THE POWER OF THREE
Book 2 Part 11

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. 

Additional Note: I’m making a change to the story as presented in Book 1. In Book 1, the Senior Partners of Wolfram and Hart knew about the Power of Three rising and were involved in sending Lindsey to Sunnydale. I’m changing that so that the Senior Partners don’t know. Only Holland knows. He planned to deal with the Power of Three on his own and thereby raise his own status in the firm.

Number of Chapters: 16

Complete: 16

Chapter Summary: Just as Buffy and Willow begin the ritual to bring Tara out of her catatonia, Caleb moves in to implement “stage two” of Holland’s plan. Meanwhile, Lilah makes plans of her own.

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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 ELEVEN

After sending her mother home for some much needed rest, Buffy took over the job of staying with Tara. Vamp Willow was there too, as a protector for them both, in case Caleb initiated another attack. As Vamp Willow stood beside Tara’s bed, Buffy was in the corner talking on her cell phone.

“Thanks, Riley,” Buffy said. “I owe you big time.”

“You don’t owe me anything,” Riley said softly but sincerely.

Buffy’s eyes glistened with tears. “Thank you,” she repeated in a slightly choked voice.

“No problem,” Riley said. “See you in a bit.”

“’Kay,” Buffy said. Then she ended the call and put her phone away.

Buffy sniffed a couple of times, wiped her eyes, and let out a long breath. Then she walked over to the bed opposite Vamp Willow. She took Tara’s hand in hers and stroked her arm gently. She looked at Tara’s face—still bruised and battered—then let her gaze move down to the brand on Tara’s neck. Buffy felt the tears returning and even allowed a few drops to fall before clamping down on her emotions, funneling all that grief into a determined hardness. She breathed in deeply and straightened her stance. Then she glanced over at Vamp Willow.

Vamp Willow’s expression was a mirror image of Buffy’s: pain masked by intense resolution. Her face would crease into an unhappy frown, then relax into a look of cold determination, then return to the frown. She looked up and met Buffy’s eyes.

“She was nice to me,” Vamp Willow said, “when you were in my world.” 

Buffy gave a small smile. “Yeah, I remember. Tara’s like that.” Buffy looked down at Tara once more. “She’s the kindest person I know.”

Vamp Willow’s face hardened. “This should not have happened. Somebody should have to pay for this.”

“And somebody’s going to,” Buffy promised, looking back up. “A somebody named Caleb.”

“Good,” Vamp Willow replied, giving a satisfied nod. Then a wicked smile spread across her face. “And I can help with that, ya know. I happen to be very experienced in meting out punishment. And this time it would actually be deserved.”

Buffy couldn’t help but grin at the redhead’s well-intentioned offer. “I don’t doubt it,” she answered. “And I may take you up on that.”

At that, the two turned their gazes back to Tara and waited.

*     *     *

Meanwhile, at the Three’s new apartment, Faith kept a wary watch as Willow dug through boxes to find clothes for herself and Buffy. Faith looked at Willow as if she wanted to ask something, but instead of saying anything, she looked away. It wasn’t long before she repeated the motion. Busy with packing, Willow didn’t notice. In her third attempt, Faith finally spoke.

“So, what’s up with my counterpart down in the basement of the hospital?” the slayer asked nonchalantly, as if she really didn’t care.

Willow glanced up, a surprised expression on her face. “You saw Faith at the hospital?”

“Yeah, the portal opened down there. It was supposed to tap into the slayer connection to guide us here. I guess it connected with her instead of Buffy.”

“Oh” was all Willow could say.

“So, what’s the sitch?” Faith continued. “Why did Xander call me ‘evil slayer’?”

Willow sighed and took a deep breath. “Did Buffy tell you about when she went up against the Master?”

“Yeah, she said he bit her and drowned her and she died, till Xander brought her back with CPR.”

“That’s right. Well, when Buffy ‘died,’ another slayer was called.”

“Me,” Faith guessed.

“No, Kendra was her name, but she was killed later, and that’s when you were called. Well, when our Faith was called.”

“So, there were two active slayers at the same time?”

“Yep.”

“Well, that shoulda been kickin’ wicked. Me and B...we did some serious damage while she was in town.”

“Yeah, it should’ve been, but it wasn’t,” Willow answered. “Faith was...a loner, wild, unpredictable, she took dangerous chances. She...she killed a man one night.”

Faith looked surprised.

“It was an accident, but...Faith was never the same after that. Later, we learned that she had switched sides and was working for the Mayor—the Big Bad of the time. She threatened to kill me and Xander, and she tried to kill Angel. She poisoned him, and the only cure was for him to drain a slayer.”

“Buffy said that when Angel had been hurt, she had to let him feed on her so he'd get better.”

“That’s right,” Willow confirmed. “She tried capturing Faith first, but Faith wouldn’t let it happen. Faith let herself fall off the building rather than let Buffy take her in.”

“And she’s been here in the hospital ever since?”

Willow nodded.

“Man, she sounds fucked up.”

Willow shrugged. “I don’t know how much history you two share, but...”

“I don’t think I wanna know,” Faith muttered.

“…none of that matters,” Willow insisted, ignoring Faith’s comment. “Buffy believes in you, and that’s good enough for me. It’s good enough for all of us.”

Willow held Faith’s gaze to emphasize her point, and Faith eventually gave a nod of acceptance. As soon as Willow went back to her packing, though, Faith’s look of doubt returned.

*     *     *

Miles north of Sunnydale, Xander and Anya retraced their steps until they had located the watch tower in the forest reserve. They crept around it to the building nearby. When they got close, Xander pulled a handgun from his jacket pocket and took Anya’s hand. They found the entrance crossed by yellow police line tape.

“Well, whatd’ya know,” Xander commented. “The Sunnydale Police actually investigated.”

After looking around nervously, they tore the tape down. Motioning Anya to stay behind him, Xander went in first.

In less than a minute, they found their way into the basement room where they had found Tara. They both stopped and looked at the beam in the ceiling where Tara had been strung up. Pain filled their eyes as their minds took them back to the gruesome scene. After a long moment, Xander clenched his jaw and got a determined expression on his face.

“Come on,” he said. “Let’s get busy. Maybe we’ll get lucky and find something the police overlooked.”

At that, the two began searching the room.

*     *     *

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, Lilah was spelling out her plan to Angel, Wesley, and Cordelia.

“Let me see if I’ve got this right,” Cordelia said sarcastically. “You’ve got information on Wolfram & Hart’s plot against the Three, and out of the goodness of your heart, you’re willing to share that information with us. Sorry, not buying it.”

Lilah gave her a disdainful glance. “Of course it’s not out of the goodness of my heart,” she said bluntly. “I’m covering my own ass.” Lilah turned back to Angel. “You don’t get the information until you give me what I want.”

“And what would that be?” Angel asked.

“Something I’m sure you’ll enjoy,” Lilah answered unhappily. “I certainly won’t, but it’s the only way.”

Angel looked over at Wesley, and the two shared a confused look, wondering what Lilah had in mind.

*     *     *

Back in Sunnydale, Riley and four of his Initiative soldiers arrived at the hospital. They were dressed in civilian clothes, but each carried a backpack containing weapons. Riley sent two soldiers to patrol the outside of the hospital. Then he and Forrest and Graham went inside.

“So this Caleb guy’s gunning for your girl, eh?” Forrest asked as they entered the elevator.

“She’s not my girl,” Riley answered as he hit the button for the fourth floor. “Not any more. But yes, there’s a chance Caleb will go after Buffy next. Or maybe Willow. Or he might try to finish off Tara. No matter who his target is, we have to be ready.”

“Don’t worry, man,” Graham said. “We got ya covered.”

“Yeah,” Forrest agreed. “We’ll put the take-down on this guy.”

Graham and Forrest high-fived each other just as the elevator doors opened. When they exited the car, Riley turned to his comrades.

“Graham, you take the south end. Forrest, you take the north end. I’ll take the room itself. Stay in radio contact. If you see anything even remotely suspicious, call it in.”

Forrest and Graham nodded and then headed off in opposite directions to take up their posts. Riley headed for Tara’s room.

*     *     *

After knocking softly and identifying himself, Riley heard Buffy say to come in. He slipped inside the door and shut it behind himself. Buffy came around the bed and walked to meet Riley. The two hugged warmly. When they separated, Riley looked over and saw Vamp Willow standing on the near-side of the bed.

“Hey Willow,” Riley greeted politely.

“Oh…this is the Other Willow,” Buffy corrected.

“Oh,” Riley answered.

Vamp Willow rolled her eyes and pouted. “Other Willow,” she grumbled to herself.

Riley then did a double-take as he suddenly realized the implications of Buffy’s statement. “Huh?”

“Long story,” Buffy said.

“I’m Willow’s vampire doppelganger from another dimension,” Vamp Willow stated.

“Apparently not that long,” Buffy commented.

“Oh…that’s…good…I guess,” Riley said uncertainly before turning back to Buffy.

“Tell ya later,” Buffy said.

Riley gave her a grin and a nod. “Lookin’ forward to it.” Then he sobered. “So how’s Tara?”

“Pretty much the same,” Buffy said, leading him over to Tara’s bed. Riley frowned when he took in the sight of the battered blonde. “We’re going to do a ritual…try to bring her out of this state she’s in. That’s why I wanted you here, watching our backs.”

“I’ve got a team outside and Forrest and Graham on this floor,” Riley said as he removed his backpack. “And I’ll be right outside.” He opened his pack and pulled out a radio. “If you need help, call.”

Buffy took the radio with a smile. “Thank you,” she said.

Just then, they heard a knock at the door, and Giles and Joyce came in, followed by Willow and Faith. After greetings were exchanged, Giles informed Buffy that Xander and Anya were on their way back.

“Good,” Buffy said. “As soon as they get here, we’ll do the ritual.”

*     *     *

Back in Los Angeles, at the Wolfram & Hart Law Firm, a delivery man struggled to get a large wooden crate in the front doors and over to the reception desk. He plopped it near the desk then sauntered over to the receptionist, who did not appear pleased. He wiped the sweat from his forehead then pulled out his handheld.

“I’m sorry, sir, but deliveries are to be made to shipping and receiving in the back,” the receptionist said.

“Look, lady,” the delivery man said, “I ain’t moving this thing again. You want it out back, you can take it there yourself.”

The receptionist started to object, but the obstinate look in the delivery man’s eyes stopped her. She knew she’d be wasting her breath. “Fine,” she grumbled and held out her hand.

The delivery man handed her his pocket computer. She used the wand to sign the screen and handed the device back. The delivery man tipped his hat and handed her a long white envelope. Then he walked away.

“Wait!” the receptionist called out. “Where does it go?”

The delivery man ignored her and exited the building. The receptionist let out an annoyed huff. She looked at the envelope he had given her. It was blank on the outside. She decided to open it.

Inside was a single sheet of paper which read, “Open the crate immediately or she’ll die.”

The receptionist paled and dropped the sheet. “Oh my god, oh my god…Jake!” The security guard came running over just as the receptionist came out from behind her desk. “Hurry, hurry, help me get it open!” she cried.

Together they managed to lift the top off the wooden crate. When they saw what was inside, they stepped away, a look of utter shock on their faces.

Inside was a stripped and beaten Lilah Morgan. On her back was carved the following message:

Touch the Three,

You deal with me.

-- A.

*     *     *

In Sunnydale, with Riley and his men in place, the Scoobies were finalizing their plans for the ritual. They had rearranged the room so that there were two additional gurneys in the room, one on each side of Tara’s bed. Buffy stood between the gurney and the bed on one side, and Willow did the same on the other. Xander stood beside Willow, and Giles stood beside Buffy. Anya and Joyce were in the corner, out of the way, watching anxiously. Faith was by the door, where Vamp Willow was finishing a spell.

“That should do it,” Vamp Willow announced as she turned back to the group. “Anyone who’s not on our VIP list will feel an irresistible urge to be elsewhere if they try to approach the room. Anyone who ignores that and attempts to get in the door will get a severe psychic backlash, like the migraine from hell. Too many attempts at that and they’ll fry their brains.”

“Good. Thanks,” Buffy said. Then she turned to Willow. “Are you ready?”

When Willow nodded, the two joined both their hands across Tara’s bed. They closed their eyes and began to concentrate, slowly merging their thoughts together. After several minutes, they opened their eyes.

As one, they each released a hand and took Tara’s hands into theirs, forming a linked triangle. Willow began intoning the spell’s lines, pausing after each one so that Buffy could echo her words. Their voices became louder and louder as the spell grew in power. When they reached the last line and belted it out together, Willow and Buffy instantly passed out.

Giles caught Buffy, and Xander caught Willow. They lifted the girls into their arms and laid them out on their respective gurneys. When they were certain that the girls were safely in place, they stepped away.

“What now?” Xander asked.

“We wait,” Giles answered. “The rest is up to them. They’re beyond our help now, unfortunately.”

All assembled shared a worried look.

*     *     *

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, Angel waited anxiously in his office. He looked at his watch and then the door then repeated those motions again.

“It’s time, right?” he said, looking at Cordelia and Wesley, who sat nearby.

“Yes, it’s time,” Cordelia said wearily, clearly having told Angel that multiple times already.

“Then where is it? Why isn’t it here yet?” Angel said. “Do you think Lilah was jerking us around?”

“With what you put her through…I doubt it,” Wesley answered.

“She asked for it,” Angel said defensively.

“And you enjoyed it,” Wesley countered.

“Damn right, I did!” Angel answered. “She was an accessory to the plot against Buffy. No matter how hard she’s trying to wash her hands of it now, she—”

“Angel,” Cordelia said, cutting him off. She pointed at the door, where a delivery man now stood.

“Package for Angel?” the man said.

“That’s me,” Angel replied, rushing over to the door.  

Angel quickly signed for the package, and the delivery man handed over a thick manila envelope. As the delivery man left, Angel hurried over to the desk to open the envelope. He spread the documents over the table, and the three of them began pouring over the contents; Angel started with the first couple of pages.

Angel read silently for a moment. When he reached a certain part, his face fell. “Oh no,” he said. He looked to the next sheet, which was actually an 8X10 photograph. “Damn it!”

“What is it?” Cordelia asked.

“Scan this, now!” he barked, handing her the photograph.

Frightened by Angel’s intensity, Cordelia jumped to the task without question. Angel dropped the sheet he had been reading onto the desk and ran to the phone. He rapidly punched in a number and waited.

“Come on, come on…” he murmured impatiently as the phone rang.

*     *     *

Giles stood in the corner speaking into his cell phone quietly. “Dear lord!” he suddenly exclaimed, frightening the others present. He turned around and frantically looked at the Three, who were deep within the bonding ritual.

“Giles, what is it?” Xander asked worriedly.

“The-the ritual…it’s already begun,” Giles told Angel over the phone.

“Well, wake ’em up,” Angel said. “Do what you have to, but get them out of that ritual!”

“We-we can’t,” Giles told him. “Only they can end it, and we have no way of contacting them.”

“Then find him,” Angel said. “I’m sending you a picture now.”

“Giles,” Xander prompted again.

“Angel was able to obtain some information on Caleb’s attack,” Giles explained. “From what it says, he’s going to attack them psychically, while they’re bonded. Apparently, there’s a loophole in the curse. If he can kill them simultaneously while they are bonded, the curse won’t be triggered.”

“Son of a bitch!” Faith swore. “We played right into his hands!”

“The good news is that Angel was able to procure a photograph of the assassin,” Giles said. “He’s sending it to me now. If we can stop Caleb before he can—”

Just then, Giles’ phone beeped. He punched a few buttons, and within seconds, a picture appeared on his phone’s tiny screen. His eyes grew wide at the sight.

“Rupert?” Joyce said, stepping closer.

“He was here,” Giles said in shock. “He was here, the bastard was right here, and we didn’t—”

Joyce looked over Giles’ shoulder at the picture. “Father Mallory?”

“Who’s that?” Anya asked.

“A priest making visitation rounds, or so we thought,” Giles answered.

“Let me see,” Xander said, and Giles passed the phone to him.

“Yes, everyone take a good look,” Giles said. “We’ve got to keep him away from Buffy and Willow and Tara.”

“Barricade the door,” Xander offered. “Keep him from—”

“No,” Giles said. “He doesn’t need to get in here to do what he wants to do, but he does need to be close. We need to find him before he makes contact with them.”

“Damn it!” Xander said. “If only we’d found something of his at the reserve!”

“Can’t fret about that now,” Giles said to Xander as he reached into the weapons bag and pulled out two pistols. He gave one to Anya and the other to Joyce. “Stay here with the girls,” he told them. “If Caleb shows up, shoot him.”

Then he and Xander and Faith and Vamp Willow armed themselves and left the room to search for Caleb.

*     *     *

Inside Tara’s mind, Buffy and Willow materialized, holding hands, in what appeared to be a desert. They saw a flash of dark rocks and reddish dunes before a hot wind gusted against them, sending sand into their faces. They lifted their arms to shield their eyes and then turned to put their backs to the wind.

When they did so, they found themselves facing a stone wall that was at least twice their height. It wasn’t intact, though. A few yards away, it looked as if a tank or a bulldozer had crashed into one section of it, crumbling the wall from the outside in.

Buffy’s face creased into a pained expression. “Did we do that?” she asked worriedly. “Getting in here?”

Willow gave Buffy’s arm a squeeze. “No,” she said reassuringly. “I’m pretty sure that’s Caleb’s work.”

Buffy’s frown became a hard glare. “I am so gonna kill this guy.”

“You and me both,” Willow agreed grimly. “But first we need to find—”

“GET OUT!!!!!!”

Just as the booming voice hit their ears, a surge of power blasted them hard against the wall. The two women slid to the ground, dazed and shaking their heads. When they looked up, they saw a swirling maelstrom before them, separating and reforming in the air, creating a vague outline of Tara’s face.

“GET OUT!!!” the image of Tara screamed, sending another wave of abrasive wind against the couple. Once again, Buffy and Willow held up their arms to shield their eyes.

“Tara! It’s us!” Buffy cried out to the sand storm.

“Tara, let us in!” Willow called out. “We’re here to help!”

“NOOOOOOOOO!!!”

The blonde’s image disappeared as the storm intensified. The wind became so strong that Willow and Buffy had to turn away.

“What do we do?” Buffy yelled over the roar.

“We run through it,” Willow yelled back.

“What?!” Buffy asked incredulously.

“We can’t communicate with Tara here. We’ve got to move further in.”

“Okay then,” Buffy said, nodding and taking Willow’s hand. “Let’s go.”

At that, Buffy and Willow dashed into the sand storm.

*     *     *

On the floor beneath Tara’s ward, Caleb sauntered nonchalantly off the elevator. Dressed in an orderly’s white scrubs, he whistled softly as he pushed a mop and bucket out of the car and down the hallway.

As he passed the nurses’ station, no one paid him any mind at all. He smiled to himself and headed for the patient rooms.

*     *     *

Screaming through their clenched teeth, Buffy and Willow ran as hard and as fast as they could through the sand storm. When the biting wind became too much, they ran with their heads down and their eyes closed. They didn’t stop until they felt the hot wind suddenly cease. They stumbled to a halt and looked around, gasping for air.

The desert was gone. In its place was a cold, dark, damp forest. The girls could see their breath in the dim light, and they shuddered when the chill air seeped into their bodies.

Willow rubbed her arms to warm herself and shot a quirky grin at Buffy. “Well, now that the ‘heated exchange’ is over, I guess we’re in for the ‘chilly reception’.”

Buffy rolled her eyes but grinned back. “Yeah, she’s really giving us the ‘cold shoulder’, huh?”

The two tried to maintain their smiles but failed. They reached out to each other and moved into a much-needed hug. They spent a long moment embracing, drawing strength from one another’s touch.

“Come on,” Buffy finally said, separating them. “Let’s go find Tara.”

Willow and Buffy started down the narrow path that led into the heart of the forest.

*     *     *

Without so much as a glance over his shoulder, Caleb entered one of the patient rooms, pushing the mop and bucket ahead of him. The room was empty, the bed clean and white and ready for the next patient.

Caleb left the mop and bucket by the door and walked to the near side of the bed. He closed his eyes and cocked his head, almost as if he were trying to listen to the conversations taking place several doors down. He made one complete turn and then stopped, tilting his head back so that he was facing the ceiling. He opened his eyes.

“Perfect,” he said with a pleased grin.

*     *     *

Directly above the room Caleb was in, Joyce and Anya hovered near the girls’ beds. Joyce stood between Buffy’s bed and Tara’s, holding her daughter’s hand. Anya was on the far side of Willow’s bed, gripping the gun and looking anxiously at the door.

“Where do you think he is?” Anya asked. “Do you think he’s close?”

“I don’t know,” Joyce replied. “I hope not.”

*     *     *

Meanwhile, Giles was downstairs on the first floor, showing Caleb’s picture to everyone who crossed his path. So far, no one had recognized the man as someone they had seen before.

“Any luck?” Xander asked as he walked up.

Giles shook his head and closed his cell phone. When the former watcher looked up, he noticed the sign for the hospital chapel.

“Come on,” he said, giving Xander’s arm a tug before heading in that direction.

*     *     *

As Willow and Buffy moved deeper into the forest, the path became more narrow and rugged. They were forced to step over fallen trees and to climb up and down rocky ravines. After reaching the top of one particularly difficult hill, Willow held up her hand.

“Wait,” the witch said. “Let me catch my breath.”

As Willow leaned over, resting her hands against her thighs, Buffy circled slowly around her, directing her senses into the brush all around them.

“I could use some of that slayer stamina about now,” Willow said. “I—”

“Shhhh,” Buffy said, cutting Willow off. “Listen.”

Willow listened intently. “I don’t hear anything,” she whispered back.

Buffy cocked her head. “Come on…this way.”

After making their way down the other side of the hill, they came to a small brook. As they followed it, the sound that Buffy had heard became clearer. It was someone crying.

“Tara!” Willow said urgently. When she tried to dash ahead, Buffy stopped her.

“Let’s not rush her all at once,” Buffy suggested. “We might frighten her.”

Willow nodded in agreement. Then the two of them crept closer.

Tara sat on a log beside a pool of water. She was doubled over, her arms wrapped tightly around herself, crying so hard that her body shook. Through the sobs, she was trying to speak, but the only words that could be made out were “why” and “hurts”.

Finally, Tara took a big shuddering breath and said in a wavering voice, “I just…have to… align the energies...” She wiped the tears from her face and began to rock back and forth in an agitated manner. “That’s what I have to do.” Rock, rock. “Align the energies…” Rock, rock. “Open the chakras and-and...” Rock, rock. “Align the energies and…” Rock, rock. “And everything will be…” Her rocking slowed, and her crying started back up. “…okay.” She lifted her hand to her mouth but couldn’t stop the sobs from returning. She bent over and hugged herself once again.

Tears were rolling down Buffy and Willow’s faces also. When they could stand the separation no longer, they took a step forward. Unfortunately, they stepped on a twig, and the loud crack was heard by Tara. Her head snapped up, and she jumped to her feet.

“No…no…” she said, backing away from the pool.

“Tara! Wait!” Buffy called out to her.

“Tara, please!” Willow cried. “It’s us!”

“No, no, no…” Tara said, shaking her head frantically. “NOOO!!!”

Tara turned and ran. Buffy and Willow had no choice but to give chase.

As Tara crashed through the brush, she was heedless of the branches and briars that tore at her arms and legs. “I have to get away,” she cried desperately. “I can’t let him find me!”

Although Tara had a head start, Willow and Buffy quickly gained on the blonde. When they were just a few yards behind her, they called to her, trying to get her to stop or to recognize them somehow. But Tara only screamed as they neared and reached out for her.

The two women were mere inches away from her when…BLAM!…their forward progress was suddenly stopped by the side of a house.

Buffy and Willow ended up on their butts, on the ground, clutching their bruised noses.

“What the hell?” Buffy griped, looking up at the wooden structure.

“Owwww,” Willow whined.

*     *     *

In the vacant patient room, Caleb now lay upon the bed. His long legs were crossed lazily at the ankles, and he had his fingers steepled over his stomach. His eyes were closed, and his face was expressionless.

Slowly but surely, he reached out with his mind, straight into the room above him.

*     *     *

Vamp Willow waited in the shadows of the staircase as Faith checked out the roof of the hospital. After a few minutes of searching, Faith returned to the stairwell.

“Anything?” Vamp Willow asked.

“Nah,” Faith replied. “It was a long shot anyway. Figured we’d better check, though.”

Vamp Willow pouted. Then she made a face as if she weren’t feeling well, resting her hand on her stomach.

Noticing her girlfriend’s change in expression, Faith asked, “What’s the matter? Are you sensing something?”

“Willow must be upset,” the vampire said unhappily. “She’s making my stomach all knotty.” Then she reached for her nose. “And for some reason…my nose hurts.”

*     *     *

Buffy and Willow had walked around to the front of the house and were looking up at the front porch. It was an old farm house, weathered but sturdy. On one end of the porch were a couple of rocking chairs; on the other end was a bench swing. A small wind chime made of metal pipes was making tiny ta-tinks in the breeze.

“What is this place?” Buffy asked.

“I think it’s her father’s house,” Willow said.

“Oh” was all Buffy could say.

Willow took a deep breath and held out her hand. “Come on. Let’s check it out.”

Buffy took Willow’s hand, and the two of them approached the front door. After knocking and calling out and getting no response, they entered the house. They searched the first floor and the basement, then the second floor, and finally the attic. But there was no sign of Tara.

“I don’t get it,” Willow said, confused. “Where is she?”

“Hey, Will,” Buffy said, motioning her over to the attic window. “Look.”

After seeing at what Buffy was pointing out, Willow looked back at Buffy and smiled. “The barn,” she said.

Buffy nodded knowingly, and the two of them rushed out of the attic.

*     *     *

Willow and Buffy approached the barn cautiously. They called out Tara’s name but got no answer, so they opened the barn door and went inside. It smelled of hay and horses, and except for the slightest creaking of the wood, it was silent.

Buffy pointed at the ladder. “I’ll take the loft.”

Willow nodded, and the two of them searched the barn. After having found nothing, the two met back up at the doorway.

“I thought for sure that we’d—” Willow started to say, but she suddenly stopped and grabbed Buffy’s hand just as Buffy did the exact same thing. Then, as one, they turned toward the far corner where the main room met the stalls in the back.

Several bales of straw were stacked neatly against the wall that jutted out. Carefully and quietly, the two moved the bales away from the wall. There they found a small door leading to some storage space behind the first stall. Holding their breath, they opened the door.

Tara was sitting inside, with her knees pulled against her chest and her arms wrapped tightly around her legs. When the door opened, her head shot up, and panic filled her eyes. She shook her head several times and tried to scoot away, but there was nowhere for her to go. She whimpered and turned away, pressing herself against the back wall of the cubbyhole, as if trying to will herself into the very wood itself. Buffy and Willow immediately went down on their knees and crept closer to the door.

“Tara, i-i-it’s us…Willow a-a-and Buffy,” Willow whispered, reaching out to Tara, but not daring to touch her for fear of frightening her.

“Tara, sweetie, please…look at us,” Buffy pleaded.

Buffy took Willow’s hand. “We love you,” they said together, projecting their thoughts to the distraught Tara.

Eventually, Tara ventured a fleeting glance in their direction, but she quickly looked away. She soon brought her gaze back, though, and met her girlfriends’ eyes. A sob of relief escaped Tara’s lips as she finally let herself accept the reality of Buffy and Willow’s presence. She crawled out of the room and into their arms.

For the longest time, the Three just cried and held one another. When they did pull apart, they stayed close, not wanting to be out of physical contact. Buffy and Willow stroked Tara’s hair, her back, her arms; they caressed her face and kissed her on the cheek or the forehead. And Tara simply let them. With tears flowing freely down her face, she soaked up the love that was pouring from Willow and Buffy.

When she felt she could speak, Tara pulled her girlfriends close and said, “I love you too.” The Three clasped hands and smiled.

“Well, now…isn’t that special?”

Upon hearing that voice, Tara immediately gasped and stiffened in her girlfriends’ arms, her eyes widening in fear. Buffy and Willow kept their arms around Tara, but turned to face the speaker who had interrupted their embrace. The two looked confused when they saw who it was.

“Father Mallory?” Willow asked.

Tara started shaking her head and trying to pull away from Willow and Buffy. “No…no…”

The dark-haired man flashed a big smile and crossed his arms. “Actually, Caleb’s the name, and I believe we have some unfinished business.”

“NOOOOOO!!!!” Tara screamed in terror.

*     *     *

Meanwhile, as Giles and Xander came back empty-handed from the chapel, they found Faith and Vamp Willow just coming out of the elevator onto the first floor.

“Any luck?” Giles asked as they approached the two women. Faith just shook her head.

“But he’s got to be somewhere!” Xander said in a frustrated voice.

“Have we searched the actual patient rooms yet?” Vamp Willow asked.

“No, and I seriously doubt the hospital would allow such an invasion of privacy and—” Giles began.

“Screw privacy!” Faith said. Then she stomped back towards the elevator.

“What she said,” Xander added before walking toward Faith.

Vamp Willow grinned and shrugged then joined Faith and Xander by the elevator. Giles rolled his eyes and did the same.

*     *     *

As Tara frantically scrambled back into her cubbyhole, Buffy launched herself at Caleb, attacking him in a flurry of punches and kicks. He easily evaded or deflected each attempt, smiling the entire time, as if the slayer were barely pressing him. He caught one arm as she punched and then caught the other in the same way. He wrenched both arms to her sides and held her in place.

“You think you can test me, little girl?” Caleb said menacingly.

Caleb tossed Buffy across the barn and into the far wall where a number of tools were hanging. She crashed into the tools and then hit the ground; the tools tumbled off the wall and fell on top of her.

Caleb grinned at Buffy’s fall but grunted in pain as a magical burst from Willow hit him in the side, causing him to take a few steps back. He laughed off the pain and straightened up.

“And making the tag from the white corner…the little witchy wannabe,” Caleb said snidely.

“We’ll see who’s a wannabe,” Willow said before belting out an incantation in Latin.

The dusty dirt floor of the barn began to churn under Caleb’s feet, sucking him into a muddy maelstrom. The warlock struggled for a moment then cast his own counter-spell. The dark quicksand started to backflow and to still; then slowly but surely Caleb rose from the floor unharmed. Once he was clear, the whirlpool exploded, sending a backlash against Willow, knocking her into the straw bales near Tara’s hiding place.

As Willow sat dazed on the floor shaking her head to clear it, Tara barely took notice. The blonde was on her knees, with her hands over her ears, bobbing hysterically, repeating “no”  to herself, as if trying to block out what was going on around her.

Behind Caleb, Buffy got to her feet, picked up a pitchfork, and threw it directly at Caleb’s back. Just when it was about to reach him, he whipped around and caught it midair.

“Now, now…stabbing a man in the back…is that any way to—”

Caleb’s smart remark was cut off when he realized Buffy was coming at him with a sling blade. As she swung the hooked axe toward Caleb’s head, he moved the pitchfork into place, tines up, and caught the blade. Then he swept the pitchfork down and to the side until both tools struck the ground. Buffy immediately yanked the sling blade back and swiped at Caleb’s torso. He evaded once, then twice, but the third time she cut him across this stomach, chest, and arm. He growled and backhanded the slayer before she could reset herself. Then he kicked her hard in the stomach, sending her smashing against the wall by the barn door.

“You bitch!” Caleb said angrily as he touched his bleeding chest.

At that point, Willow hit him again with a magical burst, this time in the back. It hurt him but not nearly enough. He dropped the pitchfork and stumbled forward but quickly turned toward Willow. He deflected her next blast and sent it right back at her. It knocked her several feet back and to the ground. He followed the blast right over to Willow and stood over her threateningly.

Buffy dashed from the other side of the barn and leaped onto Caleb’s back. She wrapped her arm around his throat and tried to strangle him. He clawed at the slayer on his back and finally got a handhold. He flipped Buffy over his head and slammed her on her back onto the ground right next to Willow. As Buffy turned over to face him, he rammed his knee into her face, snapping her head back and sending her falling back against Willow.

As Buffy and Willow lay stunned on the floor struggling to regain their senses, Caleb took a moment to settle himself. He shook his head, shrugged his shoulders, and shook out his arms.

“Now then,” he said, rubbing his hands together until they crackled with power, “let’s see how you two like my scourge.”

His face lit up in a maniacal grin as he shot lightning bolts of energy into Willow and Buffy. The witch and the slayer screamed in agony and thrashed on the floor violently. 

*     *     *

In Tara’s room on the third floor, Anya and Joyce were freaking out. Buffy and Willow had begun to seize on their beds for no apparent reason.

“We have to call the doctor!” Joyce cried out desperately as she struggled to keep Buffy from falling off the bed.

“We can’t!” Anya called back as she did the same for Willow. “The spell would keep him out.”

Helpless to do anything else, Joyce looked back down at her daughter. “Come on, honey,” she encouraged. “Fight that bastard!”

*     *     *

As Faith and Vamp Willow left the elevator lobby and walked onto the second floor, the redhead suddenly cried out in pain and fell to her knees.

“Will!” Faith wrapped her arms around her stricken girlfriend.

Vamp Willow clenched her jaw and grimaced through the pain. “We’ve got to hurry,” she told the slayer.

Faith helped Vamp Willow to her feet, and the two of them headed down the hallway.

*     *     *

Caleb zapped Buffy and Willow with his ‘psychic scourge’ for a full minute before stopping and moving closer. The girls were still jerking and whimpering in pain when he came to stand over them.

“A little more juice and you two will be out like a light,” Caleb gloated. “And then I can turn my attentions back to—Arggkkhh!!”

Caleb looked down and found the pitchfork sticking into his right side. He looked up and found Tara holding the handle of the pitchfork.

Leave. Them. Alone.” Tara had an insane determination in her eyes as she carefully enunciated each word.

Caleb groaned in pain and wrenched the pitchfork out of Tara’s hands. As he stumbled away and went about the task of pulling the tines from his body, Tara ran over to Willow and Buffy. She put a hand on each of them, sending a softly glowing golden light into their bodies. They instantly recovered from the attack, and Tara helped them to their feet. By the time the Three had stood up, Caleb had the bloody pitchfork in his hands.

“You’re gonna pay for that, bitch!” he screamed at Tara, pointing the pitchfork at her.

“Not this time,” Tara said grimly.

Then she reached behind herself for her girlfriends’ hands. As Tara and Willow and Buffy joined their hands, they also joined their minds, pulling their wills together into one. They started whispering a phrase over and over, so softly the words could not even be made out. A wispy tendril of energy began swirling around Caleb.

“You can’t throw me out of here!” he yelled as he tossed the pitchfork to the floor.

The Three ignored his threat and kept repeating their phrase, getting louder and louder as they went along. “Get out, get out, get out…”

“This mind is mine!” he ranted. “MINE!”

“Get out, get out, get out…”

Caleb tried to twist away from the tendrils now encircling him. “I took it!” he said directly to the glowing ribbons in the air. “When I took her!” He turned back to the Three and locked eyes with Tara. “You’re mine, bitch! You can’t make me—”

“GET OUT!!!” shouted the Three as One.

At that command, the swirling energy totally encompassed Caleb, squeezing tighter and tighter until he screamed and then blipped away.

*     *     *

Caleb jerked awake and tumbled off the hospital bed, howling in pain from the violent ejection he had received at the hands of the Three. He was grimacing and breathing hard as he pushed himself up from the floor. He clutched his side, growled angrily, and then got to his feet.

“Bitches!” he hissed. He cocked his head from side to side, popping his neck. Then he bent his back to pop it as well. “This isn’t over,” he muttered to himself.

Just as Caleb came around the bed to head for the door, Faith and Vamp Willow walked in.

“It’s him!” Faith yelled.

Vamp Willow instantly put on her game face, and before Caleb could even power up, she whipped out a small packet of spell ingredients and threw it against his chest. The tiny bag broke, splattering its contents all over Caleb’s white scrub shirt.

“Ha! Gotcha!” Vamp Willow cried out when she saw she had hit her target.

Caleb looked down at his shirt, took a step back, and held his arms out, as if he were waiting to see what the spell would do. After several seconds, nothing happened. Caleb looked up, a grin forming on his lips.

Faith shot an angry glance at Vamp Willow. “What happened?!” Faith demanded.

“I don’t know!” Vamp Willow answered testily.

“Looks like somebody’s vampy twin needs to go back to magic class,” Caleb taunted.

At that, Vamp Willow sent a huge burst of magic in Caleb’s direction. The warlock had been expecting her move and deflected her bolt, sending it booming into the wall.

*     *     *

Above the battle, Joyce and Anya braced themselves as the room shook.

“Oh my god, what now?” Joyce asked in a frightened voice.

“I think they may have found Caleb,” Anya speculated.

Suddenly, the door shot open, causing both women to jump. Anya pointed her gun at the door. Riley rushed in.

“Are you—whoa!” Riley raised his hands in surrender. “Hey, it’s me…Riley…one of the good guys.”

“How do I know you really are Riley?” Anya pressed, still pointing the gun.

“Ummm…’cause I don’t have the migraine from hell?”

“Oh. Okay then.” Anya lowered her gun.

“I was going to ask if you were all right in here, but I see that you are,” Riley said. The room shook from another blast. “I’m gonna go see what’s happening below us. Graham and Forrest will still be here on this floor.”

“Thank you, Riley,” Joyce said sincerely. Riley nodded and then rushed out of the room.

*     *     *

On the floor above Tara’s ward, Giles and Xander heard the boom from below. Xander whipped out his walkie-talkie.

“Faith!” Xander called into the radio. “Did you find him? Where are you?”

“Second floor!” came Faith’s voice over the radio. The sounds of a magical battle could be heard in the background. “Willow!” The radio went dead as another boom rocked the building.

Giles and Xander dashed for the stairwell.

*     *     *

Caleb’s hiding place was demolished. Huge holes were in all four walls; tiles and metal framing and electrical duct work were hanging from the ceiling; the lights were blinking on and off. Caleb himself was still standing, though with difficulty.

Vamp Willow was lying dazed in the corner, a victim of Caleb’s last magical attack. A bruised and battered Faith was circling Caleb, who was wiping his own blood from his mouth and nose.

“Yeah, you’re all high and mighty in the magic department,” Faith taunted, “but when it comes to a big smack-down, you bleed just like everybody else.”

Faith rushed Caleb, hoping to finish off the weary warlock. When she threw a punch at his face, she was surprised when he easily evaded her and snatched her by the wrist. He clearly wasn’t as tired as he had let on. He wrenched her arm, and the sound of breaking bones could be heard. Faith screamed in pain but didn’t have time to scream long because Caleb swung the slayer by her broken arm, lifting her off the ground and throwing her against the far wall near where Vamp Willow lay. Faith groaned and somehow sat up, cradling her broken arm.

Caleb smiled and took a few steps toward the women. “Well, ladies, as fun as this has been, kickin’ your ass and all, I really must take my leave. I’ll see y’all soon.”

Caleb made a little salute and then tried to teleport away. Nothing happened. He tried again with the same result. His forehead furrowed in confusion, and he looked all around the room before coming back to the vampire and the slayer.

“Gotcha,” they both said at the same time, grinning widely.

Caleb glanced at his shirt, where the spell ingredients had earlier splattered. He looked back at Faith and Vamp Willow. Then he dashed for the door. As soon as he opened the door, he met two gun barrels.

Thunk! Thunk!

Caleb looked down at his chest, from which two tranquilizer darts now protruded. He looked back up and saw Xander and Giles lowering their guns and coming in the doorway. Caleb stumbled back into the room. “Son of a—” Then he hit the floor with a thud.

*     *     *

Back in Tara’s room, Willow’s and Buffy’s eyes shot open at the same time. They looked up at Anya and Joyce, who smiled at them. They smiled back briefly but then looked past them to see Tara. When they saw her, they jumped off their beds and rushed to Tara’s side. They each took one of Tara’s hands in theirs and waited. Joyce and Anya politely stepped away and stood nearby.

Within seconds, Tara’s eyes fluttered open. Buffy and Willow let out a relieved breath, and tears of joy began rolling down their faces. Tara cried too as she gratefully embraced her girlfriends. Soon, however, she was sobbing against them as the memories of her ordeal came rushing back to her. Willow and Buffy just held her and cried with her, telling her over and over how much they loved her.

From their spot several feet away, Joyce and Anya watched with mixed emotions. Anya wiped the tears from her face and looked at Joyce.

“They’ll be okay now, right?” she asked with hope-filled eyes.

Joyce smiled and said, “I’m sure they will.”

She wrapped her arm reassuringly around Anya’s shoulders, and they both turned back to the Three. Out of Anya’s gaze, Joyce allowed a worried frown to take over her expression. She knew it would be a long time before any of them would ever be “okay” again.


TO BE CONTINUED IN PART TWELVE

 
 


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