Shattered Souls

by Kinetic-Kid

Copyright © 2005

Rating: NC-17
Disclaimer: Definitely no money being made. All characters belong to Joss Whedon and ME. I own nothing except whatever characters I may make up for this story.
Distribution: The Mystic Muse:
Kinetic-Kid's Site:
Oh yeah, anywhere, anytime. Just make sure I get credit and let me know where it is.
Feedback: Please Please PLEASE. I live for feedback. I get irritable and upset if I don't get any and I might not continue writing. Of course, if you don't like the story and think it sucks you may not want me to continue!
Spoilers: What is left to be spoiled?
Author's Notes: If you don't like the story – blame me! I take full responsibility. If you don't like the pairing – blame Just MePrime!!! LOL It was her request for the 100th review on my Different Endings story!!
Pairing: Buffy/Tara/Anya

Summary: When Tara and Anya begin dating, Buffy realizes she has feeling for both women.

Chapter 1

Tara picks up the phone, hesitating momentarily, before punching the number for the Summers' residence. As the phone rings she picks up the blanket, folding and placing it on the end of the couch, that her friend Jamie was letting her sleep on.

"Hi Buffy. How are you doing today?" Tara questions, worried about the slayer.

"I'm okay." Buffy answers disheartened. "Just getting ready for work." Buffy sits down on the stool.

"You know, if you n-need someone to talk to…" Tara trails off, wondering if she should bring up Spike.

"Thanks, Tara." Buffy smiles briefly, thinking about the caring witch. "I appreciate you letting me…" Buffy hesitates briefly, looking down. "Letting me unload on you."

"Buffy, I can be there for you. You don't have to deal with this by yourself." Tara whispers quietly. "You shouldn't deal with this by yourself."

"I – I'll consider it." Buffy finally answers. "You are coming to Dawn's birthday party, right?" Buffy questions hopefully.

"I'll be there." Tara acknowledges. "But, I kind of need to talk to Willow. Is she there?"

"Are you thinking about…" Buffy questions, wondering if the two women were finally getting back together, in a way, hoping they did. But in another way, thinking that their newfound friendship and closeness wouldn't have come about, if it weren't for the two women splitting.

"That's what I need to talk to Willow about." Tara admits quietly. "I think I should discuss it with her, before anyone else."

Buffy nods her head, before realizing that Tara can't see her. "Okay. You know, you can talk to me, too. If you need to."

"Thanks, Buffy." Tara smiles softly, thinking about the slayer, even with everything happening to her, she still worries about everyone else.

"Let me get her. Don't be a stranger, maybe we can get together for coffee or something." Buffy offers.

"That sounds wonderful." Tara bites her lip as she hears Buffy calling for Willow.

"Here she is." Buffy lets Tara know as she hands the phone to Willow. "I'm going to work."

Willow watches as Buffy leaves the house, frowning at the dejected slayer. "Tara?" Willow questions, her heart picking up at the thought that maybe Tara was willing to forgive her and come back home.

"Hi, W-willow." Tara stutters before taking a deep breath to get her thoughts in order. "I want to meet and talk with you. Discuss our relationship."

Willow swallows hearing the sad note in Tara's voice. "Ummm. Sure. When and where?" Willow clenches her teeth, her gut clenching in a hard knot.

"Espresso Pump in an hour?" Tara offers up, frowning at the tense note in Willow's voice.

"I'll be there…" Willow rubs a hand across her forehead, feeling a headache start. "This isn't going to be good, is it?"

"We'll talk in an hour." Tara whispers into the phone. "'Bye, Willow." Tara gently hangs the phone up, feeling tears coming to her eyes. Sadly wiping them away, she walks towards the bathroom to get ready.

Willow walks slowly towards the Espresso Pump, feeling the urge to run back to the house, so whatever is going to happen, doesn't. Looking up, she shoves her hands in her jacket pockets as she sees Tara sitting outside, sipping her mug of tea, with probably a mocha in front of the other seat for herself. Finishing walking the last couple yards, she watches as blue eyes look up, making eye contact with her as she sits down across from her ex-lover.

Smiling nervously, Willow reaches for the mocha, looking down after seeing the sad look in Tara's eyes. "I assume this is for me?"

"Yes." Tara answers simply, watching Willow closely.

"Is it over?" Willow whimpers, tears coming to her eyes looking up at Tara.

Tara looks down into her tea, cupping both hands around the mug. "I want you to know a part of me will always love you, Willow." Tara glances up into the teary eyed face of her ex-lover. "But I can't ever trust you or be with you again." Tara finishes on a quiet whisper.

"But…no magic…I'm…" Willow trails off, tears streaming down her face. "I love you." She cries out.

"Oh, Goddess." Tara runs a shaking hand over her face before making eye contact with Willow. "I am so proud of you for not doing magic, Willow. You're doing great." Tara looks down briefly, running her finger over the handle of her mug. Taking a deep breath, she looks back up. "You lied to me, Willow. You promised me no magic, then you performed another forget spell less than twenty-four hours later. I will be able to forgive you in time, but I'll never be able to forget." Tara looks sadly at the hacker. "I can't be with someone that would knowingly reach in and steal my memories, my life away from me, Willow." Standing up, Tara buttons her jacket and picks up her purse. "I do love you, Willow. But we can't ever have what we did. Maybe, when you can see past all this, we can be friends again. I really would like that." Tara whispers, tears rolling down her face as she turns and quickly walks away.

Willow whimpers, watching the love of her life walk away from her, knowing in her heart that she's lost the woman for good. Feeling a surge of anger start to work through her body, she clamps down on those feelings, realizing that's what got her into trouble to begin with. Roughly wiping the tears away from her face, she sighs looking down into her mocha cup. Pushing it away, she slowly stands and trudges back to the house.

Tara walks around town, not paying attention to where she's going. Wondering to herself if she's done the right thing, but knowing in her heart she can never be with Willow again. Wrapping her arms around her waist, she looks down as she walks, not realizing she's been walking for hours and hours.

Buffy sighs as she clocks out, pulling off her ridiculous hat and putting it up in the break room. Groaning at the smell of greasy fried foods oozing from her pores, she walks out of the DMP heading towards home. After walking at a good clip for a couple blocks, she sees a familiar figure hunched over, walking ahead of her. Picking up the pace, she pulls up beside Tara. Glancing over, waiting for Tara to acknowledge her, she sees her tear streaked face.

Tara looks out of the corner of her eyes, seeing Buffy walking beside her, smiling sadly, she turns her head to look at her fully. "I ended it for good." She whispers, tears starting to fall from her eyes again.

Buffy places a hand on her arm, pulling Tara to a stop. Facing the witch she sees the sadness, heartbreak and pain. "Oh, Tara." Buffy hesitantly reaches out for the witch, surprised, when Tara buries her head in her shoulder, sobbing and wrapping her arms around her in a crushing embrace. Placing her arms gingerly around the witch, rubbing her hands gently on the witch's back.

Not having any idea what to say, Buffy just holds and tries to comfort the witch. After long minutes, Buffy realizes Tara's finally stopped crying, just having the occasional hiccup from the tears. "You know I just finished work and smell like a big greasy burger right?" Buffy tries to joke quietly.

Snorting out a half sob half laugh, Tara nods her head against Buffy's shoulder. "I noticed." She whispers rubbing her face against Buffy before releasing her death grip on the slayer, slowly backing away. "I'm sorry for…" Tara waves her hand towards Buffy's shoulder while looking down.

"Nothing to be sorry over. But if we make this a habit, we're going to need to invest in a tissue company." Buffy smiles sadly starting to reach for the witch, dropping her hand back to her side. "Do you want to talk?"

Tara looks up as Buffy's hand drops back, frowning before looking into the sad hazel eyes. "I told her that we were through. I can't ever trust her again. Even though one day I'll forgive her, I'll never be able to forget, or be with her again." Starting to slowly walk down the street, she glances at Buffy as she falls in beside her.

"It's hard." Buffy murmurs watching her feet as they walk. "Sometimes, I feel so angry at her for bringing me back. Then the rest of the time, I don't feel much of anything."

"How are things between you and…" Tara frowns, hating to mention the vampire's name.

"The same." Buffy admits glancing up looking down the road. "Beat each other up, then fuck each other. Go home nursing the bruises."

"Buffy." Tara starts hating the dead empty sound of the slayer's voice.

"I know." Buffy looks down. "It isn't healthy and I'm being self-destructive. I hate it and I hate myself for doing it."

"What do you need, Buffy?" Tara whispers, bringing the slayer to a halt looking at her.

"If I knew that, I would tell you in a heartbeat." Buffy clenches her jaw before looking into worried blue eyes. "I'll work through it, Tara. I appreciate you being here for me to talk to." Looking up at the slowly darkening sky, she frowns. "You need to head home…" Buffy stops and looks at the witch. "Where are you living at?"

Tara looks down, tucking her hands back in her jacket pockets. "I'm sleeping on the couch at a friend's house." Seeing the disturbed and guilty look crossing Buffy's face, she shakes her head. "I'm fine. I couldn't get back into the dorms, so Jamie, a friend from one of my classes, offered me use of her couch."

"Hell, I'm sorry, Tara. I didn't even think about where you would go when you moved out." Buffy mutters kicking at the ground as they start walking again.

"Buffy, it isn't your fault." Tara admonishes gently. "It isn't your fault that things go wrong. We screw up our lives just fine on our own." Sighing quietly, Tara glances up at the lights starting to come on down the street. "All I ever really wanted was someone to love and to love me back. Someone I could trust with my mind, body, heart and soul. I'm starting to think that's an impossibility." Tara shakes her head. "I'm staying around the block."

"I'll make sure you get in okay." Buffy glances at Tara before questioning softly. "How did she take it?"

"She was upset, hurt. She knew why I called." Tara wipes a tear from her face. Sighing she turns up the walkway to the older apartment building. "I don't know if it'll be possible, but I hope that someday we may be able to be friends." Tara unlocks the door to the apartment building, turning to look at Buffy. "Thanks for walking me home."

Buffy nods frowning. "She probably needs someone to talk to."

"Probably." Tara looks down picking at her skirt. "If you don't want, maybe you can get Xander to take her out and talk to her."

"I'll do it." Buffy whispers. "I need to get back into the land of the living." Buffy thinks to herself how truer words have never been spoken.

"Be careful and take care of yourself, Buffy." Tara softly voices the words. "You've got people that care about you and love you. Remember that." Tara quickly turns on her heel and heads into the building.

Buffy stands there for a long moment staring at the closed door before turning around and heading home.

Walking in the door, Buffy slowly works her way up the stairs. Seeing the door to Willow's room closed, she sighs as she listens to the heart breaking sobs coming from behind the door. Deciding to hold off for a few moments, she goes to her room. Grabbing a pair of jeans and shirt to change into before going to the bathroom to take a shower.

Knocking lightly on the door, Buffy listens for some kind of acknowledgement from Willow. Waiting for a few minutes, Buffy knocks a little louder sighing. Hearing the sobs still coming from Willow, Buffy finally pushes open the door to slowly walk into the hacker's room. Easing down to sit beside Willow, Buffy reaches out hesitantly and places her hand on the woman's shaking shoulders. Frowning at how the hacker is scrunched up in a tight ball.

"It'll get better." Buffy whispers gently squeezing Willow's shoulder.

Willow impossibly, squeezes into an even smaller ball. "No it won't." She shudders, the tears still falling. "I fucked up so bad. She isn't ever taking me back. Not even a chance of her coming back to me." Willow brokenly gets out between sobs.

"I'm sorry." Buffy sighs. "I wish I could make everything right for you, Willow."

Willow snorts out a sarcastic laugh. "Why? I fucked you up worse than I did myself. You were happy, finally at peace and what does the witch with a God complex do? Brings you back to this Hellhole. Why are you letting me stay here? Why do you even care that I'm in here crying myself into a red faced, swollen eyed mess? I'm such a major screw up, Buffy. Goddess, I love her so much and what do I do? I take her memories away from her, not once, but twice! And you know what she said was the reason she can't take me back? Was it stealing her memories? No, it was the fact that I promised her to not do any magic. She found out about the first memory swipe and almost left me then, I begged and pleaded with her to stay, to forgive me. She finally relented, stayed with me. So did I learn my lesson? Did I realize how close I came to losing the one thing wonderful in my life? Hell no!! I decide to play God, tried to fix you and her, AFTER promising her not to do any magic for a week. That worked well, didn't it?"

Buffy sits there stunned as everything Willow told her slowly sinks in. Never knowing what the actual cause of the split between the two women, she has a hard time believing Willow would do something like that…until she remembers the big forget spell that thankfully backfired. Not knowing what to say, Buffy continues the stroking of Willow's shoulder.

Willow slowly uncurls herself and sits up, rubbing her hands across her face roughly. "I'm going to move back home, Buffy. I need to get my head back together. Do me a favor. I don't know where she's staying, but see if you can get Tara to move back in here with you guys. Dawnie loves her and she loves Dawnie. She'll be better for you two than I am."

Buffy stares in shock at Willow, her mouth opening and closing before she shakes her head. "Willow…"

"Don't, Buffy." Willow interrupts looking at the confused slayer. "Bring her home. I'll get my stuff together tonight and move back home tomorrow. No arguments." Willow stands and reaches into the closet, grabbing out her luggage. "Mom's home right now. I'll have her help me get the stuff back to the house."

Buffy watches Willow start filling the luggage with her clothes. "Won't you think about this?"

"I have." Willow doesn't look at Buffy, continuing to pack her clothes. "In between crying and sleeping." Willow makes brief eye contact with Buffy. "Dawnie knows her phone number. Take care of her for me." Willow turns back around emptying the drawers to the dresser, stopping momentarily as she comes across one of Tara's shirts. Running her fingers over it, she inhales deeply before placing it aside.

"Wills." Buffy tries again.

"Don't, Buffy. This is hard enough as it is. Just let me go, please." Willow begs quietly. "You need to go on patrol."

Buffy frowns, not knowing what to say. Slowly standing she watches Willow with sad eyes.

"Go, please." Willow hunches her shoulders looking down at the dresser, clenching the edge tightly in her hands as she feels the slayer's eyes on her.

Buffy finally walks towards the door, leaving the hacker alone.

Willow sighs as she hears the door shut behind the slayer. "I've got to figure out my life, Buffy. I'm sorry." Willow whispers to the empty room.

Buffy works slowly through the cemetery, slowing down as she comes across a fresh grave. Hopping up on a tombstone, she pulls out a stake, spinning it absentmindedly in her hand, waiting for the vampire to show.

Thinking about what Willow asked of her, she feels her heart aching at the obvious hurt the hacker is feeling. Opening her eyes wide in shock, as she realizes she's actually feeling something besides anger, it takes her a moment to realize the vampire has climbed out of the grave. Jumping down, she does a quick spin kick, knocking it back a couple feet before slamming his jaw with a hard uppercut. As he falls back on the ground dazed, Buffy quickly stakes him. Tucking her stake back away, she walks around the cemetery before heading back out on patrol. After walking a couple blocks, she feels a vampire near, waiting for it to show itself, she continues strolling along. When she gets a whiff of cigarette smoke and makes out the blonde hair ahead of her, she frowns.

Pulling up beside the bleached blonde vampire, Buffy shakes her head. "Spike, I can't do this anymore."

"What's wrong, luv?" Spike throws his cigarette on the ground, crushing it under his boot. "I thought we got something good goin' here."

"No, we beat the hell out of each other, then have violent sex." Buffy growls quietly, looking up into the ice blue eyes of the vampire. "I've got to go on with my life, Spike. And you aren't part of that. You can't be part of that. I finally realized, that I need someone that I can walk in the sun with. Share my whole life with. You can't be that person. Hopefully, some day I'll find someone."

"Oh, right." Spike sarcastically mutters. "Getting holier than thou, now?" Spike reaches out grabbing the slayer by both arms, jerking her into his body. "You enjoy the demon in me, Slayer. I know it, you know it."

Buffy pushes him away, ripping her arms from his grasp. "Spike, I can't. I can't go through this anymore. I need to get back to the land of the living. I can't do that with you. Please, just accept the fact that we're through, and leave me alone. Please." Buffy whispers stepping back away from the vampire. "I appreciate everything you've done for us, for Dawn. But we're through."

"So, it's gonna be like that, is it?" Spike growls pulling out a cigarette and lighting it. "You'll be back, luv. You like the violence. You need it. You ain't gonna find it with any regular person."

"No, I don't need it." Buffy shakes her head, realizing finally, what Tara had previously been trying to tell her. "I need love and understanding. You don't know what that is, no matter what you might think or believe. I'm sorry, but just leave me alone." Buffy slowly walks away, leaving the vampire behind.

Spike clenches his jaw, inhaling deeply of the cigarette. "You're not going to get rid of me that easily, Slayer." Spike growls out flicking his cigarette away. "I'll figure out a way to get back in your pants." He spins around, his leather coat swaying around his body before heading away from the way the slayer went.

Chapter 2

Buffy carries down the last of Willow's stuff, slowly walking out to her mom's car. Placing it gently in the trunk, she watches as Willow hugs a teary eyed Dawn. Swallowing she walks up to the hacker.

Willow smiles sadly at Dawn. "I've got to do this, Dawnie. Hopefully Tara will move back home with you two."

Dawn nods her head, wiping her eyes. "I know. Don't make it hurt any less, but I understand."

"I'll be here next weekend for your birthday party. Be good, Dawnie." Willow's lip cocks up in a half smile.

"I'll try." Dawn nods her head looking down. "Please don't hide away, come and visit."

"I will." Willow hugs the teen once more, before turning to the sad eyed slayer.

Buffy looks at the hacker for a long moment before nodding her head. "I'll give you the time you need. But don't you forget who your friends are. And don't forget, we're family."

Willow smiles tremulously before hugging Buffy strongly. "Thank you, Buffy."

Hugging her back, Buffy feels a small smile cross her face. "You're welcome. If you need me, call. Don't forget to stay in at night. If you get caught out, let me know."

"I will." Willow wipes a tear from her face, after pulling out of the slayer's arms. "Take care of each other."

"We will." Buffy wraps a tentative arm around her sister, and smiles as Dawn pushes into her body, wrapping both arms around her. "I think she'll be okay."

"I hope so." Dawn whispers watching as Willow climbs in the car and waves goodbye to them. "Who's going to call Tara?" Dawn questions quietly.

"Do you want to?" Buffy turns with Dawn to walk back into the house, walking towards the kitchen.

"It might be better coming from you." Dawn suggests looking down. "If she balks, maybe you can use me as a trump card, that I need her here or something."

Buffy smiles, chuckling quietly. "All we would probably have to say, is that we want her here, and she'll come home, Dawn."

"You're probably right, I'll call." Taking a deep breath, Buffy smiles at her sister before picking up the phone. "What's the number?" She punches in the numbers as Dawn rattles them off. Waiting for someone to pick up the phone on the other end, she watches as Dawn grabs a water out of the refrigerator, and heads into the living room.

"Umm, hello. Is Tara there?" Buffy questions after the phone is answered.

"Hold on a minute." Jamie looks towards Tara. "Phone call, Tara."

"Thanks." Tara smiles briefly as she takes the phone from her temporary roommate.


"Hi, Tara." Buffy smiles at the questioning note in the witch's voice.

"Buffy! How are you?" Tara sits down, surprised at hearing from the slayer. "Is everything okay?"

"Well, yes, and sort of." Buffy frowns before sighing. "You aren't to blame, so don't take it that way, okay?"

Tara frowns momentarily. "I'm not to blame for what?"

"Willow's moved back home. She said; she needs to get her head straightened out. And even if she hadn't suggested it, I'd ask this anyway. Will you please move back in?" Buffy unconsciously holds her breath.

"What?" Tara shakes her head, trying to make sense of what the slayer had said. "Let me get this right, Willow moved out, and she wants me to move back in with you guys?"

"Partly. We want you to move back in, also. You're family, Tara. We want you here with us." Buffy looks down at the floor for a long moment. "Please?"

Tara blinks for long moments in surprise. "I…I don't know what to say."

"Say you're packing up your stuff, and I'll walk over to help bring you home." Buffy makes the statement. "Do I need to fight dirty?" Buffy questions half jokingly.

"Fight dirty?" Tara repeats confused.

"Yeah, like saying that Dawn really needs you here, and that I need someone to talk to, that knows everything that I've been going through?" Buffy whispers quietly into the phone.

"Oh…" Tara inhales deeply before nodding her head. "It'll only take me a couple minutes to pack. I've kind of been living out of the boxes."

"I'll leave now." Buffy releases her tense stance. "'Bye, Tara."

"'Bye." Tara hangs up the phone, surprised. Looking up, she sees Jamie looking at her questioningly. "I guess I'm moving back into the house."

Jamie nods her head, smiling. "Kind of sounded that way. You're always welcome, if you need the couch."

Tara smiles crookedly. "Thanks, Jamie. I'm just kind of in shock."

"You're a wonderful person, Tara." Jamie's eyes twinkle with mischief all of a sudden. "And if I didn't have a boyfriend…" Jamie chuckles as Tara blushes. "Need help getting everything together?"

"No, I've got it." Tara bites her lip. "I really appreciate your letting me stay here."

"What? I think I got the good end of the deal. I haven't eaten this good since I left home." Jamie smiles. "You know where I live, if you need me."

Tara smiles as Jamie leaves the apartment for her date with her boyfriend. "Thanks, Jamie." She whispers before quickly gathering her few items, placing them in the box. Looking around the apartment, she checks the bathroom, grabbing her body wash and bathroom kit. Tucking them away in a box, she smiles finally letting it sink in, she's heading back to the house she has come to think of, as home.

"I'm going to help Tara bring her stuff home." Buffy looks at her sister sitting on the couch, smiling at the obvious happiness crossing her face. "You okay here, until we get back?"

"Gosh, yes." Dawn bounces on the cushion. "I'll go upstairs, strip the bed, and clean the bedroom before you guys get back." Dawn yells before running up the stairs, leaving Buffy actually laughing, watching the quick retreat of the teen.

"Wow." Buffy blinks in surprise at actually laughing, and feeling happy for the first time since coming back. "Interesting." Buffy walks to the door, heading towards downtown.

Buffy looks at the three boxes and the bag, sitting on the floor by the door. "This it?" She glances up at Tara.

"That's all." Tara admits, looking at the meager belongings that make up her life. Watching as Buffy lifts each item briefly, before finally settling on the heavy bag, slinging it over her shoulder, and grabbing the two heaviest boxes, stacking one on top of the other, before picking them up.

"Let's head to the house." Buffy smiles briefly, watching as Tara grabs the last box.

"I can carry more than this." Tara offers looking at Buffy.

"I got it." Buffy shakes her head, before walking out of the apartment. Buffy glances over at Tara, as they walk towards her house. "I ran into Spike last night." Buffy starts quietly.

Tara stiffens at the vampire's name, really wanting to stake the son of a bitch for taking advantage of Buffy, when she needed friendship and family, instead of being fucked and abused. Taking a couple deep breaths, she slowly calms down. "What happened?" She questions softly, after getting control of her emotions.

"I ended it." Buffy admits quietly, looking down the road. "Not so sure he's going to leave it at that."

"He will, if he knows what's good for him." Tara growls out quietly.

Buffy blinks in surprise at the witch. "Tara?" She questions hesitantly.

"Sorry." Tara shakes her head, picking up the pace slightly. "I just don't like the fact that he took advantage of you, when you needed friendship."

"I was a willing participant, Tara." Buffy whispers.

"No you weren't. Not really." Tara shakes her head, glancing at the slayer. "You just thought that was your only option. Now you know better. Know you have people to talk to, that will be there for you, no matter what."

"I have you, to be there no matter what." Buffy specifies. "You've been a wonderful friend throughout all this, Tara. I want you to know, how much I appreciate your being there for me."

"And I will be, no matter what." Tara smiles briefly. "Remember that, please."

"I will." Buffy acknowledges quietly. "Dawn is cleaning the room, and stripping the bed for you. She was extremely excited at the fact of you coming back home." Buffy grins thinking about her sister.

"She just misses my pancakes." Tara jokes, smiling.

"Nah. She misses you. You've always been there for her. Through everything, you always helped her, no matter what." Buffy continues seriously. "I want to thank you, for taking care of her when I was…" Buffy hesitates, looking up at the bright sunny day. "When I was gone."

Tara gazes at the slayer. "No matter what ever happens, I'll always be there for her, Buffy. You know that."

"Yes I do." Buffy nods smiling. "Of that, I have no doubt, whatsoever."

Tara smiles at the slayer as they continue walking.

"Got everything situated?" Buffy questions from the doorway, watching as Dawn bounces on the bed, as Tara closes the dresser drawer.

"Yes." Tara smiles turning to the slayer. "Thanks for your help, Dawnie."

"Welcome." Dawn stands up, hugging Tara briefly. "I'm hungry."

Tara chuckles, watching as Dawn bounces out of the room. Shaking her head, she glances at Buffy, surprised to see a soft smile on her face. "Doing better?" Tara questions quietly.

"I'm getting there." Buffy nods. "I don't know about you, but I'd rather not eat one of Dawn's concoctions for dinner."

Tara laughs quietly as she follows Buffy out of her room. "She does have a tendency to make some very unusual combinations of food."

"That's a nice way of putting it." Buffy smirks as she heads down the stairs, into the kitchen.

Tara quickly sorts through the kitchen, frowning at the lack of food available. "Well, how do you two feel about soup and sandwiches?"

"That's fine." Buffy murmurs grabbing a water out of the fridge, frowning, as she realizes that Tara noticed. "I gotta go to the store."

"I'll make a list, and go after lunch." Tara opens the soup cans, dumping them in a pot. Turning the stove on, she grabs down plates and the loaf of bread. Pulling the lunchmeat and cheese out of the fridge, she sets them on the counter, watching as Buffy reaches in, grabbing the condiments out, placing them besides the meat.

"I'll throw together the sandwiches." Buffy offers.

"Well, what else am I going to do?" Tara looks around, before grabbing a notepad and pen out of the drawer. Sitting down at the island, she starts making a list for the grocery store. Frowning as she realizes, she doesn't have enough money to get everything, she starts trimming the list down to the essentials. Biting her lip, she thinks before standing up, and walking to the phone. Dialing Anya at the Magic Box, she sits back down at the island.

"Thank you for calling the Magic Box, your one stop shop for all your Magical needs." Anya chirps out.

"Hi, Anya." Tara smiles at the greeting. "I need to ask you something."

"Good afternoon, Tara. What do you need to ask?" Anya smiles, happy to hear from the one person, she really considers a friend.

"Are you still looking for someone to fill in during the evenings?" Tara questions.

"Yes I am. Do you want the job?" Anya asks hopefully, having offered the job to the witch previously, but being turned down, because she didn't want to be around where Willow would show up.

"If you're still willing to have me." Tara smiles briefly. She glances up as she watches Buffy's hands still, from making the sandwiches. Making eye contact with concerned hazel eyes, Tara smiles reassuringly at the slayer.

"When can you start?" Anya questions quickly.

"When do you need me?" Tara throws back at the ex-vengeance demon.

"Want to start Monday? Come by after your classes and we can work out a schedule?" Anya starts thinking about possibilities. "What changed? You turned me down because you didn't want to run into Willow."

"Ummm." Tara looks down briefly, before taking a deep breath. "She and I are completely through. I won't be taking her back. She knows now, and it's pretty much a moot point."

"I am sorry." Anya blinks briefly. "But it is good news for me."

Tara chuckles at Anya. "I'll be by Monday after classes."

"See you then." Anya hangs up grinning from ear to ear, happy to have the witch working for her.

"Why are you doing that?" Buffy questions, looking with concern at Tara.

"We need the extra money. And Anya had previously offered me the job, I didn't want to take it, thinking I was going to run into Willow." Tara admits quietly, finishing making the sandwiches, Buffy had stopped in the middle of doing.

Buffy sits down hard on the seat. "How are you going to do all your studying and everything, while working at the Magic Box?"

"Anya is going to let me study while I'm there. I'll keep a running list of all items that are sold while I'm working. She told me I wouldn't have to worry about stocking the shelves or anything like that, because she usually has time to do it during the day, so it shouldn't be hard." Tara cuts the sandwiches before grabbing down bowls, filling them with the soup. "Dawnie, come get your lunch." Tara smiles as Dawn comes in grabbing her plate and bowl.

"Thanks, Tara." Dawn grins hugely. "Do you guys mind if I eat in the living room, there's this really cool show on the Disney Channel."

"That's fine." Buffy nods at her sister, watching her leave the kitchen. Turning back to watch Tara sit down and nibble on her sandwich, Buffy picks up her spoon, starting to eat her soup. "I'm sorry."

"For what?" Tara looks up in surprise.

"Making it so you have to get a job." Buffy mutters quietly.

Tara sighs, placing her hand over the slayers. "I was already looking for a job, Buffy. The stipend I get for housing isn't that much, and I was going to need something to help. So don't take the blame for something that isn't your fault." Tara explains quietly, before pulling her hand away to continue eating her lunch.

"It's what I do." Buffy sets her spoon down, frowning.

"Then stop it." Tara strongly states the three words, making Buffy jerk her head up looking at her. "Everything is not your fault. You need to stop being so fucking self-righteous and self-centered, and realize that everybody makes their own decisions. Makes their own mistakes. You have enough things to worry about, being the slayer and a sister, don't fucking add everything else to it." Tara growls out before standing, placing the dirty dishes in the sink, and striding out of the room.

Buffy sits in stunned silence, almost feeling like the witch had smacked her across the face with the words. "Is that what I do?" Buffy questions the empty room. Thinking on what the woman said, she realizes she does take the blame for everything that happens. "God, I've been doing it for so long, how am I supposed to stop?" Buffy whispers before sighing. Gathering up her dirty dishes, she runs the water, slowly washing the dirty dishes.

"Do you have to work tomorrow?" Dawn questions as she brings her dishes in.

"Yeah, I have to do morning shift." Buffy washes the dishes Dawn placed in the water before letting the water out. Taking the rag, she wipes down the counters, frowning as she hears the front door shut. Looking out the window, she watches Tara stride down the street with a light jacket on, carrying her purse. "Ah, hell." Buffy mutters. "Is there anything in particular you want this week to eat?"

"I wouldn't mind to have stuff to make shakes." Dawn smiles hopefully.

"I'll see what I can do. Stay in the house, Tara's already left, and I know she's going to need some help." Buffy grins briefly as she grabs her jacket and cash, quickly heading out to catch up to the witch.

"Goddess, I can't believe she wants to take the blame for everything that happens." Tara growls as she sits down, yanking her shoes on. Quickly tying them, she grabs her purse, checking the money, frowning, at the $50 she has, wishing she had more. Sighing she pulls her jacket on before quickly heading down the stairs, and out of the house.

"Like she doesn't have enough to worry about." Tara mutters after a few minutes, as she strides down the street. "I can't believe I went off on her, like that's a big help. I'm sure she wants me in the house, if I'm going to act like that."

Buffy chuckles as she listens to the witch talk to herself. "Actually, I'm glad you did say the things you did." Buffy grins as Tara stops dead in her tracks. Walking up besides the pale witch, Buffy laughs quietly. "Do it more often."

"Goddess, I'm sorry Buffy. I had no right to go off on you like I did." Tara looks down at the ground.

"Don't Tara. You were right." Buffy admits quietly. "Come on, let's go to the store. And if you catch me taking the blame for everything again, call me on it."

Tara looks at the slayer surprised. "You sure? I mean, it isn't really any of my business…"

"Yeah it is. It's what one friend does for another friend." Buffy calmly makes the statement as they walk into the grocery store.

Chapter 3

Tara chuckles quietly at Anya. "So you would like me to work from 4:00 - 8:00 every evening, and we'll alternate Saturdays?"

"Yes. If you can, maybe you can come in and open the shop earlier, when I am away on my honeymoon, after Xander and I get married." Anya smiles hopefully at the witch. "I was planning on just closing the shop, but I don't want to miss out on making money."

"I can do that." Tara smiles softly at the ex-demon, as she helps her restock the shelves.

"Of course, you can study while it's quiet. We discussed that before." Anya thinks heavily. "I will pay you once a week. Friday, if that is okay?"

"Hold back a week?" Tara questions, as she closes the jar she just finished filling.

Anya frowns. "I don't like doing that."

"Well, if you want, my pay period can go from Friday through Thursday? That way, this Friday, you'll pay me for working Monday through Thursday of this week." Tara makes the offer.

"I like that idea. That is what I'll do. Leave a note on the desk Thursday night with your total hours, and I'll write your check on Fridays, when I come in." Anya smiles happily at getting this taken care of.

"Anything else need to be re-stocked?" Tara questions quietly giving the shelves the once-over, not noticing anything.

"No, that was all. Thank you for your help." Anya nods at the witch.

"Well, technically, you're paying me for it, Anya." Tara smiles indulgently at the ex-demon.

"That is true. But it doesn't hurt to say thank you." Anya looks around, sighing quietly. "It is going to feel weird getting home early."

"Look at it this way, it'll give you time to finish getting ready for your wedding." Tara smiles as she grabs her books, sitting them on the counter.

"Tara?" Anya questions quietly looking at the witch, with a slight look of trepidation.

Tara glances up, making eye contact with Anya. "What is it?"

"I was wondering, if you would be my Maid of Honor." Anya asks hopefully. "I understand you're monetarily challenged at this moment, and I would pay for your dress."

Tara blinks in surprise. "I, I don't know what to say."

"Say, yes." Anya whispers. "I consider you my one true friend, out of everyone."

Tara swallows and nods her head. "I would be honored, to be your Maid of Honor, Anya."

Anya jumps up, hugging Tara tightly. "Thank you very, very much." Pulling away she frowns. "That was just a best friend hug. I was not wishing to have lesbian sex with you."

Tara bites back a laugh. "I understand, Anya. You like men." Tara can't help the big grin crossing her face. Yes, she honestly likes the ex-vengeance demon. Part of the woman's charm, is her bluntness.

"Oh, that isn't it." Anya waves her hand airily. "I have been with hundreds of women. It's just that I am with Xander right now."

"You've been with women?" Tara questions, surprised.

"Oh, yes." Anya nods her head smiling. "I am over 1200 years old, do you honestly think, in all that time, I haven't played both sides of the fence? My, the number of times I've been the rebound person for women. That has been known to be some of the best sex imaginable." Anya nods her head, narrowing her eyes briefly, looking at Tara. "I bet you are a wildcat in the sack. It is too bad I am with Xander."

Tara blushes deeply, quickly grabbing a textbook, opening it.

Anya laughs heartily. "Don't think I didn't notice all the times you and Willow would sneak off, up into the stacks, or down in the basement. You two were very active, weren't you?"

"Anya, please." Tara whispers embarrassed. "I don't think this is the proper place, to be discussing this."

Anya looks around the empty shop. "Why not? It isn't like anybody is in here, right now. Tell me honestly, you were very active, weren't you?"

Tara sighs, shaking her head. "Yes, Anya. We were very active. Most days it was four or five times." Not believing she's actually talking about her sex life with Anya, Tara giggles. Watching as Anya bites her lip, trying not to laugh, Tara narrows her eyes briefly, considering the ex-demon. All of a sudden, a light bulb goes off in Tara's mind. "You talk about sex all the time just to irritate people, and make them uncomfortable, don't you?"

Anya closes her eyes as the laughter bubbles up. Sitting down at the table, she grins.

Tara laughs, and walks around to join the woman at the table. "Why do you do it?"

"Shock value. It's hilarious to see everyone turning different shades of red, seeing how long it takes to make them angry at me." Anya smirks. "It's good entertainment."

Tara shakes her head, relaxing completely. "Does Xander know why you do it?"

"Oh, no. He thinks I do it because that's just the way I am. He still hasn't caught on to the fact I like to get a rise out of everyone. Even though, I must admit, you weren't as easy to get a rise out of, as everyone else." Anya tilts her head considering the witch. "I can usually get you to blush, but you never seem to get angry or mad at me."

Tara smirks at Anya. "Probably cause I got a little entertainment out of watching you irritate everyone, too."

Anya laughs, nodding her head. "I knew it. You aren't going to tell on me, are you?"

Tara shakes her head, smiling. "Your secret's safe with me."

"Thank you." Anya smiles genuinely at the witch. "Willow made a huge mistake screwing up your relationship. You are a very wonderful, caring, beautiful woman." Anya's eyes dip down to Tara's cleavage, as a wicked look crosses her face. "With very beautiful breasts." Wiggling her eyebrows at Tara.

Tara laughs heartily and shakes her head. "I'm onto you now. I won't be as easily embarrassed."

"Damn." Anya grumbles, before smirking. "I'll just have to try harder."

Tara stands up grinning to walk behind the counter. Sitting on the stool, she opens her book back up and flips her notebook open. "Thanks for the job, Anya."

"You're welcome." Anya smiles softly before walking around and hugging Tara. "If you need anything, please let me know."

Tara watches Anya, seeing the sincerety in the woman's face. "Thank you."

"Have a wonderful night, hopefully you'll make lots of money." Anya reaches down grabbing her purse before heading for the door.

"I hope so." Tara murmurs as she watches Anya walk out the door, smiling at the ex-vengeance demon. "You are so rotten." Tara shakes her head before getting back to studying.

Tara finishes counting down the drawer, smiling at the fact she had a very good night. Hoping it will continue, she locks the deposit in the safe, ready for Anya the next day. Placing the drawer back in the register, Tara sits back down, waiting for 8:00 to get here. Hearing the bell above the door tinkle, she looks up ready to greet the customer, when she smiles seeing Buffy.

"Body guard, reporting for duty." Buffy smirks as she walks into the shop, plopping down on one of the chairs at the table.

"You don't have to walk me home." Tara shakes her head at the slayer.

"Yep, I do." Buffy nods her head, propping her feet up on the table. "I have to keep you safe, so you can yell at me when I'm being stupid."

"Buffy." Tara groans dropping her head down on the counter. "I am so, so sorry for that."

"Nope. Not accepting the apology. You need to take me down, whenever I try to take the blame for stuff I can't help." Buffy shakes her head, smiling softly. Kind of enjoying making Tara squirm. "Hell, you might need to yell at me, at least, every other day. I mean, you sure got my attention when you said the 'f' word." Buffy nods her head before laughing, as Tara blushes.

"You aren't going to let me live that down, are you?" Tara mumbles.

"Not anytime soon." Buffy admits.

"Figures." Tara looks up at the clock. "Time to go." She slings her book bag over her shoulder, as Buffy stands up, pushing the chair back under the table. Both women companionably, walking towards the front door. Tara stops and sets the alarm before they walk out. Turning, Tara laughs, as Buffy quickly locks the door for her. "I meant to ask you yesterday, but forgot. If you want, Dawn can come by here after school. That way if she needs any help with her homework." Tara offers quietly.

"That's fine with me. Check with Dawn. Maybe she can come after school on days she might need help." Buffy offers looking around, keeping her senses open for any demonic activity.

"Hmm. If it's an iffy thing, I'll want her to call each day. That way I'll know to expect her or not." Tara thinks, biting her lip briefly.

"Then that's what she'll do." Buffy smiles briefly. "How was your night?"

"Actually kind of busy, considering the fact there was no announcement, that we were going to be open later." Tara admits. "What about you? Did you do a small patrol?"

"Yeah, nabbed one vamp is all." Buffy looks around, her senses tingling just the tiniest bit. "I figured I'd walk you home, before going back out and doing a thorough search."

"I'm going to have to do up some dinners to throw in the freezer, so you guys can pull them out and bake them during the evening, so you won't be eating so late." Tara thinks out loud.

"You don't have to go to a lot of trouble. We can always throw a frozen pizza in the oven, have soup or sandwiches." Buffy stiffens slightly as she gets a whiff of cigarette smoke. Looking more intensely at the surrounding area, she doesn't see the bleached wonder, but she certainly feels a vampire nearby.

Tara notices Buffy stiffening. Knowing she hasn't said anything to irritate the slayer, she looks around. "See anything?" She questions quietly.

"No, but got a whiff of smoke, and felt a presence nearby." Buffy whispers. "He probably won't bother me when you're around. He'll probably wait 'til later, when I'm out on patrol." Buffy feels the presence melt away from her senses. Sighing quietly, she loosens up. "He's out of my range now."

Tara nods, clenching her jaw momentarily. "I didn't think about this before, but do you want me to re-do the vamp lock on the house?"

"Yes, please." Buffy jumps on the offer. "Shit." She whispers thinking about Dawn. "What am I going to tell Dawn? She'll probably invite him in."

Tara looks down, taking a deep breath. "I would say be honest with her, but she's your sister. It's your decision to make."

Buffy blinks before looking at the witch. "You want me to tell her I've been fucking Spike?"

"Well, not like that." Tara's eyes widen as she looks at the slayer. "Maybe explain to her that things got a little heated between you two, and you aren't comfortable with him coming into the house whenever he wants. Hopefully she won't be too upset over it. She kind of looks up to him."

"Great. My sister has a crush on a bleached blonde vampire." Buffy groans quietly. "Something else for her to hate me for." Buffy growls out quietly.

Tara shakes her head. "She doesn't hate you, Buffy. She loves you completely. You're her sister and a super hero, all rolled up into one. She idolizes you one moment, and thinks you're just her irritating sister, the next." Tara grins crookedly at the slayer.

"Thanks, that certainly clears things up." Buffy rolls her eyes, before grinning at the witch. "Are you going to need anything for the vamp lock?"

Shaking her head, Tara smiles. "No, I have the ingredients for it at the house. They're pretty common for most spells. I'll just want to re-check the incantation before casting it."

"Thanks." Buffy cocks her head slightly, thinking. "Let me know what I owe you for the ingredients."

"Don't worry about it. They aren't that much." Tara shakes off the offer. "Plus, I get a discount now." Tara smirks briefly as they head up the stairs and into the house. "Want me to stay for the talk?" Tara offers almost silently.

Buffy inhales deeply, looking into the calming gaze of the witch. "I think I got it. Thanks." Buffy watches as Tara nods her head, and quickly heads up the stairs. Buffy walks in to sit beside Dawn. "Dawn, I kind of need to speak to you about something."

Dawn frowns at the tone in Buffy's voice, before turning the television off. "We're not having another world ending apocalypse, are we?" Dawn questions half afraid.

Buffy shakes her head, her lip quirking up momentarily. "No, nothing like that. I just got to tell you something, and I would really, really appreciate if you didn't go off on me." Buffy winces looking at Dawn.

Dawn stiffens. "Tara isn't leaving, is she?" Dawn almost growls out, afraid Buffy that may have said something to upset the witch.

"No, no. A World of no." Buffy shakes her head, smiling briefly. "But it does have to do with Spike."

Dawn narrows her gaze on Buffy. "What to do with him?"

"Ummm." Buffy looks up at the ceiling, praying for help. Looking back at Dawn, she shakes her head. "Some things kind of happened between us, Dawn. I really don't want to get into specifics or anything, but I would feel more comfortable, if he wasn't invited into the house anymore."

Clenching her hands, Dawn considers her sister for a long moment. "What kind of things?" She hisses out.

Tara slowly walks down the stairs, hearing Dawn's question. Biting her lip she stops, waiting to see what happens.

"Dawn, can I please not go into it?" Buffy pleads.

"NO!! He helped me, helped all of us, when you were…" Dawn swallows hard, her eyes shifting momentarily. "I don't understand, why all of a sudden, he isn't allowed here."

Tara takes a deep breath, and quickly walks down the rest of the stairs, to sit on the coffee table, in front of both Summers' women. Catching Buffy's scared, hurt gaze, she smiles reassuringly. Turning her gaze to look at an angry, scared Dawn, Tara reaches out and clasps the teen's hand, in both of hers.

"Dawnie, I know you want to understand everything, and want to be treated like a grown-up." Tara watches the teen, as she nods her head in agreement. "Some things are going to hurt. We all do things we really, truly regret doing." Tara looks pointedly at the teen.

Dawn shamefacedly looks down at her and Tara's hands. "Like my stealing."

"Yes, like your stealing. Like my own screw-ups in the past." Tara admits quietly. "None of us are perfect, Dawnie. But Buffy's asking you, to please, please understand, that there is a reason behind what she's requesting. Can you honor her wishes?"

Dawn looks up into calm blue eyes, before sliding her gaze to her sisters, noticing the scared, hurt look, in her eyes. Realizing that she's actually seeing emotions on her sister's face for the first time, since she's been back. Looking back at Tara, she whispers. "You know?"

Tara nods her head. "I know what's going on. Please, trust us, when we say this is for the best, Dawnie."

"You want to dis-invite him, also?" Dawn half whines. At Tara's nod, she feels tears coming to her eyes. "But he helped us, so much."

"Yes, Dawnie, he did. But one thing we have all got to remember, he is still a vampire. He has a chip in his head to keep him from hurting…us." Tara hesitates momentarily, realizing he could hurt Buffy, and that's one of the things she wants to stop. "But he can still hurt us mentally, turn us against each other. He's done it before, and quite easily, I might add."

Dawn thinks heavily before looking back up. "You bought him blood and cigarettes for helping out, didn't you?" She whispers quietly, remembering seeing Tara sitting a bag out, on the back porch that was gone, less than ten minutes later.

Buffy looks up in surprise at the witch, as that little grain of information, makes itself known.

"Sometimes." Tara admits quietly, shifting her gaze away.

Buffy narrows her eyes as she notices the way the witch didn't keep eye contact, something she always does, unless she's embarrassed by something. Knowing that she wasn't embarrassed right now. "How often and how much?" Buffy growls out quietly.

Tara shakes her head, not answering the questions. "Dawnie, I want your word that you won't invite him in, can you do that?"

Dawn nods her head slowly. "I promise." Standing up, and gently squeezing Tara's hand briefly, Dawn's lip quirks. "I need to finish my homework."

"If you need any help, let me know." Tara watches as Dawn walks up the stairs to her room. Sighing, Tara stands, picking the herbs up for the spell that she had laid down on the coffee table beside her.

"Tara-" Buffy starts at the same time Tara starts speaking.

"I'll get the vampire lock done. You might want to go ahead, and go on patrol." Tara doesn't give the slayer a chance to say anything else, as she starts the incantation while dropping the herbs into the smoking bowl, as she walks around the living room, through the dining room, to the kitchen.

Buffy growls deeply, feeling a hot, burning anger, working it's way through her body thinking about Spike, insisting on the kind-hearted witch keeping him in blood and cigarettes, in exchange for helping them out. Walking stiffly over to her weapon chest, she yanks out a couple extra stakes and a short sword, she straps to her back, before yanking her jacket on. Slamming out of the house, she quickly heads out on patrol, praying that the bleached wonder makes a showing.

Chapter 4

Buffy swings her sword, beheading the demon. Wiping the green blood off on the grass, she tucks it back away, working her way through the rest of Sunnydale. Having no luck in coming across the blonde vampire, Buffy wonders what, exactly, the witch had done while she was gone. What other little things no one knows about to help and take care of the people she considers family. Frowning, Buffy looks up at the night sky. "I don't know what we did to deserve you coming into our lives, but I have a feeling you've made everything a hell of a lot easier on us since you showed up."

Buffy slowly works her way back home, not coming across any more demons. Opening the door silently, she eases in and locks it behind her. Hanging her jacket up, she walks over to the chest and puts her weapons away. Turning off the light before walking into the kitchen, grabbing a water and checking the back door before heading upstairs. Peeking into Dawn's room, she smiles at the sleeping teen. Looking towards the witch's room, she notices the light coming from under the door. Wondering why she's still awake, Buffy quietly walks to the door and taps lightly.

"Come in." Tara quietly calls out, looking up as Buffy opens the door. "You can come on in, you don't have to stand in the doorway." Tara smiles before looking back down, finishing her notes and closing her book.

"You weren't able to do your studying tonight, were you?" Buffy grumbles.

"Its okay, Buffy." Tara stands up, placing her books in her bag. "You better not be thinking of taking the blame for it." Tara looks up with a twinkle in her eye.

Buffy rolls her eyes before sitting down on the end of the bed.

"So, did you run into him?" Tara questions softly, sitting down beside the slayer.

"No." Buffy shakes her head looking down at her hands. "It'll happen, though. He doesn't take 'no' for an answer very easily." Buffy stands and looks at the witch for a moment. "I should let you get to sleep. Is Dawn going to come to the Magic Box after school?"

"Yes." Tara whispers, letting Buffy retreat for the moment. "If you need me, I'm here."

Buffy nods her head before slipping out the door, closing it behind her.

Tara bites her lip to keep from laughing as Anya irritates Buffy.

All the Scoobies are gathered at the Summers' residence celebrating Dawn's birthday. Anya and Xander brought a guy with them, hoping to hook Richard and Buffy up. Shaking her head, Tara chuckles at the embarrassed look coming over the new man's face. Standing up, she walks into the kitchen to grab some more punch. Hearing a knock on the back door, she glances up, frowning when she realizes its Spike.

"Evening." Tara nods her head at Spike, as she leans against the doorframe.

"Thought I'd see how Bit's birthday was goin'." Spike tries to walk in, bouncing back off the invisible barrier. "What the fuck?" He growls.

"I'm sorry, but your invite has been revoked." Tara looks at the vampire with cool blue eyes. "If you want to wish Dawn a happy birthday, I'll go get her for you." Tara raises an eyebrow questioningly at the vampire.

"Don't fuckin' bother." Spike snarls his lip up. "The slayer ain't goin' to like you taking things upon yourself like this."

"I asked her to do it." Buffy growls quietly. "You are not welcome here, Spike." Buffy lays a gentle hand on Tara's shoulder. "I got it, if you want to head back to the living room."

"If you need me…" Tara turns serious blue eyes to the slayer, smiling briefly at the nod and grin she gets in return. Looking back at the vampire with a deadly stare, Tara narrows her eyes. "I suggest you take whatever you're told to heart, Spike." Tara growls out roughly, making the vampire blink and unconsciously back up a step.

Buffy watches Tara walk into the living room, surprise on her face. Turning back to Spike, she raises an eyebrow. "We're through, Spike. I would appreciate you not following me anymore, or showing up unannounced. Understood?"

"What, you trying the other side of the fence now, slayer?" Spike growls, blue eyes flashing to yellow.

Buffy chuckles and shakes her head. "That's not any of your business, now is it?" Buffy feels the laughter bubbling up inside her at the thought of Tara and herself being together. Hesitating a moment, she stops laughing tilting her head to the side, thinking about it momentarily. Shaking her head, she dismisses the thought. "Goodbye, Spike. Leave well enough alone." Buffy calmly shuts the door in the vampires face before joining the rest of the group in the living room.

"How are you doing?" Tara quietly questions the redhead, as she hands her some more punch.

"Okay." Willow glances up briefly with sad green eyes. "How about you?"

"I'm fine." Tara smiles, watching Dawn and Buffy dancing to the music, as Xander and Anya make out in the corner. Glancing over at Richard, she grins. "Do you think he has a chance?"

Willow looks around before her gaze lights on Richard. "I don't know. It's kind of hard to bring a new person into the group."

Tara nods in agreement as she leans against the wall looking back at Willow. "How's living at home?"

"The same." Willow smiles, biting her lip. "Mom's already gone again. I'll probably have the house to myself most of the time, like when I was in high school. It's kind of nice, you know, the peace and quiet."

"It helps." Tara nods her head, running a finger over the top of her cup.

"How's it feel being home again? I bet Dawn was ecstatic." Willow glances over to Dawn, smiling as she bumps her hips with Buffy.

"She was sad you left." Tara watches the Summers' also. "And yes, she was happy I came home."

"You're good for her. She'll listen to you." Willow murmurs.

"Xander, I want to go home and have orgasms." Anya declares loudly pulling on his arm, making him groan and blush.

Tara smirks at the ex-demon, her eyes twinkling as Anya glances at her, grinning.

"Jeeze, Anya!" Dawn whines. "I could have gone without hearing that on my birthday!!"

"Sorry, Dawn-patrol." Xander mutters as he's pulled out of the Summers' residence. "See you guys later."

"'Bye Xander, Anya." Tara laughs, watching the two.

"I guess I should probably head out, also. I need to get up early for work tomorrow." Richard stands quickly, grabbing his jacket as he heads towards the door.

"Thanks for coming. It was nice to meet you." Buffy smiles softly at Richard.

"Umm, would you, maybe, want to go out for lunch sometime?" Richard makes the offer as he pulls his jacket on, smiling down at the petite blonde.

"My work schedule is all over the place, but if you want to try." Buffy looks down. "You can get my number from Xander, or it's in the book." Buffy glances up smiling at the obviously nice guy.

"I'll call." Richard smiles genuinely, before heading out the door to his vehicle.

"I guess I should head out, also." Willow murmurs, setting her cup down before walking towards the door.

"Hold up, Willow." Buffy calls out before Willow leaves. Quickly heading over to her chest, she grabs her gear. "I'll walk you home then go on patrol."

"Thanks." Willow grins and nods her head. "Happy Birthday, Dawnie." She hugs the teen tightly.

"Thanks." Dawn hugs Willow, kissing her cheek before pulling back. "It's good to see you. Please don't be a stranger." Dawn whispers quietly, looking at the hacker seriously.

"I won't." Willow smiles a little bigger.

Buffy smiles and winks at Dawn. "I'm going to make a good patrol tonight. It'll probably be after 2:00 before I get back home." Buffy let's Tara know, so she won't worry.

"Be careful." Tara calls out as Buffy and Willow walk down the steps. Slowly shutting the door, she turns to the teen. "So, good birthday?"

"Best birthday!" Dawn grins hugely, hugging the witch. "Thanks, so much, for those CD's I wanted!!"

"I wish I could have done more." Tara whispers, hugging her back.

"It's great. I know that money's tight. So don't worry about it." Dawn looks serious for a moment. "Buffy seems to be getting better, since you moved back in."

"She just needs time, Dawn." Tara glances at the teen as she works on gathering up the trash.

"Yeah." Dawn agrees quietly. "I'm gonna take my goodies upstairs." She grins grabbing an armful of presents, running up the stairs.

Tara smiles gathering the last of the dirty cups, as she hears music coming from the teen's room. Throwing the cups in the trash, she turns and runs dish water to wash what few dishes there are, silently contemplating the evening. Happy everything had pretty much ran smoothly, even Spike didn't cause too much of a problem. Letting the water out of the sink, Tara quickly wipes down the counters before heading to the living room. Curling up in the corner of the sofa, waiting for the slayer to get home, to make sure she's alright.

"So… How were things?" Buffy hesitates momentarily before finishing.

Willow glances at Buffy before looking back down at the sidewalk. "Okay, I guess. It just seems kind of weird, you know."

Buffy nods, her senses alert. "Is it getting better, you know… Thinking about you two?"

Willow sighs, tucking her hands in her jacket pockets. "It hurts. It'll probably always hurt. But I'm not crying all the time now." Willow hunches her shoulders. "I don't think I'll ever not love her, you know?"

Buffy wraps a comforting arm around the hacker's shoulder. "I know. Kind of like Angel. I'll always love him, but our time has passed, and it's probably for the best." Buffy admits.

"It'll take me a while to get to that point." Willow leans into the slayer. "But, every day I feel a little better." Willow admits.

"That's the important thing." Buffy squeezes her shoulders gently. "Take it day by day. Get a little better as time passes. Then, before you know it, you'll be out flirting with other girls, and going on dates…" Buffy trails off smiling.

Willow giggles quietly. "It's hard imagining that, even though I know you're right. There's actually this girl in my Physics class." Blushing, Willow glances at Buffy.

"Ooooh! You so have to spill." Buffy laughs.

"There's nothing to spill, yet." Willow grins. "But there was some flirting going on."

"See, there you go." Buffy nods her head as they walk up to the front of the Rosenberg's home.

"Thanks, Buffy." Willow hugs her quickly before opening the door. "Be careful tonight."

"You're welcome. And I will be. Don't want to make Tara yell at me." Buffy smirks.

"She won't yell at you. She's like, the non-yelling-est person I know." Willow watches Buffy.

Buffy chuckles. "I don't know. I kind of pissed her off last weekend. She said the F word and everything."

Willow laughs. "She says that word more often than you realize, Buffy. Depending on the circumstances." Willow blushes a deep red, realizing what she's saying.

Buffy quirks an eyebrow questioningly at the hacker. "I don't think I'm going to ask. But, she got kind of pissed at me for trying to take the blame for everything." Buffy admits quietly.

"You're not to blame for everything." Willow shakes her head. "You need to realize that."

"I'm getting there." Buffy smiles before backing down the stairs. "You have a good night, Wills."

"I will, Buff." Willow grins as she watches Buffy stride away before closing the door.

As Buffy finally stakes the fourth vampire she's found, she tucks the stake away, continuing on her patrol when she feels another vampire. "Damn, must be a convention in town." She mutters waiting for the vamp to make itself known.

"Looking for me, slayer?" Spike lights a cigarette stepping out from behind a tree.

"No. I told you we were through." Buffy starts walking again, frowning as the vampire falls in step beside her.

"Ain't that easy to get rid of, luv." Spike snarks as he takes a deep drag off his cigarette. "So, you and Glinda getting it on now? I never took you for the mousy type."

Buffy backhands him hard enough to send him flying back ten feet. "Not that it's any of your business, but there isn't anything going on between myself and Tara. And for someone that probably kept you in cigarettes and blood the whole time I was dead, you'd think you would be a little nicer to the woman."

"Bloody hell! Where'd you find that information out at?" Spike snarls as he stands up.

Buffy stands in shock, hoping that Tara had just done it a couple times, but with his admission, realizing the witch had obviously spent a lot of money taking care of the bleached wonder. Narrowing her gaze on the vampire, she slowly closes the distance between them. "How often did she buy you blood and cigarettes?" Buffy questions in an extremely deadly voice.

Spike backs up, seeing a level of violence in the slayer's eyes, that he couldn't even remember seeing when he first came to Sunnydale. "A couple times a week." Spike admits.

"She bought you a carton of cigarettes and what four or five pints of blood twice a week?" Buffy states dangerously.

"Yeah, somethin' like that." Spike realizes he's been backing away from the slayer, stopping, he stands his ground and stiffens his back. "What's it to you? Was between the witch and me, it was."

"You took advantage of her. What did you do? Did you tell her you wouldn't help out with slaying? That maybe, you'd find a friend to make a snack out of the rest of the group?" Buffy watches as Spike's jaw clenches tightly and he looks away. Growling deeply, Buffy slams her fist into the side of his face. "Stay the fuck away from us, understand?"

"You fuckin' cunt!" Spike growls, coming back at the slayer, tackling her to the ground. "I'm gonna suck you dry. I've had it with you!" Spike roars, game face at the fore.

Buffy keeps rolling until he's under her, slamming her fists in a flurry against his face. As he bucks her off, she rolls, popping back up in a fighting stance as the bloodied vampire turns on her, stalking towards her with hatred in his yellow gaze.

As he comes in swinging, Buffy jumps up, kicking him hard in the chin, making him fall back. As he quickly comes in again, she does a back spin kick, connecting with his temple, stunning him temporarily. Growling as she lands on top of him with a stake pressing against his chest, she looks into the yellow eyes. "You have a choice. You leave this town and never come back, or the next time I see you, I'll stake you. No more chances, understand?" Buffy growls deeply, pressing the stake in hard enough to break the skin and sink in, slowly edging closer to his heart.

Spike screams in pain as the stake works its way slowly into his chest.

"Understand???" Buffy uses her free hand to smack him upside the head.

"Understood." Spike cries out.

Buffy jumps back off the vampire, to stand a few yards away from him. Watching him stand up, holding his hand against his bleeding chest, she unemotionally wipes the blood off the stake before tucking it away. "Out of here tonight, Spike. Or you're going to be so much dust blowing in the wind." Buffy watches as he nods and turns away, heading towards his crypt. Spinning on her heel, she works on finishing patrol, taking the anger still boiling inside her, out on the demons she comes across.

Buffy silently enters the house. Hanging her jacket up, she walks into the living room, smiling softly at the witch, curled up asleep in the corner of the couch. Shaking her head, Buffy puts away her stakes, knife and short sword. Kneeling beside Tara, Buffy considers the woman for a moment, realizing for the first time that she's very beautiful. Shaking the thought out of her head, Buffy reaches out shaking her shoulder gently. "Tara?"

Tara jerks awake, blinking her eyes as the slayer's features come into focus. "Sorry, I tried to stay awake." Tara mumbles rubbing her eyes. "How was patrol?"

"Patrol was fine. You should be in bed, asleep." Buffy stands, holding her hand out to Tara, helping her up.

"No, I like to try and make sure you get home okay." Tara admits. "That way, if you need any doctoring, I can help you."

Buffy frowns, realizing that in the last week, Tara was awake every night when she came home. "I don't like you staying up so late. How about if I'm hurt and need help, I promise to wake you?"

"Maybe." Tara hedges around agreeing. As the two women walk slowly up the stairs, Tara yawns. "Sorry."

"No sorrys. It's late. And you and I are going to have a little heart to heart tomorrow, after Dawn goes to the mall." Buffy states quietly.

"What?" Tara looks with confused eyes at the slayer. "About what?"

"Tomorrow. Get a good nights rest." Buffy smiles softly at the witch, clasping her shoulder gently before heading into her bedroom.

Tara blinks, staring after the slayer for a moment, wondering what she might have done. "Guess I'll find out tomorrow." Tara murmurs to herself before heading into her bedroom and going to bed.

Chapter 5

"Have a good time, Dawnie." Tara smiles, waving as the teen climbs into the car with Janice. Turning around, Tara heads back into the living room to finish dusting before looking up as Buffy comes pounding down the stairs. "Dawn's already gone."

"Kind of figured." Buffy nods her head running a brush through her damp hair. "God, I think we're going to need to get something to cut the grease and dump it in the shower drain." Buffy grumbles.

Tara laughs quietly as she passes the slayer to put up the furniture polish. "Want something to drink?"

"A soda would be good." Buffy admits sitting down in the corner of the couch, relaxing. Leaning her head back against the back of the couch, she smiles. "God, it feels good to have the rest of the day and nothing that has to be done."

"Doesn't happen too often, does it?" Tara hands the slayer the soda and sits at the other end of the couch. "I put a roast and vegetables in the oven for dinner tonight. I hope that sounds okay."

"That sounds wonderful." Buffy smiles closing her eyes. "Should we look into buying a crock-pot? Might that make things easier?"

"Actually, it probably would." Tara admits. "I can always throw something in it in the morning, that way you guys would be able to come home to a hot meal."

"Then we'll look into buying one." Buffy sinks further into the corner of the couch, shifting her body so she's facing more towards the witch. Opening her eyes, she pins the blue eyes of the witch with her hazel eyes. "I want a truthful answer. No beating around the bush. How often did you buy the bastard blood and cigarettes and exactly how much money did you spend?"

Tara pales at Buffy's words, looking down at the couch. Glancing back up, she sighs at the slayer's serious look. "A couple times a week and probably roughly around $1,000 total." Tara admits quietly.

"Fuck." Buffy growls loudly, jumping off the couch and pacing back and forth. "Nobody knew about it, did they?" Buffy turns her eyes to the witch, watching as she shakes her head. "Dawn just lucked into seeing you that one night, obviously."

"I tried to be careful about it." Tara whispers. "We needed the help, everyone was getting hurt and people were dying. I figured if he helped us save just one life, it would be worth it."

Buffy collapses in the chair across from Tara looking at the witch. "Where did the money come from, Tara?"

Tara blushes looking away.

"Tara?" Buffy makes the name a question.

"My mom left me some money, that was the last of it." Tara whimpers as she sees the angry face of the slayer.

"Damn it!!" Buffy growls loudly. "This is fucking stupid." Buffy runs into the kitchen grabbing the phone, punching in a long sequence of numbers as she paces back into the living room. "Damn, pick up the fucking phone!!" Buffy yells, pacing back and forth.

Tara swallows, watching the angry slayer stride from one end of the room to the other.

"Giles, I want the fucking Council to send $1,000 to Tara." Buffy growls into the phone, as Giles picks up on his end.

"Well, hello, to you, too." Giles mutters into the phone. "Now, why would they want to send that kind of money to Tara?"

"Because she fucking paid off Spike to help with patrols when I was fucking dead, is why. And since the Council didn't deem it worthwhile to send someone here to help out, they can dig in their pockets and pay her the fuck back." Buffy yells into the phone. "Hell, they should do more than that, but I know I'm barking up the wrong tree to get any help from those assholes." Buffy snarls.

"Ummm, well, uhh." Giles stops stunned, not knowing what to say.

"That's all the life savings she had. Make it so she has it back, understood?" Buffy growls into the phone lowly.

"I'll see that it's taken care of." Giles sighs. "How are things there?" He questions quietly.

"Been better, been worse. Tara's moved back into the house, Willow's moved out, they're over. The wedding is still on between the demon and Xander. I'm getting better slowly. Dawn is actually, more or less, happy at this stage of the game." Buffy runs down things quickly.

"Well, I guess that about covers it." Giles blinks at the quickness with which the slayer answered.

"Yes, it does." Buffy nods her head slowing down her pacing. "Thanks for getting this taken care of, Giles. It isn't right for her to be out of her life savings, because of my calling. How are things with you?"

"They're fine." Giles admits quietly, feeling sad at the thought of the kind witch giving away all her money, because they needed help. "I'll try and get this matter taken care of quickly, Buffy."

"Thank you." Buffy breathes deeply, letting some of the tenseness in her body seep out.

"Yes, well. I guess I'll talk with you later." Giles murmurs quietly.

"Yeah, guess so. Thanks again, Giles." Buffy disconnects the phone after Giles says goodbye. Walking back into the kitchen, she hangs the phone back up in the cradle.

After Buffy disappeared into the kitchen, Tara stands shakily, not believing what just happened. Deciding she needs to do something, she heads upstairs and grabs all the dirty clothes, lugging the two hampers down the stairs.

"What the hell are you doing?" Buffy growls jumping up the stairs and taking the hampers from her.

"Going to do the laundry." Tara watches as Buffy picks the hampers up and stomps down the stairs.

"I'll do the laundry. You relax, study, take a nap or whatever." Buffy calls over her shoulder as she heads down to the basement, sorting the clothes and throwing a load in the washer. Checking the dryer, she closes the door back before heading back upstairs, seeing Tara curled up in the corner of the couch, watching her worriedly. "Sorry." Buffy mutters plopping down in the chair.

Tara looks down and shakes her head, her arms wrapped around her knees.

"It isn't right. You get pissed at me because I think I'm to blame for everything, but you're basically doing the same thing. You think you need to take care of everyone. Don't. Have you even thought about going out on a date since you and Willow broke up?" Buffy questions quietly.

Tara glances up making eye contact with sad hazel eyes. "No. Not really."

Buffy rolls her eyes at the witch, grumbling under her breath

"Well, we actually have only been completely broken up for a week, Buffy." Tara smiles briefly at the slayer.

"Well, maybe for good, a week. But you've actually been broken up for what, almost four months?" Buffy looks at the witch seeing her nod. "No dates in that time. No…God forgive me for this…orgasm time. And yes, I know that sounds like Anya!" Buffy grumbles, and looks up in surprise as Tara laughs. "Okay." Buffy mutters shaking her head.

"Sorry." Tara grins, her eyes full of laughter. "But, since you mentioned it, are you going to go out with Richard?"

"How did my talking about you having orgasms segue into me and Richard going out?" Buffy questions, her eyebrows rising.

Tara shrugs her shoulders, smirking. "Talking about dates and Anya made me remember Richard. I mean, I'm not a good judge, but I thought he would be considered cute by most women."

"Yeah, I guess so. It's just hard dating someone when you're me." Buffy admits tilting her head back against the back of the chair. "When you can break whoever you're dating in half without breaking a sweat, it makes things difficult. I mean, I'm kind of used to doing what has to be done. You know, being kind of butch." Buffy smirks at the phrasing.

"Do we need to find you a girlfriend?" Tara asks tongue in cheek.

"Maybe that's what I need to do. God knows, I'm not having any luck in the male department." Buffy laughs shaking her head. "Seriously, though, with everything else I've been through recently, I'm really not ready to start dating at this time in my life. Maybe in a few months, we'll see." Buffy looks at Tara, smiling softly. "I have you to talk to and thump me when I try to take on too much. That's good enough for my life, right now."

"I'm not going to thump you." Tara smirks at the slayer as she stretches out on the couch, looking up at the ceiling. "It's kind of nice not having any expectations, isn't it? Clean the house, study, work and go to classes. Free time to laze around and yak about anything and everything with a friend. I don't think I ever really had that before." Tara admits softly.

"Well, I guess we have it now." Buffy nods. "So, what all do you want to do today, friend?"

"I guess I should run to the store, since I have some money, and stock up the cupboards a little bit. They have canned vegetables on sale. I think they had ice cream on sale, too." Tara grins, tilting her head to look at the slayer.

"Want company?" Buffy offers.

"Please. Canned goods are heavy." Tara smiles. "I'd hate to have to call you from the police department to get me out of jail, because they arrested me for stealing a shopping cart."

Buffy chuckles. "No, that wouldn't be of the good. As soon as I would walk into the station, they'd probably throw me in a cell." Buffy laughs good-naturedly. "I'm always to blame for something."

Tara laughs quietly, understanding what the slayer is trying to say. "It's pretty bad, here you are. saving the world and people from either exploding or ending up dead, and the police think you're actually causing it. That's just not right."

"No. But welcome to my life." Buffy mutters, grinning. "I guess I should get shoes on, huh?"

"It would probably help." Tara nods looking down at her on bare feet. "Me, too. Do you think the roast will be okay, without anyone home?"

"Yeah, it isn't going to be done cooking for quite a few hours yet, is it?" Buffy questions standing up, looking around for her shoes.

"By the door, sweetie." Tara murmurs before heading up the stairs to get her socks and shoes.

Buffy glances by the door and sure enough, her tennis shoes are sitting there neatly. Walking over she grabs them sitting down on the chair she slides them on and ties them quickly. Looking back up as Tara walks down the stairs. Coming to a halt, pulling her boots on. "Do we need to make a list?"

"I don't think so. I'm looking more for stocking the shelves with items we use that are on sale. The only thing we might actually need to buy as a staple is milk, bread and eggs." Tara mentions before heading into the kitchen, opening the refrigerator checking those items. "And butter."

"I think we can remember those without making a list, don't you?" Buffy smiles as Tara walks back out into the living room.

"Yes, I do." Tara picks up her purse, double-checking for her keys and money before opening the door. "Ready?"

"Yep." Buffy nods letting Tara walk out in front of her. "Lead the way, boss woman!"

"Yeah, right." Tara grumbles before laughing quietly.

"Maybe we should have borrowed a shopping cart." Buffy grumbles loudly as they finally make it into the house. "I didn't expect you to buy a hundred pounds worth of canned vegetables and soup!!"

Tara grunts lugging her bags into the kitchen, dropping them on the floor and leaning against the counter. "Okay, I may have gone overboard a tad. But when they're four for a $1.00, it's hard to pass up."

"Yeah, and if nothing else, we'll have vegetables in the house to eat at any given time." Buffy groans lifting the heavy bags and sitting them on the counter, watching as Tara leans down, grabbing the couple bags of cold product to sit on the island as she opens the refrigerator. Sniffing deeply, Buffy opens the oven, frowning as she notices the roast is covered with tin foil. "How am I supposed to steal a peek at the food, if you got it covered?" Buffy grumbles.

"Pull it out of the oven and take off the foil." Tara states exasperatedly.

"That's almost like work." Buffy smirks, shutting the oven door. Opening the cabinets they usually keep the canned goods in, Buffy quickly sorts the cans, placing them in neat rows.

Tara rolls her eyes as she finishes putting the cold stuff in the refrigerator and freezer. Grabbing out the oven mitts, she opens the oven, bumping Buffy out of the way before reaching in and grabbing the pan out. Shutting the door, she sets the pan on the other mitts she had placed on top of the stove before pulling the foil off.

Buffy's nose really starts twitching and she looks over Tara's shoulder at the roast, with potatoes and carrots piled around it. "Is it done yet?" Buffy questions hopefully.

"No, it isn't done yet." Tara twitches her shoulder up to bounce off Buffy's chin, smirking. "It needs a couple more hours. If you're hungry, grab an apple."

"Ah, man. You're mean." Buffy grumbles collecting the empty bags and taking them to the garage. "If I knew you were going to be this mean, I wouldn't have wanted you to move back in." Buffy grumbles good-naturedly.

"Too late, I'm here now." Tara laughs at the joking slayer. "It'll take a dozen slayers to get me out of here."

"Ha, ha. Very funny, witch." Buffy pouts before heading down to the basement to put the load in the dryer and start another load.

Tara chuckles as she walks upstairs to grab her books, slowly walking back down, she curls up in the chair and starts reading the chapters of one of her assignments.

Buffy comes back up and smiles seeing Tara studying. Yawning, feeling the late night and the early morning shift working at the DMP catch up to her, Buffy collapses on the couch, stretching out.

Tara looks up, seeing Buffy getting comfortable on the couch. "If you want to watch TV, it won't bother me."

"Nah, I think I might just take a nap." Buffy glances over at Tara, turning on her side and pulling the throw down over her.

"You did have a late night last night, then having to work the morning shift this morning." Tara nods at the slayer. "Sweet dreams, Buffy."

"Thanks, Tara." Buffy yawns and shifts her head around on the arm of the couch, getting more comfortable before slowly falling asleep.

Tara smiles softly at the sleeping slayer, knowing how little sleep the woman actually gets. Shaking her head, she sighs before going back to reading her assignment.

Tara finishes folding up the second load of clothes, smirking at the slayer snoring away on the couch. Grabbing a pile of clothes, she quietly walks up the stairs and places them on Buffy's bed before walking back downstairs, grabbing Dawn's stack. Shaking her head trying to figure out how the teen can wear ten pairs of jeans in a week's time. Placing the pile on Dawn's bed, she walks slowly down the stairs to put her stack of clothes up. After tucking them away in the drawers and hanging up a couple of the items, she heads down to the kitchen, pulling the roast out. As the fork easily enters the potato she decides to check, Tara grins before pressing the meat, smiling at the firmness. Covering it back with the foil, she turns the oven off and heads back to the living room, to finish writing the paper that's due Wednesday.

Sitting with her legs crossed and her notepad resting on her legs, Tara quickly finishes the paper, flipping her textbook open to double check one point, before closing it quietly and setting the books on the end of the coffee table.

"Finished with your homework?" Buffy questions quietly, making Tara jump. "Sorry, didn't mean to scare you."

"You didn't, I just thought you were still asleep." Tara smiles before nodding her head. "I have all my assignments done for next week. All I have to worry about is new homework assignments." Tara smirks.

"That's good." Buffy inhales deeply, her eyes lighting up. "Dinner?" She questions hopefully.

"It's out of the oven. I'm letting the meat rest before we cut it." Tara chuckles as Buffy bounces up and off the couch.

"Meat doesn't need to rest. Meat needs to be eaten." Buffy growls, heading into the kitchen.

Tara rolls her eyes before standing and following the slayer into the kitchen. "Aren't you going to wait for Dawnie to get home? I mean, she should be here within the next half hour."

"No she's not." Buffy grabs down plates. "She's staying over at Janice's tonight. So there." Buffy sticks her tongue out at the witch, for some reason feeling light-hearted.

Tara stares in stunned surprise at the slayer. Smiling at the slayer's playfulness, Tara shakes her head. "Damn, if I'd known that, we could have rented some adult movies to watch tonight." Tara grabs a knife to cut the meat with.

"TARA!" Buffy yells in shock. "You watch adult movies?"

Tara glances up puzzled, before blushing as what she said sinks in. "I didn't mean it like that. I meant more grown up movies, instead of a talking animals movie."

Buffy smirks at the blushing witch. "Riiiight." Buffy states sarcastically. "Here I thought you were all sweet and innocent, and you go around renting X-Rated movies, don't you? I guess it really is the quiet ones you have to watch out for." Buffy bites her lip to keep from laughing.

Tara turns around and narrows her eyes at the slayer. "I can guarantee you I'm not sweet and innocent. And truthfully, I've never needed the extra stimulation that those type of movies give." Tara quickly turns back to cutting the meat as she sees the stunned look coming across the slayer's face. Laughing quietly to herself, she places some meat and vegetables on the plate for Buffy, before taking a smaller portion for herself. Grasping the two plates she turns, seeing an extremely red-faced slayer still standing there stunned.

Buffy finally whimpers and presses the heels of her hands against her eyes. "You win. No more battle of the wits against the witch."

Tara chuckles while placing Buffy's plate in front of her. Sitting down she shakes her head. "Sit down and eat, Buffy. Before it gets cold." Tara starts cutting her slice of meat into bite size pieces along with the potatoes and carrots. Slowly eating her dinner, she watches Buffy plop down on her chair, cutting her meat and potatoes, munching away.

Tara tilts her head for a moment. "You really should give Richard a chance. At least, maybe meet him for coffee or something. You should try to start dating again."

Buffy glances up, considering the witch for a moment. "What about you? Are you planning on getting back into the dating scene?"

Tara slowly chews a carrot. "It's not as easy for me, Buffy. First off, there aren't that many lesbians out there for me to pick from. Second off, I'm not exactly beautiful. So I don't garner the interest, say Willow or you, would get."

"What?" Buffy questions confused. "What do you mean you're not beautiful? I mean, yeah, I'm not gay, but if I was, I'd jump at the chance to date you." Buffy waves a hand towards Tara. "Look in the mirror sometime. Dark honey blonde hair, bedroom eyes, a figure I would kill for." Buffy shakes her head before spearing another piece of meat. "You're beautiful Tara, believe me." She mutters as she shoves the piece of meat in her mouth and chews roughly, watching as Tara blushes lightly.

Tara blinks in surprise at the slayer. "Well, at least you didn't mention my breasts, like Anya did."

Buffy drops her fork on her plate, her eyes wide. "She didn't?"

"Yes, she did. Said I had beautiful breasts." Tara admits laughing. "She was trying to get a rise out of me. It didn't work." Tara shakes her head as she takes a bite of potatoes.

"Okay, explain this to me. How can my telling you you're beautiful, makes you blush, but talking about your breasts doesn't?" Buffy questions confused, her eyes inadvertently glancing down to the items in question, before lifting back up quickly.

"Anya talks about sex all the time, Buffy. So her talking about breasts doesn't really bother me. Plus, I knew she was trying to push my buttons at the time, so I didn't fall for it. You, on the other hand, weren't doing any of those things and were being very serious. So it kind of embarrassed me." Tara shrugs looking down at her empty plate. "I'm not used to being told I'm beautiful by a straight woman." Looking up, Tara's eyes twinkle merrily. "But I might be able to get used to it."

Buffy groans looking back down at her plate as she grabs the last bite of meat.

Tara laughs as she places her dirty dishes in the sink. Walking around the slayer, heading towards the basement, Tara stops as the phone rings. Backtracking the slight distance, she picks it up. "Hello, Summers residence."

"Oh, yes. Is Buffy there?" Richard questions hopefully.

"Yes, she is. May I ask who's calling?" Tara smirks at Buffy, already knowing who's calling.

"This is Richard, I was there last night." Richard explains quickly.

"Hold on just one moment, Richard." Tara grins hugely at Buffy as she hands the phone to the groaning slayer. "Be nice." Tara whispers before heading down the stairs to check on the laundry.

"Bitch." Buffy grumbles lowly before putting the phone to her ear. "Hi, Richard."

"Hello, Buffy. Uhhh, I called to see if you might want to go out to dinner and a movie tonight." Richard asks hesitantly.

"I'm sorry. I just finished eating an early dinner." Buffy grins at shooting that bird down.

"Oh, well." Richard hesitates for a moment. "We could go to an early movie, if you like. Maybe stop at the ice cream shop on the way back?"

Buffy looks up seeing a frowning Tara looking at her, mouthing something to her. Shaking her head, she scowls trying to figure out what she's saying.

"Go out, it won't hurt to see if you like him." Tara whispers quietly so only Buffy can hear.

Buffy rolls her eyes and sighs. "I'd love to go out to the movies and have ice cream with you tonight."

"Great. How about I pick you up at 6:30? I think most of the early movies start around 7:00." Richard grins.

"That's fine. See you at 6:30. 'Bye, Richard." Buffy disconnects the phone before growling at Tara. "I wasn't going to go out with him!"

"I know." Tara raises an eyebrow at the slayer. "What's the worst that will happen? You don't like him and you don't go back out with him again. At least you'll have seen a movie and gotten a free ice cream out of it." Tara shrugs before taking the dried clothes into the living room to fold.

"You are a pain in the ass!" Buffy yells out to the witch as she stands up, slicing another piece of meat off the roast, dropping it on her plate before spearing a couple more potatoes and carrots. "But you're a good cooking pain in the ass." Buffy mutters to herself as she sits down to eat her second helping.

"If I'm a pain in the ass, what are you?" Tara yells back as she folds the shirts.

Buffy raises an eyebrow while eating her carrot. "I'm a sweet, kind, loving person that would never argue with anyone. I never cause any problems and I'm always right." Buffy smirks waiting to hear what the witch will say back to that.

"What fucking rock did you crawl out from under?" Tara yells in disbelief. "You are absolutely, the most argumentative person I have ever known. Sweet and kind, I'll give you. Loving, I wouldn't know, me lesbian, you straight, remember? As to you always being right? WRONG!" Tara chuckles quietly.

"So the deciding factor is whether or not I'm loving?" Buffy yells out, laughing at the witch.

"Is that an offer?" Tara counters loudly. "Because, I'm not planning on watching you have sex with a guy, I can tell you that!" Tara starts laughing hysterically, imagining Buffy blushing in the kitchen.

"That's not nice!" Buffy yells back embarrassed. "So you would watch me having sex with a woman?"

Tara's eyes open wide in surprise. Not knowing what to say, she sits there in stunned silence.

Buffy slowly walks out into the living room when she doesn't hear anything back from the witch. Seeing the stunned look on her face, she chuckles. "I think I just won a battle of the sparring words with the witch. Chalk one up for the slayer." Buffy chortles before quickly heading up the stairs to get ready for her date.

"Damn." Tara mutters, before laughing quietly. "Yeah, you got me on that one, slayer. But I'm going to ask for a re-match." Tara grins at the thought of how Buffy's becoming a lot happier and more easy going. Not having Spike pushing himself on her the last week, has probably let her become more like her old self, Tara thinks to herself. Finishing folding the clothes, Tara grabs them and running upstairs to put them in their respective owners' rooms.

Chapter 6

Tara smirks at Richard, who's standing by the door waiting for Buffy to come downstairs. Turning her head she watches her quickly come down the stairs. Biting her lip, Tara can't help but decide to embarrass the woman before going out on her date.

"Okay, dear. Here's you some cab fare home, in case things don't work out." Tara starts holding out $20. "Be sure and call me, if you need me. Remember, you're supposed to be home by 10:00, it is a school night." Tara leans in and brushes her lips quickly over her cheek. "Have a good night, sweetie, and don't do anything I wouldn't do." Tara flutters her eyelashes at the slayer, grinning crookedly.

Buffy stands in front of the witch, blushing then groaning deeply. "You are so going to pay for this." She growls. Snatching the $20 out of the witch's hand she mutters. "Just for that I'm keeping the $20."

Tara laughs as Buffy urges a completely confused Richard out of the house. "Have a good time, Buffy."

"Thanks, Tara." Buffy smiles back at the witch, hearing the sincerity in her voice.

Tara chuckles as she closes and locks the door.

Tara grins as Buffy comes into the house. Closing the book she's reading, she raises an eyebrow in question at the slayer.

"Aarghh!! No more going out on dates that Xander tries to hook me up with." Buffy grumbles before plopping down on the couch beside the witch.

"What was so wrong with him?" Tara wonders out loud.

"He was sweet, kind and super nice. And about as smart as a fence post! Now, I know I'm not the brightest person in the world, but compared to him I'm a thousand watt light bulb." Buffy whines.

"Well? How was the movie and ice cream?" Tara hopes at least something salvaged the slayer's night.

"Movie was so, so. Ice cream was good." Buffy grins looking over at the witch. "Next date is yours. We have to find someone for you."

"I don't think so." Tara shakes her head, grinning. "The few women I've met who are lesbians, I wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole." Tara smirks.

"Oh? Where have you met these lesbians?" Buffy watches as Tara blushes a light pink.

"Before Willow, I went to some of those on campus meet and greets. Most of the women that showed up were definitely hard core butch. I kind of felt like I was an all you can eat buffet, surrounded by twenty starving women." Tara shudders at the remembrance.

Buffy blushes deeply before coughing. "All you can eat buffet. Tara, you have a way with words that puts pictures in my head that just don't belong there." Buffy growls, laughing before quickly heading up the stairs. "I need to get ready for patrol."

"Sorry." Tara bites her lip, realizing what she said and the connotations it could have.

After a few minutes Buffy trots down the stairs shaking her head at the witch. "I don't think I ever realized how rotten you were, until recently. It's definitely an eye opening experience." Buffy watches as a wicked look crosses the witch's face. "Don't even say anything, I can tell you're going to do something else to embarrass me on purpose." Buffy quickly heads out the door while making the statement, closing it behind her on Tara's laughter.

"You look beautiful." Tara murmurs as she makes a minor adjustment to Anya's wedding dress. Realizing the last month just flew by. Between school, working at the store, helping with the wedding and just being there for both Summers' girls, Tara's life has been very full indeed.

"Are you sure I shouldn't have gone with the veil?" Anya questions worriedly looking in the mirror at the tiara she's wearing.

"Positive. You're like a fairy princess." Tara smiles as she backs away.

"Thank you, Tara." Anya smiles. "I couldn't have done this without you." Taking a deep breath she looks around. "It is a small wedding, but the important thing is, I'm marrying my snuggle bear."

Tara chuckles. "Want me to check and see how everything's going? I can't believe you lassoed Buffy and Willow into being ushers."

"But they look so cute in their little tuxes." Anya smirks. "Buffy actually didn't have a problem. Willow caused the most upheaval about wearing a tux. Please, I would appreciate you making sure everyone is behaving themselves, instead of fighting and ruining my wedding."

Tara nods, smiling as she eases out of the room. Quickly heading out to the main area, she glances around seeing a frowning redhead, and an absolutely livid looking slayer. Frowning, she quickly makes her way to the two women. "What's wrong?" She glances briefly at Willow before settling her gaze on Buffy.

"The son of a bitch disappeared." Buffy growls out. "We don't know where he's gone. He isn't in the building, at all."

Tara's eyes widen as she pales. "You've checked everywhere?"

"Yes. He's nowhere in the building. It's raining outside, so we haven't went out there looking for him." Willow fidgets nervously. "This is so not good."

"No, it isn't." Tara mutters before quickly running to the front doors, walking out under the cover, looking up and down the street. "Damn it, Xander! What are you doing?" She whispers. Biting her lip nervously, she walks back in grabbing up an umbrella, praying she doesn't ruin her outfit.

"Let me do it." Buffy murmurs quickly reaching the witch and grasping the umbrella. "It won't be as noticeable with my dark slacks if they get wet."

"Thanks, Buffy." Tara smiles distractedly at the slayer.

Buffy nods before running out to where Xander had parked his car. Standing there looking in disbelief at the empty spot, Buffy stares down the road. "Where the hell are you?" She growls. "It's not smart to piss off an ex-vengeance demon, Xander."

Slowly trudging her way back into the building, she looks up into worried blue eyes and shakes her head. "He's gone. The car's gone."

Willow pales and leans against the wall, watching as Buffy collapses on a chair, and Tara rubs her forehead. "What are we going to do?"

"Beat the hell out of Xander when we find him." Buffy growls looking up at the ceiling. "Who's going to tell Anya?"

Tara's shoulders drop at the thought. "I guess I am." She whispers, slowly turning to walk towards the dressing room Anya was waiting in.

"Do you want back up?" Buffy questions standing.

Tara looks at the slayer with sad eyes. "I don't know. I…fuck!" Tara rubs her temple, feeling a full blown headache coming on. "The wedding was supposed to start five minutes ago. Do you think we should wait a few more minutes to see if he shows back up?"

"I hate to say it, but I have a feeling he's high tailed it out of town." Willow whispers. "I ran into him a little while ago and he was very jumpy and distracted. He wouldn't talk about what had him so bothered, I just kind of thought it was normal wedding day jitters."

"On the Hellmouth?" Buffy questions sarcastically. "I somehow doubt it's normal."

"I'll go talk to her. If one of you two would to talk to the gathered family, friends and demons?" Tara looks at the filled seats, shaking her head. "Ah, hell." She mutters before slowly working her way to the dressing room.

"I think I would rather tell this group out here a hundred times over, than talk to Anya right now." Willow whispers to Buffy.

Buffy nods her head. "It isn't going to be a pretty sight in there." Turning, she takes a deep breath smiling at the hacker. "So, rock, paper, scissors?"

Willow nods her head as they count out, frowning as Buffy's paper covers her rock. "Damn! Two out of three?" Willow questions hopefully.

"Nope. You get to have the honors." Buffy smirks at Willow.

"Great." Willow mutters as she works her way up to the front to let everyone know the wedding is obviously off.

Tara takes a deep breath as she pushes open the door, watching as an obviously nervous Anya, keeps running her hands down her dress.

"The wedding is supposed to already be started. What's wrong?" Anya queries loudly, looking into the sad blue eyes of her best friend. "If it's bad, I don't want to know." Anya turns her back on the witch, feeling her body tensing.

"Anya…" Tara stops, trying to think of the best way to say this.

"Tara, just tell me. We are good enough friends, you should know that I prefer the blunt approach." Anya whirls back around, her eyes angry.

Tara nods her head. "I know. I just didn't want to blurt it out." Centering herself, she raises her eyes, watching Anya closely. "Xander's disappeared. He's nowhere in the building, and no one knows where he is. He took the car."

Anya blinks as it takes a few minutes for it to sink in. "He left?" She whispers and at Tara's nod, she feels tears coming to her eyes before roughly brushing them away as anger comes quickly following the tears. "Where is the sniveling little, beady eyed bastard? I'm going to eviscerate him! No, evisceration is too good for him. I'll, I'll think of something to do to him." Anya yells out in anger. Before stopping momentarily. "I'm not a demon anymore, I can't do that." Her eyes flashing wildly about, she starts muttering to herself. "Maybe D'Hoffryn will take me back, yes. I'm a woman scorned. Hallie was telling me that things haven't been the same since I left. I'm sure he'll have me back." She looks up with a glint in her eye. "I'll have my revenge on him, yes I will."

Tara's eyes widen as she listens to Anya rattle on. Shaking her head she quickly walks to the woman, clasping her shoulders. "Anya, no! You can't do that. I mean, of course you can do it, but you shouldn't. Don't make a decision like this, in the heat of the moment."

"Why? If I was a vengeance demon again, I could get vengeance on Willow for you. Wouldn't that be wonderful?" Anya questions seriously.

"No, Anya, it wouldn't be wonderful. It would be wrong. Please, please promise me, you won't make a rash decision right now. If he offers you your job back, please think on it." Tara whispers quietly.

"Why? I have nothing here. Xan…he doesn't want me, what does it matter?" Anya starts to cry.

"Oh, Anya. You have me, and even Buffy, Willow and Dawn, also. What about the Magic Box?" Tara questions quietly, wrapping her arms gently around the crying woman. "Please, Anya. Can you do this, for me? Give yourself thirty days before jumping into something you may regret? Take the time to think things through first?" Tara soothingly caresses the back of the sobbing woman.

Anya cries into Tara's shoulder, her arms clenched around her waist tightly. "You're my friend?" Anya questions heart brokenly.

"Yes, Anya. I'm your friend." Tara feels her heart break for the obvious pain she's going through. "I'll be there for you, to take out for coffee and Danishes. If you ever need anyone to talk to, I'll be there. So, what do you say? Stick around, for at least a month?" Tara questions as she pulls back, looking into the bloodshot eyes of the ex-demon. "I mean, if you want to take a few days off and get your head together, that's fine. Just don't do anything you'll regret."

Anya looks into the witch's eyes searchingly before nodding her head. "Thirty days. Not one day more."

Tara smiles softly before whispering. "Thank you. Should we get you changed and cleaned up? Buffy or Willow, were going to break the news to all the people out there."

Anya's eyes flash with a hint of anger. "I still want to do something mean to him."

"Shhh. I know, sweetie. Just so you know, I don't think you were the only one." Tara hugs her briefly again. "Come on, let's get you situated."

Anya nods her head. With Tara's help, it doesn't take her long to get out of her wedding finery, and into the dress she wore on the way to the wedding. Sighing, she watches as Tara zips up the plastic cover around her wedding dress.

"Do you want to go somewhere to get away?" Tara whispers as she quickly changes, hanging her dress up, as she slides her skirt and shirt on. "Or do you want company?"

"I think I might get away for a couple days." Anya hesitantly whispers.

"That's fine. If you want, we'll gather up the items and see about getting them back to the proper guests. I have the paper with the caterer's numbers and the DJ's number, I'll take care of that, also."

Anya sits down heavily. "All that money gone to waste. Why don't you take the food home, you guys can eat it. Whatever you don't want, throw it away." Anya brokenly gets out as the tears start falling again.

"Oh, sweetie." Tara quickly sits down beside the heart broken woman and gathers in her arms, hugging her tightly. Tara glances towards the door as it eases open and Buffy sticks her head in. Tara smiles tremulously at the slayer.

"Everybody's gone home. Dawn got a ride to Janice's for the night. We went ahead and gave most of the gifts back as the people were leaving, so you won't have to worry about that." Buffy hesitantly walks into the room, followed by a nervous redhead.

"Thank you." Tara strokes Anya's back as she buries her head in her neck.

"The DJ just arrived, should I…" Willow trails off looking at her ex-lover.

"Please. When the caterer get here, Anya wants us to have the food." Tara glances down at Anya, noticing this crying fit is slowly tapering off.

"I'll keep an eye out for them. They should be getting here any minute." Willow hurries out of the room, feeling uncomfortable at watching Anya break down.

Buffy hesitates not knowing what to do. "Is there something I can do?"

Anya looks up with blood shot eyes at the slayer. "Find Xander and feed him to a vampire. After he's turned, let me torture him for months before I dust him. That will be a good start."

Biting back a smile at Anya's words, Tara shakes her head. "We discussed this, Anya…"

"I know. Can't I at least think of all kinds of mean and hateful things to do to him?" Anya whines at the witch.

"Briefly, just don't act on them and don't obsess about it." Tara smiles softly at the ex-demon.

"Okay." Anya relents as she snuggles back into Tara's arms. "You are very comforting."

"Thank you, I think." Tara looks up, grinning at the slayer.

Buffy rolls her eyes before smirking. "Careful, Tara."

Anya lifts her head to look at the slayer. "Why does she need to be careful?"

"You're looking awfully at home, curled up against Tara like that." Buffy raises an eyebrow, grinning.

Anya grins and snuggles back into the witch. "Maybe she will wish to have comfort sex with me."

Buffy's eyes get huge and she unconsciously steps back.

Tara chuckles and shakes her head at the ex-vengeance demon. "Anya, behave."

"But I am unhappy and it would take my mind off evil men." Anya glances up, a glint of mischief in her eyes. "Plus, I would really, really like to know, if you're a wildcat in the sack. I'm laying odds that you are." Anya nods her head before leaning back down, glancing out of the corner of her eye at the slayer.

"Uh, wha – , uh – " Buffy stutters out, not knowing what to say. Buffy goes from blushing deeply to turning pale.

"Okay, everything's taken care of. I have the food sitting on one of the tables downstairs." Willow comes in, looking from an obviously uncomfortable slayer, to a smirking ex-vengeance demon, to Tara biting her lip, obviously trying to keep from laughing. Narrowing her eyes, she looks back from one woman to another. "What did I miss?"

Buffy points at Anya. "She…comfort…Tara…uhhhh." Buffy groans pressing the heels of her hands against her eyes.

Tara starts laughing and Anya looks up at Willow seriously. "I just said that maybe Tara would wish to have comfort sex with me, and that I bet she's a wildcat in the sack. Is she?" Anya tilts her head at the hacker.

Willow pales before looking around like a trapped rat. "Ummm…"

"Anya, please." Tara whispers, hopefully, so only she can hear. "This is getting a little mean, in regards to Willow."

Anya sighs and nods her head, leaning against her shoulder. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean anything by it." Anya apologizes looking at the redhead.

Willow's mouth drops open in stunned surprise at the apology. Not knowing what to say, she slowly eases towards the door. "I'm just going to take one of the smaller platters home with me, since I'm by myself." Willow mutters before turning and running.

"Do you want to go home tonight, sweetie?" Tara softly questions Anya.

"Not really." Anya mumbles.

Tara looks up at Buffy with questioning eyes.

Buffy nods her head in recognition of what Tara is silently asking. "If you want, you can come home with us." Buffy offers quietly.

Anya looks up at the slayer and nods her head. "I would. Thank you."

"I'll call a cab." Buffy murmurs heading out the door.

"That was nice of her." Anya remarks as she slowly stands gently wiping a hand across her still damp cheeks.

"Buffy is a very nice and understanding woman." Tara softly whispers. "She's had a lot of hard knocks in her short life. She just wants someone to share her life with that will love all of her." Tara murmurs as she grabs down the two dresses, gently folding them over her arm. "Pretty much, like the rest of us." Tara smiles sadly at the ex-vengeance demon.

Anya nods in acceptance. "It is probably asking too much, to find love on the Hellmouth, isn't it?"

"I'm starting to think so." Tara admits wrapping her arm around Anya's shoulders. "Come on, let's get you home and into comfy clothes. We'll pig out, eat lots of chocolate, and male bash the night away."

"Promise?" Anya asks hopefully.

"Promise." Tara grins as they walk towards the front doors.

Chapter 7

Tara sighs quietly, as she walks back down the stairs. Sitting down heavily on the couch, she looks at the living room, groaning. "Maybe tomorrow morning, I'll clean this mess up." She grumbles quietly closing her eyes and leaning her head back. Sighing she thinks over the night, between the crying jags to the griping all three women did about men in general (her griping about her father and brother), finally ending in a food fight. Smiling softly, knowing that Anya was finally starting to come to terms with what happened, but realizing it will still take time and she'll probably break down occasionally, needing a friend to talk to.

Chuckling quietly, Tara thinks about how Buffy had slowly loosened towards the ex-demon, becoming more like a friend to the woman by the end of the night. Tara had watched as surprise slowly crossed Buffy's face as she realized Anya was a sweet and caring woman, once you actually took the time to listen to her, instead of dismissing what she says because of her refreshing bluntness.

Looking back around, Tara frowns before standing to grab a trash bag and slowly walk around the room picking up food, soda cans, wine and water bottles strewn about the living room furniture and floor. Halfway through cleaning up, she looks towards Buffy as she walks in from patrol. "How was patrol, sweetie?"

Buffy chuckles quietly. "I think all the demons were invited to the wedding and decided to high tail it out of town after realizing it was off. I only found one newly risen vampire all night." Shaking her head Buffy sits down to pull off her shoes, finally realizing Tara's cleaning up the living room. "Hey, you shouldn't be doing this by yourself."

"That's okay. Anya's upstairs asleep. I thought I would clean up the mess while waiting for you to get home." Tara shrugs, smiling softly.

"Well, let me help." Buffy hops up gathering up items and dumping them in the trash bag. "I can't believe we ended up having a food fight." Buffy grumbles picking up a smooshed piece of…Buffy tilts her head looking at the item in question, clearly not having a clue what it was. Shrugging her shoulders, she drops it in the trash bag.

"I'm probably going to have to rent a steam cleaner from the store to get some of this stuff out of the carpet." Tara admits.

"It was worth it." Buffy softly states. "All this time I just thought Anya was an uncaring pain in the ass, when she would make her comments. I never realized what was going on underneath."

"She's a very kind and caring woman, Buffy." Tara admits gathering another handful of food off an end table.

"Xander doesn't realize what he had." Buffy shakes her head in disappointment. "And all this time I dismissed her, thinking he could do so much better than an Ex-Vengeance Demon." Buffy states sarcastically. "I think it's her that could do much better, especially since he ran off without another word."

Tara silently agrees with Buffy before saying out loud. "But, as you said, this is the Hellmouth. There very well could be extenuating circumstances."

"Yeah, well, there sort of was." Buffy admits sitting down watching Tara for a moment.

Looking up into the worried eyes of the slayer, Tara tilts her head. "You found him?"

"Yeah, he's staying at one of the hotels on the outskirts of town." Buffy looks down at her hands for a long moment. "He said he'd had misgivings for the last couple months, but that today it finally came to a head, when he imagined what it would be like in the future. He imagined himself as his father, a drunk, abusive man." Buffy looks up in apology at Tara as she mentions the abusive part.

Tara shakes her head and smiles briefly at the look. "It's okay, Buffy. It isn't your fault my family isn't the nicest family in the world. You don't have to tiptoe around it."

"Yeah, well, if I'd known then, what I know now, they wouldn't have left with just a warning." Buffy grumbles loudly, a look of anger crossing her face. "Why didn't you ever tell us what your home life was like, Tara? I mean, I got an inkling that they were very strict, but I never knew that you went through the abuse, until tonight."

Tara sighs, before collapsing on the couch, thinking about the past. "I never really talked about it much. I told Willow bits and pieces over time as it came up, but that's it." Tara shrugs and smiles crookedly at the slayer. "I'm okay now and I try to move forward, instead of wallowing in the past."

Buffy nods in agreement. "I just have to say this, I'm glad you're here. You're a very big part of my life, you probably don't realize how much you've helped me, hell, helped everyone. I want to thank you, for that." Buffy grins. "And I just want to say thank you for putting Anya in your bed instead of mine."

Tara raises an eyebrow at Buffy before drawling out quietly. "Who said anything about putting her in my bed?"

"You didn't?" Buffy whimpers quietly. "I'll have to sleep on the couch. There's no telling what Miss Grabby Hands will get up to if I'm asleep."

Tara laughs quietly at Buffy, remembering how as Anya worked her way through a couple bottles of wine; she had gotten a little…grabby, definitely is the word. "I don't know, Buffy. She might be able to widen your horizons. After all, we are talking about a woman that has lived for 1200 years. Imagine the things she's seen and done." Tara smirks at the slayer.

"Don't, please." Buffy holds her hand up, closing her eyes. "I don't think my poor little brain can handle even remotely considering what she has done in the past. What she was more than willing to expound on tonight, was more than enough." Buffy shudders in remembrance.

Tara bites her lip watching Buffy. "That's part of what she was, being a Vengeance Demon is exacting vengeance against someone. And I have to admit, she was very creative with some of the wishes." Tara's lip inches up.

"Yeah, yeah." Buffy mumbles opening her eyes and glaring at the witch. "I think you egged her on."

"It made her feel better." Tara shrugs her shoulder smiling. "She was doing a hell of a lot better at the end of the night, than she was earlier."

"That's true." Buffy admits softly. "Which bed did you put her in? Dawn's bed is free tonight, so we can crash in there."

Tara nods her head. "I was planning on sleeping in there. I actually grabbed my sleep wear when I dragged Anya up to bed." Tara chuckles quietly thinking about the drunk, singing woman. "I was able to get a couple aspirin in her before she passed out. I hope that might help with her hangover tomorrow."

"I don't know. She sure hit the booze tonight. She may not wake up for a couple days." Buffy mutters.

"That's a possibility." Tara yawns hugely as the day finally catches up with her. "I think I'm going to go crash."

Buffy nods her head. "I'm right behind you." She stands and slowly turns the lights off as the two women double check the doors and head upstairs. "Have a good night."

"Thanks, Buffy, you too." Tara smiles softly at the slayer before slipping into Dawn's room to hopefully get a good night's rest.

Buffy shuts the door behind her before stripping and pulling on her pajamas. Climbing into bed, she shakes her head, thinking about her best friend Xander. Remembering how he had tried to sound all 'I'm doing it for her own good.' Realizing he was just a scared little boy that should have taken a step back to think about what he was doing, instead of running away and ruining his relationship with Anya. "Is that what we're all doing?" Buffy questions the empty room. "Xander with Cordelia, then Anya? Willow with Oz, then Tara? Myself with Angel and Riley?" Buffy doesn't even consider Spike. It was never a relationship, just two people taking advantage of a situation and each other.

"Yes, technically Oz and Angel left Willow and myself. But Willow more or less ran Tara off, as I did with Riley." Sighing quietly, Buffy shakes her head before deciding she really should sleep, instead of trying to figure out the specifics of the Scoobies and their love lives. Rolling over onto her stomach, Buffy punches her pillow before laying her head down to slowly fall asleep.

Buffy and Tara look up from their breakfast of pancakes and sausage, as a bleary-eyed stumbling ex-vengeance demon makes her way into the kitchen.

"I'll be. I didn't think we'd see you for another, five or six hours, at least." Buffy watches as Anya waves an unsteady hand towards her before opening the refrigerator, pulling out the rest of the orange juice and draining it. Dropping the container in the trash, she opens the freezer, grabbing a full ice tray out to crack and drop on a kitchen towel. Wrapping it up, she runs it under water to make it slightly damp before placing it against her head and plopping down in a chair beside Tara. Buffy laughs quietly at the sight of the woman.

Tara makes eye contact with Buffy, her lip quirked up in amusement before looking back at Anya. "Would you like some more aspirin?" Tara questions softly. Getting a brief nod in reply, Tara bites back her laugh before reaching back and grabbing the aspirin she'd had the forethought to leave out. "How many?" She shakes her head as Anya holds up four fingers. Dropping four aspirin into her hand, Tara stands and grabs a glass to fill with water. Placing the items in front of Anya, she watches as the blood shot eyes make contact with her for the first time.

"If I ever do something that stupid again, please just shoot me." She whimpers quietly as she pops the aspirin in her mouth and chugs the water before laying her head down on the counter top.

Tara holds back a smile and gently rubs Anya's back. "It'll get better. Do you think you can eat anything?"

"Not a good idea." Anya mutters as she picks up the ice and lays it gently on the side of her face. "Just tell me, did I make a complete and utter fool of myself last night?"

"No more than usual." Buffy pipes up grinning. "Even though, I must admit, woman's hands in new places last night."

Anya slowly raises her head to look from one woman to the next. "Did I?" She questions in a quavery voice.

"Yes, you did. To both Tara and myself." Buffy waves at Tara.

"Damn." Anya grumbles quietly. "That makes me feel bad."

"That's okay, sweetie. We understand." Tara smirks at Buffy while patting Anya on the back.

"What do you understand?" Anya looks up. "I feel bad because I don't remember it. I mean, damn. I felt you and Buffy both up? And I don't remember? I really do need to be shot now." Anya bitches as she dumps the towel in the sink before unsteadily working her way out of the kitchen.

Tara giggles at the shocked look on Buffy's face, before laughing fully. "Did you expect something else from Anya?"

"I guess I shouldn't." Buffy shakes her head, blushing briefly. "How come you're not upset or embarrassed?"

Tara raises an eyebrow after she stops laughing, tilting her head at the slayer. "It is what it is, Buffy. If the worse thing that happens out of all this mess is the fact my breasts got squeezed last night, I'll count my blessings." Tara laughs at the dumb founded look on Buffy's face. Tara quickly leaves the kitchen, before she busts out laughing at the look on the slayer's face. Not seeing Anya in the living room, she quickly walks upstairs and peaks in her bedroom. Seeing Anya laying face first on the bed, she smiles. "You need anything else, sweetie?"

"No, just more sleep. Then I might feel close to human again." Anya moans out. "Did I really feel you guys up?" She opens an eye, looking seriously at Tara.

"You grabbed my breasts a couple times and Buffy's ass, but that was about it." Tara smiles as she leans against the door frame. "Nothing that bad."

"Sorry." Anya looks apologetically at the witch. "For real, not being a smart-ass."

"I know. Don't worry about it, Anya. I'll make sure I return the favor when you're up to it." Tara chuckles as Anya groans. "Go to sleep, sweetie. You can stay here as long as you want."

"Thanks, Tara. Tell Buffy thanks, also, please." Anya whispers softly.

Buffy watches Tara as she leaves the kitchen. Surprised first, at how well the witch seems to be taking what happened. Secondly, wondering at her own feelings as she had joked and carried on with the two women the previous night. Feeling a closeness and a sense of…dare she think it? Rightness with the three of them together. Sighing quietly, she looks down at her empty plate wondering what's wrong with her.

Tara gently closes the door before heading back down to the living room. Finishing picking up the odds and ends she'd missed the night before, she walks into the kitchen and throws them away, looking inquisitively at Buffy. "Something wrong, Buffy?"

"I don't really know." Buffy answers quietly shaking her head. "Something I've got to think about on my own. So what's the plans for today?"

"Well it's Sunday and we're both off. The living room needs to be steam-cleaned, but I hate to wake Anya up with the noise of the machine. So, I guess that means we wait a few hours. Other than that, we don't need to go to the store, the laundry is done and the rest of the house is clean." Tara smirks sitting down. "We have a sink full of dishes to wash and that's about it. So, what do you want to do?"

"I don't know." Buffy looks at Tara lost.

Tara furrows her brows in thought for a moment. "Do you know when Dawnie's going to be home?"

"I told her not to come home until right before dark, unless she had too. I didn't know what all we were going to have to deal with yesterday." Buffy admits.

"Good. Let's get our shoes on and go for a walk." Tara stands walking out to the living room.

"Huh?" Buffy quickly hops off the stool following Tara. "I walk around Sunnydale all the time."

"No, you patrol Sunnydale all the time. When was the last time you actually walked around town, window shopped and maybe sat under a tree watching kid's play?" Tara looks up from tying her shoes.

Buffy stops, looking at the witch with confusion on her face.

Tara tilts her head as she stands watching Buffy for a moment as she obviously thinks about what Tara asked her. "If you have to think on it that hard, it's been too damn long. Get your shoes on, Buffy." Tara softly orders.

Buffy grabs her tennis shoes without any argument, pulling them on and tying them quickly. Grabbing her keys off the hook, she tucks them in her pocket. "Maybe I should get my money?" Buffy starts to head up the stairs.

"I've got cash on me, let's go." Tara holds her arm out to Buffy, grinning.

Buffy hesitates a moment before shrugging her shoulders and looping her arm through the witch's as they head out the door.

"It was nice of you to let Anya come here last night." Tara smiles softly at the fact they still had their arms looped through each other, before sighing.

"It wasn't that big." Buffy offers enjoying the day, realizing how much she missed just living life without having to worry about someone getting hurt or dying. "You've become really good friends with Anya, haven't you?" Buffy questions quietly.

"Yes." Tara admits softly. "She's really a wonderful person. Blunt, yes. But she'll always tell you what she thinks. She doesn't believe in hiding the truth."

"Very true." Buffy nods her head in agreement. Smiling softly as they walk into the park watching the kids throwing a Frisbee back and forth, following where Tara leads her.

"I think this is just what Doctor Tara ordered." Tara whispers as she comes up on a big oak tree. Sitting down and leaning her back against it, she pats the ground beside her. "Why don't you lie down and use my leg as a pillow." Tara offers watching the children playing.

Buffy hesitates for a moment before shrugging internally. Lying down on her back, she rests her head on Tara's thigh.

"Look up into the tree, what do you see?" Tara questions softly, as she starts running her fingers soothingly through the slayer's hair.

"Limbs, leaves…" Buffy glances up at a smiling witch.

"Do you see anything else?" Tara glances down at Buffy with a quirk of her lip.

Buffy silently contemplates what Tara is asking her while opening her senses to the world around her. Not realizing she's been just enjoying the day and the sounds for almost an hour, she finally looks into the blue eyes of the witch. "I see life. I actually feel it." Buffy whispers.

Tara smiles softly as she unconsciously runs a finger around the soft skin behind Buffy's ear as she works her fingers back through her hair. Tilting her head back, she looks up into the tree. "There will always be life; we are all tied to it in one way or another, Buffy. You are a part of life. This is what you fight for. You fight for the children's rights to be able to play out here in the park, for a mother to take her baby strolling around town., for a father and son to toss a ball back and forth. Somewhere for lovers to cuddle up together and whisper sweet nothings in each other's ears. You can't forget this, Buffy. If you do, you lose yourself. You have to take time out to enjoy what you make possible."

Buffy slowly sits up and leans in brushing her lips across Tara's cheek. "Thank you."

Tara blushes in surprise at the soft kiss looking at the slayer and smiling. "I didn't do anything, Buffy."

"Yes, you did." Buffy shifts around to lean against the tree beside Tara, her shoulder brushing against Tara's. "Whether you realize it or not, Tara, you've given me my life back."

"I was just there if you needed a shoulder to cry on and an ear to listen to." Tara shakes her head softly. "You did the rest yourself, Buffy. You just needed time to get your bearings."

"If it wasn't for you, I'd probably still be screwing the undead." Buffy admits. "Or I'd be dead. So, please, don't argue. I know it's the truth and no matter how much you want to argue about it, you are the reason I'm doing well. So say you're welcome."

Tara reaches down and squeezes Buffy's hand gently in hers before murmuring. "You're welcome."

Buffy sighs and leans her head against Tara's shoulder as she squeezes Tara's hand back. "Do you think Anya's going to be okay?"

"Given time. I look for her to bounce back quickly. She isn't the type to wallow in self-pity for long. I think last night was a good start to healing her heart." Tara admits smiling.

"So drinking a couple bottles of wine, grabbing your breasts and my ass is a cure all, huh?" Buffy jokes as she laughs quietly.

"I don't know. The next time I'm feeling down in the dumps I'll try it and see if it helps me." Tara's eyes twinkle mischievously at the slayer.

"TARA!" Buffy yells out in shock. "I can't believe you would consider grabbing my ass."

"Why not?" Tara laughs at the slayer. "Anya was right; you have an extremely grab-worthy ass." Tara chuckles loudly as Buffy turns red.

"If you're considering grabbing my ass, you know what that means don't you?" Buffy growls, quickly hopping up to stand in front of the witch. "That means those are up for grabs!" Buffy glances down and points at Tara's breasts.

Tara laughs good-naturedly at the slayer. "You wouldn't do that. Remember, you like the timber!"

Buffy blushes deeply before rolling her eyes. "I guess you have a point." She mutters, though in her heart, she's seriously starting to wonder about possibilities. Shaking the thought out of her head, she offer's Tara her hand. "Let's head back towards the house. I want to be there when Anya wakes up."

Tara smiles as she reaches up, letting Buffy help her stand. Grinning in surprise as she laces their fingers together, as they slowly meander their way back to the house on Revello Drive. Stopping and picking up a small steam cleaner that they can carry back to the house.

Chapter 8

"Buffy, please give it up already." Tara whimpers quietly as Buffy starts on her soapbox about Tara going out on a date. "We've already been over this like a dozen times." Tara grumbles as she finishes restocking the shelves as Buffy helps. After Anya left, Buffy made it a habit to come in early to help her around the store before walking her back home.

"When's Anya supposed to be back?" Buffy changes the subject for the time being.

"Any day." Tara smiles looking over at Buffy. Happy the woman has become more outgoing and even flirtatious at times. Looking away Tara frowns, feeling her heart getting heavy at the thought she has come to care for Buffy as more than just a friend. Shaking her head at the futility, she finishes filling the eye of newt jar. As the bell above the door chimes, Tara turns to greet the customer when she yells. "ANYA!" Running around the counter she hugs the woman tightly before releasing her. Stepping back, she eyes her up and down. "I must say, you're looking good. Love the new hair color."

"Thank you." Anya smiles. "Got my hair colored, stayed at this really nice resort where they pampered me day and night." Sighing dramatically before flicking an imaginary piece of lint off her trouser suit, she glances back up. "I feel a 100 percent better."

"Good." Tara smiles happily.

Buffy slowly eases up to Anya, not real sure how to greet her, when Anya gives her a brief, but genuine hug. "I'm glad you're doing better." Buffy smiles at Anya.

"Thank you, Buffy." Anya turns around looking at the shop, smiling. "I see you've kept up on everything nicely while I was gone. What else have you two been up to?"

Tara groans and walks back behind the counter to finish filling the jars.

"Please tell her she needs to go out on a date." Buffy looks imploringly at the ex-demon.

"She does." Anya nods her head walking over to lean against the counter. "Would you like to go out to dinner tomorrow night?" Anya questions Tara, making her drop the bag of dried wolfs bane she had just finished sealing.

Buffy's jaw drops almost as much as her heart does at Anya's question. Quickly closing her mouth, she turns away to get control of herself.

Tara looks at Anya with shocked blue eyes. "You're a-asking me out on a date?" Tara whispers quietly.

"Yes." Anya nods her head looking seriously at the witch. "I like you. I have always liked you. You have always been kind and understanding. You are beautiful, thoughtful and a wonderful person. Why wouldn't I want to date you?" Anya questions tilting her head at Tara.

'Why indeed.' Buffy mentally castigates herself, wondering why she never had the nerve to ask Tara out. 'Because you're afraid of what other people might say. Because you're an idiot is more the case.' Buffy frowns heavily at her own stupidity before plastering a smile on her face and burying her own feelings deep down, to hopefully never be heard from again.

"You're not…" Tara trails off, wondering if this was Anya trying to get a rise out of her for some reason.

"Very serious." Anya crosses her heart, smiling softly. "Would you go out with me tomorrow, Tara?"

Tara blinks her eyes a couple times as she allows the idea to sink in. Swallowing, she looks into the hopeful brown eyes of the ex-demon before glancing briefly at Buffy. Seeing the somewhat plastic smile on Buffy's face, she frowns momentarily.

"You should." Buffy nods her head in agreement. "I mean, you both already know each other. You've been friends for years. If you're both willing to see if it could be more, why not?" Buffy looks from one woman to the other. "I mean, as long as you don't think you'll ruin your friendship, in case it doesn't work out."

Tara watches Buffy for a moment before nodding her head, coming to a decision. Smiling she looks back at Anya. "I would love to go out tomorrow night with you."

Anya grins happily. "I'll pick you up at 6:30, if that's okay?"

"That'll be wonderful." Tara nods her head smiling. "That'll give me time to close up the shop at 5:00 and go home to get ready."

Anya waves her hand. "No, no. Take tomorrow off. I'll run the shop. You've been taking care of it for the last couple of weeks. Thank you, by the way."

"You're welcome." Tara smiles before glancing back up at Buffy. "But, Buffy's actually helped quite a lot. She came and helped me clean and re-stock the shelves."

Anya blinks for a moment, seeing the soft smile Tara directs towards Buffy, wondering if there might be something there. Turning she looks at Buffy, who seems sort of closed off. "Thank you, Buffy. I appreciate your help greatly." Watching as a strained smile crosses Buffy's face, Anya raises an eyebrow considering the woman. Deciding to watch things more closely, Anya nods her head. "I appreciate everything you two have done. Now why don't you close up shop early and go home, relax and have a good night. I'm going to head to my apartment and take a nice long, hot bubble bath." Anya waves as she turns around and sails out the door.

Tara chuckles quietly, watching the ex-demon before glancing back at Buffy. "I guess that means we're done for the day." Tara quickly puts away everything before closing the drawer.

Buffy walks back into the office behind Tara as she puts away the dusting supplies, watching the witch as she counts down the drawer and fills out the paperwork. Leaning against the wall, she considers the woman for a few moments. "You two would actually make a pretty couple." Buffy states softly.

Tara glances up looking into sad hazel eyes. Getting ready to open her mouth, she watches as Buffy nods her head and walks out the office door. Frowning after the slayer, Tara rubs a hand over her forehead. "She's completely straight girl, remember? She doesn't like women. All the fun and flirting was just in a best friend's way." Tara takes a deep breath, pushing her feelings about the slayer back before finishing the paperwork and locking everything down. She walks towards the front of the shop, turning off the lights while setting the alarm. As Buffy locks the door behind them, Tara breathes deeply of the evening air. "It's almost summertime." Tara makes the comment quietly.

"It's getting here." Buffy nods her agreement. "The daylight's been sticking around longer, and I've noticed a decrease in vamp activity."

"That's of the good." Tara smiles softly. "Are you okay with my dating Anya?"

Buffy blinks in surprise before nodding her head. "It's your life, Tara. We both have to get back out there in the dating game, eventually. It's actually sort of a bonus, since Anya is already part of our group and knows what's going on."

"There is that." Tara agrees quietly, sighing. "Well, now I have to figure out what to wear tomorrow night."

"If you want any help, let me know. I have a feeling Anya is going to take you to one of the nicer restaurants, it being your first date and all." Buffy quirks her lip briefly.

"You may have a point." Tara tucks her hands in her pockets. "I don't have too terribly many nice outfits, so that'll narrow it down some."

"Why don't you go shopping? Buy a whole new outfit?" Buffy makes the suggestion, while mentally shouting at her self that she's an idiot.

"I may do that." Tara smiles glancing at Buffy. "Since I have some extra spending cash, I guess it wouldn't hurt to spend a little on a new outfit, huh?"

"No, it wouldn't." Buffy smiles at Tara as they walk up the steps to their home. Unlocking the door, she laughs at Dawn sitting in front of the TV watching Animal Planet. "Did you finish your homework, Dawn?"

"All but one section, I was kind of hoping Tara would help me with it when she got home." Dawn smiles hopefully at Tara.

"Of course I will, Dawnie." Tara sets her purse down. "Do you want help now, or after dinner?"

"Whichever you prefer?" Dawn looks at Tara before glancing at her obviously tense sister, wondering what's up. "Is everything okay?"

"Everything's fine." Buffy mumbles. "I think I left a load of clothes in the dryer."

Tara watches as Buffy quickly strides away.

"Did you two have an argument?" Dawn questions quietly.

"No." Tara shakes her head before sitting down on the couch. "Anya's back from her sojourn."

"Really? How's she doing?" Dawn questions, genuinely worried about the woman.

"A lot better, thank the Goddess." Tara smiles before biting her lip. "Uh, we're kind of going out to dinner tomorrow night." She admits quietly, watching for a reaction from the teen.

Dawn blinks looking at Tara, before opening and shutting her mouth a couple times. "You…Anya…date?" She whispers out the last word.

"Yes." Tara nods her head smiling softly.

"Well, huh." Dawn blinks again as the thought sinks into her brain. Not really knowing or having anything to say, Dawn smiles uncertainly at Tara. "Okay?"

Tara chuckles quietly. "That's okay, Dawnie. It kind of surprised me, too."

"But, you said yes, so obviously you think there might be a chance for something more, right?" Dawn questions slowly.

Tara looks down at her hands thinking briefly, actually confused. On one hand, she does care deeply for the ex-demon, would even say she loves her. Can she picture kissing Anya? Yes. Making love with the woman? Yes. On the other hand, is Buffy. Biting her lip as she thinks of the questions in regards to Buffy and she gets resounding yes in response also. The big difference between the two women is the fact that one is open to a relationship, while the other one likes guys. Rubbing a hand gently across her forehead, she realizes Dawn is patiently waiting for an answer to her question. Thinking about what the teen asked, she smiles and nods her head. "Yes, Dawnie. I definitely think there's a chance for something more."

"There you go." Dawn shrugs looking back at the TV, figuring subject closed.

Buffy lets herself into the house and smiles, noticing Tara's already done the cleaning. She slowly turdges her way up the stairs to take a nice long, hot shower to try to feel human again. Wrapping a towel around her body, Buffy leans in and wipes the mirror free of the steam looking into her own, admittedly sad eyes. "Slayer, you need to get over yourself. Maybe call Willow and see if she wants to have a best friend's night, so you're not hanging out here, waiting for them to get back from their date." Frowning heavily, Buffy looks down, unable to make contact with her own eyes anymore.

Quickly drying her hair, she heads to her bedroom to get dressed.

Buffy looks up from the television as Tara walks down the stairs, feeling her heart constrict. Tara walks down wearing a blue silk dress that swirls enticing around the witches knees, the color matching the witch's eyes perfectly. Continuing to look down to the open toed dress shoes, with pink painted toe nails peeking out. Slowly, allowing her eyes to traverse back up the witch's surprisingly firm calves, over the curve hugging dress to Tara's blue eyes looking worriedly into hers. Taking a deep breath, Buffy smiles encouragingly at Tara. "You look absolutely beautiful. You'll knock Anya off her feet."

Tara smiles looking down at the dress, running a hand over the soft material. "You don't think it's a bit much?" Tara looks back up, biting her lip gently.

"Not at all. You're gorgeous." Buffy shakes her head, before smiling softly. "Anya's one lucky lady."

Tara sighs, before finally allowing herself to relax. Looking at the clock, she notices it's a little bit after 6:30. Heading towards the chair, she's about ready to sit down when the doorbell rings. She starts to walk towards it, when she's stopped by Buffy's hand on her arm.

"Let me get it." Buffy quickly walks to the door opening it. Swallowing at the sight of Anya standing there wearing a beautiful cream-colored dress, ending mid-thigh. "Well, you look beautiful also." Buffy whispers to Anya.

Anya smiles hugely at Buffy before hugging her. "Thank you." Anya releases Buffy and looks over at Tara. "Wow." Anya eyes Tara up and down. "You're gorgeous." Anya smiles happily at Tara.

Dawn comes in from the kitchen munching on popcorn, to look from one woman to the other. "Well, I definitely feel like the ugly step-sister." Dawn mutters loudly, breaking the silence that had descended on the three women.

"You and me both, Dawn." Buffy mutters more to herself than out loud. "You two have a wonderful dinner."

Anya nods her head. "I hope we will. Ready?" Anya smiles and holds her hand out to a blushing Tara.

Tara grabs her purse and almost shyly eases her hand in Anya's. "We'll be back later." Tara bites her lip and waves at Buffy and Dawn.

"Have a wonderful date." Dawn smirks as the two women leave before turning to plop down on the couch, glancing up at her sister, who's still standing there staring at the closed door. "You okay?" Dawn questions as she throws some more popcorn in her mouth.

"Huh?" Buffy turns to look at her sister. "Yeah, just dandy." Buffy sighs and walks towards the kitchen. Grabbing up the phone, she starts to dial Willow's number, but hesitates. "What the hell am I supposed to say? Hey, Willow. Sorry, but I kind of want someone's shoulder to cry on. You see, your ex and Anya are going out on a date together, and I'm jealous. You see I really, really care a lot for Tara. Yeah, yeah, I know. But you love her too, so you should understand. And a couple weeks ago, after the wedding fiasco, Anya grabbed my ass. You know what? I liked it. Then I get a funny little feeling when all three of us are together…. Kind of fucked up, isn't it?" Buffy's shoulders drop and she hangs the phone back up, walking out the back door to sit on the steps, contemplating her life. "It isn't bad enough you were fucking the undead - now you're coming to have feelings for two women - at the same damn time. And the kicker is, they're dating each other." Buffy covers her face with her hands.

"Where would you like to go to dinner?" Anya questions quietly as they walk towards her car.

"Wher ever you would like to go." Tara sits down in the car, closing the door as Anya slides behind the wheel.

"There's that new Italian restaurant off Main Street." Anya suggests smiling.

"That would be wonderful." Tara nods smiling back at Anya. Watching as Anya starts the car and heads towards the restaurant, Tara considers the woman. "What made you ask me out?"

Anya glances over at Tara, before returning her gaze to the road. "I like you."

"Well, I could be wrong." Tara stops and laughs quietly. "But, I don't think you ask out everyone you like."

Anya smiles as she turns the corner. "No, I don't ask out everyone I like. Could you imagine?" Anya laughs shaking her head. "Either I would be spending a lot of time dating, or depressed."

"More likely dating." Tara states softly, glancing out the window.

Anya raises an eyebrow at the comment as she pulls into the parking lot. Pulling into the parking spot, she shifts the car into park and turns it off. Shifting her body, she watches Tara for a moment. "Why did you say yes?"

Tara's eyes shift to Anya's, looking into the curious brown eyes for a long moment. Quirking her lip, it slowly turns into a soft smile. "Because, I like you."

Anya's eyes glance down to the witch's soft lips before glancing back up to the caring blue eyes. "Is it a mistake, my asking you out?" Anya tilts her head watching Tara.

Tara blinks a couple times, thinking about it. "Only if it would ruin our friendship. Or our working relationship. Can you keep them separate?"

Anya considers the questions for a long moment before nodding her head. "Regarding our friendship, I honestly don't think it would hurt it. After all, I don't see either one of us cheating on the other, or doing something bad. I mean, it's different if we just decide not to date, because we find out we're not compatible in a sexual way."

"Very true." Tara agrees, grinning lopsidedly at the ex-demon. "How about our working relationship?"

"That, it might effect." Anya nods very seriously. "Because, if we are dating, I don't think I would be able to resist sneaking in a kiss, or feeling you up occasionally, at the shop." Anya's eyes start to twinkle and a grin crosses her face.

Tara chuckles and shakes her head at the shop-keeper. "If nothing else, this will definitely be interesting. Thank you, Anya."

"Don't thank me." Anya becomes serious as she stares intently into the witch's blue eyes. "You are a very beautiful woman, Tara. You are also, one of the most understanding and kind people, I have ever known. I want to let you know, that Willow was really an idiot for hurting you the way she did." Gently raising a hand and stroking her fingers down Tara's cheek, Anya smiles softly. "I figure that if I am lucky enough to have you in my life, in whatever capacity you choose, I am a very lucky woman."

Tara feels tears swimming near the surface. Swallowing hard to get them to go away, she leans across the brief distance and brushes her lips softly across Anya's. "Thank you. And just to let you know, you're not the only lucky or beautiful one."

Anya smiles beautifully. "Good. Then it's decided, we are both beautiful and very lucky women. Now, let's go to dinner. That way we can talk about what has been happening the last couple weeks and get to know each other better, so we can have many, many orgasms." Anya smirks at the witch.

Tara laughs, her eyes crinkling. "Still aren't going to embarrass me that easily, Anya."

"Damn!" Anya grumbles as the two women leave the vehicle, heading into the restaurant.

Chapter 9

Buffy paces the living room, glancing every few seconds at the clock on the mantle. Growling deeply, she shoves her hands deep into her pockets. Thinking about the evening as she continues to pace, waiting for the two women to get back from their date. As soon as she stopped feeling sorry for herself out on the back porch, she had come in, grabbing her gear to go out on patrol. Dawn asked if she could stay all night with Kaylee, a friend from school that had called while she was outside. Walking her over to the girl's house, she continued patrolling, cutting a quick swathe through all the demons and vampires she came across as she considered Tara, and in turn, Anya.

She'd known for a while, that she cared for Tara. Originally, she thought that it was just in a good friend way until she realized she was almost seeking out the soft touches the witch gave out so readily. When she realized she was craving the soft caresses, and the woman's honeyed tones, she tried distancing herself from the witch. Then the wedding happened. Or, didn't happen, was more of the case. Watching how kind and caring Tara was with Anya, brought her feelings to the surface again. Then when they had, as Tara called it, the Male Bashing Extravaganza. Buffy found out how her father and brother had beat on the woman, all supposedly to control her demon. Buffy felt the feelings come on even stronger.

When Anya started speaking about her life previously, as a human, and her cheating asshole of a husband, that segued into her life as a vengeance demon. Buffy actually listened more to what was going on beneath the words than what Anya was saying. Realizing as she did, there was an underlying note of self-hatred for what she was doing to some of the questionable husbands and boyfriends of the, so-called, scorned women. There was no denying that there was happiness for when her services were really deserved, but the hatred in her tones far outweighed the few times she obviously thought her particular brand of justice was deserved. Feeling her heart go out to the drunk ex-vengeance demon, Buffy started feeling even more confused.

She watched as Tara comforted Anya as she cried when she hit on Xander before she rallied back around. Coming to the realization, that both women had pretty much opened up their lives, she slowly explained about how she felt and the things she had done after coming back from being dead. Of course, Tara was already aware of the Spike situation, but everything came flowing out about how she didn't think she deserved anything better. To Anya's credit, it didn't even seem to phase her that Buffy had been fucking the undead. She just nodded her head making the comment that worse things had been done for less. It wasn't long afterwards that Tara made some smart aleck comment to Anya, and Anya in drunken retaliation flipped one of the snacks from the trays back at the witch. The next thing she knew all three women were slinging food at each other until Anya and Tara realized that they were getting beamed regularly from Buffy. That's when they had ganged up on the slayer.

Laughing quietly as she thinks about Anya stumbling into Tara when she was going to get another bottle of wine and inadvertently grabbing the woman's breasts. Tara had calmly reached out and grasped Anya's hands, pulling them away, laughingly stating that those weren't a cure for what ailed Anya. Anya standing their swaying back and forth had looked at Buffy with a narrowed gaze then back to Tara. Pointing at Buffy she had ordered her to stand up and turn around. For some reason, Buffy still didn't understand, she had stood and turned around. When two hands grabbed her ass, she stood there surprised for a moment before spinning around and away, watching as Anya nods her head before reaching out and squeezing Tara's breasts quickly, smirking. Slurring out that both women were both very grab worthy, before collapsing down on the floor laughing drunkenly.

After that she had quickly gathered up her weapons, before going on patrol.

Shaking her head at her own confusing thoughts, Buffy finally sits down. Drawing her legs up, she wraps her arms around them and rests her head on her knees. "What the hell am I going to do?" Buffy questions the empty house, her heart heavy. "You need to leave them alone and wish them well. That's what you've got to do, Buffy. Leave them alone and bury all the contradicting feelings stirring up inside you." Buffy nods her head as she mentally and physically stiffens her spine. Standing, she grabs the empty soda can Dawn left to throw it away.

Tara laughs quietly as Anya pulls up in the driveway. "I can't believe we sat in the restaurant for over three hours talking."

"We would probably still be there, if they hadn't run us out." Anya laughs with Tara. Shutting the car off, Anya unhooks her seatbelt and turns so she's facing Tara. Watching the witch as she let's her seatbelt loose and faces her. Reaching out, clasping one of Tara's hands between both of hers, Anya looks up into the curious blue eyes. "I know this is our first date, but do you think there's a chance that we can become more than just friends?"

Tara slowly nods her head, smiling softly. "I would say that there's a very good chance, Anya." Tara tilts her head considering the woman. "What about you? Do you think there's a chance?"

"Oh, yes." Anya grins. "Extremely good chance." Anya glances up at Buffy's house, considering asking Tara about the slayer. Thinking about it for a moment, Anya decides to wait and see what transpires. Looking back, Anya blinks considering Tara. "Is this where I say that it's time for payment for the delicious dinner I paid for?" Anya's eyebrows wiggle and she smirks at the witch.

"You won't ever change, will you?" Tara laughs at the ex-demon.

"No." Anya admits, turning her smirk into a gentle smile. "But, if you're amendable, I would like to kiss you good night."

"I think I would be very amendable." Tara whispers as she watches Anya close the distance between them. Tara closes her eyes as Anya's lips brush softly over hers, slowly pressing more firmly, not deepening the kiss, just a loving kiss.

Anya slowly pulls away, opening her eyes and smiling at the surprised look on Tara's face. "You thought I was coming in to plunder, didn't you?" As Tara actually blushes and nods her head, Anya laughs quietly. "Something to look forward to." Anya winks before leaning in and brushing her lips over Tara's again. "I had a wonderful time tonight."

"I did, too." Tara reaches out and brushes her thumb over Anya's cheek. "Be careful on the way home."

"I will." Anya smiles nodding her head. "Can I call you tomorrow?" Anya questions, giggling. "I feel like a damn teenager."

Tara laughs in understanding. "Please do. Thank you, sweetie." Tara eases open the door, getting out. Tara shuts the door and walks up on the porch. waving as Anya starts the vehicle and pulls out of the driveway. Watching the taillights get smaller, Tara laughs. "Very surprising night." Shaking her head, she turns and unlocks the door, sliding in to close and lock it behind her.

Buffy glances up, smiling softly as Tara finally comes in. Leaning down she mutes the television as Tara eases down on the other end of the couch. Watching her for a long minute, Buffy finally raises an eyebrow and questions with one word. "Well?"

"We went to Mariano's." Tara looks towards Buffy, feeling slightly uncomfortable about discussing this with the slayer, before shaking it off. "We had a wonderful time."

"Good." Buffy nods, smiling. "Must have been one long meal." Buffy hints glancing towards the clock. "I went out on patrol and everything."

Tara laughs, shaking her head. "We just got to talking and didn't realize how much time had passed, until they practically kicked us out of the restaurant." Tara looks down and smoothes a hand down the soft silk dress. "How was patrol?" Tara questions looking up into hazel eyes.

"Busy." Buffy admits looking into the worried blue eyes.

"Are you okay?" Tara's eyes sweep over the slayer looking for any obvious wounds.

Buffy watches Tara intently as she obviously checks to see if she was hurt. "I'm okay."

Tara nods glancing down at her hands. "I think I'll go change. What did you rent?" Tara questions seeing the DVD's sitting on the television as she slowly stands.

"What else?" Buffy smirks at the witch as she walks towards the stairs.

Tara laughs rolling her eyes. "So we're in for an action packed night?"

"Yep. Want popcorn?" Buffy stands heading towards the kitchen, stopping at the bottom of the stairs glancing up at Tara.

"Please. Do we have any chocolate?" Tara hopefully questions. At Buffy's nod she grins, before turning to run up the stairs.

Buffy chuckles as she heads towards the kitchen. "Maybe this won't be so hard." Buffy whispers to herself.

"Dawnie!" Tara exclaims loudly turning to the teenager. "I do NOT kiss and tell." Tara rolls her eyes at the teen.

"Oh, so you admit there was kissing." Dawn nods her head knowingly. "Probably more than that, knowing Anya."

Buffy's eyes widen and she turns towards her sister. "Dawn! Please!!"

"Oh, come on." Dawn waves her ear of corn around. "Miss I Want to Have Orgasms? She's said a lot worse." Dawn rolls her eyes at Buffy.

'But, I do NOT need these pictures in my head.' Buffy whimpers to herself, before saying out loud. "Yes, she has. But that does not mean you will repeat it! And Tara does not have to tell what went on during her date. She had a wonderful time, they're planning on seeing each other again, and we're going to support them. Quietly!" Buffy growls out looking at Dawn sternly.

"Okay." Dawn frowns looking down after being chastised by Buffy. "Can't I at least pick on Tara a little bit?" Dawn looks up hopefully, glancing first at her sister, who shakes her head. Sighing quietly she turns to Tara, who's biting her lip and looking at her with twinkling blue eyes.

"Yes, you can pick on me. But, it doesn't mean you get any details, young lady!" Tara laughs before taking a bite of her lunch.

"That's okay." Dawn laughs. "Details, in regards to Anya, is a scary thought."

"She was actually very…" Tara blinks thinking gentlemanly. "Well, womanly doesn't really work. She was very considerate and non-pushy." Tara shrugs smiling.

Buffy watches the smile crossing Tara's face and nods her head. "Good. I have a feeling there is a lot more to Anya, than she usually allows people to see."

"It's there to be seen." Tara whispers quietly, looking down at her plate. "You just have to be willing to listen and not just hear." Tara glances back up into understanding hazel eyes.

"I get that." Buffy admits. "I kind of realized it on the infamous Male Bashing Night."

Tara glances up smirking. "I was thinking about re-naming that night." Tara wiggles her eyebrows knowingly at the slayer.

"Let's not and say we did." Buffy blushes, knowing what Tara's wanting to name that night. Buffy sets down her napkin as someone knocks on the door. "I'll get it." She quickly jogs to the front door and chuckles at Anya. "Here again? Let me see if she's available." Buffy smirks, getting ready to head towards the kitchen, when she's stopped by Anya's hand on her arm.

"Are you okay with Tara and I dating?" Anya questions quietly, watching the surprise cross the slayer's face, with a hint of sadness buried deep underneath.

"I'm fine with it." Buffy shakes her head at Anya. "Come on in, we were just eating lunch. Have you had anything?"

"I ate before I came over. I wanted to see if Tara was up for either a walk around the park, or maybe an afternoon matinee." Anya admits.

"Well, there's one way to find out." Buffy motions Anya towards the kitchen. Slowly following Anya, Buffy wonders to herself why both women keep questioning if she's okay with them dating.

"Good afternoon." Anya smiles before sitting down on the empty stool by Tara. "Is it okay that I stopped by like this?" Anya questions seriously.

"Of course." Tara smiles, reaching out and squeezing Anya's hand gently. "Do you want anything to eat?" Tara offers as she pulls her hand back.

"No, thank you. I came by to see if maybe you wanted to go for a walk, or to a movie." Anya explains, watching as Tara finishes her lunch.

"That would be lovely." Tara nods her head.

Anya glances up to a curious Dawn, before sliding her gaze to a quiet Buffy. "Would you two like to go to a movie?" Anya includes the two women in.

"I would love to, but I got a report I have to get done." Dawn whines. "Thanks for the offer, Anya."

Anya nods her head, smiling sadly at the teen. "I'm sorry. But school is very important. How about you, Buffy?"

Buffy glances up, eyes widening perceptibly, a slightly scared look in her eyes. "No, I don't think so. Third wheel doesn't really work for me. Thanks." She picks up her empty plate to place in the sink, before heading quickly out of the kitchen.

Anya nods her head. 'Definitely something there.' She thinks to herself before smiling at Tara. "I guess that means it's just us." She watches the worried eyes turn, from where Buffy had left the room, to her.

"Yes, it is." Tara's eyes lose some of the worry and she smiles softly at the ex-demon. "Let me get ready. I'll only be a few minutes." Tara stands placing her dishes in the sink.

Anya watches Tara leave, tilting her head considering the woman.

"You hurt her, I will beat you, until you beg me to kill you." Dawn quietly states as Anya turns her gaze towards her. "I love her, and she's been hurt enough."

"I know that better than anyone does, Dawn." Anya whispers nodding her head seriously at the teen. "I won't hurt her. Not if I can keep from it."

"See that you don't." Dawn stands before heading upstairs to work on her report.

"What do you want to do?" Anya questions quietly as they walk out of the house.

"I wouldn't mind just taking a long walk to enjoy the beautiful day." Tara looks towards Anya.

"Then that's what we'll do." Anya nods, glancing towards Tara. Easing her hand towards the witch, she brushes the tips of her fingers over the back of Tara's hand, smiling as Tara laces their fingers together.

As the two women stroll around Sunnydale in a companionable silence, Anya waits for an hour before questioning Tara softly. "How long have you been in love with Buffy?"

Tara jerks to a stop, looking towards Anya with all the color washed from her face. "Wh-what?"

Anya gently squeezes Tara's hand. "It's okay. I know that you care for me. But I'm not blind."

Tara swallows hard looking down. "I realized it a while back." Tara shrugs her shoulders, looking up to make contact with Anya's understanding brown eyes. "That doesn't mean that I don't care for you…"

"I know." Anya nods her head softly. "You haven't spoken with her about your feelings. Why?"

Tara sighs quietly. "Let's sit down, if we're going to have this conversation."

Anya leads them around the corner to the Espresso Pump. Ordering two cups of tea, she joins Tara at a back booth. Sliding a cup in front of her, Anya sits down across from the woman and opens a packet of sweetener, stirring it into her tea while quietly waiting for Tara to speak.

"I don't think she would want to know that I care about her, in more than a friend way." Tara admits, watching Anya. "And I don't want to ruin our friendship by making her feel uncomfortable, by telling her I care for her."

"What if she likes you?" Anya sips her tea keeping eye contact with Tara.

Tara's lip quirks up and she shakes her head. "She's straight, remember? And right now, more than anything, I don't want to harm our friendship. We both need someone to talk to."

Anya raises an eyebrow in surprise, that the witch doesn't realize that Buffy obviously does care for her. "So, hypothetically speaking, what would happen if you found out Buffy does care for you, in more than a friend way?"

Tara blinks at Anya in shock. "Are you asking me if I would leave you to be with Buffy?"

Tara watches as Anya calmly nods her head, watching and waiting for an answer. "I would never do that. Anya, I care too much for you to ever even consider doing something like that." Tara reaches across and clasps one of Anya's hands in hers.

"Good." Anya looks down smirking. "And what if I said I care for Buffy, also?" Anya looks up with twinkling eyes.

"Huh?" Tara's mouth drops open in surprise. "Are you trying to say you like, like Buffy?"

"Why wouldn't I?" Anya shrugs making the admittance easily. "Of course, it was mostly physical to begin with." Anya smirks. "Very grab worthy ass!"

Tara can't help but giggle at the ex-demon. "So, we both basically care for Buffy. The very beautiful, kind and caring slayer. The extremely heterosexual slayer." Tara sighs shaking her head. "I think we best forget it. It isn't like she would be willing to date either one of us."

"Who said anything about her dating just one of us?" Anya raises an eyebrow. "If she cares enough to date one of us, she damn well would be dating both of us. I don't mind the three way idea, but I'm not going to share if I don't get any!!"

Tara blushes deeply in realization of what Anya is saying. "Anya, why the hell are you even thinking about this? It's a moot point. And just plain weird." Tara shakes her head lifting her tea and taking a sip. "I think this is a subject best left alone from now on." Tara states seriously glancing back up at Anya.

Anya sighs quietly before acquiescing to Tara's wishes. "Fine. No more discussing Buffy. Unless, just in a friends way." Anya looks around the shop before her eyes light on the witch again. "So…you going to tell Willow we're dating?"

Tara's eyes widen and her eyebrows go up. "I didn't even think about it. You going to tell Xander?"

"I haven't spoken with him since the wedding fiasco." Anya shakes her head, frowning. "I probably should. You sure I can't wish boils on his penis, or something along that lines?" Anya looks up hopefully.

"No, Anya." Tara laughs seeing the glint of mischief in the woman's eyes. "They're both going to freak."

"Shit happens." Anya grins. "Think we should get them both together at the same time and tell them?"

Tara shakes her head becoming serious. "Try and do this nicely, Anya. I consider Xander a friend, and I really don't want to upset either him or Willow. It would cause too many problems, and I don't want to lose their friendship."

"I'll be nice. Would it be best to do this separately, or would you prefer to have back-up?" Anya questions seriously.

"I…" Tara hesitates for a moment, thinking. "Maybe it would be best to tell her by myself." Tara winces slightly looking at Anya.

"I know. She never cared for me. And saying she hates my guts, probably wouldn't be too far off the mark." Anya frowns, thinking heavily. "I don't know about Xander. I really don't want to talk to him by myself. I may decide to be mean, threaten him, or something."

"I would be willing to be with you when you speak to him, if you want." Tara offers reaching out to stroke Anya's hand. "It would probably be for the best, that we do this before much longer."

"And probably close to the same time, Willow or Xander will probably call the other one to discuss this." Anya thinks about the logistics of discussing their new relationship with their ex-lovers. "It would almost be easier to discuss this together. I wouldn't want either one to find out from someone else."

Tara chews on her lip, thinking about how it would be best to handle the situation. "I almost hate to suggest this." Tara looks up at Anya. "Maybe we could ask Buffy to run interference for us. Maybe take Willow for a girl's day out, while you and I discuss this with Xander. Then have me talk to Willow at the house afterwards?"

"I don't think it would be right to ask Buffy to do that." Anya shakes her head. "That's kind of putting her in the middle of things. You know Willow will probably be upset, thinking Buffy was hiding something from her."

Tara rubs a hand over her forehead, sighing quietly. "Then the best thing to do is do this together." She looks up with sad blue eyes. "I'm going to tell you now, that I'm sorry for whatever might come from Willow. I don't think she'll be very pleasant."

"That's a given. And no need to apologize for what she says or does. It isn't your fault." Anya furrows her brows. "Should we do this now?"

"I think so." Tara nods. "That way it's all out in the open, and Buffy and Dawn won't have to keep it from Xander and Willow."

"Let's call them." Anya stands up, digging change out of her purse walking towards the pay phone, with Tara quietly following.

Chapter 10

Xander frowns as he runs into Willow outside the Espresso Pump. "Hi. What's up?"

"Got a call to meet Tara here." Willow answers quietly.

"Same here." Xander nods his head looking questioningly at the redhead. "Any idea why?"

"No." Willow shakes her head nervously. "This place hasn't exactly been a good place for Tara and me to meet. Last time we met here, she told me we were finished."

"I'm sorry." Xander frowns at his best friend.

"It's okay, more or less." Willow sighs, before smiling softly. "I actually went out on a date Friday night."

"Really? Who's the lucky lady?" Xander questions grinning.

Willow blushes as she looks down. "Christina, she's in my Physics class." Looking back up, she sighs. "Let's go see what's going on."

"Would rather not." Xander mumbles to himself, as they walk into the shop.

Tara glances up, watching as Willow and Xander walk into the shop. "They're here." She nervously looks across the table at Anya. The two women had switched to a free standing table from the booth they originally were sitting at, to make things be on a more even footing.

Anya unconsciously stiffens, finally it's hitting her, this is the first time she'll have seen Xander since before the wedding disaster. Glancing from her hands up into Tara's eyes, she takes a deep breath seeing the support in the warm blue eyes. Smiling briefly, Anya relaxes a tiny bit.

Xander looks towards Tara, seeing her sitting with another woman. Frowning as he walks closer, he finally realizes that it's Anya. Eyes wide, he turns towards Willow, seeing the realization crossing her face that both their ex's are sitting there waiting for them.

"Easy, Xander." Willow whispers quietly, reaching out to clasp his arm. "You knew sooner or later you would run into her."

"Yeah. But why with Tara? And why did she want you here?" He mumbles, as they walk towards the table.

"We're about to find out." Willow looks at Tara, noticing that her ex-lover seemed somewhat nervous in her own right. Walking up to the table, Willow nods towards Tara, quietly whispering. "Hello."

"Hi." Tara smiles quickly towards Willow as she sits down, while watching an obviously petrified Xander slowly ease into the other chair across from Willow. "Hello, Xander."

"Hi." Xander squeaks out looking at Tara before sliding a glance towards Anya.

"Hello, beady eyes." Anya narrows her gaze on her ex.

"Anya." Tara softly says the ex-demons name.

Anya glances towards Tara before nodding her head. "Xander." Anya nods towards Xander, before glancing towards Willow. "Hello, Willow."

"Hello." Willow nods her head, feeling more uncomfortable by the minute.

Tara bites her lip before looking up, eyes making brief contact with Anya, before looking towards Willow. "As you probably already figured out, there's a reason we asked both of you here." She shifts her eyes from confused green eyes to Xander's wide brown eyes.

Anya taps her finger on the table before speaking up. "We decided it would be best to tell you before you found out some other way."

"Easy, Anya." Tara whispers watching Anya intently.

"Sorry." Anya shakes her head, sighing quietly. "There's no easy way to do this."

"No, there isn't." Tara admits softly. "Just so you both know, we aren't doing this out of spite, or because we're trying to make you feel bad."

Anya nods her head silently agreeing with Tara. Sighing, she glances towards Willow, seeing a dawning realization in the redhead's eyes, before glancing towards Xander. "Simple and to the heart of the matter, Tara and I have decided to date."

Xander's eyes open wide in disbelief looking at his ex. "You…Tara….???" He squeaks out, before turning his gaze towards Tara.

Tara bites her lip as she watches Willow look towards her with an indescribable look on her face.

"You're dating this, this inconsiderate, fuc…" Willow starts before she's interrupted.

"WILLOW!" Tara hisses out loudly. "You will not say what you're about to. I will NOT put up with you talking that way about Anya, or anyone else for that matter. You may not like her, but this is my life and my decision. We are only telling you so that we don't happen to run into each other, if Anya and I are out together. We're doing it out of consideration for you and Xander. Both of you have been a big portion of our lives and thought you deserved to know."

Willow snaps her mouth shut in surprise at her lover…ex-lover. Willow looks down as she clenches her jaw tightly. "Why her?" She growls roughly, before glancing up with angry eyes. "Out of everyone in Sunnydale, why Anya?"

Xander sits there stunned, looking from one woman to the other. He's completely at a loss as to what to say, or do, as he silently listens to Tara and Willow.

"Because she cares for me and will never willingly hurt me. And honestly? I believe there's an extremely good possibility that I will love her deeply." Tara explains softly. "I already love her, Willow… as more than a friend."

"You always stuck up for her. How long, Tara?" Willow hisses out angrily. "How long have you had feelings for her? Was your breaking up with me permanently, just an excuse to get with Anya?"

"Enough!" Anya snarls looking at Willow, finally having enough. "Nothing went on between us before. We went on our first date last night. You have absolutely no right to be angry with her. As far as I'm concerned, if anyone should be angry, it's her! You gave up any right to be angry or upset when you fucked her over. Now apologize for being a bitch and take it like a woman!"

Xander whimpers quietly, before running a shaking hand through his hair, speaking up softly. "Willow, don't ruin your friendship with Tara over this." Xander looks up with sorrow filled eyes. "Think before you say anything else. We both know nothing went on between them before. And until I fucked up so royally two weeks ago, Anya probably never even contemplated dating or seeing anyone else."

All three women turn surprised eyes towards Xander.

Xander blushes looking back down. "We caused our own problems, Willow. They're just continuing on with their lives. As are you." He glances up making meaningful eye contact with Willow. "As should I. We screwed up beyond belief with both of them. We have to live with that. Hopefully one day all of us can be friends. Until then, have a wonderful day." Xander looks sorrowfully at Anya. "I'm sorry for being an idiot." He whispers, before quickly pushing back his chair to leave the coffee shop.

Willow sits beside her ex-lover and Anya in stunned silence, as her best friend since kindergarten, smacks her across the face with a few home truths. Feeling a tear finally slide down her cheek, Willow shakes her head. "I can't really deal with this right now." She admits softly, glancing up making brief eye contact with sad blue eyes. "I'm sorry. I never should have said what I did." Glancing towards Anya she nods her head. "Sorry." Willow murmurs, before hurriedly walking from the coffee shop, leaving Tara and Anya sitting quietly alone at the table.

Tara stares after the redhead for long moments, contemplating everything that was just said. Finally glancing back towards Anya, Tara tilts her head, finally smiling crookedly. "Very surprising."

"Yes, very." Anya nods her head in agreement. "Who would have thought beady eyes had it in him?" Sighing quietly, she slowly inches her hand across the table towards Tara's hand. "Sorry if I jumped in there when I shouldn't have. I couldn't stand her accusing you of something that would never have even occurred to you."

"That's okay." Tara smiles softly meeting Anya's hand in the middle of the table, clasping it gently. "You were more worried about how things were going to go with Xander. Then he turns out to be the voice of reason, actually helping with Willow." Tara frowns looking down at the table. "I'm sorry for what she was going to say."

"You have nothing to be sorry for, Tara. We both knew that she was going to have some not so nice things to say about me. It just surprised me when she turned on you." Anya admits. Sighing deeply, she looks towards Tara. "Feel like heading home?" Anya smiles briefly.

"I probably should." Tara smiles back, searching Anya's brown eyes. "Are you okay?"

"I think so." Anya glances down briefly. "I almost feel bad for thinking all those evil, mean things about him."

"Come on, sweetie. Let's walk." Tara suggests softly, standing and watching Anya as she nods her head, smiling softly as they lace their fingers together as they walk out of the shop into the late afternoon sunshine. "Xander really is a sweet guy. He just screws up occasionally. Maybe he wasn't grown-up enough to be married."

"Maybe not." Anya softly agrees. "Maybe in a few months I can be friends with him."

"I hope so." Tara eases her hand from Anya's grasp, gently wrapping her arm around the woman's waist. "I don't want to lose anyone's friendship. It's so hard finding friends that are as close as all of us are."

"Being here on the Hellmouth, with everything we've gone through, doesn't give us much of a choice." Anya hesitantly eases her arm around the witch, resting her hand on the woman's hip.

Tara smiles as Anya's arm wraps around her. "I mean, staking and beheading demons does have a tendency to bring people closer together." Tara jokes softly.

"And let's not even discuss being covered in gory demon parts." Anya shivers, before laughing.

"Gory, stinky, oozy demon parts." Tara chuckles, squeezing Anya gently. "Do you want to come to the house?" She questions softly as they walk.

"I don't think so." Anya shakes her head glancing towards Tara. "It's Sunday night, you probably have studying to do. Plus I kind of want to think about what happened today." Anya admits softly.

"It's a lot to take in." Tara agrees as the two slowly come to a halt. "I guess this is where we go our different ways." Tara looks off in the distance to where Anya's apartment building is, before shifting her eyes towards the ex-demon.

"Yes, heading in our two different directions." Anya smiles, looking over the witch's features for a few, long moments. "I would say I had a wonderful time…" Anya trails off, laughing self-consciously.

"I believe the time we spent alone together, was wonderful." Tara smiles softly. Effectively separating what happened with Xander and Willow, from their time spent together. "I'll see you tomorrow after school."

Anya smiles hugely as she realizes she'll get to see Tara the following day. "Yes you will, as I will get to see you."

Tara hesitates a moment before leaning in to brush her lips softly over Anya's. Gradually easing back, she looks intently in Anya's eyes for a few seconds, before closing the distance to kiss her more firmly, capturing the ex-demon's bottom lip between her two lips, caressing it briefly with her tongue and pulling on it ever so gently, before releasing the soft flesh. Stepping back Tara smiles. "See you tomorrow, Anya."

Anya stands there nodding her head silently, surprised and dazed from the simple caress. "Tomorrow." Anya hoarsely agrees, watching as Tara smiles before turning to head towards Revello Drive. "Wow." Anya whispers quietly before running her tongue over her bottom lip, getting just a hint of the witch's flavor. Feeling more lighthearted, Anya grins happily as she strolls back to her apartment.

Tara smiles softly as she lets herself in the house. Closing the door quietly, she hangs her keys on the hook glancing into the empty living room. Frowning, she looks quickly in the kitchen before slowly walking up the stairs. Seeing Buffy's bedroom door open, she doesn't see Buffy. Walking the couple steps across the hallway, she watches as Dawn bounces at her desk as she writes, headphones obviously blasting out music. Chuckling, Tara knocks loudly on the door frame.

Dawn quickly reaches for the CD player, clicking it off before pulling the headset down around her neck. "Hey!"

"Hi, Dawnie." Tara smiles at the teen. "Do you need any help?" Tara offers, leaning against the frame.

"Nah, I about got it covered." Dawn smiles. "How did things go this afternoon? What movie did you see?"

"We actually didn't go see a movie." Tara admits softly as she walks in the room, to sit down on the bed. "We went walking around Sunnydale before we stopped at the Espresso Pump for tea." Tara glances down, picking at the bedspread for a few moments. "We decided that it would be best to let Willow and Xander know what was going on, so it wouldn't be a shock if we happened to run into to them while we were out."

Dawn's eyes widen in surprise. "That's why she called." Dawn whispers.

"Why who called?" Tara looks up, watching Dawn.

"Willow called. Buffy headed out about an hour ago to do the best friend thing, at least that's what she said." Dawn admits. "I take it things didn't go that good?"

Tara shrugs, frowning. "Could have been better, could have been worse." Tara smiles briefly. "Xander actually did better than I thought he would. Anya and I decided that since we are actually planning on seeing each other, it was best that we talked with them. That way they wouldn't think you and Buffy were possibly trying to hide our relationship from them."

"I hate to say it, but is it really any of their business who you two date?" Dawn questions. "I mean, HELLO! They screwed up. If you wanted to date the Goodwrench Man, you could!!" Dawn throws her hands up in the air. "You know, if you like, liked guy's that is." Dawn admits, blushing.

"Maybe the Goodwrench Woman." Tara smiles, joking with the teen. "I'm hoping eventually things will get back on an even keel. I know it's going to be rough on Willow. After all, she never really liked Anya." Tara winces looking down. "Having Anya and I together kind of put her into a tailspin, I would think."

"It is kind of strange." Dawn admits, her lip curling up in a half smile. "It might take me a little while to get used to the sight of you two together. After all, you and Willow were a couple for two years!" Dawn grins. "Then Anya…" Dawn rolls her eyes. "And Xander were together for roughly three years? So, and I don't mean this in a bad way, but this, is gonna take some getting used to." Dawn shrugs looking at Tara.

"I understand, Dawnie." Tara smiles softly at the teen. "I guess I should hit the books, too." Tara slowly stands. "Did Buffy happen to say when she thought she might be back home?"

"Nah." Dawn shakes her head. "But she took her weapons with her, so she'll probably do patrol before she heads back here."

"Anything in particular you want for dinner tonight?" Tara questions softly as she walks towards the door.

"Pizza?" Dawn questions hopefully. "We haven't had any in like, two weeks."

"If you want." Tara turns, grinning at the teen. "A medium for me and you, a large for your sister. I'm sure she'll eat it when she gets in from patrol."

"Who, the bottomless pit?" Dawn snorts. "She finished off the leftovers from lunch. Then she ate half a container of ice cream! I think you need to keep her away from the ice cream. We hardly ever get any." Dawn whines.

"Sorry, Dawnie. Maybe we should try marking a container with your name, that way you can get to eat a good portion of it." Tara chuckles.

"Like that'll work." Dawn shakes her head. "Pizza in a couple hours?" Dawn questions before grinning as Tara nods her head. "Thanks, Tara."

Tara smiles. "You're welcome, Dawnie." Tara laughs quietly as Dawn turns the CD player back on, pulling the headphones up, before working on her report.

Buffy barely knocks on the door, before Willow's yanking it open, staring at her angrily.

"Did you know?" Willow snarls looking Buffy up and down.

"What?" Buffy takes a step back, surprised at the anger directed towards her. "What are you talking about?"

Willow backs off, seeing the confusion in the slayer's eyes. "Anya and Tara." Willow watches Buffy intently, surprised when she sees a flare of hurt cross the slayer's eyes before sadness quickly replaces it, finally a neutral expression settles.

"They went out on a date last night." Buffy admits softly looking at Willow. "Anya came back to town Friday. She asked Tara on a date, she said yes." Buffy looks at her angry best friend. "What did you expect, Willow? You two are broken up. Did you expect her to stay single and not date anyone? God, wasn't it you that called me just the other day, giddy and babbling about having a date yourself?" Buffy shakes her head, sighing deeply.

"I-I…" Willow's hands come up before falling back down at her sides. "Get in here, Buffy." Willow finally states dejectedly, as she turns from the doorway to walk in the house, collapsing in a chair.

Buffy slowly walks in, closing the door behind her, before sitting on the end of the couch watching Willow.

"I don't know what to think." Willow looks up with sad, haunted eyes. "One minute I'm so angry…" Willow's features darken for a moment before she shakes her head. "The next minute I want to cry. Then I just want to smack myself for being a fucking idiot!" Willow whimpers, burying her face in her hands. "I mean, Anya! She's dating an ex-vengeance demon, Xander's ex-fiancée. I didn't even know Anya liked women! Is she just doing this as a rebound? Is Tara something different for her? Is she going to hurt Tara? How did they even start dating? What triggered it?" Willow rambles off quickly glancing back up at Buffy.

Buffy looks down, feeling guilty. "I can't answer for them, Willow. But…I don't think Anya will hurt her, and I honestly believe it isn't a rebound thing. They really like each other. As for Anya liking women…" Buffy trails off looking up at Willow, wincing. "As it was explained to me, she's over 1200 years old, do you honestly think in that time she's never been with a woman? And as for them dating, I guess you can blame me." Buffy whispers the last looking back down at her hands.

"You?" Willow's eyes open in stunned surprise.

"Yeah, me." Buffy nods her head. "Friday night I was telling Tara she needed to start dating again. She, as usual, was grumping at me to leave it alone. A few minutes later Anya came in and I brought it up to her." Buffy winces, feeling her heart get heavy as she continues. "Anya asked her out on a date, she said yes."

Willow's mouth opens and closes three or four times before she shakes her head.

"I mean, I know fundamentally it isn't my fault. But, she might not have asked her right away, if I hadn't brought it up." Buffy unconsciously rocks slowly back and forth on the couch, not even realizing she's speaking out loud, albeit quietly. "I mean, unless I had asked her out, Anya would probably have asked her eventually, anyway. But of course, I had to be stupid and not tell Tara I liked her. But, why would she like me?" Buffy whispers looking down at her hands. "A stupid idiot that's fucked the undead, afraid to admit she's come to care for someone, because she doesn't want to cause waves…"

"WHAT?" Willow almost screams the word at the slayer. "Y-y-you like Tara?" Willow stands pointing towards the door. "Get the FUCK OUT OF MY HOUSE! It isn't bad enough that the ex-demon bitch wants Tara. You say you do, too? This is just fucking lovely! You don't even LIKE women. You're all with the men. Angel and Riley, remember?" Willow takes the single step to stand over the stunned slayer. "Leave. Don't bother coming back. A friend would NEVER think of hooking up with their best friends ex. It just isn't DONE!"

Buffy stands, finally angry. "You know what, Willow? You don't know fuck all! She isn't yours anymore. She is…was on the market. She can date, love, FUCK anyone she wants to. There is absolutely nothing you can do about it. You can be mad at me all you want, but you know what?" Buffy hesitates shoving her face in Willow's. "I love her, and I would never, ever, have treated her as badly as you did! You had the most wonderful person in the world that doted on you - and you treated her like a fucking commodity. And you did it from the absolute beginning of your relationship!!" Buffy shoves a finger in Willow's chest. "You kept her away from all of us, like she was a leper, or something. She didn't deserve to be treated that way. She deserved you to be up front with everyone. Let everyone know that you cared for her." Buffy finally feels her anger starting to ease. Slowly sliding towards the door, she shakes her head at the pale redhead, running a shaking hand down her face. "Our friendship never factored into whether I like Tara or not, Willow. As a matter of fact…no, that's a lie. It factored into it. You're the main reason I never asked Tara out. I didn't want to hurt you. You're my absolute best friend, and maybe, when you've had time to think about things, you'll realize this isn't really about you. It's about Tara, and who she wants to be with. No one's doing this to hurt you. I can't help that I love her, but I'm not acting on it."

Buffy turns to the door, quietly opening it before glancing back at Willow. "When you feel like talking, and maybe are willing to be my friend again, call. I know you're just angry about everything that's happened today, you need time to sort it out. I'll leave you alone until you contact me. But just know, you aren't the only one hurting from those two dating." Buffy finally whispers, before quickly striding out of the house.

Willow stands in the living room staring at the now closed front door. Tears slowly fill her eyes before rolling down her face. "Goddess! What am I doing?" She questions the empty house. Collapsing face first on the couch, Willow sobs heartbrokenly as she thinks about everything she'd said to Buffy. Finally playing over what Buffy said to her, Willow gradually comes to the realization that Buffy has a point…multiple points. First off, Tara isn't hers, and she does deserve to find someone to be happy with. Second, no one can help their feelings. Knowing that she her self, would always love Tara, no matter what. Thinking about it, she remembers how she'd hid her relationship with the blonde Wicca away from everyone, realizing as she thinks about her relationship, how she treated the woman during their time together…she did sort of think of her as being 'hers'. Almost as a piece of property, instead of a human being in her own right. Curling up in a tight ball, it finally hits home, how she raped her girl…ex-girlfriend's mind, basically because she didn't like being wrong. Nodding her head, Willow realizes that's what the original mind-wipe boiled down to. Tara pointed out the fact that Willow was using too much magic, and they had an argument over the fact. Willow didn't think she was… so what does she do? Uses magic to fix it. "Goddess, I am so screwed up!" Willow's body is shaking as she cries. "I'll give it a few days, and then talk to Buffy. Hopefully, she'll let me make things right with her. Then, eventually beg Tara's forgiveness for everything I've done."

Chapter 11

Buffy looks around as the dust settles, realizing she killed the three vampires with out hardly remembering pulling her stake. Glancing down to her hand, she blinks noticing the stake gripped firmly. Tucking it away, she continues patrolling, as she had been doing for the last five hours. Thinking heavily about everything she said to Willow, Buffy sighs quietly. "Didn't mean to say I liked Tara out loud." Buffy mumbles as she works her way through downtown Sunnydale. "God knows, I sure as hell didn't mean to go off on Willow like that." Shaking her head, Buffy glances around at the empty streets. "And you're talking to yourself. This is SO not good." Buffy grumbles, trudging along. "I'm even more fucked up than Willow is. One moment I feel jealous that the two women are dating, the next moment happy that they're dating each other. And the really screwed up thing is, that I don't know who I'm jealous of."

Buffy stops as she hears a whimpering noise. Tilting her head she listens more intently. As she realizes it's coming from behind the trash cans behind her, she starts to pull out a stake when she realizes it has to be something small to fit in that tiny of an area. Letting go of the stake, Buffy shifts back the trash cans, kneeling as she sees the obviously scared puppy. "Easy there, little fella." Buffy soothes quietly. "Are you a little fella or a little girl?" She questions in a soft sing-song voice, hoping to calm the puppy. As it whimpers looking up at her, Buffy smiles softly. Slowly the puppy stands, cautiously approaching the slayer that's just a foot away from it. "That's it little buddy. Come here." Buffy eases her hand down, chuckling quietly as it sniffs the hand before licking it with a warm tongue. Scratching the dog under the chin, Buffy gives it time to feel more comfortable with her before she gently picks it up. Glancing, she smiles. "Okay, little girl. What am I going to do with you?"

Tucking the happily panting puppy against her chest, Buffy laughs, scratching it behind the ears. "Other than the obvious fact you're a girl. I can't tell what color you are, you're so dirty." As it licks her hand, Buffy sighs quietly. "Let's take you home. Tara'll probably take one look at you and want to keep you. She kind of likes us strays, you know." Buffy turns around, quickly striding back towards Revello Drive. "She had a kitten once, but it kind of disappeared when something bad showed up. I bet she'll like you just fine. She likes to spoil and love everyone. She'll probably dig out any leftovers we have to make sure you're fed properly. She might even give you a bath." Buffy rolls her eyes when she realizes she's talking to a dog…a dog that is now curled up asleep in her arms. "Buffy, you really do need help." Buffy grunts out to herself as she walks up the sidewalk. Unlocking the door, she quickly shuts it behind her, locking it before glancing in the living room. Walking in she turns off the light before walking into the kitchen, planning on grabbing something to drink for her and the puppy, when she notices Tara sitting at the island sipping a cup of tea.

Tara glances up as Buffy walks in the kitchen. "Did you find it, or did it find you?" Tara questions softly, smiling as she notices the puppy curled up in Buffy's arms.

"I think it was kind of mutual finding." Buffy admits, smiling, looking down at the puppy.

Tara nods while digging around in the cabinets, pulling out a cheap plastic container, filling it quickly with water. Setting it down by the wall at the back door as she quickly turns to open the refrigerator, digging around to pull out some leftover roast. "Are you planning on keeping it?" Tara questions softly, as she grabs a couple pieces of meat, gently tearing it apart into small pieces.

"I kind of thought we might." Buffy admits looking down, chuckling as the puppy wakes up and starts to squirm as it smells the food.

Tara glances up when Buffy mentions 'we'. Nodding her head, she lays a small piece of food in her hand for the puppy to eat. "Don't get used to this, little…" Tara glances towards Buffy in question.

"Girl. She's a she…" Buffy shrugs smiling. "It's a her."

"Well, girlie. Don't get used to this kind of food." Tara chuckles as she puts a couple more small pieces in her hand as the dog quickly grabs them. "You're going to have puppy chow tomorrow. You also need a bath, stinky one."

"Sorry, that might be partly me." Buffy admits, wincing. "Had kind of a busy night."

Tara looks up, her eyes twinkling. "You're going to admit that, when you have the perfect scapegoat in your arms?"

"Damn, screwed that one up, didn't I?" Buffy smirks at the witch. "Maybe she and I should go take a shower? Would it be okay to use regular shampoo on her?" Buffy questions looking at Tara.

"Use one of the milder shampoos, actually use my oatmeal shampoo. That would be perfect for her, it doesn't have any of the dyes or perfumes in it." Tara smiles as the puppy finishes eating the food. "Why don't you set her down, let her get some water. Then we'll let her go outside for a few minutes, hopefully to start potty training her."

Buffy nods in agreement, easing the puppy down on the floor, chuckling as it makes a bee-line for the water dish. As it laps up the water quickly, Buffy glances over to Tara. "Talked with Willow tonight."

"Sorry." Tara turns sad blue eyes on Buffy. "Anya and I decided while we were out, that it would be best to let Willow and Xander know we're dating. If I had thought about it, I would have called right after Willow left to give you a heads up, but I didn't even think about it."

"It's okay." Buffy shakes her head, watching the puppy as it waddles back towards her. "Oh, no, little girlie. Outside for you." Buffy scoops the puppy up, opening the back door to walk out in the back yard, setting her down on the ground, chuckling as she squats and pees almost immediately.

"Good timing." Tara giggles, watching the puppy.

"Going to have to invest in a carpet cleaning machine." Buffy grunts watching as the puppy starts sniffing around the yard, walking a little distance before taking care of her other business. "I never had a dog."

"We had animals growing up." Tara leans against the door watching the puppy. "Most of them were outside animals, but we did have one dog for a while, that stayed in the house. They pretty much eat, sleep and make messes at this age. Probably quite a few accidents, but it'll clean up."

Buffy squats down on her haunches, clicking her tongue. "Come here, little girl."

Tara chuckles, as the puppy comes running as fast as her legs will carry her towards the slayer. "I think she found herself a new mommy."

"Great. Something I never thought I'd be." Buffy's lip curls up as she tucks the puppy against her. "Mommy to a baby girl, that'll bite, bark and growl."

"Come on. Let me help you bathe her." Tara chuckles, locking the door behind them as they walk in the house.

"Yes, let's see what we got under all this dirt and grime." Buffy walks into the bathroom, frowning. "She's small enough to wash in the sink, what do you think?"

"That'll be perfect." Tara murmurs as she grabs a towel and the shampoo, walking over to the sink, turning the water on. Checking the temperature after a few moments, Tara eases off the hot a little until the waters warm, but not too warm. Pulling up the stopper, she lets the sink fill halfway before turning the water off. "Well, let's see what she does, set her in the water, but keep a hand on her in case she tries to bolt."

Buffy nods as she walks up to stand by Tara, gently easing the puppy in the water. Chuckling as it scrabbles for a few moments, before looking around and sitting down in the water. "That's a good girl, yes it is." Buffy baby talks to the puppy after it calms down.

Tara chuckles, shaking her head. "If only the mean, evil demons could see you now." Tara laughs a little harder at the narrowed gaze that glances at her in the mirror. Squeezing a good dollop of shampoo in her hand, Tara proceeds to work the shampoo into a rich lather over the puppy, gently working her way around the face of the dog, scrubbing the chest for a few long moments as the puppy's back paw starts tapping in the water in pleasure. "Like that, don't you?" Tara murmurs, smiling.

"Do you blame her?" Buffy shakes her head. "Poor thing probably hasn't had any attention paid to it. Now it's being fed, watered, loved on, and bathed. It's probably in doggy heaven."

The puppy tilts its head towards Buffy, letting out a small yip, like it knows it's being talked about. Tara laughs as she works her hands down the rest of the animal, scrubbing it thoroughly before letting the dirty, dingy water out of the sink and running more water, letting the fresh clean water rinse over the dog. "Oh…" Tara whispers as the markings become clear. "Looks like you got yourself a Rottweiler mix, Buffy."

"Hmm?" Buffy looks at the dog as it comes clean, unconsciously having been watching the witch, instead of the puppy. "How do you know it's a mix?" Buffy questions, looking at the obvious markings of a Rottweiler.

"The nose and body." Tara murmurs, glancing up at Buffy. "The nose is too long. Most Rotty's have a shorter, stubbier nose. The body's more delicate than a full Rottweiler." Running her fingers down the puppy's legs, Tara pulls her feet up, chuckling. "She's going to be a good sized dog, if these are any indication."

Buffy frowns looking at the puppy's feet. "Why?"

"They're big paws, Buffy. They'll only get bigger as she gets older." Tara looks into the soft brown eyes of the dog. "You are going to need a name, little girl. Plus the fact you're probably going to be able to eat as much as your mommy when you get full grown, huh?" Tara needles the slayer.

"Just what we need another piggy in the house." Buffy grumps before chuckling.

"Oh, that reminds me. There's a large pizza in the refrigerator for you. I finally put it up when you didn't make it back home early." Tara softly admits, grabbing the towel to quickly cover the puppy, as she finally decides it's had enough and was trying to shake the excess water off. "Come here, little girl. Let me rub you dry while mommy takes her shower." Tara glances up looking at the slayer. "Want me to heat some of the pizza up for you?"

"I'll get it." Buffy shakes her head, watching as Tara gently rubs the towel over the dog's body.

"No problem. Me and little one, here, will go downstairs and throw you some in the microwave while I'm drying her. Then we can let her go back outside again, before we head to bed tonight. Where's she going to sleep?" Tara looks up making eye contact with Buffy.

"I guess she can stay in my room. I'll grab an old blanket and fold it up on the floor by the bed for her." Buffy smiles, as Tara eases towards the bathroom door.

"Take a shower, Buffy. I'll heat your food." Tara gently shuts the door behind her, quickly walking down the stairs, continuing to dry the puppy. "You're absolutely gorgeous, aren't you, baby girl?" She laughs as the puppy licks quickly over her hand. "If I set you down on the floor, do you promise to behave?" Tara questions lifting the dog up to look her in the eyes. Chuckling quietly as it reaches out with a paw to try and tap her on the nose. "You're going to be spoiled rotten." Shaking her head, Tara gives it a couple more good rubs with the towel, before setting her on the floor. Watching as the puppy cautiously sniffs around the kitchen, shaking its self so hard that she falls down.

Laughing quietly, Tara quickly washes her hands and dries them before pulling out Buffy's pizza throwing some slices on a plate to microwave. Easing down on the floor, Tara watches as the puppy quickly runs over to her, climbing up over her legs to lay down in her lap, panting. Scratching her behind the ears, Tara smiles, as she watches her lay her head down to slowly fall asleep.

Buffy frowns when she finally makes it downstairs. Pressing the button on the microwave she glances down, almost tripping over Tara and the puppy. She smiles softly at the puppy curled up in Tara's lap, and the witch's head tilted back against the cabinet as she sleeps. Quickly turning around, Buffy stops the microwave before it beeps. Sitting down at the island, she quietly eats her dinner as she watches Tara sleep. Putting a couple more slices on the plate, she places it in the microwave. Before pushing the start button, Buffy kneels beside the witch and puppy. Easing her hands under the puppy to pick it up, Buffy inhales sharply at the warmth coming from the witch, as the backs of her hands brush over her thighs. Tucking the puppy against her, Buffy places a gentle hand on Tara's shoulder.

Tara's eyes open quickly, glancing around. "I fell asleep, didn't I?" She wipes her eyes for a moment.

"Yes. Go to bed, Tara. I'm going to eat a couple more pieces of pizza while little girl here goes outside for a few minutes." Buffy smiles standing.

"See you tomorrow, sweetie." Tara stands, gently squeezing the slayer's shoulder as she walks out of the kitchen.

"Yeah, tomorrow." Buffy watches Tara walk away. "Okay, you rotten new addition to the family, let me finish heating my dinner, then you can go outside and play while I eat. Tomorrow I'm going to probably put you in the basement, so you won't get into much trouble, while I go shopping for you." Buffy chuckles as the puppy's tail wags as fast as it can while she talks to it. "Hope you don't mind living in a house with a bunch of women. I have a feeling it might be a while before another male makes it in the house." Buffy smirks as she pulls her pizza out of the microwave, heading out the back door. Walking out, she sets the puppy on the ground while sitting on the steps, slowly eating the rest of her dinner, while the puppy frolics for a few minutes before using the bathroom.

"Go ahead and play for a while, little one. No rush." Buffy murmurs as the puppy comes running back to her. Almost as if the puppy understands, she barks once before running around the back yard, occasionally tripping and rolling. Laughing quietly at the puppy's antics, Buffy eases back, relaxing. Finally she comes running up to collapse, panting at her feet. "Time to go in?" Buffy questions the worn out dog. Laughing, she picks her up, carrying the heavily panting dog into the house. Placing her plate in the sink, Buffy quickly turns the lights off walking up the stairs. Setting the puppy on the floor, Buffy opens the closet pulling down a blanket. Placing the folded up item on the floor at the end of the bed, Buffy clucks her tongue, smiling as the puppy walks over towards her before collapsing on the blanket. "That's a good girl." Buffy scratches the puppy behind the ears, chuckling as it flops over onto its back. "Want your belly rubbed, huh?" Buffy rubs the puppy's belly for a few minutes. "Go to sleep, little girl." Buffy quickly stands, changing into her sleep wear before turning out the light, climbing into bed.

Sighing quietly, Buffy turns over onto her stomach, punching the pillow a couple times before laying her head down. "Sleep, enjoy the day off tomorrow, go shopping for puppy. Call around for a vet. Ignore confusing feelings for Tara and Anya. Anya's easier - don't see her so much…" Buffy trails off shaking her head. "Sleep." She mutters into the pillow.

Buffy jerks awake. Looking around the room, disoriented, it takes her a few moments to realize the puppy's whimpering by the door. "Oh, little girl. You need to go out?" Buffy jumps out of the bed grasping her robe, when she hears a light knocking on the door. "Come in."

Tara pokes her head in smiling down at the puppy. "Want me to take her out before going to class?" Tara kneels down grasping the puppy.

"Please, I need to go to the bathroom. Probably as bad as little one there does." Buffy looks around not noticing any accidents.

"Outside she goes." Tara chuckles, quickly heading to take the puppy outside.

"Thank you." Buffy murmurs looking a little more seriously at the floor, sniffing deeply. "I don't think she had any accidents. Good little girl." Buffy laughs before quickly heading to the bathroom to take care of her own personal business.

Tara laughs as she quickly sets the puppy down and it squats immediately. Stepping back into the kitchen, Tara grabs the water bowl and the food she'd set down before going back upstairs to offer to bring the puppy outside. "You need a name, little one. We can't keep calling you little girl, little one or puppy." Setting the bowls down on the ground, she watches the puppy finally finish peeing before running over to the bowls, quickly eating the food before lapping at the water.

"I didn't see any accidents upstairs." Buffy sips at the coffee Tara prepared as she steps outside.

"I would be surprised if you do. She just finished peeing a few moments ago." Tara glances over, laughing quietly. "Figured out a name for her yet?"

"No. Any ideas?" Buffy looks hopefully at the witch.

"Uh, uh. Your baby, you're naming." Tara smirks at Buffy before glancing at her watch. Sighing, she looks apologetically at Buffy. "I need to get to class. Have a good day off."

"Yeah, yeah. Lot of help you are." Buffy grumps good-naturedly. "Thanks, and have a wonderful day."

"I'm sure I will." Tara rolls her eyes. "Going to have to start studying hard."

"Yeah, finals coming up, right?" At Tara's nod Buffy chuckles. "You'll do great. Go to class, I'll take care of little one. Need to get goodies for her."

"I left some extra cash on the counter to help out with the supplies. I also made a list of everything I could think of. See you tonight, sweetie." Tara grins before quickly leaving a surprised Buffy alone outside with the puppy.

"You know what, little one?" Buffy turns back to the puppy rolling around happily in the yard. Chuckling as she comes running towards her at her words. "Yes, you're a little one, even though according to the wicked witch, you won't stay that way. But the wicked witch is very, very rotten. You need to remember that! I've come to realize that we really do need to pay attention to her and what she does. She's extremely sneaky, so it's best to get on her good side." Reaching down, Buffy scratches the puppy behind her ears. "Stay here, I'm going to grab a phone book and the phone." Buffy stands walking quickly back into the house grabbing the phone book out of the drawer, before frowning at the note on top of the money.


The following items are things that you definitely need to

get for the little one. Training her shouldn't be difficult, a lot

of positive reinforcement, telling her she's a good girl, etc…

will go a long way, however a little treat when she's done

Good, occasionally won't hurt. I can already tell she's a very

smart girl. She probably would be good company for you

when you go out at night on patrol, when she gets bigger.

Puppy Chow

Metal water/food bowls

Rawhide Chews

Chew Toys




Dog Bed

The first visit to the vet will probably be one of the most

expensive ones. Don't argue over the money. I can't

think of a better way to spend it. Pick up anything else

you see, that you think she may like. Figure out a name!


Buffy shakes her head, smiling softly before grabbing the money. Quickly counting it out, Buffy frowns deeply. "This has to be the rest of your money from the Council." Buffy bitches quietly at the $500 on the counter, knowing Tara used a good chunk to help stock the cabinets and freezer when they sent her the money. Another part when she bought herself the new dress. "I'll pay you back, one way or another." Buffy swears quietly as she sets the note and money back on the counter, grasping the phone to walk outside.

"Your other mommy is definitely going to spoil you." Buffy murmurs smiling at the puppy running around, chasing a bug. "Don't eat it!" Buffy grumbles at the dog. "It might upset your stomach." Sitting down on the steps, Buffy quickly flips through the phone book to start making calls.

Buffy heaves a huge sigh of relief as she drops the items on the floor. Quickly walking to the basement door, she opens it, getting ready to walk down the stairs, when a black and brown blur runs past her to stand at the back door, whimpering. Buffy quickly unlocks the door, laughing as the puppy runs hurriedly outside, squatting. "If you went without making a mess downstairs, you're going to be a very good girl."

Buffy chuckles quietly as the puppy looks towards her before running around to the general area, Buffy noticed, that she normally goes to do her other business. "When you're done, come back in." Buffy grins as the puppy yips in reply. "Damn dog knows what I'm saying." Shaking her head, she turns back into the house, quickly running down the basement stairs, looking around intently. Not seeing any messes, she grins. Noticing a piece of two by four, left over from one of the many house repairs Xander has done, Buffy walks over picking it up. Laughing loudly at the little teeth marks on the wood, Buffy shakes her head. "Definitely needing chew toys." Buffy mutters before looking more closely, trying to find anything else the puppy might have gotten into. Hearing a whimpering at the top of the stairs, Buffy walks to the bottom of the stairs looking up at the puppy.

"You, little one." Buffy starts holding up the piece of wood. "This is a no, no! But you aren't going to get in trouble this time. You didn't know any better." Buffy finishes seeing an almost sad look come across the puppy's face at her firm tones. "Let's show you the proper play toys." Buffy throws the piece of wood back into the corner of the basement before jogging up the stairs.

"Okay, here." Buffy reaches into one of the bags, pulling out a small rawhide bone. "You don't get too many of these. The person said they could back your little system up if you eat too much." Buffy hands the bone to the puppy, laughing as it takes off running to the corner of the room, lying down, chewing happily. Quickly unpacking the other items, Buffy brings the bowls out to wash before filling one with water, while opening the huge bag of puppy chow, filling the other bowl and setting them down by the back door.

"Come and get it, little one." Buffy calls quietly to the puppy, watching as she drops the bone to run towards her. Kneeling down beside the food, Buffy points at it. "These are your bowls, nobody else's. Food and water will be here for you. You eat, and then I'll take you back out to play for a little while, before we have to head to the vet's." Buffy stands up, brushing her hands over her pants before pulling the tags off the collar and leash.

Chapter 12

Tara giggles quietly as she works on her paper, trying to finish it before having to start work in half an hour. "Anya, please!"

"You're no fun." Anya pouts, pulling her fingers away from their teasing past time. "If you put your hair up, I can't help but play with your gorgeous ears."

"You need help." Tara mutters, shaking her head. "My ears are not gorgeous. They stick out too far from my head and are too big!"

"No, they're not. I think they're gorgeous. I bet they would even be considered delectable." Anya considers the ears for a moment, a smirk crossing her face. "Maybe I'll find out just how delectable they are." She quickly leans down, ready to nibble on an earlobe when the bell above the door dings. "Damn it." Anya mutters under her breath, making Tara laugh.

"Poor, baby." Tara bites her lip at the look of disgust crossing Anya's face.

"You better not set that thing down. I won't have it making a mess!" Anya props her hands on her hips as Buffy comes in.

"I'm not. Anyway, she's a very well behaved little girl." Buffy defends the puppy.

Tara grins as she turns around, looking at Buffy and the puppy. Quickly standing she walks over, holding her arms out for the puppy. "No name yet?" Tara questions with a lift of her eyebrow.

"No." Buffy grumbles. "And you are absolutely no help!" Buffy hands the squirming puppy over to Tara, chuckling as it licks quickly over the witch's chin. "She pretty much had a clean bill of health."

"Worms, right?" Tara looks up from where she's scratching the puppy's chin.

"Yeah, how did you know?" Buffy frowns looking at Tara.

"Pretty much all puppy's have worms. They actually get them from their mom's." Tara shrugs. "No big deal."

"When did you get a dog?" Anya questions warily walking up to the two women, watching the puppy curiously.

"Last night. But, I think it was more of a puppy getting Buffy." Tara smirks, her eyes twinkling.

Anya cautiously reaches out a hand, running it lightly down the dogs back. Smiling softly as it turns it head, panting at her. "I swear she's grinning at me."

"You are kind of funny looking." Buffy jokes, quickly jumping back from a hand aimed at her. "Hey! Watch where that thing goes!"

"I was." Anya mutters before turning back to the puppy. "You need to name her. Where did you find her?"

"Downtown behind a bunch of trash cans." Buffy chuckles as Anya wiggles her fingers for the puppy.

"Very dirty and very stinky." Tara hands the puppy to Anya.

"She finds a home with a witch, a slayer and a key? Should be interesting." Anya smirks at the two women before walking over to a chair, sitting down to cradle the puppy against her chest, smiling as she falls asleep.

"Let's see, we have Dawn, Tara and Buffy. We can't have an ordinary name for her, now can we?" Anya gently strokes over the puppy's back.

Buffy looks towards Tara, mouthing, 'we?' Tara smirks and shakes her head.

"So what do you think would be a good name for her?" Buffy questions, sitting down beside the ex-demon.

"She needs a good, strong name." Anya watches the sleeping puppy. "She probably would have died, if you hadn't found her. So, she's risen from the depths of Hell, to live with the angels." Anya looks up, smirking at Tara. "Rising from the fires of Hell, with this being the Hellmouth? Phoenix?"

"Phoenix?" Buffy questions quietly, glancing at Tara, as she sits down at the table across from them.

Tara nods her head, considering the name. "I like it. A Phoenix rises from the ashes to be reborn. Living on the Hellmouth, that has a kind of poetic ring to it."

"Hmmm." Buffy reaches over, gently poking the puppy. "Wake up, little one. I want to see if you like this name."

The three women laugh quietly as the dog whimpers as it wakes up.

Buffy grasps the puppy, bringing it even with her face, so she's looking it in the eyes. "How do you like the name Phoenix?" Buffy questions. Getting a half growl, half bark, Buffy raises an eyebrow. "Is that a like it, or a don't like it?"

Tara tries to hold back the laughter, not being very successful. "Here, little one." Tara calls, watching as the puppy looks towards her. "Here, Phoenix. Come here, Phoenix." Tara calls softly, laughing as the puppy tries to scrabble away from Buffy. "Sit her down on the floor, let's see."

"She makes a mess, you're cleaning it up." Anya mutters, trying to keep the smile off her face.

Buffy rolls her eyes before setting the dog on the floor, unhooking the leash. "Go see Tara, little one."

"Going to have to use her name, so we don't confuse her." Tara murmurs quietly. "Come here, Phoenix." Tara snaps her fingers, down by the floor, smiling as the dog comes running. Picking her up, she hugs her. "That's a good Phoenix. Yes it is!" Tara baby talks the puppy as Phoenix wiggles her whole back end, lapping the witch's face excitedly.

"Is Dawn coming here after school?" Buffy questions looking up at the clock.

"No, she called. She's working on a project at Janice's. Then she was going to go home." Tara answers, rubbing her nose with the dog's. "Phoenix is a pretty girl. Yes, she is." Tara laughs as the puppy barks.

"I think she likes her new name." Anya nods her head. "Good."

"Thanks, Anya." Buffy smiles at the ex-demon, before standing. "Let me take her home. I'll be back to walk you home later." Buffy clips the leash on Phoenix's collar, before glancing up as the bell above the door announces a customer. Buffy's nose snarls up in disgust.

"Oh, isn't it the slayer and her little friends." Warren growls out looking from one woman to the next.

"Made any new girlfriends for anyone lately?" Buffy narrows her eyes on the man, looking down at the puppy as she growls deeply, her body stiffening. "Good, Phoenix. Yes, that's a good girl." Buffy eyes harden as they look back up at Warren.

"We don't have anything here to sell you." Anya stands walking towards him. "I suggest you leave."

"You're going to turn away a paying customer?" Warren pulls out a wad of cash, waving it around.

Tara glances towards Anya, surprised when she sees the determination on the woman's face. Looking back towards Warren, Tara crosses her arms across her chest and tilts her head. "I suggest you leave, Warren. You're not welcome in this store."

"Bitches." Warren snarls loudly. "Eventually you'll get what's coming to you. You'll regret treating me like this."

Buffy starts to walk towards Warren angrily, when he quickly spins around, leaving the shop. "Damn good thing he left when he did." Buffy scratches behind the puppy's ears as she shakes in her arms. "It's okay, Phoenix. The bad man's gone"

"Animals are very good judges of character." Anya nods her head, walking towards Buffy and the puppy. "You deserve a treat." Anya pats Phoenix's head gently, smiling as the puppy slowly relaxes in Buffy's arms.

"Yes, she does." Buffy eyes light up as she digs in her pocket, pulling out a small package. As the puppy barks and starts squirming, she hands the package to Anya. "If you could get her a piece, please?"

Anya opens the treats, grabbing a piece out. "Yes, Phoenix is a good girl." Anya hands the puppy a treat, smiling as she quickly chews and swallows.

"I wonder what he was coming in here for?" Tara questions softly, frowning. "I really don't trust him."

"I saw him and two other guys in the restaurant down the street, when I went and picked up lunch." Anya admits. "They were all huddled together. I think they were up to something."

"I better keep an eye on them. Do you know who the other two were?" Buffy questions looking at Anya.

"That one, really short little guy, we were at school together with." Anya frowns, trying to think of his name.

"Jonathan?" Buffy's eyes narrow.

"Superstar, Jonathan?" Tara looks at Buffy and as Buffy nods, she shakes her head. "I would think he learned his lesson from that." Tara unconsciously shivers as she remembers being attacked by the demon and spending the night in the storage room.

Anya looks questioningly at Tara as she shivers and turns pale. "Tara?"

Buffy reaches out, gently clasping Tara's shoulder. "Are you okay?"

"Yes. Just remembering the demon that Jonathan conjured." Tara smiles hesitantly.

"Not good memories for you." Buffy nods in realization. "We should have walked you to your room that night."

"Not your fault, Buffy." Tara shakes her head, smiling a little more confidently. "And that was a long time ago." Tara turns her gaze on Anya. "Do you know the other guy?"

"No, he didn't look familiar." Anya admits, running a hand down Tara's back, comforting the witch. "If they're coming around here, I bet they're up to no good."

"Do you mind keeping Phoenix? I want to do a quick re-con around the area. See if I can find them." Buffy looks first at Tara, then Anya.

Tara looks questioningly at Anya, smiling as she nods her head. "Here, I'll keep Phoenix. Be careful." Tara holds the puppy while watching as Buffy quickly strides out of the shop. "Would you recognize the other guy, if you saw him again?"

Anya nods her head. "Yes, he was a very geeky, sandy haired boy. Here, I'll take Phoenix out front, see if she needs to go to the bathroom. You can get one of the small containers and put some water in it for her."

Tara watches Anya with a bemused look on her face, before chuckling. "Okay, Phoenix now has three mommies. Add Dawn in, the poor thing is going to be so rotten, we won't be able to live with her!"

Striding down the street, Buffy looks intently into each shop, working her way towards the only other magic shop in town. Slowing down as she sees a familiar face. Ducking into a doorway, she waits. Watching as Jonathan walks by, Buffy slides out, trailing him at a distance.

"What are you up to?" Buffy whispers to herself, following him to a warehouse. Searching the outside, she quickly jumps up onto the fire escape, trotting up the steps. Easing in a broken window, she sneaks around slowly working her way to the voices she hears talking. Stopping, she peeks over the edge of the walkway watching the three geeks.

"It's just going to delay us. We'll order the stuff from the shop in LA. The other magic shop doesn't have the items we need." Warren strides back and forth. "Andrew, get it ordered. Jonathan, you need to double check the location of the orbs, make sure they haven't been moved."

"What are you going to be doing?" Jonathan questions gathering the items he needs for the locator spell.

"Don't worry about it." Warren narrows his gaze on Jonathan. "This will give us time to re-check the routes the drivers take. This will work more in our favor. We can get the orbs, then wait till next month, or the month after that, to pull the jobs. That will also give me time to make sure the orbs work." Warren smirks wickedly. "I know the perfect person to try them out on."

Buffy narrows her gaze, waiting for a few more moments. As the three idiots seem to be finished speaking, doing their own thing, she stealthily leaves the building. Walking around the outside, she makes note of which warehouse it is, to keep an eye on it. Quickly jogging back to the Magic Box, she walks in, chuckling quietly as Tara is helping a customer while Anya's playing with the puppy.

Anya glances up at the bell and smiles. Glancing over at the customer, she frowns before looking back at Buffy. "Any luck?" She questions quietly.

"Sort of." Buffy nods to the customer before sitting down beside Anya. "Hi, Phoenix." Buffy chuckles as the puppy rolls onto her back, panting. "Anya wearing you out?"

"She's a very good dog." Anya smiles at the puppy, rubbing her belly. "You can bring her here, anytime."

"Thanks." Buffy raises her eyebrows in surprise, glancing over to a smirking Tara. Sighing, Buffy decides to not worry about it. Watching as Tara rings up the sale, Buffy smiles as the witch wishes the woman a wonderful evening as she leaves.

"What did you find out?" Tara questions, quickly walking over to the table after the customer leaves.

"Well, Jonathan and Warren are working together. There was another guy with them. I don't know who he is. His name's Andrew." Buffy frowns deeply. "Warren's in charge, of whatever they're up to. He said something about orbs and the fact that us turning him away, gave them the time to re-check the routes of the drivers." Buffy shakes her head. "I don't have a clue what they're talking about."

"Research." Tara mutters. "Even though, what information you gave us, isn't going to be much help. But, I can look for orbs. It'll be at least a pair, since it was plural. That'll narrow it down."

"I need to get home. Phoenix probably needs to be fed, as does Dawn." Buffy mutters rolling her eyes.

"There's a glass dish with a chicken concoction in the refrigerator. Just uncover it and throw it in the oven. The directions are taped to the lid." Tara smiles as Buffy picks up Phoenix.

"I'll be back in a few hours to walk you home." Buffy smiles in thanks at the witch. "Anya, you staying, or do you want me to walk you home?" Buffy offers the ex-demon.

Anya raises her eyebrows in surprise, before turning her gaze on Tara. "Will you be okay here, by yourself?"

"Yes, I'm sure Warren won't be back." Tara grins crookedly at Anya.

"You don't have to walk me home." Anya tilts her head watching Buffy.

Buffy shrugs her shoulders. "I'm kind of weirded out about this. I've got a serious bad feeling, deep in my gut."

"I'll take a couple books home with me, I can do some research after I get there." Anya offers walking over to the books, searching through them.

Tara softly comes up beside the ex-demon, wrapping an arm around her waist. "Is it okay, if I take a few books home to research?"

"Of course." Anya smiles at the witch before reaching back, grasping a couple of the more likely books. "Though I would like to embarrass Buffy, I'm sure you'll get mad at me if I do. So, would you help me get my things out of the office?" Anya whispers into Tara's ear before pulling back and wiggling her eyebrows.

Tara chuckles quietly. "Yes, I'll help you."

Buffy sighs quietly, turning her back on the two women, while petting Phoenix. "Why am I putting myself through this?" She whispers to the puppy who licks gently over her cheek. "Well, you love me, don't you?" Buffy smiles at the puppy feeling a little better.

"I'll be out in a moment." Anya calls to Buffy as she sets the books on the table, before slowly following Tara into the office.

"I'll be here." Buffy answers not turning to look at the two women.

Anya shakes her head at the slayer before sighing quietly. 'I promised to leave it alone.' She thinks to herself as she walks into the office, squeaking as soft lips press insistently against hers. Wrapping her arms around Tara's neck, Anya whimpers as an inquisitive tongue strokes firmly against her lips, seeking entrance. Quickly opening her lips, Anya groans as Tara's tongue strokes softly over hers, twirling slowly around in a dance of desire for a few long moments, before gently easing back to soft, gentle presses of one set of lips against the other.

Reaching up with a slightly unsteady hand, to brush soft fingertips over Anya's cheek, Tara smiles into the dazed brown eyes looking back at her. "Be careful on the way home."

"Way home?" Anya blinks before chuckling. "Good thing Buffy's walking me there, or I might end up in LA after that kiss." Sighing, Anya shakes her head to clear the last vestiges of fuzziness from her brain. "Damn! Can't wait till we get to the orgasms." Anya bites her lip, to keep from laughing.

"Anya…" Tara narrows her gaze on the ex-demon, before chuckling quietly. "Going to have to do better than that, to embarrass me." Tara continues before walking out of the office.

"You're no fun!" Anya calls out to Tara as she leaves the office. Reaching down, grabbing her purse, Anya quickly walks to the table grasping the books.

"Personally, I think I'm a lot of fun." Tara quirks an eyebrow at Anya before laughing quietly. Sitting down at the table, she waves to the two women. "Be careful. I'll see you later, Buffy."

"We will." Buffy nods her head. "I'll be back to walk you home a little before 8:00, as per the norm."

"Thank you." Tara smiles softly, watching as the two women leave the shop. Sighing quietly, Tara goes back to working on her paper, trying to finish it so she can start researching.

Chapter 13

"Thank you for walking me home." Anya glances over at the quiet slayer before glancing down, laughing at the sleeping puppy. "She's wore out."

Buffy glances down smiling. "She's had a busy day. And you're welcome. You're more than welcome to come over to the house whenever you want. Tara usually throws something in the crock pot, or makes something that all I have to do is throw it in the oven."

"I don't want to push too much." Anya admits softly as she walks up to the main door of the apartment building. Turning around she looks down the steps at Buffy, considering the slayer for a few minutes. "Things will happen as they're meant to." Anya smiles knowingly, before turning around, leaving the slayer standing by her self.

"That was weird." Buffy frowns looking after Anya, before sighing quietly. "Why the hell do I keep putting myself in these positions?" Buffy questions the sleeping Phoenix as she starts walking towards home. "It's bad enough with Tara staying at the house, now I'm going out of my way to where I spend more time with Anya. Not good." Buffy mutters.

As she walks up the steps to the house, Buffy grins at the still sleeping puppy. Opening the door, she shakes her head. "Dawn!" Buffy calls out loudly. "You're in the house by yourself, you need to lock the door!"

"Sorry." Dawn mutters coming from the kitchen munching on a peanut butter sandwich. "What's the deal with the dog…Oooooh!" Dawn's eyes get real big as she sees the puppy in Buffy's arms. "That answers that question." Dawn quickly shoves the rest of the sandwich in her mouth, reaching for the puppy.

"Dawn, wash the peanut butter off your hands!" Buffy narrows her eyes on her sister, before chuckling. "Let me take her outside so she can use the bathroom." Buffy follows Dawn into the kitchen, unhooking the leash, setting it on top of the refrigerator before unlocking the back door. "Wake up, Phoenix. Time to go potty then you can have dinner." Buffy sets the puppy gently on the ground before shaking her to wake her up. "'Bout time, Phoenix." Buffy grumbles trying not to laugh as the puppy yawns hugely, blinking her eyes.

"Her name's Phoenix?" Dawn questions walking out behind Buffy.

"Yes. Actually, Anya named her." Buffy grins as Phoenix runs around the yard before using the bathroom.

"Tell me how you got a puppy…You did get her, right?" Dawn questions sitting down on the steps.

Buffy chuckles nodding her head. "Tara figures it was more of the puppy getting me." Buffy goes on to explain how she found the dog. "Damn, let me get the chicken in the oven." Buffy strides back into the house.

"Phoenix, come here, girl." Dawn calls, laughing as she comes running. "I'm Dawn." Dawn places her hand down, giggling as the puppy licks her. Scratching the puppy on the head, Dawn smiles. "Who's a good Phoenix?"

"She is a good girl." Buffy admits coming to sit beside Dawn, chuckling as Phoenix tries to climb up into her lap. Helping her, Buffy strokes the panting puppy. "Yes, Phoenix is a good girl."

"Dawn, looks like we have a new problem here on the Hellmouth." Buffy sighs watching as Phoenix falls back asleep. "The vet said she'd probably spend most of the night sleeping from her shots and medicine. I guess he's right."

Dawn frowns looking at Buffy. "What kind of problem?"

"Oh, sorry." Buffy looks up quirking her lip. Frowning Buffy looks back down at Phoenix before telling Dawn about Warren, Jonathan and the other guy. "So, if you happen to see them, find the nearest populated area and call one of us to come get you."

"You don't have any idea what they're up to?" Dawn questions worriedly.

"No. But I'm sure we'll find out before much longer." Buffy shakes her head. "Let me get little one here, on her bed. Can you keep an eye on her when I go to get Tara?"

"Of course. Did she really growl at Warren?" Dawn questions chuckling at the puppy.

"Oh, yeah. Deep growl and fur standing up on her back. Definitely didn't like him." Buffy chuckles, standing as she follows Dawn into the house.

"She's definitely a keeper, then." Dawn grins as she watches Buffy set the snoring puppy in the bed.

"Yes, she is." Buffy smiles as she stands, walking over to the sink, washing her hands. "Tara pre-made us some kind of chicken thing. It'll be done in a few minutes."

"There's a salad prepared in the refrigerator, want to have it and some green beans or peas to go with dinner?" Dawn questions pulling the salad and salad dressings out of the refrigerator.

"Peas sound good." Buffy admits pulling a couple cans out of the cabinet. Quickly opening them, dumping them in a bowl, she throws them in the microwave, ready to heat.

"Didn't Tara pick up a couple loaves of French bread?" Dawn grins at Buffy.

"Yes, she did." Buffy chuckles grabbing a loaf out of the bread box.

"Tara might actually get some of the food, this time." Dawn slides a glance at Buffy, giggling at the incredulous look crossing her sister's face.

"I always save her some of the food!" Buffy puts her fists on her hips. "That wasn't nice, picking on me like that." Buffy mumbles as Dawn laughs.

"Couldn't resist." Dawn pulls down plates, as Buffy pulls the chicken and potatoes out of the oven.

"Mmmm. Smells good." Buffy inhales deeply, realizing she forgot to eat lunch as her stomach grumbles loudly.

Dawn raises an eyebrow at her sister. "Should we grab something else to eat with dinner, or are you going to have enough?"

Buffy rolls her eyes. "I'll go ahead and make a plate for Tara."

Dawn laughs quietly as she starts filling her plate.

"It isn't that funny." Buffy grumbles, as she puts a good sized chicken breast on the plate with potatoes and peas. Wrapping it with foil, she places it on top of the oven, planning on placing it in there when she goes to walk Tara home.

Dawn slowly eats her dinner watching as Buffy carefully prepares a plate for Tara, tilting her head to the side, she considers her sister for a moment. "You like her, don't you?" Dawn finally realizes, surprised.

"What?" Buffy questions as she sits down, preparing a plate for herself to eat. "Who are you talking about, Dawn?"

"You like Tara." Dawn states, setting her fork down on her plate, watching as Buffy pales, dropping her eyes back down to her plate.

"Of course I do. She's a good friend." Buffy quickly cuts her chicken breast, shoving a piece in her mouth.

"Uh, huh." Dawn nods her head at her unconvincing sister. Sighing quietly, she watches as Buffy keeps her eyes down while she quickly works her way through her first plate of food. Slowly picking her fork back up, Dawn goes back to eating her dinner.

Buffy exhales a relieved breath, as Dawn drops the subject. Quickly filling her plate again, she quickly works her way through the food before grabbing another piece of bread, slathering some butter across it. "By the way, we're trying to keep from giving Phoenix people food, so if you can keep that in mind."

"Okay." Dawn smirks, before glancing back at the snoring puppy. "I'm surprised she hasn't woken up with the food."

"She's had an extremely busy day. I think I wore her out walking everywhere. I only carried her after she collapsed, tired." Buffy admits, chuckling. "Between that and the vets, she might be out for a few hours before she wakes up again. If she does, stay inside, let her run out to do her business. She'll probably use the bathroom and come right back in again after she's done."

"Will it be okay if we move her into the living room?" Dawn questions finishing her dinner.

"Sure." Buffy shrugs her shoulder. "You done?" Buffy questions looking at the last of the food.

"Yes, go ahead." Dawn chuckles, shaking her head.

Buffy scoops the rest of the food on her plate, getting ready to place the rest of the salad in her bowl. Hesitating, she stands, putting the cover back on it before setting it back in the refrigerator along with the dressings.

Dawn smirks watching Buffy. 'Yep, definitely likes Tara.' Dawn thinks to herself before frowning as she realizes with Tara and Anya dating each other, even if Buffy likes Tara, she wouldn't come between them. Sighing at the impossibility, Dawn puts it to the back of her mind, so she'll forget about it. Gathering her dirty dishes, she rinses them off before placing them in the dishwasher. "I'm going to go watch television for a little while."

Buffy nods her head looking back at the clock. "I'll bring Phoenix in when I finish dinner." Watching Dawn walk out of the kitchen, Buffy leans up to look down at the puppy, chuckling as she watches the little paws twitch as she dreams. Sitting back down, she finishes her dinner before taking care of her dishes. Kneeling down beside the puppy, she grasps the bed and dog, carrying her into the living room, setting her down out of the way, Buffy chuckles. "I think she'll sleep through anything."

"Bet she won't." Dawn grins at her sister. "I bet if someone came in here, she'd wake up."

"You may be right." Buffy grins at her sister, before walking over to her weapons chest, picking out a couple stakes, and a knife. Quickly tucking the items away, she glances up at the clock. "I need to get out of here."

"See you in a little while." Dawn looks back to the television, grinning. "Be careful."

"I will." Buffy calls out quietly as she walks out the door.

Buffy silently watches Tara as she places her books in her book bag getting ready for the end of the night. Leaning against the outside window, Buffy frowns deeply. "Why the hell am I doing this to myself?" Buffy mutters, inhaling deeply as Tara pushes some loose hair behind her ear with her delicate fingers. "Stop dwelling on things that you can't have, you stupid slayer!" Buffy growls deeply to herself, before closing her eyes, getting control of her emotions.

Tara glances up grinning as Buffy walks in the shop. Seeing the small smile on the slayer's lips, Tara glances over at the clock, seeing they have a few minutes before it's time to go. "How was dinner?" Tara questions watching as Buffy sits down at the table, playing with the strap to her book bag.

"It was wonderful. I made you a plate and placed it in the oven to hopefully keep warm." Buffy looks up smiling briefly. "Did you have any luck finding anything on the orbs?"

"No, everything I came across was for single orbs, not two or more. I've got a couple books I'm taking home to research." Tara admits as she walks towards the office to grab her purse.

"Don't let it interfere with your school work." Buffy calls out to Tara, watching the woman walk back out of the office.

"Everything's good." Tara tilts her head, trying to figure out what kind of mood Buffy's in. "Is everything okay?"

Buffy looks down, grasping Tara's book bag. "Everything's fine. Phoenix was sleeping when I left home, Dawn's under strict orders to let her out the back door if she wakes up, but not to follow."

"Well, let's go home." Tara smiles softly at the slayer as they walk out the door, Tara stopping to set the alarm before locking the door behind them. "What did Dawn think of Phoenix?"

"I'm going to have to watch her, I have a feeling Phoenix will be sleeping in Dawn's bed, if given the chance." Buffy chuckles quietly.

"Where are you going to keep her while you're at work and I'm at school?" Tara tucks her hands in her pockets, glancing up at the sky as the sun sets.

"I think for now the basement might be the best place. Less thing's for her to get in trouble with." Buffy admits. "I'll pay you back for the help with her supplies and vet bills."

"No." Tara states not giving any room for any arguments. "You will accept the money with no arguments."

"But…" Buffy snaps her mouth shut as cool blue eyes turn on her, daring her to continue her statement. "Damn it!" Buffy growls loudly looking up the street as they walk. "You don't need to try and take care of everyone, Tara."

"I'm not trying to take care of everyone, Buffy. Just those that mean the world to me." Tara states calmly as they walk down Revello Drive and up to the slayer's house.

Buffy watches the witch with confused eyes as she walks in the house. Slowly following her, she chuckles as a small black and brown ball of fur barks and runs towards her and Tara. Unconsciously Buffy mimics Tara by kneeling down by the witch as they both pet the panting puppy.

"Was she good?" Tara looks up towards Dawn.

Dawn rolls her eyes. "She went out and used the bathroom, then whimpered for a while before lying back down to sleep. Then before you guys came in, she was up running around barking, obviously she heard you."

Buffy chuckles, rubbing Phoenix's stomach while Tara scratches under her chin and chest. "She's going to be spoiled rotten."

"It's a good thing to be." Tara murmurs. Patting the puppy once more, Tara stands to walk into the kitchen.

Buffy's eyes follow the witch while she continues to scratch the puppy's stomach. Sighing quietly she looks down, smiling at the puppy. "Have you had your dinner, Phoenix?" Buffy places Tara's book bag beside the couch before slowly walking into the kitchen, Phoenix running ahead of her. "Is it still warm?" Buffy questions quietly as she watches Tara pull off the foil.

"Yes, thank you." Tara glances up, smiling at the slayer.

"Good." Buffy opens the refrigerator pulling out the salad. "What kind of dressing would you like?" Buffy questions quietly.

"French, if we have any." Tara sets her plate on the island while reaching over to grab a bowl for her salad and a fork.

"We do. Do you want some bread to go with dinner? Dawn and I demolished one loaf, but there's still the other one in the box." Buffy offers setting the salad and dressing on the island.

"I got it, thanks." Tara pulls the bread out, grasping a knife to cut it with, watching as Buffy reaches back in the refrigerator grasping the butter and placing it on the island.

Sighing quietly, Buffy glances down to Phoenix, who's happily munching away on her food. Smiling at the dog, Buffy shakes her head. "You're going to become a little piggy, you keep eating like that."

"She has a lot of eating to probably make up for." Tara lays two slices of bread on her plate before putting the loaf back up. Sitting down she starts eating dinner, watching Buffy quietly.

Buffy realizes that Tara doesn't have anything to drink and opens the refrigerator, grasping a water out for the witch. Placing it beside her plate, Buffy walks towards the back door, looking out over the darkening sky. "Need to go out, Phoenix?" Buffy questions as she feels the puppy bump into her. Opening the door, she smiles as Phoenix goes running out the door, glancing back, Buffy notices blue eyes watching her. Feeling confused, Buffy follows the dog outside, gently shutting the door behind her.

Tara sits silently, slowly eating her dinner. Looking towards the phone, she considers calling Anya. Thinking about it for a few moments, she decides to wait until after Buffy leaves on patrol. Finishing her dinner, Tara stands, placing her dirty dishes in the dishwasher before running it. Walking to the back door, she watches as Buffy plays with Phoenix out in the yard, the two rolling around. Smiling as she hears Buffy laughing. Biting her lip, Tara turns walking out of the kitchen, grabbing her book bag and heading up to her room.

Tara works on her paper, quickly writing across the notepad. Stopping to flip her book to another page, she reads over the information quickly before starting to write again.

Buffy walks up to the doorway, looking at Tara sprawled out on the bed, wearing a tank top and shorts as she writes. Not having ever seen the woman wearing so little, Buffy stops in stunned surprise at the long silky white legs, noticing the surprising muscle tone of the calves and thighs. Taking a moment to collect her thoughts, Buffy takes a couple deep breaths before speaking.

"I'm getting ready to go on patrol. Dawn's downstairs with Phoenix, but Phoenix might feel more comfortable being with you." Buffy watches as Tara turns her gaze towards her.

"I'll go downstairs. I've almost finished writing this paper." Tara quirks her lip briefly before glancing back down to finish the last sentence. Standing, she stretches out her back before looking around for her robe.

Buffy clenches her jaw as Tara's stretching causes her tank top to ride up, showing the soft strip of stomach. "I'm heading out." Buffy murmurs as she quickly turns on her heel, leaving the witch alone.

"Okay." Tara glances towards the door, surprised to see it already empty. Blinking a couple times, Tara grasps her robe, sliding it on. Belting it tightly, she walks down the stairs. As Phoenix turns from the door, running towards her, she smiles softly.

"Thank God!" Dawn rolls her eyes. "As soon as Buffy practically ran out the door, Phoenix has been whining."

Tara kneels down, rubbing the puppy's head. "You're a good girl. Yes, you are." Tara glances back up at Dawn. "She ran out the door?" Tara questions, frowning.

"Not literally, but she high-tailed it out of here quickly, saying something about a vamps nest in one of the mausoleums." Dawn shrugs her shoulders looking back at the television.

Tara sighs quietly, looking down at Phoenix. "Want to go out and play for a while?" Tara questions the puppy softly, smiling as she barks.

"I swear that dog knows what you guys say to her." Dawn mutters quietly, turning to look at Tara.

"She does." Tara glances up, laughing. "Animals are smart. And little Miss Phoenix here, is an exceptionally smart puppy." Tara smiles at the puppy jumping up and down. "Can Phoenix sit for me? Sit, Phoenix." Tara gently urges, placing her hand softly on the puppy's butt. "Sit, girl. Sit, Phoenix." As the puppy finally plops her butt down, Tara grins. "Good girl!! Good Phoenix, yes." Tara chuckles standing. "Come on, let's get you a treat."

Dawn shakes her head. "That is going to be the most spoiled rotten dog in the universe." Dawn mutters to the empty room.


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