Disclaimers; In the beginning there was no life on Tuesday's prime-time schedule. Then the great Joss said, "Let there be Buffy!" And it was good. Joss owns all he surveys, I'm just hangin' out in his universe.
Author's note; This is my follow-up to "Life Is Sweet", where I explore the relationships between Buffy, Willow and Tara in new ways that Joss would never even consider. Well, he'd probably consider them, he'd just never try to get them past the sensors.
Rating; R
Summary; In a desperate attempt to save Buffy from a nasty demon, Willow and Tara unleash a spell whose long-term consequences will change the lives of all three women.

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THE THIRD POWER
Written by Kirayoshi

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Chapter One;
Join Together

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"When you hear the sound a'comin',
Hear the drummers drummin'
I want you to Join Together with the band!
We don't move in no particular direction,
And we don't make no collections,
I want you to Join Together with the band!"

--The Who
"Join Together"

"C'mon, ugly!" the battered young woman shouted through broken teeth, hiding her fear behind a curtain of rage. "Is that the best you can do?"

It hadn't been going well for the Slayer. She was on the ropes and she knew it. Two hours ago, Buffy was partying at the Bronze with two of her best friends, Willow and Tara, now she was fighting for her life against the arch demon Asmodeus. And losing.

Asmodeus was an archetypal demon-lord; his mahogany skin covering a muscular frame, his countenance fearsome to behold, his features angular and saturnine. He towered over the diminutive slayer, his legs stood two meters apart, his terrible cloven hooves scraped the ground with every step, his massive arms spread out, preparing to crush Buffy's body like squeezing an orange.

Buffy cursed herself for not heeding Giles' warnings earlier that week. Spike had heard rumblings from the demon community about some new arch demon planning to move in on Sunnydale. Now that Adam had been eliminated by Buffy and her friends just a couple of months ago, there was a vacuum in the demonic power structure of Sunnydale, and Asmodeus was just the demon to fill that hole. But he had enough sense to recognize the threat of the Slayer.

So he chose tonight to ambush her.

Tonight, when she was preoccupied with her friends Willow and Tara. Tonight, when she and Willow were celebrating the start of their sophomore year in college and Tara's return to Sunnydale after visiting her parents for the summer. Tonight, when the pain of losing Riley, of hearing the hateful things he had said, finally dissipated under the love and friendship of these two wiccan beauties. Just two hours ago the two of them had burnt up the dance floor at the Bronze, undulating and spinning in close orbit around each other, oblivious to anything and anyone else. Buffy couldn't remember a time when she felt so free, so happy. Just to be with Willow, her closest friend and secret love, even if she wouldn't tell Willow about her love, that was enough. And the fact that Tara made her happy. Willow was with someone she loved, and she still cared enough about Buffy to include her in her life. And for the Slayer, that was blessing enough for one lifetime.

Now, she had become a punching bag for a powerful demon. Asmodeus knew that she would oppose him, so he made the first move against her. And now she was being thrown around like a rag doll. She had managed to push Willow and Tara out of the way, just before the onslaught began, but she wasn't able to create an opening in the fight. Just any opening where she could hit back and retake the offensive. The savage attack of this demon had kept her on the defensive; he was tiring her out, and she knew it. He had already managed to connect a few blows, breaking her jaw and nearly swelling her left eye shut in a livid shiner. But she had no way to conserve her strength. If she stood still for only a split second, just one more direct blow from that demon would be enough to end her life. And she knew that she couldn't keep fighting at this pace for long. She was tiring fast, and Asmodeus knew it.

Willow and Tara stood stock still as Buffy fought for her life against the mahogany skinned demon. Willow refused to run and hide while her best friend was on the ropes. She and Tara just stood there, afraid for their friend, scared that she would be killed before their eyes. Willow had the prescience to carry a dagger forged of cold iron, the one metal certain to kill demons, but she didn't see the opening to use it.

"G-goddess, Willow," Tara stammered, her nervous stutter returning as her fear levels rose. "What can w-we d-do to help her?"

"I'm thinking, Tara," Willow said calmly. "There's one way, but it could be dangerous for us. But it might be the only way." She suddenly turned to Tara. "Do you trust me?"

"With my heart and with my life, Willow," Tara vowed solemnly.

"Remember the enjoining spell I used to back Buffy against Adam?"

Tara's eyes opened wide with understanding. "You think that will work again?"

"Probably better than before," Willow nodded. "My spells have always been more powerful when we worked them together. But we gotta hurry!" She cocked her head toward the battle, as Buffy was slowing down, and Asmodeus's blows were getting closer to connecting. "Buffy's down for the count!"

There was no hesitation on the blond witch's part. "Let's do it," said Tara.

Willow took Tara's hands in her own, an said, "Concentrate on Buffy. Send all your thoughts, all your strength, all your love to her. Relax, take calming breaths." Tara began to meditate, to clear her mind, to concentrate on the Slayer, her friend, her defender. Willow calmed herself, found the center of her being where her magic was strongest. She connected that center with Tara's, and felt her powers grow as they always did when she joined this way with the one she loved. She began the incantation;

"The power of the Slayer and all who wield it!"

Tara concentrated on the ancient words as Willow shouted them.

"Last to ancient first, we invoke thee!"

A vortex of arcane powers formed around Buffy and Asmodeus as they battled. Neither was aware of the vortex, but Buffy felt a strength growing inside of her. She now stood on trembling feet, feeling her arms grow more firm, more solid.

"Grant us thy domain and primal strength!"

Willow had to shout louder to be heard above the din of the storms. She was handling large amounts of power, forces she would never have dared attempt were it not for Tara's assistance, support and love.

"Accept us in the power we possess!"

Buffy's strength continued to build. Unaware of the spell her best friend was casting, she felt at first as though she was getting her second wind.

"Make us mind and heart and spirit joined!"

Willow and Tara felt the strength building in them as well. They felt more assured of their powers, more confident in their abilities as wiccans. Yes, they both thought, they could do this.

"Let the hand encompass us!"

As she took the battle with Asmodeus on the offensive, Buffy started to recognize the sensations coursing through her. The gathering power, the greater strength than she had ever possessed. Just like when she took on Adam. Willow had cast the enjoining spell.

"Do thy will!"

And now where she was sprawled on the ground, awaiting the killing blow, she now stood up on confident feet, feeling her renewed strength, and the strength of all the slayers before her. And something more, the strength of two powerful wiccans who cast the spell to restore her.

Asmodeus' eyes widened as he took in the sight; this woman who should have died under his attack was now standing before him, her wounds healing before his eyes, her arms rising with restored strength, her strong sinewy frame infused with great power. Even her broken teeth were made whole again. Her eyes glowed red, boring down into him like angry suns. And in the cold black pit of his heart, Asmodeus knew fear.

"You had your chance, Ass-Backward-Us," Buffy hissed at her enemy. "You had me on the ropes. But that don't matter now!" Without any further warning, she unleashed a devastating flying scissor kick to the demon's jaw. He crumpled to the floor, black blood pooling from his mouth. "Because I just got me a whole new shipment of whup-ass, and I'm spending it all on you!"

Buffy's attack was brutal and swift. She was giving no quarter, and taking no prisoners. She delivered a massive flurry of kicks with both speed and deadly accuracy. Before Asmodeus could regroup himself to counter, she rammed his solar plexus with her shoulder, sending him tumbling to the ground.

"Willow!" Buffy shouted, "The dagger! Let's end this!"

"On it!" Willow fished the dagger out of her book-bag. Buffy expected Willow to simply toss the dagger to her so she could take out Asmodeus once and for all. Willow, however had a different approach. She held the dagger's tip between her thumb and forefinger, took aim, and threw it with deadly accuracy. The dagger imbedded itself deeply into Asmodeus' chest, into the demon's festering heart. Asmodeus lurched angrily, clawing at the air, before his body disintegrated into a shower of ash.

Buffy coughed slightly as the demon's ash got into her lungs. "Geez, Wills, give a Slayer some warning, will ya?"

"Sorry, Buff," Willow smiled innocently, but Buffy wasn't fooled for a second. "I just had a feeling that would work."

"Yeah," Buffy crossed her arms over her chest and smirked at the red-haired witch. "You were just trying to impress your girlfriend."

"Hey," Tara defended Willow. "I'm impressed."

"Well," Buffy admitted as she bent down and picked up the dagger from the pile of ash that was once Asmodeus, "I'm impressed with the both of you. Nice spellwork, girls."

"We aim to please," Tara announced.

"But what possessed you to try that enjoining spell?" Buffy asked.

"Desperation, Buff," Willow answered. "Pure desperation."

"Well, Wills," Buffy smiled, "you should get desperate more--UNGH!" Suddenly Buffy collapsed to the ground. Willow and Tara immediately rushed to her side, each one taking her by one shoulder. "Buffy?" Willow pleaded. "You okay?"

"Oh, fine," Buffy answered, a glazed look in her eyes. "But there are two of you, Willow." Her speech was slurring, and she looked confused. "Hey, that's perfect. Tara can have one of you, and I can have the other."

Willow dismissed Buffy's words as the ramblings of a woman disoriented by a powerful spell. "That's nice, Buffy. Now how about we get you back to the dorm?"

"No, really," Buffy sounded more drunk than anything else. Willow and Tara started to worry about the power that they had channeled into their friend. "We-we could get together, we could--" Buffy looked closely at Willow's face and gasped. "Oh, my God," she exclaimed. "You have the most beautiful eyes I've ever seen!" She turned to an increasingly embarrassed Tara, asking, "Doesn't she have the most beautiful eyes you've ever seen?"

"Yes, Buffy," Tara said, trying to hoist the incoherent Slayer back to her dorm. "Th-they were the first thing I n-noticed."

Buffy then regarded Tara with a gimlet eye. "But your eyes are beautiful too. A sort of charcoal grey-blue." She glanced at Willow, then at Tara. "You both have beautiful eyes. I can't decide. I love them both." She wrapped her arms around her rescuers tightly, shouting, "I love you both! I, Buffy--Buffy--hey, Wills, what was my last name again?"

"Summers," a mortally humiliated Willow sighed.

"Thanks, Willy." She cleared her throat dramatically, then continued; "I, Buffy Summers, hereby declare that I love these two women, Willy and Taters!" She giggled suddenly, saying, "Sorry, Tara, I called you Taters. I'm going to go nite-nite now." With that, her head dropped down, and she started to snore loudly. The two exasperated Wiccans then quietly took the sleeping Slayer back to Stevensen Hall.

They opened the door to Buffy and Willow's dorm, and brought the Slayer inside, hoisting her as carefully as possible past the furniture. "Let's get her to her bed," said Willow.

"Personally," Tara grunted under the weight of the unconscious Buffy, "I don't think she'd notice if we left her in the fire escape."

"Tempting as that idea might be," Willow lamented, "I think we'd better bring her to the bed." They managed to steer her body to the bed, and unceremoniously dropped her onto the mattress. They watched as the Slayer dozed soundly, unaware of her surroundings, or even her identity. "Well," Tara announced, "that was an eventful evening. You gonna call it a night?"

"Yeah," Willow answered. "I'd walk you back to your dorm, but I don't wanna leave Buffy alone. She crashed pretty hard from that enjoining spell."

"No problem," Tara answered. "I can stay with you. That is, if you want."

Willow regarded her beloved with a slight smile. "Sure, but I'm not up to anything hot and sweaty tonight." The fact was, despite some innuendo to the contrary from Xander, the two young lovers had yet to go "all the way" in their physical relationship. They kissed, they groped, they occasionally caressed each other topless, but that's as far as they've gone.

"No rush, Willow," Tara said. "I just thought you'd like the company. Besides, if I went back to my dorm, I'd just lay awake worrying about Buffy." Tara slipped off her shoes, and sat on Willow's bed.

Willow sat next to Tara, and instinctively wrapped her arm around the blond witch's shoulder. "Thanks for helping back there, Tara," she whispered into her ear.

"No problem," Tara smiled as she felt Willow's lips on her ear. She lay herself down on the bed, and Willow lay behind her, spooning her body against Tara's. "I love you, Willow," she added with a yawn, as she slowly leaned into Willow's embrace, and drifted to sleep.

"Love you too, Taters," Willow giggled drowsily. The two witches nodded off smiling.

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Two days earlier;

"So, Buffy," the handsome blond had asked her. "You going to be at the Bronze tomorrow night?"

"Yeah, Riley," Buffy sighed as she chatted with Riley at the Espresso Pump over mochas. "Tara's coming back, so Willow and I are going to party with her."

"Tara," Riley repeated dully. He sipped his mocha, and said, "I just thought that you'd want to spend some time with me, now that you're back in the dorms. I'm assuming you're living alone this year."

"No," Buffy answered. "Willow's rooming with me again."

"Oh? I thought that she'd be rooming with Tara." Buffy detected the faintest twinge of vitriol as he said the name of Willow's girlfriend.

"She does hang with her a lot," Buffy said casually, "but seeing as how they're dating, that's to be expected."

"And this doesn't bother you."

Buffy didn't mistake the scorn in his voice that time, and her own outrage started to rise. "Why should the fact that my best friend is happier than she's been for a long time bother me?"

"Oh, I dunno," Riley countered, suddenly feeling defensive against his girlfriend. "Just that she's getting her rocks off with another girl."

"You have a problem with Willow loving another woman?" Buffy's anger threatened to overtake her voice, but she was determined to keep her calm. Reason would win out over emotion.

"Oh, no, no. You wanna hang out with a dyke, that's your business."

Buffy regarded Riley with the same stare she usually employed against vampires she was preparing to stake. "Excuse me, but did you just call my best friend a dyke?"

"Hey, now, look, Buffy," a suddenly scared Riley tried to explain himself. "I didn't mean it like that, I was just--"

Buffy grabbed Riley by the collar of his shirt, saying, "I just asked you a simple yes-or-no question, Riley; Did. You. Just. Call. My. Best. Friend. A. DYKE?"

Riley gulped hard, knowing that there was no escape, and probably no forgiveness for him. And the cold fury in Buffy's eyes chilled him to the core. "Uh, well," he said timidly, "yes. I didn't mean--"

Riley's sentence was interrupted by Buffy's fist landing on his chin, hard enough to draw blood. Riley toppled back in his chair, landing gracelessly on the floor. "Riley Finn, I'm only going to say this once, so you'd better make sure you understand; I never want to see your miserable face again as long as I live. Don't you ever look me up, don't call me, don't run into me on campus, don't ever contact me in any way, form or fashion. If you happen to notice me on campus, make damn sure I don't see you. I want to go through the rest of my life without being reminded of the gutter trash who dared to insult my best friend. No," she added when Riley tried to speak, "I don't want to hear it! Accept that I will never forgive you for what you said about Willow. Don't say a word, just nod once if you understand."

Riley nodded, and Buffy got up from her seat, and looked at the man she once claimed to love. "It's funny, Riley. I can't even work up enough energy to hate you. You're just not worth it. I just don't care enough." She took Riley's mocha, and tipped its contents onto his sprawled body. "Goodbye, Finn," she spat out, before walking out of the Espresso Pump and out of Riley Finn's life.

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Buffy woke up slowly, as the sunlight crept slowly up the length of her body. She squinted as the light hit her eyes, as her head throbbed with the mother of all hangovers. Funny, she thought to herself. I don't remember getting drunk. She chased that line of thought, asking herself what she did remember.

When her memories came to her, she felt a strong desire to bury her head in a pillow, and pray that Willow wasn't in the bed next to hers. She turned hesitantly to the bed, and noticed a body sitting there. But it wasn't Willow. The dirty-blond hair, the slightly different shape of her curves, they weren't Willow. They were...

"Tara?" Buffy asked. Tara smiled at the sound of Buffy's voice, saying, "Good morning, Sleeping Beauty. Good thing it's Sunday, or you'd have missed your first day of classes."

"Wha-what happened? Where's Willow?"

"To answer in reverse order," Tara said, "Willow's on a bagel run. She said you liked the Everything bagels, and she'll surprise us with the others. As for what happened, you crashed after you beat Asmodeus. We used the rejoining spell to empower you, and once the adrenaline conked out, you were disoriented and euphoric."

"Oh, God, I remember. I remember saying I loved the two of you." Buffy then dropped her head in her hands, mortified of her behavior and afraid that she jeopardized her friendships with Willow and Tara.

"Don't worry," Willow said as she entered the dorm with a large brown paper bag. "You were just out of it, we won't hold you responsible for anything. Besides," she grinned mischievously, "you're apparently in love with Willy and Taters. Whoever they are." Buffy smiled as Willow placed the bag on the nearest level surface. "I got three Everything bagels, three pesto, and three of those cranberry nut jobs that you like, Tara. All sliced and freshly toasted. I also got cream cheese," she withdrew three small tubs and a plastic knife. "Garden vegetable, smoked salmon, and apple cinnamon. I'd recommend that last one for the cranberry."

"You are a giver goddess, Willow," Buffy got out of the bed, noticing for the first time that she was wearing the same clothes she wore last night. "Did you guys sleep in the same bed last night?"

"Yeah," Willow said. "We didn't want to leave you alone after you zoned out, so we brought you here, took off your shoes and let you sleep it off. We took the other bed and fell asleep in our street clothes."

"Hey, thanks for getting me here, guys," Buffy said, as she located her purse, which Willow hung from the doorknob. "How much do I owe you for the bagels?"

"This one's on us," Tara insisted. "You saved the world, the least we can do is spring for breakfast."

"Thanks," Buffy said, as she spread some salmon cream cheese over her first bagel and munched down. "So, how did you guys sleep?"

"Oh, not too bad," Tara mused. "B-but I did have this weird dream."

"Hazard of working the Hellmouth," Buffy observed. "Weird dreams are part of the territory. What was it about?"

"Well," Tara recalled, "I was you, I think. I was having a mocha with Riley, and he started talking about me and Willow. He called Willow a dyke, then you--that is, I--decked him, and told him I--I mean, you, never wanted to see him again--"

"Then I poured a mocha on him." Buffy finished.

"Yeah," Tara said, perplexed. "How did you--"

"That's exactly why Riley and I split up for good two days ago," Buffy said, her nerves flaring. Something wasn't right here. "But I never told you guys about it. You described it perfectly."

"Wait, wait," Willow backtracked. "You mean Riley called me a dyke?"

"His exact words," Buffy said ruefully.

Willow's eyes lit up like a Menorah on the last night of Chanukah. "And you dumped him because of what he called me? Wow, I've never had my honor defended like that before!"

"Hey," Buffy countered. "He can pick on me, but nobody picks on my friends. Anyway, he's out of my life, and I don't even miss him."

"Don't worry," Tara consoled Buffy. "He wasn't worth it, if my dream was any indication."

"You're damn right," Buffy agreed. "But I'm worried about your dream. Y'see," she hesitated, then continued. "I had a dream last night too."

"What about?" Willow knew the cold caste that formed on Buffy's face. Something was happening.

"I was in a crypt," Buffy began. "I saw Oz, he was naked, and there was someone else there. I didn't quite recognize her--"

"Veruca," Willow whispered. "You dreamed about Oz and Veruca?"

"Yeah, sorry," Buffy admitted. "And the weird part, I was you, Wills. I knew I was you, and I knew that Oz had slept with Veruca. Hey, I'm sorry if I'm dredging up something you wanted to forget--"

"No, it's all right," Willow said, "he's in the past. And I had a bizarre dream too." As Buffy and Tara turned to her, she continued; "I was walking through this school hallway," she started, as more of the dream became clear to her memory. "Someone named Simone had been expelled, that much I knew when the dream started,--"

"Simone DaCosta?" Tara asked.

"Yeah, that was her." Willow looked at her. "You knew her?"

"Yeah," Tara said bitterly. "She's the first girl I ever kissed. Senior year in high school. The principal caught us behind the bleachers, and expelled her. My folks were able to keep me in school, but word got out--"

"And everyone steered clear of you," Willow finished. "That was in my dream. Two quarterback punks started to lob rocks at me--"

"Bobby Jacks and Hector Garcia," Tara supplied the names.

"Oh, dear Goddess," Willow breathed, "I didn't know you went through that. No wonder you took so long to open up to me." She rushed over to the bed where Tara was sitting, and draped her arms around her love's shoulders. "I'm so sorry, Tara."

"It's okay, Willow," Tara soothed her beloved. "I have you, now, and Buffy. I'm all right."

"But this is too weird," Willow stated after disengaging the hug. "I dreamed I was you, Tara. You dreamed you were Buffy, and you, Buffy, you dreamed you were me. What's happening?"

Buffy looked at her two friends long and intently. She could practically feel their fear, their confusion as well as her own. She rolled it around in her mind, until she had an idea.

She opened her foot locker, and pulled out a throwing knife. "Willow," she handed the knife to Willow. "Last night, you demonstrated Slayer's skill with that dagger. Can you hit the dartboard from thirty paces?"

"I'll try," said Willow, as she marked off thirty paces from the dartboard Buffy had hung on the front door. She looked at the target, took aim, and threw the dagger.

The tip imbedded itself dead center.

Buffy examined the dagger in the dartboard, her suspicions confirmed. She stood before Willow and Tara, and made an announcement that stunned the two wiccans, especially when they realized that it was the only explanation;

"Ladies, we're still enjoined."

Chapter 2
Questions But No Answers

Darkened rolling figures move
Thru' prisms of no color.
Hand in hand, they walk the night,
But never know each other.
Passioned pastel neon lights
Light up the jeweled trav'ler
Who, lost in scenes of smoke filled dreams,
Find questions, but no answers.

--Michael Nesmith (The Monkees)
"Daily Nightly"

Three lone figures met together at midnight in Shepherd's Meadow. The undeveloped lot, a strong nexus for benevolent magical forces, had often been used for wiccan celebrations, and other sacred rites. The three women who came to the meadow were in search for answers. Something had happened to them two weeks ago, something that bound them mentally and emotionally.

Ever since their battle with Asmodeus, when Willow and Tara used something called an enjoining spell to lend their strength to Buffy, the three women were bonded. When Willow had used the spell before, its effects were temporary. But backed by two witches instead of one, the spell seemed more permanent. Two weeks later, and the spell's effects were still being felt.

Three days after the spell was cast, Buffy found herself thinking constantly of Willow and Tara. It was as though she physically needed to see them, or hear from them. When they met later for lunch, the two young witches admitted that they felt the same for Buffy. When they were within sight of each other, the need was alleviated for a while. Over time, this need faded, but there was still the sense of pleasure when they were together. Buffy didn't entirely understand this; Willow and Tara were romantically involved, and Buffy had been secretly attracted to Willow, but this new sense of being more at peace when they were together was unsettling.

Furthermore, Buffy started to notice changes in her abilities. As the Slayer, she possessed greater strength, stamina and reflexes. Now, she seemed to have a greater affinity to magic, something she had never demonstrated before. Three nights ago, she fought against a small horde of newbie vampires, and found that by concentrating, she could immobilize them with a thought. This made slaying them easier, but it still disturbed her.

But the empathic bond, that was the final straw. Faith had once asked Buffy, "You ever notice how slaying makes you hungry and horny?" Buffy never liked to admit this to others, but she felt that as well. Under normal circumstances, she could control her passions, but this night was different.

After the rush of dispatching the vampires last night, she felt that familiar arousal. She thought that she could walk it off on her way back to the dorm. But once she was back on her bed, getting ready for sleep, the arousal grew more insistent. The sensitivity in her breasts became unbearable, the heat between her thighs demanded her attention. She started to caress herself, slowly at first, then with increasing pressure and passion until she finally climaxed. Fortunately Willow was at Tara's that evening, so she wasn't disturbing anyone. She chuckled ruefully at the realization that she derived more satisfaction from her own hands than from any of her experiences with her ex-boyfriend Riley.

The next day, she ran into Willow and Tara, both smiling conspiratorial smiles. "Okay girls," Buffy raised an eyebrow in their direction. "What's the what?"

"Well," Tara breathed happily, "we finally did it."

"It?"

"It," Willow added. "The big 'It'."

"Oh," Buffy said, comprehending. "That 'it'. So, how was 'it'?"

"I think we're still in afterglow," Willow said dreamily. "I don't know what happened last night. We were watching 'The Princess Bride', when suddenly, I felt very warm."

"Then I felt it too," Tara laughed, "then one thing led to another, then--"

"I get it," Buffy answered, "spare me the details. But wait a minute," she said suddenly, thinking back to last night. "When did this start."

Willow tried to remember; "Lessee, it was about when Buttercup was about to be attacked by the Shrieking Eels, so, about ten-ish?"

"That's when I finished my patrol," Buffy said, half to herself. She slumped in her chair, a worried look on her face. "Hooboy."

Tara looked at Buffy's concerned expression, and asked, "What is it?"

"Guys, this bond is getting stronger. Sometimes, after patrol, especially after I get a heavy workout, I get, well--"

"Hungry and horny?" Willow grinned.

"Yeah," Buffy said, blushing slightly. "Well, that happened to me last night. Usually it goes away once I get back to the dorm, but last night it just got stronger, until I had to do something."

"You mean you--" Tara couldn't finish the sentence. Buffy said nothing, she only nodded. "And you think your arousal spread to us?"

"And once you two got into it, it hit me back even stronger," Buffy finished. "The other day, Willow, you noticed that you could feel my frustration? I think that we're now picking up each other's emotions."

"Empathy," Tara stated. "Wow."

"Yeah, and I want to know why," Buffy decided. "Too bad Giles is visiting some friends in London. He'd have some ideas."

"Maybe we can find a higher source," Willow suggested. "The full moon is in two days, I think we should perform a petitioning ritual."

"A petitioning ritual?" Buffy asked.

"We have the ritual in one of your books, right, Tara?" Willow turned to her lover, who nodded. "Yeah, I know which one. The Plea to the Fates."

"You saying that these Fates will have the answer?"

"Not in and of themselves," Willow consoled Buffy, "but they can help us to find it ourselves. Buffy, we're walking uncharted ground with this enjoining. We need to know what is happening to us."

"Yeah," Buffy admitted. "I don't think that you two want me to know when you're making love every time. About which, by the way, I am extremely sorry. I feel like a voyeur."

"I feel like a voyeur too," Willow chirped. "Know where we can get one?" Tara, who was sipping a mocha at the time, suddenly found herself laughing so hard that her mocha was coming out of her nose. Willow leaned her head toward Buffy's ear and stage-whispered, "I just love to do that to her."

"You are one wicked witch, Wills," Buffy announced. "Okay, I have class in fifteen minutes. How about we meet in my dorm at three, and you can brief me on this spell then."

"Okay," Willow and Tara chorused in unison. The three women left for their separate classes, hoping that once they met later, they could start finding answers.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

The night of the full moon, they were ready.

They met at Shepherd's Meadow, to begin the Plea to the Fates. "Welcome, and merry meet," Tara greeted Willow and Buffy. She kissed Willow on both cheeks, then kissed Buffy the same. Buffy, knowing it was expected of her, turned to Willow and kissed her cheeks as well. The three women then linked their hands, standing in a close ring.

"Whenever you are in need of anything," Tara chanted, and Willow joined in, "once in each month, and better to do it when the moon is full, then shall you assemble in some secret place. To these shall I teach things that are yet unknown, and you shall be free from all slavery. So mote it be."

Buffy nodded when they were finished with their chant. "Okay, Tara. It's your show."

"First, let's make sure we have our supplies. Did you each bring some salt?"

"Right here," Willow said as she and Buffy held up salt shakers. Tara smiled, producing a small pill bottle full of rock salt. She nodded as she looked at the others' contributions; they would be satisfactory for their purpose.

"Water?"

Willow held up an old wineskin, while Buffy and Tara brought out bottles of Evian.

"Candles?"

The three women brought out small votive candles, and Willow added, "I also brought some matches to light them." She showed a matchbox to the others.

"Thanks, Willow," Tara smiled at the red-head. She then produced a compass from her duffel bag, and placed it gently on the ground before them. She looked at the needle as it settled in one spot. She pointed in the direction of the needle, saying, "That's north." She paced ten steps from the compass, and took her salt in her hand. She emptied the salt onto the ground, and Willow and Buffy followed suit, pouring salt onto the ground in front of them. "Guardians of the Watchtower of the North," Tara chanted, "We bring salt, from the Earth. We ask that you bless us in this endeavor."

They returned to the compass and took ten steps due east. As per the incantation's instructions, the three women took a deep breath, and exhaled at the ground in front of them. "Guardians of the Watchtower of the East, we bring our breath, our Air. We ask that you bless us in this endeavor."

At the south point of the circle, they each placed their candle on the ground, and lit each wick. "Guardians of the Watchtower of the South, we bring candles, carriers of Fire. We ask that you bless us in this endeavor."

Finally, at the eastern point, they each poured water on the ground. "Guardians of the Watchtower of the West, we bring Water. We ask that you bless us in this endeavor."

Buffy performed the ritual as directed earlier by Willow and Tara. It was a simple ritual; each of the compass points were governed by a specific Guardian, and each responded to one of the four ancient elements. North to Earth, South to Fire, East to Air, West to Water. By presenting each guardian with its representative offering, they believed that the Guardians would grant their petition.

They then returned to the center of this enchanted circle they had created. Tara, fighting the tremors that accompanied such an arduous spell, spoke in a clear voice;

"Guardians, accept our offerings, and grant us our boon.
We seek to know why our fates are entwined.
We seek an audience with the Fates,
With Clothos, the spinner of lives,
With Lachesis, who weaves our lives into the tapestry of existence,
With Atropos, who cuts the thread at the end of life.
We ask their counsel and guidance.
So mote it be!"

The three women stood, hands linked, as Tara finished the incantation. Suddenly, all light fled from their sight, and they were plunged into utter darkness. Their eyes strained to grow accustomed to the dark, when a bright, concentrated beam like a searchlight, stabbed through the darkness at them. They squinted involuntarily, but soon their eyes adapted.

"Who asks to see their fates?" A spectral voice intoned.

"W-we do," Tara answered. Tara, Willow and Buffy looked around to see the speaker, but no other figure was visible to them. "We need to know how we are bound together?"

"Do you wish to see the threads of your lives?" A pair of enormous hands appeared before them. Long, spindly fingers moved spiderlike, describing intricate patterns. As they moved, Buffy noticed that something was draped across their fingers. A string looped gracefully between the hands, like an impossible complex Cat's Cradle. The hands worked the loop across back and forth, creating ever more esoteric designs. At one point, Buffy thought that the loops formed an image like three stick figures holding hands. A sign of the three of them, Buffy thought. Or else the Fates were really big on 'The Blair Witch Project'.

"Behold, champions of the Light," the voice boomed. Buffy noticed by now that it was not one voice, but three speaking in unison. As the voices spoke, the hands moved directly over them, and the string draped around them. "Look upon the threads of your lives. Know why you are bound." Buffy touched the string, and looked closely at it.

It was not a single string, but three, braided tightly together. One red string(she guessed that this meant Willow), plaited with two yellow strings (Tara and herself). Buffy held the string with both hands---

And was suddenly sitting in a rec room on the campus of U.C. Sunnydale. Willow was sitting next to her, a look of stark fear in her features. Buffy opened her mouth to speak but no sound came out. Suddenly, a hideous presence stalked them from outside. Buffy realized without seeing them who they were; the Gentlemen, those bizarre silent monsters who stole the voices of Sunnydale. She instinctively touched Willow's hand, and somehow, sensed what she had to do. Together, they concentrated, and a vending machine was thrown in front of the door, blocking the Gentlemen from getting in.

Buffy realized that she was living Tara's memories. She witnessed moments from Tara's childhood, how her mother first told her of her heritage as a Wiccan, how she feared her parents' ire when she realized that she was attracted to women, when she first met and lost her heart to Willow. When she saw the look in Willow's eyes whenever she spoke about Buffy.

How that look would fill Tara with sadness, even though she was confidant of Willow's love.

And how Tara found herself looking longingly at Buffy.

She opened her eyes, and found herself back in the circle, watching the other two looking back at her. She gulped hard, as their expressions betrayed shock and dismay. "Guys?" Buffy asked, "did any of you just see the Gentlemen?"

"No," Tara said, "but I can guess what you saw. You saw the Gentlemen from our point of view?"

"Yeah," Buffy said. "Well, yours anyway, Tara."

Tara nodded. "I saw through Willow's eyes," she admitted. "From Halloween, last year. When you faced the Fear God, and the two of you fought? I could feel your anger, Willow. Your sorrow, your fear of losing Buffy's friendship and love."

"Yes," Willow added. "I saw from her eyes as well. When I first told you, Buffy, about Tara." She shivered as she spoke, realization slowly dawning on her face. "When you and Xander confronted me, when I accused you guys of not being able to accept Tara as my girlfriend. I thought that it was just because I was with a girl, but now..." She glanced at Tara, who nodded.

Willow then took Buffy's hands in her own, and asked, "How long have you been in love with me?"

Buffy gulped. She wanted to lie, to hide, but she couldn't hide, not with these two. "Can't you tell," she snapped at them. "I mean, we're swapping memories, I thought you could read my mind as well!"

"No, Buffy," Willow answered calmly. "Just your emotions. But I still need to know, Buffy. How long have you loved me?"

"From the first day I met you, Willow," Buffy answered. "And that doesn't mean loving you as in being a friend. That means being hopelessly in love with you, wanting to touch you, to make love to you, to simply be around you, the whole chimichanga. But you have Tara now, I'm not going to get involved with that, I can't take you away from her, I love her too much--"

Tara looked at Buffy, silently, knowingly. "I know." Willow nodded as Tara spoke.

Buffy just looked at the two of them incredulously. She prayed that Tara misunderstood her, but feared that she didn't. She jerked her hands away from Willow's and said, "Look, Willow, Tara, this isn't going to work. I'm sorry, but I don't know what the hell I'm thinking or feeling, I'm in love with two women who are in love with each other, I have no idea how that happened, I'm sorry, but I screwed this up big-time!" Turning to walk away, she said, "I need to get away for a few hours. To figure stuff out. I don't know when I'll be back, Willow, don't bother waiting up." She ran off, away from the witches.

Willow considered reaching out to stop Buffy from running, but Tara stopped her. "Let her burn off her anguish, Willow," Tara consoled her beloved. "You can feel her pain from here, her torment. She thinks somehow that she betrayed us, when we know better."

"Yeah, but how can we help her see that?" Willow lamented. "I love her so much, Tara. I love you both. Is that wrong?"

"No, Willow," Tara smiled. "If we are bound together for the long haul, as the vision indicated, it isn't wrong at all. Besides, she can feel our emotions as well. Let her feel our calm, our concern, our love for her. She'll calm down, then we can speak to her."

"Our love," Willow pondered. She should have been shocked to hear this from Tara, but somehow, once she thought about it, it just seemed right. "C'mon, Tara," Willow took her hand and moved forward, in the direction Buffy went, "we'll be there when she cools down."

The two wiccans knew that their lives from this moment were never going to be the same. And that didn't scare them.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

"Damn, damn, DAMN!" Buffy cursed herself as she stormed toward Whetherly Park. She hoped that there'd be some vampires in the vicinity, she needed to work off her anger, and some undead punching bags would be ideal for the purpose.

She knew that she had done possibly irreparable damage to her friendship with Willow. How could she love her, especially after that performance she just gave? She had Tara, they were good together, how did Buffy have the right to interfere?

And how could she feel as attracted to Tara at the same time?

"Great, Buffy," she swore to herself. "Fall in love with two women you can't have, because they're involved with each other." She allowed her self-recrimination to fester inside of her soul, until she wanted to lash out at anything that moved. Realizing that she was a potential walking time-bomb, she tried to calm herself. She tried to ignore her self-hatred. She tried to center herself, to calm herself down.

"Hey, Buffy," an all-too familiar voice greeted her. She spun around, to see Riley Finn step out from behind a tree.

"I thought I told you I never wanted to see you again," Buffy growled, adopting a defensive stance. Something felt wrong about Riley. Something nasty--

"Hey, Buffy," the ex-soldier smiled at her. "I think that we have something worth salvaging. I want us to work."

"We don't work, asswipe," Buffy glowered at her former boyfriend. "There is nothing about you that I would salvage. I want you out of my life, Riley. Go!"

Riley suddenly grabbed Buffy by the arm, forcing Buffy to fight him. "Do I gotta get a restraining order? 'Cause I'll do it! It's over between us!"

"Y'see, that's where you're wrong," Riley snarled at Buffy, his face contorting into features Buffy saw all too often. The enlarged brow, the feral glow of the eyes, the fangs. Riley had been Turned.

"It's not over between us, Buffy," Riley continued, as Buffy managed to free her arm from his grip. "I've changed. And once I show you how much I've changed, I'm sure you'll agree that it's for the better." Riley stalked toward Buffy, grinning a feral grin. "You're going to make an incredible vampire, lover."

As Vamp-Riley stalked closer to Buffy, she let out an exasperated sigh, and muttered to herself, "The end of a perfect day!"

Chapter 3
Closer To Fine

"I went to the doctor,
I went to the mountains,
I looked at the children,
I drank from the fountains.
There's more than one answer to these questions,
Pointing me in a crooked line.
And the less I seek a source for some definitive,
The closer I am to fine."

--Indigo Girls
"Closer To Fine"

"Get your--" Scissor kick to the head. "--slimy paws--" Jab to the kidneys. "--off me!" Uppercut to the jaw. Buffy nodded with grim satisfaction as the monster that bore the face of a man she once loved fell hard on the sidewalk. No, not love, she mentally corrected herself, lust. No, not even that, just hiding from my feelings for Willow. She ended that line of thought quickly; she didn't have time to deal with it. First, she had to eliminate this newbie vampire who, just two days ago, was a man named Riley Finn.

"Yeah, baby," Finn taunted her. "How did you know I like it rough?"

"Just lie still and die, monster," Buffy growled, reaching for a nearby sign, advertising some mayoral candidate. Ripping the signpost off the sign, she brandished it as a makeshift stake.

"Now, y'see," Riley smiled, showing his needle-tipped canine teeth, "I'm hurt. After all I did to become what you always wanted, what turns you on in a man."

"You mean--" Buffy could feel her jaw drop, imagining that she looked like Wile E. Coyote after watching the Road Runner shift into third and leave him in the dust. "You wanted to become a vampire? Man, you're even dumber than I thought!"

"Hey," Riley shrugged his shoulders, "What can I say? You clearly wanted that Pretty Boy from L. A., I finally figured it out! Buffy, the Vampire Layer!" Riley started to laugh viciously at his crass joke.

His laughter stopped when Buffy rammed her fist into his left eye, sending him flying again. "Riley, get a clue! I would never take you back if we were the last two people on Earth!"

"And after all the work I did to make him the man he is today--" Buffy heard the all-too familiar voice behind her. She spun on her heel, ignoring the injured vampire behind her, and found herself looking into the face of insanity. The dark red-brown hair, the glassy eyes devoid of reason, the child-like expression of her mouth and chin. A facade of innocence, hiding a devious, deranged mind.

"Drusilla," Buffy identified her nemesis. "You Turned him?"

"He wanted me to, didn't he, Miss Edith?" she happily cooed, talking to the rag doll she constantly carried with her. "How could I resist such a sweet face?"

"Man, talk about one egg roll short of a combo platter," Buffy muttered as she adapted a compact crouching stance, preparing to strike at Drusilla. Before she could attack, however, she was blindsided by Riley. Damn, she cursed herself. What the hell am I thinking? She knew her problem, she was distracted by her recent revelations at Shepherd's Meadow. The love, the passion, she felt for both her best friend Willow, and Willow's lover Tara. And that distraction may have cost her life.

"Nobody makes a move against my Sire," Riley glared at the felled Slayer.

Drusilla clapped her hands with glee. "Do it some more, do it some more!" she shrieked, reminding Buffy of a vampire cheerleader.

"Go to hell, both of you!" Buffy gritted her teeth as she tried to stand. "I will never join you!"

Riley laughed acidly. "I don't recall offering you a choice in the matter, Buffy." He grabbed the disoriented Slayer by the neck, and pinned her to a tree. "Just relax, Buffy. It'll be all over in a minute. I take from you, you take from me, then we'll be together forever!" He leaned in toward Buffy's carotid artery and allowed his fangs to puncture her skin. Drusilla laughed merrily as Riley started to drink.

"BACK OFF!" a voice shouted, causing Riley and Drusilla to turn their heads. Willow and Tara stood before them, each carrying a dead stick of wood. Willow lunged at Drusilla, clipping her throat with the stick, and landed catlike on her feet, before she had the time to wonder how she pulled it off. Tara took the lead from there, grabbing Riley under his ribcage and tossing him like a sack of wheat away from Buffy. Willow dove toward Riley, and plunged the stick she was carrying into his chest. He howled with rage for a second, then dissolved into ash.

"We have to go, Miss Edith," purred Drusilla, clutching her doll to her. The psychotic vampire fled the scene, disappearing into the dark between the too-widely spaced lampposts that lined the street.

Tara started to run after her, but Willow stopped her. "No, Tara. Buffy's in trouble." Tara rejoined Willow, who knelt beside the fallen Slayer. "Riley was going to turn her," she stammered, her grief a palpable force within her, "and he started to drink--" Willow couldn't say anymore, and she didn't need to; Tara could see what was wrong. Two holes in Buffy's neck, the blood seeping out, bright and crimson, and too fast for Willow and Tara to staunch easily.

"You told me that B-Buffy heals faster than m-most," Tara said nervously.

"Normally," Willow lamented, as she pressed her hand to Buffy's neck, hoping to stop the blood from exiting her wounds. "But she's lost so much blood already, I don't know if she can--"

Tara scooted around, and cradled Buffy's head in her lap. "We can help her, Willow. Keep her warm, keep her safe," Tara said, feeling the same anguish that Willow felt at the prospect of losing Buffy. She innately knew without knowing why, that she now felt as strongly about Buffy as she felt about Willow. She loved both of these women as deeply as she had ever loved anyone. And somehow, she knew that Willow both returned that love, and shared their own love for each other. And now, that knowledge gave her hope. She looked at Buffy's neck and suddenly saw that hope validated.

"I should call 9-1-1," Willow offered, but Tara hushed her gently. "No, Willow. We don't need to." Willow looked at Tara, stunned that she could suddenly be so calm, but Tara still held Buffy's head gently in her lap, and smiled at Willow. "The three of us, Willow. The bond we share. The love we share. We're helping her already. Look." Willow glanced at the puncture wounds on Buffy's neck, and noticed that they were already smaller, the blood flow had stopped. Willow had observed Buffy's body healing before; she had seen Buffy walk into their dorm with a nasty gash on her arm one night, and waking up the next morning she saw that the gash had closed completely, with only the slightest scarring. But seeing the punctures literally shrink and close before her eyes-- she looked at Tara again, saw the sly knowledge in her eyes, and suddenly knew.

Buffy, Willow and Tara had performed a ritual that would allow them to ask the Fates why they were bonded together after Willow's enjoining spell should have worn off. The Fates showed them a single cord, braided from three threads, the threads of their lives. Now they understood; their threads were interwoven together, into one single whole, a cord that was stronger than the three threads individually. And by this bond, they could lend their strength to each other as needed. Even without willing it, apparently.

Willow nearly wept with relief, as her best friend began to heal her wounds. "She'll be okay now," Tara assured her. "All we can do is be there for her when she comes to."

"And we will be there for her," Willow agreed, her words were a vow. "Always."

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

She floated in a void. No land, no sky, just emptiness. She had no idea which way was up, and trying to stand when there was no surface for her feet to land on was pointless. She had a vague idea who she was, but little details like her name escaped her.

She drifted, her thoughts hazy and indistinct. She recalled seeing someone whom she loved, now someone she hated. She recalled how he had changed, become evil, become--

Vampire.

She bolted upright, if only in relation to the rest of her body. Vampire. Enemy. Slayer. She was the Slayer, the memory coalesced in her mind with crystal clarity. She was the Slayer, the Chosen One--

Buffy.

She knew what happened now. Riley Finn, the man she foolishly thought could make her forget her feelings for Willow, had become a vampire, and tried to Turn her. Had he succeeded? She was floating in some unknown space, was this her soul wrenched from her body? Was she dead?

She heard sounds around her. Calling to her, entreating her. She pivoted slowly, toward the voices. The voices were exotic and familiar at the same time, inviting her to an unknown country, while simultaneously summoning her home.

"Buffy, come to us," the sweet birdsong voice of Willow called to her. She craned her neck to see her friend. Willow hovered in front of her, her naked body bending toward her, her hand outstretched. Next to Willow, Tara was likewise denuded, and neither girl seemed ashamed or self-conscious about their state of undress. A cursory glance at her own body revealed that Buffy was also naked.

Willow held Tara's body next to her with her left arm, while beckoning to Buffy with her right. Tara held her free arm out to Buffy as well. "Come back to us, Buffy," Tara joined her lover in welcoming Buffy. "We are not complete without you."

"We need you back, Buffy," Willow smiled warmly. "We love you."

Buffy felt her breath catch in her throat as Willow declared her love for Buffy. Tara smiled at Willow's declaration, and nodded in agreement. "We do love you, Buffy," Tara whispered. "Come to us. Join us. Love us."

Love us. They were offering her the love they shared with each other, the hearts they had already joined, asking her to bring them her heart as well. She was humbled by their offer, and knew of only one response.

"Yes," she breathed, taking both offered hands into her own. "I love you. I love you both."

Willow and Tara pulled Buffy toward them, and as her skin contacted with theirs in a passionate three-person embrace, currents of electricity fired along every nerve ending in her flesh. Just the knowledge of their love, and their desire to share with her, was enough to send her dizzily into sheer bliss. It was both the most erotic experience she ever felt, and the most holy.

Here, amid her two true loves, she had come home.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

"She's coming 'round," Willow said excitedly. Tara nodded happily as Buffy started to shake her head in Tara's lap. Her eyes suddenly snapped open, and she took in her surroundings. She felt her head rest on something soft and warm, and as she took in Tara's face she realized what she was resting on.

"Hi, Tara," she murmured dreamily. Tara shifted slightly, and Buffy smiled. "Oh, don't mind me, Tara. I'm just admiring the view." She could see Tara's head, upside-down above her, looking over her bosom at Buffy. Tara blushed slightly at the compliment.

"Buffy," Willow's voice snapped Buffy back to the here and now. "Are you okay? Can you stand?"

"I'll try," Buffy answered, as she slowly lifted her head from the pillow of Tara's lap. Tara and Willow helped Buffy steady herself as she attempted to stand erect. She tested the strength of her legs, and decided that she could stand without further assist. She started to walk, slowly, shaking off the last of the wooziness that she felt from Riley's attack.

"Willow," she said suddenly as she recalled Riley. "You two okay? What happened to Riley and Drusilla?"

"Dru got away, Buffy," Willow reported sadly. "It was 'chase her' or 'make sure you were okay', so we chose the latter."

"I'm glad you did, Wills," Buffy smiled. "We'll find her later, don't worry. And Riley?"

"Oh, he's dust-buster chow," Tara said animatedly. "You should have seen Willow, Buffy. She dropped him like she was Jet Li."

"Hey, you weren't exactly a slouch yourself, Tara," Willow answered. "I'm sorry about Riley, Buffy. I didn't think he'd let his guard down long enough to get Turned."

"It's not like that," Buffy said grimly. "He went to Drusilla. He asked her to Turn him. He thought that if he were a vampire, like Angel, I'd want to be his girlfriend again."

Willow whistled softly. "Wow. Dumber than advertised."

"Yeah, don't remind me," Buffy groaned. "I dated the idiot!" Shaking her head to exorcise the memory of what Riley tried to do to her, Buffy continued, "But what about the two of you taking out vamps like that? You two dropped Riley all by your lonesome, and from what I gather you didn't even use your hoojoo on him."

"I guess we're sharing our skills as well as our memories, Buffy," Tara suggested. "You said you were able to immobilize a group of vampires the other night."

"You're right, Tara. I guess I have your magic as well as my Slayer-ness now."

"And a little of your fighting skill's rubbing off on us," Willow mused. "Cool."

Buffy said nothing, she just stared long at Willow. The redhead stood next to Tara, her hand resting on the blond witch's shoulder. Buffy took in the sight of these two women, both beautiful in their own unique way. "God I love you two," she whispered.

"We know," Tara smiled. "And we love you too." Willow nodded slowly, as she walked toward Buffy, and reached out her hand to caress the Slayer's neck, where the bite-marks had faded to mere indentations.

"And this doesn't bother you, Wills?" Buffy had to ask Willow. There was the rub. Willow and Tara had a loving and passionate relationship before the three of them were bonded. As much as she loved them, and as sure as she was of their love for her, Buffy still felt like an interloper on their happiness.

Willow looked at Buffy, her smile tinged with sadness. "Buffy, you were the one who saw me at Sunnydale High School, and saw someone other than the class computer nerd. You brought me out of my shell, you told me I was beautiful so many times I had no choice but to believe you. I have loved you from the first time I saw you, Buffy. I just hid those emotions for so many reasons, my faith, fear of losing your friendship, your love for Angel, my love for Oz. You showed me the door, Tara invited me to step outside. However much I love Tara, and I do, I will always love you as much. Our bond didn't create my love for you, it just clarified it."

"And how can I not love Willow," Tara confessed, "without loving you as well, Buffy? The two of you together, your bond goes beyond any friendship, or even any ordinary love. When Willow says she loves me, I know that she still loves you as well. You are responsible for the woman I love, and I love you too, for the gift of Willow, and for your own self."

"And I love you, Tara," Buffy answered, "for loving Willow when I was too busy with the Initiative, with Riley and all that crap. For making her happy when I should have been there for her. For giving her someone to fall in love with when Oz left her. Willow is my heart, and you made my heart happy." Tears welled in her eyes as she finished. "Is this possible, for us to love each other like this, no jealousy, no regrets? 'Cause that's all I want. To love you two, to make love with you two, to be with you. Can we really do that?"

Willow smiled, as she took Tara's hand in her own. "Buffy, I want to show you something, both of you." She offered her free hand to Buffy, who took it without reservation. "Close your eyes," Willow said in a soothing voice. Buffy and Tara did as they were told, and--

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Tara was sitting on the lawn outside of Sunnydale High School, as Willow chatted happily about her college plans.

"Must be tough," Willow said, "I mean, here I am, I can do anything I want. I can go to any college in the country, four or five in Europe if I want."

"Please tell me you're going somewhere with this?" Tara lamented.

"No. I'm not going anywhere." Willow flashed an acceptance letter in front of Tara's eyes.

"UC Sunnydale?" Tara asked incredulously.

"I will be matriculating with Class of 2003."

"Are you serious?"

Willow beamed happily. "Say, isn't that where you're going?"

"I can't believe it! Are you serious?" Tara cried as she embraced Willow. She cut off the embrace suddenly. "Ah, wait, what am I saying? You can't."

Willow looked at Tara, puzzled. "What do you mean, I can't?"

"I won't let you."

Willow suddenly looked a trifle offended. "Of the two people here, which is the boss of me?"

"There are better schools," Tara argued.

"Sunnydale's not bad," Willow insisted. "A-And I can design my own curriculum."

"Okay, well, there are safer schools. There are safer prisons. I can't let you stay because of me."

"Actually, this isn't about you," Willow countered. "Although I'm fond, don't get me wrong, of you. The other night, you know, being captured and all, facing off with Faith. Things just, kind of, got clear. I mean, you've been fighting evil here for three years, and I've helped some, and now

we're supposed to decide what we want to do with our lives. And I just realized that that's what I want to do. Fight evil, help people. I mean, I-I think it's worth doing. And I don't think you do it because you have to. It's a good fight, Buffy, and I want in."

Tara realized that she was living one of Buffy's memories, one where she and Willow shared their dreams, their plans. Tara saw into Buffy's heart on the day when Buffy realized who she truly loved. There was only one thing left to say;

"I kind of love you."

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Buffy sat alone in a darkened dorm room. She was alone in her dark thoughts, thoughts that she had let go of the most important person in her universe. Her heart, her soul, her--

A knock at the door sent her to her feet. She turned to answer the door.

Willow stood before her, her face radiant. She carried with her a large squat candle. Buffy was surprised to see her; she had expected Willow to be with Oz.

"No candle?" she asked, smiling. "I brought you one. It's extra flamey."

The two women stared at each other, an awkward silence growing between them. Willow broke the silence; "Tara, I have to tell you. . ."

"No, I understand," Buffy answered, as she realized that she was cast as Tara in the young witch's most treasured memory. "You have to be with the person you love."

"I am," Willow said simply.

"You mean?" Buffy blinked in surprise, in absolute joy as Willow voiced her decision.

"I mean. Okay?" Willow's smile was incandescent.

"Oh, yes." Buffy matched her smile as she blew out the candle.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Buffy and Tara stood before each other, silent in reverence to what they had shared, through Willow.

Willow had allowed them each to see into the other's mind, to recall with absolute clarity a moment from each other's past. Buffy had seen the moment when Willow pledged her love to Tara, and Tara was witness to Willow's decision to follow Buffy down her dangerous path.

"I had no idea," Buffy said to Tara, the tears streaming freely down her cheeks, "how much you two love each other."

"As deeply as you love her, Buffy," Tara answered. Her face was flushed, and so close to Buffy's. She leaned in forward, meeting Buffy's lips in a kiss. They kissed deeply, tasting each other, sensing their passions. As they broke away, they turned to Willow, who watched this tableau unfold, without jealousy, without fear of losing either of these two loves.

"Tara's right, Willow," Buffy felt she had to make the offer to bow out, out of respect to Willow, one last time. "You should be with the one you love."

Willow smiled warmly, with the slightest hint of a growing hunger. "I am, Buffy," she said as she claimed Tara's lips for a brief but hot kiss. Breaking off the kiss, she stepped toward Buffy, and added, "Both of them."

Buffy had dreamed of what Willow's lips would be like, and the reality far exceeded her wildest fantasies. Warm and sweet, gentle and at the same time, insistent. The fact that Tara was with them, holding them both in her arms as they kissed, just stoked the fire of Buffy's passion. Tara leaned in to the other women, and soon they had achieved a clumsy yet pleasurable three-way kiss. Buffy reflected that they would have to work out the mechanics of all three of them kissing at the same time, and smiled at the thought of how much fun it would be to experiment.

Finally, oxygen became an issue, and the three lovers disengaged the kiss, but still remained close. Buffy looked longingly into the eyes of the other two women, and breathed, "I don't want to be alone tonight."

Willow grinned mischievously. "I don't think we were considering that option, were we, Tara?"

Tara nodded her head enthusiastically. "You're a part of us now, Buffy. What better way to acknowledge that, than for us to make love?"

Buffy was aware of the goofy grin plastered on her face, but didn't care. "Who's dorm is closer?" she asked quickly.

"We'll go to our dorm, Buffy," Willow offered. "We can move our beds together. Besides, Tara and I left Kitty Fantastico in our dorm, we'd better go back and feed her."

"I think we should get some food for ourselves," Tara suggested. "After all, we don't want our energy reserves to conk out at the last minute, do we?"

Willow and Buffy grinned evilly at Tara, and the three of them headed off, arm in arm, to the dorm room.

It was going to be a night to remember.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Chapter 4
Head Over Feet

"I had no choice, but to hear you.
You've stated your case time and again.
I've thought about it.
You treat me like I'm a princess.
I'm not used to liking it.
You ask how my day was.
You've already won me over,
In spite of me,
Don't be alarmed if I've fallen
Head over feet,
Don't be surprised if I love you
For all that you are.
I couldn't help it,
It's all your fault."

--Alanis Morissette
"Head Over Feet"

"Hey, guys, a little help here," Buffy teased as she fumbled in her purse for her dorm key. She found the task slightly more difficult because of the Chinese take out boxes she was balancing with one hand while she fished through her purse with the other. "Tara, would you please take the stir-fried beef off my hands before it lands on the floor?"

"Right, Buffy," Tara gingerly removed the top box from Buffy's arm, smirking slightly at the spectacle of Buffy trying to find her key one-handed.

Willow gently pushed past Buffy, smiling as she produced her own dorm key. Buffy glared at her, asking, "Why didn't you volunteer that before?"

"Mainly for the entertainment value," Willow grinned puckishly. Tara struggled to maintain a straight face, but finally abandoned her efforts in a burst of laughter.

"Oh, sure," Buffy scowled in false gravity. "Take her side. You know what I'm gonna do to you two tonight?"

"No," Tara chimed in as she placed her load of take-out boxes on a nearby desk, "but we can hope." With those words, she slipped behind Buffy, wrapped her arms around the Slayer's waist, and started to kiss the back of her neck. Buffy leaned back, thoroughly enjoying this treatment.

Willow watched the two of them for a second, before pursing her lips in a wolf-whistle. "Hey, guys," she teased her loves, "let's come up for air, shall we?" She looked around the room, and asked, "Hey, Tara, have you seen Miss Kitty Fantastico?"

Tara glanced at Buffy's bed, and smiled. "There she is," Tara announced, "and she's made a new friend." Buffy looked at her bed, and grinned when saw a small black kitten curled up next to Mr. Gordo. Willow nodded at the sight, and went to the mini-fridge. Pulling out a carton of milk, she poured some milk in a small dish, and set it on the floor. Tara went to the bed, and nudged Miss Kitty from her sleep. The kitten yawned and stretched, jumped off the bed and scampered to the milk. The three girls sat on the bed and watched the kitten lap up the milk happily.

"Okay, guys, let's eat," Buffy announced as she got off the bed to grab the take-out boxes, which she placed on the bed. "Oh, I've got cola or root beer to wash this down. Especially the General's Chicken, I hear that's pretty hot."

"Actually," Willow suggested, "I just got some new stuff from the 24-7. In the back of the fridge." Buffy reached back into the fridge, and pulled out three bottles. She read the label on one bottle; "Eros Punch?" She regarded Willow with a questioning leer.

"It's just an apple-grape drink," Willow explained, blushing slightly as Tara giggled, "with guarna and other herbs. Supposed to help build stamina."

"Well," Buffy looked at Willow with a knowing eye. "In that case, heads up." She tossed a bottle to Tara, then to Willow. She took her own bottle and some plates and took her seat at the head of her bed. Willow and Tara had pushed Willow's bed next to Buffy's so there would be room for all three of them.

Buffy sat in lotus position, her feet tucked under her legs, as she opened her bottle. Noticing that Willow and Tara had started sipping at their juice drinks, she lifted the bottle. "Ladies, I propose a toast. To old friends and new beginnings."

"Here, here," Willow and Tara touched their bottles to Buffy's and drank. "And may I make a suggestion?" Willow added. "Tonight, we don't make any mention of our past romantic experiences. No mention of Riley, or Parker, or Angel, or Oz, or--any names you want to add to that list, Tara?" Tara shook her head quickly. "No, Willow, no one I can think of."

"Okay," Willow continued. "Tonight, those others don't exist. Tonight it's just the three of us. Friends, partners, lovers, whatever you want to call us. Whatever happens tonight, the two of you will always be the most important people in my life."

"Just as I feel about the two of you," Buffy agreed. "But before we go any further," her statement was greeted by groans from the other two. "C'mon guys, this is serious. We gotta talk about something. About the immediate future."

"Well," Willow put on a mock-serious face, "I predict that our immediate future will involve the three of us, naked and sweaty, achieving multiple orgasms."

"No, no," Buffy tried to continue her thought. "I don't just mean tonight."

"I don't think she did either," Tara exclaimed, leering. "At least I hope not." Willow reached across the bed to high-five Tara.

"Guys," and exasperated Slayer interrupted the two. "If you can stop channeling Anya for a few seconds. What I wanted to talk about was the incident with Riley. Yeah, I know we agreed not to talk about our exes, but this is something we need to get out of the way now."

"Yeah," Willow said softly. "I think I understand. I mean, I was a Slayer for a few minutes there. When I saw what he was doing to you, I went into full Slayer mode there."

"And you managed to stake a vampire without even half trying," Tara agreed. "And I'm sure I could do the same if I had to."

"My point exactly. Somehow, because of our new bond, you've got some of my skills. I'm thinking that sometime soon, we need to tell Giles what happened, and have him put together some training exercises for the two of you. Nothing as extreme as my regimen, but still, enough that you can defend yourselves."

"Good idea, Buffy," Tara said. "But you should have some new training yourself. If we have your Slayer skills, it seems to me that you've got some of our Wicca powers."

"Yeah, she's right." agreed Willow. "You said you were able to immobilize a horde of newbie vamps without touching them the other night, right?"

"Yeah, you're right," Buffy remembered the incident. That, and the empathic bond that caused her to become aroused while Willow and Tara were making love, prompted the three of them to start exploring why this bond was forged. The one answer that was clear to them was that the bond was meant to be, as was the love between the three of them that resulted.

"Okay, guys," Buffy continued. "We talk to Giles, and get his reaction."

"Probably something like, 'The three of you are WHAT?'", Tara announced in a credible impersonation of Buffy's former Watcher. This brought a fresh round of laughter from the others.

"Seriously," Buffy went on once she was able to get over her laughing fit. "That's another issue we have to address. How do we explain our relationship with the others?"

"Well," Willow mused, "I figure Xander will need a long cold shower, while Anya won't even bat an eye. I swear that she wouldn't notice if she saw a goat in the bed. Not that I want to test that theory out anytime soon."

"I think we should be honest about us," Tara suggested. "After all, we're not sleeping around, it's just the three of us. We've got this connection, it's going to show, I say we let them know what's happening."

"You're right, Tara," Willow admitted. "The biggest mistake I made this year was trying to keep us a secret from the rest of the Scooby Gang. I nearly lost you over that, Buffy. And we can trust the others. Whatever happens, they'll support us. I still want to wait until we spring this on our folks, though."

"Good idea," Buffy agreed. "My mom's probably not a problem though. Once she got used to me being the Slayer, I figure anything else is a non-issue. Your mom, on the other hand," she pointed to Willow, "can't even get my name right. She never liked me before, I doubt that this will change her opinion of me. I figure we just tell Giles and the others, and anything after that, we take it one day at a time." Willow and Tara nodded in agreement, and Buffy announced, "Okay then, enough of the serious stuff. Let the party commence!"

Taking a pair of chopsticks in hand, Buffy started scooping out fried rice on each plate, and passed the plates out to the others. Willow and Tara started to serve themselves from the other boxes, sampling stir fried beef, sweet and sour chicken and tempura fried prawns. Tara was a little clumsy with her chopsticks, but Willow was able to teach her how to use them. Buffy noticed that Willow held Tara's hand in the appropriate position to hold the sticks, and started to laugh. "Any excuse to hold hands with her, huh, Wills?"

Willow cocked an eye at Buffy. "Jealous?"

"Only that I didn't think of it first," Buffy grinned, biting into an egg roll.

"Ooh, poor baby," Tara sympathized with Buffy, as she scooped up a piece of shrimp with her sticks, and fed it to Buffy.

The three of them continued to enjoy their dinner, occasionally feeding each other, first with their chopsticks, then with their fingers, licking and kissing each other's fingers as their meal took on a more sensual air. Finally, after most of their dinner was consumed, Willow passed around the fortune cookies. "Okay, guys." Willow announced, smiling impishly, "Once, during my freshman year in high school, Xander taught me something he called the Fortune Cookie game. When you open your cookies, you read your fortune slips aloud, but at the end, you have to say the words, 'in bed'." Buffy hooted in laughter and Tara blushed slightly. "Okay, Tara, you're the guest, so you start first," Willow announced.

Tara smiled as she cracked open her fortune cookie, withdrew the slip of paper, and read; "Your physical exertions will yield rich rewards...in bed!"

"Oh God I hope so," Buffy chuckled, as Willow rolled on the bed, rocking with mirth. "Okay, Wills, your turn."

Willow opened her cookie and read her fortune; "Fortune favors those who are adventurous...in bed!"

Tara had been drinking fruit punch as Willow spoke, and suddenly found herself laughing so hard that the punch went up her nose. "Good one, Wills," Buffy agreed as she broke open her cookie. "Okay, guys, here's mine," she coughed audibly to get the other's attention. "Happiness comes to those who hold on to their friends...in bed." Buffy put down the slip of paper, and smiled wickedly. "I totally agree!"

The three women leaned in to each other's arms, embracing happily, thanking whatever gods were responsible for their finding each other. Their closeness, however, was cut short when Buffy winced in sudden pain. Willow looked at her friend worriedly, but Buffy shook it off. "No big, Wills," she insisted, "just sat in lotus too long, my feet cramped up."

"Here, Buffy," Tara offered, scooting herself toward the edge of the bed. "Swing your feet over here." She patted her lap lightly.

Willow smiled at Buffy, as she slipped behind her back. "Do it, Buffy," she urged her friend. "Tara gives the best foot massages."

"I was wondering how you got that spring in your step, Wills," Buffy kidded the redhead. She swung her legs around, and set her feet gently on Tara's lap. Tara removed her shoes and stockings, and started to knead at the balls of Buffy's feet. Meanwhile, Willow slowly slipped her hands under the collar of Buffy's T-shirt and started to massage her shoulders. Buffy started to relax, her tension melting away under the ministrations of these two witches. She leaned into Willow, enjoying her caresses, and leaned her head upward to steal a kiss from her lips.

"Ooh," she moaned, thoroughly loving the pampering she was receiving, "I could see myself doing this all night."

"Oh, I think we got other plans for tonight," Willow said, winking at Tara. She slipped out from behind Buffy, who protested wordlessly, and headed toward her computer, and turned it on.

"Uh, Willow," Buffy groaned, still enjoying Tara's footrub, "isn't this like the wrong time to check your e-mail?"

"Have faith, Buffy," Willow admonished the Slayer while she waited for her computer to boot up.

"Can't. She's in prison." Tara groaned at the obvious double entendre. "Besides, I'd rather have the two of you," Buffy added, grinning like a Cheshire Cat.

"I'm not checking my e-mail," Willow responded. "I'm putting on my Digital Jukebox."

"Your what?" Buffy asked.

"It's a music program I downloaded last year. It rips my CDs on the computer."

"Willow," Buffy pleaded, "you're the computer literate, not me."

Willow stuck her tongue out at Buffy, eliciting a chuckle from Tara. "To 'rip' a CD," she explained as she started the program, "means to record it directly onto a hard drive. I recorded my CD collection, plus some of Tara's, and a few of yours, and I apologize for not telling you before--"

Buffy rolled her eyes, "You're forgiven, Wills."

"Thanks. Anyway, I can now listen to my favorite music directly from the computer. I even sorted the separate tracks to different play lists. I've got a list for romantic songs, some sexy music," she blushed slightly, "and I figure we could use some inspirational music." A few mouse clicks later, and soon, a slow, sweet melody emerged from the computer speakers.

"Ah," Willow nodded. "Van Morrison." She turned seductively to the two women, her hips swaying to the rhythm. Soon, a whisky-smooth voice sang out, sweet and clear;"

"You can take all the tea in China,
Drop it in a big brown bag for me,
Sail right around all the seven oceans,
Drop it in the middle of the deep blue sea."

She crooked her finger, whispering, "Tara, let's give Buffy a show." The blond witch got up from the bed, and slowly joined Willow on the floor. The two wiccans started to dance together, Willow sliding up behind Tara, and encircling her waist with her arms. Sinuously, they started to rub against each other's bodies, as Willow's hands started to tug on Tara's shirt.

"She's as sweet as Tupulo Honey,
She's an angel in the first degree.
She's as sweet as Tupulo Honey,
Just like honey from the bee."

Buffy sat mesmerized as Willow and Tara continued their dance, which quickly grew into an impromptu striptease. Tara turned around within Willow's arms, and started to unbutton the redhead's top. Willow shed her top, and started to pull Tara's top off of her shoulders. Tara lifted her arms high above her head, allowing Willow to remove it completely. Willow's bra was a simple lacy white, while Tara wore a pink bra. Both undergarments accented their curves perfectly, and their lean soft torsos swayed enticingly, adding to Buffy's desire.

"They can't stop us on the road to freedom.
Men can't stop us, 'cause our eyes can see,
Men of insight, men in granite,
Knights in armor bent on chivalry."

Willow cast a sidelong glance at Buffy, extended her hand, and purred, "C'mon and join us, honey." Buffy took the offered hand, and Willow pulled her into the center of their circle. Buffy faced Willow, their eyes locking, staring intently at each other, their passion mounting. Tara wrapped her arms around Buffy, and undulated behind her. Buffy could feel Tara's breasts gently rubbing against her back, while Willow took Buffy's left hand to her mouth, and started to kiss and suck her fingers. Buffy moaned at each new contact, pulling Willow closer to her with her free hand, and kissed her hotly on her mouth. Willow opened her mouth, permitting Buffy's probing tongue to meet her own. Tara leaned in closer to Buffy, nipping and licking her earlobe. Buffy found herself arching her back, as her arousal grew with each new contact.

"She's as sweet as Tupulo Honey,
She's an angel in the first degree
She's as sweet as Tupulo Honey,
Just like honey, baby, from the bee."

Buffy broke off the kiss reluctantly, and looked into the bright green eyes of her friend. "I-I've never done this before," she whispered, her voice carrying overtones of both desire and fear.

Willow smiled understandingly. "Hey, we've only done it once."

"Don't worry," Tara added, as she turned Buffy's head around and leaned in for a smoldering kiss. "We'll figure it out together."

Buffy surrendered her body to her lovers. Before she was even aware of it, her blouse was removed by two pairs of hands, that now caressed her upper body. The Slayer's nerves were afire, her knees were becoming water, she was forced to drop to the bed, as Willow and Tara joined her, never letting up on their assault.

In short order, jeans, hose, bras and panties joined the pile of discarded clothing, as three women began to explore each other. Three bodies experienced sensations and pleasures like they never knew before. Three hearts achieved union.

And three special souls formed a connection of love and passion that would bind them forever.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Sunlight poured through the blinds of the dorm window, dappling the room with morning light. Buffy stretched decadently as she awoke, stopping when she realized that the two bodies who were sharing the bed with her were still asleep. Willow lay at Buffy's left side, and her head was pillowed across Buffy's breasts, while Tara slept at Buffy's right side, her arm draped across Buffy's waist.

Buffy smiled as she watched the two sleeping wiccans. She could barely believe that these two women had taken her as a lover. She felt complete, she felt wanted, she felt wonderful. And she felt a nibbling at her ear.

Willow started to stir, arching her back luxuriously. She smiled dreamily as she looked at Buffy. "Hey, lover," she growled. "Were you awake long?"

"Not too long," Buffy answered, as she leaned in to kiss Willow. "Just admiring the view. But, if I can see both your heads, then who's nibbling my ear?"

Willow craned her neck, looking over Buffy's head. She laughed lightly; "Kitty Fantastico?" The kitten was lapping merrily at Buffy's outer ear, and Buffy tried to swat K.F. off of her. Kitty scampered off of Buffy, and toward her food dish. "I'd better feed her," Willow announced, as she nudged the sleeping blond next to her. "Tara, honey, time to get up."

Tara shook her head groggily as she slowly regained consciousness. "D-don't warn the tadpoles," she murmured. Willow and Buffy shared a secret smile as she awakened. They then met Tara in the center of their bed and engaged her in a three-way kiss. "Oh, yeah," Tara nodded. "That's how I want to wake up from now on."

"I'm sure that can be arranged," Buffy agreed as she reluctantly extricated herself from the pile of naked bodies, and started to hunt for her clothes. "Guys, I wanted you guys to know that last night was officially the best night of my life."

"Same here," Willow nodded. "Yeah, me too," added Tara as the two of them scooted off the bed.

"No regrets?" Buffy asked.

"None at all," the other two chorused, as they took Buffy in their arms. "We belong together," Willow declared.

Buffy, Willow and Tara stood together in this close embrace. Buffy vaguely remembered a long-forgotten math professor from her senior year in Sunnydale High School, who lectured that the triangle was the most stable form of geometry. She laughed, remembering how unstable things got when Xander was torn between Cordy and Willow. But this triangle, yes, this triangle was stable. They knew that they had to work out the nuts and bolts of making this unusual relationship work. But after last night, they knew that there was a rightness to them. A sense of predestination. The knowledge that they were meant to be together.

Buffy allowed these thoughts to drift from her mind. There would be time enough later to confront reality. For now, she was happy to remain in arms of her two lovers. To revel in this new found love, the most powerful love she had ever known.

Love to the third power.

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