DISCLAIMER: See Part 1
The Varos Triad
Faith tensed as she stepped through into the portal. She wasn't sure what she was expecting or how it would feel to transcend dimensions. She couldn't remember how it felt when Willow sent her to Varos' realm but that had been because she had been too busy fighting the shape-shifter.
Whatever it was she was anticipating however, wasn't what she felt. The brunette was almost disappointed. She had the sensation that she had just stepped through a door and into another room. There were no bright lights, flashing images or feelings of disorientation. One minute, she and Tara were in a demon world with purple sky and a strange atmosphere, the next they were back in Sunnydale, in the same cemetery that they had left however long ago it was.
All these thoughts were processed almost instantaneously however, as Faith concentrated on the task at hand. She glanced quickly over to Tara to make sure that the blonde witch was all right and then yanked her arm free from Varos' grip. "Show time, Twinkie," she commented, her eyes sparkling at the thought of fighting the demon again. The Bostonian had already noticed that the demon was not as large as he had been in his own realm. His powers must have been altered too as it took no effort for her to extricate herself from his hold. The rogue slayer stepped back and crouched down defensively and was grimly satisfied to watch Varos take on her challenge and ignore Tara.
The wicca took advantage of Varos' distraction and tugged her arm from his grip. She moved away quickly but kept her eyes on Faith and the demon. "You deal with Varos," she directed Faith somewhat unnecessarily, "and I'll deal with the portal."
Faith acknowledged her comments with just the barest flick of her head before she smiled maliciously at Varos. "Let's do it," she goaded. Even as she finished speaking, the girl spun round to deliver a high roundhouse kick, her heavy boot landing on Varos' abdomen.
The tall demon didn't react to Faith's movements, expecting her foot to bounce off his body uselessly. As her boot connected however, he realised something was desperately wrong. He doubled up as pain shot through him, even as he lost his balance and was sent hurtling back to land on the ground with a grunt.
His reaction startled Faith. She had psyched herself up in the belief that she might as well be kicking a brick wall. For Varos to tumble back so easily shocked her.
The raven-haired woman only hesitated for an instant. Knowing that they were on a much more even footing, she quickly closed the distance between herself and Varos and attacked again, capitalising on the demon's condition and his own confusion.
Varos found himself on the receiving end of a flurry of vicious blows, each one causing him more pain than the last. He couldn't understand why he was so weak but knew that if he didn't stop the onslaught, he would be defeated before the battle had even started. He was also aware that the blonde witch would attempt to close the portal before his minions stepped through. He had to deal with the slayer first and then get to her before that happened. As his physical strength appeared to have deserted him, Varos called upon his magickal abilities to eliminate the troublesome brunette. He cast a straightforward energy beam to incapacitate her and directed the spell with an outstretched hand.
Faith instinctively knew that Varos was casting a spell and threw herself into a forward roll, diving to one side in the hope that she could avoid the impact of the magick missile. As she snapped her head round to look at the large demon once again, she noticed the look of disbelief on Varos' face. She also realised that she hadn't seen any magickal discharge. Varos quickly pointed at her again but this time Faith made no move, going on a hunch that was milling round in the back of her mind. Once again, no magick came forth.
"Looks like the original incantation worked, Varos," she taunted, understanding at last why Tara wanted him brought back to Earth. "You have no powers here at all. They've been taken from you."
Varos snarled at the young slayer and attempted a different spell. When that resulted in nothing, the demon reverted back to the one thing he had left, his sheer size and weight advantage over his attacker. Bracing himself to deal with the pain that he knew he would feel from her blows, Varos charged toward Faith, hoping to return some pain of his own making.
* * *
Tara deliberately isolated herself from Faith's struggle, as she knew that she couldn't afford to be distracted. She had to get the portal closed before Sunnydale was inundated with demons from the other plane. She turned her back on the rogue slayer, confident that Faith could deal with Varos now that he had no magickal powers to make him stronger. The blonde witch studied the portal for a moment and then raised her hands, preparing to close the rift for good.
Just as she was about to begin the incantation, movement in her peripheral vision caught her attention. She knew it wasn't Faith. The brunette was on the other side of her. The wiccan adjusted her vision to focus on what it was that had distracted her. She gasped audibly as she saw Buffy being restrained by Angel and Giles, a look of distraught horror on her face. She took in Xander and Anya huddling together and Cordelia opposite them, now staring at Faith. But Tara thought she'd stop breathing altogether when she realised what it was that Buffy was staring at. Willow was lying motionless on the ground. Her body was blackened, as was the ground surrounding her. Tara's stomach contracted as it dawned on her that Willow had been on the receiving end of the fireball she had created and it was sheer determination that allowed Tara to keep the contents of her stomach down.
Instantly, all thoughts of closing the portal vanished from Tara's mind and she sprinted to where the others were standing. She had to get to Willow and see if she could save her.
As the blonde woman ran towards the scene, she found her progress halted by a pair of strong arms wrapping round her waist in an effort to restrain her. Struggling uselessly in the powerful arms that held her, she twisted her head round to discover who it was that was preventing her from getting to her lover's side.
"Gunn let me go!" Tara didn't even bother to wait for the dark man to comply but released herself from his grip with magick. She watched Gunn land some distance from her and turned back to where Willow was lying as soon as she saw the man moving again. Her mind was reeling. How could this have happened?
As she got closer, she slowed her approach, her skin registering the intense heat that was still radiating from where Willow lay. Tara was determined to get to her lover's side and she strode purposefully toward the prone body.
She was stopped for a second time however. This time, the arms enveloping her belonged to Buffy. Tara looked at the grief-stricken face of the slayer and knew that it mirrored her own visage. "Let go of me Buffy," she pleaded, holding back on the magick this time.
"You can't go to her Tara," Buffy replied, her voice hoarse with emotion. "It's too hot. You'll hurt yourself."
Buffy had at last realised why Angel and Giles had restrained her. Seeing Tara approach Willow made her realise that she wasn't the only one feeling intense pain. That thought diverted her from her original reaction of surprise and wonder at the blonde witch's return. Her rage at whatever power had harmed Willow abated as she saw the raw anguish on Tara's face and she had quickly extricated herself from Angel and Giles' grip, reassuring them that she would not go any closer to where Willow lay.
"You don't understand, Buffy. I have to help her." The words were barely audible as the blonde wiccan continued to stare wide-eyed at the body of her lover.
"Tara, I'm not sure you can do anything to help."
"I must be able to. This was never meant to happen." Tara shook her head, berating herself silently yet again for sending the fireball at the portal.
Buffy studied the taller woman carefully. "Tara, you can't blame yourself for what happened here. You and Faith weren't even here when this happened."
As soon as the words were out, Buffy saw that she had said the wrong thing. Tara's face crumpled as the tears began to fall. Seconds later, huge sobs wracked her body and she clung onto Buffy desperately.
"But I am to blame," she forced out raggedly. "I am to blame."
* * *
Faith ducked a blow from Varos easily and grinned as she squared up to him again. "You're gonna have to be quicker than that," she taunted before quickly stepping inside his guard and landing another blow onto the demon's torso.
The brunette was doing some rapid thinking. Despite Varos' weakened state and lack of magick, he was simply too big for her to take out easily. Although she sensed him weakening from her continued onslaught, she was beginning to doubt if she had the ability to defeat him alone. The Bostonian was also concerned about the decided lack of assistance she had. Tara had disappeared off to close the portal, but Faith had expected Buffy and the others to be here, yet no one had come to fight by her side. She bit down on her disappointment that Cordelia wasn't present. The emotion turned quickly to concern as Faith remembered that Cordelia had been wounded by the shape-shifter. What if she had been hurt badly? Or even worse...
Faith shook her head in a physical attempt to stop her thoughts. The momentary distraction was enough for Varos to land a vicious jab right on the brunette's jaw and Faith found herself flying through the air and landing on her back, the force of the landing expelling the air from her lungs with a loud whoosh. She stood up again and tried to clear her head, at the same time sucking in gulps of air as her chest protested at its violent treatment.
The renegade slayer looked round and noticed that the portal was still open. The bright light that the rift emitted was broken by several shadows and Faith realised that demons were beginning to march through. For an instant, she wondered what had happened to Tara that prevented her from closing the rift and then Varos was charging towards her again.
Faith tensed as she watched his approach and then looked in wonder as the massive demon spun suddenly, clutching his eye as he staggered back. When he turned back to face her, Faith saw the quills belonging to a stubby crossbow bolt protruding from Varos' left eye. He flailed one arm wildly even as his other hand tried to support the bolt that was lodged firmly in his head.
The Southie slayer looked around quickly to see where the unexpected assistance had originated.
Standing alone and calmly reloading her weapon, Cordelia Chase looked up at Faith with grim determination etched on her features.
Faith's initial reaction was one of relief. To see the taller woman standing there alive was all Faith had wanted ever since they had been separated by the rift and she felt her chest contract with emotion. A wave of pride surged through the dark-haired girl and Faith couldn't help but smile widely back at the taller girl. Faith knew in that instant that she wanted Cordelia to be a permanent part of her life. If she had to apologise forever in order to get her to understand, she would.
Cordelia hadn't seen Faith and Tara return through the portal. But the movement from the fight that commenced soon afterward caught her attention. At first, she couldn't believe what she was seeing. That thought was quickly replaced with an almost ecstatic joy that she had been given a second chance to be with the brunette. That joy was tempered somewhat when Cordelia saw Tara run to where Willow lay. Her heart lurched for the blonde witch as she looked at the raw grief on Tara's face.
Cordelia's attention returned to where the Bostonian continued to battle with Varos. She mentally berated herself as her critical eye noticed that Faith was unable to gain an advantage over the massive demon. She had seen enough fights now to know when additional help was needed. The ex-cheerleader scouted around and she smiled maliciously as she saw a crossbow lying discarded nearby. She hurriedly retrieved her weapon of choice and grabbed a handful of bolts.
Deftly, the tall brunette loaded the weapon and then waited patiently for a clear shot. She was determined to inflict maximum damage on Varos to give Faith the upper hand which meant that she had to be totally accurate. Her other most pressing concern was Faith's safety. The last thing she wanted was to accidentally wound the slayer in the process.
Slowing her breathing down, Cordelia calmed herself as she took aim. As the two combatants changed position, the Seer sensed an opportunity about to arise. She held her breath so that her aim wouldn't be thrown inadvertently and loosed the bolt just as Varos faced her, satisfied to watch the missile bury itself in Varos' left eye.
The tall ex-cheerleader kept one eye on Faith as she turned round to locate the originator of the bolt, and another on the crossbow, as she automatically began to reload the weapon. When she saw the girl smile widely at her, Cordelia, on impulse, blew a kiss in her direction, wondering at the same time what had happened to her propriety. She felt her cheeks burn as the younger girl looked stunned for a moment before licking her lips in return and the pounding she could feel in her chest suddenly dropped to a lower part of her body. At that point, the tall Seer made a promise to herself that somehow she would get Faith's trust back. If she could do that, then maybe Faith might just reciprocate her feelings.
With shaky hands, Cordelia concentrated on reloading the crossbow and hoped that she could calm herself down a second time in order to assist Faith again.
Faith's mouth went dry as soon as she saw Cordelia blow a kiss at her. For a moment, she lost all sense of logic and wanted to close the distance between them in an instant. She licked her lips nervously and then mentally berated herself for what it might look like when she saw the older girl blush. The Bostonian quickly wrote off her actions. She certainly couldn't undo them and it wasn't out of character for her to do something like that. Her slayer senses kicked in and Faith returned her concentration to Varos, easily ducking his flailing arm before stepping towards him and landing a quick flurry of punches.
As she stepped back out of his reach, Faith heard Cordelia call out to her. The brunette slayer ducked to one side as directed and then turned back to face Varos. She was amazed to discover that Cordelia had once again found her mark and had now totally blinded the large demon. She moved away from Varos, satisfied that he was no longer any threat to her. As soon as she could find an axe or a sword, she would finish the demon off.
Noticing Faith distance herself from the massive demon, Cordelia reloaded her crossbow again and delivered another bolt, this time to the centre of its chest. She watched in morbid fascination as Varos sank slowly to the ground, knowing that he had begun his death throes. One more bolt, this time buried in the demon's thick neck, sent him to the ground more rapidly and the tall Seer refocused her attention on the rogue slayer.
Unfortunately, Varos' demise was not the end of the fighting. Faith's senses were going off like crazy and she turned toward the rift. Stepping through the portal were four of Varos' soldiers and Faith could see the shadow of more demons behind them. She glanced round hurriedly, looking for any additional back up. Cordelia was good but she wasn't fast enough with the crossbow to deal with the demon horde about to break through.
Catching sight of Angel, Gunn and the others, Faith yelled out to them. "Get your asses in gear, people. We have demons to stop."
Her words seemed to have the desired effect as Angel turned at the sound of her voice and sprinted towards her, swinging a battle-axe in anticipation of the fight ahead. Gunn, now recovered from his run-in with Tara, quickly followed him.
The vampire's movements stirred Buffy and Xander into action, both of them secretly relieved of a distraction from what had happened to Willow. Xander collected his grenade launcher while the blonde slayer grabbed a more traditional halberd to engage the enemy with after guiding Tara to where Giles was standing.
Entrusting the almost catatonic witch into the watcher's care, they sprinted to where the demons were stepping through the portal and began to pick them off.
Faith grunted as she disposed of one of the first demons through the rift. "What the fuck's happened to Tar? She should have closed this thing by now."
"She can close the portal?" Angel wanted clarification, ducking quickly as a demon swung a large sword at his head.
"She said she could. Maybe her powers have returned to normal now we're back," the brunette speculated.
Buffy turned her head quickly after disposing of her attacker with a swipe from her halberd. "I don't think she's in a fit state to do anything."
"Well get her fit then," Faith retorted, totally focused on the task at hand and still unaware of Willow's condition. "There are about a thousand demons on the other side of this rift. We'll never be able to fight 'em all."
Buffy looked at Faith in shock, before turning to take on another demon. "How the hell did you get back?" she asked, amazed that Faith and Tara had survived.
"Long story B. Tell you if we get out of this one," Faith offered, swinging her leg low to floor her opponent before burying a knife deep into the demon's chest. She extracted the blade rapidly and scouted round for her next target. Picking one out, she began to close the distance between them. Her intended victim staggered back suddenly, clutching its chest. The younger slayer looked to where Cordelia stood reloading her crossbow yet again and mouthed a 'thanks' at her before selecting another demon to deal with. Cordelia merely nodded her head in acknowledgement before taking aim once more.
"Shit, we're getting smothered here," Gunn complained between punches.
"Tell me something I don't know," Buffy shot back.
"Get Tara to close the fuckin' portal," Faith repeated.
Buffy looked round swiftly, assessing the situation. "There's no way I can leave you here," she demurred. "Xander," she called over to where the young man stood launching grenades in quick succession at the entrance to the rift. "Get over to Giles. Tell him that Tara can close the portal."
The dark construction worker hesitated for a moment, unwilling to leave the others to fight the invading marauders. When Buffy yelled at him to move, he turned and ran over to where the Englishman stood with Tara.
It took him a few seconds to regain his breath after the sudden exertion but he swallowed rapidly in an effort to slow his respiration rate. "Giles, Tara can close the portal," he gasped, repeating Buffy's words verbatim.
Giles frowned as he looked at Xander. "What?"
"She can close the portal. We need Tara to close the portal or we'll be overrun with demons." Xander elaborated briefly.
"Is this true?" Giles directed the question to the blonde wicca.
Tara continued to stare at where Willow lay and did not answer the question.
Worriedly, Giles switched his gaze from the scene of the battle and Tara. He grabbed the witch by her upper arms and shook her slightly. "Tara, can you close the portal?" he asked forcefully.
The young girl stared back at the Englishman and blinked, slowly realising that she was no longer looking at the body of her lover. She shook her head slightly. "What?"
"Can you close the portal Tara?" Giles reiterated the question again slowly.
"Yes, I think so," she mumbled, turning her head to where her lover laid.
"Tara, you have to shut the portal. We won't survive if you leave it open. You have to concentrate on this task," Giles told her, a desperate edge creeping into his voice.
"I'll lose her if I shut the portal," Tara told him distractedly.
"What are you talking about?"
"If I close the rift, I'll lose my powers. I had more magickal ability over there. I had the power to heal Willow." Tara knew that the statement was true even as she spoke the words. "If I close the rift, I'll lose that power and I'll lose Willow."
"Tara," Giles began again. "If you don't shut that rift, we will *all* die."
"Can't you do both?" Xander interrupted after listening in on the conversation.
Tara stared at the dark-haired man for a moment. "I don't know," she admitted. "I don't know how long the residue of power would last once the rift is sealed. I don't think it would be enough time for the magick to work on Willow," she replied after a few moments contemplation.
"Tara, even if you have the power to revive Willow, do you have the right?" Giles felt pained asking the blonde woman such a pointed question. He had known Willow for years now and regarded her very much as another daughter. However, years as a watcher made him feel obliged to comment on the moral issues involved and he had no idea what sort of consequences would result if Tara interfered.
Tara turned and opened her eyes wide. "The right?" she asked incredulously. "The right? Who do you think it was that sent that fireball through the rift?" she retorted angrily.
Giles and Xander flinched as the meaning of Tara's words sunk in. She waited and watched their expressions before she continued. "That's right Giles. I sent the fireball through in a misguided attempt to close the rift. If I had thought things through more thoroughly, Faith wouldn't have had to endure abject torture at the hands of Varos and Willow wouldn't be " Tara choked, unable to actually voice what had had happened.
Giles looked at the girl with sympathy. "Tara, you mustn't blame yourself for this. You had no way of knowing how the fireball would react."
"But I should have known. I knew that Willow was trying to re-open the rift. I should have realised that the fireball I conjured would destroy the source of the rift." Tara's fists clenched convulsively in frustration. "But I have a chance to save her. I can bring her back."
"To what though?" Wesley approached the group steadily. He paused for a moment, considering his words before continuing. "How long will the portal need to stay open to heal Willow? How many demons will have invaded by then? If Buffy and the others are overwhelmed, who's to say that we won't be too? Who would close the rift if we weren't here?"
Tara switched her gaze between the two watchers and Xander. "Once Willow's back, we can use magick on the demons. We've defeated them before." Even as she spoke the words, Tara knew how hollow they sounded. She didn't think she could endure any more pain but she had been wrong. "Please don't make me choose between Willow and them," she pleaded, her voice barely a whisper.
Xander pulled the wicca into a tight hug, trying to console her, even though he knew his gesture was futile. "Tara," he murmured softly. "I know it's not quite the same, but I love her too." He took a deep sighing breath. "But there isn't really a choice to make, is there?"
Tara pulled the dark man closer to her and hung onto him desperately. She knew what Xander had said made sense, but she didn't want to believe it. Sniffing raggedly, she looked at the battle raging near the entrance to the rift. More and more demons were pouring through, many of them staring at the body of their fallen leader before joining to fight with their comrades, fury fuelling their actions.
Xander was right. There was only one action left to take. Gulping rapidly in an effort to control her breathing, Tara raised her hands and began the incantation.
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