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 Post subject: FIC: Answering Darkness
PostPosted: Fri Mar 29, 2002 6:38 am 
This contains Season6 Spoilers, up to and including Once More With Feeling, so if you don't want to be spoiled for this season, don't read this.
Okay, now that THAT'S out of the way. Here's part 1 of a fic I'm working on for my own personal therapy... I trust Joss, I love Joss, I know he'll get our girls back together...but I want them back together NOW. Umm, and a pony. I WANT A PONY!!!

Umm... sorry. *cough*

Anyway, this is angsty part 1 of the "Answering Darkness" series that I promise will eventually have a happy ending. Eventually. Please read the disclaimers carefully.

Title: Answering Darkness Part 1 - Curtain Call
Author: Sassette
Feedback: Can be sent to pink_overalls@yahoo.com
Summary: Willow takes a walk.
Spoiler Warning: Up to and including "Once More with Feeling" in Season 6. As a matter of fact, the rest of these Disclaimers will contain spoilers, so if you're spoiler-phobic, run away now while you still can. This story is, in fact, set immediately following OMWF.
Disclaimer: I don't own these characters. I'm just borrowing them because Season 6 angst is running high, and I want my happy ending now, dammit! So I'm writing it … but it'll be awhile until I get to that part, so bear with me (or "bare" with me if you're naughty).
Rating: G. Sorry.
Notes: This is what I like to call a "WeirdFic". Why, you ask? Because it's weird. It's a "train of thought" piece, and as such, the grammar and punctuation are atrocious, it's horribly confusing, and terribly convoluted. It is, however, rather short, and as clear as I could make it and keep with the concept. This explores exactly what's running through Willow's mind - word for word - after the episode "Once More With Feeling." I don't know about you, but if you played the stuff that was actually running through my head at any given moment out loud for people, it would probably "feel" something like this.

Answering Darkness Part 1

Curtain Call

By Sassette


Didn't know I didn't know. Curtains closed and now just keep walking. Walking walking - I'm walking and taking steps. Just steps. No dancing. Please, God no more dancing.

No singing, no secrets, no band no demons. Turn the lights off and let the music die. Can't bring it back - won't bring it back. Let it stay in Hell. Oh, God, I didn't know! No more no more no more!

Where do we go from here?

Just walking - one two three the lights were too bright, the sound too loud and need - God, what do I need?- Silence, dark. Oh, God eyes open! Eyes open!

Don't want to see it again - I can see it again - every blink every flutter - the harsh glare at the foot of the stage. Feel the heat of the lights.

Hear it round and round the mulberry bush, the demon chased the witches. And round and round you spin me baby, but I can't fight with you. Not round and round the mulberry bush. I need you too much and you need me to sing. Can't laugh and can't sing - not without me - singing about me and that demon song chases - hounds and God why won't the music stop? Keep walking - just walk.

It's still here and it won't go away so I try to go away and I want it to go away and why can't I make it go away with its spinning and chasing until I just want to scream and hide - but if I scream those lights and songs would find me and why couldn't it have been The Gentlemen again with their quiet?

Chasing me and scary, then you in silence with no songs no lights no dancing, no secrets. No words …. More than words - your hand in mine and why can't I make this music stop like I did before - when it called to me singing singing deep down singing in the rain but there's no rain and all I can do is just pour some tea for two.

I need to escape before the music makes me sing - sing my secrets, but no, I stopped it … can't sing about that - and God, you were watching Bambi when I came home and why is that so funny? We cried and cried and I'm laughing and laughing and I can't stop like the music won't stop because the music is calling to me - deep me, secret me Babbly Willow with the wicca and the girl she's so pretty.

What would I do without her she can't know I need her she can't know, and God I didn't know. I didn't mean to hurt - didn't want to kill - I didn't know I didn't know and it's not fair I didn't know - I should've known couldn't have known and wouldn't I have known if I could?

Left right left, walk, step - step - step … into silence, into darkness … the lights and music chase chase chase … Damn Cordelia with her Sears and that hair and I don't want to be a boy magnet, I just want the music to stop but she wouldn't stop - always laughing at me what a spaz! But I'm not her anymore … I'm not, I'm not - I do the Good with the spells and I didn't know she was in Heaven … didn't know, didn't know there were no tears in Heaven - did she know my name? Did she?

Did she forget us and not care that we hurt and bled and couldn't stop the bad guys - couldn't stop them - too strong and loud and bright, and God, why won't the music stop?

End Part 1


Edited by: xita at: 3/30/02 1:52:35 pm


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 Post subject: Re: FIC: Answering Darkness
PostPosted: Fri Mar 29, 2002 8:19 am 
Wow anyone else having real problems loading this thread? I shudder to think what checking this thread will be like on the POS at work. This is an IMAC with cable modem and 128 MB ram (I think) OS 9 and IE 5. Takes about 5 minutes to think before showing the page? I thought I had hung the first two times I tried to load the page.



YuriPup here, just in my EQ Id :-p.

Kailyn Longstride Warlord of the North, Unleashed

42nd Armswoman, Lancelot


Melee questions? Click the lastname. Click Kailyn for Magelo profile.

Edited by: Kailyn Of Povar  at: 3/30/02 12:32:17 am


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 Post subject: Re: FIC: Answering Darkness
PostPosted: Fri Mar 29, 2002 8:25 am 
Well, here we are, with a new board and a new thread ... if anyone grabs all the fake updates/spoilers and/or all the commentary off the old board, I'd love a copy, but am too lazy to go do it myself *G* Well, that, and I'm kinda' busy writing.



As for the story ... no update tonight ... I tackled Yuri and made him listen to my insane ramblings about where this story is going, so that I could let everything settle in my head. Tomorrow, I will start writing again, and it looks like I just might have this all wrapped up by Part 50.



-Sass



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 Post subject: Re: FIC: Answering Darkness
PostPosted: Fri Mar 29, 2002 8:46 am 
sassette, I have it on my hard drive and I am willing to send to any fanfic writer who wants it. I just need a couple of weeks while the board settles.

xita


------------

Everything's just turning out so dark..."

"No, it's okay. Lost is good. Willow and I always know how to find each other!



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 Post subject: Re: FIC: Answering Darkness
PostPosted: Fri Mar 29, 2002 9:19 am 
Wow....all the updates are gone. Does this mean the smitten squad has to start over?





Did anyone else know that Sally was on at 3:30 am on friday nights?





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 Post subject: New Smitten Squad?
PostPosted: Fri Mar 29, 2002 10:17 am 
Reporting for duty!



Sass, I don't think I ever told you how immensely I was enjoying your story. I checked it out when it first went up and it seemed too weird and hard to follow. The "WeirdFic" description and it's stream-of-consciousness-ness threw me at first. But I watched the thread growing and growing, so I decided to give it another chance. I'm so glad I did. I got caught up and have been keeping up for a month or so.



My apologies for having never told you.



So is there a place on the squad for me? I'm already not wearing panties...



------------------------------
Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.
--- Confucius



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 Post subject: Smitten squad to Gather again!
PostPosted: Fri Mar 29, 2002 10:53 am 
HI maudmac, you're totally welcome to the squad. Uniforms are from Pixie and Owl can show you all the moves and I guess I need to write new cheers!



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 Post subject: Re: Answering Darkness
PostPosted: Fri Mar 29, 2002 7:07 pm 
Sassette, I sat and read this whole fic so far last night. I stayed up late to do it as well ;) .



I really loved it. The interaction between all the characters made this seem not so much a Willow/Tara fic, but one that celebrates all the Buffy characters.



I'm heartily impressed by the way you write Anya. She's a hard character to get a hold on and god, I get so pissy with writers who don't do her justice. You, however, did. The scenes between her and Tara were a joy to read.



So, I'm thoroughly enjoying this. I'd kind of lost faith in a lot of fanfics lately, and I have to say, it's so good to know that there are decent writers still at work out there. D -->>D


----------
Hey Grrrrlfriend! Yoo hoo! Over here! It's me...Flaming Joel!



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 Post subject: Re: Smitten squad to Gather again!
PostPosted: Fri Mar 29, 2002 7:24 pm 
*saucily snaps her panties and twists body into the shape of a large S* Reporting for duty!



End at Part 50? End at Part 50?!! Oh please say it isn't so Sassette! for the love of.... oh wait. You're joking right? Right? *nervous laugh*. No, wait. Ok, I get it. You just forgot to mention that each of the remaining parts would have sub-sections A through Z, ranging in length from 20 to 30 pages each.



Whew. I was all twitchy there for a second.

"You wanna go out sometime, for coffee, food, kisses and gay love?" Willow- Normal Again.



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 Post subject: Re: Smitten squad to Gather again!
PostPosted: Fri Mar 29, 2002 8:27 pm 
Whew! *Pixie runs breathlessly into the thread, after spending the last half hour knocking at the door* I finally made it! I had to hit refresh about 20 times, though. *Pixie sends panties flying all over the new Smitten Squad practice field* Okay, it still works. It's a good thing I grabbed Sassette's framed panties before we had to evacuate the old practice field. I'll just put them up over here. So how do we break in the new field? Should we start with some new cheers? a pyramid? or should we wait until the full Smitten Squad is here? While we decide I'll hand out uniforms to any new Smittens, if they'd like.



I would like to request a moment of silence in honor of the fake updates/spoilers/cheers/pudding baths/and sundry hysterical posts from the old thread, now lurking in the depths of xita's hard drive.



Hugs to everyone in the Squad! Still smitten! :)

Edited by: Pixie gishmock at: 3/30/02 12:29:36 pm


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 Post subject: AD Part 2
PostPosted: Fri Mar 29, 2002 9:47 pm 
Answering Darkness Part 2

Encore

Mom? You there? I hope you're listening, because I really need someone to talk to. Sweet Goddess, I'm going to leave my Willow.

Can't cry - not in front of Dawn. She won't understand - can't understand why I'd leave her. Willow and Dawn, Dawn and Willow. They need me, I know it, and this is gonna' hurt. Please, Mom - don't let it hurt. I don't want to hurt again, not when the pain has just become manageable.

I miss you and they miss me and I miss them already. Everybody misses everybody, but Goddes, this will hurt - I know it will. Not in front of Dawn, not in front of Dawn. I can cry later, always later.

I'm numb. Calm. I should've dressed warmer Dawn is cold. Did I hear something? A voice? A - oh, Dawn thanked me, but there's no need - I want Dawn to be warm and happy and safe. Does she understand?

Willow won't, like I didn't. I didn't want her to leave me, but she did, and now I'm doing the same to Willow - only I have a choice, but she didn't leave me a choice, did she? Nobody left me a choice and this isn't what I would choose! I can't let this go - can't trust those arms to hold me safe can't trust my mind to know what she did what else she did - did she cheat on me, hit me, swear at me, cast spell after spell after spell until I don't know what's real anymore.

Why, Mom? Why did you leave me when I need you so much - where's your encore we were all left in the audience and the curtain dropped but we stayed and stayed and clapped and clapped and you never came back? Why can't you be here to guide me now, when I need it so badly, and why did you leave me with those people? You did nothing - just stood by and watched while he tried to -

No. I won't think about that. Not in front of Dawn. Can't cry in front of Dawn. Can't think of the demons we were the demons they made us how alike mother and daughter.

But Mom, I'm scared. She's my everything and I'm nothing and Tara will just disappear like she never was except for the pain I'll leave behind. They'll be Tara, but I won't. They'll be me and hate me and miss me. I'm so cold.

Is it cold where you are, Mommy? Are you warm and happy and safe? I want that for you, and for me and for all the Scoobies and Willow and Dawn and Willow - Oh, Goddess, Willow. Why? I don't understand can't understand why.

"Sing to me?"

I'll sing for you Dawnie, like my Mommy sang for me when she was sick and I didn't understand why she had to leave - the same song, and maybe one day you'll forgive me for leaving you and leaving Willow, and maybe one day Willow will forgive me too when she finds someone else but I don't want her to find someone else.

My voice is cracking, and Dawn notices she's so smart and notices everything like she noticed the fighting but she doesn't know about the spell. She doesn't know what Willow did to me, and so she won't understand why I have to leave her. Goddess, Willow. No, oh Goddess, no.

Can't think about Willow. Can't cry in front of Dawn. Can't think about Willow. Can't cry in front of Dawn.

"… but Ah, she left the thorn with me."

Like mother, like daughter, huh Mommy? I took the stage when you left but the play was different it was supposed to be different you left and the curtain went down, but I sing the reprise and they're the same words I perform the encore. Going once, going twice. Gone.

Edited by: Sassette at: 3/30/02 4:40:43 pm


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 Post subject: AD Part 3
PostPosted: Fri Mar 29, 2002 9:51 pm 
Answering Darkness Part 3

Boxes

Xander Harris hurried up the walk, stopping short when he saw the boxes. Boxes were bad. When Xander combined those boxes with a completely incoherent near-hysterical phone call from Willow in which the phrase 'mulberry bush' had appeared a disturbing number of times, they were very, very bad: the worst kind of bad. Not 'apocalypse' bad, but still a world-ending kind of bad for Willow and he could do nothing.

A kind of panic settled over him. He'd felt panic before, and this wasn't quite it, but it was unsettling nonetheless, and he had to collect himself before venturing to the steps, not really sure what he was about to walk into here.

"… this harder than it already is," he heard Tara's voice plead as he came to the open door. With a grimace, he turned around slowly and prepared to beat a hasty retreat.

"I don't understand! What we have is so good, and you're just going to throw that away?" Willow begged, and Xander stopped again. It was Willow's voice, but it wasn't. Broken and desperate, it didn't sound like the young woman he knew.

"I am not the one who threw this away," Tara shot back, her voice completely lacking its customary warmth. Cold and unyielding, her words dropped heavily into the air, and he could imagine Willow's stunned look.

"You don't understand," Willow began, her voice low and intense. "I was just -"

"Just what?" Tara interrupted. "Just trying to manipulate me? Just trying to keep me against my will? Just trying to pick and choose how I'm allowed to react to things?"

"No!" Willow's protest echoed across the house with its force. "I was making it better! I was making it right! I messed up, and I know that, and you're mad at me for trying to fix my mistakes?"

"By making the same mistakes again and again? Of course I'm mad! Are you listening to yourself?" Tara demanded, her voice full of incredulity. "You're wrong, Willow. And I'm leaving."

A sudden and heavy silence fell at Tara's pronouncement, Xander frozen in place. Leaving? Where would she go? How was Willow going to handle this?

"I am not wrong," Willow said, her voice rising. "You can't leave me."

The hair on the back of Xander's neck rose as a sense of foreboding sank into him. Grimly, he took a step to the doorway, only to be thrown back by a wave of energy that tossed him off the porch accompanied by a resounding crack.

Dazed, Xander lay in the grass, trying to clear his vision. Noises from the house tried to gain his attention, but it was like his head was wrapped in cotton and nothing could quite get through. Awkwardly, he staggered to his feet.

"Who - whu?" he managed, clambering up the steps and pausing in the doorway.

"Tara?" Willow said frantically, checking over the prone woman, her hands shaking and her face devoid of color. "Tara, baby … wake up, honey," she kept on, her voice growing closer to hysterical the longer Tara laid there.

"Will -" Xander said, moving into the room.

"Xander - she - I …. We were, and then she -"

"I know Will - I heard," he said, watching as Tara's eyes fluttered open.

Slowly, Tara sat up, a look of total shock on her face. Xander suspected it looked quite a lot like his face right now.

"Oh, God, Baby … I'm so sorry," Willow managed to say, her expression equal parts fear and relief. She reached out to Tara, only to have her hands shrugged off.

"Don't touch me," Tara whispered, pulling away from the love of her life, her heart breaking as she saw the pain and confusion in Willow's face.

"Baby, I didn't mean -"

"I know you didn't mean. But do you see how out of control you are? Do you see why I can't stay?" Tara pressed on ruthlessly as Willow rose, her head shaking back and forth.

"God, no … I wouldn't ever - I didn't mean - Oh, God," Willow said, her voice small and weak. With a sob she ran from the house and Tara longed to go after her, to assure her that she knew Willow would never have done such a thing on purpose, but something stopped her. How could she, honestly, be sure that Willow hadn't done something like this before - and that she then conveniently forgot?

"You okay?" Xander managed to say, watching helplessly as his oldest and dearest friend ran from the house. It was a toss-up as to which one needed him more right now, and all he could really think clearly was that this sucked.

Tara nodded wordlessly as Xander helped her rise, looking around confused, like she had no idea what she was seeing.

"What happened?" Xander asked gently.

"W-willow lost control. The magic leaked out," Tara said softly, unable to meet Xander's gaze as the full knowledge of what had just happened sunk in completely. "I-I never expected -"

"Of course you didn't," Xander said, settling Tara into a chair. "I'm sure it wasn't on purpose."

"No, it w-wasn't. I know that. W-where did she - ?" Tara asked, her expression still a little dazed, but clearing.

"I have no idea. She just took off running. I wanted to make sure you're okay," Xander said, sitting down himself. "Besides, that thing knocked me off the steps, and I'm feeling a little shaky myself. That Willow: packs a wallop."

"Y-you don't have to be nice to me," Tara said slowly, taking deep breaths and looking at her hands. Dawn's reaction earlier in the day had firmly reminded her of her place here. Willow's friends. Willow's girlfriend. Not her friends. "I'm leaving W-willow."

"I kinda' guessed," Xander said slowly. "Is it the magic?"

Tara nodded, blinking back the tears that suddenly sprang to her eyes.

"Where will you go?" he asked, half-expecting but fearing her answer. Life was a funny thing, he mused. He knew where he'd go if he and Anya ever broke up, and it was the last place he should go. Ever.

"Home," Tara said, her voice breaking on that one simple word - that word that had come to mean something so different than what she knew growing up.

"No," Xander said firmly, now knowing what he had always suspected about the woman next to him.

"I-I deserve to be there. W-with them. I'm leaving W-willow," Tara gasped out brokenly, scrunching up her face to hold back the tears.

"Tara, no," Xander said again, turning on the couch to face her fully and angling his head to catch her eyes with his own.

"Y-you don't understand," Tara said, angrily wiping away the moisture from her eyes. She would not cry. Not now. Later - she could cry later.

"They hit you, didn't they?" Xander asked bluntly.

Tara lost her fight against the tears, a little hiccup escaping before she sagged back against the couch, lost in the memories. "To b-beat out the D-demon," she managed to say as Xander pulled the sobbing woman into his chest, rocking her gently.

Xander felt tears sting his own eyes, knowing all too well what Tara was feeling. "There's no demon. You're a good person. You did nothing to deserve that. You still haven't. You don't have to go back," Xander said, murmuring comforting phrases continuously while Tara cried herself out. It was funny, he supposed - not funny "Ha Ha" but funny "ironic" - that he had finally found some common ground with his best friend's girlfriend just as she was leaving.

"No o-one knows. Not even W-willow," Tara said softly as her sobs subsided and she pulled gently away, the pain and confusion disappearing abruptly, leaving nothing but an eerie calm and cold emptiness in its wake.

"You never told Willow?"

"I-it never seemed like the right time. And she never asked. I w-was just so happy, I didn't want to think about it."

"Well, most of the gang knows about my folks," Xander said, his voice hoarse. "They, uhh… never came up with anything as creative as demons, y'know. More of a 'we're gonna' beat the lazy out of you, boy' or - my personal favorite - 'how did we have such an ungrateful son?'" His joke fell flat, he knew, but humor was the only weapon he had against it.

"O-oh, Xander, I-I had no ii-idea," Tara finally responded.

Xander shrugged, trying to smile, but assuming he had failed miserably. "Well, I got out, and that's the important thing," he said with forced cheerfulness. "I like to think I'll never go back, but there's that part of you that always feels like you deserved it. Like you still deserve it, right? Like there's a box you were born in, that's all familiar, even if it isn't safe - and it's like you were never meant to leave it. But you did leave it, Tara, and you don't fit in that box anymore."

Tara could only look down in response, taking deep shuddering breaths and trying to calm down.

"Look, Tara -" Xander began seriously.

"Don't try to talk me into staying," Tara warned, turning her wide and aching eyes to Xander's face.

"I'm just saying … don't go back there. No matter what happens, keep the good parts from Willow, okay? Hell, call me a romantic, but I want things to work out between the two of you. But if they don't, I want you both to be the better for it. Just - don't go back there. You're a strong gir - errr, woman."

"I can't stay here," Tara said, looking around at the house she had called home over the summer.

"How about you just stay with me and Anya tonight?" Xander asked suddenly.

"What about Willow?" Tara asked, not sure of the sincerity of the offer, but touched nonetheless.

"Willow will bow down at my feet that I talked you out of leaving Sunnydale altogether," Xander said, a wry smile on his face. "But I won't try to talk you into going back to her," Xander assured quickly. "I won't even tell her where you are, if you don't want - but don't go back to them."

"But Willow's your best friend," Tara protested.

"She is. And she always will be, but if she loves you - and I know she does - she'll see that it's best you stay with me and me not tell her than for you to go back there. Okay?"

"Are you sure Anya won't mind?" Tara asked.

Xander just grinned, pushing down his worries and fears to think about later. "I'll grab the boxes."


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 Post subject: AD Part 4
PostPosted: Fri Mar 29, 2002 9:53 pm 
Answering Darkness Part 4

Calling

Willow ran, as fast as she could, going nowhere and anywhere as long as it was away from the Summers home. Her shoes pounded against the walk, her breathing ragged. She didn't notice the cool air or the late hour, her mind playing and replaying her fight with Tara like a movie.

They were yelling. It was serious, and Willow hurt. Every single piece of her was raw and jagged like she'd been torn to pieces by little razors, and all she knew was that Tara was causing the pain. Tara was leaving her.

Then there was the anger, flashing red-hot, before settling into something icy and heavy in her chest. It had shattered, and Willow couldn't have stopped it. She didn't mean for that to happen. But it had, and Tara had been knocked unconscious with the concussive force of the blast.

Willow ran on, not looking where she was going, and paying no heed as her steps took her into the nearest cemetery. Her steps, though, slowed as her shoes hit soft earth instead of the hard sidewalk, her breathing slowing, but her brain still not processing what her eyes were telling her, occupied instead with the events of the evening.

Her life had flashed before her eyes, and in that moment of clarity, she had seen that every event in her entire existence had led her to that moment when she had looked across the way at that stupid wicca meeting and met Tara's eyes for the first time. Seeing everything in sequence like that had made it so very obvious that her whole life meant nothing without that moment.

And she had ruined it. Ruined everything. And Tara still hadn't moved. She'd begged for those eyes to open, and they hadn't. Tara hadn't answered her call, and Willow had been so afraid.

Then those beautiful blue eyes had fluttered open, and Willow's heart started beating again. Her breath returned and she felt like everything was going to be all right - until she had moved to help Tara stand.

Willow felt the cold now - now that she had stopped running. She regarded the cemetery with pain-shadowed eyes, feeling somehow that the death and darkness surrounding her was appropriate. Those eyes that had always looked at her with such love and devotion had held fear, and a piece of Willow had been ripped out by those eyes.

And there was nothing she could do. She had tried to fix it - tried to fix it the only way she knew how, but she had ruined it. She hadn't been smart enough, careful enough, or powerful enough to make it all better, and now she just felt like that helpless little spaz she had been. And she hated it.

"Well, well … what do we have here?" came a voice from the darkness. Willow turned slowly, her eyes shifting to a pure bottomless black.

"A little pretty come to play?" taunted another voice.

Three vampires emerged from the shadows, and Willow smiled. They paused at the smile, dark and full of menace, one even staggering back a step under the weight of Willow's stare.

With a gesture and a word, she called out to the darkness, and the darkness answered, leaving three piles of dust in its wake.


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 Post subject: AD Part 5
PostPosted: Fri Mar 29, 2002 9:55 pm 
Answering Darkness Part 5

Until Dawn

Tara's heart felt heavy and cold, and she shivered under the blankets, wondering if she would ever be warm again. No Willow smile, no soft body next to her own, no reassuring presence. Just a cold dead spot in her heart and in her bed.

Not that it was really a bed. She was sleeping on Xander's couch, which brought a brief, wistful smile to her face. Anya had been incredibly upset, as Tara had guessed, but not for the reason Tara had suspected. No, the ex-vengeance demon hadn't minded that Tara was staying the night; she was, rather, upset that Tara would be going anywhere in the first place, as Tara had agreed to help plan the wedding.

It was bittersweet, this caring and acceptance. She had seen it before when the Scoobies had chased off her family on her 20th birthday, but she had always thought they had done it for Willow. Perhaps they had, at the time, but now, it seemed, they would stand up for her without Willow at her side. No longer an extension of Willow, then.

Did she have a place here with these people? They seemed to care - about "Just Plain Tara", not "Willow and Tara." Could she … stay?

No, she couldn't, and she knew it. It would be too hard to see Willow at Scooby meetings and around Sunnydale. It warmed her, though, that if she ever came back - if Willow could ever choose her over the magic - that she'd have a place in her own right. As for right now, she'd try to get some sleep. She would stay until dawn, and then be on her way.

"Baby?"

Tara's eyes popped open, and she froze.

"Tara?"

Sitting up, Tara looked around the room, searching for the speaker. It was Willow's voice … she'd know Willow's voice anywhere, but Willow wasn't here. There was no one here.

"Come back to me, baby. I need you."

Tara frowned, her eyes narrowing. Magic? Was Willow actually trying to use a spell to change her mind? A nauseous feeling settled into her gut and Tara feared she might be sick.

"Does she think so little of me?" she whispered hoarsely, shaking in the cool night air.

"Don't leave me. Please, don't leave me."

Tara closed her eyes and concentrated, feeling the air around her. Yes, definitely magic. But that voice - it didn't sound quite right. Willow?

"Don't go!"

Plaintive now and more desperate, the voice came again, definitely not sounding like Willow this time. Tara took a deep breath, relaxing further and letting her mind sense the magic around her. No, that didn't feel like Willow. Wherever this spell was from, it wasn't her - it wasn't Willow trying to manipulate her through magic yet again.

A sense of relief washed over Tara, then quickly turned to dread. The magical energy in the room was increasing - surging, and Tara could only guess the caster was losing control. Pure fear welled up inside, and Tara stood as the walls began to shake.

Tara pulled the energy into herself, chanting the ancient words, binding with the power and making it her own. She released it slowly, little by little, draining it away from this spell and turning it into a harmless pure light white.

"Let it go … let it all go …" the magic seemed to whisper to her, as she struggled to hold on to her own energy - her own mystic being - and keep it bound to her. "Let it go and the pain can end. Everything can stop. You'll be safe and happy if you just let go."

"No!" The sound reverberated through the apartment, and Tara had no idea who had called out. Tara? Who? Was she Tara? Was the energy Tara? Where did Tara end and the energy begin? But she had to hold on to Tara. She knew that. She knew.

But what was Tara? There. The colors. The colors were pretty. She would keep the colors and let the white light go. It was blinding and it hurt her eyes, even though her eyes were closed. Yes, that was it.

The spell ended abruptly, and the room fell into blackness. Tara fell to her knees, and Xander and Anya were immediately at her side, which somehow didn't surprise her, though she hadn't heard them come enter the room.

"Tara? Tara … talk to me," Anya said, cradling the limp form in her grasp.

Tara gathered herself, forcing a word past her dry lips.

"Dawn."


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 Post subject: AD Part 6
PostPosted: Fri Mar 29, 2002 9:59 pm 
Answering Darkness Part 6

Consequences

"Dawn!" Buffy called out, running up the walk and past the ambulance parked in front of her house. Fear and worry rose up within her, as she moved passed the dispersing crowd. "Dawn?" She remembered fear and worry from Before, but hadn't actually felt them since she'd been back. Is this what she had been missing? It felt icky.

"Buffy?" Willow yelled from inside the house. The responding police units drove away, leaving only the ambulance behind.

"Willow? How is she - is she?" Buffy asked, making it to the door and standing aside as Willow and the paramedics hurried down the stairs, Dawn on a stretcher.

"They said she'll be okay," Willow reassured her.

"What happened?" Buffy asked, her eyes riveted to Dawn's pale face as the stretcher passed. Visions of a different body, a different stretcher flashed across Buffy's mind.

"I don't know … I got home and I went up to check on her, and she was barely breathing," Willow said, looking at Dawn anxiously. "I called an ambulance."

"Are you the sister?" a paramedic asked as Buffy moved with the stretcher towards the waiting ambulance.

"Yes, I'm Dawn's legal guardian," Buffy confirmed, holding Dawn's hand as they moved. "Is she going to be okay?"

"We think she'll be fine. Her heartbeat and breathing are both steady right now. We just need to get her to the hospital. You coming?"

Buffy nodded, moving to climb into the ambulance after the man. "Will?" she said, turning back to look at her friend.

"I'll make the calls," Willow confirmed. Buffy nodded her thanks, then sat next to Dawn, taking her small hand in her own and watching her breathe.

"I love you, Dawn," Buffy said softly, leaning over her sister and kissing her cheek gently. "You're going to be okay."

The doors closed and the ambulance took off, taking the Summers sisters to the hospital. Willow stood there a moment, her arms wrapped around her middle as she watched the vehicle depart, her face worried.

"What happened to the nibblet?" Spike asked, sliding out of the shadows where he had waited until the crowd had cleared.

"I - I don't know," Willow said numbly. "She wasn't breathing, and her pulse was all over the place. I was out, and I went to check on her, and she was just lying there."

"She get into anything? I dunno - Drain-o or something?" Spike asked, trying to deal with his own worry.

"She - I … it looked like she was casting a spell of some kind," Willow said. "I didn't really have a chance to look." She tore her gaze from the street, her eyes filled with confusion and self-doubt. "Should I have looked? Do I need to look?"

"It's all right, Red," Spike said softly. "Let's just go call the others, then head to the hospital. I'm sure Buffy will need us."

Willow nodded, hurrying back into the house and dashing to the phone, Spike behind her entering more calmly.

"Where's your bird?" he asked, looking around and just noticing that Tara was absent.

Willow almost dropped the phone at the question, turning away from Spike and squeezing her eyes shut tight. "She … uh … she's not here," Willow said evasively as she silently willed Xander to pick up the line.

"Not here? Then where is she?" Spike asked.

"She left me," Willow said starkly as the answering machine picked up.

'Hello, you've reached Anya. Please leave a message and I'll call you back as soon as I can. Oh, and Xander lives here, too. How was that, baby? BEEP'

"Xander, Anya … this is Willow. Dawn's in the hospital. Buffy's there, and Spike and I are on our way. Last we heard she's going to be fine, but we don't know what's wrong with her. I gotta' go," Willow said, hanging up the phone then moving to the door, grabbing a jacket on the way.

Spike followed, carefully closing and locking the door behind him, then jogging to catch up with Willow. "That's really too bad. I liked your girl. Pretty thing," Spike said reflectively. "Well-mannered, which is more than I can say for the rest of you lot."

Willow kept walking, ignoring Spike's words.

"So why'd she leave you? She got a pretty little bird on the side? You going to cast a spell, make her come back?" Spike asked, grinning wickedly. If he remembered correctly - and he might not, because he was thoroughly knackered at the time - when Drusilla had left him, Willow had been less than sympathetic. Really, only Joyce had lent an understanding ear.

"This is none of your business, Spike," Willow ground out.

"Or, you could call up D'Hoffryn, right? Get changed into a vengeance demon, then give her a pox," Spike suggested amicably.

"Shut up, Spike."

"Or you could just try that 'Forget' spell again," Spike went on cheerfully.

Willow stopped, spinning around to stare daggers into the vampire. "I said to shut up," she growled.

"Or what?" Spike taunted. "You going to kill the pathetic defenseless vampire? Go right ahead, Red. I'm quite willing and able to die."

Willow turned again, continuing the walk and Spike fell silent. He wasn't particularly fond of the idea of having his head handed to him on a silver platter, right before he and it turned into dust.

Still silent, they got to the hospital quickly, easily finding the pacing slayer.

"How is she?" Spike asked.

"They think she's going to be all right, but she won't wake up," Buffy said, her face pale and drawn. "Why won't she wake up?"

"She'll wake up," Willow said, trying to inject as much confidence into her voice as she could. "She'll be okay."

Buffy took a few deep breaths, closing her eyes and composing herself. "You call Xander and Anya?" she asked.

"Yeah, but I got the machine," Willow said.

"That's okay," Buffy said slowly. "There's really nothing they can do but wait and worry with us."

"Can I get you anything?" Spike asked suddenly. "Bad coffee? Old moldy sandwich from a vending machine? Snickers bar?"

"No, thank you, Spike," Buffy said. "As yummy as that sounds, I think I'll pass. Where's Tara?"

Willow stopped, that question knocking the wind right out of her. She couldn't worry about Dawn and Tara at the same time - it was too much. Her gaze dropped to the floor as a lump formed in her throat and she found she was having a hard time forming an answer.

"Red's bird left her," Spike said, seeing that Willow wasn't going to speak anytime soon.

"Well, she's here now," Buffy said, nodding over Willow's shoulder. Xander, Anya and Tara hustled into the room, spotting the group easily and hurrying over.

When Xander and Anya had felt the shaking, they had rushed into the living room to see Tara standing and chanting, before they had to cover their eyes and look away from the brilliant white light. When the light had stopped, it had taken them a few moments to find Tara's slumped form on the floor.

They had made their way over to the Summers home, Anya and Xander supporting Tara as her legs were still shaky and weak.

They arrived to find the house quiet and empty. Tara still had her key and they had gone in, Anya helping Tara up the stairs to Dawn's room as Xander called to check for messages on their answering machine.

When Anya and Tara had seen Dawn's room, their eyes had met, equally worried expressions on their faces. A rough circle of powdered chalk was ground into the carpet by footsteps, and a bowl in the center was tipped over, its contents spilled onto the floor.

Shakily kneeling down, Tara had checked the items, seeing a feather wrapped in two strands of hair - one red and one blonde - and a doll's eye crystal on a simple chain she had immediately recognized as the one she had given Willow so long ago that they had both thought was lost in the move.

Tara had fingered the chain carefully, looking around in a daze, wondering what had happened to Dawn. She pocketed the crystal and stood shakily as Xander came bounding up the steps to tell them that everyone was down at the hospital.

They had immediately set out, somewhat relieved that it seemed Dawn would be all right, but worried nonetheless.

Willow's head shot up, her eyes landing on Tara with a look of such hope and longing that Tara couldn't meet her gaze. Willow's stomach dropped.

"How's Dawn?" she asked, her heart clenching with worry over Dawn and the sight of Willow's stricken face.

"They … they think she'll be fine," Buffy said slowly. "How did you know?"

"She tried to cast a spell on me," Tara said simply.

"She - what?" Willow asked, sitting heavily in a nearby chair.

"She tried to cast a spell on me, so I wouldn't leave. It was too advanced, though, and she couldn't contain it," Tara explained, her voice clear, but weak.

"Why would she - ?" Willow asked. "Baby, are you all right?" she asked, noticing how unsteady Tara seemed.

"I'm just tired," Tara said, waving off her concern. "I felt the spell, and I felt it start to go wrong. I tried to keep it from blowing up completely."

"Wait a minute - she was casting a spell?" Buffy asked. "She was casting a spell on you," she stated flatly.

Tara nodded as Buffy's face grew dark.

"If she was casting a spell, we can fix it, right?" Willow asked, looking around the room.

"No!" Tara said loudly, her voice echoing in the mostly empty room.

"If magic caused it, magic can fix it," Willow insisted again.

"Right now, I trust Tara's judgement a lot more than yours, Willow," Buffy said pointedly.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Willow asked, her face clouding.

"Dawn looks up to you. She idolizes you, and she sees you throwing magic around like it's candy on Halloween. What did you think I meant?" Buffy demanded.

"But I'm just trying to make things better. Fix things. Help people," Willow protested.

"You can't fix this," Tara broke in. "Not with magic."

"What does that mean, exactly?" Buffy asked, the color leaving her face. "And why the hell wasn't anyone home?"

"That's my fault," Tara said, her eyes downcast as she swayed slightly where she stood. Xander grabbed her elbow, helping her stay upright.

"Easy there," Xander said gently.

"Willow left, then I did, too. I thought Dawn was asleep, that she'd be okay," Tara said simply, her voice filled with misery.

"It's not your fault, Tara," Buffy said, closing her eyes. "It's … it's not your fault."

"N-no. I-I, umm… I should have been there," Tara insisted.

"So what, exactly, is wrong with Dawn?" Willow asked.

"She's depleted. Her energy scattered with the spell when she couldn't control it anymore," Tara said swaying again, only to have Xander catch her and Willow rush to her side. "I'm okay, I just need to sit," she said softly.

Xander and Willow helped her into a chair, Willow cradling her hand in her own.

"Then that's easy," Willow said encouragingly. "We just collect the energy, then bind it back into Dawn's body."

"No," Tara said, a world of heartbreak in that one word. Her gaze drifted, as the whole world seemed to shift in and out of focus, like it was real one moment, but not the next. "Don't you think I tried that? Don't you think I tried? I thought if I could just keep her energy in her body, that she'd be okay. But she wasn't okay. She was in there, bound in there, but she couldn't control the body," Tara mumbled, her soft voice echoing strangely in the completely quiet room as everyone held their breath, trying to figure out what Tara was talking about.

"Who, baby? Who'd you try to save?" Willow asked gently, brushing a strand of hair back from her face, hoping her comforting gestures wouldn't be unwelcome to this woman she loved so dearly.

"Mommy was in there, but she couldn't control it. She couldn't make her lungs move, or her heart beat. She was on life support, and Daddy wanted to pull the plug. It didn't work - it didn't work, and I had to unbind her so she could cross over. It didn't work," she finished, her words full of a child's pain.

"You tried, baby," Willow said softly, her chin quivering and her eyes filling up as she leaned in and kissed her forehead gently. "You tried everything you could."

"Does that mean … that Dawn … ?" Buffy asked haltingly, breaking the ensuing silence. Buffy's question seemed to bring Tara back to the present from where she had drifted and she shook her head.

"No, Dawn will be all right. She just needs time and rest," Tara reassured Buffy.

"But she's still asleep. She won't wake up," Buffy went on.

"She'll be fine, Buffy," Tara reiterated.

"How do you know?" Buffy asked, not doubting the words, but needing the reassurance.

Tara smiled understandingly. "Because I felt the spell, I felt it when it lost control, and I felt Dawn before she blacked out. She's got enough energy to recover." Tara stiffened when she realized her hand was in Willow's, the sweet familiarity of that hand warming her even as it tore at her heart. Slowly, she pulled back, folding her hands in her lap and missing the hurt look on Willow's face.

Willow stood, pacing around the room and trying to calm her breathing and stop her guts from escaping through her throat.

Buffy took in a shaky, relieved breath, sitting down next to Tara. "Thank you," she said simply.

"I'm sorry," Tara said so softly, Buffy almost didn't catch it.

"What for?" she asked.

"I really should have been there," Tara said, the strength of her voice returning. "I could have stopped her, or she wouldn't have wanted to in the first place, or -"

"Tara, stop it. This isn't your fault."

"Why don't you just say it? Just say it, Buffy!" Willow exploded from across the room. "It's all my fault, because I'm a bad, bad person," Willow said, kicking a chair viciously.

"You're not a bad person, Willow," Buffy said flatly. "Just an idiot."

"A what?" Willow asked incredulously.

"Where do you think Dawn got the idea that it was okay to cast spells on your friends, Willow? Where do you think she got the idea that magic is for fixing all the little things you don't like about life?" Buffy pressed.

"I never taught her -" Willow started to protest.

"You didn't have to. She's a fifteen-year-old girl. She learns from example," Buffy said.

"Like you've been such a great example in your decision-making?" Willow asked, her voice bitter and ruthless.

"Can I say something?" Spike asked slowly.

"No!" Buffy and Willow shouted in unison.

"Right then," he said, settling back to watch.

"What do you mean by that, exactly?" Buffy asked, her eyes narrowing dangerously as she stood up toe to toe with Willow.

"What the hell were you thinking, dying like that?" Willow demanded.

"It was me, Dawn, or all of reality," Buffy said flatly. "I chose me."

"Yeah, well, goody for you! You get to take off to a nice happy place and leave Dawn and the rest of us here to fight all the vampires and demons and hell gods and worrying about you and what kind of torture you're going through. You get this nice warm vacation and we're trying to hold it all together and keep any baddies from finding out you're dead, because if they knew, they'd just destroy the whole town and we don't have super strength or slayer healing or kung-fu fighting. And the only thing that kept Dawn from being sent off to live with your father was the BuffyBot who kept malfunctioning, but looked so much like you that Dawn started treating it like you, and that just isn't healthy for a fifteen-year-old girl, and the only thing we could think of was to try to bring you back, and we do, and we're happy to have you back, only we find out that everything was great for you before, and it sucks now. Well it sucked here the whole time, Buffy … and if it's so great over there, why don't we just all go join a cult and drink the Kool-Aid?"

"You finished?" Buffy asked quietly.

Willow nodded once, the wind leaving her sails.

"New house rule: no magic on Summers property unless it's cleared through me first. And for you, that means none at all," Buffy said simply.

"But Buffy, you can't just -" Willow said.

"No, Willow. No magic for you. If you don't want to agree to that, then you can leave."

Willow looked around uncertainly, wondering when everything had gone so wrong. "Fine," she said, nodding again, resolve-face firmly in place. "When you change your mind, I'll be at my parents house." She couldn't bring herself to look at Tara as she walked out of the hospital.


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 Post subject: AD Part 7
PostPosted: Fri Mar 29, 2002 10:03 pm 
Answering Darkness Part 7

Discussions

"Willow? Willow, wait!" Tara called, hurrying to catch up.

"What?" Willow snapped, stopping and turning to look at the woman who meant the world to her - the woman who had left her.

"Y-you don't have to move out of Buffy's house," Tara said slowly.

"I know that," Willow said shortly. "But Buffy isn't going to tell me how to live my life. I'd rather move out."

"The magic means that much to you?" Tara asked, her eyes full of sorrow.

"It's not the magic! It's the principle of the thing!" Willow yelled. "She's not the boss of me, and she can't make me do what I don't want to do."

"Willow, I'm sorry," Tara said lamely, her eyes downcast and expression miserable.

"Sorry? You're sorry?" Willow said incredulously. "What, exactly, are you sorry for?"

"I'm sorry you're hurting," she said softly.

"Then stop hurting me!" Willow said, closing the distance between them and grasping her arms lightly. "Please, don't leave me, baby," she pressed on, cupping Tara's cheek softly and raising her face to capture her eyes with her own, two identical expressions of lost confusion and pain meeting each other.

"I can't stay," Tara began, her eyes begging Willow to understand, if not forgive.

"Why? Why can't you stay with me," Willow pleaded. "I just don't … I guess I don't understand," she finished weakly.

"This magic - this power you have, Willow. Can't you see? You're not controlling it. It's controlling you, and I'm afraid for you," Tara tried to explain.

"Afraid for me? But I'm fine. There's nothing wrong with me, sweetie. We - we just need to work this out. We have to work this out," Willow said.

"No, Willow - we can't," Tara said, shaking her head and pulling away from Willow's hand. Her Willowhand.

"Why not? Why are you so against magic helping people? Making life better? I just don't see -"

"That's right," Tara said, her voice harsher than she had intended. "You just don't see. You don't see that this is hurting me, and hurting you, and it's destroying us."

"But magic is what we do - it's what we are. You, me … we're magic, baby," Willow argued back, her voice filled with confusion.

"Our magic was love and trust, not spells," Tara argued back. "I don't - I can't trust you anymore. What part of 'I cast a spell on my girlfriend' aren't you getting?"

"I-it was a mistake," Willow began, pausing to gather her thoughts.

"What was a mistake? You casting the spell, or me figuring it out?" Tara asked.

"Why did you run after me?" Willow asked suddenly.

"I wanted to make sure you were safe," Tara confessed softly. "You know - 'Nighttime in Sunnydale'."

"Why are you doing this to me?" Willow questioned, her voice shaky and low, her eyes filling up with tears as she cupped that beautiful face in her hands. "Why?"

"Doing what?" Tara wondered aloud, her body leaning in towards Willow without her permission.

"Why are you leaving me and taking care of me? It's too much - I can't -" Willow said helplessly, her eyes roving over Tara's face, taking in each feature, soaking in each curved line and smooth plane.

With a desperation that shocked them both, Willow captured Tara's lips with her own. Involuntarily, Tara's mouth opened, accepting Willow's warm tongue as a moan escaped her. When was the last time they kissed like this? Yesterday? Weeks? An eternity? Had they ever stopped? Was this just a continuation of that first tentative touch?

Willow felt Tara's arms wrap around her, and she pressed herself into Tara's body, the familiar curves feeling … perfect. She lost herself in the feel of Tara's lips against her own, their tongues tangling together.

After far too long, Tara's wits returned and she stiffened, pulling away from Willow.

"Tara? What?"

"Willow, don't," Tara said simply, taking a step back. "We - we can't - that doesn't solve anything. You promised. One week, we agreed. One week was all, and … Goddess, it was what - ten hours?"

"Buffy needed -"

"No! There's always an excuse," Tara said, cutting off Willow's words. "You can't just - Why can't you see that this is wrong?"

"Because it's not wrong! I have the power to do these things, and -" Willow started, only to be interrupted again.

"And that makes it right? Since when does having the power make you right? Glory had the power to take my sanity, so it was okay? You have the power to steal my memories, and that's not a problem?"

"I'm sorry," Willow said, her voice plaintive.

"I still love you, Willow. I think I always will," Tara confessed, her voice thoughtful and distant. "But I can't stay."

"Then I guess - I guess that's it," Willow said in a lost tone.

"W-wait here, and let me go get Xander," Tara said, turning back. Willow followed, moving towards the hospital entrance.

"I can walk back home by myself," she said dully. "I don't need a babysitter."

"I know you don't," Tara said, carefully keeping her face forward and not looking at Willow. "But, humor me, okay? Would you want me walking around by myself?"

"No, I wouldn't," Willow said slowly.

"Then, just wait here," she replied, leaving Willow at the hospital entrance.

The world came crashing in just then, and Willow slumped against the wall, gasping for breath as tears tracked down her face. Images flashed through her mind, of Tara, Buffy, Dawn - all the Scoobies, Tara again. She was losing it - losing them, and she didn't know how to hold on anymore. She wasn't sure she wanted to hold on anymore. Wouldn't it be easier to just let it all go? They'd be back when they needed some serious witchy power. They'd come running when they needed her.

"Willow?" Xander stood awkwardly, his hands tucked into his back pockets as he rocked back and forth on his heels.

"Hey, Xander," Willow said weakly, standing up straight and wiping her face with the palms of her hands.

"Well, let's get you safely to your destination, fair damsel," Xander said, smiling briefly and making an expansive gesture with his hand, indicating Willow to walk ahead.

"She's really leaving me," Willow said after the two friends had walked awhile in silence, a trace of wonder in her tone, as if the concept were entirely new and alien to her.

"Willow, I -" Xander said, then stopped, everything he could think of to say sounding stupid in his head.

"Am I that unloveable?" she asked, and Xander was aware that the young woman before him wasn't the confident college student, but the awkward high-schooler.

"Of course not," Xander objected, stopping Willow with a hand on her arm and pulling her into a warm hug. "Your Loveable Cuddly Willow. You're the most loveable person I know," he insisted, rubbing her back gently as she cried into his shoulder.

"Then why? Why is she leaving me?"

"She does love you," Xander said softly. "Don't doubt that."

"Oz loved me, too. He left me, too," Willow said, her voice trembling.

"She's just … I think you both need time," Xander said after a long moment.

"Time for her to move on? Time for her to forget me?" Willow came back bitterly.

"No. You both need time to figure out what you really want," Xander said soothingly.

"She wants me to give up the magic. She insisted I not cast for a week," Willow confided, wiping her tears away on Xander's shirt and earning a chuckle at the familiar gesture.

"Then why didn't you?" he asked.

"What?" Willow replied, pulling back and looking up into Xander's face, expecting to see the harsh accusation she had seen in the other Scoobies, but only seeing honest bafflement.

"If Tara is the most important thing to you, and she wanted you to go a week without spells to prove that you could, why didn't you?"

"But - the spells - they're … I need them, Xander," Willow tried to explain.

"More than you need Tara?" he asked bluntly.

"You don't understand," Willow accused, stepping back and staring at Xander sullenly.

"I know I don't. That's why I'm asking you to explain it to me. Like geometry," Xander said. "I know you understand, so tell me."

"I - it's … it's hard to explain," Willow said after a moment, continuing to walk, Xander following loyally behing. "It's like, we live in this awful place, with the Hellmouth, and the demons, and the whole 'world ending badness' … and the magic lets me help. It lets me make sure you, and Tara, and everybody else … it makes me make sure that you're all safe. I need you to all be safe, and so I need the magic."

"But no one was in danger," Xander pointed out, referring to her spell earlier that day.

"But Buffy was hurting," Willow cut in. "She was hurting, and I could fix it - aren't I supposed to fix it when my friends are hurting?"

"I dunno, Will. I guess that's up for everyone to decide for themselves. But, I guess … I dunno. Buffy's happiness against yours and Tara's. It's a tough call, and I'm glad I didn't have to make it, but Buffy can probably work through this on her own. She's only been back for a little while, all things considered," Xander pointed out.

"I just - I just wish it had all gone right. Then everything would be okay. We'd all be happy and safe," Willow said softly. "That's all I wanted."

"I know that, Wills. But maybe there are some things we're supposed to work out without magic. I mean, lots of people do it every day."

"You're taking her side, aren't you?" Willow accused suddenly. "You're on Tara's side in this whole darn thing!"

"No!" Xander denied. "I'm on your side. But being on your side means making you happy, and I think Tara is what makes you happiest. Not school, not Scoobyage, and not magic. Tara has made you happier than I have ever seen you, which means I want you to get Tara back," Xander explained desperately. "I know this is hard for you, but to get Tara back, you're going to have to cool it with the magic."

"Why does everyone keep saying that?" Willow demanded. "Why does everyone keep blaming the magic? It's not wrong, and it doesn't hurt anything."

"It's hurting your relationship with Tara. Is the magic worth that?" Xander asked, beginning to lose patience with his stubborn friend.

"Yes! The magic keeps you safe. It keeps Tara safe! It stops Glory from hurting her … if I had just been faster, or smarter, or if I'd had more magic, I could've stopped … oh God, I could've stopped Glory," Willow said desperately, stopping in her tracks, her body shaking.

"Glory's gone, Willow - and I doubt we'll ever have to deal with another Hell God," Xander said, rubbing her arms briskly. "All I know is, you and Tara are unhappy, and she's leaving."

"Where is she gonna' go?" Willow wondered aloud.

"She, uh… she said she was going back home. To her family," Xander said haltingly, torn between the idea that Tara might not have wanted that bit of information to get out and loyalty to his friend.

"She what?" Willow asked. "But - but -!" she spluttered. "She can't go back there!"

"That's what I said. That's why she was staying with me and Anya tonight. I don't know about after that, though."

"But - she can't go back! She … it took so much for her to get away," Willow said, turning around and starting to walk back towards the hospital, intent on making Tara see reason. If she was leaving - which Willow still didn't think was right - then she couldn't go back. Couldn't she see that?

"Will - hold up!" Xander said, grabbing her arm.

"Let me go - I have to stop her," Willow demanded, trying to pull away.

"It's okay, Willow," Xander tried to assure her.

"No, it's not okay! She can't go back to that place - to those people!"

"I don't think she is. I think she's already changed her mind," Xander said.

"Are … you're sure?" Willow asked, looking up at her friend, who had never lied to her.

"Yeah. Buffy and I were talking, and I mentioned that Tara was thinking of going back. You probably don't want to hear this - and I promise, it's not that any of us are taking sides, but Buffy was going to offer to let Tara stay. At the house."

"At the house? Tara's staying in Sunnydale?" Willow asked quickly. "You're not just saying that? She's really not going back?"

"Yeah, I think Buffy's going to ask her tonight, so she should be staying," Xander agreed, smiling at the look of utter relief on Willow's face.

"God, I really hurt her, didn't I?" Willow asked suddenly, her face twisting up. "I'm … I almost sent her back to … God, I'm …"

"Hey, Willow. It's okay," Xander said, trying to stave off the babble speech he knew was coming.

"What am I going to do, Xander? I need her," Willow said softly.

"You want my honest advice?" Xander asked, eyeing Willow warily.

"Yeah, I really do."

"Well, Willster. My honest advice is to give up magic for a week. Do it for a week, and then go talk to Tara, see if you can start working things out."

"Xander," Willow said admonishingly. "I can't give up -"

"Can't or won't, Willow? You asked for my honest advice. Well, that's it. Give up magic for a week while you're staying at your parents' house, then go talk to her."

"But Xander -"

"No buts, Willow. Do you want the girl or not? If you >can< give it up for a week, then you need to. You, umm," Xander continued, a scary thought crossing his mind. "You >can< give up magic for a week, can't you?"

"Of course I can!" Willow defended herself.

"Then you're going to have to prove it," Xander said sadly. "'Cuz Tara's really hurting, and I honestly think she needs you to do this."

Willow nodded, defeated, as she and Xander started packing her things to take to the Rosenberg home.


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 Post subject: AD Part 8
PostPosted: Fri Mar 29, 2002 10:07 pm 
Answering Darkness Part 8

Demons

"Now I'm the bleedin' errand boy," Spike muttered, watching in disgust as Willow and Xander stopped yet again on their walk to have a nice little chat. "Blasted sun will be up soon enough, if these two don't start walking."

Hefting their boxes, Xander and Willow kept going, talking about Tara again, no doubt. Spike followed along, keeping his distance and a sharp eye out, like Buffy had asked him.

"I'm love's bitch, all right," he grumbled unhappily. He knew - oh, he knew that Buffy was keeping him on a string, but something kept him coming back again and again. Something made him want - no, need - to be there for her, despite her mixed signals and harsh words. "Of all the demons that had to set itself up where my soul used to be, it had to be a masochist, didn't it?" he railed, looking heavenward and frowning.

As if in answer, a light drizzle began.

"Brilliant. Bloody brilliant," Spike muttered, hurrying up to catch the Scoobies who were now jogging with their last load of boxes down the last block to the Rosenberg home.

Later, Spike would swear there had been no warning. There had, in fact, been none.

One moment, he was following along, and the next, Xander was down, an ugly snarling demon parked on his chest trying to rip out his throat.

Game face in place, Spike ran, knowing Buffy would never forgive him if anything hurt these two on his watch.

"No!" Willow screamed, dropping her box, her eyes shifting color, becoming bottomless pools of black. The monster - demon? - whatever it was, it paused, turning to look at Willow.

With a low growl, Spike launched himself at the creature, fangs bared, tackling him off of Xander and allowing the young man to roll free. Xander stood awkwardly, watching as Spike traded blows with the demon.

They fought furiously, and Xander moved into position to attack the creature from behind. A low droning sounded in his ears, making his head buzz. Dazedly, he shook his head, trying to clear it, waiting for his opening to help Spike.

Willow watched, her face as stone as Spike and the monster fought. Her hands raised, called the very darkness of night into herself, before hurling it at the creature with all of her might. "Destroy," she commanded, the thrill of power shooting up and down her spine.

The dark energy hit the creature, and it shuddered once, before redoubling its efforts, fighting Spike back, and eventually knocking him off his feet.

"No!" Willow called again, rushing to Spike's side and turning to face the creature. It looked at her, its horrible face so alien and strange, Willow could discern no expression on its features. Anger? Rage? Hate? What was it thinking?

With a great shudder, Willow called to the darkness again, gathering it into herself, collecting it carefully as the creature continued to stand. It seemed to cock its head to the side in a gesture that looked like it was trying to figure out exactly what Willow was doing. Did it find Willow's face as strange as she had found its face? Was it trying to figure out what she was thinking?

"Begone!" Willow intoned, releasing the magic she had gathered in a primal rush. The creature shuddered again, raising its arms to the sky and letting out a great bellow, before turning and running into the night.

Spike watched the creature go, turning a wary eye on the black-eyed witch next to him. "You can calm down, Red. It's gone," he commented, standing gingerly and brushing himself off.

"What was that?" Xander asked slowly.

"I have no idea," Spike admitted, squinting after it. "But it better run," he called out. "Because if I see it again, I'll give it more of the same."

"You'll let it kick your ass some more?" Xander asked.

"Oh, big words from the spider-eating man-bitch," Spike taunted, smirking at Xander. "It knocked you for a right loop."

"Both of you, stop it," Willow said, looking into the night where the thing had run, her face pale and still.

"Hey, Will, you okay?" Xander asked, moving to her side. Willow closed her eyes briefly, trying to get her nerve endings to settle. No longer harnessing that power, she was left with a familiar tingly, kind of floaty feeling.

"You're bleeding, Red," Spike pointed out, his nose picking up the sharp tang of blood before his eyes had seen it in the dark.

"I - what -?" Willow said, suddenly feeling something warm and wet on her upper lip. She lifted a hand, touching it gingerly before pulling it away and staring at her fingers like she had never seen them before.

"Hey, hey!" Xander said, beginning to worry about the lack of reaction in Willow. "Come on, Willow. Say something."

"What was it?" Willow asked dazedly, her pupils dilated and her gaze unfocused.

"We don't know," Xander said, nodding emphatically. "But we'll find out."

"Right, then," Spike said, pursing his lips in irritation and picking up a box. "Guess I have to carry this, as Red's in no shape for any heavy lifting."

"Uh … thanks, Spike," Xander said uncertainly, picking up the other box.

Spike and Xander set off towards the Rosenberg home, taking several steps before realizing Willow wasn't following.

"Wills?" Xander called back, his face full of concern.

"Huh? Oh! Yeah," Willow said absently, walking after them, her steps unsteady.

"That was quite a show," Spike said conversationally.

"Yeah, Willow - umm… what did you do to that thing?" Xander asked.

"I just threw some power at it. Y'know - hit it with the magicy goodness?" Willow said, her words slightly garbled.

Spike sniffed reflectively. "It seemed to get stronger when you threw that first volley at it."

"It - what?" Willow asked, turning confused unfocused eyes on the vampire.

"Your first bit of 'magicy goodness' made it stronger, I said," Spike repeated dutifully.

"Oh, yeah. Maybe," Willow managed, waving a lazy hand in the air. The street lamp overhead blinked once, then twice, then went out completely as they passed.

"Umm … Spike?" Xander asked, sidling up to the vampire and lowering his voice.

"Yes?"

"Is this … uh … worrying you?"

"No, not really. I mean, if Red goes loony and zaps us into oblivion, I don't have to deal with this bleedin' chip anymore."

"That's comforting," Xander said.

"We need a Scooby meeting!" Willow suddenly exclaimed, stopping in the middle of the sidewalk, making Spike and Xander stop up short to keep from running her over. Willow walked on, marching up the driveway to her parents' house. "We should call one right away."

"Umm, Willow, actually …" Xander said, searching for an excuse. "We sorta'."

"What Xander means to say," Spike said, cutting in smoothly. "Is that everyone's at the hospital and worried about Dawn, so we'll have the Scooby meeting tomorrow night. Right?"

"Yes, that's exactly it," Xander said, nodding gratefully.

"So," Spike went on, "you toddle off to the hospital, and I'll make sure Red gets settled."

"I don't think -" Xander began, reluctant to leave Willow alone with the vampire.

"It's not like I'll bite her," Spike said to Xander in a low voice as Willow unlocked the front door. "Got that chip, remember? I'll just keep an eye on her and make sure nothing else happens tonight, and you let the other Scoobies know."

"If you try anything," Xander warned in a low voice, leveling what he hoped was an intimidating glare.

"No need to worry," Spike said, gesturing with his head for Xander to precede him into the house. "I know Buffy'd stake me something but good if I tried anything. Besides," he said, his hands bumping into the open space where the threshold of the house lay. He gave Xander an impatient look.

"Oh, Dear Spike," Xander said grandly. "Won't you please come in?"

"Bugger off," Spike said, stepping into the house and letting the box drop heavily onto the floor. "As I was saying, I like Red's bird, and she's still sweet on her, so …" At that he trailed off, shrugging and stepping over the box he had left lying there and looking around the house with a curious air. "Red grew up here, eh? Figures."

Willow wandered up the stairs, leaning heavily on the banister. Xander sighed heavily and gave Spike an irritated look before leaving the boxes and hurrying to help Willow navigate the steps. Spike wandered into the room a few moments later, grinning wickedly and letting out a cutesy, "Aww, now isn't that a picture?" as Xander tucked Willow into bed.

"Xander?" Willow said sleepily, her eyes drooping heavily.

"Yeah, Will?" Xander whispered, ignoring Spike who sighed heartily and rolled his eyes, flopping into a chair and propping his feet up on the desk.

"I forgive you. It's okay you stole my Barbie. You can keep her," Willow said generously before rolling over and falling completely asleep.

"You stole her Barbie?" Spike muttered. "And I thought >I< was an evil bastard."

Xander said nothing, moving over to the windows and closing the curtains. "There. You're all set. If you need anything, we'll be at my place, Buffy's, or the hospital."

"No, really?" Spike asked. "You sure you won't take a little vacation to Siam?"

"Look, Spike. No jokes right now, okay? You can be an asshole later. Right now, just keep an eye on Willow."

"Yeah, yeah. I'll watch Red. Hope she doesn't snore."

Wondering if leaving Spike with Willow was really such a good idea, Xander left the house, locking it carefully behind him and heading back to the hospital at a brisk jog.

Something was happening to Willow. He didn't know what, he didn't know how … come to think of it, he didn't really know where or why either. Just who. And he was worried. Very, very worried. The weird magicy nosebleeds, the strange behavior, mood swings, defensiveness. It was almost as if …

"Xander!"

"Tara," Xander said, spotting the woman sitting across the waiting room. He jogged over and sat next to her, giving himself a moment to catch his breath. "Dawn still all right?"

"Yes, they think she's going to be fine. They just want to keep her until tomorrow for observation, then they're letting her come home. Buffy and Anya are in with her now. I was in there earlier."

Xander nodded, relieved that something looked like it was going to turn out okay tonight. "Look, Tara … something happened," Xander began.

All the color drained out of Tara's face and her eyes grew wide. "Oh, Goddess, is it Willow? Is she all right?" she asked, standing up.

"She's fine," Xander said encouragingly, tugging on Tara's hand to get her to sit down. "She's fine, I think."

"You think? You don't know?" Tara started in again, moving to stand, only to have Xander pull her back into her seat.

"Will you let me finish?" Xander asked.

"Oh, I'm sorry," Tara said, settling for wringing her hands nervously in her lap.

"We got attacked," Xander started to say, only to be interrupted again by a worried Tara.

"Was she hurt? Did something hurt her?" she asked urgently, her stomach dropping at the idea of anything harming her Willow.

"Look, she wasn't hurt … the thing didn't even get near her," Xander said, trying again. "We were attacked by something. We were just walking along, and everything was fine, when I was knocked down and this thing was sitting on me trying to give me a new opening to breathe through," he said, trying to use words that wouldn't panic Tara further. "Spike showed up and knocked it off of me. Spike fought the thing, and Willow cast a spell. Spike claims that whatever Willow did, it made the thing stronger. I don't know," Xander said, shrugging. He noted the conflicting emotions traveling across Tara's face and pressed on, seeing that she was content to remain silent for now. "Anyway, she cast another spell, and it ran off."

"But - she's all right?" Tara asked softly. She was appalled to find that any story involving Willow casting a spell made her angry, and she felt guilty that the spell in question had been used to keep Willow safe. At the same time, she was totally relieved to hear that the demon hadn't injured Willow at all.

"Mostly. She got a nosebleed, her steps were shaky. She seemed kind of out of it, really. Really unfocused, like she wasn't exactly hearing or seeing what was going on around her."

"She didn't hit her head or anything, did she?" Tara asked, moving to stand again.

"No, she didn't hit her head. The only thing she did was throw around some magic. Nothing touched her."

"I - I should be there," Tara said, standing up and pacing. "I need t - to see her. I have to make sure she's okay."

Xander groaned, then stood. "All right," he sighed. "Let's head back over there."

"N-no, you can stay here," Tara said. "You need to tell Buffy and Anya what happened."

"That thing is still out there," Xander protested.

"I can handle it. I just … I just need to see Willow. I'll be all right, I promise," Tara said, squeezing Xander's arm reassuringly before dashing for the door.

Tara made her way to the Rosenberg residence, her heart clenching at every step. "Please be okay, Willow," she whispered aloud, her words punctuated by her shoes plodding against the pavement. She hadn't meant anything like this to happen. Had leaving really been the right thing? Dawn was in the hospital, Willow was hurt, and none of them had gotten any sleep that night. Was this all her fault?

"No," she said, quickening her steps. It wasn't her fault. She hadn't forced Dawn to cast a spell that was too much for her - would, in fact, have argued against it. Nor was she the reason a demon had attacked Xander and Willow. Still, if she had only given Willow one more chance, none of it would have happened.

And really, didn't she want to give Willow another chance? Didn't she want everything to be right between them again? Yes, she did, but people couldn't always have what they wanted. That's one of the things she had learned growing up.

Hadn't her family taught her that? To get used to disappointment? They had, but she had been so sure that things would be different this time - that, free of the demon she had lived with all her life, she could be happy.

Shaking her head, she looked up to see that she had arrived and was standing in the middle of the sidewalk in front of Willow's house. She walked up to the door, her hand trembling as she raised it to ring the bell. She waited just a few moments before the door swung open, and Spike was standing there.

"Well, now," he said, smiling. "Guess I get to go back to me crypt. I'll just leave you two lovebirds alone," he said, pointing up the stairs to indicate where Willow was.

"W-we broke up," Tara said softly, stepping into the house past Spike.

"Oh, I know that," Spike said. "Red's been pretty maudlin this evening. In any event, circumstances don't change how you feel. Love's funny like that - it sticks around when it would be easier to go away."

Spike smiled brightly as Tara just gaped at him. Since when was Spike such a philosopher?

"I'll just toddle off. Good night."

Tara stood a moment, stunned, as Spike left, closing the door behind him. Shaking her head, she climbed the stairs quickly, then slowing down to quietly open Willow's door. Peeking in, she saw Willow sleeping peacefully.

She slipped into the room, closing the door gently behind her, wondering why she was here at all. Willow whimpered in her sleep, turning fitfully. That was why. Because Willow was hurting, and she didn't have the strength to stay away. She had the strength to stand up for herself, the strength to hurt Willow if necessary, but Goddess help her, nowhere in her entire being was there the strength to stand idly by while the world hurt her Willow.

She took off her shoes and skirt automatically, sliding under the covers and gathering Willow up into her arms, and Willow settled down, mumbling happily. Gently, she stroked Willow's hair, humming a little tune her mother used to sing to her softly before drifting off to sleep.


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 Post subject: AD Part 9
PostPosted: Fri Mar 29, 2002 10:10 pm 
Answering Darkness Part 9

Habits

Spike let out a sigh of relief as he escaped the Rosenberg home. It was more a force of habit than anything else, and one he had never really tried to break. Of course, Spike wasn't one for breaking habits, bad or otherwise, and so he decided her really didn't care.

Shrugging his shoulders to loosen the tension, he started walking. He honestly had no idea where he was going or what he was going to do. He'd had his suspicions, and now he knew. The question was, what to do with that knowledge? Keeping it to himself was dangerous, but telling Buffy posed its own dangers, largely of the wooden and pointy variety.

Not that he'd really done anything wrong. Force of habit, like the cigarette in his hand he couldn't recall lighting. He walked quickly, if aimlessly, his agitated state propelling him forward as he argued with himself.

Would Buffy really stake him for a taste? That's all it had been - he'd just dabbed his finger in and taken a little taste. And where was the harm in that.

"Of course, she's just looking for an excuse to dust you, old boy," he told himself. "You confuse her, and she don't like it." Still, the feelings were there. Buffy felt something for him. The question was, would that save his unlife if he told Buffy he'd nicked a taste of Red's blood?

It hadn't really been his fault. He'd just been sitting there, keeping an eye out for baddies, when her nose had started bleeding again. Force of habit to take a taste, really.

"Here I am with this bleedin' chip in my head, and she's got so much extra blood it was leakin' out. Can I really be blamed? It was all perfectly innocent, really," he muttered, practicing his argument.

He walked quicker, shivering slightly as a warm trill crawled up his spine. Yes, it had been just a taste, but what a taste it was. He couldn't explain it to any of the Scoobies - and they certainly didn't want him to - but warm fresh human blood was just …

Spike grinned. It was fuckin' fabulous. But this damn chip meant he couldn't have it. He couldn't have what he craved so badly until he thought his insides would rip his body apart, tearing through him to go on its own search for it. Sure, the animals and donated blood kept him alive, but that was like … lite beer. No, worse - it was non-alcoholic beer. Bloody O'Douls.

And Red's blood had been - wow. Just a taste, and he could feel it singing in his veins. And that's what he had to find a way to explain to Buffy.

"Bloody hell!" Spike yelled, finding himself standing in front of the hospital. "Apparently you've already decided," he admonished himself aloud.

Shaking his head in self-disgust, Spike walked into the hospital, hurrying to the area where he knew Buffy would be waiting for news.

"How's the nibblet?" Spike asked, his cold dead heart twitching uncomfortably at the sight of Buffy sitting along in her uncomfortable chair, a lost look on her face. He seated himself next to her, leaning his elbows on his knees and clasping his hands loosely.

"She's awake now," Buffy said, pulling herself into the present. "Xander says you guys had a little excitement?" she asked, changing the subject.

"That's right," Spike confirmed, nodding slowly, counting the tiles on the floor. "Had a bit of a run-in with an ugly."

"An ugly what?" Buffy asked.

"I have no idea."

"And Willow's all right?"

"Oh, yeah, sure," Spike said, sitting up and leaning back. "Red's all right. Her bird showed up, so I took off."

Buffy nodded slowly, pursing her lips. "Why are you here, Spike?" she asked finally.

"What, a guy can't just decide to stop in at the hospital and have a look-see?" he asked uncomfortably. Now that he was here, with the Slayer sitting next to him, he was sure that the whole idea of telling her about Willow was an incredibly stupid one.

"Umm… no."

"Right, then. Well, you see," Spike said, trying to find the least incriminating words. "Have I ever told you about the time me and Dru-"

"I'm sure I don't want to hear that Spike," Buffy said, her back stiffening.

"Ahh, then … well."

"Just spit it out, Spike."

"It's Red," Spike said.

"Yeah, I know. Wacky mojo, nosebleed, confusion," Buffy said, ticking off each point on her fingers as Xander had related them.

"No, it's … something has her," Spike said slowly.

"What?" Buffy asked, jumping to her feet. "What do you mean something has her? I thought she was with Tara?"

"No! I mean, yes … she's fine," Spike said. "It's just … she's gone all dark, Buffy. Something's gotten ahold of her, or she's become something … she's …" Spike stopped, growling in frustration at his inability to articulate what was so clear to him.

"Look, Spike, I don't have time for word games. Either tell me or don't," Buffy said impatiently.

"You remember Dru, right?" Spike asked, trying this from another angle.

"Yes, I remember Dru," Buffy responded as if speaking to a slow child. "Wait - Dru doesn't have Willow, does she?"

"No, I told you, Red's fine. But she's not fine. She's like Dru."

"Run that by me one more time? You kind of lost me when you compared one of my oldest friends to your psychotic vampire bitch ex."

"Seriously, Buffy. Has Red been acting strange? Other than the flashy magic. Has she done anything weird for her, like, I dunno - skip classes?"

Buffy paused, the serious look on Spike's face making her consider the question carefully, despite the flippant example. "Well, I … she yelled at that one guy at school, but - really, I just thought, y'know, 'Go Will.'"

Spike smiled grimly, nodding as if that confirmed his suspicions. "Her temper's been a bit short, hasn't it? Her judgement's been off?"

Buffy nodded, her brow furrowed. "Yeah, she has - but what's your point, Spike?"

"Something bad has her. It's like, she's been channeling all these dark dangerous powers - they're becoming a part of her. They already are, to some extent."

"So you're saying it's like a possession thing?"

Spike pursed his lips, trying to think of an example that would help clarify. "Okay, let's say Red ate twenty candy bars a day, right?"

"Oh, I so hope you're going somewhere with this that doesn't involve Evil Snickers," Buffy replied.

Spike rolled his eyes before continuing. "She'd get really fat, until she didn't really look like the person you knew anymore, wouldn't she?"

"Okay, is it just me, or is this the world's stupidest example? And somewhat - offensive?"

"Please, just bear with me," Spike said, trying to keep his temper in hand. "So, the source is the Snickers, but the fat cells are a part of her body now. They're part of who she is, physically."

"I'm with you, but I don't see your point."

"The spells are doing that to her. She's digesting magic - lots of it from some dark power - and it's affecting who she is."

"Well, now that I've wasted five minutes of my life listening to that thoroughly riveting explanation, why don't you tell me how you got that crazy idea?" Buffy said sarcastically.

"I just know, Buffy. It's true."

"Look, it's an interesting theory and it explains the weird behavior, but I think Willow's just having a serious wiggins and she'll calm down."

"No, she won't calm down - that's what I'm trying to tell you," Spike argued.

"How do you know?" Buffy shot back.

Spike sighed, hoping he wasn't about to become a bit of dust for the nice janitorial staff to sweep up. "You know how wine-connoisseurs -"

"Is this going to be another charming simile?" Buffy asked sweetly, a fake smile on her face.

Spike stood, glaring down at the Slayer. "Fine. I'll just toddle off to my crypt, and when Red goes all loony-tunes and its too late to stop it, I'll just laugh my arse off." With one last look, he turned and started walking away.

"Wait, Spike," Buffy called, standing up to follow him. Spike stopped, but didn't turn around.

"Oh, sure - now you want to hear it. You sure you want to listen to another 'charming simile'?"

"You have to admit, this is a little far-fetched. Sure, her spells are out of hand, and she needs to cool it with the magic, but she's not … evil."

"No, she's not, but she is dangerous, and getting more so every day," Spike said, finally turning, his face serious.

"Okay … wine people. Go," Buffy prompted.

"They can taste the wine, and they can tell you where it came from, what year it is, all that?"

"Right. Gotcha'. Wine-tasting people can do cool James Bond suave stuff. Now … Willow?"

"I, uhh … I can do something similar with blood," Spike said slowly, eyeing Buffy warily and waiting for her reaction.

"And when does this story get back to Willow?" Buffy asked, before realization dawned visibly on her face. Faster than he could blink, Spike found himself pressed against the wall, a stake at his chest and a forearm pressing uncomfortably into his throat. "You drank her blood? Give me one reason not to kill you."

"I didn't - it was - she had a nosebleed and I got some on my hand when I cleaned it up. I licked it off, got a taste, and then I knew."

Buffy's look of anger was quickly replaced by a look of revulsion. "Nosebleed? Spike, that's just … ewww. Ewww."

"That's not the point, Buffy," Spike said when Buffy eased up the arm against his throat. "The point is, that blood was dark and powerful. Like Dru. But more so … there's only a bit of it in there, but whatever's there is pure bad."

"So we - what? Off Willow?" Buffy asked incredulously.

"I don't know, Buffy. But you have to be careful around her."

"Willow wouldn't hurt any of us - not on purpose," Buffy insisted.

"You don't get it, do you? It's. In. Her. Blood. It's a part of her. It's changed her, and she isn't the Willow that you knew. Not anymore. The only thing that's keeping her remotely balanced …" Spike trailed off, shaking his head.

"What, Spike? What's keeping her balanced."

"Tara. Her love for Tara was in there, too. And it's strong, yes, but the darkness is fighting it - fights in the blood leave a bitter aftertaste."

"So, Willow's got bitter blood, and Tara can fix that?" Buffy asked. "I still don't see what I'm supposed to >do< about all of this? What can I do, Spike?" she challenged.

"What did Xander say about the fight tonight?" Spike asked suddenly.

"Change the subject much?" Buffy asked. Seeing Spike's impatient look, she relented. "Let's see … it went 'Big Ugly, Scary Mojo, Wacky Willow'."

"When Willow cast the spell at whatever-it-was, it made the thing stronger. I suggest you start looking there," he said, turning and walking away.


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 Post subject: AD Part 10
PostPosted: Fri Mar 29, 2002 10:13 pm 
Answering Darkness Part 10


Rest for the Wicked

Willow smiles slowly, a warm fuzzy feeling enveloping her. With a soft little sigh, she snuggled closer to the source of her contentment, trying to ignore the pounding between her ears. She knew the headache was a consequence of her spellcasting the day before, but the results were worth it. She took a deep breath and let it out slowly as she drifted back towards sleep.

A hand - Tara's hand - started gently stroking her hair, the soothing sensation stealing attention away from the dull throb behind her eyes.

"N-no," Tara murmured, her arms tightening around Willow and cuddling her close.

"I'm here, Baby," Willow mumbled, nuzzling the skin near her face and placing a light kiss there.

Tara settled down, her warm hands slipping underneath Willow's shirt and stroking the bare skin of her back. Those sweetly familiar hands urged Willow closer, and she complied, shifting herself to lay more fully atop her sleeping lover, their legs entwining happily. The sound of Tara's heartbeat under her ear urged her to relax against the warm soft body beneath her.

She smiled when she felt Tara turn her head, pressing her lips to her hair.

Everything was perfect. Buffy didn't remember being in Heaven, Tara wasn't mad at her, and Willow was happy getting snugglies from her girl, and with that thought, she drifted seamlessly back into her dreams.

Tara's own dream continued, her face pulling into a frown. Willow - crying. Willow - betraying her. Willow - looking so very lost and alone, he heart broke to see it.

But Willow was here, wasn't she? Dreams and reality merged and shifted, and Tara was aware of both holding Willow in her arms and turning from here - walking away.

'Please, let >this< be real,' Tara's heart begged as her arms tightened around Willow's slim body again.

A noise caught Tara's attention, rumbly and low. It was slow, but rhythmic, and she tried to follow it through the fog of sleep, hoping it would lead her back to Willow.

The fog surrounded her, though, in shades of gray. Only the occasional flash of Willow's hair broke the dull monochrome of the area, though something wasn't quite right. The color was … off, somehow, though her heart knew it was still Willow. And so she followed the noise and the flashes of a deep crimson red, like Willow's hair was being seen beneath a blue light. But there was no blue light here - just gray and gray and gray, endlessly confusing and swirling around her in a chaotic mist.

Willow was lost. She had to find her.

There - the noise was there .. and there it was again, and Tara walked, seeking the source of the sound, and another flash of deep red hair.

Something warm and wet dripped onto her chest - no, it was coming >from< her chest, oozing up from the skin. The fog filled her vision, but she looked down, seeing a brilliant red stain there, seeping into her skin and her shirt.

She was bleeding - or was it Willow who was bleeding? Just who shot who? Willow was bleeding - she had hurt Willow, and now she hurt, too.

But no, that wasn't right. Willow had hurt her, but they were both bleeding and torn.


And Willow was lost. Had to find Willow.

Why couldn't she find Willow. Couldn't she always find Willow. Maybe she wasn't looking hard enough.

A hand drifted up, touching the blood and Tara frowned. There was something wrong. Everyone was bleeding, but there was something wrong with her blood - with the Demon MaClay Blood. But no - it was Willow's blood. Willow's blood was wrong, because it wasn't Willow's blood at all, but MaClay blood - but Willow wasn't one of the Demon MaClay's, and the blood was hot and angry against her fingers.

Tara ran, trying to escape the fog and the confusion and the Demon Blood, lost in a hazy gray mist.

Her eyes fluttered open, a groan escaping her.

"No. G'back t'sleep," Willow slurred, her face scrunching up into a child's pout.

Tara blinked a few times, trying to clear her mind of the dream and pull herself into the waking world. But something kept her tethered to the dream even as she tried to awaken - something the same in both worlds.

Tara lifted her hand and studied it with sleepy eyes before her brain registered exactly what the red stain on her fingers was. She craned her neck, tilting her head and perring around Willow's hair - her correctly-colored hair - and seeing the red droplets of blood against the smooth white skin of her chest.

Willow was bleeding. Willow was lost.

No, not lost - right here. Tara blinked her eyes a few times, breathing in the cool morning air.

Willow was here, but bleeding.

Willow had a nosebleed.

Tara took a deep steadying breath before gently rolling onto her side, depositing her lover onto her back. Or ex-lover? Betrayer? Tormenter and Demon?

Willow made a grumpy little noise before snuggling into the warm bedding.

Willow was all these, and so much more. Companion. Seductress. Vixen and Saint. Willow was everything, but how could Tara stay with someone who had hurt her so badly?

Standing on shaky legs, Tara walked to the bathroom, getting a cloth and running it under warm water.

She looked up, and big blue eyes above dark rings and bags stared back at her in the mirror. With a critical eye, she looked like she had stayed up all night and slept in her clothes, which was certainly true, but she also looked like … she looked like she used to look every morning when she awoke back home. Haunted. Frightened. Weak and small.

She discarded the cloth, dipping her hands beneath the water and bending towards the sink, splashing her face and wondering how she could leave someone who loved her so very much. But how could she stay? Hadn't she run from the people she loved and claimed to love her when the pain had grown too great?

And this was worse - ten times worse - for she had trusted Willow in ways she had never trusted her family. She had never trusted them to keep her safe, but to keep others safe >from< her once she changed.

Trembling where she stood, she splashed her face again, screwing her eyes shut tight and rubbing her eyes vigorously.

Willow, she decided wildly, was her Demon. She was the MaClay Demon, and the family legends were true - and if she had only gone home on her 20th birthday, she wouldn't know this pain. Everyone would be safe and happy, and it was her own selfishness for wanting to stay in the first place that caused all of this.

And who had convinced her to stay, despite the legends? Despite the sure knowledge that the Demon came for all MaClay women? It had been Willow, who had told her she wasn't evil. It had been Willow who had shown her that she didn't deserve to be hurt. It was Willow who, with her every gesture and every word, had convinced her that the Demon didn't need to be beaten out of her, because there was no Demon. And that she was worthy of love.

Tara picked up the cloth and made her way carefully back to Willow's room, the tears making it hard to navigate in the largely unfamiliar house.

Willow still slept, her face peaceful and serene. An Angel's face, masking the woman who had taught her she was worthwhile and strong, only to try to tear that knowledge away with a thoughtless spell.

Carefully, Tara sat on the edge of the bed, dabbing at Willow's upper lip with the cloth and cleaning the blood away.

Shaking her head, Tara tried to dispel all thoughts of Demons and Angels from her mind. It was ridiculous, really - this was Willow. Her Willow. She hadn't meant to hurt her. Willow would never hurt her intentionally.

But hadn't she said the same of Donnie? Of Papa?

Tara looked on Willow's slumbering form, her mind turning over and over as her heart just sat and wept. A sad smile lifted one corner of her mouth as she realized that Willow's love would always be a source of strength, and it was that strength that allowed her to stand up and walk out of Willow's room, down the stairs, and out the door, letting her Demon rest.


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 Post subject: AD Part 11
PostPosted: Fri Mar 29, 2002 10:15 pm 
Answering Darkness Part 11

Still

"Buffy?" Dawn croaked out, her throat dry and her lips cracked.

"Hey," Buffy said groggily, raising her head and looking around to orient herself before landing her gaze on her sister. Dawn smiled weakly, and Buffy smiled back. Dawn had been so quiet - so still. She had woken briefly, convincing the doctors that she had sustained no lasting brain injury, only to fall back asleep, her system still worn and stressed.

In the long night, she had far too much time to think, and she realized now it was the stillness that had bothered her. The steady but shallow rise and fall of Dawn's chest had been her only movement, and in its predictability, it had seemed like it shouldn't count as movement at all. It wasn't like Dawn was trying to move, or was able to move; it was just what her body did naturally.

And it had been disturbing. Disturbing in that it had seemed as though Dawn wasn't really there at all, but someplace else, apart and away from the real world, and that Buffy couldn't reach her. And it was disturbing in that, through the night, Buffy had begun to wonder. Had Dawn felt the same way, seeing her body lying broken and still after she had closed the portal? Had Dawn felt this helpless and afraid?

Buffy didn't consider herself a deep thinker. Oh, she was bright and certainly capable, but given to self-analysis? No, she wasn't the type to wonder about these things. She was more of a "tell me how to kill it, and I'll get started," kind of girl. So why was she suddenly so worried that she had made a mistake?

Willow's words rang through her mind in the dark, and Dawn's words, pleading with her to stay. And her own words. Over and over.

The hardest thing indeed.

But Willow had been wrong, Buffy knew that. She knew it as certainly as she knew she was alive and breathing, because all of it hurt.

And yet …

"Could I have some water?" Dawn said slowly.

Buffy jumped to her feet, filling a glass and placing a straw in it. Here, she was in her element. Here, she had a task - something she could >do<, that would make a difference. Dawn needed water, and Buffy could provide it.

Buffy sat on the edge of the bed, holding the cup for her sister and placing the straw between her lips. She brushed back the hair from Dawn's forehead as the girl - no, honestly, she was a young woman now - drank slowly.

Now there was movement, and pain. She could see it in Dawn's face. She was hurting, like Buffy was hurting. Heaven had been so very still. It had been so very peaceful and warm, but had she really belonged there? Dawn was here, and Buffy was all that Dawn really had left. If given the chance to return to that stillness, would she leave Dawn again?

"How are you feeling?" Buffy asked, before shaking her head. "I bet everyone's going to ask you that, and I bet you're not feeling so hot, huh?"

"Yeah. I'm just, really tired," Dawn admitted. "Are you going to yell at me?" she asked warily.

"Yell at you?" Buffy asked in mock surprise. "For casting a spell on a friend that was way too powerful for you and ending up in the hospital? Now, why would I wanna' do that?" she asked, in the dreaded 'sarcastic voice.'

"I was just trying to -"

"No, Dawn. Not now," Buffy said, managing to convey both the finality of her words and her love for her sister in her tone.

Dawn nodded slowly, and Buffy ran a hand down her arm to squeeze her hand.

"Dawnie?" came a voice from the doorway, and Dawn looked up, a delighted smile on her face.

"Tara?"

"Yeah, sweetie," Tara said, moving into the room and sitting on the other side of Dawn's bed. She had come to the hospital straight from the Rosenberg home, feeling more confident and sure with every step.

"Tara, I'm sorry," Dawn said, her face screwing up into a grimace and tears welling up in her eyes.

"I'll leave you two to talk," Buffy said, giving Tara a significant look before standing and walking from the room.

Buffy was almost grateful for the excuse to leave. She knew she had to handle Dawn's most recent "adventure", but right now she needed a little space to breathe.

"Dawn," Tara said, stopping the young girl from speaking when she had opened her mouth. "What you did - it … Goddess, it wasn't right, Dawn," Tara said gently, laying a hand on Dawn's shoulder. "It was dangerous, and disrespectful, and -"

"I know, and I'm so sorry," Dawn said miserably. "I just … I just didn't want you to go. Not like everybody else. Everybody is always leaving me," she said, her voice choked and ending on a whisper.

"Oh, Dawnie," Tara said. "I … it had nothing to do with you, sweetie. I just - I had to go. But it wasn't you - never you."

"But you left," Dawn said starkly.

"I know I did," Tara said, taking a deep breath. "But Dawnie, you can't use magic to control people and things to your liking."

"I - I know," Dawn said, looking down at her covered legs and tugging on the threads of the hospital blanket.

"What you need," Tara said, a half-smile on her face, "is a better understanding of Wicca and magick."

"Buffy won't let me learn. She won't let me do anything," Dawn complained.

"We already talked. Last night. She'll let you do this. I'll teach you," Tara said slowly, her own fingers fiddling with the blankets, unsure of Dawn's reaction to the offer.

"What? Really?" Dawn asked, her voice raising and ending on a squeak.

"Yes, but it's not all flashy lights and stuff," Tara said. "There's a lot of philosophy. And gardening."

"But - that's so cool - I'll really get to … ?"

"Yeah, really," Tara said.

"So I'll get to see you all the time, too?" Dawn asked, her smile growing larger as each new implication of this new development occurred to her.

"More than you think," Tara said wryly. "I'm moving back in."

Dawn stopped, her face reflecting the hope she expected to be shattered. "So, you and Willow - ?" she asked, trying to sound casual.

"No," Tara said, shaking her head slowly, unable to meet Dawn's eyes. "It's … complicated. But we all decided it would be best if I moved back in, and Willow moved out."

"So … I mean, don't you - aren't you …" Dawn gave up trying to articulate what she was feeling, letting out a heavy sigh.

With a look of understanding, Tara answered anyway.

"Yes, I still love her. And yes, I'll miss her. But this really is for the best. It means I can stay in Sunnydale and keep going to school, and I can teach you magic before you end up blowing up the house," she finished wryly.

Dawn winced. "I really am sorry -"

"I know you are, Dawn. But you have to realize two things: that magick and people aren't toys, and that none of us are going anywhere and that we love you."

"Still?"

"Still."


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 Post subject: AD Part 12
PostPosted: Fri Mar 29, 2002 10:18 pm 
Answering Darkness Part 12

Cold

When Willow woke, the spot in the bed next to her was cold. With a start, she awoke, the old creeping over her from Tara's side of the bed and into her heart.

She sat up, pulling her knees to her chest and gathering the covers around her and tucked up under her chin. The curtains were closed, just a pale edge of light outlining the placement and shape of the window. She assumed it was just past dawn, but the sun couldn't touch her chilled cocoon.

The dark shapes and shadows here were familiar, but wrong. This wasn't her room. Where was she? Where was Tara?

The answer to that question came to her with the suddenness of a blow. Gone. Tara was gone, and she … she was alone.

Shivering against the chill morning air, Willow curled up tighter, a low heart-wrenching keening noise escaping her. The pitiful wretched tones filling the air. A sob shook her body, then another, until she couldn't stop them, or the stark reality of Tara's departure, from filling her.

She had had a dream last night, that everything was okay - that her spell had worked, and Tara had forgotten. Buffy had forgotten. She and Tara had been in bed together, snuggled up close, and she had known that everything was right with the world. She had been warm and safe, and so very happy.

But she had woken up alone on a cold winter morning, at her parents house, knowing that everything wasn't okay. Last night had been full of spells and demons and pain. Buffy hurting, Dawn in the hospital, Giles in England, and Tara - oh, God, Xander had said Tara was going to go home, back to the people who had treated her so badly.

Why would Tara want to do such a thing? She couldn't fathom it - couldn't wrap her brain around the idea that Xander and Buffy had given her a place to go when she, Willow, was no longer where Tara wanted to be.

An icy resolve filled her - one that terrified her even as it gave her hope. Xander had said she had to give up magick for a week to get Tara back, so that's what she would do. She could do it, she knew she could. Tara didn't know, though, so she had to show her. She could do that, she was sure of it. There wasn't anything she couldn't do for Tara, and if this is what Tara needed, then she would. But first, she had to get out of bed.

She threw the covers off before she could think about it too hard, swinging her legs over the side of the bed and placing her feet on the cool carpet.

Shivering, she stood, looking around the room that had been her home for eighteen years. There wasn't enough light to really see. Automatically, she made a quick gesture, a mumbled word passing her lips, and the curtains opened, letting the feeble rays of the sun into the room.

The sky was overcast, all gray and gloomy. It matched Willow's mood as she moved to the closet, opening it and looking at the clothes there. God, she hadn't seen any of these in years. She was surprised, really, that her parents had kept her high school things.

She rummaged through the clothes, finally finding a pair of jeans and a t-shirt in the very back that weren't so bad. Quickly dressing, she went to the door, her hand on the knob before stopping cold.

A chill went up and down her spine and she froze. Had she just - ? She turned slowly, staring at the window, then raising her hand into her line of sight, staring at both like she had never seen them before. Had she opened the curtains with magick? Surely, she hadn't, right? She had just decided she was going to go a week without using any, so she couldn't have changed her mind mere moments later. She had had on her resolve face - nothing had ever beaten her resolve face.

A look of total shock playing across her features, Willow sat down heavily on the floor, her back pressed to the cool wood door. She hadn't meant to - it had just happened. She had needed light, and then the curtains were open, but that didn't really mean anything. It had been a reflex, and she'd just have to be more careful. This wouldn't count. She'd just start her week over, and everything would be all right again. It had to be.

Sighing, Willow stood awkwardly. She would just do better from now on. The magick wasn't in charge here - she was. And as of right now, she wouldn't do any magick. Nodding emphatically, she turned and opened the door, making her way down to the kitchen.

She looked around the room, a frown tugging at her face. It looked exactly the same, right down to the itinerary up on the fridge.

"Our of town again," she muttered to herself, one finger tracing the paper lightly. That was okay, though. It made being her easier, knowing her parents were away for the week.

But being here wasn't easy. The sharp contrast between this room and the Summers kitchen struck her sharply. The Summers kitchen was warm and inviting, and this … this wasn't. It was sterile. Functional.

Willow opened the fridge, looking at the food inside through watery eyes. She didn't belong here, not anymore. The food looked decidedly not-appetizing, and Willow's stomach felt like it was filled with lead. She just wasn't hungry, so she closed the door, wondering what she was going to do with herself for the rest of the day.

She supposed she could get started on unpacking. With a swing of her arms, she headed determinedly out to the foyer where the boxes sat haphazardly around the door. She picked one up and started towards the stairs, then stopped.

Why should she spend hours unpacking everything? Why should she carry these heavy boxes all the way up the stairs? With a few simple words, all of her things would be unpacked and in place, and she could go do something else. There was no one here to stop her, so why not?

She put the box down, turning to look at the other boxes.

"Tara wouldn't like it," she told herself sternly, shaking her head, trying to clear the idea out. But it would be so easy, and it wouldn't hurt anything. Tara wouldn't even have to know. She could just …

"Just what?" she asked herself aloud, trying to ignore the idea that talking aloud to oneself was kinda' crazy. "Just lie to her some more?" She couldn't do that. Not if she wanted Tara back. But if she didn't know, then where was the harm? Tara wasn't the boss of her. Tara wasn't the one who had all this power building up inside of her until it was screaming to be let out.

She continued arguing with herself, even as she said the words and the boxes and their contents disappeared, reappearing in her room, everything in its place.

"Oh, God. What did I just do?" she muttered, her eyes wide and disbelieving as she stared at the empty space where the boxes had been. This was harder than she had thought it would be. And she was failing miserably.

Could she really have a problem? Could the magick really be controlling her, rather than the other way around? The mere thought made her heavy stomach twist and a wave of nausea washed over her. With a groan, she dashed to the bathroom, hand over her mouth, then knelt before the toilet, dry heaves shaking her body.

She could stop, couldn't she?

Of course she could.

Then why wasn't she? Why the spells?

Because it was easier. She didn't have to do things the hard way anymore.

Yes, she did. She had to get Tara back the hard way. She had tried the easy way, and she had failed. She had failed miserably, because she was a miserable failure. She was a fake and a fraud and …

A knock sounded at the door. Pale and clammy, Willow stood, quickly splashing some water on her face before going to the foyer where she had just … no, she wouldn't think about it.

Another knock, and her hand was on the doorknob. She turned it slowly, pulling it open.

"Hi!" Anya said brightly, beaming at Willow. "Xander said I should come by to tell you that Dawn was all right," she said earnestly. "He also said that I should check up on you and tell him how you were doing."

Willow gaped at Anya for a moment, before her words sunk in. Dawn was all right. A flood of relief poured through her, and her eyes drifted shut for a moment.

"I can see that you're pale and shaky, but standing and dressed, which is more than I expected. Well, I'm going to go open the magick shop," Anya.

"Wait," Willow said desperately. "Can't you stay a minute? I could make tea, or … something?" she said. Anya had to stay. She wouldn't cast any spells in front of Anya, so as long as Anya was here, she would be safe. As long as Anya was here, she wouldn't have to tell Tara how weak and pitiful she was.

"Oh, I couldn't. I'm a working girl, and there's money to be made."

"But … do you usually make sales this time of morning?" Willow asked, casting around for an argument that would make Anya stay, at least for a little while. "Because if you open the shop, but don't make any sales, you'll actually lose money, because you'll have to pay yourself … and, and the electricity you'll use with the lights on - you'll have to pay for that, too. And the wear and tear on the chairs and carpeting, being in there with no sales … that costs money. So you should really stay," Willow babbled.

Anya looked at Willow suspiciously before stepping into the house. "Tea? You're going to actually make the tea and not just …" she said, making a vague gesture in the air.

"Oh, I'll make it!" Willow said quickly. "With the pot and the water and everything."

"Well, all right. I suppose I could stay for a little while," Anya said. Willow closed the door and led Anya into the kitchen, getting her seated before bustling around making the tea.

"Did Xander, umm… did he say anything about last night?"

"Which part of last night? There were lots of happenings last night."

"Well, any of it," Willow said slowly, her mind turning over the events of last night.

"He said Tara had to stay with us, because she was going to leave Sunnydale, even though she agreed to help with the wedding," Anya said. "Which means she must have been really upset, because Tara isn't the kind to make a promise and not follow through. I know that kind. I used to punish that kind."

"Umm… yeah," Willow agreed, unsure of how to respond to that. "But she's staying in Sunnydale, right? Xander said he talked her into staying."

"Yes, Xander said he and Tara bonded, but not in a sex way, because Tara is gay, too. Anyway, he said they bonded, and that Tara wasn't going to go live with her abusive family again. She's going to stay with Buffy. They talked about it last night."

Willow's brow furrowed. Abusive? They were mean, and they didn't appreciate Tara, but abusive? No, Anya had to mean emotionally, and for that alone, Willow could happily turn them all into toads.

"… and I'd turned them all into toads, if I were still a Vengeance Demon," Anya was saying, as Willow realized she had tuned out of the conversation.

"Who? Tara's family?"

"No, Xander's parents," Anya said, frowning. "Haven't you been listening?"

"Oh, sure … I just got mixed up," Willow said apologetically.

"That's okay. Xander said you were really out of it last night. He said he was attacked by a demon, which makes me feel angry, because I don't like it when Xander is hurt. But he wasn't hurt, because Spike and you fought the demon off. So, thank you. Xander says I need to work harder on thanking people when they do something nice for me. It's polite." She beamed.

"You're welcome, Anya," Willow said. Yes, she and Spike had fought off a demon last night. But if a demon attacked now, with her new resolve to not use magick, what would she do? Would she even have a choice, or would she find herself casting a spell before she'd even thought about it? The idea chilled her.

"Well, I must go open the shop now. We should have paying customers soon, and I don't want anyone with money to find the shop closed," Anya said, standing up. Willow stood as well and walked Anya to the door. "Thank you for the tea. Oh, and there's a Scooby meeting tonight. We're meeting at the shop, so we can do research."

"You're welcome, and I'll see you at the meeting," Willow said, and then Anya was gone, and Willow was in a big empty house all alone, at a loss as to what to do now.

Impulsively, she opened the hall closet, her fingers folding around her coat. She tugged it on and grabbed her keys, leaving the house and stepping out into the cool morning. A walk would help. A walk would keep her busy, and if she went somewhere with lots of people, she couldn't just throw magick around. She'd have to be careful, and in being careful, maybe, just maybe, she'd get through this week.


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 Post subject: AD Part 13
PostPosted: Fri Mar 29, 2002 10:21 pm 
Answering Darkness Part 13

Clarity

Tara was tired. So much had happened in the last 24 hours, and she wasn't sure if she could really absorb all of it. Dawn was sleeping again, tucked safely in her bed after protesting through her yawns that she wasn't at all tired. Buffy, too, was sleeping, the stress knocking her out.

But Tara was too tired to sleep. Or maybe it was that her mind was too busy to let her rest. She kept turning over the angles, looking at her actions of the last day, week, year. Should she have done anything differently? And why was she second-guessing herself to begin with?

Sighing, she gazed out the kitchen window. The sun was up, the morning's dreariness having burned off, leaving a cool but clear day behind. Tara wished her doubts and questions could leave as easily. She wished the light and heat of the sun could just drive them away, so she could get some rest.

Even still, underneath the questions and doubts was a sharp ache that likely wouldn't let her sleep anyway. It gnawed at her, reminding her with each breath that she had turned away from the only person she had ever loved. It told her over and over that the one person she had trusted above all others had betrayed that trust, and that she may never know the breadth of that betrayal, because she could never be sure she remembered everything.

She wanted to just forgive. It was so tempting to go find Willow, hold her close, and tell her everything would be all right. But she'd be lying, and she loved Willow too much to lie to her. Nothing would be all right until Willow fully realized how wrong she had been, and how much she had hurt her.

Tara slipped out the back door, wrapping her arms around herself for warmth as she looked out at the day. Everyone was going about their business, unaware of how close the world had come to ending just months before. They were all so blissfully unaware, and Tara envied that. She envied the innocence and naivete that allowed them to go about their lives and not see the demons that lurked around every corner.

But she hadn't been like that for a very long time. She had been aware of the demons since she was a very small girl, and yet the fears she had living in Sunnydale were nothing compared to the fear that she, herself, was a demon. Maybe it was a bizarre way of looking at things, but nothing compared to how she felt when she thought she was the one who would do the hurting.

Now, however, she was the one who was hurt. With a rueful half-smile, she sent a silent thanks to Xander for talking her out of returning home. In the clear light of morning, she realized she didn't belong there. No matter how bad she felt about leaving Willow and hurting her, she couldn't give in to the small part of herself that felt she deserved to return to whatever punishments her father and brother could devise. Xander had been right: she needed to hang on to the woman she had become thanks to Willow, and not let this break-up destroy her. Though it would be so easy to just give in, wasn't that one of the things she was angry with Willow for? Taking the easy way out?

Tara sat on the steps, her elbows on her knees and her hands loosely clasped. She let her eyes drift shut as she lifted her face to the sun, breathing deep of the clear air. No, she couldn't take the easy way out. She would prove to herself that she had deserved Willow's love in the first place, and that she hadn't deserved her betrayal. She would stay in Sunnydale and get a degree, and who knew where she'd go from there? But she would have options - options she wouldn't have had if she had just wrapped herself around her pain and returned to her family.

More importantly, here in Sunnydale she had hope. She had the hope that Willow would be willing and able to give up the magick. There was no hope with her father and brother; there was only an endless day of chores and the consequences she faced for any "evil" behavior.

Flashes of her dream from that morning played across her mind's eye, and she shivered. There was something so very strange and sinister about that dream, but she didn't really understand it. She supposed it was her subconscious telling her she had to leave Willow until Willow wanted her more than the magick, but that seemed too obvious and too pat to her. Besides, there was some strange … flavor to the dream.

Her grandmother, she knew, had been gifted with dreams that were more visions, though her mother had not. Had she herself inherited that gift? Did this dream mean something more … something deeper?

Shaking her head, she stood, walking back into the warm kitchen and out of the cold day. If she thought too hard about it, the answer wouldn't come. Perhaps she would meditate later, or do some gardening and let her mind clear. Maybe the answer would come then.

A sleepy and tousled teenager wandered into the kitchen, yawning hugely.

"You should really get some more sleep," Tara admonished the young woman.

"I couldn't stay in bed anymore," Dawn replied, leaning against the counter, frowning at the dark circles under Tara's eyes. "Shouldn't >you< be in bed?" Tara, frankly, looked completely exhausted and worn out.

"Yes, probably," Tara sighed. "But I couldn't sleep," she confided. "What would you like for breakfast? Pancakes? Eggs?"

"You don't have to cook for me," Dawn said quickly. "Why don't you sit down, and I'll just pour myself some cereal. You want any?"

"No, thank you. If you're having the 'loaded with sugary goodness' kind, have some orange juice, too," Tara said, retrieving a glass from the cupboard and placing it on the counter.

Dawn nodded, pouring the cereal and the juice and moving to the table with her breakfast. Tara sat down with her, continuing to gaze out the window.

"You should probably eat something, too," Dawn prodded. "There's plenty of sugary goodness to go around."

A small smile appeared on Tara's face, then disappeared. "I'm really not hungry."

"Okay," Dawn said, her worry growing. It wasn't like Tara to do anything that would 'set a bad example' in front of her, and between that and the break-up, Dawn wasn't sure what to think.

"You sure you don't need to sleep more?" Tara asked suddenly.

"I'm fine," Dawn said. "I'm kinda' tired, but not sleepy tired. I had lots of sleep. I'm more of a 'how about I just sit here and watch TV all day' kind of tired."

"That stuff'll rot your brain," Tara said wryly. Dawn was a real brain, like Willow, and she wasn't honestly afraid watching TV would in any way do any harm, but the idea of Dawn just sitting around and watching TV for an entire day didn't sit well with her anyway. "How about we start your Wicca lessons?"

"Today?" Dawn asked, eyes wide.

"As soon as you finish that cereal. And >all< the orange juice. And - good God, did that milk turn pink?"

"Yup," Dawn confirmed happily, finishing off the cereal, then downing the orange juice so fast Tara thought she'd choke. Dawn rose, rinsing her dirty dishes under running water before placing them in the dishwasher. "What spell is first?" Dawn asked eagerly.

"No spell is first," Tara said firmly. "And even if there >were< a spell that was first, we wouldn't do it now. Your energy is still down."

"Then what are we going to do?" Dawn asked.

"Garden," Tara said with a smile, opening a drawer and pulling out a small trowel. "Grab a jacket - it's cold."

"Garden?" Dawn asked, making a face but dutifully grabbing a jacket before following Tara out to the small herb garden she had started when she moved in.

"Actually, I'll be gardening. You're going to sit and watch."

"I can't even help with the gardening?" Dawn asked incredulously.

"Dawnie," Tara said seriously. "You've taken a great strain. You don't get to do anything but sit, stand, walk within the confines of the house, and lay down for at least the whole weekend."

"But -"

"No buts. Here," Tara said, indicating a patch of grass. "Sit there and watch."

And so the lesson started, Tara carefully tending to her garden, pointing out each plant and their various uses to Dawn. Rather than being boring, as she had expected, Dawn found it all very interesting, asking questions and reciting back information as Tara asked.

"But why even have a garden?" Dawn asked finally as Tara stood up, brushing her dirty hands off and marching back into the house. "Wouldn't it be easier to just buy the stuff you need from the magick shop?"

"Two reasons. First, we're all on a budget. Growing plants is less expensive than buying them. Second, it's better for the magick to grow what you need yourself," Tara explained.

"Why is it better?" Dawn asked, her curiosity piqued.

"Well, all magick has a source," Tara began, trying to explain what she fundamentally understood and couldn't remember ever actually putting into words. "A Wiccan's source is nature. Plants, animals, the four elements … that sort of thing." Tara paused, waiting for Dawn's nod of understanding.

"I'm with you so far," Dawn confirmed.

"Good. Anyway, there are lots of different sources. Demons, angels, your own power, emotions, even the hellmouth could be used as a magickal source. But all of these take a different style of magick."

"Okay, so since the Wicca force is nature, growing your own nature is better?" Dawn guessed.

"Right, but there's a little more," Tara said, smiling. "There are two ways to use a magickal source. You can ask, or you can command. Both have their dangers, though asking is better. The only danger in that is that your source will say no, and the spell won't work. If you try to command, though, and what you're commanding is more powerful than you are, things can go very wrong."

"Like what I did last night?" Dawn asked quietly.

"Dawn, you're fifteen. I don't expect you to always make the right choice. I do, however, expect you to learn from your mistakes," Tara said slowly, her tone warm and reassuring.

"Okay," Dawn said after a moment, smiling. "So you were talking about asking and commanding the different sources?"

"Right," Tara said, going back into the lesson. "A Wiccans magick is based on respectfully asking nature to lend their power to spells. Actually nurturing and helping the plants grow and thrive shows your respect and caring for nature, and so they're more likely to help you. Do you understand?"

"Yes, I do," Dawn said smiling, then letting out a yawn.

"I know you're a big girl, but you might want to consider taking a nap," Tara said fondly.

Dawn nodded, walking to the stairs. "Yeah, I think I will. All that plant talk wore me out."

Tara watched Dawn go, tucking her hands into the pockets of her sweater, her fingers meeting cool metal. Frowning, she pulled the chain out of her pocket, her eyes falling on the doll's eye crystal she had forgotten in the craziness the night before.

Holding the crystal by the chain, she raised it to her eyes, studying it intently. She lifted her other hand, tracing the smooth surface with the tip of her finger, then flinched as a strange sensation jolted through her the moment her skin touched it.

Memories and thoughts clicked into place, orderly and clear. New questions arose, but so many important ones were answered as pieces of the puzzle slid together to show her a clear picture. She remembered everything, now - she remembered everything Willow had made her forget, and a feeling of relief surged within her as she realized that it was nothing she didn't already know. Willow hadn't cast the spell on her before Halloween. Her shadowy fears of other forgotten events evaporated, and her heart felt just a little bit lighter.

She knew the doll's eye crystal brought clarity to those who were questioning, but she had never experienced such a sharp and sudden burst of awareness before. Perhaps Willow's spell had just confused and hidden the memories, instead of taken them away completely.

But more importantly, a new burning question had arisen from the moment of clarity. When Willow had turned to dark magicks, what was her source?


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 Post subject: AD Part 14
PostPosted: Fri Mar 29, 2002 10:25 pm 
Answering Darkness Part 14

Sources

Anya beamed at the departing old woman. Her garish clothes and large cane made her a decidedly odd figure, but Anya didn't care. She had just bought a load of books, a few crystals, and some chalk. Anya did a little jig, carefully waiting until she heard the bell signaling the woman's departure before doing so. It would be unprofessional to dance in front of a paying customer.

"S-sorry," she heard, looking up to see Tara holding the door for the woman.

"Quite alright," the woman said kindly, her brown eyes twinkling up at Tara as she hefted her packages and walked out of the store.

"Hello, Tara," Anya said, smiling at the other woman. "Have you come to purchase something?" she asked hopefully.

"No, I wanted to do some research," Tara said, moving to the bookshelves and looking over them. "I've been through all my reference material. I needed some new sources," she said absently, her finger tracing the spines of the books as she looked over, then dismissed them.

"The Scooby meeting isn't until later," Anya pointed out. "Do you even know what the demon looks like? Xander didn't really give a description."

"I'm looking up something else," Tara muttered, moving to the next shelf.

"Maybe I can help?" Anya offered, continuing on at Tara's questioning glance. "I mean, I do own the shop, and being a one-thousand year old ex-vengeance demon, I do have quite a bit of mystical knowledge."

"You had a Source, right?" Tara asked finally, her face pulled into a frown. Maybe Anya would be able to help with this, though she was reluctant to involve any of the other Scoobies until she had found out more. Something was nagging at her, in the back of her mind, but the pieces weren't quite falling into place.

"A source?" Anya asked, a confused expression on her face. Then, her features cleared. "Oh, a Source! Big 'S'. Right. Yes, I had a mystical source that held all of my powers and the very essence of my demon-ness," she confirmed matter-of-factly.

"I'm doing some research on Sources," Tara said.

"What for?" Anya inquired, moving to a set of shelves across the shop.

"I-it's for Dawn. I'm teaching her some W-Wicca," Tara said, the half-truth making her decidedly nervous. But how could she explain this weird feeling of foreboding ever since the question had entered her mind? How could she explain the fear that had crawled up her spine when she had begun to wonder about Willow's source.

"Well, then you'll want the nature stuff," Anya said, pulling a few thin volumes from the shelf.

"Actually, I want to see all of it," Tara said firmly.

"All of it?" Anya asked. "Tara, there are some very dark and dangerous sources," Anya admonished. "I certainly wouldn't mess with them, now that I am completely human and a productive member of society."

"Yes, I know," Tara said quickly. "I-I just w-want to make sure that Dawn understands all the dangers, so she can be careful."

Anya looked skeptical, but held her peace for once, and Tara was irrationally grateful she didn't have to explain further.

"All right, so what are we looking for, exactly? There's Demons, Internal Power, Magical Talismans and the like, the Hellmouth itself …" Anya said questioningly.

"All of it," Tara repeated, a determined look crossing her features. She had to know - she had to fully understand exactly what Willow had done while she had been trapped inside her own mind. There was a sense of urgency about the whole thing that disturbed her, like something dark and dangerous was about to happen. But the only thing dark and dangerous seemed to be Willow herself, when she had taken on Glory with her magicks.

But she wasn't afraid of Willow, was she?

Anya continued pulling books off the shelves, piling them high in her arms, too busy to notice the worried frown on Tara's face.

No, not afraid of Willow. Willow wouldn't ever hurt any of the Scoobies - well, not on purpose. She showed bad judgement at times, but she wasn't evil or even mean, really. She was just … Tara really wasn't sure what, but something inside her told her she had to find out.

"Okay. These books are either completely about Sources, or have sections devoted to them," Anya said, piling the books onto the table.

Tara looked at the stack of books with wide eyes.

"I told you there were lots of them," Anya said, her voice slightly scolding, as if admonishing Tara for not taking her words seriously.

"Yes, yes you did," Tara agreed ruefully, sitting herself down and pulling the book on top of the stack towards her. She opened it up and began to read.

After several hours, she had skimmed through most of the books, but her eyes ache, the words swam before her eyes, and she had a massive crick in her neck. All she really wanted to do was to have Willow there to rub the pain away. Of course, if Willow were there, she wouldn't have to do this. She could just ask her.

Could she? Something about the idea seemed wrong, now that she really thought about it. No, confronting Willow was a bad idea. She wasn't sure what she was dealing with, and all the information she had just found worried her greatly. She had several books set aside and bookmarked, so she could read them thoroughly later, but right now she was just gathering, and even that little bit of knowledge she had gained had been enough to make her stomach turn.

Dark Sources were insidious things. They could not be asked without demanding a great price, and they could not be commanded except by those of exceptional power. Even then, they often lent their aid without needing to, letting the spellcaster believe they had powers greater than they actually possessed.

But why was she so fascinated with this topic? Was she looking for an excuse to blame someone or something other than Willow for her behavior?

Probably. Tara let out a mirthless laugh, letting her head drop down onto the book open before her. The truth was, she wanted to forgive Willow. She wanted this whole thing to be some Big Bad that the Scoobies could go beat up, so that Willow would be back at her side where she belonged.

Her reading told her this was a false hope, though. In stark black and white - and sometimes a disturbing rust on aging yellow - the words had been there. A Source didn't take over a spellcaster; it could only push the spellcaster into positions and situations where their own pride and folly would tear them down. No matter how she looked at it, she couldn't deny that Willow's choices were her own, and it was those choices that had driven her away.

Still, what if Willow were being manipulated by something? What if she was in danger? What if Willow, herself, were a danger? These books had story after story detailing the folly of dealing with these Dark Sources: stories in which the spellcaster were either destroyed in some blazing gory end, or had unwittingly unleashed unspeakable horrors into the world.

It would give any sane person nightmares, and Tara was not only sane, but deeply and madly in love with someone who might be within the grip of one of these Sources.

Did Willow know? Had she invited something in, then been unable to shut the door? Or had she just figured that these dark spells were just spells that people were afraid to use? That the spells in and of themselves were harmless, and it was how and why they were cast that counted?

"You're looking for Willow's Source, aren't you?" Anya asked quietly from behind Tara, causing her to sit up abruptly.

"W-why do you ask?"

"Because you were stuttering when you came in, you're as white as a sheet, and you look like your puppy died," Anya said quickly. "I notice these things. You can't be a vengeance demon for a millenium without learning how to notice these things."

"It's scary reading," Tara said defensively.

"And," Anya went on, ignoring Tara's feeble attempt to sidetrack her, "it's no secret that Willow's gone all loopy on the magick. Casting spells on her friends, tapping into Dark Magicks - she's probably standing on a street corner right now with a cardboard sign that says 'will work for spell ingredients.'" Anya gave an emphatic nod, pleased with her powers of deduction. "Besides, you were stuttering, and you don't do that anymore unless something is really wrong," Anya pointed out.

"A street corner?" Tara asked, worry coloring her tone.

"Oh, I doubt it's really that far, yet," Anya reassured her earnestly. "But that's where she's headed, and where she'll end up if she doesn't stop. I've seen it happen. Good, responsible people, get a little taste of power, and then off they go, bending reality to their will, whether it's a good idea or not."

"She wouldn't -"

"Wouldn't what? Use magick to change things to suit her?"

"So you think she's being held by a Dark Source?" Tara asked quietly, confirming Anya's suspicions about why, exactly, Tara had come into The Magic Box today.

"I don't know, exactly," Anya hedged. "She certainly could be. Her judgement isn't always great, but it's usually not >this< bad, right?"

"But a Dark Source wouldn't be able to control her actions, right?" Tara asked.

"No, it wouldn't. But it would open up new options when she was faced with different choices, like if she was deciding between wearing the jeans or slacks, it would put a pair of black leather pants in her closet."

Tara blinked slowly. What did Willow wearing black leather pants have to do with anything? Come to think of it, Willow >was< dressing differently. Tara shook her head. There was no way Anya meant that literally.

"You didn't mean that literally, right?"

"Of course not. It's just a metaphorical example. Willow would never have a pair of black leather pants in her closet, not on her own, but if they were already there, she might choose to wear them. You see?"

"Okay, like, she wouldn't ever seek out the power and knowledge to cast a big forget spell on everyone, but if they were already there, she'd use it. Right?"

"Exactly. So if Willow would just stop wearing the leather pants that mysteriously appeared in her closet, she'd be fine."

Tara sighed. It still came down to Willow and Willow's choices. No matter the source of the black leather pants, Willow chose to wear them.

Sheer lack of sleep and a brain that felt like it was swimming in cheese caught up with Tara, and she smirked, then giggled. Willow. Black leather pants.

"What's so funny?" Anya asked, a suspicious look on her face.

A blush crept across Tara's features as she giggled harder.

"Are you laughing at me? Do I have something on my face?"

Tara just kept laughing while Anya ran off to check.


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 Post subject: AD Part 15
PostPosted: Fri Mar 29, 2002 10:27 pm 
Answering Darkness Part 15

Beginnings

The sun set, the dying light filtering through the clouds, leaving the world bathed equally in light and shadow. Willow stared listlessly. Tomorrow. She'd start tomorrow.

She hadn't meant to continue casting; she had just meant to take a walk so she could get out of the house. But things had happened - little things. Inconsequential things. The door to a book shop had been stubborn, she found she had left her money at home when she had tried to buy lunch. There were those bullies picking on the younger boy. She hadn't done anything mean to them - she'd only scared them a little, and she doubted they'd be so quick to pick on smaller people again.

Willow sniffed, her eyes filling with moisture as she stared into the light, wishing it would stay. The wooden slats in the bench dug into her body, cold and hard as she sat in the park, staring out over the water.

She turned her head, her eyes finding the bridge where Tara had sung to her, just a few days before. Was that all it was? Just days? It seemed so much longer, like years or decades. Eons. Empires rose and fall, whole species succumbed to extinction and still Tara was not at her side.

Taking a deep shuddering breath, Willow looked back to the water. Water was so simple, really. Easy. Elegant. Hydrogen and oxygen combined to make something so very pretty and sparkly and necessary. Then again, oxygen was always necessary. The hydrogen was just extra.

Chemistry was so easy. Different elements interacted in specific ways. Predictable. Observable. She had made magick like that, in her mind. A new science, unexplored and waiting for the right person to come along and unravel its mysteries, bringing sense and order to its mystic obscurity.

Tara had never liked that. It was a fundamental difference in the way they viewed the world, and Willow couldn't help but wonder which of them was right. So many wonderful vital things had come from science, so how could applying scientific method to magick be any different? With each new discovery, hadn't she done some good? Hadn't she made life better and easier for everyone?

"God, I am a nerd," Willow muttered, leaning forward, her elbows resting on her knees. She brought her hands up to rub her face vigorously, then looked up, sighing heavily. A cool wind blew across her from over the water, ruffling her hair and making her shiver.

A scream rent the stillness of the night, and Willow was up and running before the sound had registered. The Scooby Reflex, they had jokingly called it. Most people ran away from the sound of trouble, especially in Sunnydale, but not the Scoobies.

The running felt good, somehow. The generally ickiness of the day and her disgust with herself over her inability to stop using magick drained out of her as she sprinted across the dewy grass toward an area sprinkled with trees.

The shadows seemed deeper there, but Willow plunged in headlong, pulling up short as another scream assaulted her ears. A young woman was sprawled on the ground, a gash on her arm bleeding unhindered. Standing over her was the demon, it's green and black mottled skin seeming to pull in the light.

Its head, long and misshapen turned towards her, its yellow eyes looking her up and down.

"Hey, Mr. Ugly Guy," Willow said weakly, giving a little wave as the woman scrambled away from the demon, scuttling backwards until she was a good ways away before standing and running, clutching her arm.

A low guttural noise issued forth from the creatures throat, its awkward jaw moving.

"That's a whole lot of sharp teethy badness," Willow said slowly, backing away. "Can you even close your mouth all the way?"

"Cast or die."

"What?" Willow asked, jumping at the sound of the voice, deep and rumbling. In answer, the shadows moved, rushing forward and into her, filling her eyes with darkness.

"Cast or die," came the voice again, as the demon took a step towards her.

The rush of power that came with the darkness thrilled her. She had been playing child's games all day, she realized. Nothing compared to the energy generated by darkness. Nothing compared to this power that had just come to her, without being called, begging her to release it - and she wanted to, because it felt so very good.

Standing tall and strong, Willow glared at the demon, the familiar tingling rising in her eyes and hands. Palms facing forward, she rose an inch, then two into the air. With a shout, she released the darkness into the demon, and it stopped, its head flopping back on its tall slender neck as it howled.

Willow floated forward, unleashing the power upon the demon as its body jerked and writhed in the shadows. It fell forward onto its knees, still screaming into the night when Willow collapsed, the last of the harnessed power draining out of her.

A strange euphoria washed over Willow, and she was unaware of the bumps and bruises she received falling as the demon shifted towards her, leaning over her, its burning breath washing over her face.

"What are you?" Willow whispered, raising her hand and feeling the creatures skin, running her fingertips on its cheek. "Show me," she commanded, a flare of energy, blinding white, flashing between them.

Its eyes widened as it let out a demony gasp. Willow giggled ridiculously, assuming she was about to meet her end when she looked into its eyes. The yellow light there spread and grew, enveloping her, and then she was falling again - falling into the demon's eyes.

She stood on a hill, within a circle of stones within a circle of trees. A village lay below, the simple church burning. Power surged within her, but different and strange. Strong, but peaceful, it felt nothing like the raw edginess she was used to. Her hands raised into the air, the wide sleeves of her white linen robes feeling rough against her skin as they fell to pool at her shoulders.

A stream of words left her mouth, but she did not know them, and a great wind rose, blowing her wild red hair all around her. Willow felt somehow apart from the proceedings, her mind telling her the hair was the wrong color, even as she continued speaking. It was darker, more auburn than her own hair, and a tangled mass of curls. She tried to capture a few strands in her fingertips to examine more closely, but her body refused to obey her commands.

A great thunder rose, lightning striking all around, and the earth shook. She could hear the cries of villagers from below as she somehow managed to remain upright, still chanting in a strange lyrical language, the odd accent tickling her ears.

Several figures ran up the hill, heading towards her, and her words came faster, more urgent. A rift in the earth tore open, and she fell to her knees, looking into the abyss through a strange shimmering yellow energy.

A face stared back, a shadowy figure standing there.

The man spoke, his words hanging heavy in the air. Willow felt her resolve weaken as the power within her began to dwindle. The man spoke again, urging her to do… something, and she redoubled her efforts, continuing her chant.

A misshapen figure arrived at the circle, crashing into the seemingly empty space between the stones in a blaze of white light, knocking it back. It regained its feet as a second figure arrived.

The second figure fought the other, trying to run back down the hill as it held on. In a flash of lightning, Willow recognized them. The demon she had fought stepped forward, its glistening claws raking across Angel's face.

Angel?

What was she doing? Why was she here?

The man spoke again, his hands raising and pushing at the energy, before screaming and taking his fists to it.

Willow's chant rose, her raw throat straining to form the words. Angel broke away from his tormentors, fleeing back down to the village as the demon turned back to the circle, and stalking around it, snarling and growling.

Desperation filled her, and the shimmering rift began to close. The demon and the man howled together, as Willow looked into the opening. Her reflection in the yellow energy superimposed itself over the face of the man as he was pulled back, and the last thing she saw was a pair of strangely familiar blue eyes before all went dark.

With a gasp, Willow came back to herself, the clammy feel of sweat all over her body. The demon over her snarled and raised its hand.

"Go away," Willow said crossly, completely disoriented. She pushed the demon with all her might, and it rose up, then turned and ran.

Shaking, Willow looked around, rolling over with great effort and getting onto her hands and knees. "That was … that was… what >was< that?" she mumbled. "Demony weirdness," she decided. She tried to stand, and her head swam, knocking her heavily back. "Okay, bad idea," she told herself softly. "I am so not loving this."

She raised a trembling hand to rub her face, inadvertently smearing the blood from her nose there. Fear rose up and threatened to choke her as she broke into sobs. Near-death was a pretty common experience for a Scooby, but this was different. Something was different about all of this, and she didn't just mean the vision or projection or whatever it was.

The demon had obeyed her. Since when did demons obey her? Her pragmatic side told her it was certainly useful - she could just tell demons to hold still while Buffy staked them - but the rest of her cowered away from the knowledge. What had she done? Had she unleashed a new demon into Sunnydale?

"I'm going crazy," Willow sobbed, rolling onto her side and pulling her knees up to her chest. Nothing she had ever read or experienced had prepared her for the strange vision she had seen. Had she been summoning another demon? Had Angel been trying to stop her? "What's happening to me?"

A strange numbness settled over her, as her labored breathing eased. Her sobs subsided, and on rubbery legs, she gained her feet, swaying unsteadily. On uncertain footing, she began walking, her thoughts far away from paying attention to where she was heading.

Images - memories - assaulted her. Tara, telling her she was using too much magick. Xander stopping her from casting a magick de-lusting. Giles' warning that if she channeled powerful magicks, she might not be able to close the door again. Tara again, looking so sad and lost, her aching voice telling her she didn't think it was going to work. Tara leaving.

Willow hurt all over, inside and out, as she staggered through the night. She felt weak and unsure, like she was in high school again, fighting monsters with nothing but her brain.

Mostly, she felt scared. Living on the Hellmouth - being a Scooby - had desensitized her to most of the horrors of the world. She couldn't really remember the last time she had been this frightened for herself - frightened for others, yes, but not herself. She had been so confident for so long, and now that confidence was shattered by her inability to defeat a demon with her most powerful magicks.

"But wait, there's more!" she said out loud, letting out a humorless laugh. She couldn't defeat the magick, either. It called to her, and she had answered, letting it take over. And then, the vision and subsequent wackiness had shaken her deeply. What did she think she was doing?

She turned a corner, realizing she was back on the streets of Sunnydale, and it was night. Her legs felt like lead, her head ached, her nose was dripping blood, and she felt battered and bruised all over.

She really might as well just tattoo "Dinner" to her forehead and run through the graveyard, she thought ruefully, trying to think about something else - anything else - but the pain as she struggled to continue putting one foot in front of the other.

She needed help. She was supposed to be the strong one, the capable one, the reliable one, the smart one - but she needed help.

"I can't do this alone," she whispered brokenly. She shook her head, a part of her marveling at how fragmented she felt. Even at her nerdy high school worst, her thoughts had always felt clear, even though they tended to issue forth in an incoherent babble; they had always made sense in her head. Her mind felt foggy and unsure, and she wasn't used to that.

Finally, The Magic Box loomed before her, and she stopped, the street separating her from what she knew would be a Scooby meeting by now. The lights were clearly on, though the shop would be closed at this hour. She paused in the shadows across the street, staring with watery eyes.

How could she walk in there like this? Dirty, bruised, bloody, her clothing torn - how could she face her friends? It was all her fault, and she knew it. They knew it. She knew they knew it. They knew that she knew that they knew it.

Willow shook her head before her brain continued along that path. Would Tara be in there? Would Dawn? How could she just walk in? She had pulled Buffy out of Heaven, made Tara leave her, left dangerous magic book lying out around Dawn, and now there was a demon running around that did what she told it to do.

But how could she not walk in?

With faltering steps, she crossed the street, stumbling and staggering the whole way. Her hand came to rest on the smooth wood of the door, trailing down to grope for the knob. A lump rose up in her throat as the knob turned and she pushed the door open, the bell sounding unnaturally loud.

She stepped in, and saw everyone there, staring at her.

"I need help," she croaked out, before the world swam before her eyes, then went dark.


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 Post subject: AD Part 16
PostPosted: Fri Mar 29, 2002 10:31 pm 
Answering Darkness Part 16

Meetings

Tara shivered and slammed her book shut. This Dark Source thing just got more and more disturbing. The stories and examples were eerily detailed and graphic in their description, which she supposed was a good thing, because it would discourage people from using a Dark Source - but still. Yuck.

Somehow, it helped that Anya was so offhand and matter-of-fact about the whole thing. She knew it came from a one-thousand year stint as a vengeance demon where she herself had committed horrible acts, but she always saw Anya as just a really quirky human, and so her ease of acceptance was almost … comforting.

"It says here that most witches burned in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were dabbling with Dark Sources," Tara pointed out. The words had sent a chill up her spine, which she attributed to Willow's story about almost being burned at the stake before Tara had come to Sunnydale.

"Oh, yes," Anya said, looking up from her own book. "Most, true - but not all. Like this one time, I was summoned up by a perfectly normal Wiccan who was being burned at the stake. She certainly wasn't into any dark magicks at all … seemed to be afraid of them, in fact. But her husband had turned her in, so there I was, and I eviscerated him," she related calmly.

Tara looked dubious. "A white witch called up a Vengeance Demon and had her husband eviscerated?"

"Oh, well, I sort of improvised on the evisceration part. And she didn't call me. I just happened to see the betrayal, so I showed up, and she wished that her husband wouldn't hurt her daughter anymore. I came up with the evisceration all by myself," she explained, her voice strangely proud.

A strange buzzing went off in Tara's head, as if a swarm of bees had flown in her ears and were making honey where her brain should be. Only not in a painful way. More in a loud, but ticklish kind of way.

She shook her head to clear it, then looked up at Anya.

"H-her daughter?" she asked slowly.

Xander walked into the door of The Magic Box, smirking at the name as he did every time he entered. Didn't people think of these things before they went around naming stores and putting up big signs?

Tara and Anya, he saw, were sitting at the table, piles of books scattered around.

"Hey, getting a jump on the Scooby meeting?" he asked cheerfully, pulling up a seat next to Anya and dropping a light kiss on her cheek.

"Xander! We were just researching -" Anya began, only to be interrupted.

"I was doing some research for the Wicca lessons I'm giving Dawn," Tara broke in. "Anya was helping." She wasn't sure why, but she didn't really feel comfortable telling everyone she had been researching Willow's source. It almost felt like she was betraying Willow by even looking into it, and she had scared herself senseless with the information she'd found. No reason to bring the rest of the Scoobies into it.

"Well, that was very nice of you, Anya," Xander said, rewarding her with a bright smile. Anya beamed back.

"Yes, I'm very nice and helpful. Even though Tara isn't giving me any money, I helped anyway, because she's our friend."

"And thank you, Anya," Tara said, smiling at the ex-demon. Her take on social niceties was so … interesting. "I really appreciate all your help."

"You're welcome. That's what friends are for." Anya stood up, checking the time, and moved over to the door, putting up the 'Closed' sign. Nodding in satisfaction at another money-filled day, she went behind the counter to close up the till and do the paperwork. The till opened, and she breathed deeply, letting the scent of the money wash over her.

"So, no one else here yet?" Xander asked, picking up a book at random and idly flipping through it.

"No, I was here early because of this research I wanted to do," Tara explained. She stood, gathering up the books she had determined didn't really hold anything she didn't already know and started placing them back on the shelves. "So, do we know anything about this demon thing?"

"Just that it's big, it's ugly, and it seemed to like magic," Xander said. "I guess I'll start pulling up the books on our usual suspects," he offered, moving to the back room where all their demon and monster lore was kept in one handy location.

The bell over the door rang again, and Buffy entered, a small smile on her face as she listened to Dawn.

"… and then she told me all about sources and stuff. It was great!" Dawn enthused, grinning broadly.

"Just as long as you didn't overdo it," Buffy said, squeezing Dawn's arm affectionately. "Hey guys," she greeted, plopping down into a chair at the 'Research Table'.

"Tara! Buffy said I get to help with research!" Dawn blurted out, scampering over to Tara and giving her a big hug. Tara smiled broadly, sharing a look with Buffy over Dawn's shoulder. Buffy just shrugged and nodded.

"So, what do we have?" Buffy asked, poking at the pile of books in front of her.

"Oh, that's some other stuff I was doing," Tara said, moving back to the table and moving the books she still had to go through to a different table. Xander came back in, a stack of books in his arms.

"Hey, Buff," he greeted. "Dawn."

"I think Willow was right. I made just as much money as I should have, but still opened the store later, saving money on labor and utilities," Anya cheerfully informed them, closing the till with a loud ching.

An uncomfortable silence fell as everyone shifted nervously and avoided looking at Tara. Tara's grin faltered, but she redoubled, forcing the happy expression to stay on her face.

"It's okay," she said quickly. "W-when did you talk to Willow?" she asked, looking at Anya and wondering why she hadn't mentioned this earlier that day.

"Oh, this morning. Xander asked me to stop by and see how she was, and to tell her about the Scooby meeting," Anya said. "She seemed a little pale and shaky, but she said she'd be here."

"Maybe I should go," Tara said, already rising and gathering up the books she had found that day into her arms. "Oh, umm… can I borrow these?" she asked belatedly, a sheepish look on her face.

"Oh, sure, you go right ahead," Anya said. Normally, letting merchandise leave the shop without a monetary transaction of some kind was something she hated and considered theft in all cases, but something about the day of researching with Tara had given her a sense of camaraderie she didn't normally have with the Scoobies. Maybe it was because she, like Anya herself, had started out as just a Scooby girlfriend. Maybe it was because Anya was an ex-demon, and Tara was an ex-thought-she-was-a-demon. Or maybe it was just that Tara had been so interested in her unique insight on the matter. Anya appreciated being appreciated.

"But - you can't leave," Dawn protested, standing up and wrapping her hands around Tara's arm, tugging gently. "There's a big demon out there, and we don't know what it is, or what it wants, and maybe it likes witches, so it would be really dangerous for you to walk around by yourself."

"Good God, it's Willow Junior," Xander muttered under his breath. He wondered if all really smart girls babbled like that, or if it was a learned behavior.

"Actually, Dawn has a point," Buffy said, standing up and leveling a no-nonsense stare at Tara. "I'd feel better if we all just … stayed here and did the research thing, then went home in groups."

"But what about Willow? Do you really think it's dangerous?" Tara asked suddenly. "Maybe we should - "

"I'm sure she's on her way here. Just give her ten minutes or so, and then we'll go look for her," Xander said.

"Any news on our new Big Ugly?" Spike asked, sauntering into the room.

"Don't you ever knock?" Xander asked, jumping in his chair as Spike came into the store from the back rooms.

"Well, aren't we the jumpy little lad?" Spike taunted around his smirk. "Afraid the big demon would just pick the lock on the back door and not bust it in?"

"You picked my lock?" Anya asked incredulously. "When else have you picked my lock? Have you been taking things?" Anya advanced on the vampire, mayhem in her eyes.

"Calm down, calm down," Spike said, holding his hands up in a conciliatory gesture. "I was just keeping the old skills from rusting. Haven't nicked a bloody thing."

Tara glanced at the clock. Only a few minutes had gone by, but a sense of something wrong was crawling up her neck, periodically stopping to do a little tap dance on her spine. It was disturbing. "Maybe - maybe we should go check on Willow," Tara said, moving to the door, her fingers finding the doll's eye crystal sitting in her pocket.

Buffy stood, moving after Tara. If Tara felt something was wrong, Buffy would believe her, but she didn't want the witch wandering off alone, and she'd rather be armed if they were going out. "Hold on, Tara," Buffy said, grabbing her arm and spinning her around. Tara lost her balance, throwing her hands out to stop her fall, the crystal skittering across the floor.

Anya picked it up as Dawn came up beside her. Both of their eyes widened. Anya lifted the crystal to her face, peering closer. It looked oddly familiar, like …

She stopped, looking around at the room, her eyes falling on Tara. Tara MaClay. Pieces fell into place, and with a shaky hand, she handed the crystal to Dawn.

"You okay?" Buffy asked, helping a red-faced Tara to her feet. "Just let me grab some weapons," she said, moving to the back room as Anya grabbed Xander, pulling him back behind the counter.

"Here. You dropped this," Dawn said quietly, her hand unsteady as she returned the crystal to Tara.

"What's going on, Anya?" Xander asked, looking closely and seeing a stunned look on her face.

"Keep it down!" Anya said, smacking Xander in the shoulder.

"Ow!" he said, rubbing his arm and scowling. "Would you tell me what's going on?" he asked in a hushed tone.

"I eviscerated Tara's great-great-great-great-and maybe a few more 'greats' grandfather," Anya hissed, a sick look on her face. "Is this that guilt thing you're always talking about?"

"You what?" Xander asked loudly. Anya looked around, seeing Dawn and Tara weren't paying attention, and that Spike was peeking into the back room, presumably watching Buffy.

"That crystal. I've seen it before. I mean, you know I've seen it before, because Willow's worn it, and Dawn used it for that spell, but I mean I've seen it Before before," Anya went on, clearly agitated.

"Slow down, Anya," Xander said soothingly, grasping her arms gently and ducking down a little to meet her eyes. "Was that English, because I didn't really catch most of it."

"I saw it before I was human," Anya ground out. "It didn't even register. I mean, I've eviscerated so many people, it's not like I'm thinking about each one every second of the day. I certainly can't be expected to remember every piece of jewelry I've ever run across, right?" she went on, pausing for breath.

"Okay, when did you see it?" Xander asked slowly.

"I saw it about a hundred and fifty years ago? Two hundred? Something like that. I probably wouldn't have even made the connection, except Tara and I were talking about witch burnings. We were talking about that specific witch burning, in fact, so it was on my mind. Oh, God," Anya said slowly, her mouth dropping open. "Tara's great-something-grandmother got burned at the stake."

"What?" Xander asked, shaking his head. Sometimes he felt the difference between their ages more than others. This was one of those Big Difference times.

"When I was a vengeance demon, I caught wind of this guy who turned his wife in for witchcraft. She was strictly a goody-goody white magick kind of gal, but she got burned at the stake. I showed up during the burning, and she asked me to make sure her husband couldn't hurt her daughter anymore, so I eviscerated him. But I saw the daughter there, and she was wearing that crystal," Anya explained in a rush.

"Well, maybe it was a different crystal?" Xander offered. "I mean, there has to be more than one crystal like that, right?"

"No, it has to be the one. The girl's name was MaClay. Fionna MaClay," Anya said. "I never made the connection. I never knew," she went on in a whisper.

Xander pulled her close, tucking her head under his chin. "Hey, it'll be okay," he said, unsure as to exactly what to say to this revelation.

"I mean, how do you tell someone you eviscerated a member of her family, and saw one of them burning? Do they make a Hallmark card for this?" Anya wondered aloud, cuddling into Xander. "Tara and I bonded today over magick stuff," she went on.

"You and Tara did spells?" Xander asked, pulling back and looking at Anya as if he'd never seen her before.

Anya smacked Xander in the arm again, getting a curious satisfaction out of the startled yelp he let out. "I said we bonded over magick, not that we bonded in a prison way."

"Do you think that's where that whole wacky 'You're A Demon' thing started in her family?" Xander asked, trying to wrap his mind around the idea. His future wife actually had been a demon, but he couldn't imagine ever letting anyone hurt her.

"It's possible," Anya said with a sigh. "Maybe her family really thought that. Maybe they honestly believed it. Do you think I should tell her?"

"I don't know," Xander said slowly. "It's not exactly the kind of thing you can just - blurt out." Xander glanced over, seeing Tara, Dawn and Spike sitting at the table, talking quietly and waiting for Buffy. Tara's hands kept moving, and she was kind of fidgety in her seat. "Come on. We'll talk about it more, later," Xander said, tugging on Anya's hand and pulling her over to join the rest of the Scoobies.

Buffy entered the room, a big bag of weapons hanging from her shoulder.

"Gee, Buffy. Do you think you have enough sharp pointy things?" Dawn asked.

"We don't know what we're dealing with, so I'm being prepared girl," Buffy said firmly.

The bell sounded and the door flew open. The Scoobies stopped and looked, to see Willow stumble in the door, her clothes disheveled. Her face was pale and streaked with dirt.

"I need help," she croaked out, before falling heavily to the floor.


Top
  
 
 Post subject: AD Part 17
PostPosted: Fri Mar 29, 2002 10:33 pm 
Answering Darkness Part 17

Deployment

Time seemed to slow for Tara as Willow stumbled into the shop. Her simple words "I need help" echoed through her mind and tugged at her heart. As Willow fell, landing with a thud, Tara was on her feet and moving, flying past the Scoobies and to Willow's side. Her fear and concern moved her so quickly, not even the Slayer beat her there.

Her heart tripped in her chest as she cradled Willow's limp body against her, her fingers searching for the pulse point on her neck. She heard someone scream Willow's name.

A heartbeat, and another, and time returned to normal. Tara choked on a sob, relief washing over her. She pulled Willow up closer, one hand gently patting her cheek as Xander and Buffy knelt at their side, anxious looks on their faces.

"Come on, Baby - wake up," Tara urged. "Come on. Let's see those pretty eyes." Dawn, Anya and Spike stood close, but Tara didn't notice, her whole being focused on Willow's face.

After an eternity, Willow's eyes fluttered open, and she sighed an snuggled closer to the safe and warm place in which she found herself as a shaky Tara let her head drop forward, their foreheads resting together.

"Hey, pretty lady," Willow said weakly. "Fancy meeting you here."

Tara laughed shakily as the knot in her stomach eased.

"Can you stand, Will?" Buffy asked, holding her friend's hand and giving it a squeeze.

"Don't wanna'," Wilow mumbled.

"She'll be fine, folks," Xander announced, a relieved smile crossing his face.

"Tara?" Willow asked quietly. "I don't feel so good."

"You're gonna' be fine, Will," Buffy broke in, giving Tara a moment to compose herself.

"Yeah," Tara finally agreed. "You'll be all right, Baby."

"Can you tell us what happened?" Buffy asked, squeezing Willow's hand again.

"I - God, I," Willow started, her swallowing audibly a few times.

"Hey, it's okay," Tara said quickly. "You don't have to tell us right now. I bet you're tired, huh?"

Willow nodded, then cleared her throat. "Yeah, but … I need to tell you -"

"Shh," Tara murmured, rocking Willow slowly. "Just take your time, honey."

"Who did this to you, Will. Just tell me who or what, and I'll take care of it," Buffy said, her voice low and intense.

"Me," Willow said, tears welling up in her eyes. "My fault."

"What?" Tara breathed, her brows furrowing. Had Willow managed to hurt herself with magick? Was that why she finally realized she needed help, or had something else happened? Maybe Willow was still unconcerned about the magick, and needed help of a different kind. Tara hoped not, and yet she couldn't quite bring herself to believe this was the turning point she had prayed for.

"I was out at the park, and I heard a scream," Willow went on, her eyes distant and her voice rough. "I ran towards it. Pretty stupid, huh?" she asked, her eyes focusing on Tara.

"No," Tara said, a small smile curving the edge of her lips as she remembered Willow running towards the sound of distress when Tara had been running from the Gentlemen. "It was very brave," she insisted, pressing her lips to Willow's forehead. "That's what cool monster fighters do."

A look of profound love, relief and gratitude crossed Willow's face at Tara's words, and Tara's smile grew. This was the Willow she had fallen in love with - the brave strong woman with the huge heart that demanded she help when others were in need, no matter the consequences.

"Then I found this girl being attacked by that demony guy," Willow went on.

"The same one we saw last night?" Xander asked. Willow nodded, turning to look at her friend.

"Yeah. So then I ran in, and the girl ran away, and I got hurt," she finished quietly. How could she explain about the magick? How could she tell them all in a way that they'd understand that it had just come to her, and that she'd been helpless against its call for release? And the vision - what would they think of that?

"Okay, gang," Buffy said, rising to her feet. "Grab some books, and head over to my place. Get Willow into bed, and get on the research - I want to know what this thing is, where it came from, and how I kill it," she said, her voice intense. "Spike, make sure they get home all right, then meet me at the park."

"Me? Meet you at the park." Spike asked, smirking. "A little moonlight stroll, eh? All right, then."

"No," Buffy said slowly, drawing out the word. "We're going to find this thing."

Buffy grabbed her large back of sharp pointy things and headed out of the shop, leaving the rest of the Scoobies standing around.

"Well, then," Spike said, smiling broadly at the group. "I guess Uncle Spike gets to make sure you kiddies get home safe, then it's playtime."

Dawn moved to the research table, her face pensive. "Are these the books we need?" she asked, pointing at the stack Xander had set on the table earlier.

"Yeah, those are the ones we usually start with," Xander said, hefting the books.

"Anything I can carry?" Dawn asked, looking around hopefully. The events of the evening had shaken her. First, the crystal, that she knew she had taken without permission, and now Willow was hurt and Buffy had taken off to patrol … she needed to feel useful.

"Let's see if there are some more books we might need," Anya said, taking Dawn's hand and heading towards the back of the shop.

Spike knelt next to Tara and the still-groggy Willow. "May I?" he asked, looking at Tara and motioning towards Willow.

Tara nodded, and Spike got his arms under Willow's body, lifting her easily. "Right then, Red. We're going to get you all tucked in, then we'll go find out what this new Bad wants." Tara hovered nearby, and though Spike would have liked some maneuvering room, he didn't complain, not when Tara was so clearly worried about her girl.

"I can walk," Willow protested, her voice barely audible and her eyes drooping. "Been doing it for years."

"Just humor us, okay sweetie?" Tara said, brushing a few strands of hair out of Willow's face.

"Dawn? Anya?" Xander called.

"Got them," Anya said, as she and Dawn walked back in, each carrying several books. Tara looked at them, then remembered her own books, scooping them up from where she had dropped them then hastening back to Willow's side.

"Let's just toddle off then, shall we?" Spike asked, striding towards the door. Xander quickly shifted the books he was carrying, getting the door open and holding it for everyone leaving.

"Is Willow really going to be okay?" Dawn asked, slipping her hand into Tara's as they walked.

"Yeah, she really will," Tara said, nodding firmly. "It's scary though, isn't it?"

"Yeah, it is. I mean, she just kinda' came in and fell, and she's all scratched and stuff," Dawn went on, smiling a little when Tara squeezed her hand.

"I know," Tara said, looking over at Willow, who was trying to stay awake. "I'm scared, too, but it's natural to be scared when someone you love is hurt. We always fear the worst, Dawnie, even when we know it'll be okay. That's human nature. But Willow will be fine. She's just put out a lot of energy, like you did."

"She asked for help. Are you gonna' help her?" Dawn asked, cutting through all the extraneous concerns and jumping to the heart of the matter as only a young person can.

"It - it's not that simple, Dawn. A lot of stuff happened," Tara murmured, looking down at her feet as she walked.

"But you still love her. You said so. And if she asked for help, then we should help her, right?" Dawn pressed.

"I don't know what to do," Tara admitted bleakly, looking over at Willow cradled in Spike's arms as they walked. "I don't know if she can stop, and I - I can't be around her like that."

"She loves you, you know," Spike said softly.

"Yes, I- I know," Tara said, still looking down.

"No, she really truly loves you," he went on. "I know people - been looking at them for forever, seems like," he mused aloud. "Can't really remember the last time I saw two people more truly and deeply in love."

"Then w-why won't she stop?" Tara asked, her eyes watering.

Spike paused, looking over at Tara. "Part of her thinks that the magick is why you love her, you know. I've seen it a million times. If she stops, she thinks she'll lose you anyway, and then she'll just be plain old Willow again without you."

"That's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard," Dawn said, frowning at Spike.

"Of course it is. It's complete and utter poppycock, but it's what she thinks," Spike insisted, walking on. "I know Red. I knew her before the magick, before Oz, before all of that."

"So did I," Xander cut in, glaring at Spike. "And she's not like that. She knows Tara loves her."

"Actually, it makes sense," Anya mused. "I mean, she and Tara got together over the magick thing, right?" Anya continued as they arrived at the Summers home, Dawn opening the door as they all trooped inside. "If she was really such a loser before, and she thinks Tara loves her because of the power, why give up the power, if she's going to lose Tara anyway? Either way - no Tara."

"She was not a loser!" Xander yelled, dropping his books heavily on the table in the living room.

"I'll just take her upstairs then, right?" Spike asked, not waiting for an answer and carrying the girl up the stairs. Tara followed, a pensive look on her face.

The room was quiet when the door shut, and Spike laid Willow gently on the bed. "This is getting to be a habit," he pointed out, stepping back from Willow's sleeping form.

"Thank you, Spike," Tara said, looking gratefully at the vampire.

"It's all right. You all keep me supplied with blood and violence, carrying Red here is the least I can do."

"Do … do you really think she thinks I'm only there for the magick?" Tara asked uncertainly.

"I think on one level she knows that's bollocks, but on the other, she's afraid."

"Of what?" Tara asked, her voice sounding helpless and small. "Have I ever given her a reason to believe that -"

"No, you didn't," Spike said, ducking down to meet Tara's eyes. "Hey. Listen, now. Red's afraid of herself more than anything else. She's afraid she's not good enough - that she won't measure up."

"Measure up to what?" Tara asked, confusion coloring her tone. "All I ever wanted was for her to be Willow. Sweet, brave, smart, babbling Willow."

"Yes, but she's always wanted to be useful. Powerful. You have to realize that she's been fighting the end of the world since she was in high school. She's seen her best friend die twice, and countless others."

"I just don't -"

"Well, enough of this. I really have to get going. Talk to her when she wakes up," Spike said suddenly, uncomfortable with the situation. It was like he was suddenly in the middle of one of his soap operas. The next thing he knew, he was going to start suggesting self-help books. Spike disappeared before Tara could say any more, so she climbed onto the bed and held Willow's hand as she slept.

"Dammit, Spike," Xander ground out when Spike appeared. "You have no right to judge her!" he yelled, grabbing his coat and slamming him into the wall.

"Easy now, pup," Spike growled. "I wasn't judging her - she's judging herself, and you just can't see it."

"She doesn't need your crap right now, and -"

"Fine," Spike said, shrugging out of Xander's hold and going to the door. "Buffy's waiting for me."

The door closed behind him with a dull thud, and the remaining Scoobies looked at each other.

"So, umm… now what?" Dawn asked, eyeing the stack of books in front of her.

Xander sat down with a heavy sigh. "Now, we read."


Top
  
 
 Post subject: AD Part 18
PostPosted: Fri Mar 29, 2002 10:39 pm 
Answering Darkness Part 18

Questions

"We're never going to find it," Anya said casually as she continued reading.

"Yes we are. Because we have to, and that's what we do," Xander said, looking up and frowning at his girlfriend.

"Oh, I know we have to … it's just that we never find anything. We're not the good research people. Giles and Willow are the good research people. They should be helping."

"Well, Giles is in England, and Willow is sleeping," Xander said, pointing out the obvious.

"Giles would have found it by now. Or Willow would have a clue. She'd be taking her little notes in her different colored pens, and she'd have some idea of what was going on. Maybe we should take notes?" Anya said.

"We could, but we haven't found anything worth writing down," Xander said. "Besides, that different colored pen thing is kind of … weird."

"Tara thinks it's cute," Dawn piped up.

"I'm sure she does," Xander said, nodding at Dawn. "But if Willow decided to write all her notes in pig-latin, Tara would think that was cute, too. But I don't suggest we try it."

"Tara thinks bunnies are cute, too. She's got a really twisted sense of cute," Anya pointed out. "Even when I was a demon, I didn't think bunnies were cute."

Xander stood, yawning hugely. "Coffee, Ahn?" he asked, looking over at the ex-demon.

"Sure. If we're going to be here all night instead of going back to the apartment for -"

"Anya!" Xander interrupted, gesturing towards Dawn with his head, his eyes wide.

"… cookies," she said slowly. "If we're not going to go have our cookies, then I might as well have some coffee."

"I'll take some coffee, too," Dawn said, a hopeful look on her face.

"I don't think so, Dawnie," Xander said. "You're a little young to be getting into the heavy caffeine. Pretty soon, you'll start drinking, then smoking, and before you know it, you'll have a nasty heroin addiction."

"Right. And then you'll end up in jail with a large girlfriend," Anya broke in. "Not that there's anything wrong with having a girlfriend, just … not in jail."

"Not helping," Xander said, his lips pressed together in a tight
smile as he looked over at Anya. "Besides, Dawnie, it's kind of late, and you should go get some sleep."
"You can't send me to bed," Dawn said, going back to her reading. "Besides, I'm helping."

"I can too send you to bed," Xander argued back, taking the book from Dawn and putting it back on the table. "Look, I know you're all adult and whatnot, but you were in the hospital yesterday. So for everyone's peace of mind, just get some sleep, okay?"

"Fine," Dawn said, standing up and stomping to the stairs.

"Willow's sleeping," Xander called after her, and her footsteps immediately quieted.

Tara watched over Willow as she slept, turning her head to the door when she heard footsteps on the stairs. The door creaked open, and Dawn poked her head in, her face worried.

"I just wanted to say good night," she whispered. "Xander and Anya sent me to bed," she went on, her face twisting into a look of righteous indignation. "Are they allowed to send me to bed?"

"Yes, they are," Tara said with an affectionate smile. She looked at the clock on the bedstand. "And they're right. You really should be sleeping."

Dawn's face fell, her hopes of Tara letting her stay up - because Tara certainly outranked Xander and Anya in the "bossing Dawn around" department - dashed. "Well, they're not really getting anywhere with the research thing. Xander doesn't want to quit, though - he's mad this thing hurt Willow, and Anya is just mad that Xander won't go home with her to have -"

"Dawn!" Tara interrupted.

"Uhh … cookies," Dawn finished weakly. "She is going to be all right, right?" Dawn asked, moving to the bed and looking down on Willow.

"Of course," Tara said. "She's strong. She'll be just fine."

"N-no," Willow mumbled, frowning in her sleep, her eyes fluttering. Tara squeezed her hand, brushing her hair back from her face and making soothing shushing noises. "Frogs!" Willow called, her eyes fluttering open.

"Hey … hey," Tara said, as Willow looked around the room wildly. "Frog-free zone here."

"Hi," Willow said, her breathing calming down. "Hey, Dawnie," she said, looking over at the teenager.

"Hey, Willow," Dawn said, moving over to hug her. "I just came in to say goodnight. I'll, uh … leave you two alone," she said, hugging Tara, then leaving the room.

"Good night," Tara said as the door closed. "How are you feeling?" she asked Willow, brushing her hair back from her face.

"Pretty yucky," Willow said. "And everything's kind of jumble-y," she finished, waving a hand near her head.

"You should probably go back to sleep," Tara said, unsure of what else she could say. "And I should probably help with the research."

"They're doing research?" Willow asked, perking up. "Maybe I should come help, too." She would do just about anything to stay with Tara a little longer, right now. There was something so safe about being in her presence.

"Willow," Tara said exasperatedly. "I doubt you could stand up right now. You should sleep."

"But I feel fine," Willow protested weakly.

"Yucky? Jumble-y?" Tara said, squeezing her hand. "Nice try, research girl, but Dr. Tara insists you stay in bed."

"Fine," Willow said, pouting.

"Can you tell me more about what happened?" Tara asked. "You don't have to," she said quickly at the sudden look of fear that crossed Willow's face.

"No, it was just so -" Willow said, unable to find a suitable description.

"It's okay. You're safe now," Tara said.

"No, I'm not," Willow said softly, her eyes growing distant. She wasn't safe, herself, and she wasn't safe to be around. Not now, not with the new demon thing and the magick she couldn't stop. "I had some kind of weird vision-y thing," Willow said slowly, before Tara could comment. "I threw power at it without even meaning to, and then I fell. I felt so weak and kinda' drained," Willow tried to explain. "It leaned over me, looking at me with its big yellow eyes, and I just thought 'this is it - I'm done.'"

Tara's heart clenched at the words, the thought of losing Willow like that stealing her breath. Before she could speak, Willow went on.

"I asked it what it was, or where it came from, or something like that, and then I was somewhere else."

"Somew-where else?" Tara asked, her brow furrowing, her fingers entwining with Willow's, the smooth warm skin and the connection reassuring her that Willow was going to be all right.

"Yeah, like a village or something. On a hill, in a circle of stones. Only it wasn't me - I was in somebody else, and it was like I was just kinda' watching. And the demon thing was there, trying to get into the circle, and Angel was there, fighting the demon. I, umm…" Willow said, her voice catching. "I think I was the bad guy. I think I was summoning something big."

"Angel? W-what else do you remember?" Tara asked, knowing this was important somehow, but wishing she could spare Willow from recounting it.

"A portal kind of thing was opening up, and I was chanting in some language I didn't know. Angel ran away when the demon was winning. My hair was the wrong color, but I guess it wasn't, 'cuz it wasn't really me, huh?" Willow asked, looking anywhere but at Tara. "It was darker, but still red. And the portal was all yellow, and there was a man in there. He was stuck and angry and he wanted out, and I think I was trying to help him."

"But you think he was a bad guy?" Tara asked.

Willow nodded, then frowned, unsure. The magick she had been casting hadn't felt dark. Maybe the guy was just some poor soul trapped somewhere? "Maybe. I don't know. Maybe he was a good guy and I was helping him. Maybe the demon was trying to stop me. My eyes were blue," she said, the inconsequential detail popping into her mind. "Like yours."

"Then what happened?"

"The portal closed up, and then I was back. I didn't want to die," Willow said, her eyes watering. "Not like that. Not when -" she said, her throat closing on the words. Not when Tara was so angry and hurt. She cleared her throat. "I told it to go away, and it did."

"It, umm… it obeyed you?" Tara asked, fear filling her eyes.

"Baby, are you afraid of me?" Willow asked in a small voice, a look of infinite hurt on her face.

"I - I," Tara stammered, looking down.

"No, don't answer that," Willow said, tears welling up and spilling over. ">I'm< afraid of me right now. I don't know what's happening. I have so many questions, but I'm afraid of the answers."

Tara's face mirrored the miserable look on Willow's, but she said nothing.

"I should go," Willow said suddenly, sitting up and wincing as her body protested.

"Go?" Tara asked incredulously.

"My parents are out of town. I'll be by myself, and that's probably safest," she reasoned.

"But you're hurt," Tara protested, pushing Willow back down.

"Yeah, I am. But at least it's just me right now, and not anybody else."

"Stay tonight," Tara insisted. "Just, go to sleep, and we'll talk in the morning."

Willow nodded, her heart telling her to stay as her mind was telling her to go.

"Get some rest," Tara said, her voice softening. "I'm going to go help with the research."

Willow listened to Tara's footsteps down the stairs, her mind racing. Had she accidentally unleashed something last night? No, she couldn't have. She had run into those vampires, but she hadn't cast anything new. And she would have known if anything had gone wrong. No, she hadn't summoned anything. But why did it obey her? Why did it like her magick? Why had the dark energy come to her, without her call?

Tara walked into the living room, surprised to see Xander and Anya actually researching and not using the alone time for an impromptu make-out session.

"Anything?" she asked, sitting on the couch and grabbing a book.

"Not yet. Coffee?" Xander offered, moving to stand.

"Yes, actually, that'd be nice," Tara said, a grateful smile crossing her features. The last few days had taken a toll, and she was suddenly exhausted, the emotional outpouring of the days catching up with her.

"How is Willow?" Anya asked as Xander left the room.

"She's shaken up. And she's scared," Tara confided, frowning. Her eyes fell on the table, a large pile of pens in different colors lying about haphazardly. Anya picked up a pen and started writing in a notebook.

"What's that?" Tara asked.


"Oh, well, we figured Giles is so good at research because he's British and boring, and Willow's good at research because she takes notes in colors," Anya said, proud of her reasoning. "I didn't think I'd be British or boring anytime soon, so I thought I'd give the pens a try," she finished earnestly.

"Is it helping?" Tara asked, curious as to whether or not anyone but Willow could make sense of multi-colored notes.

"Well, I wrote down the description Xander gave of the demon in red, and the names of any demons that meet all the criteria also in red. Demons that are close are in purple, and demons that have one or two similar characteristics in black. Any reference to a demon enjoying being hit with dark magick gets in blue."

"What do you have so far?" Tara asked, accepting the notebook when Anya simply handed it over. She read over the description, making mental notes so she knew what she was looking for, then looked at the rest of the writing. She stifled a helpless grin as she saw the remainder of Anya's notes.

Little hearts and the occasional "X+A" littered the page. "Nothing yet, huh?" she asked.

"No," Anya sighed. "Willow always makes it look so easy," she complained.

Xander came in, carrying a mug of coffee and setting it in front of Tara.

"Thank you," she said, taking a sip.

"You're welcome. And Willow makes what look easy?" he asked, flopping into his chair and pulling his book back onto his lap.

"Making notes and bizarre connections out of thin air," Anya said petulantly.

"Willow's really smart," Tara said earnestly. "She's book kind of smart."

"And I'm just dumb," Xander said, frowning at the pages and turning the book over. "Cave man kind of dumb."

"I have some knew information," Tara said slowly.

"Oh! I can add it to my notes!" Anya said eagerly, picking up a handful of pens and her notebook.

Tara related Willow's description of the demon, and the details of her vision, winding up her tale in a room full of a heavy silence.

"Wow," Xander finally said. "Do you think that was a real vision? Like that thing was in LA with Angel earlier?" he asked.

"It's more likely it was something that happened in the past," Anya said slowly, her voice thoughtful. "She asked where it came from, or what it was … it was probably the first incarnation of the demon."

"First incarnation?" Tara asked, glad someone had a clue as to what was going on.

"Well, not incarnation, like re-incarnation. Not for demons, anyway. It was the first time that demon was here, and not in Hell," she finished. "At least, that's the likeliest explanation. And Willow probably has a link to that witch, like a past life, or an ancestor or something."

"Past life? How long ago did this happen?" Xander asked, frowning.

"Well, she used the term 'village'," Anya said, looking over at Tara for confirmation. Tara nodded. "That's a pretty old term, which makes me believe it was probably not a modern kind of place. And Angel is two-hundred years old, so it could have been anytime between now and then."

"Are we sure it was really Angel?" Xander asked after a moment. "Maybe Angel was … I dunno, symbolic? Metaphoric? Kinda' a 'not really Angel, but meaning something else' kind of thing? I mean, are we sure this whole vision whatever is right?"

"No, we're not," Tara said, leaning back and sighing.

"It's not a Demon!" Anya said suddenly, leaning forward and shoving books aside. "Where did you put your books, Tara?" she asked, lifting things and shuffling things.

"What books?" Tara asked.

"The ones on Sources," Anya said.

"Oh, umm…" Tara said, moving things around until they found the right stack. Anya grabbed the book she was looking for, flipping through it.

"A-Ha!" she said, finding what she was looking for. "It's not a demon, it's a construct," she said.

"Like … umm… like a golem?" Tara asked, taking the book Anya held out to her.

"Basically. It's something a denizen of Hell makes that isn't really a demon, so it has an easier time crossing over into this realm. When a demon or something can't get here, it can send a construct, which is fueled by it's dark power … hence the Sources reference … and does its bidding here," she said proudly.

"So it just gets sent here?" Tara asked.

"No, it has to be summoned," Anya said, moving to sit next to Tara and pointing out the proper passage.

Tara read the words, her mind reeling. Had Willow summoned this thing? Was that why it obeyed her commands?

"W-wait," Tara said, reading further. "It can get through a standing portal, if the portal is weakened," she pointed out. "A Hellmouth would certainly work."

"Well, how do you kill it?" Xander asked.

"You don't," Anya said. "You send it back."

"How?" Xander asked.

"You either UnSummon it, or you push it back through the weakened portal. You can chop it up into little bits, making it unable to really do anything, but the pieces will try to find each other, and it won't really die," Tara said absently, reading the passage further. "The more powerful the demon, the more powerful the construct," she noted, murmuring out loud.

"Are we sure it was the Hellmouth? I mean, what can weaken a Hellmouth?" he asked.

"There are all sorts of spells that are like … they're like a key," Anya explained. "The Hellmouth is a locked door, and unlocking it means a construct can get through."

"So what sent it? And what unlocked it?" Tara asked, looking up.

"Are we working under the assumption that it's the same construct?" Xander asked.

"Are we sure it wasn't Willow?" Anya asked, silence descending on the room as everyone looked at each other.

"She w-wouldn't," Tara protested, her tone indicating she wasn't really sure of that fact.

"No, not Willow," Xander said firmly. "She wouldn't let a big demony construct thing out."

"Well, not on purpose," Anya conceded. "But she's been playing with dark magicks, and who knows what might have gone wrong?"

"She would have felt it go wrong," Tara said, her confidence growing. "She would have told us if she had a spell go wrong like that."

"Would she?" Xander asked sadly, his face etched in lines of worry. "She hasn't really been herself lately."

"No, she would have told me when she told me about the vision," Tara said. "She wouldn't keep a secret that would hurt us, not like this. Not when this thing could kill someone."

Xander nodded, satisfied with the answer. He hated doubting Willow, hated that there was a part of him that didn't exactly trust her anymore.

"Why don't we call Angel?" Anya asked, breaking the silence. "We could ask him about the vision."

"'Hey, Angel … did you ever fight some demon guy outside a circle of stones with a witch there who may or may not have been Willow in a past life, or one of her ancestors?'" Xander said, mimicking holding a phone.

"Actually, that's a good idea," Tara said, nodding at Anya.

"So, which was it? Past life, or ancestor?" Xander said cheerfully, trying to change the subject. He could tell they were going to make him call. He just knew he was going to have to make the call.

"Probably a past life," Tara said thoughtfully, missing the insincerity of Xander's question. "Willow doesn't have any Celtic ancestry, I don't think, and standing stones are a very Celtic thing."

"Oh, just make the call, Xander," Anya said, frowning at him.

"Giles! We could call Giles," Xander offered. Anya leveled him with a look, handing over the phone.

"I don't know the number?" Xander asked. Anya handed him the rolodex next to the phone.

Sighing, Xander looked up Angel Investigations, then dialed the number. Tara and Anya looked at him expectantly as he listened to the phone ring.

"Hi, Cordy. Can I talk to Angel, please?" Xander said pleasantly. "This is Xander," he said incredulously, frowning. "Look, Cordelia, this is important," he said. There was a pause, then he sighed heavily. "Yes, I'm still dating Anya. And don't call her that. In fact," he went on, his voice taking on a certain relish, "we're engaged to be married."

Anya had frowned, barely restraining herself from snatching the phone away and telling Cordelia she couldn't have Xander when she had realized who had answered the phone. Her frown faded away, though, at Xander's words, and a beaming smile crossed her features.

"Angel! Xander," Xander said, smiling back at Anya. "Look, we've got a situation here," he said after a moment. "No, no - that's okay. I just had a question," Xander responded to something Angel said. "Yeah, well, we've got this demon thing none of us have seen before, and Willow had a, kinda' a vision, I guess," Xander said.

"It was definitely a vision," Anya said helpfully as Xander tried to listen to her and the phone at the same time.

"No, I know you're not vision guy, but you were IN the vision," Xander explained. "Willow was on some hill, in a circle of stones, with this big ugly demon construct thing running up the hill, and you close behind. You and the demon fought, some portal thing opened, Willow was chanting, then it closed," Xander said, hitting all the important bits.

Xander paused, frowning. "No, this isn't a joke."

Alarm bells went off in Tara's head at Xander's words, and she paled, leaning forward and watching him intently.

"She's out patrolling while we do some research," Xander responded to Angel's question. He listened, the blood draining from his face.

"Oh, God," Xander said, his jaw hanging open after a long moment. "Are you serious? Because I'm not laughing." Xander listened closely, holding up a hand to forestall any questions. "Hold on, let me grab a pen," he said, gesturing for Anya's notebook and a pen. He flipped to a clean sheet and started writing as Angel spoke.

"I don't like this," Anya whispered, leaning in to bump her shoulder against Tara's.

"I don't either," Tara said, her gaze focused on Xander.

"So what does this guy want? How do we stop him?" Xander asked. "No, don't you get all gloom and doom broody on me," Xander said, his voice rising. "Because we WILL stop him," he insisted, his jaw clenching as he listened to Angel's response. "Then we'll find her," he said, his voice clipped. "No, I don't know how! We just will!"

Xander shook his head as Anya opened her mouth to ask a question. Tara took Anya's hand, clutching it as they waited for Xander to get off the phone and tell them what was going on.

"I appreciate the offer," Xander said, the anger draining from his voice. "If we definitely need you, we'll call again, and I'll let everyone know." Xander nodded as he listened. "And Angel? Thanks," he said, hanging up the phone, his body still and his hand still on the receiver.

"W-what is it?" Tara asked.

"It's bad," Xander said, pausing to formulate his words. "Very bad."


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 Post subject: AD Part 19
PostPosted: Fri Mar 29, 2002 10:42 pm 
Answering Darkness Part 19

Choices

Tara woke up, draped all over Willow. Sometime during the night, she must have moved over and snuggled in, her body naturally seeking the comfort only Willow could bring. Xander and Anya had crashed on the couch downstairs, the consensus between the three of them being that they would have to share what Angel told them first thing in the morning.

"Shit," Tara said, looking around reflexively to make sure no one had heard her. Sighing, she gently disentangled herself from Willow and then paused. Why bother? Why pull away from Willow right now when she needed this so badly right now? To make a point? It would make things more complicated when Willow woke up, because they needed to talk, but she'd deal with that later.

She wasn't sure if she was making the right choice. She'd had so little practice making choices, really. The vast majority of her life was spent being told what to do and when to do it. The only real choice she had made in that environment was the one to secretly apply for college. With her grades, she had managed a scholarship, and all her father's objections had melted away beneath the knowledge that he couldn't legally stop her, and that the demon would bring her back.

It had been freeing, having those choices. Choosing her classes, her clothes, her room decorations. Still, she hadn't truly felt a part of that crazy college life until Willow, and then a whole new world of choices had opened up for her.

Tara tucked herself back in, resting her head on Willow's shoulder, a bittersweet smile crossing her face when Willow's arms reflexively tightened around her and the murmured incoherently.

Willow didn't have a choice anymore, Tara mused, the thought making her sad. If she was honest with herself, she wanted Willow to choose her over the magick. But now Willow didn't get to have that choice. Somehow, they had to make sure that Willow wasn't casting spells anymore. They weren't sure of the connection between Willow and the construct, but things looked extremely bad all over, and it was possible Willow's spells were aggravating the situation.

In her daydreams, this wasn't how this was all supposed to happen. Willow was supposed to need her so badly she gave it all up. She wanted Willow to make everything up to her … she wanted everything to be all right.

"I want make up sex, dammit," Tara said under her breath, squeezing her eyes tight against the knowledge seared into her brain by Xander's stunning revelations the evening before.

"Okay," Willow murmured sleepily, her eyes drifting open. Tara looked at her, a blush crawling up her face and her eyes wide.

"Umm… W-willow," Tara stammered, trying to decide which would be less uncomfortable - lifting her head to look at Willow, or burying her face in her neck. She compromised, looking over at the clock and staring at the numbers like they held the secrets of creation.

"That's me," Willow agreed, squinting against the sun pouring in the window. She choked back the words that would have shut the curtains, the color draining from her face. "Oh, God," she gasped, her stomach clenching as the spell rose up inside her, trying to get out.

"Willow?" Tara asked, sitting up, her hands moving to stroke the face that was twisted in pain. She looked on helplessly as Willow's body shook, a light sheen of sweat breaking out on her pale skin.

Willow curled up around herself, her knees to her chest as she trembled, every muscle tightening painfully. The power coursed through her, scraping across her nerve endings and demanding to be released. She felt Tara's hand take hers, heard her gasp, then the pain eased, before fading away, leaving her shaking and breathless.

"Oh, God," she moaned, lifting a trembling hand to her face. A sense of relief coursed through her, now that the pain was gone, and with the realization that she had stopped it. Somehow, Tara had stopped the pain, but she had stopped the spell.

"What was that?" Tara asked after a long moment, kneeling next to Willow's huddled form on the bed.

"Spell," Willow managed to say, her throat raw and her voice hoarse.

"That wasn't a spell, Willow. You weren't casting anything. You just -" Tara trailed off, her mind replaying the image of Willow gasping and shaking and unresponsive to her calls.

Willow took in a shaky breath, then took a moment to let her muscles relax. She turned over, and looked up at Tara, her eyes troubled and her voice serious. "I spent all day yesterday trying not to cast anything. Xander finally made me see what was so obvious - that the magick isn't worth losing you. So I tried giving it up."

"Then what happened?" Tara asked her brow furrowing. "You had to cast because of the demon?"

"Not exactly," Willow said, her eyes welling up with tears as she looked away, unable to meet Tara's gaze with her own. "I wandered around all day casting spells without meaning to," she said finally. "I - God, I tried … I didn't even consciously think about it… I'd just be walking and there would be things and people, and problems, and I'd think 'Hey, that needs to be fixed,' and then there was a spell going on and I couldn't remember ever actually deciding to cast it, you know?" Tears tracked down Willow's face, and she brushed them away impatiently, intent on getting out her story. "So I kept walking and thinking, and I tried to pay more attention to what I was doing, but I just kept doing, and I couldn't stop it."

"You were casting magick all day," Tara stated flatly, unsure of what about the story she found more horrifying - Willow's spells, or her inability to stop.''

"But not today," Willow said, a small smile crossing her face. "That's what that was. A spell tried to kinda' sneak up on me, and I stopped it."

Tara wasn't sure what to believe. Was Willow telling her that she >couldn't< stop? That, instead of making empty promises she didn't plan on keeping, she had found herself unable to keep them?

"I don't know what to think," Tara said finally, standing up from the bed and moving to the dresser, open drawers and pulling out some clothes to wear.

"I don't, either," Willow confessed. "I always thought that … I always thought I was the one in control of it. That the magick did what I wanted it to, and that as long as I wanted it to do good things … helpful world-saving things … that it would all be okay. But its got ahold of me, somehow, and I … I'm not in control anymore," she finished, her voice a haunted whisper. "And I don't want that," she continued, her voice gaining urgency. "I don't want something else being in charge of me, even if - even if you can't-" she said, stopping as her throat closed up on the words.

Tara stood still, her hands resting on the drawer and her back to Willow as she spoke. "Even if I can't, what, Willow?" she asked, her voice steady and calm even as her heart ached for Willow.

"Even if you can't love me without the magick," Willow finally managed, her voice hitching on her sobs.

"Is that what you think?" Tara asked incredulously, moving back to the bed and sitting next to Willow. Willow kept her head down, great hiccups shaking her as she tried to breath through the tears. "Willow, look at me," Tara demanded, only to have Willow shake her head and scoot back on the bed. "Look at me," she repeated more firmly, grasping Willow's chin and lifting her eyes to meet her own.

Tara sighed at Willow's tear-streaked face, and the look of fear and rejection in her eyes. How had things gotten so complicated? When had it all gone so wrong?

"Listen to me," Tara said slowly, her face serious and her tone soothing. "You stayed with me - you took care of me - when I couldn't feed myself. I couldn't dress myself, I didn't know what was going on around me … I couldn't even string a coherent sentence together. And you think I'd leave you if you couldn't blow up demons with a few words? Do you really believe that I love you so much less than you love me?"

Willow shook her head weakly, her face miserable. "No … but I … Baby, >I'm< so much less. I don't deserve to -"

"You stop it right there," Tara said fiercely. "Did magick make you run out of your safe room into danger the night we met? No, that was just you. Did magick make you stand up for me against my father? No - just you. I have never - Ever -" Tara said, her words intense as she choked up. "I have never loved anyone the way I love you. I have never trusted anyone the way I've trusted you - can't you see that's why this hurt me so badly?"

"I'm sorry … I'm so sorry," Willow gasped out, completely breaking down. Tara pulled the sobbing girl into her arms, her own tears spilling as Willow continued her litany. They stayed that way, crying together, for forever before Willow pulled away slowly, Tara reaching up to wipe her tears away.

"It's me or the magick, Willow. I love you, not it … so don't feel like you'll lose me without it, because you won't. I can't stay with you when I don't know for certain that anything that happens or doesn't happen is real, you know? The magick has to stop. That's your choice."

"I want you," Willow said. "None of it … none of it means anything without you." Her face fell as she continued. "But I don't know if I can. I stopped it today, this once, but … I need help, Baby. I can't do this alone."

The door creaked and they both looked up, startled to see Buffy, Xander, Anya and Spike standing in the doorway, armed to the teeth and looking sheepish.

"We, uh… heard a commotion," Buffy said, lowering her axe.

"Yeah, we thought something … I dunno … demony was going on," Xander said, letting the crossbow swing up and rest against his shoulder. Spike ducked back as he was almost hit in the head with the bolt, then let his 'game face' drop.

"I just wanted to listen," Anya said cheerfully, not-so-gently handing her stake to Xander with a backhand to the stomach and walking into the room, hopping onto the bed and enclosing both startled women in a hug. "Everything's going to be fine," she said, looking back over her shoulder and mouthing 'how was that?' at Xander.

Xander pulled a face, then gave a little thumbs up as Buffy walked into the room, joining in the group hug.

"She's right, you know. Everything is gonna' be all right," Buffy said, nodding determinedly. "And you don't have to do this alone, Will. We're all here to help you."

"Absolutely," Xander agreed, joining the large pile of womanhood on the bed and thanking his lucky stars.

"Well, now," Spike said, looking on with a mixture of amusement and disgust. "If you've all gotten your daily affirmations out of the way, we've got a Hell God to attend to?"

"What?" Willow asked, her brow furrowing as she looked up at Spike. A seeping coldness sunk into her chest. "Glory -?"

"No," Buffy said, shaking her head. "Glory's gone. Definitely gone. But there were three Hell Gods, and apparently, that demon thing -"

"That was a Hell God?" Willow squeaked, a horrified look on her face.

"No, Baby," Tara said, holding Willow's hand and giving it a squeeze. "That was a construct. It got through the Hellmouth somehow, presumably sent by the Hell God who made it."

"You have one early night," Willow said weakly, her voice and eyes distant as her mind reeled, "and look at all the stuff you miss."

"Come on," Buffy said, standing up and moving to the door, Xander and Anya following. "We'll leave you two to get out of your pj's and we'll fill you in over breakfast."

"You knew about this?" Willow asked, staring blankly at Tara.

"Yeah. We called Angel last night and asked him about your vision."

"Oh. Yeah. That was a good idea," Willow agreed dully, standing up and getting dressed mechanically.

"Willow, are you okay?" Tara asked, tugging on her own clothes.

"Oh, sure. Fine. Just … y'know … Hell God and all. Mind spinning," she said. "Just a sort of brain-sucking best-friend killing, world-ending kind of guy. Or girl? Boy Hell God, or girl Hell God?" she asked, her brain latching on to odd details as she tried to maintain some semblance of order in her mind.

"Boy Hell God," Tara answered, used to the strange turns Willow's brain made when it was trying to process everything at once. "We'll tell you the whole story downstairs."

Willow and Tara walked down the stairs, hand in hand, more in comfort and support than any romantic inclinations, though each hoped this would be a turning point for them. All conversation stopped when they walked into the kitchen, a large box of donuts open on the counter.

"Help yourself," Spike said, leaning back against the sink and drinking blood from a mug.

The rest of the Scoobies sat around, eating their donuts with an intensity of concentration that could only arise from a guilty conscience.

"So what did we learn?" Willow asked, selecting a jelly donut and sitting at the table.

"Well, we called Angel," Xander began.

"Angel?" Spike let out. "Oh, bloody hell. You didn't tell me that part. Is that sodding nancy-boy going to come prancing up here?"

"No," Xander said, looking askance at Spike. "He's got something big going down in LA, so he can't be here. But he said to call if we need him, and he'll be here when he gets that wrapped up."

"Thanks," Buffy said, a half-hearted smile on her face as Spike fumed in the corner.

"Anyway, we called Angel," Xander said, picking back up with his story. "We told him about Willow's vision thing and he kind of freaked out. Apparently, when Angel was Big Evil Angel, he was working with this construct thing to help a Hell God come to earth. Some witch from the village nearby managed to close up the Hellmouth he was using, and Angel ran away when he realized he was playing for the losing team. So, the Hell God vowed revenge, slunk back to Hell with his construct, and is now, presumably, trying again here in Sunnydale."

Willow's hand slowly rose into the air. "My hand is up … I must have a question," she announced.

"Yes, the young nubile red-headed lesbian in the back," Xander said, nodding at Willow.

"Ummm… construct?" she asked meekly.

"Oh, sorry," Tara said, frowning at Xander's inappropriate, though undoubtedly accurate, description of Willow. "A construct is kinda' like a golum. A demon makes one, sends it to other planes, and it does its dirty-work."

"Why send a construct? Why not just go?" Willow asked.

"Well, demons are attached to the plane they naturally exist on. That's why summoning them takes so much magickal power. A construct doesn't have that connection, so it can pass between the planes easier," Tara answered.

"Okay. So how do we stop this thing?" Willow asked.

"We have to send the construct back," Anya said. "That way, it won't be able to help the Hell God from opening the Hellmouth."

"You mean like … a spell?" Willow said weakly, a look of fear crossing her face.

"W-we're not really sure," Tara said. "It really depends on how it got here. I mean, if the Hellmouth is still weakened, we might be able to just toss it through, then we just have to strengthen it."

"How?" Willow asked.

"I - I can take care of it," Tara said quickly. "Don't w-worry about it."

Willow fell quiet, lost in her thoughts. On one level, she was afraid of the idea of casting the spell, though she felt like she was the best person for the job. She had the most power, and it was dangerous, and she didn't want Tara anywhere near anything dangerous - especially a brain-sucking Hell God. On yet another, she felt useless and helpless in the face of her promise to try to give up the magick, when they so clearly needed a big powerful spell cast.

"You'll need my help," Willow said after a long moment.

"No one's asking you to cast any spells, Will," Buffy said, reaching across the table and covering her hand with her own.

"No one >wants< you to cast any spells," Anya added helpfully.

"I know. I mean, with the research. You need to know how the construct got here, how it plans on opening the Hellmouth, how this witch stopped the Hell God in the first place, because we might need to duplicate it. We'll need to know how this Hell God thinks. I mean, does he have a plan? Because if he has a plan, we just need to mess it up a little. Or is there some big prophecy thing going on? It would help if we could find it."

Smiles all around grew as Willow continued, everyone silent as she listed what they needed.

"I mean, are we talking about Glory, only a guy? He might do stuff different, or - oh Oh! He might have minions here in Sunnydale other than the construct! We need to look into that."

Tara slipped out of the room, a giddy smile slipping helplessly across her face as she walked into the book-strewn living room and stopped at the table there. She grabbed a pile of pens and the notebook, carrying them back into the kitchen and setting them silently in front of Willow.

"Thanks, Baby," Willow said, grabbing the pens and writing as she continued to speak. "We should call Giles. Find out if the Watcher's Council knows anything about this one. Did Angel have a name for him?"

"The Trickster," Xander piped up.

"The Trickster," Willow said, a chill racing up her spine as she wrote the name in red ink.


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 Post subject: AD Part 20
PostPosted: Fri Mar 29, 2002 10:46 pm 
Answering Darkness Part 20

Temptation

"Damn Watcher's Council needs to get out of the 16th century," Willow grumbled, rubbing her tired eyes. "Couldn't they have all this stuff in a database?"

"Do they even know what a database is?" Tara asked. "Do >I< know what a database is?" she went on, a smile on her face. The Scoobies had moved all the books back to The Magic Box after they had polished off the donuts, Anya declaring that she needed to open the shop because there was money to be had, and she wanted it.

Willow gave Tara a wry look, and they both went back to their reading. Buffy was out, looking for anything at the two confirmed construct sightings, Dawn and Spike were at the Summers house, and Xander had some things to take care of at the construction site, leaving Willow and Tara to try to answer some of the questions on Willow's list.

"What color was the witch again?" Tara asked, pushing around the pile of pens on the table. Willow started to look up, her eyes tracking Tara's fingers as they picked up and discarded several different pens. She had such beautiful hands.

"Umm… what?" Willow asked, her eyes snapping up to meet Tara's.

"The witch?" Tara prompted, her brow creasing. "What color?" Tara had been dubious about using Willow's colorful note-taking system, but once it had been explained, she realized how easy it was: just read the books, and write down anything that might be a reference to the Hell God, the construct, the witch, the spell, or the plan in a different color. It was the special notations for which book the information had been found in that had given Tara a headache, but even that had eventually been explained well enough she felt comfortable using it. Later, Willow would type up all the notes, listing possible connections for each one in still more colors, and they'd go over it all until something fell together.

"Oh, blue," Willow said, her eyes lingering on Tara's face before returning to her book. In just that glance, she had taken a picture in her mind, and that picture swam before her inner eye. The curve of her cheek, the softness of her lips, and those bedroom eyes …

With a start and a stern internal lecture, Willow forced herself back to reading, a little frown of concentration crossing her face, only looking up to make the occasional note.

Tara watched Willow, her features softening as she stared at Willow's Study Face. She always looked so cute and so determined when she was studying, like a puppy trying to wrestle away a squeak toy. Though she was sitting still, only her eyes tracking across the page and her hand jotting down notes, she threw herself into the task with an energy and a focus that was almost palpable. It was impossibly endearing, and a small smile crossed Tara's face as she remembered long nights of just sitting and watching Willow read.

Willow couldn't help but feel those eyes upon her, pulling her from the world of research. She glanced up, catching Tara as she looked down quickly, a light blush rising on her cheeks. Still, Tara hadn't looked down quickly enough for Willow to miss the affectionate yearning look in her eyes, and it warmed her, a smile spreading across her face as she went back to reading. Tara had always done that - just watched her with those warm blue eyes as she was studying, making her feel like she was special and very well loved.

Tara bit her lip, hoping she hadn't been caught looking, but very sure she had. She raised her eyes slightly, keeping her head down, seeing that Willow had returned to reading. A part of her felt that this was ridiculous. Here they were, researching a Hell God, their relationship a big question mark, making eyes at each other in a public place. Still, another part of her felt that this was just natural and right, like no matter where she was or what she was doing, if she looked up, Willow was supposed to be there.

She was tempting fate, she knew, just putting herself in this situation. It was almost … normal, like nothing had happened to 'Them', and it was oh-so-tempting to just pretend that everything was fine, and that the feelings welling up inside her at the sweet sight of Willow engrossed in her Scoobyage weren't at odds with the hurt and betrayal. Really, she just wanted to believe that none of it had happened, that everything was fine. And if she were being honest with herself, she wanted to crawl across the table on hands and knees, slide into Willow's lap, and just kiss her senseless.

But she couldn't do that. There were plenty of reasons - many many reasons - not to do that. Tara let a rueful smile cross her face. Despite that, she wanted to, and the sooner she just accepted it, the sooner she could deal with it.

Did she want to deal with it? No, not really. Tara let out a heavy sigh, looking down at her book even as she pulled Willow's attention from the research. She wanted it to go away. She wanted everything to really be as nice and normal as it seemed. But she couldn't just go back, no matter how much she wanted to, and she couldn't just grab the girl and live happily ever after. Life was too complicated for that. Willow was too complicated for that.

Willow's heart clenched at the wistful but sad look on Tara's face. Frowning, she looked back at the book before her, wishing things were different. If only she hadn't gotten so out of hand. Willow shook her head, clearing the thoughts. That way lay madness and tummy rumblings. She couldn't change what happened. Well, she could probably mess around with time, but that really wasn't an option. Going back and doing it over would just mean that she still hadn't learned her lesson. Which she had, she mentally added quickly.

Still, she wished time would hurry up, and that she and Tara could work past this, or break up completely. Not that she wanted to break up, no no no … but things were sort of … up in the air, and it was uncomfortable. She probably deserved that, though, but Tara didn't. Tara deserved to be held and kissed and to have all her troubles just go away.

"Right now, I'm her troubles," Willow whispered aloud, too low for anyone to hear the words, staring blankly at the page before her. The letters took form automatically before her eyes, making words and sentences, pouring into her brain as she continued to think about the girl sitting across the table from her. Any other day - in any other circumstances - they'd be making out in the training room by now. Willow blushed at the thought, her mind turning over all the thoroughly inappropriate times and places they had snuck off together.

Then the words on the pages registered in her brain, and she re-read the passage, absorbing the information and frowning as it continued to not make sense. How could … ?

"Anya?" Willow asked, looking up briefly to see that she had pulled the ex-demon's attention away from the money before looking back down at the book in her lap, her brow furrowed.

"Yes, Willow?" Anya asked, moving to the table and standing next to her. Tara stopped pretending to read, letting her eyes rove over Willow's face and arms.

"How did Giles break your thingy, again?" she asked absently, staring intently at the page as if she could will the words to make sense.

"Giles didn't," Anya said, surprise evident in her voice. "Even Xander didn't. That happened a long, LONG time ago."

"Huh?" Willow asked, looking up as soon as Anya's words registered, a blank look on her face.

"I think Willow's asking about your Vengeance Demon Talisman Thingy, not your, uhh… Hymen Thingy," Tara said slowly, a blush crawling up her neck.

"Oh! I thought we were indulging in girl talk, which I would normally frown upon during business hours, but there is an unfortunate lack of customers," Anya said, nodding. "Giles smashed it."

"He just … hit it with something? No spells or incantations or … I mean, he didn't use, like, some kind of special weapon or something?" Willow asked.

"No," Anya said, sighing as she recalled the sight of Giles smashing her demonhood into little pieces.

"You're sure?" Willow asked again, sounding skeptical.

"I'm positive," Anya said, her tone impatient. "That isn't the sort of thing a girl forgets."

A cheery bell sounded, and Anya perked up, looking towards the door. "Ooh! A customer. I have to go sell goods now," she said, nearly skipping with excitement over the prospect of a sale.

"What's up?" Tara asked after a moment as Willow gazed unseeing across the shop, the wheels in her mind almost visibly turning.

"It's just that this here says that a Vengeance Demon's talisman is protected, magically, I mean," Willow said, mentally pulling herself back into the magic shop and focusing on Tara. "You can't just smash it with something … well, I mean, you can, but it'll just bounce off, and probably break whatever you were doing the smashing with, or it would send out a nasty shockwave of magical energy that would knock you flat, and so Giles couldn't have broken it at all. Except that he did, because Anya is here and human, and Buffy came to Sunnydale, and Xander and I aren't vampires."

Tara blinked. "So how did he do it?"

"I don't know," Willow said. "It's a mystery," she finally decided, her eyes lighting up. "We could ask, but he's in England and he hasn't called us back yet anyway, and none of us remember what happened in that other Sunnydale, so he wouldn't remember," she concluded, a glum look crossing her face.

"Maybe some things are just meant to remain a mystery," Tara said, a half-smile crossing her face. She couldn't help it - Willow was just too cute when she got her mental teeth into something. Really, she was just amazing to watch. The way that mind worked was a continued source of fascination for Tara.

"Still," Willow began, only to trail off, her nose twitching. A tingle spread across her body, just under her skin, but not a pleasant kind of Tara-Kissage tingling, but more of a painful feeling, like her leg had gone to sleep and was just waking up. Only it wasn't just her leg, it was all of her.

"Still - ?" Tara prompted, her brows furrowing at the strange look on Willow's face. Willow looked up, taking deep breaths and sniffing the air, her lungs filling with a familiar scent.

Her eyes tracked through the store, finding Anya and her customer discussing the merits of different kinds of incense for different kinds of spells. And some incense was burning, the sweet heavy scent filling the shop and Willow's senses, causing her breath to shorten and her heart to race.

"Willow?" Tara asked, her voice heavy with worry as she noticed these changes.

"I -" Willow said, her throat closing on the words, causing her voice to break. "I need … " she tried again, different spells that used this particular kind of incense tickling the back of her mind, asking her to cast them.

Her blood pounded in her ears as the incantations for each spell screamed in her mind, fighting for dominance. She trembled, then stood abruptly, the loud clatter of her chair falling only registering in her hearing as a dull echo.

Tara stood as well as Willow swayed, moving quickly around the table, but not quickly enough.

"I have to go," Willow blurted, half-running half-stumbling away from the incense, away from the scent of magick, away from all of it. Her blood felt as though it were burning in her veins, boiling over with a dark power that was calling her.

Tara followed, calling Willow's name as Willow tripped entering the training room. She caught herself, stumbling forward towards the door that would lead to the alleyway. Falling to her knees, she whimpered, wrapping her arms about herself and shutting her eyes tight, her jaw clenching against the need to speak the words tearing through her brain.

Tara stopped her rush into the room, fear and revulsion rising up in her as she watched Willow. Slowly, she began to chant, raising her hands in a protective gesture.

"What are you - ?" Willow asked, her voice trailing off as she noticed the angry red sparks dancing along her hands. "I … I," she began, her heart pounding in her chest and her eyes widening in shock and fear. She breathed deeply, stepping back from Tara and shaking her head. "No … God, no - I didn't mean … I don't want …" she said helplessly, shutting her eyes tight and clenching her hands into fists.

Tara was torn, part of her wanting nothing more than to escape and run away from this darkness, but the other part wanting to rush to Willow's side and hold her close and chase it away.

"W-willow?" Tara asked, her voice shaky. She finished her spell of protection, then moved to Willow's side, kneeling before her. Reaching out, her fingertips tingled at their closeness to Willow's skin, her body, her heart, and her very soul demanding that she close the distance and touch this woman. "Willow," she said more firmly, coming to a decision and allowing her finger's to trace the soft line of Willow's cheek.

Willow heard Tara's call, and the fear and worry in her voice, but still the magic clawed at her from inside, threatening to rip her to pieces if she didn't let it out. Then, she felt Tara's touch, and she leaned into it. Where she felt the soft pressure of those fingers, the painful fire consuming her skin eased and was replaced with a burning of a different kind. "Tara?" she breathed, the name of the woman she loved powerful enough to break through the spells and past her lips.

Willow trembled, a few tears leaking out the corners of her tightly closed eyes. The sparks subsided, then stopped, and Willow's tense posture slumped until she was barely standing. Gingerly, she opened her eyes, and Tara noted their green color, and a bottomless well of sorrow and heartbreak.

"I'm sorry," Willow managed to say, her voice strained and raw. "I'm so, so sorry," she said.

"I'm here, Will," Tara said, her fingers slipping past her ear and burying themselves in red hair. With just a slight tug, Tara brought their lips together, brushing gently as she wrapped her arms around a shaking Willow.

That brief touch stole their breath and their inhibitions, their lips meeting again and again as everything else faded away; all the hurt and betrayal, the darkness and the pain became as nothing, their hands traveling over familiar territory eagerly and their lips meeting again and again.

Desire - need - pulled at them as the light of their love drove away the darkness. A moan, then another, neither sure which had made the sound. Nothing mattered but the feel of the other as their bodies pressed together, each needing to be closer.

Willow's pain fled, unable to exist in the same body experiencing the pleasure of Tara's kisses and touches. Her mind drifted hazily along on a sea of sensation as Tara's hand slipped under her shirt, stroking the smooth skin there. It was bliss. It was heaven. It was … wrong.

Tara pulled back when she felt Willow freeze beneath her, her eyes dazed and her lips swollen from their kisses. "W-what?" she stammered, her face flushing as she realized exactly how compromising a position they were in, and where exactly her hand was. Quickly, she pulled her hand back, rolling off of the redhead. Her head down, she lifted it briefly, risking a glance at Willow's face, only to regret it when she saw the panic in her eyes.

Willow had no idea how she had ended up sprawled on the floor with Tara on top of her. She couldn't remember exactly how or when they had gotten horizontal, and her mind skittered away from the repercussions of this event, instead happily turning over the logistics of the maneuver.

Shaking her head, Willow forced her brain to get with the now and say something to break the awkward silence. "We can't," she began, her words escaping before she really thought them over. "I mean, we can, 'cuz it's possible … I mean, we HAVE, and here on the mat, but with the rushing and the too-sooness and …" she trailed off, her thought processes grinding to a halt as Tara just sat there. "Aren't you going to say something?" she asked uncertainly.

"I … W-Willow, that shouldn't have h-happened," Tara said miserably, lifting her head, her eyes full of apology. She saw, clearly, what could have happened if things had progressed too far, neither being able to stop. With her feelings of uncertainty about Willow and their relationship, they both would have ended up hurt terribly - more than they already were.

"It's not your fault," Willow hastily assured. "I … I must have … I mean, it's too soon, and you wouldn't -"

"Yes, I w-would have," Tara interrupted, her eyes sad. "And it would have been too much, too soon. I -"

"I know!" Willow cut in. "And so we shouldn't, because I want you back - and duh, of course I want you back - but if we did … err, that … too soon, it would just … it would be bad. Very much with the bad. I mean, it would be good - because it's always good! But still with the bad. . And … you - you can't be around me. None of you can - I'm … I'm not safe. I … I could hurt you, or somebody … it's … I can't control this. It's too much. I'm like matches … I could - I could hurt somebody. I don't wanna' hurt anybody."

"You want me to go?" Tara asked slowly. On one level, she need to stay, and help Willow through this hard time. On another, being around Willow was too much of a temptation. She was too tempted to forget, to let her love for Willow rule her actions, and to let her body have its way with the woman she had adored and trusted above all others. Knowing this, and knowing just how confused and conflicted she was about Willow right now, her course was clear. She had to stay away from Willow, or risk tearing apart any love they had left.

"Go? But we were doing research … Hell God, witches, rituals …? I'll … I'll go. You stay. I need some air. The magic shop probably isn't the best place for me right now. I need to breathe," Willow said suddenly, disappearing out the door and into the alley before Tara had time to stop her.

"Tara? Everything okay in there?" Xander asked, knocking on the door as he slowly swung it open.

Tara rose awkwardly to her feet, straightening her rumpled clothes, shocked at what had just passed. Had all of that really happened? Did Willow just walk away?

"I … Willow's gone," she said woodenly.

"Gone? Gone where?" Xander asked, frowning and walking into the room.

"I don't know. She just … she said she needed some air. She, umm… she told me to stay away from her. Said she wasn't safe. And something about matches? She said she could hurt somebody." Tara explained, her eyes distant and troubled.

"Like matches? I think I might know where she went," Xander said, leaning out the door of the training room and calling to Anya. "Come get Tara, honey. She seems a little… umm… I think she needs to talk." With that, he disappeared out the back door of the shop, taking off after Willow.

"Are you okay?" Anya asked, looking into the room, seeing Tara standing there in the middle of the mat looking lost and alone. She frowned when she got no response from the wiccan, and walked into the room, taking her elbow gently and leading her back out into the front of the shop.

Gently, she seated Tara at the research table, then went to make a cup of tea.

"This whole thing sucks," Tara said glumly. "I mean … it's just so …" Tara made a noise of complete frustration, slapping the open notebook in front of her for emphasis. "It's like, the more she fights it, the harder it tries to take over. Almost like …" Tara stopped, frowning and leaning forward, peering at the notebook in front of her.

"Almost like … " Anya prompted, leaning in and trying to read whatever had disrupted Tara's train of thought.

"W-we think that witch from Willow's vision is her, right? From a past life, or an ancestor, or something?" Tara said, looking over the notes in front of her.

"Well, yeah, that's the most logical assumption. She has to have SOME kind of connection to that witch to have gotten that vision. You don't normally get a first person view of the past unless you're connected to the person you're viewing from somehow."

"Oh, Goddess," Tara breathed, reading the words again.

"What?" Anya asked, her head swimming as she tried to make sense of the multi-colored notes.

"'He who is formless and nameless, who delights in shadowed trickery'," Tara quoted, reading from the notes, "'cannot be commanded by any but one, descended from the line that kept him from Earth and Sky. His wrath shall be known to those so descended, and he will cause them great harm from the shadows, turning them against themselves, until such a one is too weak to defeat him.'"

"Oooh … a manipulative Hell God," Anya said. "Definitely different than Glory. She was about as subtle as … well … something that isn't subtle at all. Umm… me, for instance." Anya paused, frowning. " This witty simile thing isn't as easy as Xander makes it seem."

"Anya?" Tara asked weakly.

"Yes, Tara?"

"Could … could W-willow's source be the Trickster?" she asked slowly, her stomach roiling at the thought.

"I … " Anya paused, blinking slowly. "That would explain a lot, actually. Like how she doesn't think she has a source. If he's the manipulative tricky type, she wouldn't necessarily know. And if she's the descendant of this witch, it makes sense that he'd kind of … take over before she could stop him. Then there's the whole Glory thing. She started in with the Dark Arts during that whole fight, and he'd have an interest in making sure she was defeated, as well as having enough power to lend to actually hurt her."

"That's w-what I thought," Tara said, letting her head fall forward against the notebook. She shook her head, groaning. "Goddess, no," she whispered, her eyes closing as her hands closed into fists.

"It … it'll be all right," Anya said lamely, gingerly patting Tara's back. She wanted to comfort the witch, but she found herself decidedly lacking in the real-life comforting experience, so she wasn't sure how.

"I … I can't stay here. I need to go," Tara said, rising to her feet awkwardly and straightening her rumpled clothes.

"Go?" Anya asked, sitting down at the table and setting the tea down in front of Tara.

"I'll … I'm …," Tara paused, and took a steadying breath. "I'm going away. For a few days, I've decided. Maybe a w-week," she finally said slowly.

"Away? Away where? And what about your classes?" Anya asked curiously. "Willow doesn't approve of missing out on a chance for scholastic achievement."

"Just … away," she said quietly, dodging the question, knowing perfectly well where she was going.
"And Willow? You're leaving her here?"

"Anya … my mother had some things … some things she left me. She had all kinds of notes and journals and books and stuff that I think can help keep Willow safe. If … if there's a H-Hell God trying to keep her w-with him, then she's going to need some h-heavy protection."

"But - she needs you here!" Anya protested, wondering how she would feel if Xander abandoned her when she was being used by a Hell God for some nefarious apocalypse-y purpose.

"I … I know," Tara said, her eyes downcast. "But there's nothing I can do here. She's the one w-who's fighting this thing, and she needs to be able to fight without me. W-what I'm doing will just kinda' … break the connection between her and the Trickster. I h-hope. But, she's still going to have to deal with the darkness she's already got inside her. It's really the only thing I can do to h-help her."

"I understand," Anya said with a sigh. "But it's only a few days, right? Or a week at the latest?"

"Definitely. I'll get back here as soon as I can," Tara said firmly, a new purpose rising up in her. If what she suspected was true, Willow was going to have a long battle in front of her, and as much as it was Willow's battle to fight, she could at least give her the tools she needed to win. She wanted Willow to win - needed Willow to win.

"When are you leaving?" Anya asked.

"I should go now," Tara said, standing up. "I'll have to run by home and pick up some clothes and stuff."

"Good luck, Tara," Anya said, surprising the wiccan by hugging her close. "And don't forget that you're helping plan the wedding as soon as we take care of this Trickster guy."

"I won't," Tara said as she left the shop and headed to the Summers home. She just hoped Dawn wouldn't freak too bad.


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 Post subject: AD Part 21
PostPosted: Fri Mar 29, 2002 10:49 pm 
Answering Darkness Part 21

Playing With Matches

Xander held a piece of paper in his hand, looking it over and frowning as he walked. It was pitiful, really. Here he was, Willow's oldest friend, and this piece of paper was the only thing he had to help her with. But he wasn't a superhero. He wasn't Buffy, with her slayer strength, or Willow with her witchy powers. He couldn't beat someone up or say a few words to make Willow's problems go away, even though he wished he could. Hell, he wasn't even Anya, with her thousand years of experience and knowledge to call upon.

It was familiar in a depressing kind of way, this feeling of helplessness.

Still, he did what he had to do, and even when he couldn't do much, he did it - whatever it was. He did all he could, gave one-hundred and ten percent, and just hoped that it was enough.

But this might not be enough. All he could do was hand over this crumpled piece of paper someone had tacked up at the construction site. He had remembered seeing it, had remembering leaving countless others just like it lying around the house he grew up in - he had never really thought of it as 'home' - for his parents to find.

It had never helped, because they weren't willing to take that first step. Willow, though, was trying. He could see her struggling with this, fighting against the pull of the magic. On one level, he understood, because he had seen so much at home, but on another …

He sighed. There were some things he couldn't understand about it. He'd never been through it himself, and right now Willow needed the support and guidance of people who'd been there. Hence, the piece of paper he had made a special trip to the construction site to pick up, telling the gang that he had some things to take care of.

His footsteps took him automatically to the empty lot he suspected she had run to. He remembered it well, if not fondly, as they had played their often as kids. Just Jesse and Willow and himself, running around the overgrown lot, back when the most dangerous thing in their world was the occasional bit of broken glass lying around.

It had been - God, ten years ago, the last time they'd been there. He'd had a particularly bad day, having been bullied on the playground, his homework and lunch stolen. It was one of the few times he had bothered to do his homework, too. After that, it just kind of seemed like it wasn't worth the trouble to work that hard on something that didn't come as naturally to him as to Willow, only to have his efforts stolen away by bigger kids.

He had ditched the rest of the day, running to this lot where the three of them used to play, feeling like it was the only place he had any kind of control. Here, he and Jesse and Willow weren't three little kids, but whatever they wanted to be. Games of "let's pretend" certainly seemed childish now, looking back, but he knew that these games were his escape from a reality that wasn't always kind.

The book of matches had been lying around on the ground, and he'd picked them up on his way to the lot. He wasn't even sure why he had picked them up, really, but he had, slipping them into his pocket, then looking around to make sure he hadn't been seen. He was fully aware he was doing something wrong, both ditching school and picking up the matches he had always been told were dangerous, but he just didn't care at that point.

He'd started with twigs, but they'd smolder and then go out. That certainly wasn't much fun. Then he'd cleared an area and gotten a small pile of leaves together, and piling twigs onto that. That burned longer, but eventually went out.

By the time school had let out, he had a really little fire going and burning nicely, but it certainly seemed big. He had stared at it, entranced, until a hysterical voice and the sound of two pairs of running feet moving towards him broke him out of his reverie.

"Xander, that's a fire!" Willow had called out, pushing him out of harm's way and pounding it out with her hands in her panic.

She had gotten a few really minor burns, and he'd gotten an ear-blistering lecture from his friend about playing with matches. Jesse had chimed in now and then, backing up the girl he had a huge crush on, though she had no idea.

He remembered in a kind of blur his panic when it was clear Willow was burned, and Jesse's mad dash to find some water to soothe her hurts, all the while Willow angrily reading him the riot act about how matches weren't toys.

With a few tears and hugs, they had calmed themselves down, then went back to their homes, but they had never gone back to that lot, finding new places to play.

He reached the lot, his eyes finding Willow's hair over the top of some overgrown weeds. He moved towards her, pushing through the plants, only to stop and stare in shock when he saw her.

"Willow, that's a fire!" he yelled, unwittingly echoing her words. He ran towards her, his eyes not believing what he saw as he hastily shoved his piece of paper into his pocket. Willow sat, her cupped hands ablaze, a dazed look on her face. He wasn't exactly sure what was burning, but he had the sick feeling it was Willow herself.

Willow looked up abruptly, her eyes unfocused. He pushed her forward, grabbing her arms and placing her hands on the ground. She struggled against him, trying to pull her hands away as he pounded out the fire, wincing at the pain of the heat.

"Willow," he said catching his breath as the adrenaline drained out of him, now that the danger had passed. Slowly, he rolled onto his side. "What the hell do you think you were doing?" he managed to say.

"I - I …" Willow began, only to stop and stare at her hands in confusion. "What was I … ?" she asked, turning her hands over and inspecting them like she had never seen them before.

"Okay, now THAT was weird. Your hands were on fire, Willow," Xander said slowly.

"Oh, God, Xander," Willow said, bursting into tears.

"Hey, hey … easy now," Xander said, pulling her into a hug and gingerly patting her back with his sore hands. "I mean, hands on fire … just another day on the Hellmouth, right?"

"I was just … I mean, I didn't want to, but I was here, and Tara hates me, and I just don't know what to do anymore," she wailed.

"Hey, now. Tara doesn't hate you," Xander said slowly.

"But I just used magic," Willow protested. "I wasn't going to. I promised I wouldn't and I did and now she hates me and it's all my fault."

"Tara doesn't even know," Xander said, his voice confused. "How can she hate you for something she doesn't even know about?"

"That's worse!" Willow declared. "I know, and I know she'll hate me now, and I have to tell her, because if I don't tell her, she'll REALLY hate me, and that's how I got into this whole mess in the first place, so how could I just not tell her?"

"Of course you'll tell her, but it was a mistake, Will," Xander said gently. "You're on the road to recovery. So you stumbled a bit. You have to pick yourself up and go on."

"It's too hard! I can't do this, with the hurt and the headaches and the tummy aches and the magic just won't leave me alone," she sobbed.

"Get ahold of yourself, Will," Xander said firmly, shaking her gently. "Come on, now, snap out of it," he ordered.

Willow's sobs subsided, and Xander's heart broke at the sad lost look in her watery green eyes. "Yeah?" she said weakly, letting out a little hiccup.

"Now, you used magic. That's okay. You try again. You've done really good so far, and you can't just throw that all away. You try again," he repeated firmly. "And this time, you'll go longer without any magic. And if you stumble again, you'll try again - again," he said, pausing and thinking that odd turn of phrase over before continuing. "And then you'll go even longer. And soon, very soon, the need to cast spells won't be as strong, and you'll have an easier time of it. But you have to get through the hard part, first."

"What if I can't?" Willow said, sniffing.

"You can," Xander said with absolute certainty, and Willow let that belief in her wash through her, bolstering her courage. With a gentle touch, Xander brushed back her hair. "You can do anything you put your mind to, Willow. You always could," he said fondly. "And I know you want to get past this, and so you will."

"It's harder than I thought it would be," Willow confessed. "I didn't realize … I didn't know that … that I was this far gone."

"Well, the first step is admitting you have a problem," Xander said, pulling the rumpled piece of paper to Willow and handing it over silently.

Willow brushed away her tears, looking curiously at the flyer Xander had handed her, reading it over carefully. Then she read it again.

"You want me to go to AA meetings?" she asked, confusion coloring her tone. "But Xander, I don't drink."

"No, I want you to want to go to AA meetings," Xander clarified. "I know …" he began, then paused, taking a breath and settling his thoughts. He wanted to get this right. "You don't drink, I know that. But the point is, that all the people who go to these meetings has something in common with you, something that the rest of us don't have. They're all addicted to something that rules their life. They understand what it's like to have cravings and withdrawal and setbacks. I don't. I wish … I wish I had a frame of reference to be all Understanding Guy and Helpful Friend here, but I just don't. I'll help you in any way I can," he went on, his voice getting surer. "But I think these people can help you, too, and I want you to have all the help that you need."

"Where did you get this?" Willow asked, her hands smoothing out the wrinkled flyer, going for the trivial questions while her mind turned over what Xander had said.

"It was tacked up on a bulletin board at the construction site. I used to leave things like this around the house for mom and dad, so I always notice them," he explained.

"Oh, God, Xander, I'm so sorry," Willow said, her face miserable as she thought of Xander's parents.

"Hey - not your fault, Will," he said lightly. "Y'know," he went on, the lightness of his tone at odds with the serious sad look in his eyes, "they never got to the point where they thought they had a problem. They always said they could stop anytime they wanted to, y'know? And so they never stopped, and I really don't think they will."

"I'll … I'll go to the meetings, Xander," Willow said, her voice uncertain.

"Willow, if you're going because you want me to feel like I've made a difference, don't," he said firmly. "Don't go for me, don't go for Dawn or Buffy or even Tara. They can be part of the reason, but in the end, you have to go for you, because YOU don't want the magic to be in the driver's seat."

"I'll go," Willow said more firmly. "I'll go to the meetings, because it can't hurt to try, right? I mean, I could hate it, or it could be totally wrong for a magic addiction, but I could at least try. It couldn't hurt. Could it?"

"No, it couldn't hurt," Xander said, smiling at his friend. "You're really gonna' go?"

"Yeah. The very next meeting they have, I'll be at," Willow said, nodding and putting her resolve face firmly in place.

"Umm … the next one is tonight," Xander said, pointing out the meeting times and dates on the flyer.

"Tonight?" Willow squeaked, her resolve face slipping. "Xander, I haven't had time to … to panic about this properly. New place, new experience, new people. I have to have my panic time. Panic time is absolutely essential for new things. Did I mention the strangers? Lots of strangers, all looking at me. Oh, God - I'll have to stand up and introduce myself! I can't - !"

"Hey, Willow, calm down. Lots of people go to these every day."

"But the newness … and the people … and the newness of the people," Willow said, staring at the flyer.

"Look, Willow, you don't have to go tonight. But think about it. I think this is really important, and that it'll be really good for you, but it won't help if you're too panicked to get anything out of it."

"I'll … I'll think about it. About going tonight. I'll … I'll try to go. Tonight," Willow said, afraid that if she had any more time to think it over, she'd accidentally 'lose' the flyer and never go at all.

"Come on," Xander said, standing up and brushing himself off, then reaching down and tugging Willow to her feet.

"Oh, Xander," Willow said, peering at his hands when he winced. "You … you got burned," she said, a look of profound guilt crossing her face.

"Now we're even," he said with a smirk, slinging a companionable arm across her shoulders. "Let's get you back to the magic shop, Ms. Rosenberg. It'll be dusk soon."

"I … not the magic shop," Willow said, shaking her head. "I - I can't be around the magic stuff. It kinda'…" she trailed off.

"Oh, geeze, Will. I didn't even think of that. Is that why - ?"

"Yeah," Willow confirmed, nodding. "Anya was burning some incense talking to a customer, and I kinda' got …"

Xander nodded. "Home, then?" he asked, looking down at his very best Willow Friend.

"Yeah," she said, wrapping her arm around his waist as they walked. "Y'know, we don't do this nearly enough."

"Just hanging out, the two of us?" he asked, knowing exactly what she meant.

"Yeah. I mean, the whole time we were growing up, it was just you and me and Jesse, y'know? And now we're all caught up in our lives and our Scoobyage and our stuff, and we don't really talk much anymore."

"Y'know, Jesse had a huge crush on you," Xander confided.

"He did not," Willow said, swatting Xander in the stomach.

"What's with girls and the random acts of violence?" Xander complained, rubbing his tummy. "And yes, he did. He had a huge monster crush on you, which he never did anything about because you had a crush on me, which I never mentioned, because he had a crush on you," he explained.

"Really?" Willow said, her eyes growing distant as she remembered the defiant young man they had grown up with. Xander had always been the funny one, and Willow the smart one … and Jesse - Jesse had been the rebel. Always getting into trouble, thinking up outlandish ways to bend the rules and dragging his two best friends into it. "Remember when we used to ditch school and go down to the market and buy bubble gum?" Willow asked, her eyes twinkling.

"Yeah. We volunteered to read to the Kindergardners, then lied about when and how long we were supposed to go do that, so we had an extra fifteen minutes to sneak away," he said, smiling at the memory. "I still can't believe Mrs. Calvert and Ms. Vacin never actually talked to each other about what we were supposed to be doing when. They believed everything Jesse said."

"But Jesse's grandma caught us, remember?" Willow asked. "To this day, the thought of ditching school gives me a major case of the heebie-jeebies."

"Oh, God, yeah. I miss that old bag," Xander said fondly, sighing.

"Old bag? She was a really sweet lady," Willow protested.

"Sweet? Ha! Sweet to you, maybe. She adored you. She thought I was a little hellion corrupting her nice mild-mannered grandson," Xander rejoined.

"Hmm … she had no idea he was the bad apple," Willow said, a small smile on her lips. "He had such a way of making even little things an adventure. Remember that scary trail up on Mount JesXanWil?" Willow asked, referring to the hill behind Jesse's house they had named after themselves.

"Good Lord, yes. I had nightmares for a week, with all the stories Jesse made up about the place. I kept expecting something horrible to happen that time we hiked it," Xander said.

"Before we had real monsters," Willow said sadly, her thoughts turning to Jesse.

"I miss him," Xander said, coughing to clear the lump in his throat.

"Me too," Willow whispered, and they continued their walk in companionable silence, as a plan began forming in Xander's mind.


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