THE POWER OF THREE
Book 2 Part 14

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: (1) 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. (2) Thanks, as always, to Lilly for the beta read and edit.

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: Holland gets what’s coming to him, and Tara gets to go home.

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


***

Later that morning, close to noon, Joyce and Giles rejoined the Three in Tara’s hospital room. The two adults joined Buffy on the near side of the bed and greeted the three girls warmly. Then Joyce reached out and touched Tara’s arm.

“How are you feeling?” Joyce asked.

“I’m okay,” Tara answered with a shy shrug.

“She went to the bathroom!” Buffy chirped proudly. Her smile changed to a sheepish wince when she saw Tara and Willow roll their eyes. “Okay, that didn’t come out the way I intended.”

“She got to get out of the bed and walk to the bathroom,” Willow clarified.

“That’s wonderful!” Joyce said.

“Of course, it took two nurses and two girlfriends to manage it,” Tara commented with a hint of a half-smirk.

“Well, maybe the doctor will let you go home if he’s letting you do that,” Joyce noted.

“Yes, h-h-has he come by?” Giles asked.

Tara shook her head.

“A counselor came by, though,” Willow pointed out, trying to be upbeat about that bit of news.

“Good...that’s good,” Joyce said. “Did you, um, get a chance to talk?”

“A little,” Tara replied but said nothing more.

She kept her head down and only occasionally glanced up. It was clear that the topic of counseling was making her very uncomfortable. Giles noticed and decided to broach a topic he’d been considering.

“Tara, I don’t mean to overstep my bounds,” Giles began, “but I’d like to make an offer, if I may.”

Cautious but curious, Tara looked up and met the older man’s eyes. “O-O-Okay.”

“I have a friend who’s a counselor,” he told her. “In fact, she just recently moved from England to Los Angeles, temporarily at any rate, so she’s not far away. I-I-I think you’d like her, and-and she’s a witch as well, which would give you some common ground. Would you like me to call her?”

Tara cast quick glances at her girlfriends and then ducked her head once again as she considered the offer. She didn’t really want to see a counselor at all. Counseling meant talking, and talking meant sharing, and sharing meant reliving her nightmare, which was the last thing she wanted to do. Her logical side, of course, reminded her of the value of counseling, particularly in light of such a traumatic event. Still, it was difficult for her to break the pattern of secret-keeping, especially after having spent years covering up her abusive home life.

But a counselor who’s a witch, Tara thought. Maybe that wouldn’t be so bad...

After thinking for a moment more, Tara looked up and gave Giles a nod of approval. His face lit up in a smile. “Excellent,” he said. “I’ll-I’ll call Althenea first thing tonight!”

“Buffy, have you spoken with Willow and Tara about my offer?” Joyce asked.

“Oh!” Buffy said, just remembering. “Yes, I did, and they both said yes, so that’s three votes for moving in with you when Tara gets out. Yay!”

“Oh, I’m so glad to hear it,” Joyce said as she directed smiles at both Tara and Willow before drawing her daughter in for a hug. Giles moved closer and placed a hand on the backs of both Summers women.

Willow smiled happily at the embrace, but a frown crept onto her face when she was reminded of her estrangement from her own parents. Tara saw Willow’s reaction and reached over to take the redhead’s hand in hers. Tara’s reassuring gesture wasn’t needed for long, though, because soon the hug-fest was extended to both witches, and everyone just beamed in the happy family moment.

***

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, deep within Wolfram and Hart, Holland Manners was getting a good dose of karma. He was in the same interrogation room to which he had sent Lindsey McDonald, strapped in the very same medical chair, bound by the very same leather straps. And now, just like the unfortunate young attorney, Holland had been reduced to vacant-eyed, drooling imbecility.

The clawed demon responsible for torturously ripping information from Holland’s mind stepped away from the man and approached the group of senior partners who had been watching the proceedings. The demon bowed slightly before speaking.

“That is all...there is nothing more,” he told them.

“Very well. Thank you,” one of the senior partners replied. After the demon had stepped away, the man turned to his colleagues and gave them an expectant glance.

“It was a good plan,” one of them admitted. “Kill the Three...open a new hellmouth in L.A. Too bad it didn’t work.”

“Too bad?” another added with contempt. “We’re lucky this idiot didn’t get us all cursed.”

“Well, the ‘idiot’ has earned his reward,” still another pronounced. “We should make sure that the video of this interrogation is forwarded to all employee inboxes...as a reminder that one should never forget the chain of command.”

The other partners nodded in agreement to that suggestion.

“What of the Three?” one of the group asked. “And Angel?”

All turned to the first partner who had spoken. He thought a moment and said, “Leave them be. For now. Their time will come, sooner or later. We have patience.”

***

Later that afternoon, Lilah Morgan was still in the hospital, recovering from the injuries that Angel had inflicted on her. It had been a dangerous plan on her part, but not nearly as dangerous as Holland’s had been. She had weighed the pros and cons and made her choice—she would play along with Holland but give herself a ‘out’ if he failed. And failed he had, and Lilah was just damn lucky that the senior partners had not ordered a deep scan. With only a cursory scan, she could tell the truth and come out of this ordeal intact. So far, so good.

When she heard a knock at the door, a hint of terror flashed in her eyes. She got her emotions under control and then called out to her visitor to come in. Lilah relaxed when she realized it was only Lee, one of her male colleagues. He was a snake, but weren’t they all at Wolfram and Hart?

“Lee...hey...”

“Boy, you are one lucky bitch, you know that?” Lee said.

“Yeah,” she said, grimacing in pain as she shifted in her bed. “Feelin’ real lucky right about now...”

“You should,” Lee said grimly. “Holland got the ‘Treatment.’ Just like Lindsey. Only this time, the partners sent a copy of the video to everybody. That could’ve been you, too.”

Lilah shuddered and pulled the cover more tightly around herself.

Lee gestured at the hospital room. “This is like a paper cut compared to that.”

“True,” Lilah said with a rueful smile. “So...what’s the scoop on Holland’s project?” she asked. “The Three...Angel?”

Lee scowled and shook his head. “Well, the Three are out of our cross-hairs, obviously,” he replied. “But what I don’t understand is why the senior partners took Angel off the ‘Most Wanted’ list. That Mr. Goody-Two-Fangs needs to be taken down.”

Lilah’s eyes narrowed as she nearly growled, “Agreed.”

Lee looked down at his watch and hitched his thumb at the door. “Look, I gotta run. Deposition at two.”

“I understand. Thanks for coming by. Tell everyone I’ll be back to work soon.”

“I will. Ciao!” Lee waved and left.

Lilah waited about five minutes and then gingerly pushed the covers back and eased out of her bed. She put on her hospital-provided robe and slippers then began rummaging through the drawers of her nightstand. She found her purse and dug around inside until she had located a small amount of change. With money in hand, she left her room.

Slowly but surely, she made her way down the hallway to the small waiting area that was set in the corner of the building. She stopped to smile at the bright sun shining in the windows, then moved to the payphone on the wall. She put in the requisite coins, punched in a phone number, and waited while it rang.

“Hello?” came Angel’s voice over the phone.

“Holland got taken down,” she told him.

“Good,” Angel said in a near-growl, not unlike Lilah’s earlier tone with Lee. “What about Buffy and the others? Are the senior partners going to leave them alone?”

“As far as I can tell, yes. They consider Holland’s actions to be foolishly risky, and they’ve made sure that all employees have seen the consequences of putting the firm in danger.”

“You’d better make sure they steer clear of the Three,” Angel warned Lilah, his Irish accent re-emerging. “Otherwise, I’ll be makin’ another example of you...a much more lengthy one.”

At that, Angel ended the call. Lilah’s face tightened, and her eyes grew hard and cold. “We’ll see...” was all she said as she too hung up.

***

Meanwhile, back in Tara’s room, all of the Scoobies had gathered to hear what the doctor had to say. He seemed a little flustered by the crowd in the room, but Tara told him that she didn’t mind.

“I’ve looked over your charts and talked with the nurses about your progress,” the doctor said. “I’ve decided that you can go home tomorrow if you have someone to stay with you for the next few days.”

The room immediately burst into a cacophony of jubilation, volunteering, and reassurance. It got so loud that the doctor had to quiet them.

The doctor laughed and said, “Okay, okay, I get it. You’ve got her covered.” Then he looked at Buffy and Willow. “But you’ll need to go through some training on the care Tara will need.”

“No problem,” Buffy said.

“Just tell us when and where,” Willow added.

“I’ll set it up with the on-duty nurses. They’ll get you squared away.” He met Tara’s eyes. “And you rest up. We don’t want any setbacks keeping you from going home tomorrow.”

Tara smiled and nodded. At that, the doctor left. As soon as he was out the door, the noisy celebration returned. Within a few minutes, the phone rang. Buffy was closest, so she answered it.

“Hello? Angel.” As the others quieted, she listened intently for a while. Then a look of relief came over her face. “That’s wonderful.” She listened once more, and this time her expression became stern. “Good,” was all she said. Her face lightened again as she said, “Thank you so much, Angel. Really. Okay. Bye.”

As Buffy hung up the phone, Willow asked, “Good news?”

“Yes,” Buffy confirmed with a smile. “We’re off the hit list. Apparently, Wolfram and Hart is cutting its losses and moving on.”

“What about that Holland guy?” Xander asked. “The one who started all this?”

“He’s toast,” Buffy replied. “It seems the higher-ups did not appreciate his little private campaign.”

“Good,” Vamp Willow said with satisfaction. “One down, one more to go.”

“Amen, sister!” Anya added with gusto.

The room went silent. Buffy and the others shot appalled looks at Vamp Willow and Anya for raising an already sore and supposedly tabled subject.

“Sorry,” mumbled Anya, although without any real conviction.

Vamp Willow held out her hands and said defensively, “What?”

The air was tense for a moment, but Xander broke the mood with a quick slap of his hands and a big smile. “So...I’m thinking homecoming party, yeah?”

He waggled his eyebrows at the Three and gave Tara a wink. Soon everyone’s smiles returned, and the group happily went about making party plans.

***

Later that afternoon in another room, Buffy, Willow, and Joyce received training on the proper ways to care for Tara at home. They learned how to help her to and from the bed and how to clean and redress her wounds. The nurse explained all of her medications: what they were for, how they should be taken, and what side effects they had. She warned in particular about the pain medication Tara would be on.

“Rib injuries are a real pain, literally, so the doctor’s putting her on a low-dose of Vicodin,” the nurse said. “It won’t knock her out or anything, but it will put her in a kind of haze at times. Dizziness is a side effect, so no matter how good she feels, she shouldn’t walk around without assistance, at least for the first few days as she adjusts to the medication.”

The three women nodded in acknowledgement to the nurse.

“She gets one in the morning and one in the evening,” the nurse instructed. “No more. Vicodin is a narcotic, and it’s very addictive. No matter how badly she may be hurting, you are not to deviate from the prescribed regiment. Understood?”

Joyce glanced at Buffy and Willow then said, “We understand.”

“And no alcohol,” the nurse added.

“I don’t think we have to worry about that,” Joyce said pointedly. “Do we?”

Buffy and Willow grinned and shook their heads. “No ma’am,” they both chirped compliantly.

***

That evening, Giles, Xander, and Anya were at the Three’s new apartment. A small moving van was parked outside. Buffy, Willow, and Tara had never been able to complete their move due to the attack on Tara. As a result, almost all of their belongings were still packed in boxes, which were clustered in heaps in the apartment’s various rooms. Giles, Xander, and Anya had already stopped at Tara’s dorm room and picked up what remained there; now they were in the process of moving the boxes into the van.

In the kitchen, Anya was repacking the few items that had been put into place when the original move began. Xander and Giles stopped by for a drink of water.

After slugging down a big gulp of water, Xander turned to Giles and asked, “We’re leaving the furniture, right?”

“Yes, that’s correct,” Giles confirmed. “Most of it isn’t theirs; it came with the apartment. Buffy said she’d come by later this week to pick up anything we missed.”

“Do we need to make a moving run by your place?” Xander said, giving the watcher a teasing nudge. “You and Buffy’s mom...gettin’ mighty cozy, I hear.”

Giles blushed slightly and cleared his throat. “That won’t be necessary,” he said. “I assure you, Joyce and I are not nearly as cozy as that.”

As Giles immediately returned to his work, Xander and Anya shared a snicker.

***

Meanwhile, Joyce was at the grocery store, stocking up for the invasion of the college co-eds. As she pulled into the checkout line with an overly full cart, she noticed Sheila Rosenberg in front of her.

Sheila glanced briefly at Joyce but said nothing, her eyes cool and distant.

Joyce considered fighting cold with cold, but then she decided more was required. She moved to the end of her cart and stood there staring at Sheila, making the woman very uncomfortable. Finally, Joyce spoke.

“Aren’t you going to ask me about Willow?” Joyce accused.

Sheila kept her nose in the air and her gaze forward. “I’m sure she’s fine,” she replied evenly.

Joyce folded her arms across her chest. “She’s not.”

Sheila actually showed some concern then. Alarmed, she turned to Joyce for an explanation.

“Tara’s in the hospital,” Joyce went on. “She was attacked, beaten within an inch of her life. She nearly died.”

Sheila’s eyes went wide. “Was that the attack I read about in the paper? The girl in the coma?”

Joyce nodded.

“Oh my goodness…”

“Willow and Buffy were devastated,” Joyce said, “but thankfully Tara’s awake now. They expect a full recovery. But it’s not going to be easy.”

Sheila shook her head. “No, I imagine not.”

Joyce stepped closer and put a hand on the other woman’s arm. “Sheila, whatever objections you have to Willow’s relationship, you need to set that aside.” She gave the redhead a pleading look and said, “Willow needs her mother.”

A guilty expression came over Sheila’s face, but it soon disappeared under a stony wall. As soon as the cashier finished processing the sale, Sheila snatched up her receipt and hurried away with her cart.

Joyce could only stand there and shake her head.

***

Later that evening, Faith and Vamp Willow were out on patrol. They had just finished slaying a couple of fledgling vampires near the Hudson tomb. Faith rotated her neck a few times then did a big overhead stretch.

“That’s better,” she said. “Feel like I’m finally getting some of those kinks worked out from this morning.”

“Better not lose all your kinks,” Vamp Willow warned teasingly.

Faith grabbed Vamp Willow by the hips and drew her close. “I don’t think you have to worry about that,” she told her before giving her a hungry kiss.

After indulging in a brief make-out session, the two resumed their patrol. A somber mood seemed to settle upon them as they walked.

“Guess it won’t be long before we have to head back home,” Faith said.

“Yeah,” Vamp Willow agreed, herself not immune to the sadness of that prospect. Her demeanor quickly changed to grim determination, though. “But we’re not going anywhere until Caleb is dealt with.”

“Agreed,” Faith said without elaborating. She didn’t want to get into another argument about appropriate punishments for Caleb.

***

Meanwhile, Buffy and Willow were alone with Tara in her room. While Buffy was setting up a fold-up bed on wheels that the hospital had provided, Willow was helping Tara walk out of the bathroom.

“We should have asked for one of these the other night, but I didn’t realize we could get one,” Buffy commented.

As Tara passed by the sink in the bathroom, she caught a glimpse of her reflection in the mirror. She frowned at the sight of her own face, still bruised and battered. She shook her head and resumed walking.

“Bet you can’t bear to look at me,” Tara said.

Willow moved around to Tara’s front. She carefully cupped Tara’s cheek and looked straight into her eyes. “Not so,” she told her then placed a gentle kiss on her lips.

Buffy walked over and did the same. “Not so at all,” she said firmly.

Tara’s eyes grew a bit watery, and she gave them a grateful smile.

When Tara turned to head toward her bed, she groaned loudly and stopped walking. She scrunched her face into an intense grimace. The pain was so great that she felt dizzy and swayed on her feet. Buffy and Willow steadied her and eased her back a step to the folding bed.

“Just go ahead and sit down here,” Buffy directed. “We’ll get you in the big bed later.”

After Buffy and Willow had gotten her seated, Tara took several moments to breathe through the pain, all while her girlfriends murmured reassurances and watched with concerned eyes.

Once she was past the worst of it, Tara grumbled, “I really hate rib injuries.” She sighed heavily and said, “It hurts to be still, it hurts to move, it hurts to just breathe.”

“Y-Y-You’ve had broken ribs before?” Willow asked cautiously.

Tara nodded but said nothing more. Buffy and Willow exchanged glances. They knew that, more than likely, the previous injury had come courtesy of her abusive father. They decided not to inquire further.

Willow looked at the clock on the wall and then at Buffy. “It’s time to redress Tara.”

Buffy’s mouth quirked into a smile. “Shouldn’t we undress her first?” she said in a deliberately husky voice.

“Ooooo, yes,” Willow said, joining Buffy’s game and speaking in a fake French accent. “Ooo, la, la...”

Then Willow and Buffy made loud kisses in the air until a chuckling Tara swatted at them.

“Stop it,” she told them. “You’re making me laugh, and it hurts.”

“Sorry,” both of her girlfriends chimed, although neither looked particularly repentant.

“It is time for us to redo your bandages, though,” Buffy said, all serious now.

“I know,” Tara said, not looking too happy about the prospect.

“Hey, why don’t you lie back in my lap?” Willow offered, grabbing the nearby pillow and setting it in her lap. “Buffy can do the front, and then you can sit up and I can do the back.” Tara smiled and nodded at that idea. But Willow reached out to touch Tara’s arm. “It won’t hurt your back to do that, will it?”

Tara shook her head. “I don’t think so. It actually hurts more to sit up. After a while, at least...without something to lean on. I’ll take the lap.”

“Great,” Buffy announced cheerily. “I’ll get the door.”

She put up the “Treatment in progress. Do not disturb.” sign on the door and then gathered up the things the nurse had given them during their earlier training session: some hand sanitizer, a bottle of mild antiseptic, soft gauze, a roll of tape, and some aloe. Then she returned to the bed and set the items down. Together Willow and Buffy helped Tara out her hospital gown and into position in Willow’s lap.

After sanitizing her hands, Buffy gave Tara a smile and a shrug. “Hopefully, I won’t mess this up too much.”

“I’m sure you’ll do fine,” Tara said sweetly.

“If it hurts too much, just—”

“You’ll do fine,” Tara repeated, this time more firmly.

“Okay,” Buffy said, ready to begin.

She met Willow’s eyes, and Willow began stroking Tara’s hair in a soothing gesture. Then, Buffy turned to her work. One by one, Buffy removed the loose gauze dressings that had been placed over the burn marks that Caleb’s brand had made on Tara’s torso, arms, and neck. She forced down the rage and pain she felt at seeing what Caleb had done and focused on the task at hand. After setting the old dressings aside, she picked up a fresh piece of soft gauze. She wet it with the antiseptic and began cleaning the wounds. After a while, she could see that Tara’s breathing had increased and sweat had broken out on her forehead. Buffy looked at Willow then back at Tara again.

“Are you okay, baby?” Buffy asked. “If it’s hurting, we can stop...”

Tara shook her head. “It’s okay. It’s not you, it’s just...” A few tears trickled out of her eyes. “The marks...every time they’re touched...I-I-I remember, and...” Tara couldn’t go on.

“Oh, sweetie, I’m so sorry,” Willow crooned.

“It’s okay, it’s okay,” Tara said, regaining her composure. “It’ll get better, right?”

“Right,” Buffy assured, although there was sadness in her eyes.

Buffy went right back to work. She finished cleaning the remaining wounds. After letting them dry, she applied a small dab of aloe to each burn then loosely applied a new clean dressing over it. Within minutes, she was done.

After discarding all of the old dressings and the gauze used for cleaning, she gave Tara a kiss and then asked, “Ready for the back?”

When Tara nodded, Buffy and Willow helped her sit up again. As Buffy held Tara’s hands and helped steady her, Willow went through the same basic process that Buffy had: sanitizing her hands, removing the old dressings, cleansing the wounds. The difference was that Tara’s back didn’t have burns; it had deep lacerations, letters carved by Caleb directly into her flesh, letters that formed a message Willow and Buffy could never forget:

Slayer’s bitch,
Witch’s whore,
The weakest link,
Is no more!

Willow tried not to let the words get to her as she gently cleaned each cut, but she couldn’t stop the tears from rolling down her face. When Willow made eye contact with Buffy, she could see that Buffy was struggling to keep down the tears, too.

Stop it, Will,” Buffy chided telepathically. “I can’t keep a calm face with you crying back there.

I know, I’m sorry,” Willow replied. “It’s just...I mean...Does she even know what’s here? Has anyone told her?

I haven’t, and I know you haven’t.

How are we going to tell her?” Willow wailed.

I don’t know,” Buffy answered. “We’ll cross that bridge when we get there.

When Willow finished, she and Buffy helped Tara back into her hospital gown. They noticed that Tara’s demeanor had changed; she seemed testy now as they helped her to her feet.

“So...what were you two talking about just now?” she asked.

Buffy and Willow eyes widened in fear. “Uhhh...nothing!” Willow instantly answered.

“Nothing...important,” Buffy corrected when she realized that Tara wouldn’t buy a straight denial. “We’re just worried about you, that’s all.”

Tara glared, unhappy with the answers she was getting. “It’s about what’s on my back, isn’t it?”

Willow and Buffy looked at each other again, panicked expressions on their faces.

“What did he do?” Tara asked pointedly. “He wrote something, didn’t he?”

Buffy and Willow opened their mouths, but no words came out.

“What did he do?!!” Tara nearly screamed.

Buffy held out her hands in a placating gesture. “You’re right,” Buffy confirmed. “He did write something.”

Getting no satisfaction from being correct, Tara pressed on bravely. “What did he write?”

Willow tried to answer but couldn’t, so Buffy spoke the words. In a slow, strained voice, she said: “Slayer’s bitch...witch’s whore...the weakest link...is no more.”

Tara was in shock at first. Then tears began streaming down her face, and she shook her head several times. As a sob escaped, she stumbled on her feet, and Buffy and Willow had to help her back to the folding bed.

“Oh my god,” she cried. “It’s my fault. He told me I was the key to everything...It’s my fault, everything that happened...He was able to attack us because of me.”

“No, sweetie, that’s not true,” Buffy insisted. “He could’ve taken any one of us and gotten the same result.”

“Buffy’s right,” Willow added. “He didn’t have to pick just you. He probably chose you just because you were alone a-a-and we were together at the time he needed to act. If I had been the one alone, he might’ve picked me.”

Tara shook her head, refusing to hear their reasoning. “No, no...he knew to pick me, he knew I’d be the one to break.” She began to sob in earnest. “I’m not strong like you...”

Buffy and Willow took her hands in theirs and tried to get her to look at them. When she finally did, they gently touched her face and shoulder.

“Do you really think that either of us could’ve gone through what you did and not break?” Buffy asked. “My god, Tara, anyone would have.”

Tara looked at them with anguish in her eyes. She wanted so desperately to believe.

“What he wrote...it was just part of his plan to tear us apart, that’s all,” Willow said. “Please don’t blame yourself. We don’t.”

Tara couldn’t hold back the rest of her tears any longer. Ignoring the searing pain in her side, she crumpled over onto the bed and let the sobs come. Not knowing what else to do, Buffy and Willow curled up around her, forming a cocoon of love and compassion, and cried with her.

***

Slightly before sunrise, Faith and Vamp Willow finished patrolling and returned to Giles’ apartment. The former watcher wasn't home; he had stayed with Joyce that night. While Vamp Willow showered, Faith wolfed down a meal of leftover pizza, not even bothering to heat it up. When Faith was done, she too showered and then plopped naked into bed where Vamp Willow was waiting.

As soon as Faith was situated on her back under the covers, Vamp Willow snuggled up next to her, wrapping her left arm and left leg over Faith’s body. She rubbed Faith’s stomach and asked in a teasing voice, “All better?”

“Uh-huh.”

Vamp Willow moved into a kneeling position over Faith’s leg. Then she leaned over and planted a few nips along the side of the slayer’s neck until she ended up at Faith’s ear. “Know what?” she asked, breathing huskily into Faith’s ear.

Faith knew exactly what her vampire girlfriend wanted; she smirked and played along. “Whaaaat?” she asked.

“I’m hungry.”

“What a shock,” Faith said, chuckling.

Vamp Willow put on a surprisingly effective pout. Then her lips curled into a seductive smile.

“So, can I?” she pleaded.

She used her little girl voice, but her eyes suggested something very adult. She leaned back down and began kissing and nibbling Faith’s neck again. Faith murmured contentedly and brought her hands to rest on her girlfriend’s back.

“Sure,” Faith answered.

The redhead grinned to herself and instantly morphed into her vampire visage. However, right before she could sink her fangs into Faith’s neck, the slayer pushed her back, causing Vamp Willow to get a confused look on her face.

“But not the neck this time,” Faith said. “Nowhere visible. Okay?”

Vamp Willow grinned teasingly. “What’s the matter? Did my little slayer get embarrassed today? Don’t want your ‘kinks’ showing to your new friends?”

Faith glared in response, but the vampire just laughed. “I know just the place,” she said before running her finger along the inside of Faith’s thigh. “Don’t worry,” she added with a wink. “I’ll make it worth your while.” Then she disappeared under the covers.

Soon the blanket started to move in a rhythmic pattern, and Faith began to groan in pleasure. She gripped the sheet with both fists. “Mmmm, that’s it, baby,” Faith crooned. “Don’t stop...”

The movements became stronger, and Faith’s moaning became panted breaths. Finally, Faith arched in release and fell back on the bed, exhausted but satisfied.

Before Faith could even say thanks, Vamp Willow’s voice came chirping from under the covers. “Eating now...”

Faith laughed, but then her smile changed into a slight grimace. For a moment, her face was contorted in pain, and she closed her eyes tightly. Her smile quickly returned, though, when Vamp Willow found a use for her currently unoccupied fingers.

Faith groaned as she felt another orgasm building. “Thank god for multi-tasking...”

***

Later that morning in Tara’s room, Buffy and Willow were finishing up a healing spell. They were on opposite sides of the hospital bed, Willow on the door side and Buffy on the far side. They had formed a complete triangle, holding hands with each other across the bed while also holding Tara’s hands. Their eyes were closed; their expressions were focused but relaxed. Willow was whispering an incantation, her voice so soft that it was almost inaudible. After finishing her last repetition, Willow drew in a deep breath and slowly let it out. Then she opened her eyes. Seconds later, Buffy and Tara did the same, and the Three released hands.

Willow smiled at Tara and touched her shoulder. “How’s that?” she asked. “I know it’s not much, but every little bit helps, right?”

“It helps more than you know,” Tara assured them with a smile.

“I modified the basic spell a bit,” Willow said.

“I noticed,” Tara replied.

“Well, it seemed like a good idea,” Willow explained. “I mean, we’ve got a slayer here. Might as well make use of some of that ‘slayer healing’ energy. Besides, she’s like our own little private power station, you know?”

“Oh, I know...” Tara said with a half-smirk.

Buffy rolled her eyes and shook her head. “Don’t mind me...not even here...” she mumbled in mock complaint.

Tara and Willow snickered.

Buffy’s gaze fell on the water pitcher on the nightstand. “Why don’t I go fill up the water pitcher?” she suggested sarcastically. “Then you two can talk about me even more.”

“Nope,” Willow said, holding out her hand. “It’s my turn. You filled it up last time.”

Buffy glared but with a smile and then handed over the pitcher.

“Be right back,” Willow announced cheerily before leaving the room.

As she stepped outside and closed the door, she removed the “Treatment in progress” sign and headed down the hallway toward the ice machine.

***

Moments later, Willow was on her way back to Tara’s room, now carrying a full pitcher of ice. When she looked up, she saw a sight that made her eyes grow wide in disbelief. It was her mother, cautiously approaching Tara’s room. Willow hurried over, meeting her several yards away from the door.

“Mom?” she called out hesitantly, drawing her mother’s attention. When her mother looked at her, she said, “What are you doing here?” She didn’t ask this meanly; her tone was surprised but curious, perhaps even a bit hopeful.

At first Sheila looked as if she were ready to bolt, but she eventually stood still. “I, um, I don’t know exactly,” she admitted. “I heard about Tara,” she added in an even but not quite cool tone, “and I felt I should come.”

Willow angrily narrowed her eyes. “Well, if you’ve come to lecture me about consequences, how this is what happens to those who choose to live ‘unnatural’ lives, then—”

“No!” Sheila interrupted in an appalled voice. “No, of course not,” she insisted.

Willow didn’t seem convinced and said nothing.

Sheila wrung her hands nervously and then went on. “I-I-I just wanted to see how you were,” she said. “I can only imagine how upset you must be.”

Willow let out a bitter scoff. “Having your girlfriend abducted, tortured, and raped…‘upset’ doesn’t really cover it, Mother.”

Sheila dropped her gaze to her hands. “No, I suppose it doesn’t.”

After a long, extremely awkward moment of silence, Sheila finally spoke up again. “Anyway, for what it’s worth,” she said, “I’m sorry.”

Sheila gave her daughter a small smile then turned to walk away. Willow watched her go, her face showing a sea of emotions. When Sheila had gotten several yards away, Willow called out to her.

“Mom!”

Sheila turned around.

“Thanks,” Willow said simply.

Sheila smiled a bit more this time and nodded. Then she turned back around and headed for the elevator.

Willow had a troubled expression on her face as she slowly walked back to Tara’s door.

***

When Willow walked back into the room, she found her girlfriends looking at her with deep concern in their eyes. They had felt Willow’s strong emotions but hadn’t known the cause.

“What happened?” Tara asked.

“Yeah,” Buffy said, “our stomachs went all Tilt-a-Whirl on us, but not in a fun way.”

Willow sighed heavily and walked over to the bed. As she handed the pitcher to Buffy, she said, “I saw my mother.”

Buffy’s and Tara’s eyes went just as wide as Willow’s had moments earlier.

“She was here?” Buffy asked incredulously.

Willow nodded. “She heard about what had happened to Tara. She said she wanted to see how I was.”

“That’s wonderful, Will,” Buffy said with a smile. When Willow’s mood didn’t lighten, Buffy added, “Or...maybe not...” She gave the redhead an inquiring gaze.

When Willow still didn’t go on, Tara reached out and touched Willow’s arm. “Are you okay, sweetie?”

“I don’t know,” Willow answered. “I...I’m not sure what to make of this.”

“The important thing is...she came,” Tara said gently. “She was worried about you, and she came.” Buffy added a nod of agreement to that assessment.

Willow let herself smile at that.

***

Early that evening, Tara was finally released from the hospital. Giles picked up the Three in Joyce’s SUV and drove them to the Summers home.

When Buffy and Willow helped Tara inside the front door, they were greeted by a loud “Welcome Home!” from Xander, Anya, Faith, Vamp Willow, and Joyce. A colorful banner was taped on the wall, streamers were woven along the staircase, and small bunches of balloons were clustered around the room. The table in the dining room was covered with enough food and drinks to feed an army. Lively music was playing softly from a boom box in the corner.

As she received careful hugs from everyone present, Tara was moved to tears. After regaining her composure, Tara sincerely thanked them all. As soon as Buffy and Willow had gotten Tara seated in a comfortable chair, the party began.

***

After a couple of hours, Tara was looking more than a little worn out. Her girlfriends noticed and knelt beside her chair.

“Are you getting tired?” Buffy asked.

Tara nodded.

As Buffy waved Faith over, Willow told Tara, “Xander said they’ve got us all set up upstairs.”

Tara eyed the stairs warily. “Stairs?”

By then, Faith had joined them, carrying a wooden chair from the dining room.

“Don’t worry,” Buffy assured Tara. “We got it all worked out.”

The two slayers set the chair with its back facing the stairs. Then Buffy and Willow helped Tara move from the living room to the wooden chair. Willow moved a few steps up the stairs, and Buffy moved into place behind the chair. Faith moved in front.

When she saw Tara tightly grip the arms of the chair, Buffy gave Tara a kiss on the temple. “Relax. We’re slayers. We won’t let you fall.”

Faith grinned and added, “Yeah, just sit back and relax and let us do the drivin’.”

Together, Faith and Buffy tilted the chair back. Then Faith reached down and grabbed the legs of the chair while Buffy gripped the back. On the count of three, they easily lifted Tara and the chair off the floor. As Willow directed, the two slayers moved up the stairs, around the bend, and down the hallway to Buffy’s room. Joyce followed, but the others stayed downstairs. When they had gotten situated in the room, Buffy and Faith carefully set the chair down.

“See? That wasn’t so bad,” Buffy said.

When Buffy and Willow helped Tara from the chair and then turned toward the bed, Buffy suddenly froze. She blinked, shook her head, and blinked again. In the place of her old double bed sat a brand new king-sized bed, big enough for three. Buffy’s eyes shot to her mother, who was wearing a self-satisfied smirk. Buffy rushed to Joyce and gave her a big hug.

“I can’t believe it,” Buffy told her. “I don’t know what to say except ‘thank you’.” Tara and Willow instantly echoed those thanks.

“You’re very welcome,” Joyce said. “Oh, and by the way, the boxes from your apartment and the dorm room are in the spare bedroom.” Then she nodded at Faith and gestured her towards the door. “We’ll leave you girls alone now. Have a good night, Tara.”

Without waiting for a reply, Joyce and Faith headed out the door, leaving a still-in-shock Three behind.

***

A short time later, after Tara had gone to sleep, Buffy and Willow came back downstairs. Everyone was still there, although much of the party mood had dwindled. It had been a harrowing series of days for all of them. After a series of hugs and good-byes, everyone departed. Giles drove Faith and Vamp Willow home with him while Anya and Xander headed for his basement apartment. With the crowd now pared down to Joyce, Buffy and Willow let their own exhaustion show.

“Come here, girls,” Joyce said, calling them over to the sofa. She sat down at one end and patted the cushions.

Hearing the seriousness in Joyce’s tone, Willow and Buffy eyed her warily. But then they walked over and sat down anyway.

“I don’t mean to rain on your ‘we just got Tara home’ parade,” Joyce said, “but we need to talk about some of the issues that may come up.”

“I-I-I thought we covered all of that at the hospital,” Buffy said. “We know what to do.”

“I’m talking about Tara’s emotional state,” Joyce said. “I had a chance to talk to the hospital counselor today, and he gave me an idea of what to expect.”

Willow and Buffy nodded solemnly as they listened.

“He said the most important thing to do was to be patient and to give her your unconditional support.”

“Of course,” Willow said.

“More than likely, she’ll have severe mood swings: even-keeled one moment, then sobbing or lashing out the next. She may be open and talkative one day, then completely withdrawn the very next day. You’ll see sides of Tara you’ve never seen, and it’ll be some time before you begin to see glimpses of the Tara you know and love.”

Buffy and Willow shot worried looks at each other.

“She’ll probably be easily startled and have frequent flashbacks or nightmares,” Joyce continued. “We need to do everything we can to make her feel safe.”

“We will,” Buffy said firmly. “We will.”

“This won’t be easy,” Joyce said, “and it’s going to take time...a long time. I don’t want you getting your hopes up that she’ll bounce back right away.”

Buffy and Willow looked at one another again and then turned back to Joyce. “We understand,” they said, their determination tinged with trepidation.


TO BE CONTINUED IN PART FIFTEEN…  

 
 


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