The Hilton in Sunnydale had amenities that most five star hotels did not. You could order fresh blood twenty-four hours a day or have a demonic masseuse give you a back rub with all four of her hands. You could also have extra security outside your suite without any questions. Kelly took advantage of the last luxury; she had two armed guards outside the penthouse door.
Tara flipped through the television channels and furrowed her brow. She had seen some odd things, but nothing was more shocking than the news. It had taken Kelly ten minutes to convince the blonde Wiccan that George Bush Jr. actually was the President. Tara tilted her head as she watched Entertainment Tonight. A pregnant actress smiled for the camera with her fiancée.
"I thought Anne Heche was a lesbian?" Tara said with a confused stare.
"So did Ellen," Kelly said as she handed Tara a soda. "Three years is a long time, sweetie." She leaned over and kissed Tara’s temple and then snuggled down beside her on the couch.
Tara nodded and watched as a parade of stars walked past the camera.
Kelly turned when there was a knock at the door. "That’s dinner." She trotted for the door.
"Tomb Raider?" Tara watched the commercial run. "I thought that was a video game?"
"Still is," Kelly said as she followed a bellhop into the room. "It’s just a movie now too."
The bellhop carried a huge tray of food over to the table and began setting up the meal, complete with fresh roses for the centerpiece. He finished up by lighting two white candles and then quickly left the two women alone.
Tara looked at the elaborate dinner. It was romantic and charming and everything she used to dream of sharing with Kelly, and yet looking at the flickering candles made her chest ache. She kept picturing the beautiful, broken-hearted woman at the college. She wondered if Willow and her lover had shared dinners like this one. Her lips curled into a smile as she pictured the redhead. ‘She’d like picnics,’ Tara thought. ‘Something simple and earthy.’ Her smile faded as reality slapped her in the face. ‘I killed her lover,’ Tara thought with a shudder.
"Hey, aren’t you hungry?" Kelly asked. She caressed Tara’s cheek and let her thumb linger near the blonde’s lip. "I ordered your favorite dessert, chocolate cake with whipped cream."
"Thanks," Tara said with forced cheer. She sat at the table and stared at the candles, mesmerized by the flickering flame. The flecks of light reminded her of the fire in Willow’s eyes. Her stomach clenched. ‘Was I attracted to her? Is that why I killed her lover?’ Tara covered her face with one hand and rubbed her eyes. No matter what she tried, the redhead’s face kept filling her mind.
"You look tired," Kelly said. She smiled and nodded toward the other room. "Why don’t we go to bed after dinner?"
"I’m fine," Tara stalled. The idea of sleeping next to Kelly made her uneasy, though she realized it was probably because she still only remembered her betrayal and not their reconciliation.
"You can use the sleep. I’ll keep you warm and safe." Kelly smiled charmingly. It was a look that used to set Tara’s blood on fire, but now it made the blonde’s body tense.
"I wanna’ catch up on current events." Tara pointed toward the television.
"There’s a TV in the bedroom." Kelly dug into her meal. She had made her decision. "We’ll watch it in there."
Tara looked around the expensive hotel room. It had every possible convenience imaginable, and yet Tara felt trapped. She pushed the feeling down and looked over at Kelly. The dark haired witch had risked her life to save Tara, and she had banished the demon inside Tara. Tara owed her everything. Kelly stood by her and was even willing to face the demon hunters. It would probably just take time to get back what they had shared.
"Okay," Tara said. "But I get the remote."
Kelly smiled and nodded happily.
Spike stood in the alley and studied the hotel. He shook his head and then looked over at the Slayer. She was running her hands over a climbing rope checking for any signs of fraying. She was nervous.
"We can’t repel into that place," Spike said as he leaned against the brick wall of the alley.
"Too advanced for your skill level?" Giles asked. He was checking a second rope and didn’t even look up from the task.
"No, you moron." Spike took a drag from his cigarette and used the butt to point at the building. "Red’s little witchy-poo is in the bloody penthouse. There’s nowhere to repel down from."
Buffy looked up at the seven-story building and frowned.
"Oh, dear." Giles looked up from his rope and stood.
"Okay, as planning goes, this sucks." Buffy glared at her Watcher.
"Well, I had assumed that there would be some part of the building above the penthouse." Giles arched his back as he looked up at the top of the building. "Shouldn’t there be some tall turrets or something?"
"That’s fine if we’re storming a castle… in the middle-bloody-ages!" Spike tossed his cigarette onto the pavement. "Turrets?" He glared at Giles. "Turrets? Are you completely daft?"
"Enough." Buffy stepped between the vampire and the Watcher. "The old plan is out, so we need a new one."
"Are you off your head?" Spike spun and paced. "The old plan is bloody stupid."
"Not helping with the whole ‘new plan’ part of this new plan." Buffy smacked Spike on the back of the head.
"That witch is evil," Spike said as he turned. He rubbed his head where Buffy had hit him and he looked up at the building. "Willow’s sweetheart wouldn’t hurt a damn fly. Why’s that witch picking on her?" he mumbled as glared up at the penthouse. Of all of the Scoobies, Tara treated him with the most kindness. Dawn talked with him, but even the Slayer’s younger sister cut him with occasional barbs. Tara was shy and kind, and when she offered him pig’s blood, she always put it into a mug so it wasn’t as obvious that he was a demon drinking the thick red fluid. The others put his blood in a glass, making it perfectly clear that he was a blood-sucking demon despite the chip in his head.
"She’s well aware of Tara’s qualities," Giles said grimly. "That’s the problem."
"Exes," Spike said with a sigh. "Royal pain in the ass, they are."
"And you would certainly know," Buffy pointed out. "What did you ever see in Dru? I mean beyond the whole sharing of the evil, mayhem, killing, and murdering of innocents thing?"
Spike sighed and got a faraway look in his eyes. "Yeah, we did have some good times."
"You guys ready?" Xander asked as he jogged into the alley. "Willow’s got the pass keys coded and we’re ready to go."
"Slight problem with our part of the plan," Buffy said.
"And that would be?" Xander raised both eyebrows.
"There is no our part of the plan." Buffy pointed at the building. "Penthouse, kinda’ means…on the top of the building. Kinda’ makes repelling a big fat no go."
Willow came around the corner and cleared her throat. "Hurry up."
"Plan A is toast," Xander said as he gently took Willow’s hand.
"Then I guess we use plan B," Willow said without missing a beat.
"Willow, you can’t use the dark forces--" Giles began.
"I know, Giles." Willow glared at him. "This is Tara’s life we’re talking about. I have a backup plan." She looked over at Spike. "I hope you can act."
Spike smiled and straightened his back.
"Plan B?" Buffy rushed over to Willow. "What is plan B?"
Willow studied Buffy. The Slayer was wearing her black leather pants and a black leather jacket over a red silk tank top.
"Hello? Plan B? Are you sure it doesn’t involve dark magic?" Buffy leaned down and locked eyes with Willow. "No dark magic. It’s dangerous."
"Take off your jacket," Willow ordered the Slayer. She looked over at Giles. "Loose the tweed." She took Buffy’s jacket and then spun and hurried away. "And slick back you’re hair, Giles," she said as she headed for the car where Anya was waiting. "Plan B." Willow grabbed her laptop.
"Dark Magic?" Anya asked with a solemn frown.
"No," Willow said. She dialed up her satellite connection to the Internet. She looked over her shoulder toward the alley. "Dark magic is plan C."
"This will never work," Giles said. He was wearing a tee shirt with the sleeves rolled up and his hair was slicked back.
"Bloody right," Spike agreed. "I should be the lead singer."
"Everyone just do as they’re told," Willow said. She pushed them toward the front of the hotel. "We’re a rock band." She frowned. "Okay, you’re a rock band." She pointed at Giles and Spike. "We are your… entourage. Xander, get the bags."
"I think that drama class went to your head," Buffy said. She gave Giles a skeptical look. "They are so not a rock band."
"We could be a rock band," Giles insisted. He slouched his shoulders and took off his glasses and tucked them into his pocket.
"Now you’re dangerous," Spike said with a snort.
"Who am I?" Anya asked as they got to the front door. She was moving around Willow excitedly. "Am I the groupie? Should I hang all over Giles? Should I swoon? I can swoon my ass off."
"Anya, this is very important." Willow grabbed the former demon. "I showed you the records that I changed in the computer system. Can you remember all that?"
"It was money, Willow," Anya said indignantly. "Of course I can remember it. You accessed the main Hilton system and established an unlimited credit line. Unlimited, as in no limits, and might I add…wow!"
"You have to talk to the guy at the desk," Willow told the former demon. "Kelly might have given them my name, so we have to use yours."
"Finally my fake ID comes in handy," Anya said. "Who am I? Am I the lead singer?" She frowned as she looked over at Giles. "Am I the new and much younger lead singer?"
"You’re the manager," Willow said as she pulled open the door.
"Oh! I’m in charge." Anya smiled. "I love this plan! Yea, Plan B!
"Who am I?" Buffy asked as they entered the hotel.
Willow bit her lip as she stared at Buffy’s low cut silk tank top and her leather pants.
"Willow?" Buffy asked.
"You’re the groupie," Willow said as she ran into the hotel.
"I love plan B," Xander said with a snicker. His smile evaporated when Buffy gave him a withering glare.
"You’re with me, sweet cheeks." Spike draped his arm over Buffy’s shoulder and yanked her up against him. His black leather jacket flapped in the breeze as he waltzed into the main lobby.
"As soon as Tara’s safe I am killing everyone else." Buffy smiled sweetly when the doorman tipped his hat at her.
"May I help you?" the woman behind the desk asked. She had a tag that read ‘Tiffany’ and she eyed the group suspiciously and moved her hand closer to the button used to call security.
"We need a room." Anya flopped her arms onto the high counter. "Make it the penthouse."
The desk clerk smirked and cleared her throat.
"Run a tab," Anya said with a flick of her wrist. "It’s in the system under the name William D. Blood." She leaned closer and whispered. "That’s the rock band, the Watchers, from the sixties." She nodded over at Spike and Giles. Both were doing their best to look conspicuous in their attempt to look inconspicuous.
"Someone lend me a fag," Giles yelled as he paced the lobby.
Spike flicked his lit cigarette at Giles. His eyes widened when the Watcher caught the burning projectile and gracefully took a drag.
"We haven’t got all bloody day," Spike said as he squeezed Buffy closer. "My bird can’t wait to get her hands all over me."
Buffy smiled sweetly and squeezed his chest until his ribs creaked.
"Easy, love," Spike wheezed. "Save some of that for later."
Xander milled around the lobby trying to look cool. He wasn’t sure what his role was so he stood next to the bags.
"Oh…my," the desk clerk looked at the computer and she smiled warmly at Anya. "Yes, right away." She looked over at the bellhop and motioned him over. "Do you have any bags?" She looked like she was about to leap over the counter to lick Anya’s boots. Willow had added a note to the fictitious computer file that mentioned the rock band’s tendency to break things, but she also added that they always tipped more than forty percent.
"The bags are by the door, and call me Miss Anya." The former demon slid her California ID across the counter and sighed as she looked around the ornate lobby. "What a dump."
"What can we get you, Miss Anya?" Tiffany stood and smiled even as she booked the second penthouse for an open-ended stay.
"My dad loves the penthouse," Anya said. She nodded at Giles. "Shh, it’s a secret. Rock stars aren’t supposed to have kids." She smiled. "I handle all the business stuff. Daddy fried his brains with acid in the sixties."
"I want a view," Willow whined. She was wearing Buffy’s leather jacket over her sweater. She kept it zipped tight, not wanting her fluffy kitten sweater to show. "Can we get to the penthouse already?"
"We’re sending up a welcoming basket right now," Tiffany said with a smile.
Anya rolled her eyes and pulled Willow closer. "She’s daddy’s groupie."
Willow bit the inside of her cheek. She looked at Anya and narrowed her eyes. "No ad-libbing," she whispered sweetly.
"Daddy, come get your groupie." Anya shoved Willow into Giles.
"Miss me, baby?" Giles leered at Willow and lifted her into the air.
Willow’s eyes opened like saucers. She looked over Giles’ shoulder and saw Buffy hiding her face against Spike to stop from laughing.
"Easy now, love." Giles lowered her to the floor. "Ol’ Ripper will take care of you soon."
The shocked witch looked up at the Watcher. He was entirely too convincing in Willow’s opinion.
"Your room’s ready, Miss Anya." The desk clerk smiled as she handed Anya back her ID and pointed at Xander. He was still standing at the back of the lobby watching. "Is he with you?" Tiffany asked.
"Oh, yeah, he’s our roadie," Anya said offhandedly. "Come on, there might be some heavy lifting for you in the penthouse." She waved Xander toward the elevator and then looked at the bellhop. "Take those bags to the penthouse and we’ll find our own way." She pointed at the duffel bags next to the door. The bags had Buffy’s weapons as well as her other Slayer supplies. Anya grabbed the key. "Daddy hates it when bellboys ask for his autograph." She hurried toward the elevator.
"Come on, pet." Spike picked Buffy into his arms and carried her. She smiled at him but he could hear her teeth grinding.
"You are so dead," Buffy whispered even as she smiled.
"Well, yeah, I’ve been dead for centuries, what’s your point?" He smiled at the desk clerk and carried Buffy into the elevator.
Giles pulled Willow along beside him. As he went into the elevator he looked over his shoulder and winked at the desk clerk and then squeezed Willow butt. The redhead choked off a squeak as the doors closed.
"Giles!" Willow jumped away from the Watcher. "You grabbed my butt!"
"Let me down!" Buffy jumped out of Spike’s grasp. She rubbed her arms as if trying to get the ‘Spike’ off of her skin.
"Okay, roadie?" Xander yelled. "Why didn’t you just tell them I was your spider-eating-man-bitch?"
"Hey, the point is we’re in," Anya said with a smile.
"No ad-libbing!" Willow waved her finger at Anya. "I specifically said no ad-libbing."
"You couldn’ta said I was the drummer?" Xander demanded.
"You’re much too young to be in a band with Giles," Anya said logically. "I coulda’ said you were his groupie."
Willow nodded and she covered her butt with both hands.
"And again, we are back to the spider-eating-man-bitch jokes." Xander glared at his girlfriend.
"Guys, we’re coming to the top floor." Buffy motioned toward the lights indicating they were almost at their destination.
"Buffy, Giles grabbed my butt," Willow said in mortified whisper.
"I assure you, I was in character." Giles cleared his throat. "That desk clerk was quite taken with me. She expected me to be a rogue."
"A rogue, not a skanky-Willow-grabbing-band-candy-eating- pervert!" Willow scooted closer to Buffy.
"Remember the import thing," Anya said. "We are in the hotel." She gave them all a superior stare. "And I am in charge. That’s very important too. I handle the money."
"That part of the charade is over," Willow said. "So just stay out of the way, Miss Anya."
The elevator bell binged and the doors opened. Two bellhops were waiting in the hallway to show the small group to their room.
"Right this way," the younger bellhop said. "Tiffany told us to get you anything you need. Just ask."
"I’m in charge." Anya pushed her way out of the elevator.
"Yes, Miss Anya," the second bellhop said with a dazzling smile.
"Is there champagne in the room?" Anya asked as she followed the two bellhops.
"Yes, ma’am," the shorter bellhop said.
"Better be Dom." Spike pulled Buffy along at his side. "Only the best for you, my little cuddly toy."
Giles reached for Willow and she froze him in place with a look so cold he wondered if he had frostbite on his hand. "You run ahead get the hot tub sparked up, love," the Watcher said.
"Come on." Willow grabbed Xander and pushed him down the hall in front of her. "There might be heavy lifting."
"Spider-eating-man-bitch," Xander mumbled under his breath. He hurried into the penthouse as soon as the bellhop opened the door.
Willow noticed two guards standing in front of the door to the other penthouse. She stopped, smiled coyly and waved at them. She inhaled sharply when Giles draped his arm over her shoulder.
"Couldn’t make it without me?" He tucked one of Spike’s cigarettes behind his ear and winked at the guard. "She can’t get enough of me." He picked Willow up and tossed her over his shoulder and then patted her butt. "Can’t say as I blame her."
The guards smirked and discretely looked away.
Buffy and Spike went into the room and the vampire sat and pulled her onto his lap. He smirked at the bellhop. "Rock and roll gets you all the hot birds."
The bellhop nodded as he opened the champagne.
Willow glare at Giles as soon as he put her onto the ground. She watched the bellhops milling around and decided to take some action. She inhaled deeply and thought of her vampire persona and what she would do to get rid of the hotel personnel. She went over to the closest bellhop and ran her fingers through his hair.
"Bored now," she whined. "Run along like a good puppy so Ripper and I can play." She leered at the Watcher.
It was Giles’ turn to squirm.
"Run along," Willow repeated. "Maybe Ripper and I will play with you later." She licked her lips and then pushed the bellhop toward the door.
"Call if you need anything," the bellhop said as he blushed.
"We have all we need right here." Spike grabbed Buffy’s waist. She rested her hand over his and squeezed until his fingers made cracking sounds.
"Your generous tip will be added to our bill," Anya said. "And remember who handles all the money. If there’s sucking up to do, I’m your gal."
The bellhops went into the hall and sighed.
"Man, those old rock stars are weird."
"I thought Jagger was strange," the second bellhop added. He waved at the guards at the next door.
Inside the penthouse Willow was glaring at Giles.
"Enough of the grabbing my butt!" She waved her finger at the Watcher.
"You’re supposed to be my groupie, not some frightful vampire dominatrix!" Giles pointed back at Willow.
"This butt belongs to Tara and even if it didn’t, it would certainly not belong to you." Her anger faded as she thought of her lover. "Tara?" She looked over at Buffy. "We’re gonna’ get Tara now, right?" Her eyes shined as tears welled up. "Now, as in right now, before anything bad can happen."
"Yes," Buffy assured her best friend as she rushed over to her. "Right now."
"Can’t we enjoy the champagne first?" Anya poured a glass and smiled. "Oh, bubbles."
"Anya, we’re not here for the champagne." Xander moved next to her. "And don’t you ever volunteer me to be the roadie again."
"All right then, we should move ahead with the plan." Giles nodded toward the bags the bellhops left just inside the door. He pulled out a billy club and tested it on his palm.
"I deal with the guards, Willow runs witchy defense, the rest of you run interference and I grab Tara." Buffy cracked her knuckles. "Pretty straight forward plan."
"Okay, while rescuing Tara is a mostly good thing," Anya paused when everyone glared at her. "Yea rescue. Go rescue," she added quickly. "I just gave them my fake ID, and while it is fake, it is the name I use."
"As soon as we get Tara back to normal, there won’t be any problem for us," Giles explained. "Or you with your fake name."
"Come on." Willow went to the bags and pulled out a piece of ancient iron chain. It was an enchanted link from a shackle used in the middle ages, and Anya had assured Willow that it would bind any of Kelly’s basic attacks. Unless the black haired witch had time to actively cast, her basic spells would be deflected.
Tara wandered around the penthouse. She was restless, and nothing seemed to help. She had tried using the state of the art computer the hotel provided, but using the machine gave Tara a feeling of loneliness she couldn’t describe. That and the fact that she went through the Sunnydale News releases for the previous six months and found dozens of unsolved brutal killings. She wondered if she had committed any of the heinous crimes.
"Come to bed, sweetie." Kelly leaned out of the bedroom and smiled. "You have to forget about what happened at the campus." She walked over to Tara and took her hand. "Come on, I’ll take your mind off of things." She smiled seductively.
"Kelly, no." Tara pulled away. "I know we’ve been together the last three years, but I don’t remember that." She sighed and took Kelly’s hand. She didn’t want to hurt her. "All I can think about is you with Claire." She looked down at the floor. "And what I did to Willow’s lover."
"Tara, I swear you’ll feel better if you just come to bed." Kelly tugged Tara’s hand. "We’ll just cuddle. I swear. It’ll all come back to you, sweetie."
"Let me get a soda." Tara trotted back to the kitchenette.
Kelly watched the blonde as she crossed the penthouse. She remembered how Tara had hung all over Willow at Buffy’s house. Tara had went out of her way to make sure Willow had a cold soda, but the blonde hadn’t offered her a drink once. This was harder than Kelly had anticipated. She would have to pour on her considerable charm.
"Okay." Tara waved her soda at Kelly and then frowned. "Did you want something?"
"Just you, sweetie." She stepped out of the way and followed Tara into the bedroom.
They sat up and watched the movie station, and Tara was disappointed to find that most of the movies on the cable channel were just over three years old. She had seen them all.
"I lose three years of my life and I don’t even get to see a new movie?" Tara flicked off the television. "You’d think I could find one movie I hadn’t seen."
"Sorry." Kelly giggled and snuggled against Tara’s side. "That Survivor rerun was new to you."
"Who came up with that?" She rolled over and looked at Kelly. "They ate bugs. That is not entertainment."
"I thought it was cute when you squirmed." Kelly caressed the beautiful blonde’s cheek.
Tara blushed and dipped her head down. She was trying to relax with Kelly but it just didn’t feel right. She didn’t fit with her anymore.
"Very cute," Kelly whispered. She leaned over and slowly kissed Tara.
Tara pulled back but Kelly followed. Her kiss was slow and forceful. Tara whimpered and tried to back away, but Kelly wrapped her hand around the blonde’s neck. Tara tried to enjoy the kiss but every fiber of her body was telling her run. She yanked free.
"Kelly, no." Tara sat up and shivered. Willow’s face filled her thoughts. She wondered if this was her punishment, to see her victim’s broken-hearted lover every time she tried to kiss someone.
"Okay," Kelly said quietly. "I’m sorry. You’re just so beautiful."
Tara stood and ran her hands through her hair. "I should sleep in the other room."
"No, you should come back to bed." Kelly patted the mattress. "I’ll be good."
"I’m gonna’ go sit on the balcony." Tara pointed to the other room. "I need to think." She made a hasty exit.
Kelly stared at the opened door and fumed. Every time she started making some headway with Tara, the blonde pulled away. It wasn’t fair. She looked over at her dresser and decided she would move things along magically.
Tara walked through the living room and stopped. She went over to the computer and traced the monitor with one finger and smiled. She had never really enjoyed computers, but apparently that had changed in the last few years. She sat at the keyboard and flicked on the machine. The sound of the hard drive booting sent warm shivers down her spine. Apparently she really liked computers. A thump outside the door drew her out of her high tech fantasy and she went over to investigate.
The doorknob twisted and made a loud crunch. Tara tilted her head to one side. If she didn’t know better, she would have sworn the lock had been snapped. The door opened and the blonde woman from the college came slinking into the room like a graceful and dangerous cat.
Tara screamed and ran for the telephone.
"Oh, man!" Buffy saw Tara running away. "Tara, come back here!" She sprinted after the blonde and grabbed her around the waist just as she was reaching for the phone.
"No!" Tara screamed. She looked toward the doorway and realized that the demon hunters might also go after Kelly. "No, leave her alone," she yelled as she arched her back to slow down the surprisingly strong blonde gripping her waist. Tara was petrified, frozen with fear, she knew this woman had come to kill her, but she wouldn’t let them hurt Kelly.
"Let me go!" Willow yelled as she pushed past Spike. "I’m going to kill her." She burst into the room and saw Buffy dragging Tara across the room. "Buffy, bring her to me."
Tara’s eyes widened as she got her first good look at Willow. This beautiful, perfect woman wanted to kill her and yet Tara felt like a moth flying to the flame. She relaxed and let the demon hunter drag her away.
"Get away from her!" Kelly stood in the doorway. She held her hand up. Her jet athame was clenched in her fist and she pointed it at Buffy.
"We’re taking her." Buffy hefted Tara over her shoulder and backed toward the door.
"I won’t let them take you, Tara," Kelly said. A burst of energy shot out the end of her athame but Willow stepped into its path.
"Get Tara out of here," Willow said as she held up the link of enchanted chain. It absorbed the blast, but the impact knocked Willow back.
"No. Let me go." Tara struggled to get free. She could hear Kelly fighting with Willow and didn’t want anyone else to die because of her.
"Willow, little help here please," Buffy spun toward the redhead. She winced when Tara kicked her in the ribs.
"Thicken," Willow said as she waved her hand toward Kelly. The raven haired witch staggered as the air around her became as thick as tar.
"Kelly!" Tara screamed. "Oh, god, Kelly. No, don’t hurt her." She looked at Willow and pleaded for Kelly’s life. "Don’t, please."
Willow looked at Tara and her heart crumbled. The beautiful blonde didn’t recognize her. "No," she whispered as she ran toward Tara. When Glory had taken Tara’s mind, there had always been a glimmer of recognition, but now there was nothing. Seeing a stranger in Tara’s eyes ripped Willow’s heart to shreds and tears filled her eyes. She had to get Tara safely away so she did the only thing she could think of. "I’m sorry," Willow said as she held her palm out to Tara. "Sleep," she said as she sent out a spell to knock her lover out.
Tara’s body stiffened with fear as Willow came toward her. The lithe redhead held up her hand and then she apologized. Tara closed her eyes. ‘She’s in so much pain,’ Tara thought as she felt her world closing in around her. ‘Even after all I did, she apologized for taking revenge.’ Tara’s body went limp.
"Leaving would be good," Spike yelled as he leaned into the room. "Blondie’s screaming could wake the dead."
Buffy shifted Tara into her arms and ran for the door.
Willow turned and faced Kelly. The model was squirming against the thickening spell and her eyes were full of hate.
"Do it," Kelly taunted. "You know you want to."
Willow smiled and raised both hands toward the woman who had injured Tara. She remembered the spell she used on Glory and her eyes went black. The ‘pain’ spell had damaged Glory, and it would certainly kill a human.
Willow twisted her head to one side and then focused on Kelly.
"Willow, no!" Buffy yelled.
Willow paused and turned toward her friend. Tara was hanging limp, her beautiful blonde hair swinging as Buffy shifted the precious cargo in her grip.
"Don’t, Willow," Buffy whispered. "This isn’t who you are." She lifted Tara’s body toward the redhead. "This isn’t who she loves."
Willow closed her eyes and when she opened them again, they were back to their normal green. She glared at Kelly. "Don’t come after her. You bring out the worst in me." She ran toward the door.
Getting out of the hotel with an unconscious woman was surprisingly simple. Giles carried Tara out wrapped in a blanket. They marched out the front door and the bellhop even held the door for him. Apparently they were used to seeing their rock stars carting out drunken fans.
They took her back to Giles’ house since it was one of the few places that Kelly hadn’t been. Buffy put Tara on the couch and covered her with a blanket and then Willow did an awakening spell.
"Why isn’t she opening her eyes?" Anya asked. "Did you do the spell wrong?"
"I did it right." Willow knelt next to her lover and traced her jaw. "Tara?" Willow leaned back on her heels and stared.
"That sexbot probably fried her brain," Anya said sadly. "It’s a shame. We barely got it fixed after Glory sucked it and now it’s fried."
"She’s not fried." Willow stood and went over to Anya and pushed her aside. "It doesn’t matter what Kelly did to her. She’ll be fine."
"Giles, tell her." Anya pointed at Tara. "She shouldn’t…"
"Do shut up, Anya." Giles took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes.
Tara began waking up. She heard strange voices so she kept her eyes closed and listened.
"We don’t know for sure, right?" Willow asked.
"That dreadful woman has no conscience, Willow," Giles said. "The damage she did…there’s no way of knowing what she’s capable of or if we can fight it."
"I want her dead," Willow said as she spun and faced Giles.
"Willow, you can’t kill her. She’s human," the Watcher said as he moved closer to the redhead.
"I don’t care." Willow’s eyes narrowed and her voice trembled. "She deserves to die."
Tara had no doubt about her fate. Unless she escaped, she would die. She could hear the conviction in Willow’s voice and knew that the redhead must have loved her partner completely.
"We don’t kill people," Giles pointed out.
"But you saw what she did," Willow said as she broke into tears again.
"Hey, we don’t kill people," Buffy said as she came into the room. "No matter what they do. That isn’t our job." She turned Willow toward her. "I know you. You couldn’t kill a human, no matter how angry or hurt you are."
"Buffy, she took her from me." Willow’s lip trembled and she fell into her best friend’s arms and sobbed. "She has to pay."
"She will." Buffy pulled Willow away from the couch. "We’ll make sure she pays, but we can’t kill her."
"I can’t leave her." Willow turned back toward Tara.
"She isn’t going anywhere." Buffy took Willow’s hand. "You need some rest and you won’t get it standing guard over Tara."
"I can’t sleep anywhere else." Willow looked back at her lover and sniffled. "I have to be sure she’s here."
"Okay, honey." Buffy guided Willow into an overstuffed chair. "Just try to rest. Giles will keep an eye on Tara."
"Okay," Willow whispered. She leaned back in the chair and watched Tara until her own eyes drifted shut.
The room was quiet and Tara hadn’t heard any of the demon hunters moving around for some time. She decided it was time to escape. She sat up and saw Willow sleeping in a chair a few feet away. She was relaxed, yet her face was troubled even in sleep. Tara looked around the room. She was alone. She climbed to her feet and tried to tiptoe past the sleeping woman.
"You’re awake," Anya said as she came into the room.
Tara backed into the room and swallowed hard. She was trapped.
"Tara?" Willow’s eyes opened slowly.
The blonde witch spun when she heard her name. It was said with such reverence and caring that it made Tara’s breath catch.
"She’s awake, but I still think she’s fried." Anya smiled at Tara and leaned toward her. She spoke slowly and loudly. "Hello. I’m Anya."
"What are you going to do to me?" Tara spun and looked at Willow.
"Well… we…" Willow wasn’t quite sure what to say to her confused lover. "Tara, it’s me, Willow," she finally said. She smiled warmly and dipped her head.
The action was so endearing Tara almost forgot she was being held captive.
"I’m sorry," Tara said sincerely. "I never wanted to hurt anyone."
Willow’s brow furrowed and she looked over at Anya. "Get Giles and Buffy." She turned back toward Tara and edged closer. "What do you remember?"
"Fried," Anya whispered as she hurried from the room.
Tara wondered who in the group would decide her fate. She studied the beautiful woman and noticed that she had highlights of gold sprinkled throughout her striking red hair.
"What do you remember?" Willow asked gently. She pointed at the couch. "You wanna’ sit?"
"Why are you being so nice to me?" Tara sat on the edge of the couch and frowned. Pain covered Willow’s face and Tara almost jumped to her feet to go to the redhead.
"Why wouldn’t I be?" Willow asked as she backed up and sat in the overstuffed chair.
"You’re awake. Good." Giles walked into the room. "Tara, how are you feeling?"
Buffy hurried in behind him and smiled at Tara. She went to the couch and leaned down in front of the blonde witch. "You feeling groggy?"
Anya and Xander ran in, stumbling to a stop near the table where they had a good view of the situation.
"Are you going to kill me?" Tara blurted out. She couldn’t stand how nice these people were being to her.
Everyone stared at the blonde on the couch.
"I told you her brain’s fried," Anya finally said.
"Anya!" Xander covered his eyes with one hand. She slowly peaked his eyes out from behind his fingers and watched Willow’s face redden with anger.
"Tara, why would you think we want to hurt you?" Buffy moved forward. She could see that Willow was about to burst into tears again. The last thing she needed now was hysterical Willow.
"You’re gonna’ make me say it?" Tara swallowed hard and then looked at Willow. She had murdered the woman’s lover; at least she could look at her. "Because I killed your lover," Tara said shamefully.
"What?" Tears slid down Willow’s cheeks.
"Fried," Anya whispered. Xander cleared his throat to quiet her.
"You’ve been lied to," Giles said as he moved over to Willow and took her hand. "Horribly, heinously lied to."
"We love you, Tara," Willow said as she stood and slowly moved closer to the couch. She knelt in front of Tara and reached for the blonde’s hand but paused. She looked into her slate blue eyes, silently seeking permission.
Tara nodded, but her face was awash in confusion.
"You didn’t hurt my lover… you are my lover." Willow took Tara’s hand and a tiny sob escaped before she could stop it. "Tara, you’re my partner, my everything."
Tara looked down at her hand in Willow’s; it looked right. She felt lightheaded. She knew what Willow was saying couldn’t be true. That would mean that Kelly had lied and she wouldn’t do that.
"What is your last recollection?" Giles asked. "Before this afternoon when Kelly performed the spell?"
"What do you know about Kelly?" Tara pulled her hand away and looked up at Giles. "You people are doing this to punish me, aren’t you?" She stood up and moved away from Willow. "You can’t kill me because I’m human now so this is how you’re punishing me."
"Willow, talk to her," Giles said. "You must get through to her." He could see that Willow was about to fall apart, and she was their only chance to reach Tara.
Willow stood and slowly approached her lover. The blonde was ready to bolt. "Tara, baby, I have no idea what Kelly told you, but she obviously lied." She rested her hand on her chest and smiled at her lover. "You have my heart. I could never hurt you and I’d die before I’d let anyone hurt you."
"I heard you say you wanted to kill me," Tara said quietly. "When you thought I was sleeping."
"Oh, that." Willow frowned and bit her lip. "I was talking about that skank Kelly."
"Tell us what Kelly told you," Buffy suggested. She motioned toward the couch. "And there’ll be no killing."
Tara didn’t want to believe Kelly could ever lie to her, but every time she looked at Willow her heart pounded double time. She moved to the couch and sat. She almost smiled when she saw Willow hurry over to sit next to her. The redhead squirmed on the couch and kept crossing each ankle over the other as if she couldn’t decide which foot to put on top.
"Go ahead," Willow prompted. She smiled while biting the inside of her lip.
"I was a demon," Tara said with a sigh.
"You were not!" Willow’s eyes flashed.
"You were so not," Buffy chimed in.
Tara looked back and forth between the two agitated young women.
"Perhaps we should wait until she finishes her tale before we argue its merits." Giles moved over and sat on the arm of the sofa. He gave Tara an encouraging nod.
"I was part demon," Tara said slowly. She studied Willow, noticing how bothered the redhead was. "And I lost control of that demon." She watched Willow’s eyes narrow and the bridge of her nose crinkled. It was adorable. "Kelly helped me purge the demonic side of my nature," Tara continued.
"Typical." Willow rolled her eyes. "Why am I not surprised that Kelly made herself into the big hero."
Giles cleared his throat.
"Sorry," Willow whispered.
"You mentioned killing?" Buffy pointed out.
"When I was in my demon form…" Tara pointed at Willow. "I… I killed your lover… didn’t I?"
Willow inhaled sharply and closed her eyes. Her body shook and when she opened her eyes, the green was dark and full of rage. "How could she do that to you?" Willow stood and walked over to the wall and balled her hands into fists. "How could anyone do that to you?"
Tara stood and followed the redhead across the room. She was drawn to her, unable to let her walk away without trying to comfort her in some small way.
"Your entire life you’ve been terrified of turning into a demon and she used that to hurt you?" Willow shuddered. "She said you killed someone?" Willow turned and looked into Tara’s eyes. "You couldn’t kill anyone, Tara. Never." She took Tara’s hand and squeezed it. "I’m so sorry. I know that was your worst fear growing up. It’s not true. You never hurt anyone. I swear."
"And you’re not a demon," Anya added. "Never were. That was a whole ‘nother pack of lies."
"Kelly wouldn’t…" Tara shook her head. "My family…"
"Baby, your father used that demon myth to control you," Willow said as she lifted Tara’s hand and pressed it to her own cheek.
"How do you know my father?" Tara pulled away. "If you really are my friends, then let me call Kelly."
"You really must have fried your brain if you want to call her," Anya said.
"Kelly did this to you!" Willow pointed at Tara’s forehead. "She stole the memories from you, memories of us, of me." Her hand shook and she yanked it away. "How could we know about your family if we aren’t who we say we are? If we wanted to kill you, do you think we’d waste our time playing games?"
"I don’t know," Tara admitted as a tear rolled down her cheek.
"Oh, god, don’t cry." Willow burst into tears. "Tara, I’m so sorry." She pulled Tara’s hand to her chest and pressed it over her heart. "Can’t you feel that? I love you. That pitter-patter is for you, just you."
Tara closed her eyes. She could feel something when she touched the redheaded witch, but these people were all strangers.
"Tell her a secret," Buffy said as she rushed forward. "You have to know some big ol’ lover’s secret thing."
Willow looked at Buffy like she had gone insane.
"Oh, come on." Buffy put both hands on her hips. "You two are always talking in your cute little secret language. You have to know something."
Tara and Willow gave Buffy matching confused stares.
"Okay, so there’s no actual language, but you know what I mean." Buffy waved at Willow. "You have to know something that no one else knows about Tara."
"Buffy!" Willow blushed.
"Oh, geeze." Buffy rolled her eyes. "Something not X-rated."
"Ask me anything," Willow, said as she turned to Tara. She smiled, knowing that she was up to any challenge.
"Can I call Kelly?" Tara asked quietly.
Almost any challenge. Willow’s expression fell and her lip quivered. She looked over at Giles.
"I wouldn’t advise it," the Watcher said slowly.
"We can’t just keep her prisoner," Willow said plaintively. She looked back at Tara. "What if you call her to tell her you’re okay, but you don’t tell her where you are?" Willow offered. She was going into full babble mode. "That way you won’t have any guilt about Kelly worrying and we won’t have evil Kelly showing up here with police or nasty spells." Willow smiled triumphantly. "Then we can tell you all about your life with us, and me and, and Miss Kitty! We have a little kitten, a sneaky cat." She smiled slyly and nodded. "She’s the sneakiest cat ever. I have to show you Miss Kitty, and your classes! Oh, I got the homework from your classes emailed to me because you really don’t do the computer thing…" Willow furrowed her brow. "Well, you do it, you just don’t do it well…" Her eyes widened. "Not that you do it bad. It’s just, the computer is my thing, well, our thing… no really more my thing… but you help. You give moral support." Willow smiled brightly.
A lazy grin spread across Tara’s face as she watched the redhead babble. She looked over at the others and they all had amused expressions as if the nonstop talking was perfectly normal. Tara wondered how long the redhead could go without breaking for air.
"And moral support is very important," Willow continued. "They never mention moral support in the manual but let me tell you, there’ve been nights when we were hacking into city records when I couldn’ta done it without you sitting next to…" Willow’s face suddenly went pale. She looked up at Tara. "Not bad hacking, not evil hacking, hacking in the name of good. Good hacking."
Tara bit her lip and continued smiling. She looked over at Buffy and raised one eyebrow.
"Oh, Yeah," Buffy said wryly. "She always does this."
"That’s me. When I’m worried, I babble." Willow shrugged. "And having my wonderful, beautiful, soulmate completely forget who I am is definitely cause for worry." Willow took a deep breath and prepared to launch into round two of babble mode.
"Willow," Tara said as she stepped closer to the adorable witch. "Shh," she whispered as she rested one finger over Willow’s lips. The touch was innocent, and brief, but both witches felt a tingle where their skin made contact. Tara looked into green eyes so clear and crisp they might have been emeralds. She could see hope, and caring, and uncertainty, but mostly she could see love. "Willow, tell me a secret," Tara whispered. She didn’t want to believe that Kelly would lie to her, that her family would lie to her, but this small, powerful woman had a pull like a sun going nova. She was a force of nature.
"What kind of secret?" Willow could feel the heat from Tara’s body and she wanted to pull her lover to her and hold her until all the hurt was gone from both of their lives. "A secret secret, like I’d have to whisper in your ear ‘cause we don’t want anyone knowing…" She looked over at the others and then back to Tara. "Or a little secret that they already know?"
Despite all that was at stake, being near this woman made Tara smile. She couldn’t help it. The woman was certifiably adorable.
"Donnie’s a big jerk, and a bully!" Anya offered. "And Cousin Beth has a nasty mouth on her. Oh, sure, she’s all sweet and docile but make her mad and she’ll call you a bitch!"
"What?" Willow spun and looked at Tara. The redheaded witch was just as confused as Tara was.
"Oops," Anya said. "That was a secret that Tara and I had." She looked over at the blonde witch. "You and I do the girl bonding thing while the Scoobies talk shop. You didn’t want to tell Willow about Beth because you thought she’d call your potty-mouthed cousin on the phone and yell at her."
"Yeah, with good reason," Willow said angrily.
"I had a secret, see? We know you," Anya said as she pointed at Tara. She smiled and turned to Xander. "How was that?"
"You all met my family?" Tara stared at Anya.
"Your whole family came down on your birthday and tried to drag you home," Willow explained. "That’s when we figured out that you weren’t a demon." She cupped Tara’s chin in her hand and locked eyes with her. "You’re not a demon. You never were."
‘Oh, goddess, I could fall in love with her,’ Tara thought as she felt the warmth of Willow’s touch and she heard the soft timbre of her voice. ‘I don’t want the betrayal to be true, but this woman feels like a part of me.’
"Ask me," Willow whispered. The redhead noticed that she was still cupping Tara’s face in her hand and she backed away. "I’m sorry. You don’t even know me and I’m pawing you. I’m so sorry. I’m just so used to… well… Oh, goddess." Willow tucked her hands under her arms. It was the only way she was going to stop reaching out for her lover.
"How?" Tara asked quietly. "How did Kelly…I mean, if Kelly did this, how and why?"
"The why is rather complex I would assume," Giles said. "Though given the frightfully twisted version of reality that she told you, I would say her ultimate goal was to, well, to get you." Giles moved closer. "As to the how, she used dark forces to alter your memories."
"And demon beer," Buffy added helpfully.
"Huh?" Tara stared at the Slayer.
"The Brew of Oblivion," Giles said tolerantly. "Kelly utilized a potion that mimics the Brew of Oblivion."
"No," Tara said with absolute certainty. "Kelly would never do that. T-that’s dangerous… the Brew of Oblivion can be deadly."
"You betcha’ it can," Anya agreed. "You drink too much of that and you’ll forget how to breathe. Heck, you’ll forget how to keep your heart beating." She snorted and rolled her eyes. "Autonomic brain function, my ass. That stuff is soul memory. You forget that stuff and you’re pretty much dead."
Willow’s eyes narrowed and she clenched her jaw. She reached out and took Tara’s hand. "I won’t let her hurt you again. I swear it."
"She wouldn’t do that," Tara insisted. She looked down at her hand in Willow’s and felt a sense of dread. Willow’s touch felt so right, so perfect, and if the connection she felt with the beautiful witch was real… then Kelly had done all of the terrible things these strangers said. She looked up into Willow’s face, needing an anchor, needing strength, needing love. She found it all in Willow’s gentle eyes. "Tell me about the last three years," Tara asked.
"I only know about the last year and a half," Willow said. "Well, you told me about the rest, but I’ve only known you for a year and a half, nineteen months." A goofy grin covered her face. "Nineteen months two weeks and three days."
"Oh, god, Tara save us." Buffy shook her head. "Just ask Willow a secret. She’ll go through every single day if we let her."
"I have pictures!" Willow bounced up and down on her toes. "Well, not for all the time but for some."
"When did Kelly and I break up again?" Tara asked. "After she came back to me."
"Baby, she never came back," Willow said as her eyes filled with pain for her lover. "Not until last night."
"No." Tara shook her head. She backed away. "No. Kelly… she… no." Tara put both hands over her eyes and began to quietly sob. She couldn’t believe that everything had been untrue. She remembered cuddling in bed at the hotel, kissing Kelly, and worst of all, Tara remembered feeling guilty for not escalating their intimacy. Kelly had wanted to make love, Tara knew that from the way she had touched her, and now the Tara felt dirty and used. It was too much for her.
"Tara?" Willow asked gently.
"No," Tara said. "I don’t know any of you." She felt like she was going to hyperventilate as she backed into the wall. "Kelly told me you’d say things to hurt me."
"Fried," Anya said as she tossed her hands into the air.
"Buffy!" Dawn came running into the room. She looked terrified. "Kelly just pulled up in front of the house and she looks really pissed."
"Hey, language, young lady," Buffy chastised. She ran toward the door, pausing to gently move Dawn off to one side. "Stay here, out of the way. And no bad language."
Dawn rolled her eyes, but she stayed out of the way.
Just hearing Kelly’s name sent a wave of relief through Tara’s body. No matter how much she was drawn to Willow and her demon hunting friends, they were strangers. A part of Tara wanted the entire thing to be some awful
nightmare, a nightmare she would wake up from and find that no one had lied to her, not her family and certainly not Kelly.
"Come on." Willow grabbed Tara’s hand and started to pull her toward the back of the house. She felt the tension in her lover’s hand and paused. "Tara?"
The blonde witch stood frozen. Her eyes darted back and forth from Willow to the front of the house.
"We should get her out of here," Anya said. She gave Xander a shove. "Take her out the back door before the sexbot gets her."
"I want to see Kelly," Tara said firmly.
"Willow, we can’t have her being taken." Giles raised his eyebrows meaningfully. The redheaded witch understood immediately. He wanted her to use her sleep spell on her lover.
"Guys. We’ve got trouble," Buffy said as she leaned into the room. "Big trouble with uniforms, badges, and guns."
Willow’s eyes narrowed. "It won’t matter." She moved forward with a determined, protective stance.
"Willow…" Buffy grabbed her best friend’s arm. "You going to jail won’t help."
"Let me talk to them," Tara whispered. "They think you kidnapped me."
"And technically, we did," Xander pointed out. "And I don’t think claiming that a famous supermodel witchy-mind-erased Tara is gonna’ fly."
"I don’t want you people going to jail," Tara said. "I’ll talk to them." She looked into Willow’s eyes. "If what you say is true, then you’re my friends and you’re helping me."
"And if what we’re saying isn’t true?" Giles asked. He was playing devil’s advocate since one word from Tara could put them all in the county jail.
"Then I’m a murderous demon and you shouldn’t go to jail for punishing me," Tara said honestly.
"Can I just point out that brain-fried Tara is liable to sell us out to the cops and run off with the sexbot?" Anya raised her hand in the air. "Did any of you think of that?"
"She won’t do that to us," Willow said with absolute certainty.
"Okay then," Buffy said. She nodded toward the front of the building. "Let’s go talk to the many nice policemen with the many, many shiny guns." She sighed and rubbed the back of her neck. "Because I’ve had such wonderful luck with Sunnydale police officers in the past…" She rolled her eyes and headed out to face her fate. Images of interrogations filled her mind.