Spike pushed past the Watcher and sauntered over to the table where the two witches were busy reading. "Buffy around?" he asked, trying to sound indifferent. "I don’t wanna’ have to explain this twice."

Giles sighed and went to the back room to get Buffy.

"What is it, Spike?" Willow demanded. "We’re kinda’ busy here."

"Too busy to get the 411 on Thanatos?" He smirked.

"411?" Tara asked. She looked over at her lover. ‘Is he serious or has he been reading outdated slang manuals?’

Willow giggled and then looked up at Spike. "I thought we already covered the fact that you have no information about Thanatos."

"What is it now, Spike?" Buffy flopped onto the table and blew her bangs out of her eyes. She looked across the room and smiled warmly when she saw Kate. "My workout buddy is gonna’ be glad to see you."

"Kate!" Maggie said as if on cue. She had a plain white towel and was wiping her brow. "When did you get here?" She went to the detective and gave her a lingering hug. "And why didn’t you come tell me?"

"I wanted you to get all sweaty first." Kate waggled her eyebrows. "Looks like it worked."

"Oh, please," Spike said as he made a disgusted face. "Some of us are immortal and we don’t need to have this disgusting little scene of domestic bliss burned into our eternal memories."

"I could toss you outside without your jacket and see what burns into your brain." Buffy smiled and eyed the door.

"Guess you’re grouchy what with GI Joe leaving you to take care of your own stress relief." Spike stepped behind Kate so Buffy couldn’t hit him.

"You mentioned Thanatos?" Giles cleared his throat and looked toward the storeroom. "Anya? Xander? Could you come here?" he called out.

Maggie turned and looked over at Buffy. The Slayer wasn’t even breathing hard. "Doesn’t she make you sick?" Maggie asked Kate. "She nearly kills me and doesn’t even break a sweat."

"Annoying, isn’t it?" Spike said as he moved away from Kate.

"You look like you were holding your own," Kate said as she hugged Maggie. She ran her hands around the petite doctor’s waist. Maggie mirrored the hold on Kate’s waist. The detective smiled when she felt the new holster on the small of Maggie’s back. "Didn’t even have to use Betty."

"What’s wrong?" Maggie kept her hands resting on Kate’s waist.

Kate raised an eyebrow.

"You’re tense," Maggie explained. She gave Kate’s waist a squeeze. "You’re squinting and your back is tied in knots." She smirked, proud of her diagnosis.

"They let Shannon out," Kate said quietly. She felt Maggie’s grip tighten. "I’ll be here, I promise," she added.

"They let that crazy woman loose?" Anya asked as she sat at the table. "And people think demons are messed up."

"Strangely enough, I find myself agreeing with Anya." Buffy scowled, her distaste obvious.

"We aren’t going back to Doctor demon cousin lady’s apartment are we?" Anya whined.

"That was to avoid Thanatos and the lingering members of the vampiric cult." Giles rubbed his eyes. His glasses scooted onto his forehead and he wondered how he could possibly be as tired as he was at such an early hour. "I’m quite sure if Shannon O’Donnell does come back to Sunnydale she will not be interested in you."

"Hey, I could get a lesbian if I wanted one," Anya said angrily. She licked her lips and her eyes drifted over to Tara. She locked eyes with the young witch and smiled sensually.

Tara’s eyes shot opened and she scooted closer to Willow.

Willow’s eyes reacted exactly the opposite; her eyes narrowed and she looked like she was going to disembowel the former demon on the spot.

"Not that I want any lesbians," Anya said quickly. "Hello? Straight now." She laughed at her own joke, giggling until she snorted.

"Kate, what do we do?’ Maggie asked. She was tired of the bickering, and most of all, she was tired of Anya leering at Tara. As Tara’s doctor, she still felt protective of the young witch.

"Nothing," Kate said with a sigh. "At least not officially." She smirked. "I have a trace on her credit cards and I have the flights from Chicago to LA being checked for her name."

"Would she use her real name?" Tara asked.

"She did last time," Kate responded. She pulled Maggie closer, running her hand through the doctor’s hair.

"Will this ever be over?" Maggie asked. She rested her face on detective’s chest and held onto her like she was adrift in a raging river and Kate was the only line to shore.

"Soon. I promise," Kate swore. She looked over Maggie’s shoulder and locked eyes with Buffy. "You’ve got friends here, Maggie. We won’t let anything happen to you."

Tara stood and walked over to Maggie, dragging Willow with her. "Maybe we can stay with you tonight," Tara said quietly. Her eyes darkened with concern and something more. She turned to Willow and pulled her against her side. "I think we should be on guard. Buffy too."

"While all of this witchy stuff is interesting, doesn’t anyone want to hear about Thanatos?" Spike yawned.

"Okay, Spike. What do you know about Thanatos?" Buffy was sitting on the table with her hands resting on the tabletop on either side of her hips. She pulled a chair closer with her foot and propped both feet on the chairback and glared at the blonde vampire.

"I know that he got the name Thanatos after he slaughtered an entire town in ancient Thebes." Spike moved closer and looked down at Buffy.

"Thebes was a town," Willow pointed out.

"City-state," Giles amended. "The city of Thivai sits at the center of that region now."

"Whatever!" Spike yelled. "The fact is, Thany got his name there. He killed them all, every last one of the buggers. Word is he did it for one of them Powers That Be." Spike crossed his arms over his chest and raised up on his toes. "Bet you didn’t know that," he told Buffy.

"The Power That Be don’t kill entire towns," Giles said as he went to the bookshelf. "What did you say the town’s name was?"

"Doesn’t have a name anymore." Spike smiled smugly. "The town ceased to exist and Thanatos left there with a new name."

"What was his name before that?" Willow asked. She looked over at Giles and wondered if she should help him search.

"I don’t know," Spike said angrily.

"He had to have a name," Willow insisted. "Or was he like Prince in reverse… was he ‘the vampire soon to be known as Thanatos?’ You can’t not have a name. Everyone has a name."

Tara giggled. ‘You’re babbling.

"His old name doesn’t matter," Spike said as he glared at Willow. "Anyway, before he slaughtered that town, he did a few other favors for some of the mystical bigwigs. Rumor has it he was even a Daywalker for a bit."

"I find that highly unlikely." Giles looked up from the stacks. "Daywalkers are nothing more than myth."

"It’s no myth," Spike said. "Thanatos did favors for one of the big, bad immortal honchos, and they made him a Daywalker."

"As in a vampire who doesn’t go poof in the sun?" Maggie asked. She saw Giles give her a curious look. "I saw Blade." Maggie shrugged. "Wesley Snipes was a Daywalker, right?"

"Oh, come on," Spike growled and tossed his arms into the air. "That movie was so unbelievable. Garlic bullets? Please."

"Back to Thanatos," Buffy said as she shoved the chair at her feet into Spike. It hit him in the crotch and made him double over.

"Funny," Spike said in a strangled whispered.

"Let’s suppose that Thanatos was a Daywalker," Giles said as he moved closer. "How exactly did he gain and then lose this skill?"

"You said it was a myth." Buffy sat up and spun to face her Watcher. "Vampires can’t go out in the sun. That would totally upset the balance. It’s like wearing Berkenstocks with a spandex miniskirt. It’s just wrong."

"I said suppose," Giles pointed out.

"He pissed off one of the other supreme powers," Anya said with a bored expression. "What’s the mystery? Great power lets you walk in the sun, other great power gets mad, takes it away."

"Which great power?" Willow asked. She looked from Anya to Spike. "Details. We need details."

"Could be any of them." Spike wandered toward the glass counter at the front of the store. "Depends on whether or not there’s anything in this for me." He had his back to the others and rummaged through some papers tucked into the inner pocket of his jacket.

Buffy heard the rustling of paper and jumped silently to her feet. She rushed over to the vampire and grabbed him by the collar and tossed him onto his back on the floor with a clumsy thump.

"What'cha got?" she asked as she yanked the paper from his hands.

"Give me that!" Spike tried to get up but Buffy stomped her foot onto his chest and pinned him in place on the floor.

"You have got to be kidding." Buffy looked at the item in her hands and burst into laughter. "This…is…not…" She stumbled away laughing so hard she couldn’t breathe. She looked down at her hands and fell into the chair in a fit of giggles, then held out the item to Willow.

Willow’s eyes widened and she grabbed the papers. "A demonic comic book?" She snickered and looked at Spike, then opened it. "It’s cute, except for the blood." She flipped the pages as Tara peeked over her shoulder. "Lots of blood." She frowned at one particularly gruesome drawing. "Whole lotta’ red ink here."

"Demons…have… comic books," Buffy gasped between giggles as she was pounding on the table. "Take it away, Willow. Please."

"With little demon heroes," Tara pointed out. She flipped back to the cover and read it. "‘Thanatos: The Chronicles of Death.’ Catchy title." She smirked.

"Stop it." Buffy was snorting and slapping the table.

"It’s not funny," Spike said. "It’s not like we demons get a fair shake in the human press." He tried to grab the comic book but Willow yanked it away. "Come on. Give it back," he whined.

"Let me see that." Giles held out his hand and sighed as he looked over the comic book. "It appears to be a historical account."

"Yeah, it’s a historical document," Spike insisted.

"I didn’t say that," Giles corrected. He flipped through the comic book. "Though it may have some thread of truth."

"Actually, they’re pretty accurate," Anya said as she looked over Giles’ shoulder. "That’s a ‘Bloodstain Comic’. They’re very careful to get the facts straight." She pointed at the cover. "See? It’s even made with real blood."

Giles tossed the book onto the table. "You couldn’t have shared that sooner?"

Buffy, Willow and Tara all rubbed their hands on their pants.

"Ew. Spike, you are so gonna’ get it." Buffy was looking at her fingers for any sign of a stain.

"Do you want the scoop on Thanatos or not?" Spike yelled.

Giles refused to answer. Instead he flipped through the pages of the book with one finger. He frowned and flipped another page.

"Well?" Xander asked. "Does it have a cool hero with a spandex bodysuit?"

"It chronicles the early life of Thanatos," Giles said. He cleared his throat and flipped another page.

"What was his name before?" Willow asked as she wiggled closer.

"It doesn’t say." Giles sighed and rolled his eyes. "The early pages refer to him as…" The Watcher cleared his throat again as if embarrassed. "Early Thanatos is called, ‘He who would become Thanatos.’ No mention of any other name."

"You were right." Tara beamed proudly and hugged Willow. "He was like Prince in reverse."

"Demon comic books." Xander shook his head. "Even Buffy could be a scholar with these puppies."

"That is an uncalled-for attack on me," Buffy whined. "You’re the one with the Spiderman collection."

"And that almost-porn Witchblade," Willow added.

"Yeah," Tara agreed. "She’s like almost naked." She nodded her head to emphasize her point and held her hands in front of her chest miming huge breasts. "And she’s all… big."

"And you would know this…how?" Buffy asked with a smirk.

"We saw them at his apartment," Willow said quickly as she pointed an accusing finger at Xander. She blushed and wondered how she could get out of the room without having to stand up and walk past her friends.

"And we thought it was about Wicca," Tara added emphatically. "Witchblade…it sounded witchy." She frowned and her brow creased. "It wasn’t."

"Again, entirely too much information," Giles said. He focused on the blood-covered comic book. "Oh, look here." He forced himself to sound excited and possibly draw the topic away from anything embarrassing. "It says that ‘he who would become Thanatos’ destroyed a small religious sect because they weren’t paying proper homage to their god, Poseidon. As a reward he was made into a Daywalker." He frowned. "Odd that a demon would work for a god, and even odder that a water god could affect a vampire’s mortality in the sun." He flipped the page and Buffy moved to his side and looked over his shoulder. He looked up at Spike.

"Told you." Spike buffed his nails on his chest.

"He doesn’t look like a goat," Buffy pointed out. "He’s all muscley like Arnold Schwarzenegger."

"Maybe it’s pre-goat, or it could just be the comic book drawing," Willow pointed out. "That Witchblade lady had some pretty unbelievable attributes." Her eyes widened and she looked around the room. "I mean unbelievable in the ‘I don’t believe that’ way, not in the ‘oh, look how hot she is’ way. I would never look a comic character like that."

"It says here that Thanatos offended the Goddess Artemis and that she had his Daywalking abilities revoked." Giles pushed his glasses up and continued reading. "Oh, dear." He paled. "Rather a graphic depiction of a Watcher being…" He tilted the book sideways. " Being… well, being killed in some gruesome manner."

"That was my favorite part," Spike volunteered. "He’s being impaled while being eviscerated, and I think he’s been skinned as well." He rubbed his jaw and had a look of awe covering his features. "And I think he kept the bugger alive through all of it."

"That’s difficult to pull off before they die on you," Anya said with an appreciative nod. "It’s like the torturer’s hat trick."

"Okay, I am thoroughly grossed out now." Buffy shuddered and looked over at Giles. "You are definitely staying away from goat-boy. I don’t want any hat tricks with my Watcher."

Giles nodded, but his eyes were locked on the pen and ink images of pain in front of him. "He does seem to enjoy his work."

"I told you, he’s the one all the other demons want to be when they grow up." Anya looked over at Maggie. "Maybe we could arrange for that Shannon chick to run into Thanatos. That would solve one problem and maybe it would get some of the killing out of his system." She smiled, proud that she was helping.

"Anya!" Giles was shocked. "That’s a horrible thing to say, even for you."

"Yeah, well, I’m sure I’m not the only one thinking it." Anya wrapped her arm through Xander’s. "I’m just the only one willing to say it."

Kate conveniently looked away. She thought Anya’s solution sounded pretty damn good.

"Well, it’s not an option," Giles said. "Now, we need to do further research."

"Big surprise there." Buffy rolled her eyes.

"Research?" Tara smiled shyly and leaned into Willow. "We could go look through the books." She bit her lip. ‘Wanna’ meet behind the stacks? I could kiss you ‘til you pass out.’ Tara flirted telepathically.

Willow blushed. "Research is good," she said enthusiastically. "I should get to it." She stood and bolted for the bookcase. ‘I’ll meet you at the ‘Demonic Symbols’ section, in that dark corner. But no more fainting today. ’

"Would you care to know the topic first?" Giles asked tolerantly. "I need ancient texts dealing with Greek gods and any powers they have bestowed."

"Oh," Willow said slowly. She smiled and rung her hands in front of her. "Yes, I was just gonna’ do some general research, you know, warm up research."

"Leave ‘em alone, Giles," Buffy whispered. "They want to go do the smoochies thing."

"Well, just announce it, why don’t you." Willow put one hand on her hip and then realized that Buffy had been kidding. "Not that we were gonna’ do the smoochies thing…"

"You are so busted," Buffy said with a giggle.

"Totally busted," Maggie agreed. She gave Kate’s hand a gentle squeeze and wondered where the smoochie hiding spot was.

"Gosh, Willow," Tara said primly. "Our friends are gonna’ think all you ever want to do is kiss and stuff."

Willow’s eyes widened and her jaw fell open. ‘It was your idea,’ she sent mentally.

"You really have a one-track mind," Tara said with an innocent expression, though her eyes had a devious glimmer. She stood and headed for the back of the bookcases. ‘Coming?’ she asked with her mind.

‘You are in so much trouble,’ Willow responded. She looked at Giles. "I’ll check all the translations of the Greek codex." She turned to Buffy. "If you remember correctly, it was Tara who tends to grope me… even while she’s sleeping." She spun and walked away leaving a speechless Slayer in her wake.

‘Willow!’ Tara was glad she was hiding behind the bookcase because she was certain her face was glowing bright red.


Kate and Maggie left to go out for a private breakfast. Their budding relationship wasn’t at the double dating stage, and the two women wanted some time alone. Kate promised to stop back by the magic shop as soon as they were finished. Tara had been insistent that Maggie have many protectors when she went home for the night.


"Okay, so I don’t have to go to that prison apartment, right?" Anya asked as she priced some new candles.

"No," Giles said for the forth time.

"Giles?" Tara rested her hand on the Watcher’s shoulder to draw his attention.

He turned and raised both eyebrows.

"Could you…maybe…" Tara leaned closer. "Give Anya the day off and send her and Xander home?" She looked over at Anya nervously. Tara had a sharp pain in her belly every time she looked at the former demon. She wasn’t used to her growing powers yet, but she felt it meant Anya should leave.

"I’m sure Anya can behave herself," Giles said. He was well aware that the former demon was enjoying teasing the blonde Wiccan. Anya seemed to take special delight whenever Tara squirmed.

"I think she needs to leave," Tara said a little more forcefully.

"Are you having some kind of vision?" Giles looked across the room and caught Buffy’s attention. The Slayer sensed her Watcher’s concern and hurried over.

"What’s up?" Buffy asked quietly.

"Anya can’t be here," Tara said shyly. "I have a bad feeling. We need her to go…now."

"Xander," Buffy called out. "You and Anya are going to the movies and then home. Order pizza in, and Giles is paying for it." She didn’t question Tara. The young witch had already earned her trust a dozen times over.

"Why am I out of the loop?" Xander asked. He slammed the text he was reading onto the table with a puff of dust.

"Careful!" Giles took a step closer to the desk. "That text is three hundred years old!"

"Well, I’m three times that old and you don’t fuss over me." Anya pouted. "Why are you trying to get rid of Xander and me?" She stomped over to Giles. "Well, we’re not leaving. You’ve got something fun planned and you don’t want to share with us. You humans are like that." She crossed her arms over her chest. "And we’re going to that apartment too."

"Anya, you hate helping." Buffy narrowed her eyes. "Just take the day off and be happy."

"You’ve got secrets," Anya accused. She waved her finger at Buffy. "Big secrets, missy."

"Anya, I don’t think it’s safe for you here," Tara said quietly. She looked down at her feet and hid behind her bangs.

"You’re worried about me?" Anya smiled. "Xander, she’s worried about me." Her smiled twisted into a confused and frightened scowl. "Why are you worried about me?" She ran over Xander and grabbed him. "She’s worried about me. Do something!"

"Why the big worries?" Xander asked.

"I could have done that." Anya slapped his arm.

"Stop hitting me," Xander said grouchily.

"Need a bodyguard?" Willow called out with a smirk from across the room. She was reading an ancient poem about Apollo giving powers to a mortal man.

"I can’t explain it," Tara said. "I just feel…if Anya stays here, it’ll be bad." She rubbed her arms, leaving her fingers wrapped around her body. "Very bad," she mumbled.

"Okay, in Sunnydale…very bad is, like, worlds worse than normal bad." Xander pulled Anya closer. "Could you clarify?"

"Very bad…I don’t like very bad," Anya whined. "Buffy, you protect me. Now." Anya dropped Xander’s arm and grabbed Buffy’s.

"It’ll be fine." Buffy patted the former demon’s hand and tried to pry her fingers loose. "Let go," Buffy insisted. "You’re squeezing me. Please don’t squeeze the Slayer."

"Okay, I guess Anya and I will be leaving," Xander said. He pulled his girlfriend away from Buffy and toward the door.

"Yes, leaving the scene of very bad," Anya agreed. "Good bye." She tugged Xander. "See? Even when I’m scared, I am being polite."

"Be careful," Buffy said quickly. "Even if Shannon isn’t around…this is Sunnydale.

"Gotcha’. We’ll just be hanging out with pizza. Pizza and movies, that all we’re doing." Xander squeezed Anya’s hand.

"That better not be all we’re doing," Anya said angrily.

Giles rolled his eyes and waved as they left the shop.


Maggie and Kate returned from breakfast after a few hours. Both women looked surprisingly relaxed despite the situation. They had enjoyed their quiet meal alone. It gave them a chance to get better acquainted, which was something both of them wanted more than they would ever admit.

"Hi, Doctor Maggie," Tara said from the bookshelf when the two walked in.

"Feeling better?" Maggie went directly to Tara, studying her pale features.

"I’m fine." Tara nodded then looked down at a text she was reading.

"Why don’t I believe her?" Kate whispered in Maggie’s ear.

"Because you’re a big, strong, smart detective?" Maggie suggested. She bumped her hip into the beautiful blonde and nodded toward the back of the shop. "Go see what Buffy’s up to."

"Yes, ma’am." Kate smiled warmly and hurried off.

"Did you need something?" Tara looked up and smiled at the doctor.

"What’s up?" Maggie moved closer and rested her palm on Tara’s forehead. She frowned. "You’re warm." She moved her hand down and took Tara’s pulse.

"I, I’m okay." Tara wouldn’t meet Maggie’s eyes.

"Bullshit," Maggie challenged. She cupped the young blonde’s chin in her hand. "You need to sit down. I don’t want you passing out again. Besides, Willow would freak out, and you don’t want that."

"Okay," Tara agreed instantly. The last thing she wanted was to worry her lover. She allowed Maggie to lead her over to the table where Willow was still researching Thanatos. "Miss me?" Tara flopped into the chair next to Willow.

"Always." Willow looked up with a crooked grin. "What’s wrong?" Her eyes narrowed when she saw how pale her lover was. "Are you sick? Are you having a vision? Why didn’t you call me?"

"I’m fine." Tara took Willow’s hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze. ‘I promise,’ she added with her thoughts.

‘You don’t look fine,’ Willow argued with her mind. She leaned over and pressed her forehead to Tara’s. ‘It would kill me if anything happened to you.’

"I’m just tired," Tara said harshly as she glared at Maggie. "Why won’t anyone believe me?"

"Maybe because you’re acting all grouchy and non-Tara-like?" Buffy crossed her arms over her chest. "Any more vibes of the very bad variety?"

Tara shook her head.

"We’re worried," Willow whispered. She looked away and bit her lip. "I didn’t mean to make you angry."

"I’m not angry." Tara took Willow’s hand and spun her around. "I’m sorry I snapped at you, love."

"It’s okay," Willow said as she gave Tara a half smile. "I snap lots. I’m just not used to Tara snapage."

Tara smiled coyly and rubbed the back of Willow’s hand, but then she jerked her head toward the front door. "Get down," she yelled as she shoved Willow behind the table and then dove on top of her.

Years spent living on the hell mouth gave Giles and Buffy quick reflexes. They both dove behind the tall stacks of books. Kate reacted just as quickly. She tossed Maggie behind the table next to Tara. Kate had just enough time to shield Maggie beneath her when the front of the building exploded. Shards of glass flew through the room as the concussive wave rattled the shop. Bits of debris rained down with billowing clouds of dust.

 

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

The explosion echoed off of the walls of the small shop even as a car alarm on the street blared. Thick dust clouds swirled in the room but thankfully there was no fire.

Buffy coughed as she crawled to her feet and looked around the shop. "Giles?" She hurried to his side when she saw that he was unconscious.

"Maggie?" Kate climbed off of the doctor and rolled her over.

"Can’t you people ever have a normal day?" Maggie coughed and shook bits of rubble out of her hair. She looked over toward Tara and Willow and let out a relieved sigh when she saw them both coughing and sitting up.

"Maggie, Giles is hurt," Buffy said as she wiped a streak of blood off of his temple.

The doctor looked over toward the counter where she had left her medical bag and realized she wasn’t going to be able to get it. The entire area around the register was under a pile of rubble. Maggie stood and went to help Buffy.

‘You okay?’ Willow asked with her mind.

‘Fine.’ Tara ran her hands over Willow’s body checking for any sign of injury. ‘Are you okay?’

"Yeah." Willow said in a shaking voice. She pulled her lover into a powerful hug. "Just hold me."

"Shh, I’ve got you, darling," Tara whispered. She held the redhead and gently stoked her back.

"Easy," Maggie said. She felt a large bump on the side of Giles’ head. "Nasty thump on the head," she said as she pried open one of his eyes. "Looks good," she said when she saw that his pupil was normal. "Same here," she said after checking the other side.

Giles moaned and his eyes slowly opened. He was confused and then he turned his head and looked around the shop.

"Bloody hell." He sat up. "My insurance rates are going to go up yet again." He looked over toward the register. "Dear lord."

Willow stared at the counter. "Anya," she whispered. "If she’d been here at the counter…"

Tara swallowed hard as she studied the destroyed section of the shop where Anya usually stood.

"If Anya had been here she would have been killed," Giles said slowly. He looked over at Tara. "Paying for that movie and pizza is the best investment I’ve ever made." He blanched when he noticed that a section of the window had been blown across the room to the wall behind the register. "Thank you, Tara." His voice was thick with emotion.

Tara nodded. She was in shock over the entire incident. She would have preferred for her uneasy feeling about Anya to have just been some over reaction.

"I don’t supposed vampires plant bombs?" Kate asked Buffy as she moved behind Maggie and rested one hand on the doctor’s waist.

"Not generally, but on the hellmouth, you never know." Buffy tilted her head to one side and looked at Giles. "You okay?"

"Fine," he assured her with an easy grin.

Kate turned toward the entrance when she heard the sounds of sirens. "It’s about to get interesting," she said with sigh.

"Why don’t you and I go have a look outside?" Buffy nodded toward Kate.

"I think we should all evacuate the building," Maggie pointed out. "The structure may not be safe."

"We do need to be on the safe side." Giles looked around the room. "Though it appears the blast was outside." He pointed toward the front window. "The blast seems to have tossed debris into the shop."

"Still, going outside sounds good," Willow agreed. "I mean, what if it catches on fire?"

‘I don’t like fire,’ Tara sent to her lover. Her blue eyes widened and she squeezed the redhead’s hand.

"I still want to go out first." Buffy raised an eyebrow at Kate and the blonde detective moved over to the Slayer’s side. "We’ll make sure there isn’t anyone outside."

"Shannon," Maggie said quietly. "Could she have gotten here in time to do this?"

"That’s what we’re gonna’ find out." Kate headed for the front door. "Buffy, check out back."

The Slayer nodded and hurried toward the door to the alley while Giles began digging through the worst of the rubble.

"You saved Anya," Willow whispered to her lover.

Tara nodded as she continued to look around the shop. Most of the building was intact but a layer of grey dust covered everything. Bits of concrete had been blown through the front window and destroyed most of the merchandise around the entrance. A huge chunk of the window frame had been blown loose and tossed over onto the counter where Anya usually stood next to the register. Tara stared at the mangled register and shivered. A two-foot long section of glass was sticking out of the wall behind the counter. Anyone standing near the register would have been cut in half mid-torso. Tara rubbed her belly. Her stomachache was gone but now her nervousness was making her nauseous.

Willow came up behind Tara and wrapped her arms around the blonde Wiccan. She kissed Tara’s neck and put her hands over Tara’s belly.


Across town in the underground catacombs Marcus and Thanatos were settling into their new accommodations. Thanatos had taken over a building that had been a boarding house before that section of town had been sucked underground over a century earlier. A few of the buildings were still somewhat intact, though most had been at least partially destroyed in the massive earthquake that shook Sunnydale when the hellmouth was partially closed.

Thanatos had returned earlier than he had planned. A military group was in Central America hunting demons and he was smart enough to retreat when faced with superior forces. His early arrival would allow him to watch the powerful young witch as her energy increased.

"I bring news, Lord Thanatos." Marcus walked over to the low bench where the ancient vampire was sitting.

"Yes?" Thanatos looked up from the ancient Greek text. He rested his cloven hand on the passage and gave his protégé his complete attention.

"The shop where the Slayer and her friends meet was just blown up," Marcus told his mentor. The younger vampire’s broken jaw had healed without any trace of the injury.

"Explain." Thanatos stood to his full height. He had chosen the boardinghouse because of its vaulted ceilings. He liked to walk upright instead of spending his time bent over like a lowly servant.

"The disturbed woman who tried to shoot the redheaded witch returned. She planted a bomb," Marcus said as he walked over to the closet. He opened the door and grabbed a man in his twenties who was chained to the wall, barely conscious. "I wasn’t sure what she was doing because she did it this morning as the sun was rising." He grabbed the young man and tilted his head to one side.

"You allowed the witches to be endangered?" Thanatos said angrily.

"I wasn’t sure what the insane woman was doing," Marcus said respectfully. "I did wait to see what happened. I didn’t even leave to feed." He licked his lips and then bit the whimpering man in his grasp. He drained him and dropped his dead body to the floor. "I was hoping to have a fresh kill."

"Were either of the witches hurt?" Thanatos rubbed his cloven hands together in front of him. The hooves clicked together as he continued the gesture.

"No, Lord Thanatos." Marcus turned and faced his master. "I listened and heard both of their voices. Apparently only the shop owner was injured, and he was only knocked out."

"I will not have this insane human ruining my plans," Thanatos said dangerously. "We must find her."

Marcus smiled.

"What?"

"I sent one of your disciples after her," Marcus said. "He was young, but I thought him worthy of the challenge."

"They are loyal." Thanatos smiled and clapped his misshapen hand on Marcus’ back. "Well done."

"Perhaps we should turn a few more?" Marcus looked to his mentor for guidance. "The Slayer killed most of them last month."

"Perhaps." Thanatos waved his hand in the air as he wandered over to a large oak table. "Right now I am more interested in finding out about the witches and the Slayer."

"I have a meeting with an informant tonight," Marcus responded.

Thanatos smiled.

"We must be careful though." Marcus shook his head sadly. "Word on the street says that William the Bloody is in town and that he has turned against his own kind."

"William the Bloody?" Thanatos tilted his head to one side. "Ah, yes. He’s a bit younger than you. Too reckless for my taste. It’s a shame to see him ruined though."

"Tragic," Marcus agreed. "But the witches are safe and coming into their power."

"Well, this is excellent news." Thanatos picked up a long sword from the table. "I think a celebration is in order." He pulled the razor sharp blade from its sheath. "The monastery tonight?"

"Yes, Lord Thanatos. I am in the mood for Italian." Marcus grabbed his own sword from the wall.

Thanatos shook his head. "I warned you about smart remarks." The ancient vampire frowned at his protégé, but as soon as Marcus turned around Thanatos smirked at the comment.

"Yes, my Lord," Marcus agreed.


Willow was sleeping soundly with Tara in her arms. It was one of the redhead’s favorite ways to sleep. Her other favorite position involved Tara on her back cradling Willow. They had decided to go back to the dorms despite Shannon’s return. Maggie and Kate were staying at Buffy’s house. The detective decided that going back to the apartment was too dangerous considering Shannon knew where it was.

Willow was happy to be in her familiar surroundings with her lover. No matter how much she enjoyed the doctor’s huge bed, there was something comforting about sleeping next to Tara in the dorm room. It felt like it was their space. The petite Wiccan was dreaming of a beautiful beach. She was walking along the white sand looking into the crystal blue water with Tara at her side. Her relaxing dream was interrupted when Tara screamed and sat straight up in the bed.

"No!" Tara took in gasps of air and looked around her darkened room. "Willow?"

"What is it?" Willow’s voice was deep and smoky from sleep. "Honey?" She wrapped her arm around her lover who was shaking. "Tara, what’s wrong?"

Tara didn’t answer but she did lean into her lover.

‘What is it, baby?’ Willow asked. She sent all of her love with her thoughts, wrapping around Tara like a warm blanket.

‘Cold.’ Tara shivered.

‘Lay back down, love.’ Willow guided Tara back onto her pillow. She snuggled against the sensual blonde. ‘Nightmare?’ she asked.

"Yeah," Tara whispered in the darkness.

"You wanna’ talk about it?" Willow rubbed Tara’s arm.

"I can’t remember anything," Tara said. "Just something dark and evil."

"Well, it’s just a dream," Willow assured her. "You’re with me and you’re warm and there is no evil here." She kissed Tara’s cheek. "Nope, no evil here."

"I love you, Willow." Tara snuggled into her lover. The warmth of her beloved’s body chased away the last lingering effects of the nightmare. She sighed and closed her eyes as she settled back to sleep.

Willow couldn’t get back to sleep. She cradled Tara and listened to the blonde’s breathing. Occasionally Tara’s body would stiffen and Willow would whisper soothing words to her lover and the sleeping Wiccan’s body would calm. When the sun broke through the small window in the dorm Willow was still awake. She decided that she needed to talk to Giles. She was afraid that the nightmares were some kind of premonition like Tara had experienced at the shop.


Anya stood in the middle of the shop and stared at the remains of the counter where she should have been the day before. Her brown eyes darted from the glass pane embedded in the wall to the shattered remains of the cash register.

"Wow, I’ve never been so happy to eat pizza at home in my life," Xander said as he looked at the mess.

"I would have been killed," Anya whispered. She pointed at the crushed counter. "I always stand there next to the money. The money is ruined, and if I’d been here, I’d be ruined too."

Xander pulled Anya to him and hugged her. He ran his hand through her hair and then kissed her forehead. "I know," he whispered. He decided to send Tara the biggest bouquet of roses she had ever seen. "But you weren’t here."

"Anya, Xander, it’s good to see you." Giles came in through the back door. He was carrying a broom and dustpan. "We need all the help possible."

"I was almost killed and you want me to do manual labor?" Anya clung to Xander.

"You weren’t even here," Giles pointed out. He walked past her and began sweeping bits of rumble onto the dustpan.

Buffy came in and smiled when she saw her friends. "Xander, Anya, you missed out on all the fun yesterday."

"I’ve had this kinda’ fun before. I was at graduation, remember?" Xander smiled. "You sure everyone’s okay?" he asked. Xander was constantly joking, but underneath he was a concerned and caring friend.

"Yep." Buffy grabbed a section of drywall from the floor. "We’re all fine. Giles was a little bumped and bruised but he’s fine."

"Where’s Tara?" Anya asked quietly. "I should thank her."

"She and Willow went back to their dormitory," Giles said. He smiled at Anya and pulled her into a hug. "I’m so very glad you’re all right," he whispered.

"Giles is hugging me." Anya stiffened. She looked to the side and saw Xander smiling. "You’re hugging me. Just like I’m one of your own children," she whispered and then smiled brightly.

"Yes, well…" Giles pulled away, suddenly embarrassed. "I was greatly relieved that you weren’t here." He pushed his glasses higher on his nose. "I mean, I would have had all kinds of extra insurance forms to fill out."

"He likes me," Anya said as she went over to Xander.

"You’re a likable gal." Xander wrapped his arm over her shoulder.

The moment was broken when Tara and Willow came in. They were holding hands and deep in conversation.

"I don’t think we should carry them with us," Tara said nervously.

"What if we want to do a spell?" Willow gave Tara her best pout. "Or… if we want to… you know." She smiled seductively.

"Hey, guys," Buffy called out. "Come to help clean up the carnage?"

"Hi." Tara smiled and looked over at the others.

"Just call us the carnage clean up crew," Willow said happily.

"You saved me," Anya said as she went directly to Tara. "Your powers are growing every minute and you saved me."

"I’m j-just glad you’re okay." Tara smiled shyly.

"You’re very powerful, aren’t you." Anya studied Tara, letting her eyes linger on the blonde witch’s cobalt blue eyes.

"Um…" Tara moved closer to Willow.

"Yes, she is," Willow said as she wrapped her arm around her lover. "And so am I."

"Hey, just makin’ an observation." Anya backed away. "Besides, I have Xander."

"How ‘bout we get to the clean up?" Xander pulled Anya away as quickly as possible.

"That was…weird," Buffy said as she looked over at Anya. The former demon was still staring back at Tara.

Tara looked down at the floor and blushed.

‘She keeps lookin’ at me like I’m a piece of meat,’ Tara sent to her lover.

"Yeah, and she’s a hungry wolf," Willow said as she glared across the room at Anya.

"Huh?" Buffy stared at Willow and then her rolled her eyes. "Talking with the not talking? What is the rule?" She put both hands on her hips.

"She’s keeps looking at Tara," Willow said angrily. "Like Tara is lunch and Anya hasn’t eaten in a month and I don’t like it."

‘Don’t worry, love. The Tara buffet is for Willow only.’ Tara smirked playfully. ‘Care for a snack?’

Willow gave Tara a stern look but her eyes sparkled. ‘Not now. I’m trying to be angry.’

"Hey!" Buffy cleared her throat. "You’re still doing it."

"Okay, if you must know," Willow grinned evilly. "We were discussing the fact that Tara is my personal…"

"Willow!" Tara grabbed her lover and then playfully covered her mouth with one hand.

Buffy raised one eyebrow.

Willow mumbled under Tara’s hand.

"What?" Buffy asked.

The redhead moved her lover’s hand away. "I said, you wanted to know."

"Yeah, well, that was before I found out what a gutter mind you are." Buffy looked over at Tara. "Is she always like this?"

"Oh, yes," Tara said a bit too sensually. Her eyes widened and she blushed.

"Okay, too much information." Buffy wandered toward the back of the store. "Too…much…information."

"We broke Buffy." Tara giggled.

"She’ll get over it." Willow pulled Tara along with her and they went to the overturned stack of books at the back of the shop. "Besides, consider it payback for all the liplocks we had to endure when she was with Riley."

The group worked for almost an hour and they were more than ready for a break when Maggie and Kate arrived with lunch. The detective and the doctor had stayed behind at Buffy’s house to make phone calls.

"Food!" Xander yelled when he saw Maggie carry in two pizza boxes.

"Finally," Anya said as she wiped her hands on her jeans. "Giles made we sweat."

Kate shook her head and carried the pizzas to the table at the back of the shop. She put them down and looked over at Giles. The Watcher caught her eye and came closer.

"Do you have news?" Giles asked even as the rest of the group dug into the pizzas.

"Yeah, I called the local PD about that attack at the monastery." Kate frowned.

"The one from the paper this morning?" Buffy asked around a mouthful of pepperoni.

"Yeah," Maggie answered. She brought a piece of pizza over to Kate and offered it to the detective.

"The PD said that fifty-two monks visiting from Italy were dragged out of their beds last night. They found parts of six of them," Kate said grimly.

"Okay, that is high on the Ew scale," Buffy said. She bit into her pizza. "What about the others? Did they see anything?"

"Gone," Kate explained.

"Wait a minute," Tara said as she tossed her slice of vegetarian pizza onto a napkin. "They cut up several monks and took the rest?" She stood and went back to the flipped over bookshelf. "How did they slice them up? She asked as she dug through the books.

"Morbid much?" Xander asked.

"They were sliced up pretty badly and then beheaded." Kate grimaced.

"Were their arms cut off?" Tara asked. She smiled when she saw the text she was looking for. "Oh!"

"Like that knight in Monty Python?" Anya asked. "Now that was funny." She smiled broadly. "But that rabbit at the end terrified me. I told Xander rabbits are evil, vile creatures." She frowned. "They’re evil I tell you."

"I told you, bunnies won’t bite off heads. They are gentle little creatures," Xander said patiently.

"Well, they’d kill if you turned your back on them," Anya said with utter certainty. "You can count on it."

"What about the monastery killings?" Giles asked. He loved Monty Python as much as the next Englishman, but he wanted information about the murders.

"Here," Tara said. "We were looking for vampiric cults and didn’t find anything but then I wondered if any religious sects had ever been turned. They might act kind of culty."

"And excellent idea." Giles moved closer. "Is that the Zimmer text?"

"Uh huh." Tara flipped to the back of the book. "See? It says here that a vampire in the sixteen hundreds was known for turning entire religious orders. He attacked convents and monasteries, but he always carved up some of the people first."

"Why didn’t that come up when I asked the council for help?" Giles took the book and scanned the pages.

"Well, the vampires weren’t really a cult." Tara pointed to a section. "But it says that some of the groups did treat their sire like he was their new god."

"That sounds like our robed baddies." Buffy grabbed another piece of pizza. "So now we have psycho Shannon and the vamp moonies to deal with. Sounds like old times."

"Just as long as Thanatos doesn’t show up," Willow said with a shudder.

"This cross references the Degal chronicles." Giles went over to the pile of books and dug through the scattered texts. He grabbed the one he needed and flipped through it. "Not Thanatos, the vampire who did this was called Marcus." Giles adjusted his glasses as he read further down the page. "It’s believed that a monk tried to kill this Marcus by lowering him into holy water. Apparently the vampire held a grudge."

"Slaughtering entire monasteries?" Anya tilted her head to one side. "That’s a whole lotta’ grudge. And I should know."

‘Willow, that other vampire…’ Tara felt her pulse quicken.

"Giles, the vampire who was helping Thanatos was named Marcus," Willow said quietly. She took a deep breath and looked over at the Watcher.

"Dear Lord." Giles locked eyes with Willow. "Are you quite certain?"

The redhead nodded.

"Yes," Tara said. She wandered back to the table and sat.

"Let me check the Watcher’s chronicles," Giles said as he hurried to the ladder that led to his dangerous and secret books.

Tara closed her eyes as she felt her body chill to the bone. She shivered and rested her face on the dust-covered tabletop.

‘Hey, you okay?’ Willow came up behind Tara and rested her hands on the blonde’s shoulders. ‘Love? What is it?’

‘Just a little nauseous.’ Tara whimpered happily as Willow rubbed her tense muscles. "That feels good," she whispered.

"Doctor Maggie, could you come here please?" Willow asked. Concern covered her face and her voice threatened to crack.

"What is it?" Giles asked as he climbed down the ladder with a book under his arm.

"Is it Tara?" Maggie asked. She hurried over to the young couple. "What’s up, hon?" Maggie rested her hand on Tara’s head.

"I’m just a little tired." Tara lifted her head and smiled weakly.

"And she’s nauseous," Willow added quickly.

"When did you start feeling this way?" Maggie knelt next to the blonde and felt her forehead. "You’re freezing."

"I’m fine." Tara pulled slightly back.

"How long?" Willow asked.

"A few hours, but it just got a lot worse," Tara admitted.

"Let me get the anise from the storeroom," Giles said gently. "I’ll make a tea to settle your stomach." He gave Tara a kindly smile and then hurried away.

"Are you having another premonition?" Anya asked. She moved past Willow and knelt next to Maggie and felt Tara’s forehead. "You are cold, and clammy too." She looked up at Willow. "Shouldn’t you get her a blanket or a jacket or something? What kind of girlfriend are you?"

"I’m a very good girlfriend," Willow said angrily. "So quit trying to fill the position." She grabbed Anya and shoved her out of the way.

Tara stood and backed away from Anya and Willow. Her eyes went wide as the two women began a minor shoving match.

"Don’t grab me," Anya said as she shoved Willow away.

"Then quit pawing my girlfriend." Willow shoved Anya.

"Maybe if you took better care of her, I wouldn’t have to," Anya taunted. "First you can’t keep Xander and now—"

"Shut up!" Willow grabbed Anya and pushed her against the wall.

"Whoa!" Buffy rushed over and pulled the two apart.

"Get a grip you two," Maggie said as she took Willow by the arm and stepped in front of her.

"She’s a very bad girlfriend," Anya said even as she rubbed her arm. "Don’t blame me."

"Enough," Kate said as she put her arm on Anya’s shoulder. "Do you want Willow to rip your head off?" Kate raised one blonde eyebrow. "Because that’s what’s gonna’ happen."

"It’s frustrating," Anya said. "Xander is perfect in every way except that he’s mystically impotent."

"Hey!" Xander said from across the room. He was purposefully staying out of the Scooby catfight.

"I said mystically, honey… sweetie…" Anya smiled brightly. "You’re the man… the big man…"

Xander rolled his eyes and walked into the storeroom.

"Willow?" Buffy asked. She looked at her friend and leaned closer.

Willow was glaring at Anya. Her eyes were narrowed and her brow was furrowed and the redhead was shaking with rage.

"Willow?" Buffy said a bit louder. "You’re probably freaking Tara out." She turned and looked back to where she had last seen the blonde Wiccan and realized that Tara was gone. "Oh shit."

"Tara?" Willow asked as she followed Buffy’s line of sight. Her eyes widened when she realized that Tara had slipped out during the squabble with Anya. "Where is she?"

"See? You ran her off," Anya said smugly.

"Shut up," Kate said in an angry whisper. "Look, when a grizzly is snarling at your throat, you don’t poke it in the nose with a sharp stick."

"Huh?" Anya gave Kate a confused stare.

"Willow’s already about to kick your ass. Don’t piss her off anymore," Kate clarified.

"Tara?" Willow pushed past Buffy and scanned the shop and called out with her mind. ‘Tara, baby, answer me.’ She couldn’t feel Tara’s mind. A cold wall bounced her own thoughts back to her. Tara was nowhere in sight. "Where did she go?" Willow’s voice cracked as she looked over at Buffy.

"She has to be here," Buffy said as she looked around the shop. "We would have seen her leave."

"You were busy trying to keep Willow from getting all abusive with me," Anya pointed out. "You scared her off," Anya accused as she pointed at Willow. "Why didn’t you just threaten to ‘beat me down?’ I’ll bet Tara feels right at home with you."

Willow ran toward Anya but Buffy grabbed her around the waist.

"See?" Anya pointed at the enraged redhead.

"Shut up," Willow said menacingly.

"You’re nothing like them," Buffy said as she lifted Willow’s feet off of the ground to keep her from the former demon.

Tears stung Willow’s eyes as she remembered Tara’s brother threatening to ‘beat her down.’ Tara had been frozen with terror, and later that night, the blonde had woken up in a cold sweat and cried for hours, shaking, unable to talk as she clung to Willow.

"What did I tell you about the sharp stick?" Kate asked as she pulled Anya away.

Willow looked into Buffy’s eyes and then burst into tears. She grabbed the Slayer and sobbed. "I would never hurt anyone," she said between sobs. "Not even Anya."

"Shh," Buffy said. "Tara knows that." She ran her hand down her friend’s back. "We all do."

"I don’t," Anya volunteered.

"Anya, enough," Xander said as he went to her side. "I think you’ve caused enough trouble for one day."

"Me?" Anya pointed at Willow. "She’s the violent one!"

"We have to find her." Willow cried harder and squeezed Buffy until the Slayer wondered if her ribs would crack.

"We will," Buffy promised. "She has to be here." She looked over Willow’s shoulders at the others. "Check the storeroom and the stacks."

"Here’s your tea," Giles said as he came out of the storeroom. He looked at the scene unfolding and his lips tightened into a thin line. He turned toward Anya. "What did you do?"

"It wasn’t me!" Anya yelled.

"Is Tara in there?" Xander nodded toward the storeroom.

"No," Giles said slowly. He looked around the room.

"Would she have left the building?" Kate asked. She had moved to Maggie’s side. She took the doctor’s hand. "She knows Shannon’s in Sunnydale. She’ll be careful, right?"

"Buffy!" Willow pulled back, panic in her eyes.

"She won’t do anything stupid," Buffy said gently. "She’s very smart, and level headed."

"But…" Willow shook her head from side to side. She remembered how distraught Tara had been after the encounter with her family. If seeing her squabble with Anya had triggered some memory, Tara might not even think about Shannon. "We have to find her," Willow insisted.

"We will," Buffy promised.

"She’s not back here," Xander said as he came out from behind the stacks.

"I’m gonna’ look around," Maggie whispered as she pulled away from Kate. She didn’t know quite what was going on, but she recognized the look in Tara’s eyes when Willow had gotten angry. Tara was afraid, and it was a fear rooted in past torment. Maggie knew that pain all too well. She lived it every time someone raised their voice or lost their temper. Maggie had spent years getting over Shannon’s abuse. She recognized a fellow survivor when she saw one, and right now she knew without a doubt that Tara was just that.

 

CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

Tara sat with her shoulders pressed against a stack of books. The bindings dug into her back but she ignored the ache. She had her knees pulled up to her chest and she bent forward to rest her head against her knees. She was cold, bone cold, and she felt like her insides were about to become her outsides. Her mouth watered and she fought to keep the bile from rising up in her throat.

Something was coming, something evil. Tara could feel it. She remembered the nights she spent hiding from her brother Donnie. She would crawl into the back of the storage shed on her family’s rural farm and wait for Donnie’s anger to pass. It never did. She would feel his rage as he searched for her, his overwhelming hatred as he called for her in a chillingly calm voice. She felt that same sense of dread now. Someone, no something, was coming for her. Seeing Willow and Anya argue had brought the feelings to the surface, feelings that had been nagging at the back of her consciousness were now hitting her full force. Whatever evil was in Sunnydale was coming for her and there was nowhere to hide.

She shivered as sweat cooled her skin. She thought of Willow and she missed her lover’s warm embrace, but right now Willow was full of anger and that was the last thing Tara needed. When Willow had yelled at Anya, Tara could feel her lover’s emotions pounding against her very soul. Tara had to run; she had to get away from the feelings because Willow’s emotions were flooding Tara’s body. Now those same emotions had unlocked what Tara had been pushing away for days. Tara knew something evil was coming for her.

‘Thanatos,’ her mind whispered. ‘He’s come back for me.’ She sighed and let go of her knees and curled up in a ball on the floor. Her eyes felt too heavy to hold open.

‘You can’t let him win again, Belen,’ a voice echoed through her mind as she drifted into a fitful slumber. ‘Protect her.’ The voice was melodic, ancient, and familiar. ‘Fight the beast, my Belen.’


Willow and Kate ran down the street toward the local coffeehouse, thinking that Tara might have needed a break from the bickering at the magic shop. Maggie stayed behind with the others so Shannon couldn’t see her wandering the streets. Giles and Buffy continued searching the shop.

Giles climbed the ladder to the secluded section of books he kept away from his customers. These were his personal, dangerous books. He was about to crawl back down when he noticed a flash of color at the far end of the bookcases. He let out a relieved sigh when he realized that it was Tara’s brightly colored top.

"Buffy," he called out as he looked down the ladder. "Up here."

The Slayer sprinted toward the loft and leaped to the upper deck before Giles could even step onto the carpet. "Tara?" she asked as she looked around. Her eyes found the blonde Wiccan at the end of the small loft. "Oh, god," Buffy whispered as she hurried toward the blonde’s prone form. "Giles, get over here." She knelt next to Tara.

"Is she injured?" Giles rested his hand on Buffy’s shoulder.

Buffy shook her head. She couldn’t see any sign of an injury, but Tara was covered in sweat and was turning her head from side to side.

"Tara, wake up," Buffy said gently. She tried to roll the blonde toward her but Tara stiffened.

"Giati?" Tara mumbled. "Giati? Giati?" She was frantic and crawled away from Buffy’s touch.

Buffy looked back at Giles.

His eyes widened and he swallowed hard.

"Prodotis! Deilos!" Tara said as she began to wake up.

"Giles, what’s going on?" Buffy asked. "That’s Greek to me."

"Ancient Greek, actually," he whispered as he moved past Buffy. "Tara? Wake up, Tara," he said as he touched her arm.

"Dolofonos!" Tara said as she sat straight up. Her eyes opened but she was obviously not awake. She stared right through Buffy and Giles as if she couldn’t see either one. "Giati?"

Buffy looked at her Watcher and raised an eyebrow.

"It means, ‘why?’" he explained.

"Prodotis! Deilos!" Tara repeated. Her eyes narrowed and the irises changed color. Her slate blue eyes shifted to ice blue, so pale they looked almost white. "Dolofonos!" she said in a dangerous growl.

Buffy looked to Giles for a translation.

"Betrayer, coward…murderer," he explained as worry lines etched in his features. "Her eyes, Buffy," he whispered.

Buffy turned back and took a deep breath. "Tara, wake up," she said firmly. She reached out and took the blonde witch’s hand.

"Miketi!" Tara said as she jumped to her feet. She tilted her head to one side and Buffy levitated into the air.

"Giles!" Buffy looked back toward her Watcher.

"It means, ‘never again,’" he said as he looked for a way to wake Tara up.

"I don’t care what it means! Get me down." She waved her hand toward Tara.

"Oh, yes." Giles moved closer to Tara. "Wake up!" he yelled.

"I could have done that." Buffy rolled her eyes.

Tara paused and blinked her eyes. She looked up at Buffy suspended in the air.

"Tara?" Buffy asked gently. The Slayer didn’t like being held up like a piñata, but at least it didn’t hurt.

"Guardian?" Tara asked as she studied the Slayer. She shook her head and then looked at Giles and then back to the dangling blonde. "Buffy?"

"You awake now?" Buffy asked with a smirk.

"He’s coming," Tara said as she backed away. She shook her head and Buffy dropped to the ground. "Chyrsous psychi dolofonos," she whispered. "Dolofonos apo yuchv," she said as she wrapped her arms around her chest and backed into the bookcase.

"Little help here," Buffy said as she looked at Giles.

"I’m not quite sure," he whispered. "She’s saying something about the ‘murderer of the golden soul’ and an ‘assassin of spirits.’ Though I can’t be sure. The syntax is different than the ancient Greek I know…she’s using something older."

"Why is she using it all?" Buffy asked. The hair on the back of her neck was standing on end.

"Where is she? Damara?" Tara’s eyes widened and the irises paled further until they went completely white. "Where is she?"

"Who?" Buffy asked, clearly confused.

"Willow," Tara said angrily. "Where is she?"

"She’s fine," Buffy said. "She’s looking for you."

"Buffy?" Confusion covered Tara’s face. Her complexion paled and her eyes rolled back into her head.

"Whoa!" Buffy lurched forward and caught Tara as she collapsed.

"Easy," Giles said as he helped guide the blonde to the floor. He looked over his shoulder and suddenly realized that he had medical assistance on hand. "Doctor Doyle," he yelled.

"What the hell is going on?" Buffy asked as she brushed the sweat-soaked hair from Tara’s brow.

"I wish I knew," Giles said quietly.


Buffy moved Tara down to the lower level of the shop so Maggie could work on her. Maggie explained that Tara was sleeping, and despite her fluctuating temperature, she didn’t seem to be in any danger.

Xander went to find Willow and Kate while Giles poured over the ancient texts on Greece. He didn’t notice that Buffy left without telling anyone where she was going.

Anya stood off in one corner watching the doctor with Tara. The former demon was nervous. The name Damara reminded Anya of something, but she couldn’t remember what.

Willow jumped over the pile of rubble at the front of the shop and sprinted through the doorway. "Where is she?" she asked as she looked around the room. She saw Tara on the table at the back of the shop. "No!" She ran toward her lover. "What happened?"

"She’s fine," Maggie said as she intercepted the redhead.

"She doesn’t look fine." Willow struggled to get past the doctor.

"She’s sleeping," Maggie assured her.

Willow’s lips trembled. The sight almost broke Maggie’s heart.

"Go to her," the petite brunette said quietly.

"Baby?" Willow ran her hand through Tara’s hair. She leaned down and kissed her lover’s forehead.

"Willow?" Tara’s eyes fluttered open and she tried to sit up.

"Shh," Willow whispered.

"What happened?" Tara continued struggling so Willow helped her sit up.

"I was being a big jerk and you ran off," Willow explained.

"No, darling," Tara said sincerely. "It wasn’t you. Everything is just pressing down on me. I can feel it. Something… something evil is coming."

"Is it Thanatos? Cuz he’s plenty evil," Anya said as she moved closer.

Willow glared at the former demon.

"Don’t," Tara whispered. She shivered. "Willow, no more anger, please."

"She’s reacting to your emotions," Giles said as he came out from behind the stacks. He was holding one of his books. "She senses your anger and it’s effecting her physically."

"I’m not angry at you," Willow said in a rush. "Tara, no. Honey, not you." She pulled her lover into a hug and kissed her temple.

"It hurts," Tara whispered. She eased away from Willow and ran her hands through her blonde hair. "My head aches."

"What does all this mean?" Maggie asked. She looked over at the shop entrance and felt a wave of relief when she saw Kate climb in past the debris at the door. She smiled at the detective. ‘I was worried,’ she mouthed silently.

‘I’m fine,’ Kate responded in kind. "How’s Tara?" she asked as she made her way closer.

"I’m okay." Tara was embarrassed by the attention.

Xander came in behind Kate and saw that Anya was off by herself. He went to her and she pulled him into a hug. He looked over and confirmed that Tara seemed fine, so he led his girlfriend away so he could find out what was bothering her.

The back door to the shop opened and Spike stumbled inside.

"Stop pushing," the vampire said as he slapped at his smoldering jacket.

"I would think you’d want out of the sun." Buffy gave him another shove. She closed the door and looked over at Maggie. "How’s the patient?"

"Fine," Tara answered before the doctor could.

"Good," Buffy said. "And Spike here got us some more information on Thanatos." She smacked him on the back of the head.

"Ouch!" He glared at her. "Would it bloody kill you to show some gratitude?" He reached into his pocket and pulled out two comic books. "These are collectibles, so don’t bend the spines."

Buffy grabbed them, crumbling the covers, and hurried over to Giles.

"More comics?" Tara smiled. "Are they Witchblade-y or Spiderman-y?" She climbed off of the table.

"Easy," Willow whispered. She took Tara’s hand and they walked over to Giles.

"More Bloodstain comics?" Giles eyed Spike skeptically. "Should I wear latex gloves?"

"What’s the matter? Your precious Watcher books no match for demon comics?" Spike taunted. "Next time you need information just call ol’ Spike. I’ll take care of you." He leered at Buffy.

"Ew." Buffy shuddered. She looked down at the comic. "Xander, you’re our expert comic man. You wanna’ have a look?"

"Sure," Xander said as he leaned over and kissed Anya’s cheek. "Just stay away from Willow," he whispered in her ear and then trotted over to Giles. "Whatcha got?" he asked as he looked at the comics. "Oh! A two part series. Cool." He took the comics and held them up and studied the covers.

"He’s a regular bleedin’ literary expert." Spike rolled his eyes.

"Looks like this one is the happy beginning and this one is the sad end." Xander ignored Spike’s taunt. "See?" He pointed at the first cover. "This is all vampy goodness. ‘The Temple Chronicles part one: the Glorious Daywalker.’ That’s the happy one." He waved the second one. "And this one, ‘The Temple Chronicles part two: Victim of the goddess.’ That doesn’t sound too happy."

"I could have figured that out," Giles said as he snatched the first comic.

"Pointing out the obvious?" Spike asked with a sneer. "Maybe Xander should become a Watcher."

"This recounts what we read earlier," Giles said as he quickly flipped through the comic. "Thanatos destroyed a town for Poseidon and was made into a Daywalker." He went to the final page and frowned. "It ends with Thanatos the Daywalker leaving to attack the temple of Artemis."

"Wow," Buffy said as she peeked over the Watcher’s shoulder. "Who knew demon’s like cliffhangers?"

"Let me see that." Willow took the second comic book and went over to the table. She flipped through it, quickly reading the small captions and scanning the images. "Buffy!" She backed away from the table and pointed at the comic.

"What is it?" Buffy went to the table.

‘Are you okay?’ Tara asked with her mind as she came up behind Willow and wrapped her around the redhead’s waist.

‘No,’ Willow replied in her mind. ‘No, I’m not.’

"This is from Cordelia’s vision," Buffy said. She looked over at Giles. He moved alongside her and studied the comic.

Tara shifted her weight and pivoted Willow away from the table. She looked down at the images and her stomach dropped. She stared at the colorful drawings of a Greek temple. Young women in togas were tending the altar. One of the women in the drawings caught her eye. A slender woman was pouring water into an urn at the base of the altar. She looked to the next panel and saw a shepherd smiling as he came into the temple. In the next panel the shepherd’s face had morphed and he had slaughtered several of the toga-clad women.

"Thanatos," Tara whispered.

Willow shifted her position and stared down at the comic. Buffy turned the page and they saw an image of Thanatos standing inside the temple with two of the women trapped near the altar.

"Okay, that is not good." Buffy pointed to the next panel. She read the caption with Thanatos’ words. "I will feed on the Beloved of the Moon and she will bring me eternity."

"He’s a vampire. Isn’t he already immortal?" Xander asked.

"We can be killed," Spike pointed out. "Buffy’s dusted her fair share of vampires already."

"So if he feeds on this Beloved Moon chick, he can’t be killed?" Buffy sighed and flipped to the next page. The two women were tied to the altar and Thanatos was feeding on the shorter one. "Thanatos fed on the gentle girl first." She looked over at Giles. "Gentle girl? What’s that mean?"

"I’m not sure," the Watcher admitted.

"And Belen saw her lover’s cord cut," Willow read the panel out loud. "Belen broke free from her bonds and fell upon her athame and the noble Thanatos was denied his rightful bounty." She looked over at Tara. "The Beloved of the Moon, it’s you."

"No." Tara shook her head. "I’m not anyone’s Beloved." She looked at Willow. "Well, I’m yours," she added shyly. "But no one else."

"You have the scar," Anya said quietly. "Artemis marked you."

"S-she marked Willow too," Tara pointed out.

"What’s that mean? That Belen chic is saying it." Buffy pointed to the panel on the next page. "Gia panta?"

Giles leaned closer and looked at the image of Belen on the floor of the temple. She was reaching out toward the dead woman in Thanatos’ grip.

"Forever," Tara and Willow whispered in unison.

"I told you!" Anya pointed at Tara. "It’s her."

"W-well… even if t-these women are us… so what?" Tara said as she wrapped her arms over her chest. "W-we worked in a temple. W-we were nuns. Big deal."

"Yeah, we were in a Greek convent," Willow chimed in. "And while I don’t think I’d like the restrictions of being a nun, I can’t see why that would make this goaty vamp Thanatos want to eat us." She edged closer to Tara and leaned against her.

"Oh, Greek temple maidens weren’t celibate," Anya volunteered. "They were all over each other, especially in the temple of Artemis. Come on, she like the big ol’ lesbian party goddess."

Willow smirked and sent a comment into Tara’s thoughts, ‘Well, other than the whole getting killed by goatboy, I think I could like working for Artemis.’

Tara blushed.

"Wait just a minute." Anya looked at the comic and her eyes widened. "That Tara Belen chick… she has a labrys tattoo on her arm, the lesbian ax thing." She grabbed it and flipped back several pages. "She’s a freaking temple guard." She looked over at Tara. "Okay, so maybe that isn’t Tara." She smiled weakly. "No offense, but you’re not the butch guard fighter type."

Tara nodded in agreement.

"Maybe she will be when she gets her witchy powers?" Xander suggested.

"I-I don’t want to b-be a f-fighter," Tara stuttered.

"You won’t have to," Willow promised. She wrapped her arm around the blonde’s waist.

"Maybe Tara is the other one?" Buffy pointed to the earlier description. "The gentle girl?"

"That does sound more like Tara," Giles agreed.

"Willow could be the guard," Kate said from the other side of the room. She was standing next to Maggie trying not to interfere. "We’ve seen her acting pretty darn protective."

"Yeah," Anya chimed in. "She’s definitely the butch one."

"Hey!" Willow glared at Anya.

"I’ll have to agree with miss vengeance demon," Spike said. "Red’s bird is too timid to be a temple guardian. No way." He leered at Willow. "But we’ve seen vamp-Willow, and she was definitely butch."

Willow looked to Buffy for rescue, but the Slayer was nodding in agreement. "Buffy!"

"What?" Buffy asked. "Vampire Willow was very…butch."

"Willow was a vampire?" Maggie asked. Her eyes opened wide and she stared at the redhead.

"Long story," Buffy said as she waved her hand at Maggie. "Anyway, I don’t care who these Greek party nuns were… are…whatever. I just want to know where to find Thanatos and how to kill him."

"Willow, from what you told us, Thanatos was apparently trying to sacrifice Tara in this manner." Giles looked over at the redhead.

Willow nodded but she didn’t like thinking about that night or how much danger her lover had been in.

"Well, perhaps he thinks there is a connection with the killings in this comic book." Giles cringed. In all of his years of study, he had never invisioned quoting anything from a comic book.

"So if we see what his fatal flaw was in here, we can beat him." Xander smiled and looked at the comic panel. "Seems like he bit off more than he could chew."

Willow rolled her eyes at Xander’s pun.

"Or not," Xander said as he looked at a panel with all of the maidens on the ground slaughtered.

"Just get to the end." Buffy leaned past him. "There." She pointed at a panel showing lightning bolts crashing down around Thanatos. "Artemis in her wanton disregard for the wondrous mayhem Thanatos had made of her temple smote him down."

"Godly smoting," Xander said. "That’s gota’ hurt."

"Oh yeah," Buffy agreed. She continued reading. "Artemis appealed to her brother Apollo and Thanatos was wrongly stripped of his rightful gift. His Daywalking came to an end. The face of the beast replaced his regal form and Thanatos vowed revenge."

"I’m thinking that sounds a little bias," Willow pointed out. "His rightful gift my ass. He killed people."

‘You said ass,’ Tara said with her mind. She giggled and cleared her throat.

"So any chance we could like…call on Artemis?" Buffy looked over at Willow.

"What? Um, I don’t think it works that way." Willow shook her head. "You can’t just call up a god like dialing for a pizza."

Xander laughed. "Hello, I’d like one fried vamp to go please."

"Stop it!" Anya yelled. "Are you people nuts? You can’t be joking about the gods like this. They aren’t nice and lovey dovey and into forgiveness like these new monotheistic gods." She paced the small room. "They’ll kick your butt. These are vengeful gods. Stop joking about them." She grabbed Xander and looked him over. "Didn’t you get enough of the ‘funny syphilis’ when that Indian ghost cursed you? Do you really want to see what a pissed off lesbian goddess can do to you?"

"Are you suggesting that the Greek gods still play an active role in our world?" Giles leaned forward, his eyes sparkling with genuine interest.

"Well, duh!" Anya through her arms into the air. "They aren’t as obvious as they used to be, but who do you think doles out all the untimely and often humorous deaths?"

"I suppose Zeus tosses Thunderbolts at people?" Spike laughed and rolled his eyes. "You’ve been listening to too much demonic hype."

"As a matter of fact he does," Anya said calmly. "He holds a grudge like nobody’s business. You have no idea how many men who were Roman soldiers in their past lives now have a burning need to play golf."

"And this is punishment…how?" Buffy asked.

"Hello?" Anya let out a frustrated growl. "Do you read the papers?" She spun and looked at Maggie. The beautiful doctor was leaning with her back against Kate and watching the conversation with an amused smirk. "You, doctor demon cousin lady. Tell them. Where are most people hit by lightning?"

"Um… on the golf course, actually," Maggie said as she tried not to laugh.

"See? I told you!" Anya glared at Buffy. "Proof. And she’s a doctor. She knows things."

"All right then," Giles removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes. "I think we should focus on Thanatos and not any lightning wielding gods." He waved at Anya when she started to argue. "No offense to Zeus or any other supreme deities."

Anya nodded approvingly.

"We should focus on keeping Willow and Tara away from Thanatos," Giles said. "Just in case he thinks they have some relation to the women in this… comic book." He almost groaned. "Other than that, Buffy, you should work with me in the training room. We’ll need bigger stakes. If memory serves, you and Faith killed Kakistos with a large wooden beam."

"Check," Buffy said. "Round up large lumber. Got it."

"What about us?" Willow asked.

"You will stay out of sight." Giles looked over at Maggie and Kate. "Preferably with Doctor Doyle so you can all be safe. We can’t forget that Shannon O’Donnell is lurking about."

"With explosives," Xander pointed out.

"Never thought I actually say this," Maggie said. "But Right now, Shannon with a bomb is the least of our troubles."

The rest of the small group nodded in agreement.

 

CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

Thanatos sat in the parlor of his underground home. He had his cloven hooves resting on a coffee table that was well over one hundred years old. If the local antique collectors knew what treasures lay under the streets of Sunnydale they might risk dealing with vampires to retrieve them. The ancient vampire sighed and looked toward the door when he heard Marcus return.

"Lord Thanatos," the younger vampire said as he gave a respectful nod.

"What news do you have?" Thanatos stood and gave his protégée his full attention.

"The altar room has been prepared." Marcus held out a jeweled dagger. It had Greek lettering down the side of the handle and carvings of the moon. "I thought you might like to use this, Master." He smiled, letting his sharp fangs edge out from under his lips.

"Impressive." Thanatos smiled and rested his misshapen hand on Marcus’ shoulder. "And fitting. Where did you find it?"

"An antique dealer I found on the Internet," Marcus said as he handed the dagger to Thanatos. "I thought you might enjoy using a blade dedicated to the moon goddess to kill two of her chosen." He looked into his master’s red eyes. "I know how you enjoy irony."

"You serve me well." Thanatos took the blade and studied the carvings. "It’s perfect. From the second century if I am not mistaken."

Marcus nodded.

"Have you taken the precautions?" Thanatos walked over to the table and put the dagger next to an ancient chalice.

"Yes, Lord Thanatos. Your new servants are guarding the altar room as we speak. I performed the binding ritual before I came here. The blonde witch will not be able to cast any spells once she is inside the sacred walls."

"Good. As soon as the sun sets we can retrieve her mate." Thanatos ran his cloven fingers over the chalice. "Soon, I will walk in the daylight, and the moon goddess will mourn two more followers."

"Your destiny is at hand."

"It will not be as sweet as the blow I dealt her so long ago," Thanatos admitted. "But, you only get the chance to take such a treasure once."

Marcus nodded. He had heard the tale many times. He knew every detail of the deed that cost Thanatos his daywalking, and he knew that no one else had ever caused as much pain to one of the immortal gods and lived. Truly Thanatos was superior to all other vampires, perhaps all other demons.


Buffy looked down at the stack of weapons at her feet and frowned. She wondered if it would be enough to take on Thanatos and his minions. That thought made her smile when she remembered Harmony. The airheaded vampire, and former cheerleader, had recruited a motley band of vampires as her minions. It had been laughable, up until Harmony kidnapped Dawn. Buffy killed every last one of Harmony’s minions that night, but she had let the former cheerleader turned vamp escape. There was something depressing about staking someone you went to high school with.

Giles came into the training room and nodded to Buffy. "I sharpened these beams. They might work against Thanatos." He held up what was now essentially a four-inch wide stake.

"Nice," Buffy complemented. She glanced toward the door to the shop and moved closer to the Watcher. "She didn’t even mention it," she said quietly.

"I know." Giles cleared his throat and edged closer. "I don’t think Tara has any memory of using her powers against you."

"And the crash course in Greek?" Buffy picked up the giant stake and turned it over in her hands. "What does it mean?"

"I haven’t found any precedent in the council’s records," Giles admitted. "But the way she reacted to you… it doesn’t bode well."

"I won’t hurt her," Buffy said dangerously. "So don’t even go there." She tossed the giant stake onto the pile of weapons.

"Buffy, she’s quite dangerous." Giles looked over his shoulder and then back to the Slayer. "If she should remain trapped in that other persona… there’s no telling what she might be capable of."

"Does that have to be a bad thing?" Buffy cracked her knuckles. "She’s powerful. I say, good. I say we let her to take on goatboy." She looked up into Giles’ eyes. "Willow loves her," she whispered.

"I know that." Giles rested a hand on Buffy’s shoulder. "But… even if she doesn’t turn out to be a force of evil… we must keep her away from Thanatos."

"She could dangle him in the air while I slay him," Buffy suggested.

"According to Spike’s comic book, Thanatos was trying to drain more than just blood from the servants of Artemis." Giles turned and walked over to the wall and pulled a sword from the cabinet. He turned back toward Buffy and frowned. "He was trying to tap into their mystic energy source."

"And suddenly Tara is like the Three Mile Island of mystic energy," Buffy said.

"Well, I would hope that she is a bit less volatile," Giles answered with a smirk.

"Should we tell her?" Buffy asked. "And what about Willow?"

"I believe telling either of them is effectively telling both." Giles smiled fondly.

"They don’t have any secrets," Buffy agreed. Her eyes darkened. "And we shouldn’t either. Not about this. She has a right to know."

Giles was silent for a moment as he considered her words. He thought of how much Willow had grown since he first met her. He smiled, remembering the joy Tara had brought to the redhead’s life.

"Giles?" Buffy asked.

"Very well," Giles said. "We’ll tell them."


Buffy brought Willow and Tara into the training room and sat them on the mats and waited for Giles to come back. He went out and asked Kate to arrange for a safe place to keep Maggie, Willow, and Tara. After a few minutes the Watcher returned and explained the situation.

"Tara was speaking Greek?" Willow’s eyes were as wide as saucers. "You speak Greek?" She looked over at her lover.

"No…" Tara shook her head.

"Oh, yeah," Buffy said with a smirk. "You were spouting Greek bigtime."

"And you levitated Buffy without much effort," Giles pointed out.

"I’m s-so sorry." Tara’s eyes widened.

Willow looked at her lover, her eyes full of wonder.

"Whatever is going on, it’s making you stronger." Giles looked at the pile of weapons. "And that makes you a target for Thanatos."

Tara looked over at the pile of weapons and concentrated. Several of the large sharpened beams lifted into the air. She tossed her hair over her shoulder and then narrowed her eyes. A sword lifted along with the giant makeshift stakes.

Willow watched with a half grin. She liked the determined look on her lover’s face.

Buffy was duly impressed. She glanced over at Giles and suddenly her emotion changed. Giles was scared.

The Watcher stood and walked over near the levitating items and faced Tara. "Lift me," he said as he pushed his glasses further up his nose.

Tara didn’t even pause. The weapons dropped to the floor and the Watcher slowly lifted into the air. Tara didn’t even seem to be putting out any effort.

"Buffy as well," Giles said as he floated above the floor.

"She’s not the latest ride at Disneyland," Buffy said as she hopped to her feet.

‘If she only knew,’ Willow mentally told her lover. ‘I think Downtown is way better than any theme park.’

‘Trying to concentrate here.’ Tara’s eyes widened and she almost dropped Giles. She managed to regain her composure and then lift Buffy into the air beside Giles.

"What now?" Tara asked after a moment.

"Are you tiring?" Giles asked.

"Not really." Tara looked almost bored. She smirked and Buffy and Giles began to slowly rotate around each other.

"Hey!" Buffy held her arms out to steady herself.

"You wanted Disneyland," Tara remarked dryly.

Willow stood behind her lover and watched, fascinated.

Giles said nothing. He focused on Tara. After a moment, he saw what he had been looking for. The shy Wiccan’s eye color began to fade. He cleared his throat and caught Buffy’s attention, then let his eyes shift toward Tara.

Buffy stared, watching Tara’s eyes grow paler.

"How much of a markup on these did you want?" Anya came walking into the room with a box of candleholders. She saw the unfolding scene and stopped in the threshold. Her eyes fixed on Tara’s back and she licked her lips. "Wow." Her gaze lingered on the blonde witch’s well rounded curves.

Willow glared at the former demon.

Tara spun toward Willow, her concentration lost, and her two floating friends dropped to the floor. She could feel Willow’s anger pounding her like a fist. Her eyes instantly changed back to normal, and her head began to ache.

"My god, you’re so powerful." Anya moved closer. She looked over at Willow and held her hands up in surrender. "I’m not trying to get between you." She didn’t add that ‘getting between’ the two suddenly had great appeal. With Willow’s possessive streak, she was bound to be a wildcat in bed.

"Okay, then," Willow relaxed slightly but she did move closer to Tara and wrapped her arms around the blonde from behind.

"Anya, we are rather busy." Giles sighed.

"I needed to price these." Anya’s eyes were riveted on Tara.

"Did Kate find a safe place?" Buffy interrupted.

"Huh?" Anya asked without looking away from Tara. "Oh, yes." She finally turned toward Buffy. "She’s taking us to that Hilton out on West Main Street. She said it has the best security." She smiled brightly. "And a pool. Indoors. A pool inside the building."

"I’m sure it’s lovely," Giles remarked dryly.

"Does it have a hot tub?" Tara asked.

"Yes, and a sauna." Anya finally looked into Tara’s eyes. They were back to their normal color, but Anya didn’t notice because she hadn’t seen them while they had been altered. "Oh, you want to have sex with Willow in the hot tub." She smiled seductively. "Good choice," she said but then frowned. "Xander’s gonna be off fighting Thanatos so I’ll be all alone."

Tara blushed deep crimson.

"You know, our sex life is really none of your business," Willow pointed out.

"Yes, well on that note, I think I’ll be going." Giles bolted for the door.

"It could be," Anya whispered almost too quietly for Willow to hear.

Tara heard her loud and clear. She backed closer to Willow and grabbed her lover’s hands tightly in her grip.

"Anya," Buffy’s said in a dangerous growl. Her Slayer’s hearing picked up the offer and she was not pleased. "Get out before I decide to use you as bait for Thanatos."

Willow was too shocked to comment. She felt her cheeks burn and was about to move Tara aside and take matters into her own hands.

‘Leave her,’ Tara pleaded with her mind. ‘She’s just being Anya.’

‘But… Tara, she’s totally hitting on you!’ Willow replied with her mind. She was still too angry to find her voice.

‘Please, Willow,’ Tara words echoed inside her lover’s mind. ‘Besides,’ Tara joked with her thoughts. ‘She was hitting on both of us.’

"I think you should go," Willow told Anya. Her voice was like ice.

"Fine, whatever." Anya tossed her hands into the air and walked out of the room.

"Willow," Buffy said slowly. She moved closer to her best friend. "Please don’t kill Anya while we’re gone." She tilted her head to the side and looked into Willow’s green eyes. "It would really ruin Xander’s day."

Willow smirked.

"And mine," Tara volunteered. "I’m not good with the killing." She patted Willow’s hand and then turned in her embrace and hugged her lover. "You know I’m yours."

"Yeah, well…" The anger drained from Willow’s body as she looked into Tara’s eyes. She saw complete love and devotion and suddenly Anya didn’t matter so much anymore.

"I’ll be leaving before you two start anything." Buffy backed up and covered her eyes. "Otherwise…I’ll have…images." She snorted with laughter and trotted away.

"Buffy!" Willow turned and glared at her best friend. She rolled her eyes and then turned back to Tara. "Where were we?"

"I was holding you and thinking about a hot tub," Tara said sensually.

"I think I might like this ritual hiding out," Willow said, her voice husky. "In a five star hotel, no less."

"It’s good to be co-queen," Tara reminded her lover.

"Yeah." Willow’s smile grew into a predatory leer. "Very good."


Buffy and Giles continued their research. They decided the best way to find Thanatos was to capture one of the black robed monks he and Marcus had turned into vampires. They could interrogate the new vampire and find out where Thanatos was hiding. The only problem with that plan was that they had to wait for sunset before they could find one of the monk vampires.

Kate was on high alert. She insisted that Maggie go to the secured hotel immediately. The hotel had been mostly booked, but she had been able to reserve one room. She wasn’t thrilled with the idea of sharing her acomedations. She and Maggie had progressed toward a more physical relationship and the detective was hoping to finally make love with the beautiful doctor. Having Willow and Tara in the same room, along with Anya, was definitely a mood killer.

Willow had made similar observations. Now that Tara was feeling better, she wanted some private time with her lover. There was no telling how long they would have to hide at the hotel and Willow was feeling quite frustrated. The redhead decided it was time for a small side trip. She told Buffy and the others that she and Tara needed to get some clothes from the dorm, reminding the Slayer that the monk vampires hadn’t been out during daylight hours since the battle at the wharf. The two Wiccans took a cab to their dorms and quickly threw together some clothes as well as some magical supplies. Then they took advantage of their alone time.

"Tara, oh goddess, Tara…" Willow was panting as her lover kissed her bare stomach. The blonde Wiccan had just finished a prolonged visit Downtown and Willow was shaking with aftershocks.

"Look at our crystals," Tara whispered as she kissed her way up to Willow’s chest. She lashed her tongue across Willow’s erect nipple and smiled when her lover gasped.

"What crystal?" Willow squirmed under Tara’s expert tongue. "Oh, right there," she added in a husky whisper.

Tara smiled as she showered Willow’s breasts with attention. "The Artemis stones, darling." She giggled at her distracted lover.

Willow twisted her face to the side and saw the stones on the table near the bed. They were glowing bright orange, lighting up the entire room. "Wow," she said. "Oh, yes!" she cried out when Tara’s hand dipped into the wetness between her legs. "I mean…no."

The crystals hummed and the bright orange glow pulsated.

"No fair," Willow whimpered. "It’s your turn." She shifted under Tara’s touch. Tara was straddling Willow’s leg and the redhead wanted better access. She took her lover’s hips and guided her along her body until Tara was pressing onto Willow’s hips.

"That’s nice," Tara said with a drawn out moan. She rocked her hips, shivering as her overheated flesh pressed against Willow.

"Just nice?" Willow eased her hand between Tara’s legs.

"Oh, Willow…" Tara growled and arched her back as she felt Willow join her body. Her eyes squeezed shut and her head fell back as Willow made love to her. She felt lightheaded and then smiled sensually as she felt their bodies lifting from the bed. She rested her hands on Willow’s chest to keep her balance and rocked in a counter motion to Willow’s touch. Tara’s hands tenderly cupped the redhead’s small breasts as each woman sought to send her lover over the brink of ecstasy.

Willow was mesmerized by the sight of her lover in the throes of passion. Tara was assertive and forceful as a lover, but she was also gentle and vulnerable. At times like this it took Willow’s breath away. Tara was lost in the sensation, nothing existed for the blonde except Willow’s touch. Willow enjoyed the sensation of their bodies levitating a few inches above the mattress, she felt like her soul was soaring, and it only enhanced the incredible sensation of Tara’s warm, wet body wrapped around her fingers. She had never known such intimacy existed until she fell in love with Tara. The gentle merging of their bodies mirrored the merging of their souls and the redhead was always shaken to the core by the devotion, faith, and love Tara showed her. Tara taught Willow the meaning of complete trust.

The crystals glowed brighter. Willow liked the play of color across Tara’s skin. It was like firelight dancing over the beautiful blonde’s face. For a moment, Willow envied the light and its ability to caress her lover so completely. Tears welled up in Willow’s eyes at the sight of Tara’s pleasure. Her throat ached as she watched in awe that her touch could bring her lover so much joy. She was even more surprise by how much satisfaction she got from touching Tara.

"Oh yes, oh yes, darling." Tara tossed her head to the side as she continued rocking with Willow’s touch. Her legs brushed against the bed beneath Willow and she looked down and locked eyes with her soulmate. Tara’s eyes were hooded and she gave Willow a sensual, crooked grin. "I love you, Willow."

Willow smiled as she watched her beloved, too filled with emotion to speak, too filled with joy to think about speaking telepathically. Only Tara existed for Willow, and only Willow for Tara. They exchanged their devotion through their locked eyes. Nothing could ever interfere with such a perfect moment.


On the ground floor of the dormitory, Kate had just parked her car. Because of the lingering threat Shannon still posed, she brought Maggie and Anya with her when she went upstairs to get the two Wiccans.

The former demon took the lead when they reached the second floor where Willow’s room was.

"What’s that?" Maggie pointed down the hall at one of the doors. An orange glow was visible around the frame of the door.

"That’s a fire," Kate said. She looked up and down the corridor. It was midafternoon and the hallway was deserted.

"That’s Willow’s room," Anya said as her eyes widened.

"Shit!" Kate yelled. "Stay back," she added as she sprinted past Anya toward the glowing door.

Anya inhaled deeply. She didn’t smell smoke. Her eyes widened in realization and she hurried after the detective. "Wait for me!" she yelled.

"Damn." Maggie followed after them. She wasn’t about to be left alone, especially when Tara and Willow might be injured.

Kate pressed her hand against the door to check for heat. The wooden door was cool to the touch. She heard a scream from inside the room.

"You should kick it down," Anya suggested. There was a twinkle in her brown eyes.

Kate feared the worst. She stepped back and kicked the door near the handle. The wood splintered as the lock broke through the flimsy doorframe. Before Kate could take another step, Anya moved around her and charged into the room.

Kate stared, her mouth agape, at the scene in front of her. She had expected flames, but not the kind she was seeing. Tara and Willow were naked, with the blonde straddling her redheaded lover… and they were floating several inches above the mattress. Tara’s curvaceous body was arched and her head was tossed back in midclimax.

Anya’s eyes devoured every inch of Tara’s voluptuous form. Tara was covered in sexy sheen of sweat that made her skin glow.

"Oh, shit!" Kate spun away from the intensely private scene.

Maggie stumbled into the room and then screeched and ran out when she realized what they had burst in on.

Willow was still distracted by the feeling of loving Tara as she turned toward the intruders. She squealed and her eyes widened.

Anya stared openly.

Tara was still a bit preoccupied. Her eyelids fluttered as the orgasm coursed through her body. Her head was still tossed back and she groaned as she pitched her weight forward. Willow’s body lowered to the bed and Tara caught her weight on her outstretched hands on either side of Willow’s shoulders. Then she realized that there were others in the room. She screamed, but it was not from pleasure, and she scrambled for the blankets at the bottom of the bed.

Anya smiled sensually as she continued staring.

"Anya!" Willow yelled as she helped Tara pull the blankets up.

Kate turned halfway around and grabbed the former demon. She yanked Anya toward her and tossed her into the hall. "I am so sorry," the detective said without looking at the women tangled on the bed. She moved out the door, bumping into Maggie in her haste to escape.

"Oh, goddess," Tara whispered as she dropped her forehead onto Willow’s shoulder.

Kate slammed the broken door shut and shoved Anya further down the hall.

"Ouch!" Anya rubbed her arm.

"You knew!" Maggie accused. She was pointing at Anya.

"What?" Anya continued rubbing her arm.

"You little bitch!" Maggie lunged toward Anya but Kate intercepted her.

"Easy slugger," Kate said as she pinned Maggie against her chest. "No brawling."

"Yeah," Anya agreed.

"You shut up." Kate glared at Anya. "Why the hell didn’t you stop me?"

"Where’s the fun in that?" Anya looked at the detective as if the blonde cop was an idiot.

"I’m gonna kill her," Maggie snarled as she squirmed to get loose.

"Easy," Kate said as she moved her arm around the feisty doctor. "I think Willow will handle that."

"Oh…" Anya’s eyes widened and a look of genuine fear covered her angular features. "You know, maybe I should help with Thanatos…"

"Oh, no," Maggie said with an evil grin. "You are staying at the hotel…with Willow."

Anya swallowed hard and stared at the shattered doorframe. As a vengeance demon she had crushed men’s bones much the same way. A sudden vision of a very angry Willow filled her mind.

"I should wait in the car," Anya said as she scurried away.


The ride to the hotel began uneventfully. Tara sat in the back seat behind Kate and stared out the window. Her face was beet red and the blush never left her cheeks during the entire ride.

Willow sat next her lover. The redhead was seething with anger. She glared at the back of Anya’s head. Maggie had decided to ride in back with the two Wiccans. She didn’t want to have a world class catfight erupt in the back seat while driving down main street.

Anya studied the road in front of her. She could feel Willow’s stares. She didn’t want to turn around and risk angering the redhead any further, but Tara was just so tempting. Anya knew she had pushed Willow to her limit, but she was still infatuated with Tara’s new powers. It was wrong for Tara to waste then on Willow. Sure, they were in love, and Anya could appreciate that. She loved Xander, but this was magic, powerful magic, and Willow had no idea what Tara could do. Anya remembered a wizard she had met in the fifteenth century. He had been powerful, and when he focused his attention, well, it was…magical. He had given his wife powers that any demon would kill for. Anya sighed as she looked at the passing cars. Tara probably wouldn’t even know how to bestow powers.

Anya sighed again and flipped down the sun visor. She adjusted the mirror so she could see Tara in the back seat next to Willow. It wasn’t fair. Anya let her eyes roam, safe to ogle the blonde since Willow couldn’t see her. Tara was wearing a blue top with a scoop neckline. It clung to her full, perfectly shaped breasts and revealed just the right amount of cleavage.

Kate looked over and noticed Anya staring into her vanity mirror. The exdemon’s eyes were full of lust and she looked like she might actually start drooling at any minute. Kate rolled her eyes and then reached over with her finger and thumped Anya’s ear.

"Ouch!" Anya turned and leveled a vicious glare at the detective. "What the hell was that for?"

Kate raised one eyebrow and glanced at the vanity mirror before focusing on the road.

"I don’t like you," Anya said. "Do you smack the doctor like that?"

"Don’t piss me off, Anya. You really don’t want to see me angry." Kate gritted her teeth and decided she needed a cool soda to calm her nerves. She saw a minmart ahead so she pulled into the parking lot.

Anya ignored the comment and went back to staring at Tara in the mirror.

Willow and Kate decided to use the restroom while Maggie and Tara went to get sodas for everyone. Anya got out and wandered around the car and waited. She smiled sensually when she saw Tara coming back alone.

"Strawberry soda," Tara said politely. She handed the sweet beverage to Anya and put a paper bag onto the roof of the car.

"Thank you." Anya blushed and opened the bottle. She took a long drink and then let out a satisfied breath of air. "It’s delicious," Anya told Tara as she moved a few steps closer.

"Umm, well, that’s the way they make them," Tara said awkwardly. She wondered where Willow was.

"So, do you two do that every time you have sex?" Anya asked bluntly. "The floating?"

"I… I d-don’t think w-we should be talking about this." Tara turned and looked toward the back of the building where Willow had disappeared.

"You know, it’s not cheating… if you get permission from your girlfriend." Anya smiled coyly and took a step closer to the powerful blonde witch.

"I am n-not interested," Tara said firmly. She backed away and furrowed her brow and scanned the area for her lover. "No! I mean it," she added in a harsh whisper.

Anya bit her lip and ran her fingertip over the mouth of the bottle. "It’s also not cheating if we invite her," she suggested when a sensual leer.

"And what about Xander?" Tara asked angrily. She was fed up with Anya’s taunts.

"You want him too?" Anya’s eyes lit up. She almost swooned at the thought of getting Tara and Xander, of course she’d have to put up with Willow, but the annoying redhead was quite attractive.

Tara took a deep breath as her face contorted with rage.

"Okay, no Xander," Anya acquiesced. "But…he’d be thrilled if we let him watch."

"W-what part of no don’t you understand?" Tara demanded.

"It’s just… " Anya frowned pensively. "I’d forgotten how… appealing other women are. I haven’t been with a woman since before the Inquisitions. Let me tell you, THAT put a dampener on the wild lesbian orgies."

Tara’s eyes widened.

"Nothing says ‘witch’ quite like being caught naked with your coven and a vengeance demon on vacation." Anya locked eyes with Tara.

"Did you rescue them?" Tara didn’t want to encourage Anya, but now she was genuinely concerned for the witches in Anya’s tale.

"Hello? Demon? It was my job to make sure people died horribly." Anya rolled her eyes but then got a contemplative look in her eyes. "Although I did manage to enact vengeance on almost every one of those bastard inquisitors."

"I can’t believe you," Tara whispered sadly. She tilted her head back and ran a hand through her blonde hair.

"Mmm," Anya moaned when she saw Tara’s breasts flexing against the fabric of her shirt.

"Knock it off!" Tara yelled. She reached out her hand and Anya levitated off of the pavement. "I said no!" She squinted against a flash of white-hot pain behind her eyes.

"That’s makin’ my skin all tingley." Anya giggled.

"Agh!" Tara let Anya drop to the ground and then spun and walked away. Her head ached, pounding with the beat of her heart. As she rounded the corner, she almost ran into Maggie and Kate. She mumbled an apology and went to find Willow.

"What did you do?" Maggie demanded when she saw the dazed look of lust still lingering on Anya’s flushed cheeks.

"She wants me," Anya said with a knowing smile.

Kate started to grab Anya but Maggie stopped her. "Leave her alone," Maggie whispered. "She’s not gonna’ stop until someone kicks her ass, and I think Willow really wants that honor."

The detective nodded and then climbed into the car and started the engine.

When Willow and Tara returned, Tara was actively restraining her lover.

‘Let me go,’ Willow said with her mind. ‘I’m not gonna’ kill her…I’m just gonna’ hurt her a little…okay, a lot.’

‘No, love. I’ll handle it.’ Tara had Willow’s hand firmly in her own.

Anya smiled when she saw Tara. She opened her mouth but was cut off.

"Not one word," Willow growled. "You say one word to her and I will teach you a few things about torture, Miss I’ve-been-alive-and-killing-for-a-thousand-years."

Anya snapped her mouth shut and climbed into the car.

‘Sorry,’ Willow sent to Tara. ‘But she asked for it.’

Tara smiled tolerantly and rolled her eyes.

Kate drove as quickly as she could without risking getting pulled over. Sure, she could flash her badge and avoid a ticket, but she wanted to get to the hotel. It was bad enough that Shannon was somewhere in town, but now she had to chaperone Willow and Anya. Kate knew if she left the two alone for any length of time their squabbles might actually become physical. She glanced over at the unrepentant former demon and cringed. She hoped Tara could calm Willow down because Anya certainly wasn’t going to apologize.

They reached the hotel and went directly to their room on the fifth floor. Kate had already checked in earlier to avoid any delays. Willow staked claim to one of the queen-sized beds and, to everyone’s surprise, Anya volunteered to take the tiny rollaway bed so Kate and Maggie could share the other queen-sized bed.

Willow was stilling fuming mad. She couldn’t look at Anya without her eyes narrowing and her lips tightening into an angry line. Tara was quiet, too embarrassed to say much of anything. After flipping through the television channels she asked Willow to go down to the hotel’s gym with her. She thought some exercise might burn off some of the redhead’s anger.

"I ordered more towels," Anya said as Maggie came out of the small bathroom. The doctor’s hair was wet and she was using a thick white towel to rub it dry.

"Good for you." Maggie twisted to get around Anya.

"I’m trying to be helpful." Anya spun and followed Maggie over to her bed.

"It’s a little late for that," Kate said as she pushed away from the small table near the window. She had been trying to read one of the Spike’s comic books about Thanatos but the sun had disappeared behind the mountains and her eyes ached from straining in the dim light. She reached for the nearby lamp but changed her mind. "I’ll be in the shower."

"I ordered more towels," Anya pointed out again. "They’ll sure come in handy." She raised up on her toes and stuffed her hands into her pockets.

"Yeah, that makes up for everything," Kate said with a snort. She grabbed her dufflebag and went into the bathroom.

Anya looked over at Maggie.

Maggie raised an eyebrow and flopped onto her bed. She flicked on the television and yawned.

A knock at the door saved Anya from the uncomfortable silence.

"Our towels!" Anya hurried to the door. "Towels are good," she added.

"Towels, that’ll calm Willow down," Maggie responded. Sarcasm laced her smoky voice.

"Come in," she said as she yanked open the door.

"Thanks," Shannon said as pressed a nine millimeter Smith and Wesson to Anya’s forehead. "Don’t mind if I do." She pushed the former demon into the room and smiled at Maggie. "Miss me, lover?"

Maggie’s eyes darted toward the bathroom and then over to the closet. Maggie had put her gun, Betty, on the top shelf of the closet for safekeeping. Anya had picked it up earlier and Kate hadn’t been pleased. The frightened doctor quickly scanned the room wondering where Kate had left her gun.

"Maggie?" Anya asked in a shaking voice. Her eyes widened as Shannon grabbed her arm and shoved her toward the beds.

"Shannon…let her go," Maggie stumbled to her feet.

"No problem, lover." Shannon shoved Anya onto the empty bed and then rushed over to Maggie. "I didn’t come for her anyway." She wrenched Maggie’s arm behind her back and pushed her toward the door.

Maggie looked toward the bathroom and prayed that Kate wouldn’t walk out. She knew how jealous Shannon was, and the sight of the detective coming out of the shower would certainly send Shannon into a frenzy.

"Fine, let’s go," Maggie said quietly. She felt Shannon’s fingers digging into her skin. Maggie could feel herself going into shock and her body was cooling. Shannon's fingers felt like fire on her skin.

"I won’t fall for that twice," Shannon said as she tightened her grip. She smiled when Maggie flinched.

"Look, I hate you and you know it," Maggie said. "So just kidnap me and get it over with." She grimaced when Shannon squeezed her arm even tighter.

"Works for me," Shannon said. She shoved Maggie toward the exit.

Maggie felt relief wash through her body. At least Kate would be safe.

The bathroom door rattled as the knob twisted and Maggie squeezed her eyes shut and sighed. Things were about to go from screwed to completely screwed.

Part 25

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