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

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 Post subject: Re: Time Heals All
PostPosted: Wed Sep 26, 2012 3:37 am 
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4. Extra Flamey
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I love this story. It's my favorite active one on the board right now. I have to say, I found your writing a bit quirky at first. I struggle a bit to describe it, but I think it's more understated with respect to the internals than what I am used to and how I write, but that could be because I'm overly voyeuristic. Anyhow, I am soooo happy I kept reading. You've struck a wonderful balance between action, character development, and wow, I love your dialogue. That part about Tara and the hummers? Brilliant. I can totally see that subversive streak in her character underneath the quiet girl exterior. I think that's one of the best parts of your story so far. You've taken under-used characters from the show, Tara and Faith (can I say how much I enjoy your version of Faith? and Dawn too), and week after week, they're becoming more and more realized. I honestly don't miss Buffy at all - in fact, I often muse that the tv show should've really ended after season 5. If we'd have gotten Faith TVS season 6 and beyond like this, though...

Anyway, thought I'd post, let you know you've got readers out here besides faolan228 and fhiwda. You probably knew from your hit count, but I know first-hand that's not as good as actually getting feedback. I'm a bit surprised you don't have other folks here egging you on. Maybe you should post in the update thread. Sad to hear the updates won't be coming weekly anymore, but I know how that goes, too.

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When you find the good kind of magic, when you find your true partner in casting it, don't let her go into the Nether Realm alone... Interludes.
The rise of the greatest Seeyo in the history of Humanity in the Cosmic. The Coven.
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 Post subject: Time Heals All
PostPosted: Thu Sep 27, 2012 6:45 pm 
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2. Floating Rose
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So, I started to work on the next chapter of this fic, and I realized I needed to recognize a vital event that didn't fit in the upcoming storyline. I then took some time out to write this interlude, as both a crucial moment in the story and a little apology for the update delays, both past and future.

Enjoy. I'll see you next month.
Kay




Time Heals All: a Willow/Tara fic with a terrible title

Author: Big_Pineapple

Feedback: Yes, including title suggestions, line edits, and general comments

Spoilers: vague reference to all seasons

Setting: Pre-season six and onward, AU.

Rating: PG-13



Interlude: Older and Far Away

Tara stood with her back pressed against the end of a shopping cart, standing on the lower rack and clinging to the basket, while Faith wove up and down the grocery store aisles at a trot.

“Dawn’d love to do this,” Faith said.

“And that’s why we go shopping while she’s at school,” Tara answered. “So I don’t have to share the fun.”

Faith whipped her around a corner, and Tara shrieked.

“This day sucks,” Faith said when they reached the frozen yogurts. She stood half inside the freezer, searching for Buffy’s favorite flavor.

Tara stepped off the cart and put a hand on Faith’s back, then reached into the next freezer over and tried to help. “Yeah,” she said, and her breath curled in the air and drifted away. “Yeah it does.”




Willow and Xander had scaled the sturdiest pile of rubble on the Sunnydale High School grounds early that morning, after the Bronze had closed and the bar tender had thrown them out. The sun sparkled off the shards of glass and the glaze on a dozen donuts. For a long time, neither of them had anything to say.

“The first thing she did was save your life,” Xander sighed, hurling a chunk of brick into the burned-out mess in front of them.

“Actually, the first thing she did was make faces while Cordelia was a bitch to me, and then she asked me to help her catch up with her school work, and then we talked at the Bronze. But yeah, first day.”

“I skateboarded into that railing over there, ‘cause I was checking her out.”

Willow shoved him on the shoulder. “Nice job, doofus.”

She was horrified when he burst into tears. She’d never seen him do that before.

“Oh, I didn’t mean to make you feel bad!” Willow exclaimed. “It was high school, and you didn’t know her, and there was some quality boobage on the Buffster. Not that I ever checked her out or anything, just… I didn’t mean to make you cry. I’m bad, I’m so bad, I…”

Xander shook his head and pulled Willow’s hand into his lap. “No, you’re not.”

Willow leaned her head on Xander’s shoulder, and with their free hands they pointed out the old rooms in the mess, and what had happened there: the AV room, where the master’s vampires had murdered several students, and how Buffy had restored Willow to a state where she could deal with the world again; the auditorium where Amber the cheerleader had caught on fire, and the science lab where Buffy had defeated Mrs. Madison; a few stainless steel letters from the old balcony where Buffy and Angel had relieved the tragedy of a student-teacher romance; the cafeteria full of snakes, rat poison, or fish sticks, depending on the day. January winds blew through the rubble like Marcie’s flute playing. The whole scene was vivid with memory and monochrome with ash, and every room the two rebuilt was empty except for Buffy.

“They’re working on cleaning this place up,” Xander said. “Building a new school. My company’s making a bid for the contract.”

“Is that a good?” Willow asked.

Xander shrugged and picked up a charred piece of brick. “At least if I’m on the job, I’ll know how to get around. We’ll find a way to keep an eye on the place.”

Willow pulled her knees to her chest and looked out across the ruins. She and Xander sat until they were sure the day had refused to warm up, and they were too cold to sit anymore.

On the undestroyed sign out in front of the school, Willow and Xander used charcoal they’d dug out of the rubble of the school to write, “Buffy was here.”




“Now Buffy,” Anya explained. “Since you’re being stored here, I thought I might as well employ you. You can get a salary and pay taxes, and turn those forms in to the Department of Child Welfare, and then you can give the money back to me!”

The Buffybot beamed at her. This employ-the-robot plan had been only a couple days in the making, and Anya was beginning to second-guess herself.

“Willow told me you could learn. Do you know what this is?”

The Buffybot looked at the bunch of herbs in her hand, then smiled and shook her head. “No, I don’t.”

“It’s golden wolf’s bane. It’s worth two sixty a bunch wholesale, and I sell it for three twenty-five. That’s how I make a profit.”

Anya trotted around to the cash register, beckoning the robot to follow. “Now, if you were selling the wolf’s bane to a customer, you would look at the tag…”

The robot examined the tag Anya held out to her.

“And then type in the price on the tag on the key pad here. It rings up the total on this little screen, and the customer gives you money.” Anya fished in her pocket and pulled out a twenty-dollar bill. “Here,” she said. “Give me this money.”

The Buffybot obeyed. Anya instructed her further, watching her closely as she touched the cash register. When it sprang open, Anya jumped up and down, cheering, and the Buffybot copied her.

“Now look inside,” she said. “I made a name tag just for you! Cost me a whole ten dollars, but what the hell. A gift is traditional on days like these.”

Anya pinned the tag to the Buffybot’s shirt, and the robot grinned at her. “Thank you for your gift. It’s very nice.”

The robot’s eyes were bright and stupid, and Anya felt like she was looking at a corpse. “You’re worth it, Buffy,” she said.




Spike shoved the photo of Buffy he’d been studying under his pillow when the door to his crypt flew open and Dawn stormed in.

“Something you want?” he growled.

“I don’t know how to make a cake,” Dawn grumbled. “Do you?”

“Why the devil would I know a thing like that?” Spike said. He climbed off his coffin lid and gestured for Dawn to sit in the easy chair. “You got three girls orbitin’ around you, looking to help out, right?”

Dawn shook her head. “Willow’s with Xander, and Faith and Tara think I’m at school.”

“And why ain’t you?”

“I’ve declared it a national holiday,” Dawn said. “There probably wouldn’t even be a nation if it weren’t for Buffy, so I think that’s fair.”

Spike chuckled and uncorked a bottle of red wine. He held it out to Dawn, and he ruffled her hair when she refused.

“Do you cry, Spike?” she asked. “I mean, can vampires cry?”

Spike took a long drink from the bottle before he answered. “I cried over Dru,” he confessed.

Dawn sat up to get a better look at him. “And over Buffy?”

“No,” he said. “Buffy just dried me out. No blood, no tears, no nothing in me over Buffy.”

For a while, Dawn sat thinking about that, and Spike drank and waited for her to say something else. She pulled a fistful of letters out of her backpack.

“I stole these out of people’s mailboxes on the way here.”

“Why’s that?”

Dawn shrugged. “You don’t get mail on national holidays.”

Spike took the letters and pulled his lighter out of his pocket. He lit a corner of the envelopes and watched Dawn stare at them, then dropped them on the floor. When he doused the papers in wine, they flared so brightly he staggered back for fear of setting himself ablaze.

“Here, platelet,” he said, holding out his wallet. “Go out and buy your sis a bloody cake.”

After Dawn left, he took her place in the easy chair, drinking his wine and watching the mail on his floor burn.




Tara and Faith ate their yogurt on the awning outside Tara’s bedroom window in silence, then sat and watched the stars until it was time to leave. Dawn rushed out of her room at the end of the hall and locked herself in the bathroom to wash her face and put on makeup. Faith and Tara pretended they couldn’t tell she’d been crying.

Xander was tipsy and leaning heavily on Willow when they peeled themselves away from the bar at the Bronze, and she drove the car to the Magic Box, where Anya was sipping fruit punch and waiting for them.

They found their way to the grave in the woods with a flashlight. Xander plopped down at Buffy’s side, and Anya stood behind him. Willow knelt in front of the headstone and set a pebble from the cliffs in England on top of it.

Dawn laid her purse on the ground like it was full of eggs when they reached the site, and Faith eyed her. Tara stood at the edge of the grove, watching Willow whisper psalms in Hebrew.

It had been devastating, the week after Buffy had died. Willow had ripped her shirt at the funeral, tacked bed sheets over all the mirrors in their dorm room and bathroom, and the Summers’ house, and sat on the floor muttering in a language Tara couldn’t understand. Giles had explained Shiva to her on the third day, when he found her trying to locate the words Willow was saying in a spell book at the Magic Box. Willow must have fallen back on old rituals for lack of anything else to do; ritual was bound up in her magic, and so naturally into her grief. When she understood, Tara had rushed home so Willow wouldn’t be alone.

Tonight, Willow didn’t look as small as she had that week, but she was dressed in black from head to toe and smeared with ash from the high school, and Tara wanted to gather her up in her arms and hold her there.

“Right, what’re we doing then?” Spike said as he tramped into the grove, and Tara glared at him.

“Be quiet, Spike,” she hissed, and he nodded and sagged against a tree, watching. When he shot her a nasty look, Tara half-smiled at him.

The psalms complete, Willow rocked back onto her feet, then sat. Tara padded over to the grave and set a crystal on it.

“Was I supposed to do that?” Faith whispered.

Tara squeezed her arm. “You’re okay, sweetie,” she said, and she encouraged Faith to settle on the ground. She sat a little apart from Faith, not so close to Willow it was obvious she was trying to be near her, but close enough that no one would sit between them.

“So,” Anya asked. “What are we going to do? Not being insensitive here, just… I don’t know.”

Dawn pulled her bag in front of her and reached inside. “I brought cake and candles,” she announced.

Spike tossed her his lighter, and Faith confiscated it. When Dawn had arranged the candles on the cake in a clumsy B, Faith lit one, then passed the lighter to Tara. Each of them lit a candle, and then they sat back and watched them burn.

“Should we just let them finish?” Willow asked.

“We could all blow part of them out,” Dawn suggested.

Xander shook his head. “Together.”

The group leaned in, took a deep breath, and blew until the candles were out, then sat back again and looked around at each other.

Willow studied the headstone in front of her and sighed.

“Happy birthday, Buffy,” she said.


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 Post subject: Time Heals All
PostPosted: Fri Sep 28, 2012 9:43 am 
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5. Willowhand
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Very tear jerking update... I like how you still incorporate Buffy into everything.

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 Post subject: Re: Time Heals All
PostPosted: Wed Oct 17, 2012 10:56 pm 
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How have I not reviewed this chapter?

It's funny, seeing all the different ways people mourn. Tara and Faith go about their day, but keep the memory alive. Willow, takes aside time to mourn what was. Dawn and Spike, celebrate her life.

Very different characters, cultures, and views on death.

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"If I can't be a good example, might as well be a horrible warning."

"Friendship is obviously magic. Love is a sorta super strong friendship. We gay people love so hard we broke 'Social Norm'. Ergo, we gay people are ultra-strong wizards."


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 Post subject: Re: Time Heals All
PostPosted: Sat Oct 20, 2012 2:54 pm 
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2. Floating Rose
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Time Heals All: a Willow/Tara fic with a terrible title

Author: Big_Pineapple

Feedback: Yes, including title suggestions, line edits, and general comments

Spoilers: vague reference to all seasons

Setting: Pre-season six and onward, AU.

Rating: PG-13



Oh dear goddess. You guys know what it's like when your schedule explodes, right? Because that happened to me and both my editors. I'm sorry this had repercussions for all of you. I think things are under control now, though, and I refuse to let time get away from me like this again. In the spirit of that, I need an editor whose schedule is well in hand, who would be willing to edit my chapters and meet with me on some kind of chat system to discuss. Any takers?

On the subject of things which got out of hand, when this chapter reached 40+ typed pages, I realized I'd need to split it into two part in order to get it the way I wanted it and still post anything, ever. So, here it is, part one, with part two hard on its heels, I swear.

Thanks everybody. Enjoy.
Kay




Part XXV: Passion, part 1

“Okay, let’s hit the books,” Willow announced when Faith had finished her report on the night’s patrol.

“Why?” the Slayer challenged. “The demon’s dead.”

Willow shook her head. “The demon disappeared, Faith. It could still be around, and even if it’s not, there could be more.”

“Doesn’t scare me,” Faith snorted, picking her feet up onto the table.

“We need to know what it wants. I mean, it could be some sort of… demon apocalypse cult, or part of a group looking for a magical amulet, or…”

Faith glared at Tara, who drew back, but continued arguing. “All that stuff has happened before.”

“And Buffy kicked its ass. Fuck the books, let’s grab some lunch.”

“We can order in,” Willow said, handing her a book. “Research. Now.”

Faith swung her legs down and leaned forward, growling, “Hey, I only take orders from my Watcher, so unless you got promoted while I wasn’t watching…”

“She was promoted,” Xander interrupted. “To Boss of Us. And I’m pretty sure you were there.”

“Boss of you losers. That doesn’t include me.”

“Faith.”

Willow recognized Tara’s special brand of resolve face. She remembered it from their argument in Xander’s apartment, the night the Hellions had arrived. Tara jerked her head toward the training room, and Faith could do nothing but obey.

“So,” Xander said, to cover the raised voices coming from the training room, “any big plans for Valentine’s Day tomorrow, Dawn? Faith’d probably be great at the whole gun-toting dad routine.”

Dawn slumped in her seat. “No.”

“Xander and I have lots of plans. Starting at midnight, with a romantic outing, the details of which are being kept from me to heighten the sexual tension, probably culminating in a fulfillment of…”

“No date with Nico?” Willow cut in.

Dawn didn’t answer.

“Well, vengeance is a large part of Valentine’s Day,” Anya said. “I may not have my powers, but we could get creative.”

“You could go out with me,” Willow offered. “I mean, I don’t have a date, either, or, plans, you know, ‘cause…” She floundered, trying not to look at the door to the training room or say anything that sounded desperate, and ended up sputtering to a halt and examining the floor.

“Sure,” Dawn said. “We could go see that movie that Tara doesn’t want to take me to. Big Fat Liar? It’d be sort of like having a Valentine’s date with Frankie Muniz, right?”

“Is that the movie about the vengeance? It looked interesting when we saw the commercial on TV last night. Didn’t it Xander?”

Xander shrugged. “Looked like a chick flick.”

“Don’t worry,” Willow said. “There’s probably plenty of fart jokes for you.”

“We should all go together!” Anya declared.

Tara and Faith slipped out of the training room and settled in their chairs without speaking. Faith was still scowling, but Tara smiled at Willow and nodded.

“We have plans!” Xander pleaded.

Dawn waved his protests off. “We can go the day before. It’ll be Wednesday, nice mid-week break.”

Tara approved the movie plans when they were presented to her, ignoring Xander’s protests, and picked up a book from the table. Identifying the demon took an hour, and finding the ritual to vanquish its spirit, which resided in its sword, was a simple task. Anya left the group to tend to customers, and Willow declared the Scooby meeting over.

Reading the list of ingredients for the vanquishing spell, Tara began gathering supplies from around the store. Willow stood next to her and fiddled with a bundle of sage.

“Is everything okay?” she asked.

Tara nodded. “She respects your authority. She was just upset.”

“About what?”

“About…” Tara glanced past Willow to where Faith was standing, balancing a ceremonial dagger on her finger. “She works hard, with the Slaying? It might be better if you acknowledged that.”

“I know she works hard. We all do. It’s why we’re here to support her. Does she want a cookie or something?”

Tara turned to her and crossed her arms, and Willow winced.

“I’m sorry. She just, gets to me sometimes.”

“Faith never feels like she’s good enough. She fought that demon, and all she heard about it was that she hadn’t been thorough with it. And then you asked her to do something she’s not good at.”

Willow raised her eyebrow. “Reading?”

“She dropped out of high school in tenth grade, and she made C’s and D’s until then. Her comprehension of old, convoluted texts isn’t great. It’s frustrating and intimidating, and honestly, it’s not part of her job.” Tara looked at Willow for a moment, then turned away and went back to gathering supplies. “She was just trying to save face. Let her.”

For a moment, Willow watched Tara study the spell, weigh one casting stone against the other, and mutter to herself about whether or not she had enough non-iodized salt at home. When she turned toward the counter to pay, Willow called her name.

“Thanks,” she said.

Tara smiled. “Faith’s tricky.”

“She’s lucky she has you,” Willow told her. “You really are a good Watcher.”

Ducking her head, Tara thanked her before she walked away.





The day before Valentine’s Day, Faith walked to UC Sunnydale and wandered from building to building until she found the library. Sitting cross-legged in a computer cubicle with a notebook on her lap, three books standing up with their pages binder clipped open, and a pen clipped to her sleeve, Tara was typing with her index fingers.

“You look like a velociraptor, T.”

Tara uncapped her pen with her teeth and scribbled something in her notebook, then returned to typing.

“Can we go to the Bronze tonight?” Faith asked. “I heard the band might not suck, and there’s bound to be some partiers there who do.”

One of the books toppled over, and Tara steadied it and turned back to her work.

“If you know what I mean. ‘Cause vamps suck, right? We can dance and sweat, then get in a little late night uhn!”

A boy who was shelving books poked his head around a bookshelf and looked Faith up and down in wonder. She flipped him off.

“That guy thinks we’re screwing. Wanna give me a kiss and make his day?”

Tara’s shoulders sagged when she exhaled, and her hands dropped into her lap.

“Faith,” she pleaded. “I am trying to write a paper about ethnocentrism in American art museum displays. It has to be twenty pages long. I have written twelve in a week. And when I’m done, I have to read thirty-eight pages about hysteria in nineteenth-century Parisian women just to be prepared for class tomorrow, let alone all the other work I have. And this is a library. Would you please be quiet, please?”

Faith swung a chair from a nearby table around backwards and straddled it. She watched Tara settle back into her work, debating whether or not she should even mention what she was thinking. It was worth it, she decided.

“You gonna get all that done before we have to go pick up Dawn?”

“Xander’s bringing her home.”

“He said he couldn’t,” Faith lied. “I offered to pick her up myself, but they don’t trust me driving.”

Tara closed her eyes and whimpered, and Faith backpedaled. “We don’t have to do anything just because Xander says so, I was just saying…”

“Faith,” Tara cut in. “Just… Do you know how to make a dollar sign on the computer?”





“How can I trust you not to touch my stuff?” Andrew whined. “You keep picking it up and not putting it back where it was!”

Jonathan rolled his eyes. “It’s called cleaning, you moron. Amy’s letting us stay here to keep clear of the witch and the Slayer, the least we can do is not trash the place.”

“What’s so special about Amy, huh? You got a crush, or are you just scared of her?”

“I’m not scared of her!” Jonathan snapped.

“Are too!”

“I’ll give you something to be scared of if you don’t get your sissy crap out of the way!”

Jonathan swept his arms across the coffee table, scattering several records and the pieces to a lego model kit.

“Hey! Quit it!”

The two boys grappled each other into a mutual headlock and started trying to stomp on each other’s toes.

“Hey!” Warren yelled from his place in the doorway, and they broke apart. “When you girls are done touching each other, the Cerebral Dampener’s ready to be charged.”

He slipped on a pair of red-lensed sunglasses, and the other two followed suit, scampering up the stairs to the attic workshop.

“You got the thing?” Jonathan asked Andrew.

Andrew fished in his jacket pocket and removed a ziplock bag. “Musk gland of a Hombja’moleev demon,” he declared, opening the bag. A smell like urine and mildewing flowers burst out and filled the room, along with a faint dust. Andrew choked. “Fresh.”

The thing looked like a giant peach pit, and it dripped a watery liquid into Jonathan’s hand when he plopped it out of the bag and into his palm. The substance pooled while he picked up a small vial of yellow powder from the worktable.

“All right. Stand back,” he ordered, and the others backed away. He uncorked the vial with his teeth and spit it at Andrew, but he missed. The powder had settled in the vial, so he tapped it lightly to release it and poured it over the Hombja’moleev demon’s gland, chanting, “Doma voluntatem, libera cupidinem. Erunipe, ignem excita.”

The gland glowed white hot, then arced upward and dove into a steel sphere in the middle of the worktable. The Dampener hummed, then beeped. It and Jonathan’s hand were smoking.

“Okay,” Jonathan said. “Ow.”

Warren snatched the Cerebral Dampener off its cradle and held it up to the light. He pulled his sunglasses off and grinned at the others.

“Gentlemen, the Cerebral Dampener in online,” he announced. “With this baby, we can make any woman we desire our willing sex slave. And I know just where to start.”

“Amy?” Andrew suggested.

Jonathan panicked. “Are you crazy? If it doesn’t work, she’ll rip our spines out!”

“See, told you you were scared of her!”

“I am not!” Jonathan yelled, “I’m just saying, she… Hey. Where is she?”

Warren shrugged. “Out.”

“Maybe she’s in class, at the college,” Andrew said.

“She doesn’t go to class, you idiot, she’s just putting the whammy on all her teachers and getting a degree for free.”

Andrew thought about that for a minute, then asked, “If she can put the whammy on people, why doesn’t she just put the whammy on people she wants to work for? She wouldn’t have to go to college at all, just say she did. Or she could put the whammy on bankers and make them give her money. Hey, that should be our next heist!”

“She wants the paper,” Warren said while he polished the Cerebral Dampener on his shirt. “Degrees, transcripts, stuff like that.”

“Why?”

Warren shrugged. “To show her dad.”

Jonathan eyed him suspiciously. “How do you know that?”

“She told me.”

“She never tells us anything,” Andrew said.

“And really, that’s such a surprise,” Warren sneered, then he slipped the Cerebral Dampener in his pocket and made his way to the van.





“I told you you’d get all your work done, T,” Faith crowed as she trotted out of the library, carrying Tara’s backpack.

Tara shot her a look that would have been annoyed if she hadn’t been smiling. “I just read the first part of the hysteria article. As long as I talk a lot at the beginning of the discussion, I think I’ll skate by.”

“And you were worried.”

“I wanted to read it. It’s interesting,” Tara grumbled while she unlocked the car and climbed in.

Faith laughed and turned on the radio. “Whatever, T.”

She rode with her feet on the dashboard, ignoring the wind that was blowing up her pants legs and raising goosebumps. Tara liked to drive with the top down, and she didn’t think forty-five degrees was cold, even with the breeze. Faith would be damned if she told her she’d become a Southern California sissy.

“Don’t you ever worry about vamps jumping in here?” she’d asked once, hoping to make Tara nervous and change her ways.

Tara had grinned. “It’s charmed. No vampires in the car unless they’re invited.”

“Sweet,” Faith had said, and had surrendered to her chilling fate.

Her knees were stiff when she dropped her legs to the floorboard in preparation for parking. Tara swooped into an open space right in front of the movie theatre.

Dawn pranced out of the theatre with Xander, Anya, and Willow, grinning and waving.

“Hey,” Willow spluttered when they reached the car. “Fancy seeing you here, with us all coming out of the movie theatre and all.”

Tara smiled at her. “You do that. Usually at the end part of the movie.”

“Yeah,” Willow laughed, and then she glanced at every other face in the group, looking for some clue as to how she should react. Xander and Anya were making kissy faces, and Dawn wasn’t making eye contact with anyone, so she said, “So, what brings you here? You’re not going to see a movie, are you?”

“Faith said you guys didn’t trust her with the car, so…” Faith elbowed Tara in mid-sentence, and she glared at the Slayer, snarling, “Ow-wuh!”

Willow shook her head and laughed at Faith. “Next time you weave a tangled web of lies between us, you might want to let one of us in on it.”

“You want some popcorn?” Dawn asked Faith. “If we take Xander’s bucket we can get a free refill.”

Faith leapt over the car door and snatched the popcorn bucket out of Xander’s hand. He looked up and assessed the situation in a glance.

“Ahn and I are gonna sit in the car and listen to the radio. Please, take your time.” He grabbed Anya’s hand and dragged her away, leaving Willow and Tara alone.

Tara watched them go. It was less confusing than watching the beautiful tones of Willow’s hair, eyes, and skin in the twilight. “Wonder what’s so exciting about the radio.”

“Probably the fact that it can’t see them tonguing each other,” Willow said. Tara laughed a little and looked at her, and something tense caused Willow to look away. She stood on the curb kicking herself and wondering why she couldn’t think of anything to say. The two of them had been talking almost easily for a couple weeks, and suddenly all that was gone. She glanced at Tara and saw her gaze dart away. Had she been staring? Willow’s heart surged; maybe that was the cause of Faith and Dawn’s elaborate scheme, and Xander and Anya’s disappearance.

Willow leaned over and put her elbows on the passenger door, plucking up the courage to ask if she could ride home with Tara, to see what kind of reception she received, but Faith came charging out of the movie theatre, leaving a trail of popcorn behind her.

“Black van,” she said, and Tara was instantly poised and alert. Willow stepped away from the car.

“Guess you gotta go?” she asked. The disappointment in her voice made Tara look at her with a softness that bordered on affection.

“Can you make sure Dawn gets home?”

Willow nodded. “Do you want me to stay with her?”

“She’ll be okay,” Tara assured her. “Just tell her to be in bed by ten if we’re not home.”

Before Willow could even agree, Tara had zipped out of the parking space, and all that was left of her presence was the echo of Faith shouting, “Whiplash, bitch!”

Tara sped in the direction of the black van, and she caught up to it and fell in behind a massive pick-up truck in the next lane over from it. She tailed the Trio for several blocks before they made it through a traffic stop and the convertible didn’t. When the light turned green again, Tara stomped on the gas and passed three cars in a row, searching for the black van. Faith caught a glimpse of it pulling into the parking lot of a department store, but then she noticed the flashing blue lights in her rearview mirror.

“Cops, T,” she warned. “Pull over.”

“Get out and follow them on foot, will you?” Tara said as she made her way to the side of the road.

“We have to stay in the car.”

Tara put the car in park and sighed. “Are you sure?”

“Positive,” Faith said. “I got stopped for joy riding when I was thirteen. My boyfriend tried to duck and roll, and he spent seven hours at the police station. I just went home in the cop car.”

Tara laughed until the police officer knocked on her window.

“Got somewhere to go, ladies?”

Tara called him sir and handed him her West Virginia drivers’ license. He called it in, and when nothing came up in her name, he made her take a breathalyzer and let her off with a warning. By then, though, the black van was gone.





“Sure, I noticed him,” the clerk in the department store said. “He and his friends were arguing about which tie would go with a green shirt.”

“Did he say where he was going?”

The girl gave Faith a pitying look. “This guy really screwed you over, didn’t he?”

“No,” Faith said, adding layers to the story Tara had made for her. “That slut of his screwed me over. I want to know where he’s going, and stand next to that bitch so he can see how much better he had it before. So, where was he going?”

“Someplace nice,” the cashier said. “Probably nowhere he took you. They’re smart like that.”

Faith leaned in toward the girl. “And what do you call someplace nice in this town?”

The clerk gave them a list, and they checked each place off after they’d searched it.





Andrew and Jonathan fiddled with the controls in the van until the image on the monitor came through clearly.

“Mad Dog Two to Mad Dog One,” Jonathan said into his headset.

“I thought I was Mad Dog Two,” Andrew whispered.

Jonathan sighed through his teeth and growled, “Mad Dog Three to Mad Dog One, signal coming in strong and clear. Over.”

“Roger that,” Warren whispered into his earpiece as he glanced around the restaurant. “Beginning preliminary sweep.”

He straightened his tie, and the images coming in through his tie tack camera swam. Striding into the restaurant, he tried to give a clear view of the women there.

“Keep your potatoes peeled for Willow and her wacky pals. I don’t want any surprises.”

Andrew and Jonathan sat back and watched the images on the screen.

“We can really have anyone we want,” Andrew murmured.

Jonathan nodded. “It’s like candy.”

“Juicy, pulsating candy.”

“Oh!” Jonathan exclaimed into his headset, “The one with the neck! Put the whammy on the neck!”

“No, the redhead! I want the redhead!” Andrew said, pointing to the girl on the screen.

Jonathan glared at him. “The redhead’s too tall.”

“So get a step ladder,” Andrew said, and Jonathan grabbed him by his shirt.

Warren ignored the clamor and examined the women he passed. He was a man of class, like Bond. Many women would fall under his spell, but not just anyone would do. This was his night of glory, his tour de force, his magnum opus, his…

His ex.

Katrina had her elbow on the bar and her head in her hand. She was staring into space, almost still, but her tongue slipped out to taste the red wine that had colored her lips. Her blue satin dress flowed down her body like she was a stone goddess in a fountain, and it would slide off her body just so. Warren shivered and told the others, “Target acquired. Initiating contact.”

Jonathan didn’t let go of Andrew’s head, but he let him turn to look at the monitor.

“What, the brunette?”

“She’s kinda cute,” Andrew said, but another woman crossing in front of Warren caught his eye. “Oh, no! The girl in the leather skirt! The one with the bazoombas!”

Jonathan let Andrew go so he could lean closer to the screen and get a better look. “Yeah, go for the bazoombas!” he agreed.

“Bazoombas, bazoombas!” they chanted, until Warren snatched the earpiece out and dropped it in the redhead’s martini. The feedback silenced and temporarily deafened them.

Warren hopped into the chair next to Katrina, asking, “So how did you get so beautiful?”

Katrina looked up from the wine she’d been staring into, smiling. “Does that line usually work for…” She tensed when she looked at Warren. “What the hell are you doing here?”

“Nice to see you again, too, Katrina.”

She glared. “Yeah, it’s the seeing you part that’s throwing me here, Warren, because I thought I made it pretty clear with the never wanting that to happen again.”

Warren grinned at her. “Never’s a long time, baby.” He flashed a one hundred dollar bill at the bar tender, then slid it towards him.

“Apparently not long enough,” Katrina growled.

“You’re not still sore about that thing, are you?” Warren said, lowering his head and leaning toward her.

Katrina laid a hand over her glass to stop the bar tender from filling it, and she kept it covered, just in case.

“Which thing would that be exactly? The wind-up slut you tinkered together? Or when Little Miss Nuts and Bolts tried to choke me to death?”

“Okay, so I made a few mistakes.”

Behind Katrina, a door opened, and Tara stepped through. Jonathan and Andrew screamed into their headsets and banged on the car horn, begging Warren to look up and see her, but he was focused entirely on Katrina.

She was on her feet now, shouting, and Warren whipped out his sunglasses. Made her want to vomit, she said.

“You sure about that?” he asked, his hand buried in his coat pocket, wrapped around the Cerebral Dampener. He was focusing, channeling the energy of his desire.

His focus vanished when Faith came up behind him, pinned his arm, and slammed him stomach-first into the bar. “I think the lady means what she says, man,” she told him.

Tara tapped Katrina on the shoulder.

“You okay, sweetie?”

Katrina glanced at Warren, floundering in Faith’s grip, and smiled. “Feeling better every second.”

“Come with me,” Tara told her, and she took her hand gently and led her toward the front door of the restaurant.

Faith spun Warren around to face her. His hands flew up in a gesture of surrender, and she saw the light glint off the dormant Cerebral Dampener.

“Ooh, shiny,” she said, and she wrestled it out of his grip. She slammed his back into the counter, then let him go and backed out of the restaurant behind Katrina and Tara.

In the parking lot, Katrina tugged Tara to a halt. “Now, that was fantastic. I wish that had instant replay. But who are you?”

“I’m Faith, that’s Tara,” the Slayer explained. “We don’t like Warren.”

Katrina smiled and held out her hand. “Katrina Silber. The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

Tara scanned the parking lot and spotted a vampire watching them from under a lamppost. Warren staggered out the front door, and Tara pulled Katrina toward the car.

“You want shotgun?”

“I have a car,” she answered, but Tara shook her head.

“I’ll bring you to pick it up tomorrow. We need to go now.” She opened the passenger door, and Katrina only hesitated a second before she slid in. Faith hopped into the back seat, and Tara slammed the driver door and cranked the ignition.

“I’m gonna need an explanation,” Katrina warned her.

Tara jerked her hand in the air, and the convertible top came over their heads and snapped shut. “I’ll tell you anything you want to hear.”

“Buckle up,” Faith said, and the car lurched into gear and peeled out of the lot.

“So, what are you, the anti-date rape squad?” Katrina pressed.

“We’re the Brute Squad,” Faith said. “Warren’s trouble, and we stop his wicked plans.”

Katrina raised an eyebrow. “Like the robot?”

“April?” Tara asked. Buffy had told her how the robot had died, and Tara had felt sorry for her. But Katrina clearly didn’t. “How do you know about April?”

“She tried to kill me out of creepy robotic jealousy.”

Tara’s head spun when she understood what had been happening. “You were dating him.”

“Unfortunately.”

Faith and Tara shared a glance in the rearview mirror. This upped the stakes, they knew. Getting Katrina out of the restaurant and away from Warren was one thing; keeping her away from him would be far more difficult. April had died months ago, and Warren was still after her. There was no way to be certain how far he’d go to get her back, or wreak some twisted vengeance. And until they were certain, they couldn’t plan their next move.

Faith punched the back of Tara’s seat in rage. “Son of a bitch!”

Katrina watched Tara wince in pain and marveled at the strength of the girl in the back seat before she asked, “So what’s he done to you?”

“Well, um, h-he’s. He’s been attacking us for a while now, because we keep getting in his way.”

“And you can’t stop getting in his way?” Katrina asked.

Neither girl answered her. The car was silent for a while.

“You can hang a left here,” Katrina said when they reached a stoplight. “My place is just…”

“Damn it!” Tara took a sharp right, and the headlights of the Trio’s black van swept into her rearview mirror when they followed suit.

“What?” Katrina demanded, bracing herself against the car door and squinting in the light from the van headlights behind them.

Faith bent over and started digging around under the driver’s seat, hunting for weapons. “Warren,” she spat.

“Is he following us?” Katrina said, turning to look behind her.

Every frantic turn Tara made, the Trio seemed to come at them, from some intersection or alley. The van’s high beams were on, so they nearly blinded Tara every time the Trio pulled up behind her. She couldn’t shake them, even by doubling back or driving down one-way streets at fifteen miles above the speed limit. It was too risky to drive this way at night, she decided, especially when it wasn’t helping them escape.

Tara pointed at the glove box. “Can you pass me the ziplock bag with the blue powder in it?”

Katrina just stared at her, so Faith leaned between the seats and dug out the potion. Tara pulled the bag open with her teeth and grabbed a handful of the powder, chanting in Latin while Faith rolled down the driver’s side window. After a sharp left, Tara flung the potion out the open window.

She pulled the Mustang into a small alley, and the Trio went past them, even though their turn signal had warned that they were following. The van came back past, but still it failed to turn.

“Okay,” Katrina said, shifting in her seat and breathing hard. “From here, my house is…”

“Not tonight, girlfriend,” Faith told her. “You’re gonna stick with us for a while.”

“Why?” Katrina demanded.

Tara pulled the car out of the alley and sighed. “Because they really want you. We need to know why, and we need to make sure you’re safe.”

“What was that stuff you threw out the window?”

Tara hesitated, then gripped the steering wheel and answered. “Goofer dust, old New Orleans recipe. It’ll keep them off our trail until we park.”

Katrina started unbuckling her seatbelt and clawing at the door handle. “This was great,” she said, “but you’re crazy people, and I’m getting out of this car, now.”

Faith protested, holding the door shut and pressing the lock down, but Tara pulled over. She watched Katrina climb out of the car and asked, “What would make you feel safe with us?”

“Nothing.”

“Do you want us to take you back to your car?”

Katrina glanced around the neighborhood. “I know where I am. I’d rather not get kidnapped, thanks.”

“What if Warren finds you?”

“I’m not scared of Warren,” Katrina said.

She turned and started to walk away, but Tara told her, “I am.”

Katrina paused. Tara continued.

“I’m scared of Warren. There’s something inside him that just… w-won’t stop coming. He locks on, and he won’t let go. I’m a target now, and I’ll be a target forever.”

Sighing, Katrina turned back around.

“I drive,” she said, and Tara climbed out of her seat.





Katrina drove herself home and changed clothes, then packed for the night. She rolled her eyes when Tara cast another small handful of goofer dust, but she didn’t question the precaution. It was minutes from ten o’clock when they arrived at the Summers house, and Dawn was watching television on the couch.

“Hi!” she said when she saw Katrina, and she introduced herself before she hugged Tara and Faith.

“Ten o’clock, sweetie,” Tara told her. “We’ll be quiet so we don’t wake you up.”

Dawn crossed her arms and scowled. “You bring someone new into the house, someone who looks totally cool, and then you make me go to bed? No way.”

Tara stared her down, but Dawn didn’t back off. “Thumb wrestle?” she suggested.

Katrina laughed while the two of them battled it out, and cheered when Dawn won.

“Okay,” Tara said. “Here’s the deal: You can stay up and talk to Katrina while Faith and I figure out what we’re going to do. Once we have a plan, you go to sleep.”

Dawn agreed and led Katrina into the living room. Tara settled on a stool at the kitchen island while Faith raided the fridge.

“We can charm her house,” Tara started, “but I don’t think she’ll like it. The best spells take a week to set, and you have to start on the full moon, which is two weeks from now.”

“Can we make a temporary spell to work until then?” Faith asked around a mouthful of cold chicken breast.

Tara shrugged. “Probably. And if he hadn’t found her before now, he might not know where she lives to begin with. Do you think we should we talk to the police?”

“I don’t know how seriously they’d take it. Especially around here; police don’t do anything.”

“That’s just for vampires.”

“And all the dead people they make,” Faith said.

“I know,” Tara muttered, and she closed her eyes for a moment and tried to sort out her thoughts. “We should do it anyway, just in case. We’ll go tomorrow. I can start choosing spells tonight, try to explain things to her. I… I could prove it, the magic, but I don’t want to scare her.”

“Yeah. And hey, we should probably figure out what this is.” Faith fished the Cerebral Dampener out of her pocket and passed it to Tara. She turned it over in her hands and studied it, but she couldn’t figure anything out about it.

“The Nerd Herd tends to blend technology and magic. That’s not my specialty.”

Faith smiled. “Red’ll still be up.”

“Yes, I know she will,” Tara said, and she tried to glare. Faith laughed at her.

Dawn and Katrina were sitting on the floor of the living room, watching a magnetic model train run back and forth on a short piece of track.

“It takes more energy to run the air conditioner on this thing than it does to run the train,” Katrina was explaining. “They’re building test tracks in Germany and China, and I swear I’m gonna get out of this town and work on that. It’s fantastic, what these things can do.”

Her eyes never left the model train. Dawn alternated between watching the train and studying Katrina’s face. She’d made this train herself, and everything about it was perfect, from the alignment of the parts and the perfectly glued seams to the delicately hand-painted logos.

“I wish I loved something as much as you love trains,” Dawn said. Katrina blinked and smiled vaguely.

“Yeah. It’s nice.” She reached out and brushed the train with her fingertips, then started talking again. “Alfred Zehden had the first patent on this idea, back in 1905…”

She and Dawn lowered their voices when Tara came into the living room and picked up the phone. She called the campus and dialed Willow’s extension, then held her breath.

“Hello?”

“Um. H-hi. Willow?”

Willow, who had been immersed in a biology reading, rubbed her face and tried to clear her head. “Tara? What’s up? Is something wrong?”

“Sort of? I… There’s a woman here, Warren’s ex. He was trying to… do something to her at a restaurant. Faith stole the device, but I don’t know where to start with it. So, I was hoping, if you could? I can come get you, and if it gets late you could… stay.” Tara hadn’t planned to say the last part, but she didn’t take it back.

“You bet, mister!” Willow answered, suddenly clear-headed and eager. “I’m always ready to take a bite out of crime. And couches are perfectly viable sleeping spots.”

Tara sighed, grateful for the easy escape from her earlier, unintentionally suggestive suggestion.

“Great. I’ll um. I’ll be right over.”

She hung up, and Dawn pounced on her.

“Willow’s coming over? Cool. You’ll like Willow,” she told Katrina. “She’s super techy. Can I stay up and see Willow?”

Tara sagged against the roll-top desk. “You saw her this afternoon.”

“I know. But who can get enough of Willow? Seriously.”

“Willow can tuck you into bed,” Tara told her. “But you’re going to get up and go to school tomorrow, on time, with no complaints. Okay?”

Dawn stood up to hug her. Tara squeezed her with what felt like the last of her energy and shambled to the car.





Willow and Tara stopped at the Magic Box on their way back to the Summers house. The conversation had been easy at first; Tara had explained who Katrina was and what had happened, in detail, then mentioned that Dawn was waiting up for her. In the shop, they discussed which books would be most helpful.

“Wow,” Willow had said when Tara lifted a loaded box of books and carried them easily. “You really got strong.”

Tara had smiled at her, and then neither of them had come up with anything to say.

“Do you want the radio on?” Tara finally asked. “It’d be nice to listen to something other than hard rock and metal.”

“Sure. What do you want?”

“Anything but rock and metal,” Tara said, and Willow chuckled. She turned the dial on the radio until gentle jazz came through strong, then sat back in her seat. Tara focused on driving, and Willow saw her start to tap on the steering wheel at a stoplight. It was such a sweet, ordinary thing that Willow wanted to kiss her hands. She turned her body away and tried to stare out the window to ignore her longing, but a faint outline of Tara was visible in the window because of the light from the dash.

Dawn ran to greet them at the door when they reached the house, and Willow informed her that she was the official tucker-inner person.

Katrina raised an eyebrow. “Nice to meet you,” she said.

Willow blushed and shook her hand, babbling, “I’m not like, some sort of weird person. I go to college, not to random people’s houses. I just know Dawn, and Tara said she was waiting up, not Tara, Dawn, and… Hi, I’m Willow.”

“Do you want to see my room, Katrina?”

“Dawn,” Tara warned from the dining room, where she was unpacking the books.

Katrina smiled at her. “Ten minutes?”

Tara sighed. “Sure. Undermine my authority,” she said, and she kissed Dawn’s head and slipped into the sunroom at the back of the house, where no one would demand anything of her for a while.

Since her selection as Watcher, Tara had appropriated the little space as her own. A spice cabinet she’d found at a thrift store was filled with charms and amulets, and a bookcase stood against one wall. It was stuffed with her mother’s spell books and a selection of Watchers’ Diaries, including Diana Dormer’s, Wesley’s, and Giles’s. Her own she kept in the wicker chair, where she sat to write. She sank into her chair and opened her diary to a blank page, but she stared at it without writing anything. When she rested her head on the back of the chair, her hand loosened on the diary, and it shut in her lap.





Upstairs, Willow was chatting with Katrina while Dawn brushed her teeth in the bathroom.

“So, what are you studying at college?”

Willow grinned. “As much as I can. But, computer science, mostly.”

“Really? You know, I do computer engineering for transportation companies. I just sold my first software program to the bus system for the county.”

“We have a bus system in the county?”

Katrina nodded. “Everywhere except Sunnydale. Too many accidents, people stopped using them.”

“Oh.” Willow had forgotten that vampires could ride on buses, and hadn’t connected the lack public transportation with the amount of public murder. She settled herself on the bed and changed the subject. “So, do you work with interns?”

“Haven’t done it yet, but the business is expanding, so I might need one soon. I’d only take the best, though,” Katrina said.

Willow puffed up. “Well, that’s me! You’re looking at the president of the Sunnydale High School computer sciences program right here! Of course, I’m also the only remaining member.”

“Less competition,” Katrina said, but it didn’t make Willow smile.

“Yeah.”

“So, don’t take this the wrong way,” Katrina said, sitting next to Willow and lowering her voice, “but, how’d you get mixed up with these people?”

“They’re my friends.”

“Right, but, well…”

Willow smirked. “You think they’re crazy.”

“Tara thinks she can do magic. Not exactly the most scientifically minded.”

“Can I show you something?” Willow asked.

Dawn came into her room to find her hairbrush floating back and forth across the room, and Katrina following it, looking at it from every angle.

“Magic?” she asked.

“Something,” Katrina said. “Something I don’t understand. Which is pretty much magic, isn’t it? Maybe it’s magnets.” She started hunting for something metal to put in the path of the metal-toothed hairbrush, but Willow picked up a plastic comb and made it dance with the brush. Katrina abandoned her theory and started pulling Dawn’s desk chair into the middle of the room so she could stand on it and study the ceiling, but Dawn pulled the brush and comb out of the air and put them back on her desk.

“I have to make it through the morning without complaining,” she said, “so I have to kick you out now.”

Willow hugged Dawn and helped her settle in bed, and she fussed until Dawn flicked the lights off with magic and pulled the covers up over her head. Katrina, who’d been standing beside the light switch, tried to turn it on and off again, but Willow pulled her away.

Tara jerked herself awake when she heard Willow and Katrina coming down the stairs, and her diary jumped out of her lap and onto the floor. She pulled herself out of her chair, put the diary away, and padded into the kitchen. Faith handed her a mug of fresh coffee the moment she walked through the door, and she smiled weakly before she drank. She didn’t see Willow’s concerned glance; when she looked in the redhead’s direction, Willow was grinning with the tip of her tongue between her teeth.

“I wouldn’t have worried, Tara,” she told her. “I don’t think you can scare this girl.”
Katrina looked Tara over for a moment, then said, “I saw some… interesting things, and I think I should apologize for calling you a crazy person.”

Tara gave her a crooked smile. “Would you be willing to read some crazy things, try to help us figure out what Warren’s up to?”

Katrina agreed, and the three of them settled at the dining room table. Faith sat with them and pretended to read.

“Hey Faith?” Willow asked her. “Could you find me a magnifying glass and some tape? Oh, and a ruler!”

Faith stood again and hunted through the roll-top desk. Tara caught Willow’s eye and mouthed a thank-you.

When she had her supplies, Willow sent Faith for a scale from the kitchen and began a series of experiments. She measured the circumference and calculated the diameter and volume, then weighed it and found its density.

“I can take this stuff to the library tomorrow and see what type of material it could be, if it’s solid. Which, if it’s mechanical, it won’t be.”

Katrina pulled Willow’s scrap paper toward her and checked the figures.

Faith nudged Tara’s knee with her own, and the two leaned close together.

“If that chick was a cat, I’d keep her,” Faith whispered.

Tara smiled. “As long as she didn’t have mange.”

They shoved each other with their shoulders until Katrina gave Willow her notes back and spoke.

“Best way to figure out if it’s mechanical is to crack it open, right?” she said.

“Depending on the material, that’ll be easier said than done,” Willow replied. “It doesn’t look like it was welded.”

“Screw-top?” Faith suggested.

Willow picked up the magnifying glass and started turning it in her hands, muttering about hairline seams.

From her place halfway down the stairs, Dawn could hear only half of what the other girls were saying, and she couldn’t see a thing. If she got caught spying, Tara would probably put Faith on watchdog duty, and then she’d never know what was going on, unless she could convince Faith to spill the beans. She looked over her shoulder, back up the stairs, trying to gauge if she could still make it to the bathroom door fast enough if she went another step or two down.

“It looks like there’s some kind of residue on this thing,” Willow announced, and Dawn perked up her ears. “And maybe a little bit of heat damage here. The metal’s a little discolored, not quite as… disturbingly perfect.”

Katrina got out of her chair and took the orb and the magnifying glass Willow offered her. Tara rose and stood slightly behind Willow, with her hand on the back of her chair, and leaned over Willow’s shoulder to get a glimpse of the object in Katrina’s hands. The closeness made Willow almost breathless.

“Not particles,” Katrina said. “It’s more of a melting pattern, like something got poured on it. Here, measure from the burn mark, see if that’s the central point.”

“You think whatever burned it might have melted some kind of coating?” Tara asked.

Katrina nodded, but Willow measured and shook her head. “The burn’s the central point, but it’s almost like the heat source is what left the residue. It’s thicker there, not thinner.”

“A spell then.” Tara reached out for the orb and the magnifying glass and studied it. “Certain potions need an ignition, and the spark can sort of, splash it? Gives us somewhere to start.”

Faith leaned into the conversation and asked, “What kind of spells are these, T?”

Tara glanced at Katrina, then down to the floor. “Love spells, mostly.”

“So this is some kind of magical date rape drug?” Katrina rolled her eyes. “That’s classy.”

“Doesn’t seem like it works,” Faith said.

“Not yet anyway,” Willow said. “I can get the microscope and chem set from the Magic Box and see if I can tell what’s in the residue.”

“Sounds like a plan.”

All four of them kept a nervous eye on the sphere as Tara held it flat in her palm and offered it to Willow. When Willow took it, her fingertips brushed the skin of Tara’s hand, and Tara felt the faintest tremor of desire.

The Cerebral Dampener whirred just enough that it drew everyone’s attention, and then it sent out a plume of orange, shimmering smog.

Dawn had slipped back up the stairs, recognizing Tara’s comment about a plan as a cue for everyone to move. She stood at the top, leaning down and straining to catch a clue about whether the adventure was over for the night, or if there was more to find out. But no one moved, no one spoke. Every passing minute drew Dawn one step further downstairs, until she was standing in the doorway of the dining room, staring at the four motionless women gathered at the end of the table.

Faith saw her first and straightened up, purring, “I love you, master.”





Amy listed to starboard as she wandered home from Rack’s place, warm and humming in spite of the cold. The stars were whispering to her, and if they could have only talked one at a time, she was sure they’d tell her the incantations that held the universe together, but she was too busy laughing and burbling back to hear anyway. She grew flowers in the cracks in the pavement as she passed and didn’t notice when they withered and died. She laughed until she felt like it echoed down the streets, and then all her noise came bouncing back at her, deafening and alien. When she screamed, that echoed back, too, but she couldn’t hear it anymore. The stars were too loud, and the horns of the cars and her footsteps, and she crouched on the ground with her palms pressed to her ears, trying to block out the noise, but her head filled up with the sound of her little rat heartbeat. Could she just hold her breath and roll herself home? Her little rat heart wouldn’t beat so fast if she were home. The world spiraled over and under her, like she was doing cartwheels sideways (she’d never managed to do a cartwheel right, no matter how hard her mother had tried to teach her). Her toes bumped gently against the gate in front of her house, and she slipped between the bars and pranced up to the front door, giggling with her hand over her mouth, to keep the noise from getting away.

“Hello boys,” she shouted when she had shut the door firmly and peeked out the windows.

The Trio didn’t answer her. Andrew’s head was flopped over the back of a chair, and Jonathan’s arms were wrapped around his magic bone, hugging it to his chest. Warren sat with his legs wide open and his hands limp between them, his Enterprise boxers showing through a hole at the crotch of his jeans. They were so still that Amy almost convinced herself they were dead.

“What’s the matter, boys?” she squeaked. When they all moaned, she sneered at them. “Did you eat too much pizza, or did one of your little toys break?”

“The Slayer stole our…”

“Shut up, Andrew!” Jonathan snapped.

Warren looked up at Amy swaying on the doormat, and weighed out just how desperate he was.

“So, Amy,” he asked, “How about you and me head upstairs, and you explain where in hell you were?”

He grabbed her arm and dragged her upstairs before she could answer, and he shut the door to his bedroom behind them. Amy giggled and watched him. At least, it felt like she was watching him; her eyes were blacked out, and Warren wasn’t sure she could really see him at all.

“Listen, Ames, I have a plan. Big plan, you’re gonna love it. But I need something the Slayer took from me. Someone.”

On his computer, he pulled up the website for Katrina’s business. He cobbled together a plan that involved the computer chips from vans with automatic doors, and Amy was high enough to buy it. She draped herself over his shoulders and snickered.

“Really? You want this girl for her brain?”

“Brain’s the best part of a woman,” Warren told her. “Without ‘em, they couldn’t do all their neat little tricks.”

Amy slid her hands up his chest and off his shoulders, then stood behind him with her arms crossed. He turned in his chair to look at her.

“And why should I find her, Warren Mears? What’s in it for me?”

The word escaped him before he could think: “Anything.”

Eyebrow raised, Amy smiled at him. “Anything?”

“Cash, magic supplies, that Wicca bitch’s heart in a box… You name it, you get it. Guaranteed.”

“You sound like a car salesman,” she told him, and she put her hands on the arms of his chair and leaned so close he could smell the ozone wafting off her. “I want my fair share of all this business. I want my half.”

“Half?” Warren croaked.

Amy jerked her head toward the door. “You don’t really think I expect those two goons to be part of this. I know you Warren; you’ll use them and wash them down the drain. But not me. I’m different.”

“You always were.”

“So.” Amy took his hands in hers and jerked him to his feet. “Half for you.” She watched her fingers thread into his, on one hand, then the other. “And half for me.”

Warren knew exactly what she wanted, then.

“You and me, baby,” he promised. “King and queen.”

He dropped her right hand and wrapped his arm around her waist, pulling her close and leading her in a waltz. She put her whole weight into the embrace and threw her head back, laughing. They danced until she was dizzy, and then Warren pulled her upright and looked into her black eyes.

“Get the girl.”

“King and queen,” Amy murmured, and she pressed her lips to his. Her touch shocked him, physically, but Warren didn’t pull back. He kissed her until she let him go, smiled until she’d slipped out the door with a giddy hop-skip.

When she was gone, he sank into his chair again and buried his face in his hands.


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 Post subject: Re: Time Heals All
PostPosted: Sat Oct 20, 2012 9:37 pm 
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1. Blessed Wannabe

Joined: Sat Nov 12, 2011 5:56 am
Posts: 9
Just to let you know that I am still here and happily reading the story. I would offer to edit, but my editing is of rather dubious quality. Hope you find a new editor and your schedule behaves (if only so the updates would come faster :P nah take your time, because I would take quality over quantity).


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 Post subject: Re: Time Heals All
PostPosted: Sat Oct 20, 2012 10:42 pm 
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5. Willowhand
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Joined: Fri Mar 25, 2011 7:09 pm
Posts: 298
Topics: 5
Location: California
My oh my, a girl could get used to these chapter lengths xD

My never-ending horror at the Trio and their behavior merely grows with leaps and bounds with each fic I read, but I think your's is the first to capture it. Like, Johnathan and Andrew don't even seem to register what they were trying to do as rape.

I love that you took a character with little to know screentime and made her so likable, too. Willow and Tara being cute, of course, is slowly growing.

I have to admit, I chuckled at Faith's 'Master'.

_________________
"If I can't be a good example, might as well be a horrible warning."

"Friendship is obviously magic. Love is a sorta super strong friendship. We gay people love so hard we broke 'Social Norm'. Ergo, we gay people are ultra-strong wizards."


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 Post subject: Re: Time Heals All
PostPosted: Sun Oct 21, 2012 1:07 am 
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11. Fish in the Bowl

Joined: Tue Sep 28, 2010 1:35 pm
Posts: 1480
Topics: 2
Location: California
Hi,

Just started reading so bear with me being enthusiastic about chapter one. "She stinks of death" and "a sulky version of sunrise" - loved them both! :flower

And yes, pulled in, definitely! :eatme :applause :bounce :

Reading and catching up . . . more f/b to come.

Keep writing! :kgeek

Ariel


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 Post subject: Re: Time Heals All
PostPosted: Wed Oct 31, 2012 2:15 pm 
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2. Floating Rose
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Joined: Fri Apr 13, 2012 4:44 pm
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Topics: 1
Time Heals All: a Willow/Tara fic with a terrible title

Author: Big_Pineapple

Feedback: Yes, including title suggestions, line edits, and general comments

Spoilers: vague reference to all seasons

Setting: Pre-season six and onward, AU.

Rating: PG-13 to R



TRIGGER WARNING for assault, discussion of rape


XXVI: Passion, part 2

The four women obeyed with blank faces when Dawn told them to sit in a row on the couch and be still. She watched them for a moment, waiting for them to crack up somehow and give away the game, and she would act angry and promise she’d never spy on them again and go to bed. But none of them moved. Willow was so still Dawn put a hand on her chest to make sure she was breathing.

“Is there something you want, master?” she asked when she was touched.

“We’ll be happy to do anything, master,” Tara added, and they all agreed.

Dawn stomped her foot and glared at them. “Cut it out!”

“With scissors, master?” Faith asked.

When Dawn screamed at them to stop, they blinked and asked, almost in unison, what they were doing that she wanted them to stop doing, master. She turned her back on them and snatched up the phone. First she called Giles’s old phone number without thinking and woke up a random stranger. He shouted at her, and she started crying; he hung up. Dawn reached into the earth and focused like Tara had taught her, and took deep breaths until she felt nourished and stable, then she dialed Xander and Anya’s phone number.

“Hi you’ve reached Xander Harris and Anya Jenkins-soon-to-be-Harris, both of whom are completely human. Leave a message, and then hang up the phone. If you really want to speak to me, please call the Magic Box, your one stop shop for all your magical needs. And feel free to stop by the shop and buy things. We value your patronage.”

Dawn hung up on Anya’s voicemail message and called again.

“Hi, you’ve reached Xander Harris…”

She left a message explaining what little she knew, then hung up the phone and waited for Xander to call back. He didn’t. When Dawn asked what time it was, Katrina told her, “Twelve fifteen, master. Would you like my watch?”

“Yes,” Dawn muttered, and when Katrina handed it to her, she wrapped her hand around it and let the weight comfort her. She could control what she owned and what she didn’t. She could control this problem.

She started by thumbing through the magic books on the dining room table, but it didn’t take her long to give up; if the others hadn’t found out anything, she certainly wouldn’t. What she needed was help.

“Willow, where did Xander and Anya go at midnight?”

“I don’t know master,” Willow told her.

Dawn slipped Katrina’s watch into the pocket of her pajama top and dug out the phone book. It took her over an hour to call every restaurant, bar, and dance club within the city limits, going as low down in the price range as she imagined Xander would dare to stoop. Then she called Xander’s apartment again.

“Hi, you’ve reached Xander Harris and Anya Jenkins-soon-to-be…”

The Buffybot answered the phone at the Magic Box, and Dawn asked her where Xander and Anya had gone. After a pause so long Dawn thought the robot had hung up, she answered, “I fight with weapons.” Dawn groaned and told the Buffybot goodnight.

“Good morning!” it chirped. It was one thirty.

Angel was seven hours away, but he would be awake, and someone would be in his office, so Dawn started searching for his number, but then she realized who else would be awake: Spike.

“Stay here,” Dawn ordered the four women on the couch, and she slipped into Tara’s fighting coat. The sleeves were too long, and when she rolled them up, stakes stuck out and poked her palms. She went upstairs and put her boots on, not bothering to change out of her pajamas, and when she came back, no one had moved on the couch. They seemed well behaved, but what if they weren’t? What if they wandered off and hurt themselves? What if it was a wasting spell of some kind, and they needed her to find a cure for them before it was too late? What if Xander called, and no one was here to answer?

Dawn glanced out the window and saw a vampire kicking a can down the street. That was more than enough to convince her not to go outside.

But she needed help. Someone had to go find it.

Faith was the obvious choice. Even when Buffy had been out of her mind, with fever or Dracula-induced stupidity, or when her roommate had been sucking her soul, the Slayer instinct had always come through. That instinct was even stronger in Faith. She’d be fine on her own if anything went wrong.

But the rest of them might not be. Tara wouldn’t fight automatically, and Dawn couldn’t choreograph a whole battle by ordering her around. Willow, on the other hand, might end up doing something she’d regret. Katrina was a wild card, so any plans Dawn made would have to assume Katrina was a liability, not an asset. And she was a liability; if the Trio came looking for her, they’d come here. Faith was the only one Dawn was sure could protect Katrina.

So Faith and Katrina were a pair. But Faith was the only one who could be safe on the streets.

Dawn called Xander and left another pleading message. No one on the couch moved, but Tara asked if there was anything she could do to soothe her, because she looked tense. Tara hugged her close when Dawn sat on her lap and told her to. From there, Dawn kept thinking.

If the Trio came here, they could have their sphere thingy back. Dawn didn’t care what it was, or what they did with it, as long as it could be undone to her friends. That was a deal the Trio would probably make. As long as Katrina wasn’t here, they’d leave without a fight.

So Katrina and Faith would get Spike, and Dawn would stay with Willow and Tara and cross her fingers that everything worked out.

Dawn gave the Slayer two orders at once: to get an axe and bring her a coke with ice. Faith succeeded, which meant she could probably handle complex instructions. At least, that’s what Dawn hoped it meant.

“Okay, go to Spike’s crypt and bring him back here, and make sure no one touches Katrina, okay? No one, at all, until you get back here with Spike.”

“Yes, master,” Faith said.

“And Katrina, you stay with Faith any time you’re outside this house, okay?”

Katrina answered, “Yes, master,” and the two of them turned to leave.

“Hey!” Dawn shouted, “Put shoes on first.”

Faith put her sneakers on. Katrina slipped her feet into Willow’s shoes.

“What can I do, master?” Tara asked, kissing her on the head, then the top of her ear. Dawn shrugged and pulled away from Tara’s embrace.

“I have to keep calling Xander,” she muttered, more because doing something would keep her awake than because she thought it would do any good. The caffeine in the coke would help, too.

“Should I call Xander, too, master?” Tara asked.

Dawn shook her head. For a few minutes, Tara was quiet, but then she asked again, “What can I do, master?”

“You don’t have to do anything,” Dawn said.

“But I want to do something. I love you, master.”

Dawn glared at her. “Don’t say that. It doesn’t mean anything now.”

“What should I say, master?”

“You don’t have to say anything!”

“But I want to say something, master,” Tara told her, right when Xander and Anya’s voicemail picked up again.

“I don’t care!” Dawn screamed, slamming the phone down. “I don’t care what you do, just stay inside and leave me alone!” Neither Tara nor Willow flinched, and Dawn clenched her fists and sobbed, “Just do what Tara would do. Whatever you want to, okay?”

Dawn picked up the phone and started calling the restaurants again. Most of them were already closed. One of the few who answered hung up on her when all she could do was whimper into the phone.

Tara stood and told Willow, “I want to kiss you, master.”

“You should do what you want, master,” Willow replied.

Tara kissed her mechanically. “I love you, master.”

“I love you, master,” Willow echoed.

“Would you like to come upstairs, master?”

Willow nodded. “If that’s what you want, master.”

“Please come upstairs, master.”

Dawn had been ignoring them while she called Xander three more times, but when they went past her, she barked, “Hey! Where are you going?”

“Upstairs, master,” Tara said, “to do what I want.”

The look in her eyes was no longer blank. It was smoldering. Dawn gulped and nodded, and Tara tromped upstairs like the Buffybot, tugging a willing Willow behind her.

“Xander,” Dawn told the answering machine. “Please pick up. I don’t know what to do.”




Amy’s high started to wear off while she was drifting through the Bronze, and the sweat she’d worked up from dancing in a haze had soaked her shirt. It was miserably cold outside when she was wet, and she didn’t have the energy to dry herself off magically. To manage magic at all, she’d need a shower and sleep. First, though, she had to find that girl, Katrina. She wasn’t sure what Warren had told her was real, but finding the girl was the best way to find out. It felt real. She wanted it to be.

Somewhere between the Bronze and the Summers house, while she was nuzzling her chin into the fuzzy collar of her duster jacket, she collided with the Slayer.

“Stay back!” Amy yelled, trying her best to look ferocious.

Faith and Katrina stepped backwards. “Yes, master.”

A sniff of the air told Amy there was magic involved in this. She looked Katrina up and down, then told her, “Come here.”

Katrina stood taller than her, and wider at the shoulders, and her face was completely blank.

“What are you doing out here?” Amy asked her.

“Staying with Faith, master.”

“Give me your coat.”

Katrina obeyed, saying, “Yes, master.”

Amy pulled the coat on and told Faith to go away. She obeyed, but Katrina tried to follow her. When Amy grabbed Katrina’s wrist, Faith lunged and hefted Amy up by the back of her stolen coat.

“You can’t touch her, master.”

“Put me down!” Amy shrieked, and once her feet were planted, she demanded to know what was going on. Faith explained her orders. Amy ran a hand through her sweat-soaked hair and groaned. “Can’t you just forget about all that?”

“Of course, master,” Faith told her.

Amy reached for Katrina, touched her shoulder with her fingertip. Faith didn’t move. When Amy wrapped her hand around Katrina’s forearm, Faith did nothing. Amy squeaked in pleasure and pulled Katrina away.

“What else can I do for you, master?” Faith asked, following them down the road.

Having a Slayer slave would be useful, but then, Amy wasn’t sure how this spell worked, or what it was, and having a Slayer come to herself in the house would be bad. Amy shrugged and told her to go slay a vampire or something, and Faith lurched off toward the nearest graveyard. Katrina gladly followed Amy home.

By the time Amy got in the door, she was shaking from cold and exhaustion. She shoved Katrina into the Trio’s delighted grasp and announced she was taking a shower. The Trio watched her go, then turned to each other and huddled up.

“So what now?” Andrew asked. “She’s all sex slave-y and everything!”

Warren patted him on the back. “Don’t worry, I have a plan. Katrina!” he ordered, coming towards her. “I want you to get the plastic bag out of my closet, third door upstairs, and put on what’s in the bag and come back down here.”

“Yes, master,” Katrina said, and the Trio watched her bottom as she walked up the stairs.

“Skippy,” Warren told Jonathan, “get the champagne out of the fridge. I think this is a cause for celebration.”

When Katrina returned in a maid outfit, Warren ordered her to pour the champagne. She did this with as little movement as possible, as if she weren’t allowed to bend a joint without permission. Warren flopped onto Amy’s couch and tipped his glass to Katrina.

“Thanks, baby,” he said.

“My pleasure, master.”

Andrew gawked, wrapping a sweaty hand around his champagne flute. “That is so cool.”

“I really could’ve used one of these in high school,” Jonathan said. “You think we could make another one?”

“We can do anything.” Warren smirked at him and raised his glass. “Gentlemen, to crime!”

“Crime!” the two boys chorused, and they toasted.

Andrew gagged on his first sip of champagne. “Crime tastes funny.”

Jonathan set his glass on the coffee table and circled Katrina. He stood eye level with her cleavage, present but tantalizingly covered by the lace of her maid outfit. He studied hungrily, but he forced himself not to touch, dragging out the anticipation.

“Wow,” he murmured. “I still think I would have gone with the bazoombas, but… wow.”

“Yeah, she’s really cute,” Andrew agreed.

“Cute?” Warren muttered, and he lunged to his feet. “Look at her, man! The shape of her lips. The smooth, silky skin.” His hand fluttered toward her face, like he was reaching to stroke a small-boned, delicate animal. “The way,” Warren laughed like a little boy. “The way her nose crinkles when she laughs…”

If they hadn’t been studying Katrina’s lips and nose, the others would have noticed a look almost like love in Warren’s eyes. “She’s perfect.”

Jonathan and Andrew tittered at the thrill of possessing perfecting.

“She’s totally hot!” Andrew announced.

“So are you, master.”

Andrew puffed out his chest at Katrina’s mechanical comment, trying to look like William Shatner. “You think so?”

“Oh yes, master.”

Jonathan started making vague, suggestive motions with his arms and prancing in place. He would never consider himself a virgin, but with the twins, he had been a superstar, the best of everything. None of his skills would help him now. “Okay. So how do we, you know…”

“Yeah,” Andrew agreed, copying Jonathan’s nervous movements. “I mean, who gets to…”

Warren draped an arm around Katrina and took a casual sip of champagne. “I do.”

“That’s not fair!” Andrew whined.

“Dude, you didn’t call it!”

“I don’t have to call it, Sparky. She’s mine!” Warren snapped. Controlling himself, he passed Jonathan the champagne bottle. “But don’t worry. You can play with her all you want, after I’m done with her.”




Forgotten upstairs, Amy sat in green satin underwear in front of her bedroom mirror, combing out her wet hair. Her shower had refreshed her, and she had nibbled on a stash of cheese and crackers until her stomach had stopped complaining. The evening’s events had filtered back to her in a more solid way as the chill of the night and the shuddering disgust of her own sweat and smell had faded from her body. The one detail she couldn’t recover, much as she tried, was the feeling of Warren’s kiss, and the more she tried to resurrect the sensation, the more certain she became that she wouldn’t be able to sleep tonight until she felt it again.

Down the hall, she heard Warren’s door slam shut. Poor baby, something must have gone wrong. If she could cheer him up, they’d probably both sleep better.

Her own virginity didn’t stop Amy’s imagination, and Warren’s experience didn’t intimidate her. She ferreted a red silk bathrobe out of her closet, then scowled at it, thinking she’d rather be a rat than look like a Christmas tree. Sex wasn’t something she had in mind tonight, she told herself; she’d hate to fall asleep in the middle of her first time.

With a shake of the fabric, she turned the red silk royal blue, and she slipped the robe over her shoulders and tied it tightly around her waist. Kissing was certainly alright with her, and if Warren wanted to touch… Amy tossed her hair back and raked her eyes over herself in the mirror. Who could blame him?

She slipped out of her bedroom and peeked over the railing of the staircase, into the living room below. Jonathan and Andrew were bopping each other with couch cushions, oblivious to everything around them. Amy smiled wickedly and turned to Warren’s bedroom door, just in time to see it fly open. Warren sailed out backward like someone had thrown him and slammed into the banister, cracking a few of the posts. Katrina stormed out after him, throwing a French maid’s hat in his face.

Amy watched Warren try to get to his feet, and she didn’t intervene when Katrina charged him again. She shoved him, and Warren curled into a ball to protect his head while he tumbled down the stairs. Katrina ripped the spike heels of her feet and threw them, narrowly missing Amy’s shins.

Jonathan and Andrew watched Katrina descend, screaming, “What did you do to me?”

“Do something!” Warren shouted at the other boys, but they froze when Katrina turned on them.

“Who the hell are you?”

Andrew looked at Jonathan, then flinched away from Katrina and squeaked, “Um, your masters?”

“My what?”

Amy carried a moment of silence into the room when she drifted down the stairs. She looked every person in the room in the eye, then settled her gaze on Warren. Katrina turned back to shouting at Jonathan and Andrew while Warren trembled under the witch’s glare.

“Amy, baby,” he pleaded. “You gotta help me.”

“The faithful queen?”

Warren rolled onto his hands and knees and begged her. “This isn’t what it looks like. It was their idea. Please, baby, do something!”

“I know what I’m going to do,” Amy said, leaning back against the banister. “I’m going to stand here and watch.”

Almost on cue, Katrina whirled on Warren.

“God! First the skankbot, and now this?” She kicked him in the stomach, with little force because of the angle and her bare feet, but Warren collapsed anyway. “What is wrong with you?”

Warren grabbed her ankle and hauled himself off the floor, fighting to balance on her shoulders while she tried to push him off.

“I just wanted us to be together,” he said, reaching to touch her face.

Katrina shoved him away, and he stumbled into the end table, falling and struggling to stand while she told him, “There is no us, Warren! Get that through your big, meaty head. I am not your girlfriend anymore!”

Andrew and Jonathan gaped, and Amy burst out laughing.

“She’s your ex?” Jonathan spluttered.

Andrew backed away, muttering, “Dude, that is messed up.”

“Oh, you think?” Katrina shouted, stepping toward them. “Bunch of little boys, playing at being men.”

“This is glorious,” Amy cackled, and Katrina pointed her finger like a sword in her face.

“You shut up! You’re a part of this, too.”

Amy shuddered, watching Katrina’s arm tremble, knowing the girl had no idea how vital her part had been. Katrina ran her shaking hand through her hair and stuttered, “This isn’t some fantasy. It’s not a game, you freaks. It’s rape!”

“What?” Jonathan gasped.

“No, we didn’t…”

Katrina was heaving and choking on her breath, refusing to make herself more vulnerable by crying. Tara and Faith were supposed to protect her. Where were they? What had Warren done to them? She buried her hands in her hair, then lashed out and snarled at her attackers.

“You are all sick.” She turned on Warren once more and added, “I’m gonna make sure you get locked up for this.”

Warren’s face hardened as Katrina turned away, and Amy watched in wonder as any trace of love drained out of him.

“Stop her!” he ordered, and out of fear more than loyalty, Jonathan and Andrew obeyed, wrapping their arms around Katrina’s waist. Katrina slammed her elbow into Andrew’s face, scraping her arm on his teeth and swelling his nose. Jonathan grappled for a better hold, and she kneed him in the crotch. Still, she had to get past Warren to reach the door.

When she ran for it, Warren slammed into her, knocking her back toward the stairs where Amy stood. He grabbed Katrina’s wrist, but she threw him off and tried to cut around him. Warren wrapped his hand around the tie of the maid’s apron, and Katrina turned, ripping the fabric, and clawed at his eyes. Warren lost his grip, but he moved so quickly even Amy couldn’t track the movements until it was too late. She staggered to the side as Katrina, with Warren on her back, fell onto the stairs, hitting her head. Warren coupled the blow with one of his own, from the still half-full champagne bottle from the side table. The champagne sloshed over them like a baptism, and Warren stood, wiping it off his face and panting.

“The witch bitch won’t help us? That’s fine. We’ll find our own spell. Jonathan, start looking through the books. Andrew, get her up.”

Andrew crept up to the staircase and knelt down beside Katrina while Warren told them, “Everything’s all right, everything’s gonna be alright.”

Before Andrew even touched the girl, before he drew his hand back covered in blood, Amy knew. She leaned against the banister and watched Andrew swallow and whimper, “I don’t think so.”

“Get out!” Amy snapped. She was drawing breath through her quivering nose as fast as she could, but she couldn’t breathe, and her little rat heartbeat was deafening.

Warren laughed in panic and spite. “You think you can just throw us out, Ames? Trina's right, you’re a part of this, too.”

“I had no part in this!” Amy yelled, pointing at the girl on the stairs.

“You brought her here!” Warren grabbed her arms. “You wanted in on this, right? You wanted your half? You take half the blame, then, baby!” He kissed her roughly and pressed her against the banister, snarling, “King and queen.”

Amy panted, “I had no part in this. Just take the girl and go, or I swear to god, Warren Mears, I will kill you where you stand.”

“Bullshit!” Warren exploded, but Amy’s eyes blackened. The house rumbled, the window shades leapt up and down, and everything smaller than a chair flew into the air and battered the three boys. The kitchen drawers rattled, and the silverware joined the mêlée. The door slammed open. The van horn honked, and then the fire alarm went off.

“Get out!” Amy shrieked over the din, and Andrew grabbed Katrina under her arms and lifted. Jonathan grabbed her feet and helped him haul her out to the van. Warren backed out, watching her black-eyed and trembling in the hurricane of household trimmings. The door slammed in his face when he stepped over the threshold. Katrina’s clothes, her shoes, everything she had touched, flew out a window, and he gathered it up and climbed into the van.

Amy collapsed on the floor with everything else in house, drained and unable to move, in a puddle of champagne and what she imagined was blood.




Willow came to with her shirt pulled up over her face, and when she pulled it down, she saw Tara’s legs retreating from around her, and a flash of her naked breasts.

“Oh god, I’m not looking!” she yelled, and she slammed her hands over her eyes. Frantic, she tried to remember how she’d gotten into this compromising position, and she scolded herself for half-consciously tracking Tara’s movements based on the sounds in the room.

Tara snatched her bra from beside the bed and put it on, then went hunting for her shirt. When she found it, crumpled up by the window, she tugged it over her head and called, “You can open your eyes now.”

Willow dropped her hands and turned toward Tara in time to catch a sliver of skin.

“What happened to us?” Tara asked, pulling her hair out of her shirt and trying to make it look less like Willow had recently had her hands buried in it.

“I don’t know,” Willow told her. “Last thing I remember, we were at the table. I didn’t do anything, I mean, accidentally or… I wouldn’t.”

Tara glanced at her and nodded. “I believe you.” She grabbed four socks off the floor and passed two to Willow. “I don’t remember anything, either. We need to make sure everyone else is okay.”

Willow sat dumbstruck on the bed while Tara went into the hall, calling for Dawn and Faith. Tara believed her? Shaking herself, she took a swig from her hip flask and followed Tara downstairs, where Dawn was making a racket.

“Who am I? Who are you? Do you have free will?”

“Dawn, what’s been going on?” Tara asked, and Dawn buried herself in Tara’s arms.

From her place against Tara’s breasts, which Willow had definitely not caught a naughty glimpse of a moment ago, Dawn said, “Something happened and you were all calling me master, and I thought it was a joke but you didn’t get better. And I tried to call Xander, but he wouldn’t answer.”

Tara stroked Dawn’s hair and hugged her. Willow got her a glass of water, and the two of them sat on the couch with Dawn between them, both pressing as close as they could.

“It’s okay, sweetie, we’re all okay.” Tara glanced around the house, then watched Dawn swallow a mouthful of water before she asked, “Where’s Faith?”

“I told her to get Spike. I needed help. But she hasn’t come back yet, and it’s been like an hour…” Dawn almost checked Katrina’s watch, but she stopped herself. “And I was afraid to go out and find her because it’s dark, and I didn’t want to leave you alone. I was so stupid.”

Willow shook her head and leaned into Dawn’s line of vision. “No, you weren’t. Getting Spike was a good idea, and it makes sense for you to be worried.”

She glanced at Tara, who looked worried, too. And suddenly Willow remembered why.

Dawn answered their question before they could ask it. “I was stupid because I sent Katrina with her. I was scared Warren would come after her, and I couldn’t keep her safe. Faith’s the only one who could. I thought she’d be okay, but what if she’s not? I should have gone with them, or gone by myself. Or we could have all gone together! God, why didn’t I think of that?”

“You did everything right,” Tara told her. She kissed Dawn on the head and hugged her, and then she went to the door and started putting her shoes on. “I need to go after them.” She jerked her laces tight, then marched toward the weapons chest. Willow stopped her.

“Tara, wait. Faith and Katrina could be anywhere, and they probably came out from under the spell at the same time we did. They could be headed here right now.”

Tara shrugged and knelt in front of the weapons chest. “Then I’ll pick them up on their way.”

“We need to find Xander, assemble the gang. If they’re not here in half an hour, we’ll split up and look for them.”

A clattering of weapons was Tara’s only answer. Willow stood and raised her voice over the noise.

“You’ve been hanging around Faith too long. Why can’t you be reasonable?”

Her hands gripping the lip of the chest, Tara took a shaking breath and growled, “Because I’m tired of people fucking with me.”

Dawn blinked, wide-eyed. She’d never heard Tara cuss before, and she laughed convulsively at the strangeness, then drowned the sound in a gulp of water. Willow stared at Tara, with her thumb scratching at the lip of the weapons chest, her hair spilling over to hide her face, and was uncertain if she wanted Tara to explain, or simply to grab an axe and stride out into the dark without stabbing Willow with the full force of a wound she was responsible for. Tara made her choice.

“They come in and take what they want from me, like I’m a glass they can drink from and refill. I can’t undo what they did. And I can’t just block them out, because you never know who’s going to… s-so you’d just have to never let anyone…” Tara stared at her arm, where the scars from the hellcat were still raised and violent. “It’d just be one more part of myself they take from me. But I need to do something.”

Tara’s hands leapt into the weapons chest, and her contemplative stillness was broken. “I need to protect Katrina.”

She ignored Dawn and Willow, who were watching her, until it felt like they had to do something or vanish. Dawn muttered about getting more water and went to the kitchen, leaving Willow alone with Tara, who was threading her belt through a dagger sheath. Her face was stony with anger, and her movements were sharp. Willow approached her.

“Tara, I’m sorry. I promise, I would never do something like…”

Tara had half-drawn the dagger to make sure the sheath was secure; she sheathed it with a snap and turned her anger on Willow.

“Why are we having this conversation again?”

Willow drew back. “Because you’re angry and armed and… kind of intimidating.”

Tara squinted, and Willow drove ahead.

“Sometimes I overdo it with the whole honesty thing. I just want…”

She froze when Tara put a hand on her arm, her eyes worried and soft, and asked, “You think I’d hurt you?”

“No!” Willow assured her. “It’s not that, I just… You’re so mad. I’ve never seen you like this. And I can’t help thinking, what if part of that is because you feel like I’m lying to you? Again. I know I’m included in the fucking-with part. Just, not this time.”

Tara dropped her hand and sighed. “I said I believed you.”

“And that’s neat,” Willow said. “But… why?”

“Because you closed your eyes.” Squirming, Tara watched a car pass outside the window while she explained. “We wake up half naked in bed, with no idea how we got there, and the first thing you think of is how I might feel, what I would want.” Tara looked her in the eye for an instant, then walked past her toward the door. “You’re a good person, Willow.”

“You made me a good person.”

Tara glanced over her shoulder while she pulled her fighting coat on. “That’s what relationships are for.”

Willow walked over to her while she patted her pockets, checking for potions the way other people check for a wallet and keys.

“That and ‘cause they make you happy.”

A smile flickered at the corner of Tara’s lips as she opened the door. Willow touched her hand and made her pause.

“Can you come back in a hour? I’ll get Xander and Anya here, and if you don’t find them, we’ll help you.”

Tara nodded. “You got it, boss.”




Materializing into an empty apartment wasn’t common for vengeance demons. True, sometimes a wisher would send demons to the wrong address or fail to make arrangements before-hand to ensure the damned was where the damned was meant to be at the time they were meant to be damned. And then of course there were the damned who were being damned for always being late. After half an hour, though, sitting on the couch with a bottle of beer, listening to the phone ring incessantly, Halfrek started to wonder if she’d misunderstood her instructions to wreak vengeance on a fiancé in Sunnydale.

Really, this wasn’t her job at all, she thought as she sipped her beer. It just so happened that no children needed her aid, or she wouldn’t have come at all. Someone else really should have been found to take Anyanka’s place. The lower beings were much too picky and bureaucratic in their hiring processes.

Just when she was about to gather her cloak and give up, footsteps came down the hall. Two people chatted while a key rattled in the door, and then a man stepped through, saying, “…just a minute, Ahn, and then you’ll get your surprise.” He fumbled in the dark while Halfrek watched him, setting her beer on the coffee table so she wouldn’t spill it. The man gave up and turned on the lights, and Halfrek rose and boomed, “I have been called and vengeance shall I wreak! Cower masculine one!” she ordered, though he already was, scrabbling along the counter toward the door and making whistling sounds of terror in his throat.

“Tremble as you face my wrath!”

The man fell onto the floor on wobbling knees. Outside, a woman’s voice called, “Xander? How long is this going to take?”

“Honey?” Xander yelled. “Don’t come in!”

Anya, mishearing him, leaped through the door and struck Xander’s shoulder with it.

“I expected you to be naked,” she informed him. “Why are you on the floor? I thought we agreed…”

“Honey?” Xander pointed to the demon in the middle of the room. Anya jumped and squealed.

“Hello,” Halfrek said. “I am here to tear this man apart. How many pieces do you wish?”

Anya walked closer to the demon, shaking Xander off when he grabbed her legs to stop her.

“Halfrek?”

Halfrek squinted into the human face, then gasped. “Anyanka?”

The two leapt into each other’s arms in glee, and Xander watched in gibbering confusion.
“You two… you know each other?”

Anya ignored him. “Funny Halfrek, I didn’t summon you to kill Xander! I called to invite you to our wedding!”

“You… Oh my, what an embarrassing mistake!”

The demon laughed like any other woman, and Xander wasn’t sure if that was reassuring or just more confusing. He hauled himself up from the floor and excused himself, then staggered into the bedroom to hide. Anya watched him go, reviewing the rules he’d told her about guests and concluding that he was being rude, but she decided when she went into the bedroom he might finally be naked, so she let it slide and turned back to Halfrek.

“Gosh, it’s swell to see you again, Hallie! I didn’t mean for you to have to materialize all the way out here! Not till the ceremony, I mean.”

Halfrek waved the apology away and laughed. This explained her confusion when she arrived. “I guess I got the message garbled. You know how it is, half the time I have no idea if I’m maiming the right guy!”

Anya didn’t laugh at the joke. Halfrek studied her, then glanced at the closed bedroom door.

“You’re marrying that man with the large upper arms?”

Anya gave her a shy, eager smile and nodded.

Halfrek blinked. “Why?”

“Well, because I love him.”

Halfrek cocked her head with a skeptical hum.

“And we’re going to be very happy together.”

Halfrek cocked her head to the other side. “Hm.”

“What?” Anya asked.

The phone rang, and Halfrek pointed to it. “That device has been ringing for quite a while at odd intervals.”

Anya shrugged. “It’s just the phone, ignore it. The lower beings must not have filled my spot if you’re here doing romance calls.”

Halfrek started to explain about the bureaucracy, but the answering machine kicked on, and Willow’s voice shouted, “Xander Harris if you don’t pick up this phone I swear I’ll turn you into a rabbit and make Anya shoot you!”

“She was a candidate,” Anya told Halfrek.

Xander burst out of the bedroom and answered the phone, and Anya listened to the conversation while the answering machine recorded both sides of it.

“We gotta go,” Xander said when he hung up.

“Doesn’t sound like an emergency,” Anya told him. “Can’t we stay here and have sex like we were going to?”

Xander pointed to Halfrek, who was studying Anya with an unnerving curiosity. “You have company.”

“Well can’t we stay here and entertain our company?”

“No,” Xander told her. “We have a job to do. Now.”

“What job do you do?” Halfrek asked as Anya reluctantly joined Xander at the door.

“We kill demons,” she said, and she turned the light off and called, “Bye Hallie!” as she shut and locked the door.

“Hm,” Halfrek hummed in the dark.




Faith’s momentary confusion when the spell broke earned her a black eye. Half blinded and reeling, she used her ears to track her opponents, and based on the wooden weapon in her hand, she grabbed for shoulders and aimed for hearts. She dusted one vampire, and two others ran. Kicking along the clearing, she found three other piles of dust, scattered around the entrance to a mausoleum. Uncertain exactly which cemetery she was in, Faith made her way carefully in a random direction until she found a familiar headstone. Washington Presbyterian, all the way at the far edge of town. She called for Tara, then slipped through the gate and walked around the block, looking for the car without success. It would take her over an hour to get home on foot, running full speed, through a spit of woods that stuck out into town. Faith shrugged and jogged to the nearest gas station for ice. Maybe she could hitch a ride from there.

While the cashier at the gas station tried to find her a bag of some kind to put ice in, Faith went to the bathroom to check herself out. She had scratches on her face and a sprained wrist; nothing that wouldn’t be healed by morning. The shiner was going to be beautiful, though.

No one seemed interested in helping a girl that looked like she’d picked a fight with a housecat, and really, Faith didn’t blame them. She slumped in a booth along the edge of the store and put the ice, which the cashier had tied in four shopping bags, on her face for a while, wondering if she should call Tara, and what had happened, and whose idea it had been for her to patrol all the way out to Washington Prez at… Faith squinted at the Mountain Dew clock on the wall: almost four o’clock in the morning. Tara was probably asleep, she decided, and there was no sense waking her when she’d be back by dawn. Nothing to worry about, except the amnesia thing. Faith started prodding her head with her fingers, wondering if she had a concussion.

At four ten, Faith’s ice pack started to drip on the floor, and the boy at the cash register asked her to leave. She handed him the slippery plastic bags of ice and headed for home.

She didn’t think to worry about Katrina until the girl ran past her in the woods, deep into the trees, followed by something Faith couldn’t name. It dragged her on the ground when she grabbed its cloak, and she sat up alone, spitting grit and dead leaves.

“What the hell?”

Faith stood and turned, looking for movement. It was impossible, how far into the woods she was.

Behind her, she heard sobbing, and she turned to find Katrina on the edge of a steep drop-off.

“What’s up, K?” she asked, “You hurt?”

Faith reached for her, but something muttered her name. Great. A Slayer-hunting cult was just what she needed. She turned to fight, but there was nothing there. Above her, or maybe below, the voice demanded, “Faith, what did you do?” and other creatures asked this until Faith was shouting and swearing back at them to make them shut up. Finally, a demon with a grooved and carved-out face leapt out at her, and Faith knew what to do. She fought the thing, and two others like it, when they were there. When they vanished, she turned to Katrina, sitting at the top of that steep hill, but she never managed to touch her before the demons came back.

A snap of bone, and one demon fell. The others ran in circles around her. She tried to reach Katrina, but she tripped over the body, which hadn’t been there a moment before. Jumping in the path of the running demons did nothing, so she swung her uninjured arm wildly until she struck something hard and cold in the dark. Two demons retreated, and a body tumbled down the hill.

Warren and Andrew watched Faith skid on the dead leaves on the hill and stop next to Katrina, covered in dirt. Jonathan, creeping through the woods toward the van, heard Faith call for her Watcher. She stayed with the body longer than they expected, examining the face, breathing into the mouth, then gently rearranging it as it had fallen. She stood, and the Trio watched the anguish on her face as she forced herself to leave the body behind, alone.

“Two problems,” Warren said, turning to the others as Faith disappeared from view. “One stone.”

Jonathan winced. There had been a stone at the bottom of the hill; he’d heard Katrina’s shoulder blade slam into it.

“She totally bought it. Nice job,” Warren told him. It was the first compliment he’d ever offered him.

Jonathan glanced at his reflection in the windshield. He was the spitting image of Katrina. It made him sick, and the spell couldn’t reverse itself fast enough. “Yeah,” he muttered, watching himself turn back into himself. “Some of my best work.”




Tara pulled into the driveway at four thirty, and she patted the hood of Xander’s car as she passed it on her way to the front door. Just the act of searching had relaxed her, and she was mapping out the town in her head, trying to come up with a strategy for going forward. Willow probably already had a good one, though, she told herself as she came inside.

“I checked Spike’s haunts and didn’t find anything,” she announced as she hung her coat up. “I took a different route coming home than I did leaving, but if they’re coming from uptown, they might be headed up Clarkson Road, so…”

She trailed off as she processed the fact that Willow was staring at her, motionless with her hand on the telephone. Xander and Anya were on the couch, and Dawn was huddled up alone in an armchair, looking somewhere past her knees.

“What?”

Willow swallowed hard and told her, “Faith called.”

“Oh thank god! Where is she?” Tara took a step toward her, but she stopped when Willow shook her head.

“She didn’t say. She just… I…”

Tara saw tears in Willow’s eyes, and her blood froze, the crystals of ice scraping her insides. Willow choked, then started again.

“Tara. Katrina’s dead.”



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

I am going to make this up to you.

I still have no editor with time on eir hands, so let me know about any mistakes. Thanks.

Happy Halloween.

Kay


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 Post subject: Re: Time Heals All
PostPosted: Thu Nov 01, 2012 12:58 am 
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5. Willowhand
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Joined: Fri Mar 25, 2011 7:09 pm
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Topics: 5
Location: California
Ugh...damn the Trio. They don't even deserve the cool name. What makes them so horrifying is that guys like them absolutely exist. Sure, all Joss did was add technology and magic, but other than that, nothing about the Trio is exaggerated.

I was really starting to like Katrina, really. Sad to see her go. Willow and Tara's 'waking up' was a nice parallel to Warren and Katrina's, and that makes it wonderful but ow at the same time.

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"If I can't be a good example, might as well be a horrible warning."

"Friendship is obviously magic. Love is a sorta super strong friendship. We gay people love so hard we broke 'Social Norm'. Ergo, we gay people are ultra-strong wizards."


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 Post subject: Re: Time Heals All
PostPosted: Sun Nov 18, 2012 11:07 am 
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2. Floating Rose
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Time Heals All: a Willow/Tara fic with a terrible title

Author: Big_Pineapple

Feedback: Yes, including title suggestions, line edits, and general comments

Spoilers: vague reference to all seasons

Setting: Pre-season six and onward, AU.

Rating: PG-13


TRIGGER WARNING: While Buffy features a certain level of violence, it does not discuss compound fractures. This update does.



November 20 is Transgender Day of Remembrance. With full fear of being quaint or trite, I want to dedicate the following to our trans* friends and loved ones, and those we might have loved, had we been given a chance to know them.

Kay



XXVII. Once More With Feeling

“Dead.”

Tara lowered herself into a chair in the living room and sat with a bewildered look on her face. She didn’t meet anyone’s eye.

Willow didn’t move from where she stood, looking out the front window, with Tara completely outside her field of vision. “Faith said she called the police, but I don’t know what she told them. We should probably go to the station and tell them what we know. I mean, they might need someone to identify the…”

She trailed off, but Tara picked up the sentence, nodding. “The body. It must be verified, of course. Of course.”

Xander turned away from her as the remembered smell of hospitals and plaster casts invaded his mind. He tried to catch Willow’s eye, but she had closed hers and started chanting to herself. Anya leaned forward, elbows on her knees, and asked what the others were afraid to wonder: “You’re not going crazy again, are you? ‘Cause you said that when you were crazy.”

Tara blinked and looked Anya in the eye, her confusion deepening. Then she turned to Willow.

“Where’s Faith?”

“I wish I knew.”

“We have to find her. W-we can’t just let her stay out there all alone!”

Xander shook his head. “There’s no way to find Faith if she doesn’t want to be found.”

“Why wouldn’t she…” Tara started to ask, but Willow cut her off, growling.

“Don’t start, Xander Harris.”

Anya opened her mouth, but Willow glared at her before she could say again what she’d said before Tara came home: that Faith had obviously killed the girl. Willow took a swig from her hip flask and knelt down next to Tara’s chair.

“Is there anything you need before we go? I’ll drive. You don’t have to do a thing.”

“I need my Slayer,” Tara begged. “She’s not supposed to leave me.”

Willow took her hand and pulled her out of the chair. Dawn followed them to the car.




Buffy was at work, doing inventory at the Magic Box, the three of them agreed. She worked late and slept while Dawn was at school so she could be around while Dawn was. Tara and Faith lived there for extra family income, and to make sure Dawn had someone with her at night, when Buffy wasn’t home. It was best if Buffy, and Buffy’s parenting skills, had nothing to do with Katrina and the police.

Tara wished she’d pressed Faith for details about the spell she’d done on her criminal record; even a mention in a file, regardless of the lack of convictions, could put Faith in a bad position, especially since she’d called in a murder and disappeared. The thought came and went, one in a hundred automatic reactions, like opening doors, telling the nice man with the official title her name and age, and trying not to cry.

When she was eight, Tara fell off a pony. Donny whipped it, it reared, and she tumbled off the back, onto her left elbow. Her mother had grabbed her off the ground, barking at Donny to get Dr. Harlan, the vet from next door. Tara’s mother held her from around the back, pinning her left arm in her lap and pressing Tara’s shoulders into her chest to keep her still, so she could only feel, not see, the wound.

The last thing she remembered clearly was Dr. Harlan gasping, “Don’t call me, Elizabeth, call an ambulance!” Her mother had moved to allow Dr. Harlan to look at Tara’s arm, and suddenly Tara could see it, too. Blood dribbled from under the cuff of her t-shirt and down, and just at the hem, a spear of bone jutted out.

She had been scooped up and into Dr. Harlan’s truck, faster than any ambulance; there was no waiting in the emergency room, like there had been before and would be for hours and days after her mother got sick; the first thing the hospital gave her was morphine from an IV, and then she had gone under anesthesia. These were facts she only knew because Donny told her later, thinking a tale of needles and scalpels would scare her.

What scared her was the vast blankness of it, the fragmented sensation of one moment unconnected to the next, like the shattered bone in her arm.

In the hospital, sound and light and pain had returned while she was sitting up in bed, with a saltine halfway to her lips. She had no idea when she’d sat up, or why she couldn’t move her left arm. In the police station, pain returned while she was standing, with her mouth open and her hand in the palm of a detective. Tara snapped her mouth shut, catching the tip of her tongue between her teeth, and it took her an agonizing moment to realize she wasn’t the one who’d been shouting. A woman who looked like the resurrection of the recently dead was yelling in the face of a police officer.

The bright light outside the detective’s office made Tara stagger when she swept into the corridor, aiming for the woman. While her eyes recovered, she listened to her crying, “I have to identify it! I have to! God damn it, where is she?”

She kicked the wall closest to her and whirled on the police officer while Tara blinked and approached her.

“Where’s my sister?”

An officer led the woman away just as Tara raised a hand to touch her. The man she’d been abusing told Tara to sit on bench and wait, then brought her a cup of coffee in a Styrofoam cup. Static hummed against the palms of Tara’s hands, and she tried to work out what she should be thinking about, digging through her cottony brain for something with color in it. Her left arm was stiff.

Red. Blood running down her arm and streaking the white of her bone.

Willow. Tara surged to her feet, and hot coffee slopped over her hand. She jumped and dropped the cup, then stared at it while the liquid seeped from violent cracks in the foam.

“Tara?”

She turned, and Willow was there, wiping coffee off her reddened hand with the tails of the scarf around her neck.

“Who gave me coffee?”

Willow shrugged. “The policeman, I think. Do you want more?”

“No,” Tara muttered. “It’s hot. Do they have water?”

At Willow’s command, the officer brought water in another Styrofoam cup. Tara crushed the lip into a spout and poured it over the burn on her hand, smiling at the tinkle of water on the tile floor. When the burn was cool, she tipped the last of the water into her cupped hand and dashed it into her face. Willow squirmed while she watched her.

“I’m okay,” Tara told her, putting a wet hand on Willow’s knee. Willow laced her fingers with Tara’s and sat. The water squelched between their hands.

Dawn took a cautious glance at Katrina’s watch before she came out of the detective’s office and found Willow and Tara. Her knees wobbled when she tried to walk, and all she could think was that if she could only get home and sleep, when she woke up this nightmare would be over.

“It’s six o’clock,” she said. “Can we go home, please?”




Xander and Anya woke up when the three girls staggered through the door. Anya wiped at her chin, then Xander’s shirt, as she sat up on the couch; Xander ignored the spot of drool and demanded, “What’s the news? Did they figure out what happened?”

“It was her. They’re gonna do an autopsy, but it looks like cause of death was head trauma. Suicide,” Willow said.

“Suicide! Oh sure,” Xander bellowed, standing. “I’ll tell you what happened: Warren and the Nerd Herd, that’s what happened! But if the justice system doesn’t want to take care of it, that’s fine. We got a whole chest of justice right there!” He pointed at the weapons chest and continued, “Let’s saddle up and end these goons once and for all. Who’s with me?”

Anya and Dawn raised their hands, but Willow shook her head. “You’re probably right about those guys, but they’re people, not demons, Xander. What happened was horrible. I could wring Warren’s neck right now. I could slice him into strips like bacon and…”

“Boy, I’d eat that bacon,” Anya muttered.

“A-are you hungry?” Tara asked her. “I mean, it is sort of breakfast time.”

Anya started to agree, but Xander scolded her. “We’re talking vengeance here, Ahn. I’d think you’d be a little more engaged.”

Tara drifted away from the argument and into the kitchen. Willow followed her to the doorframe and watched her gather cooking supplies.

“Pancakes?”

“I don’t have bacon,” Tara teased. “And after that image, I probably won’t have it ever again.”

She moved like the air was thick around her, with no hard edges to her gestures. Only the sharp crack of eggs disturbed the softness of her work in the early morning light from the kitchen window. Willow watched the flicker of thought on Tara’s face and wished she dared ask questions. But then, Willow knew what Tara was doing: she was sorting her feelings into boxes and labeling them, stacking them in order, to deal with in order. Bodily needs first, then practical tasks to clear the wreckage of the trouble. Willow wondered when the “collapse” box would open.

Eight pancakes on a long griddle (Willow hadn’t seen it before; Tara must have bought it when she started cooking for Faith), and Tara put them on a plate and set them on the coffee table. Willow dug the butter out of the fridge.

“Do you have syrup?” Anya asked.

Willow shook her head. “They don’t need syrup, trust me. Besides, no plates, less mess.”

“But syrup is traditional,” Anya protested.

Willow rolled a pancake in her hand and followed Tara back to the kitchen. She stopped Tara putting a jug of syrup in the microwave, and put it and the stack of plates on the counter back where they belonged.

“You should eat something,” she said, tearing the unbitten end of her pancake off and holding it out to Tara.

Tara smiled and pushed her hand away. “I’m too tired to eat.”

Seeing a shadow cross Willow’s face, Tara turned her focus to the hissing griddle. It wasn’t warped like Joyce’s pans, didn’t make funny shapes as easily. She made a mouse pancake and watched the bubbles form on its uncooked surface until the edges solidified.

Faith could slide a spatula under a pancake, smack the handle, and flip it perfectly. Grease snapped onto Tara’s wrist, and the pain jolted her out of her reverie.




By the time the pancakes were gone, Willow had given up watching over the unresponsive Tara and succumbed to her habit of eating her feelings. She lay in an armchair, her stomach bulging against her sweater, wondering if maybe Tara’s habit of not eating was the better way to go. The water in the kitchen stopped running, and the brief sound of dishes clattering into the dish drainer ended. Willow struggled upright and watched Tara drift past, tripping on the third step.

“Think we should check on her?” Xander asked.

Willow groaned, “I will when I can move.”

“Do you think it’s good for Dawn to sleep in a chair like that?” Anya asked. “Her neck looks crooked.”

Xander stood and lifted Dawn, saying he’d put her in bed.

“Should we call her in sick to school?”

“We’ll stop by the Magic Box on the way home and have the Buffybot do it,” Anya said. “And then we can go home and sleep and go on with our Valentine’s Day. It is still Valentine’s Day, right?”

Xander nodded as he climbed the stairs. “All day long,” he told her.

With Dawn tucked into bed, Xander pulled Anya off the couch and led her to the car. Willow listened to it purr out of the driveway and down the street, then dragged herself upright. Dawn was curled up in the middle of Buffy’s old bed. Joyce’s room was empty.

The room Faith occupied was sparse and clean, but it still had an odd, wrinkled quality, like someone had left the window open and let the wind rumple what little she owned.

Propped against the headboard, Tara sat running her fingers over the edges of her arrow fletching necklace. Fletching from the arrow that had saved her life, the night Faith came to town. Her shoes and socks had been cast off at the end of the bed. She didn’t look up at Willow, peeking in from the door, but she told her, “The sheets are clean.”

Willow retreated and shut the door, then turned to the bed she used to share.




“Valentine’s Day was wonderful. I mean, if you don’t count the dead girl, because that was sad, but Xander took me to a casino, and I gave machines my money, and then I won more money! Well, not every time. Ultimately it’s a very risky business. But it was fun. I liked it.”

Halfrek propped her feet on the coffee table and studied Anya’s face in the moonlight.

“Tell me more about Xander,” she said.

Anya squirmed and demanded, “Why do you keep asking about him? Do you think I’m making a mistake?”

“Do you?”

“No! Xander, he’s very kind, and brave. He has the sweetest smile and the nicest body.” Anya shivered at the thought. “And he loves me. Sometimes that isn’t easy, but he does.”

Halfrek blinked. “Who told you it isn’t easy to love you?”

“Well, I do something, or say something, and then he has to say stuff like ‘It’s incorrect to appreciate money so much’ or, ‘Observe, here is how a real human would have acted.”’

“So he corrects you,” Halfrek said, nodding in understanding.

“Well it’s just… I’m all confused now. Do you think there’s something wrong with how he treats me?”

“Do you?”

Anya laughed and squirmed. “Okay, you have to stop doing that. I love Xander.”

“Even though he thinks he knows better than you.”

“He doesn’t!” Anya protested. “He doesn’t think that.”

Halfrek held up her hands and relaxed into the couch. “Sorry. I’m just curious. You don’t have to say anything more about him if you’re not comfortable.”

She put a hand on Anya’s knee, but Anya pulled away.




The day of the service was grotesquely bright, with sunbeams that could be eaten with a spoon. Tara came to the house by the ocean early to help set up for the reception, and saw the woman from the police station there. Another woman, leaning on a cane, told Tara to bring up chairs from the basement, if she didn’t mind.

From there, she heard a fight break out.

“Is there somewhere we can put this?”

“Did you take that off my wall?”

“Just while visitors are here, Rene. We need to make a welcoming space.”

“Welcoming for who?”

“It’s disrespectful to have inflammatory political messages in spaces where people are grieving.”

“It’s not a political message, mother, it’s…”

“It’s rude! Honestly, how can you fight about this when your sister, our only little girl, is dead? This isn’t about you, Rene, it’s about her.”

“You’re the one who’s making it about me!”

Tara flinched at the sound of scuffling and wondered what to do.

“Rene,” the older woman’s voice came down the stairs to her, “if you push this, I’ll…”

“You’ll what? Throw me out?”

Gripping the backs of two chairs, Tara considered ways of making herself disappear, but the shouting was done. The thump of the older woman, Mrs. Silber’s, cane passed overhead in one direction, and the woman from the police station moved the opposite way. No one spoke to her when she emerged from the basement; she left the chairs by the door and went for more of them.

People trickled in and dragged chairs where they wanted them, sitting in clusters. The ones who cried were few and far between; most just sat chasing cheese cubes and cocktail weenies around on plastic plates while they stuttered out disjointed sentences to the blank faces next to them. Some of them talked about Katrina, about the music at the funeral. Most of them talked about the house and the weather and the sea.

In passing, Tara saw a framed picture hanging crooked on the wall: a certificate of gratitude from the Transgender Law Center.

The woman from the police station, Renee, came up behind her and asked, “Were you her friend?”

Tara turned and studied the woman. Her aura told as much about her as her face, expressionless and smooth. She reached over Tara’s shoulder to straighten the frame, and Tara stepped out of her way, answering, “I wanted to be.”

“Everybody did.”

Renee looked her in the eye, then walked down the hall and outside. When Tara leaned against the deck railing beside her, Renee took a long swig of cider and swallowed.

“Trina believed in absolutes. There had to be an answer to everything, a reason for everything. She kept tabs on what you owed her, and what she owed you, and somehow, that scale just never balanced out in your favor. She’d come here with her sleazy boyfriends and fuck in my bed and eat my steaks, then act like I owed her that because she was still my sister when everyone else was mad at me. And Trina took pot shots, hit at weaknesses and said the worst damn thing she could. The better she knew you, the more she could hurt you.”

Tara stared at her hands, not sure what to say. She’d never seen someone angry at the dead.

Gulping from her cider cup, Renee slipped off her heels and muttered, “She was the only one who really knew me.”

“You miss her.”

Renee opened her mouth again, but she closed it when her mother came through the door.

“The food is cold, Rene,” she started, and Renee threw her cup of cider over the railing and stormed down the steps to the beach. Her bare feet scrunched on the built-up sand on the steps.

Mrs. Silber shivered in the wind. “Everything’s gone wrong,” she said.

“I’ll take care of the food,” Tara told her.




Xander was having a hard time coaxing Anya out of bed. He’d already been to the Summers house to check on Dawn, at Tara’s request. No verdict had yet been made on why Dawn refused to go to the service, but the group had decided it was best to let her stay home; she’d been to plenty of funerals already, and the gatherings that followed them.

“Come on, honey. Willow’s gonna be here soon, and we need to leave.”

“People come to these receptions at all hours. Why do we have to go so early?”

Xander sighed. “It’s not early, Ahn, it’s ten o’clock, and it’ll take us an hour to get to the coast. We need to be there when it starts because Tara’s gonna be there.”

Anya rolled over in bed and sat up on her elbow, glaring. “So Dawn can be by herself, but Tara can’t be?”

“You wouldn’t be this grumpy if you hadn’t been up so late,” Xander told her, then he scooped her up and twirled her to her feet. It didn’t win the smile he’d been hoping for. “Did your friend have a good time? And then leave?”

“She’s gone,” Anya grumbled.

Xander leaned against the bedroom door and watched Anya dress. She was so beautiful, really. Her friend had been something entirely different. It occurred to him that he’d never seen Anya as anything other than what she was.

“Hey Ahn?” he ventured. “The way she looked… with the… face… That wasn’t what you used to look like, was it?”

“Is there something wrong with that? Did you think she was unattractive?”

Xander staggered away from the cutting edge in her voice. Clearly it was too early in the morning for this. But she stood and glared at him, waiting. What did she want?

“Okay, is there an answer to that that won’t make you nuts?”

Anya turned her back on him, pulling off the shirt she’d chosen and picking another one.

“Halfrek was always considered a great beauty.”

“Well, hon, she was a little… there was some veiny-ness…”

Willow knocked on the door, and for a second, Xander thought he was saved. But Anya whirled on him, snarling, “It’s not like you’re so perfect either, with your strangely large upper arms and tendency to criticize.”

“Huh?”

“Xander?” Willow called from the door.

He ran from the bedroom and let her into the apartment. “Hey Will! How was the walk over? Good morning? Did you sleep well?”

Willow blinked at him and stammered, “Uh, yeah, good, all… good. Xander, are you okay?”

“Yeah! Anya isn’t ready yet. She stayed up late with a friend. But she’ll be ready soon, right hon?”

Anya stuck her head out the bedroom door. “Yes. I just need to change my clothes a few more times. That’s what you do when people die, right?”

Xander opened his mouth to correct her, but Anya cut him off.

“A person should look nice for funerals and related services. I think nice people should always have nice funerals, no matter what the cost. Does that surprise you?”

“Again I say, ‘Huh?”’ Xander answered, floundering.

Anya rolled her eyes and slammed the door. Xander threw his hands up in surrender.

“I have no idea what I did. Do you? Because I’m just… Oh god. I just can’t get a handle on this thing.”

Willow hugged him. “You’ve got the rest of your life to try.”

This only fueled Xander’s panic. His whole life was like a bar of soap. A nice smelling bar of soap, but still… He loved her; he couldn’t help that. But what happened next? That was slipping out of his grasp, too.

“Sorry I taught her to change her clothes like this,” Willow told him.

“It’s fine. As long as it makes her feel better.” He looked at his friend, calm and steady in the face of death, and asked, “How are you feeling?”

“I’m okay,” she told him. “I don’t really let myself get too upset. Might lead to badness and then…”

Xander felt sick.

“So you just don’t feel anything anymore?”

Willow raised an eyebrow. “I’d call that a radical interpretation of the text.”

“The way you feel isn’t something you can control, Wil,” Xander insisted. “You try to control everything, and that’s the problem. Not magic, not Buffy: control. So what do you do when things get out of control? You force them back down. You don’t let yourself feel emotion, you don’t let the magic flow like you’re supposed to… Either that, or something takes you over, and you lose everything. But you can’t just trust that everything’ll work out. You never just go along for the ride!” He laughed and glanced at the bedroom door. “The ride is fun. The ride is good. Oh god.”

“Xander?” Willow took a step toward him, reaching out. “Is something wrong?”

“What? No!”

Anya strode out of the bedroom and cut between them to get to the door. “If there were something wrong, it certainly wouldn’t be anything I did.”

Xander followed her helplessly.




The house by the ocean was full of people by the time the three of them reached it. Anya hadn’t eaten anything, so they made a beeline for the kitchen. Tara was there, with a casserole dish of macaroni and cheese in her open hands.

“Hey there,” Xander said, and she barely nodded. He left her alone and helped Anya fill a plate.
Willow nibbled on a broccoli tree and watched the steam waft up from the dish in Tara’s hands. Xander and Anya slipped into the crush of mourners, and Willow stepped up to Tara and said, loudly, “What are you doing?”

Tara blinked and set the dish down, then picked up a flimsy aluminum pan of cocktail weenies.
“The food got cold. Can you stir the cider on the stove?”

Willow complied. “What’s in the oven?” she asked when she saw the light was on.

“Rolls. I put a napkin over them so they wouldn’t dry out.”

“Neat trick.” Willow stirred for a moment, then turned back to Tara. “So, what are you doing?”

“Heating things up.”

“With magic.”

Tara set the bubbling pan of weenies on the table and picked up a platter of chicken fingers. She spread her hands on the bottom and closed her eyes. “Elemental magic. Light use of fire energy, just enough to heat this. I couldn’t do it all on the stove. Can you pull the rolls out?”

Willow slid the pan of rolls out of the oven and dropped them all into a basket next to the oven. She skewered a cocktail weenie and chewed, watching Tara work. Her cheeks were flushed, and sweat made loose strands of hair cling to her face. In the few moments Willow watched her, Tara’s breathing became labored, her shoulders drooped, and she shivered.

“Stop it,” Willow demanded. Tara ignored her, so she snatched the platter of chicken out of her hands and lowered her into a chair by gripping her forearm and pushing. When Tara was settled, Willow took a deep breath to dampen the alarm that was fluttering in her chest. She pressed a hand to Tara’s forehead.

“You have a fever.”

Tara tried to smile. “Fire magic raises the body temperature. I’m fine.”

“You’re burning up,” Willow told her. She soaked a napkin with water from the tap and wiped Tara’s face with it. Tara shivered and pulled away.

“I’m cold,” she whimpered.

“Come on,” Willow said. “It’s warmer where the people are, and I can get your coat.”

Tara was too weak to protest, so Willow guided her to a loveseat in the living room, near Xander and Anya. They sat together as the clusters of people scattered, regrouping and dwindling as the late morning slipped into afternoon. When Xander and Anya stood to leave, Tara told them she would drive Willow home.

Mrs. Silber followed a young couple to the door and called goodbye to them, and Willow and Tara sat in a thicket of empty chairs. Tara stood to gather them, saying she should help clean up, but she swayed on her feet. Willow told her it was time to go.

Renee padded into the living room, tracking sand onto the rug, surveyed the scene, then threw down her shoes and left again. Tara tracked her with her eyes until she disappeared.

“As soon as we leave, she’ll be alone.”

Willow put the back of her hand to Tara’s forehead as an excuse to touch her. “We can’t save her from that,” she said. “I’ll take you to lunch. Late lunch. Linner. There’s a cool fifties diner between here and Sunnydale. Have you eaten?”

“Yes.”

“Are you lying?”

Tara studies her shoes and shivered. Willow led her to the Mustang, took the keys out of Tara’s bag, and drove them away from the ocean house.




Tara was silent all the way to the diner, and once inside, she had to repeat her order because the waitress couldn’t hear her the first time. She wrapped her hands around a cup of coffee and shivered. Her cheeks were still flushed with fever.

“Tara?” Willow murmured. “Are you okay?”

She nodded faintly, sighing. “It’s just… She shouldn’t have died.”

Willow propped her elbows on the table and brought her gaze more in line with Tara’s.

“What if,” Tara continued. “What if this is all my fault? What if someone had to die, and because of what I’ve done, it was Katrina, and not me? Some kind of sacrifice?”

“I don’t think it works that way.”

“But it has to. Everything that happens, happens for a reason. Not a metaphysical reason. A physical one. The way you flip a coin is determined by the way it is in your pocket, how you pull it out, which side you put up… You came back to me, and something changed. Katrina died for a reason, and it might be because I’m alive.”

Willow stirred her coffee for a little while, then shook her head. “You’re right, I mean, that there’s a cause and effect with everything. But it’s so complicated. You can’t tell the difference between fate and random chance. You can’t go through every neuron firing, every memory and instinct that makes us make choices. It’s knowable, but not by us. We perceive free will and chance, so they exist.” She shifted eagerly in her seat, tumbling through a train of thought that thrilled her. “It’s the imitation game. You put a man and a woman in separate rooms, and a third person in another room has to ask them questions and figure out which is which. They don’t have to tell the truth, and if they don’t, you can never tell the difference. And if we can’t tell, why does it matter?”

Tara was staring at her, her face tight with concentration. The flush in her cheeks was fading. The waitress brought their food, and Tara thanked her politely, but vaguely, and she ignored her soup.

“We can’t tell the difference between determinism and chance,” Willow concluded, “so how can we blame ourselves for things we couldn’t predict?”

Tara cocked her head. “But that’s just human perception.”

“That’s all we’ve got.”

Still contemplating, Tara dipped her spoon into her soup. “People are stupid,” she muttered, in a voice that sounded more like Faith’s than her own.

“Only sometimes.”

Tara looked up, and Willow smiled. For a long moment, they lingered, and Willow thought Tara was going to cry, over Katrina, over Faith, over everything. But she broke into a lopsided smile and plunged her spoon into her soup, eating with such desperate need that rumbles and whimpers rose from her throat. Willow blushed at the sound and turned to stare out the window.

By the time they left, Tara was no longer flushed or unsteady on her feet. She stood tall and smiled, even though she didn’t laugh or speak. Once Willow had left her at home and started walking toward the dorm, Tara shut herself in her bedroom and let herself cry.




The summer routine, from after Willow had left and before Faith had come, was easier to fall back into when Tara didn’t have to worry about money. Study, slay, sleep: the semester was settling into a steady rhythm, with mid-term tests and essays not yet looming, but she couldn’t keep the vampires as thinned out as the Slayer would have, so every night the population grew, and her exhaustion sank deeper into her bones. Xander and Anya patrolled occasionally, sometimes with Dawn in tow. After a few nights of cruising the Bronze, Tara left the club to Willow, who sipped sodas and guarded the place from the balcony; her presence saved Tara from the crush of bodies and the time it took to survey the scene, as well as the almost nightly slaying the club entailed. Three graveyards a night kept her busy enough without half-drunk party vamps to tangle with. Still, the idea of Willow slaying alone worried her. For the first few days, Tara lurked outside Willow’s lecture halls or classrooms, checking for scrapes, bruises, a limp, or worse.

“How does she do it?” Tara finally asked Xander, taking it on faith that he wouldn’t ask how she knew Willow always came out unscathed.

Xander had laughed and told her Willow carried a squirt gun of holy water and an arsenal of sharpened pencils to float. Either a vamp never touched her at all, or was dust before they had a chance to bite.

When February had nearly faded, Tara slept in and didn’t wake up in time for the scheduled Scooby meeting. Dawn walked home from school and roused her in time for her evening class, and Tara drove with the windows down and felt almost refreshed.

The next afternoon, Willow paced back and forth in front of the door to Tara’s class, rehearsing her excuse.

“Hey Tara! Noticed you missed the Scooby meeting yesterday, so I wanted to check in and make sure you’re okay. How did I know you had class here? Oh, I just looked it up on the school’s computer system. What’s a little hacking between friends, right? No, of course I’m not stalking you! I just wanted to see you because I haven’t seen you in more than a week, and boy am I going crazy.”

Willow sagged against the wall and moaned. “Stupid Willow. I could have just called. Stupid, stupid, I shouldn’t even be here.”

She pushed off the wall and started slumping down the hallway just as the lecture hall doors opened. Tara spotted her and called her name.

“Hey! Good class? Not that I was waiting or anything, I just…”

Tara smirked at her. “Class was nice. All the little papers I have to type up, though, not so nice.”

“You need a laptop,” Willow told her, but Tara disagreed.

“I’d still have to get my papers to the library to print them.”

“Well, see, there’s this wonderful thing called email,” Willow teased, “and you can put papers in emails and mail them to yourself, and then they’re on this internet, which is like the collective unconscious of computers. Any computer with internet and a printer hookup can print your paper from there.”

Tara resisted the urge to shove Willow with her shoulder and settled for smiling at her.

“So, what were you not waiting outside my classroom for?”

“Er, um…”

“I missed the meeting.” Tara laughed. “I’m sorry, I didn’t wake up for it.”

Willow hesitated, and the two of them stopped in the hallway.

“But, you’re okay?”

“I’m fine.” Tara shifted the books in her arms and glanced over her shoulder. “My exit.”

Backing away and flailing slightly, Willow blathered about letting her get work done, and laptops and collective unconscious, with a few apologies thrown in, until Tara put a hand on her arm.

“Could you do me a favor and check on Dawn? I’ll probably be gone until late, and I hate leaving her alone all day.”

Willow gulped and answered, “Of course. Count on it. I’m the best Dawn checker-oner there ever was. Does she need dinner? I’ll make dinner. You need to work. Right. Bye.”

It was an almost hopeless battle for Tara to hold back her laughter until Willow was gone.




Extra rest had improved Tara’s precision, and she carved a lethal path through four cemeteries and the Bronze on the way back from the library. By the time she reached home, it was past nine. Dawn’s bedroom light was on, and also the light in the kitchen. There would have to be another talk about turning switches off in unoccupied rooms.

When she opened the back door, Tara was startled to find that the kitchen wasn’t unoccupied. Willow was sitting at the island with her hands wrapped around a mug of coffee.

“Didn’t mean to scare you,” she said, shrinking away from Tara. “Just thought I’d stick around until you got back. I hope that was okay.”

Tara nodded. A cloud of dust rolled off her fighting coat when she shook it out.

“Looks like you got one,” Willow said.

“I got five.”

Willow gaped at Tara while she kicked her shoes off and settled them beside the door, then took her hair tie out and shook another heap of dust out of her hair, and she only recovered when Tara swept toward the refrigerator.

“This plate’s for you,” Willow said, holding it out with a fork. “Dawn and I made chicken pot pie with the Bisquik recipe. There’s leftovers in the fridge.”

Tara looked up from her task of pulling aluminum foil off the plate. “There’s more of this?”

“Yeah. It should last…” Willow was going to say it would last them a few days, but Tara dove into the fridge and started heaping more pot pie onto her plate. “Through tomorrow.”

Once the plate was in the microwave, Tara licked the fork and sighed. “This is good.”

She turned the water on in the sink, and when the water was warm she filled her hands with it and scrubbed her face. Dust came out of her nose when she blew it, one nostril at a time. She fumbled for the dishtowel hanging from the oven handle and patted her face dry. When she opened her eyes, she saw Willow’s reflection in the window, and her breath caught in her throat.

“What are you up to?”

“Not what you’re thinking.”


But this was not the older, suffering Willow. This was someone new.

The microwave dinged, and Tara pulled herself away from the image in the window, the memory of that strange, beautiful night.

She settled herself on the stool next to Willow and crammed wolfish bites of chicken pot pie into her mouth.

“Hungry?” Willow asked.

When Tara looked up, she saw more than a simple question in Willow’s expression. She swallowed and answered, “I’m feeling better.”

Neither of them spoke again until Tara’s fork scraped the last hint of sauce off her plate. She settled the dishes in the sink and ran water over them, then said over her shoulder, “She’ll be back, right? Faith always turns up again.”

“Like a bad penny.” Willow winced as soon as the words left her mouth, and added, “Not that I think she’s bad. I actually kinda liked it when she was here. Almost.”

Tara leaned her back against the edge of the sink and smiled at her, and for a long moment, neither of them looked away. Willow clung to the feeling of companionship until she ached to touch her, then stood.

“I should get home. Dawn’s probably asleep by now, and… I should go.”

“Do you want me to drive you?”

Willow shook her head. “I’ll be okay. You keep the streets so clean, there shouldn’t be any trouble.”

Tara turned to her dishes in the sink and gazed at them, then up at Willow’s reflection in the window as she took her coat off the rack by the door.

One sleeve of Willow’s coat was inside out, and she was floundering to push it back outside out. She froze, one arm helplessly stuck in the bunched-up sleeve, when Tara spoke.

“Things fall apart. They fall apart so hard. You can never put them back the way they were.”

Tara was standing in the doorway, head bowed, still and unreadable. Willow noticed with a twinge of pain that the flannel shirt Tara was wearing belonged to Faith.

“Tara?” she whispered, “Are you okay?”

Shaking herself, Tara raised her head, but her gaze was undirected, almost unseeing.

“I’m sorry, it’s just… You know, it takes time. You can’t just, buy dinner, or make dinner and expect…”

“I know.” Willow’s head spun. She hadn’t expected this conversation to be about her. About the two of them.

Tara nodded. “There’s just so much to work through. Trust has to be built again, on both sides. You have to learn if we’re even the same people we were, if you can fit in each other’s lives. It’s a long, important process.”

She was staring at Willow now, hard, and her jaw shuttered like her teeth might start to chatter if she stopped talking long enough. Willow wanted to reach out to her, but she didn’t dare. All she wished was that this stupid coat wasn’t tangled up so she could pull it on gracefully and go when Tara told her to.

This was out of her control. Completely. She tried to breathe, but panic had already started to set in. Nothing for it now but to take Xander’s advice and be ready for the ride.

“But it’s sudden. In the end, everything is. Suddenly, everything’s different, and the one person I can always rely on…” Tara swallowed hard. “And. And can’t you just suddenly be kissing me now?”

Willow stood there with one arm trapped in her coat sleeve and stared until Tara came toward her. Unplanned, beyond any thought of restraint, she jerked her arm free of the sleeve and let the coat hang half-way on her, diving into Tara’s arms. There were roots in this passion: Tara’s hand buried in her hair, Tara’s hand pressing firmly against the small of her back. She cried without hope of stopping herself, and Tara kissed her cheeks, then her neck and the length of her jaw. She sloughed the coat off Willow’s arm and pressed their bodies closer, staggering until they crashed into the wall next to the stairwell. Willow’s breath rushed out in a gasp, and Tara pressed a finger to her lips.

“Dawnie’s sleeping,” Tara whispered, giggling while Willow kissed the length of her finger.

“Dawnie’s sleeping,” Willow echoed.

Tara tilted Willow’s head up and looked her in the eye. Willow put a hand on her cheek, and Tara leaned into the touch, then kissed her palm.

“I love you so much,” Willow said, and Tara answered in kind.


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 Post subject: Re: Time Heals All
PostPosted: Sun Nov 18, 2012 11:58 am 
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4. Extra Flamey

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Dibs :whip .

Yeah, I have still been reading, although as a silent lurker, and I liked the development of your story. I haven't expected them to have this moment here, and I'm wondering if this is the reunion it was in canon or if they'll have second thoughts...I just have to wait and see, won't I?


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 Post subject: Re: Time Heals All
PostPosted: Tue Nov 27, 2012 1:56 am 
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5. Willowhand
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Topics: 5
Location: California
The familiar speech, yet so new. I love that over the course of this so far, you HAVE been showing that Tara can count on Willow, but it wasn't all in your face or anything. Subtle, I like that.

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"If I can't be a good example, might as well be a horrible warning."

"Friendship is obviously magic. Love is a sorta super strong friendship. We gay people love so hard we broke 'Social Norm'. Ergo, we gay people are ultra-strong wizards."


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 Post subject: Re: Time Heals All
PostPosted: Sun Jan 13, 2013 5:43 pm 
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9. Gay Now
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Location: Beyond the orbit of Mars and accelerating...
will there be more soon?

Please sir, may i ?

R

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How i Met Your Mother - By Ariel


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 Post subject: Re: Time Heals All
PostPosted: Sun Feb 03, 2013 3:22 pm 
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2. Floating Rose
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Hello at last.

The past two months or so have been a bit... not conducive to working for me, for reasons including, but not limited to, finals, a sprained hand, and an alarming bout of unconsciousness. However, all is well with me again, and I have returned.

I want you guys to have this, and I don't want to keep you waiting any longer. Because of this, the following chapter has not been reviewed by anyone other than me. My betas are hard workers, on many things, and their generosity and skill is not currently available to me. I'm not sure about this chapter, exactly, but it's better than the nothing you've heard from me lately. I look forward to getting feedback on it.

I hope you enjoy it. There will be more to follow.

Kay

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


Time Heals All: a Willow/Tara fic with a terrible title

Author: Big_Pineapple

Feedback: Yes, including title suggestions, line edits, and general comments

Spoilers: vague reference to all seasons

Setting: Pre-season six and onward, AU.

Rating: PG-13



Part XXVIII: Entropy

Willow burrowed into Tara’s side and shivered in the cold. The comforter was heaped on the floor, clinging to the bed with one last corner, but to reach for it would take her so far from Tara that the darn thing might as well have been out in the yard. She nuzzled her head against Tara’s chest, and she felt Tara sigh.

“Comfy?” The question rumbled in Willow’s ear.

“Yeah. Little chilly, but I got a hot woman here, so that makes it better.”

Tara stroked Willow’s hair and chuckled. “Bet I could warm you up.”

“I bet you could,” Willow said, wrapping her arm around Tara’s waist and pulling her closer, “but I think snuggles are good for now. I missed good snuggles.”

Tara watched her settle her limbs one by one and doze off, marveling at how quickly Willow could fall asleep. Sunlight came more strongly through the curtains as Willow twitched and muttered, and Tara ran her hands along Willow’s hair, sometimes lifting locks of it and watching it glitter. When Willow woke again, she ran her hands up Tara’s side, then squinted at the windows.

“When did morning happen?”

“After the moon went down.”

Willow sat up on her elbow and kissed Tara, then put her head down on Tara’s stomach. She ran her hand down the sheets that covered Tara’s leg and murmured, “I’d forgotten how good this could feel. Us, together. Without the magic.”

“There was plenty of magic.”

Willow gave a breathy laugh and rolled over to look at Tara. She reached up one hand and pressed it to Tara’s cheek.

“All I need,” she said.

For a moment, they lingered like this. Tara took Willow’s hand in hers and kissed up Willow’s wrist, then folded the arm back down and settled it against her chest. Willow craned her neck back and read the clock by the bed upside down.

“It’s getting late.”

Tara studied her, crinkling her brow. “Do you want to get up?”

“No!” Willow wailed, rolling over and clinging to Tara’s knees. “Oh god, no. I’m just not used to the sleeping in thing.”

“We didn’t do that much sleeping.”

Willow grinned. “That’s true.” She wriggled herself over and upright and pulled Tara into a kiss, and it was deepening when the front door shut. Tara jerked away and sat straight, trying to pick out familiar footsteps on the stairs, but there was no other sound.

“Is something wrong?” Willow asked. Tara’s alertness made her nervous.

“Faith.”

The first time Tara said it, it was barely a whisper, but then she rolled out of the bed, dragging the sheet with her and clutching it to her chest, shouting, “Faith!”

She opened the door between her room and the Slayer’s, and finding it empty, she walked through it and out the hallway door, dragging the bed sheet like a train. She called Faith’s name down the stairs. Dawn appeared at the foot, a glass of orange juice and the full color Sunday funny pages in her hands. Tara gathered the bed sheet more tightly around her.

“Did you open the door?”

Dawn nodded. “Just to get the paper.”

They stood on the stairs a while, not sure what to do, until Dawn came halfway up and touched Tara’s arm.

“She’ll come back. She always does.”

Tara nodded. Dawn held out the paper.

“You wanna read Garfield? That always makes me feel better.”

Before Tara could answer, Willow slipped around the corner wrapped in Tara’s bathrobe, calling, “Is it her, is it her? Oh. Uh, hey there, Dawnie.”

Dawn’s eyes went wide. “You, and…”

Tara started backing away, shuffling Willow behind her and saying, “Um, that’s my cue to go put some clothes on.”

“No! No no no! I’m totally not here! You guys, you do whatever you want. I’ll take the paper and go watch TV! Downstairs, really loud! In the basement, where I can’t hear… anything!”

Willow wrapped her arms around Tara’s waist and giggled while Dawn jumped up and down, squealing, and scampered down the stairs. She swung herself around the banister and disappeared, then popped her head up and squeaked, “Oh my god, I love you guys!” before stomping down the basement stairs.





When the police were finished with the body, Renee had it cremated, against her parents’ wishes, and scattered a fistful of them in the ocean. Half of what remained, she gave to her mother, and the last of it she kept in the cardboard box it came in, waiting for the day she could ride a magnetic train.

Mrs. Silber’s half was buried in a Sunnydale cemetery. The flowers already at the gravesite were frost-withered when Jonathan came with more. He settled them in their crystal vase next to the headstone, and he placed a diamond, devoid of his fingerprints, on top to mark his visit. Warren would fillet him for spending the last of their cash, but there’d be another heist soon enough. And then maybe, he could grab some green and get gone. To hell with Warren and Andrew, and crime, and Sunnydale. To hell with himself, too, but somewhere far from here.

The graveyard was spacious and open, with palm trees scattered so far apart they were like mirages in a desert of marble and sod. Exposure made Jonathan nervous, and he listened for the sound of people approaching behind him up the gravel path. But the one who hunted him made no sound.

“There was this spell once, and it made me say stuff that was cool,” Jonathan said to the headstone, so freshly cut it looked raw. “But that broke a long time ago, and I don’t really have anything to say. I guess I should just say I’m sorry, and after I get some money I’ve quitting my life of crime. I’m through with Warren.”

“So am I.”

Jonathan whirled around and stumbled back, overturning his vase of flowers. Amy smirked at him from where she stood, lounging against an obelisk.

“Hello Jonathan,” she crooned.

The terror she struck in him was so great that for a horrible while, Jonathan couldn’t pin what it was about her that was most terrible and strange. But as she continued to taunt him, praising his taste in flowers and jewels, he realized that her lips never moved.

“How are you doing that?” he asked out loud.

Amy’s smile widened. “I’ve been gathering magicks, looking for the perfect weapons. My trouble is, there isn’t really a spell for spying. Only seers can predict the future. I could read Warren’s thoughts, but then he could hear me, too. I can’t have that. So I need you.”

“For what?”

“To tell me what he’s doing next.”





“It’s too bad you have class tomorrow,” Tara said while Willow fiddled with the key to her dorm room. “Do you get any days off?”

Willow shook her head and opened the door. “Nope. All class all the time. I kinda feel better when I’m occupied.”

Tara shut the door behind her and smiled. “I can keep you occupied.”

She pulled Willow to her and pinned her against to door, kissing her lips until Willow pulled back, then moving down her neck.

“Tara? Homework, sleep, class. Gotta happen.”

“It can happen in a few minutes,” Tara mumbled around Willow’s collarbone.

Willow laughed. “Like that quick shower we took at your house?”

Tara gave way when Willow pushed against her shoulders, and she leaned against the door and watched her lover putter around the room, gathering notebooks, textbooks, and a fistful of pens.

“Room’s pretty Spartan.”

Willow grinned at her from her desk. “Why Spartan?”

Tara shrugged. “That’s just what Faith always said, about rooms like this? Spartan.”

“Are you okay?”

“Not really,” Tara whispered, but when Willow got up from her desk and reached out, Tara turned her face away, tilting it back to keep her tears from falling. She cocked her head when she noticed the smoke alarm light on Willow’s ceiling wasn’t blinking.

“Is your smoke alarm working?”

Willow didn’t look up. She held Tara’s hand and answered, “Maybe the battery’s low.”

“Has it been beeping?”

Willow shook her head and said she could call maintenance about it, but Tara insisted on checking it herself. She’d done the ones at home just last week, she told her, so it was no problem. Willow held her desk chair steady, and Tara climbed up and pulled the cover off the smoke alarm.

It didn’t look anything like the detectors at home, and Tara wasn’t sure what she was seeing until the tiny lens lurched into focus.

“It’s a camera!”

Willow processed this just in time to stop Tara from smashing the thing with the heel of her hand.

“Wait! We might be able to trace where the signal’s going to. Can I see it?”

Tara stepped down from the chair and helped Willow up.

“We know who it’s going to,” she growled.





Warren was pacing and swearing across the rich carpet of the Grand Hotel in Sunnydale, while Andrew watched Willow’s fingers flash across the feed in her dorm room, and Jonathan carefully picked through papers on the worktable, claiming to look for override codes for the cameras.

“They’ll trace the signal back here within a day or two. We only have that long to get out of here.”

“But I like it here!” Andrew whined. “There aren’t any other nice places in Sunnydale.”

Jonathan agreed. “And besides, we have a huge room service bill. We can’t leave without paying that, and we’re fresh out of money.”

“Room service?” Warren spat, “Room service? We’re in the middle of a crisis and you little orcs are grunting about room service? We don’t have to pay the damn bills! We’re supervillains!”

“Maybe,” Jonathan snapped back, “but we don’t have a criminal record yet. We bail this place now, the hotel gives the police a description of us, and we’re wanted for fraud. If they figure out who we are, they’ll connect you with Katrina, and then we’re wanted for murder.”

“It doesn’t matter what we’re wanted for. We have a plan!”

Andrew squirmed and raised his hand. “Uh, what if the plan doesn’t work?” he asked. “I mean, what if we get caught before the plan works?”

“We’re out of places to run to, Warren,” Jonathan insisted. “We can defend this place from the Noobies, if they find us. We just have to think.”





The Grand Hotel had four floors of rooms, with the main block and two wings holding twenty rooms each per floor. Yves, the concierge who worked on Wednesdays, assured Willow and Tara that no one by any of the names given was renting or had recently rented a room in his hotel, then tried to book Xander and Dawn in the fourth floor bridal suite.

“So, no go at the Grand Ho? Guess we should run that signal again, huh Willster?” Xander boomed, dragging his friends away from the desk while Yves hunted for a discount coupon. Willow elbowed him and told him to keep his voice down.

“The signal was definitely coming from here. They’re probably registered under fake names.”

Tara looked skeptical. “I don’t think this place would take cash. How are they paying?”

“Someone else’s credit card, I bet. They’re pretty easy to swipe… According to the ads on tv,” Dawn added when she got suspicious looks. “But that’s not the point. What do we do now, search all the rooms?”

Willow nodded. “Divide and conquer, we could each do a floor and check in.”

“A floor each, sure,” Xander said. “How will we open the doors?”

“Well, there’s this little spell that can turn any key into a master key. It leaves a weird residue, but it works like a charm. All we need is a card key.”

Xander started to declare, too loudly, that he was not renting a room, but Willow cut him off, saying that any card with a magnetic strip would do.

“Problem with this plan is, what happens if we find the nerd herd? I don’t think any of us should be alone.”

Tara nodded. “Pairs, then. We can…”

“So, Will and me! Great plan, let’s do it.” Xander grabbed Willow’s elbow and hurried away, avoiding Dawn’s eye and announcing that he and Willow would check the first two floors and meet Tara and Dawn on the third floor.

The first room Dawn opened was empty. Its sheets were crisp and white, and the gold tassels on the throw pillows glimmered in the light from the floor to ceiling windows on the outward facing wall. From the balcony outside the windows, you could see the swimming pool, and the smell of chlorine and the splashing and shrieking of kids playing shark drifted up. Dawn nodded to the couple next door, who were smoking together and talking about how they couldn’t imagine swimming in March. Three doors down, there was a Better Homes and Gardens magazine on the balcony, and on the first balcony on the west wing a shi tzu was barking. No need to check those rooms, she noted. On her way out, she pocketed the tiny wrapped soaps and a washcloth with GH embroidered on it.

In the hallway, Tara was peering in her third door. On her first try, a man watching football had shouted at her, and now, her fourth door had a Do Not Disturb tag on it.

“Sh-should we leave them alone?” Tara asked when she heard Dawn close a door on the other side of the hallway.

Dawn zipped her magical card key into the door before Tara had time to protest. “If I were an evil genius,” she said, “I wouldn’t want to be disturbed.”

The couple inside were too busy to notice Tara and Dawn staring, then slamming the door.

“And speaking of disturbed…” Dawn said. Tara laughed and watched Dawn for a moment, scanning herself into another empty room, before continuing to work down her side of the hallway.

“Some guy fell asleep with his face in the pillow and his dog on his butt,” Dawn announced, and Tara grinned. . Ear pressed to the sixth door, room thirty-one, Tara didn’t hear anything suggestive, but there was a Do Not Disturb tag on the knob, so she stood to the side as she opened the door, just in case.

Seven knives flew past her and across the hallway, burying themselves in the suite door that Dawn had been unlocking. Dawn shrieked. There was blood running over the hand she had clamped to her shoulder.





Yves brought a first aid kit to them in the lobby and accepted the story of a magician’s knife trick gone wrong, albeit with a stern glower and a few snorts at the stranger details.

“Herbert Flutie isn’t much of a stage name,” he said, “especially for a magician. Tell your friend there will be no more magic in my hotel, if he pleases.”

Tara added a layer of gauze to the cut on Dawn’s shoulder and taped it down. “Can’t promise that,” she muttered.

“I wonder if he’ll let us back in once we get back from the hospital?” Willow asked.

Dawn shrugged. “Not worth the risk. We should get what we can from this place now, go to the hospital when we’re done.”

“We’re going to the hospital now,” Tara growled.

“And what happens if we can’t get back in? Or if we split up, and whoever stays here is outnumbered?”

Xander agreed with Dawn. “They’re aiming to kill now, ladies. Best if we stay together and get this done.”

“You said the booby trapped door had a Do Not Disturb sign on it. That means they only want to hurt snoopers, not the maids,” Willow said. “So any other door that’s booby trapped will have a sign, too. That narrows it down.”

“Safe bet they’re all on the same floor. I mean, it’d get a little weird, three guys getting rooms on all different floors and coming in and out all the time,” Xander said.

Tara gathered up the gauze wrappers and bloody napkins they’d scattered on the couch, trying to balance her worry that Social Services would somehow discover that Dawn hadn’t had the stitches she needed right away with the need to focus on the puzzle at hand.

“From the knife door to the end of the hallway was clean,” Tara said. “On Dawn’s side there were three in a row: the suite and the one next to it.”

“Boy, I’m glad I didn’t open the suite door. Who knows what would’ve happened.”

Willow tapped her fingers on her knee in a nervous echo of typing. Tara took her hand and kissed it.

“The problem with this is, how do we get into the suite now? I mean, we can’t exactly waltz in, even if there are no knives,” Willow said. “They’re probably smart enough to set different traps, just in case one kind doesn’t work.”

Yves returned and snatched up the first aid kit. He studied the pile of garbage in Tara’s fist, debating whether or not he should offer to take it from her, then looked down his nose instead and asked, “Is there something else you need?”

Behind him, a short man who was sweating in a wool suit came into the hotel, pushing more suits and a large suitcase on a trolley and hangar rack half a foot taller than himself. Tara pointed and asked, “C-can we get one of those?”





Willow and Xander hung their coats on the trolley rack, and from the shelter behind the door, they nudged it into room thirty-one. No more knives flew out; the trolley rack clanged against the spring mechanism that hung from the ceiling, and when Tara watched through the crack between the hinges and the doorframe, pushing the rack deeper and deeper into the room with magic, nothing else happened.

Inside, the hotel room was ordinary. There was a suitcase on the suitcase stand, a small suit hung in the closet, and a receipt from a florist crumpled up in the trashcan. Under a pile of small men’s clothes, Willow found Jonathan’s senior yearbook, signed “Have a nice summer” by all but a few.

“Doesn’t seem like a place worth protecting with knives,” Xander said.

“We should keep looking, see if we’re missing anything,” Tara said. “Dawn, can you do that while we check the rooms across the hall?”

When the trolley rack rolled into the suite across the hall, half-moon blades, weighted so the edge stayed down and didn’t scrape the walls or ceiling of the room, swung down, through aisles made in the mounds of books, computers, and magical artifacts. Each blade clanged against the trolley when it swung down, denting the metal and shuddering to a halt, so that the array of blades hung still in the middle of the room. Xander laughed and shouted, “Foiled again!” then plunged into the room. A blade hung perpendicular to the rest released and swung toward him. Xander fell backwards onto the floor, and the blade skimmed the tip of his nose. A hook at the end of the blade reached out into the hallway, and Willow and Tara had to duck to avoid it. Xander rolled out of the way when the blade swung back into the room and crouched in a corner until it finished swinging and was still. He blotted the cut on his nose with the sleeve of Willow’s coat, which had been shaved off and lay on the floor.

“Okay, that was mean,” he said. Willow studied the miniscule cut while Tara picked through the junk piled up in the room. A stack of cd’s toppled and scattered across the floor.

“We should probably pack these up,” she said, “See what’s on them?”

Willow nodded. “Wouldn’t be a bad idea to take away some of these toys, too, like… Ooh, is that a conjuring harp?”

Tara watched Willow run a hand down the golden spine of the standing harp and took a nervous breath. Willow grasped a string between her fingers. Xander stood up from the floor and started dumping discs into a box, and Willow turned to help him.

“Might wanna take that out of here and drop it at the Magic Box,” Willow told Tara, who nodded and tried to shake the anxiety of watching Willow marvel over such a potent instrument. It could be used for perfectly good and reasonable works: conjuring animals to guide lost travelers, making stairways out of rock, and bringing plants to fruit and flower. But it could also be dangerous. So lost in thought was she that she nearly missed Willow’s fascinated stare as she lifted the heavy instrument and settled it on the trolley unassisted.

“I bet that’s how they made those three demons come after me this summer,” Willow said, sidling over to her. “Did I tell you about that? Totally freaky, they collapsed into puddles of goo when they died. I got one of them with a table saw.” Willow grinned at the memory of her victory, then ran her fingers over an engraving on the spine of the harp.

“These things are neat,” she said, “but they’re fickle. We’re lucky they didn’t conjure up anything else with this.”

Expectant, she watched Tara, who looked from her hand on the harp to her face, waiting for her to understand that she would never pluck a string. Tara smiled and put a hand over Willow’s. Xander made a show of noisily packing books and looking away while they kissed.

“The door for the suite probably isn’t as guarded as the ones leading in from the hall,” Tara said. “I’ll go check on that.”

“Be careful,” Willow told her.

Tara nodded and reached out and opened the door between the two hotel rooms.

The roaring and ruckus that boiled through the door made Willow and Xander jump, flinging gathered books. Across the room, Tara put all her strength into closing the door against the howling animal on the other side. It yelped and drew back when she crushed its snout in the door. Willow caught a horrifying glimpse of the demon before Tara shut the door and leaned against it, praying it would hold against the baying and scratching of the monster on the other side.

“So much for them not conjuring anything else,” she said ruefully, when she felt certain the door was secure.

Xander nodded. “Guess we’re not finding anything in there. Unless you’re up for fighting a giant hellhound thingy.”

“A hellhound?” Dawn asked from the door. “Can I see?”

Tara chuckled. “It’d be the last thing you see.”

“Do you think it’s their pet? Like, it sleeps with Warren or something?”

“Big no to that,” Willow said. “Hellhounds are not pets. And definitely not good for the sleeping.”

“Unless you’re planning not to wake up,” Xander added.

“Well, were they both sleeping here? Like, did you find their stuff?”

For a moment, only the slavering hellhound in the next room made a sound. Then Dawn rolled her eyes and explained, “I went through the stuff in the other room. It’s just Jonathan’s. Where were the other two staying?”

Tara blinked and glanced around her. Xander shrugged.

“No clothes in here.”

“Then there has to be at least one more room.”

Next to Jonathan’s room was another suite, with no “do not disturb” sign on either door. The battered trolley suffered no more assault when it was pushed through the entrance of the first door, and no animals growled from within. Filmy sunlight soaked into the carpet and the scattered socks and magazines. Xander kicked aside a pair of Star Wars boxer shorts and lifted the tiny Bobba Fett figure on the windowsill with reverence. Willow dug through drawers, and Dawn peered under the bed.

“Receipts for room service, under the name Herbert Flutie,” Willow announced, smoothing a paper she’d found crumpled on the dresser top. “This is definitely Nerd territory.”

“Eww. That’s what they look like?” Dawn shut the magazine she’d been flipping though and tossed it away, then called, ““Hey look, he got the same flyer about the Doublemeat Palace that you got!”

When Tara looked at the flyer Dawn held out to her, the sun was filtering through the paper, revealing dark patches and light, with coils of glue like ripples in the shadowed parts. The flyer had been made from assorted parts.

Tara took the paper and folded it gently into her pocket, muttering, “They were trying to kill me.”

She swept from Andrew’s room through the suite door and into Warren’s.

No hellhound bayed at her, but there was a metallic scent of sweat and evil wafting from the darkness. Warren’s blinds were pulled tight. His clothes, crumpled like bodies on the floor, suffocated the gentle floral sweepings of the carpet pattern. On the bathroom door hung a robe, and Tara started when she saw it out of the corner of her eye. It loomed with the broad shouldered menace of the man who wore it, even when it hung limp and empty. Warren’s essence clung in traces to everything he touched, so potent she hardly needed her second sight to feel it; the scent of lilies, of death, wafted inexplicably into her mind.

Light. She needed light. Tara stumbled across the war zone of a floor to the window, flinging the curtains open and yanking on the window lock. She almost didn’t hear the clatter of plastic.

Andrew’s curtains were stiff and starched, but these strained toward the ground. Tara grabbed fistfuls of curtain and lining and ripped. Papers, maps, cd’s, and a slim book spilled like entrails at her feet.

“Good work, Dawnie,” she called. “We just hit the jackpot.”





Andrew tripped on a rock, and for the first time, his trust in Warren wavered. The Nezzla demon towered over him now, like a mighty beetle, but with the blackened veins of corpses on crime television.

“I’m sorry!” Andrew stammered. “Please! I’ll never try to desecrate your chamber again! Just don’t hurt me!”

The Nezzla’s eyes were horrifyingly sentient. They showed a strategic form a rage, the kind that allowed it to consider and calculate the best way to punish. Andrew was grateful he’d urinated in the tunnel to draw the demon’s attention; if his bladder hadn’t been empty before, he’d be pissing himself now.

The demon raised a claw to strike. Its eyes, alone animated in the hard, insectoid face, gleamed with anticipation, before they glazed over in surprise and pain. Warren had come at last. The demon’s eyes hardened in determination, but when it stepped forward, Warren struck again. Electricity crackled and buried itself in the demon’s skin, crawling through its body and firing all muscles at once. Its arms flailed, and it lurched toward Andrew without any ability to kill.

“Hit him again! Hit him again!” Jonathan shrieked, but the demon was already falling to its knees.

“These things are tougher than I though,” Warren said, holding the cattle prod like a smoking gun and surveying the monster at his feet. “One jolt from this should have dropped an elephant.”

Andrew scrabbled to his feet, his terror giving way to rage. He grabbed the cattle prod from Warren, ignoring the heat that seared him when he wrapped his hand around the active rod, and fired.

“You want a piece of this? Oh, not so tough now, are you, Puff and Stuff!”

Warren had to shake him to stop his howling. “Hey. Hey! We need him fresh, not smoke house.”

Even in Warren’s arms, Andrew’s anger didn’t fully subside.

“I’m done being bait,” he snapped. “Next time one of you gets to wiggle on the hook!”

“If this works, next time we’ll be the thing everyone’s afraid of.”

Warren’s eyes were warm, the pressure of his grip calming. Warren was here. Warren would not fail him. Andrew relaxed, and Warren released him.

Oblivious to the scene beside him, Jonathan studied the demon on the ground.

“Okay, so… What now?”

The knife flashed when Warren snapped it open and tossed it to Jonathan. “Now it’s your turn, Sparky.”

The cutting was horrible. Warren and Andrew stood back, claiming to be on the lookout for more demons, but really, Andrew simply couldn’t stand the sound. Warren was buzzing, excitement so strong Andrew could feel it like static on his clothes. He wanted to touch it. To hell with strength and invulnerability; what he wanted was this. Their eyes met, and Warren tittered and hopped on the balls of his feet. When Jonathan said he was ready, Warren tapped Andrew’s wrist and set off down the tunnels, not looking to see if Jonathan could follow at a sufficient pace in his sickening new garb. The place was a maze, but Andrew guided them from his place at Warren’s heel, pointing out places where the paths were more worn, the trenches slightly deeper with eons of obsessive protection of the Nezzlas’ sacred prize. At last they found a shivering passage through which they could not walk. Warren strode forward, but Andrew pulled him back, into his arms, as a Nezzla marched through, crackling as it went, and passed them by.

“This is it. We found it,” Warren crowed the moment Andrew released him.

“You sure it’s in there?” Andrew asked, craning his head forward to get a better view. His heart hammered when Warren’s hand hit his chest, pushing him back.

“Careful,” Warren barked. “Only Nezzla demons can pass through the barrier.” Glancing around him, he found a rock, hefted it, and tossed it forward. It vanished in a jolt of red light.

Warren smirked. “Everything else gets curly fried.”

Jonathan sloshed in his Nezzla skin. He was comically short compared to the other demons, but this was good, Warren had promised; it would make it easier to cover himself.

“Maybe we oughtta rethink this.”

Warren bit back a laugh an ignored the idea. “Just make sure all your skin’s covered.”

“Why can’t I just use a glamour?” Jonathan whined.

“You can’t Siegfried and Roy the barrier. It’s gotta be the real deal,” Andrew snapped, and he slopped the hood of the skin over Jonathan’s head. He wondered briefly what it meant that there was no skin covering the eye sockets, but he said nothing.

From inside the skin, Jonathan’s voice growled, “It’s still wet!”

“Good! It should still be fresh enough.”

“Should be? Wait a minute, what do you mean should be?”

In answer, Warren shoved him through the barrier. Andrew thought he’d go blind from the sparks, and the memory of the open eye sockets made him shudder. Jonathan’s body slapped against the hard tunnel floor.

Warren cackled and flashed a delighted grin at Andrew. “Wasn’t sure that was gonna work.”

Jonathan heaved himself off the ground and shuffled away, muttering, “Jackass,” as he went.

“You think he knows?” Andrew whispered. He’d mentioned Jonathan’s snooping the day before, his grousing about shipments he hadn’t known about and wasn’t allowed to open for himself. Warren shrugged off Andrew’s worries now the same way he had then.

“If he did, he wouldn’t be here.”

“Why is he? Our mojo’s tight, bro. We could’ve pulled this ourselves.”

Warren jerked his head in the direction of the barrier. “Somebody had to guinea pig the meat suit. Were you gonna volunteer?”

Andrew winced and grinned, embarrassed to have failed to understand Warren’s genius. He shook his head no.

Jonathan was there because he wanted the orbs. Throwing over Warren was great, but he wasn’t yet convinced that Amy was better. She called to him constantly, day and night, and he knew he’d never escape her watch. His only protection against her was in thinking in pictures. He pictured himself with the orbs in his hands, powerful and free. That was why he had come, even after he’d found the two jet packs tucked away in the hotel room closet where the hellhound wouldn’t demolish them.

“I don’t trust that leprechaun,” Andrew muttered.

Warren reached toward him, a reassuring gesture, even though they did not touch. “Just stay frosty. This works the way we planned it, by the end of the evening Jonathan won’t be a problem.”

His voice slipped into a whisper and disappeared as Jonathan slopped through the barrier, a wooden box in his goo-slicked hands. Warren shivered in delight and grabbed it, goo and all, but Andrew eyed it with suspicion.

“That’s it?”

“It’d better be,” Jonathan said, shoving the meat hood off his face. “No way I’m going back through there. That stings like a mother.”

Seeing his eyes unharmed, Andrew looked up to Jonathan’s hair, spiked and greasy with goo.

“Dude, unholy hair gel.” He squished it, and it bent like jelly. Jonathan swiped at his arm.

“Get off.”

“Make me, skin job!”

“Shut up,” Warren told them. The markings on the box were right. He pulled the enchantment opener, the basic idea of which he’d gathered from Tara’s door unlocking charms, and slid it across the lid, gently, like smoothing lotion on a woman’s breasts. The box opened like women’s legs in his fantasies.

“Gentlemen,” he said, handing Andrew the box and removing the contents, “The orbs of Nezzla’khan. Strength, invulnerability… the deluxe package.”

The irony of gazing at the balls in Warren’s hands, Warren’s balls, was not lost on Andrew, who whispered, “They’re everything I’ve dreamed of.”

Jonathan launched his plan to steal them away. He scowled at the red carved orbs and said, “You know, those have been down here for like a zillion years. How do we know they still work?”

He was prepared to suggest that they might explode, or shock someone not protected by Nezzla power, at which point Warren would give them over, content to let Jonathan risk blowing his hands off before he claimed the power for himself. But Warren closed his hands around the orbs without imagining risk or danger. His face as the power engulfed him was one of shock and ecstasy. He gasped and whispered, “Oh, they work.”





By keeping the cd’s stolen from the Trio’s hotel rooms at the Summers house, Tara had made it impossible for Willow to resist staying the night. Moments not spent making love in the scattered heap of discs and papers were spent with Tara scouring the slim book and Willow scrambling to crack the encryption that hid precious information from their eyes. Wednesday had slipped away, and Thursday afternoon was waning. Dawn would be home from school soon, and really, she shouldn’t be allowed to order Chinese food two nights in a row, but Tara could order from bed and let Dawn answer the door.

The light from the screen made the lines of Willow’s concentration face look deeper, and her frustration face more forlorn. “It’s all a mess,” she groaned.

“These things just take time,” Tara murmured, rubbing Willow’s calf with her foot under the covers. “We’ll figure it out.”

Willow grinned faintly, relaxing at her touch. “Sure. We’ll decipher codes and foil evil schemes…”

“And finally get out of bed?”

“I was with you up until there.”

Tara smiled and watched numbers and symbols scroll across the screen. What Willow was doing was ineffable to her, and Willow had been doing it for hours on end, muttering and changing strategies, all of which looked the same to Tara, except for the differing types of error message displayed.

Then there was a new color on the screen, and Willow stiffened. “Whoa.”

“What is it?”

“This cd is full of encrypted blueprints, schematics…”

Tara leaned forward. “To what?”

“I’m not sure,” Willow said, squinting and zooming in on various parts of the screen. “Their designations have been stripped.”

“Maybe we can cross-reference them with the county clerk’s office,” Tara suggested.

Willow frowned. “Would that involve getting up?”

“Eventually.”

“Then I’m coming out firmly against it.”

“What about the Trio’s evil scheme?” Tara asked, not caring at all. She didn’t care about anything except the wicked grin Willow gave her.

“I’m kinda busy working on my own.”





“All I’m saying is, we should think about waiting. You know, until Faith comes back.”

The noise in the Bronze made it hard for Xander to think, which, while he was talking to Anya about postponing their wedding, was a blessing.

“But no one likes Faith,” Anya said. “Except Tara. But Tara has Willow now. Getting laid will make her happy, and then she can be happy for us!”

Xander gulped and took a long pull of his beer.

“What about Giles? He’ll need time to, you know, make plans, and…”

“Xander, why are you trying to postpone our wedding? I’m so excited I feel like I could vomit, and I want to run away and elope right now, except my dress isn’t ready, and I have to have my dress. Well, I guess I wouldn’t have to. We could elope now and have a nice wedding later! Is that what you want?”

Xander gaped at her. She stared at him, waiting, her smile growing wider and more hopeful. When he didn’t respond, her smile faded, and she studied his face and put her hands on his arm.

“Xander, tell me what you want.”

He wanted this to stop. He wanted her to not ask this of him. He wanted her. What he wanted didn’t add up. The longer she waited, the faster the cyclone of terror spun in him, and only the crash of a bar stool on someone’s back snapped him out of it. He lurched away from the table, from the problem, and toward the source of the commotion.

At the bar, the cash register clanged when Warren slammed his fist against it.

“Don’t worry about the tab, ladies,” he told the women at the bar. “It’s on daddy tonight.”

One girl shook, holding back tears of terror, while the others stared into their drinks, uncertain how to help her, or themselves. None of them spoke, and only the one girl made a sound. The sob drew Warren’s attention away from the cash he was digging out of the register.

“Aw, don’t cry baby. Daddy’s gonna give you some, too.”

He reached to wipe her face with a twenty dollar bill, and the girl next to her stood, ready to claw him apart. But Xander swaggered up and distracted Warren, so the woman standing simply pulled the crying girl into her arms.

“See now, I think it’s the daddy thing that’s throwing her,” Xander said. “Because incest? Not that sexy. So why don’t we leave the ladies to their impending nausea and move the freak show outside?”

Warren smiled. “Is that where the Wicca bitch is waiting? Because I can’t wait to get a taste of…”

Xander slammed his fist into Warren’s jaw. Punching hurts. It always hurts, but this pain made him see fireworks.

“No wonder your pals are lesbians. Better to screw a girl than a guy who hits like one.”

“At least I know how to get one,” Xander spat.

Anya tried to catch him when he flew across the Bronze. He landed in a heap on top of her. Warren shoved aside the pool table that stood between them, and Jonathan scrambled through the crowd to reach him.

“Warren, we have to go,” he said, grabbing the arm Warren had curled back to strike with. He let it go as fast as he could and stepped away when Warren glared at him.

“We go when I’m ready.”

“Hey, your call,” Jonathan told him. He extended his watch. “But we’re gonna miss that thing you wanted to do if we don’t leave now. That’s all I’m saying.”

Warren gripped Jonathan’s arm roughly and studied the watch, then sneered at Xander and Anya.

“It’s your lucky night, shemp.”

Andrew, who had never set aside his cocktail and never left Warren’s side, poked the ice in his drink with his paper umbrella and considered the couple on the floor.

“We’re just gonna leave them? What if they sic the witches on us? We got double trouble now that they’re back with the sexy Sappho stuff.”

Warren laughed. “Bring them on.”





“Girls!” Xander called when he came into the Summers house. “I found Warren! Well, my face sort of found him.”

“And my ass!” Anya added.

Dawn appeared from the basement, and her eyes went wide at the sight of blood on Xander’s face. She shepherded him into the kitchen and wrapped frozen peas in a dish towel for him, fussing and squeaking. Anya asked if there was an ice pack for her ass, then settled on a stool at the kitchen island with a sack of Brussels sprouts down the back of her slacks.

“Willow and Tara are putting clothes on; they’ll be down in a minute. They’ve been getting a lot of work done, though, decoding and deciphering. I met them at the county clerk’s office after school, hung out there until it closed."

“What’d you find?”

“Only evidence of major crime spree plans,” Willow said from the doorway. Tara followed in her wake, trying to flatten down a particularly tousled lock of hair. “What happened to you guys?”

Xander moved the frozen peas aside so he could answer: “Warren.”

“Xander put up a very manly fight. It ended it tears, but it evidenced a very impressive amount of testosterone.”

“Gee, that’s um,” Tara glanced at Willow, then pulled the ice pack away from Xander’s face and examined it, uncertain how to respond. “Where was he?”

“At the Bronze. Doing his normal thing, showing off, harassing women. But he’s gone all Mighty Mouse on us.” Xander winced when Tara guided the frozen peas back to his face. “Emphasis on the mighty.”

Willow frowned and laid a fistful of handwritten papers out on the island. “Maybe these’ll tell us where the might comes from. They’re the only thing we couldn’t translate.”

Xander studied them a moment, then shrugged. “It’s Klingon. They’re love poems.” He looked up to see Willow and Dawn smirking at him. “Which has nothing to do with Super Warren and his impending crime spree.”

Tara glanced at the microwave clock and sighed. “No help there, then. It’s late, I need to go.”

“Go where?”

“One of the targets is an armored vehicle scheduled to hit that new amusement park tonight. I’m hoping I can catch the Trio there and nip this in the bud.”

“You going alone?” Xander said, standing. “I don’t think you should.”

Tara paused in the process of pulling on her fighting coat, considering.

“I can go with her,” Willow offered.

Xander nodded. “Me, too.”

“I don’t feel like fighting,” Anya whined, then brightened. “I can drive the getaway car!”

“And I can…” Dawn started, but Tara cut her off.

“You can stay here and do your homework. No slaying on school nights.”

Dawn rolled her eyes and stomped up the stairs. Anya tugged the frozen sprouts out of her pants and asked if she could drive the Mustang, and Tara tossed her the keys. Xander helped her hobble out the door, and Willow followed them. Tara lingered a moment in the doorway, her stomach filling with dread, before she gripped her staff and headed out into the night.





The scent of ozone lingered with the burn of candles and the musk of ancient texts. Amy was couched in velvet pillows, leaning back and drinking magic like wine. The sun was setting. She was waiting. The cobra was coiled to strike, she thought, and the smoke slithered around her ankles and nipped at her bare toes. She stretched herself long and sleek, the mongoose.

Jonathan had warned her to be ready. She drank deeply of the evil brew in her crystal glass. It ate through its container and dribbled over her hand; what didn’t soak into her skin sizzled on the pillows. Rack filled the glass again, and Amy drank. She laughed, and the pages of her books fluttered. Smiling, Rack shut them with the toe of his boot, walking a circle around her. Thump, thump, thump. Her heart closed like a book, hardening for the kill.

When Jonathan told her it was time, she was ready.





There was a time when Rufus Lozada would have trembled at the smell of hot dogs and popcorn wafting from Wild River Adventures. He would have come earlier, just as the sun began to set and the lights on the ferris wheel blinked on and glowed like stars in the California sky. The carillon like a siren song, the carneys calling just for him. When he won a prize at tossing feather-light balls at stout glass bottles, a feat only he in the whole town one summer had accomplished, he would heave the gargantuan prize over his shoulders and carry it like a friend, instead of checking the seams and rejecting every toy that showed thread, as he did now when buying toys for his daughters. Once, there had been an amusement park in town, and Sunnydale had been happy.

A man who looked like his face had been smashed in with a shovel had dragged a carney away, trapping almost twenty kids on a whirl-around ride that wouldn’t stop, and the kids wouldn’t stop screaming, and the lights had been bright and glaring, swiping like swords through a night so dark no one could hope to follow the two men where they had gone. Rufus had seen them as he was swept up to the top of the ferris wheel, and even though he hung in the night far above the chaos, he could still hear the other kids under his dangling feet. And he swore he saw the man who killed the carney loping off into the night.

The lights at Wild River Adventures were off, and the music didn’t play. A hunched old carnival man swept the last of the greasy napkins into a dust pan and walked away while Rufus and his partner loaded the armored car with the heaps of cash the park had raked in. Rufus wondered how much of this cash the old carnival man would ever see.

Unshaken by the cold, the park owner counted his bags of cash under his breath as they were loaded. His suit was tailored and showed not a speck of cotton candy sugar or hot dog grease, but he was a carney, just the same. He had an air of distant, disdainful amusement. He would not waver if a child lost his most difficult game, and he wouldn’t let you slip past and onto the ride if you hadn’t given him a ticket. You didn’t know he was a watchful man, until he was watching you. The cold and the lateness of the hour wore on Rufus’s muscles, and he grunted heaving the final bags into the truck.

“Alright, that’s the last one,” he told the suited carney, stepping closer. The smell of pickles and melted cheese wafted off him, and for an instant, Rufus warmed to him. “Quite a haul, huh?” he chuckled.

“Always the biggest gate of the year. Don’t lose any.”

The idea that he couldn’t do his job made Rufus stiffen. He signed the forms on the carney’s clipboard and climbed into the truck, blowing warmth into the bowl of his hands.

“Wanna grab a bite after?” Harold asked, just like he always did. Rufus nodded, mentally thumbing through the restaurants that would still be open this late at night. But Harold knew, and had chosen, just like he always did.

“I think Ruby’s is still…” he started, but he stopped when his shoulder slammed against the door. “What the hell?” he shouted, throwing the armored van into gear. The wheels spun helplessly, and the van groaned.

The world slumped sideways, and the lights outside blurred, like they were on the tilt-o-whirl. Rufus thought of the dead carney as the van slammed into the ground. The carney hadn’t made a sound.

The van crunched and hissed when it fell over, and Jonathan flinched from the noise. Andrew’s eyes were trained on Warren, hauling the door off the van and throwing it aside.

“Man, I can’t wait to get my hands on his orbs,” Andrew muttered.

Jonathan rolled his eyes and scanned around him, watching for Amy. “Yeah. I’m sure he’ll be giving them up any second.”

He saw the Mustang fly around the corner, Tara crouching with her feet on the passenger seat and her hand on the exposed top edge of the windshield, staff gripped and held ready. Her hair was flying back, and she looked prepared for this fight. Jonathan swallowed and watched her leap out as the car screeched up the scene of their crime. She wasn’t prepared for this.





Buffy, Tara imagined, would have had something funny to say. She would have sneaked up on them and approached with a quipping poise. By the time she swung into action, all eyes would have been on her. Tara’s best strategy was to appear suddenly, take the advantage quickly, and make them afraid. Fear added to her power, surprise shook confidence. Tara leaped from the convertible, flinging herself at Warren in the style of an animal pouncing. Warren turned to her as she dove, and when she struck, her staff was in his hand. He heaved her over his head by it. Frightened, Tara clung to the staff, and she crashed onto the ground behind him.

Willow’s spell slammed into his side and scattered in sparks. Warren ripped the staff out of Tara’s hands, rubbing the skin raw, and brought the brunt of it down toward Tara’s face. Her only salvation was that she was fast. She rolled away and onto her feet, flinging dust in his eyes with magic as she went.

Xander charged at Warren from the side and fell like he’d hit a wall. Willow grabbed the staff, Tara leapt at his knees, and Warren shrugged them off like a coat and flung them aside. The grit in his eyes barely seemed to annoy him; one swipe of his coat sleeve, and he was seeing clearly. In the chaos, it was almost impossible for Tara to make a plan; she fell, someone charged, they blocked her view. She made a choice, and before she got a steady grip, the battlefield shifted. At last, Warren swung the staff, and Tara latched on and disarmed him, bringing it in a circle and down on his head. The staff splintered, and Tara’s shoulders wrenched from the force she had put behind the blow. Warren slammed his open palm into her chest.

Tara conjured a cushion of air to catch her, but it shattered from the force of her fall and only slowed her, instead of shielding her completely. She staggered to her feet, still clutching the shattered staff, but her chest grated when she moved, and her eyes flashed with color when she breathed.

Warren flung Willow in her direction, and Tara caught her with magic and lowered her down. Willow’s eyes were strobing black and green, and she ground her teeth to fight back the rage. Tara took her hand and squeezed, and the color in Willow’s eyes stabilized. There was a current between them, that old familiar feeling. Magic, brought to a boil by adrenaline, splashed and sizzled as it melded them together. Tara nodded, firm and slow. Willow gave a tight, confident smile in answer.

They jerked their gaze to the armored van door, then back to Warren. The door hit Warren’s full length and smashed him into the stone pillar of the park entrance. When he straightened, he was smiling. It was the most horrible face Tara had ever seen.

“Is that all you got?” he demanded.

In the instant Warren wasted in gloating, the pillar gave way and crashed down onto his head.

“No!”

Andrew’s screech ripped through the deep rumbling of clattering rocks. It was the first moment that any of the Scoobies had given Andrew and Jonathan any notice. Xander dusted himself off and ambled toward them, and Willow followed. Tara released Willow’s hand and let her warrior persona waver, wincing at the pain in her chest.

“So, there’s two ways this can end,” Willow growled. “And based on all the trouble you’ve caused, I think they both better hurt.”

Andrew, terror stricken a moment before, stood straighter and sneered.

“I think you’re right.”

Tara gasped when she saw the first stones on the pile move, and the pain of the sudden breath bent her over.

“What’s the matter, baby?” he called, and she could hear him rising, hear him coming toward her. “Never fight a real man before?”

Anya leaned on the car horn and shouted, “Get out! Get out!” Tara pulled a dagger from her boot, knowing blood was coming, his or hers, and tried to stand straight. Willow and Xander were rushing to her side. Warren knocked them away, then shoved Tara to the ground with only his pointer finger.

Jonathan was scanning the sky desperately, screaming in his mind for Amy. Beside him, Andrew trembled.

“Kill her,” he was cheering. “Kill her!”

Tara couldn’t see past Warren. She took in rapid, shallow breaths, and raised her dagger as he strode toward her. The roar of thunder, the wrenching of metal, went unheard over the pounding of her heart in her ears. Only after it had mowed Warren down did Tara see the armored van hurtling toward her through the air, and barely in time to fling herself to the ground.

Rufus Lozada dangled upside down, held in by his seat belt. The blood dripping down his face was beginning to cake, and Tara could see the slate blankness of his eyes, the stillness in his chest, so close was his body to her wide and panicked gaze.

“Nice shot, bitch!” Warren shouted, and Tara scrambled away on her hands and knees toward the Mustang.

Ozone flooded Willow’s nose, and she threw an arm over her eyes as lightening flashed, incinerating the ground Warren Mears stood on. He laughed and howled, jeering as the specter in the sky began to glow again, flinging tendrils of red static. Warren hurled a boulder into the air, and Willow’s gut heaved when it slammed into a body she recognized. It scattered like dust and reappeared above the amusement park ticket booth, suddenly flooded with light.

“Amy!” Willow shouted. “Amy!”

Tara saw the light gleam in blackened eyes, the tongue of red electricity whipping out, and ran. The flash blinded her to the sight of the bolt connecting with Willow’s chest, throwing her over. When the dust settled and the afterimages cleared, she was kneeling over an unconscious body.

Behind her, a battle of Titans was raging. Aside from Willow’s shouting, the pair had lost interest in them. Warren could hardly take a step without being blasted by magic, but Amy hadn’t even scratched him, and she was drifting lower in the sky with every burst of light.

Tara charted a clear path behind the armored van, around and to the safety of the Mustang, where Anya had her foot poised to slam on the gas. Xander crouched beside her, a questioning look on his face, and Tara made her choice.





Behind Willow’s eyes there was a nightmare swirl of her mother dragging her through a house a mirrors, with too many flashes of light and shades of gray, and Amy flitted through every pane of glass, and there was a horrible noise like light bulbs smashing on a concrete floor. When at last her eyes opened, the nightmare images swung sideways, and the worried face above her swam up from under a pool of green water.

She couldn’t hear anything, or feel her hands and feet. This was the dream, this beautiful face. Only the nightmare was real.

A car door opened. Something occurred to her.

“Amy,” she said, turning her head. All she saw was dusty fabric pressed close to her. She was in someone’s arms. They were carrying her away from Amy.

“We can’t help her.”

The words were felt in her body, held against a heaving chest, more than they were heard.

“We can’t help her. We have to go.”


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 Post subject: Re: Time Heals All
PostPosted: Sun Feb 03, 2013 6:43 pm 
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9. Gay Now
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dibs!

I'll read it when my chores are done :)

ok, read it.

nicely done.
now all i have to do is go back and read the rest of the story, to put it in context.

much reading ahead.

R

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 Post subject: Re: Time Heals All
PostPosted: Sun Feb 10, 2013 2:22 am 
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It's almost jarring, after so long without it, but to see our girls work so well together, to be together, is amazing and brilliant and guh.

Keep up the good work

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"Friendship is obviously magic. Love is a sorta super strong friendship. We gay people love so hard we broke 'Social Norm'. Ergo, we gay people are ultra-strong wizards."


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 Post subject: Re: Time Heals All
PostPosted: Mon Feb 11, 2013 8:46 am 
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10. Troll Hammer

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Forgot I was following this story but, dang, Warren's orbs are giving him truly unbelieveable power, and magnifying his evil antuire as well. (Of course, with this version of Amy, there'd be nothing even remotely close to a clean getaway if she were still alive -as opposed to with Buffy in the original "SR," where he maybe perhaps might've settled for a total beatdown with serious injuries then taken off with t he loot..) Seriously concerned here, even tho I know it's DCP.

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 Post subject: Time Heals All
PostPosted: Tue Mar 12, 2013 10:04 pm 
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2. Floating Rose
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Time Heals All: a Willow/Tara fic with a terrible title

Author: Big_Pineapple

Feedback: Yes, including title suggestions, line edits, and general comments

Spoilers: vague reference to all seasons

Setting: Pre-season six and onward, AU.

Rating: PG-13



Seeing Red


Jonathan closed his eyes against the flash and glare of Amy’s power and tried to think. He opened only one eye to peek and saw her hair, leavened with magic and spiked with blood, and he shut the vision out as quickly as he could. The image of Katrina didn’t disappear so easily, blonde and red and sparkling glass strewn across the stairs.

Give up, he thought to Amy. Run.

In answer, her mind gave him only a shriek of rage. It escalated in pitch with every blow Warren landed, and her feet were on the ground now. Jonathan could feel it. He squeezed his eyes shut and begged her, but she ignored him until her mind shattered into a kaleidoscope of pain. Screaming, Jonathan charged forward.

Warren dropped the tire of the armored car in surprise and backed away from Amy, who was too feral to recognize the approach of a killing blow.

“Whoa, Sparky! I didn’t know you had it in you.”

Jonathan wasn’t sure Amy could even hear. She staggered under his weight on her back, and he caught them both with one of his own feet.

“The orbs,” Jonathan hissed. “Smash his orbs!”

Amy clapped a hand on his scalp, and her skin was burning hot. He felt his skin sear and welt under her fingers, and then on the place where his cheek pressed against her temple, and he howled and let her go. Steaming, Amy left him where he fell.

The ground trembled when Amy raised her hands, but the power evaporated from her and was gone before she could aim it. Warren walked up to her and grabbed the collar of her shirt.

“Say goodnight, bitch,” he snarled.

Amy gripped his balls in one hand, and Warren faltered. She wrapped her free arm around him, and her searching hand found the orbs of Nezzla’khan.

Warren crumpled when they broke, and Amy shoved him to the ground.

“Goodnight, bitch.”

He scrambled away from her, tearing the seams of his jacket trying to get it off. Jonathan saw his eyes under the one light that had managed to survive, and for the first time, he was afraid.

“I swear to god I’m gonna take you down,” Warren spat, and the rest of his words were drowned in the flare of the jets on his back.

Amy tried, but she could not bring him down.

“Well played, witch!” Andrew taunted when he was certain she was drained. “This round to you. But the game is far from over.”

He ignited his jet pack and rocketed up into the overhang of the hotdog stand.

Jonathan saw Amy stalk toward Andrew’s prone body and stepped in.

“We have to go.”

As if to lend credence to his claim, police sirens blared.

“Come on!” he demanded. “Let’s get out of here!”

Amy cocked her head and studied Andrew. The blood on her skin curdled and boiled on healing wounds. She squeaked in resignation as Andrew’s rockets sputtered out, then turned and followed Jonathan away.




“Willow? Sweetie, can you hear me?”

Tara brushed a hand across Willow’s face as her green eyes skittered across the room, searching.

“You’re in the hospital,” Tara whispered. “You’re safe.” She kissed Willow’s forehead, and Willow’s eyes followed her face as it pulled away. Her forehead creased in concentration, and Tara waited.

“Where’s Amy?”

It wasn’t what Tara had expected. Her eyes flickered away, and Willow surged upright in bed, barking her question again. Tara turned her face away.

“You left her there,” Willow growled.

Tara swallowed hard and answered, “She tried to kill you. We h-had to g…”

“Did you see her? Did it look like she was in a decision-making space? She was there for Warren. She was on our side!”

Tara stood then, and put her hands on Willow’s shoulders, pushing her back.

“We can do this later, baby. You need to r-rest.”

“We’ll do this now!” Willow shouted.

She pushed Tara away with a force that made her stagger back, and Willow ripped the IV out of her arm and swung herself out of the hospital bed. Her eyes flashed dark, and Tara pressed herself against the wall. The dribble of blood from the IV site faded from Willow’s arm. The faint bruise in the bend of her elbow followed. She stood tall and steady, but she didn’t step forward.

“P-please don’t.”

“Don’t what?” Willow snapped. “Don’t talk about this? Tara, you left her there to die. She was my friend, and you just…”

Willow buried her hands in her own hair and breathed deeply.

“I had to get you out of there. I had to make a choice and I just…” Tara floundered under Willow’s glare, when she lifted her head and looked at her. Pleading, she whispered, “What did you expect me to do?”

“Nothing!” Willow shouted. “See, that’s your problem! You think you get to make these choices, but you don’t. You’re part of the unit, not the boss of us.”

“There was no one else to…”

“To choose who lived and who didn’t? Since when is that anyone’s choice? Buffy never did that, and she was the superhero! You’re not a hero, Tara.”

“I never asked to be!” Tara snapped back, stepping up to her. Willow’s eyes were clear. She knew enough not to touch Tara out of anger. She was Willow, fully, and powerful. Tara found her footing; she was powerful, too.

“The heroes are gone, Willow. I’m all that’s left.”




Xander, unwilling to be left out of the action, lifted his head up from the couch when Tara strode into the apartment. Anya pinched his toe, conveniently parked in her lap, and ordered him to go to sleep.

“No way am I sleeping when she has that look on her face,” Xander said, nodding toward Tara before addressing her directly. “What’s wrong with Willow?”

Tara looked surprised. “She’s okay. I wouldn’t leave her if… sh-she’s fine.”

“And you’re not.”

Tara studied him for a moment, propped up on his un-scraped elbow, peering at her through the eye that wasn’t nearly eclipsed by the swelling of a cheek, and sank onto the coffee table in front of him.

“What have you found out?”

For the shortest of instants, Xander paused, but before Tara could challenge him or give in, he sprang into a jolly explanation of what had occupied the wee hours of his and Anya’s night.

“Well, there’s nothing like a concussion to render you incapable of reading English, so I’ve been looking at the nice engravings in the set of books you so kindly brought over.”

Tara glanced at the book spread across his lap and blushed. She remembered those engravings from her blossoming teenage years.

“Ahn here has been actually reading, in at least two languages, and she’s found a lot of things that I don’t really understand.”

“There are a lot of magical spells and objects that can increase a human’s strength,” Anya started, passing Tara one of the books strewn around her ankles on the floor. Tara skimmed the list of ingestible objects of power and gave the picture of a man excreting a mushroom a look of consternation before returning her attention to Anya’s list of ideas.

“… of a goat with the blood of a virgin shepherd, but that one’s tricky, because he can’t have slept with anything, not even a sheep. And then there’s the ubermensch injection, but that only lasts a few hours, and really, the people who use it spend most of their time crashing feasts and festivals and carrying off cows, because nothing cures superhuman hunger like a whole cow, and…”

“So there are a lot of possibilities,” Tara interrupted. “Which one are we up against?”

Anya shrugged. “The moon was at waxing crescent last night, so it can’t be anything that depends on the lunar cycle. And since he hasn’t hunted us down and ripped us apart, it’s safe to say the effects are temporary. Which points us toward more herbal concoctions. Of course, if he’s using mushrooms,” Anya tapped the unappetizing picture in the book on Tara’s lap, “they may have a fairly consistent supply. Magical fungi usually reproduce themselves in the feces of those who consume them. It’ll take a few days for a harvest big enough to produce the kind of strength we were dealing with to mature.”

“Which buys us time,” Xander said. “Unless of course Amy kicked his ass, in which case it could have been anything, but the point is moot.”

Tara shook her head. “He could still have more of it, if it’s plant- or fungus-based.”

She could feel Xander’s eyes on her. When she glanced up, she saw the expression that had flitted across his face before fixed there. Anya’s chatting about fungicides was white noise in the background, barely registering under the din of Tara’s thoughts and hesitations. Finally, she ducked her head and admitted, “I shouldn’t have left Amy.”

“And what do you propose we go back in time and do instead?”

Tara shrugged. “I could have taken her. Three-way fight’s not the most productive thing in the world, but if I’d taken her down, we could have, you know, brought her with us?”

“Having a homicidal maniac in our possession would benefit us so much in our fight against a homicidal maniac,” Xander said.

“She did seem intent on hurting Warren,” Anya said.

“Yeah, after she hurt Wil.”

“How um,” Tara stood, and her ribs grated. “How long would it take for a Mizaxon cup take to refill?”

Anya flipped through a book and answered, “If it’s drained completely, up to twelve hours.”

Tara glanced at the clock on the oven; it was barely seven o’clock, and the sun was just rising.

“Can you guys check on Willow in a while? I need to get Dawn ready for school. That’ll give me a couple safe hours on the street at least.”

“To do what?”

“To find Amy.”




Amy stumbled to the edge of the woods and watched the policemen mill around the crime scene, sweeping up glass from the armored van and tucking it away in evidence bags. The man in the suit by the hotdog stand was being cooperative and tugging at his tie. The policeman thought he might be lying, and Amy knew he was. Not about the death of Rufus Lozada, but about the health inspection of the hotdog stand. A technician explained that, if possible, the corrugated metal awning above the man’s head would be cut out and taken in for analysis of DNA. There were stray hairs and skin particles of Andrew’s stuck to the dent he’d made, but they wouldn’t find anything else. Andrew, gibbering in fear at the sight of her in the jailhouse, had sworn he wasn’t saying a word. This detail had filtered through her mind and settled somewhere to wait. She would process it moments before she recognized the smear of red and gold that was Tara crouching on top of the stone wall of the amusement park, watching, then slipping away.




To the naked eye, the Madison house looked deserted. The bushes overgrew their black plastic boundaries, cobwebs clouded the windows, and a few slate roof tiles hung loose like crooked teeth. But magic clung to the bricks. Following vague directions Xander had supplied her, Tara made her way to the house, and when she had found it, she knew.

She crammed her house key into the lock and magicked open the front door. The glamour that made the house look empty fell away and splashed on the front step at her feet, revealing a cleanly scrubbed green door and brass handle, and beyond, a very lived-in space.

No one came to the door when she lingered there, and nothing happened when she stepped inside. She left the door standing open to ease a hasty escape. It also dissipated the heavy pine smell and brought in a splash of the early morning sunlight.

As far as she could see, the only living thing in the house was the rat that sniffed her from its cage in a corner of the living room. She let it study her fingers through the bars before she began to examine the house.

When she was young, Tara had learned how to detect the passage of people in a house. Small details about the way clothes lay on the floor, which dishes were in the sink, how mud caked on boots by the door, could tell her who was awake before her that morning, what time her father had come home that night, and whether or not Donny was looking for trouble. If she read the signs correctly, she could avoid any human interaction for a full day without sacrificing food or fresh air. As her mother became more ill, she learned the habits of sickness and prepared breakfasts according to how settled her mother’s stomach was likely to be and either set the table or brought her a tray in bed. The study became so precise that she could tell by the bite marks in an apple core which of her parents had eaten it.

Her father hit her once for the skill, assuming she used magic, and she never told him otherwise, because his habits were too valuable for her to know to allow him the chance to change them.

Tara found no shoes by the door, and the doormat was dry. It hadn’t rained in Sunnydale in over a week, so there would be no mud to track in.

The evidence in the brownie pan in the sink was ruined; it had been soaking in water, so it could have been there for an hour or for days. No water remained in the basin. Garbage evidence was minimal: a pop-tart package, the sticker from a banana, but no peel, and a heap of soiled pine chips from the rat cage. The television and VCR were cold, and Tara began to search more desperately for some sign of life.

Amy wasn’t in the hospital or any local hotel, at least not under her own name. Warren’s rooms in the Grand Hotel were abandoned and unpaid for. If Amy wasn’t here, she might not be anywhere.

The stairs in the house did not creak. This in itself was unnerving, but something more sinister clawed at Tara’s consciousness as she climbed. Afraid to linger and study the steps, she noted the gouges in the wood made by glass shards, but not the delicate lines of blood ground into the grain.

Upstairs was not a safe place to be. Angel would scowl at her, trapping herself with no place to run. Even with bridges to run across in midair, finding an open second-story window to slip through gently while focusing one’s energy during a viscous attack is a bet not worth making with enemies.

Faith, she thought, wouldn’t be afraid. And she missed her Slayer, and she knew if Amy was dead, she was to blame. The heroes were gone because she hadn’t gone to find them.

The Scoobies had called hospitals, hotels, and homeless shelters, the places where drifters settled like silt, and found no sigh of Faith. Without the Slayer, they followed the Watcher, and Tara had waited for Faith to come home on her own. Xander and Willow assumed, she imagined, that Tara knew something they didn’t: that Faith needed space and time, but that she was loyal and would return to Tara when she couldn’t bear to be alone.

Only Anya had questioned her. Her frankness had startled Tara into the truth: she was afraid, despite her love and trust, that Faith had killed Katrina.

“Why would that matter?” Anya had asked. “She was already a murderer. The only difference is this time she killed someone you like.”

Faith could have saved Amy.

Tara stood with her hand on the last doorknob in the upstairs hall, just before a staircase spiraling up into the attic. She had found no sign of life in the other two rooms; the toothbrushes in the rack in the bathroom had been dry, the soap stuck fast to its dish, and the sheets on the bed she’d explored were creased along perfect folds, cold and undisturbed for days at least.

She took a breath and turned the doorknob, thrusting the door open and stepping inside in one long motion.

Amy’s tattered black clothes were strewn across the floor.

The cup beside the bed had no dust floating in the water; it had been filled in the last few hours.

Tara dashed out of the room and down the hall, and something creaked.

She stepped backward, into the attack, grabbed the first part of her attacker she saw, and threw him over her shoulders and onto the ground in front of her. The next thing she saw was a blinding flash. It hit her in her aching ribs, and she staggered, turned, and dove for the railing of the balcony. She could build a bridge down to the living room, run through the still open front door.

The attacker grabbed her leg, and her chin connected with the railing. She swung and punched an open mouth, whose teeth dug into her knuckles. God, she hated fighting.

The front door was closed. She needed to get to her feet. Only the spiral staircase offered a higher ground.

In her struggle up the stairs, Tara got a sense of her enemy’s size. It was considerably less than hers. She got away and scrambled up the last stairs, then grabbed when he dove and slammed him against the wall of the attic.

“How many rats are there in this house?” she snarled, and Jonathan squirmed and kicked her in the shin. As she staggered back, Tara saw that the only window was a porthole barely the size of her head. But Jonathan was blocking the door.

Tara could barely breathe, and the firebomb Jonathan had thrown had singed her neck and lower jaw. She set her feet apart and gathered her energy, centering and preparing to throw him down the stairs in front of her if she had to, and Jonathan stiffened and froze.

She slammed into him, trying to spin past him, but Jonathan grabbed the back of her coat and hauled her backward. He refused to let go, even when she punched him again. His hand was in her hair, and he yanked it back and hissed in her ear, “Be quiet, she’s…”

When she kicked him, he fell, but backwards. Tara rolled herself over him, but now she was further back in the room again, with Jonathan blocking the door.

Jonathan rolled onto his knees and threw his hands in the air.

“Shut up!” he ordered, and Tara hesitated.

“Jonathan?” Amy called from the living room.

Rising slowly, Jonathan muttered, “If she finds you here, she’ll kill you. Don’t think she won’t.”

Tara remembered the power billowing off Amy the night before, took note of her broken ribs, cuts, bruises, and utter exhaustion, and lowered her fists.

“I’ll get you out of here,” Jonathan told her. “Just keep your head down. And pass me that book.”

Bewildered, shoulders aching, Tara reached for the heavy book on the top shelf of a bookcase along the wall, and handed it to Jonathan while Amy shouted for him again. He took the book and disappeared, leaving Tara alone in the attic.




Jonathan was halfway down the stairs, explaining that he’d fallen trying to reach the book on the shelf above his head, when the doorbell rang.

The last of Rack’s drugging power drained from Amy’s eyes as she shooed Jonathan back upstairs, ran her fingers through her hair, and opened the door.

Mr. Madison looked bewildered that the house was as clean on the inside as it was, based on the disarray of the exterior. He didn’t see the glamour come undone.

“Daddy?” Amy whispered, and he blinked.

“I got this letter today,” he said, “from the college. How long have you been enrolled in school?”

He was smiling at her, hopeful. Amy took the letter from him, read the invitation to parents’ weekend at UC Sunnydale, and gathered her wits as quickly as she could.

“The back is nicer than the front. Do you want to sit outside and talk? I have tea in the fridge.”

She watched in delight when he settled in his favorite chair, the one he’d always occupied when she was a little girl. He closed his eyes and angled his chin toward the sun.

“It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it?”

Her father hummed in answer, and when he opened his eyes, he smiled at her.

“I wondered every night where you’d gone. I was afraid I’d lost you, like your mother.”

Amy nodded, cradled close the secret he’d told her before he left: he had loved her mother once, before the magic.

“It’s… This is wonderful, Amy. You made a whole life for yourself.”




Jonathan peered out Amy’s bedroom window and watched the Madisons hold their perfect sunlight reunion. Amy put her hand on her father’s knee, they laughed, and it looked like they’d be occupied for a while. He crept up the stairs and took Tara by the hand.

“Why are you helping me?” she asked him.

“I’m not,” he said. “I’m helping her. She could be okay again, if someone took care of her. And I’m the only one around.”

Tara nodded. “We’ll come back for her.”




Her father had his arms around her when Warren shouted to her from the edge of the back yard.

“You think you can just do that to me? That I’d let you get away with it? Think again.”

The sunlight glinted off the gun, and Mr. Madison shoved his daughter behind him.




Tara’s first thought, when she heard the blast, was hunting season. But that didn’t make any sense. By the fourth shot, she was running as fast as her broken ribs could give her air to manage. She burst through the front door of the house, and Jonathan, vaulting over the railing to reach Amy, landed on top of her.

Warren turned back at the sound, but he didn’t see them, and so he left, laughing and shaking.

“Call an ambulance,” Tara ordered, dragging herself out from under Jonathan. She grabbed a blanked off the couch and charged onto the back porch.

There was only one aura shining. Tara passed the soulless body and dropped to her knees beside Amy, heaping the blanket on her chest wound and pressing to stop the blood flow.

“They’re coming,” Jonathan told her from the door. He looked in Mr. Madison’s eyes and went cold and silent in fear.

Amy’s eyes fluttered, and Tara called her name. When Amy coughed, blood sprayed, and it stung Tara’s skin where it touched. On Amy, it boiled. Her eyes turned black, and her hand lashed up like a snake and wrapped around Tara’s throat.

The bullet wound healed, and Tara watched it, before Amy backed her into the patio table and pushed her backward, bending her back until she gasped in pain.

“Goddess Hecate, work thy will,” Amy snarled.

Tara scratched at Amy’s hand, but the skin was burning hot, and she couldn’t make a mark on it. Jonathan was shrieking, and Tara couldn’t breath, could barely see. But she knew this spell.

“Before thee let the unclean thing crawl!”

Air rushed into Tara’s lungs, and where before she had been gripping Amy’s fingers, her hands closed around delicate bones. Teeth buried into her fingers, and they ripped the skin when she shook her hand and flung the animal off.

The Amy rat locked eyes with her, then turned and fled into the grass.



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

Long time, short update. It's been a weird month. But if the next week doesn't kill me, I've settled into a routine with this. It's nearly done, and I'm excited.

Thanks for waiting, and for reading. Let me know how things are going.

Kay


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 Post subject: Re: Time Heals All
PostPosted: Tue Mar 12, 2013 10:35 pm 
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4. Extra Flamey
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Amy, Amy, Amy. It will be interesting to see how the disagreement between Willow and Tara resolves itself as they rekindling of their relationship is still recent.

Quote:
When she was young, Tara had learned how to detect the passage of people in a house. Small details about the way clothes lay on the floor, which dishes were in the sink, how mud caked on boots by the door, could tell her who was awake before her that morning, what time her father had come home that night, and whether or not Donny was looking for trouble. If she read the signs correctly, she could avoid any human interaction for a full day without sacrificing food or fresh air.


Great passage of how Tara takes abuse from her past and how that created a finely tuned protection skill.

I was not expecting the Warren revenge on Amy, nice twist btw.


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 Post subject: Re: Time Heals All
PostPosted: Wed Mar 13, 2013 1:19 pm 
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10. Troll Hammer

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Now, correct me if I'm wrong but this version of Amy has reached the point where she can cast spells in rat form, I'm assuming.

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 Post subject: Re: Time Heals All
PostPosted: Tue Mar 26, 2013 7:58 pm 
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3. Flaming O
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Quote:
Now, correct me if I'm wrong but this version of Amy has reached the point where she can cast spells in rat form, I'm assuming.


If I am remembering right Amy used this same spell with the same result of turning herself into a rat when their parents, and the rest of "M.O.O." were trying to burn Amy, Buffy, and Willow at the stake. She completes the spell then is turned into a rat (I think).

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 Post subject: Re: Time Heals All
PostPosted: Sun Aug 04, 2013 6:33 am 
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I really hope this gets updated soon. One of my favorite fics, this one!

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 Post subject: Re: Time Heals All
PostPosted: Sat Aug 24, 2013 3:00 pm 
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2. Floating Rose
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Time Heals All: a Willow/Tara fic with a terrible title

Author: Big_Pineapple

Feedback: Yes, including title suggestions, line edits, and general comments

Spoilers: vague reference to all seasons

Setting: Pre-season six and onward, AU.

Rating: R



Hi. I'm back! And feeling as awkward as Willow pretending to be a vampire, so I'm just going to do this thing.

In case it's been forgotten, a summary: Tara fought Warren, then Amy showed up. Tara dragged a badly injured Willow and self to safety, leaving Amy to fight a losing battle. Willow shouted at her about this and went black-eyed. Tara tried to find out if Amy was alive or not and ended up witnessing Warren shoot Amy and and kill her father.



Part XXX: Dead Things

Trigger warning: sexualized violence, blood


Willow reached into the depths of the world, searching for the roots of Tara. They hadn’t talked about the magic, really, where it lived in her and what it meant. Darkness welled up in her, and it showed in her eyes like a red face or raised voice. But she would never use it. Just because it was there at her service didn’t mean she would use it, especially not against Tara.

Tara was wrong. So was Willow. There was nothing right about any of this.

She reached deeper and deeper into the trembling heart of the earth, fumbling for that warm, buzzing energy she’d felt surge through her on its way from Glory to Tara. It hummed so close to her own power that when Willow touched it, she trembled to the roots of herself.

In that moment, she heard footsteps she knew. Before she even opened her eyes, she felt Tara near her and started to speak.

“Baby, I’m sorry. I…”

Tara was shaking her head. Her shirt was blackened on one shoulder, and her exposed collarbone, neck, and jaw were red and spotted with blisters. She pressed one blood-covered hand to her aching chest and winced out, “Not now. Amy.”





Uncertain what to do with himself, Jonathan had followed Tara in her mad dash to catch the Amy rat, until she had staggered to a halt and doubled over in a fit of coughing and gasping. He had eased her onto the ground, and they had listened to the sirens as the ambulance pulled up at Amy’s house. He couldn’t talk to the officials, Jonathan knew, and Tara didn’t have the time. He’d followed her to the hospital and fielded the various staff who attempted to stop her advance and treat her wounds.

“Just stop for a minute and let me do a glamour,” he’d told her. She’d ignored him.

He was waiting for the part where she interrogated him. For the moment when he told her what the Trio had done, what had happened to Katrina and the Slayer. He was waiting for the part where he announced their doom: that the Amy rat was sentient, that he had given her that power.

But Willow and Tara shambled out of the hospital room together and past him. Willow ran worried fingers over Tara’s bloodied knuckles and supported a good deal of her weight. Tara’s energy was fading, and her eyes were half-closed. She was shaking her head, like she had been when Willow had apologized, as if she couldn’t stop.

Jonathan trailed along behind them. He didn’t have any better ideas.





“Shouldn’t you be in school?”

Dawn took her ice cream from the cashier and paid him.

“I’m homeschooled,” she lied. For a few minutes, she sat at the counter licking the ice cream cone, but the parlor was empty, so the cashier didn’t have anything better to do than regard her with suspicion. Dawn rolled her eyes and left.

Tara had told her that morning that everyone was safe, but nothing else, and somehow despite the fact that she was obviously injured and wearing the same clothes she had been the day before, which meant she’d been out all night, she expected Dawn to go to school and pretend that something major that no one was talking about hadn’t happened.

In first period, it was announced that one of her classmate’s father had died, in some sort of accident at the amusement park. There was a bitter smell in the air, given off by kids who were shocked and unsure of what to do. It was cloying, and worse in the hallway, so Dawn had slipped out of the school building and into fresher, more open air.

The police had cleaned up the scene at the amusement park, which had been her first stop in her delinquent stroll, but Dawn found the shattered top half of Tara’s staff at the edge of the woods and stuffed it into her backpack. As she left the chill of the ice cream parlor and shifted her backpack on her shoulders, she tried to decide what she should do with it. The staff was evidence that Tara had been at the park, which meant she could get in trouble for what had happened. Dawn set out toward the house, intending to check for the other half; it would be best, she reasoned, to destroy the whole staff, so there would be no ties at all between Tara and the crime scene.

She was in Tara’s bedroom, rooting around under the bed in search of the staff, when she heard the front door open. The clock on the bedside table read a little past ten. Dawn was scrambling to think of a reason why she wasn’t in school when the shouting started.

“Where are you, bitch?”

Warren.

“Two witches in one day!” he crowed. “Come on, your turn! You think you can do this to me?”

The first step groaned under his foot. Dawn retreated into Faith’s bedroom, where the weapons were. She grabbed a crossbow and rolled under the bed.

Warren kicked the hallway door to the bedroom open, and the handle punched a hole in the wall. Dawn flinched. The boots that came into view had flecks of blood on them. Warren’s breath was sharp and ragged. He laughed in strangled hiccups, then growled. Closet empty, window shut and locked, he kicked the bed and shouted, “Where are you, witch?”

Dawn tracked his movements by sound. He crashed through the house twice, three times. From down the hall, glass shattered.

“Alright!” he shrieked, then laughed. “Alright. I’ll wait, then.”

The sound of a television burbled up the stairs. News.

“…latest in a recent rash of violence in Sunnydale, a man was killed in the back yard of an abandoned house this morning. Details have not yet been released. There is no word on whether or not this brutal slaying is related to the incident at the amusement park, which left one man dead and another hospitalized last night.”

The front door slammed. Dawn stayed hidden.





The sound of paper shredding between gleaming rodent teeth was faint, but constant. From her place behind the counter of the Magic Box, the Buffybot cocked her head to listen.





Willow and Tara used up the first aid kit that was in the Mustang while Jonathan drove. They had responded to his explanation of Amy’s powers with a few questions, and then silence. It didn’t change the fact that they had to find her; it made the search more urgent.

Xander’s car was in the driveway when they reached the Summers home, and the door was hanging open.

“We’re okay,” Xander said when Willow crept first into the front hall, Tara at her heels. Dawn was curled up against Xander, shaking. “Warren broke in.”

Dawn sniffled and stammered out, “He was looking for you. He said he’d already killed a witch today. I thought…” Her eyes darted to Willow, and she hugged her knees and whimpered. Tara sat on her other side and kissed her hair.

“Here you go little girl!” Anya called as she entered. “Hot chocolate. Now, don’t be traumatized.”

Jonathan started to speak. Anya jumped, spun, and threw the hot chocolate at him.

“He’s here to help!” Willow barked, and under her glare the redness and pain faded from Jonathan’s face. He shuffled his feet, and the puddle of liquid at his feet squelched. “You were saying?”

“I was just wondering why he left. He didn’t break the door, so he could have just waited. Warren can wait for a long time.”

“He was watching the news,” Dawn said.

“Which means he heard that Mr. Madison died…”

“And Amy didn’t,” Jonathan finished where Tara’d begun. “He knows she’ll come for him.”

“Good.”

Dawn sat up straight while the others watched.

“He killed Mr. Madison, and he tried to kill Amy. He’s been after us for months, and he won’t stop until he wins. He’ll kill you, too, Tara, and anyone else who fights him. Won’t he?”

Jonathan nodded. “He murdered his girlfriend and framed your slayer for it.”

“Amy wants him dead,” Dawn concluded. “Good.”

“From the mouths of babes,” Xander muttered.

“I think enough people have died,” Willow growled. “Warren’s going down, but I’m not letting him take Amy down, too.”

Tara nodded, and Willow closed her eyes. Down under the foundations, past the sewers where rats and demons darted through the shadows, until the heat of the earth was almost beyond bearing, Tara felt her stir. Like wet sand around burrowing fingers, the world made room for Willow. The power climbed up and out, slipping under the burns on Tara’s jaw and shoulder, bringing healthy tissue closer to the surface. It breathed at her mouth like a gasping kiss, and some of her exhaustion was exhaled. Tara reached out, forgetting Willow was across the room. She felt so close. Her mind was ticking; Tara could hear it.

“Are you ready?” Willow asked from inside her, and Tara nodded.

“Jonathan,” Willow said aloud, and Tara jumped at the return of reality, “Can you help Tara with a locator spell? One for Warren, one for Amy. I want to get between them, keep them apart. Dawnie, take Anya and go through the house; make sure the windows are shut and locked, batten down every hatch you can think of, okay? Xander, get Spike and bring him here. I don’t want any more guest appearances in this house.”

“Well what are you going to do?” Anya wanted to know.

Willow gave a wincing smile and sighed. “I have to think of something to say to Amy.”

Xander saluted and was out the door. Anya locked it behind him. Tara pointed Jonathan toward the stairway and made to follow him up, but Willow stopped her with a hand on her arm and a gentle, “Hey.”

She looked exhausted and small, Tara thought, looking down at her from the first step. Her lips were tight, and her eyes darted across Tara’s face, searching for any indication of what she might be thinking.

“We’re okay,” she said, and she squeezed Tara’s arm and shrugged. “I mean, I left her, too.”

Tara stepped down and kissed her hard before she turned away again.

Willow slumped into an armchair when she was alone in the living room and let her thoughts wander. Magic crept up from under the floor and brought with it the smell of brownies. She didn’t stir until the smoke alarm went off.

Partway up the stairs, she started to hear Tara shouting curses and stomping on the floor.

“What is it with you and fire?” she demanded, pointing at the charred hole in the bedroom carpet. “Shit, fuck.”

“I didn’t do anything please don’t kill me!” Jonathan pleaded when Willow entered, but she ignored him.

“She put some kind of, of hex on their locations,” Tara explained, gesturing to the blackened curls of a Sunnydale map. “Th-this isn’t going to work.”

While Willow hesitated, trying to decide whether to deal with the location problem or Tara’s obvious frustration first, Jonathan raised a timid hand.

“If you swear not to be mad at me, I might have an idea.”





“Welcome to the Magic Box, your one stop shop for all your…”

“Stop that,” Willow ordered, and the Buffybot set her mouth in a silent grin. “Come here.”

Jonathan blushed when Willow knelt and lifted the robot’s shirt, then shuddered when she peeled back the skin of her stomach to reveal a computer input panel. Willow plugged a cable into one of the robot’s ports, then ran it to her laptop.

“You don’t have any idea how she works?” she asked, and Jonathan shook his head.

“Warren was the tech guru. He said she had a call feature, a command you could hit and she’d come right to him, but he never said how it worked. Probably because he didn’t want me or Andrew calling her to help us when he was trying to get us killed.”

Tara leaned over Willow’s shoulder, asking, “Is there a way to activate it without the command?”

Nodding, Willow stared at the information on her screen, scanning for an alteration to the robot’s programming. Her hands shook on the keys. It would be faster… But this was a logic problem. None of the other programming had been disrupted, and she found what she was looking for nested inside the homing sequence.

“I’m not sure she can give us directions,” she said. “It’s pretty much a call and answer thing.”

Tara frowned. “She can’t drive, either.”

“One thing she and the real Buffy have in common,” Willow answered, and she almost smiled. “Amy’s on foot, too, and with luck, we’ll be closer to Warren than she is. We’re still in this.”

The Buffybot stared absently at the ceiling and muttered, “We should call an exterminator.”

Willow rolled her eyes and set the locator program into motion.

“Sure. Whatever.”





Warren stumbled on a branch in the dark and wondered why Rack hadn’t give him night vision. Though, honestly, he wasn’t certain what Rack had given him. The bus his double was on would lead Amy east and north, he had promised. As long as he kept walking, Warren figured he could reach the highway on the edge of town south and west before dawn, hitch a ride, rob a bank in Los Angeles, and fly to Argentina. There were nude beaches in Argentina, right?

Something rustled behind him. Warren stopped walking, and the noise stopped. He turned, slowly, and a possum stared down at him from the branch of a tree. God, Warren hated the woods.

Rustling again. Leaves and loose rocks spurted up under Warren’s feet, the possum fled, and the woods fell quiet again.

Amy made as little sound as a woman as she had as a rat. She was not as swift or keen of senses, but she had found him. And she wanted him to see her coming.

She didn’t see him. The ax buried into her back, and she saw, smelled, and tasted damp earth when she fell, face down.

Nothing made a sound. Moonlight made no reflection in Amy’s black hair, but it illuminated the map of her blackened veins against a background of white skin. The possum crept out of its hiding place, trembling, and the wind followed. The night returned to life. Amy didn’t stir.

It was beautiful, really, what you could get away with at night. Warren took a breath, heaved a rock at the possum, and strode out. The air wasn’t as pure as it had been a mile back. There was gas and oil and rubber in it, and soon there would be nothing but that smell. Los Angeles was waiting up with the lights on.

He slipped again, picking his way down a little ravine, and he grabbed a tree to save himself. The ax blade bit into the wood an inch above his fingers. Warren shrieked and let go. Tumbling into the ravine, the smell of the highway vanished.

All his movement stopped at the bottom of the slope. He lay still on his back, jaw clamped shut by a marbled hand.

“I love making you scream, baby,” Amy whispered in his ear.

His hands sailed over his head, and stayed there. Amy straddled his hips. She pinned his ankles with her own. Warren stared into the black pools of her eyes until she was so close he couldn’t focus. She kissed him, bit his lip, and drew blood.

“I’ll do anything,” he said when she leaned back. The blood dripping into the back of his throat made him choke.

Amy smiled. “Anything?”

Warren nodded. He spattered her with blood when he coughed.

One fierce ripping motion, and Warren’s shirt tore open. She pressed a piece of it to Warren’s bleeding lip, lifted his head until he could breath again.

“The whole world. It’s yours.”

Amy kissed his head, then dropped it.

“King and queen?”

“Pure,” Warren gasped when Amy moved above him. “Royalty.”

She slipped her hand between his legs. Warren felt himself harden against her palm.

Debris tumbled down from the top of the ravine. Willow and Tara had abandoned the Buffybot and the others when the screaming started.

“Amy, stop!”

Her hand was trailing up Warren’s chest. She didn’t turn her gaze away from his.

“All I wanted,” Amy whispered, “was your heart.”

And she ripped it out of him.

Tara lurched with nausea. Willow froze, one step down into the ravine. The roots around Warren coiled out and dragged his body into the dirt. Amy stood, his heart in her hand. She held it up to the moonlight, and it glistened. A bead of blood rolled down her arm.

There was wonder on her face when she bent her head and licked the blood away.


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 Post subject: Re: Time Heals All
PostPosted: Sun Aug 25, 2013 2:22 am 
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1. Blessed Wannabe

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It's alive! Thanks for the update, interesting as always.


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