Disclaimer: See Part 1

The Varos Triad
By Rebelgirl

Part Thirteen:-

Willow continued to stare at the space where Faith and Tara had been standing just moments ago. Her mouth hung open slightly and she realised belatedly that her nose was bleeding, indication that once again, she had surpassed her limits as a witch and was now physically paying the penalty for it. She wiped away the trickle of red fluid running down her face but was too dazed to realise that it was quickly replaced as she failed to staunch the flow.

Emotionally, she was paying a far higher price. In her haste to deal with Faith, she had used her powers rashly and had now ended up hurting the person she cared for most. She could feel her heart hammer in her chest, almost as if it was trying to escape, and Willow knew that it had nothing to do with the effects of the spell she had cast. Seared into her memory was Tara's voice. The blonde witch had worked out exactly what Willow was going to do, and even as the blue energy blast swept over her and Faith, Tara had turned to face her lover, a look of utter disbelief and hurt etched on her features.

Willow rolled her eyes in an effort to stop unshed tears falling. Tara had sensed that the redhead had used dark magick again, despite Tara's pleading with her not to succumb to its allure. As Tara disappeared within the blinding-white light, Willow could distinctly see her blue eyes staring back at her, clearly showing how betrayed she felt by Willow's actions.

The auburn-haired girl could hear someone calling her name but hardly had the strength to stand, let alone determine who was talking to her. The witch felt her arm being tugged and she looked away from the scene wearily and stared at Buffy.

"What happened, Willow?" The blonde slayer asked the question slowly and without any hint of accusation or blame, yet Willow flinched as she remembered the last moments of the spell.

The Wicca shook her head slightly in confusion. "Tara got in the way," she began hesitantly. "She wasn't supposed to get hurt." Willow broke off and looked back to the empty area of the cemetery, her breathing still coming in heaving gasps, as if she'd just completed a long-distance run.

"I know that," Buffy replied, stroking her friend's arm sympathetically. "But what happened? How did they disappear?" Her forehead crumpled quizzically.

"I used the residual power left over from when we banished Varos." Willow paused and then continued, looking at Buffy once more. "I directed the energy towards the shape-shifter. It should have just destroyed it. But Tara got in the way." Willow faltered again, and looked at the other Scoobs who had gathered round her, feeling as confused as they appeared to be.

Cordelia hadn't moved from the place where she had stood and watched Faith and Tara get enveloped by a blue-white energy beam. She clutched at her stomach and was frightened to take her hand away in case the bleeding got worse. She could feel hot, sticky blood ooze over her fingers, and she had to swallow down the sensation of nausea that began as she finally comprehended that what she could feel was her own blood escaping.

Recalling the last events, she began to look round the graveyard trying to locate the rogue slayer and blonde witch, blinking in an effort to rid her sight of the dark spots burnt onto her retinas by the intensity of the light.

As she turned her head, she locked eye contact with Angel and then Wesley as they hurried over to her. Out of desperation, she asked the question that was screaming inside her head. "Where's Faith?"

Angel and the young Watcher looked at each other before speaking.

Cordelia took this to be a bad sign. "Oh no." She brought her free hand up to cover her mouth in horror. "She's not dead is she?" The Seer began to look round frantically, hoping not to find the renegade slayer's body lying motionless on the ground somewhere.

"I don't know," replied Angel softly.

"What do you mean you don't know? What the hell is going on?" Cordelia could feel her anger mounting at the vague reply she received. She remembered the flash of energy that had emanated from where Willow had been standing, and how Tara had run over to where Faith and the shape-shifter had been fighting. The ex-cheerleader suddenly turned cold as she came to an awful conclusion. "What did she do to her?" she asked, her voice low and menacing.

Wesley looked back to where Willow stood with Buffy, a lost and exhausted look on her face. "I don't think she knows what she did herself," he commented with remarkable insight.

The Seer swayed slightly and shot out a hand to grab onto anything to steady herself. Angel reacted quickly and closed the distance between them and offered an arm for Cordelia to hold onto. The brunette made no further attempt to move until she regained her balance. "Help me over to them," she asked softly. Angel nodded and led the way slowly, wanting as many answers as his secretary.

Buffy turned round when she heard the others approach. "Cordelia, are you all right?" The blonde slayer appeared to be genuinely concerned for her ex-school friend.

"I have to get to the hospital," admitted the Seer candidly, looking down towards her wound instinctively. "But I can't go without finding out what happened."

Willow turned and looked at Cordelia for a moment. "I used a power bolt to kill the shape-shifter. But Tara ran into its path. I had to change the nature of the spell to save her."

"You changed a spell halfway through casting it?" Giles interjected incredulously. "Do you know how difficult that is to do?"

"I don't know how I did it Giles," Willow responded wearily. "I just knew that I couldn't let Tara die."

"That's incredible Willow. Well done," Anya complimented. When the red-haired witch just stared at her blankly, Anya felt compelled to make an enquiry. "What did you do to the spell then?"

"I manipulated it and turned it into a displacement spell. I've sent them to another plane."

"Well, that can't be too bad," the blonde ex-vengeance demon reasoned. "Just regain your strength and summon them back."

"It's not quite that simple," Willow began, looking nervously at Cordelia.

"Oh my God," interrupted Giles as he realised what the adept had done. "You've banished them to where Varos was sent haven't you?"

Willow blanched as he voiced his concerns. "I think so. I'm not even sure of that. All I do know is that wherever I've sent them, it won't be a safe place."

"I thought that the incantation they performed destroyed Varos." Buffy's brow creased once again.

"No, it destroyed the artefacts that could summon him back here. The recitation sent him back to where he was originally banished," Wesley explained.

"Oh great," Xander muttered.

"So you sent Tara and Faith back with him?" Giles wanted the theory confirmed.

"I don't know. I think so, but I can't be sure." Willow staggered slightly as exhaustion washed over her, but concentrated on staying upright. Buffy grabbed her arm and helped to support the girl's weight.

"Well it can't be that bad," Anya commented. "Just summon them back."

"Wait a minute," Buffy interjected. "What about the shape shifter? Did you send them 'wherever' with that thing?"

"Buffy, I don't know," Willow responded desolately. "I think I killed the shape-shifter, but because I tampered with the spell, it could well have been caught up in the energy beam."

"Get them back now," Cordelia insisted, her voice tight with emotion.

"I can't yet. I'm too tired." Willow decided not to mention that she had no idea *how* to summon her lover and the rogue slayer back from wherever she had sent them. That precious gem of information could wait until she had regained some of her strength and she could at least begin to think straight.

Cordelia looked at the Wiccan carefully. "What I want to know is why Tara decided to leap in front of your energy bolt. Surely if she knew what you were up to, she would have kept well out of the way."

"Unless she wasn't only aiming for the shape-shifter," supplied Gunn darkly.

Willow looked at the man quickly before looking away, shaking her head slightly in silent denial, even as Angel and Wes stared at her, contemplating what Gunn had suggested.

Cordelia's eyes widened. "Wait a minute," she began, her mind once again remembering the previous events. "Tara yelled out at you. She wanted you to stop." The Seer broke off for a second, trying to work out what had happened. "You were going to kill Faith weren't you?" she accused angrily.

"Cordy," Angel interjected, trying to placate the Seer before things got out of hand and tightened his grip on her gently.

"Well?" Cordelia ignored the vampire and stared at Willow.

"N-not intentionally. But I-I-I couldn't hold onto the energy any longer. I had to release it at the shape-shifter, and Faith was still fighting it." Willow was reluctant to admit her real reasons while she was still in a weakened state after casting.

"Bullshit," refuted Cordelia. She shrugged her arm out of the grasp of Angel's hand and took a step toward the shorter girl. "You were going to kill Faith all along weren't you?"

"No! Definitely not. No, in no way was I thinking of doing that." Willow could feel her cheeks redden as she continued her denial.

"Then why did Tara get in the way?" pursued Cordelia doggedly.

"Because she realised that Faith would get hurt too," explained Willow quickly. She tried changing tack. "Cordelia, I've lost my lover."

"You've lost mine too," the brunette informed her, no longer wanting to hide her growing emotions for the younger woman, and not caring what anyone else thought about their relationship. "And I'll make sure that you stop at nothing to get her back."

Willow nodded rapidly. "I'll get them back," she vowed.

"Oh, you'd better. Because I sure as hell won't rest till I've got Faith back," Cordelia swore sincerely. "And that means that you won't be resting either."

Willow looked down and then turned back to where Tara and Faith had disappeared. "I won't rest," she whispered, tucking a loose strand of hair back behind her ear absently as she tried to order her mind so that she could begin her search.

The Seer swayed slightly after her sudden outburst and closed her eyes in an effort to steady herself. Cordelia turned round and was about to take Angel's arm for assistance once again, when she changed her mind and turned back round. "Willow?" she asked softly.

Willow looked up at the summons, only to be the recipient of a vicious bitch-slap that sent her sprawling onto the ground. She looked up in shock and gingerly felt the corner of her mouth. Willow inspected the tips of her fingers and slowly rubbed away the blood that had transferred onto them from her split lip and returned her gaze upwards where Cordelia stood over her, a look of dazed confusion on her features.

"If you hurt her again, the only psycho bitch you'll have to worry about will be me," the dark eyed girl told her quietly. Cordelia stepped back and held onto Angel as he lead her back towards the Magic Box and his car.

Willow looked round at the remaining members of the group and was surprised to see confused, almost accusatory looks from them. She held out a hand towards Buffy so that she could assist her to her feet. The blonde slayer hesitated for a fraction before reaching down and helping her friend. As the redhead got to her feet, Buffy stepped back and looked at her steadily.

"Willow, tell me that you realise your actions were wrong," she pleaded.

Willow returned the look. "I thought I was doing the right thing. The shape-shifter had to be dealt with," she justified, her voice rising in pitch as she defended herself.

"But not at Faith's expense. And not by using black magick. You promised," Giles reminded her, a hurt look on his usually impassive features.

"Can we apportion blame later? I need to get some rest so that I can find Tara," Willow stubbornly refused to deal with the subject head on, and was content to come up with an excuse to avoid discussing what had transpired.

Buffy nodded tiredly. She was feeling the effects of fighting Varos and was also in need of recuperation. But she knew that she would have to make Willow face up to her actions at some point. She just hoped that Tara and Faith hadn't paid the ultimate price for the Wiccan's misguided initiative.

Tara could hear a voice calling to her. It sounded muffled, as though it was coming from a long way away, and yet she instinctively knew that whoever was trying to talk to her was close by. The blonde witch shifted slightly, in an effort to make her body move in some way, as her eye lids appeared to be refusing to open for her. She felt a grip around her tighten and realised that she was being held, probably by the same person who was talking to her. She felt frustrated that she couldn't communicate with her unknown companion and the feeling compounded as she felt herself slip back into the realm of unconsciousness.

The second time Tara heard the voice speaking, it was much clearer, and definitely feminine. She recognised the tones but couldn't quite place it yet. She was swaying and, at first, became alarmed and tried to sit up. Once again, she felt something strong increase pressure round her body, but this time, it felt secure and reassuring. Tara's brain finally began to analyse the sensations properly and the wiccan realised that she was being carried. And judging by the rapidity of the motion, whoever was carrying her was moving at quite a pace.

The voice that now sounded so close by, spoke up again. "Don't struggle. You'll set me off-balance, and we need to find somewhere safe to hide."

Perversely, the words did not comfort her, for Tara knew instinctively that the person carrying her did not often run or avoid conflict. Something felt horribly wrong and what made it worse was that Tara was feeling pain wrack in spasms through her body. The jogging motion did nothing to help and she couldn't help but cry out in pain as a particularly vicious jolt vibrated her body. Suddenly, the motion stopped and she felt herself being lowered to the ground. Desperately, she tried to open her eyes and see whoever it was that was carrying her, but the pain had made her woozy and blackness enveloped her once again.

Tara moved and snuggled into the warmth that lay next to her. Instinctively, she wrapped her arm around the body next to hers and pulled her own body in closer so that they touched as much as they could. Sleepily, she buried her head into the neck of her sleeping companion, nuzzling into long hair and breathing in the scent and heat of the woman. Somewhere in the recess of her mind, she was slightly puzzled at how Willow's hair could have grown, but the thought barely registered. Instead, Tara increased the pressure on her arm and enveloped the woman lying next to her. Unconsciously, Tara moved her arm so that she could stroke lazy circles on her partner's abdomen. She grinned when she heard a low grumble and took this as a sign of encouragement and moved her hand steadily upwards. It was only when her hand cupped a breast that was obviously larger than Willow's that it registered that the moan she heard was far deeper than any sound Willow would make. Her eyes flew open and she sat up, blinking rapidly as she stared at the woman she had been groping. "F-F-Faith, I'm s-s-s-so s-sorry. Oh my God, I- I-I didn't mean..."

Faith grinned as she stretched. "Nice hands, Tar."

"Oh God, Faith. I thought I was with..."

"Please don't finish that sentence," Faith begged as she sat up. "Do I look like I'm complaining? Just about the best wake-up call I've had in years."

If it were at all possible, Tara's eyes widened even more and she blushed furiously. "I'm s-sorry," the blonde witch repeated.

"Don't apologise for that." Faith couldn't help teasing the embarrassed girl. "I take it you're feeling better," she commented with a grin.

Tara nodded, willing the blood to leave her face so she could cool off and calm down. She switched topics in an effort to distance herself from what she'd done. "Where are we?"

"I was kinda hoping that you could answer that one. I don't have a frickin' clue." The rogue slayer was brief and to the point.

"Well, at the moment I'm guessing that we're in a cave?" Tara suggested with a hint of sarcasm.

"Well, I worked that bit out for myself, seeing as I carried you in here," Faith returned, rolling her eyes.

The raven-haired slayer's words made Tara remember her previous attempts at regaining consciousness and she wondered what had happened during that time. "Faith, what happened?"

"When?" Faith couldn't follow the wiccan's line of enquiry.

"When we got to wherever we are? How long have I been unconscious? And why did you have to carry me anywhere?"

"Okay, okay, I got the idea." Faith held up her hand to stop Tara from asking any more questions. "I was fighting the shape-shifter and then we got zapped by this bright light. The next thing I know, we're in this crazy place and the shape-shifter's all over me again. Luckily, it took pretty much all of the blast and I managed to kill the bitch. When I looked round I saw you lying on the ground. I couldn't wake you up." Faith looked at the other girl and grinned at her. "You looked like shit by the way."

"Thanks," Tara replied, returning the grin. "So why did we move and how far have we gone?"

"We had to move. We were surrounded by demons. And there was no way I was gonna be able to fight my way through and protect you at the same time, so I just picked you up and ran for it."

Tara looked gratefully at the brunette. "Thanks for not leaving me."

"Hey, you're the one who's gone around telling everyone I'm not psycho anymore. Would have been a bit shitty of me to leave you to fend for yourself, you being unconscious and all."

"You found this place straight away then?" Tara asked.

"No. Had to run and hide for a while. I had to put you down a few times to clear the way. But you remained out of it. Didn't matter what I did to you. It's difficult to tell how long we were moving for though. Pretty much been running all day, I think. It all feels wrong here. I feel outta sorts."

"You carried me all day?" interjected Tara incredulously.

"Well, I had to put you down to kick some demon ass. And, like I said, it feels all out of whack here. It's difficult to judge time," Faith explained. The Bostonian rubbed her shoulder absently.

Tara noticed it immediately. "Are you hurt?"

"I'll be all right."

Faith stiffened slightly as Tara looked her arm carefully and then widened her examination. "Goddess, Faith. Is there any part of you that isn't injured?" The blonde witch felt her heart sink as she surveyed a mountain of bruises and cuts.

"Not sure. The demons here are massive. Luckily they're also stupid. None of them teamed up against me or there's no way we'd be having this conversation."

Tara pondered over Faith's words. "They're not humanised here. This could be very bad," she muttered to herself. However Faith picked up the murmured words.

"Humanised?" she enquired.

"When demons cross the Hellmouth, they become humanised and end up smaller versions of their original selves. Wherever we are, it sounds like they can keep their true size. It also means they retain their true powers." Tara looked at Faith with wonder. "You've done very well if you defeated them here."

Faith shrugged the compliment off. "More like I've only come up against the minor ones," she amended.

The blonde smiled wanly at Faith's self-depreciation. "Possibly. But whatever the case, you've got to be at full strength if we're going to survive here. How long will it take you to heal?"

"Well, usually a good night's sleep sorts me out. After I found this place and made it safe, I had planned on doing just that. As you were shivering, it made sense to lie down beside you and share body heat. Never knew that you wanted to *really* share body heat." Faith wiggled her eyebrows suggestively provoking another blushing episode from Tara.

"Faith," she pleaded. "Honestly, I didn't know it was you. I would never."

"Never?" Faith interrupted. "Now I *am* offended. You telling me I'm not worth a look at least?" She couldn't help but tease Tara. It was too easy to get her embarrassed.

"No, no. I didn't mean it like that. You're d-definitely worth l-l- looking at. You're very attractive."

"So you *were* coming on to me?" Faith nudged her body in closer and her grin widened.


"Relax Blondie." Faith couldn't help but laugh again. "I know you and Red are tight."

Tara's face clouded slightly. "I'm not so sure anymore."

Faith sat back as her eyes widened. "What's that supposed to mean?"

Tara rubbed the back of her neck. "Willow used dark magick to try and eliminate the shape-shifter."

"Yeah and? She got rid of it all right."

"She never intended to send it somewhere else. She intended to kill it."

"I'm still not getting why you're so upset by that," Faith admitted.

Tara looked steadily at her companion. "I have two problems about it," she began. "Willow made no effort to protect you from the beam and she used black magick when she *promised* me that she wouldn't."

"Tara, she did what she thought was right. She's never hidden her feelings about me. And you can't blame her really, after the way I treated them all."

The blonde witch stared incredulously at the younger girl. "She might hate you Faith, but that's no excuse for trying to kill you. And you've just tried to defend her. If that's not an example of how much you've changed, I don't know what is." Tara ran a hand through her hair worriedly before continuing. "The point is that it doesn't seem to matter what you do or say. Or what I say for that matter. She needs to understand how she's behaving. And it all stems down to her continued use of dark magick. It sucks you in and then begins to influence your behaviour. She used to know the difference between right and wrong. Goddess, she's been fighting evil for years. But each time she uses black magick, her moral judgement just gets more and more clouded. She could turn totally and not even realise it." Tara gasped for breath after her outburst, and felt her heart hammering in her chest, her emotions raging through her as she voiced her fears openly for the first time.

"Hey, calm down Tar." Faith swung an arm around the woman and hugged her tightly. The gesture prompted Tara to burst into tears and she held onto Faith as she sobbed into the brunette's shoulder.

Faith patted Tara's shoulder awkwardly. When she had reached out to hug the girl, she hadn't expected a flood of emotions to come bursting out. The dark slayer was the first to admit that she wasn't that great at dealing with emotion at the best of times, and she was at a loss as to how to continue. She let the blonde witch continue to cry for a few minutes before venturing to speak again. "Listen Tara, we both need to be at full strength if we want to get out of this place. And that means that you've got to concentrate on what we can do now and not on what's going to happen when we get back to the others. I'm gonna need your witchy powers as much as my slayer strength to fight off these mothers so you've got to deal with this now or put it to one side and deal with it later."

Faith could feel Tara nod into her shoulder and gently, the blonde woman sat back, sniffing and taking gulping breaths as she tried to control her breathing and stop the tears from falling. Gently, Faith wiped the wicca's face. "Let's concentrate on getting out of here alive. Then you can worry about what Willow's going through. Okay?"

Tara sniffed spasmodically and blew out a deep breath of air before nodding. "I'll be okay. But I don't know if I'll be able to perform any magick here," she answered.

Faith frowned. "Why not? You're not still injured are you?"

"No, I think I've slept enough for most of the energy bolt to dissipate out of me. I just don't know about the spectral dynamics of this place. Any incantations that I perform here might not create the desired effects."

"Can I have the English version Tar?"

Tara smiled weakly. "Sorry. My spells might not be spells here. I could try to create an energy bolt and produce a rabbit instead," she explained.

"Great. As if we haven't got enough to worry about. Oh well, we'll just have to see what happens," Faith decided.

Tara frowned. "How long will it take us to get back to where we materialised?"

"I don't know if you were listening earlier, but that place was crawling with demons. It's not in my top ten places to revisit," Faith replied laconically.

"We don't have a choice, Faith," Tara told the dark slayer. "If Willow and the others try to summon us back, the energy concentration for the retrieval will be centred where we were originally set down. If we're too far away from that point, we won't fall within the range of the summoning and they won't get us back."

"Is that how it works? Shit, how do you know all this stuff?" Faith was amazed. It made perfect sense but she was impressed by the blonde witch's knowledge of the magick arts.

Tara burst the bubble slightly. "I'm not sure to be honest. I've never been on the receiving side of it all before. But that's how I interpreted all the texts that are available on it," she admitted.

"Good enough for me," Faith told her. "I'm not up to full strength yet. Unless they've spotted the camouflage I set up outside, we should be safe to rest here until we're both able to take on the natives."

"But what if they're trying to summon us back now?" Tara persisted.

"Not much point summoning back dead bodies is there?" Faith told her brutally. Tara looked downcast at the thought. The rogue slayer sighed. "I want to get back as much as you do. Cordelia's injured. I need to know that she's safe," she admitted.

Tara looked at the brunette and recalled Cordelia's outburst concerning her vision. "You know she loves you don't you?"

Faith shook her head. "I'm not sure of anything anymore Blondie," she told her. "But I know that I'd never want any harm to come to her. I've got a lot to deal with when we get back. But we need to concentrate on the 'getting back' bit before anything else."

"I know," concurred the taller girl. "I just don't want to miss the summoning home," she continued.

"I'm right there with you Tar," Faith told her. "But if Willow used up all this magic, surely she'll need time to recuperate too," she suggested.

Tara nodded. "Of course she will. How stupid of me. And I thought you didn't know anything about magick," she accused good-naturedly.

Faith shook her head. "I don't. Give me a knife or a crossbow any day."

"I'll buy you one for your birthday if we get out of here," Tara vowed, the pacifist inside her shocked for offering to do something like that. The look of surprise and veiled delight on Faith's face was enough to convince her that she would do just that if they did return to Sunnydale though. The blonde wicca could justify her action, secure in the knowledge that Faith would use the implement in the fight against evil, for she was now totally convinced that the brunette slayer had regained her sense of duty.

"Come on Tar, lie down. I promise I won't do anything if you don't," Faith grinned lasciviously at Tara as she patted the ground beside her.

Tara shook her head. "You're incorrigible Faith," she told her. "And keep your hands to yourself," she warned, a look of mischief in her eyes as she lay down by the Bostonian.

Faith laughed. "It wasn't me who was getting down and dirty before," she reminded the older girl.

"You encouraged me. I distinctly heard you moaning," Tara shot back, despite blushing to her hairline again.

"Who wouldn't?" Faith retorted. "Besides, I was asleep. Not my fault that the girl of my dreams decided to get all erotic on me." She wiggled her eyebrows again.

"I thought it was the girl of my dreams too," Tara whispered, her mood falling again.

"You'll see her again," Faith told her assuredly.

"And you'll see Cordelia again," Tara replied.

"I know," agreed Faith. "Now shut up and let me sleep. We've got demon ass to kick later." Her eyes were closing as she spoke and Tara realised that the slayer must be exhausted. The blonde witch turned slightly and shut her eyes, savouring both the warmth and protection the brunette was emanating and thought absently how lucky Cordelia was.

Part 14

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