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-FIVE

Buffy, Giles, and Xander wandered through the largest cemetery in Sunnydale. They hadn’t seen any sign of the black robed vampires so they went and found Spike. Giles was getting concerned as he paced near an ancient crypt while Buffy questioned Spike.

"How should I know where they are?" Spike asked. He was sitting on top of a tombstone with his feet dangling.

"You’re the big expert on Thanatos," Buffy reminded him. She hefted one of the huge stakes and pressed it to his chest.

"Bit of overkill, don’t you think?" Spike rested his hand on the sharpened four by four.

"Where would they go?" Buffy asked through clenched teeth.

"You better tell her, Spike." Xander smirked as he watched the unfolding scene. "Even if she doesn’t shove that through your heart…she might make a vamp-cicle out of you."

"You’re the Slayer. Why should I do your job?" Spike rested his elbow on the giant stake. "Used to be you’d kill the nasties without needing me to hold your hand." He leered at the Slayer. "Not that I’m complaining, mind you."

"Argh!" Buffy tossed the stake aside and threw her hands into the air.

"Would they go back to the monastery?" Giles asked.

"Not bloody likely," Spike scoffed. "I think he was restocking after you wiped out all his little fanged monks."

"We should check the wharf," Buffy said as she gathered her weapons. "That’s where they were last time."

"Which is exactly why they won’t be there now." Spike sighed and hopped off of the tombstone. "Thany’s a cagey one. He won’t have his blokes hide out in the same place twice."

"Great, so now we know the one place in town not to look," Xander said sarcastically. "That so narrows it down."

"He lived underground last time," Buffy pointed out.

"Why don’t you live underground?" Xander tilted his head to one side. "I mean, there’s all that nice ambiance and tons of buildings sucked half way to hell, nice view of the hellmouth, why aren’t you down there instead of living in a crypt?"

"I’m a traditionalist," Spike said. "Plus I don’t go in for all that communal living, and too many demons and newly turned vampires down there. Every new vampire in the world thinks he’s Tom Bloody Cruise."

"Is there room down there for all those monks?" Buffy glanced over at Giles. He nodded and began gathering the weapons.

"Oh, yeah, tons of room. If you don’t mind rats and spiders and smelly dirt everywhere," Spike said with a superior air.

"And that crypt is so much better," Buffy pointed out sarcastically.

"Yeah, well… it’s not as crowded," Spike said defensively. "Least it wasn’t before I started helping you and your Scooby gang. Can’t get a decent rest to save my undead life." He rolled his eyes and kicked a tuft of grass. "You can’t seem to do anything lately without calling ol’ Spike to the rescue." He put his hands on his hips and did his best impression of Buffy. "Guard Dawn, keep her safe. Help me fight Adam. Oh, Spike you’re so strong, only you can save us…" He doubled over when Buffy hit him in the crotch with the blunt end of her sword. "Ouch!"

"Let’s go," Buffy said as she hurried toward Giles’ car.

"Where we going?" Xander looked back at Spike and cringed. He shifted his jeans as he winced in sympathy. "Not that I’m complaining. Nope, not me. Don’t hit me with the big sword."

"To the underground city?" Giles suggested as he shouldered the dufflebag full of weapons.

"Works for me," Buffy said. She was well in front of the others and didn’t even look back.

"What about that nasty copper?" Spike asked as he limped over to Giles.

"Detective Lockley is a very nice woman," Giles said defensively. "You should try to get along with people."

"I mean the psycho exgirlfriend," Spike said. "Kinda’ like the skirt chasing detective."

"Oh." Giles cleared his throat. "Kate’s looking after Doctor Doyle."

"Where’s the broom squad?" Spike asked. He looked into the distance and saw Buffy loading her giant stakes into the trunk of Giles’ car.

Giles gave Spike a curious look.

"The witches, you dolt," Spike explained.

"Ah, yes." Giles rolled his eyes. "Willow and Tara are with Kate and Doctor Doyle."

"Now there’s a tasty image," Spike said with a leer. "Red, her bird, doctor dyke and the copper. Yummy."

Xander’s eyes glossed over as he imagined the scenario Spike described. Then he remembered that Anya was with them as well. He sighed, and hoped that his girlfriend didn’t cause any trouble. Willow didn’t understand Anya’s unique appreciation of Tara and her…attributes. He smiled, thinking about the blonde witch’s attributes, then pictured her and Willow doing spells… Then he reminded himself that he didn’t want Willow killing him. ‘Ah, well,’ he thought. ‘At least Anya’s having fun.’


‘This is not fun,’ Anya thought as she watched Shannon dragging Maggie toward the exit. ‘It’s not fun and it’s all Xander’s fault.’

The bathroom door opened and Kate walked out wearing a pair of shorts and a tee shirt. Her hair was wet and she had a towel draped over one hand.

"Well, well, the bitch detective’s here," Shannon said as she trained the gun on Kate.

"Son of a –" Kate froze in the doorway.

"No," Maggie whispered. "Shannon, please. Let’s just go."

"I don’t think so." Shannon crushed Maggie’s arm in a fierce grip.

"Ouch." Maggie squeezed her eyes shut against the blinding pain.

"Let her go," Kate said as she edged forward.

Shannon laughed.

"You seem to have this all handled, so I think I’ll just be going now," Anya said as she tried to head for the exit.

"Stay where you are," Shannon ordered. She looked around the room, taking note of the overnight bags and the extra bed off in one corner. "Where are the others?"

"What others?" Anya asked. "Three beds…three women." She smiled charmingly. "Nothing going on here. Separate beds, see?"

Shannon glared at Anya and then took aim at Kate. "Where are the others?"

"They’re gone for now," Kate said calmly. "We can end this before they ever get back."

Shannon nodded her head and pointed the gun at Kate’s chest.

Maggie shoved the gun into the air and it went off. She elbowed Shannon in the ribs and ran toward the closet for Betty.

"Bitch!" Shannon turned toward Maggie.

Two more shots rang out and Anya screamed. Shannon grunted and was tossed over the bed onto the floor. Anya looked at Kate and saw that the towel draped over her hand now had a black scorch mark on it and a gapping hole.

"Are you okay?" Kate said as she tossed the towel aside revealing her handgun. She hurried over to Maggie.

"Yeah, but make sure she stays down." Maggie pointed toward Shannon.

Kate moved around the bed and saw Shannon. She was face down on the floor. Her gun was on the floor near her hand but she wasn’t moving. Kate kicked the gun away and felt Shannon’s throat. The detective swallowed hard and then sighed.

"She’s dead," Kate said quietly. She walked toward Maggie and shook her head. "I’m sorry. I know you didn’t want it to end this way."

Maggie ran to Kate and pulled her into a hug and began crying. She feared Shannon, and wanted her gone, but at one time she had loved the woman deeply. Through the entire ordeal she had never wanted the insane woman dead.

"I don’t get it?" Anya looked at the two women in front of her and then over at Shannon. "She’s the bad guy. Aren’t we glad she’s dead?"

"She was human," Kate pointed out. Her throat was thick with emotion. She’d never killed a person before. Demons, yes. People, no.

The door burst open and Tara came into the room with her hands out in front of her. A ball of flame burned in one palm. She looked at Shannon and cringed. The fireball flickered out.

"Ew," Tara said as she spun around and grabbed Willow.

Willow moved into the room and gathered her lover into her arms. "Oh, my," Willow said when she saw Shannon’s lifeless body. She looked over at Kate. "We heard gunshots."

Kate nodded and looked down at the gun still in her hand.

"You?" Willow locked eyes with Kate and then let her gaze drift over to Shannon’s body.

"Yeah," Kate said. "We should call the cops."

"Book ‘em, Dano," Anya said enthusiastically.

Maggie lifted her face and glared at Anya.

"What?" the former demon asked. "Did I get it wrong?" She frowned and then nodded knowingly. "I get it. Bag ‘em, Dano!" She smiled.

"C-can we go somewhere else?" Tara asked quietly.

"I should cover her," Willow said. She eased Tara out of her arms and guided the blonde toward Kate and Maggie and then grabbed a blanket from the bed.

Tara hurried over to Kate. She didn’t want to be near the body.

Willow tried not to look at Shannon’s body as she draped the blanket over her prone form. She moved around the body so she could cover her face and then everything unraveled.

Shannon bolted upright and grabbed Willow. She leaped to her feet in one smooth motion and snaked her arm around Willow’s throat.

"Willow!" Tara started to move forward but she saw Shannon tighten her grip on the redhead’s throat.

"Shannon?" Maggie whispered. She clung to Kate, pressing into the detective.

"Hey!" Anya backed away.

"I… killed you," Kate said. Her eyes widened as she pointed at Shannon.

"You can’t kill me," Shannon said with a leer. Her face morphed and she snarled, exposing sharp fangs. "I’m already dead." She gripped Willow even harder and then licked the redhead’s neck.

"Oh, boy," Willow said with a squeak.


Buffy walked through the remains of Sunnydale high and couldn’t help but shiver. So much of her demonic bad memories were tied up in this one place. She looked back at Xander and saw that he was having similar thoughts as they made their way toward the library.

"Straight ahead," Giles said in hushed tones. He remembered the night of Buffy’s graduation vividly, especially his own part in blowing up the library and half of the school. He started up the broken stairs without looking back.

"You really did a number on this place," Spike said as he tossed a cigarette butt to the ground. "Every school kid’s wet dream…blowing up the school like that."

"How many vamps live down there?" Buffy ignored his comment and focused on the job at hand.

"Quite a few," Spike answered. He frowned. If Buffy was letting his smart-assed remarks go without comment, she must be nervous. "There’s an area ‘bout a quarter mile from where we’ll be going in, most of the young vamps stay away from it. It’s kinda’ the old timer’s part of town."

"Is that where you would have stayed, when you were younger?" Giles asked. He shifted the dufflebag strap to a more comfortable position on his shoulder.

"Nah," Spike said dismissively. "I never went in for the whole vampire bonding thing, always liked living away from the others, well except for Dru and our family." He opened the door to the library. "Besides, I’m not really an old timer. The blokes down on that end are all wicked old. At least a thousand years."

"The vampire geriatric ward," Xander commented. "I don’t suppose they’re all sitting around knitting nice warm fuzzy blankets and playing shuffleboard?"

"How many?" Buffy asked. He wasn’t in the mood to banter. She gave Xander a weak smile and he nodded back.

"Not many," Spike answered. "Usually only three or four. Last time Thany was in town he didn’t stay there. He’s a private bugger."

"What about the monks?" Giles asked. He stepped inside the burned out library and waited for the others to follow. They had to climb over fallen beams and charred debris to get to the door to basement. "Would they stay with Thanatos?"

"Not likely." Spike nodded toward the door in the distance. It was propped open. He glanced at Buffy, then at her pocket. She nodded and took her favorite stake from its hiding place.

Buffy trotted ahead. She moved like a cat, quick and silent as she hopped over bookcases and broken chairs. She reached the doorway and paused, tilting her head to one side to listen.

"Most likely, the monks will be near the older part of the underground," Spike continued talking casually, but his entire attention was focused on the doorway. "Minion don’t like to be too far from their master, and these guys do love ol’ Thany."

Buffy jumped through the doorway and saw the creature that had been lurking. It was a vampire, no surprise, but he was wearing a black robe, and that was a pleasant surprise the Slayer hadn’t been expecting.

"Well, what do we have here?" Buffy asked as she pinned the vampire to the wall. "Here we are looking for Thanatos’ lap dogs and one falls right into my hands."

"I will tell you nothing," the vampire said in a thick Italian accent.

"She doesn’t take kindly to that," Spike said as he came through the door. "Makes her grouchy."

"And you don’t wanna’ see her grouchy," Xander agreed.

"Where is he?" Buffy demanded. She pressed her stake over the vampire’s heart.

"I will never betray my Lord." The vampire looked over at Spike and snarled. "You betray your own kind to work with these vile creatures."

"Oh, do shut up, Junior." Spike rolled his eyes. "When did you rise? Last night? The night before?" He moved closer and inhaled deeply. "You’re a baby. I can still smell the human in you."

"The monastery," Giles said as he looked down the stairwell. "He must have been one of the brothers reported missing in the paper."

"Okay, here’s how this is gonna’ work," Buffy pulled the vampire away from the wall and then slammed him back into it. "You are going to tell me where Thanatos is." She yanked him forward again and threw him into the wall with a bone-shaking shove. "Then you are going to thank me for not staking you." She slammed him into the wall again. "And then you are going to leave town, happy to see more than two nights in your undead life."

"Though I walk through the valley of light, I will fear no Slayer," the vampire closed his eyes and began chanting.

Buffy rolled her eyes and pinned him in place with her arm across his throat. She reached into her jacket pocket and pulled out a bottle of holy water.

"For He is with me," the vampire continued.

Buffy poured the water onto his face and he howled.

"Oh, I’m sorry. Did that hurt?" Buffy held the water over his head.

"I will not betray Him," the vampire whimpered. His face was smoldering and scorched where the water had run down his cheek. His eyes were full of fear.

"It’s just gonna’ get worse," Spike said casually. "The lady loves her work."

The vampire shook his head.

"Kill him," Giles said coldly. His eyes were hard and for a moment he looked more Ripper than he did Giles. "We’ll fetch another one once we get to the underground city." He walked away from Buffy and headed down the stairwell.

"Sorry." Buffy shrugged and moved the stake back to the vampire’s heart.

"The master’s lair," the vampire whispered.

Buffy raised one eyebrow.

"My brethren have prepared the master’s lair for a ritual." The vampire’s eyes were glued the stake pressing into his chest.

"Thanks," Buffy said politely. She looked into his eyes and then plunged the stake into his heart. He disappeared into a puff of ash and she shuddered. Releasing him from his suffering as a demon was the kindest thing she could do for the former man of the cloth.


Willow cringed as she felt Shannon lick her throat again. A sudden image of her vampire self washed through her mind.

"Delicious," Shannon whispered. "And hot." Her hand was still gripping Willow’s throat. "My body's still warm from feeding on your bell boy. I can’t wait to taste your sweet lover." She looked over at Tara and snarled. "Don’t even think of using your magic, witch." She squeezed her hand around Willow’s throat to make her point.

‘Willow!’ Tara called out with her mind.

‘Save yourself, love.’ Willow’s eyes bulged as her air supply was cut off. She felt like her throat was being crushed and wondered if this was how her life would end.

"You try anything and I’ll snap her neck before you can even blink." Shannon loosened her grip and Willow took in gasps of air.

"Let her go and take me," Maggie said as she tried to move closer. "The others don’t mean anything to you." She looked over at Kate and saw that the detective had her gun trained on Shannon, not that it would do any good. She caught Kate’s eyes and quickly glanced at the closet before turning back toward Shannon. She hoped the detective would remember that Betty was on the top shelf, fully loaded with wooden bullets.

"I am going to take you," Shannon said calmly. "But first I’m going to drain your little detective right in front of your eyes." She smiled. "Or maybe I’ll leave her alive so you can feed on her after I turn you."

"You’re insane," Anya said. "She hates you."

"After I give her immortality, we’ll have forever to get over our differences," Shannon said. She felt Willow twist in her grip and snarled. "Hold still." She lifted her off the ground by her throat.

"Let her go," Tara’s voice was chillingly calm.

"Or what?" Shannon lowered the redhead to the floor and smiled at Tara. "You’ll watch as I rip her head off?"

‘Tara, no.’ Willow locked eyes with her lover. ‘You have to wait until she’s distracted.’

"What makes you think I won’t just make your body burst into flames?" Tara asked calmly.

"And risk singeing your little bed buddy?" Shannon laughed. "Go for it."

"It’s me you want," Maggie said. "Leave her alone."

"I don’t think so." Shannon backed toward the doorway. "See, I get you, forever… and I get the detective, for a snack." She stepped into the threshold to the hallway. "And the witches? My sire gets them."

Marcus stepped into view in the hallway and yanked Willow into his arms.

"No!" Tara ran forward but Maggie grabbed her.

‘Stay back,’ Willow sent as she squeezed her eyes closed. ‘He can’t come into the room uninvited.’

"No magic," Marcus warned. His fingers encircled Willow’s throat. His hands were larger than Shannon’s and his thumb gently stroked the redhead’s jaw as he spoke in rich, melodic tones. "It would be a shame to kill her before the ritual."

Kate backed toward the closet. She was trying to calculate how quickly she could get to Maggie’s gun and then fire at the two vampires. Unfortunately, she didn’t think she could do it quickly enough to save Willow.

‘Tara, you have to kill him,’ Willow sent. She swallowed hard and looked over at her lover. ‘He won’t kill me. He needs me.’

‘I can’t risk it.’ Tears ran down Tara’s cheeks. She moved toward the door. "Marcus, let her go," Tara said firmly.

"Why would I do that?" he asked from the hall.

"Because, if you do… I will go with you." Tara stepped closer.

"No you won’t," Willow yelled.

"Quiet." Marcus jerked Willow’s throat, making her cough.

"Well, aren’t you just the most self-sacrificing bunch I’ve ever seen," Shannon said sarcastically. She reached into her jacket pocket and pulled out roll of duct tape and smiled at Tara. "The problem is…you’re going with us anyway." She nodded at Tara’s clinched fists. "Hands over your eyes, firestarter."

Kate was pressed against the wall next to the closet waiting for the best time to make her move.

"Knock it off, Shannon." Maggie walked over to her exlover and glared at her. "You gonna’ let some man tell you what to do? Since when have you let any man give you orders?" She laughed and pointed at Marcus. "He can’t even come into the room and you’re letting him call the shots? You’re pathetic."

"Shut up!" Shannon grabbed Maggie and threw her across the room into the wall. She leaped over and straddled the doctor and snarled. "Don’t you ever raise your voice at me."

"She’s distracting you," Marcus yelled. He watched as the insane vampire lost control. He looked over at Tara as he pulled Willow further into the hall. "Until later," he said as he tightened his grip on Willow’s throat and yanked her down the hall.

"Get Buffy," Tara told Anya. She ran into the hall. She stopped as soon as she rounded the corner. Dozens of vampires stood in the hallway. All were wearing the black robes. They parted to let Marcus through and then closed ranks to face Tara.

Back in the room, things were not any better.

"You belong to me." Shannon said as her face morphed and her fangs glistened. She was pinning Maggie to the floor, enjoying the way her former lover squirmed underneath her. "I don’t need him to have you." She leaned down and sank her fangs into Maggie’s throat.

In the hall Tara tried to see her lover behind the wall of robed vampires. ‘Willow!’ Tara called out with her mind.

‘I love you, Tara,’ Willow sent. Then her mind was gone, the connection broken as Willow lost consciousness.

"Anya, help her!" Kate fought the urge to run to Maggie and went for the gun in the closet instead.

"You’re pissing me off! Anya slammed a chair onto Shannon’s back.

Shannon snarled as she was knocked off of the doctor’s body. Maggie’s blood ran down her chin.

Kate grabbed the gun from the closet and spun just Shannon was moving back toward Maggie. "Don’t move," Kate said. Her voice was shaking and she wondered if she was too late. Maggie’s throat was bleeding and the petite doctor wasn’t moving.

"In case you weren’t paying attention earlier, guns don’t hurt me." Shannon licked her lips, savoring the taste of her exlover’s blood. She ran her fingers over Maggie’s cheek.

"Maybe you should read bumper stickers," Kate suggested as she gripped Maggie’s gun in her hands.

Shannon furrowed her brow in confusion.

"Guns don’t’ kill people," Kate said calmly. "Bullets do." She fired and watched as three bullet holes appeared in a tight cluster over Shannon’s heart.

Shannon’s face twisted in shock as her body turned to dust.

"Maggie!" Kate dove to the doctor’s side. She felt her neck and let out a relieved sigh when she felt a strong pulse.

"We need to find Buffy." Anya headed for the door and stopped as she looked down the hallway. "Oh, crap." She saw Tara calmly walking into the mob of black robed vampires.

 

CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX

Buffy looked through the tangled caverns toward the place where she had once died. ‘The master’s lair,’ she thought with a shudder. ‘It couldn’t have been anywhere else?’ She took deep breath as she remembered being defeated by the Master. If it hadn’t been for Xander’s quick thinking that night, Buffy would not have survived. He had found her face down in a muddy pool of water, drowned.

"Are you all right?" Giles whispered. He looked toward the master’s lair and frowned. He knew his young charge must be thinking about her own death. He shifted the bag on his shoulder and settled the weapons in place. Buffy and Xander each carried a similar bag.

"Peachy," she whispered. "I’ll just stay away from any puddles deep enough to drown in."

"You aren’t alone this time." He rested his hand on her shoulder.

Buffy smiled at him, taking a moment to notice the worry lines around his eyes.

"Heads up," Spike said quietly. "Thany’s boys are up ahead."

Xander scooted closer and looked into the cavern. Far up ahead he could just make out the shadowy outlines of several figures milling around. He looked over at Buffy and raised both eyebrows.

She smiled at him and focused on the activity in the distance. Her Slayer’s vision was keenly adapted to the near darkness and she could see farther than normal humans. She squinted.

"Well?" Xander asked.

"Six, no wait, seven of the hell’s gate vampires." She frowned. "That’s not good. Five more just came around the corner."

"Hell’s gate?" Xander asked. "Did the hellmouth get a name change?"

"You dolt." Spike rolled his eyes. "She means like that cult…heaven’s gate? Even I read the newspapers."

"Oh, yeah, that cult." Xander blushed. "I thought she was being literal."

"We should move ahead," Giles suggested. He wanted to dispatch Thanatos before he had a chance to threaten Willow or Tara. "Best to take care of the monks before Thanatos arrives. We don’t want to be distracted when he gets here."

"Bloody right," Spike agreed. "He won’t be an easy mark."

"Let’s do it." Buffy reached into her dufflebag and pulled out a crossbow. She tossed it Xander. "You got ammo?"

"Yep." He patted his bag. "You know, we should make a machine gun crossbow. We could feed picket fences into it."

"What about me?" Spike asked. He was unarmed. He locked eyes with Buffy and nodded down the corridor. "What me to work on a diversion? Go talk to the baby vamps?"

"No," Buffy said darkly. She stared at the closest monk. "I have other plans for you."


"Umm…Tara, walking into vampires? Not really the best plan," Anya said as she hovered in the doorway. She turned toward Kate. "Get over here with that gun," she ordered. "Do you have any more bullets? The wooden ones?"

"Here," Kate yelled. She tossed Maggie’s gun to Anya. Kate wasn’t about to leave the fallen doctor’s side. "There’re more bullets in Maggie’s makeup bag."

"Hey!" Anya jumped out of the way and let the gun bounce across the floor. "That is a deadly weapon, not a play toy." She bent down and picked it up and a brief wave of sadness flashed over her. ‘Time was when deadly weapons were my play toys,’ she thought wistfully. She quickly focused on the current problem, Tara and her delusions of grandeur. She hurried over to get the box of wooden bullets and reloaded the gun to capacity.

Tara walked up to the closest vampires and held her hands toward their faces. They bared their fangs and lurched forward only to be consumed by white-hot flames.

"Get out of my way," Tara told the other vampires. Her eyes lost all color, the iris matching the whites of her eyes. She ignored the blinding pain pounding the inside of her skull.

Anya leaned out of the door and aimed at the mob. She saw several piles of ash at Tara’s feet. "Just cook ‘em all," she suggested as she made her way closer to Tara and stood at her side.

"Our Lord has plans for you," one of the monks said as he pointed at Tara. "We must take you alive." He looked at Anya. "We have no such concerns for your friends."

Anya shot him in the chest and he disappeared in a cloud of dust. "Amateur," she said angrily. "I may not have powers, but I have a gun." She waved the box of ammo at the others. "And lots of splintery bullets."

"I won’t tell you again." Tara took a deep breath and her body hummed with pent up energy. She tilted her head to one side and looked down at her hand. Electricity arced between her fingers.

"Take her," the closest vampire snarled.

Anya took aim even as she backed away but she never had the chance to fire. A bolt of blue electricity shot out the end of the blonde Wiccan’s hand and decapitated every vampire in the hall. The tiny corridor filled with the ash making it look like a dust storm had erupted.

"Whoa." Anya’s knees buckled as a wave of energy hit her. She fell to her knees and shook her head to clear her muddled thoughts.

"Anya?" Tara asked in a near panic. For a brief moment she feared that she had injured her friend.

"That’s some major transudance," Anya said as she staggered to her feet. "And not the nice orgasmic kind either." She wiped a drop of blood from her nose and then looked down the hall at the dust cloud. "Wow." She turned and saw Tara’s white eyes. "That’s new." She raised both eyebrows. "Did you bring the Artemis stones?"

"Yes," Tara said hollowly.

"Then let’s get them and go after your girlfriend." Anya tucked her arm around Tara’s elbow. She was still feeling dazed, plus she was getting a nice buzz from the energy still bleeding off of Tara’s overheated body. "You’re a strong one, aren’t ya’?" Anya patted Tara’s arm.

Tara allowed the former demon to lead her back into the hotel room. She wanted to go after Willow and Marcus but she knew her chances were better if she had the Artemis stones to help focus her energy. She entered the room and saw that Maggie was sitting up, cradled in Kate’s arms.

"Willow?" Kate asked when Tara and Anya came back into the room.

"He took her," Tara said as she went to the dresser and rifled through her things.

"We’re going after them," Anya said as she looked down at the gun in her hand. "I really need one of these." She looked over at Maggie and frowned like a kicked puppy.

"Take it," Maggie said in a weak whisper. "I’m not going anywhere."

"You should hurry. I can’t leave Maggie," Kate said as she glanced at the door. "The cops will be here any minute. I’m surprised they aren’t already here."

"It’s Sunnydale. The cops don’t give a damn what happens." Tara pulled the velvet bag with the Artemis stones out of the dresser and slammed the drawer shut. "Come on." She headed toward the door.

"Into the fray," Anya said with forced cheer. She eyed Tara. "Just remember who helped you save Willow when you start feeling all…grateful."

"Willow’s my everything." Tara’s eyes were still white and her voice was hard and cold. "You have nothing… and I mean nothing to offer me."

"Ouch," Anya said as she followed the blonde out the door. "You don’t have to be rude."


Xander and Giles were pressed into a small cavity just off of the main tunnel that led to the master’s lair. The fight was not going well. Buffy and Spike had started out by sneaking up on a few of the monk vampires. They quickly dispatched the inexperienced vampires, but from there it went downhill. A group of the fanatical vampires returned from feeding and wandered up behind Giles and Xander and then called out to the others. The vampires surrounded them on both sides.

Buffy and Spike made a quick dent in the mob but they were too far from Giles and Xander to offer any assistance.

"Ouch!" Giles yelled as Xander hit him with a giant stake. "Watch what you’re doing."

"I’m trying to stay alive," Xander said as he swung his weapon. Three vampires were trying to claw their way into the tiny sanctuary. "Keep your head outa' my way!"

Giles staked a vampire and then twisted his body and kicked another out of the way. "We need to break into the open." He staked another of the cloaked vampires.

"As in out there in the open?" Xander staked a vampire and then waved a cross at the others. "Out there in the open with the throngs of very hungry monk vampires?"

"That was the general idea," Giles said calmly. He cringed when one of the vampires sliced into his arm with a sword. "We’re like proverbial fish in a barrel in here."

"And we’ll be like deep fried fishsticks on a platter out there." Xander punched one of the vampires and then staked it. "Buffy will come back for us."

"Before or after we’re slaughtered?" Giles asked. "They intensified their attacks several minutes ago."

"I know that!" Xander staked another vampire and scooted closer to Giles. "I was standing here when they did the chant thing."

"We must get to Buffy," Giles insisted. He didn’t know why the vampires had begun to chant and then suddenly stopped but he knew it didn’t bode well.

A flash of light stopped Xander’s reply.

"Dear Lord!" Giles covered his eyes.

Gunfire echoed through the caverns. The shots were slow and methodical, as if each shot was being carefully taken.

"The calvary’s here," Xander said. "And they brought guns!" He staked the vampire closest to him, then smiled proudly when the others ran. "That’s right! Had a taste of the Xan-man and now you’re running for the hills." He frowned. "Well… under the hills. But you’re running." He leaned out and watched the black clad vampires scurry away and then something touched his arm. "Ahh!"

"Calm down, Xander," Anya said with a disgusted sigh. "We’re here to save you." She smiled and held up Betty. "I have a shiny gun."

"Tara, what in the devil are you doing here?" Giles moved toward the blonde witch. When he got next to her he could see that her eyes had turned completely white.

"They have Willow," Tara said. She looked down the cavern and her body tensed. "I’m going to get her back."

"You shouldn’t be here," Giles said. He furrowed his brow. Tara didn’t sound like herself at all.

"I belong here," Tara said as she started to push past the Watcher.

"Um, Tara? There’s like a ton of vamps down there." Xander cleared his throat. "They’re not exactly in a friendly mood."

"Deilos!" Tara said in a dangerous growl. "If you slow me down, you will be sorry."

"Tara, no one’s trying to slow you down," Giles said gently. "We need a plan."

"I’m going to get her," Tara said as she walked away. "That’s the plan."

"Giles?" Anya looked up at the Watcher. "She’s speaking Greek… again."

"What did she say?" Xander asked.

"She called you a coward," Giles said as he picked up a few weapons he had dropped during his struggles.

"Well that’s a fine how do you do," Xander whined. He looked down the cavern. "She’s getting a pretty good lead on us."

"Let’s go," Giles said. He glanced at the gun in Anya’s hand. "Doctor Doyle’s weapon?"

"She loaned me Betty," Anya said proudly. "It kills vamps like crazy."

"At least she and Detective Lockley had the good sense to stay at the hotel." Giles hurried down the dark corridor after Tara. He wondered where Willow had wandered off to that had allowed her to be captured.

"Kate’s probably at the hospital. Shannon showed up and bit Maggie. She’s a vampire." Anya trotted to catch up with the Watcher. "Was a vampire. She’s dead now."

"Tell us later," Xander said as he saw Tara walking up to a small group of vampires. "She’s nuts." He pointed at Tara.

"Not really," Anya said. She smiled. "Get ready for fireworks."


Buffy and Spike were surrounded by the black robed vampires. They staked vampire after vampire but more appeared. Finally the Slayer and Spike made their way to what had been a barbershop before that section of town had been sucked underground. They barricaded the door and blocked the broken windows and were able to hold back the tide of vampires that pounded on the dilapidated building.

"How many monks did he get?" Buffy asked as she wiped the sweat from her brow.

"Too many." Spike leaned against the wall and lit a cigarette.

"Hey, no time for a cigarette break." Buffy glared at him. "We need to get back out there. Giles and Xander and still in the middle of that."

"Are you daft? The whole idea of a strategic retreat is to…retreat." He took a drag from the cigarette.

"We can’t leave them out there." She moved toward the door and then stopped when she heard chanting. "Now what?"

"Don’t know, but whatever it is, it doesn’t look good for us." He tossed his cigarette aside and headed toward the door. "Well, let’s go."

Buffy nodded then looked out the window. "Willow!" She spun and grabbed her crossbow. "They have Willow." She looked back in time to see a tall vampire carry Willow into what had been the master’s lair. Willow hadn’t moved; her body hung limp in his arms with her hair bobbed as he walked.

"I don’t know how you and your bloody friends have survived this long," Spike said with disgust lacing his tone. "Let’s go get her." He picked up two swords and swung then in front of his body. He scowled when he saw that the vampires blocking their path seemed to be increasing in number. He doubted they could get past them.


Thanatos was standing inside a huge cavern that had once been the master’s lair. Marcus and the monk vampires and carved out the walls and decorated it so that it looked like a Greek temple. Black marble covered the floors as well as two of the walls. The remaining walls were bare rock with giant columns of the black marble standing near them. Thanatos smiled as a sense of nostalgia overtook him. He had spent hundreds of years feasting on the followers of the moon goddess, but in the last several centuries, it had becoming increasingly more difficult to find any of her worshipers. These two witches were strong, and the fact that they bore the mark of the Greek moon goddess would make their blood all the sweeter.

"Lord Thanatos?" Marcus said quietly. He paused at the entrance to the recreated temple. He cradled Willow in his arms. She was unconscious; a stiff blow to the back of her head insured that she wouldn’t wake up too soon.

"Marcus." Thanatos turned and smiled. His lips drew back exposing his huge fangs. "Excellent. Bring her to the smaller altar." He walked to a white marble slab at the top of a set of stairs and waited for Marcus to put her down. "Did she struggle?"

"Yes, but your plan worked perfectly." Marcus moved Willow’s hands next to her sides and clamped manacles onto her wrists. "It never occurred to them that Shannon had been turned."

"And the golden-haired witch?" Thanatos ran his cloven fingers down Willow’s cheek. "You left her unharmed?"

"As you ordered," Marcus said as he shackled Willow’s ankles in place. "She will be formidable, my Lord."

"Why do you think we’ve been turning so many of the monks?" Thanatos glanced toward the doorway. "I want to see what the fair witch is capable of."

"So the monks?" Marcus stepped back to Willow’s hands and checked her bonds. "They are… witch fodder?"

Thanatos laughed. "I suppose that is an accurate description." He slapped Marcus on the back. "Your snide remarks are growing on me. Pity it only took eighty years to compliment you."

"Your approval is all the reward I require." Marcus nodded toward his mentor.

Willow groaned and turned her head to one side. She tugged at the metal restraints and whimpered. "Tara?" she whispered hoarsely.

"Leave us," Thanatos ordered.

Marcus nodded. He knew his mentor enjoyed tormenting his captives in private. He left through the side exit and went to check on the rest of the preparations. He knew the Slayer and her friends would be near, but that was not his greatest threat. He had a huge iron gate installed that would hold off the Slayer. His biggest worry was the witch named Tara. He paused and looked back toward the altar room. He had seen Thanatos take on many opponents, but he feared that this time the ancient vampire had underestimated his quarry. He hoped Thanatos did not become the prey.


"She’s gonna’ get killed!" Xander yelled as he watched Tara walk away.

Tara walked straight into the crowd of fanged monks. They charged but she didn’t even flinch. She waved her hand and a blast of blue energy shot out and cut down the vampires, decapitating most of them. A few of the less fortunate vampires had been standing on rocks or bits of debris. They were higher from the ground and the arc of energy cut them in half across the midsection. Their bodies fell to the ground in writhing pieces but they didn’t turn to dust. A few others had been leaning down and the arc cut through their skulls. They lay on the ground convulsing with their brains spilling onto the damp soil.

"Dear god in heaven," Giles muttered.

"Okay, gross." Xander turned slightly green and wondered if he would lose any Scooby status if he threw up.

"God, that’s so sexy," Anya said with a sensual purr. "Look at all that deadly energy just oozing from her. She’s like a magical 007. License to kill. Now, if I could just get her to put on a tuxedo." She shuddered as that image filled her mind. "Yum."

"Come on." Giles ran after the blonde witch. "Tara, wait up." He ran through the cavern, quickly catching her as she strolled through a layer of dust from her victims. "What about them?" Giles looked over at a few of the vampires laying in pieces. He killed vampires nightly, and yet he felt a pang of sympathy for the suffering creatures on the ground in front of him.

Tara waved her hand and balls of flame shot out and incinerated the moaning vampires.

"Wow," Anya complemented. "You’re getting really good at that." She tried to take Tara’s arm but jerked her hand back. "You’re burning up!"

"Tara, wait," Giles ordered. He grabbed the blonde witch and yanked her to a stop.

"They have her!" Tara growled. She spun around and faced the Watcher. Blood trickled from one of her nostrils and her eyes were bloodshot, with tiny broken vessels fanning out from the white irises in her eyes.

"You must stop this," Giles said gently. "It’s damaging you."

"Oh, that’s just too gross," Xander spun away from Tara and covered his mouth as dry heaves racked his body.

"I won’t let him kill her." Tara furrowed her brow and blood spilled from the edges of her eyes like ruby tears. "We have to save Damara," she whispered as if in a daze. She shook her head and then spun away. "Come on." She headed back down the corridor.

"Who’s-it? What’s-it? Huh? Xander asked. "Who’s Damara?"

"I know that name," Anya whispered as she trailed along behind Tara. She didn’t want to be too far from the sexy blonde Wiccan. In the caverns full of vampires, Tara was a safer guide than Buffy. Well, as long as Tara didn’t misfire and slice Anya in half.

"You mentioned that before," Giles said as he trotted alongside Anya. "Where?"

"I don’t remember," Anya said angrily. "I’ve lived for more than a millennium. I can’t remember everything. Heck, you’re only like sixty, and half the time you forget where you parked your car."

"I am not sixty!" Giles said indignantly. "And I don’t forget…It slips my mind."

"Hello? Remember me?" Xander stumbled as he caught up with his girlfriend. "Who is Damara?" He looked toward Tara. She was moving as if in a trance, almost gliding over the uneven surface of the tunnel.

"We’re you listening? We just established that I don’t remember." Anya rolled her eyes. "Pay attention."

Tara held out her hands and arcs of energy shot out. A dozen vampires trying to break into an old building turned to dust. Buffy and Spike came leaping out of the window with weapons in hand.

"Hey?" Buffy slowly turned and scanned the area that moments before had been crawling with vampires. "She made my vampires go poof!"

"Now that’s a new look," Spike said as he moved closer to Tara. He inhaled deeply when he saw the amount of blood trickling down her nose and cheeks. "That’s gonna’ leave a hangover for sure."

Tara tilted her head and faced Spike. One eyebrow blonde raised as she studied him and then lifted both hands toward him.

"Easy there!" Spike dove behind Buffy.

"Tara, no!" Buffy yelled.

"Thirion to!" Tara said as she pointed at Spike.

"It’s just Spike. Remember?" Buffy said gently. "He’s with us." She looked over at Giles for a translation.

"Wild animal," Giles said, "And yes, it’s ancient Greek."

"Actually, it’s pre-ancient Greek and it means ‘Beast.’ It’s a subtle difference," Anya said. "But it’s there."

"I don’t care what it means." Spike held Buffy by the shoulders and kept shifting so Tara couldn’t get a clear angle toward him. "Keep her sparking hands away from me."

"Willow’s down there," Anya said as she pointed toward the huge opening at the end of the cavern.

Tara spun and continued down the tunnel.

"Okay, someone needs to get Red’s bird some Prozac. Pronto," Spike said as he let out a long breath.


Willow felt chilled to the bone. She shifted her weight and realized that she was on top of something very hard and very cold. Marble, she realized as she added up her recent memories. That vampire Marcus had said he was taking her to the temple for the ritual. ‘Why marble?’ she wondered. ‘It’s so darn hard and cold.’

"You are awake," Thanatos said politely. "Good."

The redhead opened her eyes and then quickly closed them. "Well, darn," she whispered. "So much for this being a bad dream."

"Your mate approaches," Thanatos said with a smirk. "You couldn’t feel her?"

"Don’t talk to me about her." Willow tightened her lip into a thin, angry frown as she realized that she couldn’t feel Tara’s presence. She tried to sit up but discovered that she was chained in place. "What, are you afraid of me?" she taunted. "You’re like twice my height and full of fangs and I’m so scary you have to chain me down?" She hoped she could trick him into releasing her.

"Size and power are too different things," he said calmly.

"So you are afraid of me." She smirked and then sighed. "Kakistos wasn’t afraid of me," she added as if bored. "But I guess you’re not as powerful as he was."

"Kakistos is dead." Thanatos sat on the marble altar next to Willow’s chained feet. "I am not so arrogant."

"Whatever." Willow tried to act disinterested. Thanatos’ body was cold, colder than the marble under her back. She could feel the chill from his skin through the fabric of her jeans. "I’m getting a cramp, maybe you could let me sit up?"

He smiled ruefully as he locked eyes with the resourceful Wiccan.

"Okay, maybe not," Willow relented. She tried to look around the room. "You’ve redecorated."

"This is more fitting," he said as he crossed his arms over his broad chest. "Better that the chosen of the moon goddess spill their blood in this setting."

"Well, umm, as nice as the décor is…I’m not anyone’s chosen," Willow bluffed. "So you can just let me go." She looked up at him with a hopeful half grin. He was polite compared to most of master vampires she had dealt with.

He smiled and leaned over her prone form. "We both know better," he whispered. He grabbed her blouse and ripped it in half leaving her bra exposed to the chill of the large room.

She swallowed hard and squeezed her eyes shut and turned away.

"You are marked." He ran his misshapen fingers over the scar on her ribcage. "Hmm," he murmured as he traced the deep red mark. Goosebumps covered her skin. "A blood moon."

Willow tried not to panic but the feel of his cold hand on her skin was making her nauseous. "Just a scar," she said in a shaking voice. It was obvious she didn’t believe her own words.

"Perhaps I should alter my plans," he said thoughtfully. He titled his head and studied the scar. "The potential for darkness is great in you."

"Look," Willow said angrily. "You’re not Darth Vader and I am not Luke Skywalker, so just kill me and get it over with. I’d rather die now than listen to you drone on about coming to the dark side."

"Is that what really what you want?" he asked. He bared his fangs and leaned closer.

"Umm…yes…no…maybe?" She sighed. "I don’t want to die…but I don’t have any darkness. I’m light. Full of light. Ask anyone. They’ll tell you, Willow Rosenberg is full of light and goodness. I never even cheated in PE class, and let me tell you that was tempting…"

"Enough, babbler." He almost smiled.

"Just trying to make it clear. No darkness here." She looked around the room. She knew if she could keep him talking long enough, Buffy and Tara would come to rescue her. "I mean, vampire me had darkness a plenty, but she was a vampire. They’re dark. You won’t see me riding people like ponies."

"You were a vampire?" He stood and moved up next to her face. "How did you return to this form?" He was truly shocked. Perhaps this witch was more powerful than he had realized.

"Well, not me exactly. It was an alternate dimension me." She shrugged. "It’s a long story."

"Too bad you will not live long enough to tell me," he said almost sadly and then walked over to the second altar. It was prepared for the golden-haired witch. It had stronger chains and a blindfold, just in case Tara was able to break through Marcus’ binding spell. He didn’t want her casting any spells to get away.


Buffy followed behind Tara. It was odd letting someone else take the lead against the vampires, but even Buffy could see that Tara was well armed. The blonde was dusting vampires as fast as they would step into the open. Her blue arcs of energy didn’t seem to be getting any weaker; in fact, they seemed to be getting stronger.

"We shouldn’t let her continue this way," Giles whispered to Buffy.

"Let?" Buffy looked back incredulously. "One, she is killing vamps faster than I ever could. She’s like a vamp vegimatic. Two, are you gonna’ tell Miss blue-sparks-that-cut-vamps-in-half to stop?" She raised both eyebrows in silent challenge. "I didn’t think so. Keep Xander and Anya safe. I’ll help Tara." She quickened her pace until she was next to Tara. Buffy bit her lip when she saw the amount of blood Tara was losing. Her eyes had stopped bleeding but a steady line of blood drained from each nostril.

"Anya, any progress remembering that name?" Giles asked. He certainly didn’t want to get into a battle of wills with Tara, so he focused on Anya.

"Do you have any idea how common the name Damara is?" She tripped over a root. "Damn it." She glared at Giles. "You couldn’t have brought a flashlight? At least when I was walking with Tara she was making enough light so I could avoid stepping on roots." She sidestepped something scurrying across the ground and cringed. "Or rats. Gross. They’re like little tiny bunnies. Disgusting!"

"Was it one of those Greek myths?" Xander asked.

"That doesn’t really narrow it down," Giles pointed out. "There are thousands of Greek myths."

"Actually, in one Greek Myth, Hercules’ wife was called Damara, but that may have been a typo. In most myths she’s called Deianira," Anya said. She looked down at the gun in her hand and sighed. With Tara flaming and chopping every vamp in sight Anya hadn’t had the chance to shoot anything for at least five minutes.

"Any others?" Xander prompted gently.

"There’s a Celtic fertility goddess, associated with the month of May. She’s called Damara." She frowned. "But I don’t think that’s relevant considering Tara’s a big ol’ lesbian."

"What about Artemis?" Giles asked as he watched Tara broiling a small group of vampires. "That would be the most logical place to focus."

"Well, yeah, but there aren’t many myths about her that involve…" Anya’s face paled and she stumbled. She grabbed Xander’s arm to keep from falling to the ground. "No," she whispered. "It’s just a rumor. It’s not real… It can’t be."

"An?" Xander wrapped his arm around her. "What is it?"

Anya stopped and looked down the cavern. "No," the former demon whispered. She shook her head from side to side, willing her memory to be wrong. Tara was flaming vampires with one hand while using an arc of energy from the other hand to cut the rest into pieces.

"What is it? Giles demanded. He saw that Tara and Buffy were almost to the mouth of the master’s lair. "Damn it, Anya. What?"

"Damara and the Arrow… it’s so obscure I hadn’t even remembered it." Anya’s voice was shaking. She lifted her hand and pointed at Tara. "It can’t be."

"What is the Arrow?" Giles asked in a soothing tone. The former demon was clearly shaken.

"Artemis…" Anya looked into Giles’ eyes. "She’s the archer. An arrow is something a hunter sends out, an extension of them, to protect them. It’s the most sacred weapon of the hunter. You can aim an arrow, guide it, but once it takes flight, it must complete its own destiny."

"Enough of the riddles," Xander said impatiently. "How does this involve Tara?"

"There’s a legend, very old, in fact most demons say it isn’t even true." Anya swallowed hard and her voice quivered. "Artemis needed a chosen one to protect her followers, so she sent her Arrow to live in the temple. The Arrow couldn’t be killed, and she had major power." Anya leaned around Giles and stared at Tara. "That kind of major power."

"What do you mean, sent?" Giles prodded.

"The Arrow was the daughter of Artemis," Anya said. "She had a child with one of her priestesses."

"Whoa, two women had a kid?" Xander’s eyes almost popped out of his head.

"Artemis is a god," Anya pointed out.

"What happened to this Arrow?" Giles asked. He pulled Anya down the tunnel. He wanted to keep moving.

"She died," Anya said bluntly.

"You said she couldn’t die." Xander was now thoroughly confused.

"I said she couldn’t be killed. The Arrow was a demigod, Xander." Anya waved her gun down the cavern toward Tara. "Demigods can’t be killed by humans or demons."

"But a god…or a demigod could kill her," Giles said quietly.

"Yup," Anya agreed. "According to myth, something major went down and the Arrow took her own life." She quirked her brow. "Major freakin’ loophole if you ask me."

"So…Tara’s a god…like Glory?" Xander smiled. "We can have Tara kick Glory’s ass!"

"Tara is not a god," Giles said as he slowed to a stop. He watched as Buffy and Spike seemed to be arguing in the distance. Tara remained calm. "If there is a connection, it was not in this life. Somehow the soul bonding ritual tapped her demigod powers."

"So?" Xander asked. "We need a god-ass-kicker. I say as soon as she toasts Thanatos, we draft her to take down Glory."

"Demigods have powers, and like the Slayers, their bodies are meant to withstand the shock of utilizing those powers." Giles wiped a bead of sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand. "Tara is human. Her body can no more withstand using those powers than Willow could have survived using the mirror spell with Buffy’s powers."

"Hence the blood from all the facial orifices," Xander said with a shake of his head. "Okay, one small problem." He pointed at the blonde Wiccan at the end of the tunnel. "Tara isn’t gonna’ stop using these powers as long as Willow’s in danger. We know she’d die to save Willow. Heck, if wasn’t for Maggie, she’d be dead right now."

"I know," Giles said grimly. "And this time, Doctor Doyle won’t be able to save her."

 

CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN

Tara and Buffy stared at the opening to the master’s lair. A huge, thick, iron gate had been bolted to the sides of the cavern.

"That’s new," Buffy commented. She looked over at Tara. The blonde witch was as pale as Buffy had ever seen her. "Let me try to break the lock."

Tara nodded and leaned against the wall.

"You gonna’ pass out?" Spike asked. "You look a little peaked." He looked down the long tunnel and saw Giles and the others approaching.

Tara ignored his question and stared at the gate.

"Okay, this is not gonna’ happen." Buffy grunted as she used all of her strength to pull on the bars. The heavy iron didn’t even creak, let alone bend. "Spike?"

The platinum-haired vampire grabbed a bar with both hands and strained against the metal. He shook his head and looked back at Tara.

"Time for the big gun," Spike said as he nodded for Buffy to move away from the gate.

Tara focused on the gate, and the iron briefly glowed orange. She shook her head and narrowed her eyes and the metal glowed for a moment but then went back to black.

"It’s been enchanted," Tara said as she moved closer and grabbed the bars. She squeezed her eyes shut and her body shook but the iron didn’t give. She let out a breath and staggered to one side.

"Easy," Buffy said as she caught the blonde Wiccan. "You okay? Need a rest?"

"There’s no time." Tara leaned onto Buffy and sighed.

"Yeah? Well, I say we make time." Buffy guided Tara over against the wall. "You look like shit." She wiped some of the blood off of Tara’s chin. "We need to stop this nose bleed."

"Damn waste of good blood," Spike agreed. He licked his lips as he stared at Tara’s blouse. It was soaked with her blood, the blue fabric stained completely red.

Buffy glared at him.

Giles hurried over to Buffy and Tara. "Is she all right?" He was worried, and fear covered his features.

"I’m fine." Tara looked over at the gate. "We have to get through to her."

"Is the metal enchanted?" Anya studied the gate. She recognized the ancient swirling pattern of the wrought iron work. She had seen many such gates during her years as a demon, though usually the enchanted barriers were used to keep magical beings in, not out. She moved over to the lock and smiled. "Spike, you’re a criminal, can you pick this?

"Well, I am dangerous," Spike agreed proudly. He wandered over to Anya and then frowned. "No bleedin’ way we’re picking that thing."

"We won’t have to." Tara stood and her face lost what little color it had. "He’s ready for me."

The lock unlatched and the gate swung open with a loud creak.

"No, no, no, no," Xander said as he pointed at the seemingly possessed gate. "We are not going into the haunted caverns!"


"Deilos," Tara said disgustedly to Xander. "Stay away from me, coward." She marched through the open gate.

"Hello? Trap?" Buffy ran after her. "Big fat vampire trap ready to spring? Is any of this getting through to you?"

The others slowly walked through the gate.

"It’s gonna’ close," Anya said as she pointed her gun at the gate. "These things always close and trap the heroes inside. Then it’s a nasty, bloody death with disemboweling and screaming, lots of screaming."

"What’s the matter, don’t like being on the receiving end of the mayhem?" Spike asked. He hurried to catch up with Buffy and Tara, keeping a watchful eye open for any of the monk vampires.

"Well, no," Anya said. "As a matter of fact, I much prefer to be the one maiming the hero. This self-sacrifice is just insane." She pushed Xander alongside her, using the gun to prod him along.

"Hey!" Xander swatted the gun away "That’s a loaded gun."

"It wouldn’t be much use empty," Anya pointed out.

"And Xander won’t be much use with a hole in his chest," Giles countered.

"I’ve lived over a thousand years," Anya said in a condescending tone. "I think I can handle one little, tiny, bullet-flinging contraption." She flapped the gun in her hand as she spoke.

"Anya, just be careful." Xander hurried ahead of his girlfriend. "That thing is—"

The gun went off and Xander screeched.

"You shot me!" He dropped to his knees and reached back and grabbed his buttocks.

"Xander!" Anya dropped the gun and ran to her boyfriend.

Giles rushed back to Xander. "Pull your trousers down."

"Man, why is it when someone finally asks me to ‘pull my trousers down,’ it’s Giles." Xander flinched as he tugged his jeans down. "It’s always some hot English chick in those porn— umm, instructional videos."

"Is he okay?" Buffy asked.

"Just fine!" Xander whined. "Lovin’ Maggie’s wooden bullets." Xander cringed as he held his butt cheek. A small trickle of blood welled up between his fingers. "I’m shot AND I’ve got splinters in my ass!"

"It just grazed you," Giles said.

"Grazed… my ass," Xander said. "Literally!"

"I’m so sorry," Anya said. She smiled and bit her lip. "At least I missed your crotch. In my demon days I coulda’ castrated you with one shot from with crossbow."

Buffy looked back toward Xander again. She knew Giles would take care of him. She turned around and saw Tara disappearing down one of the side caverns. "Shit! Spike, stay here and protect them." She ran after the blonde witch. "Tara, wait for me!"


Willow watched as Thanatos finished setting up the huge marble room for the ritual. She wasn’t sure what the ritual entailed, but she knew he was taking it more seriously than the last time he had tried to kill her and Tara. Apparently he thought they were special. Willow didn’t think she liked being that kind of special.

‘Tara?’ Willow called out with her mind. She could hear the muffled roar of flames in the outer corridor. ‘Tara?’ she sent again. There was no answer. She sighed and looked back over at the ancient vampire.

"Anxious for the ritual?" Thanatos asked. She smiled like a wolf looking into a lamb’s eyes. "Your mate will be here soon, and we can begin."

"I’m thinking I’d like to pass on the whole ritual thing," Willow said as she tugged at the chains holding her in place. "No offense, but I prefer the magic of two."

"You should be honored," he said as he came closer.

"Honored to be dead?" Willow rolled her eyes. "Right, how could I have missed that?"

"The last time I did this particular ritual was over two thousand years ago." Thanatos leaned down and brushed Willow’s bangs out of her eyes.

"Care to make it three thousand?" Willow offered.

Thanatos laughed and stood to his full height. He looked down at the redheaded witch. "You might make an excellent vampire."

Marcus chose that moment to walk into the marble room. "Lord Thanatos, it is time." He walked over to the altar where Willow was tied. "She comes for you as we speak."

Willow tried not to smile. Thanatos had no idea how powerful Tara was.

"Detain the others," Thanatos said. "I am ready for her."

Marcus nodded and hurried away.

"So, two thousand years ago? That’s a lot of years," Willow commented. "Musta’ been some special witch all those years ago."

"She was more than a witch," Thanatos bragged. "She was the child of a goddess."

"Goddess?" Willow’s voice squeaked.

"I killed the moon goddess’ beloved child," he said as he picked up a jeweled dagger and ran his cloven fingers along the blade.

"No offense, mister big scary vampire, but…I don’t think so." She rolled her eyes and gave Thanatos a doubtful smirk. "Only a god can kill a god. Even I know that."

"A technicality," Thanatos agreed as he walked toward the doorway. "Artemis sent her Arrow to guard her servants. I only needed to break her heart."

"The Arrow?" Willow felt a wave of dizziness. "Belen?" she whispered.

Thanatos spun and ran to Willow’s side. His cloven hooves clattered on the marble floor. "What do you know of Belen?"

"Umm…well, nothing. Who is she?" Willow cringed as images filled her head. She saw herself with Tara and they were both naked in a huge marble room that was the exact opposite of the one she was in. Thanatos had black marble on every surface, but the room in Willow’s vision had white marble as far as the eye could see.

"You spoke her name," Thanatos accused. "Belen is the Arrow. Her name even means ‘arrow.’"

"Was," Willow pointed out smugly. "I mean, you did say you killed her."

"What do you know of her?" the ancient vampire demanded.

"I’m a witch. We know stuff," she bluffed. She squeezed her eyes shut as another vision assaulted her. She saw a beautiful woman, a beautiful naked woman. The woman was talking to Tara.

"I won’t make the same mistake I did with the Arrow," Thanatos said. "I used her mate to lure her to the temple, but I was young and impatient. I drank her lover before I had Belen in my grasp."

"So she killed herself," Willow whispered. "With her athame, and you didn’t get to drain her power."

"How do you know this?" the vampire bellowed.

Willow swallowed hard as her memory returned of the night when she and Tara had met Artemis. She felt her heart quicken as the pieces fell into place. She remembered the look of love, longing, and sadness that had covered Artemis’ face when she spoke to Tara. Willow suddenly understood.

‘I’m dating a goddess,’ Willow thought with a cringe. ‘Me, little Willow Rosenberg. My mother will be so proud.’ She frowned. ‘Well, she would be if I had come out to her, and if she wasn’t totally freaked by anything magical and if I ever live to get out of here.’

"Answer me!" Thanatos yelled as he pressed his dagger to Willow’s throat.

Willow smiled up at him. "Gonna’ repeat history?" she asked smugly. She watched anger flash over his twisted features but then he pulled the dagger away.

"It does not matter," he said as he stomped away. "I will drain her."

My girlfriend is a goddess,’ Willow thought again. ‘She is so gonna’ kick his ass.’ She almost smiled as she heard a song in her mind. ‘My girlfriend’s back and you’re gonna’ be in trouble…" Willow cleared her throat and looked around the room. ‘Okay,’ she thought. ‘I have lost it. I have completely lost it.’ She sighed. ‘Tara, baby, please hurry.’


Buffy sprinted around the corner of the cavern and saw Tara holding two of the monk vampires. She held them by their throats, one in each hand, and their feet flailed in the air a few inches above the ground.

"Where is she?" Tara’s voice was deep and feral.

"Our Lord will protect us," one of the vampires said in a high pitched voice.

"You’re wrong." Tara smiled and tilted her head back as she focused her energy.

"Tara, wait." Buffy ran to stop the blonde from killing the vampires. The Slayer knew enough about vampires to understand that you had to let them claim to be brave before they’d actually crumble and tell you what you needed to know. Buffy was too late.

Both vampires screamed as their undead blood began to boil inside their veins and then Tara dropped them to the floor. They were still screaming when their bodies burst into flames and turned to dust.

"They would have talked," Buffy pointed out. "They always act brave but they talk after one more warning." The Slayer was scared. Tara was not acting like herself, and the changes were frightening. This Tara had a darkness that made Buffy wonder if the blonde Wiccan might become a threat, a threat Buffy would have to deal with as the Slayer.

Tara shrugged and walked away.

Buffy hurried alongside Tara as they rounded the next corner. Another gate was open and they passed through it. It slammed shut behind them with an ominous clang.

"Well, that’s just great." Buffy stared at the closed gated. She didn’t know any other way out of the master’s lair. She turned back toward Tara and saw the blonde staggering over to the wall. "Tara?" She ran to her friend.

"Buffy?" Tara dropped to her knees and her body shook violently. She looked up at the Slayer and for a brief second her eyes turned back to their normal blue before shifting back to white.

"You need to rest," Buffy said gently. "Or at least let me deal with these monks."

"We must hurry," Tara said. He voice was distant and hollow.

"Look, you should save the big flamey spark stuff for Thanatos." Buffy held Tara down when she tried to stand. "Torching these vamps is like using a tactical nuke to kill ants. I can dust the vamps. When we get to Thanatos, I’m gonna’ need you at full strength." Buffy hoped she was getting through to her friend. She could tell that Tara’s body was weakening. Her magic may be going right off the mystical scale, but her body was about to give up.

"But, Willow?" Tara’s eyes shaded back to blue. They still looked odd because the whites of Tara’s eyes had so many broken blood vessels the tissue was completely red. The effect was chilling. Her blue eyes were now rimmed in blood red.

"We’ll get her. I swear." Buffy smiled weakly. Tara’s nosebleed had stopped. Buffy tore off a piece of her sleeve and wiped the remaining blood away. "That’s better. You wanna’ look good for your honey."

Tara took a deep breath and started to nod, but she heard something in the cavern in front of her. Buffy pulled Tara to her feet and held her up as they looked down the darkened corridor.

"Welcome," Marcus said as he stepped into the dim light cast by a flickering torch on one wall.

"Where is she?" Tara raised her hand and pointed it at the vampire.

"She is alive," he said calmly.

"Then you can live for a few more minutes," Buffy said dangerously. "Take us to her." She shifted her weight and Tara leaned into her.

"She must go alone." Marcus smiled. "But you and I can keep each other occupied." He crossed his arms over his chest.

"No thanks," Buffy said. She used her free hand to throw a stake at the vampire. It flew through the cavern with deadly speed, directly for his heart. At the last instant he reached up and caught the weapon.

"Well crafted," he remarked as he turned the stake over in his hand. "Do you carve these yourself?"

"A girl’s gotta’ have a hobby." Buffy shrugged.

Tara’s eyes went back to white. Now the red flesh rimmed the white irises making her eyes look like an inverted target. She held out one hand and squeezed her fingers into a fist. Marcus dropped to the ground and clutched his throat.

"Tell me where she is," Tara demanded.

Marcus nodded and pointed to a doorway several meters further into the cavern.

"Let me handle him," Buffy pleaded. She watched as a fresh trickle of blood made its way down Tara’s lip.

Tara paused, and looked over at Buffy. She squinted as she fought to clear her head. Images were pounding into her mind, images of Willow and a woman in a toga.

"Tara, let him go," Buffy said firmly.

The blonde Wiccan let Marcus drop to the ground and then she slumped to her knees.

"Your powers are muzzled here, witch," he said as he rubbed his throat. "You cannot fight the power of this." He dug a talisman out of his pocket and held it up. "The amulet of Ephese," he said with a rumbling laugh. "Carved from the rubble of the temple of Artemis." He sneered at Tara as he held up the white marble carving. "Even you cannot overcome such power."

Tara narrowed her eyes and focused. The stone talisman glowed and he dropped it. The amulet burst into flames as the vampire could only stare as it melted on the ground in front of him.

Buffy leaped over to the vampire and kicked him in the chest. He doubled over but managed to spin out of her grasp. The two struggled, exchanging blows, while Tara staggered to the wall and leaned her back against the cool earth. She slid down the wall until she was sitting on the soil floor of the cavern, her muscles too weak to stand.

Marcus held his own against the Slayer. He was an excellent fighter, and he didn’t lose his temper like most vampires. Thanatos had taught him well. He bided his time and waited for the Slayer to drop her guard.

"We’re going to save Willow. You have to know that." Buffy punched him in the cheek. "It’s what we do." She kicked at his ribs but he blocked the maneuver and tossed her back. "We are the good guys."

"Not beneath the surface," he said calmly. "Down here you are the criminal. You are the slaughterer." He tossed a crate at her and then moved toward the area where he expected her to jump to safety. When she rolled out of the way of the flying object he was waiting and kicked her in the ribs.

Buffy doubled over but she did manage to back away before he could punch her. She broke off a piece of the nearby crate and threw it at Marcus. It hit him in the stomach and he cringed, but it had missed his heart.

"You cannot win," he said as he yanked the bloodied stake out of his belly. "This is destiny."

"Well spoken, Marcus," Thanatos said as he stepped out of the doorway.

Tara saw Thanatos and crawled to her feet. "You!" she said in a growling whisper. "Prodotis," she said as she felt her rage growing. "Betrayer," she repeated in English. Tara looked over at Marcus; he was evading Buffy at every turn.

"The Slayer cannot defeat him," Thanatos said proudly. "He is my greatest protégée."

Tara raised both eyebrows and then glanced over at Marcus and lifted him into the air with her mind.

"Lord Thanatos?" Marcus said as he found himself pinned motionless in the air.

"How can you cast?" Thanatos stared at Tara. The witch shouldn’t be able to use her powers with the Amulet of Ephese so near. He hadn’t seen her destroy the amulet.

"Not really something that concerns me," Buffy said as she twirled her stake in her hand. She walked over and plunged the weapon into Marcus’ chest and he turned to dust.

"No!" Thanatos bellowed. Marcus had been his most promising student and the blonde witch had used trickery to kill him, to slaughter him like a lamb.

"Aw, we broke his favorite toy," Buffy said sarcastically.

"Your mate will die slowly," Thanatos promised Tara.

Tara’s eyes flashed dangerously. She felt a wave of energy hit her like a troll’s hammer.

"Tara!" Buffy was at her side before she hit the floor.

"She is mine," Thanatos taunted. "Give up now and I will kill you quickly."

Tara groaned as all of her memories came flooding back. She heard a beautiful, lyric voice whisper to her soul. ‘Remember,’ the voice said. It was like a breeze skittering over her skin on a summer day. ‘Remember, Belen.’ She remembered meeting Artemis, but more importantly, she remembered her past life as the Arrow. She remembered every detail of Thanatos’ treachery. She also remembered seeing her soulmate’s lifeless body sacrificed on the sacred altar. History would not repeat itself.

"Enough, beast," Tara said as she pushed Buffy away. "You will not win." Her voice had changed, the tone and cadence completely unfamiliar. She thrust her hand at the ancient vampire and a bolt of white energy shot toward him.

Thanatos scrambled to safety behind a curve in the cavern.

"You will pay," Tara said as her body trembled. She tried to take a step but her legs failed her. She closed her eyes briefly and then began floating down the corridor. "Dolofonos chyrsous psychi!" she yelled. It meant, ‘murderer of the golden soul,’ and as she said the words, her hands crackled with blue arcs.

"Easy," Buffy said as she tried to calm Tara down. She could see that the blonde witch couldn’t take much more of the strain. "Let me go after him."

"I underestimated you," Thanatos said as he ran down the corridor. His hooves pounded on the uneven surface as he made his way back toward the temple. "But your mate is the one who will pay the price."

"No!" Tara yelled. "Ochi!" she repeated ‘no’ in ancient Greek." You will pay the price, dolofonos apo yuchv." The Greek phrase meant ‘assassin of spirits,’ and Tara had every intention of seeing that the vampire paid for his crimes, with interest. She floated down the corridor after Thanatos.

"Damn it, Tara. Hold on a second." Buffy tried to grab her, but Tara tossed her head toward the Slayer and sent her flying across the cavern and into the wall. Buffy landed with a thud as her head slammed into the carved rock. "Oh man," Buffy whispered as she reached back and felt the warm wetness of blood. She had a lump already forming on the base of her skull. She looked up and saw that Tara was gone. "Where’s Giles when I need him?" she whispered.

Tara was out of control, and if she didn’t fry her brain with the magic, Buffy might end up battling the blonde witch. Evil and power were intoxicating, seductive lures, and Buffy realized that Tara was past the point of caring about good or evil. Tara wanted Willow safe, and Buffy knew that was a good thing. Unfortunately with the kind of power Tara was channeling, the blonde Wiccan might not be able to pull herself back from the darkness she was tapping into to save her lover. That meant Buffy would have the job of reining in Tara, and with Tara’s new powers, it might very well be a fight to the death.

 

CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT

"Ouch!" Xander said as he limped along the dimly lit corridor. "Don’t touch it."

"Sorry, honey, sweetie, my big strong man who I am very sorry I shot." Anya had her arm around Xander trying to help him. "Spike, you should carry him."

"Carry him around this dank hole piggyback? Not bloody likely." The platinum-haired vampire didn’t even turn around. He was in front of Giles as the small group made their way deeper into the caverns. "Up there," Spike said. "Another of those gates."

"Probably enchanted as well," Giles pointed out. He grabbed the gate and yanked the bars, rattling the ornate lock.

"So, what are the odds of this one just opening up for us like the other one?" Xander asked. "Open sesame?"

Spike rolled his eyes.

"We should at least try to open it," Giles said. He looked around the cavern’s floor and then hurried over to a piece of steel rebar. "This must be new, part of Thanatos’ construction." He grabbed it and began prying on the gate.

"How’s your bottom?" Anya asked. She smiled shyly at her boyfriend. "Did I mention how very sorry I am?"

Xander glared at her and then limped over and helped Giles yank on the bar. The gate creaked and the lock groaned.

"That shouldn’t happen," Anya said. "What kind of half-baked enchantment did they do on this thing?"

"Who cares," Spike said. "Let’s just get the damn thing open." He reached over Xander’s shoulder and yanked on the bar. He edged closer, bumping Xander’s injury.

"Hey! Injured guy here!" Xander winced as he scooted away.

"Shut up," Spike said. The three pulled together and the gate popped open.

"We shouldn’t have been able to do that," Giles pointed out.

"The enchantment must have been broken," Anya said logically. "Tara probably did something with her sparking flame hands." She sighed and got a faraway look in her eyes.

"I suppose," Giles said slowly. "But why couldn’t she open the other one?"

"Maybe she destroyed the seal, the relic enchanting the gate," Anya suggested. "It would be much easier to damage than the gate."

"Well, come on," Spike said impatiently. "We need to find Buffy." He hurried through the open gate.

"Just call me Festus." Xander limped as quickly as he could.

"Oh, I get it." Anya smiled. "Like Hephaestus. Giles isn’t the only scholar. My Xander can quote Greek myths even with a hole in his bottom. Well, an extra hole in his bottom."

"Must we hear about Xander’s… bottom?" Giles rolled his eyes.

"Finally the Watcher and I agree on something." Spike looked down the corridor and smiled. He saw a pile of dust. "Buffy’s been through here."

"Say something else scholarly," Anya whispered. "It’s kinda’ sexy." She leered at Xander.

"Actually, I was quoting Gunsmoke. You know, Festus the limping sidekick?" He saw Anya’s smile fade. "But hey, Gunsmoke is practically a classic."

Anya scowled.

"Well, it’s kinda’ hard to quote Greek mythology what with a huge bullet hole in my ass," Xander pointed out.

"Gunsmoke? You know I think that is a classic," Anya said quickly.


The temple was quiet except for Willow’s labored breathing as she struggled against her shackles. She was relieved that Thanatos had at least pulled her blouse back in place and closed the buttons that hadn't been torn off earlier. She groaned in frustration and then gasped when she felt the steel cut into her skin. She pursed her lips and scowled.

"Just wait ‘til my girlfriend sees that," she whispered. "Stupid vampires." She twisted her head and studied the thick shackles. They were well constructed with heavy chains that had been bolted directly to the marble altar. "I hate organized vamps," she grumbled.

She heard voices in the outer tunnel, voices she recognized. "Tara! Buffy!" she yelled. "I’m in here!"

Footsteps on the dirt floor made Willow turn hopefully toward the ornate door. She heard the echo change as the footsteps reached the marble flooring. Her hopes fell when Thanatos came storming toward her.

"Bitch!" the ancient vampire yelled as he stomped over to Willow. "She will pay."

"Buffy’s just doing her job," Willow said apologetically. She had seen many vampires lose their temper when Buffy started slaying everything in sight.

"Your mate killed Marcus," Thanatos hissed. He pressed his dagger into Willow’s throat. "A pity. I rather liked you."

"Now don’t be hasty," Willow said with a squeak. "Leverage, remember? You don’t wanna’ be all impulsive and rash like you did two thousand years ago." She felt the blade slice into her flesh and a thin trickle of blood ran down her neck. It stung but she had been cut, stabbed, and even bitten enough times to know it wasn’t deep.

Thanatos took a calming breath and moved to the other side of the altar. It shamed him that the young witch had to remind him of his goal. He leaned down and licked the blood from her neck, closing his eyes to savor her tangy saltiness and the strength she possessed.

Willow tried to move away from the vampire but he leaned closer to prolong the contact. His tongue was cold, and raspy like coarse sandpaper. Willow squeezed her eyes tightly shut and bit the inside of her lip to stop from crying out as he lapped at the injury.

Thanatos jerked his head up and stood when one of his monks came flying through the doorway. The newly sired vampire scrambled to his feet and ran toward Thanatos.

"My Lord, the witch is too strong," he whined as he fell to his knees in front of the ancient one.

"You ran from her?" Thanatos stared down at him.

"She’s killing them all," the monk said in a panic. "Nothing slows her down."

"I am your god," Thanatos reminded the monk. "I asked only that you face her, and you failed me."

"No, my Lord," the monk said as he quickly stood. "I live to serve." He turned and saw Tara standing in the doorway. "Though I walk through the valley of light I will fear no—" A bolt of blue energy sliced his head off before he could finish his unholy prayer.

"Tara!" Willow twisted her head toward her lover but Thanatos gripped her throat as he ducked behind the altar.

"Let her go," Tara ordered. Her eyes were now completely red; Even the irises had filled with blood. She looked over at Willow and paused as memories of her past love for Damara filled her thoughts.

"You cannot win," Thanatos said. "If you try to come closer I will kill her. Give up now and she will live. You have my word."

"Prodotis," Tara said as she moved closer.

"Yeah, betrayer!" Willow said as she echoed her lover’s word. "Wow, I’m translating."

Thanatos continued gripping Willow’s thin neck. He shifted his weight and he wondered why the young Americans were speaking and understanding a language that hadn’t been spoken in millennia.

"You will not win again, beast," Tara promised. She nodded at the black column behind him and it came crashing to the ground and shattered.

Willow winced when the vampire’s grip made her gag. ‘Tara?’ she called out with her mind. It was a long shot, but the fact that Tara was using her magic let Willow think that perhaps they could communicate.

‘I’m here,’ Tara replied as she whipped her head to the side and locked eyes with Willow.

"Go over and lock the shackles on your wrists," Thanatos ordered. "Or I will kill her while you watch."

‘Where’s Buffy?’ Willow asked telepathically. She hoped the mob of vampires had not injured the Slayer. ‘And what happened to your eyes? Why is your nose bleeding? That’s a lot of blood. Is it all yours?’

‘Buffy’s dealing with his monks,’ Tara responded as she took another step closer.

"Do as I tell you." Thanatos shook Willow by the throat.

Tara’s eyes narrowed when she saw Willow’s face turning red from being choked. "Enough," she said quietly. Tara tilted her head to the side and focused. Her legs threatened to buckle, and her head ached but she wouldn’t fail her lover again. Damara’s face flashed through her mind. She held out her hand and made a fist.

Thanatos looked down at his hand as he felt the bones in his wrist crack. He struggled against the pain and responded by lifting Willow off of the marble by her spindly throat. Her arms were still shackled so her body was stretched like a bow as he pulled her into the air.

"No." Tara stopped her attack and stumbled back a few paces. "Don’t hurt her."

‘Tara, no,’ Willow pleaded with her mind. ‘You can’t give in to him. And you didn’t tell me what happened to your eyes. There’s so much blood.’

"I will do more than hurt her if you don’t get over on that altar." Thanatos loosened his grip and lowered the slender redhead back onto the marble slab. He gave her a vicious shake to make Tara hurry.

Tara slowly nodded. She walked toward the altar, each step increasingly more difficult. Her legs felt like lead and she staggered.

"You are weakening," Thanatos commented. He smiled. "Perhaps Marcus’ binding spell did work after all."

‘The binding spell is broken,’ Tara sent to Willow. ‘It never worked on me anyway, but I broke the amulet. You can cast, love.’ She glared at Thanatos and then levitated herself and floated over to the altar. "I’m here. Let her go."

‘It didn’t work because… you’re Belen. The Arrow.’ Willow swallowed hard. ‘Why isn’t Buffy here yet?’ Willow asked her lover.

‘The monks were waiting in the outer chamber of this temple. Buffy’s holding them off,’ Tara told Willow with her mind. She looked down at the altar and sat. ‘You remember everything?’

"Now the chains," Thanatos said. He loosened his grip and let Willow take in a few deep breaths.

‘Yes, everything,’ Willow sent. ‘You can’t let him drain your power. No matter what.’

Tara lifted the shackle to her wrist and paused. ‘I have our Artemis stones in my pocket. He can’t feel my full power as long as I’m touching them.’

"Do it," Thanatos growled.

Willow couldn’t allow her lover to sacrifice herself. She looked over at Tara and love filled her heart. "Beast, I’m not your bait anymore," Willow told him with chilling calm.

"What?" He looked down, trying not to let Tara out of his sight for more than an instant.

"Incumbo neco," the redhead spoke the words in Latin. They meant ‘put myself to death.’ Willow’s body stiffened and then went limp. Thanatos had his hand clutching her throat and he panicked when he felt her pulse stop.

"No!" Tara yelled. She stumbled off of the altar and fell to her knees. Her nose was still draining onto her chest and blood seeped from both ears. She looked over at the table near one wall and saw an athame. She focused on it and it flew toward her, landing a few feet from her hands and clattering across the marble tile.

"I will not be denied!" Thanatos remembered all too well how another set of lovers had denied him his destiny. He released Willow’s throat and ran toward Tara, intent on getting the dagger before the powerful witch could take her own life like her lover had just done. "I won’t let history repeat," he said as he picked up the dagger and laughed.

"Neither will I," Willow said from behind him. She was standing next to the altar, free from the shackles and glaring at the ancient vampire. "Levatio," she whispered as she focused on Tara and levitated her lover off of the floor.

"Aoitos," Tara taunted using the ancient word for fool. "She used a simple glamour to deceive you. A child could cast that spell, and only an anoitos would believe it."

"I am no one’s fool," Thanatos yelled. He dove toward Tara with the dagger but she hit him with a blast of energy. She was too weak to cut him in half, but the impact did send him flying across the temple. He landed on a table and it shattered under his massive weight and he lost the athame.

Willow ran to her lover and pulled her into a hug as the blonde Wiccan lowered to the ground. "Come on, baby." Willow was holding up Tara’s full weight and trying to drag her lover out of the temple. "We have to get you out of here."

Tara shook her head. "It ends here." She was a mess. Her nosebleed had slowed but that was due more to the amount of blood already lost than any improvement in her condition. She was as pale as pristine white marble, and her body trembled as she tried to stand.

"I’ll bring Buffy back for him," Willow whispered. She was afraid to use her telepathic powers, terrified the added use of magical exertion might tax Tara’s already overloaded system.

Tara shook her head. She coughed, covering her mouth with a shaking hand. When she pulled her hand away, the palm was splattered with blood. Tara knew if she didn’t defeat Thanatos now, she wouldn’t be around to do it later.

"You are killing yourself by using magic," Thanatos said as he climbed from the floor and targeted Tara. He was a wolf coming for the kill, his eyes locking with his prey’s and his deadly intent clear in his purposefully movement as he stalked closer.

"It doesn’t matter. I won’t fail her again." Tara closed her eyes and tossed him into the wall again.

"Why do you fight when you know I will win?" Thanatos asked as he dusted off his arm. He was off to one side of the room and he stumbled as he tried to get back to the two witches. He reached over and grabbed a ceremonial dagger and took aim at Willow.

"Thymoumai?" Tara asked in the ancient tongue. It meant ‘Remember?’ and her voice was laced with venom as she slowly turned her head and looked into Thanatos’ eyes. "You killed her once, beast. And now I have your ofeili i." She smiled and licked her lips. She tossed her head and sent the dagger flying out of his misshapen hand.

"Ofeili i?" His eyes opened wide and the ancient vampire felt pure terror. "What do you mean you have my ‘debt due?’"

"You ripped my heart out so long ago," Tara said calmly. "I’m returning the favor." She closed her eyes and the vampire howled in pain.

"What are you doing?" He clutched his chest and fell to his knees. "How?" Black blood poured from his mouth.

"Not how," Tara said. "Who." She closed her fist in the air and smiled.

Thanatos bellowed, his pain echoing off of the marble walls. His body shook and he looked down as his chest burst open and his heart rolled out onto the black marble floor. He looked over at the witch and his body shook.

"Who are you?" He was on his knees, twitching as he looked down at his undead heart. Since it hadn’t been staked and he hadn’t been decapitated, he still lived, but he was in agony. He couldn’t move, not even to back away. The golden-hair witch lifted off of the ground and floated over to him. She picked up his heart and held it out to him.

"I am Belen," Tara whispered. "And I will drag you to the other side with me this time." She settled her feet onto the marble floor and reached down to pick up a shattered wooden leg from the table he had landed on earlier. She held it over his cold heart in her hand. His blacken blood dripped between her fingers and mingled with her own blood that was pooling at her feet.

"She is dead." He shook his head from side to side, and then the realization hit him when he looked over at Willow. He was not the only one who appreciated symmetry. The Powers That Be were famous for their use of irony. "Damara," he whispered. "This time I will have to settle for only sending the Arrow to her death."

"No," Willow said gently. She took Tara’s wrist and pulled the blonde to her. "She’s not the Arrow. Not anymore." She looked at the rotten lump in Tara’s hand and shivered. She had never seen a vampire’s heart before, and the sight sickened her. She took the wooden table leg from her lover and plunged it into Thanatos’ heart. "She’s my Tara, and you can’t have her."

Thanatos’ eyes only slightly widened when he saw his heart turn to dust. An accepting smile lifted one side of his gnarled lips as his body followed suit. A muted hissed punctuated his demise and his dust fluttered to the floor.

Tara let her weight press into Willow’s body. She was exhausted and just standing was taking its toll. She let out a relived sigh and her muscles gave up. She slid down Willow’s body even as her lover tried to hold her up.

"Baby?" Willow asked frantically. "No, Tara. Don’t do this to me," she pleaded as Tara’s body went limp and slumped onto the tile. She tried to lift her lover’s face toward her own but Tara’s head flopped back as if the blonde witch’s bones had wilted from the exertion.

"I saved you this time, love," Tara whispered. Her eyes rolled back into her head and she began to convulse.

"No!" Willow began to cry and she held Tara to her chest as if love alone could stop the shaking. "Baby, no."

The shaking slowed to fitful jerks that punctuated each ragged breath Tara drew into her body. Willow lowered her to the cool tile and wiped the blood from Tara’s face. Her nose was seeping blood so dark it looked black, and her eyes wept rivulets of crimson tears.

"Tara?" Buffy chose that moment to come running into the temple. She saw Willow on the floor cradling Tara’s lifeless body and a sense of deja vu ran through her. She realized Tara wouldn’t make it to the hospital this time. There would be no bedside vigil. "Oh, god, no," Buffy whispered as she ran to her friend.

Willow was crying silently and rocking on the floor. Tears ran down her cheeks as if the salt could wash away the image of Tara’s crumbled body.

Buffy was afraid to touch Willow. She could tell that her best friend was barely holding herself together. The Slayer turned toward the door. "Giles!" she yelled.

Willow didn’t even flinched as the Slayer continued screaming.

"Giles, hurry!" Buffy moved toward the door but then turned and took a step toward Willow. She decided she couldn’t take away Willow’s pain so she focused on something she could do. "Giles, where the hell are you?"

The Watcher stumbled through the doorway with a huge stake gripped in both hands. "Thanatos?" he asked. He was taking in gulps of air and barely managing to hold up the huge spear they had designed just for the ancient vampire.

"He’s gone," Willow said hollowly. She didn’t take her eyes off of her fallen lover. The blonde’s breathing had slowed to an occasional gurgling gasp. "My Tara killed him." Willow ran her fingers through the blonde’s hair trying to smooth out the sweat matted strands.

"Oh, dear lord." Giles dropped the huge stake and ran toward Willow. The stake clattered across the marble and rolled to a stop against the altar Willow had been tied to earlier. "We have to get her help." He dropped to one knee next to Tara and rested his hand on Willow’s shoulder. "We must hurry."

Tara groaned and then whimpered as she leaned toward Willow.

"I’m here, baby." Willow nodded her head and whispered soothing murmurs into Tara’s ear. She smiled when her lover’s eyes flickered open.

"You’re safe?" Tara asked weakly.

"Yes, love." Willow nodded and pulled Tara closer. Her throat ached as she fought to speak. "You saved me this time."

"Willow," Tara said quietly. She was struggling to speak. Her nose had stopped bleeding but her breathing was still labored.

"What is it, sweetie?" Willow shifted her hold on Tara so she could look into her lover’s bloodied eyes. The irises had returned to blue but they looked more like purple because of the broken blood vessels.

"Don’t." Tara shook her head and coughed.

Buffy looked at Giles and tears filled her eyes. The Watcher moved to her side and offered his silent support.

"Don’t what?" Willow sniffled. She ran her hand through Tara’s hair and then kissed her forehead. "Don’t what, baby?"

Tara swallowed and then shivered. "I don’t want machines," she managed to whisper. She coughed, cringing as pain shot through her.

Willow’s eyes opened wide as she realized what her lover was asking. She shook her head. "No, Tara, you’re not going to die. You’re not going to be on any machines."

Buffy coughed off a sob and wandered away from the private scene. Buffy remembered a similar conversation the night before her mother’s brain surgery.

Giles wrapped his arm over Buffy’s shoulder and gave her a gentle squeeze. She burst into silent tears and turned and held onto him and wept openly for the first time since her father abandoned her family.

Tara’s breathing slowed and her eyes began to gloss over. She fought to stay with Willow. "Promise," she whispered. "Not gonna’…" She coughed, and blood stained her lips. "Not like…her …"

Willow closed her eyes and inhaled deeply. She knew her lover’s mother had been kept on machines and that it had broken Tara’s heart. She let out the breath slowly as she steeled her resolve. "I promise," Willow said firmly.

Tara’s eyes met Willow’s and then they glazed completely over and she went limp in her lover’s arms. The sparkle in her eyes faded, red tears boiling out as her lids closed.

"We need to take her home," Willow said. She pressed her lips to Tara’s cheek and then settled her onto the marble. Tara was still breathing but her body was completely slack. "Buffy, will you carry her?"

Buffy nodded as she backed away from Giles’ embrace. She cleared her throat and wiped her eyes.

"Careful," Willow said as she let her best friend lift her lover from the floor. "She’s cold," Willow whispered. "She hates being cold."

Giles pushed up his glasses onto his forehead and wiped his eyes. He settled them back into place and hurried over and yanked a black velvet curtain from the wall and brought it over to Buffy.

"Here," he said as he held out the fabric.

Buffy nodded and placed Tara on the altar while she wrapped her in the cloth.

Willow shivered when she saw her bloodied lover on the altar. It reminded her of Cordelia’s vision.

"All non-vampires get out of my way," Anya announced from the door. "Dangerous gun here!" She carefully moved into the room with Maggie’s gun aimed at the floor. "Where are the vampires?" She saw Tara and the former demon’s legs buckled. She leaned onto the wall and frowned. "Typical Greek tragedy," she whispered.

Spike sauntered into the room with Xander on his back. Before he could complain about the indignity of carting around one of Buffy’s friends he saw the unfolding scene and shrugged Xander off of his back.

"Hey, injured war hero here," Xander complained. While fighting one of the monks Xander’s injured behind had been kicked by a zealous vampire. He spun and saw Tara and then cringed and turned away.

"Xander, hold me?" Anya moved over to her lover and hugged him.

"Shh," he murmured as he held her. "Why aren’t we getting her to a hospital?" he asked.

"Little late for that," Spike said quietly. It wasn’t laced with his normal acerbic tone; in fact, he sounded genuinely upset.

 

CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE

Anya stared at the unfolding scene. Everyone in the huge temple seemed to have given up on Tara. She looked at Willow and couldn’t be angry. The redhead had already endured nearly losing Tara on several occasions, but the rest of the Scoobies should have had more faith. Willow was in shock, and the rest of them should be taking up the slack like everyone was always trying to make Anya do. They should be fighting to save Tara.

"Why are you all just standing around?" Anya pulled away from Xander’s arms. "She’s still breathing. Why aren’t you carrying her to the ER?" She went over to Buffy and shoved the Slayer. "Find a closet door like in that warehouse. Do something."

Buffy locked eyes with Giles. He lifted Tara into her arms. "We’ll get her to the hospital in no time," Giles said. He tried to sound hopeful, but his eyes showed that he didn’t think she would survive more than a few minutes. He took Tara’s wrist in his hand and felt her weak, thready pulse.

Willow hovered next to Tara, reaching out to make sure the velvet was keeping her lover warm.

"She killed him, didn’t she?" Anya asked.

Willow nodded without looking away.

"Artemis should be pleased." Anya looked around the room.

"What?" Willow spun and glared at the former demon.

"Thanatos killed the Arrow," Anya explained. "Artemis thought her daughter was invincible, and she’s been trying to get revenge on Thanatos since the Arrow died." Anya’s voice was full of emotion. She didn’t like what she was saying, but she thought Willow had the right to know. "Now Artemis has balanced the scales."

Willow closed her eyes and rubbed her face with both hands. She felt righteous indignation filling the emptiness inside her. She turned and looked at Tara and then the formerly shy, bookish nerd who wouldn’t dare question any authority figure snapped.

"Is that what this is all about?" Willow yelled as she looked up at the ceiling. "Artemis? Is that why Tara is bleeding to death?" She narrowed her eyes and balled her hands into fists. "Get your sorry Greek ass down here and tell me to my face why my lover has to suffer!"

"Willow!" Anya backed away. "Don’t piss off a goddess," she said as she pulled Xander away with her. "Do you want to get hit by lightning?"

"Come on, Artemis. Bring it on. Give me your best shot," Willow taunted as she paced the room. "What’s the mater? Don’t wanna’ get your hands dirty?" She held up her bloodstained hands, hands stained with Tara’s blood. "Get down here and talk to me." She spit on the marble floor for good measure.

Buffy cradled Tara in her arms and watched as her best friend continued ranting. Each of Willow’s words seemed to stoke the redhead’s internal rage.

"Artemis!" Willow yelled. "What kind of mother are you? You’re nothing to Tara! Do you hear me?" She stomped over to Tara and touched her cheek. "She doesn’t deserve you," Willow whispered. She backed away, not wanting to scream so close to her unconscious lover. "You don’t deserve her! Do you hear me? You can’t hold a candle to a real mother. You’ll never know what love is! You don’t know the meaning of love you selfish, immature, self-important, arrogant bitch!"

Giles backed over to the wall and looked away. Willow’s grief was too painful and personal and he felt like an intruder.

Spike cleared his throat and walked over to Willow. She was shaking as she held her fists clenched to her sides. He stepped in front of her and cleared his throat more loudly.

She whipped her head up and glared at him, ready to use her powers to toss him away from her.

"You wanna’ hit me?" he asked quietly. "I’m kinda’ supernatural. It might help." He held out his chin and clenched his jaw waiting for her to strike. "Make you feel better for a bit at least."

Willow furrowed her brow as she realized that he was serious. She laughed and gave him a gentle shove. "You hear that?" she yelled at the ceiling. "A vampire knows more about selflessness than you do, Artemis. A vampire has more compassion for your chosen ones than the immortal goddess of women!"

Spike looked down at the floor. If he had a pulse to pump blood, he would have blushed.

"A soulless vampire and he has more integrity than you do," Willow said with a bitter laugh.

Anya cringed and wondered if she was far enough away from the lightning that was surely about to hit Willow.

"You spineless bitch!" Buffy yelled. She decided if there was a goddess around, having her show up might be a good thing. "Some great warrior you are!"

"That’s right!" Spike yelled. "I’m a vampire and I fight the good fight. Where are you, moon goddess? You prance around in the moonlight, but I fight evil…and I AM evil."

"Are you all insane?" Anya was pulling Xander out of the room. He yanked free.

"Yeah, and I’ll bet if you didn’t have your goddess powers you couldn’t even get a girlfriend," Xander taunted. "I’ve seen some hairy Greek women… I’ll bet you’re one of those!"

"Xander!" Anya hit him. "Greek women are hot, you idiot!"

"Have ya’ seen Mrs. Popodopolous?" Xander asked.

"She’s ninety-four," Buffy pointed out. "And she has a hormone imbalance."

Giles stepped forward. "Artemis, it’s been said that you were the most devoted of the gods, that you loved your followers as much as you loved yourself. Poppycock!" Giles said. He didn’t know if they could actually anger a goddess into showing herself, but insulting the immortal was strangely cathartic. "And I think those statues at the Guggenheim are entirely overly flattering," he added.

Willow stared at her friends and her heart filled with pride. "See Artemis," she said calmly. "This is family. We’re just human…" She looked over at Spike. "And some us aren’t even that, and we know more about love than you ever will." She sighed and looked over at Tara, then leaned her head back and stared at the ceiling. "You immortal bitch."

"Enough." Artemis appeared next to Willow. The beautiful, voluptuous goddess was wearing a pristine white toga that barely covered her abundant cleavage.

"Spudoinkel," Xander said. "I take back my insult." He stared at the sable haired goddess and tried not to drool. "Nice shiny weapon," he added as he nodded at the silver bow draped over one of her shoulders.

"Artemis." Willow stepped closer, anger making her voice quiver. "How could you?" Willow asked the goddess. She looked over at her unconscious lover and felt tears run down her cheeks. Her chest ached as she watched Tara breathing in fatigued wheezes. Willow faced the immortal. "She was your daughter."

"I want to make it perfectly clear that I did not insult you," Anya said. She looked over at Tara and her eyes narrowed and then she glared at Artemis. "Bitch!" She nodded her head and smiled at Xander. "Oh, that felt good," she whispered.

Spike backed away and tried to blend into the wall. He hadn’t thought the immortal would actually appear and now he didn’t know what to expect.

"Fix her," Buffy ordered. She lifted Tara towards the goddess but didn’t release her firm hold. "Now."

"You dare give me orders?" Artemis raised both eyebrows high onto her elegant forehead.

"I dare. Now do it." Buffy glared at the immortal.

"It’s not your place to ask," the goddess pointed out.

"Do it!" Willow yelled. "What kind of sick games are you playing? Do I have to say the magic word? Please? Open sesame? Abracadabra? What do you want from me?" the redhead asked as she leaned toward the goddess until their chests were almost touching.

"See? I told you they mess with lives," Anya said sagely over Xander’s shoulder. "It’s what they do."

"It’s not that simple, little one," Artemis said sadly as she looked into Willow’s eyes.

"It never is with them." Anya peeked out from behind Xander.

"Why not?" Willow pleaded. "Please."

"You didn’t do this," the goddess said. "You can’t undo it."

"Save the witch," Spike said. He walked up to the goddess and took a deep breath. "Give her what evil took." He looked at Willow and sighed. "Take me instead. I’m evil. That’s what you want… good defeats evil and all that."

Willow’s eyes widened. She was shocked by Spike’s offer. She looked over and saw equally shocked looks on all the faces in the room.

"Are you certain?" Artemis asked. She reached her hand toward his forehead.

"No, I’m not certain, you bleeding wench. I’m evil. This is new to me," Spike said angrily. "Just do it."

"No." Willow rested her hand on Spike’s arm. "He’s not evil, well, not completely evil."

"Hey! I may be chipped but I’m evil." He gave her an insulted glare.

"He’s evil," Buffy said as she walked over to the vampire. "But that doesn’t make him completely bad."

"It is his choice," Artemis said. She looked into the vampire’s eyes.

"Do it," he said. He snarled and morphed into his demon form. "If I’m going out in the name if evil, I should at least look the part." He rolled his shoulders and stood to his full height.

"Thank you." Willow squeezed his arm. "But Tara would never let you do that, and neither will I." She pulled him back, shaking her head. "We can’t trade you for her."

A flash of white light filled the room and Spike was tossed back. He stood up and felt his chest and realized he hadn’t been injured.

"Come on," Artemis said. "Did you really think it would be as simple as that? Me taking evil?" She rolled her eyes and looked at Willow. "It was about you, little one. It always has been. You had to make a sacrifice equal to Tara’s," she explained.

"Willow!" Buffy yelled. She looked down at Tara. The blonde was completely healed and struggling in her arms.

"Tara!" Willow ran to lover. Buffy couldn’t get Tara out of the velvet cloth. Finally the Slayer just plopped the witch onto the floor and yanked one end of the fabric, rolling Tara across the floor.

"Hey!" Tara rolled to a stop but didn’t get the chance to stand. Willow pounced on her. "What happened?" the confused blonde asked.

"I got you back. Oh baby, you’re with me." After Willow had kissed every part of Tara’s face the redhead pulled back. She looked at the goddess and frowned. "What do you mean I had to make a sacrifice?" She jumped to her feet. "Sacrifice? What the hell do you think Tara and I have been doing ever since we did your damn bonding?"

"You had to be willing to give up your soulmate because it was the right thing to do," Artemis said. She smiled at Tara. "Just like she was willing to leave you because it needed to be done."

"Well, isn’t that just like you Greek immortals," Anya said with disgust. "Climb down off your Pantheon and smell the human suffering. Humans sacrifice for love every single day, you moron."

Tara looked over at Anya and giggled.

"Have you seen where babies come from?" Anya demanded. "Hello? Ten pound babies…and they come out of down there! That’s some serious sacrifice."

Willow nodded. "You’re the goddess of childbirth… you couldn’t have made babies come out all tiny like kangaroos?" Willow had always had a fear of having a huge child, and now that Tara was all right she was babbling. Excitement did that to her. "Couldn’t you let them grow to be ten pounds after the birth? Little teeny tiny babies the size of pinto beans…like kangaroos. Beans…that's a reasonable baby size," Willow explained.

Tara bit her lip and stood up. She went to Willow’s side and shook her head. She and her lover had had this same debate on many occasions.

Artemis smiled tolerantly. "You can have your soulmate back alive and well, or I can make human’s into marsupials. Take your choice."

"Soulmate please," Willow said sheepishly.

"I’m so proud of you," the goddess said as she walked over to Tara. "You beat him."

"I didn’t do it for you," Tara said. She looked up at Artemis and smiled sweetly. "You’re a goddess, and I respect that, but you’re not my mother, not anymore." She reached back and took Willow’s hand. "I did it for her."

"You were mine before you were hers," the immortal pointed out.

"You’re wrong." Tara stepped back and wrapped her arm over Willow’s shoulder. "I’ve always been hers, and I always will be."

Willow nodded with a quirky half grin. "And I’m hers."

"Hey, umm, goddess of the moon?" Xander cleared his throat and stepped forward and gave her a shy wave. "Hi, I’m Xander… umm… listen, since you’re handing out the miracles…"

"Oh!" Anya rushed forward. "He’s got a hole in his bottom! An extra one."

Artemis smiled and bit her lip. "Indeed?"

"Shh…" Xander raised both eyebrows, signaling for his girlfriend to be quiet. "Actually, I wasn’t so worried about that." He stepped closer. "You’re a goddess, right?"

Artemis nodded tolerantly.

"An ass kicking, warrior goddess who, well, who kicks ass, right?" Xander asked as he stepped closer.

The goddess nodded and crossed her arms over her chest and waited for him to get to his point. She shifted her silver bow into a more comfortable position as she watched him squirm.

"So, well, we’ve got this little problem, well, a big problem actually and I was wondering if you could maybe kick some ass for us." He smiled brightly. "Please?"

"Glorificus," Anya explained. "She’s causing all kinds of trouble."

"Yeah, you could so kick her butt!" Willow nodded enthusiastically. "And you owe us…" she added in a tiny whisper. "Making Tara almost die every five-freaking-minutes."

"Will you help us?" Tara asked.

"I can’t," Artemis explained sadly. "She isn’t from the Greek Pantheon. I can’t interfere with her destiny."

"But you can toy with Willow and Tara all you want, is that right?" Buffy challenged.

"The scales had to be balanced," the goddess said. She turned and went over to Tara. "I’m sorry you were injured."

"What happens if she uses her magic again?" Willow asked harshly. "I did not like the whole seeing my girlfriend bleeding to death thing."

Tara nodded as she pulled Willow closer.

Artemis waved her hand over Tara’s forehead. A bolt of golden light enveloped the blonde Wiccan and she lost her balance.

"Hey!" Willow kept a firm grip on Tara but she turned and glared at the goddess. "Didn’t we just establish that Tara has sacrificed enough?" She bent down and looked into Tara’s eyes. "You okay, baby?"

"Fine." Tara stood to her full height and looked over at Artemis. "What did you do to me?"

"Nothing," the goddess said with a sad smile. "I undid it."

"You removed her powers," Giles said. He had been staying off to one side watching the conversation, too shocked to contribute anything. It wasn’t every day he got to meet a legendary Greek goddess, and he was rather shaken.

"Yes," Artemis said. She looked at Tara. "The Fates released all of your mystical energy when you did your bonding with Willow." She sighed and looked into Tara’s sea blue eyes. The goddess had an expression of complete adoration. "They weren’t supposed to do that. When Demara was killed, and you chose to follow her into death, you lost all of your demigoddess powers for eternity. The Fates knew Thanatos was returning and decided to help."

"Some help," Anya scoffed. "Fried her brain like a piece of the colonel’s chicken." She frowned. "Do you have friend chicken on the Pantheon?" She smacked her lips. "You really should try fast food while you’re down here." She tilted her head to one side. "Wait, I’m still mad at you. Yes, you fried Tara’s brain. Well, thank you but no thank you. I think I’ll pass on any gifts from you."

"I’m not a witch anymore?" Tara asked quietly. She looked over at her lover and hoped she and Willow could still connect without magic to bind them.

"You’re still a witch," Artemis said with a smile. "And so is Willow." She walked over and cupped Tara’s chin in her hand. "You just can’t access your Olympian powers anymore, ever."

"But she’s a witch, right?" Willow inquired.

"Yes, a strong one." Artemis rolled her eyes. "Don’t worry. She’ll still have all of her human powers from her past lives, just not the godly ones."

"So what happens now?" Buffy asked. She too was a bit stunned by all of the revelations.

"I leave," Artemis said. "I’m not supposed to even be on this plain, but…" She looked over at Willow and winked. "We are allowed to return to Earth to deal with blasphemers."

"I told you," Anya said. She backed away from Willow and looked for a place to take cover. "Lighting bolts. They slap you with lighting bolts."

"I prefer to use beasts," Artemis said. "Though a pack of wolves isn’t as inconspicuous as it used to be."

"Oh god!" Anya grabbed Xander and shoved him in front of her as a shield. "Bunnies!"

"No bunnies. They’re too cute." Artemis rolled her eyes and smiled at Anya. "Although, you know I did once punish an arctic scientist by having a stampede of penguins trample her."

"Killed by penguins?" Willow’s eyes widened. She shivered as she pictured that scene and realized she’d probably now have nightmares about penguins as well as frogs.

"Not killed," the goddess corrected. "Just covered with hundreds of little webbed-foot shaped bruises."

"I do have a few other questions." Giles stepped forward and went to the goddess. As he had listened to her prattling on about penguins he realized that Tara seemed to have retained something of her immortal mother. Tara had a tendency to chatter about little animals as well.

Artemis looked at him skeptically.

"Why was there mention of ‘the gentle girl?" Giles asked. "We found references to it in…" He paled as he realized that he was quoting a comic book to an immortal goddess from the age of great literature. "Well, we found reference to it."

"Aren’t Watchers well versed in the meaning of names?" Artemis asked politely.

"Yes, of course," Giles said proudly. He puffed his chest out as he realized that even the great Artemis knew about Watchers. Truly it must be a noble calling.

"Damara," Artemis said with a demure smile that reminded Giles of Tara.

"Hmm?" Willow stepped forward, but then stopped. "Geeze, could ya’ maybe fix my brain too," she asked. "That really feels like it’s still my name."

Tara smiled and pulled her lover closer. "You’re my Willow," Tara whispered as she pressed her lips to Willow’s ear. "And don’t you forget it."

"Damara is a Greek name," Artemis explained. "It means ‘gentle girl.’ That was the name I gave her when she pledged herself to my temple." She looked over at Giles and cleared her throat. "Or didn’t your little comic book tell you that?" She raised one eyebrow.

"I… Well… I…" Giles blushed furiously, both because the goddess knew that he read comic books and because he should have thought to research the name Damara.

"It was my comic book," Spike pointed out.

"Hey, do you ever read Witchblade?" Xander asked. "Because you’d look great in her costume…" He cringed when Anya hit him. "Ouch."

"That’s blasphemy," the former demon whispered. "Do you want to be trampled by penguins? Or bunnies?"

"I really should be going," the goddess said, though she didn’t answer Xander’s question.

"Wait." Buffy cleared her throat. "Tara called me a guardian, when she went all demigoddess with the white eyes." The Slayer looked almost timid, as if she was leery of asking her next question. "Do I always come back as a Slayer?"

"No, child," the goddess said. "She reacted to your essence." She tilted her head and studied Buffy. "You have no idea what you are," she whispered. "Your aura," she explained. "Slayers… or guardians, as we called them in the ancient times, don’t have normal auras."

"So she recognized the Slayerness… not the Buffyness?" The blonde Slayer felt relief wash through her well-muscled body.

The goddess nodded.

"Now that news is a gift," Buffy said with a huge grin. "No spending eternity fighting vamps." She tilted her head to one side. "I’m not like a slave chick am I? With the heavy lifting?"

Artemis looked up at the ceiling as if listening to something. She nodded and then a look of sorrow covered her face.

"I must go," the goddess said. She looked over at Buffy. "And no, you’re not an eternal slave." She went to Tara’s side and took the blonde’s hand. "Be happy."

"I will," Tara said as her eyes drifted to Willow. The redhead was her happiness.

"What about Willow’s powers?" Giles asked quickly.

"She has her own destiny," the goddess said cryptically. She hugged Tara and whispered in her former daughter’s ear. "Keep Willow away from dark magic, my beautiful arrow. Its lure is strong for her, especially in protection of you." She pulled back and kissed Tara’s forehead and then disappeared in a bright flash of light.

Tara looked over at her lover and she remembered Willow looking through one of Giles’ books called, ‘Darkest Magick,’ but Willow would never tamper with the book, not even to fight Thanatos. The goddess must have been wrong.

"Now that’s an exit," Anya commented. "And none of us even got fried by lightning." She glared at Willow. "Not that some of us didn’t ask for it."

"Anya, I’ve been working on a spell…" Willow smiled dangerously. "It involves…thousands of bunnies that appear in the blink of an eye…"

Anya began hyperventilating and clung to Xander.

"No bunny threats," Xander said angrily. "I’ve had it with the fighting. I thought we settled this when Olaf the troll was here."

"That was before Anya ‘the seduction poster child’ went after Tara," Buffy pointed out.

"Willow can have her," Anya said emphatically. "Are you nuts?" She pointed at Tara. "She was a freakin’ demigod, a Greek demigod no less. Do you have any idea how much those gods like to mess with their half-children? Have you read about Hercules?"

Willow smiled smugly and hugged Tara. ‘I’ll take my chances with you in any life,’ Willow said with her thoughts. She hoped she and her lover still shared that particular power.

‘Not any life,’ Tara corrected with her mind. ‘Every life.’

"Shouldn’t we get this circus on the road?" Spike asked. "I mean, you may have killed Thany and his boys, but every other vamp in town is gonna be heading back from dinner right about now."

"I hate to say this… but Spike’s right." Buffy grabbed her weapons from the floor and sighed. "Besides, we need to check on Doctor Maggie."

"Anya…" Giles went to the former demon. "Do you really think…" He cleared his throat and glanced over at Tara. The beautiful Wiccan was still holding Willow in her arms. "Do you really think that Tara will be tormented?"

"You’ve met her ‘blood kin,’ what do you think?" Anya tugged on Xander’s arm. "Let’s go home, Xander." She handed Giles Maggie’s gun. "And you carry the nasty gun."

"But, Anya, do you think Tara will have to face labors? Like Hercules and his twelve labors of myth?" Giles walked along beside the former demon wanting answers.

"Twelve Labors?" Anya burst into laughter. "Labors?" She laughed so hard she snorted and had to lean into Xander to keep her balance. "Please," she said as she waved a hand at the Watcher. "Talk about exaggeration. Twelve labors, my behind. That was more like two labors, eight favors and a few errands." She stopped and pinched Giles’ cheek. "Don’t believe everything you read." She released his cheek and pulled Xander into the cavern as she continued laughing.

Giles stood and watched her leave. He was stunned.

"Twelve labors?" Anya said in the distance. Her laughter echoed off the walls.

Willow and Tara stopped next to Giles and studied him.

"Are you okay, Mister Giles?" Tara leaned down and looked into his eyes.

"Yes, quite," he said as he shook his head and walked out of the temple.

"We should stay close to him," Willow pointed out. "He doesn’t look well." She and her lover followed Giles keeping a close watch on the Watcher.

"So, Spike," Buffy went over to the vampire. She stood in front of him and looked at her feet. "That thing with the thing…"

"Never mention it again," Spike said angrily. "It was a moment of weakness." He cleared his throat and looked around the marble room. "Won’t happen again, I can tell you."

"Never happened." Buffy nodded.

"Damn right," he agreed. He didn’t want to get the reputation of actually trying to save a human, a witch no less.

"Thanks," Buffy whispered as she jogged away to catch up with Willow and Tara.

Spike smiled as he watched her go. He looked around the temple and walked over to an ancient chalice that had been knocked onto the floor. He recognized it as the infamous chalice of Thanatos. It was a relic that celebrated the ancient vampire’s greatest conquests. It was worth a small fortune.

"Bastard," he mumbled as he stomped on it. It shattered and he hurried out of the temple. "Not that I give a rat’s behind about the witches," he whispered as he lit a cigarette.


Giles drove Anya, Xander, Buffy and the two witches to the hospital. The Watcher had the foresight to keep several changes of clothes in his trunk. If the police ever detained him, he would have a difficult time explaining why he kept such a large collection of young women’s clothing in his trunk.

Spike chose to stay behind and brood. He was not happy with his display of humanity in the temple.

As for Xander, the further he got from the danger of the underground caverns, the more he complained about his injury. He rode to the hospital standing up since he couldn’t really sit. By the time they reached the hospital, he was complaining more than a first time mother in her third day of labor.

"I feel weak," Xander whined. "Maybe I have blood poisoning. Would I feel blood poisoning already? Buffy…I feel faint."

"I’m already carrying you," Buffy pointed out. "What the hell else can I do for you?" The Slayer had Xander in her arms and was jogging toward the ER entrance.

"You’re bouncing his bottom," Anya said as she ran alongside Buffy.

"Yeah, bouncing," Xander agreed. "Could be shaking up that poisoned blood."

The Slayer rolled her eyes and slowed to a walk.

"She’s back to catering to Xander." Willow held Tara’s hand as the two witches walked up the sidewalk behind Buffy.

"Thank the goddess," Tara said. She crinkled her brow as she contemplated that she had been related to a goddess in a past life.

"Good thing," Willow whispered angrily. She glared at the former demon. "Otherwise she’d have a bed in the ER next to her boyfriend."

Tara stopped and tugged Willow into her arms. "Honey?"

"I know." Willow sighed and looked down at the path. She blushed, knowing her lover did not appreciate ‘Jealous Willow.’ She waited until Giles walk past and then looked up at Tara. "I know, love." She smiled and tilted her head to the side. "Anya isn’t a threat. I know that. I know you love me and you don’t love Anya and she was just being Anya and you’d never want anyone other than me but she tried to get us into a threesome, a foursome if you count Xander, and it’s just…well…it pisses me off!"

Tara cleared her throat.

"Babbling, huh?" Willow shrugged. The redhead sighed again. "I know you’d never want that. I really do."

"Willow, I would never want a foursome with Anya and Xander." Tara lifted Willow’s chin and looked into her eyes. Tara smiled seductively. "But would you consider a threesome with Buffy?"

Willow’s eyes shot open. Her jaw dropped and she felt lightheaded. He opened her mouth, but no sound came out. She pulled away from Tara and pointed an accusing finger at her lover. She opened her mouth in a second attempt to speak but only a high-pitched squeak came out.

Tara’s sensual smile shifted into a devilish grin. Her cobalt eyes sparkled. "Gotcha!"

Willow bit her lip and put both hands on her slender hips. She stomped her foot. "Tara!"

"Can we drop this entire topic now?" Tara raised one eyebrow.

Willow took in several breaths and tightened her lips. She glared at her lover but it was impossible to stay mad at Tara when she flashed her impish grin.

"Well?" Tara asked. She dipped her head and looked up at Willow with her trademark Tara half grin.

"I am so gonna’ get you back for that." Willow grabbed her lover and kissed her soundly.

‘Oh, yeah. That’s showing me who’s boss,’ Tara sent with her thoughts. She opened her lips and welcomed Willow’s display of dominance. ‘You’re definitely getting me back,’ she sent as she felt her breathing grow ragged.

"Come on." Willow eased back and yanked Tara toward the entrance to the ER. ‘I’ll show you who’s the boss, missy!’ Willow giggled as they ran hand in hand up the sidewalk.

Buffy handed Xander over to a very grouchy nurse at the admit desk and then practically sprinted away. Giles and Anya stayed with him. The two witches wanted to find Maggie so Buffy volunteered to go to a courtesy phone to find out where Maggie’s room was. The Slayer knew if she stayed with Xander one more second, she would kick his behind… extra hole and all.

"Uh huh." Buffy nodded as she wrote the room number on her hand. "Got it. Thanks."

"Did you find her?" Willow walked up behind the Slayer and rested a hand on Buffy’s shoulder. "Is she okay?"

"Yup." Buffy hung up the phone and spun. "She’s on the second floor." She looked over at Tara and smiled. "Not that I’m happy Maggie got hurt, but I am so glad it’s not you we’re here to see."

"Thanks." Tara smiled.

"No problem," Buffy said as she turned and headed for the elevator. "Just stay out of the ER and I will be a happy Slayer." She pushed the button to call the elevator and looked over at Willow. "Seeing my best friend’s heart broken is kinda’ hard to deal with, so no more hero stuff."

"We’ll leave that to you," Willow promised.

Tara nodded enthusiastically.

"Okay then," Buffy said with an approving nod. The elevator binged as the door opened. "Let’s go."


Doctor Maggie Doyle often worried about what her colleagues thought of her, how they saw her, and whether or not she was respected. She needn’t have worried. Her room on the second floor became a magnet for hospital staff. All of her coworkers milled around near the nursing station outside Maggie’s room waiting to hear how the well liked doctor was doing.

Nurse Kathy Trent was on duty, and she had the unpopular job of herding hospital staff away. Kathy was a good friend of Maggie’s, and she knew the beautiful ER doctor was dating the equally beautiful blonde cop sitting vigil at Maggie’s bedside. Kathy spent the evening shooing away well wishers so Maggie and Kate could have some privacy.

Throughout the ordeal, Kate hadn’t left Maggie’s side, even when a mean spirited nurse named Gloria challenged the detective’s right to be there. Kate had simply flashed her badge and informed the nurse that she wasn’t leaving, then she reminded Gloria that cops carried guns…and nurses didn’t. Now Maggie was sleeping soundly after a transfusion of two units of packed red blood cells and she had a second bag of plasma hanging from her IV bottle.

Kate stared down at Maggie and tried not to cry. She hated crying, and she didn’t want Maggie to wake up and see her being a big baby. She was a strong, confident cop, and cops didn’t cry. She held Maggie’s hand and gently stroked the back of the doctor’s fingers. She was vigilant, making certain she didn’t bump the IV in the back of Maggie’s hand.

"I need to tell you something," Kate whispered. She looked up and made sure Maggie was still sleeping. "I know it’s way too soon to say this, and I know you’d probably run for the hills if you were awake, but damn it Maggie, I have to." She sighed and leaned down and kissed Maggie’s hand next to the IV. "I love you. Yeah, it’s too soon, but tonight when Shannon grabbed you, I was almost too late. I don’t want to be too late. I’m in love you… hopelessly, completely, head over heals, stupid in love with you." She smiled as she continued tracing her finger over the back of Maggie’s fingers. Telling the unconscious doctor had been easier than Kate had expected. Except for one small problem, Maggie wasn’t asleep.

Maggie’s eyes flickered half-open when she heard the emotion in Kate’s voice. She listened as the detective put her heart on line and Maggie smiled even as her eyes drifted shut again.

"So anyway, when you wake up, I just gotta’ figure out a way to tell you that doesn’t scare you off." Kate sighed and pulled her chair closer to the bed. She moved her arm over Maggie’s upper thighs in a half hug and rested her face on the doctor’s hip so she could hold Maggie’s hand next to her lips. She didn’t want to move Maggie’s hand and risk disturbing the IV. She sighed and again and closed her eyes. Kate was exhausted, and with no word from Buffy or the others, she was worried.

"All the times I wanted you down there and you wait ‘til I’m unconscious to finally make your move?" Maggie asked with a smirk. She watched Kate’s eyes pop open. "Don’t move," Maggie insisted. She extended her arm and took Kate’s hand and gave it a squeeze. "I just got you down there, I sure as hell don’t want you leaving."

"Hi." Kate sat up and blushed the color of a cherry lifesaver, convenient considering it was Maggie’s favorite candy. "How long have you been awake?" Kate asked.

"Long enough," Maggie said cryptically. She tugged on Kate’s hand and brought the detective closer. "Did you mean it?"

Kate scooted her chair toward the head of the bed. The chair screeched across the yellowed tile and both women cringed at the offensive noise. "Mean what?" Kate stalled. She felt her heart hammer inside her chest and wondered if fainting would be a good escape method.

"Head over heels, stupid in love?" Maggie asked. She smiled and bit her lip.

"Well the stupid part feels right," Kate muttered. She should have known Maggie would finally wake up in the middle of her sappy speech. Kate’s luck was like that.

"Do you love me," Maggie asked seriously. She squeezed Kate’s hand and looked into her vibrant blue eyes. She could tell the detective was scared.

Kate closed her eyes and let out a frustrated sigh. "More than I have words for, and certainly more than I should after only a month." She opened her eyes. "I know it’s soon, and I’d never rush you."

"Hey, it is soon," Maggie agreed. She smirked and then waggled both eyebrows. "But it’s also mutual."

"You mean?" Kate’s eyes sparkled and she wiggled to the edge of her seat to be closer to Maggie.

"I’m head over heels, stupid in love with you," Maggie said solemnly. "Can you deal with that?"

Kate nodded as she stood up and moved even closer. She felt tears at the edges of her eyes but she let them come. "Yeah," she said in a strangled whisper. "I can definitely deal with that." She leaned down and gave Maggie a chaste kiss, but when she tried to pull back, the feisty doctor grabbed the back of Kate’s head and deepened the kiss. After a few more kisses that were more taxing than the hospital staff probably would have preferred, the two women pulled apart.

"That’s nice." Maggie kept her free hand tangled in Kate’s hair and pinned the detective’s forehead to her own. "How about you take off those clothes and crawl in this bed?

Kate laughed and rubbed her nose over Maggie’s. "I don’t think Nurse Trent would approve of that treatment."

"Damn," Maggie said with an exaggerated sigh. She released Kate and let the lanky blonde sit up. "Hey…" Her brow furrowed. "Any word from Buffy?"

Kate shook her head.

"I really could use you in this bed." Maggie’s expression showed her deep concern. She was scared, and the vibrant doctor suddenly looked very small. "I miss having you hold me."

"You have to deal with Nurse Trent." Kate kicked off her shoes and gave Maggie a gentle nudge to make room for her on the tiny bed. She climbed onto the bed and settled next to Maggie. It was a tight fit, especially with Maggie’s IV, but they managed. "That’s better," Kate whispered. She smiled when Maggie snuggled onto her chest and she could feel the doctor’s body growing heavy. "Go back to sleep, darlin’. I’ll be here." She kissed Maggie’s temple and smiled.

"Promise?" Maggie’s voice was already a mumble and she quickly drifted off, content in Kate’s arms.

"Promise," Kate vowed. She let her own eyes close and sent out a silent prayer for Tara and Willow and the others.

That was how Buffy found them, asleep in each other’s arms, and the Slayer stood in the doorway and stared.

"What?" Willow whispered. She leaned around the door and peeked in. "Oh, that’s so cute." She pulled Tara’s hand and brought her girlfriend around the door so the blonde Wiccan could see.

Tara smiled as she watched the two women on the bed. Then she sighed and pulled Willow into a hug. ‘I love you,’ she sent with her thoughts.

‘And I love you.’ Willow leaned into the embrace and tried to absorb as much of her lover’s essence as possible. At times her love for Tara consumed Willow. It was like she couldn’t get enough contact, and this was one of those times. ‘I almost lost you… again.’ She clung to the blonde and sniffled.

"I’m right here," Tara whispered. She kissed the side of Willow’s cheek and snuggled her lover into a comfortable position in her arms. She knew Willow sometime needed prolonged contact to settle her nerves, and Tara was more than happy to accommodate her lover. The blonde looked over Willow’s shoulder and locked eyes with Buffy and signaled for the Slayer to go into the room.

Buffy smiled tolerantly and walked over to the side of the bed. She looked back and was not surprised to see Tara easing Willow just inside the room. The blonde always took wonderful care of Willow, putting the redhead’s needs in the forefront, and it made Buffy happy to see such devotion. The Slayer tried not to think about her own loneliness. It simply hurt too much.

"Ahem," Buffy said as she cleared her throat.

Kate’s eyes shot open immediately. She had a startled look, but it changed to a warm welcome as soon as she saw Buffy. "Hey," she whispered as she struggled to sit up without waking Maggie.

"Stay," Buffy ordered. She nodded toward the doctor draped over Kate’s chest. "Human mattress?" The Slayer smiled wickedly. "Nice work if you can get it."

"Funny," Kate whispered. She looked over and her smile widened when she saw Tara and Willow near the door. "Everyone okay?" she asked.

"Yep." Buffy nodded toward the doctor. "Maggie?"

"She’s fine." Kate’s eyes lit up and a glowing smile covered her features.

"That smile says more than fine," Buffy observed.

Kate smiled like the Cheshire cat.

"That smile says love," Willow said as she and Tara moved next to Buffy.

"That smile says mutual love," Tara corrected. She had her arm around Willow’s waist and tugged her lover closer.

"Thanatos?" Kate asked, artfully dodging the questions.

"He’s Thana-toast," Buffy said with a smile.

Willow and Tara groaned in unison and shook their heads at the Slayer’s pun.

"Man, I was trying to rest," Maggie whined without opening her eyes. "You guys just won’t let sleeping docs lie."

Everyone groaned at Maggie’s pun.

Maggie opened her eyes and they were sparkling with mischief. "Good to see you all okay." She narrowed her eyes. "Where’s Betty?"

Three sets of eyes widened but none of the newcomers spoke.

"Still can’t believe you have a gun named Betty…" Kate snickered and rolled her eyes.

"Where’s Betty?" Maggie sat up. "And where’s Anya? She is not keeping Betty."

"Um, well, Anya is…" Willow squirmed and looked over at Buffy.

"Anya is on gun restriction," Buffy explained. "And Giles has Betty."

"Why is Anya on gun restriction?" Kate asked slowly.

"She shot Xander," Willow said.

"In the butt," Tara added with a giggle.

"He’s got splinters," Buffy said gravely.

"My poor Betty." Maggie was mortified.

"Poor Betty?" Kate was now giggling. "What about Xander’s ass?"

"Oh, let’s not go there." Buffy cringed.

"Yeah, let’s not think about Xander’s…" Willow shivered and pulled Tara closer.

"Poor Xander." Tara giggled and gave her lover a playful squeeze.

"Poor Giles," Buffy corrected. "He had to do first aid."

"What about my Betty?" Maggie whined. "She’s a finely crafted weapon and now she’ll never live down being the gun that splintered Xander’s ass!"

The door opened and Nurse Trent came into the room. She smiled warmly at Maggie and then cleared her throat.

"Hey, Kathy." Maggie waved at the ER nurse. "What are you doing up here in patient care?"

"I volunteered." The nurse smiled. "Someone had to make sure you stayed outa’ trouble." She nodded toward the door. "I’m been chasing off half the ER staff, so I really can’t let your friends stay."

"Okay." Buffy nodded. "We just wanted to make sure she was doing all right."

"Thanks," Maggie said as she sighed and leaned back into her pillows.

"We should probably go." Willow went over and gave Maggie a hug. "Call if you need anything." She ran her fingers down Maggie’s arm.

"Either of you," Tara added. She gave Maggie a brief hug and then pulled Kate into a bear hug. The blonde cop looked like she wanted to bolt, but finally Tara released her and went back to Willow’s side.

"God, Tara, make her squirm much?" Buffy laughed at the detective’s look of discomfort.

"You’re not gonna’ hug me, are you?" Kate eyed Buffy skeptically.

"Ew!" Buffy back away and faked an exaggerated shiver. "No. No huggin’ for me." She smiled at the blonde cop. "We tough chicks have an image to uphold."

Maggie snickered and covered her mouth. "Sorry," she said when both of the blondes glared at her. "Yes, yes, you’re both very tough."

"Call me," Buffy said as she backed away from the bed.

Kate and Maggie nodded in unison.

"So, now we check on Xander’s bottom?" Tara asked with an overly innocent expression.

"Thanks for that visual." Buffy walked toward the elevator.

"Yeah." Willow took Tara’s hand and they playfully swung their joined hands in a wide arc. "You gave her…images."

"Just asking a question." Tara smiled shyly. She waited until Buffy wasn’t looking and waggled her eyebrows at Willow.

‘You’re bad,’ Willow sent telepathically. She eyed her lover, taking a moment to rake her eyes up and down Tara’s frame.

‘Let’s go home and I’ll show you just how bad I can be.’ Tara slowly licked her lower lip. ‘I want you naked, Willow. I want you naked and in my arms. Then I’m gonna’ do things to you that would make Anya blush.’ She licked her upper lip.

The sight of Tara’s pink tongue darting out to wet her lip was more than Willow could stand.

"Let’s hurry." Willow sprinted toward the elevator, dragging a stumbling Tara at her side. "Buffy, as soon as we see Xander, Tara and I need to take a cab home. Now. I need rest. Yes, rest. I’m very sleepy," she added as she nodded her head, but her very wide-awake eyes sparkled. "All this being held captive just exhausted me. We should go." She faked a yawn, but it didn’t fool the Slayer.

"Someone feeling frisky?" Buffy asked as she stepped into the elevator. She rolled her eyes at Willow.

Tara gasped as if shocked. "Gosh, Willow, you really have a one track mind," Tara said primly. She looked over at Buffy with a bewildered expression and shrugged.

Willow’s eyes widened as she stared at her lover. "But…" Her mouth snapped shut and she pointed at Tara. "Buffy, she has the one track mind."

Buffy turned and looked at the innocent blonde Wiccan. Tara’s eyes focused on Buffy like a gentle doe and she had a look of complete naiveté. Sugar certainly wouldn’t melt in the sweet witch’s mouth.

"Right, Willow." Buffy laughed and walked out of the elevator when the doors opened on the ground floor. "Give her a rest, Rosenberg, you big horndog."

Tara smiled sensually as she looked over at her lover. She walked out of the elevator and paused and then bent one finger in silent invitation.

"Coming?" Tara asked wickedly.

"No," Willow said as she walked past her lover. She turned back and leered at the blonde witch. "But I will be when we get home." She spun and hurried after Buffy.

"Vixen!" Tara laughed as she jogged to catch up with her lover.

They found Xander in the ER needing nothing more than a Band-Aid, so the Slayer and her band of Scoobies went home. They were content that for one more night they had averted untold evil from being unleashed, there had been no Apocalypses, Glory hadn’t opened any dimensions to hell, and no snake mayors had escaped.

All in all, it was a good night in Sunnydale.

The End

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