THE POWER OF THREE
Book 2 Part 16

By DragonWriter17

 

Rating: R (for language and violence)

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, my personal site  (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’ve borrowed two things from Watchers. One is Althenea Dimmons, but the other is something that I don’t want to spoil here. Those of you familiar with the Watchers virtual series may recognize this second ‘something.’ If you don’t, it’s no biggie. I just didn’t want to take credit for the idea, so I’ve included an endnote to identify the concept and the Watchers episode I took it from. (2) Thanks, as always to Lilly, for the constant support, encouragement, beta reading, and editing.

Number of Chapters: 16

Complete: 16 (finally!)

Chapter Summary: The Scoobies finally figure out what to do with Caleb.

Return to the Home Page       Return to BtVS Stories

PART ONE       PART TWO       PART THREE       PART FOUR

PART FIVE     PART SIX       PART SEVEN       PART EIGHT

PART NINE       PART TEN       PART ELEVEN     PART TWELVE

PART THIRTEEN     PART FOURTEEN     PART FIFTEEN     PART SIXTEEN


PART SIXTEEN
 

It was near dawn, and Tara's solo soul-healing ritual, held in her former dorm room, was almost done. As she finished the last stage of the ceremony, she sat cross-legged on the floor, her palms up, her arms resting limply against the tops of her legs. Her eyes were closed, and her face was completely relaxed as she breathed in and out with deliberate slowness. Soon she released an especially long breath and opened her eyes. She glanced around the room, smiling to herself, then got to her feet.

After indulging in a series of stretches, Tara once again bowed her head in supplication and spoke the incantation that broke the shielding spell. Then she opened the door and headed to the lounge, where she knew Althenea, her counselor and fellow Wiccan, was waiting.

***

When Tara entered the lounge, she saw Althenea sitting in a chair, looking at her warmly. Then Tara noticed Buffy and Willow sound asleep on a nearby couch. She smiled widely at the sight but didn't immediately rush to them. Instead, she quietly tiptoed over to her mentor.

Althenea stood up and reached out to grasp Tara's hands. "So how did it go?" she whispered.

"It went great," Tara answered, still smiling. "I was scared at first, and there were some really rough parts, but I feel so much better."

"I'm so glad," Althenea said enthusiastically.

Tara gave Althenea a grateful hug. When she pulled out of the embrace, her eyes went automatically toward her sleeping girlfriends.

Althenea noticed, of course, and said, "I know you're anxious to reconnect, so why don't we save our 'debriefing' for our next session?"

"Thank you!" Tara said, hugging Althenea again. "Thank you so much!"

"My pleasure," Althenea said before taking her leave.

Tara silently crept over to where Buffy and Willow were sleeping and moved to stand behind the couch. Then, without touching them, she reached out to them by way of their special psychic bond.

"Waaake uuuupppp..." she mentally sing-songed to them.

Buffy and Willow slowly sat up, blinking, calling out Tara's name uncertainly.

"Sleepyheads..." Tara commented aloud from behind them, making them whip around in surprise.

"Tara!" they both exclaimed happily. They turned around and knelt on the couch so that they could pull Tara into a big hug.

After kisses all around, Buffy said, "Get over here, girlie!" Then she and Willow pulled Tara over the back of the couch and into their laps. Tara didn't resist. She giggled as they settled her onto her back across their legs.

"Gosh, it's good to see you," Buffy said, stroking Tara's hair.

"Yeah, we missed you," Willow added as she took Tara's hands into hers.

Tara made eye contact with both as she said, "I missed you, too."

The Three stared happily at each other for a bit until Tara finally sat up and squeezed in between Buffy and Willow.

"So, um, how did everything go? You know, with the ritual and everything?" Willow asked.

"It went really well," Tara answered. "I feel like a huge weight has been lifted off of me. I mean, I know I've still got a long way to go, but for the first time, I feel like I've finally gotten somewhere, you know?"

"Yay!" Willow and Buffy cheered, giving Tara another dual embrace.

After a moment of hugging, Buffy glanced at the window and saw that the sun was just rising. "Hey, why don't we take this hug to our nice comfy bed at home?" she suggested.

"I second the motion," Willow chimed in. She and Buffy looked at Tara expectantly.

"Sounds wonderful," Tara said in response.

***

When the Three returned to the Summers home, Joyce and Giles were still asleep. Choosing not to wake them, the Three crept quietly into their room. As Tara began putting away the ritual items she had taken with her to her old dorm room, Buffy and Willow started stripping off their clothes and putting on their robes.

After picking up her dirty clothes, Buffy sniffed them and said, "Ewww, I so need a shower."

"Tell me about it," Willow said, dumping her own clothes into the basket. "I've got crypt dust in my crevices from our little lust-fest--"

Willow and Buffy both froze and shot a look at Tara, who was gazing at them with an eyebrow raised. Tara let them fumble and babble for a moment before giving them a playful smirk.

"Don't worry," she said, crossing over to them. "I know what you did. I could tell the minute I saw you. And I'm glad. Honestly."

Buffy and Willow let out a breath of relief as Tara went on.

"Not sure why it happened in a crypt…" she teased.

Buffy and Willow blushed and glanced away.

"You can tell me about it later," Tara said, turning them both toward the door. "Go get clean," she ordered. "I don't want a speck of crypt dust in our bed!"

About a half an hour later, the Three were snuggled up together in bed, with Tara in the middle. She patted the covers and prompted, "So, crypt story?"

After a few nervous chuckles, Buffy began her attempt at explaining. "We were out on patrol, and we'd just finished slaying this big vamp nest, a-a-and, you know, it just... happened." She ended with a nonchalant shrug.

Willow snorted and shook her head. Then she turned to Tara and said, "You remember when I told you about what Our Faith said about slaying?"

Buffy groaned and covered her face with her hands. "I am never going to live that one down…"

Tara nodded. "She said it made her 'hungry and horny'?"

"Right," Willow confirmed. "But Buffy would admit only to occasionally craving a non-fat yogurt afterwards."

Tara cast a sly eye toward Buffy, who was doing her best to ignore her girlfriends. "I'm assuming Buffy's claim has been busted?"

"Totally," Willow said, smirking.

Buffy reached across Tara and gave Willow a poke in the arm. "Hey, I wasn't the only one all hot and bothered, Miss Lusty Butt. You're the one that got Faith and Vamp Willow in on the action."

Tara's eyes nearly bugged out of her head. "Excuse me?" she asked in an incensed tone.

"No! Not like that!" Buffy rushed to correct.

Willow frantically pointed at Buffy. "She just means that when I got all excited, Vamp Willow picked up on it, and she got all excited, which meant Faith got all excited, but their excitement was totally separate from our excitement!"

"Swear!" Buffy said, holding her hand up in an oath-taking gesture.

Tara gave them a mock glare then laughed. "I know. I'm just giving you guys a hard time."

As Buffy made a show of huffing and rolling her eyes, Willow looked at Tara warmly and said, "It's so good to see you smiling again."

"Yeah," Buffy agreed.

"It's good to be smiling again," Tara told them. Then she glanced down for a moment. "There have been days when I didn't think I'd ever smile again."

Willow and Buffy frowned in sympathy but didn't speak. They merely put their hands over hers and gently squeezed.

"But you were there, both of you, through everything," Tara said, lifting her tear-filled gaze to theirs. "Thank you..." she whispered in a voice choked with emotion.

"We wouldn't have been anywhere else," Buffy assured her.

"You're our everything, Tara," Willow added. "We love you."

She pulled her hands from their grasp and wrapped her arms around them, hugging them as close to herself as she could. "I love you, too...so much..." When she released them, she added, "And I'll be back in the 'action' soon, I promise."

With a final round of smiles and hugs and kisses, the Three settled down for some much-needed sleep.

***

The Three slept most of the day, rising only for the occasional bathroom or water break. By the time they got up for good, it was nearly sunset. Luckily for them, Joyce had prepared a large meal of pot roast with potatoes and carrots. Both Joyce and Giles were happy to see all three girls, especially Tara, eating with ravenous gusto. After serving everyone a large helping of blackberry cobbler, Joyce broached the subject of Tara's night at the dorm.

"So, Tara," she asked, "did your meditation time go well?"

Tara smiled and nodded her head while she finished off a bite of cobbler. "It did. It went great, actually. I feel a whole lot better."

"We can tell," Giles commented. "You seem, um...lighter, as it were."

"Yeah, I feel like I've...made it to the next level, you know?" she said. "I may not be to the 'coasting downhill' part yet, but I'm getting there. I'm ready for what's next." She shot a quick look at Buffy and Willow and then said, "In fact...I think I'm ready to talk about Caleb."

"Are you sure?" Giles asked worriedly. "There's no need for haste. He's completely contained and can be for as long as necessary..."

"I'm sure," Tara said, nodding firmly. Then she let out a long breath. "It's time."

***

That evening, Giles called the rest of the Scoobies to schedule a meeting for the next day to discuss the Caleb situation. When Anya hung up the phone from Giles's call, she gazed off and thought for a moment. Then she smiled to herself and walked into the living room of her apartment.

"Halfrek!" she called out in loud voice. Nothing happened. "Come on, Hallie," she added, whining a bit.

After a dramatic flash, Halfrek appeared. She crossed her arms and gave Anya a stern look. "I'm not supposed to be talking to you, you know."

Anya rolled her eyes and growled, "D'Hoffyrn sooo needs to lose the grudge."

"Well, you know how he is when it comes to losing one of his own." Halfrek uncrossed her arms and asked, "So...what's up?"

"I've got a job for you."

Halfrek eyed her friend suspiciously. "A job?"

"A vengeance job," Anya replied. "It doesn't fall into your usual realm of interest, but..."

Halfrek's suspicion turned to excitement. "Oh, I hope it's a juicy one."

Anya chuckled. "Oh it is. Trust me."

***

The next day the Scoobies gathered in the living room of the Summers home to discuss the matter of what to do with Caleb. The Three sat on the sofa with Tara safely tucked in the middle. Xander sat in the recliner with Anya perched on the arm beside him. Faith and Vamp Willow were parked on the coffee table, which they'd pulled off to the side. Four chairs had been pulled from the dining room to complete the circle. In those sat Althenea, Riley, Joyce, and Giles. Giles had been elected to preside over the meeting.

"First of all," Giles said, "let me say how happy we all are, Tara, that your recovery is going so well." The others echoed this sentiment.

"Thanks," Tara said, a bit embarrassed at being the center of attention.

"We know this is going to be difficult," Giles went on. "If it becomes too much at any point..."

"It's okay," she assured him. "I can do this. I need to do this."

"Good, good," he said. "Ahem, well, on that note...have you given thought to what you'd like to see done with Caleb?"

Tara nodded, then stopped and gave an uncertain shrug. "I-I-I don't have it figured out or anything, but I have some ideas." She glanced at her girlfriends, who gave her smiles of encouragement. She took a deep breath and continued. "Well, the police are out, obviously. Caleb is too dangerous for a conventional prison. Whatever we decide, it has to be something we can do...o-o-or can arrange."

"I think it's safe to say we all agree with that," Joyce stated. "I doubt that the judicial system would know what to do with someone like Caleb."

Everyone nodded and then looked back to Tara. After thinking a moment, she said, "I know it's not a feeling most of you share, but...I can't kill Caleb." When she felt Willow about to object, she cut her off. "Yes, I know he deserves it, and yes, a part of me would love to see that happen, but I took an oath a long time ago to live by the Wiccan Rede. 'Harm none,' it says. I believe in that. It's a part of who I am, who I've chosen to be. If I violate that, I won't just be killing Caleb. I'll be killing a part of myself." Tears began rolling down her cheeks as she pressed on. "And I can't do that. I just can't..."

Buffy reached over and squeezed Tara's hand. "You don't have to."

Tara turned to Willow. The redhead was crying, too, but she wasn't ready to relinquish her position. "Baby...he hurt you...nearly shattered you, body and soul...he has to pay for that. He has to."

Tara was torn between nodding and shaking her head. "I know, but..." was all she could say.

Painful silence hung over the group until Riley dared to speak up.

"What about the Initiative?" he suggested. "Why not just keep him there, as is?"

"No offense," Buffy interjected, "but the Initiative isn't exactly inspiring the trust these days."

"You don't trust me?" Riley replied, a little hurt.

"I trust you," Buffy answered. "It's the rest of them I don't trust. I mean...Spike managed to escape, for goodness' sake."

"Plus, who's to say your scientists won't decide to play 'wake up the warlock'?" Xander pointed out. "You know, just for some 'experimental' fun."

Althenea blew out a wary breath. "With his powers...if he ever got out..."

"Indeed," Giles agreed.

"Which is why you need something permanent," Vamp Willow said, practically growling on the final word.

Willow and Xander nodded in agreement. Joyce, Giles, and Riley seemed to consider the matter but remained noncommittal. Buffy shared an uneasy look with Faith and Althenea before turning to Tara, who kept her eyes on the floor.

Anya, though, eagerly shook her finger in the air, ready to elaborate on Vamp Willow's suggestion. "Yes! Absolutely!" the former vengeance demon interjected cheerily. "Something permanent but something with some 'umpf!' behind it. And I know the perfect person who can help us with that."

"Anya, no," Xander said, reaching out to stop her before she spoke. He was too late, though.

"Oh, Hallie!" Anya called out. In less than a second, there was a flash of light near the front door. When the light faded, they saw what appeared to be a perky, curly-haired brunette now standing in the room.

"Anya! We talked about this!" Xander said. "No vengeance demons."

"Vengeance demon?!" Riley and Faith cried out, jumping to their feet.

"Relax!" Anya told them as she got up and walked over to her friend. She waved her hands at the soldier and slayer to sit back down. "She's not here to hurt us. She's here to help us."

Riley and Faith glanced at Buffy. When they saw that she seemed more annoyed than alarmed, they reluctantly returned to their seats.

"Look, Anya," Buffy said, "we appreciate the thought, but I think we're better off handling this on our own. We don't need help from a...demonic consultant."

Halfrek stepped toward the group. "Forgive me for my bluntness, but from what Anya's told me, you need all the help you can get." When several among the group started to object, she just forged ahead. "I'll summarize to prove my point." She gestured toward the Three on the couch. "Tara here was brutalized, physically and mentally, by an evil warlock named Caleb, all while psychically connected to Willow and Buffy, and now that he's been captured, your little group of do-gooders can't decide what to do with the raping bastard. Is that about right?" She smiled and waited for them to answer.

Everyone glanced guiltily around the room, with no one able to deny the description.

Halfrek shook her head in disbelief and turned to her friend. "What is wrong with these people?"

Anya just threw her hands up in a helpless gesture.

"I don't think this is what Tara had in mind," Althenea said firmly.

"Yeah, she already said she doesn't want Caleb killed," Faith added in support of Althenea's statement.

"But...y-y-you don't always kill the people you're getting revenge on, do you?" Willow pointedly asked Halfrek before turning to look at the other Scoobies.

"Of course not!" Halfrek replied enthusiastically. "There's no time for them to suffer if you kill them." She chuckled a moment before sobering. "The important thing is that they pay appropriately for their crimes. That makes sense, right?" She leaned over to Anya and said, "You know...I'm circulating a petition to get our name changed to 'justice demons.' But I digress."

She merrily clapped her hands and turned back to the group. Then she made a slight swirling gesture with her fingers, and a notepad and pen instantly materialized into her hands. She poised the pen over the paper.

"So...what're we thinking here?" she inquired. "Something traditional like a slowly-rotting-flesh curse or something more...imaginative, like a reality bubble in which he wakes up every morning to find a penis-eating parasite attached to his crotch? Hmm?"

Anya, Willow, and Vamp Willow grinned and nodded vigorously at Halfrek's suggestions. Tara and Buffy, however, could only look appalled. The rest of the group just glanced around the room, unsure of how to feel or respond.

Halfrek didn't seem to notice the general discomfort. "As a matter of fact," she said, tapping her pen against her chin in thought, "I've gotten wind of this unusual demon from the Parflek dimension who has a real taste for humans..."

***

Over an hour later, the room was littered with crumpled pages, and everyone looked completely exhausted. Halfrek herself was at her wit's end.

She let out a long, calming breath and started over. "Okay let's run through this again. You want something that makes him permanently a non-threat but without killing him, yet you do want him to suffer something appropriate to the crime, preferably for a long period of time, but not anything too horrible that you can't live with. Is that correct?"

Most of the group nodded as she gazed around the room.

Turning back to Anya, Halfrek let her notepad and pen drop from her hands. "I give up. I can't do this. I've pitched all my best scenarios, and they've shot them all down."

A somber silence fell over the group for a time, which wasn't broken until Althenea softly spoke up.

"I have an idea," the witch said. "It's...troubling, which is why I didn't mention it before."

Tara looked at her mentor curiously. "W-W-What is it?"

"A ritual," she answered. "Seldom if ever used. It's called the Ritual of Sundering."

"Of course!" Giles exclaimed. "I should have remembered."

Willow looked confused. "I've never heard of it. What does it do?"

"It severs a person's connection to magic," Althenea answered. "Strips them utterly of the ability to work magic. Centuries ago, it was used on witches and warlocks who had abused their powers."

"So...if you used this on Caleb," Joyce asked, "he would never be able to do magic again?"

"Ever?" Xander added to Joyce's question. "As in totally never ever?"

"Not even borrowed magic?" Willow pressed even more.

"Yes," Althenea answered. "From that point on, he would no longer be able to draw upon any type of magical energy. It's completely permanent."

As Tara shot a hopeful glance at Buffy and Willow, Faith smiled and said, "Well, that Ritual of Sundries sounds pretty good then."

"Ritual of Sundering," Giles corrected.

"Whatever," Faith replied. "Point is, he's taken out of the game. He won't be a threat anymore. 'Specially if Finn and company throw him into their secret prison for monsters."

"Right," Riley agreed.

"Well, that sounds reassuring but not particularly satisfying," Vamp Willow groused. "I mean, where's the punishment? He can't do magic anymore, boo hoo."

"I don't know," Buffy said. "For a warlock like Caleb...having to live without magic and to be imprisoned for the rest of this life...that'd be pretty hard."

"Not hard enough," Willow complained.

"Although I've never witnessed one personally," Althenea said, "the written accounts of the few rituals that were done indicate that the process is extremely painful for the warlock. The more powerful he is, the more excruciating the ritual will be. And...that's where the 'troubling' part of this comes into play."

"What?" Buffy asked worriedly.

"Most warlocks don't survive the ritual," Althenea replied. "The shock of being severed from their magic...it's just too much. They usually die."

"Well, that's poetic," Halfrek said, sharing a giggle with Anya. When the group glared at them, Halfrek pouted defensively, "I'm just saying."

Everyone then looked expectantly at Tara, who did indeed seem troubled by what she had heard. She stared at her lap and wrung her hands. Both Buffy and Willow reached over and placed their hands over hers.

"I know this is hard," Buffy said sympathetically, "but this ritual is the best option we've come across so far. It's not killing Caleb outright...it's giving him a chance. Most importantly, it'll protect us and everyone else from his magic."

"Right. Just think about it," Willow added. "Which would cause more harm? Stripping Caleb of his powers, in which case only he gets hurt? Or letting him keep those powers, in which case a lot of people could get hurt--hurt like you were?"

Tara didn't answer right away, and the silence was nearly unbearable as the group anxiously awaited her decision. After a moment, Tara finally raised her head. Her cheeks were wet with tears, but she nodded to her girlfriends and spoke a single word: "Okay."

The Scoobies let out a collective sigh, relieved that the intense debate was now over. Seeing that the group was in relative agreement about the plan, Giles stood up from his chair.

"Right. Very good," he said. "Now...if Riley can make arrangements and if Althenea has no objections, I'd like to hold the ritual at the Initiative."

"No problem," Riley said. "Just give me a day and a time."

"A natural, more sacred place would be better," Althenea said, "but safety and secrecy are paramount here. I have no objections."

As Giles continued to rattle off ideas and instructions, Anya led her friend Halfrek aside.

"Sorry, Hallie," she told her. "I tried."

"That's okay," Halfrek said with a light-hearted wave-away. "It's not your fault your human friends are defective."

Anya snorted. "I know! I mean, if ever a situation called for extreme vengeance, this was it. And that Parflek idea of yours? Genius!"

Halfrek smiled and preened. "Thanks!" Then she pouted again. "I was really hoping to use it on this guy, though." She let out a resigned sigh. "Oh well."

"So...you wanna come watch 'em fry the warlock?" Anya asked. "We can get a cappuccino afterwards?"

"Okay! Call me!" Halfrek happily agreed. "Gotta run. Ta-ta!" In a flash she was gone.

***

A few days later, the Scoobies were prepared to do the ritual. Riley had overseen the preparation of the "Hole," the large area recessed into the floor of the underground base's main workspace. Althenea had obtained the supplies necessary for the ritual and had trained the two others who would be casting with her--Vamp Willow and Giles. The Initiative scientists had begun bringing Caleb gradually out of his induced coma.

That evening, when the moon had fully risen, four soldiers transferred the still-unconscious Caleb to the restraining device specially prepared for the ritual. It was a sturdy, solid-steel X-frame, welded to several I-beams embedded into the concrete floor of the Hole. The metal device was inclined to a 45-degree angle from the floor, with the head of the table in the upper position. Once Caleb was strapped spread-eagle into the device, his back was to the north, and his face was to the south.

Behind the X-frame, in the north position, was a small table; on it were a magic book, a dish of sea salt, an athame, three blue candles in silver stands, one lit and two unlit, plus a softball-sized spherical crystal with multiple facets of many colors. Behind this table stood Althenea, Giles, and Vamp Willow.

Once Caleb was in place, Althenea nodded to one of the soldiers, who administered a hypodermic into the warlock's arm. The injection contained a cocktail that would awaken Caleb but leave him fuzzy-headed enough to be unable to cast any spells. After the injection, the soldiers retreated to the perimeter of the Hole on the east and west sides. Dr. Walsh along with a team of scientists and a squad of soldiers watched from above. Several video cameras were stationed around the upper rim, already recording. In the south, directly in Caleb's line of sight, stood the Three--Tara in the center with Willow and Buffy on each side of her. Behind them but against the wall were Joyce, Xander, Faith, and Riley; nearby, in another grouping, were Anya and Halfrek, both inappropriately giddy with anticipation.

As Caleb slowly came to consciousness, Althenea, Giles, and Vamp Willow began the Ritual of Sundering. While Althenea chanted in a low voice, Vamp Willow poured a clockwise line of sea salt in a large circle around the X-frame. Following her, Giles used the athame to imbue the circle with power. When the circle was solid and glowing, with only Caleb inside it, Giles and Vamp Willow returned to Althenea and traded their current items for the unlit blue candlesticks. Joining Althenea in her chant, they lit their blue candles from hers and then moved to their positions at the southeast and southwest.

Caleb shook his head and groggily took in the scene before him. "What the hell...?"

Althenea cupped her hands over the flame of her candle. "By Hectate's right hand," she invoked.

"So mote it be," Giles and Vamp Willow replied.

"By Samhain's right leg," Althenea recited.

"So mote it be," Giles and Vamp Willow replied once again.

"By the left limb of Azreal..."

"...so mote it be."

"By the left hand of Nuntet..."

"...so mote it be."

Caleb tried to rise from the table but realized he was bound. He struggled in vain against the straps holding him down. "What the fucking hell?!" he growled.

Althenea pulled her hands from the flame and held them palm up as the three casters spoke in unison, their voices growing louder. "East, west, south, and north...we summon earth, fire, wind, and sea... elementals thy power to summon forth...in dreaded judgment, mote it be!"

It was then that Caleb's eyes met those of the Three. "You!" he spat in fury before aiming his glare directly at Tara.

The blonde witch trembled but stood her ground, strengthened by the presence of her lovers beside her.

Althenea took the round crystal in her hands. "In the name of the four corners, and in the name of the center, we invoke the three words that shall sunder flesh from fire, blood from sea, breath from the spirit of the winds, and bones from the mother who is earth!"

"What are you doing?" Caleb asked as he glanced nervously around him. Then he let his fear return to rage. "What the fuck do you think you're doing?!! You think you can hold me? You think you can hurt me? You can't touch me!!!"

A damp wind began to swirl through the Hole, and the ground began to shake. The air became charged, and the inhabitants could feel the hair on their bodies stand on end.

"Here it comes," Halfrek whispered. Anya gleefully clapped her hands together.

Vamp Willow raised her candle and spoke the first word, "Duroc!"

Giles raised his candle and called out the second, "Melankurion!"

Althenea raised the crystal over her head and commanded the last, "Abatha!"

When Althenea spoke the final word, there was an ear-shattering crack of thunder as a streak of lightning came from nowhere and struck the crystal in her hands. A ragged beam of energy surged from the crystal and into the metal X-frame. When the magic hit Caleb, he screamed in agony. Despite the restraints, his body bucked violently upon the table as if it were being electrocuted.

A full minute went by, then two, then three, and still the power poured in, and still Caleb's  screams continued. Tara was weeping openly, but Buffy and Willow did their best to soothe and support her. They held strong arms behind her back and kept a firm grip on her arms, all while crooning words of comfort to her.

Suddenly, Caleb went rigid, his body frozen in place, his jaws locked open, his screams reduced to hoarse, whimpering groans. From his open mouth came a stream of mottled light. Tiny glowing motes, like stars the size of sand grains, swirled amid the flow. The lights gravitated toward one another, forming a maelstrom of energy that hovered above Caleb. When the last of the light left him, the ball of roiling magic blasted off like a rocket and disappeared into the nothingness from which the spell's lightning had come. Caleb's body collapsed against the table. He let out a single gasp and then went still.

For a moment, everyone held their breath and stared, waiting to see if Caleb moved. When he didn't, Tara turned and fell sobbing into her lovers' arms. Willow and Buffy hugged her tightly and stroked her hair.

After completing the steps necessary to end the ritual, Althenea, Giles, and Vamp Willow crossed the circle of salt to examine Caleb's body. Vamp Willow stood at the ready as Althenea laid her hand over Caleb's forehead and Giles felt for a pulse at the warlock's wrist. All three casters, as well as everyone else, jumped in shock when Caleb abruptly drew in a gasp of breath.

Althenea and Giles leapt back, and soldiers drew their weapons. Willow and Buffy instantly pushed Tara behind them, backing her toward the wall, where Joyce joined them. As Faith, Xander, and Riley took up position in front of the Three, Vamp Willow cast a binding spell, encasing Caleb's body in a shimmering green light. Anya and Halfrek merely ogled the scene in amazement, wondering what would happen next.

"You...bitches..." Caleb cursed, but in a voice slightly slurred by his ordeal. "What did you... what did you do to me...?"

"It's okay, it's okay," Althenea blurted out to everyone, holding her hands out in a reassuring gesture. "The spell worked. He doesn't have any magic. He's just an ordinary mortal man now."

"Are you sure?!" Faith demanded. "You better be fuckin' sure," she added in warning.

"I'm sure," Althenea said. She turned to the Three and repeated with emphasis, "I'm sure. You're safe."

The Three didn't look reassured, particularly when Caleb continued to rail at them. After a moment, Buffy looked over at Willow and said, "Come on. Let's get Tara out of here."

Willow nodded and gestured Buffy toward the ladder that led from the Hole to the upper level. Then she paused and glanced back at the ranting former warlock. Her mouth curled into a disgusted scowl, and she shook her head. "God, I wish this was over," she muttered under her breath. "Like, really over." She let out a heavy sigh and followed her girlfriends up the ladder.

Having overheard Willow's comment, Anya turned to Halfrek and raised an eyebrow expectantly.

Halfrek made a conspiratorial lean-in and for a mere moment transformed into her demonic visage. "Granted," she said, smiling wickedly.

Once Halfrek had returned to her human face, the two friends grasped hands and giggled.

***

Later that night, at the Summers home, Joyce quietly left the girls' bedroom and moved across the hall to her own, where Giles was sitting up, reading in bed.

"How are they?" Giles asked, setting his book and glasses aside on the nightstand.

"They're sleeping now," Joyce replied. "Finally. Thanks to the sedative."

"I'm glad you convinced them to take it."

Joyce nodded and got into bed. "After everything they've been through, they needed it."

Giles took Joyce into his arms and kissed the top of her head. "And what about you?"

"You're my sleeping pill," Joyce replied, snuggling closer. When she realized what she'd said, she pulled back and looked Giles in the eyes. "That didn't come out right."

Giles chuckled. "It's all right. I got it."

He leaned down and kissed Joyce warmly before reaching over to turn out the light. Once he had settled back into their embrace, it didn't take long for both of them to fall asleep.

***

Meanwhile, at Giles's apartment, Faith and Vamp Willow lay in bed, wide awake. Both stared at the ceiling, lost in their own thoughts. Eventually, Vamp Willow broke the silence with a heavy sigh.

"Well, now that Caleb's been taken care of," she said, "I guess we'll be heading back to our dimension." Unlike her former visit to Sunnydale, she didn't look particularly happy about returning to her own world.

"Yeah," Faith agreed, looking no happier. After a pause, she turned to the redhead. "Did you ever give Willow a copy of the ritual that got us here?"

Vamp Willow nodded. "Yeah. In fact, she's still got my copy and the crystal. I'll have to get 'em both back before we can quantum-leap outta here."

"Maybe she can come up with something--some way for us to communicate between dimensions."

"Where there's a Will, there's a way," Vamp Willow quipped, snorting at her own joke. "Get it? Will...Willow...ha! Good one."

Faith gave her girlfriend a funny look. "I swear, you can be so goofy sometimes."

Vamp Willow's smile scrunched into a glare as she sat up and punched Faith's arm. "Take that back!"

"Ow!" Faith said, grabbing her arm where she'd been punched.

"I am not goofy! Take it back."

"No."

"Take it back!"

"No!"

"Take. It. Back."

"Or else what?" Faith offered in challenge.

With inhuman speed, Vamp Willow suddenly ripped the covers off Faith, straddled the slayer's body, and pinned her wrists above her head; then she brought her mouth down on hers in series of crushing kisses.

When Vamp Willow pulled away, Faith had to stop and catch her breath. Then she laughed and said sexily, "Heh, heh...I like 'or else'."

Vamp Willow grinned and began kissing her once again.

***

Later that night, at the Initiative, Caleb paced furiously in his cell, cursing and screaming at the video camera above the force-field door. In the security room, a bored soldier was pressing his finger against the audio button below the monitor that showed Caleb's cell. He could hear the former warlock's ranting blaring out of the speakers on the console.

"What's he saying now?" asked another soldier sitting nearby.

"Same ole shit," the first soldier answered, removing his finger from the audio button, silencing the rant coming from the speakers.

"I liked him better when he was in the coma," the second grumbled.

"They're gonna put him back in it tomorrow, but till then, we're stuck with him. And the rest of this monster zoo," he said, gesturing at the banks of monitors showing cell after cell of demons and other hostiles.

The second soldier sighed. Then he brightened and said, "Hey, let's ditch this place for a bit, take a break."

"We can't both leave the security room at the same time, you know that."

"Not even for this?" He held up an open cigarette case that contained two joints and a lighter.

The first solider glanced nervously around the room then back at the cigarette case. "Okay, but let's make it fast. The colonel catches us, we're toast."

The two soldiers slipped out of the security room and headed for the east stairwell, totally missing on the monitor the flash of a visitor appearing in Caleb's cell.

***

Caleb jumped when Halfrek suddenly materialized in his cell.

"Who the hell are you?" he demanded.

"I'm Hallie," she replied. "I've come to get you out of here."

"Hot damn!" he said excitedly. "Come on, let's go."

She held up her hand to stop his progress towards her. "First, there's someone I'd like you to meet. From the Parflek dimension."

As Caleb regarded her with a puzzled look, Halfrek transformed into her demon face; then she closed her eyes and spoke a short incantation in a language he didn't recognize. Soon the room began to swirl with energy. Within moments, a portal opened in the far corner, and a horrifying creature came through.

The Parflek demon was large and worm-like; its skin was leathery and dry and ringed with overlapping layers of fat. The creature didn't have arms; instead, it had dozens of long tendrils protruding from both sides. It also didn't have legs; its method of movement was a hovering platform on which its obese body reclined.

What was most terrifying, however, was the creature's chest, which lay between the vertical rows of quivering tendrils. Within this expanse of fat and skin, literally melded into the creature's flesh, was the sunken body of a live human being. Multiple tendrils snaked into the trapped man's body. One of these went straight into his forehead. His face was creased into a grimace of agony, but no sound escaped his lips.

At the sight of the creature, Caleb made a choking sound and backed himself against the wall. The Parflek demon paid him no mind. As the portal remained open behind it, the demon moved forward on its platform straight toward Halfrek, barking at her in the language she had used earlier.

Halfrek smiled and answered him in English. "Don't be alarmed. I've brought you here to give you a gift." Then she gestured at Caleb.

As the creature turned its gaze toward him, Caleb frantically shook his head. "No...no... no!" he screamed as he scrambled into the corner. There was no escape as the creature bore down on him.

"Mmmm..." the Parflek demon said, examining his 'gift' with piqued interest. "What will this one cost me?" it asked in English. "What must I give you in return?"

"Nothing more than his slow and painful death," she replied.

As Caleb stood frozen in place, he was suddenly seized by several of the creature's long tendrils. As the demon immobilized him and brought him closer, Caleb began to scream in terror. His screams instantly ceased when the creature sank a special tendril right into the middle of his forehead. The former warlock's face was still twisted into a wide-eyed, open-mouthed scream, but no sound came forth.

"Mmmm..." the demon said, a smile quirking at the wide slit it called a mouth. "This one will feed me long...for a decade of your decades perhaps..."

The creature groaned in pleasure, savoring the taste of Caleb’s mind. Then it sloughed off the husk of the human it had been feeding on and drew Caleb into his place. The released victim let out one sickening gasp and then died, disintegrating into dust. As Caleb was drawn in, tendrils snaked into all parts of his body. In a matter of minutes, Caleb was fully absorbed into the demon's body, the frozen look of horror still on his face.

Halfrek and the Parflek demon exchanged mutual thanks in the creature's language. Then the demon passed back into the portal. At a final command from Halfrek, the portal itself disappeared.

Halfrek put her hands on her hips and let out a very self-satisfied sigh. "I just love it when justice prevails." She turned to the security camera and waved, then gave a quick giggle, twirled her hands, and vanished in a flash.

***

The next morning at the Summers home, while Tara was still sleeping, Joyce, Giles, Buffy, and Willow were having breakfast in the dining room. Although all had slept well, there was still a heaviness in the room courtesy of the Caleb situation. As a result, the small talk over breakfast was small indeed. The somber semi-silence was ended when the doorbell rang.

Buffy shot a puzzled look at the others and then rose to answer the door. When she opened it, she was surprised to find Riley outside, backpack in hand.

"Riley, hey...come on in," she said, waving him inside. Suddenly, her voice took on a fearful tone. "What is it? Is something up with Caleb? Did he--?"

As the others came in from the dining room, Riley held up his hands to stop the impending deluge of worry. "He didn't escape or anything like that," he explained. "He can't hurt anybody. Everybody's still totally safe."

"Then...what is it?" Buffy asked. "I can tell something's up."

Riley glanced around the living room and into the dining room. "Is Tara around?"

"She's still sleeping," Joyce answered.

"Good," Riley said. "I've got something to show you, and it'd probably be better if she didn't see it."

As he walked to the dining room table, he pulled a laptop from his backpack. After shifting a few breakfast dishes aside, he placed the laptop on the table, opened it, and booted it up. Within seconds he had a video program loaded showing security footage from the Initiative's containment area.

"I-I-Is that Caleb's cell?" Giles asked.

Willow groaned when footage from Caleb's cell was brought up on the screen. "Really not looking for a rerun of Caleb's ranting, Ri."

"Trust me, you gotta see this," Riley said grimly before pressing the play button.

Over the next several minutes, the group watched in disbelief and horror as Halfrek dispensed her own sense of justice against Caleb.

When Halfrek's recorded image gave the camera a wave, Riley reached over and pressed the pause button. For the longest time, no one spoke.

Buffy put her hand over her stomach and said, "I think my French toast is starting a revolution in my stomach."

"I know we wanted Caleb punished," Joyce commented, "but this..."

"It's one thing to cry for the death penalty," Giles interjected. "It's quite another to actually witness the execution."

Willow shook her head and walked away. "I am not gonna let this bother me." She turned around and pointed at Riley's laptop. "As horrible as that was, he deserved it." Her tone, though firm, was tinged with discomfort and lacked much of her earlier conviction. She took a deep breath and let it out. "What matters to me is that Caleb's gone...that he can't hurt Tara, or any of us, or anyone, ever again."

"Caleb's gone?"

At the sound of Tara's voice, everyone jumped and whipped around. Buffy instantly moved to stand in front of the laptop to block Tara's view of it. As she and Willow eased forward to join their girlfriend, Riley surreptitiously eased the computer shut.

When they reached Tara, they took the blonde's hands in theirs. "I'm sorry, Tara," Buffy said, "but...Caleb didn't make it."

When Tara's gaze dropped to the floor, Buffy shot a look at Willow. "That is all we are telling her," she emphasized telepathically. Willow nodded in agreement.

"Oh. I..." was all Tara managed to say. When she lifted her head, tears were trickling down her face.

Willow reached out and cupped Tara's cheek. "It's okay, baby, it's okay," she crooned. "We knew this might happen."

"I know, I know, but..." Tara let out stuttered breath. "It's hard." Willow and Buffy squeezed her hands and rubbed her back. In a moment Tara spoke again, this time in a stronger, more relieved voice. "At least I don't have to be scared of him anymore. After last night, all I could think about was him getting out, coming after us again."

"That's never going to happen now," Buffy told her.

"We're safe," Willow added.

Then the Three pulled into long, warm hug.

***

Meanwhile, across town in Giles's apartment, a fully dressed Faith was sitting on the edge of the bed, quietly putting on her boots.

A fully naked Vamp Willow remained sprawled in the bed. ""What're you doin'?" she murmured, her words slurred by sleep.

"Getting dressed," Faith answered over her shoulder.

"But whyyyyy?" Vamp Willow said with a pout.

Faith turned around and lay across the bed. Although there was a grin on her lips, her eyes were serious. "Got something I need to do before we leave tonight. I won't be long."

Without allowing time for a reply, Faith gave the redhead a kiss and then hurried away. Vamp Willow leaned up on her elbow and frowned as she watched Faith leave the room.

***

A short time later, Faith was in her counterpart's room on the basement floor of the hospital. She stood in silence and looked down at the pale, comatose form of this world's version of Faith Lehane.

"Hey," she finally said. "I know you don't know me, but..." She trailed off and shook her head. "That's kind of a stupid line. I mean, you are me. Sort of. Only not." She put her hand to her forehead and massaged it. "God, this makes my head hurt."

She ran both hands through her hair and took a minute to compose herself. Then she raised her head and looked at the bedridden slayer once again.

"Look...I don't know if you can hear me or if you'll ever wake up or if I even know anything about you...but I know you screwed up real bad. Don't think there's a real question about that."

Faith paused and took in a deep breath, then slowly let it out.

"I just...I just wanted to say that...if you do wake up--and you can, you know, I mean, you're a slayer, can't nothing keep a slayer down." She started again, gently but earnestly, "When you wake up, things don't have to be like they were...you can change...you can--"

Faith stopped and sighed once more. "Anyway, that's all I had to say."

She backed away from the bed toward the door and put on a small smile. "I'd say 'see ya', but that ain't likely to happen, not after tonight. So...I guess 'bye' will have to do it."

At that, Faith turned around and left.

***

That evening, the extended Scoobies clan gathered in the Summers living room to make their final good-byes to Faith and Vamp Willow, who were returning to the Wishverse. After heartfelt hugs and handshakes all around, the rest of the Scoobies stepped away and allowed the Three some alone time with the two alternate dimensional travelers.

Buffy paired off with her fellow slayer. "Thanks again," she told her. "For everything. For risking your life to come here, for handling patrol, for being with us, for..." She stopped and let out a breath. "For keeping me from making a really big mistake. If you hadn't been there with me in Caleb's cell..."

"Hey, no prob," Faith replied. "That's what friends do, right?"

Buffy smiled widely. "Yeah. That's what friends do."

Nearby, Willow and Tara were making similar expressions of gratitude to Vamp Willow. After that, Tara focused her inner eye on the Vamp Willow as she had done back in the Wishverse.

When the redhead noticed the look Tara was giving her, she became concerned. "What? Did something change in my aura?"

Tara ended her mystical exam and answered the vampire. "Yes, it did."

Willow squinted at her doppelganger and pouted. "I wish I could see auras."

"What is it?" Vamp Willow asked worriedly. "What did you see?"

"Your layer of light is bigger," Tara explained.

"Really? Does that mean my soul has grown?"

Tara nodded and smiled. "I think so."

Vamp Willow lit up into a wide grin. "I've been promoted from soul seed to soul seedling, I guess."

"Nurture it, Willow," Tara advised. "It'll probably grow more."

"That means 'continue trying not to kill people'," Willow said to her vampire twin.

Vamp Willow just rolled her eyes in response.

A short time later, Faith and Vamp Willow reluctantly announced that it was time to do the ritual. Buffy brought over the protective gear that Vamp Willow had been wearing upon arrival, which Faith had retrieved from the hospital early on in their visit. Willow returned to Vamp Willow the spell papers and the crystal that she had used to bring herself and Faith from the Wishverse. Once the vampire had tucked the papers into her back jeans pocket, Willow handed her another set, along with a small silver compact.

Vamp Willow opened the small mirrored compact. It still contained the pressed makeup but was missing its powder puff. She raised an eyebrow at her counterpart. "What's this? Is my makeup fading?"

Willow shook her head. "Just an idea I have about establishing communications between dimensions." She pointed to the new papers. "Read 'em, see what you think, and give it a try." Then she held up a compact identical to Vamp Willow's. "I've already got my end of the magic mirror set up."

Vamp Willow let a wicked smirk spread across her face. "Coooool."

It took a few minutes to get Vamp Willow re-outfitted in her fireman's suit, ski mask, gloves, and scarf, and motorcycle helmet.

"It shouldn't even matter going back," Vamp Willow grumbled as she situated the crystal in her thickly-gloved hand.

"Better safe than sorry," Faith lectured.

"Yeah, yeah..."

"Okay, you guys," Faith told the Scoobies. "You better step back 'cause we're heading back to Kansas!"

Once Faith had wrapped her arms around her, Vamp Willow spoke the incantation that would take them home. A wind kicked up in the living room, and a swirl of energy began to surround them. In a flash, they were gone.

As the gusts of air died down and the room grew silent, the Scoobies exchanged sad glances.

***

Back in the Wishverse, Faith and Vamp Willow burst from the ether and into the living room of the Mansion, which was the site of the original spell. They tumbled to the floor and slid through the chalk lines of the spell's circles before coming to a stop in front of the fireplace.

"Bloody hell!" Ethan cursed as the two got to their feet. "Did the spell even work?!"

"How long were we gone?" Faith asked, helping Vamp Willow remove her protective gear.

"About ten seconds," Giles answered.

"Ha!" Vamp Willow crowed. "We kick ass!"

"You were gone longer that that, I presume," Giles commented.

"Oh yeaaaah," Faith replied. "You better put on some coffee, folks, 'cause this one's a doozy."

***

Several Weeks Later

It was early evening in the "real" Sunnydale, barely past sunset, and the Three were getting ready for bed at the Summers home.

Late that afternoon, Tara had come back from her final follow-up visit to the doctor with a clean bill of health. Although her sessions with Althenea would continue for some time, in the physical aspect of things, Tara had been pronounced fully recovered. When Tara privately informed her girlfriends that she was ready to be intimate with them again, Buffy had immediately rushed to her mother and, with no subtlety whatsoever, had begun hinting that her mother and Giles would enjoy spending the night at his place. Getting the drift, Joyce had happily complied. After packing a few things into an overnight bag, Joyce and Giles had vacated the premises, leaving the Three blessedly alone.

The Three spent some time preparing the room. They put on soft music, lit candles, and lowered the lights. They even cast a privacy spell to be sure they wouldn't be disturbed. As they undressed one another, their hands shook slightly--thankfully more from anticipation than nerves. When they got into bed, Buffy and Willow placed Tara between them and kissed her warmly.

"Are you sure you're ready for this?" Willow asked.

"We can wait longer, you don't have to rush things," Buffy added.

Tara shook her head and then caressed the faces of her lovers. "No more waiting," she told them in a voice husky with desire.

As she repeatedly kissed one then the other, the room became filled with the sounds of their joyous lovemaking. As their bodies became one, so did their minds and souls, and soon the entire Summers home shook with the true Power of the Three--their love.

 

END OF BOOK 2

(And probably the end of the series, although I do have an idea for a Book 3)
 

Endnote: The part that I borrowed from Watchers was the Ritual of Sundering, which was a key feature to the episode "Hell Goddess," written by Zahir al Dauod (with additional writing by Susan Carr and CN Winters). Some parts of the ritual here are straight from "Hell Goddess," but I modified and elaborated on the ritual for the purposes of this story.

 


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