Three-Fold Cord

Summary: When starting college, Buffy finds her love life taking a turn she never, ever expected. WARNING: Non-explicit mention of a triad relationship.

Timeline: an AU season 4. Some things are the same, but others aren't…obviously.

Disclaimer: BtVS characters belong to Joss Whedon / Mutant Enemy. I claim no rights to any copyrighted material. Please do not copy or take this story without my permission.

A/N: Thanks to my betas, NeverTooOld, AshDawnSoulmates, Cristina and zigpal.

Warning: This is my first – and probably last – attempt to write either a femslash or triad. There's nothing explicit about it though. Not even a single kiss. Just the mention of it. Call it my 'Once in a Blue Moon' fic since tonight is a Blue Moon. So if I'm still writing in 3 years, I'll consider writing another fic like this. *wink*

Chapter 1: Forming the Cord


Wrapping her arms around herself, Buffy Summers was the very picture of desolation as she made her way back to the campus of UC-Sunnydale. She had gone to her Watcher for help, and he turned her way. He claimed she needed to trust herself and stand on her own, but all she felt was rejected and unworthy. Like this was another punishment for her sins – just as the Cruciamentum was.

She was so deep in her misery that she almost missed the vampires which were surrounding her. The leader, a fashion reject named Sunday, was able to get the best of her…until they heard the screams of her minions turning to ash. In unison, they looked as another was hit with a fireball, and they followed the path back to a timid-looking blonde.

Buffy used Sunday's lack of focus to her own advantage and staked the vamp leader. Once the rest of the minions were taken care of – including the young man Buffy met the night before – the Slayer turned to her new ally. "Hi. I'm Buffy Summers. Thanks for the help," she offered with a smile.

The girl stepped forward and held out her hand to shake Buffy's while she stuttered her name in return, "I'm Tara. Tara Maclay. Glad I could help. I wasn't sure the spell would work," she said shyly.

"Oh, you're a witch? Cool. My best friend is learning about that stuff," Buffy remarked.

Tara was surprised at the other blonde's easy acceptance of what she was just told. "I'm not really all that good," she stammered, blushing furiously. Buffy was much prettier than any girl she had talked to for this long since she came to UC-Sunnydale.

Buffy mistook her blush for a different kind of shyness. "I think those vamps would disagree…if they weren't piles of dust. How did you know they were vampires anyway?" the Slayer inquired.

Tara considered whether she should say anything, but just felt comfortable with the shorter blonde. She trusted her instincts and answered, "I can kind of see people's auras. Theirs were black, so I just guessed."

"Do I want to know what mine looks like?" Buffy asked with a rueful expression. She would hate to think of what the past couple years would have done to her aura – which probably wasn't that great to begin with, given the selfish bitch she was before she was Called.

But the meek Wicca shook her head vehemently in disagreement, "Actually, it's what drew me over here. It's quite a beautiful aura, but it's broken somehow. Like it's missing something," she tried to explain.

Buffy thought she was just being nice. "Not sure how true that is, but thanks anyway. Umm, could I buy you a coffee or something?" she offered, feeling more at peace since she started college. And if this girl had anything to do with that, she didn't want to risk losing it now. Plus it seemed like Tara enjoyed her company as well.

Smiling bashfully, Tara nodded, "Sure. That would be nice."

Tara's dorm

A couple weeks later…

Buffy stuck her head in Tara's room to see if her friend was home. Since the Sunday incident, they spent most of their time outside of class together. There was just something so comfortable for both of them in being with the other girl.

Tara was the only one to see that there was the hint of more developing between them, though. Buffy had just never considered dating girls before. But she did have moments when she couldn't help but notice how pretty her new friend was when she smiled.

"Tara? Could you check out my roommate's aura? I've told my friends that she's a demon, but they don't believe me," Buffy announced with a pout as she collapsed on Tara's bed.

The Wicca's eyes snapped up in surprise. "Are you usually wrong about these things? Didn't you say you could sense a lot of demon species?" she inquired nervously. Ever since Buffy admitted to being the Slayer, Tara worried that her new friend would learn her dark secret.

Buffy's blonde tresses flew wildly when she shook her head, "Some, but not all. They just think I'm overreacting to having to share a room for the first time in my life." Her voice betrayed how hurt she was by their dismissal of her intuition.

And Tara caught the pain. She grabbed the Slayer's hand and gave it a comforting squeeze. "I'll be happy to help you out, Buffy. It just seems wrong that they don't at least consider you might be right." She bit her lip before blurting out the question that had been plaguing her for days, "But just out of curiosity, if she was a demon and wasn't hurting anyone, would you still slay her?"

Sitting back up, Buffy thought about that for a moment. "Well, I'd have to be sure of it – meaning I'd have to know what kind she was. If that species was non-violent, I guess I wouldn't have a problem leaving her alone. But I probably still wouldn't want to live with her. Except that's more because she's driving me nuts," she said with an annoyed look.

Then she added, "If it was violent, I'd need proof that she wasn't. After all, most vamps are evil, but Angel usually isn't. It would be wrong for me to assume that the same couldn't be true for other demons. What's the saying? 'The exception to the rule'? Why do you ask?"

"Just curious. Let's go check out your roommate," Tara stood, hoping that Buffy wouldn't press her.

The Slayer knew there was more to it than that, but decided to let it go for now. Tara had earned her trust so far, and she wouldn't worry about it until she had to.

Tara's dorm

Three weeks later…

Tara looked at her possible new girlfriend. She wasn't sure if that would be true when Buffy learned what she was hiding, though. "I was lying before, Buffy," she confessed out of the blue.

Buffy was tempted to tease the other blonde, but heard the genuine fear in her voice. The stuttering helped give it away. "'Bout what, Tara?" she inquired gently.

"The demon question. Whether you would slay your roommate if she wasn't violent," the scared Wicca reminded the Slayer.

"Kinda figured. Wanna tell me?" Buffy asked, sitting up.

Tara snorted quietly, "Want to? No. Think I should? Yes."

Knowing that she owed Tara a lot for saving her these past weeks, Buffy tried to calm her down, "Just take a deep breath and relax. What is it?"

"I'm part demon," Tara blurted out, then shut her eyes tightly to avoid the anger in Buffy's eyes at being lied to all this time.

And in doing so, she missed the bewilderment that appeared instead. The Slayer stared at her and tried to sense her…at all. "You are? What kind?" she finally asked, wondering just how many species she couldn't sense.

Tara opened her eyes when she didn't hear hatred in the other girl's voice, "I don't know," she admitted.

Buffy's nose wrinkled in a way that in other circumstances, Tara would have found adorable. "I'm confused. You know you're part demon, but you don't know which species?" she clarified.

"Nuh-uh. All my family ever told me was that I would start exhibiting my demon tendencies when I turned 20," Tara parroted her father's words.

The Slayer tried to recall any demon like that and came up short. "Hmm. Can't say I've ever hear of that before. They didn't happen to tell you what to look for, did they?" Buffy questioned the slightly calmer girl.

Tara shook her head, "No. Just that all the women in our family carried the demon blood."

"All the women, but none of the men? Now I'm even more puzzled." Buffy sighed in resignation, "I hate to say it, but I think we'll need Giles on this."

"Will he make you slay me?" Tara whispered.

Buffy grabbed her new maybe girlfriend's hand and forced her to look her in the eyes. "Hey! He can't make me do anything! And if he wants to make a big stink about this, I'll just remind him who helped me out the last two times when he brushed me off. We won't be doing anything until we know what we're dealing with and that there's no other way to take care of it. Got it?" she demanded forcefully.

Tara nodded, hopeful about her future for the first time in years.

Giles' apartment

After Buffy introduced them, and Tara explained what she knew, Giles attempted to clarify, "So you say that your father warned you about this?"

"Ever since I could remember," Tara confirmed sadly.

His eyes narrowed in masked suspicion. "Did you ever witness the changes in any of the women in your family?" he questioned softly.

Tara thought about that carefully, then shook her head, "Uhh, no."

Buffy recognized the look in her Watcher's eyes, even if they hadn't spent much time together lately. "Do you know what it is?" she asked.

Giles swung his gaze back to his Slayer. Oh, how he missed her, but he didn't want to burden her with his loneliness. "I have my suspicions, but need to run some tests. If you have no objections, Miss Maclay?" he checked.

"No. Go right ahead. I just need to know if I'm going to be a danger to anyone when I turn 20," Tara tearfully pleaded. Buffy moved to embrace her, missing Giles' look of astonishment.

Once the spell was completed a little while later, Giles commented grimly, "Just as I suspected."

Buffy wasn't in the mood to be patient. Her sorta girlfriend was hurting. "What? Don't draw out the suspense here!" she demanded.

The Watcher looked at the young Wicca with a sympathetic expression. "Her family was lying to her. Most likely in an effort to control the females through intimidation. It's a repugnant and cruel tactic, but it's not unheard of in some circles," he told them.

"You're sure?" Tara asked hopefully. This was more than she could wish for.

Giles reassured her, "Your DNA is completely human."

Tara sank back into the couch in relief. "I'm not a demon?" she breathed.

"Nope. And if we ever run into those bastards, I'm gonna crack some skulls together for making you worry like this," Buffy snarled in anger.

"I'll join you," Ripper agreed.

Tara looked at them and saw again what she noticed when they first arrived. "Umm. Now that this is settled, I thought I should tell you two something."

Buffy was startled by Tara's sudden nervous tone. "What's that?"

"Remember when I told you that something was missing from your aura?" the Wicca prompted.

"Vaguely," Buffy answered with a shrug.

But Giles was more surprised at the girl's ability; it was quite rare as a natural talent. "You can read auras?"

She nodded, "Uh-huh. Well, I found the missing piece – or at least part of it," Tara clarified.

Buffy didn't get where Tara was going with this. "What are you talking about?"

"Giles is what was missing. And you're what's missing from his," Tara added.

"What are you saying?" Giles asked, even though he had an idea already. It just seemed too fantastic.

Tara answered plainly, "That you two belong together."

"I thought that we were--" Buffy sounded hurt by what she thought was her girlfriend's rejection.

"And we are!" Tara quickly assured her.

Now Buffy was really confused. "Then how can Giles and I be like that?"

"A three-fold cord," Giles replied.

Tara confirmed, "Exactly!"

"And for those of us who don't have the decoder ring?" Buffy inquired a little harsher than she intended.

Giles started the explanation, "There are some relationships that function differently than the norm of society. They are the basis for the three-fold cord. Separately, they are weak. Mix any two and it's better, but not as strong as it would be with all three."

Buffy stood up and started pacing. "Okay. I'm getting a little wigged here. I've just started to get used to the idea of dating a girl, and now I'm supposed to date both of you? How would the sex part work?" She groaned, then muttered, "And I can't believe I'm having this discussion!"

Tara went to the Slayer's side and took her hand. "Buffy, there wouldn't be any pressure to act on the sexual aspect of our relationship. Either between you and me or between all three of us."

"Of course not, dear girl. This is just a different kind of friendship, if you will," Giles added as he joined them.

"Alright, one of you is going to have to explain this to me and why it involves all three of us," Buffy commanded, offering them a weak smile.

Tara took the first round, "Our part is that I center you emotionally so that you can focus, and you encourage me to believe in myself."

"And ours is fairly obvious. Despite our difficulties in the past, we've bonded on a deeper level as Watcher and Slayer," Giles handled the second.

Buffy nodded slowly. "And you two?" she asked, pointing at them.

"That part, I'm stumped on, too," Tara admitted reluctantly.

Giles considered what he knew of the girl and guessed, "Would I be correct in assuming that you are a earth magick user?"

Tara nodded, "Yes."

"Then that's what it is. Your magick is more stable than the type I practiced in my youth. With you, I could start casting again without losing control. And my experiences would help you grow in your abilities," Giles explained.

"Okay. So I get the friendship side of this cord. What about the smoochies side?" Buffy persisted in the part that bugged her most.

Giles gave her an understanding look and said, "It would progress at whatever speed we were all comfortable with."

"The sex isn't the main focus here. That's what you have to remember," Tara reminded her.

Buffy knew she could trust both of them that way, so there were no worries there. "So what now? Do we go on a date?"

Tara smiled shyly at the Watcher and Slayer. "Actually, that sounds like a great idea. Giles and I need to get to know each other, and we all need to get more comfortable with the new relationship."

"Splendid plan. How does a picnic sound?" Giles suggested, masking his own bemusement at this turn of events.

"I don't know. I've never heard one before," Buffy quipped, proving that things would be fine with them.

A/N: Trying to work out the reactions to this, but having trouble with the dialogue. If I want to post this today, I may have to settle for the way it is now.