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Full-Course Meal

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1. Amuse

The first time Tara sees the impossibly gorgeous blonde vampire with a chip in her head is just before the final confrontation with Adam, when Darla's still playing both sides as best she can. She's in seduce-and-destroy mode at the time and, as Tara later learns, Darla was good at seduction as a human and has spent the four hundred years of her unlife honing her skills.

"Ooh, who's your friend?" Darla says, her voice a silky whisper, as she reaches out and tucks a strand of Tara's hair behind her ear, and Tara's heart begins beating so hard she thinks it's going to break her chest. And Darla just smiles a smile that says, loud and clear, I know you want me.

And Tara does, but she and Willow have just begun making this new thing between them work so that there is something there, not just the animal passion Darla triggers in her, but something real, something deeper, something which promises to one day be something akin to a meeting of souls.

Except Tara's soul is twisted and evil, she knows, a demon inside just like in Darla.

"This is Tara," Willow answers Darla. "And hands off!"

Darla just keeps smiling. I know what you are, it says.

2. Appetizer

"Evil is evil," Father says.

"I know something about evil," Darla answers, and the way she says it every word drips with threatening menace. "I know evil more thoroughly than you can ever imagine. And if that girl is evil, then I'm the Virgin Mary." Then she sighs and punches Tara in the face.

Ouch, Tara thinks as Darla's fist makes contact. Then she realizes: Darla's reeling backwards in pain too, the chip firing.

Willow sees it too. "It hurt her!" she cries out, then clarifies, "Darla, I mean."

Buffy fills in the explanation for Beth, Donny, and Father: "And that only works on humans."

Tara blinks, dazed. Her nose still hurts, but her mind simply doesn't process it, intent on--"You mean I'm not--?"

Darla turns to Father. "Just a family legend to keep the women in their place, am I right? Oh, I know you," she says, her gaze affixed on Father and Donny, who both instinctively take a step back, even though they've both just been told by Buffy that she can't hurt them. "You're all the same. It's men like you who made me."

Then she turns to Beth, and Tara thinks her cousin might die of fright right then and there, Darla's gaze penetrating and lethal. "And you," she says, taking a step forward, "you disgust me most of all, mild and meek and useless."

Father and Donny hang back, their chauvinistic protectionism suddenly forgotten. The Magic Box is silent, the only sound the echo of Beth's hurried breathing as she stands perfectly still, frozen in place in fear.

"I think it is time for you to go now," Giles suggests, breaking the tension. Father nods sadly and he and Donny head for the door. Beth simply backs up, not turning her back to Darla until she is outside the door of the Magic Shop.

"Humans," Darla scoffs, and Tara smiles.

3. Soup Curse

Darla's eyes bore into her, accusing. "What?" she asks at last.

"I expected better of you," Darla says, and the emotion tinging her voice isn't so much sorrow or anger as it is disappointment. "Willow, Xander, Anya--they're impulsive, self-indulgent, like children. An eleven-hundred-year-old child in Anya's case, but still, children. But you, you know better. You know that magic always has consequences. And still, you went along with them."

"Willow says--" Tara begins, then breaks off, unable to finish the sentence, unable to hide behind Willow, knowing that Darla can see right through her.

"Willow doesn't know," Darla answers. "Willow doesn't understand. You do."

Tara doesn't say anything, because as much as she wants to believe Willow, to think that it'll be just a few days before Buffy's herself again, she knows that the vampire is right, that magic always has consequences, and that Willow doesn't understand it, not really. They'd argued over all of this before the ritual, but Tara had given in, gone along, done her part in the spell to resurrect Buffy, all because--

All because she hadn't wanted to lose Willow, and had been willing to agree to anything to forestall the possibility, subordinating her will completely to that of her girlfriend. She looks away, unable to meet Darla's eyes. "I'm as bad as Cousin Beth," she says, the realization slamming into her like a Chirago demon launched from a catapult.

"No," Darla says, reaching out and taking Tara's chin in her hand, guiding Tara's head so the two women make eye contact. Darla's eyes are relentless steel. "You have a strength even you don't know," Darla promises her. "Believe me, I can tell. But if Willow hasn't crossed the line already, she's going to soon. And when she does, we're going to need you to stand up to her. She's not going to listen to anyone else."

And with Darla's eyes looking into her own, Tara can almost--almost--believe that she'll be able to do it.

4. Shellfish Course

Tara tries not to think about her duet with Darla, what it means. Then all of a sudden, she doesn't need to, because she can't remember it. Or anything else.

5. Antipasto Course

The girl opens her eyes, uncertain of where she is or what happened. Or who she is.

There are others in the shop--some sort of magic shop, it seems to be--with her, and they all seem to be in the same predicament: uncertain of who they are or how they got there. They work out as much as they can from the few details available to them. According to the UC Sunnydale ID she finds in her wallet, she herself is a sophomore named Tara Maclay. There's also an older British gentleman named Rupert Giles and his fiancée Anya Jenkins, who own the shop together; a college-aged boy named Alexander and his red-haired girlfriend Willow; a young girl named Dawn (or possibly Umad) and her older sister, a blonde woman who names herself Joan; and another blonde woman named Randi who's so beautiful she's sort of painful to look at, and Tara suddenly realizes that she's a lesbian.

She keeps this last fact to herself for the moment.

"Monsters are real," Joan says as they watch the creatures outside try to get in. "Did we know this?"

Tara doesn't know, and says so. "We n-need to get our memories back," she says. (Apparently, she has a stutter too. Great.) "We need to get to a hospital."

Rupert suggests they fight them, and it turns out that Joan's a superhero. (Being a stuttering lesbian is one thing, but now things are just getting surreal.) The vampires seem to be after Randi for some reason (something to do with kittens?), and of course Alex and Rupert both immediately go into chivalry mode as they usher her into the trap door leading to the sewer. Joan goes on the offensive because, yeah, superpowers, while Rupert and Anya stay in the magic shop trying to find a spell to fix things. Xander and Willow go with Randi into the sewer, and Tara and Dawn follow after them.

Willow trips as they flee, knocking Tara into Randi, and the two women fall so that Randi is underneath Tara, their bodies pressed together. Tara's blood is racing and Randi looks up at her, invitation in her eyes, so Tara brings her lips to the other girl's.

Next to them, Willow hits the ground as well, and a few seconds later, a mental switch flips, and suddenly Randi becomes Darla, and Tara's kissing a vampire. Still, it feels so right as Darla kisses her back, and she knows she waits a second too long before pulling away in shock. Willow is looking at them, her eyes wide, shock and guilt written across her face in equal portions, and Tara realizes what just happened, how it was that they lost their memories.

The two lovers stare back at each other in their mutual betrayal.

Xander laughs. "Sorry," he says. "I just got back the memory of seeing King Ralph."

6. Pasta Course

Tara finds Darla outside in the twilight as she exits 1630 Rivello Drive with the last box of her stuff. "Where are you going to go?"

"I'll crash with a couple of"--she pauses, but forces herself to say "friends" even though all of her real friends are behind her in Buffy's house--"until I can find something more permanent. Check with ResEd, see if there's anything still open this late in the semester."

Darla nods. "Mi cripta es su casa," she offers.

"Thanks," Tara says, "but I don't think that's a good idea." After what happened in the sewers, if she goes straight from living with Willow to living with Darla, she suspects there'll be no going back again. And she's not sure she wants to go back again, but she's not sure she doesn't, either.

She's really not sure of anything right now.

"The offer's open," Darla assures her.

7. Meat Course

"The movie was fun."

"Yeah," agrees Dawn. "It was ironic when all those cute inner-city kids taught their coach a valuable lesson."

"You know that I will always be there for you, right?" Damn. That's not how that was supposed to go. "There--there was actually more of a lead-in when I practiced that at home."

Dawn just smiles. "I know," she says, and Tara's pretty sure she isn't talking about the practicing-at-home part, which is a relief.

"It's just," Tara says, "I wanted you to know that my moving out had nothing to do with you, and I--I will never stop loving you."

"I know," Dawn repeats. "Do you think you'll ever get back together?"

Tara really wishes she knew the answer to that question, and tells Dawn so.

"But you still love her."

"Very much," Tara agrees. "I just--sometimes--other things get in the way."

Dawn examines her carefully. "Like a certain blonde vampire?" she asks, her voice carefully neutral.

"Maybe," Tara admits. "I don't know."

8. Cheese Course

When Tara takes Dawn home, there's no one there, so she lets Dawn talk her into waiting with her, even though she really doesn't want to run into Willow. But Willow never comes home, nor Buffy, and the two fall asleep to a marathon of Sabrina the Teenage Witch.

When they wake up in the morning, the house is still empty, and Tara is about to start making pancakes for Dawn when Willow enters with Amy--yes, Amy, Willow's pet rat Amy. "It's nuts," says Amy, describing the change. "Everything's different. I mean, the Bronze, for one thing. And Willow! She's a freaking amazing witch now. I couldn't even keep up with her last night."

Tara's heart--well, she thought it was already broken, but it does this thing where it breaks more, then plunges into her stomach. She feels like she wants to throw up.

"Amy," Willow says, as if simply silencing Amy could make the problems go away.

"No, it's true!" Amy says, barreling on, oblivious. "I mean, I can do some transmography, but she is messing with dimensions and everything, it was awesome! This blowhard dude, first she made his mouth disappear? Thank god. And then--" She blinks. "I'm talking too much. Sorry. It's just been--you know--me and a bag of pellets for the last few years, so--"

"No, it's, it's fine," Tara lies. "It's just, um, I, I re-really need to go."

Willow looks stricken. "Tara, uh, you left some stuff upstairs, it's in--"

"I'll get them later," she says, and leaves. As she goes, she can hear Willow calling her name from behind her.

9. Dessert

As she makes her way across the cemetary, part of Tara wonders if she's lost her mind. Darla's a vampire, a soulless evil creature. Except--

Except that Darla's done a lot of good, and has always been there--well, ever since that Adam thing was over with, at least--for Tara, so that she can't doubt that Darla really does care for her. Not just her, either, but Dawn and Buffy too, and even, in Darla's own imperiously condescending way, Willow and Xander and Anya. And Darla has a wisdom, born of four hundred years of undead experience, which Tara really needs right now. She needs to not to have to be the responsible one.

And so if Tara finds herself caring for Darla, too? Maybe that's okay.

Darla is in her crypt when Tara enters. "What is it now, Slayer?" she asks in exasperation, then turns around and sees Tara. "Oh," she says, and Tara can see surprise on her face. "I thought you were--"

"Buffy," Tara completes, because as far as she's been told the only other Vampire Slayer is locked up in a prison in L.A. somewhere.

Darla nods. "You know the Slayer, bringing all her problems to my door."

Tara's not quite sure how to respond to that. "Well," she says. "I'm not her."

"No," agrees Darla, then graces Tara with a smile. "I'm glad."

"Gl-glad I'm not Buffy?" and damn it if her stutter's not back again. She's usually so comfortable in Darla's presence, but this is different, this is new, this is--

"Glad it's you here and not her," Darla clarifies. "I wasn't sure if you--" She breaks off, and Tara thinks it's the rare occasion when Darla is at loss for a word, or uncertain about anything. "I'm glad you came." She walks towards Tara, each step slow and deliberate, not making any sudden movements, until she's right in front of Tara, and Tara's heart is racing. Gently, Darla reaches around and cups the back of Tara's neck before leaning in for the kiss.

Tara lets her lips slip open to give passage to the vampire's tongue and kisses back Darla with all the enthusiasm she's been bottling up for two years. Gods, she's wanted to do this for so long. They kiss with furious abandon for a long time, pausing only for Tara to take gasping breaths before renewing her efforts. Eventually, Darla unbuttons Tara's jacket and pushes it off her shoulders, then slides her hand up under Tara's shirt and deftly unfastens her bra.

Darla's hand is cold against her breast and Tara lets loose an ecstatic gasp as the shiver travels all the way through her body. Darla smiles and licks her neck, then pulls back so that she can pull Tara's shirt over her head.

Tara's entire body is thrumming with excitement, with anticipation, and she wastes no time of divesting Darla of her cardigan and halter top, working at the same time as the vampire unzips Tara's jeans and shimmies them down Tara's hips. Tara kicks off her shoes at the same time as Darla slips out of her skirt, so the two women are left in their underpants--Darla in a black thong, Tara in a more conservative pair of pale blue panties.

Two years of cumulative desire threaten to overwhelm Tara and have her try to pull Darla to the ground right there, but Darla guides her to the crypt's bedroom, which sports a large, luxurious bed covered in pillows. Tara as much collapses into the bed as she lets Darla push her down onto it, and then finally Darla's mouth is on her flesh again, sucking first on her shoulder, then the side of her breast, then a spot right below her navel which causes Tara's entire body to involuntarily convulse. As her tongue works it way across Tara's abdomen, Darla slips her fingers into the waistband of Tara's panties and pulls them down, then kneels down at the edge of the bed and her mouth moves down, down until it slides across Tara's clit and a wave of pleasure spreads through her.

"No," Tara manages to get out, her breath ragged. "Need you up here with me. Need to be in you, too," she says, her mouth hungering for Darla's flesh, for her juices, for her tongue to be inside her, bringing pleasure to Darla as Darla is doing the same to her.

Darla complies, getting onto the bed, and they settle into the classic 69. They're basically the same height--Tara's maybe half an inch taller than the vampire--so Tara has an excellent angle as she slips off Darla's thong to gain access to the treasures beneath. She doesn't go straight in, though, beginning with a series of kisses to the inside of Darla's thighs, and her lips are pressed against Darla's pelvic bone as the vampire brings her to her first orgasm.

Darla knows what she is doing. Tara had to teach Willow a lot about lesbian sex, and Tara and her first girlfriend had both been virgins the first time they made love, but Darla is far more skilled than Tara, very possibly more skilled than Tara could ever hope to become in a single lifetime. And right now Tara is the recipient of that skill, and it feels so, so good.

But Tara knows that her skills in that regard, while undoubtedly lesser, aren't anything to be ashamed of, and so she starts work with enthusiasm and vigor, and brings Darla to orgasm mere moments before Darla brings her to her second orgasm.

Eventually, she loses count--Darla is skilled--and at last the two collapse, satiated and exhausted. Darla reorients herself so her head is at the head of the bed, next to Tara's, and the two nestle their bodies together, Tara wrapped around Darla, and fall asleep.