When the trio arrived at the parking lot, they found a worried Jo standing by a Honda minivan, her arms fully loaded with two backpacks and a large, hastily folded, blanket. Tara was momentarily distracted by the van's license plates, BIGRED, and she gave Willow a curious glance.
"My dad's idea of a clever joke." The redhead shrugged.
The group determined that Willow was the only one who actually knew how to get back to Sunnydale from the fairgrounds, and so it was decided that Willow would sit in the front passenger seat and give Tara directions as she drove.
Faith and Jo got into the van and dumped their bags into the back seat as Tara settled Willow into the front seat. She took the blanket from Jo and folded it up to serve as a cushion for Willow's foot. The redhead was surprised when, rather than close the car door, Tara crouched down.
"Y-you need to put this on your ankle." Tara said as she pulled the cold pack out of her pocket. "M-may I?" She asked, pointing to Willow's foot. The redhead could only nod and stare as the blonde gently unwrapped her ankle. Tara handed the bandage to Willow before breaking the cold pack and shaking it to mix the chemicals in the plastic. Willow winced when she felt the cold on her ankle but gave a small smile when the blonde looked up at her.
Assured that Willow was set, Tara finally closed the car door and ran around to the driver's side, hopped in and started the van.
The ride back to Sunnydale was fairly quiet. The only conversations made were Willow's instructions as to which roads to take, Faith asking Willow to call the hospital, and Willow talking to Xander on her phone.
After a two hour drive the group pulled into the hospital parking lot, where this time both Tara and Faith supported Willow into the emergency room, with Jo behind them. There was some minor confusion when the triage nurse, seeing the redhead being carried in, insisted they wait in line with the rest of the patients.
Once they had cleared that up, the nurse explained that Mrs. Summers had gone up to surgery and that would be where the rest of their group could be found. She was also nice enough to find a pair of crutches for Willow to use so that her friends would not have to carry her for the long walk to the hospital elevators.
When the group arrived in the surgery room waiting lounge they found two girls huddled together on a couch, the dark-haired boy from the concert and a tall, older man with glasses standing by the coffeemaker, and the other girl from the airport sitting in a corner chair flipping through a copy of The Economist.
Xander rushed to his best friend when he saw the crutches, and both Buffy and Dawn moved to stand.
"It's okay. It's just sprained." She said, waving to the sisters. She hobbled over and gave both girls a long hug. As Buffy pulled away she gave Faith a small wave then gave Willow a curious look, but before Willow could make the proper introductions a loud voice came from the corner of the lounge.
"Hey, you were at the airport too!" All eyes turned to Xander's girlfriend, who was now on her feet and moving very quickly to Tara's side. "I'm Anya, I'm with Xander now."
Tara took the hand that was offered to her and feared for her arm as the once-blonde redhead shook her hand furiously.
"What? What airport?" Xander asked.
"In Chicago, where I met Willow. She was there too." Anya pointed to Tara. "She didn't think Willow's napkin thing was crazy."
"Oh." Xander responded. After a brief second his head cocked to one side as he looked from Tara to Willow and back.
"Oh, what oh?" Buffy jumped in, looking to Faith, who just shrugged. Both girls eyes went wide as the thought registered in their heads simultaneously, and their voices were joined by Xander's in a resounding, "OH!"
"I still think it was insane." Again, everyone turned to face Anya, who was still shaking the blonde's hand.
"Right, okay." Willow interrupted, placing her hand on top of Tara's and pulling her safely away from Anya. "Everyone, this is..."
"T-Tara." The blonde spoke, giving a small wave with her free hand.
"Tara." Willow repeated. Beautiful. She thought as she turned to face the blonde.
Seeing that the redhead was not going to continue anytime soon, Jo stepped forward.
"Hi, I'm Jo, Tara's roommate."
This was enough to bring the redhead out of her mild starefest.
"Right yes, Tara and her roommate Jo. That's Xander, Anya, Giles, Buffy, and Dawn, and you know Faith."
After the introductions were made Willow took a seat next to Buffy. "What happened?"
As Buffy and Dawn took turns recounting what they knew, Jo and Tara looked to each other, both girls feeling a little uncomfortable not knowing what to do. They decided to sit and wait until the redhead had finished talking with her friends. Tara could not help but notice that, despite the near-panic she was in at the concert, Faith had retreated to a seat in the furthest corner of the lounge.
Willow felt the worry coming off in waves from her best friend and the girl she thought of as her own younger sister as they told her about the frantic phone call from Giles. He and Mrs. Summers had planned to surprise Buffy, Dawn, and their friends with a late evening barbeque when they returned from the concert. Mrs. Summers went to the supermarket to pick up some last minute items and on her way home from the store she was blindsided by an oncoming car. The hospital staff was about to call Buffy when Joyce's cell phone rang. It was Giles calling to ask whether or not she wanted him to come over early. The nurse who answered briefed him, as he was listed as one of Joyce's emergency contacts, and he agreed to call Buffy before rushing over to the hospital himself. When he arrived they were treating Joyce in the emergency room before sending her up for surgery. The last time a doctor had spoken to them, the only information he could give was that she had a broken leg, several broken ribs, and had suffered some internal bleeding that the surgeons were trying to stop.
After Buffy and Dawn finished their story the group sat quietly in the lounge, waiting for any news. It was another several hours of waiting before a woman in doctor's scrubs came out to speak to Joyce's family.
"Buffy, Dawn, I'm going to tell you as much as I can, but I need for you to try to be as calm as you can be, okay? Let me tell you everything first, then you can ask me anything you want, all of you, and I'll be as honest as I can, okay?" It was clear by then that the doctor was addressing the entire group that had taken residence in the waiting room.
Buffy and Dawn both nodded, and Buffy wrapped her arm around her sister to support her, whispering in her ear, "It's okay Dawnie, it's okay."
"Your mom was hit pretty hard. She had a lot of injuries. Her left leg was broken as was her right arm. As the ER doctor probably told you, she also has a few broken ribs. She was brought up here for surgery because she was bleeding inside her body, but we were able to stop that in time. We had to take out her spleen, and right now they're making sure that nothing else was damaged. After the surgeons finish there are doctor's that will set both her arm and leg. Your mom's going to the recovery room in a little while, then you can come in and see her. She's out of the worst now, but she needs to stay here for a while, so we can be sure she's okay from the surgery." After a few minutes of silence, she added, "Buffy, Dawn, I promise you, we're doing everything we can to make sure that she's okay."
"What will we need to do?" Buffy asked quietly, as she ran her hand through her sister's hair. "When we take her home, what do we do?"
"That won't be for a while yet..."
"Please, doctor, tell me..." Buffy asked again.
And so for the next half hour the doctor described to Buffy and her friends exactly what kind of care Mrs. Summers would need.
It was now late evening. Xander left to bring his date home, promising to return as quickly as possible. Dawn was sleeping on a couch, her head resting on Giles shoulder as he too dozed off in the middle of reading a magazine. Faith had disappeared shortly after the doctor left.
"I don't know Wills, I mean, school starts in a couple of weeks. I'm going to have to take the semester off." Buffy glanced at her sister before lowering her voice. "Someone has to be home to take care of mom, and make sure Dawn gets to school and stuff."
Buffy and Willow had been quietly talking about the things the doctor told them.
"It doesn't matter though, I'm just glad she's okay. I-I don't know what I'd do if... God, and Dawn..." Willow drew Buffy in for a hug as her best friend finally burst into tears. It was at this moment that she looked up and noticed that Tara and her roommate had disappeared. Willow was not worried however, as she spotted the girls' belongings stowed under a couch.
The sound of a door slamming open startled the two friends, who both turned to face the source of the noise. A tall figure appeared in the doorway, and as the man entered the room Willow could feel her best friend tense up.
Faith saw him walk into the hospital, and it was all she could do not to run after him and try to drag him out. Instead, she followed him into the building, her blood boiling when she saw that he was in fact headed to the surgery department waiting room. As she neared the doorway she heard the voices coming from inside and stopped just outside the door to listen.
"Buffy, I heard about your mom, is she okay?" She heard him ask.
"She's, she'll be okay. What are you doing here?" It was a strain, but Faith could hear Buffy speaking softly.
"I heard... Graham was volunteering in the ER, he came and found me as soon as his shift was over. I was worried about you."
As she leaned into the doorway Faith saw that Riley was now hovering over Willow and Buffy, who were still seated in the waiting room chairs.
"Thank you but I'm okay. You didn't have to come." Faith wondered how Buffy could be so calm. How could she not be slapping him for daring to show his face in front of Buffy and her friends, her little sister, after the things he had done?
"I know, I just, I was worried. If there's anything, anything at all, that I can do..."
Faith could not keep silent anymore.
"Don't sweat it frat-boy. We're all good." She said as she walked into the room and stood at Buffy's side, opposite from Willow. A quick glance at the two girls showed Faith why Buffy was still sitting , Willow had her left arm around Buffy's shoulder and her right hand on Buffy's right forearm. The knuckles on both of the redhead's hands were white from trying to hold Buffy down. She returned her attention to Riley, who was now glaring at back at her.
"I wasn't talking to you." He said through gritted teeth.
"Like I care? You heard B, you don't have to be here, she's got her friends, so am-scray."
Faith could not help but smile as she saw him clench his fists in response.
Jo and Tara walked into the waiting room lounge as quietly as possible. They had heard tense voices coming from inside, and as they entered the room they found a tall, clean-cut man standing above a very pained looking Buffy, a worried Willow, and an angry yet amused Faith.
"What? Go ahead Frat-boy, you wanna go?" Faith had moved around to stand between the man and Buffy and was now taking off her leather jacket.
"Let's go, Frat-boy. Let the rest of them see that you're not the goody-goody you make out to be. You wanna tell B where you were just now, who you were with? Or should I?" Faith continued, jabbing her finger into his ribs for emphasis.
Tara knew that logically, she should be concerned. The man was over a foot taller than the brunette, but there was something about the way the girl spoke, carried herself...
"Right, and you would know because you were there too, instead of here with your friend. I don't need some high and mighty slut telling me what to do."
Faster than Tara could have believed possible, Faith had balled her fist and was ready to strike out at Riley, but before Faith bring her fist forward she felt a hand on her wrist. Faith turned to find Buffy standing beside her, holding her back.
"It's okay Faith." She released Faith's hand, and the brunette hesitated, then nodded before taking a step back so that she was again standing next to Buffy.
"Look, Buffy, I'm not expecting anything here, okay? Like I said, if you need anything..." Once more the farm boy was cutoff before he could finish.
"No, Riley, Faith's right. I appreciate your concern, but you don't belong here, so just go."
Riley's jaw clenched as he looked at the three girls who were now standing before him. He gave Buffy a quick nod as he began to back away, then turned and walked briskly out of the room.
Tara saw that the confrontation taking place had awoken the sleeping teenager, who was watching with frightened interest. She moved closer to the girl, who looked as though she had been ready to jump in. Gently she placed a hand on the teenager's shoulder and led her over to where she and Jo had been sitting.
"A-are you hungry?" She asked to distract Dawn from the tension in the room.
Dawn nodded and smiled when she saw the blonde raise a plate from the side table. Her mouth began to water as she stared at the slice of lemon meringue pie.
"Th-this is the o-only thing that l-looked edible." Tara laughed when she saw the girl's jaw drop open slightly. "I-if I give this to you, w-will you p-promise to eat something green tomorrow?"
The teenager looked up and down between Tara and the pie. It was as though she was weighing her hunger and the tastiness of the pie against thought of having to eat something green... Finally, Dawn smiled and nodded enthusiastically.
"I promise." She said, holding her hands out eagerly for the plate.
Tara saw through the teenager's eagerness and gave the girl a lopsided smile, pullng the plate back and shaking her head.
"S-Something vegetable green, g-green-flavored gummy bears d-don't count."
The grimace on Dawn's face showed her disappointment at having been caught thinking about an out to promising to eat something green, but her stomach got the better of her.
"Vegetable green, promise." She said, again holding her hands out.
Tara gave Dawn the plate and signaled for the teenager to sit beside her, knowing that the three older girls would probably be talking about what had just happened.
Out of the corner of her eye, Willow saw Tara draw Dawn to the corner and hand her a slice of pie...
Ooh, pie... no, focus Willow! Ignoring the protests of her own stomach she returned her attention to the two girls beside her. Buffy returned to her seat, and Faith retreated to the corner she had occupied when they had first arrived. Giles managed to wake up just after Riley left, and was now talking softly with Jo, who offered the older man a slice of pie. After assuring herself that Buffy was alright Willow stood and signaled to Faith to meet her outside.
Faith sighed and stood. She strolled over to where Buffy and Willow sat.
"You good B?" Faith asked, kneeling down in front of the older Summers sister. Buffy nodded in response and gave Faith a weak smile. Faith stood, looking at Willow then at the door. The redhead reached for a crutch and stood. She clutched Faith's arm with her free hand and pulled her out into the hallway.
The waiting room walls were surprisingly thin, and Tara could not help but overhear part of the conversation in the hallway.
"Where'd you go Faith?"
She didn't hear Faith's response, but Willow's reaction was loud and clear.
"What? Are you crazy? Why?"
This time Faith's voice was clearer.
"Chill Red, I had some business to take care of."
"Faith, I love you to death but in your own words, what the heck is your malfunction?"
Tara's heart broke at the redhead's voice, her pain was evident even through the muffled effect of the wall behind her.
"Faith, after everything we talked about, what you said before we came here..."
"Look, it's no big alright! I just, there was someone I needed to talk to."
"Dammit Faith, why would you do this NOW? Who was she? Or was it a he this time?"
Oh no... and this isn't the first time...
Knowing she heard more than she could take, she returned her attention to the teenager eating quietly beside her.
"D-Dawn? Why don't we see if your sister wants some pie too?" Tara asked, pointing to the other slices of pie on the table beside her. The teenager nodded and the trio picked up the tray of pie slices and moved to the middle of the room. When she sat in the chair across from Buffy, Tara immediately regretted her decision. From where she was sitting she had a clear view of the hallway.
Faith had her arms wrapped around a furiously shaking Willow, and she was whispering into the redhead's ear as the girl in her arms sobbed.
"Look, it's no big alright! I just, there was someone I needed to talk to."
"Dammit Faith, why would you do this NOW? Who was she? Or was it a he this time?"
Willow could not believe that Faith had left the hospital to go to the Bronze. Not when Joyce was in such serious condition, and Buffy and Dawn were seriously hurting.
"Faith, what if, what if something had happened? How could you leave? I mean, Buffy, and Dawn... What if something went wrong while they were closing... Oh God, Little Dawnie..." Willow finally broke down into tears. She had been holding it all in, trying to be strong for the girls she thought of as her own sisters as they fretted over the condition of the woman they all thought of as their mom. At that moment the fact that Joyce could have been killed in the accident hit Willow, and she felt as if she herself had been hit by a truck.
Faith wrapped her arms around the redhead and apologized softly into Willow's ear. "I'm sorry Red, I'm sorry. I promise you, it's not what you think, what Riley made it sound like. Everything I told you before is true. Please believe me, I just needed to do something, talk to someone, okay?"
Feeling the redhead's sobbing die down, she pulled back a little and lifted the redhead's chin.
"I meant what I said about Buffy. And I want to help her, and Joyce, and Little Dawnie, okay Will? To do that I needed to talk someone."
"A-at the Bronze?" Willow asked softly, her voice like that of a small child.
"Yes, at the Bronze." She wiped the tears streaking the redhead's face. "I'll tell you when I know for sure, okay Will? I promise."
Willow nodded. The friends pulled away and after composing themselves they returned to the waiting room. Faith walked over to sit next to Buffy, who was now eating a slice of pie. She thanked Jo as she handed her a plate, but when she turned to hand it to Willow she was surprised to see the redhead still standing in the doorway, her eyes bulging as she stared at Tara.
Faith had said Buffy and Will and Dawnie, not B or Red or even squirt. The fact that Faith had not used her nicknames for her friends was enough to assure the redhead that Faith had not gone and done something completely stupid and hurtful. But all her efforts to compose herself before facing Buffy and Dawn after her mild breakdown went to waste. As she entered the lounge her eyes fell on the blue-eyed blonde sitting across from Buffy.
Tara, like the Goddess, was eating a slice of pie. Willow stared as the blonde lifted a fork to her mouth. Her eyes bulged as the fork and pie disappeared into Tara's mouth. When Tara's lips closed around the fork, Willow's jaw dropped and she licked her own lips as the blonde slowly pulled the fork out and returned it to her plate. Willow watched Tara lift another piece of pie to her mouth, but this time her eyes focused on the blonde's entire face. As the pie disappeared into the blonde's mouth Willow felt all the oxygen rush out of her head. Tara's eyes fluttered shut as she closed her mouth over the pie and again slowly pulled the fork out her mouth. A pink tongue darted out to catch a spot of cream on the blonde's top lip. Willow shivered as she felt the familiar reaction from the park coming back to her. When Tara finally opened her eyes she looked straight at Willow, whose own mouth was hanging slightly open.
Willow cleared her throat and gave the group a small wave before moving to the chairs. She stood, uncomfortable, not knowing where to sit. There were empty seats beside both Tara and Faith.
"Pie?" The blonde asked as she took another bite. Willow was once again lost in watching the fork disappear into Tara's mouth that she did not hear Faith snickering behind her.
"Geez Red! Sit, eat!" Faith gave the redhead a small push on her hip, motioning for her to take the empty seat next to Tara. She took the plate of pie offered to her and gave the still snickering Faith a sharp look.