"Perfect," Tara said with satisfied grin. She had a beautiful tray prepared for Willow, and she had managed to slice the fruit and bread without looking at the shattered remains of the kitchen table. Just seeing the table made her blush. She still had to convince Willow to explain to Buffy how the sturdy oak table met its end.
She backed up and looked at the tray. It still needed something. She looked out the window and saw that the rosebushes Joyce had planted were in bloom. She smirked and ran to the living room and grabbed a tee shirt and a pair of boxers. The clothes had ended up there when she and Willow had come down to have coffee earlier, but the clothing never made it to the kitchen.
Tara dressed and rushed outside and carefully cut the most perfect rose she could find. She brought it back inside and found a cut crystal vase. She put the blood red rose on the tray and giggled. Now it was perfect.
"It’s a shame you wasted so much time on breakfast," Kelly said from the doorway.
Tara spun and stared at her exlover. Kelly’s eyes were red, and her serpent fangs edged out from under her lips when she smiled.
"Kelly…" Tara couldn’t breathe. She was frozen with terror, and even drawing breath was impossible.
"What a lovely meal." Kelly smiled and walked closer. She reached out her hand and took a piece of cantaloupe.
"That’s not for you," Tara said angrily. She backed away and looked toward the cabinet where she knew Buffy kept a cache of weapons. "How did you get in here?" She squared her jaw and gave the dark haired witch her most defiant stare.
"Nothing can keep me away from you." Kelly tossed the fruit into her mouth and smiled. "As for the food?" She sighed and shook her head and then lifted her blood soaked hand in front of her. "Someone should enjoy your hard work…" She glanced up the stairs. "She won’t be needing it."
"No." Tara shook her head and gripped the tray until her knuckles turned white. Her hands shook and anger washed through her. It was an unfamiliar feeling. Even when she had discovered Kelly’s treachery, she had not hated her, she had not wanted to hurt her, but this was different. She saw the blood on Kelly’s fingers and the idea that it might belong to Willow made Tara want to do more than hurt Kelly.
"Cat got your tongue?" Kelly asked in a sickeningly sweet tone. She flickered her blue tongue and laughed.
Tara dropped the tray and grabbed Kelly by the throat. She shoved her back and slammed her into the counter. "If you hurt her…I’ll kill you."
Kelly continued laughing. She looked down at Tara’s hand and the absurdity of the timid, docile blonde trying to choke a demon amused her. "Really? Kelly asked in a mocking tone.
Tara nodded. Her hand was shaking and her belly was tied in a knot. She wasn’t used to feeling hate, and the unfamiliar emotion was making her stomach churn.
"And what will you do if I already killed her?" Kelly waggled her eyebrows.
"No!" Tara’s body shook. She pushed Kelly and aside and ran toward the staircase but the former model grabbed her arm and yanked her to a stop.
"There’s no more Willow to keep you away from me," Kelly said as she pulled Tara closer.
"Then there’s no reason for me to worry about my own life." Tara spit in Kelly’s face and then stomped on her foot and broke free. She spun and pulled open the pantry door and grabbed a sword and swung it toward Kelly. Her eyes were full of hate as she leveled the blade in front of Kelly’s stomach. "If that’s her blood, I’ll gut you."
"Tara, you’re so butch." Kelly smiled and held up her hand and licked Willow’s blood from her fingers. "Guess it goes with the boxers." She leered at Tara’s bare legs.
The blonde witch backed toward the door. She had to go check on Willow.
"You know what’s funny?" Kelly asked as she ran her finger along the blade. "While you’ve been down here chatting with me… with all your tough posturing…your beloved Willow’s been bleeding to death upstairs. That’s funny."
"Willow!" Tara spun and ran out the door and then up the stairs. She was almost to the bedroom door when Kelly grabbed her by the hair and yanked her to a stop. The sword bounced across the floor and Tara screamed in pain as her former lover threw her to the floor and straddled her. She leaned down and licked Tara’s lips in a sickening mockery of a lover’s touch.
"She’s right inside that door." Kelly inhaled deeply. "I can smell her blood."
Tara shook her head and tears rolled down her cheeks.
"I can hear her heartbeat." Kelly closed her eyes and smiled. "It’s slowing. She doesn’t have much time."
Tara’s body shook and her eyes hardened. She did something that she swore on her mother’s grave she would never do. She closed her eyes and asked for help that no sane witch would dare try. She sent out a silent plea to the Great Mother, the demon Tara’s own mother had feared above all.
‘Lilith, in the name of love, help me,’ Tara said in her mind. ‘Take anything, just let me help Willow.’ She felt heat infuse her body. It started as an almost pleasant warmth, but the heat was soon excruciatingly painful, as if her soul was being consumed by the mythical flames of hell. For all Tara knew, it was. The fire within grew along with Tara’s rage. She opened her eyes and looked up at Kelly.
"What the hell?" Kelly asked as she looked down at her former lover. The blue in Tara’s eyes was gone. Only blackness remained.
"Yes, as a matter of fact, hell is involved." Tara narrowed her eyes and used her mind to send Kelly flying across the hallway.
Giles pulled up in front of Buffy’s house just as Xander and Anya were parking their car. Buffy had called Xander from the first phone they passed, unfortunately, he and Anya had been at a movie, so they only got the message after returning home hours later. When Buffy called her own house to warn Willow and Tara, she got a recording informing her that the number was out of service.
The Slayer knew that if she had sent the police to check on the Wiccans, the officers would be killed. The police academy didn’t train officers how to deal with demons who used deadly talons to shred their victims. That seemed odd to Buffy, considering they were on the hellmouth.
"Please tell me this a Scoobie demon drill," Xander said as he jogged over to Buffy. He had a sword in one hand and quickly looked up and down the street. Even in Sunnydale medieval weaponry was conspicuous.
"Kelly’s out and she’s still a demon. No drill." Buffy glared at Anya. "Your information sucked. You said she was gonna’ go back to being human for good."
"Excuse me, but you try being alive for eleven hundred years," Anya said angrily. "It’s hard keeping all that information straight."
"Let’s do the catfight later," Xander said as he guided Anya away from the Slayer. "After we make sure Willow and Tara are safe."
"Dawn, stay in the car," Buffy said.
"And if Kelly shows up while you’re all inside?" Dawn asked.
"Dawn, get over here next to me." Buffy yanked her sister to her side. "And don’t run off. Don’t you ever listen?" She headed across the road toward the house. "Unless there’s danger… then you stay out of the way." The Slayer looked over her shoulder to Giles. "Keep her safe."
"Buffy," Giles called out. He moved to the trunk of his car and opened it. "Weapons?" he asked.
The Slayer ran back to the car, yanking Dawn with her. "You packed weapons for our vacation?" She smiled. "Good Watcher."
"I do try," Giles said as he tossed Buffy a set of short swords.
"I need a weapon." Dawn eyed Buffy’s swords.
"That is so not happening," Buffy scoffed. She caught Giles’ attention and nodded toward Xander. The Watcher tossed Xander a crossbow.
"You got a mace in there?" Anya asked. She smiled when Giles tossed her a spike covered weapon. "That man packs like a woman! He’s got everything." She smiled happily.
"Not any woman I want to date," Xander said. He checked the crossbow and then looked toward the house.
"Let’s hurry up." Buffy tucked one of her swords into her belt and took Dawn’s hand. "I want to get in there before Kelly shows up."
"I hope she hasn’t already been here and killed them both. If she surprised them, she coulda’ carved them up like that deli-sliced lunchmeat Xander loves." Anya frowned when the others glared at her. "What? I said I hope they hadn’t been killed…that’s supportive, damn it!"
"Yes, you’re a regular Oprah Winfrey," Giles said.
"I didn’t think you watched that," Anya said as she took a practice swing with her mace. "Isn’t that on at the same time as Passions?"
"Can we get moving? Please?" Giles asked.
"Yeah, moving out now." Xander pulled Anya toward the house. "Besides, I’m sure they’re fine."
They jogged across the street and up to the front door. Buffy glanced toward the side of the window and froze in place. She pointed to the phone line. It was severed. Four deep slices cut through the line and into the paint of the house.
"Forget to pay the phone bill?" Xander asked hopefully.
"Yes, Pacific Bell always terminates service by sending out demons to shred the lines." Giles gripped his sword and backed down the stairs. "I’ll go ‘round back."
"They might hire demons," Xander whispered. "This is Sunnydale." He followed Giles.
Buffy grabbed the door handle and frowned as she twisted it. The entire locking mechanism was broken.
"Dawn, she’s inside." Buffy looked into her sister’s eyes. "Go to Spike’s crypt and stay there until I come for you."
"No, please, Buffy." Dawn shook her head. She didn’t want to lose her sister again.
The Slayer took a deep breath and nodded. She slid the short sword out of her belt and pressed it into Dawn’s hands. "Stay out of the way and if demon-covergirl comes anywhere near you, poke her."
Tara climbed to her feet in one graceful movement. Her eyes were black as pitch and she looked down the hallway with deadly intent. Kelly had landed at the far end of the hall and was struggling to get back onto her feet. Tara looked at the door to Buffy’s room. There was a bloody smear near the doorknob. Her emotions shifted like ice melting in the sun.
"Willow." She grabbed the door and ripped it open. She looked at the bed where she and Willow had made love only hours before and inhaled sharply. The sheets were twisted and covered with blood, more blood than Tara had ever seen in one place, but Willow wasn’t there.
"No!" Kelly slammed into Tara’s body and drove her into the room. They hit the carpet in tangled heap of flailing arms and legs. "She can’t have you." Kelly sat up and shoved Tara into the floor. Her blonde hair fell to one side revealing the back of her delicate neck. Kelly raised her talons in the air and swung at Tara’s exposed flesh. Before she could make contact, she was knocked off of Tara’s back.
"You just can’t take no for an answer, can you?" Willow said as she leaned against Buffy’s dresser. She had an oak quarterstaff balanced in her hands but she was pale and shaking. She had slipped on a tee shirt and blood ran down her belly soaking her boxers and covering her legs.
Tara and Kelly both rolled over at the same time. Kelly glanced at Willow and smiled, impressed with her handiwork. Tara saw her lover, and the blood running down her legs, and she was too stunned to move. The blonde witch’s momentary lapse gave Kelly the edge she needed. She dove on top of Tara and they rolled across the floor.
"Run," Tara said between clenched teeth. "Willow, leave!" She smashed into the wall and managed to slam a hand into Kelly’s throat. It was a move Buffy had taught her. Vampires didn’t need to breathe, but most other demons did, and a sharp blow to the throat would slow most creatures down.
Kelly gasped and crawled away from her blonde exlover. She held her throat and struggled to breathe.
Tara scrambled to her feet and ran toward Willow just as the redhead fell to her knees. "Baby?" Tara dropped to the floor and carefully lifted up her lover’s shirt. She cringed at the sight of blood oozing out of four puncture wounds high on her belly. "No." She tried to lift Willow with one arm while pressing her other hand onto the seeping injuries. "Stay with me," she pleaded when she saw Willow’s head sag to one side.
Willow’s face was pale and even though she was a covered in sweat, she was ice cold. Her eyes were dull and she didn’t seem to be able to focus on Tara’s face.
"Come on," Tara whispered. She pulled her lover to her feet and they stumbled toward the door.
"It’s not over," Kelly said in a raspy voice. She stood and ran at the two lovers.
Tara spun and shoved her hand toward Kelly. A wave of energy hit the raven haired demon and threw her into the wall. Tara knew she couldn’t escape without Kelly attacking again and Willow was running out of time. She had to neutralize the threat before she could get Willow to the hospital.
"You hurt Willow." Tara’s voice echoed unnaturally. She carefully slid her lover to the floor and propped her against the wall. "Now I’m gonna’ hurt you." Her voice lost all of its normal gentleness and she sounded like a wounded animal.
"Tara, no." Willow recognized the tone in her lover’s voice. It was the same way her own voice had sounded when Willow had gone after Glory. She coughed, and then doubled over from the spasm in her belly. She grimaced and squeezed her eyes shut.
Tara stalked toward Kelly; her eyes locked on her victim. Her eyes remained coal black as her focus intensified. She grabbed Kelly’s foot and dragged the witch turned demon out the door past Willow.
"What are you doing?" Kelly asked. She looked up and saw that the Tara she knew was gone. The blonde’s eyes were dead and there was no compassion in her normally kind face.
Tara said nothing and she pulled Kelly into the hall. She didn’t even flinch when the demon slashed the back of her leg.
"Tara?" Kelly asked as the blonde turned and grabbed the exmodel by the throat. The demon’s red eyes were frozen open in shock as Tara lifted Kelly into the air and flung her down the staircase.
"Pain," Tara said in a hoarse whisper. She thrust her hand at Kelly and blue sparks shot out the ends of her fingers. The energy hit Kelly where she had landed at the bottom of the stairs and she screamed in agony. Tara tilted her head to one side and took aim again.
"Baby, no," Willow whispered from behind the blonde.
Tara spun and saw her lover crawling into the hall. Her eyes shifted back to blue but Tara squeezed her eyes closed as anger washed over her. She opened them again and they had returned to black. She spun and glared at Kelly.
"Sweetie, no," Kelly said. She had returned to her human form. A streak of blood drained from her nose. "I love you, Tara."
"Don’t talk to me about love," Tara yelled. She was breathing heavily and she held out both hands and took aim at Kelly.
"Tara," Willow called out. "Please don’t do this." She knew her gentle lover would never forgive herself if she killed Kelly. Willow had experienced the same blinding rage but she had aimed her magic at a goddess. Tara was about to kill a human. "Baby, no."
Tara slowly turned and looked at Willow. She saw the growing pool of blood under her lover’s knees on the carpet and all thought of revenge drained away. She ran to Willow helped her lean against the wall.
"We need to get you help," Tara said as tears slid from her eyes.
Willow nodded. She could feel the warm fluid on her belly. It cooled by the time it hit her legs and she felt chilled to the bone. She closed her eyes and sighed when Tara bent down to lift her from the floor. The blonde’s touch was gentle and tender, and Willow was glad to have her familiar lover back. She didn’t notice that Tara’s eyes had not returned to their normal blue.
"I’m the one you love," Kelly said. She gripped the railing and pulled herself to her feet at the bottom of the stairs. "Look at me. I’m beautiful," she said as tears ran down her face. "I’m Kelly Larson. You can’t pick her over me." Her legs shook as she fought to remain standing. Tara’s pain spell had injured her and she was trying to regroup.
"You are the ugliest person I know," Tara said to Kelly as she wrapped her arm around Willow. She helped her lover limp down the stairs. "Inside is what matters, Kelly. You used to be beautiful, but you changed." Tara’s blackened eyes locked on her former lover. She wasn’t about to walk past her and risk Willow being injured again. "Back," Tara half-growled.
Kelly was thrown across the room and hit the wall. She landed face down near the table. She looked down at her hands and smiled. She could feel her power returning. Apparently Tara’s attack had only weakened her temporarily.
"Easy, baby." Tara settled Willow on the couch and grabbed the phone. "Help will be here soon."
"Doubtful." Kelly smiled as her talons flexed out the ends of her fingers. "These do quite a number on phone lines." She sprinted across the room and hit Tara. The two rolled across the floor and knocked over an end table.
Willow watched in horror. She could barely lift her head, let alone help her lover. She heard the front door open and let her eyes fall closed with relief as Buffy came into the house.
"Tara!" Buffy ran to the struggling pair. Tara was on top, but when Buffy tried to lift the blonde Wiccan off of the demon, Buffy was tossed back.
"She’s mine!" Tara’s eyes were black and she had her hand around Kelly’s throat. "She has to pay."
"Oh, not good." Buffy watched as Tara’s hands began to glow.
Dawn ran toward Willow but she stopped at the edge of the couch. The sight of so much blood overwhelmed the young woman.
"That’s a nasty belly wound," Anya said as she shoved Dawn out of the way. She lifted Willow’s shirt and studied the punctures. "Go call 911," the former demon ordered. She saw that Dawn wasn’t moving. "Dawn, get over to the neighbor’s and call an ambulance. Now!" she yelled. Once Dawn ran toward the front door Anya went back to her task. She pressed her hand over the injury and frowned.
"Help Tara." Willow’s eyes flickered open. Her voice was weak and she was getting paler by the moment.
"Let Buffy worry about Tara." Anya leaned over and grabbed a tee shirt from the edge of the couch. She wadded it up and pressed it to the wound. She frowned when she felt the redhead’s body go limp. "No! No passing out," she whined as Willow’s eyes closed. "Damn it. No one listens to me!"
Buffy made another grab for Tara, but the blonde witch had picked Kelly up and slammed her into the wall. Kelly was in shock and her arms were hanging limply at her side. She couldn’t believe that shy, timid, Tara was about to kill her. The blonde brought her knee up and caught Kelly in the stomach. The demon coughed as the wind was knocked out of her.
"Damn it, Tara, let her go. You’re not a killer." Buffy grabbed Tara around the neck and peeled her off of her former lover. She tossed the blonde witch aside and took Kelly by the arm. "Don’t move," she ordered. She cringed when she saw Kelly’s blue tongue slither out to wet her lips.
"Hey, Buffy’s got it all under control," Xander said as he and Giles came in from the kitchen.
"We had assumed the worst when we saw evidence of a struggle in the kitchen," Giles said. He saw Willow and his face paled. "Good heavens." He ran over to assist Anya.
"Willow!" Xander ran to the couch but stayed out of the way.
"She better be okay," Buffy said as she shook Kelly’s arm. "Tara may not be a killer, but I am."
"There’s a lot of blood here," Anya said without looking up. She moved the tee shirt away from Willow’s belly and prodded her stomach. Her belly was hard, and the redhead moaned when Anya moved her fingers away. "Hardening and rebound tenderness. She’s bleeding into her belly."
Tara staggered over to the couch and dropped down beside Anya. She took Willow’s hand and gently squeezed it. Willow’s eyes had fallen shut and she didn’t react.
"Scoot over," Anya said harshly. She needed room to work. She squeezed her hands on either side of the wounds and blood boiled out onto Willow’s stomach. Anya leaned her face down and inhaled deeply.
"What are you doing?" Tara yelled.
"Good, no bowel smells." She pressed the tee shirt back over the wound, still not looking over at Tara. "After thousands of eviscerations, I know a thing or two about stomach wounds. The sexbot over there missed her intestines. Strictly amateur. If you want them to suffer, you have to slice open the bowel."
"Will she be okay?" Tara voice was hollow. She glanced back at Kelly and then turned to face Anya.
"Umm," Anya stalled. "Depends on how fast we get her to the hospital. She’s lost a lot of blood."
"You’re saying she’s going to die." Tara’s eyes narrowed. The irises were still shaded black.
"Whoa! Dark magic," Anya said as she looked up and pointed at Tara. "Dark magic eyes… Giles, Xander, do something."
Before anyone could react, Kelly tossed the Slayer aside and ran for the door. She never saw Tara move, but the blonde hit her and knocked her into the kitchen. They rolled across the floor and Kelly ended up closest to the door they had just rolled through. Tara sent bolts of energy shooting at her former lover but Kelly scrambled out of the way.
"Lilith, guide my hand," Tara said as she hovered above the floor.
"No!" Kelly ran out the door as energy bolts slammed into the wall.
Buffy tried to tackle the witch turned demon but Kelly stumbled past her. Kelly saw a sword on the floor and grabbed it. She moved to the couch and rested the sword on Willow’s chest. Anya didn’t move. She kept pressure on Willow’s belly wound and stared at the blade now perched over the redhead’s heart.
"Now, I’ll finish the job." Kelly grinned, her fangs glistening with saliva.
"Job? Well, guess what? You’re fired," Buffy said as he pulled the trigger on her crossbow. The bolt hit Kelly in the shoulder and knocked her back but she still had the sword in her other hand.
Tara’s hair was blowing back with unseen magical wind. Her eyes were wild as she focused her rage. "I…owe…you…"
"Xander!" Buffy yelled. She watched him tackle Tara and then she pulled the crossbow string and quickly reloaded and pointed the weapon at Kelly. "Give it up."
The former model shook her head, but her human form returned as her blood flowed out of her shoulder.
"Let me go." Tara was furious. "She hurt Willow."
"Yeah, and you turning psycho-wiccan-killer is gonna’ hurt her a lot more." Xander struggled with the blonde witch. He saw her black eyes and cringed. "That really is not the look for you."
Tara growled and her body shook.
"Oh boy," Xander said as he was tossed across the room.
"Tara," Giles said from behind the blonde witch. "This is from Willow."
Tara spun toward the Watcher and her eyes widened when she saw his fist coming for her face.
"Sorry about that," Giles said as his fist connected with Tara’s jaw. "You really gave me no choice." He caught her as her body crumbled and then shook his aching hand.
"You hit a girl," Xander said in shock.
"And he hit her good," Anya added with an approving nod. "Hit that one next!" She pointed at Kelly.
"Buffy, I suggest you deal with Miss Larson before Tara awakens." Giles lowered the unconscious blonde to the floor.
"Deal with me?" Kelly laughed she nodded toward the front window. "Hear that?" She smiled triumphantly as the others listened to the sounds of approaching sirens. "The cops will take me away and then I’ll get out on an insanity plea. That stupid witch’s sunshine spell guaranteed that I’ll stay a demon. I would have turned fully human again so long as I wasn’t a demon past sunrise." She reached up screamed as she yanked out the crossbow bolt. "It’s the law of progression."
"Crap," Anya said. "No one told me she was a freaking Gardenarian." She rolled her eyes. "Gardenarian spells work on the Celtic linear progression theory. She got to keep her demon powers if she could control them until sunrise."
"Demon? So I can kill her," Buffy said with a smile.
"Sorry," Anya said as she pressed on Willow’s wound. "Still technically human. She just gets the use of the powers." She frowned. "I want demon powers," she whined.
Dawn slowly opened the front door. She saw Buffy restraining Kelly and raised her eyebrows requesting entry. Buffy nodded and Dawn turned and leaned out the door. "In here!" Dawn yelled.
"If you want to live, go with the nice policemen." Buffy grabbed a thin rapier from the mantle and twisted it around Kelly’s crossed wrists. "Fight them…or me…and I’ll kill you, human or not."
The model nodded as she looked down at the makeshift handcuffs. Blood from her shoulder dripped out from under her sleeve.
"Can we un-demon her?" Buffy asked as she looked over at Anya.
"Sure, with the right spell." She looked over at Tara and frowned. "Unless Giles pounded Tara’s brains into mush. How hard did you hit her?"
"I… I…" Giles stared down at Tara. She hadn’t moved since he hit her.
"You hit Tara?" Dawn asked. She opened the door and two paramedics wheeled in a gurney. "On the couch. She got cut on the stomach." Dawn pointed to Willow.
"Jim, grab her and get her onto the gurney," the first paramedic said. "What happened?" He listened to her breathing. "Airway’s clear. Let’s get her immobilized in case there’s spinal involvement. What’s her name?"
"Willow. She was impaled by a Garden Weasel," Anya volunteered. "You know, those nasty little weed pullers from late night TV?" She pointed to the wound. "Four uniform punctures to the left abdominal wall. I palpated the ribs, no sign of crepitis." Anya watched as the two men put electronic leads onto the redhead’s chest. "No sign of any bowel lacerations, but with the injury placement and the hardening of the abdomen, I’d check for a nick to the spleen," Anya added.
"Who are you?" Jim asked. "Are you a doctor?" He fitted an oxygen tube over Willow’s nose and adjusted the settings, and then carefully put a plastic cervical collar on the pale redhead’s neck.
"No, just an expert on abdominal wounds." She shrugged. "Oh, and she lost consciousness a few minutes ago. No reaction to painful stimulus to the sternum."
"She watches a lot of ER," Xander explained as he pulled Anya out of the way.
"What’s her BP, Mike?" Jim asked as he cut away her shirt and checked the wounds. "Willow? Can you hear me? Willow, open your eyes." He shined his light into her eyes and then pressed on her chest with his knuckle to see if he could get a response to pain, but Willow didn’t move. "I’m gonna’ give her a Glasgow Coma Score of three. She’s completely non-responsive to vocal commands and painful stimulus."
"Told you," Anya whispered.
"BP’s 85/50," Mike said as he moved his stethoscope to her chest. "Good bilateral breath sounds, pulse 140, respiration’s 19." Mike frowned. "We need to get her outa’ here." He grabbed his medical bag and pulled out an IV kit. "I’m starting a drip."
"What happened to the other one?" Jim nodded toward Tara. He packed Willow’s belly with sterile gauze and applied a pressure bandage.
"Fainted," Buffy said. "Can’t stand the sight of blood."
"Anyone gonna’ tell me why that woman is tied up like a Christmas turkey?" Mike asked as he worked.
"What kind of sick Christmases do you have?" Xander asked.
"BP’s dropping," Jim said. "We need to transport her now." He yanked off his stethoscope and felt Willow’s pulse. "Damn it, let’s move it. We’re losing her."
"I’ll start a liter bolus of lactated ringers solution in route." Mike nodded and they wheeled Willow toward the door. "Anyone know her medical history? Is she on any medications? Any drug or food allergies?"
"She ate too much pumpkin pie one Thanksgiving and threw up," Xander said. He looked over at Tara. She was still slumped in Giles arms. He frowned. Even if she were awake, she wouldn’t remember any of the information. Xander had no way of knowing that Tara’s memory had returned.
"Let’s go," Jim said urgently.
"What about us?" Buffy asked. She still had Kelly pinned to the wall.
"The cops are on the way," Jim said. "Let them deal with the cop-killing supermodel."
Buffy’s eyes widened.
"Please," Jim said. "With a face like that… I’m not supposed to recognize her?" He steered the gurney out the door. "We’re taking her to Sunnydale memorial," he yelled over his shoulder.
"One of us should go with you." Xander ran after them.
"Anyone here related to her?" Mike asked as they carried her down the front steps.
"Umm…" Xander’s eyes darted from side to side.
"Sorry. Family only." Jim looked down at the erratic EKG. The green line bounced and then flickered. "Move it!" They began running toward the ambulance rig.
"She’s lost a lot of blood," Mike said as they put Willow into the ambulance. "Christ! Pulse is down to 46. She’s giving up." He jumped in beside the gurney. "Come on, fight."
"Willow?" Xander said a he felt tears on his cheeks.
"Fight, Willow," the paramedic said as Jim slammed the door shut and ran for the cab of the vehicle. He jumped in and they sped away with the sirens blaring and the lights flashing.
Xander stumbled into the street and watched the ambulance disappear around the corner. He stood motionless, in shock, even after the ambulance was gone. After several minutes, a patrol car pulled up and had to swerve to miss him. Two officers jumped out and ran toward him. He recognized Officer Williams.
"What happened?" Williams asked. Concern covered his features. "Was it Larson?"
"That bitch is inside," Xander said. "Get her outa’ there before I kill her myself." He looked back and sighed in disgust. The officers were waiting for him to go inside first. He staggered toward the house and wondered what he was supposed to tell Tara.
Anya stood and paced. She looked down at her fingers and for the first time in millennia, the sight of her own hands covered in human blood make her cringe. She wiped her hands on her pants and then stared at the stain that wouldn’t come off. The former demon sprinted for the bathroom and began scrubbing her hands.
Giles stretched Tara out onto the floor and brushed her hair off of her face. She had only been unconscious for less than five minutes but he was beginning to panic. He felt a wave of relief when Tara mumbled and turned her head to one side.
"Is she okay?" Dawn asked. She moved closer to Tara, carefully avoiding Kelly.
"Let me go to her," Kelly said as she took a step forward.
"No," Buffy said as she slammed her forearm into Kelly’s chest. The raven-haired witch hit the wall with a bone-crushing thud that knocked the breath from her chest. "You don’t get to go anywhere near Tara ever again."
"Willow?" Tara’s eyes fluttered open. She inhaled deeply.
"Easy," Giles said as he helped her sit up.
"I said stay," Buffy said as she slammed Kelly into the wall again.
"You think you can stop me?" Kelly asked sweetly.
"Gee, let me think…" Buffy tilted her head to one side and then looked down at the rapier wrapped around Kelly’s hands. "Umm, yeah. I do think I can stop you." She smiled.
"Where’s Willow?" Tara looked around the room. She rubbed her jaw and stared at Giles. "You hit me."
"I had to stop you," he said in an apologizing tone. "You couldn’t have forgiven yourself if you’d injured Kelly."
"I wasn’t going to injure her," Tara said coldly. "I’m going to kill her." She climbed to her feet.
"Whoa! Easy there, Wiccan witch of the west," Buffy said as she held out a hand. "Okay, good, no dark magic eyes." She studied Tara’s eyes making sure there was no sign of the black pupils.
"Where’s Willow?" Tara asked again. She looked over at the couch where she had left her lover.
"She’s on her way to the hospital," Buffy said. She still held Kelly in a firm grip. "The ambulance just left."
"I have to go to her," Tara said as she headed for the door.
"What about me, Tari?" Kelly asked. "I’m your first love."
A bolt of blue light slammed the wall next to Kelly. Tara faced her former lover and her body shook. "Enough."
"Stay," Buffy ordered as she pressed Kelly into the wall with one hand and faced Tara. "Okay, Willow is at the hospital. You should go there now." She looked at Tara pleading with her eyes. "Giles will take you."
Kelly looked down at the twisted metal around her wrists. She squinted and the metal unraveled like a shoelace untying. The rapier dropped to the floor with a tinny clang.
Buffy turned her head just as Kelly swung at her. The Slayer sidestepped the swing and kicked the witch turned demon in the chest. Kelly raked her talons across Buffy’s leg.
"Those are my favorite leather pants!" Buffy stomped her foot and glared at the exmodel. "You need a manicure!"
"Tara…" Kelly looked over at Tara. The blonde witch’s eyes had gone coal black again. She hovered just above the floor. "We’re both full of darkness now. We belong together," Kelly said as she held out her hand.
Tara extended her hand and floated toward Kelly. Her eyes were empty and her expression blank.
"Um, Giles?" Buffy backed out of the way and looked back and forth between the two exlovers.
"Tara, she hurt Willow!" Dawn yelled. "She’s evil."
"Tara called on dark forces," Kelly said with a smile. "She pledged herself to Lilith. I heard her."
"Stay back, Buffy." Giles grabbed a nearby sword and held it toward Tara. "Lilith is the mother of all demons. If Tara’s aligned herself with the Great demon mother, she’ll have an affinity for other demons." He moved closer, holding the blade level with the blonde’s heart. "A pledge to Lilith may have cost Tara her soul."
"That is not an option," Buffy said angrily. She grabbed Tara a split second before the blonde reached Kelly’s hand. "Your soulmate is at the hospital."
"She has no soul now," Kelly said. "She gave it up to fight me." She tapped her talons together in front of her. "Lilith would accept nothing less."
"Let me go to her," Tara said. Her voice was as hollow as her dead eyes.
Buffy shook her head.
"Giles, you’re the book-man…do something booky!" Dawn was hysterical. She grabbed Giles and tried to push him after Tara. "Fix her."
"I will always belong to my only true love." Tara smiled and licked her lips. "Willow." Blue sparks flew out of Tara’s hands and hit Kelly. The exmodel howled in pain and convulsed against the wall. Tara dropped her hand and backed away. "And because I love Willow… I won’t kill you." She turned and walked away as her went back to blue. "I’m going to the hospital.
"What’s going on?" Anya asked quietly as she came out of the bathroom. She was drying her hands as if the she could still feel Willow’s blood on them. "You’re awake." She pulled Tara into the light from the bathroom. "Are you still full of dark magic? Should I have Giles hit you again? Should I hit you?" She smiled helpfully.
Tara rolled her eyes.
"No!" Kelly shoved Buffy aside and ran past her. She didn’t run for Tara, instead, she backhanded Giles and took his broadsword, and then she went after Tara.
"Tara, outside, now!" Buffy flipped over the couch and landed in Kelly’s path. She dodged several swipes of the sword but she was being backed toward the front door.
"Buffy!" Dawn yelled. She tossed her sister another sword and the Slayer blocked the next strike. The two women crossed swords and Buffy was amazed by Kelly’s skill. She had no way of knowing that the model had spent years fencing as a hobby in LA.
Anya pulled Tara to the front door and swung it open. She slammed into Xander halfway out of the house.
"Whoa!" He backed onto the porch.
"Move it." Anya shoved Tara outside past Xander. The two women saw the police officers coming up the path to the door.
Xander ducked to avoid Kelly’s sword as it bit into the doorframe.
"You’re in my way." Buffy backed out in front of Xander, keeping her moves completely defensive. She saw the police officers out of the corner of her eyes. "Kelly, why are you doing this?" she yelled as she backed further onto the porch.
"Drop the weapon!" Williams yelled. He had his gun trained on Kelly, as did his partner.
"She’s nuts," Buffy said as she held the sword in front of her body ready to deflect another blow. The Slayer backed directly toward the officers.
"Drop the weapon." Williams moved so he could have a clear shot at the former model.
"She’s obsessed with Tara… even though Tara’s completely in love with Willow," Buffy taunted.
"Shut up." Kelly swung at Buffy again.
Williams fired three times, each shot hitting Kelly in the chest. The former model was tossed back into the building, her blood splattering on the wall of the house as she impacted with it. She slid down the uneven siding leaving a thick swath of blood.
Buffy tossed the sword aside.
Tara cringed and hugged Anya, burying her face into the shocked woman’s shoulder. The former demon awkwardly held the blonde witch, and then patted her back.
"What kind of cops are you?" Anya yelled. "She a cop killer and she’s trying to slice up a defenseless girl. What took you so long?"
Williams rushed over to Kelly and kicked the sword away from her limp hand. He felt for her pulse and looked over at his partner and shook his head.
"I’ll call it in," the younger officer said.
"I have to get to the hospital." Tara had tears in her eyes and she couldn’t look at Kelly’s body.
"Are you hurt?" Williams walked over to the shaken blonde.
"She stabbed Willow." Tara’s eyes were swollen and her nose was red from crying. She sniffled.
"No one’s leaving," Williams said. "Not until my reports are finished."
"Put the whammy on him," Anya whispered in the witch’s ear. She still had her arms wrapped around Tara.
"My lover was nearly killed because you people weren’t smart enough to figure out she’d come after us again." Tara broke out of Anya’s grasp and marched over to Williams. "She was obsessed with me, and it didn’t occur to you that she’d come here?" Her eyes were full of rage and her voice was like ice. "I’m going to the hospital."
An ambulance screeched to a stop in front of the house. Two paramedics jumped out and ran toward the scene.
"It’s too late." Williams waved them off. He looked over at Tara and took a deep breath. "You going back to Sunnydale Mem?"
"Yeah," the young paramedic said as she looked at Kelly’s body.
"Give this one a ride." He pointed at Tara.
"And me," Buffy said.
"Me too." Xander stepped forward. He was pale, still not over the shock of seeing Willow carried away. He stared at Kelly’s body. He saw death and destruction every day, but a shooting seemed so much more real. This was a human, albeit a demon possessed human, and she had been gunned down in front of him.
"You’re not all going," Williams said. "I have to get my report."
"I’ll stay with the body," the younger officer said quietly. "You can interview them at the hospital.
"Fine, load everyone up." William waved at the ambulance.
"They can’t all fit in my bus," the paramedic said angrily.
"We’ll take my car," Giles said from the door. He looked at Kelly’s body and then over at Buffy.
"Go. Find out how your friend is." Williams nodded.
"I assure you, we aren’t going anywhere else." Giles knew without a doubt, the Slayer could have disarmed Kelly. He also knew that with Buffy’s Slayer hearing she must have known the police were standing outside when she baited Kelly onto the porch. He needed to have a discussion with the Slayer. He also had to have a chat with Tara about her deal with Lilith. Giles had heard many myths and tales of horror involving the Mother of all demons. He wanted that issue cleared up as soon as possible.
When Tara and the others arrived at the hospital, Willow was already in surgery. The waiting room seemed too small to hold them all, especially when Officer Williams began questioning them. Two hours later his questions were answered but Willow was not out of surgery.
After the questioning, and Tara’s detailed answers, the others knew that Tara’s memory had returned. After discussing what had happened between Willow and Tara the night before, leaving out any details…especially about broken furniture… Anya and Giles figured out what must have happened. Anya knew enough about ancient Celtic love rituals to know that the acceptance of love was the key. When Tara and Willow gave themselves emotionally to each other, the spell was broken. Knowing that didn’t help Tara. She wouldn’t feel better until she held Willow safely in her arms.
Tara paced the small waiting room for a while but finally sat down when her leg began to throb. After she sat down, Giles noticed that her leg was covered in blood. He had assumed that it was Willow’s blood, but once the blonde stopped moving he could see that there were slices up the back of her thigh. It then took both Buffy and Giles to drag Tara down to the ER to get her own injuries treated, and she had only agreed after Buffy promised to come get her as soon as there was any word.
The nursing staff was kind and courteous. They remembered Buffy and Dawn from Joyce’s time in the hospital. The charge nurse brought Dawn hot cocoa and Anya promptly stared at the chocolate beverage with undisguised envy. Dawn ended up giving the hot beverage to the pouting former demon. Most of the nurses had heard about Kelly’s death, though a few of the older staff members didn’t know who the murderous model had been.
Willow struggled to open her eyes but it felt like her eyelids had weights holding them down. Her mouth was dry and her tongue felt thick. She tried to swallow but she couldn’t, and her throat ached from the attempt. She inhaled, then blanched at the smell of antiseptic and cleanser. She knew that smell, and she knew the rhythmic beeping that sounded far away. These were hospital sounds.
She struggled to open her eyes, but still couldn’t manage the simple task. She remembered Kelly, and the feeling of her talons slicing through tender flesh. Willow exhaled a tiny sigh and wondered where Tara was. She almost smiled as she realized that Tara was most likely sitting at her bedside. That was enough incentive to pry open her eyes. Willow frowned. She was alone, and there wasn’t even a chair next to her bed.
"You’re awake," the nurse said quietly. She moved to the bedside and took Willow’s pulse. "How are you feeling, dear?"
"Wh—" Willow grimaced. Her throat felt like she was swallowing glass, but she needed to know where Tara was. "Wh—" She squeezed her eyes shut against the pain.
"Water?" The nurse reached over and grabbed a pan of ice chips. "Here, dear." She fed the cool bits to Willow.
The redhead took them, closing her eyes as the ice soothed her throat.
"The soreness is from the respirator during surgery. You’ll hurt for while." She lifted Willow’s nightgown and checked a small drain coming from her side. "You were lucky. The injury missed your intestines. You did nick the spleen, but the doctors did a wonderful job."
"Where’s Tara?" Willow croaked.
The nurse titled her head as she tried to figure out the correct response. She remembered hearing about another young woman who hadn’t made it to the hospital. "Your friend?" she asked. "The one hurt with you?"
Willow nodded, happy that she could get some answers.
"I’m sorry, dear." The nurse took Willow’s hand and patted it. "She… didn’t make it."
"What?" Willow’s ears were ringing and she felt her hands going numb.
"She died before they ever got her to the hospital. I’m so sorry." The nurse moved Willow’s hand to her side and frowned. "We can move you out of recovery soon. Then your family can come see you."
The redhead closed her eyes and turned her head to one side. Tears rolled down her cheeks, cooling as they disappeared against the pillow. Willow wondered why she had been spared. She sobbed, and had to move her hand over her belly to ease the ache on her side. The surgical incision hurt, but it was a dull ache, and it was nothing when compared to the pain of Tara’s loss.
Tara was sitting in the suture room as the doctor finished stitching the back of her thigh. She kept looking at the door hoping to see Buffy or one of her other friends. Doctor Miller had patched Tara up weeks earlier when Kelly had sliced her arm. The doctor was compassionate and kind and she worked carefully to make sure the scarring was kept to a minimum.
"This looks a lot like the scar on your arm," Doctor Miller said.
"I caught my leg on the same fence." Tara stared at the door.
"No word about your friend?" The doctor cleaned around the new stitches. She looked up and saw Tara shake her head. "Want me to call surgery?"
"Could you?" Tara’s eyes lit up for the first time since she had left the house.
The doctor nodded and finished cleaning the wound. She pulled off her gloves and threw them away and dialed using the phone in the room. Her conversation was quick and quiet and she asked questions in rapid-fire succession. Tara didn’t understand most of them, but she smiled when she heard Doctor Miller say she was inquiring on behalf of the patient’s partner. She hung up and turned toward Tara with a small smile.
"What is it?" Tara stood unsteadily. The cold tile on her bare feet was uncomfortable and she shifted from foot to foot.
"They’re taking her to recovery right now," Doctor Miller said. She pointed at Tara’s blood stained boxers. "Why don’t I… ‘borrow’… some scrubs for you?"
"Can I see her?" Tara moved closer.
"They’ll only let immediate family into the recovery room," the doctor said sadly. She rested her hand on Tara’s shoulder when the young blonde’s face fell. "My partner and I have legal papers so we can be there for each other. You might want to do the same."
"How did you know about us?" Tara’s eyebrows rose high onto her forehead.
"You’re kidding, right?" Doctor Miller laughed. "Honey, when you came in with your arm cut, your lover never took her eyes off you. She’s head over heels."
"How is she?" Tara walked with the doctor as she dug through a closet full of scrubs.
"The punctures missed the intestines which is very good." She turned and handed Tara a pair of blue scrubs. "It did rupture the spleen, but they were able to save most of it." She steadied Tara as the blonde slid out of the boxers and put on the scrubs. "They removed a part of the spleen to control the bleeding, but with all that could have happened, she was really lucky."
"There was so much blood." Tara looked at the boxers in her hand. They were made of grey flannel, but now they looked reddish brown. She threw them into the trashcan.
"That was from the spleen." The doctor sat Tara back on the exam table. "It’s full of blood because it’s a natural filter. She was very lucky. Her blood volume was dangerously low when they brought her in."
"When can I see her?" Tara released a sob, the relief allowing some of her pent up concern to finally come out. "She doesn’t like hospitals."
"After she’s out of recovery." The doctor grabbed a form and marked off several boxes and signed a prescription. She handed it to Tara. "Give this to the nurse at the desk. She’ll sign you out. I gave you a prescription for Darvocet for the pain and Amoxicillin to fight off any infection."
"What was the shot earlier?" Tara asked as she rubbed her arm.
"That was Ampicillin." The doctor smiled. "I wanted to make sure we stop any infection before it starts. You had your tetanus booster last time, so you don’t get one of those again."
"Good," Tara said with relief. "That hurt." She rubbed her behind as she remembered.
There was a rap on the door and it slowly opened. Buffy peeked inside. Tara smiled and waved the Slayer inside.
"She’s out of surgery, and she’s doing fine," Buffy said.
Tara smiled at the doctor.
"Go on up," Doctor Miller said. "They’ll move her to a private room in about an hour."
Tara started to leave and then ran back to the doctor and hugged her. "Thank you." She turned and hurried back to Buffy’s side and they headed to the elevator.
"Nice pants." Buffy eyed the scrubs.
"It’s a look," Tara agreed.
Buffy nodded. She studied Tara as they rode up to the third floor. Giles had just finished grilling Buffy about the fight and now he wanted to set his sights on Tara. Buffy didn’t envy the blonde witch. Giles had been brutal when he questioned her. He thought Buffy set Kelly up to get shot so she wouldn’t have to kill the witch. Buffy sat quietly for most of the discussion because she didn’t have much to say. He was right. The truth was, Kelly needed to be eliminated, and Buffy wasn’t about to let Tara do it. The Slayer was more than happy to make the cops deal with it because Buffy wasn’t too thrilled with the idea of killing a human, no matter how evil she was.
They wheeled Willow into her room, and the young witch’s eyes never moved. She stared off into space, not focusing on anything. She was remembering her last night with Tara, how her lover had cherished her, how Tara had been passionate and playful, but most of all, how Tara touched Willow with reverence and absolute adoration. Tears rolled down Willow’s cheeks as they moved her into her new bed. The nurses didn’t say anything, deciding that the young woman’s misery was her own.
The door opened and Xander came into the room hesitantly. He looked back toward the door and almost went back out. Buffy, Giles, and Anya had gone to the morgue to make sure Kelly was truly dead, and Tara was in the lobby talking to Willow’s parents and the hospital administrators. Tara had insisted on taking an active role in her lover’s care and the Rosenbergs were a bit overwhelmed. Xander didn’t want to be the one to explain that bit of information. He heard Willow let out a plaintive sigh and his decision was made.
"Hey, Willster," he said as he went to her bedside.
Tears continued down her cheeks and she didn’t even lift her head. There was only one person Willow wanted to see and the nurse had killed any hopes of seeing her.
"Hey," Xander said again. He moved to the other side of the bed and knelt down next to her. He wiped the tears from her cheeks. "Are you in pain?"
"Tara." Willow sobbed and closed her eyes. "She’s gone."
"No tears," Xander said. "You’ll be with her soon. The way this hospital whips through procedures, you’ll be seeing her in no time." He smiled and ruffled her hair.
"What?" Willow’s eyes shot open. "They… they said I was fine." She looked down at the blankets and frowned, then looked up at Xander and scowled. "I’m dying and you’re making the happy face?"
"Dying? What dying?" He spun his head and looked toward the door. "They said you were fine." He gave Willow an accusing glare. "What did they tell you? Those damn lying doctors!"
"You! You with the ‘I’m gonna’ be with Tara soon.’ As much as I love her, and I do want to be with her, I would like to live a little longer." Willow bit her lip and began sobbing. Her incision ached and each breath she took made the pain worse, but she didn’t care. "I’m a terrible lover. I should want to be with her."
Xander stared at his friend, completely confused. The opening of the door saved him. Tara walked in and saw her lover in tears.
"Willow?" She ran over and grabbed her lover’s hand. "Are you in pain, baby?"
"Tara!" Willow opened her eyes and her tears doubled. She tugged her lover down to the bed. Sobs racked the redhead’s petite frame and she clung to Tara.
"Shh, darling." Tara kissed Willow’s neck, which she was being crushed against by her lover’s death grip. "Xander, get the nurse," Tara said quietly.
"They…" Willow pinned Tara to her chest, ignoring the stabbing pain in the back of her hand from the IV. "You… they… dead," she squeaked out after her sobs slowed.
"I’m here, love." Tara untangled Willow’s hands and leaned back enough to look into her lover’s green eyes. "I’m fine, just a few stitches." She kissed Willow’s hand and carefully put it back onto the bed. She smiled when Willow snaked her fingers over and pinned their hands together on the blanket. "I’m never going anywhere," Tara promised.
"Yeah, she sure gave Kelly a run for her demony money." Xander flexed his muscles in the air. "She kicked witchy ass."
"Is she?" Willow looked up at Tara. The blonde looked down at the blanket.
"She’s dead," Tara said quietly.
"Did you?" Willow pulled Tara hand and made eye contact with her lover.
"No." Tara shook her head. "But I wanted to," she added guiltily.
"Buffy?" Willow looked at Xander who was shaking head.
"The police shot her." Tara swallowed hard. "Willow, I would have killed her if they hadn’t stop me." She dropped her head onto the bed and sobbed. "I would have killed her because she hurt you… and I would have liked it."
"No, love." Willow ran her hand through Tara’s hair as the blonde wept. "You may have killed her, but it would have haunted you forever."
"Besides, we were there for you," Xander said as he tried to lighten the mood. "Giles has quite a right hook."
Tara lifted her head and sniffled. She smiled at Xander, knowing exactly what he was trying to do. She rubbed her jaw and rolled her eyes.
"Giles hit you?" Willow said in angry, clipped off words.
"Um, he sorta’ had to," Tara said quickly.
"He hit you?" Willow’s voice was louder and laced with venom.
"Honey, he had to." Tara looked over at Xander for help.
"It was all in the name of good." Xander swallowed with an audible gulp as he watched Willow’s pale cheeks turning red with rage. "And she’s fine now." He didn’t mention that Giles had yet to figure out what would happen with the Demon Mother Lilith.
"I’m fine." Tara smiled and kissed Willow’s fingers again and again.
Willow moved her hand and cupped Tara’s jaw. She tilted her lover’s face and scowled when she saw the angry bruise under her jaw. "Giles and I need to have a little talk," Willow said with chilling calm.
"Honey, he did what he had to." Tara looked into her lover’s troubled eyes. "He stopped me from killing Kelly in cold blood. I was using dark magic and couldn’t stop myself."
"Well…" Willow frowned as her anger deflated. She understood the pull of dark magic all too well. "Com’ere." Willow pulled Tara to her and hugged her. She flinched when Tara’s hand brushed over her incision but she wasn’t about to let go of the blonde witch without an act of god and congress.
The door swung open and Ira Rosenberg walked into the room with his wife on his arm. Willow squeaked but she didn’t let go of Tara.
"How are you, Maideleh?" Ira asked as he stepped into the room. ‘Maideleh’ was an affectionate term that meant ‘little girl’ in Yiddish. Willow’s father hadn’t called her that since she came out to him three months earlier.
"I’m fine, Abbah," Willow answered using the Yiddish word for father.
"Hi, again," Tara said with a shy wave. She turned her back to her lover’s parents and took care of the most important thing in her world, Willow. She fixed Willow’s blankets and fluffed her lover’s pillow and then made sure the IV wasn’t hurting the fragile redhead.
Ira moved closer and smiled as he watched Tara fussing over his daughter. He looked over at his wife.
Sheila Rosenberg was having a difficult time accepting Willow’s lesbianism despite the fact that she liked Tara. She looked over at Xander and sighed. She always thought he would be her son-in-law.
"I’m gonna’ go get Buffy," Xander said as he made a hasty exit. He didn’t like the way Willow’s mother looked at him like he was a prized bull, a prized bull she wanted to use for breeding soon and often.
"So?" Ira pointed to Willow’s belly.
"I’m fine, dad." The redhead rolled her eyes. She smiled when Tara reached over and smoothed the hair out of her green eyes. "Better than fine," she added as she looked at Tara with complete devotion.
"This one, she’s a Balhabosteh." Ira pointed at Tara and used the term for ‘mistress of the house.’ "Here I thought she was Shemevdik." He smiled at the blonde. "This one is not shy."
"What? I’m shy." Tara’s eyes widened and she nodded her head.
"That doctor wouldn’t agree," Sheila said when she finally spoke. "You gave him what for."
"He wanted to put Willow in a room with three other people," Tara said as she scooted closer to the bed. "And with her spleen injured, she could get an infection from anyone."
"You make a fine Aidim," Ira said. There was a twinkle in his eyes.
"Dad!" Willow’s jaw dropped as she stared at her father like he had suddenly taken up singing duets with Marilyn Mason.
"What?" Tara looked at Ira and then his daughter.
"He just called you his son-in-law!" Willow was in shock.
"Ira, you can’t call a maidel your son-in-law." Sheila may not have liked her daughter’s orientation, but she had to respect her choice of a mate. Tara had been polite but firm with the doctor, and when arguing didn’t convince him, Tara had charmed him with her pretty blue eyes. That Sheila could respect.
Tara blushed. She knew that ‘maidel’ meant ‘pretty girl.’ Willow sometimes called her that when they were snuggling under the stars. She couldn’t look at Willow’s mother because she was sure her thoughts were written on her face.
"Ah, so you know that word, yes?" Sheila asked with a knowing smile. She gave Willow a chastising look. "So you haven’t forgotten all of the Yiddish we taught you?"
"No, ma’am," Willow said as she bit the inside of her lip. ‘I use it to sweet-talk a cute blonde into my bed,’ she thought wickedly.
Buffy and Giles came in and stopped dead in their tracks when they saw Willow’s parents. Buffy took a defensive stance as she moved past Willow’s mother. The Slayer still remembered when Sheila had been willing to burn Willow, Buffy, and Amy at the stake. So what if she was under a demon’s spell at the time? Buffy still didn’t trust her.
"Bunny," Sheila said politely.
"Buffy," the Slayer corrected.
Tara bit off a giggle. She knew full well that Willow’s mother had a memory that rivaled an IBC mainframe. The older Rosenberg just liked to see the Slayer squirm
"We should go," Ira said. He leaned down and kissed Willow’s cheek. "Zei mir frailich," he said as he stood and looked at Tara. It meant ‘Be happy.’
"I am, daddy." Willow took Tara’s hand and pulled it to her chest.
"Don’t be such strangers," Sheila told Tara. "It’s time you started studying for your conversion." She smiled sweetly and headed out the door. "Good seeing you again, Bunny." The door swung shut behind them.
"C-con-conversion?" Tara whipped her head around and locked eyes with Willow. "What conversion?"
"Apparently…" Willow smiled evilly and kissed Tara’s hand. "My mother wants to make a good Jewish daughter-in-law out of you."
"Buffy. Buf-fy. How hard is that?" The Slayer waved her hand at the door. "Two syllables. Two."
Giles cleared his throat. He had more serious matters to discuss.
"What?" Willow saw the look in Giles’ eyes and her chest tightened. "Is Kelly still alive? Did she do some demon thing and slither away from the morgue?"
"No, she’s quite dead." Giles cleared his throat and looked at Tara.
The door opened and Anya came in. She saw the concerned expressions and frowned. "What, did Mrs. Rosenberg call you Bunny again?"
"Yes," Buffy said indignantly. "But that’s not what we’re talking about."
"What are we talking about?" Willow leaned back into her pillows. She was exhausted and even though she wanted to know what was worrying Giles, all the redhead wanted to do was go to sleep.
"You should rest, baby." Tara kissed Willow’s temple. "We’ll, take care of this." She smoothed Willow’s hair and then left her hand resting on her lover’s head.
"She has a right to know," Giles said. He stepped forward and shook his head as he studied Tara. Disappointment filled his features. "What in god’s name were you thinking?"
Anya crinkled her brow and moved to the other side of the bed. She lifted the blankets and began poking at the bandages.
"Hey!" Willow and Tara said in unison.
Anya lifted the drainage container and nodded. "That’s some nasty drainage. The human body is so full of disgusting and interesting fluids."
"Back off, Demon Howser." Willow slapped Anya’s hand.
"Who does she think she is? Mucus Welby MD," Tara whispered.
"Hey, this former demon saved her ass," Anya said indignantly.
"Ahem…" Giles moved closer. "Tara, I think you’d better tell Willow how you managed to battle Kelly."
"She used dark magic," Anya volunteered. "She had the scary black eyes like a snake and everything." She paused and looked at Willow. "Wait, I think you saw the snake eyes… Did you see her kick Kelly’s ass? Cuz that was a thing of beauty."
"Anya," Giles said harshly.
"Okay." Anya raised her hands in defeat. "Geeze, I can’t talk, I can’t poke at Willow’s seeping wounds, what the hell can I do?"
"Sit in the corner and be quiet." Buffy pointed at an empty chair.
"I think mothering Dawn has gone to your head." Anya flopped into the chair and twiddled her thumbs.
"Tara, how did you channel the dark magic?" Giles asked. He already knew but he needed to hear her say it.
"I… I… " Tara closed her eyes and swallowed. She looked over at Willow and sighed. "I called on Lilith, and offered her whatever she wanted so I could save you."
"What?" Willow sat up but immediately fell back into the pillows when she tried to use her stomach muscles. Blinding pain surged across her belly. "Tara, how could you? She’s… she’s… Oh, Tara." Willow let her head fall onto the pillows and she began to cry.
Anya yawned and stretched her arms over her head.
"I had to save you," Tara said as she looked at Willow and then over at her friends. "Besides… I’m fine."
"You told me to never use dark magic again." Willow stared at her lover. "And then you call on the Mother of all Demons? Tara, she could take your soul."
Anya burst into laughter.
All heads turned and everyone glared at Anya.
"What? It’s funny." Anya pointed at Tara and giggled. She saw Giles’ horrified look and burst into howls of laughter.
"Tara losing her soul is funny to you?" Buffy asked angrily.
"No, of course not." Anya snorted and stood up. She was holding her sides and she walked over to the blonde witch. "You made some kind of pact with the mother of all demons?" Anya used her fingers to make quote marks in the air. "You called on Lilith the Dark Mother?" Anya asked with sarcasm dripping from her voice. She wiggled her fingers in front of her face like spiders. "Ooh scary!" She giggled until she began snorting.
"This isn’t funny!" Willow said. She scowled and wished she could get out of the bed so she could choke Anya. Sure, Xander would be mad, but he’d get over it…maybe.
"Oh, this is funny," Anya assured them. "Men!" She tossed her hands into the air. "Patriarchy!" She turned around and pointed at Giles. "What is it with your gender? Lilith leaves her husband…who I might add was a complete ass… and she gets branded as a demon. She left a bad relationship. Big deal. Smart women have been doing it…forever."
"Um, Giles, what is she talking about?" Buffy crinkled her brow.
"In ancient myth, Lilith is said to have been Adam’s first wife, before Eve. Lilith left the Garden of Eden and was cursed to live for eternity as the Mother of all Demons." He took off his glasses and rubbed the lenses as he tried to figure out Anya’s reaction. "Some myths even say Lilith was the first vampire."
"Oh please!" Anya spun and put both hands on her hips. "She was a woman. She left a jerk husband. Yeah, so she did end up as an immortal, but that is a whole ‘nother story." Anya walked over to Tara lifted her chin and looked into her blue eyes. "The point is, Lilith has had a bad rap for eternity. She isn’t the demon of anything. And, sorry to break it to you, sweet cheeks, Lilith could no more help you channel dark magic than she could get you tickets to that lesbo-music-fest that’s named after her."
"Lilithfaire is named after a demon?" Buffy asked.
"Hello? Not listening." Anya spun and faced Buffy. "Lilith is not a demon. She has no magic powers. In fact, she’s a very nice person."
"You’ve met Lilith?" Giles’ eyes widened, making him look like a bookish owl. "The Lilith?"
"The one and only." Anya smiled smugly. "Last I saw her, she was living in Italy in about 1612, had a whole pack of screaming brats, and I was trying to get her to curse her cheating husband."
"And did she?" Tara asked.
"She’s Lilith." Anya rolled her eyes. "What do you think she did? She left the sorry bastard."
"So, how did I fight Kelly?" Tara asked.
"Same way your girlfriend fought Glory." Anya eyed Tara and shook her head. "Both of you seem pretty able to tap into your… dark side." She looked at Giles. "I say we make those books on the second floor off limits to these two. They could end up trying to rule the world, or at least Sunnydale."
"We will not!" Willow said.
"Never!" Tara added.
"Whatever." Anya rolled her eyes. "All I know is, when things go bad…so do both of you."
"Well, I shall have to do more research," Giles said.
"Big surprise," Buffy said. She turned and looked at the two witches, tilting her head to one side.
"We’re not evil!" Willow told her friend. "Stop staring."
"We’re not bad," Tara added. "We just get… protective."
"Protective?" Anya laughed. "I’ve seen rabid pit bulls less ‘protective.’ Remind me not to piss you off."
"Anya," Willow said dangerously. "Don’t piss me off."
"They’re not evil." Anya smiled unconvincingly and backed away. "And I should know. I know evil. I’m an evil connoisseur."
Willow yawned and Tara moved closer. She caressed her lover’s cheek, soothing the redhead’s eyes closed.
"Let’s leave them alone," Giles said quietly
"See ya’, Will. Feel better." Buffy nodded.
Tara smiled at her retreating friends. She leaned down and kissed Willow’s cheek. "Go to sleep, baby. I’ll be here when you wake up."
Willow sighed and turned her face toward Tara. She held onto the blonde’s wrist as she drifted into slumber.
"This is me, not pissing you off." Anya backed out slowly.
Tara rolled her eyes and pulled a chair next to Willow’s bed. She had arranged to stay with her lover throughout her convalescence. She rested her face on the bed next to Willow’s hand and closed her eyes.
She wondered about good and evil, and what it took to bring out the worst in people. Obviously having someone hurting her soulmate was Tara’s trigger. The same was true for Willow. As dark magic triggers went, it wasn't all bad. Neither witch would use evil for their own profit. Tara frowned. She would have to make a pact with her lover. She didn't like the idea of using evil at all, no matter what the cause.
One good thing had come out of the ordeal. Willow’s parents had fought for Tara’s right to stay in the room. That had surprised Tara, and it gave her a glimpse into the people who raised her lover. She smiled when she felt Willow squeeze her hand. Of course Sheila and Ira Rosenberg were basically good people; they had raised Willow, and anyone with such a perfect daughter couldn’t be all bad. She giggled at herself, knowing that she was more than a little bias, as it should be. She kissed Willow’s hand and rested her head on the bed and joined her lover in slumber. There would be other days for serious talk. Right now Tara just enjoyed the sound of Willow’s breathing and the knowledge that the woman who held her heart was safe.
Tara sighed in her sleep as she dreamed of making Willow explain the broken kitchen table. A smile crossed her face as she realized that they could always blame Kelly. Demons broke things…lots of things. They were violent creatures. So what if the table died a happy and noble death? Buffy didn’t have to know that.
The End. Hope you enjoyed the story.