THE POWER OF THREE
Book 2 Part 06

By DragonWriter17

 

Rating: R

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.

Pairings: Willow/Buffy/Tara

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. 

Number of Chapters: 16

Complete: 16

Chapter Summary: Now that she’s free of her family, Tara is faced with explaining everything to Buffy and Willow. While Buffy and Tara and Willow make arrangements to move off campus together, Caleb arrives in Sunnydale to carry out Wolfram and Hart’s plot against the Three.

Return to the Home Page       Return to BtVS Stories

PART ONE       PART TWO       PART THREE       PART FOUR

PART FIVE     PART SIX       PART SEVEN       PART EIGHT

PART NINE       PART TEN       PART ELEVEN     PART TWELVE

PART THIRTEEN     PART FOURTEEN     PART FIFTEEN     PART SIXTEEN


PART SIX

The Three hadn’t spoken much on the way home from the RV park. They had merely held one another in the backseat of Xander’s car until they had been dropped off at Stevenson Hall.

When they got to their dorm room, Willow held the door open as Buffy helped Tara inside.  Once she had shut the door, Willow returned to her position on the other side of Tara.  Together, the two of them led Tara to the bed. Her clothes were dirty and torn from the ordeal with her brother and father. The right knee of her jeans was ripped, and she was clearly limping.

Once they had gotten Tara seated, Willow sat beside her, and Buffy went to get the first aid kit. Tara kept her head down, her eyes fixed on her hands and her hair hiding her face. Willow reached out and took Tara’s hand in her own. Tara didn’t look up. Willow brushed Tara’s hair back behind her ear and gently touched the blonde’s bruised face.

“You’re okay now,” Willow assured her.

When Tara finally looked up, tears were on her face. “I’m so sorry,” she said with a catch in her voice.

Willow put her fingers over Tara’s lips, stopping her apology. “Shhh...don’t worry about any of that right now. It’s not important.” 

“But—” Tara tried to object.

“No buts,” Buffy said as she returned to the bed, carrying the first aid kit, a bath towel, and an ice pack. “We’ll talk later. Right now, just let us take care of you, okay?” 

Tara took a deep breath and then nodded.

Buffy set down the items she had been carrying. Then she knelt at Tara’s feet and began to remove the witch’s shoes and socks. Willow pulled Tara’s sweater off. When Buffy stood, the two of them helped Tara take off her jeans, underwear, t-shirt, and bra.

Willow locked eyes with Buffy for a moment as if sharing a private mental conversation. Then Willow climbed up on the bed and sat behind Tara.  Willow took a pillow and put it in her lap. She gave it a few pats, indicating that Tara should scoot back and lie with her head in Willow’s lap.

“Just relax,” Willow told her. “Close your eyes.”

Once Tara was in place with her eyes closed, Willow began to lightly stroke Tara’s hair and to whisper calming words. Buffy handed the ice pack to Willow, who carefully put it on Tara’s bruised face. Buffy rolled up the bath towel and put it under Tara’s right leg. Then she opened the first aid kit, took out some antiseptic pads, and began cleaning the wound on Tara’s knee. Tara’s face creased in pain only once before Willow’s calming words merged seamlessly into a magical incantation. Tara’s body instantly relaxed. Within a few minutes, Buffy finished cleaning, applied an antibiotic ointment, and put a large bandage on the wound.

“All done,” Buffy said before giving the bandage a light kiss and looking up. She found Tara sound asleep. Buffy grinned and looked at Willow. “Good work,” she told her.

“You too,” Willow replied, setting the ice pack aside. “Come on, let’s get her under the covers.”

Once they had gotten Tara into bed, they stood beside her and watched her sleep. After a moment, Buffy turned to Willow.

“Okay. We’ve got first aid and rest covered,” Buffy said. “What else can we do?”

Willow thought for a few seconds and then said, “Well, there is a healing spell we could do. It won’t do miracles, but it should help.”

“Let’s do it,” Buffy said.

*     *     *

With the healing spell complete, Buffy and Willow once again stood watch over the sleeping Tara.

“How long will she sleep?” Buffy asked as she turned and faced the redhead.

“I don’t know,” Willow answered. “A while, I imagine. Between the sleep incantation and the healing spell, she should be out of it for at least ten hours, maybe more.”

“But she’ll be better when she wakes up?”

“Yes, much better. Not 100%, but better.” 

The two gave each other a long hug then turned back to Tara.

“Poor Tara,” Willow whispered with a frown. “I thought I had it bad with my family.”

“Bastards,” Buffy growled. “I can’t believe what they put her through. They’re just damn lucky I don’t kill humans.”

“I hear ya,” Willow concurred.

“It’s no wonder Tara’s the way she is after living with that for so long,” Buffy commented. “Beating her for having demon in her. Like that’s her fault. Bastards.”

“Do you think she does?” Willow asked. “Have demon in her, I mean?”

“I-I-I don’t know,” Buffy said with an uncertain shrug. “Her father said she did. A-A-And she seemed to believe it. Wouldn’t she know?”

“Children can be taught to believe anything,” Willow pointed out. After a pause, she asked, “What about you? Does she set off your Slayer senses at all?”

Buffy shook her head. “But that doesn’t mean anything,” she added quickly. “It doesn’t kick in for all demons. It works for vamps mostly, but even then, it doesn’t always. Giles is always on me to work on my ‘honing’ as he calls it.” Buffy directed the focus back to Willow. “What about you? Wouldn’t you have sensed something when you two did magic together? If she were part demon, wouldn’t that be like black magic or something?”

It was Willow’s turn to shake her head. “I’ve never felt anything but white magic from Tara.” Willow touched Buffy’s arm. “You know her, Buffy. There’s nothing but good inside her. I just can’t believe that she’s got some kind of evil demon inside of her.”

Buffy got a worried look. “But...she has kept secrets from us. Maybe there’s a part of her we haven’t seen yet.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Willow pronounced with a mild version of her resolve face. “Demon or not, we love her, and she loves us, and we will make this work.”

“Yes, we will,” Buffy firmly agreed. “Any ideas?”

“Maybe. I need to talk to Giles, though. There has to be a way to tell if she’s got demon in her and what kind. We need to know what we’re up against—if we’re up against anything at all.”

“Sounds good. We get with the research, and we find a solution. But first we talk to Tara and get her to tell us everything.”

“It won’t be easy. She’s been hiding all this for so long,” Willow said as a few tears rolled down her cheeks. “She was so alone, Buffy, so scared.”

Buffy gripped Willow’s arms and looked her in the eyes. “I know. But she’s not alone anymore. She’s got us, and we’re going to take care of her and stay with her no matter what.”

*     *     *

The next day around noon, Tara woke up. She had slept peacefully the whole night through, but now she sat up and groggily looked around the room. Willow was at her desk studying. Buffy wasn’t in the room. Just then, Buffy came in the door with a sack of food in her arms. She smiled when she saw Tara sitting up.

“Hey you,” Buffy said.

Willow looked first at Buffy and then turned around toward the bed. “Tara,” she said, her face brightening.

Buffy set down the sack of food, then both she and Willow came to Tara.

“Hey, baby,” Willow said. “How’re you feeling?”

“Groggy,” Tara groaned. “How long did I sleep?”

Buffy glanced at the clock. “About fourteen hours.”

“Really?” Tara said in disbelief. “I never sleep that long without waking up.”

Buffy shrugged. “Well, given the circumstances...”

Willow added her own sheepish shrug. “Plus, I kinda helped a little in that department. I did a small sleep spell on you. I figured you needed the rest.”

Tara smiled gratefully. “Thanks.”

“We did a healing spell too,” Buffy said. “Did it work?”

“Yes,” Willow said excitedly. “Are you okay? Are you hurting anywhere?”

Tara grimaced and said, “I do have a sharp pain.”

As one, Willow and Buffy chimed in anxiously, “Where?!”

Tara gave her girlfriends a half-smirk before saying, “In my bladder. I need to go to the bathroom.” 

Willow and Buffy laughed and visibly relaxed.

When Tara started to get up, Willow reached out to her. “Here, let me help you.”

While Willow peeled the covers back, Buffy went to get Tara’s robe.

“I think I can manage on my own,” Tara said with a grin.

Willow pulled back, put her hands on her hips, and looked pointedly at both Tara and Buffy. “What is it with you two?” she chided teasingly.

Tara swung her legs off the bed. “What?” she asked, confused.

“In the hospital,” Willow explained. “Hard-headed Buffy wouldn’t let me help her to the bathroom either. She nearly ended up sprawled on the floor.”

“I made it to the bathroom just fine, thank you very much,” Buffy objected. “It was the getting back that I had a problem with,” she admitted as she handed Tara her robe.

Tara thanked her, stood up, and put on her robe.

“How’s your knee?” Willow asked.

Tara made a couple of test steps. “Not bad,” she said as she made a few more steps. “You did good,” she told them both.

Tara gave earnest kisses to both Buffy and Willow and then headed for the door. Buffy and Willow shadowed the witch’s every step. Tara left the room, went down the hall a few yards, then stopped. Buffy and Willow were right behind her. She turned to face them.

“Are you two going to follow me all the way to the stall?”

“No,” Buffy stated for the record.

“Of course not,” Willow firmly denied.

Tara lifted her eyebrow and stared. Buffy and Willow squirmed.

“Just to the bathroom door,” Buffy replied.

Tara rolled her eyes and turned back to moving down the hallway. When she got to the bathroom door, she gave them a shooing wave and went inside. Buffy and Willow loitered outside a moment, then reluctantly returned to their room. In the bathroom, Tara smiled to herself as she thought about Buffy and Willow hovering protectively over her. Then she remembered the events of the night before. Her face saddened, and she sighed deeply.

*     *     *

When Tara returned to the room, Buffy and Willow had a spread of food laid out on the floor picnic style. Buffy helped Tara get seated. Then the three of them started to eat. They made idle chit-chat through a few bites before Tara finally decided to break the ice.

“I, um, I guess I have some explaining to do, huh?” Tara said.

Buffy and Willow nodded.

“But only if you feel like it,” Willow interjected. “We don’t wanna push.”

After a pause, Buffy added, “But we would like to know.”

Tara hung her head. She didn’t speak for a long time. Then she sighed shakily. She looked up, tears in her eyes.

“I’m so sorry I didn’t tell you,” Tara said. “I just couldn’t.”

Buffy and Willow reached out and touched Tara comfortingly.

“Tara, it’s okay,” Buffy reassured her. “We understand.”

“I was just so scared,” Tara said.

“Of what?” Willow asked gently.

“A lot of things,” Tara answered. She looked off for a moment and then said, “That my family would find me.”

Buffy threw her shoulders back proudly and announced, “Well, I think we can scratch that one off the ole fear list.”

“Yep,” Willow agreed. “What else?” she inquired.

Tara looked down. Once again, there was a long pause. “That you’d hate me and never want to see me again.”

Not gonna happen,” Willow stated sternly. “Not ever.”

“Right,” Buffy said. “So scratch that one off too.”

Tara smiled lightly then looked down again.

“What else?” Willow prompted once more, but Tara couldn’t speak.

“Whatever it is, you can tell us,” Buffy said.

Tara looked up and met their eyes. “I was afraid I’d hurt you...that the demon inside me would make me do something evil and you’d be hurt.”

Willow shook her head. “You would never do that, Tara. You don’t have an evil bone in your—”

“You don’t understand!” Tara nearly shouted. “I’ve already done it!”

Buffy and Willow looked confused.

“What are you talking about?” Buffy asked. “Neither of us has been hurt.”

“Yes you have,” Tara said sadly. “Buffy, you almost died, and it was all my fault.”

Buffy and Willow continued to look confused.

“You mean the thing with the Banesdrake demon?” Buffy tried to clarify. “Tara, you had nothing to do with that. You helped save my life, remember?”

Tara shook her head. “It never would’ve happened at all if I hadn’t...” Tara stopped, unable to go on.

“Hadn’t what?” Willow asked.

Tara let her head drop before barely whispering, “Sabotaged the demon locator spell.” Tara ventured a quick peek then put her head back down. “I-I-I was trying to hide. I didn’t w-w-want you to see what I was.” Tara started to cry. “I’m so sorry...” 

No one spoke for a while. Buffy looked on in shock. Willow did too. Then Willow glanced at Buffy, as if waiting for a cue from her. Buffy finally looked back at Tara and grabbed her arm.

“Tara, look at me,” Buffy said. “I have to tell you something important.” Tara looked up at Buffy. “What you did—I understand why you did it. But you need to know that it’s not why I got hurt. Even if you hadn’t sabotaged the spell, I still might have gotten hurt.”

Both Tara and Willow looked on with confusion and concern while Buffy continued.

“I went out that night determined to take on the demon again. It wouldn’t’ve mattered whether I already knew where it was or not. I still would’ve gone, and I would’ve gone alone.”

An expression of betrayal washed over Willow’s face. “What?!” she exclaimed. “Buffy...you promised me that night...you promised you wouldn’t take it on alone, you said you were just looking to find it, not fight it.”

“I know. I lied.” Buffy hung her head, then lifted it again with a forced smile on her face. “See, Tara, you’re not the only fibber in the group,” she said lightly.

Willow refused to allow the humorous shift. She stared at Buffy with hurt in her eyes. “Buffy...why?”

Buffy gave up the fake smile and looked down at her hands. “I don’t know. I was in a very dark place then. I’d finally figured out how I felt about you, a-a-and then I realized I was too late. I mean, it wasn’t me you got glowage for, it was Tara.”

Willow looked outraged. “I do so glow for you!”

“She does,” Tara instantly chimed in. “She glows for you all the time.”

“Maybe now,” Buffy corrected them. “Not then.”

“But she did. Then, I mean,” Tara said. “When we first met, at the Bronze, I could see it, in your auras. I didn’t realize what it was until later, but it was definitely there.”

“Darn tootin’!” Willow added.

Buffy smiled and caved. “Okay, okay, I get it. The point is...I didn’t know that then, and I was really down in the dumps about it.”

Willow held up her hand. “Wait...are you saying that you wanted to get hurt, that you were trying to—”

“No!” Buffy quickly denied. “No,” she repeated with less conviction. “At least I don’t think I was...not consciously.” Buffy sighed. “I just wanted to get the situation off my mind and focus on slaying. A-A-And I guess I really didn’t care how it turned out. I just didn’t care.”

“Well, I cared!” Willow protested. “God, Buffy, we all cared!”

“I know,” Buffy said. “I realized how stupid I’d been when you found me in that ravine, when I saw how upset you were.”

Realization came over Willow’s face. “That’s what you meant.”

Tara wasn’t following. “What?”

Willow turned to Tara. “When I found Buffy in the ravine, she told me she was sorry.” Willow turned back to Buffy, “That’s what you were talking about, wasn’t it?”

“Yes,” Buffy admitted.

Willow pointed at Buffy in a chiding way and tried to put on her best bossy voice, “Well...no doing that again, missy, got it?”

Tara added her resolve to the matter, “Right.” 

“Okay,” Buffy agreed, properly chastised. Then she turned back to Tara. “Now let’s get off the Buffy Line and jump onto Train Tara. The whole point of this sidetrack was...that you have nothing to feel bad about. Getting hurt was my fault. You and your supposed demon had nothing to do with it.” 

Tara seemed to take this in, but then panic entered her eyes. “But it could, someday. Like when I turn twenty. What if it comes out, and I l-l-lose control and hurt s-s-somebody. What if I hurt you? I just couldn’t bear it if—”

“That’s not going to happen,” Willow told her.

“You don’t know that!” Tara responded, very upset.

“Tara’s right,” Buffy said.

Willow whipped around to face Buffy. “What?!” she demanded.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen,” Buffy explained. “Look at Oz. He was the sweetest guy in the world...until the moon got full. Face it, Will. He loved you, but when he wolfed out, he wasn’t himself. He tried to kill you...more than once.” Buffy turned to Tara. “I’m not saying that’s what’s going to happen to you, Tara. For your sake, I hope it doesn’t, but we have to be prepared for anything.”

“I should just go,” Tara said, starting to get up. “Far away. Where I can’t put you in danger.”

Willow put her hand on Tara’s arm, stopping her, “Go? No! No going. No running away.”

Tara looked determined but torn. “But—”

“Will’s right,” Buffy told Tara. “No running away. We stick together, and we see this through. Willow and I watched over Oz; we can watch over you if necessary. But the first order of business is to talk to Giles.”

“You can do that, can’t you, baby?” Willow said as she softly stroked Willow’s arm. “Talk to Giles, tell him everything?”

Tara swallowed and nodded.

*     *     *

That afternoon, Willow and Buffy and Tara sat in Giles’ living room, discussing the matter with the former Watcher.

“So...your father never mentioned exactly what kind of demon was supposed to be inside you?” Giles asked. “I-I-Inside both you and your mother?”

“No,” Tara replied. “He just said that he could see it. And that’s when he would...” Tara trailed off, unable to finish the sentence.

Giles finished it for her. “That’s when he would beat you?”

Tara nodded. Buffy and Willow touched Tara reassuringly.

“I tried so hard to be good,” she said, “to not let it come out, but it didn’t matter, I always—”

“Tara, I can’t imagine you ever doing anything that deserved a beating,” Buffy interrupted. “I think your father was a sadistic bastard who got off on abusing his wife and daughter.”

“Yeah,” Willow agreed. “I’ll bet you don’t even have demon in you at all. He just used that as an excuse.”

Tara seemed unconvinced by her girlfriends’ arguments. She hung her head and whispered, “He said...he said that was where the magic came from.”

Willow gave Tara’s hand a squeeze. “Tara, sweetie...do you really believe that? Deep in your heart, do you really think your magic is evil? I don’t.”

“He...he did a spell...to show me what I was...deep down.”

“What kind of spell?” Giles inquired.

“He mixed some ingredients—I don’t know what—and made some kind of incantation about revealing my true nature. Then he...” Tara stopped and took a deep breath before continuing. “...he took a knife and cut my hand and let the blood drip into the mixture.”

Willow turned Tara’s hand over and touched the scar on her palm. “The scar...on your palm...”

Tara nodded her confirmation before continuing. “The mixture flamed up and began to smoke. The smoke was white at first, but then it turned black. He said...he said if I was demon-free it would burn white.” Tara didn’t say anything for a moment, then she looked up and said, “My blood did that. I saw it.”

Giles thought for a moment then finally spoke. “Well, some of that does sound familiar. I’ll see what I can find in my texts.”

Buffy turned to Willow. “Couldn’t you do the demon locator spell again? Wouldn’t it show if Tara is a demon or not?”

“Yes!” Willow said excitedly. “We could do that. It would probably work this time.”

“Without me to sabotage it,” Tara mumbled.

“Don’t you need another witch to do it?” Buffy asked.

“Yeah, I do,” Willow said with a disappointed frown.

“Couldn’t Anya do it?” Buffy pressed. “She’s done some of the witch-fu, right?”

“Yeah, she has,” Willow said, brightening again. “She could probably do it.”

“And it would probably work better if Tara herself were not one of the casters,” Giles pointed out.  Tara blushed and hung her head. “Not because we think you’ll do anything, Tara,” he assured her. “It’s just that the energies would be more focused, less sensitive to any, um, emotional disturbances.”

Tara nodded. “I understand.”

“We’ll have to modify the spell somewhat so that it doesn’t apply just to teleporting demons, though. We should probably narrow its locus of application as well.”

“Its what?” Buffy asked.

“The area that’s affected by the spell,” Willow explained. “We don’t need to search all of Sunnydale, just the location where Tara will be.” Willow narrowed her eyes and looked off into space, the wheels clearly turning in her head. Then she turned back to the group. “You know, I saw this other spell that dealt with demon breeds. Maybe we could include it too. That way, if she does have demon inside her—which I totally doubt—but if she did, we’d know what kind.”

“Excellent idea, Willow,” Giles said. “Could you meet with me this evening? Around six?”

Willow smiled. “I’ll be here.”

“Will you need us?” Buffy asked.

“Oh, um, I don’t believe so,” Giles replied. “Willow and I should be able to manage things on our own.”

“Good,” Buffy said in a pleased voice. “Tara and I will just take it easy then.” Buffy turned to Tara and said, “Hey, how ’bout we go apartment hunting?” Buffy then addressed both Tara and Willow. “Mom told me Dad was going to help us get our own place. Did I tell you?”

“No, you did not tell us!” Willow complained playfully before adding, “That’s great!” Then in a sing-song rhythm, she chanted, “We get to move off campus, we get to move off campus!” Then she frowned and whined, “Oh, I wanna go apartment hunting too.”

“Don’t worry,” Buffy said. “You’ll get to go. Tara and I will just start the process. You know, pick up flyers and newspapers, make a list, that sort of thing. All over a nice cup of hot cocoa. How’s that sound?”

Tara flashed a happy smile. “Sounds wonderful.”

*     *     *

Later that night while Giles and Willow worked on the spell, Buffy and Tara sat alone in the dorm room. They were piled on the bed, surrounded by posters and classifieds.

“How about this one?” Buffy said as she read from an ad. “Two bedroom duplex, near the university, large den, modern kitchen, quiet neighborhood...oh, no pets.” Buffy looked over at Amy’s cage. “Do rats qualify as pets?”

“I would think so,” Tara said with a slight grin.

“Poopy-doo,” Buffy said, wrinkling her nose disappointedly.

Tara looked at Buffy affectionately, then her face grew serious. “Buffy?”

“Hmmm?” Buffy asked, not looking up from her reading.

“Thank you,” Tara said sincerely.

Buffy heard the change in Tara’s tone and looked up. “For what?” she asked gently.

Tara took a deep breath. Then she said, “For standing up to my family. For not letting them take me home.”

Buffy set the newspaper down and shifted her legs so that she could face Tara. “There was no way I was gonna let them touch you. They are not your family, and that place is not your home. Not anymore.” 

Tears of gratitude and love rolled down Tara’s cheeks. She pulled Buffy to her and hugged her tightly.

*     *     *

Meanwhile, at Giles’ apartment, Willow was sitting at the desk, pouring over books and typing various references into her laptop. Giles was in the kitchen, doing experiments. He placed several ingredients into a bowl, then dripped some blood from a vial into the mixture. The concoction flamed up, emitted white smoke, then abruptly changed to black smoke.

“Aha!” Giles cried out. “Exactly what I suspected.”

“You found the ritual Tara’s father used?” Willow asked.

“Indeed I did,” Giles answered. He put out the burning mixture and washed his hands. “How’s your spell coming along?”

“I think I’ve got it done. Wanna take a look?”

Giles dried his hands and joined Willow at his desk. He looked over her shoulder and scanned the screen. 

“I made one more change here. See?” Willow pointed out a particular passage.

“A vampire?!” Giles exclaimed. “You want to bring a vampire here?”

“Well, not here,” Willow said. “We can do the spell anywhere. And it doesn’t have to be a vampire. Any known demon will do. It’s just...I wanna be sure that the spell is working. This way, we’ll know.”

Giles looked at Willow and said, “Very well. Have you spoken to Buffy about it yet?”

“Not yet, but I will. I’ll pick up the other ingredients we need and call Anya. If Buffy can bag a vamp tomorrow night, we’ll be good to go.”

*     *     *

The next night, the Scoobies gathered in a local crypt to conduct the spell that Willow had devised. On one side of the crypt, Anya and Willow were busy setting up the spell, creating a large circle with a ball of twine. Giles was a few yards away, standing with Tara. On the other side of the crypt, Buffy guarded the vampire she had caught and bound. Xander stood nearby, the tranquilizer gun in his hand. Giles left Tara and came over to Buffy and Xander.

Buffy made a head nod at the tranquilizer gun and said, “Is that really necessary?”

“It’s...just a precaution,” Giles said. “If Tara does have demon in her, it’s very possible that this spell could trigger it into action. I honestly don’t believe that’s the case, but it’s, um, it’s best to be prepared. I’ve told Tara it’s for the vampire, not for her.”

Xander looked at Buffy sympathetically. “I won’t hurt her, Buffy, I promise. Not unless I have to.”

Buffy gave Xander a grateful smile, then they heard Willow call to them.

“Okay, I think we’re ready to go,” Willow announced.

Willow directed Tara to take her place, and she sat in the circle that Willow and Anya had prepared. Buffy escorted the vampire to the circle and set him down next to Tara. He sent a hiss in her direction until Buffy smacked him on the head, silencing him. Then Willow and Anya took their places in the circle next to each other.

“Now if this works correctly,” Willow explained, “there will be a glowing cloud. The cloud will envelope any demons in the circle, but will completely ignore any humans. Okay? And if there are any demons, the cloud will glow in a certain color to identify its species. It’s not really that accurate; it’ll just give us a broad category.” 

At a nod from Willow, Anya lit the brazier before her. Then she lifted a small iron cauldron, which was already filled with some of the ingredients, and held it in the air.

“Thespia, Goddess, Ruler of all darkness, we implore you: hear our words,” Anya incanted before handing the cauldron to Willow.

Willow crumbled a dried herb into the mixture in the cauldron and added a dash of wine from the cup beside her. Then she raised the cauldron as Anya had done.

“Thespia, Protector of the Night, open a window to the world of the under-beings,” Willow continued.

Willow set the cauldron on the brazier. Then she scooped up a handful of red sand from the bowl next to her. When she made eye contact with Anya, she too scooped up a handful of green sand from the bowl next to her. Together they held their hands over the cauldron.

“Thespia, we beg you...if a demon be among us, reveal it to us now!” Willow and Anya said together as they let their respective sands drop into the cauldron.

“With your knowledge, may we go in safety,” Willow whispered as the cauldron began to sizzle and smoke, “with your grace, may we speak of your benevolence.”

Within seconds, a golden smoke began to seep from the cauldron. It was misty and thin and glowed with energy. Unlike smoke, it did not dissipate, but rather it coalesced around itself, forming a snake-like shape as it rose several feet into the air and then returned to the circle.

When it re-entered the circle, the glowing cloud first swirled around Willow, circling her once before quickly leaving her. Then the cloud whisked around Anya, staying a little longer. The head of the cloud hovered at her face and seemed to look her in the eye.

“Move along,” Anya commanded the cloud. “Not a demon anymore.”

The golden cloud almost seemed to hear that and quickly left her as well. Then the cloud swirled around Tara. It went around her more slowly as if considering her more carefully. It circled her once and then twice before pausing in front of her.

Oh god, Tara thought. That’s it, I really am a demon. She felt a sob slip out.

Suddenly, the shining cloud shot away from Tara and swarmed around the vampire, changing in color from its original soft gold to an angry red.

“Oh my god! Look!” Willow cried. “I-I-It worked! It identified the vampire, but no one else!” Willow turned to Tara and looked her in the eyes. “It worked. You’re not a demon.”

“Finis!” Anya barked and clapped her hands. She grinned proudly when the golden cloud instantly dispersed.

Willow immediately jumped to the other side of the circle to embrace Tara, who was still in shock. Xander put down the gun and came to Anya, pulling her to her feet and hugging her tightly. Giles took charge of the vampire, pulling him from the circle, allowing Buffy to join the hugging witches.

“I-I-I’m not a demon,” Tara stated uncertainly, as if testing out the unbelievable truth of the words she was saying.

“You’re not a demon,” Buffy confirmed.

Tara began to cry, but they were tears of happiness, of ecstatic joy. The burden she had borne all her life had finally been lifted from her shoulders. At last, she was free...truly free.

When all the congratulations were done, Xander and Anya took charge of the vampire, and Giles pulled Tara aside to an area where he had some additional materials set out.

“Tara, I want to show you something,” he said.

“Okay,” she answered, wondering what he was up to. Willow and Buffy followed close behind.

As everyone watched, Giles put several ingredients into a bowl. Then he pulled out a knife and cut his fingertip, allowing his blood to drip into the mixture. Instantly, a bright flame flared up and went out, then it began to emit a ghostly white smoke. Within seconds, the white smoke turned black.

Tara stood with her mouth wide open. She looked at the smoke and then at her palm. Then she looked at Giles with amazement and confusion on her face.

“It was all a trick, Tara,” he told her. “It was just a ruse to keep you believing that you were a demon.”

Tara laughed in relief as Willow and Buffy hugged her from behind, putting their chins on Tara’s shoulders.

“See?” Willow said. “No demon.”

“Yep, not even a hint,” Buffy added.

“Hey, what about me?” the captured vampire interrupted. “You said once I helped, you’d let me go.”

Buffy made a disgruntled face and moved from Tara over to the vampire. “Oh yeah. I did say that, didn’t I?” Buffy told the vampire. Then she pulled out a stake and dusted him on the spot. “I lied.” When Buffy turned around, the others were looking at her funny. “He was a vampire,” Buffy said defensively. “Lying to vamps doesn’t count.”

Everyone laughed, and all was well. 

*     *     *

Later that night, the Scoobies met at the Bronze to celebrate the good news. Even Giles had come along, but not before stopping at the Summers home to pick up Joyce.

Buffy and Tara and Willow sat at a table alone, enjoying their snacks and drinks. A slow song was playing. Nearby, Anya and Xander danced happily. Across the floor, Giles and Joyce also danced together, contented smiles plastered on their faces.

Tara glanced at the older couple and turned back to the table. “That is so sweet,” she said.

Buffy refused to look in her mother’s direction. “Please...don’t remind me. I’m trying not to notice.”

“Oh come on, Buffy, you know you like it,” Willow teased.

Buffy reluctantly grinned. “Okay, okay, I like it,” she admitted. “But it’s my sacred obligation to pretend that I don’t and to give them a hard time about it at any opportune moment that presents itself.”

Willow giggled. “You said, ‘opportune’. You’re starting to sound like Step-Daddy Giles already.”

Buffy swatted Willow’s arm jokingly. “Shut up!”

Soon the Three were laughing hysterically, mostly at Buffy’s expense, but she didn’t seem to mind.

None of them noticed the dark-clad figure in the shadows of the staircase as he watched them with cold, black eyes. His face twisted in hate as he stared at the happy trio.

“Dirty girls,” he whispered disgustedly to himself. Then he straightened and said, “Thy time of punishment has come.”

 

 

TO BE CONTINUED IN PART SEVEN

Content Advisory: The rest of this book contains extreme violence, including torture and sexual assault. If this type of content disturbs you, don’t read it. It's very intense and gut-wrenching from here on out, especially in Parts 7-9. It does end happily, though, I promise.
 


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