THE POWER OF THREE
Book 02 Part 12

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.

Special Thank-You: Thanks to Lilly for both the beta read and the edit. Both were very helpful and greatly appreciated!

Number of Chapters: 16

Complete: 16

Chapter Summary: Now that Tara has awakened and Caleb has been captured, the Three and the rest of the Scoobies must deal with the fallout of all that has happened.

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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 TWELVE

In Los Angeles, less than hour after Lilah Morgan had been discovered in the crate, a very nervous security guard stood trembling before the desk of one of the Senior Partners of Wolfram and Hart.

“And you’re absolutely certain of what was carved on Ms. Morgan’s back?” the Senior Partner asked.

Security Officer Jake Manning nervously twisted his cap in his hands. “Yes, sir,” he said. “Just like I told you.”

The Senior Partner smiled. “Thank you, Jake. Your cooperation is most appreciated. You may go.”

Jake nodded and nearly bowed. “Yes, sir.” He hurried out the office door.

Several figures, previously hidden in the shadowy corners of the office, stepped into the light. “Shall we take action against Angel?” one of them asked.

The Senior Partner shook his head. “No. Not yet.” He rose from his chair to face the figures. “What matters now is discovering why Angel targeted Lilah and how the Three are connected.”

“The Power of Three,” another of the figures said disgustedly.

Why were we not informed of their rising?!” barked another.

“That’s what we have to find out,” the Senior Partner said grimly.

***

Back in Sunnydale, shortly after Tara had awakened from her coma, Xander’s voice came over the radio. “An! Are you there?”

Anya quickly snatched up the radio. “Xander!”

“We got him!” Xander said excitedly. “We got the son of a bitch!”

At the good news, Anya and Joyce hugged while Buffy and Willow and Tara did the same. After a few moments of shared elation, Anya and Joyce politely excused themselves, leaving the Three alone.

For the longest time, Buffy, Willow, and Tara had simply cried—out of a mixture of relief and release, joy and pain. Once their crying had finally subsided, they had settled into a kind of quiet “being”. It was enough that they were together; words could wait.

Their silence was broken, however, when Tara let out an intense groan, closing her eyes and scrunching her face in pain. Buffy and Willow instantly went into action: leaning closer and gently touching her.

“Tara, are you okay?” Buffy asked. “Do we need to get the doctor?”

“We should do that anyway,” Willow said to Buffy.

When Buffy nodded, Willow gave Tara a small smile and then headed for the door.

“Hey, Will?” Buffy called out, stopping the redhead before she could leave. “You might wanna un-zap that door. Otherwise, you’re gonna migraine the doc.”

“Oh, right,” Willow said. Then she turned her attention to the door. She spoke a short incantation. Immediately, a shimmer flashed around the door and then disappeared. Willow smiled and left the room.

Buffy turned back to Tara and smiled, giving her hand a squeeze of reassurance. Tara tried to return the smile, but it didn’t last long before a frown took its place.

“Everything’s going to be fine now,” Buffy said, lifting Tara’s hand and kissing it softly. “Okay?”

Though Tara nodded in reply, her expression was full of doubt. She gave a shaky sigh and glanced away for a moment before turning her eyes back to Buffy.

***

Later, in the emergency room, Vamp Willow hovered nearby as the doctor worked on Faith. Both women had already had their superficial wounds treated while still on the second floor. Vamp Willow, of course, had waved off any additional treatment, not wanting her lack of a pulse to become common knowledge. However, Faith’s arm had been badly broken and could not be ignored. Despite the slayer’s objections, Vamp Willow had dragged her girlfriend downstairs to the E.R.

Faith grimaced as the doctor set her arm. She let out a long breath of relief when he was done. When he started to bring over the material to put a permanent cast on her arm, she held up her hand.

“Thanks, but no thanks,” Faith said, slipping off the exam table.

“But if we don’t immobilize that—” the doctor objected.

“Trust me, I’ll be fine,” the slayer insisted.

The doctor opened his mouth again, but didn’t get the chance to speak. Faith had already left the exam room with Vamp Willow right on her heels.

As they walked to the elevator, Vamp Willow linked her arm with Faith’s good one and sidled up close. Faith didn’t look amused.

“Oh, you were such a good girl,” the redhead cooed playfully. “So brave.”

Faith rolled her eyes, a reluctant grin tugging at the corners of her lips. “Shut up,” she said, trying to sound annoyed.

***

Back on the second floor, two of Riley’s Initiative soldiers were guarding the door to the destroyed patient room where Caleb had been defeated. Riley himself was standing nearby, deep in conversation with several Sunnydale police officers who had arrived on the scene a short time before. One of the officers was talking on his cell phone. When he finished his call, he turned back to the group.

“What’s the word?” Riley asked.

“Word is we’re supposed to turn this investigation over to you,” the officer announced. Although the officer appeared slightly annoyed, his colleagues seemed glad, nodding and barely containing their relieved grins.

Riley gave the policemen a cordial smile. “Like I said, this is a matter of national security. We’ll be taking the prisoner into custody and handling the investigation from here on out.”

The officer put away his notepad and made a sweeping gesture with his arm. “Be my guest,” he said before motioning the other policemen to follow him.

After the local police left, Riley walked over to the guarded door, where Giles waited anxiously. They soon stepped aside, though, as Forrest and Graham brought Caleb out on a hospital gurney. The warlock was unconscious and strapped down tight. The other two guards took position ahead and behind the gurney as Forrest and Graham pushed Caleb down the hallway. As Riley went to follow, Giles stopped him with a hand on his arm.

“It’s imperative that you keep him sedated at all times,” Giles warned. “He’s extremely dangerous…a sorcerer of immense power. He cannot be allowed to awaken under any circumstances.”

Riley gave a sober nod. “Don’t worry, we’ll keep him knocked out and locked up till you guys decide what to do with him. What are you going to do with him?”

Giles shrugged uncertainly. “I don’t know.”

***

Outside Tara’s room on the third floor, Xander was updating Anya and Joyce.

“Yeah, Riley and his government goons are taking Caleb into custody for safekeeping,” Xander told them.

“Good,” Anya said firmly. “We should tell them he’s an alien,” she suggested. “Then maybe they’ll do a gruesome autopsy on him and videotape it for us.” Her eyes lit up at the prospect.

“An, he’s not dead,” Xander pointed out.

“Oh, I’m sure the experiments will kill him,” Anya said with confidence. “That’s what secret government agencies do, you know. I saw it on The X-Files.”

“I just hope they can handle him,” Joyce said. “What he’s capable of…it’s frightening.”

“Nothing massive doses of tranquilizers won’t fix,” Xander said, hoping that he sounded reassuring.

***

A short time later, the doctor was examining Tara. He made a note of her pulse and blood pressure then pulled out a penlight.

“You gave us all a scare,” he said as he passed the light over her eyes and watched them dilate. He turned the penlight off with a click. “We’re so glad you finally woke up.”

Tara gave him a quick smile before grimacing uncomfortably.

“The pain pretty bad?” he asked.

Tara continued to frown, but nodded her answer.

“You’ve got some cracked ribs,” the doctor said as he stepped away to where he had placed a small tray on the table. “Hate to tell ya, but those are gonna hurt like hell for a while.” He pulled a vial and a syringe from the tray. “I’m gonna give you something for the pain,” he went on. “It’ll probably make you sleepy but—”

“No!” Tara blurted out abruptly, surprising the doctor as well as Buffy and Willow. “I-I-I’m fine,” she insisted. “It’s n-n-not that bad. Really.”

Willow moved back to the bedside and touched Tara’s arm. “Sweetie, if you’re hurting…”

On the other side, Buffy leaned closer. “Tara, what is it?”

Tears filled Tara’s eyes as she looked at Buffy and Willow in turn. “I…I don’t want to go to sleep,” she finally admitted in a choked voice. “I got so lost before. What if I can’t—?”

“We’ll find you,” Buffy said with certainty.

“We will always find you,” Willow emphasized.

Tara seemed reassured by that, but fear was still in her eyes as she stole a glance at the doctor.

“Don’t worry. We’ll be right here with you,” Buffy told her. “The whole time. I promise.”

Willow gave Tara’s arm a squeeze to second that notion.

After looking intently at her girlfriends once more, Tara nodded. Willow took a step back and let the doctor return to Tara’s side. He had already prepared the syringe and was now waiting for Tara to give her permission.

“Okay?” he asked.

Though still frightened, Tara nodded and said in a whisper, “Okay.”

The doctor smiled and then injected the solution into Tara’s I.V. line. Within seconds, Tara relaxed, and soon her eyes drifted shut.

“She’ll be fine,” the doctor told Buffy and Willow. “She just needs time.”

“Speaking of time,” Buffy said as she came around the bed to stand beside the doctor. “When do you think Tara can go home?”

The doctor thought a moment then said, “As long as her vitals hold strong and we’re confident there’s no neurological damage, probably in a day or two.” After setting the used syringe on his tray, he turned back to Willow and Buffy. “She’ll need someone to stay with her for the first few days, to make sure she gets around safely. Even with pain meds, her injuries are going to make even the smallest tasks very difficult: getting into and out of bed, using the bathroom, brushing her teeth, even eating and drinking. She’ll need help with all of those things.”

“We can do that,” Willow insisted.

“Right, we can do that,” Buffy echoed.

The doctor gave them a sober stare. “Someone who’s been through what she’s been through…she’s got a lot of healing to do beyond the physical. She’ll need to see a counselor.”

Willow and Buffy frowned but nodded, unconsciously reaching out to take each other’s hand.

“Thank you, Doctor,” Willow said.

“Yes, thank you,” Buffy said.

“No problem,” he said. Then he took his tray and left the room.

When the doctor had gone, Willow and Buffy turned to each other. They sighed and slipped into a long and needful hug. When they separated, they had tears in their eyes.

“We can do this,” Buffy asserted, though with less assurance than before.

“We can help Tara through this,” Willow added with a similar lack of confidence.

Then they both cast worried glances in Tara’s direction.

***

A short time later, with Tara sleeping peacefully and the two extra gurneys having been removed from the room, Buffy and the others held a Scoobies meeting.

“Caleb is now in Initiative custody,” Giles told Willow and Buffy, “where he will remain, locked away and safely tranquilized.”

“Yeah, Riley pulled a Feds takeover, so no need to worry about nosy local police either,” Xander added. “Not that they would have done much investigating.”

“The question now, though,” Giles went on, “is what to do with Caleb.”

“That’s easy,” Willow said. “We punish him, and not quickly either. Something like…slow roasting over an open fire?”

Anya gave Willow an enthusiastic point with her index finger. “Good, good. But only after the government does experiments on him.”

“Yes,” Xander quickly added. “Experiments involving many sharp objects. And perhaps power drills.”

I’m thinking more like car batteries hooked to certain vitals,” Joyce said grimly.

“Ooo, way to go, Joyce,” Faith noted. “That one definitely tops the list.”

While Willow nodded approvingly at all of the suggestions, Buffy just shook her head. “No,” she stated. “No punishment. Not—”

Willow whipped around and angrily interrupted the slayer. “Buffy, you know what he did to Tara. He has to pay for that.”

“And he will,” Buffy said. “Just not right now. Best thing for us is to focus on getting Tara better. Then we can deal with Caleb.” When Willow didn’t reply, Buffy met Willow’s gaze and held it. “Caleb will pay,” she told her mentally. “I promise.” Willow returned Buffy’s look for a long moment; finally, she nodded in acquiescence. The two shared a quick smile; then Buffy turned to Giles. “How long can they hold him?”

“As long as it takes,” Giles answered. “They’ll keep him sedated at all times. I’ve made it very clear exactly what kind of threat they are dealing with.”

Buffy turned back to address the group. “Well until Tara’s home safe and sound and on the mend, we’ll just have them keep Caleb on ice. We’ll figure out what to do with him later.”

***

After the meeting, Buffy sent everyone home to rest and get cleaned up. Only Willow and Joyce remained with her in Tara’s hospital room. As Tara continued to sleep, Willow went into the small bathroom to wash up and change clothes. Buffy stood beside Tara’s bed, holding the witch’s hand. Joyce stood beside her daughter, her arm resting lightly on Buffy’s shoulders.

“Buffy,” Joyce said, causing the slayer to look her way. “What are you going to do when Tara’s released from the hospital?”

“Ummm, I don’t know. Finish moving into the apartment, I guess,” Buffy replied. “We’ll have to work out a schedule, so Tara’s not alone, and…” Buffy frowned and trailed off, her mind overwhelmed by the myriad of details that would need to be addressed.

Joyce shook her head then looked at Buffy intently. “I think you should move home,” she said.

Buffy became appalled, and she pulled away from her mother. “I’m not moving home! I’m not gonna leave Willow and Tara alone at a time like—”

Joyce waved Buffy into stopping her tirade. “No, no, I didn’t mean that,” she said, trying to correct Buffy’s misinterpretation. “I meant all three of you. I want you home with me. All of you.”

Buffy’s expression changed from upset to embarrassed to grateful in a matter of seconds. “Oh” was all she could say before wrapping her mother in a warm hug. Joyce returned the hug, stroking her daughter’s hair lovingly. When Buffy separated them, she said, “Thank you, I-I-I don’t know what else to say.”

“Say you’ll do it,” Joyce replied.

“I’ll talk to Will and Tara,” Buffy said, postponing a definite answer, but it was clear that Buffy loved the idea.

Joyce nodded her acceptance of that plan. Then she returned to sit on the bench near the window, while Buffy remained standing beside Tara’s bed.

Just then, Willow came out of the bathroom carrying the bag that she had packed for them before they had done the ritual. She looked very refreshed and sighed contentedly. Buffy left Tara’s side and walked over to where Willow was setting the bag on the chair.

“Feel better?” Buffy asked.

“Much,” Willow replied. “Best sponge bath ever.” Buffy frowned, and Willow did the same. “Did that sound as pathetic as I think it did?”

“Yeah, pretty much,” Buffy said with a grin.

“We’ll just have to do something about that, won’t we?” Willow said huskily, pulling Buffy close and kissing her soundly. “You could be Nurse Buffy, and I could be—”

Willow’s fantasy description was interrupted by Joyce loudly clearing her throat. Joyce peeked over Tara’s bed at Willow, who was now blushing furiously.

“Ha, ah, um, Mrs. Summers…didn’t realize you were still…ha, yeah.”

Joyce’s face lit up in an amused smirk, and then she returned to her seat. Buffy, a little embarrassed herself, still snickered a bit as Willow turned back to face her girlfriend.

Willow gave Buffy a small smack on the arm. “How could you let me do that?” she whispered urgently. “You’re supposed to stop me before I put my foot in my mouth.”

Buffy scoffed but smiled as she did so. “I didn’t have time,” she answered in a similar whisper. “You just blurted it out.” Then Buffy leaned closer. “But for the record…I’m all for a new sponge bath scenario.”

At that, the two giggled wickedly. An instant later, they ceased their laughing and cleared their throats, casting a guilty glance in Joyce’s direction. They kept smiling, though, until Buffy sobered and looked Willow in the eyes.

“So…are you mad?” Buffy asked. “You know…about the punishment thing?”

Willow stiffened a little but didn’t pull away. “No, not really,” she said. Then her expression became very serious. “I just don’t want to see him get away with what he’s done. He deserves to be punished.”

“And he will be, Willow, I swear,” Buffy said. “As soon as Tara’s back on her feet.”

When Willow nodded her okay, Buffy pulled away and grabbed the bag from the chair. “My turn,” she said before heading for the bathroom.

***

After Buffy entered the bathroom and shut the door, she turned on the faucet to let the water get warm. She put down the seat on the toilet and set the bag on top of it. She tested the water temperature then set the plug and allowed the sink to slowly fill. By the time she had stripped off her clothes, the sink was full, and she turned off the faucet. She leaned over, scooped some water into both hands, and splashed her face. When she straightened up, she didn’t reach for the towel. Instead, she stared at the wall, her mind clearly elsewhere.

Images flashed in her mind: Caleb gleefully zapping Tara. Tara convulsing in pain. Caleb smiling as he stuck a red-hot brand to Tara’s neck. Tara running in fear. Caleb savagely beating Tara until she slipped to the ground. Caleb—

Buffy shook her head. She couldn’t let her mind go there, to what Caleb had ultimately done. It hurt too much to think of it. She shook her head again and then looked at her reflection. Her expression became grim and determined. She cast a quick glance at the door, thinking of Willow outside. She closed her mental shields tightly. Then she let her mind go where it truly wanted to.

To Caleb.

She saw herself viciously stabbing Caleb with a large knife. She felt his blood splattering all over her as she thrust the blade into him again and again. She heard the sickening sound of wet flesh as his lifeless body finally slid off the knife and slipped to the floor.

Buffy blinked and came back to reality. Her heart was racing, and she was breathing fast. She gripped the sides of the sink and made herself calm down. After letting out a long breath, she reached for a wash cloth, forcing herself to focus on the mundane task of washing up.

***

Later that day, Faith and Vamp Willow returned to Tara’s room. They found Buffy and Willow alone with Tara. Giles had come by earlier and had finally persuaded Joyce to go home for a while. The slayer and vampire had also washed up and changed into clean clothes. Fortunately, the wounds the two visitors had received in the battle with Caleb were already fading—Faith’s thanks to her slayer powers, Vamp Willow’s thanks to vampire healing.

“Look at you,” Buffy teased when Faith and Vamp Willow walked in wearing their borrowed clothes.

Faith held out her hands and looked down at her outfit. “Yeah, good thing you kept that stuff of hers.”

Buffy looked a little uncomfortable. “I-I-I know it’s weird,” she said, “but…I just didn’t feel right leaving Faith’s things at her apartment.”

“Hey, worked out for me,” Faith said with a big smile. “And look at what Red found over at your place.”

Buffy’s eyes widened a bit at the sight of Vamp Willow. She was dressed in shiny leather pants, dark green, with a slinky, smoky-colored, low-cut blouse with a slightly ruffled collar.

“Not exactly my taste, but close enough,” Vamp Willow said approvingly.

“You found that in Willow’s stuff?” Buffy asked. Then she turned to her girlfriend, who was blushing slightly.

“I bought it for Oz,” Willow admitted. “You know…when I was all worried about the whole Veruca thing?”

Buffy nodded then grinned. “Well, feel free to wear that for me anytime,” Buffy said, giving Willow a nudge, which made the redhead blush even more.

“How’s Tara?” Faith asked, changing the subject.

“Still sleeping, thank goodness,” Willow said. “Best thing for her probably.”

“What about you guys?” Faith asked. “You ready to take a little break? Maybe go for a walk or something? We’ll stay with Tara.” She hitched her thumb at herself and Vamp Willow.

Willow shook her head. “I appreciate the offer, but I-I-I really don’t want to leave her right now.”

“What about you, B?”

Buffy looked at Willow and Tara as if torn between two decisions. Then she looked back at Faith. “Actually, I do have somewhere I’d like to go.”

Willow looked at Buffy curiously.

“I want to go to the Initiative,” she said. “I want to make sure Caleb is secure. I know I won’t feel safe until I see it with my own eyes.”

Willow nodded as if she considered that to be a good idea.

Buffy turned back to the others. “If you two will stay with Willow and Tara, I can run over to the Initiative and—”

“Not by yourself, you’re not,” Faith stated firmly. “Willow can stay here. I’ll go with you.”

“That’s really not nec—” Buffy started to say.

“Buffy,” Willow said, cutting Buffy off. “We don’t know who else might be out there gunning for us.”

Buffy was quiet for a moment. Then she reluctantly said, “Okay.” She gave Willow a quick kiss then headed for the door.

***

After arranging for clearance, Riley took Faith and Buffy into the fraternity house’s hidden elevator. Neither Buffy nor Faith said much on the long ride down, but when they stepped off the elevator, their eyes grew wide at the sight of the elaborate facility.

“Damn!” Faith said. “This is like the Bat Cave or something. Only better.”

“Wow,” Buffy added. “It’s so secret agent-y.”

Riley grinned proudly. “Come on,” he said, motioning them to follow. “Let me give you the tour. The restricted tour, anyway.”

After showing the slayers those areas that had been approved in their clearance, Riley finally took them to the containment area where Caleb was being kept. He led them down a long hallway of cells, each one with an invisible barrier blocking the entrance. They passed several vampires and a handful of other types of demons.

One large beast rushed its cell entrance, only to be repelled by a massive electric shock delivered by the invisible shield. Although Buffy and Faith had jumped at the demon’s initial rush, the two slayers relaxed when they saw that the monster was being easily contained by the Initiative’s technology.

“Cool,” Faith said. “Sure beats a pair of rusty ol’ shackles, right, B?”

“No kidding,” Buffy replied.

Riley led the duo to the end of the hallway, to a larger cell sitting off by itself. Two armed guards were outside the cell. At a nod from Riley, they stepped away, moving several yards down the corridor. Riley went to the keypad on the wall and entered a code. As the invisible shield shimmered and disappeared, the light on the pad changed from solid green to flashing red to indicate that the room was no longer secured. When Riley motioned to them, Buffy and Faith stepped inside.

In the center of the room but pushed against one wall was a hospital bed. Around it were several machines, two of which were monitoring systems—one for heart rate and blood pressure, the other for brain activity. Caleb lay strapped down in the bed, unconscious and unmoving.

“We’ve got him in an induced coma,” Riley explained. “Dr. Walsh felt that this would be the safest way to contain him. With the right meds, there’s no way in hell he’s waking up. And we can keep him suspended like this indefinitely.”

“Good,” Buffy said, her jaw clenched tightly. “That’s what I wanted to hear.” Buffy turned to Faith and Riley and put on a vulnerable expression. “Do you guys mind giving me a moment alone with him? I have some things I need to say.”

“He can’t hear you,” Faith pointed out.

“It’s not for him,” Buffy said. “It’s for me.”

“Oh.” Faith still made no move to leave.

Riley nodded and pointed his thumb toward the door. “We’ll be right down the hall if you need us.” Riley touched Faith’s arm and gestured for her to follow him. After staring at Buffy questioningly, Faith finally relented and went with Riley into the hallway.

***

After they had gone a few yards away, Faith stopped Riley and confronted him.

“Do you think that’s a good idea?” she asked him.

“What?”

“Leaving her alone with him, you nimrod.”

“She’s perfectly safe,” Riley said. “He’s completely out of it.”

She’s not the one who’s in danger.”

“What? You think that she’d…?”

“I don’t know,” Faith said with a shrug. “If it’d been my girlfriend that he had attacked…”

They both looked toward the cell with worried expressions on their faces, but neither took a step that way. Faith tilted her head and strained to listen.

***

Buffy walked the short distance to Caleb’s hospital bed. Her fists were clenched tightly at her sides as she stood next to him. Her eyes were locked on the metal railing of the bed.

“You hurt Tara,” Buffy said matter-of-factly. “You tried to kill her. And Willow. And me.” She lifted her gaze to Caleb’s face. Angry tears were in her eyes. “But you hurt Tara. You hurt the kindest, gentlest, most loving person I have ever met, and you liked it.” Buffy’s voice became choked with near-sobs as she forced the words out past the tears. “You got off on it…you sick…son of a…” She couldn’t finish for crying.

***

Meanwhile, back at the hospital, both Willow and Vamp Willow paced anxiously in Tara’s room. Even Tara stirred restlessly in her sleep, as if she were having a bad dream.

“What’s going on?” Vamp Willow asked in a near-growl.

“It’s Buffy,” Willow said in a voice not unlike her twin’s. “I think she must be with Caleb.”

“Better her than me,” Vamp Willow said. “I’d be killing him right about now.”

“Me too,” Willow said, but without the conviction she intended. She stopped pacing and looked away, a worried expression on her face.

***

Back in the Initiative, in Caleb’s cell, Buffy had stopped crying. She was now looking down at Caleb with a hard coldness in her eyes. There was a knife in her right hand. When she took it both hands and raised it over Caleb’s chest, she suddenly heard a voice behind her.

“Whatcha doin’, B?” Faith asked calmly.

Buffy didn’t even glance back. “What has to be done.”

“‘Has to be’? You sure about that?” Faith slowly circled around until she could see Buffy’s face.

“He’s a monster,” Buffy said, her jaw clenched tightly. “I kill monsters.”

“Last I heard, Caleb here was human,” Faith said, moving closer to the bed. “Slayers don’t kill humans.”

Buffy whipped her head around to face Faith. New tears were streaming down her face. “That ‘human’ tortured Tara, raped her, left her so terrorized that she had to hide in her own mind! He deserves to die!”

Faith was only a few feet away now. “So what’s stopping you?”

Buffy turned back to Caleb. She was still holding the knife over him. Her brow furrowed as she tried to focus on bringing the knife down, but it didn’t move. Her arms started to shake.

Faith stepped up right beside Buffy, mere inches away. “Quick thrust to the heart, a little blood…okay, a lot of blood…and it’ll all be over…Right?”

Faith held her breath and waited, letting her question sink in. After the longest moment, Buffy finally burst into sobs. Faith instantly moved in and caught Buffy’s hand as she let her arms drop harmlessly to the metal railing. Faith took the knife away and, with a sigh of relief, stuffed it into the back pocket of her jeans.

When Faith turned back to Buffy, she was surprised when the blonde just fell into her arms crying. Faith seemed unsure of what to do at first, but then she just wrapped her arms around the sobbing slayer and held her close, stroking her back and her hair.

“It’ll be okay,” she whispered, her own eyes welling with tears. “It’ll be okay.”

***

Later that day, Joyce and Giles and Xander and Anya returned to the hospital. They found Buffy and Willow helping Tara eat a little supper. Vamp Willow was slouched in a chair. Faith was standing nearby, trying not to pace. By the time warm greetings had been exchanged by all, Tara had finished eating.

“So…how’s the hospital fare? As bad as they always say?” Xander teased.

“Just some chicken broth and Jell-O,” Tara said. “But n-n-not together,” she added for clarification.

“Thank goodness,” Buffy said, grimacing at the thought of the odd food combination.

As everyone chuckled a bit, Willow set the food tray aside and returned to stand next to Buffy. She leaned against the slayer and let out a weary sigh.

“Buffy, you and Willow look so tired,” Joyce said. “Why don’t you come home with me for a while?”

Willow immediately stood up straight and exchanged a look with Buffy. “No, thanks, we’re fine.” They turned back to the group. “We’d rather stay with Tara.”

“We’ll stay with Tara,” Anya offered, linking her arm with Xander’s.

“And it’s not like we got anywhere else to be,” Faith added, indicating herself and Vamp Willow. “We gotta patrol later, but that can wait.”

Buffy shook her head. “We appreciate it,” she said, “we do, but—”

“Buffy?”

Buffy stopped when she heard Tara speak up. Both she and Willow leaned closer.

“Mrs. Summers is right. You should go,” Tara told them. “At least for a few hours.” She gave them a small smile. “I’ve got four babysitters. I’ll be fine.”

Buffy and Willow looked at each then back at Tara. They didn’t look convinced.

We don’t want to leave you,” Willow projected mentally.

We promised we’d stay,” Buffy added.

You’re both exhausted,” Tara replied in her mind. “I can tell. Please…for me…go home and rest a while.”

Buffy and Willow looked at one another again. When they turned back to Tara, they reluctantly nodded in agreement. Then, after way too many goodbyes and kisses to their girlfriend, Willow and Buffy finally allowed themselves to be dragged away by Joyce and Giles.

Not long after Willow and Buffy had left, the nurse came in and gave Tara another round of pain medication. Soon the blonde was sleeping peacefully again. After settling themselves on the bench beside Tara’s bed, Xander and Anya encouraged Faith and Vamp Willow to take a break, and the two women gratefully accepted.

***

As Faith and Vamp Willow made their way down the hallway toward the elevators, Faith took her girlfriend’s hand. “Come on,” she said, “let’s hit the cafeteria. I’m starved.”

“Me too,” Vamp Willow said.

Faith stopped and turned to face the redhead. “Are you?” she asked, concerned.

Vamp Willow grinned. “Nah, not really. Nabbed a bag from the blood bank this afternoon. Still hungry, though. Got all riled up when you and Buffy were gone. What happened over there?”

Faith started walking again and led them to the empty elevator. When they had gotten on board and she had pushed the button for the first floor, Faith turned to Vamp Willow, shaking her head. “Man, Buffy scared the bejesus outta me. She pulled a knife on Caleb. I thought she was gonna kill him.”

“What did you do?”

“I talked her out of it,” Faith said. “Close call, though.”

“Why?”

“Why was it a close call?” Faith asked, confused.

“No, why did you talk her out of it?” Vamp Willow clarified. “Why not let her kill him?”

Faith looked a bit appalled by the question. “Because it’s not right, that’s why. Slayers don’t kill humans.”

“I don’t think Caleb qualifies.”

“That’s what she said…that he was a monster, that she killed monsters.”

“She was right.”

Faith shook her head again. “No, she wasn’t, and she knew that. That’s why she couldn’t kill him.” Faith sighed and looked away. “I don’t expect you to understand.”

Vamp Willow looked a little miffed at that. “Maybe I understand more than you think.”

Just then, the doors opened, and Vamp Willow strode angrily out, leaving Faith behind. Faith had to hurry to catch up to her.

***

Later that night at the Summers home, Willow and Buffy lay awake in bed. Though they were both exhausted, they could not fall asleep. For hours, they had tossed and turned and fought the covers, their minds bombarded by a never-ending smash-cut slide-show of the last few days’ events. And, above all, they keenly felt Tara’s absence.

“Should we just get up?” Willow said finally. “We’re obviously not going to sleep.”

“Might as well,” Buffy wearily agreed. She reached for the light on her night stand and turned it on, then propped herself up against her pillows.

Willow sat up as well, sighing heavily once she was in place. “Do you think Tara’s okay?” she asked worriedly.

Buffy turned to Willow, smiled, and held out her hand. “Let’s find out.”

Willow grinned and took Buffy’s hand. Then they both leaned back against their pillows and closed their eyes. They focused on their breathing, joined their minds, and reached out to Tara.

When they connected with her, they found her sleeping soundly. Not wanting to disturb her rest, they just sent their love and then broke their connection. Although Willow and Buffy now felt some relief, their mood was still somewhat heavy. After several long moments, Willow glanced at Buffy, who seemed deep in thought.

“You haven’t said much since you got back from the Initiative,” Willow commented. “You or Faith.”

Buffy’s eyes darted to Willow’s but only briefly. “Not much to say,” she answered. “Checked out Caleb. He’s secure. Came back.”

“Something happened…something you’re not telling me,” Willow accused, but not harshly.

Buffy refused to either confirm or deny.

“Buffy, I could feel what you were feeling. It’s that nifty little bond of ours, remember?” Willow said, exasperation slipping into her voice. “I know you were trying to block it, but whatever happened…it just blew right past that. So…just tell me.”

Buffy still didn’t answer. She pulled her knees to her chest and looked away, not letting Willow see her face.

Willow growled in frustration and plopped back against her pillows. “Fine! Don’t tell me. I’ll just—”

“I tried to kill Caleb,” Buffy said softly, not looking in Willow’s direction.

Willow instantly shot back up. “What?” she asked, not sure she had heard correctly.

Her eyes wet with tears, Buffy turned back to face Willow. “I tried to kill Caleb,” she repeated, though not much louder than she had before.

“‘Tried’?” Willow asked.

“I-I-I couldn’t do it,” Buffy said. “I wanted to, and I could have, he was right there, but…I just couldn’t.”

Willow went stock-still. The only movement in her body was the sweep of emotions crossing her face: rage, pain, disappointment, sympathy. Then she looked away without speaking.

Buffy became both alarmed and distraught at Willow’s reaction. “Willow, please…talk to me.”

When Willow turned back, she was crying too. In a choked voice, she said simply, “I wish you had.” Then Willow shook her head and rose from the bed. Without another word, she headed for the bathroom.

All Buffy could do was watch in shock as Willow left the room.


TO BE CONTINUED IN PART THIRTEEN…  

 


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