THE POWER OF THREE
Disclaimer: All of the materials borrowed from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel belong to Joss Whedon and to the entities and companies associated with their creation. I have borrowed them for creative and entertainment purposes only. No compensation has been or ever shall be received for the writing below. No copyright infringement is intended.
My Website: http://www.dragonwriter17.net/
Feedback: Yes, but only if it’s of the non-flamey variety: DragonWriter17@aol.com
Distribution: The Mystic Muse, Near Her Always (If you are interested in posting my story on your site, please contact me first for permission.)
Spoilers: The end of BtVS Season 4’s “Wild At Heart” and beyond.
Author’s Notes: I have kept to the BtVS/Angel canon in some ways, borrowing directly from aired episodes; however, I have also made significant changes: deleting certain storylines, moving some, changing others, as well as adding some completely original plots. If you haven’t read my backhistory story for Tara, “Out of Shadow into Light,” you need to because it is critical to Book 2, particularly to this Part.
Number of Chapters: 16
Chapter Summary: While Angel tries to needle some information out of Wolfram and Hart, the Three have problems at home...family problems.
A few days after Angel had gone back to L.A., Buffy came in from her afternoon class. She dropped her book bag on the floor and went to the phone. She dialed Angel’s number and waited.
“Angel Investigations, we help the hopeless!” Cordelia answered perkily.
“Hey, Cordelia,” Buffy said. “Is Angel up yet?”
“Yeah, sure, hang on.”
After a moment, Angel came on the phone. “Hey,” he said simply.
“Hey,” Buffy replied. After a moment, she asked, “So...how’s Lindsey?”
Buffy and Angel were quiet for a moment. Then Buffy finally broke the silence.
“Have you found out anything about Wolfram and Hart?” she asked.
“Not yet. I’ve spent the last couple of days pummeling some of the demons known to have associated with the firm, but they don’t know anything,” Angel said. “I think I’m gonna have to go quite a bit higher in the food chain on this one.”
“Do you really think Wolfram and Hart might be planning something against us?” Buffy asked, deep concern in her voice.
“It’d be the smart thing to do,” he answered. “Take you guys out before you have a chance to master your powers and get stronger. Have you found anything else in those documents Lindsey sent you?”
“No, not really,” Buffy admitted ruefully. “It’s mostly historical stuff. Not so much as a how-to anywhere in it.” Buffy sighed.
“Well, you do have that curse thing going for you,” Angel reminded her.
“Yeah, right. ‘Take one of three, curséd be.’ Oh, that’s really scary. Gonna have all those evil doers just a-shakin’ in their shoes with that one,” Buffy said bitterly. “And that’s if any of them even know about the stupid curse.”
“At least we know Wolfram and Hart knows about it,” Angel said. “That should help, right?”
“Yeah, I guess,” Buffy said. “It’s just what else they might know that worries me.”
* * *
Across town, Willow stood outside the front door of her parents’ house. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes, thinking of Buffy and Tara.
“Call us if you need us,” Tara had said. “Are you sure you don’t want us to come along?”
“I’ll be fine,” Willow had answered.
“Just remember,” Buffy had told her, “you are a bad-ass witch. If they go too far, you can always turn them into slugs.”
At the memory of Buffy’s line, Willow allowed herself a small laugh. Then she opened her eyes and went inside.
Willow found her parents in the living room sitting on the sofa. She sat in the chair across from them and met their eyes.
“Okay, I’m here,” Willow said, folding her arms resolutely across her chest.
Ira and Sheila exchanged a look, then Ira turned to his daughter.
“We want to talk to you about this-this thing you have going with those other two women.”
Willow’s eyes narrowed, and she leaned forward, unfolding her arms. “First of all, ‘those women’ have names. They’re Buffy and Tara. And secondly, this isn’t a ‘thing’ we have going. It’s a relationship. An unconventional one, I’ll admit, but—”
“Unconventional?” Ira interjected. “Ludicrous is more like it!”
“It’s not ludicrous!” Willow said angrily. “And how would you know anyway?”
“Now, now...tempers, tempers,” Sheila said in a placating voice. “Let’s not—”
“Oh let’s,” Willow said firmly. “I told you before. Buffy and Tara and I are in love, and we’re going to stay that way. Nothing you can say or do is going to change that.”
Willow got to her feet and headed for the door.
“You stop right there, young lady!” Ira called out to his daughter, causing her to stop in place. “If you walk out that door, you can kiss our financial support good-bye!”
Willow turned around slowly and looked at her parents in shock. “You’d cut me off? Just like that? Because of who I’m dating?”
“To get you to see reason...yes,” Ira said, rising to his feet.
Willow looked at her father and then her mother, then brought her eyes back to her father. “Fine,” she said with conviction. “I’d rather be in the poor house with them than in your good graces without them!”
Willow turned back around and stomped to the front door. She slammed it loudly as she left.
* * *
Later that day, Buffy and Joyce sat at the bar in the Summers’ home, drinking coffee together.
“They just cut her off?” Joyce asked incredulously.
Buffy nodded solemnly.
“I guess that means they won’t be coming to the honors program on Sunday then?”
Again, Buffy nodded.
“Well, they said they were going to handle things ‘their own way’...”
“You talked to them?”
“They came by the gallery the other day,” Joyce replied. “They were hoping for my assistance in breaking up what they considered to be an abnormal and dangerous relationship.”
“Abnormal? Dangerous?” Buffy asked in a loud and incensed voice.
“Yes. I tried to convince them to give it time, to try to get to know you first, but they wouldn’t listen.”
“No surprise there. They’ve never listened to Willow, paid her any mind at all, until she did something they didn’t like.”
“Yes, I reminded them of their excessive lack of parenting,” Joyce said.
“You did not,” Buffy replied with a smile. “Get out!”
Joyce laughed. “I felt a little like the pot calling the kettle black afterwards, but yes, I did.”
“That was totally different, Mom.”
“Yes!” Buffy assured her. “Finding out you’re the mother of the Slayer is way more freak-worthy than finding out your daughter’s gay and dating two women at the same time. What you did...it was understandable.”
“You’re very generous,” Joyce said.
Buffy looked down at her hands for a moment, then looked back up.
“It hurt, I admit that,” she told her mother. “But I get it now. I shouldn’t’ve kept you in the dark all those years. If you had known what was going on, that would’ve never happened.” Buffy made an angry pout. “Stupid Council and its stupid rules.”
“I won’t argue with that assessment. So, how did Willow take it?”
“She was upset at first, but after we talked, she felt better. We tried to make her feel good about standing up for herself.”
“That’s good. What about the money situation? Willow won’t have to drop out of school, will she?” Joyce asked.
“No, Willow’s on a full scholarship, so school’s covered. It’s just...there’s no extra, you know? Nothing to fall back on,” Buffy answered. “Plus, it means no off campus housing for us. At least not any time soon.”
“Well, I’ve got good news on that front,” Joyce reported. “I’ve talked to your father, and he’s agreed to help with the finances so that you can move off campus.”
“Really? That’s awesome!” Buffy said, hugging her mom enthusiastically.
“I didn’t tell him about you and Willow and Tara being in a relationship, of course. That’s your job,” Joyce told her daughter. “But I did tell him the expenses wouldn’t be too bad since you’d be splitting them three ways with your new roommates.”
Buffy clapped her hands happily. “I can’t wait to tell Will and Tara!”
“Just remember that this arrangement is contingent on your grades remaining up,” Joyce said. “Is that clear?”
Buffy saluted. “Ma’am, yes ma’am!” Buffy sat back down. “Don’t worry. With Willow and Tara as roommates, I won’t be allowed to be a slacker.”
* * *
Meanwhile, back in Sunnydale, Willow and Tara walked through the overgrown yard up to Doc’s dilapidated house. They went up the steps and knocked on the door.
“Thanks for coming with me,” Willow said. “Doc is kinda creepy.”
Tara smiled. “I didn’t want you to come here alone.”
Willow smiled back, then knocked on the door again. Within seconds, Doc cracked the door. He peered at the two of them through his thick glasses. When he recognized Willow, he opened the door fully, smiling widely.
“Oh, you remembered,” he said in a pleased voice. “Come in, come in.”
Doc led Willow and Tara into the large den. It was still filled with books and papers and various magical items.
“And how did it go?” he asked expectantly.
“Um, fine,” Willow answered. Then she held out the book. “I just came to return this to you.”
Doc took the book, running his hand over Willow’s as he did so. “You didn’t do the second one, did you?”
Willow glanced at Tara then blushed. “No, I didn’t,” Willow told him, pulling her hand back.
Doc’s attention was suddenly drawn to Tara. He looked at her intently, even moved to stand in front of her as he stared.
“My, aren’t you the interesting one,” Doc said to Tara. “Won’t be long now, will it?” He gave the blonde a wink.
Tara nervously grabbed Willow’s arm. “W-W-Will, I think we should go now.”
“O-O-Okay,” Willow said. “Thanks again,” she told Doc as they headed for the front door.
“My pleasure,” Doc replied as they went out the door and down the steps. “Any time,” he added with a friendly wave.
* * *
Later that day, after her classes were over, Tara sat in the library alone. Her books lay open before her, but her eyes were not on them. She stared at the wall, a frown on her face. After a moment of tense reflection, she shook her head and looked down at her books. She sighed and shut them. Then she pulled out her journal instead. She opened it and began to write.
I’m supposed to be studying right now, but I just can’t concentrate. I keep thinking about Doc.
He knew. He took one look at me and knew.
On the way back, Willow asked me what he had meant. I said I didn’t know.
I lied. Like I’ve been doing all along. Lying to Willow and Buffy.
I should tell them the truth, but I just can’t. I know it’s selfish of me, but I want to enjoy this as long as I can. I’ll leave in time before—
Tara stopped writing. She shut her eyes tightly.
“Don’t think about it,” she whispered to herself, opening her eyes. “There’s nothing you can do, so just...be happy for as long as you can.”
* * *
The next day, Tara did her best to put on a happy face. It was honors day, and both she and Willow were receiving awards. She knew she would have to get on stage to accept her president’s list certificate and scholarship renewal, but with all of her friends there to support her, she wasn’t worried...not too much anyway.
Once she got past the nervous part of getting up in front of the crowd to accept her awards, Tara relaxed and enjoyed the rest of the ceremony. At the reception that followed, Tara stood near a column in the center of the large foyer of the convocation auditorium, waiting for the rest of the gang to return from the food table. She watched Buffy and Willow, Xander and Anya, and Mr. Giles and Mrs. Summers as they picked their way slowly down the table. It felt good to have people who supported her, who believed in her, who were proud of her achievements. Tara smiled warmly as she thought of them.
“Miss Maclay,” Tara heard an official voice say behind her. Tara turned around and found Dean Henderson standing there. “Congratulations,” the older woman continued, giving Tara’s shoulder a friendly squeeze.
“Thank you, Dr. Henderson,” Tara replied with a smile.
“I was just talking with your father about how excited we all are at having you here at UC Sunnydale,” Dean Henderson said.
Tara glanced over at Giles beside the food table. “Oh, he’s not my—” Tara stopped when Dean Henderson lifted her eyes to address someone coming up behind Tara.
“Mr. Maclay,” she said to the man, “you must be so proud.”
Tara’s eyes filled with fear as she turned slowly around. When she looked up and saw her father’s face, she froze.
Mr. Maclay locked eyes with his daughter. “Oh, yes,” he said in an even but slightly icy tone. “Very proud.”
* * *
Across the room, Buffy and Willow stood at the end of the table next to the desserts. They were frowning and sending a deadly stare in Xander’s direction. He held his plate close to his body and shielded it with his hands.
“Xander, you took the last one!” Buffy accused while Willow pointed at the now empty tray of cream puffs.
“Number one rule of grazing: first come, first serve,” Xander announced firmly.
“But I’m an honoree,” Willow protested. “You should—”
Willow stopped mid-sentence, and both she and Buffy immediately turned to look at Tara. After a moment, they set down their plates right on the food line and hurried in their girlfriend’s direction.
Anya came up behind Xander. “They’re abandoning their food? Quick, grab their shrimp!”
“Something’s up,” Xander said, setting his plate down as well and following Buffy and Willow.
Anya watched him go, glanced about to see if anyone was looking, then nabbed the shrimp from all three discarded plates. She made one more look around, then followed Xander.
Nearby, Giles saw the sudden exodus of Scoobies. He whispered into Joyce’s ear, and the two of them also headed toward Tara.
* * *
Tara broke eye contact with her father and took a step back. “Dad, I…ummm…I d-d-didn’t know you were here.”
“We slipped in at the end of the awards,” Mr. Maclay said.
“W-W-We?” Tara asked.
“Your brother and I,” he answered. “You didn’t tell us about the ceremony. We had to find out by postcard,” he added, holding up the official announcement card from UC Sunnydale.
Tara looked at the forwarding sticker on the card and hung her head. You idiot! she thought to herself. You didn’t change the false address you gave the school. It must have been sent back and then forwarded to your original permanent address back home. Idiot!
Tara glanced quickly at her father and then hung her head again. “S-S-Sorry…I… ummm…I d-d-didn’t want to b-b-bother you. It’s s-s-such a long d-d-drive.” Tara lifted her eyes.
“When it comes my daughter, I’d do just about anything,” he said. “Isn’t that right, Tara?
“Y-Y-Yes, sir,” she said with a quick nod, her eyes not leaving his. Tara barely registered when Buffy and Willow arrived and took up positions on each side of her and touched her arms.
“It’s good to know that Tara has such a supportive family,” Dean Henderson said, patting Mr. Maclay’s arm before leaving to mingle elsewhere.
Buffy and Willow looked at Tara inquisitively, but she still stared at her father.
“Family?” Willow asked.
At Willow’s question, Tara finally blinked and looked away. She met her girlfriends’ eyes briefly, then glanced at Xander, Anya, Giles, and Joyce as they arrived. Mr. Maclay straightened and took in the sight of the small crowd around Tara. His eyes narrowed, then he forced a small smile.
“Aren’t you going to introduce me?” he prodded his daughter.
“Oh...umm...yes, sir,” Tara said. “This is—”
“There you are!” a voice boomed teasingly from behind Mr. Maclay, interrupting Tara. “We been lookin’ all over for you,” the voice continued as a scruffy-haired blond young man came into view. “Haven’t we?” he said, nudging Mr. Maclay.
Tara forced a smile and made a gesture of introduction. “Ummm…everybody, this is my dad…and my brother, Donny.”
Both Buffy and Willow replied with a cautious “hi” while Xander and Anya gave a small wave from the back.
“It’s very nice to meet you,” Joyce said.
“Indeed,” Giles echoed, giving the Maclays a nod.
“Th-Th-These are my friends,” Tara said.
Donny gave a snort of laughter. “All of them?” he asked incredulously. “Boy, that’s more friends than you had in all of high school.” Donny gave Tara’s arm a playful punch. “Ain’t it?”
“Yeah,” Tara said flatly to her brother. Then she turned back to her father. “Ummm…how l-l-long will you be staying?”
“Just for tonight,” Mr. Maclay answered. “We’re staying in the RV park. We’ll be going back tomorrow. We have some...” He glanced around at the group surrounding Tara. “...family business to discuss with you, though. I was hoping we could meet for dinner.”
Tara hesitated, then said, “Ummm…okay.”
“How about six…at your dorm?”
“Y-Y-Yes sir, th-th-that sounds fine.”
Mr. Maclay looked at Tara’s friends once again and smiled. “It was good to meet you all,” he said formally.
“And you as well,” Giles replied politely.
At that, both Mr. Maclay and his son left. Buffy and Willow watched until the two men were out of sight, then they turned quickly to Tara.
“Are you okay?” Willow asked in a concerned voice.
“We were over at the grazing line and then our stomachs went all lurchey,” Buffy added. “What’s going on?”
“I-I-I’m fine,” Tara said in what she hoped was a believable voice. “I was just s-s-surprised, that’s all. I w-w-wasn’t expecting to see them here.”
“I didn’t even know that you...” Willow said. “I mean, you’ve mentioned your mother, but…”
“My parents s-s-separated when I was thirteen,” Tara explained. “I went with mom, and Donny went with Dad. We haven’t exactly been close.” She paused and looked down at the floor once again. When she looked up, she said, “Look, I-I-I’m not feeling very well. I think I should go back to my room.”
“Are you sure you don’t wanna come back with us?” Willow asked.
“No!” Tara said more sharply than she intended. She softened her tone. “I…ummm…I think I need to be alone, you know, g-g-get some sleep?”
“O-O-Okay,” Buffy said in a not-quite-convinced tone. “We’ll walk you there,” she added, meeting Willow’s eyes.
Tara nodded her agreement, then turned to Xander, Anya, Giles, and Joyce. “Thanks for coming today. It m-m-meant a lot to me.”
Xander gave her a thumbs-up and a wide grin. “You betcha. Gotta support the brainiacs of the group.”
“We’re very proud of you, Tara. And you too, Willow,” Joyce told the girls.
After a round of thank-you’s and good-bye’s, the Three made their way through the crowd and out of the building.
* * *
Tara, Willow, and Buffy walked in silence all the way back to Tara’s dorm. Tara walked up the front steps toward the entrance. When Buffy and Willow went to follow her inside, she stopped and turned around to face them.
“Th-Th-Thanks for walking me home,” she told them. Tara began backing away towards the door.
Buffy reached out to the frightened blonde. “Tara, are you sure you’re okay?”
“I’m f-f-fine,” Tara replied. “I just need to l-l-lie down for a while. I’ll see you guys later.”
Before her girlfriends could say another word, Tara turned around and dashed into her dorm.
* * *
Once in her hallway, Tara began walking briskly to her room. As tears threatened to come, her walking became running, and she barely made it to her room before her tears broke. She slammed the door shut and immediately closed her eyes and tilted her head down in a prayerful pose.
“Sacred be this chosen place, shield it now from every face,” Tara forced out in a choked voice.
When she felt the magic barrier surround the room, she let out a shaking sigh of relief and fell back against the door.
“Oh god...” she whispered before starting to cry hard.
Suddenly, she stopped, and a frightened look came over her face. She snapped around and quickly locked the door, then stepped away from it. With a look of terror on her face, she kept backing up, her eyes fixed on the door, until her retreat was stopped by her bed. She dropped onto the bed. She wrapped her arms tightly around herself and began to rock in place. Then she started to sob.
* * *
Willow and Buffy watched in shock as Tara practically ran away from them and into her dorm.
“Something is wrong,” Buffy announced. “Very wrong.”
“I know,” Willow agreed.
“We should go after her. She shouldn’t be alone like this—”
Willow stopped Buffy with a hand on her arm. “Buffy, she wants to be alone.”
“But she’s hurting,” Buffy said. “God, Will, can’t you feel that?” Buffy put her hand on Willow’s chest over her heart.
Willow covered Buffy’s hand with her own. “Yes, I feel it, just like you do. But Tara’s not ready to tell us yet, and I don’t think we should try and force her to talk if she isn’t ready.” Willow felt Tara’s strong emotions fade away. “See? She’s feeling better already.”
Buffy felt it too, but gave Willow a disbelieving look. Buffy looked at Tara’s window then glanced back toward the auditorium. “It’s her family, I know it!” she said abruptly. “Did you see the way she acted around them? How stuttery she got?”
“Buffy, Tara stutters all the time.”
“Not like that, she doesn’t,” Buffy pointed out. “She was extra super duper stuttery.”
Willow tried to shrug it off. “She was probably just nervous. She hadn’t expected to see them there, and they surprised her.”
“Why are you defending them?” Buffy asked irately.
“I’m not defending them,” Willow replied. “I’m just…” Willow paused and then started again. “I just don’t think we should jump to any conclusions until Tara herself tells us what’s up.”
Buffy thought about that for a moment. Finally, she said, “Okay. You win.”
Willow grinned. “Good. I like to win.”
“But you’ve only won the battle, not the war,” Buffy warned her. “I am going to remain firmly entrenched in my suspicions until Tara convinces me otherwise.”
Willow linked her arm in Buffy’s and began walking the two of them away from Tara’s dorm. “We’ll give Tara some space. She’ll rest. She’ll think. Then when we catch up with her later, she’ll tell all. You’ll see.”
* * *
Tara sobbed until her sides were sore. Then she sat up and wiped her eyes. She took a deep breath and stood up.
Maybe they really are here just to visit, Tara thought to herself. I shouldn’t assume the worst.
They are the worst! her mind threw back at her. Have you forgotten?
Tara shook her head. No, she certainly had not forgotten. She could never forget.
“You were so stupid!” she angrily told herself. “How could you forget to change the address? Stupid, stupid, stupid!”
Tara looked at the ceiling. “What am I going to do?” she prayed to anyone who would listen.
She closed her eyes and shook her head once again. When she opened her eyes, they held a determined look. “I can’t go back with them. I can’t...I won’t! I won’t live like that again.”
Tara’s expression of determination suddenly gave way to one of terror. Oh god, what if he tells them about me...what I am, she thought. They’ll hate me for sure.
“Oh god...” Tara said as she slipped back onto her bed.
As her tears returned, her fear and despair overwhelmed her. She curled into a tight ball and let the sobs come.
* * *
Hours later, Tara lay in a fitful sleep on her bed. She tossed her head from side to side and jerked her arms as the occasional “no” and “Daddy, please” slipped from her mouth. In her mind, pieces of her past bombarded her.
Her father looming over her, his belt in his hand. A backhanded blow across her cheek. Her brother laughing. A crushing grip on her arms, sending her to her knees. The smell of hay and the smack of leather on bare skin. Herself crying, pleading. A bug’s-eye-view of the kitchen floor as she lay bruised and broken beside the refrigerator. The taste of her own blood in her mouth. A pounding on the door.
When the pounding became louder, Tara shot up from bed. She glanced fearfully at her door and then at her alarm clock.
“Oh god, it’s six o’clock! He’s here!” she hissed.
She looked around frantically as if deciding what to do. She finally forced herself to calm down. When she had done so, she answered the door.
“Dad, come in,” she said. “I’m sorry I d-d-didn’t get to the door sooner.”
Mr. Maclay didn’t answer. He merely walked inside and started looking around the room as Tara shut the door. He went to a table, picked up a large crystal, scoffed, and set it back down.
“You don’t even try to hide it anymore, do you? Not even with your birthday coming up?” he asked as he moved towards her. “You’re just...just...embracing it, aren’t you?”
“Dad, it’s not like that, I—”
The backhanded blow came out of nowhere and sent Tara stumbling to the floor of her dorm room. Her father stood over her and pointed down at her angrily.
“Don’t you dare talk back to me, little girl!” he barked.
He grabbed her arms and yanked her to her feet. He squeezed her arms until she cried out in pain.
“No kin of mine is going to willingly walk down the road to hell while I have breath to stop it. Do you understand me?”
Tara nodded then winced in pain as her father squeezed her arms even tighter. “Yes sir,” she said.
Mr. Maclay released his daughter. Tara managed to stay on her feet, but kept her eyes on the floor. She was trying not to cry but failing. She trembled when her father lifted her chin with his hand and stared into her eyes.
“I’ll be back here at six o’clock tomorrow morning,” he told her. “You have your stuff packed and ready to go. Clothes and personal items only. No books, no crystals, no candles...I’ll have none of the devil’s things in my house.”
Mr. Maclay suddenly reached up toward Tara’s face. She flinched, expecting another blow. She was surprised when she got a gentle cupping of her cheek.
“It’s the only way, Tara,” he said. “You know that. You can’t control what’s going to happen. You have evil inside of you, and it will come out. Without me, you’re lost.”
Tara didn’t answer. She simply watched as her father pulled his hand away and headed for the door.
“Six o’clock,” he reminded her before slipping out.
* * *
In Stevenson Hall, Willow sat on the bed with a book on her lap as Buffy puttered about, gathering their dirty clothes for a trip to the laundry room. They had both changed out of their dress clothes from the honors ceremony and into their sweats and t-shirts. Willow looked up from her book and glanced at the phone. She checked the time on her alarm clock: 7:29 p.m.
“Think Tara’s back yet?” Willow asked.
Buffy checked her watch. “Probably. Why don’t you call and see?”
“Okay,” Willow said before picking up the phone and punching in Tara’s number.
It rang once, then twice, before Tara answered.
“Hello?” Tara said.
“Hey,” Willow said. “How’re you feeling? Better?”
“Oh, hey,” Tara replied. “Not really.”
“Oh. Sorry,” Willow said. Then she perked up her voice. “How was supper, though? Have fun catching up with your family?”
“Well...you wanna come over and hang out? I promise we won’t keep you up. You can get all the rest you need. Right, Buffy?”
“Absolutely!” Buffy called out from the closet.
“No...I should, ummm, just stay here. Really. I’ll be fine.”
“Are you sure?”
“I’m sure,” Tara said reassuringly. “I can, ummm, see you guys in the morning. At the dining hall.”
“Oh. Okay,” Willow said, trying to hide her disappointment and concern. “I mean, sure. We can see you tomorrow. It’s not like we’re joined at the hip, right? Or hips, I guess I should say.”
“Well...okay then. We’ll, ummm, see you tomorrow.”
“Okay,” Willow said. She paused and then added, “Bye...I guess.”
Willow listened a few seconds more then went to hang up the phone. When she heard Tara call to her, she quickly pulled the phone back.
“I love you,” Tara said. “Both of you.”
“We love you too,” Willow said sincerely as a puzzled look came over her face.
Willow waited, listening for Tara to speak again. After a moment, she finally heard Tara hang up the phone.
* * *
Tara hung up the phone and let out a long shaky breath. A sob tried to escape her throat, but she wiped her eyes and forced the sob back down.
She too had changed into casual clothes: jeans, tennis shoes, t-shirt, and sweater. Now she walked back to her bed where she was packing a large duffel bag. In it she had placed her Book of Shadows and a few charms and ingredients needed for protection spells. She had just finished packing several sets of clothes and was now adding her personal items: toothbrush, toothpaste, brush, and so on. The last item she picked up was a small picture book. She opened it and then leafed through the plastic pages, stopping on a photo of herself with Willow and Buffy. She gently touched the photo with her fingertips.
I’m sorry, she thought. But this is the only way.
I can’t go back with Dad and Donny. And I can’t stay here. I want to so bad, but I just couldn’t bear putting you in danger. There’s no telling what Dad might do.
I’m sorry, she repeated.
Then she put the picture book inside the duffel bag and zipped it up tightly. She swung the heavy bag over her shoulder. She pulled an envelope from her pocket and left it on the bed where it could be clearly seen. Then she turned out the lights and left the room.
* * *
Tara slipped out the front door of her dorm and headed down the steps. When she reached the bottom, she looked around nervously. Seeing no sign of her father or brother, she started off down the sidewalk toward the student center, where she planned to get some cash off her student account card. She walked as quickly as she could while carrying the heavy bag, frequently stopping to reposition it on her shoulder. During one of these moments of distraction, Donny suddenly jumped in front of her out of the bushes.
“Where do you think you’re goin’?” he asked with a smile.
Tara gasped in surprise and dropped her bag. As she drew a breath and reached out her hand to cast, Donny grabbed her and held a cloth over her face. She struggled to free herself, but it was too late. She went limp in his arms.
Donny laughed, then pulled the cloth away and stuffed it in his back pocket. He picked Tara up into his arms and started carrying her to his truck.
* * *
In Stevenson Hall, Willow and Buffy felt Tara’s fear at the same time. It hit them like a knife in the chest. They instantly dropped what they were doing and ran from the room.
* * *
Moments later, Willow and Buffy burst into Tara’s dorm room. They found it empty, then they noticed the envelope on the bed. It was addressed to them. They opened the envelope and read the note inside:
Willow and Buffy,
don’t have time to explain why, but I’m leaving
not leaving because of you or anything you
Please don’t hate me and don’t try to find me.
love you both very much. I will always love you,
Buffy and Willow looked at the note and then each other, their mouths wide open in utter shock. Then they spoke at the same time.
“We have to find her!” they cried.
* * *
Buffy and Willow ran out of Tara’s dorm and stopped at the bottom of the steps. Buffy faced Willow and grabbed her arm.
“Okay, let’s do this,” Buffy said as she joined hands with Willow.
They both took a deep breath and tried to concentrate. As seconds passed, they began to panic more and more.
“I’m not getting anything!” Willow said.
“Keep trying!” Buffy urged. “We can do this!”
Willow focused harder. “She’s nearby but...Argghhh!” Willow pulled her hands away in frustration. “It’s just not working!”
“Okay, well let’s narrow it down,” Buffy said. “She’s running away, where would she go?”
“The airport, the bus station?” Willow answered uncertainly.
“Money’s tight, she’d probably skip the airport,” Buffy said. “Does she have a credit card?”
Willow thought for a second. “I don’t think so. I’ve never seen her use one, not even a Visa debit card.”
“Then she’d need cash,” Buffy said.
“She’d use her student card then...the one with her stipend on it,” Willow replied.
“The student center!” they chimed together before heading that way.
They didn’t get far before they came across Tara’s duffel bag in the bushes beside the sidewalk. They pulled it out and looked inside.
“Why’d she leave her bag?” Willow asked worriedly.
“Something was after her,” Buffy said, then corrected herself. “Or someone.”
“Her family. It must be.”
“I knew she was afraid of them!” Buffy said angrily to herself, then she turned to Willow. “Check the student center, just to be sure,” she ordered, “and call Giles while you’re at it. I’m going on to the RV park. Meet me there unless you hear from me otherwise.”
Willow nodded firmly then gave Buffy a kiss. “Be careful.”
“You too,” Buffy said before dashing off at slayer speed across the campus.
* * *
In the cab of Donny’s truck, Tara awakened slowly. Her eyes fluttered open and shut multiple times as she lay facedown on the bench seat. After a few moments, she pushed herself up. She looked around groggily before shaking her head to clear the dizziness left behind by the drug Donny had used. She took several deep breaths.
Suddenly, she heard a banging noise outside. It came from the back of the truck, where Donny and his father were connecting the small travel trailer to the battered pickup. She ducked down in the seat and peeked over the top of the seat, grateful for the gun rack that blocked much of the view into the cab.
Donny was standing at the tailgate looking down at his father, who was on the ground underneath the hitch. When Donny crouched down to help with the light kit, Tara took her chance. She abruptly opened the door and jumped out. Unfortunately, the sudden move triggered a dizzy spell, and she stumbled drunkenly to her knees, crying out as she did so. Donny immediately shot up from his crouch.
Mr. Maclay could not rise as quickly because of his position on the ground. “Get her!” he shouted at Donny. “And make sure you use enough of that stuff this time!”
Donny ran for his sister. When she saw him coming toward her, she screamed and struggled to her feet. She only got a few yards away before Donny caught up to her. He grabbed her by one arm, but she turned around and struck out wildly at her brother, hitting him in the face. Donny yelled in pain, but did not let go. He angrily grabbed her free arm and shoved her to the ground on her back, straddling her legs.
“You’re gonna pay for that, bitch!” he raged as he brought his fist crashing into Tara’s face.
Donny landed another blow and then lifted his arm to hit her again. He never got the chance as Buffy suddenly body tackled him off Tara, sending the two of them tumbling off in a tangle. When they stopped, Buffy was on top of Donny. Before he could even react, she started pummeling his face.
“Don’t you ever...touch Tara...again!” she screamed, punctuating each phrase with a violent punch.
Donny was rendered unconscious after the very first blow, but Buffy didn’t stop. Tara regained her bearings and sat up. She gasped when she saw her father heading toward Buffy with a shotgun.
“Buffy!” Tara screamed. “Behind you!”
When Mr. Maclay reached Buffy, he stepped beside her and pumped the slide on his twelve-gauge, sending a shell into the chamber. Then he pointed the barrel right at Buffy’s temple.
Buffy froze mid-punch.
“Get the hell off my son, or I swear to God I will blow your brains out!” Mr. Maclay said.
Buffy held her hands in the air and slowly got off Donny. As she backed a few feet away, Mr. Maclay lowered the gun but kept it trained on her. Willow suddenly ran onto the scene, joining Buffy in a skidding stop before realizing that they had a gun pointed at them. Willow froze but then looked around Mr. Maclay to see Tara on the other side.
“What have you done to Tara?!” Willow demanded, taking a step toward Mr. Maclay.
Mr. Maclay raised the shotgun once again, and Buffy grabbed Willow by the arm to pull her back.
“No!” Tara cried in anguish, scrambling to her feet. She staggered over to her father and fell to her knees beside him. With tears streaming down her face, she reached out to him. “Dad, no, please don’t hurt them,” she pleaded. “I-I-I’ll go with you, just please don’t hurt them.”
“Go?” Willow asked in disbelief. “Tara, what are you talking about?”
“You heard Tara,” Mr. Maclay said. “She’s coming with us...back home where she belongs...with her family. So move along or else.”
“Or else what?” Buffy challenged. “You’ll shoot us?”
“Buffy, please,” Tara said. “He’ll do it, he will. So just go.”
“That’s right, I will, and...Arggghh!” Mr. Maclay screamed in agony as a crossbow bolt sank into his arm, causing him to drop the shotgun.
Fifty feet away, Giles lowered his crossbow.
“Great shot, G-man!” Xander said, slapping Giles on the shoulder as they quickly headed for the Three.
As Giles and Xander dashed over with Anya right on their heels, Buffy instantly claimed the dropped shotgun and pointed it in Mr. Maclay’s direction. She and Willow moved around Mr. Maclay and pulled Tara away from him.
Buffy handed the shotgun to Xander and then stood protectively in front of Willow and Tara. As Mr. Maclay yanked the crossbow bolt from his arm, Donny groggily got to his feet and joined his father.
Mr. Maclay roared in pain and fury and then faced the group before him. “How dare you interfere with me and my daughter!” he shouted.
“Oh we dare,” Buffy shot back.
Xander thrust the gun forward as an added emphasis on Buffy’s statement.
“You tell him, Buffy!” Anya added from behind Xander.
Mr. Maclay’s face was red with rage, and he stared angrily at them for a moment before calming himself a bit and changing tactics.
“I’m doing this for her own good, and yours for that matter,” Mr. Maclay said.
Buffy and Willow both snorted derisively, but Tara merely hung her head.
“That’s right,” Mr. Maclay said. “You don’t know what she is, but we do.”
Buffy and Willow looked at each other, confused, then glanced at Tara. She wouldn’t look up. Buffy looked at Giles.
“What...what do you mean?” Giles asked with concern.
Mr. Maclay straightened and stood to his full height. “Demon,” he announced dramatically. “She has demon in her.”
A look of shock spread over the Scoobies’ faces.
“She and her mother both,” Mr. Maclay continued as Donny wrapped a bandage around his father’s bleeding arm. “That’s where the magic comes from. When Tara turns twenty, the demon will come out.”
Tara kept her eyes on the ground and pulled her arms tightly around herself in an attempt to make herself smaller, small enough to disappear if she could.
Buffy and Willow turned to Tara. Then Buffy asked, “Is it true?”
Tara lifted her head. Her face was wet with tears as she met her girlfriends’ eyes. Then she nodded solemnly.
A look of betrayal came over Buffy and Willow. They stared at Tara in total disbelief. Finally unable to endure their gaze any longer, Tara dropped her eyes to her hands.
“I’m very s-s-sorry,” Tara said. “I’ll go.”
Tara moved away from her girlfriends and headed for her father. After she had made only a few steps, Willow stopped her.
“Go? Go where?” Willow asked her. “With them?”
“We know how to deal with her problem,” Mr. Maclay interjected haughtily.
“What? By beating her?” Buffy asked in scoffing tone. Then she stepped in front of Tara and crossed her arms tightly. “She’s not going anywhere with you.”
Mr. Maclay became enraged again. “You have no right to interfere in Tara’s affairs!” he barked. “We are her blood kin. Who the hell are you?”
Buffy looked at Tara and then Willow. Then both Willow and Buffy put their arms around Tara.
“We’re family,” Buffy said with conviction. Willow added a firm nod of agreement.
Xander and Anya and Giles closed in, adding their weight to the stand.
“That’s right!” Anya interjected. “We don’t care if she’s demon or not.”
“Tara’s one of us, and she’s staying here,” Xander said.
“That said,” Giles added. “I believe your business here is finished, Mr. Maclay.”
Mr. Maclay looked at the determined group facing him, then turned his attention to Tara herself.
“Tara, if you stay with them, you’ll be putting them at risk, you know that,” he told his daughter. “Without me to help you control it, the demon will-will...do God knows what!”
Tara looked nervously at Buffy and Willow, seriously considering her father’s words. Then Willow gave her arm a squeeze.
“We can handle it,” Willow whispered to her reassuringly. “I had a werewolf for a boyfriend, remember?”
“And hey, me with a vampire,” Buffy reminded her. “We’ll deal.”
“Tara...” her father prompted sternly.
Tara smiled gratefully at her girlfriends, took a deep breath, and turned to her father.
“Dad,” she said sadly. “Just go.”
Mr. Maclay clenched his jaw and stared at Tara, his eyes burning with hatred. He looked like he was about to explode, but then fury gave way to reluctant resignation.
“So be it,” he said. Then he turned around to go back to the truck.
Donny huffed and stopped his father. “Dad,” he whined through his swollen mouth and face, “are you just gonna let her—”
Mr. Maclay gave his son a dangerous stare, and Donny instantly shut up. As Mr. Maclay finished walking to the truck, Donny turned his eyes to Tara. He glared at her for a moment, then joined his father. Within minutes, the Maclays were pulling out of the bay and leaving the RV park.
Once the truck and RV were gone, Xander immediately unloaded the shotgun and tossed the dangerous weapon on the ground. Meanwhile, Buffy and Willow pulled Tara into their arms and hugged her tightly. She began to cry and apologize all at the same time. When the Three separated, Buffy put her hands on Tara’s cheeks to stop the blonde’s frantic babbling.
“It’s all right,” she told her. “We’ll talk later. Okay?”
Tara nodded wordlessly and gave Buffy a grateful smile. Buffy left Tara and turned to Giles and Xander and Anya.
“Thank you guys so much,” Buffy told them. “For everything.”
“You’re very welcome,” Giles said.
Everyone smiled, and soon there was a huge group hug going on. When everyone had been thoroughly and warmly hugged, Willow gave Tara’s shirt sleeve a playful tug.
“And now, let’s get you home where you belong,” Willow added.
“Yeah...with us,” Buffy added.
“Okay,” Tara said, her face lighting up a little.
As Buffy and Willow led Tara away, Giles watched the Three carefully. At first, he smiled warmly, happy that everything had turned out all right. But his smile quickly fell as he considered the difficult road before them. He let out a heavy sigh and then motioned Xander and Anya to head out. Giles picked up the empty shotgun and discarded shells and led the group to follow the Three at a distance.
* * *
The next morning in L.A., Lilah perused her reflection in the full-length mirror in her spacious bedroom. She flicked a tiny piece of lint from her dark blue suit and straightened her jacket. She gave the mirror a final wink and smile and left the room. As she passed through the living room, she picked up her briefcase, turned out the lights, and left her apartment.
She strode confidently down the short hall to the elevator, pressed the down button, and waited. Within seconds, the doors opened, and she got in. She pressed the Lobby button, and the doors closed.
Lilah only half-watched as the other floors were passed without stopping, but when the elevator missed the Lobby and headed for the Basement, she huffed in annoyance.
“What the hell?” Lilah said angrily as she punched the Lobby button again. “Stupid elevator.”
She crossed her arms and grumbled to herself for the few seconds remaining in the elevator’s descent. When the car came to a stop, she waited for the doors to open. When they didn’t, she punched the Lobby button multiple times.
“Come on,” she complained. When the doors parted, she took a confrontational stance right at the front of the car. “All right, who the hell is tying up the damn elevator?”
“Ummm, that would be me,” Angel said. Then he grabbed hold of Lilah’s jacket and yanked her from the elevator before she could even make a sound.
* * *
A short time later, Cordelia and Wesley drove the non-descript van with blacked-over windows into a vacant warehouse. Once they had parked, Angel opened the back door and got out, pulling the bound and gagged Lilah from the van. He dragged her to the middle of the warehouse, where a long table with several chairs were laid out. The long table was covered with a large table cloth, concealing the items underneath. The chairs were simple folding chairs, except for one, which was a sturdy, solid-wood chair with wide slats and heavy legs.
Angel stood Lilah up in front of the chair and then removed her gag. As soon as it was off, she lit into Angel.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” she demanded.
Angel just smiled and shoved her roughly into the heavy wooden chair. Lilah grimaced in pain as she landed in the hard chair. Cordelia and Wesley took their seats in two of the folding chairs and remained silent. Angel leaned over and stared at Lilah menacingly.
“I don’t know what you think you’re up to, but you have bitten off more than you can chew,” she told him. “I’m gonna have Wolfram and Hart all over you!”
“That’s assumin’ you’re still alive,” Angel replied, a dangerous Irish lilt slipping into his accent.
Then he lifted a small black object close to Lilah’s face. Her eyes darted nervously at it as a drop of sweat rolled down her temple. With a flick of Angel’s thumb, a razor sharp blade ejected from the black handle with a snickt! Lilah couldn’t stop herself from flinching.
“We want some information,” he said as he smiled again and put the blade away.
“I’m not telling you anything!” Lilah spat back.
“Is that so?” Angel said as he sauntered over to the long table.
Lilah swallowed hard as she watched him pull off the table cloth with a flourish. On the table were various tools of torture, laid out neatly and precisely. There were blades and saws, torches and branding irons, clamps and pins, extractors and drills, stun guns and cattle prods. Angel walked up and down the table aimlessly as if deciding what item to use first.
“You know, it’s really a tough decision,” he said. “So many choices these days.”
“I’m not afraid of you,” Lilah said bravely. “There’s nothing you can do to me that would be worse than what Wolfram and Hart would do to me if I talked.”
“Let’s test that theory, shall we?” Angel replied.
As Angel lifted a gruesome-looking knife from the table, Lilah grimaced and rethought her tactics. “Angel,” she said, “you can’t do this. You have a soul and—”
“That’s the funny thing about souls,” Angel said as he put down the knife, picked up another item, and turned from the table, “they’re not pre-programmed to be good.” Angel hefted a long and heavy cattle prod in his hands as he crossed back to Lilah. “We always have a choice, don’t we? Between dark and light. Between good and evil.” Angel ran his finger across the metal prongs protruding from the end of the rod. “Some choices are difficult to make, but one thing never changes... there are always consequences.”
At that, Angel activated the cattle prod and thrust it against Lilah’s body, sending her screams echoing through the warehouse.
* * *
A few hours later, Angel left Lilah and returned to the long table containing his tools of torture. While Angel was occupied, Cordelia went over to the prisoner.
Lilah was now bound to the chair, her arms and legs lashed to it with strong rope. Her hair was mussed, her jacket had been removed, and her blouse was torn and bloodied. Her head was leaning forward on her chest.
Cordelia lifted the lawyer’s bruised face and brought a water bottle to her lips. Lilah took an eager drink. Cordelia leaned over to whisper into Lilah’s ear.
“Look, if you know something,” Cordelia warned her, “you’d better start talking. He’s getting a little twitchy, and frankly, I’m scared for ya.”
Lilah stopped drinking to laugh at Cordelia. “Is this your rendition of bad cop, good cop?” she said. “If so, it’s pathetic. It’s completely transparent. No wonder you flopped as an actress.”
Cordelia’s expression hardened, and she leaned over until she was nose to nose with Lilah. “You listen to me, you stupid bitch. There is only one thing in this world that makes Angel go crazy—as in lose-his-conscience crazy—and that thing is Buffy Summers. He knows you’re targeting her, and he will stop at nothing to protect her. And if he fails and Buffy gets hurt, God help whoever did the hurtin’.”
Cordelia straightened and left. A look of fear entered Lilah’s eyes as she watched Cordelia walk away. Then her gaze was drawn to Angel, who was making his way slowly back to Lilah. She swallowed hard and tried to steel herself.
As Angel walked toward Lilah, he carried a plastic mop bucket. He looked inside the bucket and gave it a little shake. As he neared, Lilah could hear the faint scurrying of live contents inside. Angel grinned and looked up, catching Lilah’s eye.
“You ever watch that show Fear Factor?” Angel asked. “You know, the one where the contestants have to walk a tightrope between two skyscrapers or jump from a speeding boat onto another speeding boat?”
Angel gave the bucket another shake, then continued. Lilah began to breathe heavily and barely stifled a whimper.
“Well, every now and then,” Angel continued, “they have to do something really creepy. The stunts usually involve live animals of some kind, animals that most folks find terrifying.”
Angel reached into the bucket, grabbed something, and lifted it out.
“Like...scorpions, for instance,” he said.
A strangled cry came from deep within Lilah’s throat, and she looked away. Angel held up the struggling creature by its sting-laden tail and brought it closer to Lilah. She wouldn’t look at it, though, so Angel looked at the scorpion instead.
“Well, I don’t know if they’ve actually used scorpions on the show or not,” he said, “but if they haven’t, they really should. I mean, look at these critters!”
Angel brought the scorpion within inches of Lilah’s eyes.
“That looks pretty scary to me,” he said, “especially if you’ve got hundreds of them...”
Angel dropped the scorpion back into the bucket and tipped the pail slightly so that Lilah could see the scuttling mass of scorpions inside.
“...just dumped on top of you, just crawling all over your body, just—”
“Stop!” Lilah cried. “Just stop. Please.”
“Why?” Angel asked.
“I don’t know anything,” she pleaded.
Angel gave the bucket a shake. Lilah flinched and screamed. She stopped when she realized he hadn’t dumped anything on her yet. He was still waiting for her to share.
“Look, all I know is that Holland has something planned. He hasn’t given me any details, but he seems confident that he’s found some way to deal with the Three, without triggering the curse.”
“And what way is that?” Angel asked.
“I don’t know.”
“And when is this plan supposed to take place?”
“He didn’t say,” Lilah said.
Angel threw down the bucket, sending scorpions everywhere. Cordelia screeched and jumped on her chair as a line of scorpions slid her way. Angel grabbed Lilah by the throat.
“Don’t...lie to me!” he boomed.
“I’m not,” Lilah squeaked. “I...urk...swear.”
Wesley skirted the line of scorpions and came up on the other side of Angel. He grabbed Angel’s arm and pulled on it.
“Angel, please,” Wesley said as Angel increased pressure on Lilah’s throat. “Angel! I think she’s telling the truth!”
Angel thought for a second, without releasing his grip. Then he finally released her. Lilah coughed and gasped for air.
“She better be,” Angel said to Wesley before turning back to Lilah. “Because if anything happens to Buffy, I’m coming back, and I’m finishing the job.” Angel stared into Lilah’s frightened eyes. “I’m gonna bring Wolfram and Hart down, starting with you!”
Angel turned back to Wesley. “Dump her off at the firm and get this place cleaned up,” Angel ordered. “I’m outta here.”
Cordelia watched Angel walk off and then gave an angry huff. “What?!” she called after him. “You could at least scoop up your own scorpions, you, you...oh never mind.” She gave him a dismissive wave, knowing that her tirade would be wasted.
* * *
Meanwhile, at Wolfram and Hart, Holland Manners was conducting a late meeting with a new employee: a tall black-clad man with dark hair and cold eyes.
“We want the Three out of commission,” Holland said to the man. “You understand the stipulations?”
“I understand that there are three dirty little girls in Sunnydale that need my special attentions,” the man said with a heavy southern accent and a devious smile. “Don’t you worry none. You can consider the matter a done deal.”
Holland returned the man’s smile. “That’s just what I wanted to hear,” he said before extending a hand to his visitor. “Welcome aboard, Caleb.”
Caleb smiled again, took Holland’s hand, and shook it. “Why, it’s a pleasure to be of service.”
TO BE CONTINUED IN