Rating: M - Mature
Warnings: explicit sexual content
Setting/background: season 5, a few days after the brain-suck/Willow rampage in "Tough Love"
Pairing: Tara & Willow
Summary: Willow tries to cope with the pressure of taking care of a disabled Tara.
Notes: Thoughts in italics.
Feedback: Please. Constructive criticism especially appreciated.

Willow and Tara and other characters from the television show Buffy the Vampire Slayer were created and are owned by Joss Whedon.



10 PM. The remains of the apple sauce were carried off by the water down the drain of the kitchen sink as she held the bowl under the running faucet. When the suds had been rinsed off, she carefully placed the bowl in the wire draining bin, next to its mate along with the two glasses and plates she had used to serve their dinner earlier that night—spaghetti with tomato sauce, water, and the aforementioned apple sauce as desert—foods designed to be gentle on a delicate stomach that had for the past few days been unable to keep much of anything down, mild or not.

It described them both, which was why she had eaten the tasteless fare herself after she'd fed, washed, changed, and put her lover to bed, rather than the pepperoni and pineapple pizza Dawn and Buffy had scarfed down that evening. She couldn't eat at the same time, since feeding her lover took all her concentration and willpower now that the girl had none of her own.

Stolen, rather than lost. The slow stirring of the rage began in the pit of her belly. She quickly suppressed it; stuffed it down, deep into herself where she could ignore it for a little while longer. Not doing so earlier had almost gotten her killed, foolishly allowing the grief and anger to rule her mind… I can't help Tara if I'm dead. I can't kill Glory if she kills me first.

Of course, Buffy had come to save her. To stop her from a useless sacrifice. Though it might've been worth it, if I could've just hurt the bitch a little. She stopped the thought. Who would take care of Tara? She felt a hot flash of guilt but quickly remembered, My friends. Our friends would take care of her. She felt a little comforted, grateful for her family.

Earlier, 9 PM. So instead of sharing the meal with her broken girl, she ate her dinner later while at her computer, combing the Internet and her library of spell books, looking for something, anything, that might bring her girl back. So far, she had found nothing concrete.

A summoning charm, strong enough to first make then forcefully break through a focal point, a tear in space, and draw energy from select demon dimensions which existed as pure energy. The energy could then be used to create a binding field, a receptacle.

Not really applicable to their situation, where her girl's soul was still residing in this plane, but hidden in the restricted labyrinth of a mad demigoddess's far-gone mind. The concept of the receptacle might be useful, though, to store her girl's identity after they managed to take it from the hell-god.

That, however, was the hard part. Recovering the lost sanity in the first place. They would need to take it from Glory, while simultaneously emptying Tara of the feelings of disgust and terror that had been deposited in place of her stolen memories and associations. The only other way was by cunning, to trick the insane deity into restoring what she had stolen. This was what Giles suggested, thinking the super-being's greatest weakness was her mentality, or lack thereof, her tenuous grasp on this reality. To trick her, to play on her ego, her lack of subtlety and finesse—that was the possible plan of attack her mentor and father-figure recommended.

She was not so sure. Her first instinct had been confrontation, power against power, to attempt to force Glory to return what she had stolen. And though her first, solitary attempt had failed, it might still work… If I can gather enough power, find the right spell or combination of spells... The rage started to whisper in her again. The power approach might hurt Glory, too, unlike the stealth approach. That might help Buffy when it comes time to slay the bitch.

10:10 PM. She finished wiping the counter down and poured herself a cup of coffee from the pot she'd brewed to carry her through the night, if necessary, before returning to the Summers' dining room where her computer and dozens of spell books borrowed from the Magic Box and Giles' personal library were laid out. Sliding into the seat before her computer, she picked up where she'd left off ten minutes ago when she'd gotten up to put away her plates, browsing websites researching possible solutions to the dilemma that faced them.

Since Tara had been released from the hospital after the doctors had admitted they could do nothing for her three days ago, they had been staying at Buffy's. The Summers home had become a makeshift headquarters of sorts since the Magic Box now seemed compromised by the gnome-like demons Glory used as minions. To now, Joyce's room had lain vacant since her death, but the capacity of Buffy's and Dawn's hearts was such that neither hesitated in allowing Tara and her to stay in their mother's room following their friend's release from the hospital.

Tomorrow, however, she would be taking Tara home, back to Tara's campus dorm. She spent so much time in the room, a fair number of her things in Tara's closet and dressers, it was almost as if they already lived there together. Tomorrow, however, it would become official. She would be moving in permanently. The thought scared her. She wasn't sure she could take being in the enclosed space, alone with the shell of the woman she loved more desperately than her own life.

It was nearing 2 AM. Gods, but she was tired. Buffy had returned from patrol almost an hour ago. Without a word but with a quick nod to acknowledge her best friend still resolutely hunched over the laptop and the two dozen or so tomes piled high on her dining room table, Buffy had gone upstairs to her room where Dawn was sleeping in her bed. Buffy had insisted on it, after the confrontation with Glory here in this very house. It was a sign of the level of desperation they were feeling that the headstrong teenager didn't put up more than a perfunctory fight to her sister's command. After the slow clomping of Buffy's tired boots up the stairs, the house had again become deathly quiet except for the sounds of her fingers tapping at her keyboard or the rustle of pages turning in the half-dozen open books she had spread closest around her. For the hundredth time that night, she clicked on a link.

Here was something. A power-boosting spell, but rather than allowing for the expulsion of energy as force, which had been her first instinct, it allowed the caster to act as a conduit, drawing from one node and depositing it into a suitable receptacle…

There were more links. She started clicking on them, wishing she'd set up Buffy's computer alongside hers so she could have more than one screen to view the dozens of websites she wanted to remain visible.

It was a little after 4 AM by the time she, too, trudged up the stairs, her mind in an exhausted daze, but still humming with the hope of new knowledge the last two hours of research had yielded. She was in an in-between state, between exhaustion and insomnia, brought on by pushing herself beyond her normal limits, fueling her body with caffeine, her spirit with the desperation of someone running out of time.

Can't help Tara or Buffy if I'm dead on my feet, either. 'Sides, I'll need my strength tomorrow. When we go back to our dorm.

She hesitated before the door of Joyce's bedroom before cracking it open and peering inside. Tara's form, wrapped in the sheets, lay in the bed. The silence and the steady rise and fall of the sheets assured her that her girl was still asleep. She continued down the hall, outside Buffy's room. She paused briefly, reaching out with her senses to confirm the slumbering, undisturbed presences of the Summers sisters before proceeding to Dawn's empty bedroom. There she stopped, walked into the dark room. She didn't bother turning on the lights, her eyes instantly adjusted to the dark. She slipped inside, closed the door, took in the shapes of various stuffed animals, posters on the walls, typical teen girl objects. The edges had a faint bluish glow to them and there was a slight buzz in the room, but she knew those were a result of her current fugue state.

Almost unconsciously, she approached the small bed and crawled into it, kicking off her shoes. She lay flat on her back, closed her eyes briefly, then opened them when sleep wouldn't come. She stretched her arms over her head until her back creaked, then dropped her arms down again, her right falling over the skin of her belly where her shirt had ridden up as she'd stretched.

The feel of the skin of her own arm against that of her belly almost shocked her. She felt a familiar warm sensation form from the contact and migrate to just under her belly button, almost like the pressure of a full bladder, which was logical given the cups of coffee she'd consumed in order to infuse her bloodstream with caffeine. Tara's teasing smile, "Sweetie, I know you must have your mochas, but do you really need to have them before we go into the theater?" They go through me like water. But that wasn't it.

She remembered the first time, she must have been about ten, she woke up after a confusing dream about her best friend, Xander Harris. She could not remember the details, only that her sisterly feelings toward Xander had changed somehow because of the dream, and she didn't think they could change back, even if she couldn't remember exactly what had happened in her sleep. Sure enough, Xander was the same goofy Xander when she saw him the next day, though it didn't change the fact that something about him was different and she now felt inexplicably shy around him. She remembered that night, the familiar-but-not-quite feeling, being confused, thinking she should go to the bathroom before she had an accident and embarrassed herself. Her mother would insist on counseling her, her father would be sympathetic to her discomfort and embarrassment but would let Sheila put her psychology doctorate to use on their daughter. It gave her mother an outlet for the frustrated academic career she had interrupted to have her only child. Somehow, the other kids at school would find out, and it would be yet one more thing to tease her cruelly about. She had to go, leave her warm bed and relieve herself before she wet her bed. But when in the bathroom, she couldn't go. The pressure had only increased, but no relief…

Then, she had been wearing pajamas—the ones with the gamboling teddy bears, her favorite at the time. It had been very easy to slip her hand under the elastic waist band after she'd returned to her bed. Nine years later, she was unsnapping the button of her blue jeans and unzipping her fly, lifting her hips to tug the tough fabric down her hips, past her thighs to her knees. The seam of the denim had pressed against her clitoris, awakening it, and it connected somehow to the pressure below her belly button. Without the pressure of the hip-hugging clothing, the sweet ache of her clit lessened, which made her involuntarily frown. Giving up on rational thought, her left hand snaked its way under the elastic of her panties while her right tugged at her loose shirt, pulling it up under her armpits and fumbling, one-handed with the front clasp of her bra. "Let me," Tara's voice was husky, her eyes, so dark they were almost purple, bore into hers, as her long fingers worked the clasp behind her back. "I think it's stuck… We really need to get you something with a front clasp…"

The clasp gave a barely audible click as she managed to undo it with her one hand, the cups falling away to release her small breasts. Petite. "Perfect. I love your breasts. They fill my hands perfectly." Her left hand had settled idly to cup her mons under her panties... Matching panties, too? It feels sexy when they match. Tara licked her lips. "It looks sexy, too. But just getting these off you will do for right now." Her hand inched down again, two splayed fingers on either of her outer lips, pressing into her damp curls.

The fingertips of her right hand circled the areola of her left breast, making the rose-colored flesh pebble, the nipple tighten. She pinched it, lightly at first, then with more pressure, using her short nails. She gasped involuntarily.

She took in a ragged breath as her nipple was caught between Tara's blunt teeth and Tara gently tugged. The exhaled breath turned into a gasp as Tara bit down. "I'm sorry, baby, did that hurt?" The frown disappearing as she answered her lover's concern by entwining her fingers in the blond tresses at the back of Tara's head and firmly pulling Tara's mouth back to her chest. A muffled laugh vibrated through her breast. Tara pulled back, the tip of her tongue extending to soothe the small indentations left by her teeth.

The second, fourth, and fifth fingers of her left hand spread her outer lips as the middle finger curled and strummed, from just below her swollen clit to the bottom of the inner folds where her natural lubricant had collected, back and forth, slowly. "You're wet." The teasing, lopsided smile. Really? Cause my mouth is so dry, I can barely talk. "I can fix that."

Tara's full lips, still curled at one corner, pressed against her own. She opened her mouth, letting Tara in. The tip of Tara's tongue penetrated past her lips and teeth, gently exploring until Tara found her own tongue, shyly extending toward the probing visitor. She was very close. She moaned Tara's name into the girl's open mouth, the sound absorbed by the owner of the name. At the same time, the tip of Tara's finger teased out her entrance between her legs, and easily slipped home.

She came, hard and fast, as the heel of her palm crushed her clitoris, her middle finger buried deep inside her, held in place by her desperately clenching channel. It was a short orgasm, quickly cresting and dissipating within seconds, not at all like the long, continuous, lingering one of that other night. And when she moaned, her lover did not take the sounds as they escaped her lips. "Taaaarraaaa…"

Tara's name lingered in the air in the strange place, and she was alone. When it hit her, and she realized she could have woken up any of the other three occupants in the house with the small whimpers that had escaped her throat as she'd driven herself relentlessly to her climax or the low moan of her lover's name at the conclusion, she pulled her hand free from between her legs and tugged her jeans back on, zipping them shut as she sat up. She hastily re-fastened her bra which had hung on her shoulders by the straps under her shirt and pulled the cups back into place to support her breasts.

Her hands were trembling as she smoothed her shirt back down her torso. She could smell herself on her fingertips, and realized her odor might linger in Dawn's bedroom. The shame hit her almost as hard and fast as her orgasm, almost the way it had that first night when in horror she'd drawn her hand out of her panties, covered with a slick, unfamiliarly textured wetness after the shock of the first time she'd successfully pushed herself over the edge, hastily wiping her hand on the front of her teddy bear pajamas. Nine years later, she covered her face with her hands. "Oh, God, what am I doing?"

The tears came in long, shuddering sobs that wracked her small frame and left her gasping for air between wails. She was keening loudly, unable to stop herself. "Oh, God, what am I going to do?"

4:30 AM. Buffy was up out of bed and out like a shot as the keening wail broke the silence of the early morning, leaving a confused Dawn groggily rousing on her side of the bed, mumbling "Wha—?"

Buffy stopped at her mother's room first. The door was still ajar, but that was not where the desperate cries were coming from. She quickly turned and went the opposite direction, to her sister's room, flinging the door open and hitting the light switch.

At the doorway, she stopped at the sight of Willow sitting in the middle of Dawn's bed, hunched over her drawn up knees, her hands clasped behind her head as it hung down, her chin to her chest. She was sobbing so hard the mattress shook. Her long, low keens filled the room.

In two steps Buffy was by her, pulling her best friend into a fierce embrace. "Ssssh, it's okay, Willow. It's okay." She kept murmuring the words into the fiery red hair, stroking her friend's back in small circles. The keening gave way to sobs and shuddering gasps for air in her deprived lungs.

Willow finally raised her face to Buffy, her delicate features a wreck from the tears as they continued to pour down her cheeks. "Oh God, Buffy, what if she never comes back? What if I can't get her back? What am I going to do?"

A fist seemed to form in Buffy's chest and squeezed around her heart. She loved Willow like a sister, as much as… as much as she loved Dawn, her own sister. And Tara was part of her family, too—one who was in her present condition due to the inherent danger of that role. "We'll get her back, Will. Believe it." Then I'll put Glory down, she added grimly to herself. Or die trying.

"Aaaannhhh!" Both their heads snapped to the open door at the moaning cry coming from the opposite end of the hallway. "Tara!" Willow disengaged from Buffy's embrace and was out the door and running toward Joyce's room in a matter of seconds.

4:35 AM. Buffy found herself again at the doorway of one of the bedrooms of her house, looking in on a private scene involving her best and closest friend of the past five years. Willow was, in one of those strange sequence of events that had nothing to do with living on the Hellmouth—not directly, anyway, Buffy thought wryly, this is natural deja vu—in the same position Buffy herself had been in just seconds ago, her arm wrapped around another girl's violently shaking shoulders, whispering soft, loving words in an attempt to calm a loved one in pain. Except she might be feeling it worse than Tara. She sighed, unable to help in this situation either as the Slayer or as a friend, and turned away, closing the door on the private scene. She returned wearily to her own room.

"What's going on?" a flustered Dawn asked from the dark as she entered.

"Nothing, Dawn. Tara just had another nightmare." Buffy instinctively covered up Willow's breakdown. Her sister didn't need to know how fragile her protectors were. She climbed back into her side of the bed. "Go back to bed. You've got to get up for school in three hours."

Dawn let out a frustrated sigh. "Yes, Mother." But she rolled over to her side and was soon lightly snoring once more, Buffy beside her, staring up at the ceiling, unable to do the same.

4:40 AM. Tara's sobs had given way to hiccups. This had been one of her child-like episodes, in which she'd allowed Willow to hold her and soothe her innocent terror like a mother after her little one's childish nightmare about the boogeyman. Willow still hadn't decided if they were any more preferable to Tara's vengeful Jonathan Edward episodes, in which she called Willow a whore, a demon, a blaspheming pervert, or yet again her Mary Magdalene episodes, in which she chastised herself in a similar manner, for being Willow's lover. There were others, she was discovering them as Tara's magical illness progressed, but they all hurt deeply, profoundly, in their own way. "Hush, baby, it's alright."

With a last loud hiccup and shuddering intake of breath, Tara's breathing began to calm. Willow continued to hold her close, though, deciding this version of her disabled lover was the best she could hope for at this particular moment, and not knowing if the next minute Reverend Edward would be back and striking at her with a closed fist. Willow wouldn't give a damn about the last, if it weren't for the fact that Tara could do further damage to her crushed hand. "It's gonna be alright. I will get you back, Tara. I will, so hang on, baby." Child-like Tara remained, her head tucked underneath Willow's chin, so she had no way of seeing the almost demonic glint in Willow's steely grey-green eyes. Then we'll slay the bitch.