Author's Notes: Sorry for the delay, I originally wanted to have this up by Thanksgiving but real life reared its ugly head. Holiday break is coming up, so I'll try and post a lot of updates between December 21st and January 2nd.
Boris Yeltsin: That's a big part of the main plot, and if I can keep on schedule I should be up to that point before the New Year.
Missocki: The Maclay men will get their comeuppance, but things are going to get worse before they get better. And the girls will get together, but not right away. There'll be a little bit of progress to both each chapter.
Evil4Dummies: I might have to twist things around to make it happen, but I promise we'll get to see vampire Willow. They'll be a couple by the time she shows up though. It should be quite fun to write.
Dirty Tube Socks: Sorry about making your stomach queasy. Not answering the first inquiry, but as to your second question absolutely yes. They won't spend time as viewpoint characters, but we'll be spending a lot of time with them after the next two chapters.
Is "Dust Up" any good? For some reason I've only caught Amber Benson in roles where her character dies. :\
Chapter Seven: Anywhere but here
"Cordelia too?" Tara asked. Willow was going to be missing their Saturday magic tutoring session to help Miss Calendar catch up some students who were behind in her computer class, apparently including Xander and Cordelia. Tara knew Willow wasn't relishing having to spend time with the cheerleader, but seemed excited about taking on the role of a teacher.
"Yup." Willow confirmed as they walked down the street to their homes. "Sorry our lesson got postponed."
"We'll have plenty of time for those other days." Tara said with a smile. "A-and you'll get to spend time with Xander."
"Yeah, but with him being all cranky from having to come in to school on a Saturday." With her confusion about her feelings for Tara, Willow hadn't even been thinking about Xander romantically recently. "Hey, speaking of wanting to be somewhere else, you never got a turn at "anywhere but here"."
"Oh." Tara had secretly been glad of that, not wanting to mention who she'd most like to be in some exotic location with. "I-I don't know that I'd want to be somewhere with a celebrity. There's no telling what they're like in real life."
"That doesn't matter. It's a fantasy, they can be however you want." The younger girl was actually quite curious as to what her friend's ideal getaway would be. "At least give me a place."
The older witch sighed, guessing it couldn't hurt to give it a try. "Well, I like your idea of Italy." She closed her eyes for a second, trying to picture somewhere peaceful. "But I wouldn't be in a crowded city, I'd be somewhere hilly, with lots of farms and wide open spaces, like Tuscany. Maybe in a nice house somewhere, with a red tiled roof and a patio I could sit on and see for miles around. There'd be no sounds but the animals, and I could watch the whole valley turn different shades of orange and crimson in the sunset."
Willow could almost see the image Tara was describing. It was lovely, and her imagination started filling in the landscape with farm animals. "That sounds amazing." Then Willow's brain betrayed her and plopped a horse onto the scene, and it began trotting up to her with menace in its eyes. She shivered a little and added an imaginary Tara to protect her from the vicious equine. The blonde sent the horse galloping off and Willow was filled with a deep sense of calm. Really, anywhere could be nice if she was there.
Even with their magic lessons cancelled, the witches were destined to spend their Saturday together. It started with Buffy's concern about Giles' behavior. The night previous he had missed a vampire raid on a truck delivering blood to the hospital and brushed her off when she confronted him about it. She interrupted Miss Calendar's Saturday computer lesson to ask the techno-pagan if she knew anything about her mentor's odd mood. Her concern was validated when Cordelia told them she'd seen the Watcher being questioned by the police the day before. Willow knew how fond Tara was of the librarian and borrowed Jenny's cell phone to call her. Tara didn't have any more insight into what was going on with the Englishman than the rest of them, but was worried enough to agree to come join them at the school.
The Slayer went to the library to look for him and heard someone lurking in the stacks. The mystery intruder pushed over a bookshelf to try and crush her but she evaded the paper avalanche. It turned out to be Ethan, who they all assumed had skipped town. Buffy began questioning him and the scoundrel claimed to know Giles from "way back". The Slayer called her Watcher on the library's phone, and he didn't rouse himself from his stupor until Buffy mentioned the 'Mark of Eyghon' Ethan had said connected the two men. The call was interrupted when a body smashed through the windows and began lumbering towards them.
When the Scoobies rushed in they found Buffy fighting what seemed to be a zombie. Ethan tried to run past them to escape, but Cordy kicked him in the shin. They sat the warlock in a chair after Buffy kicked the zombie into the library's cage. Giles arrived followed soon after by Tara. Rupert looked at the 'zombie' in horrified recognition. It was Philip, an old friend of Giles and Ethan's. The warlock managed to rile Giles by calling him Ripper. Buffy had to stop her mentor from throwing down with him then and there. She was still far too confused by what was going on.
Before she could get any answers Philip burst free of the cage, knocking Jenny senseless to the floor. The Slayer tried to kick him into submission and dealt a hard blow that sent him reeling back into the door of the cage. The zombie began to almost stammer in its movements, and then dissolved into a puddle of acrid goo. Buffy had no time to relish her victory, as it seemed Ethan had once more gotten away. The blonde ran off in search of her quarry as Giles helped his injured beau to her feet. He soothed Jenny until Buffy returned, empty handed and demanding answers. The other teens were equally curious but happy to let their leader do the confronting.
"Giles, share. What is the Mark of Eyghon?" Buffy demanded.
"Hey!" The Watcher stared at her, wide-eyed and deadly serious. "This is not your battle. As your Watcher, I'm telling you unequivocally to stay out of it." The Slayer could only watch as he stood and declared he was taking Jenny home for rest. After the adults left, Buffy mustered her resolve and did what she knew she had to, orders or no orders.
"We have work to do." She told her friends.
Buffy handed out their assignments, sending Willow to check the internet and Tara and Xander to look through the books for information on the Mark of Eyghon. To Tara's surprise Cordelia was waiting excitedly for instructions after Buffy assigned Xander book duty.
"What about me?" The brunette asked eagerly. "I care about Giles."
"Work with Tara and Xander." Buffy decided.
Cordelia slumped a little, not wanting to be elbow to elbow with the goofy boy. "When I say "care", I mean…"
"Cordelia!" The Slayer was in no mood.
"Okay, okay." Cordy relented.
Tara was quickly able to determine the Etruscan origins of the Mark of Eyghon and began reading the description of the demon it was named for to the others. They learned Eyghon moved by entering the nearest dead or unconscious body, which explained how it had animated Philip's corpse. They all shuddered when they realized their situation: Jenny was possessed. And alone with Giles. Buffy went to go protect him, leaving the others to find a way to free Jenny.
The research had special meaning for Tara. She knew demon blood wasn't the same thing as possession; it was the makeup of her body, the way she had been born. But if there were ways of getting rid of a demonic spirit, maybe they were ways of transforming a demonic body into a human one. She was tempted to ignore Jenny's predicament and take advantage of an unsupervised look at Giles' collection. Her conscience wouldn't let her, but already she was making plans to sneak a look some time soon. She had less than three years to work something out, and the Watcher's tomes were her best chance of avoiding her fate she had found so far.
Eventually Cordelia piped up, having just read that demons could be killed by decapitation. Tara had to stop herself from reflexively reaching for her neck. If she couldn't stop herself from turning into a monster by her twentieth birthday, she might end up losing her mind and go on a murderous spree of her own. Her mother tried so hard to train Tara to control her power and expected her to only use it to help people, but what if she couldn't contain it? She knew she didn't want to stay under her father's brand of control, but what if that was all that was holding her back? She'd just be another beast roaming the Hellmouth. And it would be up to Buffy to take her down. Tara prayed that by helping the Slayer she'd offset the evil she might do in the future. It made her even sicker to think that it would be a friend killing her.
Xander snarked at the cheerleader, being less than amused by Cordelia's decapitation suggestion, considering it would also kill Miss Calendar. Cordy was fed up with Xander's ingratitude towards her whenever she tried to help or be polite, so she bit back, stepping up to get in his face. Neither of them recognized the tension between them for what it was, not yet. Willow was too focused on the danger her grown-up friends were in to notice Tara's distress or the weird heat between her best male friend and the bully. The three other teens all snapped to attention as the tiny hacker raised her voice to bring them back to order. Tara was in awe of take-charge Willow. As Willow took command a plan formed in her overactive brain. There was someone they could call on to help them, someone who was dead, and already had a demon they were used to fighting tagging along inside them.
They managed to track down Angel and he gladly agreed to help them. They arrived at Ethan's shop just in time to rescue Buffy and Giles from Eyghon. The demon left Jenny and tried to take hold of the vampire, but his will was too strong and it was swiftly defeated. Ethan had managed to escape, but Buffy was content to fight him another day if Giles and Jenny were alive. She wasn't too pleased that she'd have to spend her savings removing the tattoo Ethan had given her though.
Everyone was impressed with Willow's ingenious plan, especially Tara. Part of her wondered if she could enlist Willow's help in researching a solution to her demon, but it was overwhelmed by the much larger part of her that knew she had to keep it a secret.
When Monday rolled around Tara headed straight for the library to check in with Giles. After the confrontation with Eyghon he'd confessed to all of them about his wild youth, revealing a side of him none of them would have dreamed he possessed. Tara had trouble understanding why someone would willing summon a demon into themselves; it had been gruesome enough just seeing it. Maybe it was different when you were experiencing it yourself, but it was an experience she hoped she could avoid.
The spectacled man was still putting away the last of the books Ethan had knocked over, being the last of the clean up left after the custodial staff had cleared the broken glass and the puddle left by Eyghon. Tara began helping without prompting, eliciting a sad smile from Giles.
"Thank you." He said as she picked up one of the larger books. "Really, you don't need to trouble yourself with this. I'm nearly done."
"I-it's all right." Tara looked for the proper spot for the book she was holding. Giles took it from her hand and shelved it.
"Well, you can just hand them up to me then, and I'll sort them out." She nodded and they spent a few minutes in an uneasy silence as they passed the books. "I'm sorry you all had to see that. The last thing Buffy needs is… me bringing more struggles down on her head."
The librarian was so somber. Tara could relate to his guilt; the first night she met Buffy she'd been acting careless and had added to the Slayer's duties. "I-I think… she was more upset th-that you didn't let her help you." Giles looked at her quizzically. "She-she cares about you. As more than her Watcher, I mean."
Giles exhaled slowly as he reached for the top shelf. He cared about Buffy as more than his Slayer as well, but he knew the Council would not approve. Until he had started his assignment he hadn't truly appreciated how much pressure he would be putting his student under, and just how young sixteen really was. So many of the Watcher's diaries he read treated their subjects like soldiers being observed for a war journal, not girls being thrown into a lion's den of evil.
Perhaps even worse was that the vivacious young girl he was charged with protecting had attracted a circle of steadfast companions who insisted on putting themselves in harm's way as well. It was all one man could do keep them all from getting themselves killed. Then there was the matter of magic. He had very mixed feelings on that subject. On the one hand, it gave Tara, and would soon give Willow, more power to aid their friend and protect themselves. Conversely magic could go awry or tempt them into darkness, dangers he knew all too well from lived experience.
"I was trying to look after her." He said to Tara taking another book from her. "Eyghon was a shadow from my past, it was my burden to bear, not hers." The blonde wasn't sure of what to say. She could see both of their sides in this and didn't want to add any more tension to the mix. Giles blinked after looking at the witch for a long moment contemplatively. "Perhaps some good can come of this, however unequal it may be," he slid the volume into place and reached back to Tara for the next, "To the the ill that came it. At the very least you and Willow can take it as a cautionary tale. The pitfalls of dabbling in arcane arts and so forth."
Tara nodded as she knelt to pick up the last book. "We'll be careful. I promise." He smiled almost warmly as he took the book from her, and then gently placed it in its spot.
Later that evening the young witches had decided they'd practiced enough for the night and were putting away Tara's books so they could chat. Willow was feeling extra jumpy. Things between Miss Calendar and Giles had gone sour, which wasn't helping her anxieties about starting something new of her own. She really had no idea how she'd even begin. Her brain had been throwing out various unhelpful suggestions the whole afternoon she and Tara had been together.
Maybe I should ask if I can kiss her once. Just to know what it's like. Willow's mind had been running with variations on that thought for almost an hour now. She's so sweet, maybe she won't mind letting me… No no no, I can't just ask people to kiss me for an experiment. But, isn't that what you have to do to know if you are… a gay type person? Experiment? Or should I just know? Did she just know? I should ask her how she knows. I wonder if she's kissed anyone. Gah, have to look away from her lips, this thinking isn't getting me anywhere.
Willow tore her eyes away from the mouth that was occupying her thoughts to look at the magic stash under Tara's floorboards. She caught sight of a board game box and squinted in puzzlement. "An Ouija board? Those really work?" She asked.
Tara almost flushed with embarrassment. She didn't know why she'd kept it other than sentimentality.
"Not so much. Spirits usually expect a bit more effort than moving a piece of plastic over dyed cardboard to pick up a call." Tara said as she slid the floorboard back in to place. "I um, used it with some friends in middle school though. They were really into it."
The redhead was surprised. This was the first time Tara had mentioned any friends from Alabama. "Oh. Were, they into witchcraft too?" Her heart sank a little at the thought. Maybe she wasn't that special to Tara after all if the other girl had had a whole group of friends to practice with before. Maybe these lessons didn't mean as much to Tara as they did to her.
Tara shook her head. "None of them had any natural power. We mostly just chanted made up Latin over candles and incense, read each other's fortunes." She half-smiled at her student. "It was fun back then, but this is much better." Willow's heart floated up again, and she flashed a wide smile back at her teacher.
"It's cool that you had friends who were at least somewhat into it though. You never talked about them before." Before she could censor her impulse, the younger girl blurted out of one of the dozens of questions she'd been wanting to ask Tara since her pondering of her feelings had started. "So if you had a bunch of friends in middle school, did you ever have, a girlfriend?" Willow wanted to slap her forehead the minute the words were out. That had been less of a segue and more of what, in her mind at least, was an obvious revelation of her very confused-possibly-more-than-friendly intentions.
On her end Tara only heard a question any teenager might ask a friend. She still couldn't dream of Willow actually reciprocating her affections. She felt awkward about the answer, but Willow was easy to share with, comforting. "Not-not exactly."
That wasn't what Willow had been expecting to hear. "Not exactly? What does that mean?" She raised an eyebrow.
Tara sighed, trying not to look at the floor. "One of the girls in our group, Emma, some stuff happened between us. But we were never r-really girlfriends."
"Stuff?" Willow asked before catching herself. "Not that you have to talk about it, I mean stuff, that can be all kinds of personal and you don't want to talk with just anyone about your stuff."
"I-it's okay Willow." Tara said gently. "You're not just anyone." Willow's heart beat a little faster. "W-would you want to hear, I mean, it doesn't make you uncomfortable, does it?"
"No." Willow said in what she hoped wasn't an over-excited voice. "I wouldn't have asked if I was uncomfortable, I'm very comfortable. Listening."
"We were on her couch, watching a movie alone." Tara began her story. "I noticed she'd been kind of looking at me more than the movie, and I a-asked her why. She said she thought I was pretty, and I said I thought she was pretty too. Then she kissed me, and, things got a little, heated and we kind of made out for the rest of the movie." Willow's green eyes were very wide at this tale. It sounded so unlike the shy girl she knew. "I asked her what it meant, and she said 'What do you mean what does it mean?' I asked 'Does this mean that we're going out, like girlfriends?' And she…" Tara couldn't help but look down at this point. "She said 'No, don't be silly.'"
Willow was shocked. "My god. That must have really hurt. Did you, did you like her?"
Tara sighed. "I think I did, before that. After she said that I stopped having a crush on her. She made out with me few more times, but that was it."
"Wait what? You, kept making out with her? Why?" That wasn't shocking to Willow so much as just plain baffling.
"I figured, I might as well just let her. I, I didn't think I deserved any better, and I should just be grateful for what I could get." A year ago talking about this would have made Tara curl up into herself, but she'd had enough time to get over it. It wasn't really a big deal in the grand scheme of things.
"Tara that's awful." Willow said, her voice raising despite herself. "You deserve way more than some, some ho-bag who just wants to use you for, for…"
Tara cut her off, her friend not seeming able to get out the word 'tongue'. "It's okay, really. We were really young. I wouldn't want to do something like it again, but I was a different person."
"All right." Willow relented. "But you do know you deserve all the best things, right? You swear?"
The blue-eyed girl could feel her insides melt just a bit. "O-okay." The smaller girl just kept looking at her resolutely. She gave in and said what Willow wanted to hear. "I swear."
After learning about Tara's history all thoughts of asking for a test kiss were banished from Willow's mind. She could never hurt Tara like that girl had; Tara was far too precious a friend and person for that. So the onus fell on Willow to determine for herself if she could care for another girl. Instead of an experiment, she'd have to turn to her other area of expertise: research.
The task was daunting one. She'd never even perused straight "research material" to any great extent and was frankly scared to. The internet is full of videos, but that's creepy, 'cause it's like, some real person somewhere and I'd be some stranger thinking about them and ew, I don't think I could do that. Willow thought with a bit of panic. Same with just pictures. Words. Words could be safe. Just made up people doing made up things to each other. Not so creepy. Maybe.
Eventually she swallowed her fears and went searching. She found some short stories she hoped would be just explicit enough for her to judge her reactions accurately, but tame enough she wouldn't feel grimy from reading them. She only planned on looking over a few, but curiosity kept her going on to another and another. Willow rationalized it as just extra rigor for her research.
She gulped after closing the tab on the last story she had opened on her browser. She couldn't help looking around her room to see if anyone had noticed despite being the only one awake in her house. To her relief her laptop was the only witness to her arousal. Her findings were nearly conclusive, needing only to be field tested to be confirmed. I think I'm kinda gay.
Willow may have been ninety percent sure she liked girls, but that didn't mean she was brave enough to tell Tara yet. She was going to carry on as if nothing had changed. She'd dealt with having a crush on a friend before; in fact if she was honest she still wasn't all the way over her crush on Xander. Willow decided to try and relax and give herself some time to adjust to her new self image before spilling the beans.
Thanksgiving was only two days away, and it couldn't come fast enough for Tara. Normally she hated it, because it meant going to the family reunion for her father's side of the family. The subject ended up being raised with her friends after they watched TV with Dawn at the Summers' home.
Joyce came home with the first of the family's Thanksgiving groceries and her daughters got up help her unload them, the other teens following despite there not really being enough bags to go around. Dawn looked over the haul as it was laid out in the kitchen and frowned a little.
"Is Aunt Arlene not coming?" The preteen asked.
Joyce nodded. "She and Jeff are going to Austin this year to eat with his sister's family. Just us three I'm afraid." Buffy and Dawn both pouted at that as they put the food away, liking larger family gatherings. "What about the rest of you? Are you going back to Alabama for the break Tara?" Joyce asked.
Tara almost jolted in surprise, but guessed being the only one not originally from Sunnydale kind of singled her out. "Um, just my father and brother. There's a big f-family reunion this time every year, but with my mom being sick, we're both staying here."
Willow and Buffy both thought that sounded like a jerk move on the part of Mr. Maclay but didn't voice their opinion. Dawn spoke up though. "That sucks, your dad not being home for Thanksgiving." Buffy remembered how sad her little sister had been the year before, the first Thanksgiving they'd spent without their own father. "And your brother." Dawn added, perhaps realizing she'd been speaking about her own feelings more than Tara's. Tara didn't seem too upset by the arrangement, and only Willow had an inkling why.
"So you two are on your own?" Joyce said thoughtfully. "Do you think your mother would want to have dinner with us? We have plenty of room for more."
The witch was taken aback. "I-I don't know." She saw Dawn and Buffy looking at her expectantly. "I could call her and ask." Joyce agreed and Tara left to use the living room phone, somewhat shy about talking with her mother in front of all of the others at once.
Buffy turned to her mother, having been inspired by the invitation to the Maclays. "Could we have Mr. Giles over? All the people he knows are in England, and they don't even have Thanksgiving over there, I think." She said scrunching her face.
"You'd really have a grown-up from school in your house? I'm surprised." Joyce said teasingly.
"Giles is okay." Buffy said. "He's a little uptight, but he could use some cheering up after…"
"Miss Calendar dumped him like last week's garbage?" Xander offered.
Buffy sighed. "Pretty much. She's a decent school grown-up too but, I guess it would be awkward having them both over." She looked back to her mother. "It's not too much is it? Having more people over?"
"The more the merrier. As long as you're helping out with the cooking and cleaning." Joyce said with a smile as Tara returned from the living room. "So, what did she say?"
"She said yes." Tara said happily. "A-and I can help with the cooking and cleaning stuff too."
"Can Xander come?" Dawn asked suddenly, blushing when everyone turned to her. "I-if you're not going to be having a big dinner at your place, or anything."
"Not unless you count buckets of Popeye's chicken and people passed in front of a football game as a big dinner." Xander said somewhat ruefully, leaving out the drinking and yelling matches that preceded the passing out. "I'll be happy to help deplete your food supplies."
"That makes you the last holdout Willow." Buffy said looking at the redhead. "Will you join us?"
"We'd love to have you." Joyce said, joined by an eagerly nodding Dawn.
Willow shrank back a little. "Hey, it's great that you're all getting together but, I have, principles about this holiday. It's about colonialism and cultural domination and, and I don't know that I want to be a part of that." She looked at Buffy and Tara pleadingly. "You agreed with me earlier, remember? About it being a sham?"
"It is a sham." Buffy said, having understood Willow's arguments against Thanksgiving earlier that day, but wanting as many of the people in her life to share it with her as possible. "But, it's a sham with yams. It's a yam sham."
"You can't cutesy rhyme your way into making me celebrate the slaughter of the Native Americans." Joyce repeated Willow's words under her breath in confusion, wondering how a sixteen year old had gotten into such a strong opinion.
"Well, lots of cultures have an end of autumn feast day, to celebrate the last harvest." Tara offered gently. "We don't have to call it Thanksgiving, it can just be Turkey Day. We're celebrating being with the people we care about."
Willow felt the last of her resistance breaking at Tara's hopeful smile.
"Okay, okay, I give. But I'm still not cheering for the pilgrims."
The teenagers ended up doing most of the cooking with some instruction from Joyce. Tara was the only one with any real experience and took the lead. Giles was endeared watching his Slayer enjoy something normal, even if tomorrow they'd have to get back to training. Joyce and Eileen were also bonding, having discovered their mutual love of art.
"I've been meaning to go see the gallery, I had no idea you were the owner." Eileen said as Joyce passed her a glass of apple cider.
"I'm going to be buying some new pieces from L.A. soon. You should come down once the new exhibition starts." They heard someone yelp in the kitchen. "I better go make sure they aren't burning down my house." Joyce said as she got up, leaving Eileen alone with Giles. Giles fiddled with his glasses before addressing her softly.
"I um, I wanted to you to know that I'm grateful that you're, giving guidance to Tara and Willow. In the magicks." He added quietly. "They're very special girls."
"They are." Eileen agreed. "And you'll keep giving them guidance as well?" She fixed him with a solemn look. "When I'm not around?" There was more meaning behind those words than simply a request to look after the girls while they were in school. Rupert caught the subtext and nodded gravely.
Author's (Other) Notes: I'm not going into any more detail on just what Willow read while researching, I'll leave that up to your imaginations. Next time we'll start the "What's my line"? episodes and the gang will meet the second Slayer and a certain musician.