The Kitten, the Witches and the Bad Wardrobe - Willow & Tara Forever

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 Post subject: Re: Changes (next chat-cast Fri 6/10/11 8pm PST)
PostPosted: Tue Jul 23, 2013 11:11 pm 
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I've probably lost my entire readership in the multi-year hiatus of this fic, but I have more and wanted at least some degree of resolution to be posted regarding the Maclay home visit. I've got a few chapters written with more planned, but after those are up the updates are likely to be slow. The good news is that I regularly have projects that span multiple years the DO eventually get completed. There is hope yet!

The reason I am posting this before the actual update is because I am hoping to be able to chat-cast the coming chapter in the same fashion as I have in the past. My plan is to be in the chat room this Friday at 9pm Pacific Standard Time (my apologies if this is inconvenient, but without knowing what times are best for other people, I just do what is convenient for me) to post real time. MST3K treatment is, as usual, highly encouraged. I will be contacting the head snark-osaurus of old and suspect that I can garner participation, but would love to see any other old or new faces that appear. To the best of my knowledge, this process of chat-casting interaction is unique and I'd love to continue it.

Before then, I strongly recommend setting aside a few hours to go back and reread the story thus far. The hiatus has been far too long to do otherwise.

Non-silly preview of Ch 20, Pt III: The shed revealed...

Hope to see y'all there-
Never

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 Post subject: Re: Changes (next chat-cast Fri 7/26/2013 9pm PST)
PostPosted: Sat Jul 27, 2013 12:05 pm 
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Ch 20, Part III

Continued...

Mr. Maclay turned heel suddenly, storming away without a further word. There was a squealing hiss then crash of a sliding door being slammed, and Willow could almost feel that impact. She found she had turned, half interposed in front of Tara, pulse hammering in her ears as the tinge of copper reasserted itself to her senses. Tara's fingers were digging into one arm, though it was Willow's free hand that held the tingle of called magic.

It took deliberate effort to gather that energy back into herself and it was with no small shame that she felt Tara's grip on her ease as she did. This was her girlfriend's father. No vampire, no snake-monster, no creature of dark legend... but when her instinct had cried danger, it hadn't mattered. The logical part of her brain reminded her that the time it would have taken for Mr. Maclay to cross the space wouldn't have allowed enough time to cast anyway and even if she were at her best all she could've done was shove the coffee table over into his shins. It might have given Xander the moment needed to come to their aid, or it might not.

The cause of Mr. Maclay's rage wasn't clear to her. Sure, she'd just all but confirmed that Tara had used her as a food source, but he had to be aware that Tara had fed at least once in the time since her birthday. Given the method, perhaps not the best thing to make obvious to a parent, but... Willow blinked and another connection was made, though it was Xander who put it to words.

“You never told him..?”

Tara's head jerked in the negative and she backed away, dropping heavily into Willow's vacated chair. The redhead's forehead crinkled as she processed the new item of information. It seemed out of character that Tara hadn't come out to her parents, though Willow wasn't sure why. She was a private sort, not really a walking personals ad for Women Seeking Women, and while she didn't go to any effort to hide that aspect of herself, it wasn't something that conversation with her really gravitated toward.

On top of it all, now Willow had something else to apologize for. Between that and the dizziness, she found it natural to sink to her knees in front of Tara, hands covering the blonde's where they were knotted together.

Tara laughed abruptly- a desperate, choking sound that ended as quickly as it started. She pulled her hands free, leaning forward to drop her head into them.

“Of all t-the ways I thought to tell him...”

Willow left one hand on Tara's knee and reached up with the other to touch her hair, letting her fingers fall through the strands. “I didn't think, Tara... I don't know what to say....”

Tara shook her head again and Willow fell silent. Another failure. Another step on the road of good intentions- but dwelling on it was a luxury she didn't have at the moment. There was a goal here, one that may have just gotten harder but couldn't be written off. The deadline wouldn't make allowances for meaning well.

“Tara- has he told you anything yet?” Seeing Tara consider before answering, she clarified, “anything that could help?”

“He told me about my mother... when t-this happened to her.” Tara raised her head enough to meet Willow's eyes, gently catching the hand that ran through her hair. “It's no wonder he hates what we are... he's been hurt so many times...” Her voice trailed off and the despair in her voice turned to concern. “You're bleeding... I didn't feel you cast.”

Willow brought a hand to her face and the fingers came away bloody. So much for the efficacy of nasal packing- she should write a letter to the company that made the stuff. She tried a reassuring smile but wasn't sure it would work until she could properly clean her face. “They said I needed to keep quiet so my blood pressure wouldn't go up... every time it does,” she wiggled her red-stained fingers to illustrate the result before her expression faltered and she dropped her eyes.

“They let you go… like this?”

“Ah… not exactly. It wasn’t really their idea.”

“You should have stayed at the hospital, Will.”

“But I feel fine- which is pretty awesome spell work, by the way, and I very much want to hear how you did it- and I couldn't just sit there. Not when I knew you'd...” She hunched her shoulders defensively.

“Gone home?” Tara passed over a box of tissues from the side table.

Willow nodded, though her mind latched onto the detail that Tara hadn't said “come home”. It implied a bit less of a permanent situation, or so she chose to think. “I just want to help... and I keep putting my foot in it.”

Tara didn't response verbally, but reached out to comb an errant piece of hair out of Willow's face before it could get mussed by the slow, steady stream of scarlet spreading through a the wad of tissue held there. Her hand hesitated and her look became more distant, drifting toward where her father had exited.

“I've hurt him so much already...”

Indignant protectiveness flared. “What he feels about who you are isn't your responsibility. It's his.”

“Will- what he went through for my mother-”

“-isn't your fault.” Willow tried to impress this on her girlfriend by the fervency she infused into the words, but saw the blonde's face fall into the closed placidity that indicated she would listen but nothing she heard would change what she believed. It would be like chucking stones at a lake- they'd either skip over the surface or sink in, but the water would remain unchanged beneath the ripples. “A-and if he's going to throw a fit because you aren't swooning over men, well, fooey on him. The only problem is the one he's making himself.”

“He's my father.” Tara said it as if it explained everything, her voice somewhere between helpless and numb.

Willow had long since discovered they had very different views on family- even before hearing any of the specifics of Tara's own. Perhaps it was because her own family was so discohessive that she found it hard to accept the answer. She hardly knew whether she'd find her parents home on a given weekend when she dropped by the house and all that they asked of her was that she be the best that she could be... though this admittedly tended to include references to software moguls, Nobel prize winners, prominent political figures, and CEOs of giant corporations.

“He... didn't choose this, Will. None of it. Not what my mother was, not me.”

“I think he had a little bit to do with the second part of that-”

“He thought I was a boy, or they'd never have had me.”

“He told you that?!”

“Is it so surprising?” Tara countered softly. “What parent would choose... this... for their child?”

Willow fumed, but couldn't find an answer. Another warm trickle had her reaching for a tissue again and she hated that Tara's eyes immediately turned to concern. She wasn't the focus here- she couldn't be the focus. That's not why she'd come. She'd intended to be a source of strength, not to be another problem, another cause for worry.

“So... what do we do?” It felt like another inadequacy that she didn't have a plan of her own, but this wasn't her decision to make.

Tara sat silent for a moment, focused on some spot on the floor somewhere behind Willow. “I'm not sure.”

“What about that shed- did you get to look in there?” It had come up some time in the haze since all this started that Tara's mother had been taken out to a shed, the subject of which neither Tara nor her brother had ever dared to breach, let alone seen the contents of.

With a little cringe Tara shook her head.

“We could start there, maybe?”

Tara ducked her head, the move to retreat being largely unsuccessful given Willow's vantage point from below. At loss for what else to do, she waited, watching the subtle flavors of distress flow across Tara's features.

“I... I'll a-a-” Tara took a breath and began again. “I'll ask him. To show us.”

It sounded too much like a concession to suit Willow, but if her presence was going to be the driving force behind Tara finding her answers, so be it. At least it was “us” now.

“Good. Great.” She nodded emphatically, just to be sure her position was clear. “Xander and I will be right there with you. If you want, I mean. But if you do? Right there.”

Tara looked up, brow furrowing. “Um... where is Xander?”

Willow scanned the room herself, heart sinking. The last thing she'd noticed Xander doing was sitting with remarkable lack of concern when Mr. Maclay had come to his feet- he was uncanny when it came to figuring out whether people were going to get physically violent or not, almost to the same degree as his blindness to the flaws in his choices of girlfriends. She could predict what he'd decided to do, though, and swallowed nervously.

“I think he went to talk to your dad.”

With a feeling of sick certainty Willow pushed herself up as Tara stood. She followed her girlfriend's anxious stride to the back yard, taking in the shadows of trees and sloping hillsides beyond but seeing little more in the dark that had fallen. Tara paused, a sharp intake of breath causing Willow to trace her line of sight. There was a barely visible glimmer of light part way up the hillside, like a candle illuminating a small window.

Tara had sped up to a trot, which was likely the fastest motion that the skirt she was wearing would allow. Willow was close behind and almost collided with her when her girlfriend came to an abrupt stop.

“He w-went to the shed.” Tara seemed rooted in place. “I can't...”

“We have to. Whatever he's hiding, it's in there.” Willow took Tara's hand in her own, trying to make her own determination to see this through flow through the connection. Turning back toward their goal, though, she found herself hesitating.

In silence they waited at the edge of the slope, the light from the shed more plain now that they were nearer. A crunch to their left made Willow's heart leap into her throat, but it turned into the familiar sound of Xander's footfalls.

“I couldn't get any closer either.” He nodded toward the shed, “I don't know why... it's like I think I want to, but suddenly I don't. I circled around to the side, but it gets too steep.”

“Magic.”

“That’d be my guess.”

“A dissuasion ward.” Tara whispered. “All these years and I never thought...”

“How do we get through it?” Willow tried again to make herself step forward, frustration blooming as she felt her will to move fail. “Do you think that a revocation of a vampire uninvite spell would work? That'd just take sage, thread, mineral oil...”

Tara shook her head silently, a ghost of a smile just visible. She turned around and took three steps backward over the threshold.

“You're kidding. It can't be that easy” Willow said flatly, trying to push herself to walk through the space Tara had just traversed. Again she drew up short. Xander shrugged, took the steps backward and looked to her expectantly. It grated sometimes, when such a simple thing could confound what was otherwise an impressive piece of magic. With a mighty pout Willow too turned and did an undignified shuffle backwards until she felt Tara’s hand on her back.

“Once you know it's there... for e-eighteen years, I didn't realize.” Tara's chagrin set Willow into immediate reassurance mode.

“Hard to break a barrier when you don't have any reason to suspect.”

Tara ducked her head and started walking toward the shed, avoiding the consolatory words.

The light grew steadily nearer, showing Willow that it was indeed shining from a high window in the little wood and concrete building. Calling it a shed was something of a misnomer, for it was large enough to be a one car garage or small workshop. Though a layer of dust and cobwebs lay over the window, the construction was neat and sturdy. The door was on the far side from the house, more light streaming from where it hung open.

This time there was no hesitating on the threshold. Squinting with dark-adapted eyes Tara stepped inside, Willow just behind her.

Mr. Maclay sat on the floor, back against the wall and shoulders hunched forward. He made no move to acknowledge their arrival, giving Willow's eyes time to adjust enough to take in her surroundings.

There were two casting circles, one inlaid into the concrete floor itself, the other bounded by a raised ring, and both linked by smooth grooves. The further circle was the more complicated, resembling none that Willow had seen before. The outermost circle was familiar, but it bordered an octogram with four further concentric figures within. The center circle was mostly hidden under what could have been a burgundy pillow from a Papa-san chair. A neat stack of blankets sat to the side beside an antique medicine chest, its tiny drawers labeled in slanted script too small to make out. A mop and a small collection of bottles bearing the labels of various cleaning solutions took up another corner, also scrupulously neat with a small stack of rags folded beside.

The second, closer circle centered on a wide, shallow basin that sat under a bar hung by chain to a pulley system on the ceiling. A wide manacle hung on each end of the bar, which now waved slowly in a breeze that had followed them in. This circle, too, was a conglomerate of the foreign and familiar. What little she knew off-hand was very much not of the light-and-fluffy side of magic- not that anything under a set of manacles was likely to be. She’d hoped that one of these days she’d be happily surprised, but had an inkling this was not to be that day.

Given all the clearly magical implements, the ambiance of the shed seemed appropriate to flickering candles but above it all were rectangular shop-lights that illuminated the space to noon-time brilliance. The were candles arrayed about, as well as what might be a set of braziers stacked in the corner, but none were alit.

A glance at Tara only added to Willow’s misgivings. Her girlfriend was running her eyes across the glyphs on the floor in sequence, face carefully free of expression. The rapid motion of her slightly widened eyes was in stark contrast to the utter lack of other movement, more telling than any specific pose could have been.

“I kept this all for you. Stayed here, so it’d be here when you needed it.” Mr. Maclay glared sideways at where the three still stood in the doorway, not turning his head toward them. He made a harsh sound in his throat. “Those gods your mother prayed to? They have a damn sick sense of humor.”

“What is all of this?” It was supposed to be Tara who took the lead, but in the face of her paralysis, Willow found it difficult to stand silent. Her girlfriend’s tormentor sat in a spiteful heap against the wall with the answer to their predicament arrayed before them… if only he saw fit to translate it for them. Perhaps he would eventually, but it seemed like he intended to make it as miserable an experience as possible for his daughter.

“This? You’re a witch too, right?” Mr. Maclay gave her a calculating stare. “Can’t you feel it?”

“It’s a ley line nexus.” Tara murmured, preempting Willow’s spike of defensiveness. She couldn’t feel it- she never could feel magic until it reached out and took her by the hand or she’d actually cast something that connected her to it. So she listened intently as her girlfriend absently filled her in, trying as she did so to open herself to the forces around her in the manner Tara had tried to teach her.

“There’s a ley line through the brush… Mama and I used to tap into the part of it on the other side.”

“Your mother called it a wellspring point- the other line converges with it there.” Mr. Maclay nodded at the main casting circle.

“I thought those were incredibly rare.” Willow tried to remember the things she’d learned about ley lines. They hadn’t been especially interesting, since Sunnydale was noticeably barren of them. Something about the Hellmouth skewed aside the course of the closest ones, the nearest of which was a trickle that ran through the petroglyph site in the hills north of town. Nexus points were frequently coincident with areas considered spiritual by most traditions known, from the Kiyomizu waterfall to Stonehenge, Cape Reinga to Axum Stelae. Wellsprings were things she’d only read of once or twice, generally with notation that they were not confirmed as actually existing.

“Rare enough to be a bitch to find- the next closest one is in Anaheim.” Mr. Maclay’s bitterness was unabated, “And that one’s about as well known as they get.”

“Wouldn’t it be hilarious if it were in the middle of Disneyland…” Xander was grinning widely.

“Actually, um…” Tara glanced over at him, “It is.”

“You’re kidding.” Xander’s grin widened further.

“It’s true.”

“The Magic Kingdom is really magic?” Willow gaped as Tara nodded.

“That’s why we bought this house in the ass-end of nowhere. There was no place else that would work.”

Willow made the connection and reread the runes she knew. “You found a way to convert it… collect the energy and use it somehow.”

“That’s part of it.” Mr. Maclay stood slowly. “In India we found out how to convert it- make it safe for the both of us, make it transferable like the, uh, normal kind.”

The stumble in his otherwise caustic speech pattern was almost humorous in its prudish avoidance.

“How?” Willow took another step toward the main circle. She was glad to have had the foresight to bring her parents’ camera. There was too much to remember and her drawing skills were not up to the kind of intricacy she was looking at. She had a brief giddy moment imagining giving Giles something so clearly a conglomerate of multiple traditions. He’d no doubt be fascinated… and she’d get to time him as he figured out what it was all for and start polishing his glasses.

Xander’s voice drew her back to the present. “Dude! She didn’t mean demonstrate!”

The words kept Willow from turning back for a split second, but the offended sound from Tara’s father permitted the arrested motion to complete.

She blinked, digital camera in hand, as she processed what she saw. Mr. Maclay had pulled off his shirt, which he had wadded up in one clenched hand. He was partially turned, glaring at Xander with affronted intensity. The exposed portion of his back was covered by a tattoo fully as intricate as the designs on the floor and the lighting made evident that there were a network of thin scars beneath it. The scarring, too, appeared to have some method to it, though the slight shading didn’t allow enough detail to discern it fully. The borders were within the confines of a regular T-shirt, though not ending in abrupt lines like the Japanese variety. The pattern continued down to the belt and thankfully Mr. Maclay seemed to have no intent to reveal the rest.

“Even if I did, it wouldn’t help her, now, would it.” He threw his shirt down to the side of the room with more vehemence than was necessary. He walked past Willow, taking none of her care to avoid crossing the circles. When he entered the one she stood on the periphery of, Willow was close enough to see a flicker run through the dull lines on his back- the pattern beneath the clearer tattoo highlighting and dimming as he crossed out the other side.

“If she can…” Willow blushed, but reminded herself of the wisdom Xander had imparted on her a year or two before- if you are doing it, you should be able to say it. “If we can…” So much for wisdom. The words were stolidly refusing to leave her brain without being evasive. She settled on an indignant “Why not?! Yeah, maybe we have to deal with the ‘accessories sold seperately’ part of the deal, but-“

Mr. Maclay gave her a curdled look that Willow suspected was similar to the one she herself gave Anya on a regular basis. He pulled out a spiral bound sketch pad from beside the medicine chest and held it out to her.

Habit made Willow skirt the casting circle, but she reached out with both foreboding and eagerness. It couldn’t be this easy- not with the almost smug look she was being given. It raised a hot defiance in her and reinforced acutely how much she really did not like this man. She flipped open the book to its first page. The edges of the pages were worn but the pencil sketches were clear. Willow’s brow crinkled and she looked up incredulously.

“Positions?”

A fierce flush rose to Mr. Maclay’s face and he looked ready to snatch the book away. “It’s for purnabhiseka.”

“So that’s what the kids are calling it these days.” Xander added facetiously, earning him a glare.

“These symbols- the circle here- it’s using sri cakra as a base… Tantric magic.” Tara finally found her voice and Willow felt the warmth of her girlfriend’s presence just behind her.

“Fitting.” Xander mumbled.

“Tantric Hinduism is a religion, boy. The left handed path just didn’t get cleaned up for the modern western world.” Mr. Maclay sounded equally offended and self-righteous. “Here people think it’s all about the sex- but that’s just because not ignoring or castigating the act seems so outlandish that the focus ends up there.”

Tara nodded, but did not interrupt as her father continued, “Some time or other folks decided it wasn’t civilized to cut up a boy and hurry home to bury a chunk of him in your field- to make your crops grow, y’see. That didn’t really go over well in the cities. So they tucked away the blood, hid away the ‘holy’ fornication, and conveniently decided to forget what they’d been doing during kanculi sessions.”

“Get outside the cities and memory isn’t so selective.” Mr. Maclay’s focus turned to his daughter for a moment before skittering away as if his eyes could not bear to rest on her. “Most of what they taught us came from existing ceremonies- community events, believe it or not.”

“They called her a daughter of Radha… the woman so beautiful even Krishna couldn’t resist her… which is an odd thing to say, since in the stories it seems like he laid every woman he met, usually at the same time. Radha was married, though, so he couldn’t add her to his harem. That’s where the story they gave us runs awry of what you pick up at the local library.”

“He might not have been able to keep her, but they did violate her marriage once. There was a child of that union- the first daughter. That daughter carried the blood of the god and when she came of age was as irresistible as her mother before her… but no mortal man could survive her touch. Still, many sacrificed themselves willingly and she had a bunch children- all daughters. So on and so forth.”

“Only when in the midst of Bhairava Tantra were the lines separating divinity blurred- only then did the partners of Radha’s daughters survive the night. The yogi showed us that was true. But that is in the midst of a goddamn orgy and it was going to be a problem to get Green Cards for the whole crew.”

“Your mother figured out the part that the religion was obscuring- that it was in feeding off the energy made by the rapture of the masses that the individual survived. We just had to find a different way to gather energy.”

“The ley line nexus with the wellspring.” Willow murmured, eyes still stuck on the pictures in her hands. She squinted at the current page and started to turn it over.

“It’s right side up.” Mr. Maclay snapped, startling her. “The ley line feeds the ritual, but it’s not human- it’s not what they need. You have to be the conduit. And to do that-“ he nodded to the notebook, “you have to convert it.”

Willow started to have a sinking feeling as she went on to the next page. More naughty pictures, more little notes in the margins.

“The tattoo connects the circle to you… the ritual and the words activate the circle… and the… ah… ‘sacramental acts’ it mentions here are what connected the two of you.” There was a certain appropriateness to the wording. Calling this sex seemed akin to calling Communion a light snack. Just because both seemed conceptually odd didn’t mean that either one should be passed off so lightly.

“The magic will burn through you and leave nothing behind without the spells they inked on me, cut into me.” Resentment sounded again, but the look was a challenge. Willow had a full body shiver as she imagined the number of needle pokes that would involve.

“So what’s this for?” Xander pointed to the second circle.

The rune work there was more clearly western in origin. A glance at Tara showed her to be in some sort of internal fugue, eyes flying over something only her mind could see. Willow looked to the second circle again, lining up the information she’d received so far.

“It wasn’t enough, was it. The ambient magic…” She debated for a moment whether Tara needed to hear this and decided it was better that she know. “You were doing blood sacrifices.”

“Pigs mostly. They were bacon in the making- going to feed people anyway.”

Be that as it may, there was a big neon “Bad” sign in her mind pointing right at that notion. Blood sacrifices didn’t usually mean humane, tidy, or painless. She didn’t mention it for fear of being asked why she knew this. She doubted Mr. Maclay would accept that she’d helped break up more than one such ritual during Scooby-age and read about a dozen more variations of each she’d seen.

“I did it all for her. And still… still there were times when it got out of hand. When the flows dropped in the ley energy there was only so much we could do. And then she got sick…” Mr. Maclay’s voice dropped into a dull monotone.

And you let her starve instead of letting her go.

The thought was there unbidden. Willow had already faced the idea to some degree when she’d considered the possibility that they did not find a solution in time for Tara’s next feeding. Optimism had allowed the hope for continued exclusivity in Tara’s arms, but with the evidence pointing to fatality in the imminent future, the dilemma had been unavoidable. This conundrum had occupied some of the intolerably long hours lying awake in the hospital. She’d come to the depressing conclusion that self-sacrifice to save a life was one thing, but she really was not willing to die to maintain the desirable but ultimately optional social construct of monogamy. She’d been quite disgusted in herself with that realization and spent a handful of hours analyzing why that sense of disgust had risen. Logic said one thing, love said another. Love, it seemed, was very possessive.

“Willow… I…” Tara’s eyes were still more focused inward than outward, but she turned them to Willow with a look of quiet desperation. Unsure what she was being asked, Willow returned the expression with an inquisitive tilt of her head. Tara just shook her head quickly and closed in on herself, turning heel and retreating from the shed.

A glance at Mr. Maclay revealed that he was still lost in some of his own personal conflict. Xander was looking to her for direction, brows raised and pointing out the way Tara had gone.

“I’ll be back, ‘kay?” It sounded ridiculously like she was asking permission, but Willow couldn’t bring herself to just run out. It would be rude. And wrong.

---
TBC



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 Post subject: Re: Changes
PostPosted: Sat Jul 27, 2013 4:32 pm 
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Yay for excellent update-y goodness... Extra big yay for this being updated... I'm glad that they are learning more about what it takes to have a monogamous relationship without killing Willow...

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 Post subject: Re: Changes
PostPosted: Sun Aug 04, 2013 6:34 am 
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So glad to see an update! Keep 'em comin!

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 Post subject: Re: Changes
PostPosted: Sat Aug 10, 2013 7:09 pm 
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Ch 21

Angst Level: The overall story level is higher than the percent of each healthcare dollar that goes to something other than healthcare. Ch 21 is lighter than the last.
-----

Morning was too bright and far too soon in coming. The night before had been long and too emotionally wrought to allow the immediate research that Willow had been eager to pursue. The problem was indeed immediate and the wealth of not-entirely-encouraging new information needed to be sorted out, but once Tara had fled the shed she knew that there was a limit on how much emotional reserve she had left. The room had seemed to shrink around her, the air becoming too thin and the temperature too stiflingly warm.

She’d been crouched with her back against a tree, carefully measuring her breaths and enforcing calm on her tempestuous mind when Willow had emerged. Xander’s voice traded off with her father’s, the words indistinct. Willow had dropped to her knees at Tara’s side, silent though seeming to be on the tip of a hundred questions. The book Tara’s father had passed to Willow remained in her hands, seemingly forgotten. The likelihood of it really being so was miniscule.

At some point Willow had started a tentative conversation about what they had learned, to which Tara was sure she had been quite monosyllabic in response. After some time she had finally consented to look at part of the book and the reason for the lack of enthusiasm from Willow was clear. “Accessories” were not the main problem- upper body strength was. Activation of the prepared spells would have to be designed anew and there was precious little margin for error.

The rest of the night before she collapsed into dreamless sleep was a haze. She could recall her father staying in the shed after Xander had been firmly invited to leave. She could recall Willow having further words with her father, but would be hard pressed to even remember the tone of the conversation. It was all muddled, forced into the background by the image of her mother looking on as a pig’s life blood covered her fathers hands, droplets joining to become a flow at his feet.

It was a pure conjecture, of course. She really didn’t know what was involved or whether it was as ghastly as her mind made it out to be, but somehow her brush with the Gentlemen had increased the potential for disturbing gore in her imagination.

There was another realization that had hit her hard that night, though the emotions were from both the high and low end of the scale. Her parents may not have told her anything useful in understanding what she was, but they had in some ways prepared her. She had been taught the dangers of magic without morality, but the degree to which she had been schooled in the use of the sort of magic that made it easy to cross to the wrong side of that morality was hard to justify as simple warning. The healing spell on Willow had drawn on that knowledge and it was the basis of some of the more questionable accoutrements Tara remained in possession of.

Being taught to read Hindi had seemed a silly weekend chore that was one of the rare things that put her at odds with her mother. Eventually it had been assigned as a task that encouraged development of discipline with the sidenote that it would be useful with India being an up-and-coming economic power. Visualization under the guise of variations on meditation had been another veiled lesson in the same set of skills that helped her to hide the signs of her demonhood.

Had her parents also engineered the social circumstances that kept people at arm’s length? Was it an effort to make sure she would be wary when the Draw began to pull people toward her? Or had it been simply the effect of Tara’s own feeling of estrangement from her peers?

There was a crunch from the gravel driveway and Tara’s musings evaporated. Beth had refrained from invading this morning and it had been hard to summon the initiative to get out of bed. Joining the family at breakfast was something she couldn’t manage, despite strong misgivings as to how that particular slight would be visited back on her. Her father had left, followed an hour later by Donny, leaving the house quiet. Of Beth she’d heard no sound.

Although there were no presences in the house save her own, Tara had remained in the familiar confines of her childhood room. Willow and Xander’s return from where ever they’d stayed the night before was all she’d been waiting for, unwilling to face the world alone. Dual shame arose- that she so needed someone to prop her up when all she faced was the long-present reality of her family and what they’d been telling her for her entire life. The second part was in the realization she hadn’t so much as asked what Willow and Xander had planned to do for accommodations overnight.

Tara had considered herself to be alone for most of her life- or alone but for her mother. As hard as isolation could be it was also a security, an affirmation that she stood on her own, that she was dependent on no one. Her failings were her own and taking responsibility was a natural extension. Only then could she feel validity to any of the triumphs she could lay claim to. It had made the knowledge that the demon in her would require help in suppressing that much more shameful.

After her mother had died, the quiet ceremony ended, her grieving grandfather packed back on the plane to Florida, Tara had realized just how alone she really was. Her father had retreated into the immutable blank shell she knew better than to touch, taking Donny with him. Their soft talking was unintelligible, Donny’s tone shifting between broken and angry while her father responded in flatly calm words. She’d wanted to be a part of that, to cling together and sooth the hurt around her even as she was comforted. It wasn’t her place, though. No more than Donny or her father could enter into the understanding she and her mother had held with each other. The bond of the wardens, the bond of the demons- and that was the point she had her first true test.

She’d had to truly stand on her own. Her presence was an affront to her father, but her absence drew panicked rage. Her mourning was seen as weakness- one that she could not afford with so few years left to prepare. She’d learned to wear her careful mask of deference, always available but never calling attention to herself. The rigors of preparing for her twentieth birthday had taken on a new edge- or perhaps one that had been there all along, but had been blunted by the warmth of her mother’s support.

There was no support to turn to from that point on. She’d learned to shut herself off from the outside to a degree already, but mastered it in the following year. It was safe but it was bleak and could only be sustained by a bright spark of hope that she hid deep within.

Leaving home had been harder than she’d thought possible but some instinct for survival had pulled her through the doubts. It seemed overly dramatic to state it that way, but no spark of hope could last forever without something to fuel it- and hers had been slowly dying.

The scholarship to UC Sunnydale had been all she had needed to hold the mask in place. She’d already known she would rather die than live as she did, in constant fear of herself and what she could do to those who had never wronged her. When that fear came into its fullness she didn’t think she had the strength to struggle against it. Her mother was strong in ways she’d never been and her mother had stumbled. What chance did she stand against the evil when it welled within her?

The decision to die had brought with it the fierce need to live. If her time was limited, she would live it well. Not this purgatory of preparing for a dark tomorrow, but to live as if there were a tomorrow that she should look forward to. If she never saw her twentieth birthday, then there could be hope for tomorrow. There could be joy. She’d boarded the bus to Sunnydale alight in that purpose, not running from her destiny but embracing it.

Even though she was still alone even in a crowd, just allowing herself to experience the world around her had sustained her. Letting anyone into that circle of wonder could disrupt it, remind her of those she must protect and so remind her of her end.

Then there was Willow.

Now the idea of being alone was almost intolerable. She hated that she had become so dependent on another, but how could she stand alone in the face of the uncertainty ahead? There was hope and yet there was no known end anymore. And that meant hope could be lost. The joys she had found could be taken from her and there would be no comforting certainty that the hurt would end. As long as she was not alone, she could live with that.

There was some ego huddled inside that concept. Willow needed her, if not to the extent that Tara needed the younger witch. Willow had other places to turn, but none, Tara’s ego said, that really knew her. Xander knew her past so well that he couldn’t see the present without its tint. Buffy gave Willow the acceptance she wanted and the sense of being needed she craved, but to say she understood her friend would be a stretch.

All this was well and good, but if they didn’t unravel the secrets of her parents’ system to feed the Burn soon she was afraid Willow was going to try something potentially dangerous rather than accept the requisite alteration in their relationship. She had a flash of guilt, but crushed it as soon as she felt it rise.

One thing at a time.

After a quick check that horns, smudgies, and tail were safely hidden- easier this morning than the day prior- Tara took a breath before opening her bedroom door and plunging into the day ahead.

The doorbell rang just as she got to the door and the immediacy with which she opened it visibly startled both Willow and Xander.

“Um. Hey.” Willow was trying to be cheery, but ended up merely looking like she was trying. The way her eyes trailed to peer around either side of Tara gave her enough information to guess her girlfriends thoughts.

“He’s at work.”

Willow looked relieved, much of the tension falling from her before her eyes widened. “Work-wait- it’s Monday? It’s Monday! We’re missing class-“

The hyperventilation cut off as quickly as it started as the redhead backpeddled, “-which is not the priority, given the circumstances. And note service isn’t as bad as people say, usually. And professor Vogt doesn’t always take attendance- and what is he doing taking attendance in college? A-and… stop me? Please?”

On another day she’d have chuckled and conveyed to Willow in a look and a touch that there were more important things in life. In private she might have pressed her lips to the redhead’s knuckles, quelling the tide of words. At the moment she felt a vague sort of irritation that she hid out of habit, stepping aside so that Willow and Xander could enter.

“Xander- you should have said something! You have to be back at work- I could’ve dropped you at the bus or Amtrack or something.” Willow restarted her anxious chatter, to which Xander shrugged noncommittally.

“I called in… believe it or not, the job got suspended yesterday afternoon. After all that push to work through the weekend, there was some kind of scandal about the guy who approved the funding for that tower being bribed. The whole thing is frozen till they investigate whether the project is legit at all.”

Willow seemed profoundly relieved that she wasn’t keeping Xander from his job, but Tara heard the news differently. No work for the crew meant no pay. Just because the job was shut down didn’t stop the bills from coming in. She’d heard it all too often from her father when a contract went sour.

That Willow seemed oblivious wasn’t odd. There wasn’t anyone in her family who’d worked in a non-salaried position in Willow’s lifetime, so that kind of insecurity wouldn’t occur to her. Her hyperactive work ethic wasn’t based on the almighty dollar or lack thereof, but on the more existential notion of failure. A mandated day off was just a day off, just as work hours were whatever it took to get the job done.

Tara followed the two into the living room, watching Willow’s interest flit from one thing to another. It had once interested her to observe her girlfriend’s apparently scattered behavior, trying to discern the patterns that distinguished it from actual mental disorganization. Maybe it was disorganized, but littered with the connections that made it all work.

“Your dad wouldn’t let me take the book with me last night, but I photographed it and got the images downloaded to my laptop. Not all in the same folder, cuz- erg- not repeating that mistake.” Willow correctly read Tara’s lack of comprehension and continued, “Turns out that scanning a spell can sometimes work the same as casting it.”

“It summoned an evil sort of demon, actually-“ Xander grinned but spoke with a melodramatic tone of regret. “Willow’s first boyfriend, and I couldn’t even threaten to hit ‘im with a shovel when I found out.”

“At that point there wasn’t anything to hit anyway. Except maybe control-alt-delete.” Willow’s eyes had alighted on the photo album, still sitting on the coffee table where Tara’s father had left it. It looked like one of the older ones, probably from before she had been born. Willow picked it up and paged through it idly as she spoke. “But it’s thanks to that scanning project that I was able to look up some stuff last night in the database back in Sunnydale.”

“You put it online? I mean- not techy guy here, but even I know that’s a bad idea.”

“It’s something I set up before. Gotomypc lets me access the library computer remotely and I still have the old passwords. They must’ve used the backups after we blew up the high school.” Willow waved a hand as if shooing away the voice of dissent. “So there was some stuff that led me to some other stuff and it all came down to this; we have to change the spell. Many reasons- activation practicalities, not having another wellspring point, and… the killing things part? Really not ideal. I have to get a look at the part on the floor again, but I have some ideas.”

Tara looked into Willow’s shining eyes, wishing she could absorb some of their optimism. Maybe it was too many years of seeing the despair in her mother’s eyes. She frowned. “When did all of this happen?”

“Couldn’t sleep.” Willow shrugged. “We mooched off the WiFi outside Peet’s Coffee till they opened and we could properly patronize them.”

“Some of us were happily snoring, thank you.”

“You drooled on the seat covers.”

“I make no apologies, Miss “just one more thing and I’ll be done”.”

Tara settled next to Willow on the couch, her girlfriend’s eyes rising to meet hers when their knees touched. “You didn’t sleep?”

“Not so much “didn’t” as “couldn’t”. I got all antsy so I figured I might as well be productive.”

Tara had a twinge of guilt, realizing some part of her consternation must have shown when Xander raised his hands defensively. “Don’t look at me- she wouldn’t listen.”

“Will- you’ve only been out of the hospital for a day…” If Willow hurt herself any further for Tara’s sake, it would be a crime for which she could never give herself pardon. It was the desperate drive against that very possibility which had forced her back into this familiar emotional morass she’d called home. Her cursed existence was her own responsibility, one that she’d shirked too long in selfish wish for an easy solution.

“I’m fine. Really.” Willow’s smile could almost make her believe. “I can’t believe you never showed me the spell you used.”

“It’s…” How to explain? It wasn’t part of lore that bore repeating unless there was need. Without going into the sources Tara had drawn from and the theory surrounding them, the spell was innocuous enough. But Willow would want to know all of it. She would ask. And there was too much to tell.

“-and you can do henna!” Willow practically bounced. “You’ve been holding out on me.”

The diversion might have worked if she hadn’t come to know Willow as she did. Catching her girlfriend’s eyes and holding them, she thought out her words before voicing them. “I-it’s not…” With a rush of breath she sighed at herself and started again, “Once the spell is severed, if the b-bleeding starts again I don’t know that I can help.”

“When did you sever it?” Xander had arranged himself in a comfortable sprawl in the opposite corner.

“Right, um, after? Or… the things I-I asked Buffy and Mr. Giles to do. Part of the link should remain… not fully, but…” She sank down beside Willow on the couch, tracing the back of her girlfriend’s hand when it alighted on her knee. The lines of the henna peeked from under her sleeve, not yet beginning the slow fade that would last the next two weeks. The theory was that the initial rush of the spell would set things in the right direction, with only a trickle of magic remaining between the three Scoobies until the inks had faded away. The speed of Willow’s recovery pointed to more than a trickle, though, and a thin, icy line drew down Tara’s spine at the thought.

“Insomnia as a spell side-effect?” Willow looked contemplative. “Not really, though- I don’t really feel like I haven’t slept. I just know I didn’t.”

Tara didn’t know what to say to that. She didn’t have any experience with the spell as such, only with the material that had made it possible. Her concern had no real basis other than the feeling that magic unattended was ill advised, so she tried to keep it from her face. It crossed her mind that wearing the mask came easily.

“We need to be careful with this… I…” She didn’t want to make this sound like she didn’t want Willow to have bounced back so quickly. It seemed like just another example of pulling away when pushing forward had worked out beautifully.

So far.

“Do you feel anything different since then?” Willow asked Xander, wavering between interest and concern.

“I didn’t feel anything to start with.” Xander shrugged. That was logical. He was the pattern, not the source. Tara shook her head, bringing their focus back on her.

“Buffy. It would… Buffy would be the one.”

“Do you know how to get ahold of her? Is she even in Sunnydale now?” Willow stood but there was little concern evident in her voice. Xander was slower, but stood as well.

“I think so. She was down with her mom for a while, but she was coming back last night. Giles and I had been covering patrol with Riley while she was gone- you know how she gets about that.” Xander looked around. “If I can borrow your phone, I’ll see if I can find her.”

Tara waved toward the kitchen.

“You really think my being- yes, I admit- kinda hyper is doing bad things to Buffy?”

“I don’t know…” There was too much she didn’t know. The patched together spell had been a monumentally bad idea, but a bad idea had been better than the alternative. She dropped her eyes. She’d been judgmental about similar decisions that all of the Scoobies had made, though it hadn’t been her place to voice her thoughts on the matter. Supporting others’ decisions and helping to pick up the pieces when they went wrong- that was where she was comfortable.

Tara felt Willow’s eyes on her as the silence stretched, sensed the nervous energy in the little sounds of movement.

With a sigh and a swish of her skirt, Willow returned to her seat at Tara’s side with anxious encouragement. “There’s never enough time for perfect solutions, baby… you did the best you could with what you had.” After a pause her voice performed one of its mercurial shifts to quiet playfulness. “And I still think it was a really awesome spell.”

“It’s n-not… not something to be proud of.” Tara looked over into Willow’s eyes and saw what she feared. Admiration. Enthusiasm. Curiosity. No sign of concern. She tried again, “I was lucky, Willow- I could j-just as easily have made things worse.”

“You didn’t,” Willow dismissed with a grin. “You made it work, which is in the grand olde tradition of Scooby-age.”

It wasn’t one of the habits she’d intended to pick up nor one she intended to keep, but Willow wasn’t hearing what she was saying right now. It would be a topic for another time, once the shine had worn off.

“Ladies- I think we have a problem.” Xander walked back in, the seriousness of his tone dispelling any rumination to the far corner of Tara’s mind. “Buffy got hurt last night-“

“Hurt? Hurt how? What happened? Is she-“ Willow started, but Xander headed her off.

“Giles said she’s gonna be fine. She just has to take a few nights off while Riley covers for her- and if he has his way, the graveyard is going to be a smoking crater by the time she’s back on duty.”

“It w-wasn’t the demon lady?” Tara was fairly sure Buffy had mentioned high heels and that seemed largely incompatible with graveyards. Even Buffy wore chunky heels. The other kind just sank into the soil like one of the aeration things they ran over the lawns at school every so often.

“Just a vamp.” Xander’s eyes refocused on her and all the blame they’d held in the emergency room was back in force. “A garden variety, everyday bloodsucker. It stuck her own stake into her.”

“A vampire?”

The degree of disbelief in Willow’s voice sent another spike of guilt into Tara. Vampires were deadly, but Slayers were deadlier. Or they were supposed to be, until their source got tapped by well-meaning but ultimately idiotic witches who ignored everything they’d been taught about safety in the name of correcting another problem that they themselves caused.

“You need to break this spell of yours, pronto. And we-“ He looked back to Willow. “We need to vamoos back to Sunny D.”

Tara stood, arms hugged to herself. She paused only long enough to nod before escaping the suddenly stifling room. She wasn’t sure if any of her old spell components would still be stashed away, or if any of it would still be viable. Ritual would have to suffice- she was still magically tapped out from the hospital spell, even four days later. Calling on divinities for help was iffy at this point. They could get testy if you came begging too often, or capricious in their interpretation of what you were asking.

A swift search of her room revealed that, as she’d feared, anything directly magical had been removed. She heard irate conversation dimly in the background, but didn’t want to hear what Xander had to say about her this time. Almost as great was the aversion to hearing Willow defend her actions. Xander had the right of it. She had compounded poor judgment with cavalier action that had, as it inevitably would, come home to roost.

The demon in you is evil, Tara, and the magic comes from that evil. If you can’t control it- if you can’t control yourself- it will twist everything you touch.

She’d never understood how her father could hate magic so much, yet never forbid its practice. With what she’d seen in the shed it had become clear. She had to know her craft and be practiced enough in it to handle the forces involved in this ritual her parents had depended on.

The shed. There should be any number of useful options in the apothecary chest there, with the sheer number of little drawers she’d seen. Something to clear impurity should be able to force the henna to separate from the skin. It was a back door into cleanly breaking any residual action from the spell, without the potential unintended consequences of a hard sever.

It was too soon after the healing spell to have any illusions that there wouldn’t be another raging headache afterwards. She accepted that. The price was appropriate for her error, and for once she was the one who got to pay it. A welcome change.

**********





.

Replies:
Faolan228- I've at least the next 3 chapters done, so there will certainly be more to come. Production is likely to be slow after that due to work (hurrah for gainful employment, despite its annoying detriments to my hobbies), but I've plotted out through the end of the story.

Zampsa- Yes, I have subtitled this fic "Tara's Quest for Monogamy", but thought that would be a cheap way to get readers only to let them down with an utter lack of promiscuity.

-Never

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 Post subject: Re: Changes
PostPosted: Sun Aug 11, 2013 1:47 am 
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Big yay for update-y goodness... I really hope that they very soon find a way to somehow stabilize the situation so that they can begin looking for permanent solution...

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 Post subject: Re: Changes
PostPosted: Sun Sep 08, 2013 6:17 am 
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Yay for the update! Buffy getting hurt because of the spell is pretty bad, of course, so they have to break it, but I'm worrying what effect this will have on Willow... Hopefully no decline of her health which would strengthen Tara's self hatred even more...

I think it's perfect timing for posting the next chapter, don't you? PLEASE!


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 Post subject: Re: Changes
PostPosted: Mon Sep 09, 2013 6:35 pm 
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Ch 22

Angst Level: The overall story level is higher than the number of coffee machines in a Google office. Ch 22 isn’t bad.


There was nothing in her outward presentation to indicate unscrupulous intent. Quite the contrary, Tara stood mutely at the stove with her shoulders bowed, eyes unfocused though ostensibly watching the tea kettle as she waited for it to boil. She had been noticeably discomfited by Giles’ insistence on following her to the kitchen, though did not go so far as to object. If she had he would have insisted, politely but firmly.

She had seemed ready to bolt when he had opened the door to the Summers home, radiating guilt that made him wish for a moment he could reassure her. It was a fleeting feeling, however, and quickly overshadowed by caution. Any emotional reaction had to be arrested and withheld from influencing him until it could be properly analyzed for the potential of outside interference. He and Anya had finished producing another set of Willow’s protective charms, but he had reservations about trusting their efficacy entirely. Much as he admired Willow’s progress in magical endeavors, her results could still be a bit dodgy.

After the initial shock of Tara’s new situation had worn off, he had realized there was more to be wary of than then her seemingly uncontrolled magical influence on those in her proximity. There were a few times he had been unfortunate enough to know someone who had been made into a vampire. One case in particular had solidified indelibly his understanding that the vampire could mimic mannerisms to the point of being indistinguishable from their host. Questioning was fruitless, as they held all the memories as well as the physical form. If they did not encounter one who was acquainted with the warning signs, the vampire could, at need, infiltrate the life of their host for protracted periods before acting on their true nature.

Tara could be as such. Her mistakes could just as easily have been orchestrated, depending on the forgiving nature of those around her as she played merry hell with their lives. Was it coincidence that twice now Buffy had suffered at Tara’s hands? He could not deny the possibility any more than he could confirm it. Questioning her would be equally futile. His moment of passion at the hospital (poor choice of word, perhaps “adamancy” would be better) was one he regretted, for now she was aware of his suspicions and would be that much less likely to let slip any hint of ill intent.

If she was as she said she was, as Willow insisted she was, then there was no legitimate action he could take against her. As a victim to her own heritage, but one bound and determined to overcome her situation, it was tantamount to criminal to further harass her. All he could do was keep an eye on her and hope that his presence could serve as deterrent to potentially pernicious behavior.

Buffy was ensconced on the couch in the living room on a supportive nest of cushions and throw pillows, chatting animatedly with her friends. The only concession she had made to her abdominal injury was in the careful stillness with which she held her torso and the occasional quick breath when she moved too quickly. Xander was hovering with jovial obliviousness that didn’t completely obscure his concern, nor the acrid turn of his humor when their foray to Tara’s home was mentioned. Willow was hiding in plain sight as well, her conversation light, at turns thoughtful and trivial, but the careless exuberance that characterized her was not in evidence. She barely looked at Xander, but for the occasional glare as he spoke.

Tara startled at the whistle of the kettle, her sudden motion instantly drawing his attention. She did nothing more nefarious than turn off the gas and retrieve a mug from one of the cabinets. He wished he knew the exact nature of the herbs she was steeping but they had been prepared at the same time as those she had already used at her own home on Xander and Willow. The two appeared to have suffered no ill effect, but this was little comfort.

“Is this necessary?” He asked quietly. “If the link was already broken when Willow and Xander were fully disengaged from the spell, there should be nothing left drawing power from Buffy- am I wrong?”

“I… don’t know.” Muted blue eyes met his for only a moment before falling. “It seemed s-safer.”

Giles considered that. Convenient excuse, or true concern? Tara’s expression betrayed nothing different from its usual discomfiture when she was the focus of anyone but Willow’s direct attention. He nodded a bit more sharply than he’d intended, standing aside for Tara to carry her concoction in to his Slayer.

“Aaaand here it comes. The good news is that when the itching starts, the aftertaste stops bothering you.” Xander announced with a grin.

Tara stopped a little further away than custom dictated, making her reach out to hand over the steaming mug. Buffy sniffed and wrinkled her nose.

“I wish I could say it was something to do with the spell, but I just got careless. To much think, too little slay.” Buffy swirled the contents of the mug with a curdled look. “I don’t feel any different.”

“It’s better not to leave loose ends on a spell, either way.” Willow shrugged, but looked to Tara and got an affirming nod. “It’s not as bad as Xander says.”

“Not until she does her mumbo-jumbo. Then you tell me if it doesn’t feel like ants dancing all over you.”

“That’s not the spell- that’s the ink pulling out of the skin layers. So yes, it’s from the spell- but it’s not the magic doing the itchy thing.”

“Same diff.”

Buffy broke in, “Do I have to drink the whole thing?”

Tara nodded mutely, but Xander was the one who answered.

“Yeah, but your taste buds go numb after the first swig.”

Giles noted that Tara had drifted backward another few feet, her arms locked around herself defensively. Buffy took a tentative sip and offered an exaggerated look of disgust before attempting another swallow.

“Y-you need to take off the charm. For the spell.” Tara’s voice was hesitant.

Buffy didn’t quite cover her look of panic in time, nor the slosh as her grip on the mug faltered. He had seen her hand brush casually down where the charm was tucked in her waistband at least a half dozen times within the first few minutes of Tara’s arrival, but she had betrayed no particular concern beyond that. It seemed absurd that so competent a Slayer would quail in the face of what looked like a remorseful, uncertain young woman. Yet however formidable the physical power of the Slayer, she was nearly as vulnerable as the rest of them when it came to magic. Emotional matters even more so.

“Can I..?” Willow had risen to her feet and was offering a hand to Tara, but the succubus made no move to take it.

“It’s too soon.” Tara’s hesitance seemed genuine.

“Yeah Wills- you were in the hospital yesterday. Might wanna leave off the heavy lifting for a few.” Xander spoke over her.

The mug must have only been partially full because Buffy was already setting it aside. She curtailed further objections from Willow by addressing Tara. “So what do I do?”

“If it itches, don’t, um, scratch..?”

The incantation was brief and invoked a minor divinity that Giles could find no reasonable way to expect a threat from. Buffy looked uncomfortable, but not pained, and regained hold of her protective charm within moments of the spell’s completion without making a show of it. Fine, dark particles rose in a cloud away from her, drifting over and into the used mug on the side table and coalescing into inky liquid.

Tara stood for a moment longer with her eyes closed, opening them only when she swayed slightly. She sank down next to Willow, head lowered, and allowed Willow’s hand to snake around hers.

“So you found whatever it was you needed down there?” Buffy’s hands were moving, repeatedly drifting toward where the henna had purged before purposefully moving them away.

“Man- did we ever. Looks like Wills and Dennis Rodman are gonna have something in common.”

“Please tell me it’s shoes.”

Willow cracked a nervous smile at that, but it faded quickly. “Remember back in high school, when I told you about how I wanted to get a cute little dolphin on my ankle, but my stomach got ooky every time I thought about the actual needle-intensive process of doing of it?”

“You have to get tattooed?” Buffy’s surprised incredulity was met with Tara looking guilty, Willow queasy but at the same time somewhat proud, and Xander with a frozen grin that hid something, though it was unclear what.

Giles himself quickly reined in the fierce opposition trying to rend itself to the surface. His forearm was suddenly burning, though he knew it was all a psychosomatic reaction. There was a permanency to magic etched into the skin, binding one to the mystical in a manner so personal and indelible that without being utterly certain as to both the imminent and far-reaching effects allowing this to proceed would be unforgivably rash. He knew Willow too well by now to try to forbid it outright. He’d learned about the headstrong girl hiding under her seeming compliant manner.

What to do, then? Obfuscating relevant material could prolong the process, but would he really accomplish anything? Willow was just as likely to go ahead with poor or incomplete information when Tara’s Draw began to reassert itself. The danger would be that much greater, the results that much less certain. Just how much time did they have? From what they knew so far, Tara’s feeding needs would continue to drop, but no one knew how quickly. On the old schedule she would already be dangerously long overdue.

An ache began to develop between Giles’ eyes and he removed his glasses to rub at the spot absently. It was times like this when the Council’s attitude about demons was quite appealing. You find them, you kill them, and on occasion you study them and then kill them. There were more dangerous and less dangerous demons, but there was no space in their doctrine for demons that were trying to overcome their nature. That she was failing thus far did not mean the task was impossible. How much leeway to give, though, when the consequences of inaction could be dire?

There was an ongoing war between his sense of caution and an unwilling protectiveness he harbored for the group chatting before him. To be comfortable in the destruction of vampires required the ability to ignore innocuous human facades in favor of the known facts about the inevitable viciousness of their kind. Looking at Tara, as innocuous as the word could possibly convey, still did not dismiss the possibility…

He had heard Buffy and Riley arguing that morning on a very similar subject. Riley was of the opinion that Tara needed to be at minimum “contained”, which had set off Buffy on a diatribe of what “containing” Tara could cause. They had been at odds over the reason for the lapse that resulted in Buffy’s current wound, Riley being convinced it had to do with the spell Tara had cast, Buffy insisting it was more mundane. In the end, he had accused her of defending Tara solely because she’d been manipulated into taking responsibility for the incident at Tara’s room. Buffy had snapped back that he was being… how had she put it?.. “such a man” about what she had done. The row had only escalated from there, culminating in Riley’s stormy exit past where Giles had been hesitating at the doorway, reluctant to intrude.

In reviewing Buffy’s staunch defense of Tara, Giles came to his decision, though not without misgiving. He would watch, he would wait, and he would keep her where he could find her. He would remain involved in her proposed magical undertakings, and steer their research towards safety as best he was able. He refocused on the conversation when he heard the click of the front door, realizing Xander had made his goodbyes already and left. The conversation had clearly shifted radically, with an accompanying increase in tension between the young women before him.

“You still haven’t told Dawnie?” Willow’s voice was an aggravated stage whisper.

“I don’t know how, Will…” Buffy sounded tired.

He had spoken to Buffy about Tara’s realization of the Key’s presence in their lives. When she heard that Willow was in on the secret as well, Buffy had conceded that it was time to tell Dawn what they had learned. The more people knew, the more dangerous it was that Glory would find out, and at that point Dawn’s ignorance would be unfortunate. It seemed odd at first that they were more concerned about Dawn finding out from Willow than from Tara. To be fair, Tara was only in contact with Dawn sporadically, usually trailing after Willow at the Magic Box with others around. Even if she were the permanent fixture in their daily lives that Willow was, however, she was so careful with her words that to slip seemed improbable, and so private in her manner that the risk to the discretion asked of her was remote.

“I mean, what do I say? ‘You know how you always said you couldn’t believe mom would have another kid after having to deal with me? Guess what! She didn’t!’ She wouldn’t believe me about dad being the tooth fairy, so why would she believe me telling her she’s-”

“Buffy!” He interjected quickly. Home was a word that most associated with safety, comfort, and some level of privacy. In these times, though, there was no telling who might be listening.

“You’re hoping she never finds out, aren’t you.” Willow looked between the two of them. “Either of you. You hope this will all blow over and it will become a big non-issue for the rest of her life… she’s in danger, and you don’t think she deserves to know?”

“It’s why we didn’t tell you, Wills. Or Xander.” Buffy didn’t sound apologetic. “Anyone who knows is a target. And a risk.”

It was the wrong thing to say. If she had thought about who she was speaking to, even Buffy had to be aware of that. Just replace the secret of Dawn’s existence with the secret of vampires and Slayers. All of the people in this room except Buffy herself were here because they had chosen not to remain ignorant. They chose not to turn around and pretend it wasn’t so, not letting it fall to others to make their ignorance peaceful.

Willow didn’t respond to Buffy immediately, but her expression moved into one appropriate for a drawn out argument. Giles saw her abort what looked like one of her rare but acerbic tirades as Tara’s hand came to rest lightly on her upper arm. The two girls shared a glance the he didn’t properly see, but whatever it was left Willow tense, quiet, and glaring between him and Buffy.

“It was perhaps not the best judgment to delay informing you when we determined the truth of the matter, but you must recall that this is rather a more severe situation than you faced when you were in high school- and Dawn is fifteen. I don’t know that she’d be capable of carrying on as if nothing had changed. Any alterations in behavior would stand out and draw attention. It’s bad enough that she’s Buffy’s sister…”

“Yeah, this is one occasion that I’m happy that the bad-y doesn’t take me seriously.” Buffy sounded insulted in spite of her words, but it truly was something to be thankful for. “All we need, though, is for the focus to change and… Will- do you know how many times you’ve been kidnapped since you started hanging around me? And Dawn… do you even remember when Faith was decided that she and Mom were the best way to get at me? I can’t make her a target again.”

“She IS a target. She just doesn’t know it.” Willow responded acridly. “Yeah, I seem to have a big neon sign declaring ‘Hey, I’m helpless, pick me!’ over my head, but you know what, Buffy? At least I know why it happens- and it’s about you. Not me. But this time it’s about her. Not because of you- because of her being what she is.”

“As soon as I know how to fight this thing- give me that much time. Please.”

Willow looked back to Giles and asked the question he was hoping to avoid. “You have leads?”

“Not as yet. I have discretely requested some additional materials from the Council that should be arriving any day now.” As extensive as the library he had accumulated was, it paled before the stacks of the Council archives. The lack of reference material on Glorificus was discouraging, and he wasn’t as well set up to research the Key. It wasn’t demonic in origin nor evil in nature. There were few legends, mostly regarding those who had learned of even older legends and sought for it unsuccessfully. There was no reason to anticipate that it would ever be directly involved with a Slayer. Far more likely a force of darkness seeking it crossing their paths, in which case the finer details would matter less than those regarding the seeker.

The timing of Tara’s transformation had been extremely inopportune in manifesting. Willow’s assistance with the research would have been invaluable, if only in expediting their realization that the Council’s resources would be required. She might even have dug something up from the internet, though that was really more wishful thinking than any realistic expectation.

“Buffy, what if Dawn finds out on her own? What do you think she’ll do, if you haven’t told her…” Willow had changed her tack, seemingly taking a page from Tara’s position on the matter.

-----------------

“Haven’t told me what?”

Dawn stopped in the entryway, looking at her sister and the usual posse gathered around her. It was so typical. Big group shindig without her, figuring out just how little they could get away with telling her. She knew there was more to it than that- she hadn’t been that self-centered in a long time. It wasn’t like when she found out about what Buffy did at night and she assumed her older sister had only kept her in the dark, while everyone else knew what was going on. Still, when walking in your own front door, it was just rude to find out you were being purposefully left out. She’d entered when Xander had left, him holding the door for her like some overplayed butler with a teasing grin. She’d curtseyed in a similarly exaggerated manner and chatted briefly with him on the porch before waving him goodbye. Turning back to the half open door she’d heard her name from Willow and just enough to know that she’d been the topic of conversation, she’d decided against the morally ambiguous notion of eavesdropping and trust in the bludgeon of guilt to find out what was going on.

Willow had a look of panic, while Tara just looked weary and concerned. Buffy was in the ‘ouch couch’ position, so her expression was hidden, but Dawn imagined the exasperation it would hold. Giles was being Giles-y in an all-knowing sort of way.

How would he feel if they left him out of stuff? Not that there was anything for Dawn to withhold. School, school, people they didn’t know, music they didn’t listen to, more school. It wasn’t like she had anything that could compete with what they chatted about over pizza. Sure, Willow would act all excited when she brought up what she was studying, but since Dawn usually brought the subject up because she needed to vent about it, they were odds even there.

“We were discussing the situation with Glorificus.”

The pause before Giles spoke had been a bit too long. She didn’t think he’d lie outright to her, though he certainly had experience with that from before Buffy had come out about the Slayer stuff. Omission, though? Serial violations. Dawn took off her backpack, leaving it on the stairs, and leaned on the wall to the living room, arms crossed and her incredulity as plain as she could make it. She waited, letting the awkward pause make it clear to them just how obvious they were being with the lie.

“Dawn…” Buffy started to turn, but abruptly stilled.

She’s hurt again. Really hurt. Dawn started to regret being pissy about what she’d walked in on. Buffy had been embarrassed and angry after her first encounter with the demon in a red dress, trying to shrug off what had clearly been a painful beating. If she was trying to enlist her friends’ help in pretending she hadn’t gotten hurt again, stupid as that was, Dawn didn’t intend to rub her face in it.

Not yet anyway. Not till Buffy was back on her feet. Then it was open season for teasing. Now that Dawn had seen the wince, though, she couldn’t ignore it.

“What did she do to you?” She hated the way her voice sounded when she was worried. The waver sounded so stupidly weak. Afraid, when she wasn’t really. That Buffy was getting her ass kicked wasn’t exactly comforting, but it was one of those things that happened before she turned around and dispatched the latest whatever-it-was.

Buffy looked acutely embarrassed. “This… wasn’t her.”

“Ambushed by something?”

“Ah… no.” Buffy sighed. “Just a run-of-the-mill, everyday vampire.”

“Right.” Dawn said flatly. As excuses went, that was just an insult to her intelligence. So she wanted to conceal what big evil was out there? Fine- but at least come up with something believable.

“It was.” Buffy shot back. “God, why do you have to assume everything I tell you is wrong?”

“Because you never tell me what’s going on- or if you do, it’s to cover up for something bigger.” Dawn glanced over at Willow, whose utter inability to maintain a poker face was useful in these cases. There was a wince there, then oddly enough, a hint of a smirk. Whatever the big cover-up was about, Willow wasn’t totally on board, then.

“We don’t know enough about Glorificus as yet to try to keep information from you, Dawn.”

“And why would I come up with something as embarrassing as getting stabbed by a newly risen vamp?” Buffy added heatedly.

“She’s got a point… and it’s like the car accident thing. Y’know? Most of them being within 5 miles of home? Because that’s where you are most of the time, so you’ve got this huge ‘n’ value. Even when the probability is low, it’s still more likely.” Then Willow added quietly in the same chipper tone, “Though if you’re Buffy, the probability of a car accident isn’t actually all that low, even close to home.”

“Thanks.” Buffy grumbled.

“Okay- so a vamp got lucky with you.” Dawn capitulated, enjoying Giles’ little sputter at her wording. “That’s the big hush-hush?”

No one jumped in. A sudden fear wrapped tight around Dawn’s throat. “Is it about mom?”

“NO. No. She’s doing fine- they moved her out of ICU today and in a couple days they said they’ll take out the bolt- the head pressure thingy.” Buffy wasn’t giving off any hint of deceit.

Mom had seemed okay when they saw her that weekend. The thing sticking out of her head had been sickening the first time Dawn saw it, like something out of Frankenstein. There was something innately wrong about a tube connecting the insides of your head to… just about anything.

“Did they say when she’s coming home?” Dawn asked hopefully.

“Dr. Hsu wouldn’t commit to anything.” Buffy shrugged carefully. “And honestly, I’d rather everybody was sure she was okay than that she get back here fast.”

Dawn nodded reluctantly.

“She’ll have to go all the way back down there for checkups with her doctor after she’s out, right?” Willow asked tentatively.

“I guess, since there isn’t a neurosurgeon up here anymore.” Buffy said with a hint of bitterness. Dawn knew she still blamed herself for not going out on patrol that night. The vampire that the substitute group of Giles, Xander, and Riley had missed ended up draining the only neurosurgeon in Sunnydale. He wasn’t the nicest person, but it was still sad in addition to inconvenient.

“You can’t save everyone.” Dawn said before everyone went on a guilt kick, either for not being where they were needed, or failing at what needed to be done.

“Speaking of avoiding bad things- I need to get to class. There’s a late session for the one I missed this morning. If you need me for anything, we were going to head over to the Magic Box and hit the books for a while after.” Willow rose, Tara following soon after.

“Good luck.” Buffy gave them a grin as they made their way out.

Dawn watched them go, trying to pick out signs that Tara wasn’t human. It seemed like one of those things where someone would eventually turn around and laugh at her for being gullible enough to believe the ‘demon’ thing. Tara was just too normal, too blandly nice, too environmentally conscious to be a demon.

She let the conversation wind down from there without prying further. She’d just wait till she could catch Willow alone. If Buffy wanted to play hardball, Dawn would just wait till she could go for the weakest link in the conspiracy of silence.

---TBC



Replies:
WillsRedemption- As an angst monger, I heartily approve of the unease about Will's wellbeing after the spell is fully severed. Buffy's injury is intentionally timed with when it happened in canon (since I run on the assumption that episodes did not follow actual time, but rather sequential timeline that show the highlights of what occurred during a year), so whatever the characters may think, the audience has to wonder if it wouldn't have happened anyway. Writing stories involving ripple effects from single canon changes like this makes it tempting to abandon all canon events, but I like the challenge of making things stand that probably wouldn't be affected by the ripple. There are others that occur anyway, but for different reasons.

zampsa- That's what they've been searching for... if it were easy, though, it'd not be much of a story. As it is, there's a problem of trying to make something as procedural as this story have some sort of structure. If I made the trip home into the climax point where all was made clear, that would work in story structure- tension from family interactions, plus resolution as Tara gets to make her final break from home at the same time as solving the situation she and Willow are in. Yet it would feel wrong to me with too much tied together at one go. So there have to be a few more tribulations, at the expense of a singular turning point.

Till next time-
Never

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 Post subject: Re: Changes
PostPosted: Mon Sep 09, 2013 8:17 pm 
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Yay for excellent update-y goodness...

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 Post subject: Re: Changes
PostPosted: Wed Sep 11, 2013 2:22 pm 
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Love your story :D can't wait for the next delicious update!
Also curious on Willows reaction when she gets the tattoos done (if she does) XD


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 Post subject: Re: Changes
PostPosted: Sun Dec 15, 2013 12:00 am 
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Ch 23

Angst Level: The overall story level is higher than the percentage of fanfics that qualify as PWP... but not as high as the number of times I’ve wished PWP stood for Plot without porn. Ch 23 is average.

Ulysses Maclay returned to his home to find a short note explaining that Tara had gone back to Sunnydale- that it was her home now, just as the people there had become family to her. Tara thanked him for his help. She thanked him for the sacrifices he had made for her mother and herself. The acknowledgement should have felt good, but left only a hollow sense of loss.

The note ended with the statement that Tara was in charge of her own fate at this point. Any responsibility lay with her and regardless of any support she did or didn’t have, it was responsibility that she would bear alone. It was rejection- kindly phrased, but clear. His Tara didn’t want his help anymore. She’d left her phone number and address, as well as an email address, with a wish that they could stay in touch this time. His little girl was on her own, no longer running away but leaving nevertheless.

He wasn’t a believer in any kind of heaven, but he lifted his face skyward, asking Judy silently if he’d done right by his family. He asked if he had done enough for their little girl, or if he’d done too much. Only his conscience answered him, telling him “yes” to both questions.

Ulysses sense of the world was based on four pillars. When Judy died, one of those had been lost, but somehow he’d found his footing with the remaining three. Tara running away had not pulled away her pillar, not when there was preparation that had to be made even in her absence. Responsibility to her was the pillar, not her continuous presence. Now he felt like a two-legged stool, half of his life’s purpose pulled out from under him. He should have felt relief, freedom from a burden too heavy borne for too long.

Part of him argued that the day would come when Tara realized she needed the meticulously maintained shed, if nothing else. That still tied him to the land. If he was honest with himself, though, he was tied to this land by his own memories and the work his hands had put into it. The wish to leave had died out some time ago.

Maybe it was time to focus on those other two pillars. Get serious about Donny’s future, to start. Maybe someday he’d find what that final pillar- his obligation to himself- would mean.

-----


When the first cry of the new life joined to theirs had split the air of the room, the only regret in Ulysses heart had been that he had not been able to bear witness to this scene when his first son was born. It was a moment he wished to remember till his end of days- that joyous moment before the midwife declared them proud parents of a beautiful baby girl.

The midwife had efficiently cleared the child’s mouth and nose, toweling off the worst of the meconium- the polite word for unborn baby shit- from the pink skin and clipped the umbilical cord while Ulysses was frozen in shock.

It’s a girl.

Judy had lied. There was no other possible answer. Either lied about what her spell could predict or lied about the results of it. She’d condemned them both. No, not both. She’d condemned them all, including the squalling bundle that was passed into his shaking arms. The afterbirth passed while he scrutinized his daughter, trying to find the signs of the demon she’d become. The wet little shock of hair hid no horn stubs. The blanket slipped with a frog-like kick of the baby legs, confirming no tail sprouted from tiny behind.

His daughter protested the sudden draft and Ulysses bundled her up again without thinking. Whatever she would become, she was his. Theirs. A life totally dependent on them from that day forth. A responsibility that bore hideous consequence for failure.

He couldn’t read Judy’s expression as he passed their daughter to her- his own emotions clouded his perceptions too much. The cooing seemed so innocent. Judy’s hair was plastered to her sweaty brow and her face pink from exertion.

Judy’s labor had been far shorter than with Donny, which the nurse midwife had indicated was a common pattern. She’d also noted the relative ease of the birthing, but to Ulysses it was still a blur of his wife’s pain and panting, the ache of the circulation in his hand being cut off where she gripped it. He’d been panicky about what would happen if his wife were to lose control of her form- an all too possible scenario under this kind of duress. They’d prepared for that, although the solution hadn’t set well with either of them. If the nurse midwife saw anything compromising, Judy had found a spell that could remove a set of memories as if they’d never been.

The only other alternative had been to go without any assistance at all, but after hearing about the difficulties that had occurred when Donny was born Ulysses couldn’t justify the risk. The compromise between the medical security of a hospital and the privacy of home had been the nurse midwife. Judy had inquired in the Wicca community but while there were a few doula, none were within reasonable distance. Ulysses thought it was just as well. While his wife felt a Wiccan would be more open minded to helping a demon and her human husband through a birthing, all he saw was the danger in someone leaking their secret to other “open minded” individuals until it reached the ears of those that would take advantage of the information. They’d put too much work into this location to pick up and run the way that they had when traveling in India.

“What’s her name?” the nurse midwife asked, bringing Ulysses’ attention back to the here and now.

“We were sure she was going to be a boy… he was going to be Gregory James…” Prompted by his miasma of anger, despair, bitterness, and no little sense of betrayal, Ulysses turned to Judy. “Unless you already had a name in mind for her?”

He regretted the barb immediately when naked hurt passed across his wife’s face before being covered quickly with a generic pleasantness. “We have time, don’t we?”

“Of course- a name has to last a lifetime, so I won’t urge you to rush it.” The young woman smiled, tidying as she spoke. For all that Ulysses had been suspicious of her youth, she’d been tremendously efficient in her work and kind enough to show she loved her chosen profession. The uncomplicated birth meant he didn’t need to worry any longer if her skills in crisis were also sufficient. “I’ve got to turn in the birth certificate papers, but that doesn’t mean you have to have a name immediately. Now- I’ll let you have some nesting time while I clean up.”

Ulysses nodded vaguely. He heard his wife and the midwife exchange a few more words, but didn’t really process them. A name? It was an absurd thing to worry about, compared to the fate that awaited his daughter. He had a brief, cruel notion of naming her Chastity, but that was the anger in him. There was another answer he needed before he could entertain any other thought. How could she have concealed this from him? Judy beat him to the punch, speaking the moment the midwife had closed the door behind her.

“I didn’t know, Lyss. I didn’t.” The pleasant mask fell and he saw fear. The child on her chest wailed piteously again in the gaspy way newborns have. “The spell said it wasn’t a girl. The ultrasound- they said- you were there, too. You saw.”

“They were wrong. How could they be wrong? How could everything be wrong…”

…if you didn’t make them show me what you wanted them to

“I don’t know.” Judy repeated, her face crumbling as tears started to fall. “Gods, Lyss- what do we do?”

Nesting time passed, as did their daughter’s first meal at her mother’s breast. It took everything Ulysses had to maintain an appropriate façade until the midwife left with a promise to check in the next day. He hadn’t realized how late it was until he saw her out the door.

Donny was staying with a family friend. They’d been kind enough to offer to let him stay for a few days when Judy had let it be known she was going to be birthing at home. The overnight bag had been sitting ready for less than a week before it had been needed. What to tell him? How much?

There was no way to justify pretending his daughter was normal, not with what awaited her twentieth year. It was six years since Judy’s transformation, though it seemed far longer after all they had been through. They had to decide what to do. They needed a plan- some sort of structure to prevent the tragedy that total ignorance would bring. They needed a way to give their daughter a life that wasn’t that of a monster, but to give her that she had to be prepared. To be prepared, she had to know about the demon she would become and the demon her mother hid within.

The sky was clear, the moon high and bright. Ulysses gazed into the dark between the lights and wondered how it had all gone so wrong. If he believed in reincarnation, he’d have been secure in the idea that he’d committed some great crime in a past life. If he believed in a personal god, he’d have thought it a test of faith meant to teach him greater humility. By the Threefold Law, he’d have wondered what wrong he had done to deserve such retaliation.

Self pity would get him nowhere. There were twenty years for them to find a way to help their daughter. Twenty years to teach her what Judy had been forced to learn in the most horrible ways imaginable. Twenty years to teach her how to control the demon when her time of trial came, then give her the tools she needed to live without becoming a monster. How could he live through those years, seeing echoes of the disaster to come every time he looked at his daughter? How could he sustain the discipline to teach her without giving in to the despair of knowing it would never be enough?

Ulysses returned to the house, checked again on his sleeping wife and newborn babe, and made sure Argos had been fed. Then he walked out to his favorite armchair and wept.

----

“And we watched Thundercats! JJ has the action figures for most of’m and we played GI Joes versus Thundercats and I think GI Joe would win but he didn’t so we had a squirt gun fight and he was wetter than I was so I thought he had to say I was right.” Donny said in one breath. He’d been going non-stop since Ulysses had picked him up from the Bowman’s house. It was the first time Donny had stayed overnight with anyone but his grandfather and from the sound of it he’d be clammering for a sleepover again before the week was out.

“Don’t make a lot of noise, Donny-boy. Your mother and the baby need to rest.” He’d told Donny already about the expected brother being a sister on the ride home. He opened the door to let his son out.

“Okay.” Donny yelled, already halfway across the yard by the time Ulysses closed the car door. When he set down Donny’s overnight bag inside, he could hear the overexcited rise and fall of his son debriefing the entire experience, moment by moment, of his visit to the Bowman’s house. Judy was laughing, asking questions, but he could hear the falseness in her good humor. They were still both in shock about what this new baby girl meant for their lives from this day forth.

Would they have to tell Donny? He didn’t know about the inhuman side to Judy, though he had seen the face of it for a few moments the day that she had confessed her new pregnancy. The day Ulysses should have held to the decision he knew was right- not to risk that the child be a girl. Just as she’d turned out to be.

It felt hard to breath when he thought about it, like a tightening band around his chest and throat. The nagging doubt that his wife had known- that she had deceived him, even knowing the consequences- was a vicious worm that ate through his gut a little further every time his mind questioned. He returned to the scene to listen, leaning against the doorframe.

“And did you know that boy cats and girl cats have different names? Girl cats are queens and boy cats are toms, an’ I don’t see why boy cats can’t just be kings, cuz it’s not fair otherwise. There’s a cat that lives outside JJ’s house that’s going to have kittens. She’s like this big now and they still can’t catch her.” Donny’s arms were flung wide, Judy’s attention focused on him while the burrito-wrapped infant in her arms slept through the entire thing.

“So JJ’s dad showed us a big book that had all these names of animals- did you know pigs are sows and boars? And foxes are vixens and tods- just like Tod! In Fox and the Hound!”

The ramble continued nonstop for several minutes and Ulysses felt his heart ease a bit. It amazed him to think of all the discoveries a child makes, the shine they had before familiarity wore on them and realization set in that everyone else had discovered the same things. He’d cherish the wonder of his son while he could.

“Why are there so many words for foxes n’ pigs n’ cats n’stuff? They should all just be boy cats n’ girl cats.”

“Well, boys and girls are only for people, but male and female can be… anything.” Judy’s voice faltered for a moment, but her smile returned quickly. “And it would be pretty strange to call Blacky a boy-cat, wouldn’t it?”

“Well, yeah- he’s too old to be a boy-cat. He’s not even all black anymore. But he could be a man-cat!” Donny nodded emphatically, trying to convey how revolutionary his idea was. The baby in Judy’s arms took this moment to yawn expansively and sudden silence fell. Donny had climbed up on the couch during the conversation and now leaned over, hands balanced on Judy’s leg, peering at his sister.

“C’mon Donny-boy. Your sister’s going to be hungry in a minute and I could do with a bite myself. What would you say to a sandwich?” Ulysses nodded toward the kitchen. Donny looked at his sister again then bounced down off the couch.

“Peanut butter and banana!”

“Not likely, young man. There’s ham and cheese already waiting.” Judy called after him. The baby made a little sound and wriggled, recapturing her attention. Ulysses crossed the room and sat down beside her as she made little nonsense noises to it.

Not it. Her.

“It doesn’t explain the ultrasound, but I think Donny just answered why the spell seemed to have been wrong.” Judy looked up at him sadly. “The words I used were wrong. I asked if my baby was a girl…”

“And it’s only a girl if it’s human.” Ulysses finished. No, not it. She.

The bundle had wriggled a hand free, which flailed purposelessly. He touched the hand with a finger and felt the little grip response he’d been so charmed by when Donny was an infant. It still made him want to smile, but it couldn’t surface through the misgivings enshrouding his mind.

“I thought it was so simple a question that it couldn’t go awry…” Judy sighed.

Of course it had gone awry. It was magic.

Their newborn daughter raised a little cry of want, the sound so forlornly human it made it hard to think of her as anything but. It had the same wrinkled little face of every fresh new infant. It had the same needs and wants… or would for its first twenty years.

Before he let any of the tide of anger and despair show, Ulysses stood, retreating quickly toward the kitchen. “I better go in there before Donny tries to make himself a Dagwood.”

---

“Well, we could name her after my mother.” Judy suggested, paging through another unsatisfying list of baby names while she ate. Ulysses nearly choked.

“Eglentine?”

Judy laughed at Ulysses’ disbelief, clearly having gotten the response she’d been looking for. He didn’t join her mirth, but lightened his tone in an attempt not to destroy this island of good humor in what had been a week of deep depression.

“We’re condemning her to enough with adding that name to her list of worries.” So many of the names that had drawn their eyes has been spoiled by the nature of the child they were naming. Names with their origins in hope and fortune seemed snide. Those regarding the feminine graces made him think too much of the enchantment his wife had to consciously hold at bay when her demonic nature asserted itself. The few that remained hadn’t sat well with them, seeming too ordinary for a child that was anything but.

He wished his own parents had put more thought into naming their children. His own name had garnered altogether too much teasing growing up and even now was annoying in that it was so often misspelled. He couldn’t even count the times he’d had to get ID cards remade because of it. One L, two S, then one S- inevitably one of those was mixed up. Ulysses ideal for a name would be short, easy to pronounce, easy to spell, and common enough not to draw undue attention. He’d found something ideal as he sat reading late into the night, something with a history that was appropriate and yet still fulfilled all his criteria. He pulled out the book he’d been reading opened to a page and slid it across.

“How about this?”

One page was a picture, the symbol of a bell in hand depicted to its left, a three clawed scepter to the right. It was one of their books kept for research rather than enjoyment, a portion of which had been devoted to the ten Mahavidyas- the aspects of the goddess Kali. It was the second of these that he had opened to.

“The devi created by Mahakali to oppose the demons that wished to topple the divine from their rightful places…” Judy immediately zeroed in on what had caught his attention. Judy looked up a moment later, “it’s the name of a guide and protector.”

“It’s more what she’s going to need than what we can expect of her.” He conceded. Judy sighed.

“We can’t expect anything one way or another, Lyss. She’s a baby. She’s not defined by what she’ll be in twenty years.” She changed to a lighter tone. “One problem… it sounds more like a noodle than a girl’s name. Tarini?”

“I thought the other version… Tara.” Ulysses found himself looking to the back of the house where the child in question slept. It was a strong name, for one who needed to be strong.

“Tara.” Judy repeated. “Most people will assume it’s from the Gaelic tradition.”

Ulysses nodded.

“Tara.” Judy repeated again. “Tara Maclay.”

----

I reread some of my old non-story posts... good grief, my hubris is unbelievable. Not "was" mind you. It's still here, I just wanted to acknowledge that I'm aware of it. ^_^;
More will be posted as motivation hits me. Writing has taken a back seat recently to other parts of life, but at least the next couple chapters are already written.

-Never

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PostPosted: Sun Dec 15, 2013 2:09 am 
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Yay for great update-y goodness... Nice to learn more about Tara's history...

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Awesome story and so glad to see the continued updates! Tara's mom's story is interesting, and I like that you give it the time it deserves. I would say that I skimmed more than normal for these last few parts, though of course they were important. I hope this is finished! I really appreciate your attention to detail and perfect grammar.

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Ch 24
Angst Level: Overall, higher than the number of Americans who think driving 70 mph in a 65 mph zone is not speeding. This chapter is fluffier than most.


“That’s the third time I’ve read this page…”

Willow had still been gamely jotting notes in between flipping pages of the two books in front of her and glancing at the screen of her laptop to the side, but looked up to find Tara’s tired eyes on her.

“I think I’m hitting the point of diminishing returns, too.” Willow set down her pen, stifling a yawn. She was starting to feel some of her aches returning, though it was a pale shadow of what it had been during her time in the hospital. Two days ago. It seemed longer, but with the residual effects of Tara’s spell still in place when she and Xander had driven south, she hadn’t really slept since the hospital. Going to classes this afternoon had given a sense of time that had been missing recently. She felt tremendously behind and tried not to remind herself how the present may seem overwhelmingly important, but finals are still always there when the crisis is over. Luckily she was always working as far ahead as she could, precisely for these situations. It still left her behind, just less so. Pushing that and its associated unease from her mind, she offered, “At least we made progress.”

Tara nodded, though not very enthusiastically. She’d been feeling guilty about what she described as “distracting from the bigger problem”, namely Glorificus. While Willow admitted that nasty demon research was important, there was a more stringent time limit on Tara’s issues. She had emphasized temporal priority as being the necessary deciding factor in Scooby research, rather than attempting to create a balance sheet of importance.

The information that Tara’s father had grudgingly provided had narrowed down their search substantially, even though they would still need to modify the spell. There had been the tense moment when Anya had chosen to snoop into their business during a lull in her own, but had been relatively unhelpful. She’d been aware of plenty of rituals involving sex, not surprisingly, but indicated that she’d never paid much attention to most of them since, in her words, it all looked rather silly when you weren’t participating.

“The only thing I don’t see a way around is the source. Going back to your dad’s place is high on my “let’s not” list, and running down to Disneyland repeatedly isn’t much better. Not to mention the logistic issues once we got there.” Willow sighed. “The next closest wellspring point is rumored to be somewhere in Nevada. A standard nexus isn’t enough of a concentration…”

Willow picked out the book that had talked about energy types and opened to the bookmark she’d stuck in before passing it to Tara for review. She really hoped that she could find a way to avoid the bloodier parts of the ritual. Sacrificing livestock was much more squick-worthy than dissecting newts for their innards, and Willow had been put off any number of rituals due to the need for amphibious guts. Plus it would be a total mood killer for both of them.

She pitied Tara’s parents. Without the resources arrayed before her, both hard copy and electronic, it must have taken years to improve their ritual to the point it was currently at. With the resources, she was estimating that she could write the bloodletting out of it in another day or two by simply eliminating some inefficiencies the Maclays probably hadn’t even been aware of. Assuming an appropriate primary energy source could be found, of course. Without that, it didn’t much matter how efficient the whole thing was.

The tattoo was a different story. They needed to restructure it to eliminate the distinctly male aspect, and that was going to take a major overhaul. What made Willow truly nervous about the whole thing was the permanency. This wouldn’t separate away like the henna had, and as best she could tell, any mistake would be indelibly set into her skin. She shivered at the thought. It was one thing to have to make something work in a pinch, quite another to have to make something that would work for a lifetime.

Looking across the table at Tara, Willow wondered when it became about lifetimes. She didn’t remember thinking about Oz as forever, although his leaving had been a crushing blow at the time. Perhaps it was the difference between high school and college. College involved decisions that could change the course of your life. High school was just about preparing for college.

After a little more discussion on the ritual, the two packed up and headed back to campus. Willow felt some guilt at not rendezvousing with the others to patrol while Buffy took a night to recover, but she was tired enough to be more hindrance than help. Tara had gently but firmly insisted that they go to their own respective rooms. While Willow had some reluctance, she had to acknowledge that as much as she wanted to be useful, there were times when Tara just needed to be alone. There hadn’t been any significant time alone for her without an imminent crisis on the horizon. First had been the crisis of Willow’s seizure- an experience that Willow was looking forward to never repeating again but wanted a full report from Tara on at some slightly less stressful point in time- followed by the crisis of saving helpless and comatose Willow- also an experience Willow could live without repeating. Tara had returned to the place she grew up before the backlash of the spell she’d cast for Willow had even settled, dealing with God-knows-what excuses her father was giving her until the Slayerettes arrival pushed him into finally revealing what he and Mrs. Maclay had withheld from their daughter about her heritage. There had been no pauses to process.

There was certainly enough to process. Willow was more of a verbal processor- she’d always had Jesse or Xander to talk to, and later Buffy. Even when they had no clue what she was saying, setting things to words sometimes clarified things for her. Tara had gone to her mother for quiet comfort, it seemed, but the habit of working through her feelings in words wasn’t there. Willow had been present for a few of Tara’s more minor setbacks and learned that pushing just made Tara retreat further into herself. So long as Willow left her to her own thoughts, Tara didn’t seem to mind her girlfriend’s presence in her room, though she didn’t solicit it. It was worrisome that she was actively dissuading that presence right now, but Willow didn’t have grounds to argue.

She could study for a while, depending on the complexities of problem sets to keep her mind off the rest of life for a time. She put aside succubi, brain tumors, blonde bimbo demons, and ancient dimensional portal entities that regularly tried to scam you into doing their math homework for them in the name of tutoring. Finals were only a week away, giving her an urgency that kept those outside thoughts from intruding. When the clock hit eleven Willow decided that she’d been long enough without sleep to give it a shot, only to find what seemed like moments later her alarm clock telling her it was 7:30am.

------


Since the research they were doing involved the possibility of a tattoo, Xander had joined in with bounding enthusiasm and a multitude of suggestions, though still remaining chilly toward Tara. Buffy had been amiable to helping too, once she got over the ‘Willow and non-washable tattoo in the same sentence’ shock. They convened one by one at the Magic Box with high spirits and a jumbo bag of Twizzlers, coming and going as required by classes and work.

Drawing a parallel to ‘invisible’ sak-yant, Giles had been able to point them toward a number of relevant texts. As the day wore on the Watcher proved surprisingly well versed in the use of skin markings in magic, if not in the type that the Willow had copied from Mr. Maclay. That had begged innumerable questions, all of which the Englishman had evaded with impeccable and utterly uninformative grace.

At about the tenth hour, the novelty of tattoos had started to wear off. There were thousands of paths to follow and the graphical nature of their study meant that even the occasional index was useless. Google Images had been fun, but hardly fecund in pertinent imagery. The single advance had been in determining that the visibly inked portion of the tattoo was an amalgam of several spell tracings that intertwined and that a portion that looked like it had been added later had combinations of Oriental and Occidental which could not be done completely discretely of eachother.

"Great. So if we do it wrong, it won't just not work." Willow slumped over her book, feeling another thread of stress wrapping around her throat.

"Why?" Xander spoke from around a Twizzler he’d been absently gnawing on.

"Combined spells- you can't just plop'm in series and assume they'll function. They have to go off just right together, or… foom."

"Foom being the part where her skin turns into something like those pork rinds you eat. Delightfully crispy, but probably not very pleasant to feel." Anya buzzed by happily, having been delegated to running the shop by herself while Giles concentrated on facilitating the research. She reached up behind Tara to pull down a book.

“You do recall that these are not in the retail collection?” Giles asked, more puzzled than annoyed.

“I need to learn more about mystical insanity stuff- there’s been a run of people coming in to ask about charms, wards, treatments, and all that. There’s only so long that I can bluff before someone figures out that I’m just pushing overstock.” She started to walk back to the counter, flipping through Call of the Moon.

“Speaking of pork rinds- is anyone else hungry?” Xander shook the empty Twizzler bag with forlorn grimace.

"Can we… talk about something else for a minute?" Willow asked plaintively. Tara had run a hand over the small of Willow's back as if trying to soothe the sting of a tattoo that didn't even exist yet, but it had conversely set off a shiver of imagining just how much stinging would be involved.

"Right. Got it. Five fried-friend-free minutes." Xander leaned back from the books, linking his hands behind his head. "So, care to hear the latest salt-of-the-earth wisdom?"

"Salted earth- that means unproductive, right?" Dawn walked by at that moment, a teasing smirk emerging. "I'm going to Kendel’s to work on our history presentation. See you guys tonight."

“If you so much as hear a sneeze out of place, I want you back here or home- kapich?” Buffy instructed archly, which was met with a wordless look of contempt.

With a roll of her eyes Dawn breezed away, the lack of flounce belying that her teen annoyance was for form’s sake only.

"So- nice distracting wisdom?" Willow took one more unsettled look at the ancient Tibetan equivalent of a suldenafil ad.

"I've got this theory… you know how we keeping getting hit with these good guys that turn out to be not-so-good guys?" He waited for a grudging nod. "Well, I've figured out a foolproof way to figure out who's on our side and who isn't."

"Enlighten us, oh perceptive one." Indulgent good humor settled in place of Buffy’s prior look of eyestrain and long-suffering sisterhood.

“It’s all in the name.” Xander declared, using his knee to tilt his chair back, despite Giles’ glare. “None of the good guys have common names- you ever notice that?”

"Except, oh, you? Alexander has got to be one of the top twenty for our high school." Willow grinned in an attempt to offset the hole she'd punched in his hypothesis. "And what about Oz? His name is Daniel."

"Ah, but note our fanciful nicknames! If somebody said Alex, would you even think of me? No. Xander. Oz. Still on the seldom-if-ever list of uncommon names. But the baddies? Ted. Jack. Adam. Even Wilkins was Richard to most of the people around him."

"What about Faith?" Buffy pointed out.

“Messed up, but not necessarily evil-“ Xander missed Buffy’s incredulous look.

"Or Glory?" Willow added. "Those aren't exactly common."

"Okay- that’s a correlate-" Xander replied smoothly, "Them what has nouns for names fall under evil-ness, too. That explains Spike. And Angel."

"And Dawn." Buffy nodded along, ignoring the jab at her old beau. Willow was less forgiving, but chose to level a silent, thorny stare on the proud smirk Xander's face had settled in to. He waggled his eyebrows at her, waiting for amusement, but she refused to cooperate.

"It's foolproof..?" He added, with slightly less confidence. Tara was giving him a look of rebuke, while Buffy was just trying not to laugh.

"Mmhmm." Willow carefully arched an eyebrow. “Right- cuz you can so see me as the next Big Bad.”

Xander's mouth flapped soundlessly for a moment as they watched him scramble for a way out of the hole he'd dug. “You could so do evil- maybe not like vampy you, but you could be like… Dr. Doom! Yeah- magic and sinister smarts.”

“At least you didn’t say Dr. Evil. Why are there so many doctors? Did they all go get PhDs at the University of Impractical Malice or something?” Willow grumbled, slouching in a mock pout.

“I think you’d be a great evil mastermind, sweetie.” Tara said earnestly, as if encouraging a five-year-old niece to be a firefighter.

“I could, couldn’t I? I already have my demon consort-“ Willow’s eyes widened, glancing in sudden concern that it might still be too touchy a topic to tease about. Tara was just playing along with a mild degree of interest and amusement though, whispering something thankfully too low for the others to hear. Willow blushed furiously before continuing with melodramatic pomp, “Though she may become distracting during my evil scheming, it is a sacrifice I must bear.”

Tara draped herself over Willow’s shoulder and the back of her chair, “So in this scheme, am I in charge of anything? Recruiting minions? 'Spells'? Or just fawning on you?”

“Oh no. You’d type letters, take phone calls, write press releases… this is a modern syndicate we’re running here!” Willow nodded earnestly.

“So it’s a nine-to-five sort of evil? Assuming you aren’t all-consumed by your fiendish machinations, there’s time for friends and family?”

“Bah. You’ll be banished to the kitchen while I work from my computer and yell occasionally, “Mocha, woman! I need ma Mocha!” Since I’d be, y’know, evil and all.”

“And I, being equally evil, comply to all of this?”

“Out of fear of the wicked things that I would do to you if you didn’t cooperate.” Willow gave her a playful leer.

Tara blushed brilliantly and straightened back into her own seat, ducking her head as if she had only just realized that they had a gaping audience. How she could blush at mostly-innocent innuendo after the content of her own whispered words a moment earlier did not make logical sense, but it was a dichotomy that Willow would happily live with.

Xander slouched with a lugubrious grumble, “I want an evil consort- Ow!”

Anya walked off without a word, having exchanged the book she had just bonked her boyfriend on the head with for a different volume.

“You do have one, actually.” Willow mumbled, gaining her a disapproving look from her girlfriend.

“Nope.” Xander regained his grin. “Not a common enough name.”

--------

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PostPosted: Fri Mar 28, 2014 11:04 pm 
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Dibs-y goodness...

Yay for great update-y goodness... Yay for them having progress in the spell-department... Nice for them to have a nice calm time after all the Tara's-family-stuff...

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PostPosted: Mon Aug 31, 2015 7:58 pm 
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I'd love to say my absence has been just another hiatus, but I fear I've fallen into the trap of Real Life. The chances of my finishing this fic properly are very, very low at this point... for which I feel tremendously guilty. Unfinished fics, at least those that are worth reading, are a scourge of the fanfic community. I've been annoyed too many times by long, juicy fics with great ideas and great execution, only to be left hanging. I check back about 2 years and find no updates, grumble bitterly, and then realize I've done exactly the same thing to my own readers.

Ah well. At least I don't have that many readers. I still value the time they have given to my story, though, and any emotional investment they have made in it.

To this end I will be doing what I wish every other writer would do when they find they will not be finishing their fic. I am going to post all the material that is already written, even if there are gaps in it. I'll tell you how I was going to bring the thing together in the end. Then I will probably fade away.

Changes is much like Missing in that I consider both to be a potential starting point for further stories as well as a story in and of themselves. I wrote some continuing material for Changes, and I'll put up these notions if enough people say they are interested.

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Ch 25

Angst Level: The overall story level is higher than the word count of the first Sidestep Chronicle… but not higher than all of them put together, since that would be kinda insane. Ch 25 is pretty tame but increases with each subchapter.


Tara pulled another fresh pig ear out of the very well sealed baggie in her fridge. The skin was translucent pink, but even if it was the closest thing to human skin she could find to practice on, it was still a far cry from the real thing. The tattoo’s actual structure was still in the design phase, but it wasn’t the structure that bothered her. The potential for it being incorrect was too high for her comfort, but what was most personally worrisome was the actual doing of the thing. Henna was one thing- she had a reasonable degree of confidence there after all the craft fairs her mother had drafted her into doing. That was a brush, though, not a needle. And certainly not a needle going into the back of someone who cringed visibly every time that aspect of the ritual was mentioned.

Willow’s courage was a funny thing. She had the bravery required to habitually put herself in harm’s way, to dare invoking fickle divinities, or to work magics that could go horribly wrong if they got out of control. But then she’d get faint looking over Tara’s shoulder when the pig ear was in play. Even before she’d known what they were intended for, Willow had made “ergh” noises on seeing the baggie holding the ears stashed in the same fridge as the dorm’s communal food supplies- which were communal only in that the available space was usable by anyone, not in that stealing someone else’s Dew would not result in horrible consequences.

The explanation that the ears weren’t any less hygienic than raw pork had garnered a horrified “but pork doesn’t have hair on it”. Willow hadn’t budged on her opinion even when Tara pointed out that every pork chop once had a pair of hairy pig ears attached to it. When confronted with the assertion that Willow did not eat pork- granted, more out of habits left from a lax version of kosher upbringing than any intent of being in keeping religious law- there didn’t seem any point in talking about cow ears.

The projects for her finals were traded off with Piggy Time, as Willow had dubbed it, and long hours of research. While Willow was increasingly anxious about the time constraints, she laughingly stated that if there weren’t a crisis during finals, it just wouldn’t feel right. High school only had finals in May, so that’s when the crises would fall then, but now that the quarter system was around, it seemed likely that they’d get three a year from now on. That had lead to some reminiscing over the prior year, and stories of the times before.

Willow had suddenly fallen silent, prompting Tara to tilt her head questioningly.

“I was thinking…”

“That can be dangerous.” She interjected quickly, poker face in place.

Willow cast her a mock-glare. “Well yes, it can be. But let’s live on the wild side for a moment. I was thinking about last year, what happened at the Lowell House.” Willow mused with a self-conscious grin. “Y’know, if I didn’t banish the ghosts there, we might’ve had a convenient way for you to snack until we’ve got the more permanent solution worked out.”

“Even if they didn’t follow your advice and “get over it”, there’s the problem that we don’t really know what it is that I take… and if I’d hurt them when I took it.” Tara didn’t add the question about how one establishes “fluid contact” with a ghost, nor the part about the ghosts’ manifestations as being distinctly underage.

“Yeah… I was reading some of the stuff your mom had written- I took pictures of that part of the book too. She talked about a bunch of the reasons that so many of the mystics in India hated succubi. It wasn’t just the “all demons are bad” thing- what they thought succubi fed on was the monad. Like a soul- the essence of that person that carried into the next reincarnation. So if a succubus killed them, they were… gone. And some of them thought that being fed on somehow degraded them on the karmic scale of rebirth. Like they’d end up worse off because part of the monad had been pulled away.”

“Negating lifetimes of karmic climbing… I can see how that would inspire torches and pitchforks.” Tara wondered how Willow found the energy to keep up this constant activity. Even though it was her own issue, Willow was doing more of the research than Tara herself.

“She has really nice handwriting, by the way.” Willow flashed a smile up at her and Tara forced herself to smile in return. There was instinctive resentment that rose with the idea that Willow was reading through the notes Tara’s mother had left before Tara did. Her intellect tempered it with the knowledge that for her, keeping up the pace that Willow set wasn’t possible.

“Buffy’s mom is out of the ICU now, right?” Tara tried turning the conversation to smoother emotional waters.

“Yeah… she and Dawn are going down there after school today.” Willow sighed. “Buffy hasn’t told Dawn about being… what she is… yet.”

“How do you know?”

“Because Dawn has all the subtlety of a jackhammer when she wants me to tell her something I’m not supposed to,” Willow griped. “And I don’t want to lie to her, so I can’t say there’s nothing-“

“It can’t come from either of us, Will.” Tara said firmly. “That’s not something that she should hear from someone outside the family.”

“But maybe it should. Wouldn’t it be easier… if she could resent someone other than Buffy? I could be the bad cop?”

“She’s going to resent Buffy for not telling her, whether the delay was for a minute or a year.” Tara wished Buffy would tell Dawn, but it wasn’t her place to make that decision. She could tell Buffy what she thought but it was ultimately an issue for their family to choose the time and place to resolve.

“I wonder what would’ve happened if doctor whats-his-name hadn’t gotten bit. Having to go all the way down south to see her mom is really awkward, and the delay in getting her surgery… that can’t have been good.” Willow glanced up at Tara, seeing the pig ear and traditional tattooing needle in Tara’s hands. Willow blanched, looking away quickly. “Which is all kinda callous to say, since he died and all- but it’s not blaming him. I just wonder if she might’ve been home by now, instead of still getting over some kind of post-surgery complication.”

“There’s no way to know.” Tara put the last piece of the tattoo in place, eyeing it critically. It wasn’t pretty. Function was more important in the end, but the idea of permanently marking Willow with something that didn’t look at least remotely professional was noisome. The part for the “invisible” layer was less concerning, as she’d figured out a way to set it in place with the more familiar method of brushwork. Needle work was something much more concerning and it was that part which would remain visible, so she’d been concentrating heavily on getting that part ready for transfer. If only they had time.

“You’re getting gloomy face again.” Willow chided, having peeked upward again.

“No, that’s demon face. It’s easy to mix them up.” Tara tried to make light of it. She’d fallen into the habit of letting the smudgies and horns surface when they were in private. At first it had been an embarrassing concession to fatigue when they returned to her room after another emotionally demanding day, like taking your shoes off and putting your feet up. Her ability to keep her tail shifted away was improving quickly, but Jean had been right about letting it swing free. Without allowing that, she couldn’t completely relax. With the number of days that were piling up with too much work and too much emotional turmoil, it had become routine.

Willow gave her a look of mild consternation, but waited for her to continue.

“I just… hate that I have to do this to you.” Tara set the pig ear aside with a sigh.

“Hey.” Willow reached up, but her hand stopped short of touching. “If anything, it’s me that’s choosing this. You could be… doing what Jean does. I just really, really don’t want to have to share you.”

“I don’t either.” Tara said quietly. “And I don’t know what to do until we get the spell working.”

“How much time do we have?”

“Not enough.” Tara felt the constriction of certainty squeezing the words out.

Willow looked pained, but rallied. “Then we figure out a way. Preferably without the word “waiter” involved.”

“That’s become a new euphemism for you, hasn’t it.” Tara teased weakly.

“It’s a living language.” Willow shrugged. Then concern entered her eyes. “Is it getting hard for you?”

“Not yet.” Tara replied truthfully, declining to state why this was so. She’d started to feel the internal heat begin to build, the increase in glances in her direction, but she was also discovering how to hold the Draw in. It turned out to be another legacy of her mother’s, hidden in a form of meditation Tara had been taught.

“On a completely unrelated note- did you realize it’s Halloween tomorrow?”

Tara nodded. Her observance of Samhain was one of the constants in her life. Willow had found it odd that Tara also enjoyed the more generally accepted version of Halloween with its emphasis on costumed children and candy. Tara didn’t feel a need for the two to be mutually exclusive. Grief was something not done for the dead, but for one’s own loss. Communing with those passed on didn’t interfere with enjoying the activities of over-excited kids. Dressing up in costumes for Halloween had been strictly forbidden in her house, but not something held against those who did. After all, others didn’t have to deal with demons. They could pretend to celebrate the supernatural because when the day was done, it all went away. Her family did not share that luxury. Answering the door for the handful of Trick or Treaters from their community had always been fun.

“They’re having a big party on the quad- somebody must know about it being evil’s night off.”

“Evil’s night off?” This was the first Tara had heard about it. It seemed nonsensical that the world of supernatural would take off the night when a demon could walk around without having to hide and fake blood was in abundance. Or perhaps this was the paradox- because it was so easy to hide in plain sight, no one wanted to spoil the freedom.

“Yup. Or- mostly ‘yup’. There was this one year when someone from out of town made a mess of things- Ethan Rayne. Did I tell you about him?”

Tara shook her head, settling in to listen. The recounting of Willow’s time as a ghost was interesting, although if she hadn’t had the living, breathing version there to reassure her that all went well in the end, it could have been a harrowing tale. Ethan himself was all that she had been warned against in terms of magic’s misuse. That Giles had been involved with someone like that was hard to believe, but people change with time. Sometimes even for the better.

-----

The harvest celebration that the campus wicca group had held seemed like a reasonable thing to check out. The usual question “what could go wrong” had been soundly answered as the celebration turned out to be mostly a forum for snide remarks at the cultural majority that had appropriated Samhain to its own ends. The appropriate words were said to God and Goddess, of course, and the appropriate elements were all in place. The rituals the group used were not her mother’s, but lent some degree of familiar feeling to the day. The form was there, if not the spirit.

Willow had so clearly wanted to join in on the righteous indignation. When she’d started to chime in on the vile practice of portraying witches as warty and green there had been plenty of support. Tara had only sighed and listened, wishing for her Mama’s corncakes in lieu of the potluck contributions available. She had no right to complain, having little to contribute herself without easy access to a stove or time to make use of the one at Willow’s parents’ house. The bag of apples they’d brought from the farmer’s market had been appreciatively received, but used primarily for decoration. The hard cider that Kimberly had brought was much more popular.

At some point Willow had noticed Tara’s discomfiture and eased out of the conversation. The celebration was a lunch affair, which Tara strongly suspected was due to number of campus Halloween activities that would be attended that evening by the very same people who were here protesting against them.

The afternoon belonged to mundane schoolwork and mystic research, leaving the evening for a Dumb Supper. Tara had explained it from opening to close before initiating the ritual, but Willow always had questions. Even having heard it all before the ritual started, her eyes begged to know more and Tara had the distinct impression of her curiosity being less like a cat’s and more like a wriggling puppy’s.

Willow was trying, though. She’d kept the silence so far, although she’d tried briefly to communicate in something approaching sign language. Tara had shaken her head. Silence was not about sound. It was about focusing on communing with those who were beyond the veil between life and death.

As she understood it, most who followed this particular ritual would memorialize family or friends who had passed on. Her mother had a sadder bent- Tara was never aware of names, numbers, or any detail at all, but she’d always understood that it was about her mother’s begging forgiveness from her victims.

Tara herself had been allowed a happier focus. Solemn though it may be, the thoughts she sent out into the ether seeking her grandmother were seldom dark. It wasn’t until her mother’s death that she’d shed tears during this silent hour, and even those had been for herself as she selfishly demanded to know how her mother could have left her.

This year the thoughts she set to her mother were on the subject of the woman that sat across from her, chewing a lip to keep from speaking. Tara tried to clear any abjuring thoughts of what her mother had never told her, but only concentrate on what they had learned.

The Dumb Supper she’d cobbled together with Willow’s assistance bore little resemblance to those of her youth. As with the potluck, there was a dearth of time and cooking equipment. While the idea of paying for takeout of things she was perfectly capable of making herself seemed cosmically wrong to Tara, Baker’s Square had provided a reasonable facsimile of most of the elements she felt appropriate. The ritual itself would have been fine with microwave tray dinners or Chinese takeout, but this was one area that she needed to feel familiar for her own peace of mind.

Even if their cornbread was disappointing, at least there had to be cornbread to be disappointed with.

She’d borrowed a fold out table from the tabletop gamer on the next hall, setting it up in the middle of the room. It was of a height that it worked well for sitting on the floor. It was perhaps not what she’d normally want to set up for guests, but there were some restrictions imposed by the dorm setting and her wish for privacy. A star chart tapestry that normally adorned a wall was serving as a tablecloth, while Willow had brought over three sets of dinnerware after a quick stop at her parents house. A few candles finished the arrangement attractively.

Willow had helped with the invocation and they had settled in their places. A tiny amount of each dish was served first to the empty seat- the place set for the dead they were inviting to their table. Then they served themselves and Tara took a moment to ground herself in the here and now. All the crises and worries of the past weeks were not set aside, but she tried to set aside the distraction of them in favor of being fully present in the current time she inhabited. With that focus, she could open her awareness that much further to the moment she was in.

Knowing answers would not be forthcoming, Tara closed her eyes and framed the foremost question in her mind,

Am I doing right by you, Mama?

How could you not, Tara?

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Ch 25, Part II


The words seemed so achingly familiar in her mind, her memory providing the tone and verbal cadence unique to her mother. While Tara hadn’t physically heard anything, the sense of that comforting presence hit her hard enough to make her eyes fly open, searching for who she knew couldn’t possibly be there.

It simply wouldn’t be possible for her mother to be sitting beside her, smoothing a napkin over her lap, feet tucked under her on the floor. The image wasn’t really solid, though not in the ethereal sense. It wavered between the disparate forms as Tara had remembered her mother- from ten years past, from five years, from the days just before her death.

“I’m sorry- let me help with that.” Tara’s mother murmured in self-conscious good humor, the image stabilizing as she spoke.

The version she’d chosen was that of a year before her death. Tara’s mother had never looked bad in her decline, as opposed to so many pictures of cancer patients that Tara had seen. The most likely reason was now obvious- her human form was one she had control over. Knowing that, it seemed strange that there had been any visible deterioration as her condition worsened, but there had been clear physical signs of sickness.

She wore a long sleeved brown blouse trimmed with Navajo patterned print and dark blue jeans, but those had been around for ages. Her mother had changed her hairstyle a year before her death- it was the short cut that she wore now, which coupled with the lack of apparent illness firmly placed her in Tara’s memory timescale.

“You’ve brought a friend this year?” Tara’s mother prompted.

Tara blinked, rousing herself from her thoughts. The shock wasn’t worn off, but manners dictated the next few moments and ingrained niceties took over.

“Mama, this is Willow.” Tara paused deliberately in brief debate with herself.

“Judy Maclay. It’s wonderful to get to meet one of my daughter’s friends.” Tara’s mother extended a hand to Willow, rising slightly from her seat in order to avoid knocking any of the glasses with her elbow.

Willow gaped and looked quickly to Tara for either permission or reassurance before shaking the hand tentatively. “I… Hi. Yeah. Willow- that’s me. I really didn’t expect to get to meet you.” She twitched as if suddenly realizing that calling attention to the fact that Tara’s mother was dead could be a major faux pas.

“Frankly, I didn’t either.” Judy smiled, saying it with good humored self-deprecation in her voice. “This isn’t exactly what any of us expect to happen at a Dumb Supper. Curious- why now? It looks like you followed what we always did before…”

Tara grimaced as she saw her mother tune into her surroundings, the natural smile faltering to a more consciously produced one. Of course she would notice the Hellmouth’s taint- Tara had become so used to it that it was easy to forget how it had felt the first time she stepped off the bus carrying everything she owned. She had already been afraid, but had accepted as normal her fear of the unknown that awaited her in college. When the sensation of the Hellmouth hit her, it drove into her a spike of doubt and sense of dread that she had made a horrible mistake when she left home. She’d not had the means to leave, though- not without appealing to her father. She’d prayed for and found a sense of balance here. There could not be holy places without their darker counterparts. She’d even thought it appropriate that this be her final home.

Such dark days, seeking out happiness with a desperate hopelessness. Why hadn’t her mother come to her that first year? She’d been so alone in her newfound freedom, her grief still fresh.

“It’s probably something to do with the Hellmouth we’re sitting on.” Willow supplied, seeming to have decided that it was okay to tell dead people these things.

Tara wasn’t convinced that was all of it. If it were just the Hellmouth that made her mother’s current presence possible, why only now? Not last year, when the need was greater?

Tara’s mother gave her a questioning look, and Tara knew the question beneath it- why would Tara choose to live in such a place, knowing what it was? That answered one of Tara’s own questions. If Tara’s dead mother had heard all the things Tara had tried to tell her over the years, she would already know where she was and why. It was saddening to find out that she was even unaware of the things Tara had tried to convey in the lonely Dumb Supper last year.

“This is UC Sunnydale, mama.” Tara said tentatively. Back home, her going to college had been something considered as possible only after she had a good handle on being a demon. It had been expected, actually, but the assumption had been that she would be entering after several years hiatus following high school.

Her mother smiled again, pausing to take a bite of the nibbles of food that had been served to her. “Oh honey, I’m so proud of you… and your father, letting you spend a year or two away. I didn’t think he’d consider it. The credits should transfer to UC San Diego, even if there’s a gap, right?”

“I… I’m not transferring.” Tara suddenly realized her mother’s assumption, once again chiding herself for thinking that the dead would be well aware of what occurred with the living.

“Your father may have let you take this time away from home, but you know that next year… You’ll need to come home. You’ll have to.” The last part trailed into resignation.

“It’s already been two y-years, mama. I’m a junior.” A part of Tara didn’t want to see her mother’s reaction, fearing it, while the other hoped that the reaction would be other than what she expected. As her mother’s face froze before expression could cross it, but her eyes told the story.

The eyes said alarm. Disappointment. Sorrow. Fear. The pride of a moment before had vanished, and with it all trace of joy. With expression carefully controlled, Tara’s mother looked away with a simple, “I see.”

Willow looked like she wanted to jump in but was waiting for some sign that she was allowed. Tara didn’t give it, unsure what Willow would say. It shouldn’t be her that said it. The pause grew too long as Tara tried to muster her thoughts, however, and Willow spoke up.

“Tara hasn’t hurt anyone. You look like she just told you she’s a murderer and from what Mr. Maclay said that’s probably what you’re assuming but it hasn’t been like that! I mean, no, not exactly smooth sailing, but we’ve worked it out so far and we’ve almost got it figured out.”

Tara thought this was a rather positive cast on the events. Not having hurt anyone apparently didn’t apply to what she’d done to Buffy, nor Willow’s seizure. They’d catapulted from one crisis to another, some from inevitable mistakes, others from Tara’s own stupidity. The elusive long term fix wasn’t exactly known either.

In answer to another alarmed look from her mother Tara explained. “She knows that I’m a d-demon, mama. Willow’s my girlfriend.”

There was the little confused shadow, the quick look between Willow and Tara, and then the understanding that dawned in her mother’s eyes. It had been surprisingly easy to tell her. Coming out to her mother was perhaps overshadowed by the confession of exposing what she was to someone outside the family. The dismay could be from either, but Tara chose to believe the latter.

“I see.” Tara’s mother repeated neutrally.

It looked like Willow was about to jump to Tara’s defense at the perceived lack of approval, but Tara’s mother beat her to it with an uncertain smile. “This must have been… quite a shock.”

“Less than you might think. Dating the not-entirely-human is kind of a thing in the group I hang around with.” Willow said in a bemused, philosophical way.

“My daughter was lucky to find you then. Even among those who practice the Craft, when I tested the waters I found very little belief in such things and where I found belief, there was seldom acceptance.”

Tara saw her mother examining Willow as she spoke and realized what lay between the lines. Those who knew of demons and chose to associate with them were suspect. The chances were high that they were not doing so out of the kindness of their hearts.

“If we weren’t already together it might have been an issue, but…” Willow shrugged with a little grin, but her shoulders remained tense after the gesture. “She’s Tara. It’s not like she stopped being Tara when all this happened.”

“That’s more flexible thinking than most-“

“I understand why you’re doing it, but could you stop?” Willow interrupted, her posture’s defensiveness becoming more pronounced. “Watching my aura might not be mind reading, but it still feels invasive when you keep doing it while we talk.”

Tara’s mother looked startled and Tara winced. If Willow hadn’t already been familiar with Tara’s tells, she probably wouldn’t have noticed it.

“I’m… sorry.” Tara’s mother looked away, her face flushing. “In another circumstance I’d be ashamed of myself, but I don’t have the luxury of time to get to know you.”

“If I were you, I’d be trying to make sure she wasn’t dating someone with ulterior motives too. Hence the “I understand” part.” Willow looked relieved at being released from scrutiny.

“But that doesn’t make it right.” Tara finished quietly.

“You’re right. It doesn’t.” Tara’s mother acceded. “So let me ask- how did you meet?”

That led into safer waters, as Willow and Tara traded off on their own versions of the story. There were a few explanations to be had when the encounter with the Gentlemen came up, but Tara followed Willow’s lead in eschewing mention of Buffy’s part in the whole thing. That it suddenly resolved was all that needed to be known before the story moved past. Before long the tension had left their conversation, becoming natural enough to almost forget that one party was dead.

In thinking that, the realization that her mother would soon be gone again struck Tara hard. She fell silent, listening as the conversation continued around her. Willow noticed first, giving her a questioning look. Knowing it would break the ease that they’d found but needing to know, Tara waited until her mother fell silent to ask,

“Are you okay? Where you are?”

“I think so. I wish I could tell you more, but I can’t really.” Tara’s mother’s brow wrinkled as she answered. “Not won’t, but really can’t. I have a general impression that it’s not what I expected, but the actual memories are… it’s like they’re on the other side of the veil still, even though I stepped across.”

“No sneak peeks of the afterlife?” Willow looked honestly disappointed.

“I suppose revealing life’s great mysteries is frowned upon by the higher ups.” Tara’s mother responded with a chuckle. With a rueful grin she continued, “on the up side, that might also be my excuse for why I don’t remember watching over you- if memories made there are left there, I may well have heard every word you said to me.”

It was a pleasant notion, one that Tara decided she’d do her best to have faith in.

“It must have been hard. Not just when you changed… your father means well, but when he’s afraid he tries to defend us the only way he knows how.” Tara’s mother reached out and touched her arm briefly. “We tried to find a way to make the change easier for you than it was for us. We tried to make you safe.”

“I wish I had known more what was going to happen.” It was as close to criticism as she’d allow herself to get.

“Do you understand why we waited? How do you tell your own daughter…” Tara’s mother’s eyes met Tara’s, soft with the implicit request for forgiveness. Willow bristled.

“How could you not?! Social mores are fine and all, but you knew how dangerous it would be- what could happen to her-“

“The year before it happened. That was what we decided on,” Tara’s mother said firmly enough to cut off Willow’s emerging rancor. “Only I didn’t survive that long.”

“And I left home too soon.” Tara added softly.

“If they’d told you it would all be explained when you turned 19, wouldn’t you have waited?”

“Probably not.” Tara admitted, deflating Willow’s argument. “I thought I knew enough to understand what was going to happen to me.”





“How is your father doing with all this?”

“He’s… in shock, I think.” Tara said in a near whisper, guilt beginning to close in on her.

“He means well, but that man is his own greatest enemy.” Tara’s mother shook her head. “



(More)



--
That was the moment that a thunderous knock on the door made both women jump. Willow’s brow crinkled and she opened her mouth, but Tara shook her head and ignored the person that was trying to intrude on her sacred time.

It didn’t work.

(make clear that when the ritual is broken that they don’t remember the conversation)

---TBC

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Ch 25 Pt III



“I can smell you both over that bloody incense.”

While she’d hoped it was an early drunk mixing up which room they were seeking, the voice was Spike’s. They’d been sitting on the ground, using a low fold out table, but Willow was half on her feet before again looking to Tara for permission. She sighed, nodding this time.

Willow opened the door and glared at Spike, who looked like he had been contemplating kicking the door down the moment before. He breezed in past her.

“Took you long enough. Your phone’s on the blink.”

The phone was working fine. She’d just unplugged it before they started to limit unnecessary interruptions. Tara let Willow’s pointed look between the formal dinner arrayed on the table and Spike convey their mutual annoyance at the intrusion. He smirked.

“What? I thought this rubbish was about speaking to the dead,” he pointed to himself, “not just staring at them.”

Tara had to find some humor in that, even if it was about the letter of the law rather than the spirit of it.

“Fine. Rumor has it there’s some bleeders trying to raise a demon tonight. Whatever lot are doing it have no respect for tradition- pissed off the lot at Willie’s enough for them to drop the tip.” Spike sounded disgusted.

Deciding she’d gotten as much time with her mother’s spirit as she could hope to get, Tara started the closing ritual. Willow took this as a sign it was fair to respond verbally.

“What kind of demon?”

“Didn’t know the name, but the blokes aiming to pull it off are using a Iridon medallion. The Slayer’s got her Watcher finding out what it does, but needs you to find them.”

“Do we know when this is going down?”

“Haven’t the foggiest.”

“How many people?”

“Didn’t ask.”

Tara finished her inward recitation of her commitment to honor those gone before in memory and in deed. She schooled her emotions, pushing away her resentment at the timing of the intrusion. While ritual was often performed on specified dates, it was in living in the spirit of them that maintained her connection to her faith. That is what she told herself. It still rankled her.

Keeping a neutral face, Tara turned back to where Spike had invaded her space. He was openly inspecting her room, making her wish she’d tidied up a little more. At least she’d decided to remain in her human guise this evening- the idea of him walking in on her in horns was somehow embarrassing.

“Iridon medallion? Not, um, Aeraelon?” Tara tried to remember where she’d seen the reference.

“With ‘is accent, it could’ve been that.” Spike shrugged.

“Not to knock it, but why are you here?”

“Phone? Not working?” Spike repeated. “Your ears not working either, Red?”

“No- I mean. Why do you care? Shouldn’t you be celebrating another way to mess up our lives?”

“Oh, I’m smiling on the inside.” Spike said with great sincerity. “Watching you lot do the headless chicken routine, getting the wankers who’re pissing on tradition, and maybe even kill something, too.”

Tara pulled a book off her shelf and started paging through it. It seemed altogether too convenient, but she found the passage she was looking for in short order. “It’s for summoning the spirit of Aeraelon- he’s… mmm… insane.”

She passed the book to Willow, who scanned it quickly and looked up, beaming. “You’re a regular Wicca-pedia, y’know that?”

“Fascinating. Can you find it?” Spike looked bored.

“Well, yeah. I think. If we have the components of the spell here.” Willow looked to Tara, who thought for a moment before nodding. There was still leftover from the “failed” spell to locate demons. She felt another pang of guilt over that particular act of sabotage as she started rooting around for what they needed.

The spell worked beautifully this time and after a quick call to the Magic Box on where they needed to rendezvous the three headed out. Tara was nervous about getting in the way when the action started, but Willow reassured her that most of the time they just had to deal with the demon. This did little to calm her misgivings, as it seemed unlikely that the conjurers would sit back quietly while the demon they’d summoned was killed.

They arrived shortly before Buffy’s group at the Wilkins Civic Recreational Center. Spike found a side door that had been duct taped to keep the lock from engaging, grumbling about the method having no style. Buffy, Xander, and Riley pulled up moments later. Riley’s objections about getting information before walking into something unknown were overruled- and belittled by Spike, but that was expected and so ignored.

The rec room basketball court had been dressed out for the ceremony with all the usual accoutrements. Most of it looked extraneous to Tara’s eyes, but the fumes of eldritch produced by the active elements were thick in the air.

Either that or marijuana fumes.

Or possibly both.

There were five casters arrayed around a typical pentagram, all looking quite startled at the interruption. A shaggy black dog was lounging in the center, but raised its head at their arrival.

“Aw man- now we have to do the shot again.” There was a kid in jeans and a Cthulu for President T-shirt behind a tripod mounted camera that was pointed toward the summoning group. He was waving the backward at a nonplussed Buffy, who had yet to invade the scene.

“Hey- you know this is breaking and entering.” Riley took front, using his Voice of Authority.

“This’ll just take, like, ten minutes more! We didn’t break anything, neither.” Robed guy #1 complained.

“Roland, get your dog to do something except yawn, will you? Duke isn’t exactly convincing me he’s a hell hound.” Robed guy #2 griped.

“We’ll clean it all up after this shot, okay? Just… stay over there.” Director said. “Take it from the last line of the chant, okay guys?”

“They covered the fire alarms.” Willow sounded shocked. Tara wondered why this was what she chose to comment on. There was actual magic going on, even if fantasy had been the intentions of the crew in front of them. She touched Willow’s arm to get her attention.

“You can’t let them-“

“Chh. Buncha lil’ wankers playing dress up? I’m missing a Twilight Zone Marathon for this?” Spike sneered. He walked into the scene and kicked over one of the candles.

The dog Duke looked up and Tara could swear that he grinned. It sent a chill through her and she was glad the eyes weren’t aimed at her as they started to glow like smoldering coals as the dog’s body seemed to diffuse partially into the air around it. It flowed as much as leapt at the nearest of the robed young men- the one who’d been called Roland. They fell together as Buffy launched forward.

“Oops.” Spike’s boot was still upraised, his face more chagrinned than worried.

There was a wet crunch and the shadowed dog raised its head. The black of its fur seemed to suck in the surrounding light, but the blood dripping from its jaws reflected the candlelight normally. It held the pose until Buffy was a few paces away, then launched in another flowing, impossible leap toward the doors on the opposite end of the room. For all that its outline was indistinct, it was corporeal enough to impact solidly, crashing through them.

“Continue pursuit- I’ll circle the back.”

Riley split off as Spike headed after Buffy. Xander took two steps forward, saw he was already too far behind to catch up and stopped.

The robed young men had abandoned their positions and crowded toward the cameraman, who just looked stunned. Their words made an indistinct cacophony of fear and surprise that Tara didn’t try to parse through. The ritual in front of her captured her entire attention as she attempted to sift through the trappings and see what was truly at work.

“Spike broke the containment here… no good trying to put that back together now that the pooch flew the coop.” Willow started walking around the side of the pentagram, scanning it with her eyes.

“The amulet?” Tara looked around, not seeing any sign of it.

Everyone winced as the room was flooded with light. Xander stood by the wall switch, blinking. “What is it about doing magic in the dark?”

“It’s the, mm, artificial light? It d-disrupts the natural flow of-“

“Supernatural-ness. Yeah.” Xander interrupted dismissively, but not unkindly. He’d mellowed little by little since the return from her father’s house, almost exactly in line with Buffy’s physical recovery. Tara wasn’t sure that this was actual forgiveness for what she’d done to them, but it was still welcome. She hoped it wasn’t just pity for the post-casting headache she’d tried unsuccessfully to hide on the drive back to Sunnydale. She was thankful for being given a few days to recover before the seeking spell they’d had to do earlier.

“Disrupting the spell is probably not a bad thing… but I think that we need the amulet before we can undo the conjure. It’s really simple in concept- break the amulet. But it’s kinda hard to break something you don’t have.” Willow stepped gingerly over one of the lines to peer at the materials that had been set carefully around where the dog had lain in the center of the pentagram.

“Doesn’t it usually work okay if Buffy just kills it?” Xander asked, walking toward the group of robed conjurers and their cameraman.

“It depends. If they conjured the, mm, spirit, but not the body? If it lost its ghorala it might just-“

“GWAR!” Robed #1 howled suddenly, startling everyone.

“… move on to another?” Tara finished, watching the young man’s outline blur as he seemed to suck light from the room. It was much less effective with the overhead lights than it had been with the candles, but the same diffusion effect as had been seen on the dog Duke followed. The cameraman went down with a gurgle as his possessed compatriot lunged at him. Of the remaining two conjurers, one started trying to pull the possessed one away while the other started to run.

“This is so not cool, dudes. Not frickin’ cool.”

“You! Stay!” Xander yelled at the runner, who slowed and wavered, looking back over his shoulder. Xander himself was headed straight into the fray, which from the sound of it was involving human teeth being used in ways they were never intended.

“It’s just going to run through each of you unless we stop it.” Willow had carefully extricated herself from the ritual area. “Where is the amulet?”

“What amulet? We weren’t using some cheesy-ass amulet for our film!”

“Then just hide behind the bleachers while we take care of this- we can’t protect you if you run away, okay?”

Tara wasn’t so sure that they could protect him even if he didn’t run away. With a pained sound from Xander as he got tossed off the possessed conjurer, she came up with at least a temporary fix.

“If we herd it back in there…” She called to Willow, gesturing at the pentagram. “Maybe bind it till we find the amulet?”

“Sure- herd away!” Xander picked himself up off the floor, seeing himself ignored as the possessed guy homed stalking the last visible conjurer. The conjurer in question had determined that helping the cameraman was a lost cause and decided that self-preservation was now the priority.

Tara trotted over to where the cameraman was bleeding steadily onto the floor. He was gurgling from a ragged neck wound that exposed but didn’t pierce his windpipe. His camera was held to his limp hand by a strap, the viewfinder broken off. She picked up a torn off section of his jacket with the idea of putting pressure on the wound, only to realize she’d be cutting off his ability to breathe. The cameraman was alive, but probably not for long.

“Gotcha!” Willow’s voice drew Tara’a attention back to the gym floor. The candles were relit and a very unhappy possessed conjurer was blurring from one side of his prison to the other. She wondered how they’d managed to lure the being in so quickly, but there was little time to inquire. The candles were burning low- she estimated no more than five minutes remained. Cheap candles.

“How do we banish it?” She asked the dying man beside her urgently. He only gurgled back and Tara around frantically for a phone. “Xander! He needs an ambulance!”

Xander hesitated, looking back at the captive entity.

“We’ve got this- go!” Willow was carefully adjusting pieces of the ritual space, but she had to be aware of the time limit before the magic would sputter out.

“I’m on it!” Xander sprinted out toward the front entry.

Willow caught Tara’s eyes and motioned her over. The blurry entity had settled down, it’s human body crouching within a hazy aura. With one last look down at the injured cameraman Tara decided there was nothing she could do for him and joined Willow.

“The candles aren’t going to last much longer.”

“I know... but without the amulet…”

Willow indicated the final, cowering summoner. “That guy didn’t know about any amulet- there must’ve been something else they used. Any other ideas?”

Tara shook her head. She’d been counting on finding and destroying the amulet to banish the creature or failing that, assumed Buffy would kill it. A possession was stickier- exorcism should be possible, but it would take significant reading to find the right rite to use.

Willow’s face showed some discomfiture as she glanced between the entity and Tara. “I may have an idea… does the guy still have a human aura? Or is it just the Aeraelon hazy stuff?”

Tara crinkled her brow, but really looked at the conjurer. The indistinct haze was in the physical visual spectrum, layered over but not obscuring the aura of the man beneath. “He’s still human- just serving as a mount.”

“I may have an idea… y’know how the feed-on-vamps idea didn’t work?”

Tara felt a spike of unease at where this was going, but nodded reluctantly.

“The entity is attached by magic, right? So… he’s human- if you’re burning off the magic he’s got, wouldn’t that break its hold on him?”

“What would keep it from jumping to him?” She indicated the last conjurer.

“If the ward still keeps it in, it couldn’t.” Willow looked uncertain. “The problem is that we don’t know if it could jump into you.”

“I… don’t think so. It’s kept to those involved in the summoning so far.” Tara wished she could be more certain about that, but it made sense to her for the same reason Willow then voiced.

“That’s what I figured. Otherwise- why jump from the dog all the way back here? Why not just hop a ride on Riley? But… safety issues. I mean- even if it can’t possess you, it can still hurt you.”

“Mm…” Tara looked at the ward. The space wasn’t based on the physically drawn lines- the pentagram’s effect was instead designated by the lines between the candles at the cardinal points. “If we moved it all inward?”

“Constrict the space down enough… it wouldn’t be able to move much.” Willow nodded. “It could work. And we’d know before doing anything more risky.”

They split up, each moving the candles inward a foot at a time, then rotating to the next, circling until the central space consisted of little more than 2 feet to a side. The entity had thrashed and howled early on but had settled into malevolent glaring where it stood. It seemed incapable of speech and there was no way to tell if it understood what they were saying.

Tara had severe misgivings about their plan, but had no better one to offer and time was running out. A proper exorcism would take research and possibly materials other than those in front of them, continuing the containment would take candles they didn’t have on hand, and even if Buffy got back in time, she couldn’t kill the man when there was no reason to believe he couldn’t recover once the entity left. At least trying the blood-contact feeding shouldn’t do him any permanent damage, whether it worked or not.

At least that’s what she kept telling herself.

The need to feed- for some reason it disturbed her to think of it as hunger- wasn’t yet causing problems but she had the feeling that it would be in the very near future. It would be safer now than in a few days and she could at least pretend that it was serving a purpose beyond simply giving her an excuse to exploit another person for her own requirements.

‘Requirements’. ‘Needs’ sounded too… crass.

“Guys- the ambulance is on the way.” Xander made his return known, making Tara abruptly more self conscious about their plan.

“Great. Xander- take Mr. Courage here outside…” Willow waved at the last conjurer. “We’re going to try to banish this thing.”

Xander nodded and complied. Tara wondered if he ever took command or if Willow was always the one who took over in Buffy’s absence. Perhaps that was more comfortable for him. Not everyone is meant to lead and she didn’t think there should be any shame in that despite cultural tendencies to the contrary. She knew Willow was just removing him from the scene- the chances of Xander approving of the solution they were attempting was effectively zero. It wouldn’t have been her first choice either, but… one of the candle stubs was already starting to sputter.

“Tara..?” Willow had seen it too and was starting to look worried.

Tara nodded and started circling the trapped entity. It tried to keep both witches in sight, but when they were on opposite sides it turned its attention toward Willow briefly- but long enough for Tara to grab its right arm and stab into it with a uselessly ornate knife that she’d procured from the scattered accoutrements that weren’t actually contributing to the ritual space. She’d already made a cut in her hand and the being’s reflexive jerk away from where she’d stabbed the arm slid the wounds together.

When blood contacted blood the path for the Burn was laid open. Tara tried to retain some kind of control over it but it ended up taking more concentration to just keep hold as the entity tried to thrash away within the extremely confined space it inhabited. The motions slowed quickly as she burned off his energy but the haze of the entity remained. His body sagged, physically leaning against the barrier that confined him. Without the struggle, Tara focused further inward, trying to discern the magical link that held the entity in place.

There was so little she understood about what she was doing. It seemed easiest to describe in terms of eating, despite all the sexual trappings that traditionally surrounded it. There was a flavor that differed between people- each of the few she’d fed from had been unique, and the second feeding from Willow had confirmed it was specific to the person. Describing that flavor would be describing color to the blind- it was a sense she was unaccustomed to and had no words for. Trying to track the Burn was easier than trying to pay attention to your digestive system, but its actions harder to control than the mechanics of eating.

“What the hell?!”

Tara’s mind snapped back to external focus and she looked up to see that the cavalry had finally arrived. The words had come from Xander, who looked at her in disgust. Buffy just looked shocked, while Riley’s stony expression didn’t betray what variation on disapproval he was feeling. Spike was the only one not paying attention to her, instead looking hungrily at the bleeding cameraman.

The conjurer collapsed bonelessly as the bounds of the ward ceased to hold him upright. Distracted by the witnesses before her, Tara let go as the conjurer’s full weight pulled his arm from her grasp, the cut on her hand stinging as the skin pulled. She took a panicky look at the candles and found them sputtering but still lit. The haze of the entity had fled, leaving an unconscious young man at her feet.

“It’s gone.” Willow said with clear relief. “It worked.”

Tara dropped to her knees, checking that the conjurer was still breathing. She wondered if her eyes were still the red that Willow indicated surfaced when Tara was feeding. She wasn’t sure it really mattered. Xander and Willow started an argument with steadily escalating volume.

“How could you just stand there and let her do that?”

“The ward was about to fail- we had to do something!”

“You let her drain him like some kind of vampire.”

“Yeah, I did. And he’s alive, the spirit thing is gone, and with any luck we’ve pushed back the deadline on when she has to feed next.”

“So that’s why you didn’t just try to knock him out, right?”

“We did knock him out- just in a way that was more productive than painful.”

Tara had sat back on her heels as Riley took over checking the unconscious form of the conjurer. Willow had drifted over and had a hand on her shoulder, glaring at Xander over Riley’s back. Tara felt unsteady, her internal senses off kilter but not so much as to eradicate awareness that the Burn had recessed to near total absence.

“He’s okay, I think. Is it really gone?” Riley challenged.

Tara nodded. She started to stand, but got off balance and ended up getting a quickly offered hand from Willow.

“This git is done for. Can I drain ‘im after?” Spike asked innocently, squatting beside the bleeding cameraman.

“Absolutely not.” Buffy snapped. Tara suspected that Spike must have already upset her some time during the outdoor pursuit. “Get your hands off that!”

“I wasn’t going to nick it.” Spike groused, then reconsidered. “Well, yes, I was. But it’s not like he needs it-“

“That’s the amulet. He had it the whole time…” Willow said, sounding confused. She approached the dying man, Tara trailing her. “You could have ended this any time- why didn’t you?”

The cameraman laughed wetly, the hand his camera was strapped to falling at last to the floor. “That was frickin… Youtube gold.”

There was a satisfied, gurgling sigh and the man’s aura faded to the tones of the newly dead. The entire group spent a moment in shocked silence.

“Just for good measure-“ Buffy snapped the amulet in two.

Tara winced. The entity was gone already and there was a reason the amulet had been created- a reason beyond the unfortunate purpose it had been put to today. The good had just been lost now, to rid themselves of the tool for the evil that had taken place. The evil of the entity itself was less troubling- it was doing what its nature dictated. That the cameraman could cause the tragedy they had witnessed for no better reason than entertainment- that was the truly disturbing part.

There wasn’t any more time for contemplation. The sound of an ambulance siren was audible at the front of the building and the Scoobies had found that it was a bad habit to be found as a group at the site of numerous incidents involving injured and dead people. By silent consensus Riley and Xander stayed behind- since Xander had made the call and Riley was most likely to come up with a coherent cover story. The others made their way out the back.

“I can’t let you do that again.”

Tara looked blearily at Buffy’s back as they walked back to the car. She knew she was lagging, slowing them down, but she had yet to regain her equilibrium.

“She didn’t do him any real harm.” Willow insisted. “And there wasn’t any time to do anything fancy.”

“I don’t see what the problem is.” Spike was lighting up a cigarette, leaning against the car ahead of them.

“You’re not helping, Spike.” Willow said flatly.

“Buffy’s right… w-we don’t know if he’s okay or not.” Tara voiced her opinion. Willow looked disappointed.

“He wasn’t exactly innocent in this-“Willow protested.

“He was just some stupid kid.” Buffy responded.

“He’s the same age as us.” Willow pointed out. “And what did you do to get the spirit thing out of the dog?”

“Asked it politely. Very obliging, these insane spirits.” Spike sniped. Buffy just looked guilty.

“You killed it, right?” Willow continued as if she hadn’t heard Spike. “Well this fellow had just been chewing through Mr. Filmmaker’s neck and the way we held him captive wasn’t going to last. So as much as you want to be squeamish about it, I think Tara’s method was a heck of a lot more humane than the alternative.”

Tara paid little attention to the continuing back and forth. It was not lost on her that the only support for what she’d done was coming from her girlfriend and a vampire- one which was biased, the other evil by his own frequent admission.

The group made their way back to campus, watching the trick-or-treaters with tired interest. By this time it was mostly the pumpkin-smasher crowd out with their minimal excuses for costumes and faux casual loitering when passing eyes were present. Tara and Willow headed back to Tara’s room and the cold remains of the aborted Dumb Supper. She had a lingering sense that some sort of magic moment had been lost there, but nothing more than instinct to back it.

“Hey, are you okay?” Willow’s hand on her elbow drew Tara’s attention out of her own thoughts.

“I think… I need to get some sleep,” Tara admitted. She was tired in more ways than one, but beyond that sleep seemed like a good alternative to the nausea that had slowly been flowering since leaving the community center.

Willow looked disappointed, but nodded, recognizing the dismissal for what it was. She turned to go, but paused in the doorway.

“It’s not what Buffy said, right? You didn’t do anything wrong.”

Tara shook her head. It wasn’t what Buffy had said, nor even the disapproval from the others. She knew what she’d done was wrong- no one needed to tell her. She didn’t want to start the discussion with Willow about it tonight, though, so didn’t elaborate.

“See you tomorrow then.”

Tara got up and gave Willow a brief hug from behind. “I’m sorry- I just… don’t feel well. We can talk tomorrow?”

Willow covered Tara’s arms with her own and lingered a moment before they mutually broke the embrace. “Meet me after class?”

Tara nodded, then stooped quickly to catch Miss Kitty in the midst of an attempt to escape the room. Willow grinned at that and with a muted little wave closed the door behind herself as she left. Tara let Miss Kitty back down to the floor, where the kitten immediately went to investigate the bottom of the now closed door. Sitting down heavily on the bed Tara looked at the remains of the Dumb Supper. The food had been tidied away hastily to prevent feline mishaps but the low, foldable table was still out with everything else in place.

She wondered what had happened during that time leading up to Spike’s hammering on the door. It had broken the moment, which she found upsetting to a degree beyond what seemed reasonable. On the other hand she wondered if she would have even been aware anything had happened, had the ritual gone its full course. Without the rude interruption to make a clear break in her memory, she had a feeling the entire Supper would have faded into assumptions of similarity to the past without having any actual recollection of the event.

She’d have to ask Willow if the amnesia was mutual, but again she was almost certain that it was. There was a sort of instinctual trust in what had occurred- enough to know that she was at ease with whatever she’d experienced. That alone made her inclined to believe that one of the spirits she or Willow had communed with had made their presence known and communed back. It would have been nice to know which one. She suspected it was someone Willow had called on, since Tara had more than once had interrupted Suppers before that had yielded no such sense of comfortably lost time.

In counterpoint to the lack of issue with this event, the sense of malaise she’d had since leaving the rec center had progressed to queasiness. Jean had said that feeding in nontraditional manners could make a succubus sick, but there had been no specific warnings on frequency or type. Tara assumed that knowing wouldn’t have helped anyway. While the intensity of the changes she was undergoing had declined, she was sure they were still occurring, with her need to feed being less but probably not down to what would become her long term norm. Feeling sick wasn’t going to force her into compromising while they worked out the tattoo she had to inflict on Willow. Tara could endure.

Having absently tidied away the dishes and tended for Miss Kitty, Tara gratefully collapsed into bed. Sleep was near instantaneous despite a mind full of worries.

------------end Ch 25

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 Post subject: Re: Changes
PostPosted: Thu Sep 03, 2015 10:01 pm 
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This is where there start to be more notes and discontinuity. I'll be putting things in some kind of order so it's not too random.

-Never

---

After return from San Diego

Will's healing spell's effect on Buffy- not cancelled properly. Not a big difference, but she is preoccupied with mom, so stabbed during patrol… and doesn't start to heal like she should. Riley now sure Tara did something bad to her.

There is another Tara PTSD moment. Willow tries to be helpful and ends up just being overbearing, then frustrated with herself for not having an answer. Acervating resentment of Buffy.

Talk further about alterations of tattoo. Tara needs to practice the actual physical task of non-machine tattooing, Willow highly squeamish.

Disagreements start to arise re: using the Hellmouth as the source for the raw magic needed in the feeding ritual. Tara has severe apprehension, but has no better solution so in the end Willow’s voice of pragmatism will prevail. Set stage for post-tattoo-success arguments.

Need Glory to appear occasionally- check canon continuity for what’s going on in the background.



Random fun section-
Next chunk needs disclaimer: Some lines are taken from Triangle, written by Jane Espenson, but are frequently reordered, altered, and generally abused for my nefarious purposes.


Buffy POV- Strike

"I didn't expect everything to just suddenly go away… but I don't know what to do." Buffy swung her hanging feet absently. "Willow acts like things are fine between us, but then- boom- she just goes off. Or worse- she gets all unWillowy and quiet."

"Now see- with a guy that'd be easy. He'd just pop you in the nose and that'd be the end of it. Score's settled, back to square one." Xander pantomimed a punch at the air in demonstration, shuffling his feet in a chicken-like version of a boxer’s dance.

"Must be nice," Buffy said wistfully.

"Not so much- but efficient." He leaned back beside her perch on the pommel horse.

"I'm getting the feeling you've done this." She grinned, bumping his shoulder gently with her own.

"Once or twice. More on the receiving end, actually."

It always amazed her how Xander could 'fess up to past humiliation without a trace of embarrassment. She raised an inquiring eyebrow, urging him to continue. Xander and Riley wrestling over the stupidest things was mystery enough to her. Just how was fighting with someone supposed to mend your friendship with them? It must be some male alpha wolf psych thingy of trying to assert your authority without actually hurting the other guy. Much.

"Well, Jesse pounded me when I ate his Twinkies. There was this kid Mitch in junior high- I think I dropped a Slurpee on his favorite comic or something." Xander screwed up his face in a moment of quiet thought, then brightened, "Oh- and Oz decked me over the Willow-with-an-axe thing."

"Which you totally deserved and I would have appreciated seeing." Buffy frowned, "Wait- Oz got upset? Upset enough to hit you? Where was I during this?"

"I think you were a rat at the time." Xander shrugged, "The point being, afterwards we were cool."

"It is a strange, strange world in which 'you were a rat' is considered a logical explanation." Buffy slid down to her feet. "And bizarrely enough, I think I get it."

It wasn't all that hard to understand. When you were wronged, you found the person responsible and punished them. Once they were punished, was there anything else to do but move on? She grinned uncertainly, "So I should tell Willow to hit me and get over it?"

"Ah…two things- I would leave out saying 'get over it'… and she's a girl. Girl-brains are mysterious and convoluted in their workings." He pointed out.

A more confident confirmation would have been nice, but Xander's amicable lack of total contradiction would suffice. "Girl brain or not, you've known her forever- what do you think I should do?"

"I dunno, I’m just happy that I got off her shit-list. I can tell you one thing though; sooner is better than later." Xander stood, "Willow is a world class bottle-up-er, but when the explosion comes, there ain't nothin' in the 'verse that'll save you…"

The door to the training room opened and the two fell silent as Willow’s head peered in, her cheery request in no way concealing her consternation.

"Xander! Will you please tell Anya that contributing spell components to the fight against the Forces of Darkness is not the same as stealing?" Without waiting for an answer, she disappeared back into the shop.

"Giles left me responsible for the store! That means I'm in charge and I say that when he comes back and finds half his hellebore has been pilfered, he's going to blame me!"

"Willow, maybe we should just pay…" These words were quiet and even, barely carrying in to the back, but there was unmistakable discomfort there. Standing up to Anya wasn’t something Buffy found very attractive, either, but at some point Tara needed to stop letting people walk all over her.

"If he were here, he would be giving it to us." Even though Willow was trying overly hard to make it sound reasonable, the words were still weedling. "And- oo- we show you how to do some stuff!"

“Stop that! No floating the merchandise!”

"I think that duty calls, Buffs- I need to get in the middle of two passionate women whom I dearly love." With a wide grin Xander stepped jauntily toward the door humming through the next few words from the shop before the volume increased.

"You think we're like that mouse!" Not so much an accusation, this was a delighted declaration from the redhead.

"The what?" Delight on Willow inevitably seemed to result in distress on Anya. And vise versa. It was a thing. A grin crawled onto Buffy's face as the rest of the words wafted in.

"The mouse- who wants the milk and then the straw." Willow sounded proud, but it would be hard to miss the condescension.

"What are you talking about?" The ex-demon demanded, sounding more flustered by the moment.

"It's a book. If You Give a Mouse a Cookie… there's a greedy mouse." Tara’s words were matter of fact, attempting neither to mollify nor tease.

"You're referencing literature I have no way of knowing-" Anya was getting shrill now, passing from irritated into genuinely upset.

"Oh God. Wish me luck, for it is a noble thing I go to do…" The jauntiness turned into a death row shuffle, but Xander didn't falter in his path, gamely closing the door behind him to give Buffy some quiet.

Buffy chuckled to herself, turning back to the heavy bag and starting her workout. She blissfully ignored the raising and lowering voices, happy that this time it wasn't her problem. She had enough problems- today it was not her job to keep the peace…

The door opened and slammed shut again, an incensed Willow storming through and dropping to sit on the steps, visibly fuming. She glanced up.

"Oh. Hey. Didn’t notice you were here." The redhead produced a forced smile with the implied apology.

"I wasn't going to advertise." Buffy admitted, gesturing toward the shop, "I guess the peace treaty didn't go through?"

"Xander chickened out and then Anya got Tara all upset too- I mean, how low can you get? Make her snide, judge-y comments, fine- but she can't just make Tara apologize for her!"

Buffy had a sneaking suspicion that there had been a replay of the 'Xander, take my side' skit of a moment before, but decided against sharing her insight. "She means well."

"Yeah, well so did the Hutu." Willow grumbled, rolling her eyes.

"And in her defense, some of your references make me feel like an idiot." Buffy vaguely remembered a Hostess snack thingy by that name, or was that a HoHo?. She also had a dim recall of an association with Tootsie Rolls, but that didn’t make any sense.

"Then she can keep sniping at me. But she puts Tara in the middle of it- you know Tara's not gonna defend herself-" The rant ended abruptly, Willow's eyes going from upset to deadly cold for an instant before snapping away from Buffy as if looking at her was painful.

Buffy waited, hoping for the words to go on. Anything but the silent seething that might have started with Anya, but was now much more personal. She tried to prod the conversation back toward the original issue,

"Tara can stand up for herself-"

"Can she?" Willow's question was icy, no longer having anything to do with the confrontation in the shop. That the witch's hands had balled into fists in her lap was not lost on the Slayer.

"What are we talking about here, Will?" Buffy asked with as much compassion as she could muster.

"Nothing. It's…" The redhead stood suddenly, turning with an explosive sigh. "I should just go."

"Wait. Will-“ Buffy let her shoulders fall in defeat. “Just say it. Whatever you have to say- just… tell me.”

“There’s nothing to say, Buffy.” Willow’s words were tight, infused with an artificial calm.

“There is. It’s obvious that things aren’t right between us. I don’t know what to tell you-“

“Don’t tell me anything. I…” The words were harsh, but her friend bowed her head and her words resumed their blank, even tone, “this is my problem.”

“Then let me help you. You’re my friend- my best friend of the female sort- and this isn’t going away on its own.” Buffy’s attempt at placation was interrupted as Willow’s calm broke and she rounded on Buffy, face flushed and furious.

“So we’ll just have a nice little chat, have a special bonding moment, and everything goes back to normal?” The scorn in the redhead’s tone cut deeper than the words might indicate. Even knowing that Willow still held resentment for what Buffy had done to Tara hadn’t prepared Buffy for the degree of wrath she found herself faced with. Though she would not step back, her mind retreated as Willow stalked forward.

"Or something. I hate having you mad at me…"

"I don't know how not to be mad, Buffy. I mean, I’ve talked it to death with Tara and she says everything is fine, but it's not- and she tries to pretend it is… but sometimes she can't." Willow's fists again curled compulsively as impotent anguish started to surface in her face, "And there's no one to blame for what you did- what happened, and I know that- but I can't seem to make myself feel it, because every time I think I can, something reminds me and then I see you- in my head I see you, I see Tara- and-and I feel like I can't breathe."

Buffy remembered that feeling around Riley after his night with Faith. She'd gotten through it, but his crime was so much clearer than her own. Riley didn't realize that she wasn't herself; he was guilty for that. Faith had initiated the whole thing; she was guilty for that. All parts and parcels accounted for. In the grand scheme of things, she could see that Faith was the one responsible, but still had needed time to forgive her boyfriend his lack of perception.

For Willow though… it was too complicated. Magic just made a mess of everything, and making it even messier was that this was unintentional, poorly understood magic.

"What can I do?" Buffy asked simply.

The response was almost yelled, "I don't know! I keep thinking I'm going to be able to let it go…" The redhead drew a shuddering breath, suddenly quiet again before the crescendo began anew. "She's hurting- in so many ways she's still hurting- and I can't help her. You're only a piece of that, but you are a piece- and besides her dad and maybe Jean, you're the only piece that I can put a face to."

"Then… bring it." There was no challenge in her words- Buffy made it a gentle request as she spread open hands from her sides in offering. Willow stopped mid-breath as she was about to continue and just stared.

"What?"

Buffy kept her pose, giving an affirming sort of nod.

"You… want me to hit you?" Willow asked, brow furrowing over wide, utterly perplexed eyes. Her hands relaxed, as if she suddenly noticed the tight fists that she'd been holding at her sides.

"I get it Willow- you need something you can fight. And that something happens to be me." Buffy thought back to the snake creature, her arms coated in its blood before she had stopped pounding the motionless body. It had been a release- and what Xander had said made even more sense now. Willow needed to find some kind of justice in this messed up situation, and that, at least, Buffy could give her.

"You want me to hit you?" Willow repeated, somewhere in the range between bemused and uncertain.

"You know I can take it…" Deep down, Buffy doubted Willow would actually do it- she'd never seen Willow actually punch anyone. Actually, there had been Anya in her demon days that time when VampyWill took over the Bronze. Of course, the whining about her sore hand the next day might not indicate a likely a repeat of that.

If she did go for it, Buffy hoped that her friend didn't aim for the nose. Even Willow could break a Slayer's nose if Buffy didn't move to defend herself. A broken nose might have to be reset, would hurt far more than it had any right to, and she'd have an ugly bruise for at least a couple hours. Not to mention the possibility of bleeding on a shirt that Buffy was quite fond of. It was the offer that was important… and it wasn’t like there was anything else she could give. Forgiveness cookies only worked when you could bake something that was edible and didn't come out of a Pillsbury package.

"You want me to hit you?" This time it was incredulity.

"I'm not intending to fight you… but you need to do something or you're going to blow a gasket… which isn't going to be good for Tara any more than it is for us." Buffy raised her chin, taking a step forward.

Take it on the chin- not the nose. A-ny-where but the nose.

"You want me to hit you?" Willow said it softly this time, eyes dropping. Her open hands met at waist height, her left thumb rubbing the opposite palm as she looked at them in thought. She turned back toward the door with her head still bowed and Buffy wondered if she was just going to walk away.

Nothing would change. Maybe it was a guy thing… or a guy and a Slayer thing. She sighed, head dropping. So much for simple.

Willow said something softly and Buffy raised her head again, realizing guiltily that she had stopped paying attention when her thoughts turned inward.

She felt the prickle of a spell an instant too late to do anything about it. Her instinctive alarm was immediately overshadowed by pain exploding through her face from a point somewhere on her cheek, followed by an object that slammed into her right side, and finally the comparatively gentle impact against what she identified as the training room’s brick wall. She slid down its roughness, her knees having decided that she needed to be on the floor for a moment. There was only one thing she’d been hit by that felt like that. The world swam as she snapped her head up, expecting to see a contemptuous Glory striding toward her and tensing to react. A doomed fight, maybe, but she had to keep the skanky demon from hurting Willow- and if Willow had pulled together some kind of spell to help, maybe together they would stand a…

Wait.

There was no Glory. Just… Willow? The witch was breathing deeply, unsteadily, the eyes she trained on Buffy concerned- yet she had to wonder if a part of the redhead wasn’t savoring what she saw. Her hand, still curled into a fist, was lowering slowly as a crackle of scarlet tinted magic crawled like electricity up her arm, giving Buffy an inkling to what had happened even as its light faded away. With all trace of malevolence gone as if it had never been, Willow looked down at her hand as if unsure it was her own. She tested it once, spreading the fingers and wiggling them carefully before starting forward.

Buffy had a flash of insight into Tara's continuing skittishness in the seconds it took Willow to cross the room. There was no further aggression she could detect in the redhead, but at the same time… the florid pain in her face sent a spike of irrational fear through her. It wasn't fear of a fight- it was fear of fighting a friend. The magic Willow could bring to bear would make it impossible for Buffy to hesitate and the outcome could be devastating, emotionally as well as physically.

All of this kept Buffy crouched in shock where she was, staring dumbly as Willow offered a tentative hand to pull her back to her feet.

Finally accepting the gesture and reaching up to clasp her friend's proffered support, Buffy realized just how much her side hurt. Her face had been overshadowing it in intensity and when she looked up she found the world splitting into nauseating dual images. She closed her eyes as she stood, Willow's grip now keeping her steady.

"You're okay, right?" The meek voice was pitched slightly high.

"I will be…" Buffy probed gently at her cheek before a stab of pain indicated that was a poor idea. Her left eye was swelling rapidly, which was actually something of a relief as the closing lid stopped her double vision. "Feel any better?"

"Not exactly… kinda traded anger for guilt?" Willow's brows peaked in penitent discomfort, shoulders hunching. "You sure you're going to be alright? Your eye is getting puffy."

"I'll heal." Buffy shrugged, forgetting about her injured side in the attempt to cover up her mental discomfort and ending up wincing as she did so. Willow noticed and fidgeted.

"Sorry… it's the, um, first time I tried that one. Hence the over-doing. I think I was supposed to let it work over thirty seconds or so instead of all at once." She had gone back to abashedly rubbing the palm of her offending hand.

Buffy glanced at the room, taking in the cracked wood practice dummy’s new position. Willow mumbled, "You sorta… bounced."

"Impressive." Buffy admitted, but couldn't help needling, "it'll be even more impressive when you use it on one of the bad guys."

"Yeah, but I’d have to actually hit them. The moving target thing?" Willow cringed slightly, "You were just, y’know, standing there- and I was aiming for your nose actually, but... the spell covers the strength, even messes with the physics to keep me from breaking myself up by accident with the whole ‘equal and opposite’ thing- but no Slayery fighter skillz. I might be able to modify it… that could get iffy… though maybe layering? Or a linked contingency frame-" To the Slayer’s relief her voice had smoothed into a more normal curiosity and a glimmer of characteristic enthusiasm.

"You'll make it work." Buffy cut her off before the full description started of how Willow intended to go about this. Magic technical stuff was worse than doing proofs in math. In real terms, she wasn't sure that putting Willow on the front line any time soon would be a good thing- magic could do a lot, but the witch had complained to her early on that spells couldn't be combined without a lot of work and even then tended to be dangerous. Any incompatibility and they went kurflooey. That had been the technical term Willow had used- ‘kurflooey’. Having the skill or the strength or the resilience didn't do much good without the whole package. Besides, magic took too long- even the shorter invocations took seconds that a real fight would never allow.

"Will- are we okay now? I mean, really okay?" Asking might not give her the truth, but she had to give the redhead a final chance to vent the rest of her feelings or it might all just build up again.

Willow didn't answer, but her feet slowed at the bottom step toward the shop. Buffy stopped with her, waiting silently. "Yeah… I think we are… but… that night…" the redhead looked over to her slowly, studying Buffy's face intently for a moment with an unreadable expression. The Slayer started to tense- if Willow was still touchy, she had no intention of sitting still this time. The redhead's eyebrows drew together and she continued, "… you really don't know how two women do it?"

"Do..?" Buffy's brain caught up and she felt an inferno level blush engulf her face.

"I mean. It's not like it's all that complicated-" Willow was riding the border between patronizing and incredulous.

"Not a lot of higher brain functions were occurring at that point." Buffy interrupted defensively, looking away and speaking quickly in hopes of heading off the conversation. She asked weakly, "so… Tara told you about… that part?"

"Eventually," Willow's voice was again filled with quiet turmoil. She covered it quickly, adding brightly, "I ask a lot of questions."

Buffy gave her one more empathetic look and took hold of the door knob.

Willow started again conversationally, "So… Riley’s never gone down on-"

"Not discussing it!" The burning in her face was almost as intense as the pain pulsing from her cheek.

"And you've neve-"

Oh God- let me just curl up and die now.

Buffy didn't bother hoping that was the end of the conversation. The redhead was far too cheerful, and she was beginning to realize what the second phase of her punishment was going to consist of.

"Ah-ah! No! Not asking about you two, not telling about me and Riley. It’s fair!"

"'Don't ask, don't tell' is a stupid policy," Willow declared definitively. "And maybe I should be telling you, since apparently you don't know-"

"Wiiiiill-" Now she was pleading. It wasn't pretty, but this was dire. Girl talk- okay, that she could do. Details? No. Please no. Don't need that image of my best friend, thank you. Lesbians were so nice and platonic in Buffy's happy little mental world and she didn't want that disrupted. They held hands and had an occasional make out session that they seemed to think was discrete, and that was all she needed to know.

"I could give you a list of movies- not like porn, cuz- ew, but there's some pretty descriptive mainstream ones. Like Chasing Amy! Except that the story was really insulting. Or-oo! I can get you some good books -" The redhead enthused, reaching out to push the door open.

"You aren't going to let this go, are you?" Buffy whined, holding it safely closed.

"Nope!" Willow beamed.

"I think you've been possessed by Anya," she glowered.

"Oooh- that was a low blow." Willow's mercurial demeanor was in full force, dropping to a glower and almost as quickly regaining her chatty tone, "Speaking of low blow-"

"Gaaah!” Buffy escaped quickly into the shop, hoping that there would be customers to shame her friend into silence. “Can’t we go back to spelling out bad words?”

“It was pointed out to me that I was being juvenile,” Willow replied archly. “And if I told you I ‘smurfed’ her ‘smurf’, that wouldn’t be much help now, would it.”

Fate hated her. There were no customers… just a very annoyed Anya.

She saw with burgeoning despair Willow's impish grin crank up another notch.

“So Anya… maybe you can help me with this-“

>>>>>>>>>Break>>>>>>>>>

Notes: Buffy has a depressed tripod fracture with inferior rectus entrapment from floor blowout. She’ll heal.-------

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 Post subject: Re: Changes
PostPosted: Thu Sep 03, 2015 10:04 pm 
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“Ow.”

“Ow.”

“Ow.”

They were statements rather than exclamations and Tara realized that it was she herself who was wincing every time she heard them, rather than the expected other way around. Willow was stretched out on her stomach just to Tara’s right, bare from the waist up. There were a few dots of blood on her back and every time another beaded up Tara had an anxious flash of certainty that she should’ve practiced a few more times on the remaining pig ears from the well-wrapped package in the fridge. She’d been inclined to practice for a few more years before taking a needle to her girlfriend’s back, but for the ever-present pressure of time. The Draw would not wait. She could pull it back for a time, but it was still stronger than her control.

Willow had been forcefully cheerful about the whole thing, although she noticeably refused to look at the tray of materials that Tara had set up for the task. Since the first time she’d watched Tara working on a pig ear Willow’s favored sitting position in the room had shifted to the floor. The vantage point made it impossible to see what Tara was doing, while still allowing her to be present for her dutiful moral support.

It was a good thing that she’d had no compunctions about coming up with the design itself. While Willow’s drawing skills left something to be desired, her ability to deconstruct the essential elements of what needed to be done was intimidating. Tara’s knowledge of this variety of spellcraft was important, but the lifetime familiarity had in some ways turned out to be a hindrance. Willow made no assumptions and would not accept “because that’s how it works”. She bridged concepts in the Wiccan and Tantric traditions that seemed at odds, then wrapped it all up in esoteric material gleaned from years of late night research at Scooby headquarters.

A little more non-theoretical evidence would have been comforting, but this was new ground as far as they could tell. The work of Tara’s parents had helped in providing the underpinnings of the theory, but the specifics had all required reworking. There were still all too many details that troubled Tara. The link to animal sacrifice had been extricated, as had the distinctly male-oriented aspects of the spellwork. That left holes that Willow had insisted she’d found ways to work around, citing material the Tara wished she had time to properly study.

It all came down to time… and there was none.

“Ow.”

Tara’s careful rhythm broke, the needle in her hand hovering over the next bit of yet unblemished skin. The next part of the material was pure Willow. She’d taken Tara’s mother’s designs and pointed out flaws in them- inefficiencies, to use Willow’s word. Gathering the energy of the ley lines had not been targeted, but merely made use of their proximity. The new material was specific, though there were fallbacks to allow such ambient collection should the primary focus fail. The primary focus was what bothered Tara most.

She’d argued with Willow on this point, but eventually had to concede to necessity. There was one font of energy they had to work with, and one to which Willow already had a native tie. To reinforce that tie to the Hellmouth was against all instinct. That was all it was, though. Instinct. Indefensible in the face of what she knew about magic. The method could be good or ill, but magic itself had no inherent morality. It could not be evil or good, only the use to which it was put determined that. The divinities one appealed to were another matter, but so far as she was aware the Hellmouth had no consciousness. It simply was, as much as a rock simply was. You could use a rock to build a wall or grind grain or break a skull- it wasn’t the nature of the rock that decided.

“Problem? I’ve got an “ow” waiting here.” Willow peeked back over her shoulder, only a sliver of her face visible through her hair. The sliver looked worried, matching the increase in tension of the back under Tara’s hand. She shook her head.

“Just thinking.”

“Not to be picky, but… focus? Really appreciated right now.” The tone of the words was nervous rather than chiding. It was with good reason. Two layers of line work over the full surface of her back would have to be spread out over several days, even assuming that Willow could tolerate as much as Tara thought was physically safe.

With a nod, Tara bent back to her work. Poke, twist, and redip.

“Ow.”

Call for a trace of magic to bind into the pattern, carefully held separate from Willow’s enchantment on the needle which drew the lines into place faster than the archaic method should have allowed. Poke, twist, redip.

“Ow.”

“Ow.”

“Ow.”


---

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 Post subject: Re: Changes
PostPosted: Thu Sep 03, 2015 10:19 pm 
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Flashback section
In which I broke the rule about nesting retrospective material.

---

“Another year, another birthday…”

Tara’s father was lighting the candles on her birthday cake, as he did every year. Her father didn’t think much of leftover cake for a week after the event, so it was just a little one, perfectly sized for four. The candles were tightly grouped to fit in the space, fourteen this year. Every year there were more that needed replacing, though they were hard wax that lasted in a way the typical thin, brightly colored ones from most grocery stores would not.

She stared at the little flames, each marking a step toward the day the demon would rise within her. Her fingers were curled tightly over the sleeves of her long sweater, her arms crossed so that her hands were tucked tight against her sides. Did cake taste different when it became your birthday cake? It was a ridiculous thought, but one that drifted through her mind every year, interrupting her careful numbness with wistfulness not fit for this day.

There were traditions for this day, though not those she knew others would recognize. She had never tasted her own cake because it was a day of forbearance for her. Control meant seeing what you wanted and leaving it. Not eating for a day had probably bothered her when she was a toddler, but she hadn’t really thought about it for years. The dryness made liquids appealing on occasion, but she hadn’t been tempted to cheat. There were opportunities, but who was she cheating? Only herself.

There would be no singing like that at Donny’s parties. The cake would be eaten quietly before her, the atmosphere much the same as she would expect at a funeral reception. It was not a celebration, but her parents both felt the need to mark the day.

“Tara?”

Her father’s flat words drew Tara’s unwilling mind back into the moment. She uncrossed her arms slowly, pulling back the sleeve of her sweater as she extended her left hand. She’d forgotten to do that once and had singed the cuff of her favorite hoodie. It wasn’t exactly ruined, but… it wasn’t her favorite anymore.

“Donny, count the time for your sister.”

Fourteen years meant fourteen candles. Fourteen years meant fourteen minutes. Last year a few candles had burned to their bases and flickered out before the time ended, but the shorter ones had been carefully culled this time.

Her palm started to warm.

Donny looked bored, watching the clock behind her. He made no concession to the chill in the house, his plaid overshirt hanging open over a T-shirt of some rock band. The band names probably varied day to day but the shirts were all black. The lettering was so distorted by jagged edges and stylized chrome that she’d dismissed them from notice as illegible.

Her father stood staring at her, his gaze changing only as it alternated from Tara’s hand to her face. She remembered with shame that when she was little he’d had to hold her arm so she wouldn’t pull away.

“One minute.”

The warmth was spreading.

Quickly she thought of the brush in back of the house. The cool fall days were getting short and they needed to clear back some of the year’s growth. In spring it was the garden, the summer was the yard, while fall was clearing time. The garden work was hardly work at all for the most part. Her mother was at her most serene then and tending the rows of veggies in companionable silence beside her was one time Tara could really feel her mind still. Their world would narrow to the raised beds, the brilliant green shoots appearing one by one, the maroon worms that sometimes lost their way and dried up on the board barriers.

It was too hot during the summer for the heavy work of clearing brush out back and there was always something that needed doing to keep the front yard from turning into just another dried up swath of brown Bermuda between the house and the road. The cactus would almost double in size some years, too. Trimming it was sticky.

She’d come to appreciate the early fall timing of pushing back against the steady regrowth of scrubby bushes from the hillside down toward the house. It was a few years back that she learned to use it, setting aside her gloves to handle the rough bark barehanded until after birthday. The deliberate abuse of her skin raised enough callus to be some small protection. It wasn’t cheating, not really. Planning wasn’t cheating. If you knew what needed to be done and prepared for it, that was a useful skill, wasn’t it?

Thinking of that made her think of her hand, of whether the plan was helping. She assumed it was, but it was hard to tell. She could feel where the heat moved along her palm, seeking the path of least resistance to continue to rise. Wisps along the skin between her fingers were becoming more apparent. She’d figured out the best way to hold her hand to keep any pockets from forming that would trap that seeking wisp. It was uncomfortable now. She’d tried to convince herself that it was just sensation. Feeling had no control over her… but it did. Her control over herself was flawed, and she was all too aware of it.

“Two minutes.” Donny said flatly, not looking at her.

Tara wondered what it would be like to be her brother. Her own fate was sealed from the day she was born, but what about him? What would it be like to be normal, with every normal possibility open to you? It wasn’t that simple, of course. Donny had a duty to his family the same as the rest of them. He might not have a direct role in controlling the demon in their mother or in Tara herself, but he had to support their father. Even though their father was clear in his statements about Donny being free to pursue his future, how could Donny leave? They all knew that their first obligation was to their family.

Just this past week he’d had to take over the stall they ran at the market. Her mother hadn’t been herself- distracted, sometimes even irritable in what was usually a place she seemed so in her element. They’d been doing brisk business in spite of that, with even more than the usual number of customers lingering to talk. Tara had her sign up for henna, as usual, but there had been no takers so she’d been needling a new pattern into a belt blank to keep occupied. Donny was chatting with a few customers- mostly ones he’d met before that their mother could shunt in his direction despite their clear preference for her company. Donny could be genial enough when he tried, but it took effort. He wasn’t as perceptive as their mother in finding the right tone to take with a person.

There was a clunk of something falling and Tara looked up in time to see her mother… not shimmer, exactly. It was a change that was arrested before anyone who hadn’t seen her every day for their entire lives would miss. As it was Donny stopped mid-sentence and was immediately by her side.

“You need to sit down a minute?” He was guiding her toward the back of their space. Tara had already set aside her project and joined them. The words were for the sake of the witnesses only. Their mother needed to be away from people before the demon within her did something terrible to them. Sometimes it came suddenly, like this,

blah

“I…” Tara’s mother’s eyes darted from one of their patrons to the next, . “It’s been a bad week.”

“I’ve got things here. Tara- get her somewhere she can… rest for a bit, y’hear.” Donny dismissed them with a wave of his hand.

Tara and her mother had retreated, finding quiet and seclusion in a park nearby. They sat for the next two hours in mirrored poses of meditation.




BLAH

It would take so little. A spell to call a breath of wind, slight enough to be undetected but enough to draw the heat away- so easy. Or protection over that one glowing point of pain. A few words, that’s all it would take.

Her arm shook faintly as she fought the urge to pull away, to grant herself just a fraction of an inch more distance from the flames. Were they higher this year than before? Or was that just the weakness of her resolve, looking for an excuse?

Donny’s voice cut through her thoughts.

“Five minutes.”

---------break

I had some qualms about this section... which is probably why I didn't finish it. I'd intended to keep emotional manipulation as the sum total of reason we would get for despising Mr. Maclay. After all, he means well. I think there's a quote out there somewhere that I'm borrowing, which goes something like this: No man is a villain in his own eyes.

Then I was playing with a candle while waiting in a restaurant somewhere and the scene started to fall in to place.

As you might have noticed, "blah" is my placeholder. ^-^;

-Never

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PostPosted: Fri Sep 04, 2015 8:41 am 
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Wow.

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 Post subject: Re: Changes
PostPosted: Sun Sep 06, 2015 2:42 pm 
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Yay! I still have a reader!

(wondering what "wow" refers to- number of consecutive posts? That this is what I think about when idly playing with a restaurant candle? That I took this long to get around to doing this wrap-up?)
(decides it doesn't matter, because to me it will mean "wow, there's someone still reading this")

---
Intervening stuff before the next section:

Willow gets tattooed bit by bit while time pressure builds.
Background BtVS stuff takes places, slightly altered by the cascade of events already occurring in this fic. A summary of departures from canon at this point:

1. Tara is a demon (I hope you’ve noticed that part by now ^_^).
a. The implications of this are the major source of this story.

2. Tara is at the Magic Box when the snake thing arrives, as she was researching re #1.
a. She hesitated, Willow didn’t- realizing that not being prepared for combat viable casting is bad, even if she’s not patrolling.

3. Buffy has yet another problem to deal with after the Incident; Willow
a. This changes group dynamics- forgiven does not equal forgotten.

4. Willow spends night with Tara instead of patrolling while Buffy is with her mom at the hospital.
a. When Riley doesn’t show, there are only Giles and Xander… and they don’t fare as well as they did in canon (where we shall recall Willow in canon being the primary stake-er for her first time) and end up with varied degrees of injury.

5. Buffy’s mom’s surgery is delayed (To tell the truth, I had forgotten that she went home between the biopsy and surgery when I wrote that bit and the timeline is screwy in my head from the episodic nature of the show, so this part results in her schedule returning to canon timeline)
a. Delay is from Neurosurgeon being killed by a vamp that got away due to #4 cascade of events. Buffy feels responsible, also blames Riley.
b. Buffy has a heartfelt talk with Riley before going to ARMC- needs his help to cover patrol while she's gone… but also needs him. Part of this is from seeing how W/T are supporting each other in awful circumstances, wishing she could be that for him the way he is for her. Doesn't know what happened that night he ditched Giles and Xander, doesn't care- knows he had to have a good reason… first time she could say that about a boyfriend. What she doesn't feel in excitement, she feels in trust. Later result of this is that Riley doesn’t leave.
c. Buffy’s mom is not at the local hospital for surgery, so Buffy is out of town more. Also, the delayed surgery means longer recovery, but also that the complication with the aneurysm occurs at the hospital and Dr. Hsu can deal with it expeditiously. Joyce may survive (undecided).

7. Tara finds out Dawn isn’t human, so the realization about her Key-ness comes very early.
a. As Buffy didn't confess, Willow is pissed at being mislead. This compounds with the existing rift between them. Her relations with Buffy deteriorate until Buffy tells Willow to just hit her and get it over with. In an odd twist of the-writer-thought-it-would-be-fun, this works…

Other departures from canon are probably there but don’t play in yet.


Next in the story:

Jeanette makes another appearance, this time to invite Tara to the annual convention of west coast succubi. As a group for whom hiding is a way of life, this one time is a gathering that is as the name of the event says: Come As You Are. The fees are exorbitant, but one can get in free by volunteering to work for a portion of the convention. Tara will be one of these.
The CAYA material may seem extraneous, but was a nice “show, don’t tell” way of portraying a demonic subculture in a manner that could be short term, rather than an ongoing part of the story. Connection to the succubus community comes into play later during the fight vs Glory, but that is still vague in my mind.



--- Story section: CAYA intro


“…and it looks like the new catering company is going to back down without any more fuss.”

Yvette Cenadella checked off another box on her PalmPilot. The entirety of this meeting had been a review of the disasters that had to be dealt with within the next two weeks. She had to wonder just how many of these problems her mother had known would be cropping up when she had persuaded Yvette to take over for her on the logistics committee. Yvette couldn’t very well refuse, regardless, given her mother’s deteriorating health. For Jeanette to have conceded that she needed the help at all was a bad sign, let alone stepping down.

She sighed at the next six items glaring up from the little screen. It would be so much easier if her mother would just let someone take over who actually wanted the job, but no, she wanted her own daughter as a place-holder so she could jump right back in once she was back on her feet. As an added bonus, using her daughter meant having a place-holder that she could call incessantly with things that crossed her mind at any hour and conveniently drag over the coals when Yvette couldn’t pull off the required miracles.

Yvette allowed herself an inner smirk. If her mother wanted her to fall on her face and come running with humble words of appreciation for the years of hard work, she could just stew in the rehab center waiting. The disaster list was shrinking, the details coming reluctantly together, and there was still time to spare.

Denise was poking at the ice in her glass with a straw, making just enough noise to call attention to herself. Yvette nodded to her but the troubled succubus waited till the side conversation of Tristan and Kyra quieted before speaking. When she did, the words were flat and to the point.

“The Turner sisters were killed a month ago. Gillian moved to Newark- God knows why. Olga and her family went missing.” Denise’s frown deepened. “We’re short on spellcasters- if we can’t pull some new people in, security is going to be impossible.”

“Shit- the Turners? Sandy Turner used to babysit for my kids.” Tristan looked to Denise in shock. “What happened to them?”

Denise shrugged as if this were irrelevant. “I didn’t ask.”

As much as Yvette hated the to hear the casual indifference, she knew where it came from. Denise was good at what she did but by all accounts her felicity with magic had been driven by harsh necessity. Yvette wouldn’t have wished the snippets of Denise’s history that she’d heard on anyone, even if it had resulted in the impressive ability of the sorceress at the table. Some things simply were not worth their price. It was a price already paid, though, and Denise’s emotional scars were more functional than pathologic. Detached as she seemed, she had been involved with the conference since she’d first learned of it and her skills had quickly proved invaluable. Without watertight security, it would be insane to let the conference happen the way it did. Reliability was a fair trade for her occasional lack of geniality. Yvette started flipping through her mother’s contact list.

“Akira Harada?”

“Doesn’t want to bother- she’d rather just pay and have fun. I already asked.” Another clink of ice in the glass.

“Justine Steinschreiber?”

“Useless since her burnout- she can light a match on a good day.”

Tristan suggested carefully, “Fleichner?”

“She won’t work with Linda and it won’t do any good for one to work if the other walks.” Denise made it sound like a ridiculous idea. It probably was- Linda was about as sweet as anyone Yvette had ever known and had mentored at least half of the magically inclined succubi in the community. What the falling out had been over wasn’t public knowledge and likely would never be, but the two succubi had managed to conspicuously avoid eachothers’ presence for the past handful of years.

“Did Linda have any ideas?”

“We called on everyone in the book, Yvette. Linda doesn’t know anyone new, either. We’re going to have to try to hire someone reliable or see if we can persuade anyone from the East Coast branch to fly in.”

“Hire someone? You have got to be joking. We try to hire outside the succubus community and no one will come. It’s too much risk.” Yvette sighed internally as she realized this might be the point where she had to go crawling to her mother for help. The notion galled her.

“What’s your plan then?” Denise shot back. Yvette realized her mistake a moment too late. Tact might not be her strong suit, but Denise wasn’t usually this short with anyone on the committee. She was proud of her part in the conference and for her to admit she needed help was as bad a sign as when Jeanette had called in her daughter.

“I’ll work on it. How many do you need?” Yvette knew she sounded upbeat and confident but wasn’t sure how easy it was for the others to see through it.

“Depends on what kind of power they have, what they know how to do. Two might be enough. We were already running barebones last year.”

Yvette nodded as if this were no problem and then scanned the table. “Any other crises for today? Or can I start making calls?”

“Just some of the setup for program materials- we’ll hash it out ourselves.” Tristan waved her off and clicked to a new spreadsheet on his tiny laptop. Kyra and Claudia settled into that particular talk while Denise settled back to brood- definitely not a good sign.

“I’ll be in touch within the next two days.” Yvette made her way out, pulling out her cell phone as she went. She dialed with a mental sigh.

“Mom- hey. How’s the physical therapy going? Nurses treating you well? Learn any Tagalog yet?” The reply could have blistered paint. Yvette enjoyed the moment before taking the plunge, “Look, as much as it pains me to say it- I need a hand here…”

The delight in her mother’s voice only made her pride choke harder, but after Yvette explained the situation, the reply gave her some hope. “Someone who just came of age in Sunnydale? Worth a try. I need any other names you can come up with though- Denise said she’s looking for two, so she probably really needs at least three people to help. Overwhelming people is a great way to encourage them not to help again next year.””

Yvette jotted notes on who else to call, though the only direct name she had was the newbie, Tara Maclay. That could be good or bad. New meant she could probably use the incentive of free admission to get her to volunteer, but it could also mean mediocre control over the magic she knew. Yvette gave a mental shrug. Better to recruit her first and let Denise sort it out.

****************************


“Tara- there’s someone on the phone for you. She said she got the number from Jean.” Anya’s tone was disapproving. “Try not to talk long- I have a call coming from my slug scented candle supplier and he’s touchy.”

“Slug?”

“Good for warding off lunacy, apparently. My first dozen sold out by noon so I bought a flat of them. If we can’t defeat Glory, we can at least profit from her being here.”

Capitalist victory would be pretty hollow in the face of the kind of things a Hell Goddess would plan, but Tara kept her thoughts to herself. She picked up the phone, wondering what Jean needed.

“Hello?”

“Tara? Yvette Cenedela. You met my mother a few weeks back.” There was a pause. “Sorry to sound paranoid, but I need to verify who you are before we keep talking… my mother said you two altered some pants while you were there. Which ones did she do for you?”

Tara blinked and tried to remember. “The flying t-toasters?”

There was a laugh on the other end. “She told me about those and I didn’t believe her. I have a couple of code-monkey friends that I should give a pair to- where did you get them?”

“They were a, um, gift?” With an apologetic cringe in her voice she added, “I could ask?”

“No, no. Don’t go to any trouble. I’m calling to ask a favor anyway.” When Tara didn’t fill the pause, Yvette continued. “I’m part of the planning committee for CAYA this year- I saw you’d signed up to volunteer.”

It hadn’t been quite that simple. Jean had indicated that the event was free for succubi who were willing to trade some of their time. After seeing just how expensive the registration was, Tara had conceded to having her name added to the list. She’d been told it involved all the little things that they couldn’t let a human convention staff handle, from setup to serving to manning the registration desk.

“We don’t usually get you involved with anything major the first time you come, but I heard you do magic. There’s always turnover from year to year, but we lost a lot of our magic proficient people this past year… would you mind pitching in?”

Tara’s knee-jerk response was to refuse, but she thought it through for a moment. Yvette seemed happy to chat through the silence.

“It’s mostly security- discretion is extremely important when we gather and are wearing our own faces. Dissuading human populace is the priority, but there are always a few demons trying to be a pain in our collective asses as well- mostly curiosity seekers, but we don’t take chances. The actual spells are on the books- we just don’t have enough people to cast them.”

There was a pause, which Tara knew she was supposed to fill but didn’t know what to say. An awkward moment later Yvette added, “I don’t know all the details, but I’ve got a meeting with the head of that department coming up this Saturday. Any chance you can make it down to Pasadena?”

“I… okay?” There was already a trip Anya had planned to LA that day, so a detour to drop her off shouldn’t be too much of an imposition. It wasn’t as if she was saying she’d do it, just that she’d find out exactly what they wanted her to do.

“Wonderful.”

The sincere relief in Yvette’s voice spurred Tara to add, “I can’t p-promise you I can do it- not without seeing the spell itself…”

“Denise isn’t going to push you into it- that’s the one you’ll be talking to; Denise.” Yvette chuckled. “She’d do it all herself if she could, really.”

Tara felt like she should be asking more questions, but this wasn’t the person who’d know the answers.

“I’ll send you the link to the map of where we’re meeting.” Yvette paused, “I don’t see your email here- are you on the internet board yet?”

“Jeanette… she was going to set me up to join it, but…”

That was before she found out Tara was spending time with the Slayer and the two had tried to kill each other. Briefly. Still, it had made a bad impression.

“You’ll have the information by tomorrow morning- I’m sorry that you’ve had to wait, but my mother lost track of a few things since her last hospitalization.”

“Is she alright?”

“Another stroke. Nothing keeps her down for long but she’ll be laid up for at least another couple of weeks.” Yvette sounded more reserved in spite of the optimistic words, falling silent for a moment after. “So- will I see you there?”

“Um. Sure?”

“I look forward to meeting you, Tara, and appreciate your help with this. See you then.”


-----

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 Post subject: Re: Changes
PostPosted: Sun Sep 06, 2015 3:37 pm 
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Another scene
--

"Sweetie..?" Tara walked in to the back of the Magic Box to find an array of magic accoutrements surrounding an aggravated looking Willow. "What's all this?"

"Apparently? A big honking waste of time and money." Willow stood a little unsteadily, rubbing something off her face with her sleeve as she did.

Tara tried to make sense of what she was looking at, but the tradition wasn't one she knew. The chicken feet, for one- she'd never had call for chicken feet. Beaks, maybe. Feet, not so much. Regardless, it was a major undertaking, with a full protection circle around the whole shebang. The butterfly wing- that meant transition, possibly transmogrification- but it was mainly used in the darker paths. Deciduous leaves would work similarly for more subtle spell workings… and there was an easier way to figure this all out.

"What were you casting?"

Willow smudged out a line of the primary casting circle with a bare toe, not hiding her face enough to conceal the guilt that flashed across it before settling on a brilliant flush of embarrassment. "A, um, transformation."

"What kind?" She made a show of trying to figure out the rune-work, turning to see it from a new angle.

Willow mumbled something, smothering the smoking brazier in front of her and breaking what Tara recognized as two separate locking sequences. That finished, she stepped fully out of the circle and picked up a dustpan. Tara reached out, stopping with a touch the hurry to conceal the evidence.

"Will- is this about the convention?"

"I don't like the idea of you going alone." Willow looked away as she said it, probably aware at how unreasonable she sounded.

"They won't let you come with me, and I need to meet these people."

"Demons." Willow said pointedly, a subtle severity entering her features, "Not like person-who-happens-to-be-demon-y, like demon-born-and-bred.”

“Like Jeanette?” There was a soft note of reproof in her tone. Being protective was sweet, but the workings laid out on the floor before her were advanced enough that a mishap could be dangerous- with the number of safeties Willow had used, she must have been aware of that. The result that this casting circle was trying to produce eluded her, but that wasn’t the most salient point in the conversation.

“Exactly. ‘Waiter’. Need I say more?” Willow started cleaning up again, her tone peevish and her motions attesting to her agitation.

“He wasn’t hurt. The way she lives- it’s natural, given what they-… what we are.”

“Right. Natural. Like wolves and deer. Nobody is the bad guy.” Willow huffed, dumping a dustpan of deep red granules from the outer circle into a plastic grocery sack, which she tied closed carefully. “Speaking as one of the deer? Still not convinced that the raised-by-deer wolf isn’t going to get pushed around when she joins the pack.”

“Us and Them?” Tara started picking up dried bits and tossing them into another bag. Few people recognized that the takedown of a ritual wasn’t just a matter of smudging a few lines and cleaning the rug. As much as any volatile creation, it had to be dismantled- certain pieces kept separate to prevent unintended reaction, others destroyed.

“No! Well… yes. They aren’t like you, Tara. They knew all along what they were going to be, and you didn’t- not really.” Willow wrinkled her nose and used only the tips of two extended fingers to toss out what looked like bits of something formerly amphibious. If nothing else, that was a testament to how serious she was about the ritual she’d been attempting. “For you, the demon thing was some big, scary, unknown thing. For them, it’s like getting their driver’s license or something.”

“You’d rather they all went through my version?” Tara challenged quietly, at which Willow drooped dejectedly.

“Okay- no, I don’t. I just want them all to be as nice as you. And they won’t be- because they can't be. And there will be meanies, and you're the new guy in town, and…" Her words were starting to speed up, the motions of cleaning up arresting to let her arms cross tightly across her stomach. "I feel like you're heading into a horde of Cordeli-ites without even having someone you know to back you up."

"I went to high school too, Will, and somehow I survived it, remember?" Tara reminded her. "And unlike high school, I can leave."

"But not until after they get at you… I know, I know- you aren't all helpless." Willow must've been reacting to what she saw in Tara's face, her words turning into self-chiding. "I just…"

"You want to be there." Tara finished simply. She reached out and Willow let herself be drawn near. "I wish you could be, too."

"Mmph." The unhappy sound wasn't much of a concession, but Tara would take what she could get. She gave her girlfriend's shoulders a consolatory squeeze before Willow turned away and picked up a broom.

"This looks like a conversion…" she turned her attention back to the rapidly disassembling casting circle, turning her head to try to read some of the symbols. "-I just don't see what to."

"Doesn't matter anyway. It didn't work." Willow grumbled with frustration.

Tara watched her for a moment. She didn't know the right sequence to break down some of the inner casting, so there was nothing to do but stand and worry. That Willow was so obviously avoiding revealing what she'd been up to was more than a little disturbing, beyond the simple fact that she'd tried something of this magnitude on her own.

Scrubbing the last bit of ash off the concrete, Willow started to laboriously drag the practice mats back into place. Tara lent a hand, hoping that her girlfriend would fill the silence with some hint of what she'd been doing. She was usually so enthusiastic about new spellcraft, wanting to bounce different ideas and permeations off of Tara before she'd even tried the base spell. If Tara were honest with herself, she'd learned an enormous amount simply from those questions that challenged what she had assumed to be basic tenets of magic theory.

"What happened to __(check canon)_ class?" Willow asked in hollowly cheerful tone, "I thought it was big ol' guest speaker day."

"Dr. Hoffer had some kind of health thing- he had to cancel."

"Oh." The redhead's smile was still tense. "What brought you here?"

"I thought I'd find you studying here." She shrugged. "The boba tea place has a new mocha thing I thought I'd surprise you with."

"Oo. Caffeine and chewy black goobers."

"It sounds so very appealing when you put it that way."

Willow's grin turned genuine at the dry teasing and she reached for a pile of things beside her bag. "Lemme just get the rest of my stuff-" She yelped suddenly, jerking back, and a few items went skittering across the floor. Willow didn't try to pick them up immediately, shaking her hand as if she'd been burnt with a wide-eyed expression.

Tara crossed back to her in concern, picking up a pink pencil case, Coop card, and whiteout pen on the way. She was glad to see that Willow hadn't left her protective charm at the dorm even if she was declining to wear it at the moment.Tara paused for a moment as she tried to figure out how best to pick it up.

"Are you okay?" She settled on gently nudging the now somewhat ragged looking charm with her sandal.

"Mostly startled- I… really wasn't expecting that." Willow replied absently, her eyes flicking back and forth as Tara watched, following some cascade of anxiety that had been set off.

"Sweetie?" Tara snagged a laminated algorithm sheet from Willows bag and used it to scoop up the charm. She offered it back to her girlfriend, only to have Willow pull away, her expression cycling momentarily to alarm, then giddy triumph, then uncertainty, and half a dozen others that blended together. Tara looked to the charm and back at Willow, suspicion forming into a more cohesive hypothesis.

"You were trying to masquerade as a succubus..?" She let the words trail off, hoping Willow could confirm that simple possibility.

"Ah- not exactly." The redhead seemed to have settled on defensive pride, "You said they were big on wards and stuff, so a glamour would be kinda pointless- I mean, if whatever ritual they're using can keep you guys from shifting… it'd just shred an ongoing spell."

Tara nodded, letting the charm slide into a pocket of Willow's bag while trying to keep an open mind.

"-and by the way- if they're so into security, why do they make it so nobody can shift? It makes no sense. I mean- yay for community solidarity and all that, but come on."

"So it wasn't a glamour," Tara confirmed, giving her girlfriend an expectant look as she let the following silence speak for her. Willow squirmed.

"Aaaah… no..?" The look morphed into effervescent enthusiasm, "so I found a great rate on a place to stay-"

"Will." She cut off the evasion before it could start. "You're starting to worry me."

"Okay- didn't want that. But- does it matter?" Willow waved toward the remains of her spell preparation, adding hopefully, "I mean, it didn't work. Nothing bad happened. No harm, no foul, right?"

Tara raised an eyebrow, hoping that it would be taken as a question rather than a reproof. If Willow could give her a reasonable explanation, irritation was inappropriate. If she could not, then she'd already be defensive enough without feeling like she was under attack. Unfortunately, all signs were pointing to guilty conscience and a lot of avoidance.

“Not this time.” She sighed. “But this is dangerous stuff- I can see that much.”

“I was careful.” Willow was more tentative this time.

“I wish you'd told me. I could’ve helped.”

“You'd have said no. Pretty sure on that.”

“Will...” She didn't want to repeat herself, make it into a battle of wills. It shouldn't be a battle, when all Willow was trying to do was help. She just needed to understand when help became invasive. But how hypocritical was that? When she herself was telling Willow to let her help?

“Are you about done back here?” Buffy interrupted the moment, opening the door from the store.

“Just finished. Right?” Willow turned an unconcerned smile from Buffy back to her, the guileless cheer falling into its familiar place. That the mask was so easy for her girlfriend to adopt made Tara's heart twinge for what it must have had to cover over in the past. Within the circle of the Scoobies, Willow was usually so free with her feelings- all but when they hurt her and she cared too much to let anyone know.

Willow picked up her bag and they headed back to the main shop, ceding the area to the Slayer. Tara felt silly, realizing that she had, as usual, managed to keep Willow between herself and Buffy as they passed. How long was it going to be before she could convince herself that Buffy was safe? When would brushing by each other on the stairs revert to something requiring no thought, no resolution to seem unaffected by the unreasoning “Danger Will Robinson, Danger” that flared into being every time these utterly normal, casual things took place? She knew Buffy was wearing the charm any time they were anywhere near each other. Even with her control over the Draw improving, she still appreciated that.

Caught in her own thoughts, she almost missed a step when Willow pulled sharply against her with a little hiss. Buffy quirked an eyebrow, but didn't press as Willow waved it off. “Got zapped. Probably spell static.”

Tara let that excuse stand until they closed the door behind them. Willow fidgeted under her critical look before wilting into a chair.

“I can't believe you had to put up with that every time you touched me...” She rubbed the shoulder that had brushed Buffy, more in illustration than pain. Tara tilted her head, not following. “The charm... I had no idea it stung like that. The steel wool thing wasn't far off.”

“I don't understand.” That Willow hadn't confessed for a full ten minutes was a record. Her girlfriend was just not made for direct deception, especially not when she was so clearly both proud and uncertain about her success.

“I, um. Y'know how I said a glamour wouldn't work?”

Tara nodded.

“Well, I wouldn't need one if I were, ah, one of you.”

Tara's brow crinkled. “Me?”

“No, I mean...” Willow curled a bit and her voice rose, sounding as if she had shucked off a half dozen years and most of her self-assurance, “I figured that if I had a tail, I wouldn't need to fake one, y'know?”

Tara blinked, her mind simultaneously going in two directions. The first was “huh?”. The second was more visual and a little bit blush-worthy. Then her rational thought process caught up and her concern spiked. “What do you mean?”

“Well, there was this spell that got cast on Giles a while ago- he got turned into a Fyarl. A real one, not an illusion. Buffy just about slayed him before she realized, but then we found the guy that cast it- somebody Giles used to be 'mates' with, if you'd believe it- and he showed me how to reverse it after Buffy, ah, convinced him. I kinda... reverse engineered the reversal and...” With a half-hearted smile Willow's eyes met hers. “I thought that maybe I could use it to turn into a succubus for a while. Then they couldn't really object to me going with you, right?”

Tara felt a chill run through her, but Willow continued bitterly before she could speak. “Except- big surprise- it didn't work. No tail for me.” In a sudden shift, she had on her thinking face. “But something happened- otherwise, why would the charms work on me now?”

“Will.” Tara reached out, taking one of her girlfriend's hands and crouching in front of her, not wanting to compound the coming criticism with looming over her. “I can't even begin to tell you how bad an idea that was-”

Objection started to form on Willow's face, but Tara shook her head and continued, “but... I think it did work.”

“The evident lack of a fifth appendage would indicate otherwise.” Willow pointed out grumpily.

“But sweetie...” Tara gave a soft smile. So brilliant, but so focused that she lost the forest for the trees- it was hard to stay upset with the unbelievably poor judgment that the experiment had entailed when faced with that compelling naiveté. “When is your birthday?”

Willow's face showed the process of her train of thought derailing, rerouting, and then chagrin bloomed across her face. “It didn't matter that it worked.”

“You don't turn twenty for almost a year. Even as one of us... you wouldn't have changed yet.”

“So not only am I the wrong species, but by their definition I’m underage too.” Willow pouted before teasing sullenly, “you cradle-robber, you.”

“When does the spell wear off?” Tara found her mind drifting back to thoughts of Willow-tail and had to scold herself back on track.

“It… ah… doesn’t.” Willow said. “The problem with the original spell on Giles was that he started thinking like a Fyarl. The memory of his Giles-ness started fading away… but with this there isn’t the same problem. Succubi are born more or less human and can pass as human their whole lives… so it wasn’t like my human-ness fading would be an issue.”

Tara felt a rising anxiety over just how much of an assumption Willow had been working under. “When will you reverse it?”

“It’s not all that hard- I just need to gather a bunch of stuff.” Willow rubbed her eyes. “Y’know, even if I turned into a pre-chrysalis succubus, you’d think that something would be different.”

“There isn’t?” It was something that Tara had considered. Just because they looked and functioned as humans before the quickening occurred, that didn’t mean they were human. It had run into the “do I see the same blue as you see” philosophical question that she’d thought unanswerable. Yet here was Willow, answering it for her.

“I don’t think so. Not unless post-casting halos are intrinsic to succubus-ness.”

“Halos?”

“I get it sometimes after casting- I used to think it was part of the headache, but the headaches don’t happen as much anymore and it still happens. Like an afterimage, overlaid on the main one?” Willow grinned. “Yours is hazy, but some of them are really clear. I don’t know how to describe it…”

“An aura.” Tara supplied simply. One question answered, though Jean had already confirmed that seeing auras was intrinsic to their species. It was interesting that Willow had a similar effect after spellcasting, but not entirely surprising. Tuning in to the mystical energies in one way could bleed over.

“Really?” Willow perked up. “This is what you see?”

Tara nodded. “I think so…”

“I thought it would be like- emotional signatures or something.” Willow looked past her to a few people who were entering the shop, scrutinizing each in turn.

“It, um, is..?” Tara picked up a half-full boba-tea from where she’d left it, handing another cup with condensation running down the sides to Willow. “You should probably let the air clear back there for a while before we try the reversal.”

Willow nodded. “Avoid interference to subsequent spell- got it.” She smiled teasingly, “I do catch on eventually.”

Tara suspected that her girlfriend wanting to put off the reversal had something to do with the easy agreement. A more typical answer would have involved various ways to proceed while accounting for the interference. Or testing for it. Or pretty much anything except using it as a reason to put the magic on hold for a while.

By silent agreement they left the Magic Box and started meandering toward a park that they usually traversed on the way back to campus. Willow was rubbernecking at one person after another to Tara’s simultaneous amusement and embarrassment.

“It’s there, but… how do you know what it means?”

Tara thought before answering slowly, “I grew up seeing them. I guess I just learned the patterns the same way as any kind of body language.”

“Oh. Could you teach me? Like- that guy, with the kids. What do you get from him?”

Tara shook her head. “It’s private.”

“Why? It’s not like trying to figure out what someone is feeling from body language is bad.”

“People can cover up what they feel in how they behave, but they can’t cover an aura.” Tara slowed as she tried to think of how to impress this on Willow. “The man you chose? Why did you pick him?”

“Because he seems so happy, even though his kids are being kinda bratty. And he seemed, I dunno, colorful.”

“He doesn’t want them to see what he’s feeling… there’s something terrible that he’s carrying around inside.” Tara felt a twinge of guilt, but looked carefully. “I don’t think it has anything to do with them- it doesn’t change with how they’re acting. There’s a current of anger. Resignation. Anxiety. It only fades when he’s completely focused on the kids, but it comes back the moment he looks away.”

“You see all of that? From-“ Willow made a vague gesture in the air, “halos?”

“I can see that, but I… I don’t have the right to.”

“It’s not like you’re hurting anyone. It’s just information.”

“Private information.”

“So you just… don’t look?”

“Something like that.” Tara caught herself before the habitual head duck. She did look sometimes. She tried not to, but when people made her anxious enough it was automatic. The first time she’d met Buffy in the flesh, it was the teasing that was directed at her that made her see Faith’s mismatched aura clashing with the host body. If she were honest with herself, she knew that she reacted to an aura’s information, even if not consciously trying to interpret it. It was self-protective, whether socially or physically, to guage the intent of those who approached.

Willow looked thoughtful, her steps slowing. She gave Tara a curious look, “So can you read me right now?”

Tara glanced over, taking a moment to realize why Willow was asking. “No… you’re hazy.”

“Huh. So I guess that confirms about using auras to find nonhumans… but it only works if you look enough to see whether you can make out the details, right?”

Tara nodded. “So it’s not… practical?” She turned the word into a question because she wasn’t sure it was the right one. “Ethical” might have been more accurate. Trying to ascertain humanity in everyone you looked at wasn’t really justification for all the unnecessary information she’d get as a consequence.

“Still- a good data point to have.” Willow started walking again, grin returned to its rightful place on her face. “Even if you can’t read them, do different kinds of nonhumans have different, I dunno, signatures?”

“I don’t know. I haven’t really…” Tara lapsed into silence. It would be useful to notice that, but if she didn’t know if something was human, it was invasion of privacy. If she knew it wasn’t human, then there was no reason to pay attention because the aura wasn’t clear. There was one exception that came to mind, which she voiced to Willow, “Vampires are different. Pale. There’s almost nothing there.”

“I suppose that makes sense- unless dead things have auras?”

Tara shook her head. This wasn’t where she intended to take the conversation. There was something more important that needed to be hashed out. “Willow, what did you think would happen if your spell had worked the way you wanted it to?”

Willow tensed, focusing all her considerable attention back on Tara. “I’d go with you to Caya.”

“I meant… did you think I’d be happy with the risk you took?”

“I thought of it as one of those ‘permission versus forgiveness’ things that would be better done in hindsight.”

“That the ends justified the means?”

“If the only person taking any risk is me, I just think I have the right to decide for myself. If I were to ask you, not only would I be giving you veto rights but then I couldn’t very well sneak off and do it by myself. And I do realize that there is some potential for things to go badly- otherwise I wouldn’t have resisted the idea of you getting caught in it too.”

“How do you think that would feel, Willow? If I hear about how you were doing a spell on my behalf and got hurt in the process?”

“You’d be there to rescue me.” Willow grinned incongruously to Tara’s concern. “Since I started practicing magic with you, I’ve figured that we’re past the point where Giles or Anya could pick up the pieces if something went sour.”

“I don’t know that I could either.” Tara ignored what was probably intended as a compliment. This was one of her fears- there was always the danger in being someone’s safety net that you might not be strong enough to catch them if they fell from high enough above you. The spell today was one that fell into the zone of ambiguity. If she’d been familiar with all the material that Willow had used, she would have a good chance at breaking the enchantment. Breaking, as with anything, was easier than creating. Without that familiarity, as it was in this case, she had no idea. If it were ever a circumstance where she had to match what Willow had done in order to fix it, or worse, to overcome something Willow had set in action…

“Well… by way of testing my notion, you could do the reverse for this spell.” Willow waved at herself. “The spell I made was all based on the reversal I did on Giles, so it’s tried and true- there shouldn’t be any surprises.”

“I… I’ll take a look at it.” Tara found a passing bird to focus on, watching it flit from one branch to another.



Blah about the transformation spell

---break---


Comments:
They break the spell. I hadn't decided whether to let Willow stay a succubus long enough to let the "demon mind takes over" scenario play out. It might have been fun to imply that there really is a difference between human and succubus thought patterns, sending Tara into a "what would I have been like as a human" contemplative conversation.

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 Post subject: Re: Changes
PostPosted: Sun Sep 06, 2015 5:06 pm 
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____________Meeting Denise


“Xander taught me how to drive about two months after we started having sex- I’d been making him to drive me everywhere.” Anya pulled off the freeway at a crawl, having slowed down steadily ever since the car behind them had started tailgating and utterly ignoring their increasingly frequent honking. Tara found it amusing that even as a human Anya still felt the occasional call to duty in dispensing justice to those who misbehaved. “I could have kept taking the bus, of course- once you buy one of their monthly passes there’s no incremental cost- but Xander is Willow’s best non-sexual friend.”

Tara didn’t see where this was going, so she kept to her role as navigator instead. “Left here… over the bridge, then right.”

“…and since I didn’t have any legal identity when I stopped being a demon, I couldn’t get a license if Willow didn’t do the computer thing to tell them I really exist. With no license and no other ID, it is difficult to rent apartments, get jobs- any number of things.”

“How did you make it till then?”

Anya shrugged, “Various ways. It was very unpleasant.”

Tara took the hint not to pursue and waited for Anya to continue, scanning for the restaurant as she did.

“Would you believe that Willow wouldn’t do it for a month? A whole month! She was very rude when I reminded her to work on it, too.”

For all that Willow disliked Anya, Tara suspected the reason was more complicated. From what Willow had said about her hacking, there were some things that she couldn’t do quickly, if at all. Rather than admit how difficult it was, she had probably stalled while working furiously in the background. Tara had seen the time that Willow had put in to fulfill offhanded requests that the Scoobies made of her. The first time she saw how casually the requests were made and the results taken for granted, she’d been upset enough to talk to Willow about it. Willow had shrugged and explained that it’s just the way it always was.

It was like she was a duck, sometimes. On the surface she was coasting along like any of the others, but paddling furiously underneath.

“There it is.” Tara pointed to her right. Anya executed a quick turn to the curb, having missed the parking lot entry.

“The symbol by the door looks like two sperm.”

Tara looked and had to agree. Surely there was a more elegant Thai meaning, but the diamond head with a wiggly tail below easily evoked the comparison. If it were a massage parlor she’d have been worried, but the building she saw beyond the outer gate mostly consisted of glass walls that showed nothing improprietous inside. She got out of the car, waved as Anya pulled away, and steeled herself for meeting two complete strangers. She was early so there was plenty of time to get anxious.

Instead Tara chose to engage in a shallow sort of meditation, calming her mind as she experienced the world passing by. The breeze was cool and intermittent, the smell of the air tinted with the emanations from the nearby restaurant’s kitchen. There was a raucous bird call in the distance that sounded like some sort of parrot or grackle, but those in proximity were all familiar twitters. There were a number of people walking by and one of them slowed and stopped a pace away from her. She refocused.

“You must be Tara.”

Tara nodded, taking in the appearance of the woman before her. Her facial structure was similar to Jeanette’s and she too had Mediterranean tone to her skin, albeit paler. Her hair was brown, the style mid-range short and parted asymmetrically. It had the artful disarray of someone who took the care to make it look so. She was a few inches taller than Tara and by appearance would probably be in her late twenties. With a succubus she didn’t know how to really judge age.

“Hi. Yvette?” Tara extended a handshake. Yvette bypassed the hand to do one of those casual hug greetings. Tara returned it awkwardly.

“I’m so glad you could come. Denise will show up any minute-“

“I’m here.” Another succubus, or so her aura’s lack of clarity would suggest she was, was walking over from the parking lot. This one was curvier than Yvette and seemed older, with long wavy hair that was tied back loosely. Denise had none of the fashion sense that Yvette displayed, but like all three succubi Tara had met so far, would probably look good in a burlap sack if she chose to wear one.

“Tara, this is Denise- she’s the one you’d be working under. She’s been in charge of the magic team for Caya for… how long now?” Yvette started leading them into the building.

“Fourteen years, as of this year.” Denise’s face was hard to read and Tara found herself ill at ease with the steady eyes on her. If there had been an aura to see, she’d have been tempted to look for clues, but even that wasn’t an option.

If she’d had any concern about the nature of their conversation being overheard, it was quickly lost. For all that the layout was beautiful, the restaurant’s acoustics were atrocious. Their table was in a corner where the noise was less, but the busy lunch crowd still provided copious vocal cover.

Denise loosened up as she and Yvette chatted back and forth, their attempts at drawing Tara into the conversation only marginally successful. Small talk was a skill Tara had never had any luck with and she spent more time worrying over sounding awkward than actually saying anything.

Worse yet was when Yvette’s cell phone rang. She left the table with an apology after seeing who the call was from, abandoning Tara to excellent rambutan appetizers and horrible mental floundering as she tried to come up with something to say to Denise.

“Did Yvette push you into this?” Denise didn’t even try to transition the conversation. It sounded like a genuine question rather than a suspicion. Tara shook her head.

“I was going to help s-somehow but I didn’t know you needed, um, magicks till Yvette called.” Tara ducked her head. “I don’t know if I can help you, but… maybe? Without knowing what you need…”

Denise nodded. “You’re cautious- that’s good. And you’re coming from a Wicca background, I understand- who trained you?”

“My mother.”

“Do you know anything about wards?”

“Some..?” Tara didn’t know how to guage herself against anyone else. The range of what she’d seen was limited to her mother and Willow, in terms of experienced practitioners. There were a few magically inclined Wiccans she’d met with her mother, but the simple ritual casting they’d done hadn’t given her any indications of what they were capable of.

“Have you ever cast anything like this?” Denise took a folded sheet out of her purse and passed it over. “It’s a smaller version of what we’d be working with.”

Tara examined the pattern and the few notes. It wasn’t enough information to fully explain the ward, but it was enough to see that the workings were familiar. She nodded.

Yvette returned at that point, looking frazzled. “I’m sorry you two. Emergency. I need to go.”

“What’s wrong?”

“It’s mom’s rehab place- she had a fall. Might have broken her hip.” Yvette picked up her purse. “I’ll be in touch, okay?”

Tara nodded, understanding the need but feeling abandoned. It wasn’t as if she knew Yvette any better than Denise, but at least Yvette seemed to be on her side. Denise wasn’t hostile, but welcoming wasn’t a word that could be applied either. Tara watched Yvette’s back retreat.

“This may be the first time Jean will have to miss the event since I started attending.” The disappointment in Denise’s voice was the first clear emotion Tara had heard from her.

“You know her?”

“Half the succubi on this coast know her- either from the work she’s done for the convention or her other activity with the community.” Denise said.

The conversation about Tara’s magic background continued for a time, becoming slowly less awkward. Denise had more knowledge of Eastern European traditions, but they had a lot of Western European rituals in common. Denise had indicated her approval of Tara’s knowledge base, but wanted one last piece of information to figure out what place Tara should hold in the preparations.

“I need you to show me your power.” Denise said.

“Here?” Tara looked around at the crowded restaurant.

Denise nodded. “It’s easy enough to be discrete- just a dead lift against my resistance.” She indicated an unused knife that she set in the center of the table.

Tara crinkled her brow. It seemed like the magical equivalent of arm wrestling- which was appropriate, given what Denise was trying to test. It seemed wrong to use magic this way, but it was about as innocuous a manner as she could think of given that there were no units of measure by which they could convey the needed information. She reached inward for her center of being, calming to where she could do her best work.

It must have looked odd to anyone watching. Denise had her hands clasped in front of her, elbows on the table and her chin rested against her thumbs. Tara sat with one leg crossed under her, back straight but not rigid, eyes slightly unfocused. Her mind was focused, however, on the knife before her. Denise was watching her rather than the knife, but was effectively keeping it on the table despite Tara’s best efforts to make it rise.

“Not bad.” Denise let go without warning and the knife started to shoot upward before Tara could stop it. It hovered six inches above the table as she regained better control of it, not letting it drop. Denise noted this with a look of approval, reaching out and taking the knife back. “Not bad at all. Your control is excellent.”

“Everyone is going to have to work together for initiation of the main wards, but you should be able to help with maintenance of the peripherals as well. Keeping up the primary ward isn’t going to be in your range at this point- someday, I think, but not yet.” Denise informed her. “Unfortunately, that’s going to be the sticky part. I managed find another young lady that just moved to San Francisco who can help, but she’s a weekend dabbler- she hasn’t developed her ability anywhere near the level that would let her do it safely.”

Tara nodded, both pleased and disappointed. Denise was clearly the stronger between them, but just how much stronger was a mystery. The realization cemented in Tara’s mind that her own power was only impressive by human standards. Still, to have her control of the magic she could use acknowledged took away any sting of not being able to help where Denise needed it most.

With that thought Tara felt a flare of inspired hope. Two unhappy birds, one happy stone. “Willow could help..?”

“Willow? Who is Willow?”

“She’s m-my girlfriend. We’ve been, um, practicing together?” Tara felt a grin trying to surface at the thought. It still wasn’t something she could think about without the little flare of joy and amazement at being chosen. It was tempered by the question whether some of that choice wasn’t just the early changes toward becoming an adult succubus influencing Willow, but she could still bask in the emotion when it surfaced.

“I don’t recall her name on the list of new attendees… we usually pass it around to see who to ask about volunteering.” Denise watched Tara a little too closely for comfort. “Did she move here from out of state?”

Tara shook her head.

“It seems a little odd that there would be two unknowns in a town that size coming of age so close together. Let alone knowing each other.” The older succubus had sat back in her chair, her arms crossed and her voice quietly challenging.

“She’s… she knows about us a-already. But she’s not a…” Tara spoke quickly, trying not to look away but finally giving in and examining her glass. “a succubus.”

“Human.” Denise said it flatly.

“She’s been helping me-“

“No. No outsiders. I don’t care if it’s your spouse, your brother, or your “BFF”- bringing in a non-succubus is out of the question.”

“I t-thought y-y-“ Tara stopped and rephrased more simply, “If she can’t come, I don’t think I can either.”

“Are you giving me an ultimatum?” The older succubus’ eyes narrowed in challenge, but if she expected the harshness of her tone to change Tara’s answer, she was going to be disappointed.

Tara wished she could pretend it was courage that made her hold her ground, but changing her answer would require her to speak again and this particular defiance was as much as Tara’s voice seemed willing to give her. She waited in silence, knowing full well that her next words would be a stuttered mess. Avoiding the heated glare focused on her, she found a piece of cilantro on her plate to examine in detail.

With a screech of her chair Denise stood suddenly. “Tell me if you change your mind.” She left without another word. Tara sat frozen, for how long she didn’t know, while she berated herself over the idiocy of her gamble. A gallant attempt to make Willow’s wish come true, but she’d just dashed any hope of being able to go to this gathering of her kind. The fees were impossible on her budget and to ask to volunteer with a different part of the convention would be too audacious, given the degree of need they had for her magic.

Tara stood slowly, gathering up her purse and wondering what she’d tell Willow. For all her apparent anger, Denise had paid the check, but Tara left the tip in case that had been missed in the hasty exit.

Outside she saw Denise in one of the parked cars, arguing vehemently with someone on her cell phone. It was a bad position that Tara had put her in, for which she felt thoroughly guilty. They needed the magical help and the caution was understandable. Trying to leverage that need wasn’t right. She sighed, thinking about how she could mend this particular fence and re-offer her assistance. Email maybe? That would let her get all the words out without having her nerve fail her. Hitting ‘send’ only needed a moment of resolve and could be done after an appropriate period of agonizing and editing.

Tara checked her watch. She had about two more hours to kill before Anya would be back. She’d known it would be well after the lunch ended, so they were going to meet up at the public library, which was a short walk per the instructions Tara had copied down. After another guilty look at Denise’s back through the car window, she started ambling in the right direction.

-----------break

More to come, although with less and less continuity.


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 Post subject: Re: Changes
PostPosted: Sun Sep 06, 2015 5:08 pm 
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“Will…You know how they want me to help with, um, security? At the convention?”

“Nn? As much as you said they charge for tickets, it’s great that you can pay your way without, well, paying your way.”

It was difficult to listen to Willow trying to be happy for her. Tara didn’t want to rub in her face the fact that she was not invited. Worse, she had specifically been invited not to attend. It wasn’t personal. No spouses, no children, no significant others- no one without horns and a tail.

“D’ya think you’ll get one of those black Security shirts? Admittedly, less cool since you can buy them anywhere, but still!”

“It’s just wards.” She was downplaying it. The wards they were asking for were not trivial pieces of work. The designs had clearly gone through several revisions and all required multiple casters to handle them during their initiation. Once set in motion there was maintenance, but that was possible to do alone if you had the raw power to handle it. “They aren’t asking me to be a bouncer.”

“I looked up the convention hall. That’s some big ol’ wards. More like provinces than wards.”

Tara nodded. Denise had told her flat out that they were running with a minimum number of magic users and that the work would be that much more taxing for all of them. Talking to Yvette again had painted a more dismal picture. They were seriously underpowered for what they were needing to do. It could be done. It just couldn’t be done without pushing through the limits of comfort.

“You’ll get to meet other witchy types. Of the succubus variety, I mean.” There was the forced smile covering envy and insecurity.

“I told them no.”

“And I bet you can learn some nifty new spells from… what?” Willow derailed herself and refocused. “You said no? To what?”

“I told them I wouldn’t do it.”

“But…” Conflicted emotions flew over Willow’s face, settling somewhere in the range of concerned and disapproving while her words tumbled over each other. “You need to know more about this stuff and where else are you going to meet anybody who can tell you? Not to support ethnic enclaves or exclusionary cultural tendencies, but they’re…” her voice dropped in volume and rose in pitch, the unhappiness almost palpably encasing the last words, “…they’re like you.” Willow continued bitterly, “I want to figure this all out for you, but I can’t. I want to help-“

Tara ended Willow’s downward spiral of words with a fond look. “You do help. And… I told them I wouldn’t do it… unless you were there with me.”

“Tara, they already made it about as clear as it can be that I can’t be there- in the “trespassers will be shot” kind of non-negotiable way. I appreciate it, but-“

“They agreed.”

“Agreed to what?”

“Agreed to let you.” Tara thought back to the moment. She had surprised herself with her adamant refusal to leave Willow out, resigning herself to losing any chance of attending this event even as she said the words. That Denise had flatly denied her wasn’t surprising. What had surprised her was the call that night from Yvette, telling her that they’d discussed the situation and permission was tentatively granted.

There were conditions, of course, but Willow would be hearing those soon enough.

“Nothing is set- Denise said she had to meet you first. But they… they lost a lot of people since last year. I don’t think they have anyone else they can ask for help.”

“Lost?” Willow was abruptly suspicious.

“Two dead. One missing. One moved.” Tara hadn’t liked hearing that attrition rate, but had been assured that it was unfortunate coincidence rather than any organized malfeasance against magically inclined succubi. “They lost half of the number they usually have volunteering in the magic department, and there’s just one other new lady and me to fill in.”

There was a pause while Willow mulled this over, looking over nervously. “So next is my audition. Or interview. Or… what happens if she says no?”

“We don’t go.” As surprised as she had been when she had given her ultimatum, Tara had every intention of holding to it.

“Oh. No big then.” Willow grinned uncertainly through her gentle sarcasm. “Just have to impress them with… what am I supposed to convince them of?”

“That they can trust you, I think. That your magic really is as powerful as I said…” Tara saw Willow about to object and cut her off, giving her hand a quick squeeze of reassurance, “You are.”

“When is this interview? The event is only, what, a couple weeks away?”

“Mm… today..?” Tara winced at Willow’s immediate explosion of anxiety. This was why she’d waited till the last possible conscionable moment to tell her girlfriend. She knew that calm wouldn’t occur till the evaluation was over with and while Willow might begrudge her reasoning now, she’d mentioned before that she didn’t like the ‘impending doom’ sensation of creeping up to something unpleasant that you couldn’t prepare for. “Since we’ve only got two weeks, they wanted to know sooner rather than later.”

Willow’s expression of panic made her feel guilty for a moment, but there really was no better way to do this. It would serve everyone’s interest, really. CAYA needed more help with the magic, Willow wanted to go, and Tara admitted to herself that having her girlfriend there would alleviate some of the inevitable social anxiety that such a gathering would entail.

“Today? Like when today?”

“Denise wasn’t sure… she said she would call when she got out of class, but that it’d probably be this evening before she could get to town.”

“She’s in college too?”

“Um… professor? She’s at Santa Clarita Community College. I don’t think she told me what she teaches.” Tara had been too busy trying to make a good impression herself to inquire properly. Then she’d been too busy trying to determine whether the magic being described to her was actually something she could do. And in the end, she’d been completely unable to think of anything else after making her spontaneous demand.

Willow started walking faster. “Do you think we could stop by my dorm so I can pick up my laptop?”

“So you can investigate everything about her?”

Willow twitched. “Prior proper planning? Forewarned is forearmed?”

“Four arms aren’t going to help.” Tara forced Willow to slow by refusing to match her pace. “And you remember how well that went over with Jeanette?”

“I need to do something…”

“I have some notes about the wards. We could go over them?”

Willow’s eye brows rose and she nodded enthusiastically. Tara had calculated this as well- saving the notes for when they would serve as duel distraction and preparation. There wasn’t a lot that they could actually practice with, given the number of people required to set the spell in motion, but being familiar with the material would be useful when the time came.

----------------

“She did say six, right?”

Tara nodded, leaning back against her hands. They were standing at the entrance to UCS, Willow pacing nervously in the face of Tara’s apparent calm. Willow envied her that, but had to note that it wasn’t Tara who was on trial tonight so why wouldn’t she be calm?

Because if you mess up, Rosenberg, she loses too.

No pressure, though.

Before her mind could start another litany of the ways any kind of audition could go horribly wrong, a blue Honda Civic pulled up and a lady that bore strong resemblance to Jean stepped out of the passenger’s side. The car headed to the open spaces left toward the rear of the lot, most of the front ones having been taken by the dorm dwellers nearby.

“Tara! And you must be Willow.” She was, of course, gorgeous- and dressed to make that obvious. She smiled widely and extended a hand. “Yvette Cenedela. I believe you’ve met my mother.”

Willow nodded mutely, her voice stuck somewhere behind the blaring Cordeli-ite Proximity Alarm in her head. She reached to shake the offered hand nervously.

“Will-“

Tara’s voice came too late and Yvette pulled her hand back sharply from where it had contacted Willow’s with a surprised little yip. The sudden motion made Willow jump as well before she realized the mistake.

“I’m sorry- that had to be really uncomfortable. I forgot-“ Willow pulled the protective charm off quickly.

“It’s my fault. I, um, asked her to wear it.” Tara’s eyes dropped. She sounded like she felt guilty for the precaution, although Willow found the reasoning sound. This Denise that they were meeting had not been gung-ho on the idea of allowing Willow to help her department.

Yvette motioned negatively when Willow started to tuck the charm into her pocket. “Hold onto it for a moment- Denise will be interested.”

The succubus in question was heading towards them at a brisk walk, weaving between cars in the most efficient path possible. Willow’s Cordeli-ite potentiometer cranked up another notch.



-blah
Will takes off the charm for the same kind of demo Tara did. Manages to beat Denise on the dead-lift, but sends the knife flying when resistance is suddenly dropped.
-


“Turn around.” Denise ordered, making a ‘twirl’ motion with her hand. Willow crinkled her brow, but complied, turning a full 360.

She was too startled to pull away when Denise then reached out and grabbed her jaw firmly. When all that followed was an intense stare, followed by the grip roughly turning her face to profile, Willow looked to Tara for what to do. Her girlfriend looked as shocked as she was, more confused than alarmed, but clearly not happy. Yvette had her arms crossed in front of her and after a meat-market look at Willow, aimed a knowing little smirk at Denise.

“I think she could pass, don’t you?”

Willow backed up as her face was released, blood rushing to her cheeks with the combination of self-consciousness at the open appraisal and outrage at the manhandling. “Pass?”

“For a succubus, dear. If any one knew there was a human around it’d either be a panic or a stampede to demand that everyone be able to bring someone of their own.”

Willow blinked and considered what Yvette had said. She’d wondered just how the exemption was going to work and hadn’t really considered mundane subterfuge. This was probably not the time to point out that acting was not her strong suit, let alone maintaining any kind of cover.

“She’d have to keep that charm on when she’s anywhere she can be seen- her aura’s clearly human without it. We’d have to come up with some reason why she’s not in horns and tails...”

“We can get creative. Or just use Betty and Laura’s excuse.” Yvette waved that objection away as if it was something she’d figured out from the beginning.

Denise seemed to find some humor in that. “Then I think we may be able to do this.” Addressing Willow now, having seemingly graduated her from object to person, with a voice far more amicable than the words would indicate, “I’m sure that it’s not necessary to remind you just how bad an idea it would be for you to abuse this situation.”

“I have pretty good motivation for this to go well.” Willow replied defensively. Working with this woman was going to be a joy, she could tell. She felt Tara moving close enough to be a supportive warmth behind her right shoulder, off to the side enough to be a presence in the periphery of her vision without Willow having to look. Once, she might have discreetly rested a hand on Willow’s back. The protection charm had broken that habit even when the charm itself wasn’t in place.

“Now, yes. Someday, perhaps less so.” Denise replied bluntly. “Being partnered to a succubus is not easy and you wouldn’t be the first to try to take out your frustrations on as many of us as you could.”

Willow wanted to respond heatedly about a little hint of her devotion being permanently etched into the skin on her back, but that wasn’t going to help anything.

“Denise, what do you want from the girl?” Yvette stepped in, her exasperation plain.

“Her understanding of just how much trust we are placing in her.” Denise sighed, looking defeated. “The response in her aura tells me that threatening her isn’t productive, but appealing to her sense of responsibility is.”

Willow felt bare at this blatant display of having read her. She felt Tara tense beside her, but neither of them spoke before Denise continued.

“And that, Willow, is what it is like when someone has more information about you than is really comfortable. Every soul in the building will be in that position if you choose to make it so.” Denise crossed her arms in front of her.

“I think you’ve made your point. Any more of your point and I think you’re going to drive them both off.” Yvette said it lightly, but her face was serious. “And on that note- I recall that this is vampire country, so driving off sounds like a good idea.”

“Tara, Willow. I do need your help. We do. And I appreciate you are willing to give it.” Denise started to turn away. “I’ll be in touch about the preparations.”

Yvette grinned and gave a thumbs up as Denise walked away before turning and following.

Willow finally looked at Tara, whose face was entirely closed off and eyes still followed the pair retreating back to their car. “Well… that went well?”

Tara shook off whatever was on her mind and turned blue eyes on Willow. “I think… as well as it could.”

“So I could ‘pass’, huh.” Willow crinkled her brow, trying to decode that particular turn of phrase. Tara gave a little smile but let her puzzle for a few minutes while they headed back towards the dorms. “Do you know what they meant?”

Tara’s hand had snuck into hers at some point, and she squeezed gently. “They mean you’re beautiful…”

“So you’re conceding that all succubi are pretty? Including you?” Willow turned a triumphant grin at Tara.

“I’m conceding that they think you’re pretty enough to not rouse suspicion and have to prove yourself with tail and horns… like I will.” Tara clarified. Her countenance slid to melancholy. “Though from what Jean said, we all eventually are, even if we don’t start that way.”

“Hey. No bashing my girlfriend.”

“I’m not. It’s just so… superficial.” Tara sighed. “I know it sounds weird, but I kind of resent that I’m going to keep changing to conform to cultural preference just because of what I am, whether I like it or not.”

“Well… logically, the genetics of succubi aren’t going to be working on their long term relationship traits as much as their ability to pick up random people at the drop of a hat. So conforming to cultural standards of beauty in one way or another- it makes sense.” Willow shrugged. “And none of us really get to choose what we end up looking like- not without scads of money and a tolerance of plastic surgery.”

Blah, wind down

-------------break

I didn't write up CAYA itself, but did the ground work.
I should have the notes up tomorrow or the next day.
-NeverC

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 Post subject: Re: Changes
PostPosted: Sun Sep 06, 2015 5:43 pm 
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I'm still reading, please keep writing :blush


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 Post subject: Re: Changes
PostPosted: Sun Sep 06, 2015 9:18 pm 
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This part is just notes saying where I was going with the story.
---------

W/T finish the tattoo, with much physical pain and suffering on Willow’s part, with corresponding mental pain and suffering on Tara’s part. It comes none too soon. The ritual is carefully set in place and after some initial awkwardness we know things are proceeding well because we cut away from the scene.

Buffy, Xander, Riley, and Anya gossip about the Council showing up and how that went (post-patrol decompression before bed). Seems like everything is coming up roses- Giles is getting paid, Buffy is getting respect, Spike has been (suspiciously) quiet, X/T are getting it on… they are interrupted by an earthquake. It’s not a catastrophe, but significant enough to knock some books off the shelves. Still, it’s more than Sunnydale as had in as long as anyone can remember. While wanting to shrug it off as just part of being in CA, they turn on the news and find out it’s a very localized event. The epicenter is very shallow and directly under Sunnydale.
We cut back to W/T to strongly imply a connection between the ritual and the earthquake. Joke about the rocking her world. Willow is fine, but has black-magic eyes while channeling the Hellmouth and for some time after- do NOT make this obvious. If reasonable, only reader notices Willow eye change as scene ends.

CAYA occurs (see below)

Have at least two Glory incidents. Come up with a reason why Dawn can’t be sent to a small town in the Ozarks for the duration.

At a later point W realizes that she doesn’t have to be feeding T to activate the tattoo’s access to the Hellmouth. She can now safely channel far, far more magic than is prudent. Personality shifts should become apparent to T, but the question is whether this is a natural effect based on Willow’s increasingly central role in fighting Glory or directly from the Hellmouth’s influence. Conflict over magic use brews (earlier than canon, yes) and there start to be minor spats. These are tremendously traumatic to T, who realizes that W is her only emotional support… this isn’t healthy. Now that the crisis of her demon-ness is over, she needs to meet some new people, catch up on class, etc. Finds herself talking to Anya a lot, for a number of reasons. Nothing to hide, no shame from demony stuff, doesn’t set off W’s jealousy, and not someone more directly connected to W than T is.

Theme throughout about how sticky it is now that T is bound to W much as T’s mother was to her father. W vehemently avoiding being controlling (despite really wanting to), is acutely aware of the unbalance in their relationship due to her being T’s sole source of succubus-y sustenance. W insecurity about T staying with W for the wrong reasons.




Notes from CAYA---

Meet committee, magic team (1 major- older, 1 moderate- young, not present are the other 4 supporters). Split tasks and W finds she has to remove charm for joint cast on big stuff. Magic team unhappy to see human but very impressed with her raw power (despite not being on the Hellmouth, proving that there is some permanent effect)- she and Tara will work on wards/renewals, while major does internal security and moderate does troubleshooting. W warned again about danger- she shrugs it off, being inured to being told this with regard to Buffy stuff.
Plans occur. W gets more and more antsy about all the gorgeous, confident, mostly female group Tara is spending all this time with. Not jealousy so much as insecurity. The magic team has some unattached members that are particularly worrisome, as Tara seems to get along well with two of them. Torn between “yay- friends and support network for Tara” and being sure that Tara is going to pull an Oz and leave Willow for her own kind. Willow aware that she was supporting Tara in coming to this event, is sure that it is good that Tara is there… it just might not be good for Willow.

At the event- initial work is done, watching people arrive to Opening. Famous folks abound! Talk about how there is a gravitation toward the entertainment industry in LA, but everywhere they have a high number of people in sales, admin, and other areas where personal charm matters most. T and W mingle a bit but have to help door security. W does ward renewal with Major, goes down to meet T. Forgets she took off charm. Pregnant succubus enters, sees W’s human aura, goes ballistic. W caught in focused Draw, she and T see how it can be used as a weapon of sorts. The rest of the evening is largely missed as they work off the aftereffects (very much off screen).
T asks J about what happened- gets talk about everyone having different talents. Some can almost fly rather than just float, some are great at manipulating aspects of the Draw (note- atrophy w age, J can barely do it at all but has flirty skillz to compensate), some are great aura readers, while some are great shifters (pointed out that J is one of these within her own specialty and does a couple seminars). T needs to learn to focus a Draw, can go to seminar but will be way too advanced- needs to practice first. T unsettled, reluctantly reveals that she and W have worked something out… but that it can't be duplicated easily.
Convention passes with classes, magic stuff. T exhausted by it all, W just jealous. T also noting all the social stuff- confidence esp disconcerting. She's getting a bunch of pity whenever her quickening comes up and it's getting old. W hasn't noticed that- fascinated by the seminar stuff, loving the view into the more organized side of the demon world. They talk as they watch the Gala.
Back in Sunnydale… Glory stuff.


**Introduce why succubi should not inbreed- have one of the kids of such a pairing there (Betty or Laura). Show that purebreds have a magnified degree of the succubi's power, but are born with tails and horns despite being unable to shift till they hit 20, and are significantly more burdened by the demonic part of their makeup. Note that W/T being discrete in their affections at CAYA is wise mostly because of this (since W trying to pass as succubus), not from any particular problems with lesbians...

***Also bring up Jean’s hx with a past Slayer- Yvette tells it.


Conference Sched

Planning
Much fuss and bother

Event
Day 1- Friday PM opening ceremonies. (Note- spouses and kids who are 'in the know' have their own planned events elsewhere)
Day 2- Sat Seminars.
Day 3- Sun seminars, evening Gala party.

Seminars
Shifting- The Subtle Shift (taught by Jean- how and why to take it slow), The Partial Shift (mix & match, using midpoints instead of the full template), Nonhuman and Image based shifting (Jean helps), Evasion Techniques,
Social- The Ex Who Knows (various expected rxns after a breakup and what to do about them), When/If to Tell Your Significant Other (opinion panel; before or after marriage, not at all, any time so long as shifted to anonymity), How to Disappear (and not lose everything), The Morning After (case studies of unusual situations)
Medical- What you should know about having kids (differences in pregnancy, what to expect at the hospital, what tx to refuse), Latest Research, Epidemiology Update, When to Worry (update on nonhuman illnesses), Case Studies (hospital problems, procedure abnormalities)- mostly run by NZ doc (Kestenbaum)
Physical- Flight (making use of what you have), Basic Defense Till You Can Run (demon, human, & hunters), When They Won't Take "No" (full contact personal protection, limited groups all day)
Mundane- Investing 101, Taxes and New Identities, Fake IDs, Trends 2001 (recommended for the elder succubi), Networking (skills from the mundane world you can use too), Harassment in the Workplace,


Bulletin ads
Tailoring for the tail (esp jeans)- taking orders on site.
Personals (most for friendly meetups in less populous areas)
Property swaps for identity changes, job postings… like craigslist for stuff that can't be public.
Big notice about people to watch for (Buffy on there, so is Kendra, Cain, Angel, Gun)

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PostPosted: Sun Sep 06, 2015 11:56 pm 
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My notes on the mythos I was working with during the parents-in-India arc:

Child of Radha.
Radha (born a cowherd/gopi) was the lover of Krishna, but not his wife. She is said to be the enchanter of the enchanter because she captured Krishna's desire just as he captured so many women's. The pangs of separation from Krishna are great, as theirs is a show of desire of the mundane hold for the divine/spiritual. Similarly, Krishna feels the separation as well… this can be used in the story to illustrate the Draw. Children of Radha, born before her "external/shadow" marriage to Ayana Ghosh (Maybe not. Use them as children from the shadow marriage? Then they are less divine and more frustrated), the succubi do not have her ability to lure the divine, but are irresistible to mortals. They feel the need born of separation, and can only allay it with the shadows of that divine love that can be found in the flesh. They carry the touch of the divine, but not the actuality.

Also used for reference:
Smarodayam- what the gopi felt toward Krishna. "First comes attraction expressed through the eyes, then intense attachment in the mind, then determination, loss of sleep, becoming emaciated, uninterested in external things, shamelessness, madness, becoming stunned and death. These are the ten stages of Cupid’s effects."
----

More notes- I wrote this to keep my own continuity straight. As with the above, it was never really meant for public viewing. Since I don't have any more scenes with these folks, though, this is the only way to get any backstory that hasn't already been told.

Backstory

Ulysses Maclay (Latin ver of Odysseus, name from word for wrath in latin)
Born 1954 and raised 3 hours from Lincoln, Nebraska. He was working as a ranch hand while taking community college courses, dated Judy just after she graduated high school and married her 6 months later (him: 21, her: 18), rushed by being drafted to Vietnam. Spent 2 years with the Marines on the front lines, and after getting shot trying to save a VIP's nephew, he was reassigned to a cushy post at the Indian embassy and was able to bring Judy and his young son to live there. They spent most of their free time traveling outside Delhi.
Was at some other short term assignment for two months, missing Judy's 20th birthday. He returned to find her having an emotional breakdown, a rash of mysterious deaths in the area, and a crisis on his hands. He and Judy learned what they could locally, and found the answer from a practitioner of Tantric (the folk religion, not the just the part that's commonly talked about here) magic. The ritual is imperfect, requiring both animal sacrifice and high ambient energy, but channels through him whatever it is that is needed to keep them both alive and together. After his return to America, he bought a little chunk of land in Ramona, CA, on a ley line crossing.
Through Tara's youth he worked as an independent irrigation system repairman from Jamul to Temecula and beyond Julian. He would take some of his payment in livestock (cheaper than buying, plus saves on taxes- also good for the little farmers), which were used in the ritual sacrifices. Post-ritual he butchered them to sell to "yuppies that object to slaughterhouses" and make jerky for the Del Mar/La Jolla/Rancho Bernardo area farmer's markets. This was financially a net loss, but better than just wasting the corpses after the ritual. Notably, he stopped the home butchering when Judy died. He loved her entirely, although he was somewhat bitter about her demon (not her being a demon- he separates the two unless consciously thinking about it) curtailing their options in life, and closed off a great deal at her death. Since her death he has come to suspect that the Draw was responsible for his devotion to her not changing since her quickening (patently false).
He was suspicious of his wife's magic after her quickening (previously had been entranced by the few things he'd seen), but acknowledged that her practice was helping them deal with the demon. For four months (5 really, but he wasn't around for the first month) he had let his wife wander for both their sakes- firmly cementing in both their minds how evil the demon aspect was. He is aware of the deaths surrounding Judy's quickening, but firmly believed that Tara would run straight home after her own quickening began. Feels that the fact that she didn't is further proof of the evil within her- that she knew she could come to him for help, but chose to kill rather than return.
The 'gay issue' was never addressed at home. Tara wasn't allowed to date- end of story. When she started talking in that direction, the subject was changed. This is a firmly PG family and you just don't talk about some things. He intended to bring home a good boy from a good family for Tara's quickening (knowing full well that the boy was going to be bewitched by the demon's charms), teach them what they needed to do and provide enough sacrificial livestock to get her through the process. Little does he know that the boy would probably have died, as the quickening requires more energy be taken than during later times.
Doesn't much like Judy's father, who is still in Nebraska, not for his religion (crutch for the weak of spirit), but because he is a Libertarian (which is just stupid- people need government to keep them in line). Didn't think much of Judy’s mother either, who died in a car accident when Tara was 4 years old. Has a poor relationship with his brother in Nebraska. His own mother is in a retirement community- his brother takes care of anything that comes up. Father deceased 5 years prior, mother remarried 2 years ago to a man in her complex, whom Ulysses despises.
Disappointed in Donny's lack of ambition and has no problem telling him that.

Pet dog; Argos (same as Odyssey)

Judy Maclay- (maiden name Utrata)
Born Dec 18, 1954. Adopted by an eclectic Wiccan couple in Nebraska and raised in that faith. Noted to be extraordinarily gifted in magic, and care was taken to foster that gift. After her 20th birthday she came to the conclusion that this was related to the demon, but because it was also what saved her, as well as being a part of her religion, she did not abandon the practice. Her parents were Aluicius (Al) and Eglentine (Aggy, because she couldn't stand Eggy). Eglentine died driving in a tornado in 1983, though why she hadn't taken cover is a mystery. Aluicius moved to Florida in 1986, but visits the Maclays ever year to see his grandkids. He thinks Mr. Maclay is a good man, but a little rigid in his ways. He is unaware of Judy being a succubus.
Judy died of a combination of factors at age 43. The first reason was that succubi really aren't made for living the way she did, despite all the precautions… the Burn was a constant force in her life, held in check by feedings every week or week and half, but never really satisfied. The second COD was melanoma, which had metastasized by the time she went to see a doctor. She never knew what killed her, as she didn't return after the initial visit for weight loss, nausea, and fever didn't turn up the cause of her malnutrition-like state(cancer cells eating up her body's resources being part of it). She knew that hospital stays and imaging only led to more problems as 'abnormalities', which might be perfectly healthy/normal for a succubus, started to add up. She died over the course of six months, suffering from multiple organ failure caused by both the metastases themselves and the infarcts from her secondary hypercoagulability. Renal insufficiency and liver damage, as well as progressive neurologic symptoms occurred, and the end came in the form of disseminated intravascular coagulation. She bled into her lungs and GI tract on 2/9/1997, dying within an hour.

New Timeline (old one was WRONG due to draft dates)
1970 U drafted at 18, J is 16
1973 U (21) marries J (19), high school sweetie, while on leave after being shot. Returns to the service in a cushy job in Calcutta, India.
1974 Donny born in September. Family moves to India.
1974 Dec 18, J turns 20. Badness ensues, as U is away on some official business for a month. When he returns the quickening is over, but J scared to death (with good reason- she killed two people and harmed at least three more). They research the Left Handed Path with a magically inclined guru, J skims on locals.
1975 Solution found, slowly improved on.
1977 Return to US. U quits military to find house on ley line nexus that he can have livestock on. Resents how his future was curtailed by his wife's needs.
1980 Tara born October- they thought she was going to be a boy (hence not seeking an abortion- magic said “not girl”, but meant only ‘not human girl’). J 25.
Oct, 1995 J starts to decline- general malaise and feeding less effective.
July, 1996 J starts losing weight, getting fevers.
Sept, 1996 J goes to PCP for her symptoms, imaging ordered but she doesn't f/u.
Feb 9, 1997 dies at age 43

Taught Tara enough to read the Hindi dialect used to record her ritual, but otherwise all her demon-related teachings were indirect, through her brand of Wicca. Control was the emphasis, though she also taught the foundations that were eventually useful for shifting. She'd had Uly help her amputate her tail while still in India, which was later cleaned up by a surgeon in Tijuana. This is why Tara has never seen it. She hid the horns and ridges in shame- by the time Tara was old enough to remember, she could keep them hidden almost constantly and did so as a part of her constant vigilance/control. The Left Hand Path of Tantric magic is rife with potential for abuse, so while Judy made Tara aware of it, she actively discouraged its use.

Donald Maclay
Almost 6 years older than Tara, born when mom was 19 (honeymoon baby- conceived between wedding and dad leaving for India). Doesn't remember India, but has a vague recollection of his mother's horns/smudgies/ridges from the times her control slipped before she really mastered it. He is pretty sure that was just a recurring kiddie nightmare, but if he sees Tara's he will remember.
He's currently living at home, though financially independent, working as a mechanic for heavy machinery. He would rather move up north, but his father thinks he should stay- so he stays.
His father favored him, though his mother clearly favored Tara. Since his father's love is not easy to live with, he resented the relationship Tara had with their mother, though he understood that their curse was also a big part their bond with each other. Although he also has a significant talent for magic (though nowhere near Tara and their mother), he holds it in contempt as part of what demons do and not being good for much, so never took advantage of his potential. His experiences with magic have all been from his mother and sister, which were passive and lacking in 'wow', hence the derision he displayed in Family. It's not disbelief in magic's existence, but disbelief that anyone would bother studying it.


-----------------------------------------------------------

Jeanette (Mildred) Cenedela-
Assumed to be 19 during Vietnam War (1969 draft started), making her 49 at the time of the story… but actually she was 19 during WWII (draft 1942), making her birth in 1924. At the time of this story she is 75, has osteoarthritis, osteopenia, congestive heart failure, hypertension, high cholesterol, had a TIA six months prior.
Mom (Orianna) died during flu epidemic of 1967.
Kids born (with Herschel, born 1940, married 1967 (beginning of hippie era) at 27, died 1994 of HIV/AIDS related pneumonia at 54) in 1968, 1969, and 1970 (Jean was 42, 43, miscarriage x1 and 44- yes old, and yes, lucky she didn't have more problems, but perhaps the relationship of age and complications is different for succubi).
Was representative of the Western regional Unified Council of Succubi (which, despite all UCS efforts, is still affectionately referred to as The SUC, Succubus Unified Council) from 1986-90. Was a council member, chatelaine (prior to internet), and social committee member for numerous years- is very widely known in her own community. Still active in the local chapter and helps the political side of the annual "Come As You Are" event in LA. Helps teach shifting seminars related to subtle/slow shifting and non-template shifts.

T-shirt: Italiano é lingua d'amore. Has numerous 'joke gifts' from Yvette, usually referring to cougars.

Yvette Cenedela-
41, rep for Pfizer in LA, lives in Long Beach, 1 son (Pierce, 17, father unknown), no steady relationships. Has an on/off relationship with her mother, and tends to be poor about keeping contact. Sends her mother snide gifts at Christmas.

Hugo Cenedela-
42, cubical monkey in Detroit, in the analytical side of marketing for GM. Married to Gillian (Hogarth) Cenedela (40), has three girls; Trudy (2), Beatrix (5), and Felicity (7).

Leila (pronounced Lee-la) Aragones-
43. Lives in San Antonio, works as a senior fund raiser for UTSA (Univ Texas San Ant). Married to Rolando, 45, a tax lawyer. Has 3 kids; Heather (14), Vincent (16), and Nicholas (21)- who is married to Xonane (Flores) Aragones- also 21, and has 1 yr old baby being Christened during story time frame. Nuclear family knows what she is- very similar to her mother's household.

----end notes

I'll leave out the reference list for oligodendroglioma care, home slaughtering techniques, sak-yant tattoos, esoteric Hinduism, and such things. Research was done. Links were made. Nuff said.

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