Copyright © 2003
Disclaimer: I do not own Buffy, Willow, etc..., that's Whedon's dumb luck.
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Spoilers: Up to Wrecked
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Summary: In a sequel to BURNOUT, Willow and Tara take the first steps toward getting back together. But is it really going to be that easy? Not if the Hellmouth has anything to say about it.
"Hey, look at that."
Tara Maclay raised her head.
Willow Rosenberg pointed toward the sky.
"The Big Pineapple."
Both witches grinned, and when the redhead offered her hand, the blonde accepted it. They were on their way back to Buffy's, after having gone to see a movie together.
"This was fun." Tara turned. "The whole evening. I'm glad you called."
Willow nodded. "Me too." They stopped in front of the house. "Well, I guess this is it."
"You can come in, you know. If you want."
"I think it's too soon," said the redhead. "For Dawn and Buffy. I did try to blow the house up."
Tara shook her head. "Don't be ridiculous. They miss you."
"I miss them too." Willow sighed. "And I lied. It's too soon for me. Okay?" She glanced around. "I should go. I can call you later in the week, if you want."
"Okay." As the redhead was turning to leave, Tara stopped her. "Hey." She drew Willow closer, and kissed her on the cheek. "Good night."
Willow's cheeks flushed, and she gave a thousand-watt smile as she practically skipped away.
Tara kept an eye on the redhead until she was out of sight, then headed for the door.
On the way back to her dorm, Willow got the distinct feeling she was being followed.
But every time she stopped to look there was never anyone, or anything, there. So she just ended up walking a little faster, and breathing a little harder.
Once she was safely in her room and the door was locked behind her, she was able to relax. She didn't have to worry about vampires, they couldn't get in without an invitation, and she didn't know of any demons who had a grudge against her.
Of course, there was always Rack. He was human, after all, and she had probably pissed him off by basically choosing Tara over him. But they'd managed to drive him off once, and it didn't seem very likely that he would come after them so soon. He knew what they were capable of now. Willow slipped out of her clothes and went to take a shower.
The redhead stirred, opening her tired eyes to see someone standing at the foot of her bed.
"Tara? Is that you?" Willow glanced at the clock on her bedside table. "It's four-thirty in the morning. What's going on?" She got worried. "Is something wrong?"
The blonde nodded. "You could say that." She stepped forward. "It's about you and me. I don't think we should see each other anymore."
"What?" Willow could feel her heart threatening to burst. "Tara, what did I do? I thought everything was going so well. I mean, I haven't done any magick all this time." The tears were welling up. "Tara, please, don't just give up on us. I know I can change."
Tara shook her head. "You'll never change, Willow. And you shouldn't. Magick isn't something to be feared. It is a wonderful source of power, to bend and twist to your will."
"But...no, how can you say that? Tara..." Willow's eyes narrowed. "Wait, how did you get in here?" She glanced at the door. "You gave me your keys. And I know you'd never magick the lock."
"Don't you get it?" Tara stepped closer, and Willow could see that her eyes were glowing. "I understand now. I was blind. I've been deluding myself all these years. There's so much we could be doing. We're don't have to be slaves to the power...now, we can be it's masters!"
Willow swung the blankets off and stood up. "Shut up!" She clenched her fists. "I don't know who or what you are, but you definitely aren't Tara! She would never talk like that! She doesn't believe any of the things you just said. So can we please get on with this? I need to get some sleep."
Tara dropped her arms and sighed. "Too much, huh?" She did a broad gesture in front of herself, and a rippling washed over her body. In her place stood Amy Madison. "I suppose I did get a little carried away. But you know what it's like when you're on a roll."
"I had a feeling it was you." Willow crossed her arms. "Why are you here, Amy? And why'd you want make me think you were Tara?"
"Because she screwed everything up!" Amy's face was dirty, her eyes bloodshot. Her clothes and hair were all mussed. "Before she got involved it was just you and me and Rack. Now you're gone, and I can't find him! What did you do? I need him, Willow! I need the power!"
Willow shook her head. "No, you don't. Amy, I know how hard it is..."
The other witch jerked away as Willow reached for her. "Don't! Don't TOUCH me! What's happened to you? I know you liked it. I saw your face when we were with Rack. You liked it! What could that blonde bitch give you that he couldn't? She won't even let you be yourself. Magick is a part of you!"
"Maybe so. But I don't need to do the magick. What I needed is someone who cares for me. I need Tara in my life, alot more than I ever needed a creep like Rack."
"Don't SAY that!" Amy started to tremble, and Willow couldn't help but notice that several things in the room were beginning to float. "Rack brought out things in me I never even knew existed! I know you felt it. Don't you even try to lie to me, Willow! I know how happy you were."
Willow nodded. "You're right. I was. But that pleasure was an illusion, Amy. What Rack was doing to us, only benefited him. We needed more and more, and we kept going back to him. He was taking the power from us. It was horrible, don't you understand? He didn't make us better, he made us weak!"
"NO!" Amy screamed, and everything went wild. Things began to fly back and forth across the room, swirling around her as if it had been swept up in some unseen tornado.
Something hard crashed into the side of Willow's head and she lost consciousness.
The redhead stirred, but did not awaken.
"Willow, can you hear me?"
She knew that voice. It was someone important.
"Willow, please wake up. Please!"
Tara. It was Tara. Willow's eyelids fluttered open.
Bright blue eyes softened as she saw the redhead beginning to move.
"I'm all right." She sat up, slowly, her head pounding. "You don't have to shout."
Tara lowered her voice. "Sorry. What happened?"
"I'm not sure." Willow put a hand to the side of her head, and felt a huge knot. She winced. "Ow."
"Be careful. It looks pretty swollen." Tara picked up a small plastic bag. "Here, I got you some ice."
"Thanks." Willow put the ice-bag to her head. "Ow. Again." She was sitting on the floor of her dorm room, and Tara was kneeling in front of her. "What time is it?"
"Two o'clock," Tara replied. "When you didn't come to class I got worried. I called Anya in case you'd gone to the shop, but when she said she hadn't seen you I came here. Your door was unlocked, and when I came in I saw you laying on the floor. It looks like you took a nasty blow."
Willow frowned. "I can't remember. Something happened...I mean, obviously something happened, but I think there was someone here. In my room. Last night."
"Was it Rack?" Tara asked. "I was afraid he might come after you."
The redhead thought about it for a minute. "I don't think so." She raised her head. "Do you sense anything, like in the hospital room? Have I done any magick recently?"
"I do sense traces of magick here, dwindling fast. But it's not yours. I know what yours feels like." Tara shook her head. "And it's not Rack either. I got a sense of his before. No, I don't recognize this." She put a hand on the redhead's shoulder. "I'm just glad whoever did this, didn't hurt you any more."
"I don't know about that." Willow stuck out her lower lip. "I think I hurt enough already."
Once Willow was able to walk, Tara called Buffy and told her to meet them at the Magic Box. The Slayer was there with Xander and Anya, waiting, by the time they arrived.
"So what's the what, witchy ones?" Xander asked. "Is there a new big bad beastie on the loose?"
"Maybe," said Tara. "Somebody attacked Willow last night, but she doesn't remember who it was."
The redhead shrugged her shoulders. "That's the problem with major head trauma."
"I'm glad you're okay Will," said Buffy. "But do you remember anything at all? We need something to go on if you want us to find this thing."
Willow's brow furrowed as she tried, again, to recall the events of the previous evening. But her memory was still fuzzy, and the pounding headache didn't help matters any. She sighed.
"I'm sorry. I'm trying, but..."
Tara put a hand on the redhead's shoulder. "It's all right, Will." She turned to the others. "I think we'd better be on the lookout. Whoever or whatever did this may have been after me, since it was my place. Or Willow could just be the first victim. Buffy, where's Dawn?"
"She's fine," said the Slayer. "Spike's with her." She crossed her arms. "I'll patrol double time. If nothing else I can go by Willy's and see if there's some new evil in town."
Tara nodded. "I know a spell I can try, which might let us find who did this." She looked to Anya. "But I'll need some components."
The ex-demon raised her eyes toward a tarp-covered hole in the roof. "Whatever you need." She grinned. "I'll just put it on Willow's tab."
Tara kneeled on the floor of the Summers' living room, with several candles arranged around her. She poured the contents of a vial into a small metal bowl in front of her, mixing it with some colored powders that swirled and bubbled. There was a bright flash, and a cloud of gray smoke.
An image began to appear in the smoke. That of a young woman with dark hair and wild eyes. At first, Tara did not recognize her. It took her a few moments to remember her name because she had only seen her once since she became human again. And she had been angry with Willow at the time.
"Amy?" The girl had spent the last couple of years as a rat in a cage in Willow's room, after a botched spell of her own making. "Why should she want to hurt Willow?"
"Actually," said a voice. "That was an accident."
Startled, Tara started to turn. Something slammed into the side of her head and knocked her for a loop, where she lay in a crumpled heap while Amy tossed the book-end away.
"That wasn't." The other witch crossed her arms, and glared down at Tara. "I came here looking for Willow. To make sure she was all right." She glanced toward the stairs, where she could hear the redhead's laughter. "It's all your fault, you know. You took her and Rack away from me."
There were a number of things she could have done to the blonde. She knew spells that could kill Tara before she knew what was happening, and others that would make her beg for death. But killing her wasn't what she had in mind. That would be too easy, and it would all be over too quickly.
"Willow told me how much you hated her doing all the magick. She said you were worried for her, but I know the truth. I think you were jealous of her." Amy started to look around the room. "She has power you'll never be able to match. Ah hah!" She picked up a milky white crystal. "Perfect." She clutched it in her hands as she stood over Tara. "Since you hate the magick so much, I think I can solve both our problems."
Amy closed her eyes, and took a deep breath.
"Inficere Haec Crystallus Cum Haec Veneficia Laecrti!"
Tara's body arched as a shimmering spiral of energy poured out of her mouth. It was pulled into the crystal in Amy's hands, which momentarily glowed. She laughed. "Yes! I did it! I got your..." The witch jerked her head up as she realized someone was coming down the stairs. There wasn't time for her to get away or any place for her to hide, so she decided to stand her ground.
"What's going on down...Amy?" Willow paused on the bottom step, her eyes widening. "I remember now. You were the one who attacked me!" It made her head hurt just thinking about it. "Why Amy? I was your friend. Why would you..." Behind the other witch, she saw Tara sprawled out on the living room floor, blood pooling around her head. "Oh goddess, no! TARA!"
Amy stepped in front of the redhead as she bounded off the stairs. "Stop."
"Get out of my way!" Willow screamed. "Now!"
Amy crossed her arms. "Make me."
The other witch cried out as she was suddenly sent flying backward. She slammed into the front door and slid to the ground, a stunned expression on her face.
"Baby?" Willow rushed to Tara's side, kneeling beside her. "Can you hear me?" She stroked a crimson-stained lock of blonde hair out of Tara's face, noticing that while her face was bloody the injury itself did not appear to be that severe. She still cried though. "I have to call an ambulance!"
Amy struggled to her feet. "I knew it! Your control was a joke. One little..."
Willow raised her head, energy crackling in her eyes. "GET...OUT!"
Something about the redhead's tone told Amy not to push her any further. She backed up to the door, grinning as she clutched the glowing crystal to her chest.
By the time the paramedics arrived Tara was just coming to, though she really wasn't in any condition to talk, at least not until after they had examined her.
Dawn stayed by Willow's side, to try and comfort her, while they treated Tara's head wound and checked for a concussion. They told her she didn't need stitches, and all concerned were relieved to learn she would not need to go to the hospital. After the paramedics had cleared her and given her some medication for the pain, Willow carefully helped Tara up to bed.
"Is that better?" the redhead asked, after adjusting Tara's pillows for the third time.
Tara nodded, wincing at the resulting pain. "Yes. Thank you." She looked around. "Where's Dawn?"
"Downstairs. I think Buffy just got home." Willow sat down beside the blonde, and began to gently stroke her hair. "I'm so sorry."
Tara blinked. "For that?"
"This is all my fault." Willow sighed. "I remember now. It was Amy."
"What, you mean the one who hurt you?"
The redhead nodded. "Amy would never have hurt you if it wasn't for me. I think she blames you for taking my magick away. But I never thought she would do something like this. She's gone crazy."
"Will, no." Tara took the redhead's hand. "Amy needs our help."
"How can you say that? After what she did to you?"
"Amy is in a really dark place right now, Will. The same place I was worried you'd end up in if you kept doing so much magick. I've seen this before. The magick has taken over completely. It's feeding off her emotions and making her irrational. Hostile. But she can't focus the hostility, so she's lashing out at what she perceives to be the source of her problems. And I think she's chosen me, because of you."
Willow started. "What do you mean, me?"
"You remember what you told me about the night you and Amy were out doing magick? And how it led you to go to Rack for the first time?" The redhead nodded. "The more magick you guys did the more you needed to do to keep the buzz on. But after your accident you stopped. You resisted the cravings. Amy hasn't had a chance to do that, and she misses the fun you guys had. So she's trying to get you back, and I think she must believe that if I'm out of the picture, she can get what she wants."
"I get it. Amy doesn't have anyone in her life to ground her. What with her mother being a psycho-witch who's trapped inside a cheerleading trophy, her dad still trying to deal with where she's been, and the fact that she was a rat for the last three years, she's pretty much alone."
"Exactly," said Tara. "And after you stopped going out on the town with her, she probably feels like she's been abandoned again. So she's lashing out." Her eyes widened. "Goddess, we have to find her. As long as her powers are out of control she's not just a danger to herself, but to everyone in Sunnydale."
Amy paced back and forth across the room she'd taken in her father's house.
He'd gone to work, giving her a chance to light some candles and dig into the stack of magick books she'd put under her bed. After all the time she'd been away—she'd told him the truth but was still trying to deal—she knew he would be incensed if he found out she was still doing magick.
The crystal she'd taken from Buffy's house was in her lap. "Nonono!" Amy tossed the book aside, and reached for another one. "I know it's here somewhere!"
Tara felt refreshed after a good night's sleep.
Particularly when she woke to find Willow curled up against her, one arm draped across her chest. She rolled over to face the redhead, and kissed her lightly.
"Hey." Willow's eyes fluttered open. "Good morning."
The redhead sat up, yawning. "Mm...morning." There was color in Tara's cheeks again, she had seemed so pale the night before. "How do you feel?"
"Better." Tara's eyes narrowed. "Sort of."
Willow reached out to her former, and hopefully future, lover. "What is it?"
"Something doesn't feel right. I'm just not sure what it is." Tara sighed. "What about Amy?"
Willow shrugged her shoulders. "Buffy's got Spike checking with some of his demon friends and I think she's going to take another shot at Willy later."
"Well, whether we find Amy or she finds us, we're going to need all the magick we can get."
The redhead lowered her eyes, and Tara saw a shift of emotions in her face. She bit her lip. "Will? What is it? What's wrong?"
"Tara, I..." Willow frowned. "I lost it. Again. Amy said she was trying to get me to use my magick again. When
I saw her standing over you, I just...snapped. I got so angry. I wanted to hurt her."
The blonde ran her fingers down Willow's arm, into her hand, and then squeezed it. "It's okay, Will. No matter what you may have heard, there's nothing wrong with getting angry. It's very human. So long as you don't let that anger get the better of you, or your magick."
"But I wanted to, don't you see? Tara, Amy told me I was weak...and I think she's right. I couldn't hold back the magick. I got angry at her and it just, you know, came out." Willow fought back tears. "It scares me how easily I gave in to the temptation."
Tara nodded. "Then I'll help you. I can teach you all about Wicca, about its respect for life and magick, and we can try some of the meditative techniques I know to help you reign in your powers."
"Okay." Willow wiped her eyes, and took a deep breath. "When do we start?"
After breakfast, after Dawn had gone off to school and Buffy went to the Magic Box to work out, Willow and Tara brought some things downstairs. A few candles, which they arranged around the living room, a really sharp pencil, and a stack of really thin pieces of paper.
The witches sat opposite one another on the floor of the living room, with the paper in between them. "Here's the plan." Tara held up the pencil. "I want you to reach out with your power, and use this to write on the paper. It doesn't matter what, it can just be scribbling if you like, but..."
Willow pouted. "Float a pencil? Come on. Tara, that's the first thing I ever learned. Can't you give one that's at least a little more, you know, interesting?"
"This is serious. Will, magick isn't all fun and games. Some of it has to be about discipline and control, which I'm sorry to say you are lacking." Tara pointed to the paper. "Besides, I promise you this won't be as easy as you think. That's a very delicate vellum, and it takes only the slightest pressure to tear it. Floating the pencil may be simple, but do you have the fine concentration necessary to manipulate it without hurting the paper? That's the first test, and we can't move on until you pass."
"Piece of cake." Willow was anxious to show Tara what she was capable of so she snapped her fingers and the pencil came flying into her hand. She got it over to the paper easily enough, but as soon as the tip made contact it tore right through. Frowning, the redhead discarded the first sheet and tried again, then several more times in quick succession, but with the same results. "Tara, this is impossible!"
"You're trying too hard," said the blonde, a half-smile on her face. "That's all. I can tell when you're frustrated, you get these cute little crinkles in your forehead when..." She stopped herself in mid-sentence and cleared her throat. "Here, I'll show you." She held out her hand, surprised when nothing happened. The pencil hung in the air in front of Willow. "I must be more tired than I thought." She tried a second time; and not only didn't the pencil move, but she realized she was lacking that familiar tingling sensation she always used to get in the back of her mind whenever she used her magick. "Oh no."
"Tara?" Willow knew something was wrong when the blonde began to tremble. "What is it?"
"I-It's gone." Tara licked her lips. "Goddess, it's gone!"
The blonde held her hands up in front of her, staring blankly at them. "My power!" She was nearly in tears. "I-I feel so...empty. So hollow. And I just realized..." She gazed around, her eyes widening. "...your aura, everything, it's dark. I can't read you. I can't...I feel so...so alone, so..."
"Hey!" Willow reached out and grabbed Tara's shoulders, staring in the blonde's eyes until she could feel Tara beginning to calm. "You're not alone, okay? I'm right here. I'll always be here no matter what, okay?" She took a deep breath. "Now, let's think. How could this happen? Was it the head injury? You nearly had a concussion. It's possible it did something to affect your powers, isn't it?"
"I don't think so. Even if I couldn't access the power, it would still be there. Inside me. But it's not. It's gone. I don't know how, but it's been taken from me."
Willow gasped. "Amy!"
"I don't know how much time passed, between when she hit you and when I came downstairs to investigate the noise. Amy could have done something to you, stolen your powers somehow." Willow frowned. "Except I can't imagine why she'd want to do that."
"Neither can I," said Tara. "But I think we'd better find out."
Anya stood behind the counter at the Magic Box, glaring at a pile of bills and hoping if she concentrated hard enough that they would all spontaneously combust. Along with all the idiotic bureaucrats who had decided they deserved more of her money than she did.
The ex-demon raised her head at the sound of the door chime. Someone coming in meant a customer, and the chance to make back some of the money she was forced to give away. But when she saw the young woman; in a raggedy overcoat, with stringy hair and bags under her eyes, she lost hope of making much of a sale. The young woman in question barely looked like she had two quarters to rub together.
Anya put on her best fake smile as the brunette approached the counter. "Can I help you?"
"I hope so." The young woman began digging through her pockets. "I've been to four other magic shops today, and most of them had no idea what I was talking about." She pulled out a folded piece of paper. "I am hoping I'll have better luck with you. Here's what I need."
"Let's see." Anya's eyes widened. "Iola root...a karmic crystal...and Eixip dust." The ex-demon raised her head, mentally calculating the price of such an order. Something else crossed her mind, and she spoke up. "You must be some witch if you're toying with these kinds of forces."
The young woman shrugged her shoulders. "Can you help me, or not?"
"What you're asking for is pretty pricey. I'm afraid I can't just sell it to you. I'm going to need to see the money up front." Anya was trying to be as delicate as possible, in case the young woman really did have the cash to pay for the things on her list. It would be quite a windfall for the store.
The stranger's gaze locked with Anya's for a moment; her eyes glowed, briefly, and the ex-demon's glowed in response. She smiled. "Now, about the stuff I wanted?"
"I-I..." Anya blinked, her head clearing. "Of course." She grabbed a bag from under the counter and went to fill the young woman's order.
Amy cocked her head, and watched as the ex-demon reached for something on a high shelf. It had been easier than she was expecting to enchant the shopkeeper's mind. She knew Anya was Xander's girlfriend, and had once been a vengeance demon, and that this place was a regular hangout for the so-called Scooby Gang. That was the only thing that had almost kept her from coming to the Magic Box. She did not like the thought of running into the Slayer, or worse, Willow. But she really needed the component for her spell, and it was worth the chance of getting caught to finish what she'd started.
"You're lucky," Anya said over her shoulder. "This is our last karmic crystal. They seem to sell out every time
I get in a new shipment. I've never been able to figure out why." She closed up the bag and brought it back to the counter, then handed it to Amy. "Here you go."
The witch smiled. "Thanks." It had all gone even smoother than she hoped.
"Amy!" Buffy, who was drying herself off with a towel, stood in the now open doorway of the back room. Her eyes narrowed. "You've got a lot to answer for, young lady!"
"Amy?" Sudden recognition crossed Anya's face. "Amy, the rat, Amy?"
The witch frowned. "Why does everybody insist on reminding me? Yes, I was a rat! I wish you guys would get over it already." She kept a close eye on Buffy as she backed toward the door.
"Oh no you don't!" In an incredible display of speed the Slayer darted forward—covering the distance between them in what seemed like just a few steps. She reached for the witch's arm.
Clearly, Amy had other ideas. Her brow furrowed, as an invisible wave of force struck Buffy and knocked her for a loop. The Slayer went flying across the shop and struck the far wall, where she slid to the ground, stunned and momentarily unable to catch her breath.
"Buffy!" Anya went to check on the Slayer, while Amy got away.
Anya called Willow and Tara to tell them what happened, but by the time they arrived at the Magic Box Buffy was back on her feet. They found her in the back room, working out.
"Buffy?" Willow slowly approached the Slayer, being careful not to startle her. "Are you okay?"
"I am sick and tired of being knocked on my ass by you magic types. First Rack, and now Amy!" Buffy put her fist right through the punching bag. "Damn it!" She pulled her hand free, watching with a glazed look in her eyes as the sand spilled out all over the floor.
Willow shook her head. "This is crazy. Why would Amy do something like this?"
"I'm not sure. But think she's lost herself to the magick," said Tara. "That happens with some witches. The lure of power is harder for some to resist than others. You got lucky, she didn't."
Buffy frowned. "So how do we stop her?"
"First, we have to figure out what she's up to." Tara looked to Anya. "What did you sell her?"
Anya told them about Amy's list, but she seemed to get upset with each item. "The only problem is, after I got off the phone with you two I checked the cash register. It was short by one hundred and two dollars. It turns out your little friend didn't pay for what she took, and I'm putting it on your tab, Willow."
"Me?" the redhead asked. "Why?"
"If it wasn't for you, she'd still be a rat, and I wouldn't be short one hundred and two dollars."
Willow sighed. "I'm never going to get out of debt with her," she grumbled.
"You said Iola root, a karmic crystal and Eixip dust?" Tara shook her head. "I don't recognize that combination of ingredients. Of course, she may also have others. We need to figure out what spells use those three things if we want to know what she's planning to do."
The redhead smiled. "Oh goody. A research party. I call Zian's Talisman's."
"You always take Zian's," said Tara, slipping her arm through Willow's.
As the two witches headed for the door, with Anya right behind them, Buffy sighed. This was the early part of slaying she had always hated. Willow and Tara were both off the charts smart, and Anya knew an awful lot about all kinds of demons. She and Xander on the other hand, generally found themselves involved in a fierce bout of rock, paper, scissors to determine who would make the first snack run.
The Slayer sighed. "So who wants donuts?"
Food aside, the day did not go well.
Most of it was spent thumbing through book after book, seemingly with none of them having any information about the things Amy had taken. They did find listings about spells and rituals involving one and sometimes two of the ingredients, but never all three of them together.
"This is ridiculous!" Buffy slammed her book down on the edge of the table, and it cracked. Fortunately, Anya did not seem to notice, as she was still busy flipping aimlessly through the pages of another old, leather-bound text. "I should be out patrolling. At least I can do some good out there."
"But what if you run into Amy again?" Tara asked. "I don't think she's after you specifically, but if she's mad at me or Willow, she might try to take it out on you."
Buffy shrugged her shoulders. "Let her. She got lucky last time. I wasn't prepared." She crossed her arms. "If I see her this time I'll take her down first, even with all her power!"
"Power?" Willow blinked. "That's it!" She knocked over a stack of books, in her haste to get at one on the very bottom. "I can't believe I forgot. How could I be so stupid?"
"Practice?" Anya offered.
Willow ignored her and continued thumbing through the book until she came to a certain page. "Here. I didn't make the connection until just now. We were focusing on all the things Amy took from the shop, but it slipped my mind that she also took something else."
"What are you on to, Will?" Tara asked, obviously very curious.
The redhead began to read from the page she had opened to. "The Rite of Transference, allows a witch to take into herself, the powers or memories of another. Amy did something with your powers, right?" Tara nodded. "If I'm right, that's exactly what she's planning to do. She's got the Iola root, a karmic crystal, and the ground wings of a pixie. Eixip dust is like a generic name for pixie wings, you know."
Anya nodded. "It's just pixie spelled backwards, and a lot cheaper than the full price name brand."
"We know she's got your powers Tara, so that means she obviously already has a containment device of some kind. Probably a jewel, or a large crystal. According to this, all she needs is to wait for a new moon, and find an energy source of great mystical power."
"Oh, there's a new moon tonight," said Anya. "I know, because I sold some ritual body ointment to a couple of Wiccans who said they were planning to...celebrate it."
Tara leaned back in her chair. "That just leaves a source of great mystical power." She frowned. "But there are so many possibilities in Sunnydale. Where would Amy go?"
Buffy and Willow glanced over at one another, and said the same thing at the same time.
A short time later, they were on their way.
Willow, Tara, and Buffy went alone, so Anya could tell Xander what was going on. The two of them would go back to Buffy's house to keep any eye on Dawn.
More than halfway to the ruined remains of Sunnydale High, something occurred to the Slayer.
"How can we be sure she hasn't already done it?"
"What?" Willow asked.
"Amy. She's had Tara's powers for...what? Half a day now? How do we know she isn't already done the magick thing and gone mega-witchy by now?"
Tara shook her head. "This particular sort of ritual is very specific. You don't just need a day with a new moon in it, you need the new moon itself. The spell can not be cast until after the sun has gone down, and it's better if you wait until the moon is at its peak height. We have a little time."
"Not much," said Willow. She glanced toward the rapidly darkening sky. There was no direct sunlight left, and
it was getting harder and harder to see. "We're losing daylight fast."
As the three of them turned, a black-clad figure stepped out of the shadows in front of them. Buffy raised her stake, in case it was a vampire.
It was. Spike held up his hands. "Easy, love. It's just me."
Buffy did not lower her stake, but she and the vampire continued to stare at one another. Her arm trembled as she seemed to be seriously considering whether or not to go through with it. With his back to Willow and Tara he blew her a kiss and she finally dropped her arm, turning away in disgust, while he chuckled and reached into his leather jacket for a cigarette.
"So, what brings you birds out on a night like this? Just out for an evening stroll? Or is there some new evil in town you might want to tell the Big Bad about?"
Willow shook her head. "We really don't have time Spike. We think Amy's at the Hellmouth, and she's getting ready to transfer Tara's powers into herself. We have to stop her."
The vampire looked Tara up and down, earning a glare from both Buffy and Willow, and then nodded. "Bugger all. So you've been neutered, eh? Welcome to the club."
"In or out, Spike?" Buffy brandished her stake. "Because I'm in a really punchy mood."
The vampire took a long, slow drag off his cigarette, then spit it out and crushed it under his heel. He sneered at her, and she glared right back. "Lead on, Slayer."
Willow and Tara crouched in the parking lot of Sunnydale High, waiting for Buffy and Spike to get back from patrol around what was left of the school. It was his suggestion, but the Slayer agreed it would be better if they were careful, since they had no idea what Amy might have waiting for them.
"Tara?" Willow noticed the blonde seemed to be staring off into space, and gently put a hand on her shoulder. "What's the matter? Are you okay?"
"Will, when we get ready to move, I think you should go with Buffy and Spike."
"What?" The redhead blinked. "Why?"
Tara sighed. "Without my powers, I'm really just a liability. You won't be able to fight effectively if you have
to constantly worry about me."
"No way." Willow cupped the blonde's cheek. "Listen to me. I love you. I will always love you. You might not remember this, but I once said I would always be there to help you and protect you, and I will. Even if you don't get your powers back." She smiled. "Besides, I need you with me Tara. What if something happens in there? I'm
not sure I can handle it by myself, if Amy pushed me."
Tara shook her head. "You don't need me, Will. You have all the power and control you need, you just have to be willing to bring it out of yourself. It's in you, Will."
"Maybe so." The tone of Willow's voice indicated she didn't particularly believe what she was saying. "But we both have to be in there, Tara. We have to get your powers back."
Spike and Buffy appeared on either side of them.
"Coast is clear," said the Slayer. "Are you guys ready to rock and roll or what?"
Tara glanced at Willow, and then nodded. "Let's do it."
Amy Madison was down on her knees—dangerously close to a jagged hole in the ground which doubled as the mouth of hell. She had lit candles arranged all around her, an open book in her lap and the things she had stolen from the Magic Box sitting in front of her. She was also holding a large crystal.
"There!" From a position above, and to the left of, the witch, Tara and the others watched as she read from the book in front of her. "Do you see that thing she's holding? It's a soul crystal."
"Tara, how do you know?" Willow asked.
"Because, it's mine. I bought it at a sorcerer's estate sale several years ago, and I recognize the pattern." Tara's frown deepened. "She must have taken it after she knocked me out."
"So is that where she's got your powers?" Buffy asked.
Tara nodded. "Probably. Soul crystals are meant as storage devices for mystical energy."
"So what's with all the starch in your knickers?" said Spike. "She doesn't look so tough. Let's go down, and get it back. She can't bloody well stop all of us."
The Slayer gestured. "You first."
Willow was momentarily stunned speechless, when the vampire shrugged his shoulders and leaped down into the lower chamber. "No! Buffy, what are you doing? Are you crazy?"
"Don't worry," said Tara. "He can't hurt her."
The redhead frowned. "It's not Amy I'm worried about."
Amy didn't react as the vampire got closer.
He shifted to his bumpy, fanged visage, in order to get a better reaction. The chip wouldn't allow him to harm her, but that didn't mean he couldn't scare her half to death.
All of the sudden, Spike ran face-first into a crackling wall of energy. It surged and flowed a good eight or so in a circle around the witch, before once again becoming invisible.
The vampire staggered back, snarling. "Bloody hell!" Spike hissed growled as the Slayer and the other witches joined him. "Why didn't you warn me?"
"She's a witch." Buffy put her hand out, the barrier shimmering where she touched it. It was warm and tingling against her skin, almost like static electricity. "What did you expect?"
Tara did the same as Buffy, but she walked all the way around the barrier, dragging her hand. "A bubble. Amy's managed to protect herself from all sides. Amazing."
"It's the Hellmouth," said Willow. "Magick works better here than anywhere else in the city."
Buffy reared back and punched the barrier as hard as she could. She was rewarded with a surge of light, which struck her so hard she was sent flying backwards.
Fortunately, Spike proved equally as fast. He moved behind the Slayer and caught her before she could hit the wall, possibly injuring herself. Not surprisingly, she didn't say thank you.
"I was afraid of that," said Willow. "Amy must've been expecting you'd come, Buffy. The barrier is kinetically charged. The harder you hit it..."
"...the harder it hits back," Tara added. "Brilliant. Twisted, but brilliant."
As they were talking, Amy's eyelids fluttered open. She grinned. "Thank you." They all took a step back as she slowly got to her feet.
"Why?" Tara asked. "Why did you do this to me?"
"Are you kidding? Have you read about this Rite of Transference thing? Do you even begin to grasp what kind of power I'm going to have?"
Amy blew her a kiss. "Not for long." She smiled when she saw Buffy and Spike circling, as if they were trying to find a weakness in her defenses. "It's almost time, you know." She was talking mostly to Willow and Tara. "In a few minutes the moon will be at its peak, for the purpose of this ritual, and afterwards there isn't a damn thing any of you can do to stop me!"
Vampire and Slayer attacked simultaneously from opposite sides, obviously hoping to catch Amy by surprise and take her down. But the witch didn't even flinch as they collided with her barrier instead, and for their effort they were both flung backwards by a surge of energy.
"You're wasting your time," Amy warned. "Once cast, the Sphere of Cytorrak can't be penetrated, or dispelled, until the duration of the spell has passed. Even I can't lower it." Waving to them, the witch turned and went back to her work, dropping to her knees next to the Hellmouth.
Tara pulled Willow away and lowered her voice. "We have to stop her, now."
"We'll get your powers back. I promise."
Tara shook her head. "It's not that. Will, we're sitting on top of a mystical convergence here. It's like a powder keg, and what Amy's doing is like playing with the fuse. If the ritual goes wrong, and maybe even if it succeeds, she'll be unleashing some pretty unstable energies. I don't think I have to tell you..."
"I know, I know. The Hellmouth." Willow frowned. "But how, Tara? I've read about the Sphere of Cytorrak. It's as close to indestructible as you can get. Plus, the harder you hit it, the harder it hits back. Even the two of us, I mean when you had your powers, I'm not sure we could make a dent."
"That's just my point. We've seen that force is wasted on the Sphere. We need a gentler approach and, frankly, right now you're the only one of us who can pull it off."
"Me?" Willow started. "Tara, how can I...?"
"It's tricky. But there is a way. It will require concentration and focus."
The redhead felt her confidence dwindling. "But, we never finished the lesson. In fact, we never really started it. What if something goes wrong? What if I screw up? What if..."
Tara lunged forward and kissed Willow on the lips, silencing her all at once. After a few moments, she pulled herself away, with great reluctance. "Listen. You have to do this. Do you understand? If you don't, Amy will win and everyone else could lose. Do you understand? It's all up to you."
"I-I told Buffy, before we went to fight Glory, I don't do well under pressure."
Tara gently stroked the redhead's cheek, and smiled. "Relax, Will. You can do this. I know it." She took a deep breath and encouraged Willow to do the same. "Now then, look within yourself. Find the part of you that is one with the magick, and embrace it. Make it a part of you. Okay? Concentrate on being one with the magick, and it will let you open a door. All you have to do it step through it. The Sphere does not exist. Do you understand? It
is nothing but an illusion, a mist. It's vapor. See yourself on the other side."
Nearby, Spike and Buffy looked on and listened, the former with clear disbelief on his face. "Bloody hell. Do you really think that's going to work?"
The Slayer elbowed him in the ribs, and pointed. "Look."
"I'll be damned," said the vampire.
Willow was glowing.
Not very brightly, and the effect seemed to fade in and out, but there was a definite aura of energy around her body. It pulsed slightly as she started forward, and when it came in contact Amy's barrier spell the both of them rippled, but did not otherwise react. The redhead continued until she was through.
"Bloody hell," said Spike. "She did it!"
Tara couldn't help but smile. "That's my girl."
Willow's arms fell limply to her sides and the energy faded, while all the color drained from her face. With a strangled cry she dropped to her knees, trembling.
"Oh no!" Tara bit her lip. "Willow!"
Buffy clutched at the other blonde's arm. "What is it? What's happening?"
"She's been trying to stop doing so much magick, and the strain must have been too much for her." Tara shook her head. "Damn it, I never should have let her do this!"
"No sense whining," said Spike. "What's done is done. Not a bloody thing we can do now."
Amy heard Willow's cries, and glanced up from the text she was reciting to see the redhead just falling to her knees. She smiled. "I underestimated you, Willow." The brunette put the book down and stood up. "I know I said you had a lot of power, but I never imagined you'd find a way to get through the Sphere of Cytorrak. I was under the impression they were pretty much impenetrable."
The other witch turned her back on the redhead. "Not that it really matters. Even you can't do anything to stop me now. It's almost time." She kneeled down and took Tara's soul crystal in one hand, the book in the other, and closed her eyes as prepared to recite the spell text.
"Willow!" Tara's voice carried, but the redhead didn't even flinch. "Willow, get up! Please!"
Amy glared over her shoulder. "She's quite a loudmouth, isn't she? Tell you what. Once I'm done here I'll have her power inside me. Maybe, I'll just have to see what the rest of her is like." As she went back to her book, the brunette failed to notice Willow slowly raising her head.
Sparks of energy began surging around the redhead's fingertips. Her eyes, meanwhile, darkened. She rose off the ground and landed on her feet, without moving her body. Every step she took released a flash of energy, yet she hardly made a sound as she approached Amy.
Tara's eyes widened. "Uh oh."
"Man, I can feel the power she's giving off from all the way over here," said Buffy. "I haven't seen Willow like this since...oh God, Tara. It's Glory all over again."
Spike took out a cigarette, leering at the impending spectacle. "This should be interesting."
Amy frowned as the shadow fell across her. Yet another distraction. She was prepared to do something about it, until she actually turned and saw Willow.
The redhead was seething, literally, with energies Amy had never seen before. It was enough to sent a chill of terror down her spine, and she scrambled to get away. In the process she lost her book; it tumbled into the hole in front of her and was never seen again. She barely noticed though.
"Now Willow, hold on." Amy was trembling. "I didn't mean anything. Here..." She held out the soul crystal in a desperate bid to appease the other witch. "...take it. All you gotta do is get her to break it, I swear. She'll get her powers back, and then we'll be even, all right? No harm no foul, right?"
If Willow understood any of what Amy was saying, if she even heard it at all, she gave no sign. Instead she put her left hand out, and a glowing orb of light formed. Her eyes had turned solid black, and she was clenching her teeth so tightly it discolored her lips.
Amy's eyes widened. "Y-You wouldn't..."
"Willow!" Tara cried, suddenly feeling nearly as scared as Amy. "No!"
The redhead ignored them both. She cocked her head as the energy in her hand surged.
"Please!" Amy's eyes filled with tears. "Don't! Please! I'm sorry!"
Everyone was so busy watching Willow's left hand, they failed to take notice of her right—expect Spike. Only the vampire saw her clenching a fist, or the way she drew her arm all the way back. He spit out his cigarette and smiled. "Take her down, Red."
The punch was so sudden and swift no one but Spike could follow it, and even that was only because he'd seen it coming. It wasn't particularly well-executed though, Willow lost her balance and fell to one knee, but at least it got the job done.
Amy's head was snapped back and around, with such force that it wrenched her neck. She was spun around and went face-first into her own barrier. It surged, she screamed, then the backlash knocked her up into the air. Her body was still sizzling as she hit the ground and slid for several feet.
The energy faded from all around Willow's body, and her eyes returned to normal. Sighing, she turned to face her friends. A tired smile lit up her face.
"Nicely done Red," said Spike. "I'm impressed."
Buffy nodded. "So am I. I never knew you had it in you, Will."
"Neither did I," said the redhead. She held up her hand. "I've just got one question." Her knuckles were starting to turn red. "How do you deal with the pain? Oww!"
"Slayer strength," Buffy replied.
Willow looked expectantly, even a little worriedly, to Tara. "What did you think?"
"You scared me." Tara crossed her arms." For a minute there, I was afraid you'd let your anger get the better of you and the magick had taken over." She smiled. "Now I'm just glad you're okay."
"Except for my hand."
Tara chuckled. "Except for your hand."
"Don't worry," said Spike. "Once you get out of there, I'm sure blondie'll kiss it and make it all better."
Once the barrier was down, the vampire's words proved eerily prophetic.
Willow and Tara flew into one another's arms, embracing tightly and kissing. Spike stood by watching, until a slap to the back of the head from the Slayer convinced him otherwise.
"I thought I was going to lose you," Tara whispered.
Willow shook her head. "Never. I said I'd always find you, and I knew you'd always find me."
"But the magick, Will. I saw it..."
"No, you saw what I wanted Amy to see. I was trying to intimidate her."
Tara pressed her forehead against Willow's, and closed her eyes. "I'm glad it's over."
"Not yet." The redhead gestured, mystically drawing the soul crystal to her. "We've still got one more thing to take of." She held it out. "Would you like to do the honors?"
Nodding, Tara twisted the crystal until it broke in half. A shimmering spiral of energy came pouring out, only to be drawn in through her nose by her next breath. She closed her eyes, gasping, as a wave of light passed over her entire body. When she opened her eyes again, she was smiling.
"How do you feel?" Willow asked.
The blonde held up her hand, and the two pieces of crystal began to float. "Better."
"It worked! Oh goddess, Tara!" The redhead threw her arms around Tara and held her close.
Buffy stepped forward and cleared her throat. "I hate to interrupt, but...could we get out of here? I really don't want to spend any more time in this place than I absolutely have to."
Spike cocked his head, and nodded at Amy. "What about the dark witch here?"
"A part of me says we should leave her," said Buffy. "After everything she's done, it'd serve her right to be the next meal for whatever big bad beastie comes along."
Willow frowned. "Buffy..."
"I'm kidding," the Slayer replied. "More or less." She crossed her arms. "Don't worry. I'll keep an eye on her. I promise I won't hurt her, unless I have to, and I'll see to it she gets home."
"You want some company?" Spike asked. "Might get...lonely."
Buffy shrugged her shoulders.
"Let's go," said Tara. She held out her hand, and Willow took it.
The two of them made it back to Willow's dorm room in record time.
They were all over each other as they stumbled through the door, and fell on to the bed.
"Goddess, Tara!" Willow threw her head back and gasped when the blonde began nuzzling her throat. "Not that
I am...complaining...or anything...but what's...ooh!" Off came the top two buttons of her blouse, thanks to Tara's oh-so-skilled mouth. "What's got you so...turned on, all the sudden?"
Tara lifted her head, a familiar glimmer in her eye. "You really have to ask?" She sat up and swept a stray lock of hair from her face. "I nearly lost you today, Will. Not just to the magick, but to Amy. I don't think I can stand another day being without you. I love you."
"I love you too. And I want this, Tara. Goddess. I miss being with you, so much it hurts." Willow sighed. "But I also don't want you rushing into something you may, you know, regret later."
Tara shook her head. "I could never regret being with you, Will. Not like this, and not...the other way, either. I want us to be together...even though I know it won't ever be like it was again. You really hurt me." The redhead's face fell, and she lowered her eyes. "And I also know there is always a chance that if I let you get close it could lead to my getting hurt all over again, but you know what?" She tucked her finger under Willow's chin and lifted her eyes to meet her own. "I don't care. I'm willing to risk it, if you are."
"Tara, I...I can't ever say I'm sorry enough. I'll regret what I did for the rest of my life, and in my heart I know I have no right to believe you would ever want to see me again. Yet here you are somehow willing to forgive me, and the idea of us being together again makes me so indescribably happy." Willow took one of Tara's hands and held it over her heart. "I swear to you, Tara Maclay, with all my heart and soul, with every fiber of my being, I'm going to try my best to never do or say anything to hurt you ever again. And one day, somehow, I pray I can find some way to help you find it within yourself to forgive and to trust me again."
The blonde put her hand on the back of Willow's neck, and pulled her in for a kiss. "Do you have any idea how much I love you, Willow Rosenberg?"
"Why don't you show me?" the redhead asked.
Tara smiled. "I'd be more than happy to."
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