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

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 Post subject: Changes
PostPosted: Thu Jan 28, 2010 10:13 pm 
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Introductory Notes


By popular demand- now on its own thread! Un-beta'd and largely unedited- but there is a method to this madness.


This fic is the result of something that we were doing in the chat room: improvisational storytelling. I'd never done an improv before, but was inspired by what I saw others doing and wanted to try. Unfortunately, when I finally got up the gumption to try (a 2 hour process) there was nobody online… I didn't want to waste the energy, so I did what I felt was the next best thing. I wrote in a one or two hour rush and have so far managed to prevent myself from editing… so while it's not actual improv writing, it fits my rules. Yes, rules. I have my own rules. Anyhow, this happened on four more occasions, resulting in four sections coming in to being… at which point I decided changing my writing method part way through would be a bad idea, so I just keep going with my own little set of rules.


At some point I found out how much harder real improv is than what I was doing (I discovered that I do micro-edits as I write; fixing the last few lines as I proceed) and figured it wasn't fair to label it as such. On the other hand, calling this finished fic would also be misleading. The only reason for putting it in a thread at all was so that chat people could get anything they missed or refer back to the prior section to remember where the story was. Then some other folks started reading (woo hoo!)and suggested that I needed to make Changes into its own thread. My ego was tickled, but what really motivated the move is that the old thread (Chatroom Potpourri) was being taken over by my story, making it harder for other people to put in their pieces of chatroom continuity.


At this point I have no intention of going through the editorial process with this fic- until it ends, I'm not even thinking about it. If I ever do edit (okay, maybe I've thought about it abstractly), it is going to be a major overhaul. I corrected a few minor things when I moved this to it's new home thread, but nothing more than a few words here and there.


As I write I have no set path that I'm following, although I've found myself thinking ahead a lot more as time goes on. I don't have an outline (though I've referred to episode summaries a couple times in between sessions to try to remember all the canon stuff that was going on) or a specified end point.


Enough about the process. Updates will be sporadic.


Later on I have an example of how this looks in chat- it is a very different experience. I encourage MST3King (though few do), so it can get quite silly. Want to join in? I frequently run my storytime on Friday or Saturday nights, starting around 8 or 9pm PST, but this is contingent on how the chatroom looks. If people are having too much fun or anyone objects, I don't want to hijack, so I just postpone.


Last edited by NeverChosen on Sat Jul 27, 2013 12:11 pm, edited 35 times in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Changes
PostPosted: Thu Jan 28, 2010 10:34 pm 
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[center][h3]Changes[/h3][/center]

Story Premise: What if Tara's father wasn't lying?


Disclaimer: I do not own the characters of BtVS, nor the context that I am drawing them from. There will be no monetary gain from my writing this.


Setting: Season 5, starting the night after Family. Prior events are all cannon. There will be substantial similarities to the S5 we know as the fic continues, but there is a major change which will have significant repercussions to the events.


Rating: R for thematic elements (how's that for vague?), and slightly naughty content.


Angst Level: Overall, higher than the USA trade deficit. Ch 1, Pt I is pretty benign.


Feedback: Yes! Analysis! Speculation! Best of all- criticism! I can take it (my ego is friable in many ways, but criticism of my creative efforts is not one of them) and learning as I go makes for better future writing- so we both win.


Ch 1: The Morning After

There are times in life that you know true contentment. And this… this was one of those times.

Tara woke with the sun hitting her face. That meant it had to be almost noon. That's when the sunlight would hit one of their crystals on the windowsill just so, reflecting the light across the head of the bed. She shifted just enough to escape the glare, the motion making her aware of the body tucked next to hers.

Willow was still sound asleep, snuggled under Tara's arm with her head on Tara's shoulder. One slack arm was thrown possessively across her chest, the other folded up under her. The little sighs of her breathing ran over Tara's skin in steady rhythm like waves on a lakeshore.

How long had it been since she had felt this way? Really content? She wasn't sure she ever had. Her father had made sure of that. Nothing had ever been enough for him. Always restrictions. Rules. Being so careful, all the time. Being reminded day after day of her inadequacy, her failings, of the inevitable.

You have to learn control, Tara. By the time you change, it will be too late.

She never knew how she had found it in herself to leave. Freshman psych had taught her about learned helplessness. By all rights, that should have been her. And when Donny, Beth, her father had shown up… that's what she had felt. Helpless. She had to be responsible. She had to do what was right. And she was helpless in the face of that.

Something in her had always asked why she didn't deserve to be happy. Her father had blamed it on her mother, how she had been spoiled by foolish, selfish ideas. She thought that had been what did it. The only time she could ever stand up to him was when he verbally attacked her mother. And it was the gradually building resentment after her death that had given Tara the strength to do what she felt she had to in order to leave.

She had always thought she would go back. It was that fatalism that had haunted her every day since she had gone to school. Made that wedge between her and making friends. Why make friends, if you were only going to leave? Why feed the fantasy? When it would all end?

Because she hadn't wanted it to end. She wouldn't let her dreams die, even when she knew they must. Better to know happiness and leave it than never have experienced it. And meeting Willow had been the epitome of that. So much joy. So much reason to live, to love, to escape fate.

She'd never been as deeply interested in magic as she became after meeting Willow. It had always been a part of her life, but never had it been so central. Shared interest had something to do with that. But so did the hope beyond hope that she could find an answer. A cure. Anything to let this dream continue.

Waking yesterday, the morning of her twentieth birthday, had given her insight into what prisoners on death row must feel. It was the end. There was no stopping it. And knowing that, what to do? Some people might have wanted to "go out with a bang" in a binge of grandiose indulgence. Some would wallow in self pity. But she had known what was coming for years. She had enough to time to consider, to think it over a thousand times. So she had done what she wanted most to do. Live as she had lived every day since leaving home.

As best she could, anyway. Tara had no illusions of sainthood. She had tried to make the dream last. She had almost gotten her friends killed when she did… but somehow they didn't reject her for it. They didn't reject her for what she would become.

Tara would have gone back. Her selfishness could not have stood in the face of her father, reminding her of what must be.

Her nose was still sore. It was a happy soreness. She wasn't sure Spike's chip was the most accurate way to judge what she was, but it was a reassurance. And how could her father deal with a demon better than a Slayer could? Better than Mr. Giles? How could her father contain the darkness he told her was inside her? All the questions had flooded through her, standing there in the middle of the Magic Box.

There had been a change that night, but it hadn't been her own. Rather, it had been in her friends. They had become family. Her blood kin were still important to her- she couldn't say otherwise- but now they weren't her future. Her new family was her present. Her future? With any luck, it had something to do with the warm body by her side.

Tara smiled to herself.

Even after what had happened, the group had insisted she make her appearance at the Bronze. She'd tried to beg off. She had never wanted such a party- all she could have hoped for could have been found in the little group that had stood up for her. But party was the Scooby way and it seemed that they now expected her full participation.

Willow had saved her from her usual poorly executed small-talk, pulling her to the dance floor. Ever conscientious, Willow had waited for the slow songs to start. Then again, Willow had no more inclination for wild club dancing than Tara did.

Just holding each other, anonymous in the crowd that surrounded them, knowing that she was home- it had been her moment of true happiness. Tempered only when she had realized they were floating gently a few feet off the floor. Her heart had been so full a moment before, but the panic eclipsed that until she realized no one was noticing. It was beyond Sunnydale denial. It had to be magic. The trepidation she felt had faded as they returned to earth, but she knew she needed to talk to Willow about it.

She wasn't even sure Willow was aware of what she was doing, sometimes. It wasn't like she didn't have control when she focused. Her intensity when she did focus was remarkable and more than a little sexy. Between her dedication to the mystic arts and a remarkable talent her abilities had grown incredibly even in the time they had known each other. And God, she was powerful. It was a little frightening, knowing what she could be capable of.

Tara had a theory. It didn't seem like the floating was something Willow did consciously. The blonde never felt the actual shiver of a spell being cast. Although she tended to be… distracted one way or another when it occurred… and Willow frequently was, too. She could try to explain it romantically as a magic expression of their karmic connection, but that was a little over the top. No, her theory was far more banal.

Willow leaked. Someone with as much power as she had- for it to bleed out occasionally wasn't far fetched. When her inhibitions were at their lowest, especially.

This was not to say it was unpleasant. Oh no. In no way, shape, or form. The Bronze hadn't been the only time they'd floated that night. Even after the emotional wringer that she'd had earlier that evening, neither she nor Willow had abandon the spirit of celebration when they'd gone back to the dorm. Slow, soft, quiet celebration... and some slightly more rambunctious celebration… and… Well. It had been a good night. Which had resulted in a rather late morning.

She would talk to Willow about the floating. It didn't seem dangerous, but it didn't really bode well either. Just because it made… certain things… more interesting sometimes- that wasn't an excuse to ignore the issue.

Willow was starting to show signs of waking in tiny shifts in her position. They'd managed to get the sheet back over themselves before succumbing to sleep, though Tara didn't remember doing it. Waking up shivering once too often had taught them the prudence of it, no matter how irrelevant a covering felt at the time.

Willow's shoulder was starting to rise, the arm that had been draped across Tara hugging her a little tighter. It was hard to see from this angle, but Tara knew the little smile that would have formed on Willow's contented face.

"Mmm. Warm form… eating corn." Tara never really understood the code that Willow's dreams came in and Willow never really remembered them. One of these days she was going to start writing down these little snippets and see what patterns emerged. In the mean time, though, it was an excuse to answer.

"Were there peas, too?" She murmured.

"Whirled peas… like Gandhi…"

That was a little more coherent… in a way. Tara started to run her fingers gently along Willow's freckled shoulder where it was exposed. There was the little motion, the final objection to releasing herself into the waking world, and then she felt Willow shift against her.

"G'morn'n, baby." Her voice hadn't completely woken up yet, still a little rough.

"Good, yes. I'm not sure about morning though." She kissed the top of Willow's head with a smile.

"No class. Don't care." Willow turned over to kiss her back, choosing the dip between her collar bones. And another, a little further up her neck. Between that and the simplistic syntax, Tara knew where this was going. And despite a long night- not really opposed. Willow's hand found a new resting place. Oh no. Not opposed at all.

Slithering a little away, Tara had to grin at the pouty grumble she felt as much as heard from Willow. As expected, Willow tried to slither with her. Tara felt the edge of the bed and in a quick motion slipped into sitting position. She felt Willow plop dramatically face-down on the mattress and heard the puppy-like whine behind her.

"Hold that thought." She purred back. Teasing Willow could be fun, but this was reality just being inconvenient.

"No thought. More kissage." The redhead's words were muffled by the sheet.

"I need to pee." Tara glanced back over her shoulder with some amusement.

"Damned kidneys." Willow had at least raised her head and was glaring at her back. "I hate you glomeruli, every last tubule of you!"

Glomeruli? Sounded like some kind of demon they would fight. Tara chuckled as she stood, sheet sliding free. She reached for the bathrobe on the back of the door. Willow caught her and Tara was forced to stop both by the action and the abrupt panic in her lover's voice.

"Baby, wait."

Tara looked back as where Willow had lunged half-way across the bed, reaching out the rest of the distance, wide-eyed and even more pale than usual.

And then she saw why.

Tara felt her entire body clench in shock. The sudden tension was painful, from her toes reflexively grasping the carpet beneath her through the sudden gasp she felt herself taking through a now rigid jaw.

Willow was holding a tail. A flesh-toned, tapered tail.


Tara's tail.



---------TBC


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 Post subject: Re: Changes
PostPosted: Thu Jan 28, 2010 10:39 pm 
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Ch 1 continued


The silence stretched as the two stared. Eventually Tara forced herself to look up to Willow's eyes.

"Y-you're squeezing kinda hard…" It was a ridiculous thing to say, but it was true.

And Willow's death-grip hurt.

What else could she say? Gee, look at that?

Willow dropped the tail as if it had burned her, her eyes leaping to lock with Tara's.

"Ah. Wha- When? How?" Her eyebrows met in a steep peak, begging for an answer. Then, in a high voice laced in total confusion, "Tail?"

Tara found she had snaked the liberated tail in a tight single twist around her left leg. She could feel the peach-fuzz hairs on it, like those on her arms. The tip came to just below her calf.

"I d-don't know."

"How can you not know?!" Willow squeaked. "It's attached- to you! And I can tell you with utmost authority- it was not there yesterday."

Tara started to back away from the bed. The rigidity of a moment before was being replaced by a certainty that her knees were going to buckle any minute. She grabbed the robe she had been going for and threw it over herself before leaning back against the wall. The world began to tilt, which didn't help the rising wave of nausea. She slid down to the floor.

Willow was off the bed and kneeling in front of her before she knew it.

"I'm sorry. I'm sorry- are you OK? What do I do? Please- what's going on?" Willow's eyes were frantic, but Tara only noticed peripherally.

It was true. Daddy was right all along. She never should have left- she never should have stayed here. What had she done? What was she going to do? Daddy- why didn't you tell me more? Mama, why didn't you?

She looked at her hands. They didn't look any different. She didn't feel any different. But she was different. She had the tail to prove it.

Do I have a soul? She tilted her head, trying to analyze herself. Am I evil?

I don't feel evil.

Evil never does, Tara.

She knew the answer. She'd heard it a thousand times. What right did she have to disagree? He was right. She'd wanted so badly to believe it wasn't true that she'd even convinced herself it wasn't… until the proof was there, staring her in the face. Or wrapped tightly around her leg, as the case may be.

"I'm… a demon." She said it simply, quietly, with both certainty and acceptance. With complete realization she found a sort of calm. She was hyperventilating, she noticed, slowing her breaths. She had been shaking, but that was subsiding.

"NO." Willow sounded like she wanted to undo it by her own certainty. If only it were that easy.

"Yes." Tara replied. She started to push toward standing again. "And I think you n-need to get away from me."

"Why? I can help! Just tell me what to do!"

"I don't know what to do- and I don't know what I'll do. T-there's too much I don't know." Anxiety was starting to reassert itself. Tara tried to force the return of the acceptance she had felt a moment ago, but she couldn't accept it- not until she knew Willow was safe. That meant leaving. Now. Going home. They knew what to do.

"We'll figure it out." Willow said forcefully.

"I can't put you in danger." She couldn't meet Willow's eyes. She'd thought she was free now, but it was all just a pretty mirage covering a desolate reality.

"I'm not letting you leave here alone." The flash in Willow's eyes told her more than the words. Willow had figured out what Tara had decided.

"I have to go." Willow needed to understand that.

"Not to them." Willow's jaw had set. She wasn't going to give this up. Tara looked at her with a bit of that strange calmness that was keeping her from complete hysteria. There was a spell- she could put Willow to sleep. Just until she was gone.

Such a little thing. Would that be the beginning? The first step toward evil? It was for Willow's sake. Did that make it OK?

Magic is never OK, Tara,

Did even considering it mean she had already gone too far to really know the difference? Right and wrong? How was she supposed to know?

"They didn't tell you, Tara. And they won't. They'll just do whatever they do to 'control' you. You, not just some demon. You." Willow's eyes were starting to tear up and Tara found her own responding. It was wrong to cry. She knew this was coming. Why grieve for a dream you knew would die?

"What else can I do?" It was supposed to be a rhetorical question, but she regretted the moment she asked it. It was an invitation to hope- to a solution- and she knew there wasn't one. She'd known since the day she'd been old enough to understand the words.

"Give me time. Us. We'll figure this out. Anya knows about demons. She'll know. And if she doesn't- books. We have them. And access to more resources than your family-" She said it as if the word tasted bad, "could ever hope for."

"I can't put you in danger."

"If you are a danger to anyone, I will lock you up myself." Willow's eyes held hers. There was a sadness there that spoke of truth. Tara knew she'd had to cage Oz. Shot him with tranquilizers. Dealt with his animal side. She had the resolve, the strength to do what had to be done, even if it was to someone she loved.

Can she still love me? Tara looked into Willow's eyes and was ashamed for even doubting. Instead she found a better question; Should she?

"-but until there is a reason- a real reason- you don't get to assume the worst." Willow commanded. "I invoke girlfriend privilege."

It was a ridiculous declaration. Tara couldn't stop worrying any more than she could ignore her new appendage. And Willow was aware of that. It was part of impossible situations, though, to turn to humor. It kept things that were too much from becoming overwhelming. On patrols, it kept the danger from turning into fear. When the world was going to end, it kept them grounded in the present… aware of the future, but not consumed by it.

Tara hoped her future wasn't going to consume them both.

"Baby. I know this is freaky. I'm kinda freaked. But I love you." Willow had brought her hands to Tara's shoulders, drawing her slowly closer. "We'll figure it out."

Tara allowed herself to be embraced, allowed herself to relax and return the gesture. Willow was right. They had to find out more- if nothing else, so that she could help her family in the task that was their legacy. Was it weakness if she wished for hope as well? A selfishness that showed what really lay within her?

She still hadn't said anything to Willow. She didn't know what to say. The redhead was making little sounds of reassurance and Tara wanted to believe, but her mind just wouldn't go any further. And there was still one more pressing issue.

"Um… can I still go pee?" Tara felt her cheeks flush. It was such a mundane thing, totally insignificant in the grand scheme of things… but getting to be urgent. "Please?"

Willow shnarfed into her shoulder, but let go. "Two minutes. Any longer and I'll send a search party."

Tara didn't linger, although there had been a moment of flustered confusion about mechanics. Tails were not designed for toilet seats. A moment of internal hysteria had followed, but quickly passed as her more formed anxieties overtook her again.

Retreating back to their room, Tara wondered what would happen when she met Buffy. Would she get a "spidey sense" twinge? Would she know Tara had changed?

It was a blessing not to have to find out yet.

Willow was seated on the bed when Tara came back, no more clothed than when she had left, but with the sheet marginally covering her.

"You know, I was thinking about it…" Willow started, chewing on her lip, "and I think I know what needs to be done."

Good. Tara was drawing a big, ugly blank on that one. She sat down next to Willow, waiting to hear more.

"Thorough investigation." Willow was nodding to herself, still focused on a point somewhere near the door. "Can't miss anything. There might be a clue, and how stupid would we feel if we didn't notice?"

"A clue?" Tara felt where her tail had arrayed in a loose curl behind her, the tip tapping slow rhythm against the mattress like a hand fidgeting when you weren't really paying attention to what you were doing.

"Well, we have the big clue." Willow indicated the tail with a tilt of her head, "but there must be a dozen kind of mystical beings-"

"Demons." Tara corrected with quiet insistence. Reassurance she would take, but she couldn't let Willow forget what this was about. Not when it could turn out so horribly.

"-who have those," Willow refused to change her wording, glancing over in subdued consternation, "so we need to see if there is anything else that can help us figure it out."

"Like…?" Tara wasn't following. "I don't think I feel any different."

"I don't know…" Willow had subtly edged closer, "I think you need…"

"Thorough investigation?" Tara raised an eyebrow. Logically, it made sense. She'd been so obsessed with the tail, there could be anything- she hadn't even checked the mirror in the bathroom. But logic didn't sound like what Willow was suggesting. It sounded more like… distraction. Ignoring the problem.

It sounded… good, actually.

You can never forget, Tara. It's always in you. It always will be.

Just a little longer, Daddy. Just let me forget a little longer.

The only person you're accountable to in the end is yourself, Tara.

"Let me see you." Willow whispered. Tara didn't move, but didn't retreat as Willow gently pushed the robe back, letting it drop from her shoulders.

Tara just kept watching Willow's eyes. She was too afraid to look herself. The eyes told her only what she knew already. Willow loved her. She loved to look at Tara, she loved to touch what she saw. There were the hands now, gentle.

Even through the fear, she couldn't help but respond to that touch. Follow Willow's fingers on her jaw, turn her head to kiss them in passing. The investigation continued, always gentle, never stopping.

The robe was stripped away entirely, abandoned to the carpet. Those hands guided Tara to turn, tracing the lines of her shoulder blades. She couldn't see what Willow did, but she still watched sideways the eyes that ran across her, missing nothing.

Each vertebra was accounted for. The shallows of her sacrum were compared with that feather-touch, and by Willow's eyes, found perfect in their symmetry.

Tara couldn't stand it any longer. She reached out, guiding Willow's face to hers. Their eyes met and there was no more pretense. Just passion that would not be denied.

Kisses that left them both breathless followed, taking them both on their sides as the need to be closer overrode balance.

Oh God, Willow- if this is the end I will hate this day for eternity, for you have shown me what I have to lose.

She was helpless, paralyzed in mind by the inevitability of the end. Willow would not wait, would not let her give in, would not give her the space for coherent thought.

And then the moment came. When one of those magic hands made the journey down her spine, following where it now extended. The hand paused.

Tara froze. She couldn't see Willow's eyes- her love had begun a slow migration downwards, lips pressed to her upper belly. She couldn't see the expression. She didn't know what to do. Her hands were in Willow's hair, but what right did she have to beg to see?

Willow's face turned up toward hers, regardless. But there was no disgust, no realization of forgotten shock. Instead Willow's mouth turned upward in a slow, mischievous grin.


"You know, a tail could be… useful."




.
.


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 Post subject: Re: Changes
PostPosted: Thu Jan 28, 2010 11:01 pm 
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Ch 2


Notes: Severe Disturbing Content Warning- at least, I found it disturbing, but I'm a prude.

Angst Level: Overall, higher than a bank bailout. Ch 2 gets dark only during Tara's POV.


The bell over the door clanged far too loudly as Willow swept into the Magic Box. Given, she had been a little rougher with the door than she'd intended to, but that was the sort of thing that happened in these kind of situations.

Tara was just behind her, hand locked tightly with Willow's own. What had seemed so easy at home had become a terrible task when actually faced with it.

Go to the Magic Box. Ask casually about tails.

Riiiiiight.

As much as she had reassured Tara, Willow was freaked. Totally-wigging-out-of-her-mind freaked. Though the last few hours didn't really hold up to that argument. Now, though? The only reason she wasn't a gibbering mess was because Tara was here and Tara was much closer to becoming a gibbering mess. Tara needed her and Willow would do whatever it took.

Which at this moment had meant going in the Magic Box.

"Ah, Willow. Tara."

Giles was behind the counter, sitting on the stool he had there with a book in hand. The stool was something he had been quite adamant about. Only in America, he had told them, did they insist on everyone standing all day. It stood no purpose except putting people in their place. No status? No stool. Europeans were far more civilized.

But that was beside the point.

"Hey Giles." Willow tried to force herself to sound nonchalant, but she saw the Watcher's face start to furrow in concern. "Is Anya around?"

"Seeing a supplier. I was rather relishing the quiet. She should be back before too long though." His eyes were questioning, but Willow chose to ignore it.

"Okay. We just need to look some stuff up. Won't make a peep."

It was just as well. The idea of talking to Anya had lost much of its appeal when Willow had really thought about it. The ex-demon might know something. She might not. But there was one thing that was certain; Anya would manage to embarrass Tara and if Willow was any judge, her baby was barely holding it together as it was.

Even dressing had turned into a reason for anxiety. Tara wore a long, crinkled skirt as much out of necessity as anything. Her tail had fit along the leg of her looser pants, but there was no mistaking its presence- this skirt was the only thing they had found that fully concealed it.

Willow led Tara over to the table, sitting her down. There was so much going on behind those eyes- so much fear- and the worst of it was that Willow couldn't be sure it wasn't justified. She refused to believe that Tara was capable of being evil- nothing that lost its soul would be so worried about losing it- but they needed to know more.

She squeezed Tara's hand a little, bringing the blonde out of her thoughts. Her love had been like that since they left the house. Preoccupied to total distraction. Willow couldn't blame her. It sounded like she had grown up with the threat of what had occurred etched into every aspect of her life. Late last night Tara had cried in the safety of her room and her lover's embrace, telling Willow everything she could.

It wasn't much. But enough that Willow had a thorough and abiding hatred for her family. Whatever had happened, it couldn't be worth destroying Tara's entire sense of self.

Tara had been quick to defend them. Her father had never laid a hand on her- she had seemed desperate that Willow understand that. Donny had been less subtle, but Tara dismissed him. The scars that still bound her weren't his doing. He only reacted to what he thought her father had taught them.

Willow still wanted to break his hands. She knew she could. She wouldn't even have to touch him. Applied telekinetic pressure could be very precise if she focused enough- and for him she would focus.

Tara didn't want that. In fact, she very emphatically did not want that. The best way to deal with Donny, she had asserted, was to give him exactly the consideration he deserved. None. When Willow had confessed her feelings that night, Tara had taken her hands and told her- Donny wasn't worth her hatred. He wasn't worth the time it took Willow to hate him.

Willow's plans for her father had been less distinct. They revolved mostly around Spike hitting him in the nose. Preferably several times, since it was doubtful the man had a soul. Tara had just shaken her head and changed the subject.

Today though. Once the floodgates opened, Willow could see how much her father had hurt her. Just by years of doubts, crushing reminders, unending expectations years beyond what she had been capable of. Constant knowledge that she was an evil, twisted thing, only waiting for the time to fully emerge.

Her first reaction had been rage. If Tara hadn't been there, needing her, there wasn't a power on this Earth that would have stopped her from hunting down Mr. Maclay and making him aware just how much he deserved to suffer… if not for Tara. How could she be evil? When her very presence made it impossible to be so?

Realizing, it seemed, that they had arrived and Willow needed her hand back, Tara released her. Willow felt guilty for a measure of relief. She'd started to lose sensation in some of her fingers a few blocks back. It didn't help that her hand had started out sore. Both hands, actually… and quite a bit of the rest of her, besides. Stretching said fingers Willow headed for the stacks.

Demons. Demons. Demons. Yup- they had plenty of books on those. She didn't even know where to start. All they had was a legend and a tail.

It was a cute tail. Not a dry rat tail, not a furry tail, and certainly not a slimy demon tail. Just an extension of Tara herself. Willow glanced back at the table, where Tara was resting her forehead against clasped hands. She glanced lower and saw the motion of Tara's skirt where the tail was moving.

It was like Miss Kitty's tail that way. Maybe it was all the agitation, but it seemed as if it never stopped its stir, even if it was just the tapping tip as they lay in tangled exhaustion.

So long as she was seated it wasn't obvious, though by the way she was shifting, sitting on it wasn't especially comfortable.

Demon. Tail. Basically human appearance. Late onset of… whatever it was that was happening. Metamorphosis? That sounded too drastic. Tara said her mother had never looked anything but human. She had never had a tail- Tara was sure she would have seen it some time.

They had to start somewhere. She started pulling books, beginning a pile. Tara took one immediately, looking grateful for the task. Willow tried to give her an encouraging smile, earning a token turn of the lips in response that didn't reach Tara's eyes.

To work then.



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


The two witches had taken up better than half of the table with volume upon volume of the research library. It wasn't the first time that they had something they were looking for, but it was plain that both were distressed. More worrisome was the fact that they didn't seem to want any help.

Except maybe Anya's. Willow had inquired after her at least twice in the last hour. Coming from Willow, that might be a sign of impending apocalypse.

Giles had briefly argued with himself before determining that he should give them their space, at least until the shop closed. They were intelligent, resourceful ladies. They knew enough to ask for help when they needed it, so he would trust that they did not…although the growing pile of books seemed to say otherwise.

Tara especially seemed upset. She couldn't seem to sit still, but more than that was the expression. Totally blank. As if any change would break the tenuous hold she had on her emotions.

He wanted to explain it away. Tara's birthday had been a very trying day. While the confrontation with her family had been a huge turning point, it was likely that she had not fully processed what had happened until now.

They offered her a place, a home in their hearts as they stood against the Maclay clan. It was the right thing to do, of that he had no doubt, but it was not without consequences. Tara might only now be realizing what cutting ties with her family really meant. No matter how terrible a place it was, home and family were an integral piece of the person who grew in and around them. The mind might know that she was better off staying away, but the heart needed time to grieve.

So Giles kept his distance. For now. Just watching.

Willow wasn't an island of calm herself. It was hardly unexpected- when one of them hurt, it was only natural that the other react. That was part of all relationships, and Willow was not exactly unexpressive. Tara was always the more reticent, the more even-keeled. Willow was brilliant, but flighty at times. For all that she had found herself in her element at college, she remained a child in so many ways.

It was hard to say if Tara had ever been a child. She had the eyes of someone who was old beyond their years- which wasn't to say she should be investing a walker any time soon- but Giles had looked to her more as a peer than as one of his charges.

Speaking of "peer", where had Anya got off to? He didn't like to inquire as to all of the suppliers she found. Her answers tended to be too detailed and her associates sometimes dubious but she had a healthy respect for her own mortality. Unsavory as her associates might be, the dangerous ones she gave wide berth.

Giles checked his watch. Time to close up. It had not been exactly a retail madhouse today. Wednesday seldom was- the whole reason that Anya had gone to do her errands today. Closing at this point meant little more than flipping the sign in the window and shutting off the front set of lights. Anya would want to count the till herself and there was no point in locking the door when she was expected back any time.

The legal pad in front of Willow was starkly empty when Giles wandered over and she was already showing some signs of frustration.

"No luck then?" He asked neutrally, the offer of assistance plain.

"No." Willow flopped the book down. "Why can't they just make flow charts? Scales or no? Slit eyes or no? Forked tongue or no?"

"Demon research?" He was surprised. He had assumed that it was something magical. He looked from behind Tara at what she was reading. The Illustrated Bestiary of Gadramir. "Nothing Buffy needs to be aware of?"

"No." Willow answered him quickly. This didn't bode well. It smacked of a spell gone awry, something she was probably trying to cover up before anyone got wind of it. It was odd that Tara would be complicit in that sort of thing.

Then it occurred to him. Demons. Like Tara's father had been going on about just last night, no more than ten paces from where Giles stood. The absurdity of the allegation had only been tempered by the complete conviction with which it had been said. That and Tara's reaction.

A dream perhaps- or nightmare. There had been enough impetus to have one, certainly. While they did not take dreams lightly, the chance of it all being just a trick of psyche would be enough to make the pair shy away from an all-out group effort. It fit.

"Regardless- perhaps I can help direct your efforts?" He suggested, not asking why- Willow would notice that nod of propriety. He saw her eyes flick down, as if confirming something with Tara. She didn't close him out though, so he continued, "What traits are you looking for?"

"Just one thing. A tail, maybe a yard long or a little less. Otherwise human. That's all we know." Willow said after searching Tara's face for a long moment.

"Not much to go on." It was Tara's dream, clearly. She had enough reason to dream of such things. Giles wanted to just reassure her, gather her into a protective embrace and explain the impossibility of what her father had said. To tell her and show her there was nothing to fear.

He leaned over Tara, reaching to pull the Extended Spina Compendium out of the pile on the table. She smelled of rain in the desert, a subtle scent he had only experienced after his move to Sunnydale. Subtle and sublime. Natural- not some residue of clumsy chemical concoctions that were added to shampoos these days.

"Hybrids may be your best bet. Do you recall anything behavioral?" His hand was on Tara's shoulder as he pulled a chair over beside her. So much tension radiated there- as if the woman were only barely restraining herself from an outburst of the emotions held within. So much restraint. At least in public. Giles was sure that she would shed that inhibition, given the proper time and place. He sat, close enough to offer support without needing to say a word.

"Here- the progeny of Amon might work. If you'll read through here," He passed over the tome and pointed out the passage. "I'll take a look at the Bestiary- I think there was something that might be pertinent in the later-"

"Giles."

Willow sounded odd. Giles looked up, glasses low enough on his nose that he was peering above them. He didn't expect the hard expression on her face.

"Hands." The word was a clipped accusation.

Giles blinked. And looked down to where his hand had rested on Tara's thigh as he leaned in close to point out the passage he was speaking of.

Oh. My.

He lifted the offending hand quickly and returned to his own space, unable to miss how Tara shied away. Her distress was as plain as Willow's agitation… and while the agitation he could deal with, to have been the cause of Tara's distress hurt like raw wound to his very soul.

Distraction, when it came, was welcome. Anya bustled through the door with the usual smug satisfaction that followed a good day of negotiation. Her eyes landed on the cadre around the table.

"I feel like I just missed something good." She said appraisingly.

Ah yes, Anya would have had a field day with that last exchange. She didn't understand the subtleties of human relationships, only the vulgarities she seemed to enjoy so much.

That vulgarity was something Giles had indulged in his youth. And understanding the difference, he had no need to seek it in the future. Not when love could be such a thing of tenderness and beauty, as much a spiritual act as physical. Not just sweat slick skin sliding in time, a halo of golden hair in artful disarray as she gazed back at him…

"Well, you look radiant today. And miserable." Anya was now looking at Tara, cocking her head slightly. "Are you pregnant?"

If there had been crickets in the shop the sudden stunned silence would have given them plenty of time to sing. Willow seemed to be deciding between outrage and shock, while Tara herself just looked stunned.

"Anya!" Now Willow had found her voice. "No! And no and no and what the heck are you thinking?"

"It seemed like a logical way to combine the two." Anya shrugged, utterly immune to repudiation. "Anyway, I need man-help with a couple crates in the trunk. Giles?"

Giles flushed slightly as he almost stood and realized that would be very embarrassing at the moment. He'd gotten stuck somewhere in his imagination of things destined to come and well… he sat back down quickly.

"I'll bring them round in a moment." He told her, somewhat more shortly than he needed to. "I was just going to help a bit here."

He was getting very uncomfortable with how Anya was watching him. The narrowed eyes- she must have seen the aborted motion to stand and that vulgar mind was surely coming to the all-too-correct conclusion. She withheld judgment though, in favor of asking, "You are all acting odd. What's the crisis?"

Tara finally spoke the first words Giles had heard her utter since entering the shop, "We're trying to identify a d-demon."

"Oh. Is it going to cause imminent destruction of anything I care about?"

"I hope not." Tara's words of quiet desperation were covered over by Willow's simultaneous and resounding, "No."

"Good luck then." With profound insincerity Anya continued to her original destination- the till.

Tara stood, moving to join her. Giles felt the ache of her increasing distance in his heart as well as… somewhat lower regions.

"Anya- maybe you could help me?" Tara's words were soft, but the pleading there was loud and clear.


--- POV change-that was getting too disturbing for me, and I wrote it!---


Asking Anya anything was an adventure. Usually she would have been interested in what the blunt woman would have to say, uninhibited by basic courtesy but insightful in her own way. Right now, though, Tara was afraid- afraid of what she might say, but far more afraid of not knowing.

"For you? Of course." Anya gave a pointed look back at Willow. They could work together perfectly well, but neither of them seemed willing to admit it.

"It's a demon we're trying to identify." Tara found herself searching for a way to say this. "One like my father t-talked about- that would change on a specific date."

"Well, you have to be more specific. What does it look like?"

"There's a… tail. But otherwise, n-not much that isn't human-like." Tara found herself distracted by Willow whispering angrily at Giles. She couldn't figure out what was happening with him. He had been… flirting? No. Not exactly.

Anya was looking at her intently now, as if it would give her the answers. Then she glanced at Giles, followed by a wicked smile.

"Well, there is one that fits nicely." The look morphed into a sort of smugness. "We ran in to them a every so often in the vengeance business…"

A demon that enacted vengeance? That was what she was? Tara felt another piece of herself crumble away. Before she had a chance to think further, Anya bent quickly and did something that Tara hadn't had done to her since elementary school.

She flipped up Tara's skirt.

And saw the tail.

Tara backpeddled away, pushing the fabric back down, but the damage was done. Mortification would have occurred under the best circumstance. This was so far beyond that- she didn't even know what word to use.

"Hey!" Willow was coming to her aid now, abandoning her chastisement of Giles. Anya seemed a fraction more smug, although that flickered slightly in the face of Tara's sweetie in full protective mode. It would be scary- Tara had never been on the wrong side of it, but she had the impression it was like being targeted by Howitzer. A tiny, redheaded Howitzer.

"Ha. I thought so," Anya announced, regaining her poise almost instantly. "It is you."

"Tara is not an 'it'." Willow snapped.

"No. She's a succubus," Anya pronounced. She gave Tara a pointed look over Willow's shoulder. "Just so we're clear- you can't have Xander."

"She doesn't want Xander," Willow almost yelled.

"Certainly not." Giles still hadn't given up his seat. The implications of that were distressing.

"She's not interested in you either," Willow said coldly.

Giles seemed ready to object again, but then a look crossed his face.

"Don't succubi… don't they feed off, erm, male… energy?" He had the decency to sound uncomfortable, though probably for all the wrong reasons.

Tara's mind went completely, utterly blank. It just wouldn't accept that. Any more than the rest of her could.

"NO! Right?" Anger at Giles, hope at Anya, and finally Willow's eyes turned back to Tara in pleading, "Please?"

"Nobody really knows," Anya said frankly. "They didn't hang out with the other demon types that much. Nobody really respected them. So this was your birthday surprise?"

"Wait- you're saying this happened last night." Giles' brow furrowed. "Why did you take so long coming in? I mean, who knows what could have happened-"

"Oh come on, you can't really be that dense." Anya, at least, had no trouble figuring out the implication.

Tara felt her face flush. This morning was making a lot more sense. By all rules of common sense, the panic she had been in should have led them here immediately. Even if the obvious action hadn't occurred to her, Willow would have known it was the right thing to do. Not spend hours doing… other things.

"Oh. Erm." Giles had made the connection. Tara felt her blush deepen. Was it possible to faint if too much blood was rushing to your head?

"Well, as long as Willow can keep up, you should be fine." Anya gave Tara a sort of congratulatory pat on the shoulder. To Anya this probably did sound like a good thing. She was beaming at Willow now, as if Tara's girlfriend should be celebrating.

"Un-gah. Ah." Her Baby's eyes turned toward her, questioning, but Tara didn't have any answers to give. No reassurances. But she was sure of one thing.

"You know, a tail can be useful!" Anya enthused. She opened her mouth to elaborate and Tara cut in.

"Can we just… not discuss this?" She asked plaintively. There were some things you just didn't talk about. Not outside the confines and safety of their room. Apparently she was the only one who thought so, though, as Giles spoke,

"I hate to suggest this, but what if it isn't a matter of, uh, 'keeping up'? This is, after all, a feeding pattern. If there is a drain on the vict- ah- Willow, shouldn't we at least make sure the effect isn't fatal?"

"But what a way to go!" Anya was still grinning from ear to ear.

Tara hadn't been expecting good news, not since the discovery this morning. She hadn't known enough to expect anything, only to understand that it could not be good. But it was so much worse than that. She couldn't imagine what 'feeding' off a man would entail- or didn't want to. What Anya was implying it meant was too disturbing to consider. And now they thought she could "survive off of Willow"? But might, just maybe, kill her in the process? Tara felt her eyes start to well up. The carefully maintained barrier to hysteria was cracking. She knew it and had no defense left.

"Alright- both of you. Back Off!" It was Willow coming to her defense. Willow was the one keeping her head together, insisting, "We're going to figure out a way to reverse it."

"How?" Anya looked incredulous. "She is what she is. It's not like a vampire or getting Called to vengeance. She always was a succubus. She always will be a succubus. She just matured. Like a caterpillar to a butterfly."

"So we un-mature her!" Willow exploded. Then the pain started to show through, her voice cracking as she amended quietly, "I liked my caterpillar."

"There's probably more coming. Than the tail, I mean." Anya noted. "Succubi are shifters, so I couldn't say for sure, but chances are-"

"I'm sorry. I…" Tara shook her head. She started to shake, the tears now running freely, "I can't do this-"

Willow turned back on the other two, voice brooking no argument. "If you want to help- find out what you can. Anya- call your friends or whatever."

She gathered up Tara in her arms and Tara didn't have the mental strength left to resist. Her world was falling apart. Every piece, breaking.

"C'mon. Let's get you home."



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 Post subject: Re: Changes
PostPosted: Thu Jan 28, 2010 11:06 pm 
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Ch 3



Notes: Short.

Angst Level: Overall, higher than the Himalayas. Ch 3 is mild.



Willow had fallen asleep at last. It had seemed like she was intending to stay up all night, comforting Tara as best she could, but there was only so much that comfort could do. It couldn't change reality.

The reality was that Tara shouldn't be there. Not in this city, not in this dorm, and certainly not in this bed. Half a dozen times she had stopped Willow as her 'comfort' had inched toward sensuality. Was that just Willow being Willow? Or something far more sinister? Realizing why Giles had acted so strangely earlier had been more than just a shock. It was a warning. A sign that Willow was not responsible for her actions and whatever those actions led to would remain Tara's responsibility.

No wonder her father had never explained the demon inside her. How could you explain a thing like this?

I understand now, Daddy. I'm sorry.

This is how the Maclay women had always managed to marry, despite the demon. Perhaps even because of the demon? There was no way to know if the men in her family had chosen them or if it was the power their wives had which had made the decision for them.

The idea that she would change when she was twenty had been another mystery. Willow had commented on it the evening of her birthday after her father had left. What was the survival benefit of being human for twenty years if you were going to end up a demon? She'd used it as another hole in Tara's father's case. But it made sense now. How could you be a succubus before then? Living as a succubus must?

An absurd idea floated briefly through Tara's head. A baby succubus, trying to solicit a man to feed on, starving. The time as a human was a survival trait. It made them comfortable in their habitat, knowing the habits and foibles that could lure their prey to them. It let them learn the skills to blend in before turning into the predators that they were.

The Maclay women died young. There had never been an answer for her mother's illness. The doctor she'd gone to had suggested malnutrition from her symptoms, but the blood tests hadn't supported it. They'd only gone the once. Then her mother had quietly refused, fading over the months.

Perhaps it was malnutrition. Tara couldn't imagine infidelity on her mother's part. Even if she'd been so inclined, her father kept close watch on them all. Always needing to know what they were doing, when they were doing it. He controlled the car keys, he controlled the money, and the days when Mama had been locked away…

It was a shed, back towards the stand of trees on the edge of the property. A place she and Donny were absolutely forbidden to go, to even go near. Daddy would take her mother there, stay there for hours himself, only to return exhausted and grim faced.

Like he died a little each time.

Perhaps he did. The 'little death'.

She couldn't think about it for long before her mind recoiled. The men who took the name Maclay often died young too, though not so quickly as their mates. Could Willow really be safe?

This was assuming that she could 'use' Willow that way. Different parts of her battled over whether to hope so or not. How could she do that to Willow, knowing what it would cost her over time? Even if Willow wanted that- how could Tara allow it?

Willow groaned and shifted in her sleep. It sounded like a happy groan, but Tara realized that she was thrashing her tail against the sheet- it might have disturbed her.

The tail. She was contemplating taking a kitchen knife to it. She wasn't even sure she could do that to herself. Only a day in her life and yet the tail was still a part of her. It would be like hacking off a finger. Maybe her mother had found the strength to do that. Tara was sure she'd have noticed, over the course of years, if her mother had been hiding a tail. Perhaps Daddy had helped her with the task.

Anya suggested there would be more changes to come. If only Tara had been strong enough to hear the rest. She felt a surge of disappointment at her own mental frailty. It didn't sound like Anya had been worried, but then, that was Anya. She didn't think Chaos demons were worrisome.

The logical part of her mind told Tara that there was no use worrying about it now. That would just make her lose more sleep and she hadn't exactly gotten a full night's rest last night either.

She snuggled down further in the bed's embrace. Willow molded to the new position instantly, not even shifting her breathing. What should have been a comfort now held so much dread. Willow was taking this all so well- though she was clearly shaken. She had rallied in the effort to fix the problem… but was it fixable? That is what Anya had said; they couldn't fix Tara because Tara just was what she always had been… if slightly more obviously now.

Is that why Willow had stayed with her? There was no way to know how this 'thrall' worked. That even Mr. Giles had… Ungh. Still not willing to think about that. It was harder to tell with Willow- she could be incorrigible at times, but at a time like this? Certainly her reaction to Tara's change had been strange- once the initial shock had worn off. Willow was a Scooby. The first thing they should have done was put Tara in a cage until they knew what was going on. It would feel more appropriate than nestling under toasty blankets.

Willow shifted again, "Still awake, baby?"

The words were soft enough that they wouldn't have woken her if she hadn't been. That Willow was exhausted was plain- it would be kinder to pretend she was asleep, let her love return to slumber untroubled.

Do I have the right to deceive her? I lied since the day I met her- lied by omission- letting her believe she knew me. Is this how it begins again?

"Couldn't sleep." She breathed back.

"Anything I can do?" Willow gave her a little squeeze. She was still half asleep, her words slightly slurred and gravelly.

"Maybe nothing anyone can do." Tara wished she had censored it before she spoke the words.

"You can't give up." Willow had woken up further, raising her head, "We just started…"

"I know. I just… how can you help with something that j-just is? Not a spell, not a curse." Tara shook her head.

"I can beat up Giles if he pulls anything." Willow mumbled darkly. That, at least, brought a momentary smile to Tara's lips. "That had to be so freaky. I mean- even if you weren't all about the gay lovin- it's Giles. Ew. Not just scary mental picture anymore- actual real life scariness." Now the squeeze had turned possessive.

"And you saved me." Tara returned the embrace, but carefully pulled away. Willow had already started to escalate that simple motion into something more. Tara hated to disappoint her, but it was getting preposterous. "Will. Please."

"I know." Willow actually sounded a little worried and Tara felt her slipping even a bit further back. "It feels right- but then you put on the brakes and my brain catches up. And I can see what Giles must have been feeling cuz- feeling it here too! Only, in a not-so-creepy-kind of way. And that has to be totally weird for you- so I try not to."

"I need to know how to turn this off. Th-there has to be a way to do that. Every su-succubus in history couldn't have walked around making everyone near them a-all..." Tara sought the proper word.

"Horny?"

"Is that what it is?"

"Oh yes." Willow's voice told her it was the truth. The breathless want there was almost palpable.

"And yet Anya- totally immune," Tara noted. That was one thing to be thankful for.

"Anya- not so much shopping in the women's section," Willow made it sound like stupidity. It was funny how Willow had taken to the whole 'gay, gay, gay, in a gay, gay way' idea once she had labeled herself. It wasn't enough for her to just be something- she had to be a card carrying advocate, a properly defined example without being so crass as to jump all the way to stereotype.

They had actually had minor tiffs about it- Willow mistaking Tara's reticence for public affection for shame or fear. When really, it just seemed inappropriate for anyone to be all 'get a room'y in front of others. Tara was perfectly secure in who she was. She didn't need to demonstrate it for the world. Only for the one who mattered most. Though, to be completely honest, their affection occasionally snuck its way out in embarrassingly public places.

"So this means no snuggles till we know more?" Willow sounded like she was drifting off again. She must be truly exhausted.

"I think it's best." Tara turned on her side to face the wall. Earlier, she'd tried to convince Willow not to stay over. It hadn't been very forceful. She didn't want to be alone, not when her mind kept dragging her deeper and deeper into despondence. Alone kept Willow safe, but the selfish part of Tara refused to demand the separation.

"Mrm. Not… fair…" Willow was half way back to dreamland.

No. Not fair to either of them.



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 Post subject: Re: Changes
PostPosted: Thu Jan 28, 2010 11:13 pm 
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Ch 4


Angst Level: Overall, higher than a Rastafarian. Ch 4 is mild-moderate.


"I have to leave this room some time." Tara was sitting on her desk, legs pulled up in front of her and her tail wrapped around her ankles. It was the furthest she could get from the corner where Willow was sitting on a cushion pushed up against the opposite wall. The raised knees with her arms locked around them made an extra barrier.

"No."

Willow was being entirely unreasonable and she very well knew it, but these were extenuating circumstances, "Baby- when you went to brush your teeth this morning I had to beat Bryant back with a stick! And then Kieth. And Jake. And Izel from down the hall- I didn't even know she played on our team and suddenly she's all "Heeeey, is Tara here?" And-"

"I know." Tara had her eyes shut as if trying to block out the world. At least she wasn't crying now. There had been a lot of tears recently and every time Willow tried to help, she was betrayed by her own hormones and the proximity of the goddess she loved- needing to touch and taste and feel and… and she had to start thinking about something else right now. Right this minute. Like frogs. On dissection tables. Spread-eagled with pins sticking in them and bellies cut wide open. Guts displayed for inspection. And... hmm… spread-eagled… ?

"I'll go. Get food. Lock the door, OK? Don't even let the RA in until I'm back." Willow shook her head, jumping to her feet and fleeing without even looking at Tara.

Even frogs weren't doing it anymore. She needed to get out before her mind lost all semblance of ability to reason. Tara needed her, but not like that. Not now.

Or maybe now more than ever… She's afraid to hurt me, but I want her to. God, how I want her to. If it were me, though, what would I do? I don't even know. It's so… bizarre.

Willow walked swiftly down the hall, arms hugged around herself. The student coop should be open- they'd have sandwiches or burritos or something. Breakfast had come and gone. Classes had come and gone. Willow found herself breaking out in cold sweat at that thought. She'd never skipped classes unless it involved an apocalypse. Sometimes not even then. No matter how bad things could be, classes were a constant, a comfort, a time when her mind could go away from the unsolvables of life and work on learning the knowns.

Somehow she doubted class would help right now. Not when Tara was this distraught. The biggest frustration was that Willow couldn't properly think about how to help. The physical frustration part was too big and present and urgent to allow her to figure out what to do. It was obvious that Tara was struggling just to keep it together and she had too much history to look at the situation objectively. Everything that was happening was colored by what her father's manipulations had told her.

Willow got outside the dorm and breathed deeply. It was easier to think out here. She felt like she should be with Tara, helping her deal with what was happening… but she couldn't. Right now, if Willow was honest with herself, she was part of the problem. Just being near Tara seemed to turn off almost all rational thought on Willow's part. She wanted the woman in front of her so much it was physically painful.

It was limbic brain overload- and it wasn't just Willow. Chasing people off with a stick was fast becoming literal. Thank goodness it wasn't like the city-wide love spell from way back when. It seemed limited to those in physical proximity, though the phone calls made it obvious the effects didn't wear off instantly. They'd unplugged the phone after the first volley had begun.

There had to be a way to stop this. She could make some kind of magical inhibitor. It would take time, though. First she needed to get her love to eat. Tara hadn't been able to eat anything the day before- the morning had been too busy, a fact for which Willow took full responsibility. Then she'd been too upset the rest of the day. This morning… Willow felt a new pang of guilt. The redhead had been dreaming… Tara dreams- naughty Tara dreams that had turned out to be just a veil of sleep away from reality.

She'd woken to find the object of her affections in troubled sleep, lying in artful disarray. Tara's tail twitched sometimes, even in slumber. Willow had played with it, poking and checking that she hadn't woken Tara. Running a finger along the end to get a shiver, checking to see if Tara woke. Gradually going further. Until it became teasing, stealthy touches that melted the tension on her sleeping lover's brow. At some point Tara had begun to awaken, became a willing participant… until she had woken enough to remember.

Willow cringed to think what happened next. Tara had almost had to physically push her away, words of protest meaning little in the heat of the moment. In the aftermath she'd cried again, apologizing to Willow over and over. No matter how Willow had protested, she took it all on herself.

Nothing was worth that. Making love to Tara now was wrong. Willow's rational mind knew that. It wasn't the time. Not after running her hands through her half-asleep lover's hair, when she had found two new hard protuberances that seemed to herald horns. Nor the sharpening of her incisors that had slit Willow's tongue open during an intense kiss. That had been what had really woken Tara to the moment. The bleeding had left them both with the taste of copper, crimson staining both their lips. It still hurt, actually. Not a small cut.

The coop was sparsely populated- it was that odd time that was too late for breakfast and too close to the cafeteria opening for people to head in for lunch. The burritos could feed two easily, so she and Tara usually split one- a full meal for less than a buck fifty each that way. What would be easy on Tara-tummy though?

Willow paused. Would Tara still eat? Anya had talked about feeding on energy- did that mean the not eating thing was partly because Tara wasn't supposed to anymore? Willow decided she needed to find out more, but only after she at least made food available to Tara. If she ate it, good. If she didn't, at least it wasn't because leaving the room was an invitation to being mobbed with well meaning suitors.

Oh God, what if they stop being well meaning? What if this gets to the point where they start to push… Willow heard her voice shake as she gave her order at the counter. This could get a whole lot worse. Tara needed protecting and, while Willow wanted to believe she would never hurt her love, she couldn't discount what was happening to herself already.

"I need a big ol' gay guy to guard the door," Willow concluded decisively. The student at the counter looked up from where he was wrapping the enormous burrito, confused. Willow gave him a weak smile, wishing, not for the first time, that some thoughts would just stay in her head where they belonged.

The burrito was foil wrapped, almost too hot to carry. Willow ended up juggling it from hand to hand, starting back toward the dorm.

A binding spell might put a damper on things, but it would be a stop-gap measure at best. Not to mention that there was a significant chance her nonhuman-ness could cause major problems. It's not like this was a spell. Maybe a protection circle? Too confining. Though if it were like a ward on the room… only reversed… that could work. Tara would still be stuck in her room, but that really didn't make things any worse than they already were. If nothing else, it would make for an added motivation not to run off to her horrible family. Then it might be safe enough for Willow to look for more information at the Magic Box. She certainly wasn't being any help if she stayed in Tara's room.

The dorm loomed in front of her and Willow's steps faltered. As much as she wanted to be there, to help Tara through what was tearing her to pieces, the redhead had to admit she was scared. Being out of control was bad enough, but voluntarily being out of control when her girlfriend so much needed someone to be steady for her… Willow hated not being able to trust herself. She mounted the stairs back to Tara's room slowly.

All she needed to do was get through the spell… no. Tara would have to do it alone. If Willow went back inside, there was a very strong possibility she would lose the will to leave. And the concentration necessary for magic was a definite no.

What would casting together be like now? There was an element of themselves that unified when the magic converged, a closeness that wasn't really explainable until you felt your consciousness twine with another's. It could be grating, as back in the bad-old-days when she'd cast with Anya to find her pendant and instead had ended up with Willow's vampy-self on the loose. It could be intense, like the few times she'd cast with Miss Calendar or Giles. Or it could be…

Like before. But more-so. Willow flushed. No joint casting for the foreseeable future.

The corridor seemed brighter as she headed toward Tara's room. She stopped, mid-step. It was brighter. Or… it looked like it was. As she thought about it, she noted that her heart rate was higher than climbing the one flight of stairs could reasonably account for. Sweaty palms. Willow swallowed against her suddenly dry mouth. She was far enough along in physiology lectures to put a label to it. Sympathetic nervous system going into gear. The fight or flight thingy that happened when big nasties showed up on patrol. Or, alternatively, when you were going to do the nasty…

Why did people call it that? "Doing the nasty"? When there was nothing nasty about it? At least, not in her limited range of experience. Maybe it came from people like Faith, who sort of defined 'nasty'.

Getting off subject now. Now that she had enough brain cells free to notice it, the physical evidence was clear enough that Willow was not going to help matters if she stayed in the dorm. She backed away slowly. There was no obvious taper in effect, but then, they'd already established a degree of lag time. Whether that depended on length of exposure… Willow shook her head. There were too many variables and she felt like she was treating Tara as some kind of radioactive substance.

What is the half-life of Tara-lust? Willow allowed herself a wicked little grin. Oh, about a half million years…

Tucking the now less-scalding burrito under her arm, Willow scanned over the closest bulletin board. There was a pencil attached to some activity signup that she appropriated, tearing down an out-of-date posting for an Ozomatli concert on campus at the same time. Flipping the page over she started writing, finding it momentarily frustrating how hard it was to see up close. She'd just have to hope it was legible.


Tara-

I don't know how to say this. I'm sorry. I can't stay with you right now. I'm as much part of the problem as any kind of help. You probably noticed before I did. I'm sorry to be such a pig about staying over last night. It just scares me so much to think about you trying to go back to your father. I thought I could just protect you, support you, resist this whole succubus effect if I tried hard enough. I'm not, though. But you knew that- it just took till now to get it through my thick skull.
Whatever is happening is reaching further than we thought. At least part way down the hall, even with your door shut. I don't know if this will help, but I thought if you set a reverse Entemari ward on the room, it might work to keep it localized. I wish I could help you, but when I'm close to you I can't even see right- my eyes are so dilated that I wouldn't be able to see enough to write the small parts of the sigils.
Try to eat something while I'm gone. I'm leaving a coop burrito for you- I forgot to get any guac on it, but hopefully that should tide you over for a while. Plug in the phone and call the Magic Box when you're hungry again or need anything- I'll bring by whatever you feel like and I'll send over my laptop so we can IM. I can't believe I left it there yesterday.

Just don't leave. Please.

-Willow



Willow made a dash for the door, placing her note under the burrito on the floor as she knocked.

"It's me- don't open up yet."

"Will?"

Her heart clenched at the single word through the door, resolve wavering. Tara's voice sounded relieved, as if waiting right behind the barrier. Anticipating her lover's arrival. How much of that was just Willow's perception being warped though? Willow had to wonder. Tara was so vulnerable now. Again she warred with herself. Stay where she was needed, but may make things worse? Go, abandoning Tara now for the sake of a better chance at a solution? There needed to be a third option.

Looking down at her own note, she remembered how clear it had been scant moments before. In that realization, she had her answer.

"Tara. I'm going to the Magic Box… I… I'm not doing you any good here. Not now. I…" She swallowed again. "I'm sorry."

With that Willow fled down the corridor, feeling wretched as she did.



.

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 Post subject: Re: Changes
PostPosted: Thu Jan 28, 2010 11:17 pm 
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Preview, Ch 5

Next time on Changes! A feed-bag, varicose veins, gym rats, and reference to an 80's TV show I've never even seen. Coming to a chat room near you!


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 Post subject: Re: Changes
PostPosted: Fri Jan 29, 2010 9:44 am 
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Tail + lying on her back = problem. Of course, there are others. Bat wings would be a problem both in dressing and hiding; Tara would look fetching with a tiny pair of horns, tho.

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PostPosted: Fri Jan 29, 2010 2:03 pm 
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This is fascinating, as much for the writing process as for the story itself. Looking forward to seeing how you get them out of this.

Anne

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 Post subject: Re: Changes
PostPosted: Fri Jan 29, 2010 11:20 pm 
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Woot!

I didn't think I'd get anyone reading this soon... I just thought the folks who followed in the old thread would wait for me to catch up in this one (we're up to Ch 10 now, I just haven't gotten it all put up). Thanks for making me wrong! ^_^

DaddyCat- Having fun imagining a succubus Tara, are we? *smirk* We'll see just what happens as time passes... there will be more changes, but at this point no one is entirely certain what to expect.

The "lying down" issue is actually less of an issue than sitting. As the tail attaches to the end of the sacrum the same way that the coccyx would, it doesn't naturally stick out, but rather continues with the curve of the spine... with slight adjustment, as the human coccyx is tilted somewhat forward from that 'bipedal' nonsense that we perpetuate- critters with tails don't have a tilt like that, so I assume that Tara's sacrum has changed enough to accommodate this.

For reference, I looked up a couple nifty websites. Try:

http://static.howstuffworks.com/gif/ada ... icture.jpg

for the human version, or for a really cool comparative anatomy site, look at human, marmot, lemur, baboon, and other skeletal structures here:

http://www.eskeletons.org/taxon/ruffed_ ... tml#Dorsal

Now, if you poke around on your butt for a minute (did I really just suggest that?), you can feel how low the sacrum comes when you sit. The ischial tuberosities (the 'sit bones') are lower than it, but there's very little room for a tail to turn between the end of the sacrum and the seat- unless you are sitting on the tail it's going to be pretty obvious that it is there, which poor Tara is trying to avoid. I imagine this is pretty uncomfortable, especially since she isn't used to it (yet).


Spells42- Good to see you here! Welcome! I'm glad you're interested in the process- it's one of the things I love reading about in the older stories (2002-2003 have amazing analysis and discussion between chapters) and find quite educational. If you want to see a bit more of the whole 'process' part, peek back at the Chat room Potpourri thread (Changes started about 3/4 down the first page and then swamped the rest of it). I'm not moving it because it belongs with the old feedeback/replies more than it belongs here. I wish I could move everything, but I only control my own posts...


As you can tell, I thoroughly enjoy the interactive part of writing here. I welcome your thoughts, your speculation (wings? hmm...), and your pet peeves (how dare I write a horny Giles!). Since I'm making it up as I go, what you say has an influence on what happens... but it may not be what you think (i.e. wings => BBQ => Memphis => idea!). I've used 2 chat room snarks as dialog so far(after obtaining permission from the snark-osaurus that produced them, of course) and that's just the obvious part.

Oh, and if anyone can tell me how to indent, the loss of paragraph formatting is starting to get to me. -_-;

Now, to put up a little more of the old material...

-Never

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 Post subject: Re: Changes
PostPosted: Fri Jan 29, 2010 11:26 pm 
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Ch 5


Notes: Still short. The chapters get longer soon though.

Angst Level: Overall, higher than the Tokyo Tower. Ch 5 is fluffy.


Anya was in rare spirits. There were too many things that were just right in the world to be otherwise. Merchandise was moving, money was rolling in, and she had a great big piece of juicy blackmail that was making Giles agree to just about everything she said. All was right in the world.

"Thank you. Please come again." She flashed her pearly whites at the somewhat intimidated looking young man in front of her as she handed over his purchase. Why did they all look that way? She was saying the right words. She'd practiced in the mirror to get the coerciveness of the phrase just right. It was coercive, no matter what anyone said- you were asking the customer to come back, and what was the good in that if you didn't make it sound convincing?

The little bell over the door heralded more potential happy buyers. Anya turned, smile firmly in place.

"Welcome to the Magic Box!"

The young man looked startled, then made the typical motions of a browser, evading her gaze. It was an unfortunate reality in the magic business that you got a lot of gawkers. So long as they just gawked and didn't go putting their grubby hands on the merchandise it was no issue, but they seemed to all feel the need to handle things.

Anya briefly contemplated brushing up on her salesmanship skills with this current customer, but decided he was giving off too much "I'll run if you come over here" vibe. She pulled up the stool and sat. Too much standing would lead to varicose veins. They were attractive in her demon form, but not so much as a human. It would be much easier if she were a shifter. Tara would never have to worry about varicose veins once she got it figured out.

Why had she and Willow been so upset? It was like rolling the demon dice and winning the jackpot. Then being all scared of it? Plainly Tara was terrified.

Tara-fied. Ha! I kill me.

What was it with humans and demons? It was like this fixed idea that all of demon-kind had to be evil was ingrained in their tiny human brains down at the basic level. And they thought they were all so open-minded. Anya snorted to herself. Right. What is the first thing Willow wants to know when she finds out she has a girlfriend that every human so-inclined would kill for? How to take it away. Typical.

Willow had issues, though. She was probably insecure and was worried that now Tara would end up with someone more desirable. Willow did have a decent economic potential, so long as this dot-com thing kept up, but surely she knew Tara wouldn't be that pragmatic. While Anya had very little insight into what Tara could possibly see in the flighty bundle of neuroses, she had to respect that there was something. Perhaps Willow was just as mystified as Anya by what that thing was and didn't feel she could rely on it.

Or the worry could be self preservation. After all, the effect Tara was having on people wasn't for kicks and giggles. Succubi had to feed, or failing that, die. Just like a vampire had to be strong to hunt, succubi had to be sexy to feed. But Willow didn't strike her as being scared either.

It must be the gayness. Men flocking to someone who just didn't appreciate it. What a waste. Giles surely hadn't helped. He was a fair specimen of old man-ness, but it was still old man-ness. Gayness plus old man-ness? No doubt unsettling, but excellent blackmail material. Anya grinned.

Xander would be an issue. He was loyal enough, but until Tara was out of the toddler stage of succubism… was that even a word? Regardless, Xander had to be kept out of the way. Anya considered. Unlikely. These Scoobies hung together like flies on a hippie compost heap. Willow would go to him eventually with her "oh help me, my girlfriend has turned into the sexiest person in the city and I don't know what to do" woes.

Preemptive action must be taken. Perhaps one of the old myths- the one about teeth in interesting places. That should keep him off Tara for a while.

"Anya, would you mind lending me a hand with-" Giles popped his head out of the back room. He and Buffy were doing some sort of training thing there, making it all smell even sweatier than it had before.

"Hands?" Anya asked sweetly, with just the right tone. Giles flushed bright red and retreated. Oh, this was going to be gold for a long, long time. The source of that gold was coming in the door.

"Willow! I'm glad you're still alive." For once, she didn't begrudge the annoying woman's profit-less presence in her shop. She had provided something almost as valuable as currency and deserved some good will. For all of that, the look that Willow shot her was hardly pleasant.

"Yeah. Same to you." She headed straight for the bookshelves. Anya watched her pass, critically noting that she was pale and a little unsteady. She had a brief internal debate between concern for the redhead's welfare versus potential teasing.

"Tara's not with you?"

Willow shook her head. "No. Too dangerous. It's getting worse- she can't even set foot out the door without somebody drooling at her."

Anya decided not to point out that it was frequently desirable to have mate that other people drooled at but never had a chance with. It was the whole concept of trophy wives and gym rat hubbies. Traditional, even. Instead she tried something more placatingly neutral.

"If you bottled that, you'd make a fortune." And there was the inevitable pissed look. There really was no pleasing Willow, no matter how hard the ex-demon tried. It took a moment for Willow to squelch the unpleasant expression and return to general forlornness.

"Any luck with the demon network?"

"It's much too soon," Anya dismissed, "It's not like we have a telephone tree set up."

There was more to it. There was almost no one who would talk to her anymore. Haley stayed congenial, but Anya had a sneaking suspicion she was just digging for vengeance tips. She'd never been much of a standout, though her ingratiating manner had made her enjoyable enough to spend time with. Most of her other old coworkers wouldn't so much as answer her summons, while the few that did were rude and indifferent. Willow could not possibly conceive of the humiliation that Anya was putting herself through. A part of her wanted to tell Willow, just to see what she could get in return, see how far Willow would negotiate for Tara's sake. But it really was for Tara's sake, so it seemed sort of wrong to share the details.

That had to be proof that Tara was a demon. Anyone who could turn a decent deal-making opportunity into a moral prerogative just had to be fundamentally evil. Even if it was all subtle and manipulative. Classy, even.

"Fine." Willow lost all interest in her as soon as she perceived the lack of information.

"I did remember a thing or two though." Anya added as Willow began to turn away. Predictably, Willow spun back with an attitude that was far less than grateful. Anya wondered if she should make her squirm for a while, see how long the forced politeness would last… but that was an old game and had lost some of its appeal.

"When you have a thousand odd years of memories to sift through, it takes a while." She sniffed in response to the redhead's barely concealed impatience.

"There was a succubus I ran in to around the early Renaissance. I was supposed to work a joint vengeance on her and the guy I'd been called about, but it turned into this big regulatory issue. Demon vengeance on demons is exceedingly poor form- you get turf wars like you wouldn't believe. Anyway, while I was waiting for some kind of clarification, we spent some time together."

"For her it was just another feed-bag man. She had no particular interest in keeping him. Even offered to do him in for me if it made the boss happy. That wouldn't have worked the wording of the wish, but it was awfully considerate of her to offer."

"Is there anything useful you remember?" Willow's tone was icy. "Or just that she liked her tea with milk and sugar?"

Anya pursed her lips. And they say I'm rude. "She didn't affect anyone she didn't mean to. She had no problem with being a captive for four days while I waited for orders, so I guess they don't have to feed that often. She did tell me that there are no incubi- that's just what people call it when succubi chose to act as a male. They're more or less dependent on humans for breeding, feeding…"

Willow was nodding without response, processing what she had been told.

"Oh- and they eviscerate just like people do." Anya smiled brightly. Willow was a science type. She'd want to know that the internal organs were visually similar to humans… but now Willow was reacting all wrong; she just looked shocked. Anya gave up, "What? The clarification on my orders came through. Turns out, succubi are so low on the totem pole that nobody cares if they get off'ed."

Willow didn't even have the decency to thank her, turning toward the back shelves without another word.

Despite the chilly response Anya congratulated herself on doing her good deed for the day and headed over toward a group of teenyboppers that had just invaded. They were bouncing around, giggling in that way that put them in the category of shopping-in-a-Magic-shop-cuz-it's-edgy. Those were susceptible to pressure. Anya smiled. Fools and their money…



.......................

Next time on Changes! The China Effect, apoplexy, British boys, phrenology, and porn. Same chat time! Same chat channel!

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 Post subject: Re: Changes
PostPosted: Fri Jan 29, 2010 11:45 pm 
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Ch 6


Notes: Fairly long- it was originally in two parts, but the split was so uneven that I combined them.

Angst Level: Overall, higher than Morgan Spurlock's cholesterol. Ch 6 is one of the harsher ones.


It had only been four hours since Willow had left, but Tara was swiftly running out of ways to distract herself. The Entemari ward was familiar enough that it had only taken about 25 minutes to put in place. It had felt a little odd realizing that all the necessary materials were there in the dorm room. She'd never really realized how much of their magic accoutrements had accumulated there. Her room was neat enough that her father hadn't even seen the half of it, waiting for her here.

How much of her magic was related to what she was? That Willow was so capable at spells when they met had been a huge relief to Tara. She'd been able to hope that maybe, just maybe, it wasn't the demon in her that made it all work. Doubt had remained her constant companion, however, reminding her that just because Willow's magic wasn't demonic didn't mean hers was the same.

There was more reason for those doubts now. She and Willow had compared notes, had cast spells of the other's design. That they were each better at their own brand of magic was not surprising. It was the effect when they worked together that had been a huge question mark.

She and Willow had each cast with others before. Willow had explained a spell she had worked with Anya in high school. There had been a certain degree of perception into the intent of the other caster, cluing Willow in to the danger of what she was doing. Other than that, Willow had explained with profound relief, nothing special.

Tara's experience was a little more personal. Her mother's casting had always felt like security that wound through her own, a warm of feeling that lingered after the magic had dissipated.

Neither insight nor emotion described what happened when she and Willow cast. It was not an awareness of the other's thoughts, but an awareness of them. Of the breath that filled the other's chest, the heart beat that sped as it matched the other's rhythm, the perceptions of their partner filling them, reflecting, cascading back and forth until it was unclear who was feeling what. Willow had started trying to explain something called the China Effect, but to Tara it was easier to describe as a wholeness of being. Two separate entities filling each other until equilibrium was reached. The depth of that seemed to depend on the spell involved- it made Tara blush to think that this was part of where her willingness to go into increasingly complex magic had come from.

With what she now knew… she had to rethink everything. If the magic was a part of her demonic inheritance, how much of that connection had to be ascribed to it as well? Casting with her mother, another succubus, would be no help to compare. What if any human she cast with reacted the same way? If her power was so grounded in some sort of empathic sexual projection… she didn't want to think that.

I told you Tara- the demon is where the magic comes from. There will be consequences.

Tara wished she could just dismiss the voice of the past. Assign it all to a category of lies and deceptions, never to be given a second thought. If only it were so simple.

Maybe it was time to call Willow, see how things were going. Tara wished she could help somehow, not just sit and twiddle her thumbs in a warded room. Not that she'd been much help the prior day. In retrospect, it was embarrassing how she had just broken down in front of everyone. She had the right to be upset, but it was usually something she could defer. Compartmentalizing her feelings until she could deal with them appropriately was so familiar it was almost a habit… but it had been too much.

Debating for another moment Tara fiddled with the phone cord. She could be interrupting Willow at a crucial moment. Calling her might make her feel like Tara wanted her to return. Not that Tara didn't want Willow there, but it wasn't a good idea at the moment. Willow would feel guilty, which would make Tara feel horrible, which would make Willow feel worse. Then again, if she didn't call, Willow might be worrying. With the phone unplugged it wasn't as if Tara could just wait till Willow called, either.

Crawling under her desk, she found the plug and reconnected the line. Not standing again, she just sat sideways against the desk, staring at the phone. What would I want, if it were me? She dialed the number of the Magic Box without further thought.


"Hello, Magic Box!" The cheerful voice was all Anya and the speed with which she picked up was a good indication that the store wasn't too busy.

"Hi. Is-"

"Tara! How are you?" The chipperness was going full force, but the volume was down. Apparently Anya didn't want to be overheard.

"OK." Tara was interrupted again before she got any further.

"Well, I didn't get to properly welcome you into the fold yesterday. It's not every day someone turns into a demon. " There was a vague sound of affirmation on the line. "Couldn't have happened to a nicer person."

"Thanks?" She ventured back.

"I know it sounds bad after so many of the ones you've met." There was a sound in Anya's voice that Tara wasn't sure she'd ever heard before. Compassion? "Don't let anyone convince you that's all there are- just because you've changed doesn't mean you've changed."

It was bizarre, how comforting it was to hear the words. Especially knowing that the person they came from was uniquely able to understand.

"It's… scary."

"Change usually is," Anya sounded distracted. There was a shuffle of cloth, "We'll be having a sale on fresh herbs the last week of every month!"

"Anya?"

"Customer. If we don't sell the stuff by then they rot out anyway." The ex-demon cleared her throat, "Oh- and I got a little bit of info for you…"

Tara listened as Anya outlined what she had remembered from almost four hundred years before. No matter what Tara knew, she couldn't help feeling like it was all about someone else. Some demon that they would be arming up and rallying forth in pursuit of. Not someone sitting on the floor of her dorm, afraid to leave the room. When Anya had finished she found herself only mildly rattled, and that was only from the vivid description she'd provided of the evisceration that had ended her last succubus encounter.

"Is Willow a-around?" Tara realized her voice was faint. The information was beginning to settle in, bringing back to the fore that this was about her, not some third party.

"All afternoon." The ex-demon didn't sound thrilled by the experience.

Tara could hear Willow being called over, as well as faint sounds of indignation that could only be her girlfriend. Probably objecting that Anya hadn't handed over the phone immediately. There was something in how the two interacted that seemed to result in constant friction. And not the fun kind.

"Tara?" There was a note of apology in Willow's intonation, but also her unique brand of enthusiasm.

"Anya told me what she remembered." There was a pause, and Tara's voice was very carefully controlled. "So there's some hope."

"A lot, actually. Now that I know what to look for, there's a lot of material out there. The Watchers seemed pretty intent on succubi, and there's a bunch of documentation on 'tracking down these foul fiends'. I gather that it was a popular topic." Willow sounded a bit confused by that.

"A group of British boys in their late teens. It's not all that surprising that they had enthusiasm for researching the closest thing to a porn demon." Tara said dryly.

"Wankers. Probably literally, too," Willow continued, "Well, we confirmed the whole "shifter" thing covers pretty much anything; height, weight, coloration, basic form. As long as you stay human-ish, the sky's the limit."

"Oh- and they can't fly, per se, but they can float about ten feet up. Or probably glide, if they jump off something high. The book said it's like a vestigial thing from the pure demons, before they mixed in with humankind."

"There's nothing about keeping hold of their horniness field, but there is a passage about them needing to have the contact of, um, bodily fluids to feed properly… though they can also gather energy ambiently to a small degree."

"Oh." It was the only response Tara had to offer. If they were going demon hunting, she might have commented further. But this was her. This was a diagnosis, a list of symptoms and potential treatment.

"How are you doing there?" Now she could here the concern in Willow's voice as her animated report on her findings ended. "Nobody throw anything through the windows? Banging the door down?"

"No. I did the w-ward and things quieted down."

"Did you manage to eat anything?"

"Coop burritos are the best." Tara confirmed, smiling. She'd been so worked up that food seemed like the worst possible idea, but she knew Willow would be upset if she didn't eat- which was only justified, since Tara tended to get indignant about Willow frequently forgetting meals in favor of time-on-task. The first bite had made her suddenly aware of just how hungry she was, devouring most of the tortilla-wrapped monstrosity before she realized. Her overstuffed stomach had protested eventually, but there was still a hunger that burned behind it. Burned was a good word. It was like a consuming heat that demanded to be fuelled. She had been steadfastly ignoring it, terrified of what it signified.

"Need anything else while you're on house arrest?"

"I'm fine. There's a-a lot to think about." Every new piece of information needed to be considered, placed within the context of her life, her past, her fears.

"Someone will drop by at five-ish with the laptop and something else munchy. Pad Thai too spicy?"

"Whatever you get will be great." Willow knew all the best places to order out from; it was one of the things that had first made Tara really aware that Willow had grown up in this town. That, and knowing that no one delivered. She had been amazed that not even one of Sunnydale's plethora of pizza kitchens had delivery until Willow had made the obvious connection between demons dialing up for pizza and eating the deliverer instead.

"I wish I were there with you." Willow's voice held regret, but none of the ragged want of the past thirty-six hours. Tara felt herself relax a little in the realization.

"Me too. But you were right to go- I have to get better with this… whatever-it-is first."

"I'm going to try to get Anya or Buffy to do the drop-off… they're just not likely to be as affected as me." There was a dark mumble that sounded like "They better not."

Tara was disappointed, but saw the logic.

"Hey- are you sure you're OK?"

Tara realized she had fallen silent. "It's just a-a lot to think about."

"I know, baby. But we're gonna figure it out soon." Willow's voice was bright with an optimism that Tara didn't dare to share. Not after all her father had told her. Not with the history of her mother's death.

"I'll see you, then." Tara said quietly, wishing she had a more concrete time to refer to.

"See you." Then, just before she put down the phone, she heard Willow speak again, "I love you. I loved you before this all started. I mean, you know that, right?"

"I know. And whatever happens… I'm still yours." She hung up and just sat for a moment. There was one problem with Willow's words. There was no way to know just how long ago this change began. They only knew when it manifested physically and there had always been that nagging doubt… What could anyone see in me?

Your demon lured her in, just like you're doing to the others now, Tara.

She's too far away. It can't be that.

You did the magic with her, Tara. There's no going back from that.

Shivering suddenly, Tara stood heading over to the bed and pulling the coverlet off to wrap it around herself. It smelled of Willow.

Think about it, Tara. Why would anyone notice you?

The Wicca group, Daddy. Trying to support her suggestion of looking at magic.

Was that it, Tara? Truthfully? Was it her that ran looking for you that day?

The day the Gentlemen had arrived. No Daddy.

She didn't need her father's voice to fill in the rest. Willow had been intrigued by the magic they had summoned. In time, she had come to realize that she had fallen for Tara the moment their hands had touched, their magic merging in that way that she had never felt before. It just took time before the understanding had followed the emotion.

You put your corruption inside her Tara- no distance will break that.

She loves me!

If that's what you want to call it.

All these voices in her head were her own, Tara knew that. It wasn't her father speaking, only her own fears given familiar form. She wanted to be sure of the one, best thing in her life. And sadly, it wasn't until Willow reasserted her love that Tara had recalled a reason to doubt it.

There was a mirror on the back of the door to her room, and rounding on it, Tara stared at herself sternly. You are in no position to think about this now. When you've figured out the situation, then you can ask the hard questions. For now you are going to accept that you are loved and that people want to help you.

Use them, then figure out if it was right, Tara? That's not the way it works.

It is this time, Daddy. Just this once, I can't do it alone.

She glanced at a photo stuck in the corner of her mirror. Willow stared back at her from it with a gratuitous leer, the subtitle "Daaaamn" written across the bottom. It had replaced an old sticky note she'd written long before; some sort of generic self-affirmation about body image. Finding it replaced by the photo had put her through a series of stages. First had been the helpless laughter at the face Willow was making, which had continued until tears ran down her face and her ribs ached. After it finally passed, she'd succumbed to the chagrin at not hiding the embarrassing evidence of her old issues- they only rarely reared their head since she left home, but the note had stayed for the occasional bad day. The warm glow of Willow-ness had almost stopped her from taking it down, but if a note to herself was embarrassing, how bad would this be?

Willow had pouted until Tara had finally conceded and replaced the photo. It looked so spontaneous, but at some point during that discussion Willow had cited the forty-seven different angles she'd had to try before it actually looked like she was ogling in the right direction. Planned spontaneity.

It can't all have been my doing…

Just saying it doesn't make it so, Tara.

No, it didn't. What the thought did bring up, though, was that she was wallowing. It was unproductive at best, destructive at worst, and would not contribute to any outcome she could possibly want.

What could she do, then, within these four walls? There were a select few magic books here, interspersed in with novels of high fantasy and various class texts. She'd indicated to Willow that there was a system to the arrangement at some point- a fib that had resulted in countless hours of her girlfriend's time being spent trying to decipher the code. It was too cute to tell her the actuality. The system consisted of putting the book where space existed to put it into.

Magic wasn't likely to be the answer, anyway. While they weren't always explainable in physical terms- the floating Gentlemen being a prime example- the vast majority of demonic magic was purely differences of mystical physiology. What magic there was tended to be very distinct and resistant to outside manipulation. How could you manipulate something that didn't obey the typical tenets of spell craft? The scarier part was in not knowing how it would all interact. The Gentlemen had required their silence for survival. So who knew what cancelling out the Field O' Horniness would cause. Tara winced.

Also on the list of things to do- find a better way of referring to that particular effect.

The chill of her worries abated, Tara unfolded the blanket from around herself. She returned it neatly to the bed, tail sliding under to tuck the folds at the end just the right way. She glanced back at the mirror on the door.

Perhaps that was a place to start. Both Anya and Willow had confirmed that she should be able to metamorphose. Being able to conceal the tail would be a big step toward coming out of hiding. She wasn't looking forward to seeing her emerging horns either. Tara ran her hand through her hair as she thought about it.

Yes, the horns were the place to start. Easier to visualize, smaller. Less questions about where they would go than the yard-long tail.

How is this supposed to work?

Tara pushed on the boney lumps, trying to imagine them melting back into the smooth contour of her skull. All she got for her efforts were two points of tenderness on the ends of her index fingers from pressing. She glanced at the mirror in mild annoyance. It wasn't like she expected it to be easy, but some kind of instinct about how to approach this would have been nice.

Maybe it was like constructing a glamour? She closed her eyes and started to set the structure of the magic in her mind. It wasn't easy to craft illusions. The complexity of manipulating visual information to all who viewed it, the consideration for all three dimensions being portrayed, and worse yet, if it had to move… Invoking a guiding power was necessary and even then there were severe limits on what could be accomplished.

Tara felt her cheeks burn with remembered shame as her recollection proceeded to remind her just why she was so familiar with these spells. It was a variation on a glamour that she had cast on the Scoobies. The simplest glamour of all, in fact. Erasing the signs of all things demonic required no substituted information and she had a limited target set, but even then she hadn't dared invoke the magic without Cassiopia's guidance.

She needed no magic for this exercise. At least, she didn't think she did. Visualization, clarity, and focus were more likely the issue. She squinted at the mirror, succeeding only in making an odd face at herself.

I don't think I've ever imagined the top of my head before…

Willow's head was another matter. The redhead's penchant for snuggling under her arm presented that view of her regularly. She would tilt her head back just enough for their eyes to meet, chatting enough for the both of them until Tara punctuated her speech with a kiss just above her widow's peak. In the harder times Willow would lie with her head in Tara's lap, clinging to her girlfriend's knee as Tara's fingers sifted through her hair.

It was Willow's head that had taught Tara what phrenologists had known since the inception of their field- heads are not round. They had smooth planes, curves, lumps that were deserving of regard. Her girlfriend occasionally acquiesced to that attention, but it was Tara herself that was a sucker for a scalp massage.

God knows it’s the only reason I let Dawn do those hideous little braids on me that time.

She could remember the first time Willow had called her a massage-whore. She'd been so shocked by the term that Willow had gone into a conniption of apology. Tara had watched in wonder as her girlfriend's face had reddened, her gestures getting more and more frantic, until she wondered if apoplexy was the only possible end.

Tara shook her head, casting another rueful glance in the mirror. She almost choked when she processed what she saw.

The horns were gone, all right. Tara reached up tentatively and verified that much, before just staring stupidly at herself. She fingered the red hair that she had somehow brought in to being. Not auburn, not sienna, but flaming, that-can't-be-natural, Willow-hair red. It even felt like Willow-hair. Smelled like it. Even the length, the way it framed her face had shifted to the pattern she knew so well.

It was odd. Out of place. Wrong. It didn't belong to her.

Tara grimaced. And Willow-hair really did not suit Tara-face.

This might not be where she wanted to start, but it was something. Visualization wasn't enough, it seemed. She had to know what she was trying for more deeply than the single sense conveyed. There was only one form she knew to that degree, so that was where she would start.

Also, this meant she could spend the afternoon daydreaming about Willow and still be working on her own problem. It was a win-win situation.

Setting her eyes back on the mirror Tara went to work.



.........................

Preview Ch 7-
Next time on Changes! Miss Kitty, a dissertation, Kafka, horses, another use for a tail, and AIM. Saturday 9pm-ish PST on the KB chat room- Characters Welcome.


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 Post subject: Re: Changes
PostPosted: Sat Jan 30, 2010 10:16 am 
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Ch 7


Notes: Let's earn that R rating now, shall we?

Angst Level: Overall, higher than stiletto heels. Ch 7 is… well, I suggest hiding all sharp objects before you proceed.



Tara lay on her back, utterly exhausted. Miss Kitty had finally emerged from hiding and was tucked against her side, providing more comfort than a furry body that small should be capable of. The kitten's mysterious ability to disappear in the confines of the room had never been fully explained by either Tara or Willow. Contemplating the possibilities was giving her mind a rest.

Tara had been working all afternoon on shapeshifting. The degree of conceptualization of the form she was trying to create was intense- it might not be work that raised a sweat, but the effort was considerable. The fact that she was using Willow as her template, the only template she knew well enough to work from, was initially a pleasant idea. Thinking about Willow was never arduous.

She had pulled her chair up to her mirror, concentrating with her eyes closed for as much as a half hour at a time before glancing to see the result. Tara had been happy with her progress, having eventually gotten a near perfect replica of Willow-face looking back at her. It was as she was closing her eyes to try to correct her nose that it struck her. She was changing herself into Willow. Not just thinking about her. Tara was making herself into a virtual physical clone of her girlfriend. It was disturbing in so many ways.

She'd looked deep into her own green eyes, brow furrowing as she turned over the idea. Deep thought and anxiety warred for dominance of her features.

God, she's cute when she does that. Or... I'm cute? When I do that? When I'm her?

This wasn't just a pronoun question- it was a psychiatric dissertation in the making. Tara had looked away from the mirror, deciding she needed to do something else for a while. She'd thought of school work. She had a paper on Kafka due in a few days- but that really wasn't where she wanted her mind right now. Pre-Calc could be a safe haven from deep thought. It was the last math class she'd have to take for her graduation requirements- a fact for which she was profoundly grateful. Tara had wondered briefly if wearing Willow's face would make it any easier. She'd looked back at the mirror, grinning briefly.

A page of brain-numbing math later she had returned to the mirror. Willow's head was still firmly in place on her shoulders, which she was thankful for. Starting all over again would have been a lot of work and it indicated that once Tara had found a form, she wouldn't have to think about it to keep it in place. She'd turned her head back and forth, looking for flaws when the thought hit her.

How do I go back?

Tara had been working on Willow's head by default- it was the only head that she knew well enough to duplicate. If returning to her own features required the same visualization… how could you know what the top of your own head looked like? What pattern was in the folds of her own ears?

Her panic had been misplaced, it turned out. For whatever reason, returning to her own visage had been far faster than changing it had been. Fifteen minutes after she began, Tara allowed herself a sigh of relief. She looked back at her familiar reflection and noted she had managed to keep the horns gone, too. She checked against a couple of photos and found that she hadn't quite gotten herself right, but the fixes were quick. All but one. Her eyes were a problem. The photos weren't close enough to see the details and her irises just didn't look right when she examined them. Did they have flecks of brown in the blue? Just how blue had they been?

Tara still wasn't sure they were right, but her brain was too tired to take any more. The burn deep in her belly had gotten worse as the day went on, becoming harder to ignore as it flared higher. She didn't want to think about that hungry fire, nor what it craved to consume.

She shifted on the bed to glance at the clock. It shouldn't be long before food and the freedom of internet access arrived. She wondered who would get the job. Most likely Buffy- Tara couldn't see Anya abandoning the store on anything but official business. Grimacing, she wondered if she could get an escort for a bathroom run. At this hour there would be too many people in the hall to try it alone. She could hear them walking by, chatting about the hundred normal things that normal people talk about.

For a succubus to take a person's energy, she had to make some kind of fluid connection. That's what Willow had said, anyway, and Willow was very seldom wrong when it came to research. The… traditional approach was not one she cared to consider. Not unless it was Willow, and not until she made sure Willow would be safe. The fire inside wasn't going to wait, though- it was a need, a ravenous hunger that was growing to the point of distracting urgency. She had to consider the options. Blood was a possibility, but for the medical hazards. Saliva wasn't very attractive, but it was an option. Would plain old sweat work? Get a nice sweaty palm and find some friendly people to shake hands with? Somehow she doubted it would be so simple.

Further worry was curtailed by a brisk knock on the door that startled Miss Kitty from her place.

"Room Service!" The voice was clearly Buffy's.

"Just a sec." Tara stood quickly and flipped the lock on the door. As she pulled it open, Tara twisted her tail into a tight loop around her leg, well out of sight under her skirt. Buffy was a friend, but she was also the Slayer… which might mean a lot, or might mean nothing, but now that Tara had crossed firmly into the demon category, she had to remain cognoscente of just who she was about to see.

Hey, this is progress- I've got a sense of self preservation back.

Buffy was half turned away, scanning the hallway with deceptively casual disinterest that missed nothing. One hand was burdened with a generic take-out bag, while the other was hooked in the pocket of her jeans, hitching up one of those tunic-length shirts that had become so popular recently. Willow's laptop bag was slung over her shoulder, the strap digging a crease in Buffy's jacket.

"Hi. Thanks for coming by." Tara stepped back out of habit so that Buffy could come in. She'd been to Tara's room before, though until today it had always been related to finding Willow there or occasionally accompanying the two witches as they stopped by to pick something up.

"No big." Buffy took the two steps forward that carried her past the door frame, even as she turned her attention from the hallway back to Tara. In Tara's mind, time seemed to slow as she realized just how bad a mistake she might have made.

Talldarkhairbrighteyesclearskineyesthatsmilebeforeitreacheshismouthcleanshavenchinstraightwhiteteethbroadchestwithhairyoucanrunyourfingersthrough-

The deluge of information precluded hesitation. Tara planted an open palm squarely in the middle of Buffy's chest and shoved as hard as she could. The Slayer careened backwards across the hall, keeping her feet only by virtue of wall the there. Tara didn't even notice, her attention entirely focused inward.

What she had been thinking of as a burning hunger was nothing of the sort. It was a mild warmth, now that she had something to compare it to. Burning was what happened when Buffy had crossed the border of the Entemari ward. Something inside her had ignited and it was the sudden feeling that she was losing control of herself that had prompted the violent reaction to get Buffy beyond the warded space.

It was clear, now, that she'd been going about her shape-shifting entirely the wrong way. The lack of instinctive understanding that had been puzzling her had become abundantly clear. She didn't need her own template, her own perfectly conceived imagery- that wasn't what that power was for. It was for creating what her prey wanted to see.

Tara had always been able to see auras to some degree. It was so ingrained, in fact, that photos always looked a little odd to her because of the lack of that familiar sense. This wasn't to say that she read them regularly- that was far more difficult, requiring the focus to parse out patterns and variations into anything meaningful. That particular sense had gone through its own change since this morning.

She knew what Buffy wanted. Or not what. Who. The perfect person that exemplified her 'type', whom the sight of would draw her to before her consciousness had caught up. The flare of heat that had flooded through Tara had wanted to pull her into that form, the instinct she had wondered about rearing its head with nearly irresistible force. Be who she wants, take what you need.

One thing had given her the moment she needed to react.

Good God, I am not turning into a man!

The fire of her need told her that dangly bits weren't necessarily bad and not all of them would be dangly for long and it really wasn't such an unreasonable thing to do and Buffy wasn't going to object and she had to do this.

Her shock told her- get Buffy out of there. Now.

Shock had ruled. Tara sank to her knees, feeling like she was about to turn into a cinder. Her skin was still trying to crawl toward what she had felt from Buffy but she clamped down on it ruthlessly.

"Tara…" Buffy's voice brought Tara back into the time stream, her brain filling in a few simple statements of fact,

I'm a demon.

I have just committed an act of violence on the Slayer.

Ergo, I'm going to die.

Crap.

She raised her eyes to find Buffy still standing with her back against the wall of the hallway, fingers spread wide as if gripping the surface behind her. There were murmurs from down the hall- other students that had to have seen what had happened. The Slayer paid them absolutely no attention, her wide-eyed gaze locked on where Tara kneeled, one hand still on the door.

"What… was that?"

Tara had expected anger. Outrage. The rough sound of uncertainty was strange to hear. Even when Buffy was unsure, it tended to manifest in frustration or vehement demand for answers. She looked at the shaken Slayer through her warded doorway, taking in the uneven breathing and minute trembling.

"Things j-just got more complicated," Tara answered quietly.

Buffy seemed to realize there were other people in the hall and straightened, shooting a glare to each side of her to stave off any potential inquiry. The posture of confidence was reassuring, if only because it was familiar.

"I'm sorry, Buffy. I-" Tara started.

"Don't!" Buffy hissed. She seemed to be about to start a diatribe, but focused on a spot on the floor, visibly collecting herself.

"Are you OK?" Tara tried after moment, standing slowly.

"Yes. No. I-" Buffy stopped suddenly, her expression conflicted. "This is so wrong."

"You're telling me?" Tara said under her breath, not quite bold enough to push her sarcasm at the Slayer. Buffy was agitated, confused, and if she had been touched by Tara's uncontrolled ambient magic, had good reason to be.

"I am so not gay."

"I know." How had the effect taken hold so quickly? This ability to discern a person's preferences was new- could it be that everything else was still in evolution as well? Was it all getting worse?

"And even if I were- you're Tara. Willow's Tara. Very-much-not-available Tara, with whom I am very platonically friendly and do not think about that way."

"I know."

"I thought there was a protection thingy!"

"Doorway." Tara indicated with a little motion of her hand. She dropped her forehead against the frame in shame. "I w-wasn't thinking."

"What was that?" Buffy repeated, sounding marginally calmer now. "Willow said you had some kind of kooky fatal attraction thing going on- that was it, right?"

Tara nodded, blushing and finding it impossible to meet her eyes, "It's getting worse."

Buffy spent a moment in silence, which Tara was loath to break. Still preoccupied, the Slayer picked up the takeout bag from where it had been dropped and carefully set it just outside the doorway. Feeling silly, but knowing the need, Tara retrieved a hook-handled umbrella from her closet. The laptop bag had been added to the pile and Buffy stood back deliberately, almost against the far wall. She watched warily as Tara bent to draw the items inside, allowing none of herself to cross the warded doorway.

The takeout bag was dripping, but she didn't look inside, just set it out of the way. The inferno inside was pulling her outward, forward, toward what it knew it needed. Tara breathed deeply and tried to let the feeling dissipate into the air- to let it flow through her and away, like residual magic from a casting. The heat was untouched.

"You feel it too," Buffy observed quietly. Tara didn't deny it immediately, but clarified,

"N-not the same way. I… it's more like a hunger. Not for you, n-not for anyone in particular. Just- someone."

"Hungry and horny." Buffy said wryly. It sounded like she was referring to something, but Tara wasn't sure what. "So, do we know what happens? When you- do your thing?"

Do my thing?

"I mean, Willow seems OK. Worried, but researching like its going out of style," Buffy continued. As an afterthought she added, "Not that going out of style has been much of a motivator for her before-"

She must have caught Tara's frown at the criticism, cutting herself off quickly.

Tara allowed herself a measure of relief. Her Baby was alright. With what she was feeling now, she had irrefutable proof that it had been the right thing for Willow to leave. How long could Tara have lasted against this internal blaze, had it been Willow at the door- not only an instinctive target, but also the rational object of her affections?

About two seconds… God, I am such a pathetic horndog.

"She said she'd log in from Anya's PC so she could AIM or something like that." Buffy waved toward the laptop. She looked incredulous, "Her aim is kinda bad though, so you might want to be careful- did I ever tell you about the crossbow incident last May?"

"A-I-M. It's an, um, instant message thing," Tara pointed out quietly. She would have let the misconception ride, but that it sounded like it was leading to a story that Willow probably didn't want passed around.

"I knew that." Buffy amended. She looked chagrined enough that Tara started to feel bad for calling out the mistake. She changed the subject quickly.

"So, um… what do I owe you?" Tara looked back in the room, trying to remember where she'd left her wallet. It was also an easy excuse to concentrate on something other than how the heat was reaching out, tendrils crawling along the warded doorway-

"Willow already bribed me." Buffy dismissed with an easy smile, "I figure tutoring Dawn through Algebra II is already beyond the usual friend-type-obligation, but putting up with the whining? Totally worth some cheap Thai."

"You don't have to-"

"Really. No big." Despite the banter, there was still a sense of trepidation behind Buffy's words. She was rubbing her palms on her jeans as she spoke and there was a tension around her eyes. She started to step back, "So- I'm just gonna to head over to the hospital for a while before it gets dark…"

How could I be so self centered? I completely forgot… the world doesn't just stop because I have problems. Self loathing briefly eclipsed the grasping heat.

"How's she doing?" Tara wished she could make it sound more optimistic.

Buffy's smile faltered, "She says she's fine, but that could be, y'know, mom-speak for "I don't want to worry you"."

"Or it could be true?" Tara ventured.

"She's getting a CAT scan tomorrow, so I guess we'll find out." There was a forced hope that didn't quite reach Buffy's expression.

Tara nodded silently, dropping her eyes. Hospitals and mothers. She couldn't even think about it without remembering her own pain. Buffy needed support- of all people, Tara knew that. This wasn't the time for her to be adding to Buffy's burdens.

"Hey." When Buffy eyes were soft, with a hollow bravery that Tara saw right through, "Thanks. For asking. She'll be fine- we just have to show the doctors that on their silly machine."

"At least the demon lady hasn't shown up again." Tara halted, checking, "She hasn't, right?"

"Nah. Must've broken a nail on me or something, headed for the hills." Buffy's sarcasm was interrupted, "Careful- you've got an escapee."

Tara felt fur brushing by her. Miss Kitty had gotten over her aversion to the Slayer to make a break for the door. The witch held out a foot to stop her, but the feline slid around it easily.

"It's OK- I'll get her." Buffy started to stoop, but froze mid-motion.

Tara flushed, bending quickly to retrieve her kitten. When the foot had failed, she had moved to the next most obvious limb, sweeping the kitten back from the door with her tail. It had elicited a small mew of protest from the feline and a stare from the Slayer. The tail was again hidden in her skirt as she crouched over the squirming bundle of fur in her arms.

"Huh." Buffy was obviously trying to laugh off what she'd seen. "I guess a… tail can be useful?"

"Mew!" Miss Kitty agreed, her own tail waving against Tara's chest, tickling her neck.

"So… I'm gonna…" Buffy indicated toward the stairwell.

Tara gave her a grateful smile, raising a hand for a little wave goodbye. That was all it took for Miss Kitty to free herself, jumping toward the hall in a graceful arc. Tara tried to catch her, over balancing her crouch and falling forward. Her knee and hand hit the hallway carpet. Miss Kitty was trotting away from Buffy, but the Slayer wasn't making any effort to pursue. She just shuddered once before lunging forward, grabbing the neck of Tara's shirt.

This is bad.

There wasn't time for anything else to cross her mind before Buffy had thrown her to her feet against the door to her room. It slammed back against her bookshelf, knickknacks scattering. Tara's breath was driven out of her and she had no chance to catch it before she found Buffy's lips hard against her own. Her head was pressed back against the door, with no where to pull back to. The blaze inside wouldn't let her freeze and Tara found her mouth responding in spite of her inner protest.

Tara had known in abstract that the tiny blonde was strong but she'd had no concept just how strong. Despite her struggles to push the Slayer away, Buffy was pinning her easily against the door with one hand and the Slayer's panting had nothing to do with exertion as she drew back slightly. The look in her eyes was a horrible mix of animal lust, possessive frenzy, and a deep, almost indiscernible shadow of fear.

Tara dimly heard a wolf-whistle from down the hall and the look on Buffy's face shifted instantly, eyes narrowing to dangerous slits and her mouth drawing back to an almost-snarl. For a moment Tara wasn't sure who she was more afraid for- herself or the subject of that murderous glare.

How many people are going to have to suffer for you, Tara? How many!?

Tara tried to draw through the inferno inside her to call forth the magic that might save them both. A simple spell, intended to calm the wounded animals that she had too often brought home- one that had stilled the rearing horses as her father had put out a fire in the barn's hayloft where Donny had decided to try smoking.

"Aequo animo" As she invoked the words, she knew it had failed. Buffy's attention did return to her, but only long enough to hurl her toward the bed. She fell back on it as her knees hit, hearing the door slam shut but not seeing it. Tara started to roll away, only to find the Slayer straddling her hips.

"Buffy- stop. Please-"

If Buffy heard her, she gave no sign. Then her lips claimed Tara's again, hips grinding down as she did. She paid no heed to Tara's ineffectual attempts to push her back, hands fumbling at the top of her jeans.

Tara experienced a moment of sudden clarity. The raging wildfire within, the implacable Slayer, the knowledge of what she had become… there was only one way this was going to end. All she could do is try to make it on her own terms.

Buffy had gotten her jeans unfastened but hadn't moved to shed them yet, instead tearing off her coat as she thrust her slight weight down against Tara's groin. Through the insanity bloomed a moment of confusion. Buffy's voice was rough and urgent as she pleaded between uneven breaths, the arm that balanced her above Tara shaking with something other than effort.

"How? How do we-?"

Thank the Goddess for Buffy's lack of imagination.

"Slowly?" Tara wished it sounded less like a suggestion.

"Can't." Buffy groaned, eyes closing. Her back arched, pressing the length of her subtly muscular torso against Tara's, her free hand now diving for the waistband of Tara's skirt.

"Let me-" Tara felt her voice catch, unable to remain unaffected by the body moving against her, "I c-can show you."

She caught Buffy's hand in her own, gently urging it up. Buffy was again balancing above her, eyes fixed on the hand Tara had drawn up to her cheek. Tara kissed the Slayer's hand softly, feeling the immutable strength of it yielding to her.

Forgive me.

With that she acted- biting down hard below Buffy's thumb. Her head jerked painfully as the Slayer pulled back, the flesh under her teeth tearing from the violent motion.

The inferno howled triumph and took the path it had been offered. Tara felt her senses white out, aware only of the fire that raced into her friend. It consumed in savage glory, dispersing out of her as it spread. The relief was bitter, painful for the weakness it evidenced.

Stop! Stop! Isn't it enough yet?!

The fire mocked her, but it was weaker now and she began to emerge from its hateful brilliance.

Her awareness woke to the sound of a whimper from deep in Buffy's throat. Even as Tara released the Slayer's hand, Buffy's eyes rolled back in her head and she collapsed onto Tara, unconscious. The Slayer's slack hand had drawn a line of blood across Tara's cheek where she had fallen. A moment later a tear drew a parallel path down to the comforter.

Buffy's heartbeat was slowing, but regular against Tara's chest. She was breathing. Tara couldn't feel any joy in the knowledge she hadn't killed her. Not until she knew just what she had done. The glowing ember inside were a testament to her failure, its intumescent contentedness only adding to her shame.

Tara waited in silence, praying for Buffy to open her eyes. Minutes crawled by before she moved, gently shifting the Slayer's body until the witch could slide from beneath her.

How could this slight weight hold so much power? Tara marveled how small the form seemed, now that it was still. This was the guardian against the evil hordes that would take the world any chance they got… This was the force that had stood against that which made man fear the night...

And you just took that away, Tara. Do you understand now?

Tara backed away unsteadily even as concern told her to try to help.

Wake up, Buffy. Please wake up.


..................



Preview Ch 8-
Next time on Changes! A knitting needle, a hairbrush, Niven philosophy, Willow's face plastered against a window, hybrid SUVs, internal diagnostics, and a space heater. Coming soon to KB chat – We Know Drama.


.............
Though I'll be putting up more before all y'all get a chance to respond...

I'm curious to know people's reactions so far- not to the general story, but more to Tara's inner father voice, to how she is handling what she is becoming (or, more accurately, is now manifesting), to how the others' actions and reactions feel to you, and after this chapter- what do you think is appropriate justice? And when the action in question is known- what do you think various characters will do (or should do) in response? *Never squirms curiously* Does my take on dialog sound right- both inner and outer? Is the disorganized path of exposition confusing? Am I remembering the layout of Tara's room all wrong?

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Ch 8


Notes: Hmm. Quite a hole I've dug for myself here… everything that has happened was necessary, given the mechanics and adherence to Never's Unified Magic Theory, but I wish I could have found a better way to do it. Oh well.

Angst Level: Overall, higher than a Wall Street executive's bonus check. Ch 8 is still dark. I suggest bringing a candle- I assume you know what kind ^_^.


Willow was getting fidgety. It should have been a banner day. She had piles and piles of notes, some of which were admittedly contradictory but had recognizable patterns. She had a very awkward and wordy apology from Giles for his behavior around Tara the prior day- as much as she knew it wasn't entirely his fault, that didn't excuse him from feeling appropriately guilty. It had been a fairly busy afternoon for the shop; the distracting bustle was a fair trade for not having to put up with Anya's enthusiastic interest in all the details of Tara's situation.

The one thing that she and Anya had complete agreement on was the subject of Xander. He was prohibited from any 'help' what-so-ever. He had protested mightily that Tara was more important than researching some bimbo demon that Buffy got beat up by, which had gained him no brownie points from the Slayer that was flipping through books across from him. She hadn't let him forget that until the moment she left to make the deliveries for Tara, which had been good hour ago.

"This is the most amazing not-fun I've had in years." Xander was taking another grousing break, which he seemed to schedule regularly. "Succubus. Blonde bimbo demon. There was a time when these words would make a Xan-man very happy. But no- cuz one is your friend's girlfriend and the other is trying to kill us."

"It seems that fate has cursed you." Giles injected no sympathy into the statement. "I suggest you file a complaint immediately."

"You haven't got anything on the demon lady yet?" Willow started sorting her notes by subject.

"Nothing. Not a phrase, a reference, a noted rumor." Giles had his glasses off, alternately tapping them on his forehead or dangling them from a corner of his mouth for the majority of the past hour. It hadn't helped that he seemed to get a run of customers every time he got a new reference off the shelf. Anya, of course, had been on cloud nine.

"Well, Buffy's been gone for a while, so I'm gonna try Tara on the computer- I'll see if I can turn up anything online for you." Willow had tried valiantly not to feel like she was abandoning the others, but even though she knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that Tara was the priority, the guilt kept eating its way into her.

The bell above the shop door jingled again and Giles closed his eyes with a sigh before sliding his glasses in place. He schooled his features into a pleasant smile and headed off into the wilds of customer service. Willow gave him a sympathetic look, but headed to the back.

The Magic Box's computer was not elegant by any standard, but it did have a serviceable internet connection. Willow had barely touched it since she'd set up the WiFi system, but she still had in her possession a written agreement with Anya that she could use the machine when she needed to. She preferred using her laptop, but Tara needed it to reach beyond the confines of her room.

Pulling up AIM, Willow was disappointed not to see Tara online yet. Maybe she had decided to eat before she booted the computer. With a mental shrug she started typing up what she was going to upload for Tara's perusal, starting up a search sequence to run in the background for Giles.

Thirty minutes later the Magic Box phone rang. Willow picked up immediately,

"Magic Box! Your one stop shop fo-"

"Will- I-"

Willow's heart was in her throat at the tone of Tara's voice. Something had happened. Something bad.

"I th-think I hurt Buffy." Her voice was so plaintive, pain and guilt laced so tightly that it muffled the sound to nearly a whisper.

"What happened?" It was said in concern, but Willow knew the moment she said it that Tara would hear accusation. She preempted the apology that was coming, "Did the Entamari fail?"

"No. I-" Tara's voice caught, "I messed up. I crossed the ward."

There was more to the story, Willow was sure of that. Tara wouldn't have put anyone at risk without reason.

Anyone except herself.

"Buffy-" Willow realized what lay between the lines, "Buffy wasn't immune."

"No."

"She- did she hurt you?" Anger and terror warred for dominance. Only guilt was assured. It was so blind of her to send Buffy. Why hadn't she thought about that possibility? Even if it seemed safe- why send the one person who could break down the door?
"No. She- she couldn't help it."

Which one was it? No, not hurt? Yes, but Tara felt responsible, so somehow it didn't count? Willow's hand clenched painfully on the telephone.

"What's wrong with Buffy?" Willow would be there as soon as she got off the phone, but she needed to know if she had to bring anything. First aid? Magic stuff? A shovel, which she could judiciously use if Buffy had done any damage to her girlfriend?

"She's unconscious. Maybe… ten minutes? She won't wake up-"

"How?" Horror started to dawn. She couldn't have. Buffy… friend or no, if she had forced herself on Tara-

"I… I bit her" Tara's shamed admission sent a wave of relief through Willow. "I took something from her, Willow, and she just fell over. I-I-, what do I do? She's just laying there-"

Oh, Tara, please, please don't say she's dead.

"She's breathing?"

"Breathing- she just won't move."

"Don't do anything- I'll be there in ten minutes."

"NO! Willow- you can't. I'm dangerous- I-"

"You just fed, right?" She wished there was a better way to say it. "That should tone things down."

"What if it doesn't? Willow, I can't risk you."

"I'll bring someone-" Willow's throat tightened, "They'll have the tranq gun in the hall. If I can't… if I can't control myself, they'll put a dart in each of us."

The line was silent.

"Ten minutes." Willow hung up and almost ran for the table. The look on her face must have said a lot, because both men were on their feet by the time she got there.

"Buffy's unconscious. Tara's needs me. Now." She took a breath and forced herself to say the words, "We may have to tranq her."

"We'll take Giles' car." Anya's voice was the last one Willow expected, coming from right behind her.

"You will do no such-" Giles' face darkened.

"Are we forgetting the Hands?" Anya said incredulously. "This is not a man-friendly mission."

"But-" Now it was Xander's turn to object.

"Anyone with a penis will stay here." Anya's consternation raised her voice even louder.

"Alrighty then. I'll get the gun." Xander blushed, surreptitiously glancing at the few customers that were now staring. Giles dug the keys out of his pocket and though it seemed to pain him to do so, handed them over to Anya.

Willow was trying to decide if this was a good idea or not. Did it matter? As long as Anya could aim in the right direction and not take out an eye in the process… and hopefully it wouldn't come to that.

The two exited out the back, Willow carrying the rifle-like tranquilizer gun that felt like lead in her hands while Anya handled the sports bag that held the Scoobies extended first aid kit. The red sports car parked there chirped when Anya clicked the locks open. Giles' choice in vehicles had never made sense to Willow, but at the moment it was a better option than Xander's serviceable-but-prone-to-shaking-at-high speeds clunker. Anya peeled out of the space even as Willow closed the door.

"So what's the story?" Anya asked after a moment, taking a turn so fast that Willow found her face plastered against her window.

"I don't know. Tara says she did something to Buffy and she's freaking out." Willow grabbed for her seatbelt and fastened it in place before the next turn.

"Did something? She 'did' Buffy?"

"I don't know!" Willow forced herself to remember she was in a fast moving vehicle and hitting the driver of said vehicle was not an option.

"I thought Buffy was straight. Then again, we thought you were, too." Anya continued chatting.

"Just drive, Anya." Before I hurt you.

Anya huffed, but didn't say anything more during the remaining two minutes of the drive. She parked across two spaces in the dorm lot and the two women ran inside.

You would think that running through the commons of a dorm with a rifle in your hands would arouse more concern, but other than a few questioning looks there was no fuss from the students milling around. Willow took the stairs two at a time, almost tripping over herself at the top step.

Tripping with a gun- not such a good idea.

Tara's door loomed in front of her and Willow realized she was already turning the handle only after she felt it catch against the lock. Anya had caught up with her, relieving her of the tranquilizer gun when Willow thrust back at her.

"Tara! I'm here-" Knocking loudly Willow tried to find a happy medium between yelling and discretion.

The door opened before the words were finished. Tara looked awful- her eyes were red rimmed, hair in disarray, and her expression wavered in the wasteland between guilt and horror. Willow felt her throat constrict as she took in further details. The swollen lips. The torn collar of Tara's shirt. The thin bruise starting to form in a line across her throat.

The doorway was open, but she knew what crossing that line could mean.

She needs me.

Willow swept forward, gathering Tara into a tight embrace of reassurance. Tara had started to stumble backward, caught her off guard by the sudden move. She was rigid in Willow's arms but didn't struggle.

"I'm here, baby. It's all right. I'm here." Willow just kept holding on, as if it were her who needed comfort. Willow could feel the conflict in the form she held- the need to cling to the solace her love offered, the fear of what would happen if she did. She kept murmuring the words until she felt Tara succumb to them, chin falling to Willow's shoulder as she shook with restrained emotion.

"Am I supposed to shoot you or her if it gets sexy?" Anya asked from behind her, "I don't have clear shot at her with you in the way."

Willow's hand froze where she had started petting the back of Tara's head. She ran a quick internal diagnostic.

Total overload of raging hormones?

No. Temperature and breathing within normal parameters.

Intent to make wild monkey love to my girlfriend in full view of Anya and anyone who happened to pass in the hall?

Nope.

Intent to make Tara feel better by use of aforementioned hot monkey lovin', as soon as I close the door and lock it securely?

Totally inappropriate. No.

Love this woman more than I ever imagined possible?

Yes, yes, a thousand times yes.

"It's OK Anya." Willow resumed stroking the long hair beneath her fingers. "We're… OK."

"Are you sure?" Anya sounded disappointed. Willow didn't spare her the attention needed to get annoyed. She was focused on Tara alone, and everything else in the world could very well wait its turn.

Anya pushed past them, intruding into Willow's moment of quietude. Tara started to pull away and Willow let her go reluctantly, following her further into the room so that the door could close behind them.

Buffy was sprawled on the bed, looking at a glance like she had simply fallen asleep there. The details were more condemning. Her jacket lay in a heap on the floor, next to a variety of books and bric-a-brac that were strewn across the floor. There was a dent in the back of the door and the cheap veneer on the corner of the bookshelf was chipped. Willow felt the tension of a moment ago return as she noted the way the comforter had been pulled askew.

"Tara… did Buffy…" She tried to keep the words even, but was unable to keep out the virulent edge of suspicion. Her eyes were suddenly drawn to Buffy's unfastened jeans and a chill ran down her spine.

"It wasn't her fault-" Tara's words were a rush, and all the answer the Willow needed. There was no word adequate to describe the loathing she felt for Buffy at that moment.

"There is no excuse, there is never an excuse-" Willow felt her hands curling into fists. The Slayer was helpless, her slack features unsullied by any hint of malice.

"She couldn't stop-" Tara turned Willow to face her, the sad, reddened eyes catching hers as she spoke with more calm than she could possibly be feeling. "This isn't a counseling brochure on date-rape. It wasn't her-."

Rape. The word burned in Willow mind and she couldn't find the forgiveness in herself. Abortive though it may have been, the intent alone was unjustifiable. Her voice shook, "I have to hate something for hurting you."

"She didn't hurt me- I'm not the victim here." Tara insisted, bringing a soft hand to Willow's face. "Baby, I need your help- not just for me. Buffy needs you."

Anya had opened the duffle bag and was trying out an ammonia capsule under Buffy's nose. The acrid smell made no effect other than causing the ex-demon to cringe backward. She unceremoniously pried one of Buffy's eyes open, then the other, shining a pen light in. A notecard with Willow's meticulous notes on concussion evaluation sat on the bed beside her.

Willow watched, but couldn't bring herself to approach. Rationally, she knew what had come over Buffy. Willow had felt it for a day and a half, though it had never gone as far as what the evidence suggested had occurred here. Buffy should have been able to resist. Willow's nails bit into her palms, but Tara's infinitely gentle touch bound her from exacting some measure of justice on the inert form.

She is straight! She knew what was going on! She's the Slayer for God's sake! That's supposed to mean something!

Would you have done any different? A polemic little voice whispered back.

I would never hurt her!

You left because you thought you would...

"You said…" Willow took a deep breath against the unreasoning fury that still pulsed behind her eyes, "You said you took something from her- when you… bit her…"

"It's a nasty one too!" Anya noted helpfully, lifting Buffy's bloody hand to demonstrate.

Tara winced from both the words and the sight, "It was the only thing I could th-think of. I shouldn't have-"

"You made the right choice…" Willow shushed her protest. There was only one person here who had screwed up royally. As much as she wanted to say it was Buffy, she knew better.

Did I just jump on the short bus today? Send someone over here who takes about two days to jump the bones of any guy she takes a fancy to, with- bonus!- amped up Slayer strength! The one person Tara couldn't hope to fend off- brilliant work Rosenberg. How about settin' up a nursery in a crocodile pit while you're at it?

Anya was efficiently dabbing alcohol on the wound, clearing the edges with a familiarity born in the aftermath of many battles. Willow was acquainted enough to know that this was going to take stitches if Buffy wanted use of her hand any time soon.

"So you fed on her, she dropped- and now it's only mildly arousing to be around you." Anya summed it up in her ineffably unconcerned way. "I guess you know how it works now."

"I'm sorry." Tara ducked her head away.

"I s'pose it would be kinder to stitch her up before she's awake." Anya started rummaging through the kit.

"Why don't we wait?" Willow suggested sweetly, despite the automatic look of reproof that Tara gave her.

"Isn't it enough? What I d-did to her?" Her pain cut into Willow, but couldn't fully excise the anger.

"No. And you won't convince me of it, either." Willow sighed, realizing that despite her words, she was gradually letting go of the urge to find out just how much the Slayer could heal from. The anger was finding a place to settle, nestling down deep to wait for a better opportunity. "Is… is it any better now? The-"

"The hunger- it's not completely gone, but it's… quieter now." Tara's voice was hushed, as if the words were an admission of some atrocity. Willow stepped behind her, arms wrapping around Tara's midriff while her chin dropped on the blonde's shoulder in unvoiced support.

"So, what made your ward fail?" Anya seemed uncomfortable with the silence- or perhaps with the clicking sound of the forceps as she worked. Willow bristled at the incompetence implied in the statement.

"The Entemari didn't fail. I-" Tara started into what Willow knew would be some sort of self-repudiating version of events, but she never got the chance.

"You used an Entemari ward?" Anya interrupted with a sputter of acrimonious incredulity, halting mid-stitch.

"Reverse Entemari. On the room. So the Field O' Horniness wouldn't spread-" Willow explained, waving toward the symbols Tara had traced out on the door and window frame.

"Are you stupid?!" The scorn in Anya's voice could have eaten through glass.

"Excuse me?" There was a certain degree of Anya-ness that could be overlooked, but there was only so much that Willow was willing to tolerate. Her stress level was already decaying the barrier between unrequited temptation and overt reaction, but this just blew a hole in it. She stepped out from behind Tara, taking a breath for a telling off that would go down in history. Anya beat her to it.

"That's like-like worrying a space heater is going to make something catch fire, so you wrap it in a sleeping bag and lock it in an unventilated little room!"

Willow let the breath out in a rush and her righteous indignation went with it. The pieces of what Anya had said had snapped in to place and the picture it made was not a pretty one.

"There was nowhere for the magic to diffuse to… i-it concentrated the effect."

This was my idea… it was my fault.


.....TBC...........

No preview for part II (it was covered in the total Ch 8 preview), nor am I giving my usual angst level/notes. Instead, you get...

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 Post subject: Re: Changes
PostPosted: Sat Jan 30, 2010 3:13 pm 
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Interlude


"Hey!" The door to Never's room slammed open and a livid red haired witch strode through it. Never turned from her laptop, startled but still outwardly composed. She pushed her glasses up her nose and silently regarded the fictional character that was trying to loom over her menacingly.

"You did this to her! All of it! It's your fault that all of this is happening!" Willow's right hand slammed down on the desk, dislodging a pile of papers that fluttered to the ground as she got in Never's face, "You made it look like Buffy, but it was your idea! You could be writing dates and kittens and movie nights and maybe a rollicking adventure or two, but no- you decide to screw with my girlfriend's life!"

The author noted distantly just how tiny this person yelling at her really was, but just how little that mattered when all of that tiny body's abundant energy was focused hostilely at her. The howitzer analogy hadn't been far off. She placidly listened as Willow continued to vent her frustration, making supportive noises at regular intervals.

"How can you possibly justify this?!" Willow concluded, right hand flung wide. Her seething green eyes locked on Never's, but she had lost some of her steam in the face of the unruffled acknowledgement of her frustration. There was a brief silence.

"Protagonist abuse is one of my hobbies?" Never suggested apologetically.

The redhead seemed to swell in renewed indignation, right hand starting to pull back and curl into a fist, but Never unhurriedly reached over to her laptop and tapped 'delete'. There was a pop and a rush of air as her would-be assailant disappeared. Never gazed at the vacated space regretfully for a moment, sighing. She turned back to her writing…


----------

And back to Ch 8 Pt II...


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 Post subject: Re: Changes
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Ch 8, Part II


" You couldn't have known. I didn't." Tara's hand alit on Willow's shoulder, warm and sympathetic. Willow turned aside and the hand fell away. She'd failed. She'd tried to protect the one best thing in her life and she just made it worse.

"One of these days, you might consider talking to the person who's been around for a millennium." Anya stabbed the suture needle back into Buffy's hand with an indignant huff.

Another silence fell, but this one was heavy with thoughts that did not bear speaking. Willow hugged her arms to herself and wandered aimlessly over to the bookcase, mechanically replacing the items that had fallen.

She would be better off without me. First I can't keep my hands off her, then I set her up in a magic pressure cooker and proudly prance away without even checking if it was right. Everything I find out just makes her miserable and I sent over someone who assaulted her and-and I can't even figure out where this stupid book is supposed to go! Why can't I fix this?!

"Will-" Tara had squatted down to where Willow was trying to shove a book in a space where it stubbornly refused to fit.

Willow turned blurry eyes to her girlfriend. She looked at the book she held, Tara's hand hesitantly reaching to cover hers. Her throat caught, "I made it all crumply."

I sound like such a little kid. Why can't I be strong enough for her? She needs me and I just keep messing up and she keeps being the grown-up one and taking care of me and-

"Shh." Tara interrupted the mental tirade. She didn't even acknowledge the book, just guided Willow's hand to replace it on the floor. Still kneeling, she hugged Willow's head to her chest- her steady heartbeat working its magic as Willow fought a losing battle against her frustrated tears.

I can't even do this without- The field may have been a fraction of what it was, but it was still there. Even as Tara's closeness gave her security, the familiar scent of her reaching to coax forth calm from the depths of Willow's soul… Willow could feel the ache starting again. Comfort in those arms- a different comfort than she was being blessed with now- was insinuating its way into her mind as her body reminded her of memories too deep for description.

"Damn but I do good work." Anya's satisfied declaration broke through the trance and Willow very deliberately detached herself from Tara. Their eyes met and Willow saw a pained understanding there before she stood to see what needed to be done next.

"Do you know why she collapsed like that?" Willow did a quick visual scan of Buffy, but saw nothing more than the patch Anya had tapped over Buffy's left hand. Clinical evaluation of the situation provided the distance needed to disengage her feelings. Too many emotions prevented progress. They would return, but hopefully not until Willow had better control of the situation.

"I've heard of people passing out from an orgasm, but for this long?" Anya beamed Tara a look of unadulterated admiration.

There will come a day when I kill you in your sleep. Willow gritted her teeth. So much for emotional detachment. Dammit.

"There was n-no... it wasn't like that." Tara's voice carried an uncharacteristic degree of discomfort. As private as Tara was, Willow had always been flabbergasted by the honest sincerity with which her girlfriend could answer Anya's outrageous questions, all without batting an eye. Though she tended to be discrete in her carefully worded answers, she never evaded.

True, Tara had her own inner minx, but it manifest in subtle teasing and deceptively innocent innuendo. It was almost inconceivable that someone as crass as Anya wouldn't run roughshod over such a reserved demeanor, but some by some bizarre turn, if Willow had to list who Tara was comfortable conversing with, Anya would come second only to herself. She could ascribe it all to Tara's apparently infinite patience but for the fact that Tara genuinely appreciated the ex-demon's company. It was deeply wrong in a hybrid SUV, New Coke, Limbaugh for Governor kind of way.

Willow asked with her eyes for anything else that Tara could recall, not trusting her words. Even that seemed too much, for Tara curled in on herself even as she answered.

"I-I felt it reach into her. It was burning through me, but when it t-touched her, I could feel it consuming what it found. I don't know- it- I-" Tara had her eyes closed, as if shutting out the memory. "I don't know how to say it any other way."

"The question is, what was it that was being taken? If we can figure that out, we should be able to replace it somehow." Willow chewed on her lip. If she couldn't figure out something mystical, Buffy would end up in the hospital while they looked for something physical. "Can you think of any diagnostic-y type spells?"

Tara pondered for a moment, eyes moving as if reading something inside her head. She kneeled by her shelf and pulled out a pair of books that Willow recognized as having been borrowed from the Magic Box. The blonde flipped through one, obviously searching for something specific, then set it aside and started on the second in a much more careful manner.

"There was- I saw something the other night. If I can just find it again…"

"You were all 'magic study-girl' for weeks." Willow remembered all the late nights, assuming that Tara had just gotten really enthusiastic about their spell work together. She'd assumed it was companionable rivalry- a desire to push Willow the same way Willow tended to encourage her- but that wasn't how Tara worked. "And stupid me didn't even notice you were worried."

"Will. I didn't want you to notice. I hid everything I could from you." Tara looked up, quieting Willow's words but not her mind.

Willow trailed her fingers along Tara's shoulder, feeling the electric tingle swirl up through that contact. "I guess we were both dummies then."

She took the first book and started paging through it. Why did spell names have to be so evasive? Why not Spell for Strength, Spell for Detecting Demons, Spell for Stubborn Stain Removal? Did they think that fancy names made the magic work better? Or maybe it was like academia, with everyone trying to make their work sound more profound than it really was?

Hold on, this might be useful… later.

The sudden sound of a slap made Willow jump.

"Hey! Wake up!" Anya had decided to try smacking Buffy. She sat back, disappointed at the lack of reaction. Willow still couldn't find it in herself to object to the treatment. "Huh. That always works in the movies."

"Here. This- this should work." It was the first sign of animation in Tara since they had entered the room. She stood, placing the open book on her desk so both witches could look it over.

"It calls on Ayala," Willow noted dully.

"It does," Tara confirmed with equal lack of enthusiasm. It was remarkable how context shifted their perception of things.

"Ooo- those can be real panty soakers." Anya fairly bounced on the bed. "I'll do it!"

"You know- someone had a theory about how the thing that separates humans from animals is their ability to understand when something that feels good is a bad thing." Willow cast a scathing glance over her shoulder. It was not unnoticed, but definitely unheeded.

"It's single caster." Tara let out a relieved sigh. "And the seer has to be someone other than the one casting."

"Do you still have any yarrow, or did the ward need it all?" Willow scanned the short component list. Tara started to collect what they needed and it was only a few minutes before she was mixing them in her little mortar bowl. Willow practiced the incantation silently, making sure she had the cadence down.

There was brief discussion over who would take which role. Willow wanted to use it on Tara, who had most experience with interpreting auras. Tara pointed out that the spell might only work on humans and they only had enough powder for one try. She related how she had tried to cast earlier but couldn't access her magic properly, though she did not elaborate on the details. She reassured Willow it was just something she needed to adjust to- she could feel it there, it was just using her power for anything invocational that was being problematic.

Anya had pouted mightily when Willow refused to let her cast. After the debacle in high school, though, there was no way in hell that Willow was letting any spell of Anya's touch her. When Tara pointed out that the anticipated side effects of the spell were unlikely without joint casting, the ex-demon had been moderately mollified.

Willow's incantation went off without hitch, the dust sparkling in Anya's eyes like miniature disco balls. She gave the redheaded witch a puzzled look before turning her attention toward Buffy. Willow didn't have time to worry about it as she was assaulted by abrupt sensation of a knitting needle being driven through her head. Tara was by her side instantly, her steady support being the only thing that kept Willow from dropping to the ground. Willow found herself guided to the one chair in the room.

It was a simple spell. She'd done half a dozen more powerful ones just in the past week without so much as a twinge. Yet Tara was pressing a Kleenex to her face now and Willow was dismayed to find it bloody.

"What happened?" Tara's concern was plain.

"She's tapped out." Anya's voice was cross and sent a whole new wave of misery echoing in Willow's skull. "I saw it before I took a look at Buffy."

"Can't be." Willow gritted her teeth against the pain, trying to force it out by sheer willpower. "Haven't cast in days."

"No. You are. That's why you dropped the spell so fast- you used everything you had to start it and trying to keep it up fried you."

"What about Buffy?" Willow needed to concentrate on something other than herself. The only good news here was that immediate pain generally didn't last- it was the slowly building backlash that tended to linger for days.

"Well, you know how those fighting games Xander likes have the little bars across the top? Well, Buffy's has about this much green left in it." Anya showed about a half inch between her fingers. "I didn't get to see much more than that in the half second you gave me, but she's got less vitality left in her than most invalids despite having nothing physically wrong. You must have just sucked the life right out of her."

"I… sucked out her life?" Tara whispered dismally.

"Well, she's alive. Without a reason not to, living things rejuvenate their own life force pretty well." It was a reasonable bet that Anya was trying to be helpful.

"Can't I give it back?"

"I doubt it. You probably are doing some mystical digestive thing to it- it would be like trying to give back your lunch. It works on baby birds, but I don't know if puked energy would do her any good."

Willow wanted to step in, to protect Tara from the vagaries of Anya's particular way of describing things. Her melting brain wouldn't let her formulate the words though, and the light stabbed her eyes when she tried to glare.

"So… we just wait?"

"I guess." Anya poked Buffy again. "Carrying her out of here would cause a fuss, but there might be something in Giles' big unsellable library that could help. Willow and I can head back-"

"I'm not leaving the two of them alone in here." Willow ground out.

"-or, I could go back all by myself and we could all work on your behalf while you hang out here."

"I don't think Willow's up for more than ice packs right now." Tara's hand was rubbing little circles on Willow's shoulder.

"True." Anya conceded. She zipped up the first aid duffle and pulled the strap over her shoulder. "Do you want the tranq gun? Just in case things get hot in here again?"

Tara shook her head. Willow didn't protest her decision. From the sound of things, Buffy wasn't going to be in any shape to cause problems, even after she woke.

Anya shrugged and tucked the rifle under her free arm. She looked ready to leave, but then her eyes fell on something that stopped her in her tracks.

"Hey!"

Willow felt Tara's hand pause, bracing for whatever had newly incensed the ex-demon. Anya had a brightly wrapped box in her hand and stalked forward, shaking it for emphasis.

"You never opened my present!"

Tara winced and Willow found that copious pain did not inhibit her blush reflex. Anya's present had been tastefully removed from the pile that had accumulated the night of Tara's birthday. Willow had taken it to add to the general birthday pile, only to find the large-ish box was buzzing in her hands. After seeing who it was from, she had drawn Tara aside and advised her in no uncertain terms regarding the potential nature of that present's contents. When Anya had asked about where it had gone Tara demurred that she was going to open it in private, a response that had placated Anya at the time. Since then there had been too much happening to even think about exploring the contents of that box.

Now, after the shaking Anya had given it, the box was plainly vibrating again. There was some sort of muffled sound coming from it as well.

"There hasn't been time…?" Tara tried.

"Your birthday was two days ago!"

"I can't believe you'd have the gall to give-" If placating her didn't work, Willow reasoned, perhaps scolding would?

"But it's a gift that keeps on giving!" Anya protested, trying to win with volume what she couldn't with logic. "The TV people say that's the best kind!"

"We both know what's in there, Anya." Willow tried her best withering glare, but it was like hitting a beanbag chair with a sledge hammer; it may have made an impression, but had no lasting effect.

"Then what's the big deal? It's just a toy!"

"Anya. Thank you. I appreciate it. It's just been crazy since then." Tara reached out and accepted the now quiescent box. Willow just closed her eyes, propped her head in her hands, and sighed, wishing she had her girlfriend's apparently infinite store of patience. Tara would open the present, say something gracious, then they could put it aside and never speak of it again. That sounded like a fair plan. With the sound of carefully torn wrapping paper, Willow shredded a hole in her own reasoning. Anya would ask about it. Probably loudly. In front of people.

"It's so cute!" Tara sounded genuinely pleased.

Cute?

Willow opened her eyes, expecting a train wreck of mortified girlfriend and gleeful ex-demon. She blinked, but the picture remained unchanged. When her brain finally started working again, it was with profound relief.

This… makes a bizarre sort of sense.

"Tickle Me Elmo?" Willow had seen the ads, read about them over the last Christmas shopping season, but never laid eyes on the genuine article.

"Why? What did you think it was?"

"Well… a… um… you know…" Willow looked to Tara for escape, but understanding dawned over Anya's face. She smirked at Willow indulgently.

"Of course not. That's what you're for."

By way of distraction Tara poked the red furry belly, the stuffed toy vibrating, wiggling, and making a string of grating giggles in response. She favored Willow with a half-grin that held more than a little humor.

"These babies are so rare now, you'd have to sell your mother to get one. Not that you would, of course, but some people. The investment potential as a collectable is incredible." Anya expounded.

"So it should stay in its box-thingy?" Tara feigned a pout.

"Well, yes. I didn't really think you'd want to play with it. They're kind of irritating."

"This was really thoughtful." Tara would normally have given Anya a hug at this point, but in deference to the situation they were all in, subsisted with a touch to the shoulder and a grateful look. It was more than enough for Anya, who beamed back.

"Now, I have a request."

Please, Anya, quit while you're ahead… Someday, Willow promised herself, she would figure out a spell for telepathy, just for these situations.

"Can I borrow your hairbrush?"

Willow tried to figure out just how that non sequitur had found its way in to the conversation. Usually Anya was easy to figure out; sex, money, ideally both, or sometimes some memory from the demon days.

"Of course." Tara set down the Elmo carefully and passed over the requested item with a curious look.

"Succubus hair is incredibly hard to get." Anya carefully extracted the hair from the brush, dropping it into a clear plastic baggie from her pocket as she explained. "We only get it on special orders because it's too expensive to stock."

Now you're going to use Tara as a source of spell components? Thankfully Tara only looked bemused as the brush was returned, forestalling any objection Willow might have.

"Because we are friends and I know you won't ask, I'll make sure Giles gives you a percentage of the profits." Anya added benevolently, pocketing the bag.

"Anya… who would you usually order from?" As Tara asked, Willow realized where she was going with the question. Brilliant, Baby. This may be what we need.

"A hairdresser in Napa. It'll be nice not to have to deal with her."

"Is there a way I could… contact her?"

"I can't believe I didn't think of that. If she's getting the hair from another succubus, she can put you two in touch… I've got a phone number." Anya's eyes narrowed as she considered the idea. "She won't give up her source easily, but if she thinks you're going to into business too…"

"Which I'm not." Tara interjected firmly.

"But she doesn't know that. I can leverage the possibility against her if she won't cooperate." Anya wore a wolfish grin that she had surely perfected in her vengeance days. "I'll have an answer by tomorrow."

With that she wasted no more time in heading out the door. Anya was on a mission- it made Willow feel a twinge of sympathy for that hairdresser.

"Need another Kleenex?" Tara offered the box. Willow checked the sodden mass in her hand and took a fresh batch.

"It's strange to say this in a room with Buffy down for the count and me bleeding out the nose… but things are looking up." Willow offered as Tara sat on a corner of the bed. She watched her girlfriend consider the idea. With a chagrined but hopeful little smile Tara conceded,

"They are, aren't they."


................


Preview Ch 9-
Next time on Changes! Peas, evolution, human sacrifice! Spark plugs, yet another use for the tail, brain freeze… and curling. Next week-ish on KB chat!


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 Post subject: Re: Changes
PostPosted: Sat Jan 30, 2010 3:22 pm 
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Ch 10

Notes: A bit more external plot advancement here, which should be familiar. I suspect I changed the timing from night to day, but I didn't realize until too late.

Angst Level: Overall, higher than the box office returns of Avatar. Ch 10 may involve a visit to your herb garden's patch of St. John's Wort.

"Hey." Willow dropped her books to the table with a weighty thump. The Magic Box wasn't really where she wanted to be, but it did have the best materials for her research. Xander looked up from his musty tome.

"I'd say 'hey is for horses' and work from there, but I think you wouldn't take that well."

"There's a lot of things I'm not taking well recently." Willow looked around the shop. Even this early, Friday evening was always a bustling gaggle of people. There were distinct delineations of when the serious shoppers came versus when the Magic Box could divest itself of overpriced ceramic dragons with iridescent paint. Right now it was definitely dragons. Anya was having a field day, while Giles couldn't hide his dismay as he tried to put profit over principles. Willow's eyes wandered toward the back room. "Is Buffy doing OK?"

"Ahn said she woke up around noon, complained a lot, and got Riley to drive her to the hospital." Xander leaned over the table, hands clasped in front of him, "Her mom, y'know… Dawn's been there since school let out yesterday and it sounds like Riley's been watching out for her while Buffy was TKO."

Willow stared down at her books, wishing that sympathy was all she felt for her friend.

Some unknown blonde demon lady in heels stomps her, but there's no record of such a creature. There's some kind of energy construct with world-ending implications out there and we don't even know what it looks like. Buffy's mother is having unexplained health stuff and from the sound of it, she's not just getting menopausal migraines. She needs our help.

"How's Tara doing?" Xander's tone was dead serious.

And therein lies the rub.

What do they mean by 'rub' anyway? Not massage, I guess. Maybe like rubbing you nose in something? Or was it like the saying about rolling stones and moss- something that had reversed its meaning over time… and I'm getting off track.

"I'm not sure." Willow let out a sigh she hadn't realized she was holding in. "She's not telling and I'm not getting a clear signal. She's so messed up over what's happening to her that she's taking everything as some kind of proof that she should feel guilty. But then she's so calm and Tara-y and… "

"Putting on a brave face? You'd think we could recognize that kind of thing by now." Xander grinned, "And respond traditionally; by ignoring it and pretending everything is OK."

He was trying to be clever or funny, or some combination of the two, but Willow couldn't find it in herself to play along. "Did Anya say anything about her contact?"

"I haven't gotten a word in between customers. She knows I will still be here when she's done, but a potential sale waits for no one." He seemed unperturbed by his placement in Anya's scheme of things. "Will… about Buffy..."

"I don't know what to feel about that." Willow shook her lowered head, balancing her weight on her hands without sitting. "And until I do, she needs all of us to be here for her. So… I am?"

"No passive-aggressive Willow intending to sneak in there?"

"No. Confused Willow and really, really frustrated at not being able to do anything Willow are keeping her at bay." She raised her head and gave him a rueful grin. "You know, this is probably the first time that I'd take a demon attack over real life."

"They're both real life. Especially when they are trying to make your 'real life' into 'real short' life."

"You know what I mean."

"Well, yeah. And we do have a mystery demon to worry about, but there's so much happening that it's like an afterthought."

"At least the demons we can usually do something about. We find demon, Buffy kills demon, we make s'mores with peanut butter and wait for the next one. There's some life drama, yes, but not all at once." Willow finally let herself fall to her seat. "We're having to fight on all fronts at once- bad battle strategy; didn't work for Custer as I recall."

"I hope that's a segue into your brilliant plan." Xander's wry grin belied no particular optimism for his words.

"Sorry. I'm stuck on that one." Willow looked down at her books. There was studying to do, but what was the point of Python? It wouldn't give her the codes to unlock what Tara was thinking. She couldn't write a command and make everything work out right. If only the My Will Be Done spell were a little better controlled… but it wasn't. There was enormous inherent instability to the design, which was probably why the spell wasn't being used willy-nilly by every witch and wizard in the world. Besides, everything you'd changed reverted when the spell ended. All you had were a couple hours of random weirdness and a bunch of very justifiably pissed off friends to show for it.

The dragon statue buying crowd had thinned to a few browsers as they spoke. Xander squeezed Willow's shoulder gently in a simple gesture to say he was there for her, before going to get one of the beastly compendiums for another night of demon searching. There were multiple fronts to be covered, so it was a fair distribution of labor. Giles and Xander helping Buffy, Willow helping Tara- who was no slouch herself. And then there was Anya, who would do whatever she pleased.

Willow had come to the conclusion that Anya identified with Tara's situation, if only in reverse. She didn't know just how Anya had managed right after being reverted to humanity. Somehow she doubted that there was a Vengeance Demon retirement plan. They did have a pretty business-like organization, though… maybe they did? Or a severance bonus, to get Anya started? Willow mused about it for a moment before returning to the task at hand.

Several hours and several books later she had made no progress and Xander was making his "I'm about to gripe" face. Giles was helping the last few customers while Anya ran through the receipts of the day. Written receipts were one of those rare subjects that put both Anya and Willow in agreement; they were slow and inefficient. Unfortunately, that was what Giles was most comfortable with and he was the boss.

"Hey. Hey! HEY!"

Ouch… there was the piercing sound of an upset Anya. And so soon after the birthday present incident- Willow's ears hadn't quite recovered yet. She decided that this time she could just tune it out- the ex-demon's wrath was clearly pointed at Giles. He probably forgot to add sales tax on something expensive again. That always got her in a tizzy. She looked back down at her text. The same information kept being repeated- different words, different sources, different languages… but basically the same stuff. She'd found a personal protective charm that should work against the Field O'… hm. Tara didn't like that name. Aura of Allure? Atmosphere of Attraction? Sphere of Seduction? Territory of Temptation?

"Wills. WILL." Xander broke through her meandering thoughts. She looked up to see Giles polishing his glasses with an air of abashed tension under Anya's indignant stare. "Did you hear any of that?"

"The brain was kinda busy…" Willow caught Xander's distress and immediately regretted her flippancy. "What happened?"

"Well, it turns out Mr. Conscientious here sold off some major dark magic doohickeys and we are going to have another demon on our hands real soon."

"I don't see how. I mean, the-the Sobekian transmogrification spells were lost thousands of years ago and I hardly think the young woman I sold them to could possibly have the enormous degree of power necessary to-" He stopped suddenly.

"Young woman… enormous power?" Willow started to make the connection. "She wasn't blonde, by chance?"

"Oh dear." Giles had reached the same conclusion.

There was an uncomfortable silence, punctuated only by Anya's annoyed paper shuffling.

"So… what do we tell Buffy?" Xander ventured.

"We don't. She… there's only so much one person can take, Xander." Willow looked down at the protection charm she'd been hoping to put together. It would have to wait. The priorities had just shifted. A charm that kept them from being influenced by the Eminence of Enticement wouldn't be necessary for another day or two. If Big Bad Blondie was summoning another demon, there was potential world-ending to be averted.

"Agreed." The look Giles gave Willow was guarded, but also grateful. "After what's been done to her- what's happened to Joyce…"

What's been done to her… and what she did. Forgetting that part? Willow bit back the response. "Is she coming back here tonight?"

"After visiting hours are over, I think. 8 or 9?"

"Then it's time to get busy." Willow stood. "The faster we figure this out, the faster we take care of it- at which point not telling Buffy becomes a non-issue."

"Quite." Giles headed for the stacks.

"Let me just check in with Tara." Willow caught how Giles' face darkened, but he didn't say anything so she headed toward the shop phone.

"No non-business calls during business hours." Anya headed her off. "It's policy."

"It'll take two minutes." Willow fixed Anya with a withering glare. The ex-demon shrugged it off and went back to her papers.

"I have to tell you, that's all. Giles can enforce it. I'm just an employee, with no vested interest in high value phone orders that might be missed."

Willow hesitated as she picked up the receiver. "Did you get through to the succubus in Napa?"

"No as such. The salon lady pulled this confidentiality nonsense and said she'd pass on our contact information to her client, but she wouldn't give me anything." There was genuine regret behind Anya's veil of exasperation.

"So we just cross our fingers and wait?" Another dead end. This night was just getting better and better. Willow picked up the phone and dialed.

Tara picked up after the first ring and they spent the next ten minutes in quiet conversation. Comfort was all that Willow had to offer- she didn't want Tara to get her hopes up about the charm until she was sure it would work. Tara had immediately asked to help on the new demon issue but Willow insisted that she stay at the dorm and work from the laptop. It was already getting dark and without the Slayer patrolling it was just too dangerous to have her walk. She wouldn't be as efficient online as Willow herself, but the best links were already bookmarked. After a trading a few more words of endearment Willow slid the receiver back in place.

It was going to be a long night.


*******

It was after eleven in the morning by the time Tara made her way to the Magic Box. She doubted she'd been up as late as the Scoobies had, but it was still late enough that waking at ten still felt early. Hopefully they'd had more luck than she in their search. Anya was just propping open the front door as she walked up, looking only slightly haggard. Tara gave her a little wave as she approached and earned a smile in return.

"Everyone is still here trying to make up for Giles' mistake." Anya made a nasal sound of disapproval. "I'm trying to get the feta smell out. It's a complete disaster area- I think they forget that this is a place of business."

"Well, keeping this demon away from the Key probably keeps the business from being destroyed." Tara suggested.

Anya considered it. "When you put it that way… it's still a mess. There should be some kind of separation between the shop and the research stuff."

Tara didn't know why that hadn't been attempted either, but she just smiled noncommittally as she walked in. The shop indeed smelled of Greek cheese- they must have gone to Daphne's for take-out.

"Tara." Willow met her halfway in with a tired, but still radiant smile. She relieved Tara of the laptop bag. "You just missed Buffy…"

"Did you tell her?" Tara hadn't been in favor of keeping Buffy in the dark, but hadn't felt that she could voice the opinion. Who was she to add more problems to Buffy's growing list? It just seemed dangerous to keep a demon secret… how hypocritical was she for thinking that? After keeping her own secret for so long? So she had kept her thoughts to herself.

"Yeah- the whole united front of deception broke down pretty quick; beans were spilled, kitties are no longer in their bags…" Willow swallowed, looking away, "Tara… she… her mom…"

Those words. That tone. Tara felt herself freeze inside. It wasn't just headaches. She had the urge to let her tail lash behind her, but it was far too public in the middle of the shop.

"They did a biopsy yesterday after the CT. Buffy went back as soon as she was awake- she got there while her mom was in surgery- she and Dawn were at the hospital all night."

Tara followed Willow to the back table numbly.

"Her mom has some kind of brain cancer. A glioma- which I'm going to look up, as soon as we get this demon summoning thing figured out… but it's a bad one."

Why all at once? Why now? Buffy had enough to deal with- what sick kind of world would sink its claws into her mother too?

The same kind of world where you would feed off of her, Tara. The same world that lets things like you walk free, while she executes her duty no matter what the personal cost.

"The demon- it's a cobra thing. They need a cobra, so we were pretty sure they're at the zoo."

Tara nodded silently.

"Buffy thinks she can beat this demon lady." It came out almost as a question. "Despite the big lack of success the last time and the zippo on information."

"She went… alone?" Tara tried to comprehend the reasoning. This time it was Giles who answered.

"She wanted that. She's been hit with so much that it seemed like a relief to find something she can hit back." Giles' eyes met Tara's and she was unsurprised to see the subtext there.

He thinks I'm one of those 'somethings'… if she didn't consider me a friend, there would be no question. I am a demon. She is the Slayer. I had the benefit of the doubt, but now… she's going to have to kill me if I can't get control of this thing I've become and he hates me for putting her in that position.

"She… she wanted us to find a spell to help her mom, but..." Willow's hand found Tara's.

Of course. It's the only thing I could do that might pay for what I did to her. But I can't. We can't. Tara read in her love's haunted eyes that the answer had already been given. There were spells that healed. Most were small, subtle things to ward off infection or slow bleeding. Knitting a bone, even, was possible if you had enough power. She didn't have it. Willow might, but even then it would be a stretch.

And cancer. It was already part of the body. A part that had gone awry, but the cells were the same. To try to separate them, to change them- any error and it could go horribly wrong. Willow must have thought about it already- she'd have wanted to find a way, but there were things that even she knew not to try.

"Oh, love. She had to ask."

"I know… and I think she knew what I'd tell her."

It still hurt you though, when she asked for something you couldn't give her. Tara was ashamed to realize that she was relieved that she hadn't been there for Buffy's request. When she had asked the same questions and knew just how hard the answer had hit her. Giving in to her own inability to change her mother's illness had been an agonizing process. Letting go of the fight to treasure the time that remained- it was a simple concept until it was your mother.

It's cancer- the doctors are doing surgery. They wouldn't do that if there were no chance of she'd get better. And there was chemo, radiation- new things I probably haven't even heard of. I'm acting like she's dying and we don't know that yet- this isn't Mama.

"Y'know- if she followed this cobra thingy instead of killing it, we could find out what the Key is." Xander suggested.

"Less hassle." Anya nodded. "And it's easier to protect something when you know what you're protecting, isn't it?"

"It's too dangerous. If it were to return to its master with the information we could have doomed ourselves by that negligence." Giles sipped what Tara presumed was tea from a Support Your Local Library mug, pulling a book out of his pile and shuffling a few pages. "However important it is to find the Key, it is far more important that our enemies not find it."

"I'm all for the world not ending- it would make my promotion kind of meaningless- but when your heavy hitter is getting slammed, it seems like subterfuge is the better way to go." Xander had both hands up in the universal gesture of surrender.

"Buffy made the decision and she wasn't soliciting opinions. We can only hope that she has recovered sufficiently from her encounter with Tara to prevail." Giles' words were clipped.

"That's not fair and you know it," Willow shot back.

"Yet the fact remains that what Tara did was unconscionable." Giles snapped the book he held shut and set it on the table rather harder than necessary. His eyes were devoid of their usual warmth, vitriol drilling into Tara with his increasingly pointed accusation, "You saw what was happening yet you chose to stay- and when Buffy came your way you used her as-as some kind of feeding vessel-"

"Now hold on." Willow's grip tightened on Tara's hand and her voice went from zero to harsh in the space of those three words. "Hold on one cotton-picking minute. You want to talk used? You want to talk about choice? How's this for-"

"Will." She said it quietly, but Willow paused her onslaught mid-sentence. The angry green eyes turned to Tara, compassion breaking through only so much as to wait for permission to continue. "He's right. All of it. He's right."

"Baby. No. There was nothing you could do-" Willow shifted gears instantly, knit brows rising as her tone dropped to a supportive murmur, but consolation was something Tara could no longer accept. It was time to take what was coming to her. She'd had more respite than she could have hoped for already.

"There was nothing she could do, Will… W-whether I meant to or not- it was still me that did this." Tara focused on the table in front of her, her eyes tracing the intricate pattern in the grain of the wood as her thumb duplicated its path against the hand she still held. She had chosen to stay… they had all supported her and this is how she repaid them? When it was clear she was a danger, she had still chosen to stay with some vain hope that they would solve her problems for her. Just because she didn't like the solution her kin had to offer… and Buffy had suffered for her choice.

There's an easy way to do things and a right way, Tara. You chose selfishly and regret doesn't make things right. Do you think you make this any worse- even if you tried?

"It was indeed, and until we can be sure that y-" Giles had risen from his seat now, punctuating his words with a stab of the glasses in his hand.

"Giles." Buffy's voice that rang out across the shop. All eyes turned to the open doorway where she had appeared. "No. We can't do this right now."

"Buffy. Are you all right?" Giles quickly moved to meet her.

"Mr. Slithers got away while I was getting bounced off the walls." Buffy walked in stiffly and her collection of scuffs and bruises became clearer. Despite her light words, her countenance was still tightly closed off, her bearing unapproachable even to the concern of her Watcher. "Do we know what he does yet? Cuz this chick certainly doesn't need him as muscle."

"Tracking. They, um, find things…" Willow said quietly.

Things. Things like the Key. It was unsaid but echoed in them all. Although, if she'd sent it for Prada accessories, they could go home and catch a few more hours sleep… and if wishes were fishes, we'd be up to our gills in gills.

"Tara." As if noticing her for the first time, Buffy's eyes fell on her and Tara wondered how a movement so small could carry so much weight. It rooted her in place as she waited for the lashes of well-earned wrath to strike.

"Tara, I'm sorry. I know the words can't be enough, but they're all I have right now." Buffy's voice was suddenly vulnerable. The emotional citadel, unbreachable from outside its walls, cracked from within. "I can't take away what I did…"

Tara's mind staggered. In bracing for the blow, her thoughts overbalanced and fell into disarray. In a way, anger would have been easier. To know that Buffy blamed herself… You asked what worse you could do to her, Tara. Now you know.

"Buffy, no, I saw what I did to you." Tara looked up, feeling wretched. Coming here had been a bad idea. She'd thought she should help, but had not even considered just how much it might hurt Buffy to even see her. Buffy tried to dismiss the weak words with a shake of her head, but Tara continued, "You weren't in your right mind-"

"This wasn't a love spell- I've been through that and frankly; much scarier. What you did wasn't mind control. I wish it were, but... I'm sorry." The apology was still there, but the walls had begun to rise again. The Slayer had to go on, however ravaged her emotions were. She didn't have the option to take a time out. Tara envied that sense of purpose and the resolve that backed it.

Their bleak eyes met across the ten paces between them.

Xander raised his hand, as if waiting to be called on. "Ah, guys. Does no one see the problem with this situation?" Willow and Giles both burst out indignantly, each trying to override the other,

"Heck yea. Tara is taking responsibility for something that she in no way-"

"She is responsible for-"

"Both of you. Shut it." Buffy snapped, leaning heavily against the counter. She nodded at Xander to continue.

"Well… Tara says this thing is her fault. The Buffster says it's her fault. No irreparable damage has been done… so why are we arguing? Doesn't it all cancel out? You're both just making each other feel worse while you fight over something nobody in their right mind would want."

"Amen brother!" Anya added enthusiastically. In the pause that followed she seemed to rethink, "Well, not brother, because my brother's been dead for a millennium and Xander is not him- besides which, having a relationship like ours with your brother is not socially acceptable. Who makes up these phrases anyway?"

Buffy kind of choked, then under the stunned eyes of all in attendance she broke out laughing.

Tara felt the tension rising in the hand she held. She gave it a quick squeeze that brought Willow's offended eyes to her own. A tiny shake of the head kept her girlfriend quiet.

"I hardly see how this is a laughing matter." Giles drew himself up to his full height as if it would give his words more authority.

"It's not… it's really not… but," Buffy's laughter changed pitch, falling into a sort of desperation, "what else can I do?"

"I just got my ass handed to me by a demon we can't even find in the books. I have a-a snake thing out there hunting for... the Key. Dawn- she… she doesn't even know what's going on- which I can't even begin to explain to her. And… and, my God, my mother has a cancer in her brain a-and we're sitting here fighting over who gets to feel guiltier?"

"Tara. I'm sorry. I am. But… Xander's right. I can't deal with another problem and you- what you're going through right now? Not so easy either." The laugh was turning into an almost dry sob, but no one cared to draw attention to it, "I need you guys. And Tara- you need them too. If we get fractured apart- I don't know how I can do this."

"You're not alone, Buff." Xander spoke up again. "Say the word- you know we're there for you. And I don't just mean helping with the minions of darkness."

Giles had his glasses off again. He rubbed his brow once with the hand that held them, face downturned. He gazed back at Tara, then Willow beside her. "She's right, of course. The past doesn't change simply by disputing how it occurred."

"Buffy…" Willow slid up from her seat, crossing the distance to her friend with distress spattered across bottomless sympathy. Her intent seemed to be to embrace the Slayer, but in the face of the indomitable aura that had settled back in place she settled for taking both of Buffy's hands in her own, "No one is going to pick up their toys and go home- we're all stressed. We all want things to get better, but we don't know how to do it. We can't fight what's out there… so we fight here."

"It does seem rather puerile when you put it that way." Giles sighed.

"So what's the plan, Buff?" Xander was grinning widely, "Or do we need the Afterschool Special Moment to linger a little longer?"

Buffy squared her shoulders and looked between them.

"Riley's going to bring Dawn back here- Giles can you watch her if I head by the hospital and check on Mom? Will, Tara- I know you've got other stuff going on, but could put together a locater on the snake guy? Xander- keep working the books on this blonde Beast person. I still need a weakness, a history, a motive; anything. Anya… if there's any way to help Tara, that's all you."

Having a task gave succor to Tara's troubled thoughts. If no cure for her condition could be found before she became dangerous again, then she would leave, knowing it was right. Until then she had a place and a purpose. It wasn't penance that she was performing here. She was standing with the family she had chosen, doing what small piece she was able.

Buffy strode away, limping slightly but not conceding anything further to her injuries. Tara wished her strength of a kind that had nothing to do with Slayers. The tableau broke, everyone heading for their appointed tasks.



.......... TBC


Preview Ch 10-Part II

Next time on Changes! Handouts, Bob Barker, nictitating membranes, a cowboy, serial numbers, a kidnapping, Smurfs, new pants, leprosy, a Saint Bernard, and Mapquest. And Gaelic. Probably this Saturday (today) at 8 or 9ish PST.


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 Post subject: Re: Changes
PostPosted: Sat Jan 30, 2010 3:46 pm 
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This is getting really tense! (and intense!) wow - I'm glad Xander called them all on the 'who's guiltier' fighting!

Can't wait to see what happens next!

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 Post subject: Re: Changes
PostPosted: Sat Jan 30, 2010 5:31 pm 
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Good golly, I love this!

It's fun, funny, angsty, different, sexy (in an off-beat kinda way, which I like) and very well written. Best of all I haven't had to wait weeks for updates. All around awesome.

I just wanted to say that. Thank you. :peace

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 Post subject: Re: Changes
PostPosted: Sat Jan 30, 2010 6:17 pm 
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This is wonderfully written. So emotional - Each of them battling with their own inner demons as well as the literal kind.

I love that Buffy rises above and sees things in a logical manner. Life sucks for her at the moment, but she’s doing the best she can, in the only way she knows how. I’m really keen to see a conversation between Willow and Buffy. There’s some serious tension between those 2 (for obvious reasons) and I want to see how they come to grips with what has unfolded.

Tara….aww…poor Tara. Life has pretty much thrown her for six. I love how you write her thoughts – she desperately needs help, but doesn’t want to endanger the life of her friends. It’s gong to be interesting when she needs to feed again... Will Willow offer her services? Anya?

And Anya – I think I’m loving her the most right now. She’s just great, isn’t she?! Blatantly obvious, but mixed with comic relief. Genius!

For your own type of improve writing, this is extremely well thought out and flows effortlessly from chapter to chapter. I take my hat off to you for such a well balanced story so far.


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PostPosted: Sun Jan 31, 2010 1:23 am 
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Yay for great update-y goodness... Big yay for Xander for calling out the "who's guiltier"... I truly hope that the other succubus soon calls Anya so they can begin controlling Tara's succubus powers...

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PostPosted: Sun Jan 31, 2010 6:03 am 
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Okay, angry at Giles right now - how can he blame Tara? It's not like Tara wanted it to happen... :angry

But Yay! for Xander's insight~ I just hope everything will be okay soon... :pray

Patiently waiting for update... :kitty

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 Post subject: Re: Changes
PostPosted: Sun Jan 31, 2010 9:37 pm 
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Interesting story so far. I like it.
Looking forward to reading more.


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 Post subject: Re: Changes
PostPosted: Mon Feb 01, 2010 1:56 am 
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Great writing.


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 Post subject: Re: Changes
PostPosted: Mon Feb 01, 2010 10:39 am 
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Someone needs to freaking :smash Giles. He's being an ass, and I don't like him normally. Otherwise, though, this is great! I love the angst, and Buffy is wicked cool. She's very accurate, with the stress and internalizing. Can't wait to see what's going to happen, and how you're going to fit... Smurfs... in this fic.

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 Post subject: Re: Changes
PostPosted: Mon Feb 01, 2010 1:01 pm 
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Hey everyone!

So we're finally all moved over to the new thread... *sigh of relief* Not as bad as moving furniture, but more of a task than I'd anticipated.

I'm happy to see all the new readers here- welcome! Thanks so much for joining us and even more so for adding your two cents on my little project.


Lotsa Replies:

Cynthia- Think of Giles' reaction in terms of a parent. Does it matter if the person who hurt your kid didn't mean it? Well, yes, but you're still going to be pretty upset and very intent on avoiding any repeat of the situation that led to it. If it were a one time event he might be somewhat less judgmental, but since there is no solution yet at hand... and then there is the issue of Buffy's duty to protect the innocents of the world against vamp/demon-kind. After how killing Angel affected her, Giles has a very good idea of just how hard it would be for Buffy to do anything like that again.


Zampsa- Xander has his moments. It seemed to me that he was very willing to brush aside bad/stupid things he himself had done (I could not believe how much he's done that got no more mention than "bad Xander- ok, lets go have lunch"). Add to that an "it all cancels out" perspective and the whole thing really would look kind of silly to him. Just because something bad happened, according to this Xander, there shouldn't be blame... not unless there was intention to harm- then he would be slinging stones along with everyone else.


inspiron- I have to ask: does your handle have any relationship to the processor? I get terribly curious about how people choose their names...

You are too kind... but my ego is purring happily right now after feasting on your specific feedback. This story really is all about the internal aspect of the situation. The story will move around physical events, but it is the reactions that the characters have internally that mold their responses, so I like to take the time to go through that. I'm not sure how I could show the degree of Tara's internal turmoil without laying it out this way... I don't have that skill yet. ^_^ Someday…

Tara needed help before all this started- I may have dropped the idea of physical abuse out of my story, but however true the underlying "you are a demon" part is, Tara's father has done some pretty intense damage that she's going to be living with for a long, long time. Warping a person's perspective of themselves isn't easy to undo- the mental filter that their experiences go through will tend to reinforce their beliefs, while opposing ones will be discarded as inaccurate, irrelevant, or meaningless in the face of all the other 'evidence'. It's been interesting to use that POV, then have to do a 360 when I write Willow, who tends to idealize Tara (not that anyone on this board does that… nah) and has a different, though related, set of issues about inadequacy.

Willow and Buffy… that's not going to just evaporate into the ether (that would be too easy- heh). It's been subsumed for now, superficially forgiven but in no way forgotten.

I need to find a new way to refer to my writing rules… it's not improv and shouldn't be put in that category. Maybe "Push Writing" would work- since it's about pushing to write in blocks, without pulling back to revise. Does that make sense? Semantics, I know, but important to me and my obsessive tendency to think of things I do in relationship to others.


Psy- Sadly, you're going to be stuck with more-or-less weekly updates now. I too love to read things once there are big ol' chunks available…

Writing this fic is actually pushing my own tolerance levels with regard to racy material… yes, I am a prude. I really am. Believe me? Please? Anyway, I try to keep the tone from being non-stop dark and dismal. First reason; it's something I liked in BtVS and I enjoy in other people's fics. Second; because of desensitization. Diet Coke is pretty sweet, but if you sip it after a glass of apple juice, it's bland. Non-stop angst gets old (at least, in my hands), unless periodically refreshed by brighter moments.


leonhart- I have had too many experiences of conversations that were like that one (abstractly- not literally, thank goodness)- with both parties asserting their own view and being unwilling to part with it. They just go around in circles… which is no fun to write or read. ^_^ So, in a way, Xander's move was a copout on my part.

I'm enjoying Ripples, by the way. Not quite done yet…


love_2003- First, let me say that I love your signature line. It holds true altogether too much in my life. I'm glad you're enjoying and I hope I can keep you interested.


SJ- As always, thank you for reading.


AmberGoddess- Giles reaction made sense to me- Tara's internalization of what he said rather magnifies the words he uses and it is her unwillingness to defend herself, either verbally or in her own mind, that makes the whole thing that much more cruel. Feel free to imagine smacking him upside the head though, if you find it therapeutic.

Re: Smurfs- You may have noticed, but my mind works in strange ways… which is what prompted the previews. It makes for fun speculation. ^_^ What, me, tease?

----
I should have the next bit posted this evening.

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 Post subject: Re: Changes
PostPosted: Mon Feb 01, 2010 10:20 pm 
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Ch 10 continued


Angst Level: Overall, higher than a pharmaceutical company's advertising budget. Ch 10 Pt II is pretty tame.


"I can't believe we were out of burbur roots. The records show a shipment less than a month ago and it doesn't sell that quickly." Anya grumbled. Tara noted silently that she had not once complained about their looting the shop supplies for their spell. Tacit support, coming from Anya.

"I think we'll be OK with the substitution." Willow was quirking an eyebrow at Tara for confirmation. She nodded back. The reformulated herbal mix had taken longer to prepare than anyone was comfortable with, but the location spell was looking like the only hope. Whatever this snake was doing, it was managing to do without attracting attention. Evening was creeping in and there was little chance of finding it in the dark.

Dawn looked on with interest as the two witches spread their map on the main table. Buffy had returned not long before, a pile of "Patient Information" handouts in her hands. She'd also brought the news that her mother was scheduled for surgery on Monday morning. No one knew how to respond- there were too many risks to be happy, but surgery offered the one best hope for Mrs. Summers' survival. They had settled on quiet acceptance.

"Ready?" Willow's eyes were bright, eager. A stymied Willow was never a happy Willow- having a way to help Buffy was doing her spirit a world of good. Tara set the pointer stone down and reached out, taking her love's hand. They looked to Buffy, who nodded for them to begin.

Locating a specific demon was actually harder than a generalized detection. They didn't have anything physical to link to it, so the spell had to be structured around a concept. It called for continued effort as the concept found its closest match, rather than a single, defined incantation. Tara began to chant, Willow's matching words resonating within her as they called the spell in to being.

It wasn't difficult, nor a particularly draining spell, but between Willow's reaction to her last casting and Tara's difficulties with her own, it had seemed the safest option was to do it together. She had feared briefly that she would be blocked from using her magic again, but the slow burn within her parted readily, swirling into the frame their ritual had structured.

"It's moving." Dawn pointed out. Tara squeezed Willow's fingers and they continued the chant, feeding the spell in a slow, steady stream by silent consensus. "Isn't that…"

"It's HERE!" Buffy spun even as the front window exploded inward.

Tara's eyes snapped open and she felt Willow's do the same before the connection of their magic retreated, chant ceasing mid-syllable. Dropping the spell had left a momentary haze in her perception and before she knew it there was a hooded snake with a head the size of a Saint Bernard reared across the table from them. The scales were smooth and dry, dull brown in the light of the shop. Its tongue flicked once, nearly touching Dawn as nictitating membranes slid across its shiny black eyes in an alien blink.

Breaking her paralysis Dawn screamed, trying to backpedal but half falling as her hip hit the table. Tara could feel Willow drawing power for another spell and offered her own through their still-linked hands in support. There wouldn't be enough time before the snake could strike- where was Buffy?

Without further warning the snake bent back on itself, retreating across the shop with its coils schuffing against the floor in a sound that Tara was sure would haunt her dreams.

" An rud a nitear sa chuil, thig e dh'ionnsaigh an teine- Na Gluais!!" The creature was almost back out the window as Willow loosed her spell, rocking Tara with the sudden release of power. The burn inside seemed to grasp covetously as it left her, adding its oppressive heat to the wake of fatigue that followed.

The demon's final coil stuck fast at the edge of the window, the snake writhing as it tried to free itself. There were screams outside, the blare of car horns. Tara finally saw Buffy struggling out from under a display shelf- the snake must have bowled it over on top of her, the combined weight of creature and furniture pinning her to the floor.

Another yank and the snake was free, tearing out a piece of the window frame as it sped out into the night.

"Giles! Drive!" Buffy was on her feet and headed for the window. Giles was already headed out the door, keys in hand. The screech of tires followed.

The sounds of commotion continued outside, but there was a sudden stillness in the shop. Dawn was braced backward against the table, well on her way to hyperventilating. Anya peeked out from behind the counter, her face ashen as her eyes sought out Xander. The young man slowly lowered a stone statue he had apparently been intending to throw, his eyes wide.

"Dawnie-" Willow was first to reach out to her, but it was Tara who found herself with the quaking teen in her arms. Willow's eyes showed her hurt at this simple choice, which Tara could only acknowledge with a sympathetic look before concentrating on her charge.

"It's OK. We've got you, sweetie." She murmured into the dark hair, rubbing the girl's back in slow circles. Dawn had curled with her head again Tara's shoulder, her hand gripping the witch's sweater as if it were her only hold on reality. Willow's hand on Dawn's shoulder, the other reaching around Tara, completed their ring of support.

"Did that really just happen? I know the Screech of Dawnster is a force to be reckoned with, but…" Xander fingered the figurine in his hands, looking back and forth between the shattered window and where the snake had turned away as if expecting the answer to appear. Anya had shakily made her way to his side and was clinging to his arm in a sort of stunned silence.

"Why did it come here?" Dawn pulled away, as if suddenly embarrassed by her own reaction. Tara felt as much as saw the shift as Dawn's fear was shuffled away behind a mask of vehement functionality. It was something that the Scoobies did so often, but she wished she could tell the teen that it was alright to be scared; she didn't have to join the fight yet because they would protect her. It would have been patronizing though, and only push the girl further toward a need to prove herself.

Look around you, Dawnie. Everyone is finding their security in each other, be it in a touch or a look. You don't have to stand alone to be strong. She pulled Willow a little closer at the thought. "How are you holding up?"

"Still in Shock-ville, with a side trip to Oh-My-God-ington. What was that all about?" Willow's eyes met Tara's in frustrated confusion.

"Maybe it was looking for Buffy?" Tara tried to think of a plausible explanation. They'd been sure it was tracking something and all assumed it was the Key. Maybe that wasn't something it was capable of. After all, the Key wouldn't be obvious. It could be anything. Finding the 'hideout' of her most likely nemesis could well be the demon lady's next priority… but that didn't quite fit either.

"It ran right over her- literally- and if it were going to attack Dawn, I couldn't have gotten the spell off in time." Willow had on her thinking face, the brain gears whirring almost visibly behind her eyes. "It wanted Dawn specifically. Or something Dawn has."

"Leverage against Buffy?" Xander suggested.

"Why? Buffy's the one getting beat up. This she-beast hasn't exactly been threatened by her." Dawn crossed her arms, shifting uncomfortably. "Plus- the lack of kidnapping. As many times as that has happened, I know what that feels like."

Oh yes. It seemed like the favorite way to incite the Slayer was capturing her sister. Tara had been told about Faith holding her hostage for the Mayor and she had been there herself when a band of Jitera had captured the girl that past summer. If pressed, she might have been able to recall another half dozen such stories. It was like a Sunnydale tradition to established your evil street cred by capturing the youngest Summers.

"Is there anything you're carrying? Something that you didn't have six months ago?"

"New pants for school this year. Cute shoes- DSW sale last month. Ummm…" Dawn started checking her pockets. "Note from Jill. A buck fifty?"

"Somehow I doubt a bunch of monks made the Key into fashion, but the money idea would have been clever." Willow raised her eyebrows, considering the plausibility. "Note down the serial number, put it in circulation. Nobody would ever find it among the millions out there, but eventually the monk-people could track it down by the number. Clever…" She caught Tara's bemused expression, "but unlikely."

"A bunch of ascetic monks would have as little respect for money as for cute shoes- originality is seldom a hallmark of religion." Anya wasn't buying it either.

"Then what? No key-like-thingy. No funky amulets. Earring?" Xander suggested.

"Had'm since forever." Dawn rolled her eyes.

"So we have to assume it was Dawn she was after." Willow shrugged, then froze mid-motion. She looked apologetically at the nonplussed teen.

"I know, I know. My job is to be the accessory to my sister." Dawn snarled at no one in particular.

It was true all too often, but the same could be said for any of them. The Slayer was the focal point of their defense of the Hellmouth; both the biggest target and the biggest weapon. Willow, Xander, Giles- they'd all been used the same way. Tara assumed her own turn would be up any day now, a fact that should have disturbed her more than it did. This was just part of the life and the others made it sound so routine that it was hard to credit that they had ever been in danger.

They had, though. Even now they were brushing away the shock of the snake demon's assault and setting up to fight it. They had seen this and more, and however meek they might be to each other, every one of them had killed. Except Dawn and Tara herself. Even if it was unavoidable, even if it was unredeemable evil that was being destroyed, it was still a life being extinguished. Tara wasn't sure that she'd hold up in the face of that. Her reaction to threat was to run, or at best, defend. She didn't turn around and hunt the creatures that threatened her. Was that cowardice? She didn't want to think it was.

That was a piece of what disturbed her as she watched Dawn trying to join the circle of hunters. She would be leaving Tara behind, the lone figure in the background. Not entirely alone- there was Anya. Anya made no bones about defending what she termed her "tenuous hold on mortality". But their group was a small one. They knew what had to be done, but left it to others.

Willow had told Tara a dozen times that she provided a needed service. Vital even. She wasn't convinced. It was one thing to help find the bad guys, and quite another to wait patiently while someone else went out to face them. If she had any confidence that she wouldn't just get in the way, Tara might even try to join the Scooby Away Team. There was no 'easing in' to this, however. You faced what was thrown at you, whatever it might be. Four people patrolling might find a single, newly risen vampire. Or two might find a pack of demons.

Yes Bob, I'll take door number one.

Is it the new car? No! It's the horde of Hickaraw wasps. Too bad for you!

Over one quiet evening, waiting to see if patrol would end in cocoa or bandages, she and Anya had talked about it. Fear, Anya insisted, was a healthy emotion designed to prevent injury. The Scoobies had that fear, but chose to ignore it, which was obviously stupid. Tara pointed out that society needed those people, which Anya agreed with. She just wanted "those people" to be people she didn't care about. It was good to hear the words that she had thought in silent shame so many times. She was proud of Willow for what she did. Tara just couldn't bring herself to do the same.

"You aren't an accessory Dawn. The bad guys may treat you like one, but that doesn't mean that's what you are." Willow had crossed to stand in front of the teen, rubbing a thumb across her own palm as if not sure what to do with her hands. "I mean- bad guys- not the best source of truthful, heartfelt appraisal."

"Sure." With the flat word Dawn spun and flounced toward the broom closet.

Willow sighed and Tara gave her a "what can you do?" expression. It wasn't them that Dawn was angry with. It was the general unfairness of the world- which wasn't about to change at their bequest.

"The fertility statue goes on the second shelf. Or you can fondle it for a while longer if it makes you feel better." Anya had let go of Xander, her words to him sincere if awkward.

"Fertility statue?" Xander gave the item in his hands the hairy eyeball.

"Yes. I've found these ones comforting too. They're quite popular with the Womyn Power groupies, which is kind of ironic." Anya reached over and turned it in his hands. "See, with the size and shape it is, from the back it looks like a big-"

"Gah!" Xander slapped the statue back on its shelf.

"Careful. We've lost enough merchandise for one day." Anya admonished. "Now, find something to cover the gaping hole that replaced our front window. Dawn- sweep the glass. You two try to salvage whatever you can from that mess."

"And you will..?" Dawn grumbled, broom in hand.

"I am looking up our insurance policy." Anya marched towards the counter with a look of studied indifference. She has had so few things to hold onto in this world, Tara realized, and the place she's most secure in has been breeched. Xander's presence grounded her from an immediate breakdown, but the essential vulnerability remained. Taking care of the physical damage to the shop distracted from deeper wounds that would take time to heal, but none of them had the luxury of waiting for.

Tara's shoes crunched on glass as she neared the window. It was lucky that the supply jars had been untouched. Eye of newt was cheap in small quantity, but a jar of 300 of them was a fair chunk of change. She started collecting candles and incense sticks. At least half of the ceramic dragons had fallen victim to the incident; a fact for which Tara could not bring herself to be unhappy.

"Ow! Fiddlesticks!" Willow was sucking on the heel of her left hand, face screwed up in pain.

"Glass?" Tara held out a hand to inspect the wound. It was bleeding profusely, but looked like a clean cut. They headed toward the bandages.

"Stupid snake." Willow hissed as Tara made the fastest pass she could with the disinfectant before wrapping a tight bandage over the hand.

"Have you ever cussed? Like, normal curse word stuff?" Dawn asked with a mix of curiosity and uniquely teenage scorn.

"Yes." Willow responded indignantly while Tara ducked her head to hide her grin.

"Really?" Xander stopped taping up the plastic drop cloth her held.

"Yes!" Willow's poor offended face was the only thing keeping Tara from chuckling. She couldn't imagine Willow swearing 'properly'. It would be like Mr. Giles taking up internet chat rooms, or Xander wearing a tie.

"Right. I bet you spelled the words out and felt all rebellious for doing it." Anya joined the Willow teasing party. Willow flushed, confirming Tara's suspicion. Anya's guesses could be uncanny- perhaps the greatest sign of her many years.

"I have so cussed! I've sworn a-a-a blue streak, I'll have you know." Now she was getting defensive and flustered. "It's just- it's like the Smurfs!"

"Not following the Willow-train there." Xander turned back to his task, but his grin was evident in his voice.

"Well. People all use the same words for everything. There's no originality, no real thought to it. So they're all- "Smurf that smurfing smurf"! Smurf you- smurfing smurfer! Adjectives, nouns, verbs- it's all the same words. Like, um, Smurfs?" What had started as a rant ended on an embarrassed plea for validation.

Now she couldn't help it and the chuckle emerged. Willow looked briefly wounded and Tara rushed to explain.

"I just… I never t-thought about it that way." She grinned half way, unsure if it was too rude to be amused. "All those little blue men were really swearing that whole time."

"Maybe that's the "blue streak" you were talking about?" Dawn seemed to have figured out that Willow was too easy a target.

"Fine. Mock me." Willow had moved into a full pout. It was irresistibly adorable. Tara pulled her forward slightly, resting their foreheads together.

"Sweetie, you know they only do it because they love you." Tara's eyes danced. Mercifully Anya had started a new line of inquiry behind them over what an "act of God" constituted in terms of insurance.

"Mmhmm." Willow's pout had started to melt, but then her face tightened. She pulled herself away and took a deliberate step back. Tara didn't move to follow, but wondered if she'd pushed too far. Willow made a sad smile and explained quietly,

"Sorry, but… without the big imminent danger swamping everything else…"

The feeling of defeat washed in a hot wave across Tara's thoughts. "It's still there, isn't it."

"More than yesterday. I don't think there's much dispersion yet- I mean, Xander's been acting normal."

"That could be because he always acts like that." Tara noted gloomily. Willow's brows drew together and she looked over Tara's shoulder at her oldest friend.

"Glances this way, occasional extended staring somewhere below the neck, followed by goofy grin… you're right." Willow's face cleared and she continued matter-of-factly, "He must be punished."

"Should I… do I need to leave?" There was no indication she could detect as to the degree this Milieu of Magnetism was operating. She had to go by what Willow could tell her.

"Xander's probably just being himself... and it's not a big deal until we're physically touching. Maybe just contact precautions?" Willow suggested sadly.

"Virtual leprosy. Check." Tara would take whatever she could get. How long, though, before the spread began again?

"Oh! I figured out a charm we can make. It should keep the person wearing it from being effected!" Willow's eyes lit up. Tara felt some of the heaviness in her heart lift. It wasn't a real answer- they couldn't give everyone in the dorm a charm, plus it wouldn't help her when the Burn started to grow again- but anything that gave her reason to hope was worth pursuing.

"Maybe you can make a couple while I keep helping them?" Tara tipped her head toward the others. Anya had joined in the salvage operation and was now commenting on how the insurance people would never know if she padded the amount of lost stock.

"Gladly." Willow flexed her injured hand experimentally and seemed to find it acceptable, grin still in place. Something crossed her mind, though, and her pout returned. "I have too cussed though."

"If you say so, I believe you." Tara conceded. She herself reserved her spicy talk for very select occasions. Swearing seemed a silly thing to feel proud of, but if it mattered to Willow, it was equally silly to disbelieve her.

"I did." Willow insisted. Her face fell into an embarrassed flush. "At a tree. Just to be sure I, y'know, could." With that confession she turned, the spring of renewed purpose in her step as she headed for the back storage area.

Tara could see it clearly in her mind's eye; a young Willow bracing herself at the back step of her house before stepping forward in grim determination. Approaching the tree, she'd be eyeing it like a cowboy in an old western shootout. Then there would be a break in her focus to glance around and listen hard to be sure there was no one close enough to hear. Then, afraid to lose her nerve, breathing deeply. She would not try a few experimental words. Oh no, that was not the Willow way. She had surely composed a true litany of invectives with which to test her mettle.

After it all, Tara was sure, there would have been a pregnant pause. Willow would have looked around again, blushing scarlet, awaiting divine retribution. For the rest of the day she would timorously go about her usual tasks, expecting that shoe to drop.

She must have been adorable.

There were plenty of tasks to go around as darkness fell. It was slow work, but gradually the shop had started to look like something other than a disaster area. By nine only the large plastic sheet over the window scarred the illusion that all was back to normal. Anya had taken time to go to the back room, where Tara strongly suspected that she had a brief, private meltdown.

The bell above the shop door rang, startling everyone. Tara was halfway down the steps to the storage room with a box of chipped candles and she paused, expecting to hear Buffy or Giles. It was a woman's voice that spoke, but not one that Tara recognized, so she dropped off her box in the growing pile of damage wares at the foot of the stairs.

"Excuse me… I was afraid I was too late, but the lights were on…"

"We've closed for the day- just cleaning up from an accident earlier. Ah… motorcycle crashed through the window." Xander must've stepped up to meet and greet. "If you could come back in the morning?"

"No problem. Just one thing first?" The words were gentle, an actual inquiry rather than a demand. Tara paused at the storeroom doorway to see their visitor. She was in her mid thirties, Tara estimated, lean and tan in more of an ethnic sense than sunbathing. Her black hair was in a loose braid down her back, dark eyes scanning across the shop before settling back on Xander.

"Ah. Sure." Xander stuck his thumbs in his pockets, standing up a little straighter. Tara couldn't blame him- the woman was easy on the eyes and the tight jeans weren't exactly detracting. She had a Mapquest printout folded over in her hand, so she probably just needed directions. Anything less than another crisis would be a welcome respite.

"I was told I could find Anya Jenkins here. Is she around?"



----TBC

Posted in chat 1/31/10 (Sun) at 9:30 pm PST.

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 Post subject: Re: Changes (updated 2/1/10)
PostPosted: Mon Feb 01, 2010 10:44 pm 
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7. Teeny Tinkerbell Light
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Oooh cliffhanger! I'm blanking on who it could be... Halfrek maybe?

I liked Tara's insights on fear in relation to the Scoobies and the job they do... and I liked that Willow has already suggested Dawn as a key possibility - even if it was subsequently dismissed as the 'average' kidnapping attempt

Hopefully Willow's charms will give them a break of any kind in Tara's case...


Also, thanks for reading Ripples (and wow that's the longest feedback I've ever gotten... I'm grateful you thought enough of it to write that much!)

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Ripples - Pretty Much Perfect and The Sequel to the Sequel, Who's That Girl?
Every Step That I Retrace/Always Leads Me Back to You/But I've Loved You All Along
Road to Recovery, The Call/The Lightning Strike, The Sun Will Rise


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 Post subject: Re: Changes (updated 2/1/10)
PostPosted: Tue Feb 02, 2010 1:53 am 
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19. Yummy Face
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Yay for great update-y goodness... I liked Tara's thoughts about Scoobies and fear... I guess the visitor is the other succubus...

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 Post subject: Re: Changes (updated 2/1/10)
PostPosted: Tue Feb 02, 2010 11:42 am 
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5. Willowhand
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Wow. Smurfs. Matches my hair. ANYWAY, I can't believe that Xander has behaved himself for as long as he has. I am eagerly awaiting his first pass at Tara. I also can't wait for Willow to get those charms up, and was that the other succubus? If yes, yay. More soon please!

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