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Tough Love

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Tough Love

Chapter 1 

"Hey! Where's the girlfriend?"

Tara came to a halt as a man stepped into her path. He was around her age she surmised and a bear of a man – around 6 feet tall, probably over 200 pounds, entirely muscle. She felt two more men come up behind her and shot a quick glance to them before turning her back to the alley so she could keep all three in visual contact.

"You know? The cute little redhead with the great ass you can't keep your hands off of?"

She'd waited over an hour for Xander and Anya at the Bronze, but they seemed to be a no show. Not wanting to sit any longer, she decided to head home on foot. She was sure Buffy was on patrol and Willow planned to do some studying at the library that night. It was always dangerous in Sunnydale after dark, but she'd spent enough time around the scoobies that she felt confident she'd know what to do should trouble arise. Now as trouble stood before her she wondered if she'd made the right choice.

"So where is she? Leave you all alone tonight?"

Tara didn't know the man from Adam, but it was obvious that he knew her and he knew about Willow. They were never shy about their affection for each other. Especially, at the Bronze. It was like a second home, so it felt natural to hug or kiss or dance. No one said anything and no one hassled them. Sure once and awhile a few guys might stare, only to get slapped by their girlfriends and it had become a joke for them at some point. 'Number one male fantasy' Willow whispered into her ear one night as they moved slowly on the dance floor. These guys, however, didn't look like they were up for any girl/girl fantasies by the tone of the leaders voice.

It was dark; thick with a hint of anger. How could he be angry with me? He doesn't even know me, she thought. Finally, she found her voice although her fear seeped into it.

"Wh-What do you wa-want?"

"Wh-What do I wa-want?" he mimicked her cruelly. He smelled of alcohol and his body seemed to sway a bit. "I just wanted to ask you a question."

Tara looked around for a possible escape route as she played along.

"Then ask," she answered using all of her will not to stutter again. She squared her shoulders and kept her eyes focused on the men before her. If anything, Willow taught her to show courage even if she didn't feel it. It was half the battle of facing down the demon's they'd fought. These guys couldn't be much different she figured. She took a deep breath to study her nerves.

"I've got a theory. Carpet lickers get off on chicks because they've never had a real man. Is that true?"

Oh shit, Tara thought. Hate crime statistic ahead. Just keep talking. She put on a false grin and strolled toward the street. "Nice theory," she told them as casually as she could muster. "But totally unfounded."

Her feet took off, running as fast as she could. The Bronze was only two blocks away and if she could hold them off until then…

Suddenly, she felt her arm snared and her feet go out from under her as she tried to pass another alley. From the pain in her knee and her elbow where she landed on the rough concrete she knew she had to be skinned up pretty bad.

"Back there," she heard one of them say. One man grabbed her by the arms while the other tried to get her feet. She kicked for all she was worth, but it was useless in the end. They carried her toward the darkness and she screamed out, "Fire! Fire!"

Somewhere in her fear of what lay ahead she remembered one of Dr. Walsh's class lessons. People will ignore rape calls, not wanting to get involved. But 'fire' will get more people's attention and a better chance of getting help. Another thought occurred to her too. Rape isn't a sex crime. It's a crime of violence. And these men had every intention of hurting her. And all because she finally found someone to love.

Once back far enough, the man holding her legs let go while the man that had her arms threw her into the wall. Her head slammed against the bricks leaving a small gash on her forehead. It didn't stop her though from trying to turn and flee. When she did that's when she felt the blow to her jaw and her body slammed against the wall again. The acidy taste of her blood began to trickle in her mouth from her cut lip.

"Get her arms," the 'boss' told his buddies. Taking the orders, Tara felt her arms become pinned to the wall. She tried to kick the leader who now stood in front of her. He pulled at her skirt ripping it up the front. He was far too close for her to get in a solid kick and he was far too tall to knee in the crotch. She watched helpless as he started to undo his belt.

"You just need a real man dyke. I'm gonna give you a real man."

"You? You're not a real man. You're a wanker. And you're doing it all wrong."

They all turned toward the shadows of the alley, trying to see who spoke. Tara recognized the English voice immediately and gave a small sigh of relief, but not enough to be noticed. She tried to move free as the head of the small gang walked closer toward the shadows and the voice that was interrupting his fun. It was useless however. The thug's entourage kept a tight hold on her arms, although they turned to see what the commotion was about.

Spike casually stepped out. He took a long drag on his cigarette before tossing it to the ground and crushing it out under his boot. Slowly, he walked toward them.

"I'll show you a real man," he told them confidently. He walked up to Tara and wiggled his eyebrow once letting her know he'd find a way out of it for her. They both knew Spike would never win in a brawl. The chip in his head would practically immobilize him once he struck the first man. Brains and not brawn was going to get them out of this.

The two other men continued to hold her arms as the leader stood back and watched, unmoving. Maybe it was shock of how casual Spike was about it all. He just strolled out of nowhere and took his prize and none of the men knew quite what to do.

Spike grabbed the back of Tara's head and buried his fingers in her hair. His lips descended on her neck and he nuzzled up to her ear. "Play along Love," he told her. "Get into it." She let the fight go out of her so the men holding her hostage could feel her release. She let out a small moan as Spike put a hand on her hip. Taking the cue he let his hand slide down to her leg and slowly pull her skirt up. She played right along just as he had asked, wrapping her leg around his, letting out another moan.

"See?" Spike said turning back to the thug behind him who stared at the two of them totally stunned. "It's much better when you get 'em good and wet mate." He then turned back to Tara. "And you are wet aren't you Baby?"

Not trusting her voice Tara only nodded. None of the men could speak either. Their silence was brought on by their disbelief. Spike grinned at the man holding Tara's right arm, pushing him away. "She's gonna need that hand," he told him. Then he pushed away the man on the left. "That one too," he added. He went back to her neck as the attackers came together to huddle in a group, whispering to each other. He took a step back and pointed to his belt buckle. "Come on Love," he told her. "You know you want it." Tara reached out but Spike stopped her hands. "Actually Love, I changed my mind. I don’t think I want you…I want them!"

Spike turned around in total 'game face' and watched the men's expressions drop.

"W-what the hell are y-you?" one man stuttered as all three of them began to back up.

"Last sight you'll ever see."

All three men darted down the alley, not looking back, moving as fast as their feet could carry them. Spike didn't give an all out chase - just enough to get them around the corner and out of sight. He quickly walked back to Tara.

"Too bad they were humans. I just coulda kicked a little ass," he said as he made his way back to her. "You alright Bird?" he asked.

All the adrenaline and fear let loose and shattered Tara's reserve. She began crying, wrapping her arms around Spike. When he reached up to return the hug, she flinched at first but he shushed her, telling her they were gone and he wouldn't hurt her. Slowly, she pulled herself together.

"T-Thank you," she said softly.

"What was I gonna do?" he answered. "If Red found out I let some nasty blokes do a number on you she'd use that magic of hers to turn me into a toad or something worse…like a Watcher," he grinned, hoping a bit of levity might ease Tara's fear of what just happened. When she didn't say anything he pulled out a cigarette and lit it before asking, "Did you know those guys?"

"Never saw them before," she answered still breathing hard.

"Well let's get you back home and bandaged up," he told her as he exhaled. They began to walk toward the open street when Spike noticed her limp.

"You okay to walk home?" Spike asked, offering his shoulder for support.

"Yeah, I think so," she told him.

"I can carry you Love. Super Vamp strength, you know?"

Tara grinned. "That's okay. As long as we go slow, I'll get there."

Xander was driving slowly as he and Anya looked for Tara. They stopped by the Bronze and didn’t find her. Thinking they might spot her on the way to Buffy's, they figured they'd be on the look out. That's when Anya saw the figure of a woman in the alley limping with someone beside her.

"Xander stop! I thought I saw her."

"Where?" he asked.

"In the alley," Anya answered. "Why are you still driving? Pull over! Pull over!"

"Okay, give me a sec!" he answered, compiling and pulling the car off to the side. Anya opened her door first with Xander quickly following behind her. As they jogged further back in the alley they saw Spike was there too. When they got a closer look at Tara, they noticed the bloody forehead and lip.

"You son of a bitch!" Xander said running toward Spike.

"Xander no!" Tara said coming between them. "Spike didn't do this. Some other guys…bad guys…did and he scared them off."

"Always looking for a fight, Harris," Spike sighed.

"Always knowing what you are, Spike," he retorted.

"As much as I'd love to verbally spar and kick your ass as usual," Spike countered, "we've got more pressing issues," he said pointing to Tara.

Anya walked over and put her arm around Tara to help her along. "What happened to you?"

"I got jumped," she replied.

"By who?" Anya asked.

"Nobody we know," Tara answered defeated. "Just… Just get me home to Will."

With that the four of them made their way to the Summer's house.

Chapter 2

Xander walked in first.

"Buffy! Willow!"

Dawn came off the couch. "Hey you're late. Being punctual is-." Dawn stopped when she saw Tara pass the corner, lip bleeding and Spike's t-shirt she was holding to her head. "Ohgodwhodidthis?" she said in a rush. "Willow!" she shouted toward the kitchen.

The redhead heard Xander's call as she put away the leftovers from dinner not paying it much heed. However, when she heard the sound of her name spoken in such urgency from Dawn, she raced into the living room. Something was definitely wrong. Her immediately thought was Buffy. She'd been patrolling and thought maybe she'd been hurt, but as she dashed around the corner the sight of no Buffy and a battered Tara froze her in her tracks momentarily.

"What happened?"

"I'll be okay," Tara told her.

"Dawnie, go make an ice pack," Willow instructed. Without argument, Dawn darted to the kitchen.

Quickly, Willow finished her journey and began to check her lover visually. That's when she saw the torn skirt.

"Did someone hurt you?" she asked.

Her voice cracked in her own ears and tears threatened to spill. It was obvious she was hurt, but Willow couldn't bring herself to say the true words of 'did someone rape you?' out loud.

Tara knew Willow well, understanding what she meant and she gave a brief, but brave grin.

"No," she answered quickly. "No. S-Someone tried, but…Spike s-scared them off."

Willow pulled Tara into an embrace and felt her stiffen. She wasn't sure if it was stress from the physical attack or an actual unseen physical injury that made Tara flinch at her touch. It didn't matter either way. Willow pulled back slowly as not to startle her lover anymore. She looked to Spike.

"Thank you," Willow said sincerely. "I can't thank you enough."

Uncomfortable by the compliment, Spike rubbed the back of his neck. "Yeah, well, I was in the neighborhood. And like I told your bird, I wished they weren't human. I could've used a good rumble."

"They're not human," Xander said out loud. "Anyone who could do something like this can't be human."

"Where were you Xander?" Willow asked. She knew he was supposed to pick her up at the Bronze. Her brow furred as she waited for an answer. Xander knew by the look he was in trouble.

"We were late," Xander explained, quickly. "I had to work over and I called the Bronze, but you know how helpfully they are when you call for someone."

"It's not his fault," Tara said, knowing that Willow might place the blame where it wasn't deserved. "I should have waited, but I got impatient and left."

"And you decided to walk home? After dark? By yourself?… Did you forget we live in Sunnydale?"

"Spare me the lecture Will, okay?"

"Fine. I won't say I told you so."

"You'll work it in so just get it over with."

"I told you so," Willow mumbled.

"Thank you," Tara tried to give a small grin, but immediately clutched her lip.

"Come on," Willow said wrapping her arm around her. "Let's get you cleaned up and you can tell me what happened."

They began to walk toward the staircase when Buffy walked in to find everyone in her foyer. "Gee, a party at my house and no one invited…me."

Tara watched as the teasing expression left Buffy's face as she caught sight of her. "I got jumped near the Bronze," Tara explained, without being asked.

"Holy God! Are you okay?"

"I've felt better," Tara said trying to grin again, but stopping.

"What happened?" Buffy asked. "Are you guys okay?" she asked Xander and Anya.

"They weren't there," Tara told her.

"God, I'm sorry Tara," Xander answered.

"Oh no! I didn't mean anything by that. I just-."

"Hey," he started. "I'm sorry, okay. At least, let me feel a little bit of guilt about this. If I'd been at the Bronze on time none of this would have happened."

"What happened?" Buffy asked again, this time stressing the question. "Did some Vamps go after you?" she said turning back to Tara.

"No," the blonde answered. "Just some bigots."

"Bigots?" Willow asked. "You mean rapists, right?"

"They said some…s-stuff. About me…about us," Tara told her.

Buffy looked confused and Spike walked up next to her. "Why don't you get her cleaned up Red?" he said nodding to Willow and Tara. "I'll fill the Slayer in on what I know."

Willow nodded and put her arm gently around Tara's shoulder, leading her upstairs. "Come on Baby."

"Hey Willow?" Dawn said calling up the staircase. Willow held out her hand and Dawn tossed her the ice bag in the air.

The witch caught it with her free hand. "Thanks Sweetie," she replied before finishing her journey to the washroom with her battered lover on her arm.

"Oh!" Anya exclaimed before running over to Willow's laptop and grabbing her digital camera. "Pictures," she said as she stared upstairs.

"Anya sweetie," Xander began. "This isn't one of those moments you want to save for posterity like a wedding."

She rolled her eyes. "Really Xander? I had no idea," she remarked sarcastically. "Think! We need photographic proof she was hurt before Willow cleans her up."

"Oh. Good point."

"Quick thinking Anya," Buffy complimented.

"Thanks. I learned it on 'Law and Order'," she replied, quite proud of herself.

"And like all of us, she owes everything she is today to television." Xander grinned with a wave of his hand as Anya dashed up the stairs with the camera.

Chapter 3

"You remember what they look like?"

Tara could tell by the tone in Willow's voice she was angry. And an angry Willow was never a good thing. She didn't see it that often, but when she did, the term 'force to be reckoned with' was an understatement. The reserve of Willow's anger actually frightened her more than any shouting she'd seen the witch do during a heated scoobies debate. It sounded deep, brewing and ready to explode at any moment.

"Just forget it Will, okay?"

Tara sat on the closed commode as her lover tended to her wounds. Willow gently blotted Tara's knee with the wet washcloth, the last wound to clean.

"I've spent 20 minutes cleaning blood off my girlfriend. Forgive me for not walking the path of Gandhi at the moment."

"Being flippant doesn't change it."

"No, but kicking a little ass might."

"No," Tara reached out, grabbing Willow's wrist. She had to cool Willow down somehow. She could feel her temperature rising through her skin and she could see the shake within Willow's aura. In fact, it scared her a little, but she thought perhaps a little teasing might help. "Don't go getting all butch on me now." She smiled.

Since the blood had been cleaned from her lip, and the icepack in place for a few minutes, it had gotten easier to move her mouth.

"They need to pay Tara. And I don't want you walking around in fear."

"Just walk with me for awhile and I'll be okay. You'll see. No going into a cocoon. I promise."

Willow looked away sharply. In what seemed like afterthought, she opened the peroxide bottle.

"What?" Tara asked, feeling Willow tense.

"Nothing."

"Don't nothing me. You're upset because I don't want you to wreck vengeance on a group of homophobic assholes?"

Willow licked her lips as she let the peroxide soak into the washcloth. She shook her head still unable to look at Tara. "You got hurt because of me," Willow said softly.

"Oh Will," Tara sighed, letting her fingers trail down her cheek. "Even if you were there I can't say for sure that you would have been able to stop it."

"That's not what I mean," Willow replied just a soft, still playing with the washcloth and avoiding eye contact with Tara.

"Look at me Will," Tara told her. When Willow still didn't look up she reached out and raised her chin, forcing their eyes to meet. "What are you saying?"

Willow licked her lips again and tried to form a sentence but it didn't come.

"You feel guilty for loving me?" Tara asked. The fear in Tara's gaze was too much and Willow pulled back slightly, looking away again. "Is that what this is about?"

Willow couldn't trust her voice. All she could do was nod. The admission brought on the waterworks, but she quickly pushed it down, wiping the tears away. She had to stay strong for Tara, but the thought that their relationship brought her pain, got her hurt…It was too much and she found herself taking ragged breaths.

"Please don't ever regret loving me…for any reason," Tara said kissing her forehead. "And don't let a group of narrow-minded jerks push you away from me – not now, not ever. Promise me?"

Willow could only nod. After a few moments in silence Willow calmed down enough to speak and look at her lover. "I'm sorry Tara. I just…I wanna hurt 'em. I wanna hurt 'em bad. And that scares me a little and if I ever find them…"

"I don’t want you looking," Tara told her.

"Why not? I think I deserve the right to make them pay. And pay. And then pay some more."

"Will-."

"Tara, you're my girlfriend. I would fight anyone for you. Nobody hurts my girl, remember?"

Those were Tara's words after she buried an ax into the back of a demon choking Willow. She did it with no regrets, no remorse. If a human had Willow in the same position Tara doubted she would feel any different. Not when it came to Willow. "I remember," Tara answered softly.

"So, if Spike brought me home all bruised and bloody would you be this fucking peaceful?" Willow stood up and threw the washrag as hard as she could against the wall behind her. "God damn it, Tara!"

Willow ran her hand down her face and took a deep breath to calm her nerves. When she turned around, she saw Tara crying silently.

"Oh God, Baby," Willow said softly coming back to kneel before her. "Don't cry. Don't cry. I'm sorry. I'm…I'm angry, but I'm not mad with you. Honest, I'm not," she continued as she stroked Tara's long blond hair back from her face. "I'm just … frustrated … Somebody hurt my Baby and I wanna make sure it doesn't happen again. That's all. Please don't cry, Tara. Please."

Willow pulled Tara into her arms and held her close. Slowly, the blonde's breathing returned to normal and only then did Willow pull back.

"I'm just angry about a lot of things right now," she told Tara as she rose and started to pace. "I'm angry at those guys hurt you. I'm angry my love for you got you hurt in the first place. I'm angry that I have to stop myself from kissing you at the supermarket, because it's not 'safe' - especially when you say or do something that's absolutely adorable. I'm angry because I thought the Bronze was 'safe' but obviously it's not. I'm angry that I can't walk into Sunnydale City Hall and say one marriage license please. And I'm angry that the world is filled with so many people like the guys that did this tonight….Lots of anger issues here, I know…B-But you're not one of them Sweetheart….Honest."

Tara swallowed hard. "You'd w-walk into city hall to marry me?" Tara asked, still not sure she heard Willow correctly.

"In a heartbeat," Willow answered, without pause, stroking her face. "And I know if I asked, you'd say yes."

"I would."

Tara couldn't control her grin at the admission, but that was fine. She didn't want to.

"I wanna spend the rest of my life with you, Baby. And I don't want anyone to ever hurt you again."

Tara took Willow's hand, giving them a light squeeze to get her full attention.

"Look W-Will…It's just s-scary to see you this upset…And I'll be h-honest too…" The stutter told Willow that she unnerved Tara more than she'd admitted and she found her fingers stroking the woman's cheek, trying to calm her down. On the inside, Willow kicked herself for putting Tara even more on edge. "I'm not s-sure if I'd be m-much different if it were the other w-way around. If Spike brought you home like this…I-I couldn't be calm either."

"Well I'm glad you're the voice of reason tonight," Willow said giving a half grin.

"You know it's not a-about protecting them, right? I just don't w-want to see you doing something stupid and e-end up in jail…I want you h-here with me, not in a c-cell s-some place," Tara said taking Willow's stroking hand, holding it in her own.

They heard a knock on the door and Willow turned to face it. "Yeah?"

"It's Buffy. Can I come in?"

"Sure, Buff," Willow answered.

Buffy entered and shut the door behind her. "Spike gave me the run down. He and I are gonna go back out and look for them," she announced in a determined voice.

"I'm going with you," Willow told her.

"No," Tara spoke up. "I don't want you out there, Will."

"Seems they were quite interested in my presence earlier," she counted. "I think I should let them know where the redhead's at tonight. A good start would be my boot up their ass."

"Will," Buffy began. "I think Tara's right. Stay here and take care of her. You're too mad to be out there right now…Besides, remember what happened when you tried to take on Glory last time Tara got hurt?"

"Yeah I kicked a God's ass if I remember correctly."

"For all of five minutes," Buffy retorted.

"How far did you get, huh? Who was your big gun after that? I think I can handle a couple of mere homophobic mortals."

Buffy felt her own anger rising, but she wasn't going to give into it. Besides, part of her agreed with Willow and understood her need to see things through for Tara's sake. But Tara understood Willow on a deeper level and could read how dangerous Willow was at this moment. And if Tara didn't want Willow to go out, she had to trust Tara's judgment.

"Don't make me play the guilt card," Buffy sighed.

"Guilt card?"

"Yeah," Buffy began, "The one that reads: Your girlfriend needs you here. Your girlfriend's asking that you stay with her. Give Tara what she wants right now."

"That's right. She is my girlfriend, Buffy. Not yours. So if anyone should-."

"Look Will," Buffy said cutting her off. "I've got the motivation to find these guys, but I also have enough distance because Tara is a friend and not a lover. You don't. Not tonight anyway. And resolve face be damned, you're not going out there to hunt these guys down. Tara's asking you as a lover and I'm asking you as your friend…Let Spike and I handle this, okay? I promise you we'll find them. If not tonight, than some other night. And we won't quit searching until we do."

"Buffy, you don't-."

"Someone has to take Tara down to the police station to fill out a report yet. It does me no good to bring those guys in if no crime has been filed. Of course, the whole 'a vampire saved me' part of the story should be omitted. That goes without saying. But let me ask you this: Would you like Xander to take her there alone or would you like to go and be the supportive girlfriend I know you are?"

Buffy was right and Willow knew it. She gave a defeated sigh, "I hate it when you appeal to my logic."

"Knew I'd get through somehow." Buffy grinned. "We'll be back," she said as she turned to go. Quickly, she stopped and turned back, "Oh, by the way, Dawn call Giles at the Magic Box. He's 'brushing up on his reading' or something. I wanted to keep him in the loop, if that's okay. I mean that is okay, isn't it?"

"That's fine, Buffy," Tara answered for both of them. "Thanks for letting him know."

"Well, he's on his way back here now with the Jeep so if you wanted to use it to go to the station you can. If not, Xander will take you and then Dawn can tell Giles where you went…You might wanna go back downstairs soon though. Dawn hasn't stopped pacing since you came up here. I think it will help her to see you cleaned up."

"Thanks, Buffy," Tara said softly.

"No big."

Willow took Buffy by the elbow before turning to Tara. "I'll be back in a sec, Sweetheart."

She led Buffy toward the stairs, walking slowly as they talked. "I'm letting you go out there because you're right. I need to be here for Tara right now, but would you do me a favor?"

"What?"

"Hurt 'em…Not life threatening or anything – a few cuts and bruises, a slight concussion…broken arm would be good."

"I heard that," Tara yelled from the bathroom.

Both women grinned at each other and looked back to the bathroom.

"Go get dressed and quit spying," Willow ordered, playfully. In a quieter voice to Buffy she added, "Whadda ya say?"

Buffy leaned over and whispered in Willow's ear. "I'm sure they'll resist citizen's arrest. With the Slayer strength, I can't guarantee what might happen to them." She grinned conspiratorially. "And I promise to be sure to tell them that the redhead sent me."

"Thanks, Buffy."

"Hey, nobody and I mean nobody messes with family," she added with a fake Italian gangster accent, adjust a fake necktie.

"That was pretty bad," Willow giggled.

"Needs work?"

"Slightly."

Buffy ran her hand down Willow's arm, turning serious again. "You take care of her. Spike and I will see to the rest," she said sincerely. "We'll get 'em, Will. I promise."

"Mind if I give you a head start?"

"What do you mean?"

"I've been working on different types of locator spells. I can do it with blood on Spike's shirt. Oh hey, speaking of which-."

"I gave him one of my nightshirts. He doesn't look too bad in pink," she teased.

"I bet he looks fearsome…It wasn't the one with the flowers was it?"

"I considered it, but even I couldn't be that cruel. After all, he did save Tara."

"Good point." Willow nodded and turned to see Tara watching her from the doorway wrapped in her robe with a disapproving look on her face.

"So you want Buffy to rough them up?"

"You said I couldn't hurt them. You didn't say anything about Buffy."

It was wrong. She knew it. But Tara had to smile anyway. "It's all in the jargon then?"

"Oh absolutely." Willow grinned.

Chapter 4

Tara, Willow, Xander and Anya walked into the police station. A big burly man with sergeant strips stood behind a tall desk.

"Can I help you?" he said not bothering to look up from the paperwork in front of him.

"Yeah," Willow began. "My girlfriend here was attacked and nearly raped tonight. A couple of blocks from the Bronze."

He scribbled a few things down and finally looked up at the four of them. "You want to file a report?" he asked in a monotone.

"Yeah, that's why we're here," Willow replied. She was getting a bit agitated with his blasé attitude about the whole incident.

Casually he reached down and pulled out a piece of paper from under the desk. He licked the pencil once and gave a sigh. "Name?"

Willow turned to Xander. "Now here's a man that loves his job."

"Will," Xander said shaking his head, trying to keep her calm.

"Don't 'Will' me," she said before turning back to the sergeant. "Those dirtbags are still out there, doing God knows what. Would it be too much to ask for a little speed here before they beat up on someone else's girlfriend?"

He gave another sigh and turned to Tara. His tone or speed didn't change. "Name?"

"Tara Maclay," she answered.

"Spell it."

"M-A-C-L-A-Y."

He re-licked his pencil, taking his time. "Address?"

"Oh for crying out loud," Willow sighed. "Why don't you just give us the form and we'll fill it out? Thank god they didn't rob a bank. They'd already be in Mexico by now."

"Better get her out of here," the officer told Xander.

"Come on, Will," he said taking her by the elbow.

"No," she said trying to pull away.

"Okay, that's it."

Xander was done talking. He wrapped his arms around Willow, picking her up and off her feet. He staggeringly carried her outside the stationhouse, the witch protesting all the way. Anya stepped up next to Tara.

The officer watched them leave and then turned back to Tara. "Okay…Address?"

As soon as he could, Xander set Willow's feet on the ground. When he let go, she started back toward the stationhouse, but Xander snagged her arm.

"You're not going back in there until you cool off, Will."

"Get your damn hands off me!" she said pushing him away. "What if it were Anya, Xander? What if someone dragged her into an ally, knocked her around and tried to rape her? Would you cool off?"

"Yeah, I'd be pissed too. But I'd also think about having Anya spend the night alone because I'm in the clink for lipping off to a cop? Come on, Will. Use your head here; not your heart."

Willow sat down defeated on the precinct stoop and Xander soon joined her.

"Do you know why they did it? Do you know why they hurt her?"

"Spike said they were talking some trash, Will. That's all."

She looked over at him. "That's not all. They didn't just talk, Xander. They set out to hurt her…because of me."

"No, they set out to hurt her because they're insecure assholes. And it has nothing to do with you and Tara."

"Yeah, well the world is full of assholes. You know, I didn't choose to love Tara. Love chose me to be with her."

"I think I understand," Xander says. "You didn't decide to become a lesbian. It wasn't a decision for you – you just are what you are…Like Popeye…But without the squinting or the muscles. You're prettier too… Plus, your girlfriend's a knockout with great curves unlike his. Not like I was looking or anything," he added with a teasing grin, bumping shoulders with her.

She grinned. "Can't I have a moment of self-loathing and anger here?"

"Not on my watch," he answered before turning serious. "Look Will, I can't even begin to understand what you deal with day in and day out. But I know that since you and Tara hooked up there are things that I don't take for granted anymore."

"Such as?"

"Well PDA's for one."

"PDA?"

"Public Displays of Affection…Sure you guys hold hands but sometimes when I see you together and we're out someplace I can feel you both…I don't know…holding back. And I know if I wanted to I could reach right over and kiss Anya and not get a second glance or whispering stares…So I don't know exactly how it feels, but I know it's there. And on some level, it's changed me."

"Oh really?" Willow chuckled.

"Well I take stock in what I have and I hope it changes for you. And sometimes the guys at the site will make some gay bashing comments and I set 'em straight – no pun intended. I tell them I'm offended because my best friend's gay and she's one of the greatest humans on earth. Granted, a couple of them don't want to hear it, but a few of them…they've listened."

Willow reached up and stroked Xander's face. "You're a sweetheart, you know that? Anya's a lucky lady."

"I think Tara's pretty lucky too so don't go feeling guilty about this, Will. Not for a second."

"I'll try."

"That's all I ask…Think you're calm enough to go back in?"

Willow gave a nod and rose to her feet. When they walked inside they heard Anya's raised voice and saw her shaking a finger at the sergeant.

"Look pal!" she shouted. "You're gonna file that report and you're gonna put an APB out for those three jerks pronto or so help me God, I'll get Johnnie Cochran to come down here to file a discrimination suit so fast it will make this department's head spin! And before you ask, yes I DO know Johnnie Cochran personally so don't test the theory!"

"Now calm down lady," he told her putting his hands up. He finally seemed to be showing some emotion…fear. A few of the officers peeked around corners to watch the display, but no one moved.

"What difference does it make about who she takes to bed? Someone tried to take her body against her will and the fact that she's a gay woman is irrelevant. Personally I don't see the appeal because I like men…but the fact she doesn't shouldn't mean anything! I pay my taxes, which I know pays your salary so YOU are workin' for ME pal! You got it! Now get your jelly donut eating, lard ass over to that microphone and tell them to start looking and help my friend!"

"You need-."

"Don’t tell me what I need," she said stopping him. Anya pulled out her cell phone and hit the menu button and scrolled down. She handed it to the sergeant. "Look at the name! Now you got two choices you elitist pig. Either hit my call button so I can speak to Johnnie or you hit your mic to warn your brothers in arms to find these guys. It's your choice."

He smirked and hit the button, putting the phone to his ear. It rang twice before a British voice answered, "Cochran residence." Confidently, Anya waited with an outstretched arm for the phone.

The sergeant's eyes got wide and he quickly hung up. Without delay, he moved toward the dispatcher. Xander and Willow stood slack-jawed by the door, unsure of what to make of the display.

"Hey! Hey! Hey!" Anya said stopping him. "Give me that back before you lose it you inept boob," she said pointing to her cell phone. He handed it to her and quickly started on his journey again.

With careful steps, Xander and Willow walked over.

"Anya, sweetheart," he said softly. "What the Hell just happened here?"

"I'll explain outside," she answered roughly, her anger not yet dissipated. Xander simply put his hands up and let it go for the time being.

When the sergeant returned, he immediately started with an apology. "I'm sorry about the confusion, Ma'am. I meant no disrespect-."

"Yes, you did mean the disrespect, so don't back peddle now…Does she have everything signed and filled out in triplicate for you?"

He nodded.

"You need nothing further from her? 100 more useless forms? A pint of blood? Her first born male son?"

He shook his head no.

Anya reached into her purse and pulled out the photos she'd printed off of Tara's wounds earlier that evening and threw them on the desk. "Don't worry. When you lose them because you're totally incompetent give us a call and we'll send more…Come on, we're outta here," she said, nodding the group toward the door.

Anya stormed from the stationhouse. It took a moment for everyone to regroup, but quickly they too stepped outside.

"Johnnie Cochran?" Xander asked as they walked to his car. "You know Johnnie Cochran?"

Anya stopped and turned around. "I don't know Johnnie Cochran."

"Am I the only one totally confused?" he asked.

"Not at all," Willow replied.

"He started asking me some questions," Tara began, "and I told him that you were my lover. I guess I should have lied but-."

"You shouldn't have to lie Tara," Anya said stopping her. "And he shouldn't have been a jerk. You were nearly raped tonight and as cop he should be doing his job. Who you sleep with doesn't matter."

"Back up a second," Xander said.

"He asked Tara some intimate questions," Anya told him, "When Tara was honest with and told him she was a lesbian… Let's just say he not only got less helpful, but more obnoxious."

"And Johnnie Cochran?"

"When he started giving her a difficult time, I stepped away so he couldn't hear and called Giles. Then I reprogrammed the name in the phone. When he called he got Johnnie Cochran's 'British' butler…As you all saw, it worked."

"And where did you get that idea?" Xander asked in amazement.

"Ferris Bueler's Day Off," Anya answered. "Remember when he snuck his girlfriend out of school by using the telephone? Same principal basically. Bodily harm doesn't instill fear in people any more. Lawyers do."

"And yet again pop culture comes to the rescue," Xander grinned. "I'm really proud of you," he added sincerely.

"Yeah, it was a quick thinking plan. I'm on a roll tonight."

"Not just the plan," Xander answered. "For sticking up for my best friend's girl and not backing down. I'm very proud of you Anya."

"Well your best friend or not, I consider Tara a friend and that 'cop' a total jackass." She gave a heavy sigh, looking to Willow and Tara. "I gotta be honest. I don't think I could be gay if I had to put up with that kind of stuff on a regular basis. Well, that and the 'I like men' part, which I mentioned inside."

Willow took a step closer. "Thank you Anya. I really mean that."

"You just keep being gay and staying away from Xander's lips and that will be thanks enough." She looked serious at first, but cracked a tiny grin that Willow reciprocated. "Why don't we take you two home so you can wait for Buffy and Spike?"

"Sounds like a plan," Xander agreed as they all began walking again.

Willow and Tara followed behind, hand in hand. "I still think I shouldn't have told him," Tara said softly.

"Well, Xander's not the only proud lover here tonight," Willow replied. "I'm glad you were honest about us. Like she said, it wouldn't have mattered to a 'real cop'. Besides being honest is what will make things better in the end. It will take time sure, but someday it won't matter who you tell."

"Think it will ever happen in our lifetime?" she asked.

"I don't know…All I do know is we can't stop being honest. We shouldn't 'hide out', especially when it comes to important stuff like this."

Tara tightened her hold on Willow's hand. "You're absolutely right."

"Onward and upward then?"

"You know it," the blonde grinned.

"Let's get home," Willow said returning the grin. "I'll make you some good ole fashioned comfort food."

"Chicken soup with the little stars?"

"If that's what my Baby wants, then that's what my Baby gets."

Chapter 5

Willow was pouring the ladle of soup into the bowl when Buffy walked into the kitchen.

"Any luck?" Willow asked hopefully.

"The spell took us to an apartment building of all places," Buffy answered. "I figure Spike scared the living daylights out of them and they called it a night. We're gonna stake it out tomorrow …But don’t worry we'll get 'em. Just a matter of time…How'd it go at the station?"

"Report's filed. Anya threatened a lawsuit. An APB was put out."

"What?"

"The cop started giving Tara a hard time when he found out she was a lesbian. Anya threatened to sic Johnnie Cochran on 'em. Only then did he issue an APB. So if you don't find them, maybe the police will."

They both looked at each other before snorting, "Yeah right," which soon turned into a round of giggles.

"Nice to see we both have such faith in the SDPD," Willow grinned.

"Well, you seem in better spirits now."

"I am…I mean, I've still got issues. Not any more than I ever had before…Just a bit intensified after tonight. Anya said that she didn't think she could be gay if she had to put up with the stuff that happened with Tara tonight."

"What about you? Can you put up with it, Will?"

"For Tara…I'd put up with anything. She's worth it. She's my girl."

Buffy grinned. "I've gotta admit, I'm envious of you sometimes."

"You mean you're jealous of people shouting dyke comments at you as you walk down the street holding hands with your girlfriend?" Willow grinned. "It's not as appealing as it sounds."

"People do that?"

"Not often, but sometimes… More often, it's just the 'look'."

"The look?"

"Yeah, like the one you had when I came out about Tara," Willow teased. "That 'Oh my God! There's one of those lesbians I read about! They really do exist' look."

"My reaction wasn't that bad, was it?" Buffy chuckled.

Willow just raised her eyebrows.

"It was just a surprise more than anything," Buffy said holding up her hands in front of her. "You never mentioned you could fall for a girl. All you ever wanted was Xander and then Oz so…you threw me for a loop… But I will say in my defense, I recovered rather quickly and took you in with open arms…well…not too open," Buffy teased. "You already had Tara after all."

Will grinned. "Yeah, you have...It's like I told Xander tonight. You've all been mega-supportive. Sometimes I think about what you told Tara's dad when he wanted to take her away - 'You gotta come through me', 'We're family'…I still hear that argument in my mind and each time I smile when I think about how you stuck up for her – everybody actually. It means a lot Buffy. To both of us…But not everyone is that supportive…Like tonight proves, sometimes their down right vicious."

"How do you deal?"

Willow grinned. She knew the answer immediately. "I look over and see the reason why they're shouting and she's what keeps me going. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me."

Buffy watched as Willow turned around to get a spoon. "Why am I not convinced that's true?"

"Because it's not. It does still hurt, but you know…I've got years of practice when it comes to people picking on me. So does Tara…Junior High and High School were good preppers." Willow grinned.

"I didn't know people hassled you, Will. I mean, about Tara. You've never told me that before."

"Never had a reason to, I guess. But it's okay. I mean it's not okay because they're mindless bigots, but…I've got something they'll never have…Tara…And that makes it better."

"That's what I mean."

Willow cocked her head in question.

"You've got Tara…I wish I had that connection with someone. Something to make me feel alive. Something worth getting up in the morning for."

"You've got us," Willow told her.

"I do…and I'm grateful. I am…but it's not the same…You know?"

"Yeah, I know…You will someday, Buffy. I'm sure of it."

Buffy shrugged and looked in the bowl. "Tara soup," she said.

Willow grinned. "Yeah, her favorite."

"Better get it up to her before it gets cold," Buffy answered.

Willow picked up the serving tray. "Thanks for everything tonight, Buffy…I know I gave you a hard time earlier, but-."

"I understand. Say no more." She grinned. "Go on. I'll see ya in the morning."

"Night."

"Night."

Buffy watched as Willow carried the tray out of the kitchen and said goodnight to Giles in the living room. She really was envious of their love and she knew if anyone could make it through the onslaught, it was her Wiccans.

Chapter 6

"Chicken 'n' stars comin' through."

Willow carefully slid through the cracked door of their bedroom with the tray balanced in her hands. Tara was sitting up in bed, her black silk chemise on, reading a book. She put it down on the nightstand and grinned as Willow came over, resting the tray on the bed.

Willow loved that chemise. She remembered the first night Tara wore it. Needless to say it didn't stay on for long afterward, but it was fun while it lasted. That night Tara's head, elbow and knee wasn't bandaged up. But Tara looked just as beautiful now and Willow could honestly say she loved her even more than she did back then. It scared her from time to time. Just when she'd think she couldn't love Tara anymore than she already did, the blonde would say or do something that made her heart overflow. And although just as beautiful and more in love than that first night, it wasn't the same…It might not ever be the same...

Willow walked over to her dresser and grabbed a t-shirt and boxers. She dressed with her back turned to Tara. Why she did it, she wasn't quite sure. She'd never had any trouble dressing or undressing in front of her before but tonight was different. She felt naked, exposed. It bothered her but she didn't want it to show. When she turned around and saw Tara watching her, analyzing her, she realized she failed. And she wasn't about to make excuses.

"I'm sorry," she said softly.

"You promised not to hide from me."

"I know. It's just…"

Tara watched as Willow closed the distance between them and came to sit on the edge of the bed by her feet. Tara moved, taking Willow's hands in hers. They just sat in silence, tracing absent patterns on each other's hands.

"I know you're scared," Tara said shattering the silence between them. "And I know you're angry. But I'm begging you here," Tara continued as she suddenly started to sob, unable to hold back. "Don’t give up on loving me. Don't let them win."

Willow began to cry too and she raised Tara's hands to her lips, kissing each one. She gently pulled the blonde against her and nuzzled into her hair.

"I won't give up. I'll never give up. I love you sooo much."

She felt Tara tighten her grip, her fingers working their way into her hair.

"I love you too, Baby."

Willow recognized the huskiness of Tara's reply and felt the light nip on her earlobe. Slowly, Willow disengaged herself.

"Not tonight," Willow told her in a firm voice. "You're not in any shape-."

Before she could finish the sentence Willow felt Tara's lips descend upon hers with a passion that left no room for questioning. Yet still, Willow pulled back again and shook her head.

"I don't want to hurt you, Tara."

The blonde released her and looked into her lap, not meeting her lover's eyes. "It's already starting, isn't it?"

"What?"

"You're pushing me away."

"No!" Willow said shaking her head. Oh God no! How could she think that? She raised Tara's face with two fingertips under her chin. "Believe me, I'm not. I just…I'm afraid I might get carried away and hurt you. You've had a hard enough time as it is and-."

"Then kiss and make it better," Tara told her. Willow watched helpless as tears threatened to spill from Tara's eyes. "I'm scared too, Will. I'm afraid…I'm afraid of what will happen to us…to me."

Willow cupped Tara's face with her hand as her thumb stroked Tara's cheek. "Sweetheart…"

"I'm worried. I'm scared that if we go to bed tonight and we don't make love…it might not happen for a really long time…You say you want to help. You say you want to be supportive. Then what I need most in the world right now is to feel that you still want me."

"Tara, I'll always want you."

"Then show me. Right now."

Willow opened her mouth to protest again, but Tara took Willow's hand and led it slowly across her thigh. Tara closed her eyes and soaked up the feel of her lover's fingers moving back and forth on her bare skin. She could feel the flow through Willow that went from scared to calm to arousal. When the redhead's fingers gripped the skin just slightly tighter Tara couldn't contain her moan.

"Hmm," Tara sighed, soaking up the affection. She opened her eyes and gave Willow a seductive grin that always melted her. "Nothing like Willowhand."

No more arguments. The redhead was a goner and had to oblige.

+++++

"Your soups cold."

"That's okay. My girlfriend's hot."

Willow chuckled underneath Tara before snuggling closer.

"Be honest…Did I hurt you?"

"My lips are a little sore, but other than that…I'm fine."

"Which lips?" Willow teased. She felt the light slap to her arm and had to chuckle.

"All of them. But I’m not complaining." Tara grinned and nuzzled her head further into the nape of Willow's neck and gave a contented sigh. "Thank you for this," she added softly. "Thank you for not giving up."

"I've told you, Tara. You're my everything. And we'll stick it out. We're strong. Like amazons, remember?"

"I remember. You just remember it too," Tara warned, poking Willow's tummy, which earned her a soft chuckle. "You know you don't look like him, but you sure sound like the Pillsbury Doughboy when I do this." She poked Willow again for good measure and got the same reaction.

"Stop that," Willow replied, playfully swatting her hand away. "This is grounds for a tickle fight and I can't return fire tonight."

"Okay," Tara conceded. "I'll behave…a little."

Willow gave a lazy stretch and began to slide away from her lover, moving to her feet.

"Where you going?" Tara asked.

"I have soup to re-heat," she answered.

"Forget the soup," Tara grinned. "I had something much more delicious."

It didn't matter how long they were together or how many different 'ideas' of Tara's they tried in the bedroom, she could still make the redhead blush from time to time.

"Well, thank you," Willow answered as she slipped her clothes back on quickly. "But a promise is a promise and I promised soup. Besides you haven't eaten tonight-no comments please," she added quickly, knowing where Tara would steer the conversation.

Tara erupted into a fit of laughter. "I didn't say anything."

"No, but you would. I know how your dirty mind thinks," Willow said leaning over her.

"You like my dirty mind and you know it," Tara retorted confidently.

"You're wrong. I love your dirty mind," Willow countered, placing a quick kiss on Tara's nose before going over to the other side of the bed and picking the tray up from the floor where they set it.

Tara cuddled back under the sheets and looked at Willow. It was a mixture of devotion and love; lust and desire. Once more Tara managed to weed herself deeper under Willow's skin with just a glance. No one ever had the power to make her feel so special.

"Thank you," Tara said softly.

Willow knew it went much deeper than reheated soup and she gave a smile. She thought back to her conversation with Buffy earlier. About the hurtful remarks, the disapproving stares, the lack of acceptance from others…

"You're worth it." She grinned.

Affirmed in the fact they would go on, Willow left the room. Neither woman knew what they did to deserve the gift of one another, but instead of dwelling on it, they were both grateful for what they found…bigots be damned.

The End