Disclaimers;
I don't own them, they are the creation and property of Joss Whedon, who no doubt giggles a whole helluva lot at the prospect.

Author's note;
Yes, he's finally getting around to a sequel to The Third Power! It's set during Season Five, but takes a sharp left after Listening to Fear. Fanfic, the art of the possible.

And I apologize in advance for any errors I make regarding tarot readings. If anyone has any information regarding tarot, or any good links, please le me know.

Spoilers;
First half of Season Five, up to Shadow, but don't assume you know which way I'm going with this. Also my earlier fics Life is Sweet and The Third Power.

Archives;
Just let me know and make sure you spell my name right.

Feedback;
Oh you know I want it! Jim_D_Means"prodigy.net

Summary;
The Chosen Three of Buffy, Willow and Tara must prevail against an old enemy with a new scheme.

Turn of a Friendly Card
By Kirayoshi

Part One
Three's a Magic Number

"Three is a magic number
Yes it is, it's a magic number.
Somewhere in that ancient mystic trinity,
You get three, it's a magic number.

The past and the present and the future,
Faith and hope and charity,
The heart and the brain and the body
Give you Three, it's a magic number."
--Schoolhouse Rock
"Three's a Magic Number"


For anyone who is aware of the true dangers of Sunnydale, California, the proper response is pure fear.

For a select few who know of those dangers, the preferred response is a fierce resolve, followed by a preparedness to fight those dangers. For Buffy Summers, the latter response was usually her way.

This night, she was scared.

She wasn't scared of the vampires, the demons, the boogiemen whom she knew were abroad at night. She was their sworn enemy, she knew what they were truly about. They drew no fear from her.

What she feared that night, the last few nights, was far deeper than she could describe.

It was only a few months ago when she discovered that precious link that bonded her soul to the souls of two exceptional women, Willow Rosenberg and Tara McClay. The bond that was formed when Willow cast the Enjoining spell to save Buffy's life from a powerful demon, only to permanently connect them on an empathic level. She had known Willow for four years and loved her all her life. And Willow had already known and loved Tara. But the knowledge that she now loved Tara as well, and was loved by both Tara and Willow-- hardly the most orthodox of relationships, but certainly the most emotionally satisfying, the most pure and loving relationship the Slayer could ever hope to know.

They had been worried about the reactions from friends and family. Indeed Giles was initially insensed that they attempted the Enjoining spell again in the first place, but seemed to accept this new relationship between them. As for Xander and Anya, apart from some harmless innuendo from Xander and some honest questions from Anya regarding the mechanics of their sexual activites, they seemed okay with their love as well. Not that the others could come between them now, the three of them thought. They loved and cared for each other, that was all that mattered to them.

Until the first day that Buffy tried to explain their relationship to her mother. She thought that Joyce Summers would be supportive, even if she didn't fully understand the relationship. That time she guessed wrong. Joyce exploded at her, screaming like a banshee, nearly throwing objects at her before Buffy wisely chose to leave the house. She gave a silent prayer of thanks that she didn't bring Willow or Tara with her. Goddess knows what might Joyce might have done to them.

She smiled ruefully, noting how Willow and Tara have subconsciously affected her way of thinking. Goddess. Heh.

She tried to contact her mom by phone, but was hung up on as soon as Joyce recognized her voice. It hurt Buffy that her love for these two wonderful women should cause a rift between her and her mom, especially if it cost her any chance of seeing Dawn, but she wasn't going to give up the loves of her life.

Of course, compounding the situation and making it more urgent that Buffy seek to mend fences with her mother was her recently learning the secret of Dawn's creation. She still had difficulty thinking about it without causing her hair to hurt; the young girl who irritated her, annoyed her, pestered her for the last fifteen years of her life was only created a few months ago. Sprung from the magic of a group of monks, to embody and hide something called "The Key", to keep it safe from a madwoman named Glory. Buffy met this Glory person recently. She got her butt kicked for her troubles.

So she was scared, for her sister. If this monster Glory wanted her, Buffy was determined to protect her. Of course, her mom not allowing her near Dawn made that prospect difficult. Dawn still managed to make contact with Buffy, but she couldn't let their mom know. She liked Willow and Tara, and was openly accepting of their relationship. For her it was like getting two cool cousins.

But last week, that was the worst of it. She had finished a rather unpleasant confrontation with Spike, and kept thinking about Anne Rice. Certainly an informative interview with that particular vampire, but still disquieting. Did she really have a death wish? That question stayed with her all night, until she caught that idiot bleached blond vamp with a rifle in his hands. He actually thought that he could shoot her before that bloody chip kicked in! Or rather, he thought he could get a bead on her before she could grab the rifle from his hands and break it over her knee before handing it to him. Man, I should just stake the poor sot and put him out of his misery, she thought. It took a long night of comforting, cuddling and general lovemaking with both Willow and Tara to put Buffy at ease that night.

The next day, she received a phone call from Dawn. Joyce had checked into the hospital the night before, and Dawn just heard the diagnosis. Buffy heard the two words leave Dawn's lips, and felt her knees collapse as she slumped to the floor.

Brain tumor.

Buffy didn't even know how long she sat there, two pairs of slender arms holding her, comforting her, keeping her from the abyss. There was a slim consolation in that Joyce's outbursts earlier might have been caused by the tumor interfering with her mental processes. But the fact that her mother was so close to death, even with the support and love of Willow and Tara, was a weight on her heart that never seemed to let up. And Joyce still refused to see her. She didn't know how, but she had to smooth things over with her mom, and soon.

These thoughts consumed her as she entered the dorm room that she and the two wiccans shared. Willow and Tara were casually chatting about the next meeting of their wiccan group when they sensed her come in. Her black mood had registered on Tara's empathic radar first, and she sprung up from her chair to greet Buffy with a comforting hug. Willow joined the two of them in a group hug, and for a brief moment, the weight was lifted from Buffy's heart.

"Hey, Buff," Willow asked, "you okay?"

Buffy shook her head ruefully, "I've been better, hon." She lowered her head, fighting the urge to shed tears. Not that it would do her any good to hide her feelings from these two; sometimes having empathic lovers was something of a nuisance.

They slowly disengaged from the embrace, and Buffy allowed herself to sink bonelessly into her favorite chair, as Willow and Tara sat down close to her. "Any word from the doctors, Buffy?" Tara asked.

"The operation's tomorrow," Buffy admitted. "That's all I know. She still won't talk to me. I'm afraid, Tara. I want to be there for her, but I don't know how. And what about Dawnie? With that psycho-slut Glory after the Key, whatever the hell that is, I need to be there for Dawn, but with Mom still not speaking to me, I can't stay near her for long."

"Sh, sh," Willow took Buffy's hand in hers, willing her calm to Buffy's soul. "It'll be okay. She'll pull through."

"Yeah, but what if she doesn't, Wills? Hell, what if she does? I mean, you weren't there, you didn't hear what Mom said about you two! This was worse than when she found out I was the Slayer! Every time I call her, she just hangs up on me. I was able to get some time with Dawn when Mom wasn't aware, but still---"

Buffy looked at her lap, unable to fathom the possibility of losing her mother for good, especially with this rift between them. Tara and Willow glanced at each other, and back to Buffy, wishing to alleviate the pain in their beloved's heart. "It's the not knowing that scares me, y'know? Not knowing if Mom's gonna pull through or not, not knowing what would happen if Glory ever found out about Dawn. I just wish I knew."

Finally, Tara spoke, tentatively, haltingly. "I, uh, I may have an idea." She glanced at Willow, who nodded. "It's been a while since I tried this, but it should still work." She hopped from her chair and went to her desk, where she withdrew a small package from a drawer. She motioned for the others to join her on the bed, as she opened the package, revealing a set of cards, with arcane images on the back.

"Tarot cards?" Buffy guessed. Tara nodded quietly. "You've been uncertain about this business with your mom, maybe a little guidance is what you need. I don't want to see you and your mom become like me and my family. If I do this right, we can see how things might play out."

Buffy's curiosity was piqued. She had seen that fat woman with the fake Jamaican accent on television, hawking her online tarot readings, but didn't put much stock in it, especially when she saw the Visa and American Express logos on the screen. But if Tara had some talent in this area, it would be worth it to hear what she had to say.

Tara sat at the head of the bed, while the other two sat together at the foot. After shuffling the cards, Tara handed the deck to Buffy, saying, "Cut the cards." Buffy did so, and Tara reshuffled the cards again. "Okay, Buffy, I'm going to use the Celtic Cross arrangement. Now, what you have to keep in mind is that the cards don't automatically mean literally what they represent, especially the major arcanna cards. The Lovers card, for example, isn't purely about romance. So if you see a card that disturbs you, just relax, and let me divine its meaning, in conjunction with the other cards. Got it?"

"Got it, Tara," Buffy nodded. "What do we do now?"

"Now we're ready," Tara announced solemnly. "Ask your question, Buffy Summers."

Buffy thought long and hard, she didn't want to ask the wrong question, if there was such a thing under the circumstances. Steeling herself, she spoke; "Okay. Will my mother recover from her tumor, and can she and I reconcile our differences before it's too late?"

Tara nodded silently as she dealt the first card. "This first card is the situation. What you wish to see resolved." She placed the card on the bed, and Buffy saw a picture of a woman standing on a pedestal, a scale in her hand. "Justice," Tara identified the card, "also called Adjustment. A sign of balance, of equity. You're trying to maintain balance among the responsibilities in your life."

"I've been doing that for the last five years, Tara," Buffy quipped. "It's called being the Slayer."

"In order to maintain a balance, you and your mom have to make decisions, to make sacrifices." Tara dealt a second card on top of Adjustment, this time with a picture of four swords, each pointed toward the center of the card. "Four of Swords, that means truce. A coming to terms. The decisions that you make will aid you and your mother in coming to terms with each other." Buffy let her shoulders sag. This seemed right so far. Not much magic, however, which surprised her. Just some insight and understanding on Tara's part. No matter, she needed to hear the rest.

"The next card is thought and expectation." The third card was placed above the two card pile. "The Five of Disks. The Worry card." She pointed out the five disks arranged in a pentacle. Buffy shuddered. "Sometimes represents living in the past, or something that you can't control encroaching on your life. Something that you have to deal with to live in the present." She dealt her next card below the first two. "Ah," she smiled, "here's the perfect card for you, Buffy." Buffy grimaced as she saw a man hanging from his left foot. "This position represents your foundation, your past, your subconcious, who you perceive yourself to be. The Hanged Man is definitely a fitting card for you; the sacrificial figure, one who has had his life turned upside down. Again, since you first became the Slayer." She caught the look of despair on Buffy's face, and immediately consoled her; "Y'see, Buffy, this card usually pops up when there's a sense of punishment, but usually for something over which the querient has no control. Essentially leaving you in a state of limbo, of your life in suspension." Buffy and Willow nodded; so far, she seemed to have Buffy pegged.

The fifth card was the near past, what was influencing the situation. Tara placed that card to the left of the center two. "Three of Swords. Sorrow. Often associated with seperation. You and another are on opposite sides in a major matter, and the rift is causing you pain." Buffy had to admit that Tara was right, the rift between her and her mother was painful.

"Now the sixth card, or near future," Tara lifted another card from the deck, and looked at it. An uneasy expression crossed her face, and Buffy caught the look. "What is it, hon?"

Tara said nothing, she only placed the card to the right of the formation. A grinning grim reaper stood on the card's image, his scythe ready to sever the tread of life. The Death card.

Buffy trembled fiercly, and Willow instinctively took hold of Buffy's hands, desperate to assure her lover. Tara shook her head, saying sweetly, "I told you not to take the images too literally. The Death card very rarely indicates a physical death. And in the Tarot, Death is not a permanent condition, or a complete cessation. Just as in real life, death is just a stage of passing from one state of being to another. In the Tarot, Death is a transitional card, a sign of change. Clearing away the old to make room for the new. In this case, I believe it signifies an end to the impasse between you and your mom. The death of your rift, so to speak."

"You sure about that?" Buffy asked, her face still betraying her fear. "I'm sorry, babe, but considering that Mom was diagnosed with a brain tumor, the subject of Death is something I'm trying not to think about."

"Easy, Buff," Willow assured her. "You know Tara wouldn't intentionally upset you.

"Yeah, I know," Buffy managed to smile slightly. "It just spooked me, that's all."

"It's okay, Buffy," Tara assured the Slayer. "Now then, we see the Celtic Cross formation, with two bars intersecting. The thee cards going vertically, Five of Disks, Justice and Hanged Man, are your mind and spirit. Your responsibilities as the Slayer, your sense of self worth, your tendency to judge yourself harshly over perceived failures, your need for balance between the part of you that's the Slayer, and the part of you that's Buffy. The horizontal bar is a timeline. The Three of Swords, meaning Sorrow, the Four of Swords, indicating a need to make peace, and the Death card, the end of your Sorrow."

"So what you're saying is that if I keep at it, try to make peace with Mom, we can work this out?" Buffy could scarcely believe the accuracy of the reading so far. She suspected that the cards could be easily interpreted to match any situation, or any querent, but knowing that Tara wouldn't abuse her in that way somehow made things different. She trusted her, she loved her. And Tara loved her as well, and would never betray that trust.

"The last four cards line up on the right side of the cross formation," Tara continued, as she withdrew a card. "They represent the recommended path from where you are now to where you want to be." She dealt the four cards in rapid succession, and looked at the pictures. "The Ten of Cups," she pointed to the left most card. "The image of a man and woman with two children, this card is a powerful family sign. Often representing a need to reaffirm family ties, or create peace between the family." She pointed to the second card, to an armored figure weilding a sword. "The next card, representing outside forces, is the Page of Swords, sometimes called the Princess of Swords. The Page often asks difficult questions, which you may not want to hear. It's a challenge to you, Buffy, to make the first move." Pointing to the third card, a bundle of five wands, she commented, "Hmm, Five of Wands. This position, Buffy, often reveals a factor that remained hidden, or unconsidered. The Five of Wands normally represents strife, but in this case, I believe it means guilt."

"Hey," Buffy interrupted, "that's hardly a hidden factor. I've been feeling plenty guilty for letting this thing with Mom go this far."

"Not your guilt, Buffy," Tara shook her head, "your mom's."

Willow, who remained silent during the reading, suddenly spoke. "Buffy, you said that your mom blew up at you when you told her about our relationship, right?"

"Yeah," Buffy admitted. "She was a banshee."

"Was that really her, or the tumor?" Willow's question was delivered plainly, and Buffy's response was silent thought. "Didn't the doctor say that the tumor might affect her mind? Maybe the tumor was affecting her judgement when you dropped the bombshell."

"Oh my god," Buffy whispered. "You're right, Willow, it could be. But why did she keep hanging up on me every time I tried to call her?"

"Like I said, Buffy," Tara replied, "guilt. She shouted at you, said terrible things, things she didn't mean, what if she didn't want to face you?"

"Yeah," Willow added, "I remember visiting her once or twice after Angelus, while you were in LA. She convinced herself that she was responsible, because of the blowout you two had before you faced Angelus that last time."

"Yeah," Buffy recalled somberly, "she didn't take my leaving that well. 'Sorry Mom, gotta save the world,' yeah, that didn't fly well. And she's probably been reliving that classic moment again for the last two weeks. That's it, I gotta be there tomorrow after the operation, to let her know that I love her."

"Good call," Tara nodded. "Check out the last card," she pointed to the card at the right of the staff row. "The Tower. Look at the lightning demolishing the top of the tower. This represents the Tower of Babel. The tearing down of walls, destroying of obstacles. The likely result if you follow the path you've been shown."

Buffy sat silently looking at the cards as they were arranged before her. She looked at the serene face of Tara, and back at Willow's gentle smile. "Thanks guys. I really needed to hear this. I'm going to the hospital tomorrow, to be there when Mom recovers."

"You want us with you, Buffy?" Tara asked. Willow nodded enthusiastically, adding, "Hey, it's no trouble for us."

"I'd like that," Buffy nodded, taking Tara's hand in her own and giving it a warm squeeze. "Just how much of that was magic and how much of that was psychology, anyway?"

Tara crooked her eyebrow in thought, and said, "I would guess about fifty/fifty."

Buffy had to smile at Tara's easy humor. "Well, thanks again, babe. Whatever you did, it helped me a lot."

"I should hope so," Willow quipped. "I mean, you thrashing about at night, nearly tossed me off the bed three nights in a row."

"You and me both, babe," Tara grinned, leaning forward to take Willow's lips with her own. Buffy chuckled evilly, and launched herself at the two women, kissing them both hungrily. "Oh, you've done it, girls," Buffy declared lustily. "You're gonna get it now!"

"I sure as hell hope so," Willow replied, kissing Buffy with a fervor. Tara joined in the embrace, slowly unbuttoning Buffy's jeans, as the three lovers let their passions guide them for the remainder of the evening.

========

The dapper British gentleman observed the apparatus he had set up in the warehouse. He looked impatiently at his watch; his contact was keeping him waiting. He didn't like to be kept waiting.

A sulpherous cloud trailed from under the nearby door. The Brit smiled. His contact was here. He opened the door, and greeted his visitor; "Greetings, Zarroth. Welcome to the Realm of Earth."

The dark-green skinned demon scratched behind his left ram's horn, saying, "Dismiss with the formalities, Ethan Rayne. Is the apparatus prepared?"

"See for yourself," Ethan answered, gesturing toward the hospital bed and equipment. "All ready for it's special customer. And her, I shall have tomorrow night."

"Excellent," Zarroth answered. "The Slayer must be captured alive, you understand, for our plan to work."

"Of course," Ethan smiled like a friendly shark. "She'll survive the ordeal."

"Ah, but before her ordeal is over," Zarroth grinned like a Cheshire Cat, "the much vaunted Slayers will be decimated." A dark pall cast his unholy features, as a dark plan grew to fruition in its festering heart. Sooh, he would have all the power he would need to destroy the Slayers, and the Watchers Council. His chuckle echoed throughout the warehouse.