The Kitten, the Witches and the Bad Wardrobe - Willow & Tara Forever

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 Post subject: Re: Doppelganger Redux
PostPosted: Sun Mar 05, 2017 7:44 pm 
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3. Flaming O

Joined: Sun Jan 10, 2010 11:27 am
Posts: 50
Location: So Cal
CHAPTER 30

They returned to Books of Shadows at sunset, not quite soon enough for Willow, who was near beyond longing for their warm bed or a hot bath, or maybe one after the other, but as soon as they stepped across the threshold both understood food was the most immediate priority.

“So, do you think we could stop for tacos or something on the way home, because I’m feeling kind of peckish,” Willow said.

Tara admitted she felt the same as she pulled out of her boots. After changing back into their street wear, the two of them neatly re-packed their winter gear and left it atop one of the library tables. Tara didn’t realize something was terribly wrong until she touched the handle of the annex door. Her senses reached out, a scent on the air, a sound like rushing water. Her body went cold, and she reached for Willow. “Stay close,” she whispered.

“Tara?”

Willow had been carrying a very sleepy White Leg in her arms; now the cat was awake and wary. It’s tiny head swinging back and forth.

“Something’s wrong,” Tara said softly. The battle-axe and long blade had been left behind on the library table, but she’d tucked the short blade into her boot. She took it out. “Stay behind me,” she said. Gingerly, she opened the door into the main room and peeked around the frame. Nothing appeared amiss, but the scent on the air was stronger and, worse, the sound of rushing water louder. Also, Albert was nowhere to be seen and the store’s street door was open.

“Tara, what is it?”

Tara turned around and looked into green eyes showing more concern than fear. “Will, if I tell you to run, run back into the annex and lock the door from the other side.”

“I’m not going anywhere without you.” Willow tried to put on her resolve face, but didn’t entirely succeed. “Where’s Albert, and what’s that sound?”

The scars on her back and stomach itching, panic simmering deep inside her belly, already knowing Willow wasn’t going to leave her side, Tara forced herself to think. They needed weapons. The short knife wouldn’t be enough. “We need to look behind the counter,” Tara said, hoping she was right, hoping the chest she’d noticed the first time she’d visited Albert for tea was what she thought it was.

They went back inside the store, moving forward on near silent feet through the empty aisles. Behind the counter, Tara found the chest and a cup of tea still cooling. She wondered where Albert had gone; she prayed he’d left armed.

“They’re afraid of fire,” Tara whispered as she opened the chest. No guns, not that she expected to find any, but there was a crossbow, a quiver of bolts, and another long blade, but no battle-axe. She debated returning to the annex to grab the one left on the library table, but decided she’d be better off carrying the cross-bow. She wouldn’t be able to carry both.

Willow was crouched on the floor next to Tara. She caught Tara by the chin and turned her head so that she could see into Tara’s eyes. “What’s afraid of fire?”

“Tsuris demons. That sound you hear, that’s their gathering cry.” Tara swallowed hard. “It’s started, Will.”

A shiver that started from somewhere deep inside her body moved outward, creeping out of her belly, into her muscles, over her skin. This is what it truly feels like to be prey, Willow thought. She’d felt corned before, she’d felt life threatened many times, but she’d never before felt hunted, not even by vampires. Willow forced a smile onto her face.

“We can handle this, baby, but first we need to text Buffy.” We need to follow procedures, cross Ts and dot Is. Willow pulled her cell phone out of her pocket and saw she’d received several texts, two from Buffy, one from Xander. She read through them and a second shiver moved through her.

“There was an attack near the docks. They think they’re heading toward the pedestrian mall.” The pedestrian mall was two blocks away.

“We should go out, and tell anybody on the street to get inside.”

Willow nodded as she re-pocketed her phone, letting Tara take the lead, hoping the Tsuris demons would continue gathering a while longer.

They returned White Leg to the annex and then returned to the outer door of the store. Tara opened it slowly. She thought she could hear people talking nearby, maybe at the coffee shop two doors down. The crossbow dangling from her hand, she came out onto the stoop, Willow following close behind. Tara looked to her left and right. The sidewalks were empty, and aside from the cars already parked along the curb, the streets were empty as well.

Tara came off the stoop and padded as softly as she could towards the coffee shop. About eight or ten people were standing inside, looking out the window, most dressed like college students, but two in basic mom wear. Tara held her finger to her lips to silence them, wanting to question them inside the coffee shop rather than through the window. She had her hand on the doorknob when the screaming began.

Instinctively Tara came around, pushing Willow behind her before realizing the screaming was coming from the next block.

“I don’t suppose I can convince you to go back inside.”

“Only if you’re coming with me,” Willow answered her tone scared but firm.

Going back inside wasn’t a possibility. “Just remember, our weapons are pretty useless unless one of them is on top of us. I’m going to try to cast a fire net.” Tara looked over her shoulder into plainly frightened green eyes. “Baby, I might need you as a second.” Willow nodded, and the two started moving.

They headed left past three storefronts and then made a right turn through the alley to the next block, jumping back as a car sped by nearly coming up on the sidewalk, racing away from the mall. “Come on,” Tara shouted as she started running, Willow’s footsteps sounding behind her.

When they reached the mall for a moment Tara couldn’t make sense of what she was seeing, food stands and tables overturned, people yelling from inside store windows.

“Tara, over there.” Willow called out, focusing Tara’s eyes towards Luigi’s and a dozen or so people corned by five, no six Tsuris demons.

“We need to get their attention. Draw them this way.”

“You sure about that?” Willow said, even as a fireball began to flame above her hand.

Not sure about anything, Tara nodded as she looked around trying to figure out what she could use to draw them off. Her eyes focused on a narrow yellow and black post with a blue light at the top. Anya had told her half the emergency alarms in Sunnydale were out of order at one time or another, maybe luck would be on her side.

“This way,” Tara said, heading over to the post. She pulled the lever setting of a short, but very loud shriek and activating a spinning blue light. “They don’t like loud noises and they don’t like bright lights very much either.”

Great, Willow thought, let’s piss them off, as the Tsuris began to look in their direction.

They were built like tailless cougars, but with longer jaws and even longer fore claws. They moved on all fours, but instead of fur, they were covered with something that looked to Willow more like feathers. Most disconcerting were their heads, which had eyes and ears like humans, although their snouts were pure cat.

It only took Willow seconds to realize they were highly intelligent, that they moved not with instinct or as a herd but with individual motivation. When they turned towards them, it took every ounce of Willow’s strength not to run.

Like Willow, Tara had a fireball dancing over her hand, but hers was growing larger, reshaping itself into something more web-like.

“Baby, I’m going to need you to help me feed this thing and grow it bigger.”

Willow understood Tara’s plan, if not how she was shaping the element. She began forming and tossing small fireballs into the web.

“Won’t they run the other way?”

“They’re not animals. They’re going to want to take this down, take us down, before we get too strong.” Tara shouted, because the Tsuris were beginning to sound their attack cry. “Get set, they’ll move all at once.”

“Get set to what?” Willow shouted, still tossing off fireballs but beginning to grow weak from the effort.

“To stand your ground.” Tara screamed as the Tsuris came for them.

Her knees locked, Willow watched with horror as the Tsuris began running towards them. They moved low to the ground, and their claws clattered on the concrete pavement, but their way impeded by all the overturned tables and chairs, giving she and Tara time. Her knees locked, Willow also watched Tara shape the fire into a large, circular net, spinning it above their heads, and she wanted to shrink back from the heat and the light.

The fire net was now four meters in diameter, a huge thing glowing and sparking, circling above their heads until Tara hurled it forward and it closed around the Tsuris, dropping around them, closing under them. The Tsuris attack cries turning into screams of pain as the fire net formed a ball around them closing in on itself and then vanishing into a cloud of dust.

Willow fell onto her knees, weak from her casting, weak from what she’d seen. The air around her smelled of singed flesh and feathers. She reached out and grasped Tara’s leg, fingers closing tightly around the calf, and then Tara was bent over her, enclosed around her.

“Baby, it’s okay.”

Why aren’t you even winded? “What if there are more of them. I can’t make any more fireballs.”

“There aren’t. Not near us, anyway. I would be able to feel them if there were.”

Willow felt a kiss pressed onto her cheek and she turned into it, pressing her mouth onto Tara’s, drawing strength and comfort, feeling impossibly tired, impossibly cold. When she pulled back she looked into concerned eyes the color of the morning sky. “We should see if anyone needs help, and shouldn’t Buffy and Xander be coming soon?”

“I think they’re already here, sweetheart,” Tara said, and Willow heard them, Buffy yelling at Xander to help her move something.

Willow came off the ground, steadying herself on Tara’s arm and saw Buffy and Xander pulling people out from under the wreckage of a collapsed food stand. “We should go help.”

They headed over to Buffy, Xander, and Spike and helped lift up some tipped over lattice work, freeing a group of people Willow thought were high school students. None of them even bothered to ask what had happened, instead they took Buffy at her word and headed home. That was life on the hell mouth, Willow thought.

“What happened at the dock?” Willow asked.

“Same thing, these cat like buggers came out of nowhere.” Spike said as he tossed a piece of the latticework to the side.

“Tsuris demons. They’re from my old reality.”

Buffy straightened up and looked at Tara. “So, this is an advance team?”

Tara didn’t bother with a question she knew Buffy could answer herself. “Was anyone killed?”

“Bunch of gang bangers tried to take them on. EMTs had to take a couple of guys to the hospital. I didn’t see the coroner’s wagon.”

Willow turned around, her ears catching on someone crying out. “Over here, guys,” she said before heading across the mall to another collapsed food stand.

The others followed and they began pulling up the tarp that had covered a vegetable stand. Seven people were underneath, hiding under some tipped over display racks. Willow heard a familiar voice behind her and turned around and saw Cheryl.

The leader of the daughters of Gaia had a cut along the side of her forehead, and the elbow of her sweater was torn out from what was clearly a hard fall. Willow held out her hand and pulled the girl to her feet.

“Are you okay?”

Cheryl nodded as she looked about. “I was with Nicole. She ran the other way. What were those things?"

Willow sighed heavily. “Gang bangers. Kids on PCP. Bikers. Eco-terrorists.”

Cheryl nodded a second time. Tomorrow’s newspapers would claim one or more from the list. Life on the hellmouth.

A scream sounded from the next block, one of horror not fear. Buffy and Spike took off running, Xander a stride or two behind them. Tara looked at Willow.

“Are you okay?” Willow asked Cheryl a second time. She got an uncertain nod.

“Stay with the others. The police should be here soon.” Because that was when the police always came, after the fact, showing up to help with the cleanup.

They took off, running after Buffy, who was heading the next block over. Tara scented the blood first, the sickly-sweet smell almost cancelling out the smell of fire left from the net. As she came around the corner she stumbled with horror. From the streetlights hung body after body; their throats slashed, their blood pooled beneath their feet. She screamed, trying to release the terror through her lungs, trying to wake herself from her nightmare. But there was no waking. There was only this.


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 Post subject: Re: Doppelganger Redux
PostPosted: Sun Mar 05, 2017 7:47 pm 
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3. Flaming O

Joined: Sun Jan 10, 2010 11:27 am
Posts: 50
Location: So Cal
It would be hard to explain why I'm back working on DR, but I am. As always, I am working through my outline, fussing over plot points and characterization, fussing even more on making good use of narration. More will come. There's about ten chapters left to edit and/or write. The fat lady has yet to sing, but sing she will in time.


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 Post subject: Re: Doppelganger Redux
PostPosted: Tue Mar 07, 2017 8:17 pm 
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4. Extra Flamey
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I only have a quick moment but I fully intend to get started on this fic. I'm super happy people are coming back and writing. I will be replying once I've finished catching up.

Welcome back.

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 Post subject: Re: Doppelganger Redux
PostPosted: Wed Mar 08, 2017 8:20 am 
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10. Troll Hammer
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OMG I am so excited to see you're back and working on this story!

Such excellent writing, as always, lyrical prose capturing profound emotion.

Utterly fantastic. I can't wait to read what happens next!

Cheers,
DW


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 Post subject: Re: Doppelganger Redux
PostPosted: Wed Mar 08, 2017 6:59 pm 
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3. Flaming O
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Holy cannoli! Is this some sort of 20th anniversary effect going on? The thread resurrection 'round here is immense. Not that I'm complaining. Just an observation. So if you're sort of hell bound to finish this story. I'll buck up and read on. After all, nothing better than knowing folks are reading your stuff.


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 Post subject: Re: Doppelganger Redux
PostPosted: Fri Mar 10, 2017 2:49 pm 
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3. Flaming O

Joined: Sun Jan 10, 2010 11:27 am
Posts: 50
Location: So Cal
First of all, happy twentieth anniversary of the premiere of BTVS, and second, here's an other chapter ...

CHAPTER 31

Tara turned over in the bed, turned over into warmth, safety. She’d been crying off and on all night, cuddled inside Willow’s arms. Daylight was creeping through the windows. She opened her eyes.

“Did you sleep?”

“When you did, baby,” Willow said as she leaned forward to press a kiss to Tara’s forehead.

In all nine people had died, including Albert and Nicole. Their bodies hung from the streetlamps, their blood spilled carelessly on the ground. No one, not Buffy, not even Spike had ever seen anything like it. Vampires were monsters, but they did not do such things, but only vampires could have pulled off this particular kind of carnage.

They stayed until the police came and pushed them back, not even bothering to ask questions. What questions were there to ask?

Willow offered up another kiss. “I’m kind of starving, and you need to eat something, too.” She slipped out from under the covers and stood along the side of the bed.

Tara wanted more than anything to stay where it was warm, where it felt safe, but she got up anyway. Willow was hungry.

It was cold in the house, and so they put on warmer clothes, sweatpants and fleece shirts, and headed downstairs where they found Buffy sitting at the counter, a cup of coffee and the morning’s newspaper in front of her.

“They listed the people killed. I only recognized Albert’s and Nicole’s names.” Buffy pushed the newspaper away and took a sip of her coffee. “Is anyone else in the mood for pancakes?”

“Only if I make them,” Willow said, trying to make a joke, but her tone was off and the joke fell flat. It was too early for whistling in the dark.

Tara sat down at the counter next to Buffy and Willow brought her a coffee, stopping to refill Buffy’s before getting started on making pancakes.

“Giles left a message. He’s coming over around eight.” Buffy’s eyes drifted towards the kitchen clock. “Or soon-ish.”

“Last night, Xander mentioned he and Anya would be at the Magic Box by ten,” Willow said to no one in particular.

The three fell silent as Willow made the pancakes, and then ate silently, as well, until a knock sounded at the door and Giles came in wearing his suit and tie. They exchanged pleasantries and Giles claimed he’d already had breakfast. It was only then Willow realized she and Tara hadn’t told the others about going to collect the moonstone, and, more importantly, they’d left White Leg locked up in the annex.

“White Leg,” Willow said to Tara, “We left her behind at Albert’s.”

“Who’s White Leg?” Buffy asked.

“Tara’s cat.”

“The cat in the annex? She’s Tara’s?” Giles put down his coffee cup and cleared his throat, his expression turned odd. “White Leg is fine, Willow. I gave her a saucer of milk, and I picked up some cat food on the way over here. But since it seems she belongs to Tara I’ll leave the food here at the house.”

“You were at the annex?” Tara said, sitting up, the glaze that had been in her eyes since waking finally fading.

Giles pulled off his glasses and began scrubbing the lenses with the end of his tie in what appeared to be a bid for time. “Earlier this morning, I needed to check on things,” he said slowly and after a long moment, “There’s been a few developments that I need to share with you. Actually, I’d hoped Xander and Anya would also be here, but I suppose . . .” He trailed off.

“Does this have anything to do with the mysterious trailer you left parked in my driveway, and what happened to it, anyway?” Buffy finally prompted.

“As it happens yes,” Giles looked towards Tara, “the trailer was filled with books I collected from the library of Caitlin Maclay.”

“Tara’s mother,” Tara said slowly, her expression uncertain, barely noticing Willow’s hand moving to rest over hers.

“I was able to persuade Mr. Maclay to part with them for a small fee. They were stored in a small annex underneath the staircase, rather like the annex you described in your home in the other reality.”

Willow tightened her fingers over Tara’s. “How did you know about them? You didn’t just cold call on Mr. Maclay?”

“No, Albert sent me for them. He contacted me about a month before my return to Sunnydale.”

“So, you were planning on coming back all along,” Buffy said, seemingly missing the larger point.

“Yes, Buffy. I was.” Giles reached again for his glasses, but seemed to think the better of it and left them on his face. “Albert thought it would be better if I handled the Maclay library, even though my previous encounter with the family was less than ideal.”

“You came here to take over the store,” Willow said slowly.

“Take over the store?” Buffy said with clear disbelief. “You came back to be a used book seller?”

“In part, I suppose.”

“How did Albert know about Caitlin’s books?” Tara asked, before realizing how Albert knew was beside the point. “Albert picked you to be his replacement.”

“The used book store was and will continue to be only a front operation, a disguise for the archive, the library of books inside the annex,” Giles said to Buffy before turning his gaze to Willow and Tara. “This is very hard to explain. I’m not entirely understanding of it myself, but Albert was aware his tenure was to end soon, and he prevailed upon me to continue in his true work, collecting and preserving books of magicks.”

It was Willow’s turn to ask a question. “Does that mean you’re leaving the Watcher’s Council?”

“I tendered my formal and final resignation earlier this morning, but the Council was aware I was intending to become a librarian again. Not that they entirely approve, of the library I mean. The Council like several other such bodies, the Guardians, the Circle and so forth, has always taken a rather dim view of it. They feel like so many others the collection should be broken down into smaller more specific collections. There’s always been an especially nasty dispute over the collections of books of shadows, which date back to—.”

“Since 1348,” Willow interjected.

“Yes, how on do you know that.”

“I think Tara and I have been to the original site.”

Giles pulled off his glasses, but did not think to clean them. “Albert sent the two of you through the threshold.”

“To find moonstone,” Willow began, sensing Tara wasn’t up for retelling the story. She told it quickly, stopping only to answer a question or two, from Buffy, not Giles, finishing with, “And we left Tara’s backpack behind, also.”

“It’s on one of the library tables, as well as the other pack. I also noticed a very fine battle axe.” Giles turned and cast a frown at Buffy’s coffee maker. Tea would be far preferable. “I don’t suppose you’ve kept that box of Darjeeling . . .”

“It’s in the cupboard over the microwave,” Buffy said. “So, this moonstone stuff, Tara’s going to use it to stop the apprentice.”

Tara could no longer hang back and let Willow do the explaining. “Contain him, at least that’s the plan. I’ve been training to execute an ice conjure.” She noticed Giles’ eyebrows raise on the word “training.”

“An ice conjure?” Buffy asked.

“Like the fire web I spun last night, but made of ice instead.”

“In the past, you’ve only conjured out of fire and air, correct?”

Tara didn’t let herself wonder too long about how Giles suddenly seemed much more conversant about conjuring or her history of casting. “Pretty much. I learned the basics of all the elements from my mother’s book of shadows.”

“But what you want to pull off is more than basic?” Buffy asked.

Giles was now at the stove, putting on the tea kettle, the Darjeeling already retrieved from the cupboard. “I was reading through Albert’s most recent journal, you and he have been working through Barton’s. Although I didn’t realize his trainee was you.” He decided never to mention to Tara in Albert’s journal she was called the apprentice.

“You were training with Albert?”

“Not exactly.” Tara looked from Buffy to Giles, hoping he would explain.

Giles offered up a supportive smile, and then began, “Albert’s job was somewhat more than book seller or even librarian.”

“He was a wizard, but more like Dumbledore than Ethan Rayne.” The conclusion came to Willow quickly, as truth usually did.

“And rather long-lived, Albert had been seeing to the library since the mid-eighteenth century.”

“He was a wise one,” Tara said softly, her conclusion already known to her, “like you, like Miss Hartness.”

“I’m sorry to say I still have much to learn before anyone might think me wise.” Giles went to Tara and placed his hand over hers. “Even if I did not understand, Albert knew on some level his own fate.”

“Like being a slayer, another one is chosen as soon as the last one falls,” Buffy murmured.

And finally, the thing Tara could not speak about was said, the thing she couldn’t accept because Albert was her teacher and losing him was this terrible, terrible thing.

A week ago, he’d said to Giles, you should see my tarot readings, and she should have realized, “I should have been . . .”

“What, Tara? Faster? Stronger?” Buffy caught and held Tara’s eyes. “I get it. I’ve felt it. I felt it when Jenny Calendar died. I felt it when Tara died. But I can’t own the blame. Angelus murdered Jenny, and Warren murdered Tara. Innocents died because I wasn’t there to stop the evil. Buffy stumbled on the word “evil,” her eyes shifting to check on Willow, but she pushed on, “None of us are responsible for the evil that other’s do, the only thing we’re responsible for is doing the best we can to stop their actions, and sometimes our best isn’t enough, and they succeed, and the best we can do is to try again. Tara, there’s no fixing the past.”

No fixing the past, Tara echoed in her thoughts, but the voice was Sam’s. A part of her wanted to argue. She’d dreamed of Albert dead and hanging from the lamp post, why couldn’t she have dreamed of what she could have done to stop it?

“Baby, Buffy and I know all about the recriminations thing,” Willow said, pulling Tara’s attention to her like a lifeline. “It’s been kind of our specialty the past year or so, and she’s right, it doesn’t help. Recriminations don’t make us smarter or faster, they don’t make us able to predict the future. Albert sent you to get the moonstone, and he sent me to get you. We did what we were asked to do.”

Tara felt tears start to spill down her cheeks. She scrubbed at them. “I hate being a crybaby.”

“Well at least you cry pretty. Will and me, we’re totally with the unpretty crying.”

“Unpretty crying,” Giles echoed with exaggerated horror, the pitch perfect and perfectly timed comic relief. “The atrocities you perform on my native language are . . .”

“Atrocious?” Willow supplied with a faint smile.

“I was going to go with unfathomable.”

More jokes were exchanged, none especially funny, all necessary, even pulling a smile out of Tara, and helping in a small way for Buffy to raise the other thing that needed to be said: “So guys, you already know this, but it’s my job to say it.” Buffy looked towards Willow. “The Tsuris demons materialized out of thin air on the truck lane of the 134, which meant two of them were pretty much instant road kill and that Spike heard about them on his police scanner.”

“Spike has a police scanner . . .” Giles interrupted under his breath, “What am I saying, the man watches American soap operas.”

“In other words, we had a warning,” Buffy continued. “But next time, and I’m pretty much guessing there’s going to be a next time based on what Tara’s told us, we might not get the warning as soon. So, what it boils down to is we need that spectral rod thing-y, Will.” Buffy paused a moment. “I need it, Will. And I’m not just askin’.”

Willow wondered when she’d next take a breath, because it seemed she had forgotten how to breath, and then she reached for Buffy’s hand. She noticed Tara was holding her other hand. The tightness in her chest eased.

“I think the reason I’m scared, or at least one of the reasons is because the other stuff, the fireballs I mean, I did those in the heat of the moment, which sounds like a really bad pun, but it’s not.”

“We understand, Willow,” Giles said. “Just as we understand we’re asking much of you. We’re asking you to take back into yourself what we attempted to take away, an attempt made with the best of intentions but one that was wrong.”

“Giles, I needed to stop . . .”

“And now you need to begin again, and not simply because we need you. None of us can deny who we are. None of us truly knows what we are until that moment when it is revealed. Believe me, I never thought I’d become a librarian once again, but here I am.”

“So, I’m hoping you kept all your tweed suits,” Buffy said.

“As well my vests, but I seem to have lost my favorite silk tie.”

“Not the one with tiny puppies,” Willow teased, because teasing was familiar, teasing helped.

“No, not the Hanukah present you tricked me into wearing to school because I foolishly thought you’d be hurt if I didn’t, I meant the blue and red.” Giles used his exasperated tone; he also laid his hand on Willow’s shoulder. “Trust in Tara if you can’t quite trust in yourself. You’ll do fine.”

Willow looked at Buffy and let her know with a glance she’d do as Buffy asked, and then she looked at Tara, because the only way she could do it was if Tara had her back.

***

“Hey,” Tara said to Willow because she couldn’t think of anything else, and she needed to say something.

They were upstairs in their bedroom, Tara sitting cross-legged in the center of their bed, Willow at the closet, both finished with their showers; Tara was finished dressing, but Willow continued to debate between two shirts, or at least Tara thought Willow was debating as she moved the two back and forth on their hangers.

Willow turned around and looked at her. “I’m okay.”

“Really?”

Willow rejected both the shirts she’d been considering and went to the dresser to pull out her yellow long sleeved tee. After pulling it over her head she caught Tara’s expression and could not have stopped herself from smiling if she’d wanted.

“You look at me like I’m the most beautiful woman you’ve ever seen.”

Tara’s cheeks turned pink, but she metaphorically stood her ground. “You are.” And then she held out her hand and Willow also came onto the bed, sitting with her legs tucked to the side.

“So much keeps happening.”

Tara’s blush deepened. “Some of it good.”

“Some of it the best.” Willow leaned over and brushed a kiss over Tara’s lips. “Some of it pretty amazing.”

“Buffy gave me a look while we were eating breakfast. I think she knows.”

“Knows what? Knows that I keep thinking about making love to you.”

Tara liked it when Willow used the term making love. She moved to lay her head upon Willow’s lap, aware they were supposed to head downstairs in a minute or two, but needing the closeness more. Feeling safe, feeling selfish, she explained, “I don’t want to lose yesterday afternoon.”

Willow wove her fingers into Tara’s hair and began rubbing along her scalp. “Baby, a lot has happened, what happened last night was terrible, but what happened here yesterday afternoon was wonderful, amazingly wonderful.”

“Jackie told me people can tell when a girl has her first time.”

Not exactly sure where she was treading, Willow asked, “Is that a good thing or a bad thing?”

“A weird thing.”

Oh, Willow thought. “Close friends can sometime tell when people have taken a relationship to the next stage.”

“I keep thinking about how beautiful you were, the sounds, the way you smell and taste, the color of your eyes, everything.”

Willow felt the air grow still around her. This is what it feels like to be adored, she realized, she remembered. “I’m starting to have a thing for Tara thighs. If you and Buffy do any practice routines maybe you might wear the yoga pants, the ones that might be a size too small. Plus, I’m planning on stealing kisses pretty much every chance I get.” Tara smiled and Willow felt her heart flip flop in her chest.

“I like w-watching the way you lick your bottom lip when your drinking a mocha.”

Willow grinned widely. “Vixen.”

“You think I’m quarrelsome?”

“I was using the word in its colloquial sense, and listen to you Ms Dictionary dot com.”

“Vixen was the word of the day last Tuesday and Xander was having fits trying to work it into a conversation.” Tara reached for Willow’s hand and pulled it to her mouth. She kissed Willow’s fingertips. “Will, thanks for taking care of me.”

Again, Willow felt the air grow still. This is what it feels like to love someone, she knew, she remembered. “You’re my girl, taking care of you is what I do.”

***

“Are you sure about this, Will?”

It was 2:30 and Willow and Xander were at the Espresso Pump picking up coffees and mochas for the gang and Willow was pretty certain Xander wasn’t asking her about her request for extra sprinkles on her mocha. “I’m sure.” She wasn’t entirely sure, but she thought she sounded certain, and she was sure she trusted Tara.

“Should we sit?” Xander asked, nodding his head towards an empty table and chairs.

“Might as well, we’ve been mostly sitting all day.”

They’d been on stake carving duty since lunch, and both had needed a break from the Magic Box, hence the coffee run. They settled in at the table while they waited for their drinks, a wait that promised to be longer than usual based on the single person working the counter and the cash register, someone Xander insisted they’d known in elementary school but Willow believed they’d known from children’s storytelling hour at the public library (one of Sheila Rosenberg’s favorite activities for Willow while she was a child and one Willow would only attend if Xander could come too).

Willow thought again about her answer. “I guess I’m a little nervous. Nervous about doing magicks again, but also nervous because I’m out of practice and I don’t want to screw up anything.”

“Anya seems to think the casting is pretty simple.”

“She gave me earth, which is the easiest, Tara’s doing water, Giles fire, and Anya’s doing air.”

“Which is hardest?”

“Fire is the hardest to control, water is the hardest to raise, but Tara’s been working on some water conjures.”

“And air?”

“The next lightest lifting after earth.”

Xander nodded feigning in the fakest way possible his understanding. He also managed to put a smile on Willow’s face.

“You really hate magicks.”

“Pretty much. But that’s mostly because aside from that time when I acted as Buffy’s heart my only other casting involved having a book explode in my hands.”

“The book didn’t just happen to explode. You said, Librum Incendere over a book of spells. And it didn’t explode, it just started on fire.”

“And I was supposed to know what that meant? Plus, tree pretty, fire bad,” Xander joked.

“Hey, no going cave man on me,” Willow joked back. But she knew they weren’t finished talking about the other thing. “I’m okay, really.”

“And Tara.”

It was Willow’s turn to feign understanding. “Tara’s totally down with the spectral rod thing-y.”

“I meant how’s Tara?”

“You’re not asking me how she is in bed, right? Cause that would be really, really naughty.”

“Not to mention earn me an even longer stay in Anya’s dog house.” Xander teased back. Like Willow he was also blushing. “But since we’re being fast and loose with the naughty talk, you and she have finally . . .”

“Is it really a question of ‘finally,’ cause to me it seemed timed perfectly right.”

“Not finally, I meant . . . okay not entirely sure what I meant, but things are good, right. I mean Tara looks happy, glow-y even. If we weren’t at t-minus whatever for the next apocalypse, I think she’d be walking on sunshine.”

Willow liked the idea of Tara walking on sunshine, and it definitely felt good. “Tara’s happy, but what happened last night took a lot out of her. Even though she didn’t really know Albert or Nicole for that matter. I mean in the usual sense of knowing.” Was there a usual sense of knowing when you lived on the hellmouth?

“So, about Albert, he was really her teacher, like she was attending Hogwarts, but in her dreams.”

“Pretty much, but without the Quidditch. More like a school of one.” Although some of what Tara described didn’t make a lot of sense, especially all of the wandering. What was up with that? And other parts of it seemed to be nightmares, and nothing more.

“So, no hiding in the back hoping somebody else did the reading. Good god what a nightmare.” Xander winked. “But I guess what I meant was that you and she, you seem . . .good. Things are good.”

“Things are great.”

“Great is better, more what I wanted to hear, but I didn’t want to put on the pressure. I’m so incredibly happy for you, for you and Tara.”

“Me, too.” Willow decided she too could brush up next to a sensitive subject. “So, you and Anya? Things between you two seem . . .”

“Less fraught, definitely. There’s been some bumps, Spike being a bump . . . the uber bumpy of bumps. But, we’re kind of settled into the idea of my being around a lot. I mean I don’t need to keep finding excuses to fix stuff at the store.”

“Now you help with inventory,” Willow deadpanned, the sting mitigated with a gentle smile.

“I’m building up to an official date. A real plan for eating out, not just me happening to show up every day with take-out lunch or dinner.”

“I took Tara to Marconi’s and about a week later she put out.”

The spicy talk hung in the air between the two of them for a good fifteen seconds and then both burst out laughing. Xander laughing so hard tears were streaming down his cheeks.

Their drinks were called for pick-up and Xander went to fetch them. When he returned to the table, Willow got up from her club chair. “You know I’m counting on you to help me keep it real. Like if I start to slip you’ll pop me one, or something.”

“Or something, I don’t think I could ever pop you one.” Xander dropped his free arm over Willow’s shoulder. “How about a serious noogie?”

The last time she’d received a noogie she was at summer camp. “Just make sure you wash your hands first. I don’t want my hair to smell like peanut butter.” Off Xander’s quizzical look, she added, “Summer camp humor, be happy you never went.”

They headed back to the Magic Box, Xander distributing the drinks to the others and then he, Buffy, and Dawn remaining behind to watch the store while Willow, Tara, Giles, and Anya headed for the practice room.

Xander glanced at Buffy. “I’ve got a bunch of stuff I’m supposed to haul up from the basement. Want to help?”

“Just so long as it doesn’t involve contact with slug candles, I’m in.” Buffy turned to Dawn. “You okay working the counter.”

Dawn was already sitting on her favorite stool, her geometry textbook open in front of her. “I’ve got it covered.”

***

Inside the practice room a casting circle of sand, ground seashells, holly berry, and cloves had been laid. Anya took north and Tara south, leaving it to Giles and Willow to settle on east or west. Willow chose east, the position of the rising sun, and she thought she detected Tara’s subtle approval.

“The casting is pretty straightforward at first, each of us needs to call up our element. Tara and I will do the transmutation to make the rod.”

“What’s it going to look like? Will it look like lightening rod?” Willow thought her voice sounded funny, so she swallowed a couple of times.

“Yes, and once it’s made Xander’s going to mount it on the roof.”

A quiet fell over them, and Willow watched Tara close her eyes, watched her face as she centered herself. Giles did the same, and then Anya. It took her longer, and she realized the others were aware of her struggle, and she also realized none of them were concerned, not even Anya.

Her eyes closed, her voice sounding inside her thoughts, Willow called up the element, letting the sensation of the earth come into her, calling upon images of mountains and deserts and grassy plains to fill her mind’s eye, the vision slowly narrowing into the specifics of rocks, of soil, of leaves of grass. She tasted it on the back of her tongue, she felt it rising between her toes, she smelled it, the scent of peat, of sulfur, of spring flowers, of winter rot. And when it was risen inside of her she opened her eyes.

Tara appeared enveloped in mist, Anya’s hair was waving in some gentle breeze, and a tiny flame was dancing atop Giles hand. Willow’s left hand reached out and hovered over the floor. Dust and twigs and bits of grass, the detritus of footfalls and silt of ill-fitting windows began drifting, slipping, sliding, towards her, forming a tiny pile of inanimate matter. More was needed and Willow carefully peeled away slivers of brick and wood beam, floorboard and molding. The tiny pile grew into a small heap; Willow did not need to ask when enough earth matter had been gathered, she simply knew.

It was mostly Tara who did the transmutation, Anya helping keeping it aloft until it solidified, Tara forming it into a rod a meter and a half in length, gunmetal black, with grooved ridges, and then Giles infusing it with an electrical charge.”

Willow touched it with her hand and felt the power of magicks, a skittering up her arm and down her back. It was all she could do not to jerk away.

“Easy,” Tara said. A soft and quiet release of breath.

Willow laid her hand on it more firmly, letting her fingers press into the grooves, amazed she’d forgotten how the magicks sometimes felt like singing inside her head.

“How will we know if something crosses over.”

“Traditionally the received would experience dizziness, but given the fact that all of us operate heavy machinery (Anya meant drive cars), Tara and I adjusted it to give off a buzzing sensation, like the experience of putting your tongue on a nine-volt battery.”

Yuck, Willow thought. “Good thinking,” she said aloud.

Giles took hold of the rod, uncrossed his legs, and stood up, moving surprisingly smoothly for a middle-aged man. “I’ll take this out to Xander.” Anya followed him out the door.

They needed the alone time. Tara looked at Willow. She didn’t say anything; instead she waited. A few minutes passed.

“You know what’s weird?”

Tara offered a faint smile. “Japanese commercials.”

“How something can feel exactly the same and exactly different at the same time.”

“The magicks are the same . . .”

“And I’m different. Is this the way it’s supposed to feel?”

“What do you feel?”

Willow didn’t need to think long. “Connected.”

“And before?”

“I felt bigger, even when the spells didn’t work. I felt bigger, taller, stronger. Is all of this because of the quickening.”

“Probably not all. I’m not a w-wise one, W-Will.” There were too many Ws and Tara needed to pause a moment. “I’m mostly guessing, but I think it’s also because of what you’ve been through.”

“Things, they feel new again. I feel new.” Willow held out her hand and watched as Tara’s fingers wove amidst hers. “I love you. I want to spend the rest of my life with you.”

“Lucky thing then,” Tara said, her voice thick, “cause I love you back, and you’re the one I want to spend my life with.”

Another quiet grew between them, soft and peaceful safe and warm. Willow reveled in it, and Tara basked in it. A quiet finally broken when they heard Xander call out somebody’s name.

Willow looked at Tara confusedly. “Did it sound to you like Xander just yelled, Riley?”

Willow was already getting off the floor and helping Tara up as well before Tara could answer.

“Why don’t you go see. I’ll shut down the circle.”

“Okay,” Willow said, turning towards the door, but then turning back. “Kiss?” she asked.

They kissed, the kiss between them soft and slow at first, then building, growing in intensity, ending with their foreheads pressed together. On the other side of the door they could hear everyone talking excitedly. Tara whispered, “Go find out what’s going on. I’ll be right out.”

Willow went and Tara quickly set about closing the circle, sweeping up the sand and seashells and then taking it out into the alley where she neatly poured it along the side the building. She felt the usual languor that came of working with the elementals, and she continued to feel Willow’s kiss. A memory of Tara longing for Willow floated up inside her thoughts, of Tara sitting inside her dorm room in the dark. She couldn’t quite place it at first, thinking initially it was a memory from the beginning of their relationship, and then realizing it was from after Tara had left Willow. She’d understood before what it had taken for Tara to leave, now she understood how much it had hurt, how deep the pain had been felt. It had been a hurt down to the bone, like the hurt she’d felt when vampire Willow had pushed her to the ground. Tara touched her lips, remembering again the sensation of Willow’s lips against her own and she felt thankful her other self had known that kiss again before she’d died.


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 Post subject: Re: Doppelganger Redux
PostPosted: Fri Mar 10, 2017 2:53 pm 
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3. Flaming O

Joined: Sun Jan 10, 2010 11:27 am
Posts: 50
Location: So Cal
Thanks to the people who've posted. While this is a story I need to finish for all sorts of reasons, I'm nonetheless delighted to know I'm not just writing to entertain myself.

Update: The rough draft of the final chapters and denouement is nearly complete (clocking in at about 120 pages, expect that number to go about by about 15/20 or so). I will soon start on the editing. I will probably post chapters as I go along.

That said, I have another writing project coming quickly due (this one of a professional nature and one I've been shamefully neglecting) as well an extended business trip coming up. If you don't hear from me in the next week or two, rest assured I will soon be finished with this epic.

Confession: I have been stopping by to check the page views, and it's very nice to see that number increase by about 200 since I began posting again. Feedback, especially encouragement, is very welcome.


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 Post subject: Re: Doppelganger Redux
PostPosted: Sun Mar 12, 2017 1:22 pm 
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Joined: Wed Jun 30, 2010 12:34 pm
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This is encouragement then. If you get yours done then I have hope that someday I can finish mine.

I am not caught up yet but I agree with other comments that this is a work of art. I'm still in such awe of its awesomeness that I can't use words good right now.

But yes please keep writing. And thank you for coming back.

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 Post subject: Re: Doppelganger Redux
PostPosted: Mon Mar 13, 2017 9:37 pm 
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Hey Tecnopagen!

Thank you so much for updating and your promise to finish this beautiful story. I try not to get into Pens stories that haven't been updated in a long time, but someone recommended this story and I'm soooo glad!! I read through it last year and probably experienced every emotion possible. I've gotta admit, I cried through most of the beginning until after the rejoining. Which is just a testament to your awesome writing skills!

On to the actual feedback... I'm super worried for the safety of our girls and was sad to see Albert die. They are in a very dangerous situation, which I imagine will only get worse before it gets better. But, on the bright side, their connection is growing stronger every day and it makes me very happy for the both of them. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out in the end.

I think one of my favorite parts, and this is a few chapters back, was right after Willow and Dawn were attacked. Willow is sobbing and apologizes to Tara for breaking her promise and using magic. Tara in return tells Willow, "You never made that promise to me." I really felt like it was a pivotal moment for Willow, mentally separating the two Tara's. Plus, she no longer needs to feel so guilty when she does need to cast. I feel like the door is now opened for her help Tara fight the apprentice, without all the worry.

Anyway, that's just my two cents and I also wanted you to know you aren't just writing for your own entertainment. :wink

Until next time,
Finey McFine
a.k.a. Shelby :cool

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"Transform your pain. Release your past. And ... uh ... get over it."
~Willow, Where The Wild Things Are


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 Post subject: Re: Doppelganger Redux
PostPosted: Wed Mar 29, 2017 5:44 am 
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Joined: Sun Jan 10, 2010 11:27 am
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CHAPTER 32

A loud burst of laughter sounded as Tara put her hand on the door knob, and she reflexively shied back, before pulling the door open and stepping through. The others were gathered near the table, the others and two more, a man and a woman with their backs to her. Willow, her face near split by her wide grin, held out her hand and Tara went to her.

“Tara, I want you to meet some people.”

The man and woman turned around. For a moment Tara felt dizzy, because she couldn’t make sense of it. The woman’s hair was different, longer, and held back in a ponytail, and her face was fuller, her body less lean, but it was Sam. It was Sam from head to toe, and then Tara realized she was mistaken; the woman wasn’t her Sam at all.

“Tara!” The man near shouted before starting towards her, smile broadly and his eyes filled with kindness and affection. “What were you doing hiding in the back room. It’s great to see you.”

The man was tall, handsome, and dressed like the woman who was not her Sam, in a black tee shirt, dark pants with multiple pockets, and a vest made out of the same material as the backpack Albert had given to her. He came towards her, arms open wide and then stopped, his expression turning to one of confusion.

“You don’t remember me.”

“Tara’s never met you, Riley,” Buffy said, heading to Tara’s side.

Willow’s reaction was a split second behind Buffy’s.

Tara looked past the man Buffy called Riley, away from the woman who was not her Sam, and down to her left hand, which was now enclosed in Willow’s.

“Baby, are you okay?” Willow asked, her voice sounding small and uncertain.

The last time she’d seen Sam, she’d pushed Sam’s body into a pit she’d dug using magicks. A pit to hold all of her dead. No, not all of them, some of their bodies had been incinerated, but Sam’s hadn’t, neither had Diego’s.

“Tara?” Willow asked, pulling Tara’s thoughts outward.

Tara looked into concerned eyes that were the color of spring. She turned and held out her right hand to the man she now knew was named Riley. “We haven’t met. I’m Tara, but I’m from another reality or d-dimension or something. I’m n-not the Tara you knew.”

Riley was like her, she noticed, his every expression showing on his face. She watched him realize her counterpart was dead, and she watched him swallow down the grief. Her eyes went to Buffy, who silently reassured she would take care of the explaining. And then Riley’s hand closed over hers, it was huge and warm, and she could feel the smallest of trembles. And then she let go of Riley’s and Willow’s hands both to move on not entirely certain feet to stand before the other Sam.

Curious dark eyes moved over her face, taking the subtlest of notice of her scars. Tara worked hard, and was able to offer a smile. “I’m guessing you never met the Tara from this reality, but I knew the Sam from mine. She was . . .” Tara felt her throat shut and she had to swallow hard to open it. “She was the leader of my cadre.”

The woman who was not her Sam held out her hand, “Sam Finn. It sounds like the Sam you knew was . . .”

Tara took Sam Finn’s hand into her own. “Tara Maclay. My Sam, she was a hero.”

***

That evening everyone went out to Korean barbeque for dinner, Riley and Xander competing for control of the table grill, Tara and Sam both holding back a little, not entirely joining in the jokes, Tara because she always felt shy in groups and because meeting this Sam was making her mourn for the loss of her Sam once again, Sam because aside from Riley, she barely knew anyone at the table. The conversation stayed light hearted, mostly telling tales on one another, but there were questions in the air, not the least of which was what brought Riley and Sam to Sunnydale, and that question like all the rest had to wait until everyone had reconvened at Revello Drive.

Since a rain front was coming through, a fire was stoked in the fireplace and hot cocoa and peppermint tea were made, Xander requested popcorn and Dawn produced a box of thin mint girl scout cookies she’d forgotten about hiding in the linen closet until Riley happened to mention the cookie was among the things he’d missed the most while stationed in Brazil.

“How long were you there?” Buffy asked. She was sitting on the floor holding White Leg on her lap.

“After we left Sunnydale, we spent two months in Nepal training, before heading to Brazil, so about . . .” Riley began.

“Eight months, give or take a week. The Brazilian government contracted with us to solve a hellhound problem outside of the capital city,” Sam interjected. They were sitting next to each on the couch. Riley at the end, Sam in the middle, and Giles taking the other end.

“Mission accomplished?” Xander asked from one of the wingback chairs.

“So far as we can tell. It’s hard to know for sure.” Sam continued. “We never tagged their trainer. They were preying on people who live in the outlying slums and the police don’t really care enough to report any new killings.”

“The police wanted us out of there,” Riley said, his tone saying more than his words, and everyone else nodding with understanding. The situations weren’t equivalent, but Sunnydale police had just as little use for the Scoobies.

Willow asked the question that had been on her mind at least for the past two hours. She and Tara were sitting on the love seat opposite the couch, Dawn on the floor next to Tara’s feet. But it was Buffy who answered.

“I put in a call.”

This was a surprise and it pulled a series of single word questions from Willow, “You? How? When? Why?”

“I still have a cell number for Graham,” Buffy said to Willow before turning to Riley and continuing, “I take it you got the message.”

Tara noticed Buffy skipped answering the when and why questions, and those were the two she wanted answered most.

“We did,” Riley said to Buffy, “But we’d have probably been pulled in regardless. I saw today’s newspaper. What happened? What did that? The paper called them big cats.”

“Tsuris demons,” Tara said, “A pride of them.”

“They came here as part of an advance team for the newest big bad on its way to Sunnydale. It’s kind of a long story,” Buffy began.

But it was Giles who told the story, efficiently and dispassionately, providing the details Riley and Sam would need to know, glossing the parts that would hurt too much to say aloud, telling Riley and Sam about what had been and what was coming, and everyone kept their eyes averted as Riley was reminded once again the Tara he’d known had died months ago. When Giles finished, Xander got up, offering to bring more tea or hot cocoa, Dawn getting up to help.

“So, this apprentice, he’s human,” Sam said, her tone grim.

“Tara’s going to hold him using magicks,” Buffy said, like Giles glossing over the details, “but you and Riley will need to take him into some kind of custody. He’ll be too dangerous . . .”

“We get it,” Riley said. Buffy nodded sharply, but Anya asked, “The government’s got some sort of Gitmo for folks who traffic in the black arts these days?”

Sam didn’t answer her question, neither did Riley, neither did Buffy. Everyone including Anya knew there was no Gitmo for magicians because everyone knew Riley and Sam didn’t adhere to the code of the Slayer. And now Tara no longer needed Buffy to explain the “why” or even the “when.” No one said anything about Gitmo, instead Riley got up, said something about helping Xander carry out the drinks and then Buffy got up as well, following Riley into the kitchen.

“Do you expect more of these Tsuris demons?” Sam finally asked, breaking the pall that had settled on the room.

“They were favorites of the Master. According to the local lore, the Master bred them,” Tara said, just then noticing Willow had taken hold of her hand. She offered Willow a quick smile.

“So that would be a yes,” Sam said, “In the research you’ve been doing, have you discovered any demons native to this reality but not your former?”

The question was pure Sam, Tara thought. “Not yet, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any.” She anticipated Sam’s next question and offered, “Besides coming through with his vampire cadres, I expect the apprentice will send through a team or two of Yeknom demons, they’re a lot like Kailiff demons, but w-without the chin spikes.”

“Intelligent, strong . . .”

“And loyal to their masters. Ethan Rayne had several teams that he used for raiding local townships. As l-long as they think the apprentice is a viable strong man, they’ll follow his orders.”

Sam offered a sharp nod.

“We ran into a Kailiff gang in Bangkok. Do Yeknom keep familiars?”

“Another reason why Rayne was willing to put up with the smell.” To Willow, Tara explained, “They’re carrion eaters. They keep familiars so that they have a steady supply of rotting meat.”

Willow’s mouth made a small “o,” while Sam asked about pyro-phobia, to which Tara nodded, as Willow asked, “Pyro-phobic?”

“Kailiff demons have a thing about fire,” Anya explained, “even though it’s not nearly as fatal to them as it is to vampires. There’s some legend about Alexander the Great immolating a thousand Kailiff before invading Persia, but the story doesn’t ring true to me. When has anyone ever seen more than thirty Kailiff at the same time, and where’s my hot cocoa?”

Anya got up and went to the kitchen.

“How many people does it take to make tea and cocoa?” Sam asked with a smile.

“If we were at the Espresso Pump, I would say that was a trick question,” Giles said with a matching smile.

“Giles isn’t happy with the tea selection at the Espresso Pump,” Willow said.

“And I seem to recall you offering me your deepest reassurance that a reasonable selection of quality teas would soon replace . . .”

Sam laughed and interjected, “Not Lipton. Tell me they’re not serving Lipton.”

“The swill of American tea drinking.”

Giles indignation was as much performance as authentic, and Tara could not help but enjoy it. But she also noted he’d been holding back for several minutes, maintaining his own quiet while watching the interactions of everyone else.

Sam turned to look at Willow. “Can you tell me more about the spectral rod, besides the fact that it tingles when you touch it.”

Sam and Riley had accompanied Xander onto the roof of the Magic Box and helped him lash it to the mounting for the building’s outtake fan.

“Tara knows more than me,” Willow deferred, curious why Sam would ask her, only to realize quickly Sam was indirectly asking about her participation in the casting. She was wondering who told Sam about her fall into dark magicks when she head Tara volunteer:

“If something or someone starts to open a dimensional riff we’ll know, I mean Willow, Anya, Giles, and I will know.”

“How much time would you have?”

“Humans, w-witches included can’t open dimensional riffs instantly like demons, like Anya for example. It took me close to fifteen minutes to traverse to this reality. The rod is also directional. We’ll have a crude sense of where it’s happening.”

“You didn’t have the rod yesterday?”

“No,” Tara began, but Willow interrupted, “Anya had the idea days ago, but I wouldn’t help with the spell.”

“You’re not being fair to yourself, Will,” Buffy said, coming through the door, she was holding a bowl of baby carrots. “You and Tara weren’t even around to feel or notice the incursion.”

“Willow and Tara were retrieving some magical supplies from the primitive world,” Giles said, as he held up his hand, “yet another story to tell.”

“So, no Will or Tara to respond,” Buffy continued, leaving the carrots on the coffee table, and returning to her seat, “plus even if we’d fought them on site, there’s no guarantee they’d wouldn’t have slipped past Spike and me anyway.”

“Spike?” Sam repeated just as Riley also returned to the front room, carrying a tray of mugs filled with steaming hot cocoa, Xander behind him and carrying a bowl of popcorn in one hand and two tea mugs in the other.

Tara watched a flicker of surprise cross Sam’s face and noticed Riley’s far less subtle reaction. His entire body clenched. Memories of the reasons for their reactions sprung up inside her thoughts, but they were memories of conversation her counterpart had with Xander; Tara and Riley had never talked about Spike. The tension seemed to telegraph elsewhere, because Buffy was also suddenly wary, as was Giles.

“Spike learned of their arrival on his police scanner, contacted Buffy, and the two of them engaged the Tsuris at the waterfront,” Giles answered too quickly and therefore awkwardly. “Unfortunately, several Tsuris escaped and headed for the pedestrian mall. However, the sacrifice that was left on Brocton Avenue was not carried out by Tsuris demons, that was the work of vampires, and I’m afraid our spectral rod would not have made a single difference to that tragedy.”

Sam leaned forward, resting her elbows on her knees. Her body language swallowing some of the room’s tension. “You don’t think the vampires came from the other reality?”

“Earlier today an acquaintance on the police force shared with me some surveillance footage found on the security cameras outside the Bank of America. One of the vampires was dressed in an Oakland Raiders sports jersey,” Giles said.

“The undead love the Raiders, go figure,” Buffy muttered under her breath.

“Tara assures me the Las Vegas Raiders of her former reality were never associated with Oakland,” Giles continued, “As for what inspired the vampires of this reality to hoist their victims high, who knows. Perhaps just the prospect of a new big bad coming to Sunnydale,” Suddenly Giles sounded very tired.

Buffy glanced towards Sam as she accepted a mug of cocoa from Riley. “You and Riley up for joining me on patrol?” Her eyes turned to Tara, “I’m benching you tonight; you’ve spent too much time out in the field.”

The rest of the cocoa distributed, Riley dropped back into his chair and said, “Tara patrols with you?”

“Tara could probably take you down in a minute flat, commando boy,” Buffy shot back, her tone joking and tense at the same time.

Riley barely flinched, instead he smiled. “You telling me I’m not the only one in the room sporting a few battles scars on my mug?”

The joke could have gone any number of ways, Tara felt Willow bristle and noticed Buffy’s eyes slightly narrow. Sam fortunately jumped in, and turned the joke into comedy.

“Riley likes to tell everyone he caught his scar off a Polgara demon, but I’m pretty sure it was some random PCP enraged gang banger that opened up a can of whoop ass on his face,” Sam said easily, lowering the room’s tension by another notch. “A little patrolling sounds good. We spent most of the afternoon on a transport jet and my legs still need stretching.”

“These transports lack the amenities of coach?” Xander said handing off the tea mugs to Anya and Giles before dropping onto the floor next to Dawn.

Riley was settled back on the couch. “Let’s just say they make Southwest look like Air Force One.”

“What they lack in comfortable seats and restrooms they make up for with expired food and stale water,” Sam added and the tension was gone.

Tara stole a glance towards Sam. Yes, her face was a little fuller, her body not quite as rangy, but she was Sam down to the proverbial T. And somehow that made seeing her even harder.

***

“I thought I k-knew how difficult it had been for you,” Tara said from the bed. Willow was standing near the dresser, brushing out her hair. “Seeing me, I mean.”

Willow put down her brush and went to the bed, moving to sit with her back against the headboard. Tara was sitting cross-legged in the center.

“Seeing you was never hard. Confusing yes, but never hard.” Willow reached forward to put her hand on Tara’s leg. “Seeing you was a miracle, a very confusing, very welcome miracle.”

“She’s not my Sam, but she is.”

“Hence the very confusing part. Come closer to me.”

Tara did as Willow asked, moving so they could sit side by side. Willow took her hand and weaved their fingers together. “I like Riley.”

“Was your Sam married to Riley’s counterpart?”

“I don’t know. Sam never talked about her husband with me. All I knew I heard from Diego and Carl, and all I really heard was that he died a hero.”

Willow used her other hand to guide a lock of Tara’s hair to rest behind the curve of her ear. It was a tender gesture, unconscious and so familiar neither took real notice of it.

“I was wondering tonight if relationships and friendships have their counterparts, too. I mean was there a Miss Calendar in the other reality? Did she teach computer science, and did she and Giles become close?”

Tara had wondered the same thing. The other day she and Xander had figured out he’d known her Larry’s counterpart. Were relationships matched across realities, too? But her counterpart had probably never met Larry, and the idea quickly became too confusing in her head, and so she’d tried to forget about it.

“Earth to Tara,” Willow said, drawing Tara out of her reverie.

“You were surprised Buffy called for them to come,” Tara said.

“Surprised, but the call makes sense. I kind of wish Sam had brought a team, but I guess their resources are spread pretty thin. Before we went out to dinner she mentioned something about trouble in Cleveland.”

Tara drew her legs under the covers, and lay down so that her face was brushing against Willow’s hip. The weight of the bed clothes felt comforting against her skin and eased a chill she’d been fighting most of the evening. “I hate to admit it, but I’m glad Buffy b-benched me.”

“Not in the mood for patrolling.”

Tara looked up and caught the look in Willow’s eyes. “More in the mood for snuggles.”

“Maybe more than snuggles?”

Tara smiled. “Get down here, vixen.” And then smiled wider as her attempt at spicy talk sounded far less dorky than when she’d practiced it in front of the bathroom mirror a few minutes earlier.

“It’s talk like that that earns kisses every time,” Willow said, switching off the night stand light before doing exactly as Tara asked, while also thinking kisses would be only the half of it.

***

Willow wandered along the game trail, her boots crunching atop the new fallen snow, hoping she’d soon find Tara. She didn’t like walking at night, not even under the full moon, especially when she wasn’t sure if she was lost (she was on a trail, after all), and so she resisted the impulse to call on Aradia for help.

The trail curved around a high outcropping and Willow slowed down, concerned about what she might find on the other side. But what she found was nothing, only more trail to walk, and so she continued what she thought might be a half-kilometer before she heard their whispers.

Willow stepped off the trail, trying to move as soundlessly as she could, tracking the sound. She came upon another outcropping, this one not quite so tall, which she crept around, moving to a spot where she could see them. It took her almost half a minute to figure out which Tara was which, since they were dressed more or less identically and the light was too dim for her to see her Tara’s scars. When they both seemed asleep, she moved closer, coming to within two meters before she stepped on a twig that snapped.

Tara raised her head and looked towards Willow. “Honey, remember when I told you that you suck at the stealthy?”

Willow closed the distance between them. “You told me Riley said I sucked at the stealthy and you agreed with him.”

“Hairsplitter,” Tara said grinning.

“Criticizer,” Willow said also grinning.

They kissed, first affectionately and then passionately, but not letting themselves get carried away. When they broke apart Willow simply said, “So.”

“She’s flipping out over Sam. Partly because she’s just now figuring out she had a crush on her, a crush for which she’s feeling retroactive guilt.”

“Guilt?”

“Over you.” Tara smiled at Willow’s expression. “I know. The only reason I’m not giggling is because I love her to pieces.”

“So, what’s the other part? The other reason why she’s flipping out?”

“The basic weirdness of the doubling. There’s a reason why all the doppelganger legends are creepy. Doubling is creepy.”

“You weren’t creeped out. You loved her from the get go.”

Tara dropped a kiss on the other Tara’s head. “If you’ll recall I felt a little intimidated: she heroic demon fighter, me overly shy college student.”

“Different experiences, different outcomes. Plus, you were pretty quick with the battle-axe when that biker demon monster dude tried to make me his late-night snack.”

“Nobody messes with my baby,” Tara repeated, grinning. “And besides, we’re each other now, as close to one in the same as we could be.”

“Any ideas on how to help her with the Sam thing?”

“Honey, just stay close. She’s still in that ‘my skin aches if you’re far’ stage.”

“I’m sort of there, too.” Willow looked at Tara’s face, her eyes tracing the scar that ran along side. “I get all spazzy sitting in lecture, like if I have to wait another minute before I get to kiss her I’ll die. But I also get the guilty thing. And my guilt isn’t even retroactive.”

It took Tara several moments to figure out what Willow meant. When she did, it was all she could do not to burst out laughing. “Will, Tara gets a free pass, since you’re her first girlfriend, but if you start feeling guilty over me because you grabbed Tara’s cherry, well that’s kind of insane.”

Willow pretended to be taken aback, saying, “You used to be all with the blush when you made with the spicy talk.”

Undeterred, Tara winked and said, “Honey, blushing is your job.”

“Just tell me you’re not watching somehow.”

“I’m not watching, Will. She’s me. How could I? It’s a physical impossibility. And besides, you’re the voyeur girl, not me.”

Willow was preparing to be indignant, but then remembered an incident involving Xander, high school, the boy’s swim team, and telling Tara about it years later, thought the better of it, and decided to change the subject.

“So, are we in the primitive world, right now. Or is this a dream version of it?”

Tara shook her head. “I really have no idea. Everything’s a kind of dream world for me lately.” She waited a beat. “Want to snuggle with us?”

Willow didn’t need a second invitation. She closed the distance between them, curling around her lover, who was curled around Tara, and then kissed the back of her lover’s neck. “In the future, let’s see what we can do about making these nightly visits more comfortable.”

“You don’t like sleeping under the stars?”

“Not when it also means sleeping on the ground, baby.”

“Will, you know you’re in your bed, wrapped inside Tara’s arms. This is just a dream.”

“It’s the principle of the thing,” Willow argued.

Tara giggled over the word principle and then whispered, “Night, baby,” but Willow was already lost to another dream. Tara reached for Willow’s hand and drew it close to her belly as she pressed another kiss on the back of Tara’s neck. “Sleep tight,” she whispered to the both of them, “don’t let the bed bugs bite.”


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 Post subject: Re: Doppelganger Redux
PostPosted: Wed Mar 29, 2017 5:53 am 
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3. Flaming O

Joined: Sun Jan 10, 2010 11:27 am
Posts: 50
Location: So Cal
CHAPTER 33

Both Tara and Willow slept tight, a good night’s sleep that helped each to greet the next day, which was mostly spent at the beach flying kites. Routines were returned to the day after and next day after that. Routines easily kept to insofar as a calm seemed to have settled over Sunnydale, one that made Buffy nervous, long knowing about the calm before the storm, but allowing Riley and Sam to acclimate to a new time zone and a new climate, much cooler and far less humid than the one they’d left in Brazil.

Afternoon training changed somewhat, Giles taking a backseat to Sam, who had started teaching Buffy and Tara the basics of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, but evening patrol was largely unremarkable and with inventory complete at the Magic Box, Tara’s job was largely reduced to dusting, mopping, and, only very occasionally manning the cash register (if Anya happened to be out on a vengeance assignment). If there was one constant in the universe, it was that Anya continued to love “the money part,” over all other aspects of her business. It was the first time in weeks that Tara had had true “free time, and she used it productively, fashioning a talisman she’d been contemplating since she’d woken from her long sleep.

Later, in retrospect, Tara would wonder if she would have asked Willow in advance about the ward had she been more pressed for time. But she didn’t. Instead, she presented it to Willow after breakfast and before Willow was to head off to school.

The talisman was small, tucked inside a little sack Tara had woven out of multi-colored yarns, and could easily be kept inside a pocket. Willow held it up to the light and looked at it carefully.

“It’s too ward off dark magicks.” Tara explained a second time, worried because Willow hadn’t said anything, and more than aware of the tense set of Willow’s shoulders.

“So, no vein-y face.” Willow finally said, her tone a little flat, and seemingly forcing a faint smile.

Not exactly sure what Willow meant, trying to read her expression, Tara made sounds that sounded close to uhm and to yes which resulted in Willow saying, “I get it. I mean you’re right. And thank you.”

Willow’s tone was one Tara hadn’t remembered hearing before. And “get” what? And then Willow was off the bed, grabbing her for her laptop bag and sweater.

“Will I see you for dinner . . .” Tara started, but Willow interrupted, “It’s my long night, so probably not.” And then Willow was out the door, having left behind only the most perfunctory of kisses on Tara’s cheek.

Tara continued sitting on the bed, listening as Willow went down the stairs, listening to the front door opening and closing, to the sound of Willow’s car coming on and leaving the driveway, and then she glanced at the clock. Buffy and Dawn were already gone to the high school, she wasn’t due at the Magic Box until noon. She needed to think, and since she always did her best thinking on her feet, she decided a daytime walk through Sunnydale’s mean streets was just the thing.

***

Professor Noxon’s discussion of “Indian Captivity Narratives” was surprisingly captivating or at least distracting, as was Willow’s post-lecture hazelnut Americano. Network Security was dull, but also distracting as most of the class was given up to individual presentations and Willow always felt obligated to participate in the discussions. Lunch, however, was ripe for opportunities for feeling misunderstood, misused, and rebuked. By lunch’s end, however, she amended feeling rebuked to feeling reprimanded, which by the middle of the afternoon was reduced to feeling admonished. And by late afternoon, she was reconsidering her feelings of admonishment, reconsiderations that sent her to Evergreen Cemetery.

Willow had made only a short visit the week before, just long enough to say hello and to clear away the leaves that had accumulated behind the markers. This day she stopped longer, first spending time with Joyce, telling her about Riley’s return with Sam and describing in great detail Dawn’s homecoming dress. She mentioned other bits of household news and told in broad detail about how Dawn and she had been chased by a vampire cadre, concentrating mostly on telling about Dawn’s bravery and cool reactions.

“I thought I’d never use magicks again, but suddenly I didn’t have a choice,” Willow explained. “At least I didn’t use them lightly. I used them to protect Dawn and myself. But like I said, it was a lucky thing Spike showed up, and then Buffy and Tara and Giles.”

The news of the week told, Willow said her blessing for Joyce silently, as was her habit, and then she went to Tara’s gravestone. The grass was dry, and so she sat down, facing away and towards a small stand of trees, all with half fallen leaves. On the air was a scent, really just a whiff of something slightly rotten, most likely moldering leaves. Regardless, the scent annoyed Willow’s senses and so it took a few minutes for her to find the inner place from where she spoke to the Tara she’d lost.

“I pulled a big dummy move today. I walked away instead of telling you know who she’d hurt my feelings,” Willow said as she ruffled her hand over the grass. “Tara made me a ward against dark magicks, and I get that she made it with my best interests at heart, but I guess I thought she trusted me more. And instead of saying that, I headed off to school and now all day my stomach has been acidy.”

Willow turned around and touched the letters and numbers carved into the granite. “I know you come to me in my dreams. I feel you there even if I can’t really remember the details. Keep helping me to stay strong, baby.”

She sat a few minutes longer, listening to the wind, feeling Tara’s presence, and then she got up and headed back to her car. It was her late night, and she considered ditching her evening computer lab. Responsible reliable dog geyser Willow sounded loudly, and so she turned her car to head back to school, where at least she was rewarded with a good parking spot, close to her lab and close to the Underground.

By the time she reached Inverness Hall, her acidy stomach was turned into a hungry one, and she was debating vigorously the salad (healthy option) versus the fries (more filling option) as combo items to a Greek chicken pita when her attention suddenly turned sideways and she realized Tara was sitting in what Willow now thought of as “their” booth with a cup of tea and a closed book in front of her. Willow’s stomach immediately took on a new condition, nervous and anticipatory.

Tara spotted her heading towards the booth before Willow could announce her presence, and Willow noticed Tara was wearing a very subtle shade of lipstick, as well as her robin’s egg blue Henley shirt with the ivory buttons, a Willow favorite.

“Hey,” Willow said, sliding onto the bench, “I’m so glad you’re . . .”

Willow wasn’t able to finish her sentence because Tara was kissing her. The kiss started off awkwardly, but then Tara brought her hands to Willow’s head and wove her fingers into Willow’s hair, and the kiss became more and more confident, more and more elegant, finally becoming in Willow’s mind not simply practically perfect in every way, but truly perfect.

“You were mad about the ward,” Tara said when the kiss ended.

Willow almost said no, because old habits die hard, but she said, “Yes.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to suggest you can’t protect yourself,” Tara said just as Willow said, “I’m sorry. I was a big dummy for running out the door,” all of which was followed by another kiss, during which Willow managed to process what Tara had just said.

“Wait a second, what do you mean protect myself. Protect myself from what?”

“Dark magicks,” Tara said confusedly.

“You mean against someone using dark magicks against me,” Willow clarified. Tara nodded and Willow winced. “Baby, I’m an even bigger dummy than I thought, because I thought the ward was to stop me from using dark magicks.”

“But you don’t use dark magicks . . .” Tara said, followed by a very quiet, “oh.”

“As Giles would say, ‘I feel very stupid’, but he’d say it with his English accent and he wouldn’t sound stupid at all.”

Tara offered one of her half-smiles. “I kind of like your kisses b-better than Mr. Giles’ English accent.”

“I very much like you coming here to find me. I mean you did come here to find me, didn’t you? Not that you might not want to come here on your own to have dinner or hang at the library or something . . .”

“I came here to find you and to ask you to let me b-buy you dinner. I also had in mind many, many kisses,” Tara interrupted.

“Dinner and kisses?”

“And maybe mochas if we have time. I’m big spender gal, tonight. Mrs. Sandoval paid me to clear out the rain gutters on her casita, and tomorrow I’m going to start w-work on planting her an herb garden.”

“I thought you were planting one for us?”

“Will, I finished that yesterday.”

“Is that what you and Riley were doing? I thought you were moving flower beds.”

“So, we should order before we run out of time.”

“Greek chicken and with salad, please.”

They both had to get out of the booth for Tara to head to the counter, Willow managing to drag her fingers along Tara’s shoulder, arm, and hand before she left.

We just made-up from our first fight, Willow thought, smiling.

***

A few hours later, revived after a second (post-lab) mocha, Willow and Tara were on patrol, Willow with Riley and Sam, Tara paired with Buffy.

“So, you two are back with the good?” Buffy asked. She and Tara were moving through the eastern sector of Pioneer Cemetery, where so far the undead seemed to be few and far between.

“You could tell?”

“Let’s just say you were a little distracted during afternoon practice.”

“Did Giles notice?”

“Not Giles, but Sam did. Which isn’t to say you didn’t impress the heck out of her with your mixed-martial moves.” Buffy gave Tara a sideways glance. “That isn’t or wasn’t the thing, was it. Sam, I mean?”

“It’s that obvious?” Tara felt her face grow hot.

“Hey, I had a crush on her, too. So, did Willow, and Will was simultaneously doing the best friend hate her thing.” Since Tara looked entirely confused, Buffy added. “Hating on the new girlfriend on behalf of the former girlfriend. You did spend some time in high school, right?”

Tara nodded, getting Buffy’s point, her face cooling a degree or two. “Has Willow said anything to you about it?”

“Not a peep. So then, now I’m guessing all things Sam was not the source for this afternoon’s distracto-girl.”

“We had a misunderstanding. I gave Willow a w-ward against dark magicks, and she thought I had given her a ward to stop her from doing dark magicks.”

“There are wards to prevent . . .”

“Buffy, Willow doesn’t need . . .”

The sudden appearance of a vampire, middle-aged and dressed in a business suit, prevented either of them from finishing her point. Despite his office drone appearance, the vampire had fighting chops, and managed to put Buffy and Tara through their paces for a few minutes before being turned into dust.

“So, you gave Willow a ward,” Buffy prompted as she helped Tara back onto her feet.

“Willow w-won’t use dark magicks anymore, which makes her vulnerable to people who . . .”

“Use them,” Buffy said, getting Tara’s original point. “But Will thought you doubted her, which makes a little sense since doubt was pretty much all she was getting from Xander and me, but only a little sense since you seem to be doubt-free girl when it comes to Willow.”

“We straightened everything out over dinner.”

Another vampire appeared, this one also dressed in a business suit, but entirely lacking in street smarts. Tara dusted him with little fanfare.

“That’s the sixth one we’ve seen, tonight. These last two were local, but I’m thinking the first four were imports. Not from your old reality. More like folks honing in on the coming of the next big bad

Tara nodded; she’d been thinking the same thing. “Was last night pretty much the same?”
“Pretty much.” Buffy’s cell phone sounded in her pocket. She took the call, and learned Riley, Sam, and Willow had finished sweeping the west end of the cemetery and they were waiting at the gate.

Done with the eastern sweep, Tara and Buffy headed back to meet with the others. Patrol had yielded eleven dustings, not a record (the Scooby’s personal best had occurred during the final battle with Adam, a record unlikely to be broken, or so every Scoobie hoped).

***

The next few days passed more or less without event: the only piece of news that Albert had had not had one student, but two. Like Tara, Giles, too, had been an apprentice of sorts, a discovery Giles made as he began reading Albert’s journal, a document left behind on Albert’s laptop computer, of all “infernal things,” thought Giles, who patently believed all proper journals were rightly contained between the leather covers of books.

“And written on sheepskin,” Willow added sotto voce.

“I heard that,” Giles said.

They were behind the counter of the used book shop, Giles’ manning the cash register (in truth drinking a quite decent cup of Darjeeling tea, it being afternoon) and Willow crouched on the floor and installing a wireless modem.

Willow flicked on the switch and watched with satisfaction the play of lights turning from red to yellow to green. “Okay, this thing should be working, now. Click on the browser icon.”

Giles debated making a show by questioning what was a browser icon but decided his feigning of ignorance of all things digital was probably more wearying than effective. He clicked on the icon and watched as the laptop browser opened up into a display of the Google search page. Willow promptly stood up and took control of the keyboard.

“Albert kept his store records in the cloud,” she said, as her fingers punched in a URL.

“Cloud?” Giles asked, his confusion in fact legitimate.

“He used Internet based file storage, probably because he had only the one laptop. Keeping his store records off his actual laptop was probably a hedge against a computer breakdown or theft. I’m making you an icon for your desktop, so you can click on it.”

A front page opened showing links to files labeled inventory, cash accounting, contacts, taxes, and a handful of others. Willow appreciated the simplicity of the system; she’d helped Anya set-up something very similar for the Magic Box.

“I can help you learn to use the applications.”

Again, Giles debated feigning ignorance, and again he decided against it. “I’m somewhat familiar with Office Suite, Willow. Not to worry just yet.” He manfully endured Willow’s not entirely hidden grin before regrettably changing the subject. “Are you and Tara planning on attending the memorial service.”

The service was not for Albert, whose remains had been cremated and stored with inside a cabinet at Books of Shadows, 1348. Rather it was for the eight other victims of what the press was calling the Brocton Street Massacre and attributing to eco-terrorists on PCP. Counting the people killed elsewhere, a total of thirteen had died. The eight to be memorialized had all attended UC Sunnydale.

“I’m picking her and Buffy up at the house. Are you coming?”

Giles shook his head and explained he thought it best he devote himself to his research. Using the more “user-friendly” hand-written indexes of the bookstore annex, he’d discovered a history volume describing what appeared to be a dimensional incursion in the Black Forrest, circa 1720. The text was written in a German vernacular Giles was struggling to make sense of, but was also supplying useful insights into atmospheric and other environmental portents tied to dimensional bridges. He did not also explain he would have felt out of place at the service, which he knew from sad experience as Sunnydale High School’s one-time librarian would be more a balm for the peers of the fallen students than anything else.

Willow glanced at Giles and then away; it was Giles, however, who asked the question on Willow’s mind.

“I’ve not had a single dream since Albert died, and so it appears my training has completed. But that’s not been the case for Tara.”

“Tara hasn’t dreamed about Albert, either. But both of us have dreamed about Tara, or rather my Tara’s appeared in our dreams. And both of us have been dreaming of what Tara calls the primitive world.”

“Albert used that term. He also called it the prime world. Our world, our reality, or at least the one we inhabit, according to Albert, is an incarnation of that first, original world. Not the second, not the third, but not the hundredth.”

Willow nodded, even if she didn’t entirely understand Giles’ point. “But how can my Tara be there?”

Giles’ expression softened. “Because you’re there, Willow. Your Tara is part of you, now. An aspect of the self that is Willow. Call her a spirit, or a ghost, or your conscience. What you call your Tara doesn’t especially matter. All that matters is you’ve been blessed with this rare, rare gift,” Giles said, thinking of Jenny, and wishing she might visit his sleep.

***

An hour later, flanked by Buffy and Tara, Willow found herself sitting in a metal folding chair listening to UC Sunnydale chancellor speak about the all too usual for Sunnydale tragedy of the deaths of innocents, lives cut short, and so forth. The service also included a performance by the university wind ensemble and a reiteration by the university police chief to follow the standard UCS safety policy: always walking in pairs or more at night, keeping track of the phases of the moon, and keeping on one’s person one or more of the symbols of traditional Christianity regardless of one’s personal belief system. Immediately after the service, Buffy left for her afternoon appointments at Sunnydale High and Tara to continue weeding Mr. and Mrs. Kim’s flower beds (a new client in her fast-evolving landscape service), leaving Willow to sixes and sevens, or more precisely in search of a sugar fix, which was how three hours later Willow found herself perusing the glassed in cupcake racks of Forbidden Sweets and debating the merits of the Lemon Vanilla Fantastic versus the Raspberry Chocolate Flip.

“I saw you, Tara, and Buffy at the service. It was nice of you to come,” sounded a voice from behind. Willow stood up and turned to face Cheryl, dressed as always in a swirl of mismatched silk scarves, poet’s blouse, and four-gore skirt. She also looked to Willow’s eyes a decade older than the last time they’d spoken.

“I saw you, too. Towards the front. Were you sitting with Nicole’s parents?”

“Her aunt and uncle. Nic’s parents died when she was a kid.”

Willow hadn’t ever heard of Nicole referred to by anything other than her full name. Hearing Cheryl use a nickname made her realize exactly how little she knew about the girl.

“I’m really sorry for your loss,” Willow said, feeling awkward because of the history between her and Cheryl and Nicole, but also because she knew all too well the emptiness of those sorts of words.

Cheryl looked to the side, carefully focusing her gaze on one of the nearby tables. “Nic’s not going to come back, not like Tara, I mean.”

“No.” Willow agreed.

Cheryl nodded. Her gaze turned back to Willow. “We’re having a meeting tonight, the Daughters, I mean. Emily wants to hold a wake for Nic and Shelly, another one of the students that was killed. You probably never met her; Shelly was a freshman.” Cheryl held her lip between her teeth, seeming to consider her next words. “Shelly was into tarot and crystals, but she wasn’t a real witch either, not like you, not like Tara.”

Willow started to say something, a denial, a deflection, more automatic than anything else, but Cheryl stopped her, one hand held up. “Please don’t deny it. I mean, please don’t say anything. You don’t have to. What I know or think I know doesn’t really matter one way or another. I guess all I’m saying is that I see things, like a lot of other people do. I see how you and Tara and Buffy and your friends always seem to be around when the bad stuff goes down, always seem to try to intervene. And I get why the Daughters probably wasn’t your thing or Tara’s.” Cheryl stopped again and swallowed twice. “I’m not really sure why I’m even talking with you about this, but I noticed you at the service, and I wanted to say I know you and the others tried to save them.”

“What happened, it was more than we could . . .” Willow said before trailing off because she knew she couldn’t explain.

Cheryl’s eyes finally met Willow’s. “I guess what I wanted to say was … It was important to Nicole that you and Tara knew a few of the Daughters … We figured out you and her were different from the rest of us.”

The door opened and a gaggle of middle school girls came inside the cupcake shop, talking excitedly. They pushed past Willow and Cheryl.

“Anyway,” Cheryl said, “I should probably head back. I’ve got a paper due in a few days.”

The two girls said their goodbyes, and Willow watched Cheryl head out the door, and then she turned back to the cupcake rack. Her stomach was no longer in the mood, and so she ordered two cupcakes to go.


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 Post subject: Re: Doppelganger Redux
PostPosted: Wed Mar 29, 2017 6:00 am 
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3. Flaming O

Joined: Sun Jan 10, 2010 11:27 am
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Location: So Cal
Thanks to dtburanek, Finey_McFine, thespian_phryne for the recent feedback. I am continuing to work towards the finish line. Right now, I've about a 100 pages of rough draft written, and, I'm guessing, about fifteen pages to go. I will post the chapters as I finish the final drafting. Thanks to everyone whether you have posted feedback or not for joining me on this ride.


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 Post subject: Re: Doppelganger Redux
PostPosted: Wed Mar 29, 2017 6:14 am 
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3. Flaming O

Joined: Sun Jan 10, 2010 11:27 am
Posts: 50
Location: So Cal
CHAPTER 34

Giles woke the next morning feeling unusually refreshed for a man in his late “middle-years”, as well as undeniably satisfied with his new digs. Undeniably satisfied even though his new living arrangement came to him as a result of the death of an old and dear friend and comrade. But as much he might wish he regretted more his move from the noisy and damp Sunnydale Arms Hotel to Albert’s quiet and cozy “above the store” apartment, Giles’ was far too honest a man to lie, if even and only to himself.

To be sure his new Sunnydale home did not sport the same amenities as his prior one. He would no longer enjoy a second-story mezzanine, let alone access to a courtyard: the two best features of the apartment he’d held during his tenures as Sunnydale’s high school librarian and owner of the Magic Box. He would, however, very much enjoy his new and quite serviceable eat-in kitchen, two bedrooms with tall windows looking out towards the ocean, study with built-in bookcases, bathroom with a claw-foot tub, and public room of sufficient space to entertain the entirety of the Scoobies, including all temporary members. And while he knew he would sometimes bemoan the lack of a proper garage, he was nevertheless pleased to have a carport sufficiently sized to house the small-size SUV he planned to purchase by week’s end. (There was also a much vaguer plan to buy a stock pot he’d been eyeing since before he’d left for England.)

Much like himself, Albert had lived “light” as Giles thought of it. Thus, it had taken Giles’ surprising little time to pack away Albert’s drawers and closet of clothing, all of it well-worn, many of the items neatly patched, as well Albert’s personal things, his flower vases, candy dishes, art work, and what have you. Since Albert had left no will, nor was there sign of any living relations, most of his belongings went to the donation bins, while the few items of actual value, a very nice print by William Blake, two exquisite Chumash baskets, and a silver cup with the imprint of Paul Revere were all donated in his name to the Sunnydale Art and Natural History Museums.

As for Albert’s furniture, none of it new, some of it qualifying as antique, and all of it showing surprisingly little wear and tear, Giles’ elected to keep the entirety of it, including Albert’s one obvious extravagance, a bed richly appointed with four posters, curtains, and a mattress more comfortable than Giles’ thought he’d ever experienced before. The mattress, however, did not alone explain Giles’ “good sleep”. There were many reasons for that, one of the most important being that it was on this particular morning, Rupert Giles born in England, American immigrant, and one-time member of the Watchers’ Council was finally and entirely settled. Catastrophe might be on the horizon, but for Giles on this morning he’d awakened knowing he was truly at home. He’d not experienced such awareness since his earliest boyhood.

Settling in, of course, had taken several days. Although Giles had checked out of the Sunnydale Arms the morning after the Tsuris attack, he’d had with him but a single suitcase of clothing, and so he’d been making do with the same limited wardrobe since his return from England, a situation that had grown beyond tiresome until yesterday, when to Giles’ great joy, his three steamer trunks arrived on his doorstep. One of the trunks he’d owned since boyhood, the other two had been acquired during his first time living in the states. Aside from the books comprising his personal library, those nineteen boxes still in transit, the contents of his three trunks and one suitcase comprised the whole of Giles’ worldly goods, and so the previous evening had been spent unpacking his things, putting away clothing, cookware, toiletries, and the like, hanging pictures and arranging his objets d’art. In short, he’d spent the evening doing the very pleasant work of putting his stamp upon his new home.

Another reason for his good sleep, an even more important aspect, was that Giles once again had a vocation. Even though he’d run from it, sometimes resented it, and ultimately quit it, it was undeniable his time on the Watchers’ Council had given him a sense for his place in the world, a sense he’d not felt in his most recent work, however important and significant, consulting on behalf of Devon Coven. He might not fully understand the scope of his new appointment, by no means did he believe himself sufficiently trained, but to have a true vocation meant the world to him.

And yet another reason for his good sleep was due to the bed itself, not the mattress or the lush pillows or the richly woven sheets and blankets or the silk curtains, but the frame. It was the bed frame, or more precisely the wood that had retained Albert’s mortality through the decades and would now retain his, with the not at all minor side-benefit of alleviating his lower back arthritis. Would that it also might recover him from a hangover, a regret Albert had signaled to him some weeks ago when he’d learned of Albert’s plans for him to become the fifth proprietor of Books of Shadows, 1348, or as it was known locally, Uncle Albert’s Books Used and Almost New. As Giles well knew, magick had his advantages, but those advantages were never entirely complete.

Having finished with his morning ablutions, dressed in his favorite suit (charcoal grey with a subtle stripe, vest, crisp white shirt, and red and blue silk tie) Giles ventured from his bedroom to his not yet entirely stocked kitchen to make his morning tea and toast. He would need to visit the grocer very soon to lay in stocks of fresh vegetables, dried herbs and spices, oils and vinegars, and canned goods (Giles had in mind preparing roasted vegetables over rice and barley for his evening supper), and there was also the not incidental matter of paper goods. From the mostly barren shelves and the few and little used pots and pans, Giles had already deduced Albert had generally avoided the kitchen. A clear point of difference between the two of them, and the main reason behind Giles’ vague plans for buying a proper stock pot.

As he waited for the water to boil, Giles made a final pass through the cupboards, wincing once again over Albert’s inexplicable fondness for rooibos tea, he’d never been able to stomach the stuff, but appreciating Albert’s apparently great affection for all things peppermint. He also churned over in his mind two complications, one minor: the renaming of the store (Uncle Giles’ was a non-starter) and one anything but minor: the return of Riley.

Samantha, he could already see, was a steady sort, good in a clinch and entirely reliable. Riley, however, was more of a wild card, or so Giles feared. He and Buffy had always bumped heads to use Xander’s apt phrase, both of them natural leaders, one of them never entirely able to set aside ego. Riley had matured certainly, but could he accept that there was only one leader in this newest fight with evil? Already, from a cryptic comment from Tara, Giles had the sense Riley was pushing at the boundaries of being lieutenant not captain.

By the time he’d finished his breakfast Giles had come to no useful conclusions regarding if he should intervene, let alone what he might say or do. Such, he thought, were the consequences of having been so long absent from his Slayer’s orbit. And then he checked himself, Buffy was no longer his Slayer, no matter they’d resumed their old training routines. Any advice he might offer had to be presented as a trusted friend, nothing more.

Giles took his cup, saucer, and plate to the sink, where he quickly washed, rinsed, and left them to dry inside the dish rack, putting the kitchen back to right, partly because it was his nature to be tidy, but also to avoid the temptation of preparing a second cup of tea. Then, ready to continue his day he headed off to work, a simple trip out a door and down a staircase leading into the rear office of what for now would continue to be known as Uncle Albert’s Books Used and Almost New.

***

At eight minutes past ten the bell above shop door sounded, drawing Giles from the rear stacks to the front. He’d already had three customers this morning, two students there to peruse the shelves for books needed for historical research into the American suffragette movement and one to pick up a special order. None of the three thought to question how it was he now owned the book shop, a new permutation Giles’ realized of what Buffy liked to call Sunnydale shrug, the noncommittal response of the citizenry to unexpected, inexplicable, or disturbing occurrences. He expected another customer or even, perhaps, someone merely looking for directions. He did not expect to see Anya.

“Good morning,” Giles said, by way of a greeting, trying very hard to keep any note of caution in his voice.

“Good morning,” Anya said, a shade too promptly in return.

Like he, Anya was dressed in what Giles’ thought of as business clothes, a rather smart sweater and shirt combination.

“I take it you’re not here to buy a book.” Giles ventured.

“Not at all,” Anya said, coming further into the store. She stopped to glance at a table display of popular, hard-back mysteries and thrillers before joining Giles at the counter. “That display is exactly the same as it was two weeks ago on my last visit. You should probably rearrange the titles. Good sales depend upon constant novelty of arrangement. Still, I’d keep the Stephen King books in the front. Everyone likes Stephen King.”

Point taken, Giles thought. Out loud, he merely asked, “Last visit?”

“Too drop off Albert’s invitation to attend the next meeting of the Sunnydale Downtown Merchants’ Association. Albert wouldn’t cough up an email address, so I always printed one out for him.”

It seemed unlikely, but Giles’ had to inquire, “And did he attend?”

“Never, but it’s always nice to be invited to such things,” Anya said. She ran her fingertip along the edge of the counter, which also doubled as a glass showcase for showing the few rare and valuable books for sale. She checked the fingertip for dust, found none, and then saved Giles’ from having to concoct a reply by continuing, “What are you going to rename the store? You’re keeping it aren’t you. As a front, I mean. It’s proven profitable both ways.” Now Anya offered up a small grin. “From your expression, I can tell you don’t know about Albert’s secondary business. If you did you wouldn’t have asked me about why I was here.”

Although hating himself for having to ask, Giles conceded, he did not know what Anya was talking about. When she finished her explanation, Giles realized he could now solve a conundrum Willow had faced as she’d tried to sort out Albert’s business ledgers.

“And you say this garden is not far from the store front.”

“It’s not as if I’ve actually been to it,” Anya said, “Demons can’t transit to the primitive world, our souls are shaped too differently.”

It had never occurred to Giles’ that demons had souls, or anything they might regard as a soul, let alone their shape. Wisely, he kept this information to himself.

“I only know about the garden from Albert. He did all of the seeding, tilling, harvesting. All of the farm-y stuff. I was strictly his middle-man, or middle-woman to be more precise.”

“And you say Albert’s garden is the major supplier for what again?”

“American supplier, by which I mean North, Central, and South, for chibber, yakum root, noorok, and cybrum. None of which grows anywhere on this continent, and none of which is currently being exported to this continent due to the usual trade barriers. Anyway, as I already said, it’s occurred to me you’ll probably conscript Tara to be your assistant, as I’ve never seen you manage to care for a house plant let alone husband a garden of vital roots and herbs, and I wanted you to know there will be no hard feelings on my part, despite losing my best assistant since taking over the business from you. Also, as I said, I am hoping you will make an effort to attend the next meeting of the Downtown Association.” Anya offered up her widest grin. “When our businesses band together, everybody profits!”

It was on that happy note Anya made her departure, eager to greet what she thought would be a sizable lunch rush at the Magic Box, Halloween, after all, was just around the corner, and leaving Giles standing behind his store counter still trying to get his mind around this latest bit of news: Uncle Albert’s Books Used and New was also a secret front for the sourcing of magick supplies.

***

“Apparently, Anya took over Mrs. Washington’s brokerage business after Mrs. Washington decided to retire from Sunnydale to the more bucolic environment that is South Dakota, and now Anya is the major distributor of magick supplies for western North America,” Giles said to Tara.

It was now late afternoon and the two of them were sitting on high chairs behind the store counter, drinking afternoon tea, and enjoying a tin of biscuits Giles’ had brought back from England.

“This explains the inventory Anya k-keeps in the Magic Box basement,” Tara said. “When I was doing the counts the last couple of weeks, it didn’t s-seem likely she was keeping that high an inventory for one store, even if the store operates near a hellmouth.”

Giles nodded his understanding. “By the way, I also met Harold, Albert’ store clerk, yesterday.”

Tara smiled broadly. “Did you like him? I like him.”

“He’s a lovely young man,” Giles said, “I was embarrassed for not remembering him as a student at Sunnydale High. He was one-year behind Buffy and the others. And he was gracious enough to note Clava demons’ facial features change a good deal once they’ve reached their full maturity. I’m keeping him on, of course. He knows more about the used book business than I do. He got right to the special orders, which were already backlogged. And he’s more than happy to work afternoons, evenings and Saturdays.”

This was a great relief, as Giles had already decided to keep the store hours long established by Albert, and he’d worried over closing the store when he was needed to assist on training or patrolling. However, at least according to Tara, he wouldn’t be needed for training purposes for the time being. Sam had taken over those responsibilities.

“You say even Spike is participating?” Giles said with clear surprise. “How are Xander and Riley reacting.”

“Xander’s a little wigged about having Spike in the Magic Box, even if it’s the back room. And Riley—” Tara trailed off.

“Riley and Spike have a long history of animosity. Some of it having to do with the Initiative affair,” Giles said. Off Tara’s subtle nod showing she was aware of the days of the Initiative, whether because she’d been told or she had the memories of her counterpart he did not know, he continued, “And doubtlessly more so over Spike’s and Buffy’s complex history.” This time Tara acknowledged more directly she knew Spike had assaulted Buffy, allowing Giles’ to venture, “I’m not at all surprised there’s some friction. How couldn’t there be misgivings?”

“Even though he still doesn’t really trust him, Xander accepts Spike has a soul, and he’s w-willing to follow Buffy’s lead,” Tara said.

“And Riley is not,” Giles said with a quiet sigh.

“It’s not so much Riley won’t listen, it’s more like he makes it clear he doesn’t approve.”

Leaving Buffy to have to contend with insubordination, however subtle, on top of a coming evil for which they’d yet to have establish a fully thought strategy to stop. Giles took a sip of his tea. “How is Sam handling this” he asked after a moment.

“Things kind of came to a head last night, and Sam pulled Riley aside.”

“Came to a head?”

Giles could see Tara was debating how much to share. He waited patiently for her to make her decision. Any prompting on his part would be prying.

“We were splitting off to patrol the cemetery, and Riley made some n-noise when Buffy put Spike with Riley and Sam. I mean he said something under his breath, but of course could Buffy hear it.”

“Her slayer senses,” Giles murmured.

“Exactly, and then Buffy m-made a face, and Sam pulled Riley aside.”

“What did Spike do?”

“Nothing, he just stood there waiting for Riley to sort himself out.” It was Tara’s turn to sigh quietly. “I told Willow what happened. She’s going to take Buffy out for coffee.”

Despite Tara’s clear concern, a rush of pride came over Giles similar to the one he’d felt that first night following his return from England, both then and now he’d delighted in witnessing how Buffy, Willow, and Xander had reestablished their bonds to one another.

“Good,” Giles said, “Willow will offer wise and useful counsel, of that I’m entirely confident.”

Giles’ watched as a similar rush of pride passed over Tara’s face. What a wonder she was, he thought. At once the thoughtful and caring girl he remembered so vividly, but now also a young woman of undeniable strength of character and will. And then he realized, not for the first time, but more clearly than ever before how vital all of them were to solving their current troubles, Tara and Willow, Buffy, Xander and he, Spike and Anya, and now Sam and Riley. And this thought allowed him to make his admission, “I spent more time on Barton’s yesterday afternoon. It’s been my entryway into your magicks. I managed to conjure up a small snow storm in the annex.” He offered a rueful grin. Cleaning up the resulting puddles had required quick discovery of where Albert had kept his mops and floor rags.

“During our training sessions, Albert would have us do our work outdoors,” Tara trailed off, a puzzled expression came upon her face. “We did all this w-work while I was dreaming, I conjured ice shields and air shocks. I learned how to make fire nets. Once I used earth and air to make a footbridge for crossing a river, and I know I couldn’t have been more than thirteen or fourteen w-when I did it. Except it wasn’t really me, it was my counterpart in this reality. Except maybe s-some of it was me, while I had my long sleep.”

“Albert’s journals indicate he’d been working with Tara long before she arrived in Sunnydale, and then he began working with you following the merging of yours and the Tara of this world’s souls.”

Giles didn’t say he wondered if part of Tara’s delay in recovering from the joining was due to Albert’s entering her dreams. It seemed possible. It also made him wonder more about Lethe’s bramble, and he had a private plan to research the substance more once their current crisis was put to an end.

“Her mother was his student, too.” Tara said, pulling Giles out of his musings, “I know this, but I d-don’t know how I know this. Just like I d-don’t really understand how all of what I know can make sense together. I mean what I learned from my mother’s book of shadows and library and what I know from the dreams, dreams I d-don’t really remember as dreams, more like being in school, but—.” Tara trailed off a moment, needing to regroup. She shook her head, trying to throw off her frustration. “And when I try to think about it, I mean try to understand what exactly I know about fire nets from my mother and what I know from Albert, I can’t. It’s all just one piece.”

Giles’ smiled showing he understood exactly Tara’s point. Having knowledge when one doesn’t know its source can be as frustrating as it might also be gratifying.

“From what I’ve gathered, I think Mrs. Maclay was in training to be Albert’s replacement.”

Tara nodded slowly. “But then she took ill and died. If it’s not too rude to ask, do you know when he decided on you?”

Giles picked up his teacup, noticed it was empty, and replaced it on the saucer. He got up to make a fresh pot of tea.

“It’s not rude at all, and my answer is I’m not entirely sure. He contacted me directly about three weeks ago, telling me it was time I returned to Sunnydale. Before then, while I was still very much Buffy’s watcher, he alluded to my future. When exactly he began my training, I’ve no idea.”

Giles plugged in the hot water pot and turned back to face Tara.

“It’s the strangest thing. When you first told me of shaping elementals, I really had no idea of what you were speaking. But now, since Albert’s death, as I’ve been exploring the annex and reading his journals, entire possibilities for magicks, actual techniques are suddenly and remarkably known to me. I have to think he’s been training me for years, quite probably since I first came to Sunnydale as Buffy’s watcher.”

“That would make s-sense,” Tara said. “Tara’s mother died five years ago.”

“Mrs. Maclay would have been an excellent choice for his replacement. Like Albert, she journaled her studies. To be honest, as her replacement, I’m far from her equal.”

Giles took Tara’s cup from her to prepare it for a fresh tea bag and water. Besides the hot water pot, Albert had kept behind the counter a small refrigerator stocked with water jugs, cheeses, and, oddly enough, popsicles. The man had clearly been an inveterate “snacker”.

“I’ve been wondering if there was an Albert in my old reality. In my world, Buffy came to Sunnydale too late to stop the Master’s rise. But maybe things fell apart because there was no Albert either?” Tara stood up and stretched back her shoulders. “What I knew about elementals and conjures before I crossed here I learned out of my mother’s library, but now I have my counterpart’s memories of what she learned from her training with Albert. Your Tara knew so much more than I did, but she never used it. I mean, none of you ever saw her use it?”

“Not that I’m aware. From what I have gathered from Albert’s personal journal, I think you’re correct. He had yet to, for lack of a better term, activate her, but Tara had been long chosen to be his, err, assistant—.”

Tara held up her hand, “I know Albert called her his apprentice,” she said. Her expression showed she had no qualms about the term.

“His apprentice to become his knight,” Giles said, softly.

“Knight to his wizard,” Tara said, as softly.

Hearing the words aloud, saying them to one another, made real something they’d both known for days, and both had hesitated to discuss. They looked at one another, each taking the other’s measure.

And then, a few moments later, Tara said, “We got to choose.”

It was an observation Giles’ had also made. They’d gotten to choose to take on their service; even now they could reject it; Buffy was conscripted.

Giles finishing preparing the second round of tea, and the two of them began what both now knew would be their life’s work, the preservation and development of the world’s magick.


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 Post subject: Re: Doppelganger Redux
PostPosted: Wed Mar 29, 2017 6:16 am 
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3. Flaming O

Joined: Sun Jan 10, 2010 11:27 am
Posts: 50
Location: So Cal
I decided to post Chapter 34 today, also. Somedays I am impulsive.


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 Post subject: Re: Doppelganger Redux
PostPosted: Wed Mar 29, 2017 8:59 am 
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3. Flaming O

Joined: Sun Jan 10, 2010 11:27 am
Posts: 50
Location: So Cal
Chapter 35

Patrol the next evening was proving unremarkable until it wasn’t. Buffy had split the team up, sending Sam, Tara, and Spike to clear Evergreen Cemetery and the downtown, while she and Riley headed for the docks; Xander had the night off. By eleven, Sam had checked in via cell phone to report all was clear and her team was heading to home and crypt. Buffy explained she and Riley were about to do the same, and then no more than five minutes after ringing off, she and Riley suddenly found themselves in a fight with a clan of heavily armed Miquot. Fortunately, Riley and she had taken to carrying blades and nightsticks in their boots in addition to the usual stakes, holy water, and crucifixes, what Buffy didn’t expect was that Riley was also packing a micro-pistol loaded with armor piercing bullets.

The fight ended in minutes, the clean-up, of course, took longer, first finding the necessary rope, then bundling together the bodies so that the corpses wouldn’t float after being heaved off the wharf. They were heading back to the house when Buffy finally said aloud the words that had been churning in her brain since she’d seen Riley unholster the gun he’d kept hidden at the small of his back.

“What were you thinking. We don’t use guns.”

“The Slayer doesn’t use a gun.”

“We don’t use guns because guns have this tendency to create collateral damage. We don’t use guns because gun shots attract police. We don’t use guns because most of the time bullets are ineffective against demons.”

“Bullets took out seven Miquot just fine.”

“We don’t use guns because I won’t have it.”

The two came to a stop. They were nearly to the house, no more than two blocks away, standing on Elm Street and surrounded by homes filled with people sleeping blissfully unaware of what roamed the streets of their city each night.

“I get it. I get that you hate Spike and that you miss your old life, the one before you got sucked into the Initiative. I get that you would do pretty much anything not to be a part of my world. I get that demon hunting sucks and that any ideas you had about noble adventure pretty much ended the first time you come up on a vamp or a polgara or a vahrall or a hellhound chewing up some little kid,” Buffy said, the words coming off her tongue like tiny shards of ice.

She swallowed, and then she said something else, something Willow had helped her to see, forcing down her anger, regaining her calm, “And I get to know I was chosen. Some men millennia ago made a decision that put me here. And I know you don’t have that. You don’t know the exact turn you made that resulted in your being here with me. But here you are, and I need you. I need you to help me fight what’s coming next. God knows I need you for that. But I need Spike, too. And I also need you to accept that I set the rules of engagement.”

Buffy waited. Riley had to make a decision. He needed several minutes. He offered a stiff nod, and then the two of them continued walking. When they reached the front porch, Buffy gave Riley a quick glance. The set of his shoulders was different. She smiled inwardly. Out loud she said, “I also need you to help me chaperone the Homecoming dance this weekend. Are you up for what promises to be worse than body dumping a clan of Miquot?”

A smile Buffy recognized from long ago danced on Riley’s lips.

“You paying for the tux?” he asked.

“Yeah, but lately I’ve feeling a little whimsical. It might be powder blue with ruffles.”

“Just so long as it doesn’t have those stripes of ribbon down the legs, I’ve got a reputation to maintain, you know.”

Buffy laughed and they headed inside where she could already scent the popcorn and hot chocolate waiting for them.

***

Homecoming night began with a limo rented and piloted by Xander, dressed in a tux that everyone charitably did not remember from his aborted wedding day. The ride to the high school, it’s newly refurbished gym resplendent in ribbons, balloons, banners, and crepe paper, took place following a flurry of picture taking, Willow commandeering the digital camera from Buffy in view of Buffy’s well-known inability to comfortably frame a photograph. This left Buffy to instruct Dawn, Lisa, Kit, and Janice, who’d managed to break up with her boyfriend/date three days earlier, to assume a variety of poses including one involving the girls standing one to a step at the staircase rail and another involving each of the girls holding forth her wrist corsage, each of the corsages a gift from Willow and Tara, thus solving the great flower giving dilemma.

Buffy and Giles arrived separately to the dance in Giles’ new and beautifully detailed sapphire blue Honda CRV, which he not only insisted on driving himself, but for which he also commandeered two parking slots to protect the finish, a point of fact Buffy was still commenting upon an hour into the festivities, while she and Giles manned the punch bowl.

“Safeguarding my new vehicle from door nicks does not mean I’ve turned into some addle-brained Southern California hyper consumer, to use your simultaneously condescending and over-worded description,” Giles said, as he handed off a glass of punch to a young man who reminded him of the young man who’d fallen under the influence of Moloch, the corruptor and whose name he could no longer recall.

Buffy, having decided she’d already sufficiently teased Giles for becoming car proud, even though she had one gibe left in her arsenal involving a prior automobile extravagance memorably described as red and looking like a penis, said, “Was it just me, or did that kid look like a blonder version of Fritz. The kid who turned himself into one of Moloch’s minions sophomore year.”

“I believe he did,” Giles said, staring after the boy. “Sad what happened to him, more so to his friend, Dave.” His eyes caught on Anya, who was on the other side of the dance floor and who appeared to be confiscating a flask of some kind. “Anya is stepping up to tonight’s duties with exactly the expected level of zeal. Still, why did she offer to take over for Riley?”

“Anya needs to earn more ‘service’ points. She’s trying to win some downtown association prize, and volunteering for Homecoming duty brings in, I think she said, 50.”

“Of course, she is,” Giles said.

“Also, Riley wanted to have a date night with Sam. I think he asked, and Anya jumped at the offer. Anyway, he and Sam should be out on patrol now, but they had dinner reservations for Marconi’s earlier.”

“You and he had a talk, I take it,” Giles said, trying to steer the conversation as gently as possible, while also making sure to keep his eyes averted from Dawn, who was presently dancing with a boy he believed might be the famous Kevin Berman, famous according to Willow, at least.

“We’re good for now. But he won’t stick around after we finish off Warren redux.”

“Riley said as much?”

“Not directly, it’s just the feeling he’s been giving off. I’ve been thinking he wants out of the demon hunting business. Maybe not out, out,” Buffy said, thinking over what she was saying. “It’s more like Sam’s still all with the mission, but I keep thinking Riley wants to do more than mop up work.”

Giles turned to look at Buffy, not sure what Buffy meant by “mop up work.” Before he could ask his question, she added:

“When we had it out the other night, I said something I hadn’t really considered. It’s different being the Slayer versus being a demon hunter. One’s a calling, and the other’s, let’s face it, mercenary work. Riley and Sam go where they’re needed, but also where they’re solicited. And the people doing the soliciting aren’t always the best people.”

Giles poured another glass of punch, this time for a young woman he knew worked as a part-time cashier at the drug store around the corner from his bookshop. He’d not realized she was still in high school.

“Sam mentioned to me their government sponsors in Thailand were more concerned with tamping down bad publicity in order to protect the tourist industry than protect the citizenry,” Giles said. “Much the same as it was in Brazil. You think Sam is less bothered by their work?”

Buffy put on her thinking face. “Sam might be ready for a change, too. She’s still a doctor. She must miss that.” Buffy offered Giles a measuring stare. “You’ve been ready for a change a lot longer.”

Giles poured two more glasses of punch. One of the two recipients surprised him by saying, “thank you.” He wondered if Buffy had been guiding their conversation as much as he’d been, both of them endeavoring to get the other to be forthright. He liked the irony.

“Tara and I had a lengthy talk this afternoon. Sorting out our new roles.”

Buffy smiled but said nothing, waiting for Giles to continue. Giles needed a few moments to gather his thoughts.

“Albert’s training methods confound me entirely. With me unaware, he’s prepared me for a job for which I am entirely grateful. And he did the same to Tara, I mean our Tara. She’d no idea he had chosen her to become his—.”

“Apprentice,” Buffy said. “Willow and I figured that one out yesterday. It’s been sweet how you and Tara have been avoiding the word. So, apprentice, but not to be a wizard. Tara wasn’t only being trained in magicks, she was in training to be a fighter, too. I keep remembering something Willow told me about this time our Tara just picked up a battle axe and planted it along some demon’s spine.”

“Page or squire might have been the more apt term,” Giles said. “Our Tara was to be Albert’s knight. His instrument for retrieving lost books of magick. There’s thousands of them, some of them scattered since the fall of the Libraries of Alexandria, many more of them since the destruction of the Watchers’ Council offices. And then there’s the whole world of grimoires, the unpublished works by witches. Some of it schools of magick misremembered or no longer remembered at all. And each and every one of these books vulnerable to falling into the hands of …”

“A Warren Mears or a Jonathan Levinson or an Andrew Wells or an Amy or a Fritz or a Dave and the list goes on and on.”

“All of this training, and all of it done inside of our dreams. It’s really no wonder our new Tara had such a rough go of it when her soul was combined with our Tara’s.”

“Tara and I have been talking about it while patrolling. Dreams within dreams, combining memories, and then some other stuff. More like prophecy.”

“Like prophecy,” Giles echoed. “Tara certainly anticipated Albert’s murder. I asked her about it, and she’s not had the nightmare of bodies hung from street lights since the Brocton massacre. But prophecy or preparation? It’s not at all clear the full purpose of Tara’s dreams, and I suspect we, she will never entirely know it.”

Buffy’s cell phone sounded, and Giles quieted as she opened a text. The expression on her face caused him to ask, “Trouble?”

***

Spike scented the pack before he rounded the old Savings and Loan, now repurposed as an art gallery, coming off Magnolia onto Lincoln. There were seven of them huddled together like they’d just dropped from the sky or came up from the earth. He’d never fully understood where hell hounds came from. Darla liked to claim they were some dog demon hybrid done up by a long-ago wizard. When they were in China, Angelus said they were pure demon risen up from the netherworlds. Spike supposed it didn’t really matter where they came from; they were hellish little beasties all the same.

He’d been heading for a poker game in the backroom of Willy, the snitch’s bar, now he pulled out his cell phone and shot a text to Buffy. He then shot the same text to Willow, Xander and the others. Riley texted back first, saying he and Sam were nearby, ETA less than a minute.

He heard them first, poncy-boy Riley coming up from behind on his clod-hopping boots. He shot a glance over his shoulder and saw Riley and Sam dressed in their usual stealthy black, and he wondered if that was what they’d worn out to dinner, Willow had mentioned to him it was supposed to be their date night. He pushed the thought away; he’d spent far too much of his undead life speculating about how the living-half lived.

“Best way to cope with these little buggers is fireballs away,” Spike said, softly.

“And none of us magic-users,” Sam said, just as softly. “Which means we do it the old-fashioned way.” She pulled a collapsed cross-bow from her backpack. “I’ve got three bolts for this puppy.” She looked at Riley, “Give Spike your long blade. He’s better on it than you. You take the cross-bow. I’ve got my short blades.”

Riley might be a shining example of the shortcomings of the living, but at least he chose well in a wife, Spike thought as he dropped his cigarette butt to the ground and crushed it with the heel of his boot. He took Riley’s long blade in hand; it was a beautiful piece of craftsmanship, finely balanced and with a grip black as midnight and a blade that with sufficient force could probably remove the head of a bear. Chose well in a wife and a blade.

***

Willow was reading Spike’s text to Tara and Xander when Tara stopped everyone short. They were patrolling Pioneer Cemetery. “Other side of the crypt. Hellhounds. Can’t tell how many, but sounds like at least five, maybe six,” Tara said.

“You can distinguish one of them from another,” Xander said. “Impressive.”

“And what’s up with that smell,” Willow said.

“Hellhounds eat carrion, as well as their own kill. They’re more like hyenas and coyotes than dogs,” Tara said. She held out her hand and almost instantly a small blue flame began dancing atop the palm.

Willow put out her hand as well, and the flame split into two, the second moving atop her palm. “Xander, hang back a bit.”

Tara took point as they started on a wide berth of the Dillingham Crypt, circling around as quietly as they could. As luck would have it, there were six of the beasties busily tearing apart an adult coyote and an unknown number of pups, snapping at one another as much as scarfing down the fresh meat, and, fortunately for the Scoobies, too busy to give them any notice.

“Will, try to catch the one towards the left. It’s the biggest, so it’s probably the pack leader. I’ll try to catch the first that scatter.”

Willow nodded. She moved to a better vantage point and took fire. The pack leader exploded in an inferno of fur and limbs. Bile rose up in Willow’s throat, as she formed another fire ball.

Tara took out two others that broke in the Scoobies’ direction. The remaining three broke, one to the right, two to the left. Tara was able to catch the one heading rightward. She called out for Willow and Xander to follow as she began chasing the remainder of the pack.

***

Giles gestured for Anya to join him and Buffy at the punch bowl, and then Buffy quickly informed Anya of the latest incursion.

“We need to see how many packs have been released,” Giles said to Buffy. “Anya, if you could hold down things in here, Buffy and I might find a more secluded place for me to open up a scrying pane.”

“What do you want me to do about Dawn?” Anya asked.

Dawn was now group dancing with her friends Kit and Janice.

“Nothing for now,” Buffy said. “Maybe we’ll be lucky and the hell hounds won’t be heading for the school.”

“Let’s not alarm ourselves unnecessarily,” Giles said.

Looking worried, Anya agreed to the plan and headed back across the dance floor.

“We can hide out in my office. It’s just down the hall from the cafeteria,” Buffy said.

Seconds later, Buffy was pushing her surprisingly tidy desk to the side and Giles was crouched down on the floor. He produced from his pants pockets a small, cloth sack and from his jacket pocket a thin bottle. “Casting base and sanctified water courtesy of Albert, his special formulas for both. Given our current circumstances, I no longer leave my home without it.” Giles worked quickly, setting out the materials as he said an incantation that called upon something Buffy thought sounded like Sybellia. She’d been expecting Giles to call on Aradia.

The scrying pane was translucent and rectangular. Buffy could see the tile floor of her office as a kind of haze below what looked like an aerial view of Sunnydale. Giles twisted and pulled the pane until he had a view of what Buffy instantly recognized as the downtown.

“I’m too new to this to be able to read it quickly, but I think that patch of pulsating green is Spike’s hellhound pack. What I want to do is see if I can spot any others.”

Buffy’s cell phone chimed. “That was Willow. She, Tara, and Xander just took out a pack of beasties at …”

Giles interrupted, “Pioneer Cemetery.”

“Six of them. Can you center that thing above the high school? If we’ve got incoming.” Buffy didn’t finish her sentence. Giles understood the problem.

“I would have thought there were more of them at the cemetery,” Giles said, as he continued to reshape the pane until he could see the high school at center. “All right then, that’s Sunnydale High. And I’m seeing two other packs. One of them is at the water tower; the other is moving down what I think is Lexington Avenue.” Giles stood up. “Both packs are heading this way.”

***

Riley hit the pack leader square through the throat, killing it instantly, as Spike made a wide circle around him, blade held high overhead, taking after the three that immediately bolted right. Riley realized his mistake almost instantly, he’d not hit the pack leader. Heart pounding, he slapped a second bolt onto the cross-bow and took aim.

***

Giles headed back to the dance, leaving Buffy to head out to the parking lot. Their first priority would be to ensure everyone was inside. He spotted Anya standing at the exterior doors, preventing a small group of students from heading outside. He was wondering how soon Anya would resort to her demon’s visage to keep the students inside the building as he made his way atop the makeshift stage on which was playing a four piece and, in his view, truly awful Ska band.

“If I could have everyone’s attention,” Giles said, after taking the microphone none to gently from the lead singer’s hand. “We’ve been informed a pack of wild dogs is heading towards the high school. We’ve been advised everyone is to shelter in place until further notice. Please keep a safe distance from the exterior doors and windows.”

In any other high school in America, Giles was convinced, an announcement such as the one he’d just made would have resulted in a rush to the doors. A Sunnydale upbringing, however, prepared for a very different reaction. With satisfaction, Giles watched as the students moved towards the center of the dance floor and the food tables that lined the interior walls, Dawn and her girlfriends included. He handed the mic back to the lead singer, mumbled “carry on,” and jumped off the platform, making a fast clip to join Anya, who continued to stand in front of the exterior doors.

“I’ve locked them all so that nothing can come inside unless we allow it. Excepting, of course, any hellhound that wants to hurl itself hard enough to break through the glass. Which is probably every hellhound.”

Giles was about to respond when he spied Principal Wood heading their way. Unlike Giles who was resplendent in his tuxedo, Wood was dressed in a pair of jeans and a Sunnydale High School sweatshirt. Giles repressed a momentary flash of annoyance as he wondered why he’d been pressed into chaperone duty and the principal had not.

“Buffy stopped by my office to inform me there’s trouble coming our way. You’re Mr. Giles, I take it, Robin Wood, principal of Sunnydale High. I hope you’ll excuse my informal dress, I was working on the spring semester scheduling,” Wood said, holding out his right hand. “Ms. Jenkins and I are acquainted from her participation on the Downtown Merchants’ Association.”

“Rupert Giles, Mr. Wood, I’m happy to make your acquaintance. I understand you’ve some experience with extreme possibilities,” Giles said, wanting to feel out how open the high school’s newest principal was to Sunnydale’s more unusual attributes.

“I’ve received a couple of briefings from Mayor Bennington’s office.”

“Right, then,” Giles said. He tried to put a face on the current mayor. If he remembered correctly, Bennington was a Clava demon. For a second he was distracted, wondering if Bennington was related to Harold, then he pulled his thoughts together. “We’re in all likelihood about to be visited very soon by at least two packs of, uhm, wild dogs.”

“He means hellhounds,” Anya said. “There’s no point in trying to sugar coat hellhounds,” she said to Giles, to Wood she continued, “Demon mad dog things, lots of teeth, lots of claws, lots of slobber, and they stink to high heaven.”

Seeming to think Giles was about to object, Wood said, “I’ve witnessed Ms Summers do some extraordinary things in the school parking lot since starting here. I’m not someone who is incapable of accepting what my eyes can see.”

“Good to hear,” Giles said, just as the interior doors to the cafeteria opened and Buffy pushed inside about a dozen students, and headed his way.

“Parking lot is clear. I found a couple of additional kids smoking in one of the corridors. Anya, Mr. Wood, can you keep everyone contained in here. If things get dicey, take everyone to the biology labs and lock the fire doors. You’ll be safe there.” Buffy said something quietly to Anya and then turned to Giles. “I’m heading back out. I could use a hand.”

“Of course,” Giles said, but he sounded unsure.

“Go on, Ms. Jenkins and I have this covered,” Wood said to Giles.

Giles nodded and followed Buffy; once they were out of the cafeteria and into the corridor Buffy said, “I’ve got a cross-bow and two long blades stashed in my office. Tara said the best defense against hellhounds is fire.”

“When hit with a fireball, a hellhound ignites like over dried timber. The trick is they can run like the wind and turn on a dime. Have you heard anything more from the others?”

“Xander said they’d be here in,” Buffy glanced at her cell phone, “about seven more minutes. Of course, they can’t come here overland.”

“Understood,” Giles said as Buffy picked up her pace and he followed suit.

***

Riley’s second shot put a bolt into the true pack leader. Unfortunately, it missed the demon’s throat and lodged in its left shoulder. Before he could launch the third bolt, the demon was on top of him. Riley rolled with it, trying to kick it away as he shielded his throat with his arm. And then the thing was off of him, or rather split in two, the head gone one direction, the torso the other. Through the spray of blood and gore, Riley saw Spike, coat billowing behind him, reach for his hand to pull him from the ground.

“Move it, the other beasties got Sam cornered,” Spike said.

Riley came off the ground, his free hand pulling his nightstick from his boot.

***

Xander blinked back a steady rivulet of blood from a wound incurred when one of the hellhounds bounced him off of a headstone. Other than that, the three of them were fine, although he could tell both Willow and Tara were spent from having launched dozens of fireballs. The six they’d initially spotted turned into a pack of twenty-five, maybe thirty. Xander had lost count. Ahead, he watched his green light turn yellow then red. He moved into the center of the road and accelerated, his eyes darting left and right checking for oncoming traffic. The crossing at Miller’s Way wasn’t usually busy at this hour, and all the lights on Adams’ Street were timer based. He blew the intersection at about sixty miles per hour.

“There was a time when I used to say you drove like my grandmother,” Willow said from the shotgun seat. “I’m not going to say that anymore.”

“Anh sent me a text. And I know you can’t hear someone’s voice when they text. But she sounded scared.” Xander shot a glance at his best friend. “Anh doesn’t do scared.”

“She’ll be okay, Xander. We’re almost there,” Tara said from the back seat.

Xander took his hand off the wheel to flick away blood that was caught in his eyebrow, then clamped it back onto the wheel as he took the next corner, barely keeping all four car tires on the ground.

***

Spike charged down the alley that ran between 4th and 5th street, darting around the dumpsters that were parked outside the rear doors. He wondered if the hellhounds had been drawn to the restaurant district by the smell or been dumped there. Behind him he could hear the pounding of Riley’s boots trying to keep up with him, ahead he thought he heard a scream. Also ahead, a dumpster that had been pulled into the center of the alley. Spike leaped into the air, his speed alone propelling his feet as he ran along the side of the building before lighting back onto the ground. He heard another scream, and he knew it was Sam. He ran faster.

***

Giles stood with Buffy near the eastern edge of the high school parking lot. He brought the scrying pane with him, and he was tracking two separate packs that he believed would soon merge. Behind him he heard a squeal of brakes as a car bounced over a curb and came onto the parking lot.

“Xander,” Buffy shouted.

And then footsteps as Xander, Willow, and Tara joined them.

“Have you heard from Spike, Riley, or Sam?” Willow said. “We got a message, but now it’s radio silence.”

“I’ve tried calling all three,” Buffy said. She glanced towards Tara and then back to Willow. “Are you two ready?”

Tara held out her hand, two small balls of fire balanced atop the palm. She nodded.

***

Spike rounded the corner, coming out onto Charles Street to find Sam already on the ground and surrounded by three hellhounds. Sword held high, he came at the beasts, neatly severing one head, then a second before plunging the blade deep into the mid-section of the third, twisting as he pulled out. Entrails spilled from the creature, littering the ground with blood and guts. He saw Riley as he came out of the alley, and he heard Riley’s scream before he looked down to see Sam, lying face down, her body ripped open from her neck to her lower back.

Spike fell to his knees, wanting to cover his face, his ears, not wanting not to hear, not wanting to see.

A car drove up and stopped a few yards short of the three of them. Spike heard a shout and looked up. Clem stepped out of the driver’s seat and ran to them. In his coat pocket Spike felt his cell phone vibrate. He pulled it out and found a new text from Willow.

“See to them,” Spike said to Clem. “I’ve got to get to the high school. There’s another pack of the things heading that way.”

***

Spike had already run three blocks before he thought to steal a car. He hot-wired a small pick-up truck he found parked on Magnolia, and arrived at the high school in the thick of what turned out to be the last attack of the night. Although Xander would have to go to the hospital to receive stiches to close the wound along his hairline, the others Buffy, Giles, Willow and Tara were unhurt. Spike pulled Buffy aside to tell her Sam was dead.


Chapter 36

A little over a week later the shock of Sam’s death had abated, and there’d been more fights, the usual complement of vampires risen and a smattering of other demon types including a Chaunga demon, a bipedal reptilian-like creature Giles identified as previously unseen in North America and last witnessed in Argentina in the eighteenth century. The shock had abated, but it had turned into a deep sorrow. Riley, of course took the loss hardest, seeming to have aged a decade in a matter of days. Buffy found herself unexpectedly dreaming a nightmare from years ago, a dream of trying and being unable to save her mother, a dream she’d not had since those terrible weeks following Joyce’s death while she’d had to fight Glory. As for Willow, she fell into a new pit of guilt, as she compared Riley’s stoicism to her utter and violent collapse in the wake of the death of her beloved.

It was Halloween morning and Tara came into the kitchen to find Dawn already up and making coffee. This was new.

“You’re drinking coffee? I thought you were strictly a hot chocolate girl,” Tara said, not bothering to disguise a yawn.

Dawn shook her head. “I heard you get up and hit the showers, so I thought I’d get up and get the pot started. Buffy’s still asleep. Willow, too?”

“Asleep after a pretty restless night,” Tara said. She took her seat at the counter. “Thanks for getting the coffee started.”

“No problem. I heard you and Buffy get in around midnight. Everything okay?”

Tara heard the part of Dawn’s question left unasked, and answered it first. “Riley’s okay. We chased down another polgara demon and three vampires. Nothing big.”

“And he’s settled in with Mr. Giles?”

Riley had moved into Giles’ spare bedroom the day before.

Tara accepted a cup of freshly brewed coffee made double-strong, her favorite. “Settled in,” she said, “And thank you, for this and for looking out for Willow last night while I was on patrol.”

Patrol the previous night had also included Spike and Giles. Xander remained on the injury list until tomorrow, when his stiches could come out. Willow remained too shaken from the hellhound attack to join in, and so Tara had partnered with Spike. The new rule was each patrol had to include at least one magic-user.

“Buffy said there’d be trick or treating, tonight. Are you staying in or going out with your friends?”

“Staying in. I like to hand out the treats, which reminds me. I need to stop at the grocery over on 25th street to pick up the candy. They’re the only one that sells the five-hundred piece bags. Could you run me over after school? I’ve got a half-day, but Buffy has a meeting with Mr. Wood. Probably more security plans. He’s been pretty wigged since the hellhounds came to Homecoming.”

Tara needed to think for a moment.

“Sure, I can drive Willow to school in her car, and then keep it for running errands. But I have to be available to pick up Willow in time to take her to Stefan’s for her hair cutting appointment at four.”

“Great and no problem. I’m going to head upstairs to shower and get ready for school,” Dawn said.

Tara drank her coffee enjoying it, the morning sun through the kitchen window, and the morning quiet of a full house. She was on her second cup when Willow came downstairs in her bathrobe and slippers.

Willow dropped a kiss on Tara’s cheek before pouring herself a cup of coffee.

“Double-strong,” Willow said after taking a sip, “Thanks.”

“Thank Dawnie. She made it.”

Willow made her surprised face, and Tara got up and moved around the counter. She wrapped her arms around Willow’s waist, from behind, and kissed the back of Willow’s head.

“You were crying last night,” Tara said softly.

“It’s so dumb, so selfish. I keep thinking about Riley and what he’s lost, and I’m so grateful I have you. And I don’t deserve it. I don’t deserve having you.”

Tara moved around so that she could look into Willow’s face.

“It’s not a question of deserve. I can’t think that way. If I do, then I have to ask myself how do I deserve you.” Willow started to object, and Tara placed a finger over Willow’s lips. “Will, I allowed the Apprentice to escape. If anyone owns w-what happened to Sam, it’s me. And it’s me twice-over because my Sam died because of me, too.”

Willow shook her head sharply. “That’s not true. None of its true. Your Sam died because of the Master, and the Apprentice escaped because you were blind-sided. And now you’re here protecting this world from what’s coming.”

“Just like Riley’s Sam,” Tara said. She waited for Willow’s expression to relax. “Will, none of us can fix the past, and n-none of us can ever make up for the errors of the past. All we can do is move forward and try to do better. I need you to let it go, not your grief, only this guilt. You’ve already made amends enough, Will.”

Willow heard as much what Tara said, as she did not.

“You know you’re the new super-witch. You and Giles. I haven’t been able to raise the elementals. Not on my own.”

“And that’s because Giles and I haven’t had enough time to work with you. I have all of Tara’s dream-work, and it s-stretches back for almost a decade. And Giles’ thinks his dream-work began at least five years ago. Give it time, Will. You’re a Revane witch. Embrace the lineage. Embrace the native talent.”

Tara knew she’d earn a Willow smile simply mentioning the name Revane.

Willow pressed her forehead to Tara’s. After a moment, she said, “Okay.”

And Tara knew Willow’s spirit wasn’t yet healed. Grief could never be put away so easily. But she also her Willow had come back to her. Blessed be.

***

Many hours later, Tara felt all too happy to have to leave the Magic Box to pick up Dawn. After dropping Willow off at the university, she’d headed to the bookstore, but then Giles’ had sent her to give Anya a hand after Anya had called him in a panic because the store was being over-run, in Anya’s words, with “dimwitted customers wanting wards against hell-beasts and black arts wannabes hoping to score magic beans to grow their very own demons.”

Once there, the situation had struck Tara as far less dire. Admittedly, the store was unusually busy for a weekday afternoon, but it was far from the madhouse Anya had described. For Tara, the only thing extraordinary about the day was the number of adults, young and old, dressed in Halloween costumes. For her Halloween had always been a children’s festivity, something outgrown by the time a child reached the age of twelve. Once again, she was struck by the differences between her birth world and her adopted one.

Not a mad house, however, was still tiring. Tara’s morning had been largely spent running up and down the basement stairs restocking the herb and spice counter, counseling customers on the finer points for choosing tarot cards and candles, and listening to Anya alternately rejoice over the day’s profits and complain about the amount of dirt the customers were dragging into the store (a heavy rain storm the night earlier had left the streets and sidewalks muddy).

Dawn was waiting patiently in front of the high school’s main doors when Tara swung by driving Willow’s Prius.

“How was school?” Tara asked, hoping she did not sound in anyway parental.

“Some seniors took control of the announcement system as a prank, and Mr. Knight did a sort of Halloween themed thing in chemistry class, but mostly it was the same old. Do you know how to get to Vons from here?”

Tara nodded. Before heading to the Magic Box, Tara had used Giles’ laptop to pull up a Google map. Of all the computer applications Willow had explained to her, Google mapping had struck her as the most useful by far.

“Do you know a good place to buy sewing materials?” Tara asked as she made a right turn onto eleventh street. Using Google, she’d already identified a few stores, but she wasn’t confident of her results.

“Sewing materials. You mean like fabric and thread and stuff. You want to make clothes or something?” Dawn said.

“Or something,” Tara said, “I want to make a meditation shawl. I couldn’t take mine when I crossed into this dimension. I need a piece of white or off-white cotton or linen, an embroidery loop, and black embroidery thread.”

“There’s a shop called Mrs. Crafty that sells sewing supplies. It’s not far from the Vons store. Kit goes there sometimes. She’s into macramé. So, what’s a mediation shawl? I mean, I know what mediation is, but why do you need a shawl?”

Tara slowed the car as she passed a bicyclist. “The shawl s-symbolized the separation of this world from the living world, the world of magicks. It’s not magickal in itself.”

Dawn thought for a moment. “Are you going to make one for Willow, too.”

“Willow has one, or at least one was left for her. I found it in the annex. I think Albert was keeping it for her.”

“Grandma Irene’s,” Dawn said, and then after a few moments she added, “You’re not sure if you should give it to Willow.”

Tara signaled and passed a slow-moving panel truck while contemplating an answer, unsure how much to say, wanting to make sure she clearly said what she thought.

“It’s like this. I want Willow to embrace who she is, what she is. She’s a witch. She’s got this calling inside of her. And I realize how wrong things went for her.” Tara glanced at Dawn. “And for you and everyone else. But the main reason things went wrong was no one knew how to guide her. It’s not anyone’s fault. Witching is different in this world.”

“Different in this world, how?”

Tara made the turn into the Vons’ parking lot, which was loaded with cars and people running about with shopping carts. She parked the Prius between two much more expensive cars, a Willow request and standard practice.

“When true witches get cut off from their lineage, their talents rise inside of them all the same, but the wisdom of their lineage isn’t there to shape the talent.”

“True witches?”

“Most anyone can cast a simple spell, but only a true witch can call up the wind, for example. Your Tara was part of this group at the university—.”

“The Daughters of Gaia,” Dawn said. “I met some of them.”

“Me, too. Any one of them could have done a simple casting if they’d had the supplies and a spell, but none of them could have called up the power inside of Willow. There’s basic ability and there’s true talent.”

“And the true talent runs in families,” Dawn said.

“Pretty much. I mean it has to start somewhere,” Tara said as they entered the store. “I don’t really know where the talent comes from.” She followed Dawn down an aisle loaded with bags of candy.

“And because Willow was cut off, she didn’t have the Revane lineage to guide her. Like Giles was there to train Buffy,” Dawn said.

Dawn chose three bags of candy, and Tara resisted questioning if 1,500 pieces of suckers, smarties, peanut butter twists, and jawbreakers were really necessary. The few times she’d gone trick or treating with her little brother, they’d visited no more than the ten or so houses on their block, each of them coming home with maybe thirty pieces of candy. For all of the people milling about in the store, the checkout lines moved quickly, and they were soon finished with their first errand.

“Giles is a true witch, too,” Dawn said, as they got back into the car, “Buffy told me a little about how when Giles was young he went sort of dark magick-y.”

“Willow told me some bits and pieces, too,” Tara said, as she pulled out of the parking lot. “I’ve been doing some research into covens, and most of them seem more like the Daughters of Gaia, made up of people who start off thinking magick as something cool more like an activity,” Tara said. “But it wasn’t always this way. There were these witch hunts in the middle ages and later. There was a more recent one in some place called Salem. Maybe that’s when things changed.”

“No witch hunts in your reality?”

“Not like the ones in this reality,” Tara said, “Where I come from, witch hunting didn’t become a thing until the Master rose. I turn left here, right?”

“Yeah, make a left here, then a right at the next intersection. Mrs. Crafty is about half of a block in, but you’ll have to street park. Buffy still can’t parallel park for—.”

“Willow thinks Buffy’s Slayer senses countermand Buffy’s normal sense for three-dimensional space,” Tara said, grinning and as she neatly parked the Prius.

***

Mrs. Crafty was owned by a middle-aged woman named Laurie who wore her hair in a short spikey haircut and sported black framed glasses. Tara wasn’t quite sure what she’d expected, but this woman was not it. After explaining what she wanted to make and the basics of what she thought she needed, Laurie helped Tara pick out a beautiful piece of fabric, and then another piece for Dawn, who’d decided she might also want to learn to embroider. Besides the embroidery thread and loops, Laurie also suggested a tracing pencil for marking the fabric. Tara and Dawn were in and out of the shop in a surprisingly short time, as Mrs. Crafty, like apparently every other Sunnydale retail business was busy due to the holiday.

They were almost to the house when Dawn spoke up.

“You know that I wasn’t exactly born, right? That I was created by some monks who made a human being to safeguard what they called ‘the key,’ right?”

“I have your Tara’s memories, so yeah, I know. And I know about the memory thing. I know in Buffy’s memories you’ve always been her sister and in Willow’s and the others’ too.”

Something Dawn had said earlier came back into Tara’s mind, and she pulled the car over.

“What’s going on, Dawn?”

Dawn shifted in her seat, crossing and uncrossing her legs, and then she reached into the glove box and took out a pencil. She stared at it for a moment, and then let go. The pencil hovered in the air, absolutely still.

Tara breathed in the scent of magicks now in the air. Willow’s scent reminded her of cinnamon with a hint of cumin, Giles’ was more like coriander, and Anya’s was bergamot. She remembered Albert’s scent had tasted of nutmeg. Dawn’s was of pine.

Dawn had said no words to shape a spell.

“When I was thirteen I started dreaming,” Tara said, “weird dreams of me walking through woods or along a shoreline. And the nights before the seasons would change, my whole body felt like it was kind of electrified. We call it the quickening. It happens when true witches are going through puberty. When we start to connect with the living world.”

The pencil dropped into Dawn’s hands. She turned to look at Tara.

“But I didn’t really go through puberty. The monks made me fourteen.”

“And girls don’t usually finish puberty until their fifteen to seventeen,” Tara said, not at all sure how she remembered that little piece of information, whether it was something her counterpart had learned in high school or Willow had somehow mentioned in passing.

Dawn said nothing, and then Tara realized something else.

“Buffy doesn’t know, neither does Willow.” Tara said.

“They’ve never wanted me anywhere near magick or slayage or anything even remotely demon-y. I think Mom kind of made Buffy promise her.”

Tara was tempted to ask “What about Anya or Clem or Spike,” but she refrained, instead, she said, “They’re going to be a little wigged, but you need to tell Buffy and Willow.” She reached for Dawn’s hand and wrapped her fingers around it. “Don’t be afraid of your gift.”

***

Willow was waiting patiently at the bus stop on University when Tara swung by to pick her up, and, as Tara feared, Willow instantly knew something was up. But Willow surprised her by accepting the latest news was not Tara’s to tell, and easily pivoting to complaining about the closing of the coffee cart next to the computer science building.

“It’s totally unfair. There’s coffee carts by the humanities and the fine arts complexes, but nothing for computer science, and we need our caffeine doses more than those guys. Seriously, coding cannot be done without a steady supply of espresso, red bull, and British style tea.”

Tara made sympathetic noises as she shuttled Willow to Stefan’s, enjoying the ordinariness of the conversation and remembering how Willow’s other Tara had likewise enjoyed “Willow in her element.”

They found Stefan at his shop, ready for Willow’s cut, and with three packed pieces of luggage stowed by the front counter. He explained after he’s finished washing Willow’s hair and started the cut,

“News about the hellhound attack made it all the way to L.A. A friend of mine called to find out how I was doing,” Stefan said, while he used the edge of a comb to measure the length of left and right sides of Willow’s bob. “It’s pretty obvious something’s on its way to old Sunny-D, and Lorne thought it might be a good idea for me to clear out for a bit. Not the best timing since business has been picking up again, but what’s an artist to do?”

“I get it,” Willow said, glancing at Tara, before adding, “and you’re right, something’s on the way here.”

“It’s not just me. Other folks are doing the same, waiting through the Halloween rush and then heading out. Not really sure if L.A. is higher ground, but there’s a LACMA show I want to see,”

“Los Angeles County Art Museum,” Willow said to Tara.

Tara nodded, remembering a time when Willow and her counterpart had gone to the museum to see the Tim Burton show. It occurred to her she’d like to visit the museum herself. Maybe after they’d finished with the Apprentice she and Willow could drive to Los Angeles, and then she realized she was thinking about a real future, about a life beyond stopping the Master and his minions, and a feeling of gratitude opened up inside of her, so great her eyes teared.

Oblivious to her thoughts, Stefan and Willow kept up a steady-stream of chit-chat, both of them making an effort to include Tara, but Tara was happier to listen to them, liking hearing a conversation that had little to do with the Apprentice and mostly to do with Sunnydale shops and restaurants.

“So how are you heading to L.A.?” Willow said.

“My friend Laurie and I are going to carpool it. You might know her, she owns the sewing shop on Arlington Avenue.”

“Mrs. Crafty, Dawn and I were there today to pick up some sewing s-supplies,” Tara said, sitting up.

“You sew?” Stefan said.

“I used to sew a lot. Mostly patching things, but I made a dress once, and I’ve hemmed pretty much all of my pants. I also like to do embroidery.”

Tara started to feel self-conscious.

“That’s great, maybe you could take-over mending duty for a while,” Willow said, “not that I’m trying to shuck off my chores, except of course that’s exactly what I’m trying to do.”

“What are you planning on making?” Stefan said. He picked up his blow dryer and started styling Willow’s new cut.

A tiny twinge of panic shot through Tara at the sound of the blow dryer, but she swallowed it down.

“A meditation shawl. I lost mine a while back, and I’ve been missing having one.”

Tara trusted Willow to understand she meant she’d had to leave it behind with everything else she’d owned when she’d crossed into this reality.

“I hemmed the edges while I was at Mrs. Crafty’s. Tonight, I want to create the transfers. They’re pretty straightforward. Symbols for the four elements.”

“Appropriately Wicca,” Stefan said. “You know Laurie used to be part of a Wicca group. Back when all of us were in high school, which would be back in the eighties. You should see my high school year book photo. I was in the middle of my Pet Shop Boys obsession, shaved head and over-sized glasses. My mother was furious.”

***

Tara and Willow brought pizza from Marcello’s home for dinner to help celebrate Halloween and because neither was in the mood to cook, a decision met with acclaim by Buffy and Dawn, but also Riley who had stopped by to hand out candy with Dawn. Giles had declined the dinner offer, preferring to spend the evening instead re-shelving books in the annex, the store closed for the evening despite it being Thursday. Xander and Anya were out on a date.

“He used the word date. Like Xander asked Anya out?” Willow said.

“They should be a Bangkok Thai right now,” Buffy said, taking plates out of the cupboard. “Probably done with the satay course and onto the curry and noodle dishes.”

“I hope Xander gave in and let Anya choose the noodles. She likes the wide, flat kind and he always wants to get Pad Thai,” Willow said, taking the stack of plates from Buffy. “Grab some of the salad bowls, too.”

“I thought we were out of lettuce.”

“I picked up two of the large Caesar’s; they’re a Riley favorite.”

Buffy did as asked, and the two headed through the swing door into the dining room where, remarkably, the dining room table was already cleared of the usual debris of books and homework projects.

“Thanks for clearing the table, Riley,” Buffy said to Riley, who was standing next to the front door holding an over-sized bowl of Halloween candy. He was dressed in his old Initiative fatigues and had a toy machine gun slung over his shoulder. Dawn was standing next to him and dressed in her “politically incorrect” witch costume, complete with a slightly bent pointed hat, a floor length black silk gown, and a short cape. Out of deference to Willow’s heated objections, she’d foregone her nose wart.

It was going past eight, and the trick or treating was down to the last few dribs and drabs, mostly middle and high schoolers, most in the most cursory of costumes.

“I’m going to put the bowl out on the porch and shut off the light,” Riley said to no one’s objections.

Minutes later everyone was at the table eating pizza, the conversation soon enough returning to Xander and Anya and their date.

“So, when’d he ask her out. Timing on these things always matters,” Riley said, serving himself a large portion of the salad.

“On Monday,” Buffy said.

“So, plenty of time so that it didn’t look like a last-minute thing,” Riley said approvingly.

“He was trying to avoid the casual vibe,” Dawn said. When the others looked at her in surprise, she said, “Xander and I talk.”

Buffy smiled and shook her head. “I’m sure you guys do. So, what’s with the embroidery projects. I saw the stuff sitting on the coffee table when I came home from school.”

“I’m making a meditation shawl,” Tara said, as she tried to decide for or against a third slice of pizza.

“When Sam and I were in Bali, we met up with a witches’ coven that wore shawls when they did castings,” Riley said.

It was the first time Riley mentioned Sam’s name in passing. Tara caught Willow’s glance.

“This is more for centering,” Tara said, “while I give thanks.”

“To the goddess?” Buffy said.

“Not so much personified. More like for the world itself, but not this world—.”

“Like the anima mundi?” Riley said.

“Again, not so much personified. I’m not praying for anything or to anything. It’s more like observing my place within the greater universe, what my mom called the living world, acknowledging that I’m but a part of s-something bigger than myself, but a part all the same. My mom, I mean my mom from the other reality, I remember her saying chants when I was a little girl. I’d sneak out of bed to listen and watch.”

“Our other Tara was raised a Christian,” Buffy said. “But not so much the friendly kind, more the hell-fire and judge-y kind.”

“Tara used to chant, and she took me to the Buddhist temple, once.” Dawn said, looking at Tara. “Buffy and I were pretty much raised to be heathens, unless Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny count,” she said to Riley, adding after a quick glance at Buffy, “Mom kind of wigged on Christianity after the whole MOO think and almost burning Buffy and Willow at the stake.”

“Wow, mom and MOO. I haven’t thought about that in years,” Buffy said.

“She wasn’t sure what she believed, but she liked exploring. Tara, I mean. She always wanted to go to synagogue, but she knew you were more secular,” Tara said to Willow, “and she really liked going to your church.” Tara had to think for a moment. “The one off Lexington, right?”

“Yeah,” Riley said. “We went a few times. Tara liked the singing best, I think. I’m not sure what she thought of Reverend Eldridge.”

“Now that you’ve said that, I kind of wish I’d taken Tara to my father’s synagogue, even though I can’t remember the last time I went,” Willow said.

“Didn’t you and your dad go to Yo Kipper services a couple years back?” Buffy asked.

“Yom Kippur.” Willow corrected distractedly. “Wow, you’re right. I forgot all about that. I should have gone with him for high holidays this year. I sort of was thinking I would.”

“But then everything kind of blew up because of me,” Tara said to Willow. “I know. Not my fault, but still—.”

“We should all do Thanksgiving this year,” Willow said, reaching for Tara’s hand. “My mom will still be in Chicago, but my dad could come, and Giles, and maybe you could stick around,” Willow said, looking at Riley.

“Maybe, “Riley said.

“That was kind of a mysterious ‘maybe’,” Buffy said to Riley.

“I didn’t mean it to be,” Riley said. “So, is there any left-over birthday cake for desert?”

***

Hours later, following an uneventful patrol, Tara slipped into bed next to Willow, who was reading again from Irene’s book of shadows. It felt good to be off her feet, even if patrolling had been uneventful. She also liked that Willow had put on some perfume and was wearing her silk nightshirt.

“Riley changed the subject pretty fast when it came to what he’s going to do next,” Willow said as Tara settled next to her.

“I know he’s not planning on rejoining his cadre. I sort of overheard Riley and Giles talking yesterday.”

“They’re thick as thieves, lately,” Willow said. She put Irene’s book atop the night stand. “You also sort of overheard Dawn talking to Buffy and me in the kitchen, after dinner.”

“I was trying to stay out of it,” Tara said, her cheeks coloring. She offered one of her lop-sided smiles. “Dawnie didn’t need an audience. So, what do you think?”

“I’m a little wigged. Buffy, too. We both kind of hoped Dawnie would escape the family business, you know.”

“I know,” Tara said softly. “And I get it. There’s this little part of me that hopes my Donnie, the one I left behind, is able to stay out of the magicks and just be a—.”

“A regular Joe or Jack or Donnie,” Willow said. She laughed softly. “Between teaching me and Giles and Dawnie, you might be starting your very own Hogwarts, you know.”

Tara smiled at Willow’s joke. Still, she had to ask, “You and Buffy understood Dawn’s a conjure witch,” needing to hear the words spoken aloud. “Like you and Giles.”

“It’s weird. Not Japanese commercials, this time. It’s weird, because I keep wondering if the monks planned it, or if it’s just some random outcome, and also because I can’t stop thinking about how Giles and I both went wrong, me more so than him, but at least I didn’t set loose a possessing demon.” Willow offered a tiny smile. “Knowing Dawn will need help to accept her gift somehow makes it easier for me to do the same.”

Tara placed a soft kiss atop Willow’s lips. It was the first time she’d heard Willow call her talent a gift. She slipped down onto her back.

“Grandma Irene left behind her meditation shawl. That’s why I didn’t buy fabric for you. Also, you smell really nice.”

“I do, do I?

Willow slipped down as well. She tucked her head against Tara’s shoulder.

“I love you,” Willow said softly.

They exchanged another kiss, and then another, and then both fell softly into a dreamless, restful sleep.


Chapter 37

The next day Willow was folding laundry on the bed when she felt a buzzing feeling on top of her tongue, the buzzing feeling quickly seemed to move off her tongue and onto her skin, like tiny sparks of electricity. Because she’d left her cell phone charging in the kitchen, she had run down the stairs, through the front room, and to the kitchen counter. A text was already on the screen. “Giles, Riley, and I are heading for the old high school. Buffy is heading there from the new H.S. Xander/Anya in route.” Willow took a breath, and then another, and then another. She wasn’t ready. She wasn’t even dressed to go outside. She had to swallow hard as bile rose up in her throat. She wasn’t ready.

***

Buffy’s cell chimed in the middle of a meeting with Mr. Wood. She ignored his small sound of annoyance and checked her phone. There was a text message from Giles. Buffy looked up at the high school principal, who was sitting across from her at his desk and who suddenly looked far too young to her eyes.

“Remember the other night when the hell hounds decided to show up for Homecoming?” Buffy asked as she started to push her papers back into her messenger bag. She and Mr. Wood had been going over some new security policies for night games in the football stadium. “Something worse is showing up right now at the old high school.”

“Worse?” Mr. Wood said.

Buffy watched as all the blood seemed to leave his face, turning his usual warm chocolate brown complexion to something almost grayish. She knew she’d already tested him, but she also knew she had no other choice.

“My friends and I are going to see to the problem, but I need you to make sure Dawn stays here with you. And I would start thinking up a reason why no one leaves the campus until I give you the all clear.”

Buffy reached across the desk and put her hand atop Mr. Wood’s. You can handle this, she thought. “I’ve got this.” She stood up.

“Okay, then. Let me see—.” Mr. Wood pulled up some information on his computer. “Your sister is in the middle of her geometry class, she’s got a ‘study’ hour next. I’ll bring her here for study hour. She won’t leave my side.”

Buffy nodded and then she headed out the door.

***

“So, Giles thinks something or somethings are coming through the hellmouth, the actual hellmouth from back in the Master’s day?” Xander said to Anya. They’d been in route to the Magic Box from his apartment when Anya told him the vresh had signaled an incoming. Seconds later, she’d received a text from Tara. Xander had immediately made the mother of all illegal U-turns to head towards his old high school.

“He saw something on his scrying thing. The same thing he used the night of the hell hound attack.” Anya tightened her safety belt as Xander made a right turn at a speed greater than she generally preferred.

“I’ve got all my weapons in the trunk except my old sword. That’s under the seat of my pick-up.” Xander said. He glanced at Anya, who was wearing a sundress and to his mind looked especially adorable. “I’ve also got your old Sunnydale hoodie and sweatpants stashed back there.”

“I thought you said you’d thrown them out after we broke up.”

Xander shot Anya a quick grin. “Come on, Anh, you knew I was too sentimental to get rid of your stuff.”

Anya smiled back even though Xander’s eyes were back on the road. “Yeah, I knew.”

***

Giles wasn’t entirely surprised to find Buffy already parked outside the gate of the chain fence that surrounded the old high school when he pulled up in his SUV. He was, however, shocked to see her dressed in her old Initiative uniform.

“Where on earth did you find that thing?” Giles asked. He was dressed far more conservatively, he thought, in his dark pullover sweater, black cargo pants, and ankle boots.

“I keep it in the trunk of my car for emergencies. You know, like when I’m at my job meeting with my principal and someone texts me to say a pride of Tsuris demons are about to breach the hellmouth and I don’t have time to rush home and change out of my work clothes,” Buffy said.

“Point taken,” Giles said as Riley and Tara got out of his car, Riley carrying a bolt cutter. “Should we take care not to damage the fence?”

“A chain link fence won’t hold back a determined Tsuris demon,” Tara said.

She and Riley were both in jeans and Magic Box hoodies. Giles knew the hoodies were a recent advertising gambit from Anya. He also knew the hoodie she provided him would stay in its plastic bag packaging for the foreseeable future and beyond.

“Then I suppose not,” Giles said.

A few moments later, Xander came speeding up in his car, braking into a fast stop and sending bits of gravel scattering into the air.

“Nice sweatshirts,” Xander said to Riley and Tara as he got out of his car and headed towards the trunk. “I’ve got two cross-bows, three battle axes, two double-edged long blades, and a partridge in a pear tree.”

“Xander doesn’t have a bird or a tree. I think he is making a joke,” Anya said. “Everybody turn their back while I change into more appropriate clothing.”

***

By the time Willow arrived, Anya was suitably dressed, Riley had the fence gate open, and Tara and Giles had conjured a smaller version of Giles’ seeing pane.

“It looks like they’re still in transit,” Giles said to Tara.

“I’d be able to feel them if they were already passed over.” Tara glanced at Willow then Buffy. “When my cadre closed up the wounds along my back, I think they weren’t able to clear out all the saliva. I get this twitching feeling inside my scars.”

“Okay, useful, kind of gross, useful, and sorry about that,” Buffy said. She looked at Giles. “If it’s taking this long for the transit, that means there’s going to be a lot, right?”

“Unfortunately, yes,” Giles said.

Tara glanced at Willow. “You okay, Will?”

Willow nodded, but her expression showed otherwise.

“So, the plan is we go in and … ?” Xander said, perching a long blade in his right hand and dangling a cross bow in his left. He had eight bolts, four apiece tucked inside his boots.

“Kill them as fast as we can,” Buffy said. She glanced at Willow, then Giles, Tara, and Anya. “But from what I hear fire’s the best defense.”

“Which is why we’re going to have to herd them outside.” Riley said. He had Xander’s other cross bow in hand, Giles’ cross-bow strapped to his back, and a total of twelve bolts tucked inside his boots.

“I’ve been working on conjuring one of Tara’s fire nets,” Giles said. “We’ll need to pair off, Willow and Tara. Anya and myself.”

“The fastest way will be to send them out into the courtyard. Riley, Xander, and I will get them moving down the corridor towards you.” Buffy said.

“We’re still thinking the hellmouth is going to open under the library,” Xander said.

“My seeing pane shows a dimensional thinning, and we have Tara’s foresight advising us of Tsuris demons and hell hounds,” Giles said, as he took a couple of practice swings with Albert’s old battle axe.

Tara adjusted the short blades she’d tucked into her boots, double-checking to make sure her serrated knife was on the right and the double-edge on the left. She had one of Xander’s long blades and her birthday battle-axe strapped to her back. “The hell hounds from my dimension are smaller. They have quills instead of fur, so watch out. If they have to, they’ll fling their quills, but once they do, they have no exterior protection. A good boot in the side would kill one.”

“Quills, plus the usual teeth and claws?” Xander said. Off Tara’s nod, he said under his breath, “Great, just great.”

“Okay, let’s go in,” Buffy said. “Riley, you take point. Xander take the rear, until we make the split at the cafeteria.” She glanced at Tara. “All of us know this building like the back of our hands, partly because we were chased by large quantities of hell spawn throughout high school. If things go sideways, follow the others.”

***

They came in through the facilities entrance to the school so that Xander could hit the power switches. Much of the overhead lighting remained damaged, but there was enough for them to find their way through the corridors.

“Wow, check that out,” Xander said as they passed a display case. “I’d have thought the wrestling team would have broken in here years ago to nab their one and only trophy.”

“Some people aren’t as sentimental as you,” Anya said, she caught Xander’s hand in hers and gave it a squeeze.

“I slept in here for a few hours after I crossed into this dimension, and I raided some of the lockers,” Tara said.

“Hoping you didn’t run across any of my old Playboys or Willow’s spice rack,” Xander said.

“Mostly I was looking for money. I found a lot of little baggies filled with weedy brown stuff that smelled kind of skunky, and pretty much every locker had a crucifix taped inside of it.”

“The culture of American high schools is remarkably consistent,” Xander said.

Willow stopped for a moment to stare into another display case. “Hey, the cheerleading trophies are missing. Those were just school competitions. Not state, not even local. That’s so lame.”

“Keep up with the group, Will,” Buffy said, but everyone could hear the smile on her face.

“No worries, I’m sticking like glue,” Willow said. She caught hold of Tara’s hand.

They rounded another corner and then another and then they were at the split. Everyone came to a stop.

“Okay,” Buffy said, “just so that everyone is clear on the plan. Xander, Riley, and I are going to kill as many as we can and flush the rest out to the courtyard.”

Tara thought of something, and only barely resisted raising her hand. “I have an idea. I can conjure a lure for the hell hounds. The Tsuris demons will follow them. The trick is we’ll have to work faster on the fire nets,” she looked at Giles.

“I can have one up in less than a minute. Not as quick as you, but fast enough I should think.”

“I like it. My biggest worry is having to corral stragglers heading into the other corridors. I’d rather just be thinning the herd,” Buffy said, glancing at Riley, who gave her a quick nod.

Xander pulled Anya’s hand to his lips for a kiss, and then everyone tried to hide their surprise when Anya responded with a gentle kiss on Xander’s lips. “Be careful,” she said. “Don’t be a hero.”

“Hero? Me? Never,” Xander said.

“I’ll say,” sounded a familiar voice.

Everyone turned around as Spike came into view.

“How’d you get in here?” Buffy asked.

“Sewer lines, electrical tunnel, then up through the furnace room. Got a text from Tara saying we’re about to have some fun,” Spike said. He was dangling a battle axe in his right hand. “Had some terrible luck at the poker tables last night. Killing some demons is just what the doctor ordered.”

“Okay, then. Why don’t you partner off with Xander? We’re going to try to flush them into the cafeteria than out into the courtyard. You guys will be keeping them from heading the other direction. Tara’s going to make some lure thing-y that should make your part easier.”

“Is there a plan to reclose the hellmouth?” Spike asked, as he lit a cigarette.

“The Apprentice won’t be able to open the hell mouths until he’s a part of this reality. For now, all he c-can do is create temporary dimensional riffs. The good thing is that they require a lot of focused energy,” Tara said.

“He’ll run out of gas right quick is what you’re sayin,” Spike said.

“The faster, the better,” Buffy said.

***

“I haven’t been in here since you were hiding out from the Initiative,” Buffy said as she and Riley forced their way into the library. “I spent so many hours in here.” She offered Riley a quick grin. “Little of it studying.”

The library was a mess of overturned tables and tipped over bookcases. There was a big hole in the center of the floor, and an even bigger one in the ceiling and roof. Overhead, a blue tarp fluttered.

“Giles and Xander spent some time in here collecting up the rest of his books,” Buffy said, as she picked her way towards the security cage, “but Giles’ had already moved most of them to his apartment in the days before graduation.”

“Is that where you guys used to cage up Oz on wolfies nights?” Riley asked, nodding towards the white fencing.

“The same. We caged up Willow’s doppelganger here, once, too.” Buffy came back towards Riley. “A lot of memories here, and most of them not nearly as bad as you might think.”

***

Spike lit another cigarette. Two fresh butts were scattered already at his feet. “So, you and Anh are back.”

“Working at it,” Xander said.

“Good to hear.”

Xander looked at Spike with surprise. “That almost sounded sincere.”

Spike exhaled a cloud of bluish smoke. “Well, I have my moments.”

***

Tara searched the courtyard while Willow, Giles, and Anya searched the cafeteria. It wasn’t long before Anya called out, “Got one, and it’s fresh.”

Anya brought the dead rat to Tara, holding it by its tail. “I didn’t kill it, by the way. I think it ate some of the rat poison. Rat poison is all over the cafeteria kitchen floor.”

“Another reason we all have such fond memories of eating our lunch in there,” Giles said. To Tara he asked, “Do you need any more weeds?”

“No, I think I have enough,” Tara said, as she dropped the rat atop a pile of freshly “harvested” green mass. Around the green mass she’d already shaped a conjure circle of crushed sea shells and rosemary.

Anya went to watch the door, while Giles and Willow watched curiously as Tara called up the elements, using words, but mostly her hands to shape her conjure.

In moments, the rat and the green mass shifted into a thick liquid that then partially solidified into something quivering and an almost electric green. The conjure dropped away and Tara stepped back.

“I muted the smell so that we can’t detect it, but any hell hound will be able to scent this from a mile or more away, or at least any hell hound from my old dimension.”

***

Usually they didn’t have enough time to be ready, Giles thought. The last time they’d been truly prepared for hell spawn rising had been graduation day.

***

Slayer senses came alive all at once, smell, taste, hearing, sight, and touch. Like her body had turned electric. She turned to Riley. “Incoming.”

***

“You hear that, all snap, crackle, pop,” Spike said. He dropped his cigarette to the floor, crushed the butt with his boot heel, and hoisted his battle axe to the ready.

Xander nodded and loaded a bolt into his cross-bow.

***

Anya watched the flaming ball of fire dance atop her hand.

Willow was balancing two, but her eyes were on Tara and Giles. Tara’s net formed first, a black pulsating connection of lines webbed together. It looked different under daylight, she thought as she remembered the first time she’d seen one, somehow more substantial, more deadly. Giles’ net formed, but his had sparks of red jumping off.

“Try to tame the air element,” Tara said.

And then Giles’ net looked as Tara’s.

“Good, now get ready to start spinning it.”

“Did you guys practice throwing them,” Anya said, “I don’t want one of those things tossed over me.”

“Out by the docks the other night,” Tara said. “Giles netted a Miquot and two vampires.” To Giles she said, “After you toss yours, t-take the time needed to conjure the next. I’ve got two more ready to go.”

Two more, thought Willow. She wondered silently how many more they’d need.

***

Buffy watched the air directly over the collapsed floor seemed to thin, then a rain of electrical sparks showering downward and the smell sulfur mixed with spent motor oil or burning plastic, an acrid smell of energy, not decay. Buffy noticed Riley, his cross-bow pointed, one bolt loaded, two others balanced between his fingers. She thought about asking him to show her his hold on the cross-bow, and then a sharp, almost deafening snap and a flooding of orange-red light and six, no seven hell hounds coming through the gap. Riley caught one, then a second with bolts to the mid-chest and Buffy, sword already raised high slicing through the air, one pass and two of the things decapitated, the other three running out the door. More came through just as quickly, now in alternating threes and floors. When Riley ran out of bolts, he pulled out his long blade, and he and Buffy became a symphony of destruction, thinning the herd.

***

The hell hounds ran pell-mell towards the lure, distracted stupid beasts, Spike and Xander neatly killing one after the next. They exchanged glances, Spike’s glorious, Xander’s worried.

***

Tara glanced at Giles, his fire net was at the ready and Anya, like Willow, was balancing three fire balls at once. From outside the building they could hear the screams of hell beasts slaughtered, but none came through the open doors. The skin along her back started to itch and ache.

“The Tsuris demons are breaching the dimension,” Tara said, loudly over the commotion of the fight, but also calmly.

Willow spared Tara a quick glance, and then she locked her eyes on the open doorway.

***

On the night of the Brocton massacre Buffy had seen Tsuris demons running on all fours. She knew from Tara they could move on two legs as well, but knowing wasn’t the same as having seen. And so she was startled as they started through the breach, always in packs of fives and always on their back legs, making them much harder to kill.

Unlike the hell hounds, they knew how to pivot and slink and avoid. They did not get caught up in the muck and offal and blood that now covered the library floor. And they came through at a much greater velocity, mostly shooting past Buffy and Riley, moving faster than Buffy thought possible, forcing the two of them ever closer to the library doors.

“Maybe we retreat to Spike and Xander,” Riley yelled over the howl of the dimensional riff. “They’re mostly getting past us.”

Buffy was already thinking the same thing, and then she heard it. A terrible scream. She shouted, “Xander,” at Riley and she then took off running.

***

The hell hound had already shot past them into the courtyard, but then something turned it back, tumbling twice over its own legs before heading back into the school. Spike was decapitating a Tsuris demon when he saw it heading towards him. Without thinking he booted it into the wall. Sending the beast into a roll that ended with its releasing its quills, a thousand sharp and jagged needles. A handful them burned into his upper chest and right arm and shoulder, as Spike heard Xander scream and saw him fall to the floor, clutching at his belly.

Another swing of his blade and Spike separated the hell hound into two, and then booting backwards, he kicked open the door behind him while grabbing hold of the collar of Xander’s jacket. He tossed Xander inside the room even as he continued swinging at the Tsuris demons, thinning the heard but knowing most were getting past him.

***

Giles heard them coming, their war cries sounding like water pounding over a rapids. From the corner of his eye he saw Tara spinning her fire net as Willow tossed fire ball after fire ball into the webbing. Tara released it as soon as the first of the Tsuris demons breached the courtyard, incinerating the lot of them.

Giles started spinning his net as well, gamely trying to catch each of the fire balls Anya was feeding him. Another squadron of Tsuris demons came through and he released the thing, capturing three of the five, and Willow hitting the other two, both square in the chest. And then the fight was on, Tara and he casting nets, capturing fire, a continuous killing of demon after demon. Sometimes coming in fives, most times in threes or fours, exhausting and dirty work. Until a sudden quiet, a final conflagration, and then shouts for help.

***

They took Xander to the hospital in Giles’ car, Giles driving, Buffy riding shotgun, Xander stretched across the rear seat and in Anya’s arms. Tara, Willow, and Riley stayed behind with Spike. There was too much daylight to take him elsewhere, so Tara cut out the hell hound quills one by one, fourteen in all, while Riley and Willow helped to hold him still. Then Willow and Tara headed for the hospital, and Riley took Buffy’s car to make a liquor and pig’s blood run. Riley left Spike sheltered in the cafeteria, and then he, too, headed for the hospital.


Last edited by Tecnopagan on Mon Apr 03, 2017 4:52 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Doppelganger Redux
PostPosted: Wed Mar 29, 2017 9:00 am 
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3. Flaming O

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Make that seriously impulsive.


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 Post subject: Re: Doppelganger Redux
PostPosted: Wed Mar 29, 2017 11:03 am 
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DIBS! !

I automatically wrote dibs, not even noticing how many chapter I was Dibs-ing on. Woah... I'll be back again once I actually read through.

I'm in awe. Glad to see your short hiatus was productive. *scampers off to read*

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 Post subject: Re: Doppelganger Redux
PostPosted: Fri Mar 31, 2017 2:42 pm 
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Thank you for calling DIBS, dtburanek. I hope you enjoy the final installments of DR.


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 Post subject: Re: Doppelganger Redux
PostPosted: Fri Mar 31, 2017 2:43 pm 
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Joined: Sun Jan 10, 2010 11:27 am
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Chapter 38


Tara searched through the cupboards in Giles’ kitchen, looking for the box of Scottish breakfast tea and package of “cow biscuits” she’d spotted earlier. It was afternoon and everyone was feeling more than a little peckish, especially Xander, who’d been claiming for the past few days to be in need of many and multiple comfort foods in order to heal from the hell hound attack. She and Willow, Buffy, Xander and Anya, and Spike had converged at Giles’ apartment to regroup and plan. There had been three additional breaches since the hellmouth attack, none as substantial as that breach, one of them during the day and on the outskirts of the town, another at early evening along the docks, the third also at early evening and inside an abandoned big box store, more hell hounds, more Tsuris demons, and with the most recent, a gang of Yeknom in protective armor and carrying weapons. The vresh had sounded each time.

“Do you need some help,” Willow said, as she came into the kitchen.

Tara found the biscuits and the tea tucked behind four cans of diced tomatoes and two packages of dried noodles.

“You could open up the biscuits and put them on a plate.” Tara gestured with her head. “Cupboard over the counter, serving plates are on the left.”

“On it,” Willow said.

“Is it weird that Giles keeps his books in perfect order, but his pantry is a m-mess. Everything in here is just jumbled together.”

“Like he just brought in his shopping bags from the car and then unloaded them indiscriminately?” Willow said, grinning. “He’s always been like that. When I was a high school junior and still pretty deep into my Giles’ crush, I thought it was adorable or sophisticated or the height of Britishness or maybe all three.”

Tara thought not for the first time how much she wished she’d known Willow in high school, even if Willow would have been crushing on Giles. She noticed the tea kettle was near boiling, took it off the stove, and started preparing the pot.

“Giles mentioned you mentioning there weren’t tea bags in your old reality.”

Willow was leaning against the kitchen counter; Tara dragged her eyes off Willow’s legs, which stretched out from beneath an above the knee skirt into a pair of medium-height high heels, and only barely managed to keep her eyes from fixing on the v-neckline of Willow’s silk sweater. She also avoided catching Willow’s glance, knowing Willow was entirely aware she’d been looking.

“At least, not where I lived. Tea was something that came in metal tins with replaceable lids.” Tara laughed. “The first time I saw Albert take tea bags out of a box, I thought he’d prepared them himself.”

Willow went to Tara and closed her arms around Tara’s waist. “You good?” She pressed a kiss along the side of Tara’s neck, using her nose to nudge away the fall of long hair.

“I’ll be better two days from now. When the Apprentice is defeated and we can get back to …” Tara trailed off.

“The usual fighting evil,” Willow said, grinning. Willow offered another kiss, this one a brush across Tara’s lips, and then went to the refrigerator. “Giles’ has some fresh pig’s blood on hand. I thought I’d warm up a mug for Spike.”

Tara knew that Willow knew she couldn’t stand the scent of the pig’s blood. “Thanks, Will.”

A few minutes later, everyone was resettled in Giles’ living room, including Riley, who’d only just arrived and appeared to have news.

“So, mister, what are you dying to tell us,” Willow said to Riley.

“Something Tara said about advanced forces got me to thinking, and so I had one of the hell hounds necropsied.”

“Okay, gross, and seriously gross,” Xander said.

“It was chipped with a radio-frequency transponder,” Riley said. “Which tells me this apprentice guy is planning to use magicks and conventional tech when he makes his assault.”

Buffy looked at Tara. “What do you remember about the weaponry.”

Tara thought for a few moments. “It was all pretty standard. Knives and long blades. The Yeknom carry spiked clubs.”

“So, nothing like automatic weapons, things with bullets?”

Tara shook her head. “I couldn’t carry anything through, because I’m human. Demons can, b-but not stuff that relies on anything like a chemical reaction. Like gunpowder, I mean.” She looked at Riley. “Are you thinking these chips are for more than tracking?”

“I had one of my former Army buddies run some tests. It’s not our kind of tech, but Graham thought it could be used to communicate orders. The chip was embedded in the hell hound’s brain.”

Buffy leaned forward to grab a cookie from the plate atop the coffee table. “The Apprentice has in mind a long game. He’s been sending through what, about three hundred hell hounds, maybe fifty or sixty Tsuris demons, thirty or so Yeknom. According to Tara, he breaches this reality tomorrow, and four days after that opens up all the hellmouths.”

“Goodbye, Cleveland,” Xander said under his breath.

“Goodbye, Sunnydale,” Anya said, “And my business is booming. We can’t allow him to succeed.”

“Always important to have our priorities in order,” Giles said. He looked towards his one-time Slayer, “Buffy, you were saying?”

“Tara thought the advance teams were for thinning the heard, but probably some were for establishing beachheads, doing recon. Just from talking to Tara, we know his reality, Tara’s old reality, doesn’t match to ours one to one. His and our Sunnydale’s might both happen to share a hellmouth, maybe even his and our Cleveland’s—.”

“But there’s no reason to think his and our Auschwitz share the same,” Giles said, before trailing off. “Devon coven reported a new kind of hell hound recently surfaced in Northern Poland.”

“The hell hounds are being sent to track the other hellmouths,” Buffy said. “And in that case, it doesn’t matter if they’re chipped. We’re taking down the Apprentice here.”

“And he probably has no idea we’ve been killing off his beasties, one my one,” Spike said.

“Members of a coven associated with Devon disposed of the newest threat,” Giles said, as he refilled his tea cup from the pot. “What I really need to do is figure out some way to share my knowledge of scrying panes with the rest of the world’s witchery.”

“Something we can work on after the sixth,” Buffy said. “Willow, are you still thinking the Apprentice will breach inside Evergreen Cemetery?”

“There’s a noticeable thinning in the Southeastern corner of the Cemetery, near the Mayor’s crypt. Tara, Giles, and I have fortified everywhere else there’s been an incursion, including the actual hellmouth.”

“The vresh thing-y is going to sound, still?” Xander said.

“Yes, and I have scrying panes focused on the whole of Sunnydale,” Giles said, “just as an insurance against any surprises.”

“And Tara’s pattern put the time at shortly after sunset,” Buffy said, “making me confident he’ll be accompanied by vampires.” She looked at Spike. “Maybe you could go to ground at the old Winchester mausoleum?”

“Handy and there’s an electrical socket for me to plug in my telly,” Spike said.

“So, the dumb reminders,” Buffy said, “Let’s all make sure our cell phones are fully charged.”

“Yes, mom,” Xander said. “And before you ask me a third time. Yes, I’m cleared for all physical activity.”

“Good news, for our vengeance girl, then,” Spike said, his expression showing a not so subtle leer.

“Please, no further talk about Xander’s physical condition,” Giles said, before Anya could get in a word, and then, “Buffy, have you heard from Dawn?”

“Her flight was delayed, but everything’s fine. Wesley picked her up at LAX, and drove her to Angel’s place, which she thinks is much cooler than our house, and there’s some plan for Cordy to take Dawn shopping on Melrose, all of which has pretty much ended her mad over me making her clear out of Dodge.” Buffy looked around the room. “It’s not that I think we’re going to fail. I just needed one less thing on my plate.”

Thinking Buffy was trying to reassure her, Tara said, “Buffy, I think it was smart to send Dawn to visit with friends.”

“Agreed,” Giles said, as much as he loved the girl, Dawn was often a complete distraction for Buffy and, truth be told, he. “There is something else I wanted to bring up. As all of you know, there is a doorway that leads out the back of the bookstore into something Albert called his Annex, something I believe exists in the interstices between the dimensions, in this case the gap between this dimension and what Albert called at various times the primitive, the living, or the first or original world and what I think is, or perhaps better put was, the proto-reality of this reality.”

Giles seemed to be waiting for a response, so Xander chimed in.

“So, based upon what you just said, and my vast understanding of dimensional physics gleaned from watching every episode of Star Trek original series forward, you’re thinking our reality is some sort of spin off.” Xander furrowed his brow in mock scientific interest. “But according to Willow and Tara, a lot of what they saw was pretty modern. The architecture and roads, I mean.”

Giles expression turned from scholarly to eager.

“Oh, people still live there, I’m guessing far fewer in number than here, and not as counterpoints to us.”

“So, this proto-place isn’t another flavor of Bizarro-Sunnydale.” Anya said, her statement sounding closer to a question.

“I’ve an inkling, one I can’t prove it at this point, that our reality and Tara’s native reality split from Albert’s ‘original world’ when the netherworlds first breached the upper dimensions.”

“It would explain why demons can’t cross the portal, only into the annex. However, I don’t support your idea of upper and lower dimensions, that’s just human prejudice,” Anya said. “But get back to the people, who do you think lives in the proto-reality.”

“Mrs. Edwards,” Tara said slowly, “In my training dreams, Mrs. Edwards looked after Albert at 1348.” Thinking not everyone knew what she meant, “In the proto-reality, there’s a bookshop called Books of Shadows, 1348. When you pass through the portal, that’s where you arrive.”

“I’ve found in Albert’s journals passing reference to others, a Samuel who helps with the harvests and a Melanie who spins some kind of cloth from nava stems. Where they’ve gone off too, again, I’ve no idea,” Giles said.

“What if there are other portals?” Willow said. “Mrs. Edwards might live right here in Sunnydale, just like Albert did?”

“It’s a possibility,” Giles said. “Actually, that would make a lot of sense.”

“Time functions differently.” Tara said. “When I went to harvest the moonstone, I was gone almost three whole days, or rather I seemed to spend almost three whole days there, but I was gone only about two and a half hours from here.”

“I’m still working through Albert’s notes on time differential between dimensions, but what it boils down to is that time is not consistent from dimension to dimension. One could spend three days in one reality versus three hours in another. That said, there are additional wrinkles to the matter. Suffice to say, I expect my investigations into dimensions and time that will explain at the very least Albert’s aging process. Although he appeared not much older than me, he was in fact born about 175 years earlier.”

Giles turned to Tara. “I did have one question. In your dreams, do you have the sense you’ve spent years upon years learning, exploring and so forth?”

Tara nodded slowly. “I think I know what you mean, but I can’t explain it. In my dreams, sometimes I’m about twelve or thirteen, and other times, I’m my age. And it doesn’t matter how old I am, I always have White Leg. I really can’t explain it, even though it all seems to somehow make sense to me.”

Giles grimaced. “Neither can I, but I have the same feeling.”

Spike leaned forward in his chair. “Okay, I think I get it now, why old Ripper here is banging on about all of this.” Spike turned to face Giles. “You want to send GI Joe and Josephine, here,” he nodded towards Riley and Xander, “to your proto-world. Give um’ more time to heal-up before the big fight.”

Giles only barely managed to hide his surprise at Spike’s logical leap.

“I was thinking Buffy, in addition to Riley and Xander. All three, regardless of what the good doctors at Sunnydale emergency may think are still recovering from recent injuries. Spending the night in the proto-reality will give each of them the days necessary to heal fully.”

“I don’t know Giles,” Buffy said, before Anya interrupted.

“The Slayer’s recuperative powers are amazing as always. However, everyone can easily see she’s limping from her most recent fight with the Yeknom. Also, Riley’s shirt may hide the bruising he experienced during the same fight, but I’m certain Spike can smell the interstitial bleeding. And Xander’s quack doctor may have cleared him for physical activity, but he barely has enough stamina to satisfy—.”

“Your point is taken, Anh,” Xander said, taking his turn to interrupt. “Giles, you were saying …”

“I’ve taken the liberty of preparing the apartment above the 1348 store front. Each of you will have your own bedroom, the kitchen is fully stocked, and needless to say, there is an abundance of reading materials.”

“But no television, no cell phones, no video games, no Wi-Fi,” Xander said.

“I’m afraid not. Should any of you want to return earlier, it will be easy enough to cross the portal. If you do not, Tara, Willow, or I will come to fetch you at an appropriate time.

***

The larger meeting broke up shortly after Giles’ explanation and suggestion, Buffy, Riley, and Xander all needing to leave to pack overnight bags and Spike heading to a poker game. Willow and Tara stayed behind. They and Giles had one additional task to perform.

Grinding the moonstone was tedious and physical work. Each stone had to be first shattered with a hammer into larger bits, then ground into finer bits using an iron pestle and mortar, Giles and Tara mostly doing the latter inside the annex, Willow tending to the former in the alley that ran behind the store front.

They talked more about the proto-reality, Giles revealing only to Willow and Tara what he’d discovered about his bedframe.

“So, you think the bedframe helped keep Albert young or rather younger than his actual years?” Willow said, finished with her alley work, and folding herself down onto the blanket Giles and Tara were using to form a workspace for the fine grinding.

“Albert’s journals indicate as much. The frame is built from something called a regiano tree. The bed frame isn’t the whole of it. Still, I was thinking we might want to go about cutting down another of these trees.”

The word regiano popped in Tara’s mind as soon as Giles said it, “I saw a copse of them when I went to harvest the moonstone. They’re super tall like redwoods but they’re not conifers.”

“You want to make furniture?” Willow said. “Out of wood.”

“Bed frames, for you and Tara, Xander, and Buffy,” Giles said. “And I was thinking Xander would actually mill and craft the bed frames. So long as all of us are in the demon control business, it seems to me having recuperative beds makes a great deal of sense.”

“What about Anya?”

Giles’ expression showed he didn’t understand Tara’s question.

“She and Xander are sort of …”

“Together again,” Willow supplied. “I think Tara’s wondering if a demon can sleep in one of these bedframes.”

“Because demons can’t cross the portal,” Giles said, seeing Tara’s point. “I suppose we’ll have to do some additional research. It’s possible Buffy might also find difficulty. While she’s entirely human, she’s also infused with the magickal essence that is the Slayer.”

“Wait a second, in the proto world time is moving faster. Three days instead of a little less than three hours. This doesn’t make any sense.” Willow said.

Giles put down his pestle. “It’s the damnedest thing. As near as I can tell, in the proto-reality the body heals, recovers from injury, but it doesn’t age.”

***

“You were kind of quiet. At the meeting, I mean,” Tara said.

It was later still, the moonstone was prepared, and Tara was riding shotgun to Willow’s pilot as they drove back to the house.

“A lot of different stuff on my mind, schoolwork kind of things,” Willow said. She offered Tara a quick smile. “There’s something I really need to do in the computer lab. Do you mind if I drop you off? I won’t be gone but an hour.”

Tara said she didn’t mind, and she also wondered why Willow was lying to her. When they arrived at the house, Tara dropped a kiss on Willow’s lips.

“I love you,” Willow said.

“Love you, too,” Tara said.


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 Post subject: Re: Doppelganger Redux
PostPosted: Fri Mar 31, 2017 2:46 pm 
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3. Flaming O

Joined: Sun Jan 10, 2010 11:27 am
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Location: So Cal
Chapter 39

Early, just before sunrise on November 6th, the doorbell rang, waking Buffy from a restless sleep. She went downstairs, and found Angel and Faith standing on her doorstep. He was dressed as always in black, and Faith somehow more so. Buffy tried not to feel self-conscious in her Little Mermaid t-shirt and white stretchy pants with pink hearts. She also wondered why she’d forgotten to put on her robe.

“Can I come in,” Angel asked.

“Yes, come in, please,” Buffy said, surprised he needed the invitation and still needing time for her brain to process seeing Angel on her doorstep, let alone Faith.

“Cordy had one of her premonitions,” Angel said as he stepped inside. “Faith and I are supposed to be here to stand with you and the others.”

“Don’t worry, B. Dawn’s safe with Cordy and Princess Margaret and Gunn. Don’t think you’ve met Gunn yet, but you’d like him. Tall, dark, intense, and extremely good with a long blade.”

“Angel’s mentioned him to me,” Buffy said. “Gunn, I mean.”

Buffy closed and locked the door behind them and the three fell into an awkward silence. Angel suddenly finding a deep interest in the photograph of Kristine, Buffy, and Dawn hanging at the foot of the staircase, and Faith’s eyes bouncing about the front room as if she’d never seen it before.

Buffy heard a door open on the second floor. Before she could turn to look, she heard Willow say, “Angel?” and then heard Willow’s footsteps as she ran down them to give Angel a quick hug. Willow had thought to put on her bathrobe.

“Hey, mister, when’d you hit town?”

“Just now,” Angel said. “We wanted to get here before daybreak for obvious reasons.”

The two pulled apart and then Faith said, “Red.”

Each eyed the other.

“Faith.” Willow said, after an awkwardly long pause. “I’m guessing this isn’t a social call.”

“Cordy, premonition, the usual yada, yada.”

“Got it,” Willow said. She looked from Faith to Angel and then back to Faith. “About Tara.”

“Buffy filled me in the last time she called,” Angel said, a little too quickly, as Faith nodded.

“Okay then,” Willow said. She retied the sash of her robe. “Pancakes, coffee?”

“Coffee would be great,” Angel said.

“I can always eat,” Faith said.

Buffy watched as the three headed for the kitchen. She thought for a minute, then she headed upstairs to find her bathrobe.

***

That afternoon, while everyone else was napping at the house, even Angel, Willow took Tara for a walk in the park on the north end of town. They were crossing a narrow footbridge when Willow said,

“You know I haven’t been here since—.”

“Tara sang to you,” Tara said. “I remember. I remember how beautiful you were that day. You were w-wearing this kind of floaty, long sleeved dress Tara loved.” Tara laughed. “And she was wearing one of her Ren Fair costumes.”

“Hey, I loved her Ren Fair costumes.” Willow said, and then after a moment. “I knew what the song meant. Meant about what I was doing to her, but that afternoon, that moment, everything was so perfect, so …”

Willow trailed off, and the two of them stopped atop the bridge.

“So lovely, it m-made your heart hurt from the beauty of all of it,” Tara said, after a while and looking down into the rushing waters of the creek. “Later, even in that m-moment when Tara figured out about the spell, she loved you. She always loved you. She never stopped loving you; she just needed to figure out how to forgive.” Tara turned to Willow. “The one t-thing you must never forget is how much Tara loved you. How much I love you. No matter what, okay.”

Willow moved into Tara’s embrace, tucking her head into the fall of Tara’s hair. She made a memory of the warmth of the sunlight upon her back and the strength and weight of Tara’s arms around her. She knew she didn’t need to say aloud the words, but she said them anyway, whispering near Tara’s ear the contents of her heart.

***

“You spent nine days there?” Angel said, more curiously than disbelievingly.

“Resting up, healing up, and more than just a little bit bored out of my mind. Man can no longer live absent Wi-Fi,” Xander said. “Nine days by count of the sunrises, but only three days give or take a few hours elapsed here. Yeah, I can’t really get my brain around it either. Giles pulled us out early this morning.”

Angel and Xander were in the training room of the Magic Box sharpening the long blades. They’d already finished on the short blades, and there was a pile of about a hundred wooden stakes, and next to the stakes stood ten boxes of cross-bow bolts neatly stacked.

Angel gave the munitions a measuring look. “The last time I saw this kind of stock pile it was coming up graduation day.”

“Fun times, graduation day,” Xander said, and because he had nothing more, he shut up.

An uncomfortable silence began to grow between them. Angel broke it.

“So, how’s Willow doing, really.”

“A little wigged. She’s sort of got her heart’s desire in Tara, something she’s only starting to think she might deserve, and she’s back with the magicks, something she’s only starting to accept, and she’s got her worst nightmare about to launch an attack that could get us all killed.”

“You seem pretty calm.”

It crossed Xander’s mind this was the first time Angel had ever acknowledged his demeanor, really that he even had a demeanor. Angel almost sounded like a friend.

“I think everyone’s kind of got this one. I mean, I know that any one of us might get killed or dusted or whatever, but I think the return of Warren Mears is going to end as soon as he crosses the …” He trailed off for a moment, “I was about to say the breach, but that sounds a little too GI Xander and me without my toy gun.”

“Call it a premonition?”

“A premonition, then.”

Anya opened the door from the storeroom floor to the annex. “It’s just past sundown. Giles is pulling up in the alley.”

They looked at one another, and then both got to work gathering up the supplies for the trip to the cemetery.

***

Buffy came down the stairs and found Willow, Tara, and Faith all watching television. There were bowls holding the remains of un-popped popcorn kernels and empty soda cans on the coffee and side tables.

“You guys haven’t been watching Xena since three o’clock. I mean seriously, that show went off the air, what 20 years ago?

“More like two, Buffy,” Willow said. “The UPN is showing a Xena fest.”

“That Calisto chick is wicked nuts,” Faith said. “On my worst day, I couldn’t hold a candle to her.”

“Maybe your worst day,” Buffy said with a sly grin. “Lucky for us were still a couple of hot chicks with superpowers.”

“It does take the edge off, B,” Faith said. She pulled herself up from her corner of the sofa and extended a hand to Willow, who was slumped atop Tara.

“The others are already heading over to the cemetery. Are we taking the Prius or my car?” Faith asked Willow as she pulled Willow onto her feet.

“The Prius. I loaded up the trunk with extra magicks supplies, just in case we need to do some sort of hail Mary,” Willow said. “I mean we can’t know for absolute sure what’s going to come through with Warren redux.”

Tara nodded her agreement, as she stood up as well, and then stretched her back. “It’s best to be prepared,” Tara said, but she gave Willow a curious look.

***

“So, the plan is pretty simple, we protect the magic-users,” Angel said to Buffy. He, Faith, and Buffy were standing together in front of the Mayor’s crypt.

“Pretty much that’s it,” Buffy said. “And easier said than done. “Riley, Spike, Xander and I were barely able to keep up with the onslaught at the old high school.” She could admit her concerns to Faith and Angel, if not the others.

“What was that about anyway,” Angel said. “I mean why send so many through. I get the idea of trying to pacify the expected opposition, but some of what you’ve told me seems like—.”

“Wicked overkill?” Faith said.

“I agree. The first breaches seemed to be all about pacifying, but these last ones. Anyway, Riley figured out the hell hounds were chipped. We’re thinking some of what’s been sent through was to forge its way to the other points of weakness with the netherworlds.”

“Where is Riley, anyway,” Angel asked.

“Picking up a final piece of equipment,” Riley said, coming up from behind the three. He had a flame thrower strapped to his back and his cross-bow inside a holster strapped around his waist. “Angel, Faith, it’s been a while.”

And once again we’re all with the awkward, Buffy thought. And when Spike gets here, it’s only going to get worse.

Faith held out her hand. “Angel and I were sorry to hear about your wife, about Sam. From what Buffy’s told us, she was an amazing woman and a serious kickass.”

“She was a hero,” Spike said, appearing from behind Riley and before acknowledging, “Angel, Faith. Welcome to tonight’s edition of Sunnydale smack down.” He turned towards Riley, “The others are on their way.”

Buffy managed only barely to keep her jaw from dropping. Faith was acting to smooth the waters, and Spike, too. If Xander were here, he’d see this as a symbol that we’re all going to die, she thought. Out loud she said, “Others?”

“Been makin’ the rounds collecting up a few demon-y types to join tonight’s little tea gathering. Riley’s been doin’ the same, but with a better class of demon.”

Riley turned from Faith and Angel to Buffy, and he offered up his sheepish smile. The smile Buffy remembered from those long-ago days when they’d butted heads over the differing tactics of the Slayer and the Initiative.

“Tara’s going to have her hands full conjuring her ice cage once Mears starts his breach. That puts her off throwing fire nets,” Riley held up the business end of his flame thrower. “So I picked up a few more of these things this morning.”

Buffy heard some movement behind her and turned around to see Mayor Bennington and Giles’ assistant, Harold both stripped to the waist, their Clava wings fully extended, and with flames throwers strapped down the center of their backs coming towards her. She also saw dozens more of demons and halflings she knew from the waterfront bars, and a few others she knew to be business owners from the demon neighborhoods, all of them carrying clubs, battle axes, or long blades, and a few with crossbows holstered to their waists.

Not since graduation had she fought with civilians, human or otherwise. Buffy looked again at Riley and Spike, “You pulled all these guys together since when?”

“Riley got on with it this mornin’, and I made some rounds through the bars last night. Everybody knows something’s been getting ready to slither into Sunny-D. Lots of folks have taken off for higher ground,” Spike said.

“And some of us would rather stand with the Slayer and protect our town,” Mayor Bennington said.

“And our schools,” Principal Wood said, stepping around the Mayor. Wood was dressed in what look like Army fatigues courtesy of the Initiative. He, too, had a flame thrower strapped to his back.

***

Willow crouched down as she spread the casting circle around Tara, dropping bits of broken sea shells and cinnamon sticks, whole rosemary leaves, and smashed moonstone. Tara was also crouched down, her meditation shawl pulled over her head. They were atop the Winchester mausoleum. Willow could hear her murmuring a chant that sounded to her ears like Sumerian, but she knew wasn’t. A few yards away, atop the Sisters of Charity Chapel, she could see Giles and Anya standing together. Below, on the ground, Xander and Faith would be their shields, as Buffy and Angel were to shield she and Tara.

She knew Buffy was surprised, worried, and relieved all at once to find out Riley and Spike had turned up, if not an army, a pretty sizable gang to help fight off everything that would be coming through the breach. From Tara’s castings, she knew to expect more hell hounds, more Tsuris demons, more Yeknom, and something that hadn’t already come through called Scarmonti, which were bipedal like Yeknom but were covered with scaly plates. And then there were Mears’ vampires, and in many ways, they scared Willow the most. They’d yet to see them, and although Tara had convinced her of their terrible danger, Willow wasn’t entirely confident Buffy, or Giles for that matter, understood how much more dangerous Mears’ vamps would be compared to the vampires of this reality. So far, most of what Mears had thrown at them was cannon fodder, even and including the trackers. Tara had made it clear to her Mears’ vampires were nearly as big a threat as Mears himself.

Willow continued making her circle. She had already caught Spike’s eye a couple of times since he’d shown up with his waterfront buddies. Both of them knew what they had to do.

***

Giles had already conjured three fire nets, or rather the threads of fire nets ready for quick expansion and deployment. Tara and he had continued to train on the docks up until the previous night. He still wasn’t as quick as she. He wasn’t yet able to cast one on the fly, as it were, but his skill was significantly honed. As he worked on his fourth, he could not help but notice Xander standing close to Anya, how their hands reached together to touch. He was happy they’d found their way back to one another, he seriously doubted either could find a better match. And then he wondered once again, when he’d become a romantic, swooning over Xander and Willow both, because both had found their ways back to love. His friend and nemesis Ethan would laugh himself silly if he learned what had become of old Ripper. And he wondered about Buffy, surrounded by the men who’d all proven themselves inadequate match to her. If Ethan would have laughed at swoony Ripper’s musings over Willow and Tara, Xander and Anya, he would have gone into some state of apoplexy at learning how fervently Buffy’s old watcher wished for her to find a worthy love.

***

“Are you pissed army boy and Spike went off on a recruitment mission,” Faith asked Buffy. The two were standing together atop a grave both knew to be empty, the two of them having slayed the vampire risen from it when they were patrolling together all those years ago.

“God, no,” Buffy said. “Well, except for at myself for not thinking of it. I’ve been so caught up in worrying about Dawn and Willow and what new fresh hell each day would bring, I’ve been total by the seat of her pants girl.” Buffy offered up a rueful grin. “A few years ago, Quentin Travers dissed me for being disorganized.”

“I remember him. Receding hairline, wore lots of tweed, all of it brown, and pompous as all get out.” Off Buffy’s nod, Faith added, “The only good thing about him is knowing Wesley hates his guts, too. Fuck him.”

“Giles’ isn’t overly fond of the guy, either. But he had a point. Strategy should probably be planned a little more than a few hours in advance.”

“You spent about the same amount of time planning your raid on the Initiative.”

“Fair enough, but …”

Buffy trailed off as Angel came up to the two of them.

“Riley and Spike have got their guys in place. So, how will we know when the fun’s about to start?”

“The usual, the wind will start to kick up and the air will get static-y,” Buffy said, as both of those things began to happen.

“So, I’m guessing now,” Faith said. She winked at Angel and dropped a kiss on Buffy’s cheek. “See you on the flip side, B.”

***

The wind came up slowly at first, and somewhere distant there was a flash of lightening followed by a slow rumble of thunder. As the static electricity in the air began to increase, the tumbling leaves, most of them long fallen and colored red and yellow and brown began to set off tiny sparks. Above the Mayor’s crypt the air was starting to glow faintly, the color of violets. A metallic taste formed inside the mouths of Willow, Tara, Anya, and Giles as the vresh sounded its alarm.

Giles tried to relax his knees which had locked as soon as he’d spotted the telltale purplish blue, first a sliver and now extending in length and width, and as it grew, the color shifting, blue deepening and then turning to green then yellow. Giles began swirling one of his fire nets along the tips of his fingers and he heard Anya incant a fireball. His net was three feet in diameter as the dimensional riff shifted from yellow to orange, five feet as the riff shifted from red. And then the burst of white as the riff began to open. Giles’ blinked back tears from the harshness of the glare. His net turned to fire and Anya began to feed it, helping it to grow bigger still, now six feet in diameter, now eight, a whirling mesh of deadly fire.

***

Horns sounded seconds after the riff turned white, the sound coming through the riff, high pitched like trumpets, and then the sound of boots on the ground. Buffy watched, her heart pounding as the riff widened and lengthened until it touched the ground, and she could see through it. She could see a world on the other side, a world with a sky filled with thousands upon thousands of glittering stars and a moon. And below that sky, scores of beings coming towards the breach, vampires in full armor, Tsuris demons, Yeknom marching in formation and hell hounds snapping and snarling amid their feet.

Buffy raised her tabar overhead, “Fight,” she yelled as she braced to meet the coming hoard.

***

Two fire nets glittered above Tara’s head, spinning atop her hands, feeding off of Willow’s fire. When the first line of vampires crossed the threshold, she sent both nets blazing forward, the first line destroyed, and maybe fifty, maybe more lines behind them. Sam’s voice echoed in her head. Work the problem, stay in the moment, don’t panic. Two more fire nets materialized atop her finger tips, first a web of black, the web taking the familiar shape, expanding, taking flame, Willow feeding more and more fire. Three lines had crossed the threshold, most of one of them taken out by Giles. She caught the fourth line and the fifth.

Tara heard Willow yell out, “God, how many of them are there,” but she had no words. No words to guess, no words to reassure. There was only this.

***

Buffy saw from the corner of her eye a hell hound leap atop Angel’s back. She pivoted, about to strike it down, but then saw the Mayor of Sunnydale in full flight, his wings stretched wide as he banking downward, flame thrower in one hand, club in the other. Bennington struck the hound hard, bashing in its head with a single strike. And then Angel used his long blade to neatly sever the head from the body of a Yeknom.

The Mayor flew off, returning to join the others circling above the fray. Five Clava demons, three with flame throwers, one with a tabar three-times the size of hers, the fifth with a sword and a club.

Something was moving towards her from the right. She sensed it in her peripheral vision, but also along her skin. The skittering feeling of something new, something deadly. Buffy turned to see it break through the line of vampires. This must be a Scarmonti, she thought as she raised her tabar and used it to strike the demon where she could see a gap between its chain mail. The blade sunk deep, and she had to pull back hard for the release. Green blood and yellow entrails spilled from what was a fatal wound. Buffy made a note, as she readied herself for the two vampires that were closing fast in its wake.

***

“Cover me,” Xander yelled to Faith as he stripped out of the empty propane tank strapped to his back. He had four more tanks, a number he’d thought was typical Riley overkill until about one minute after the riff opened.

Whatever got past him was dispatched by Faith in a matter of second. Still, he had to wonder how long they could keep up the fight.

He was back in business in just under thirty seconds and just in time to immolate three Tsuris demons coming at him at full gallop.

***

The ground of Evergreen Cemetery was awash in blood and body parts, dust and fallen armor. Spike’s demon hoard was holding the far perimeter, letting nothing get past them. Above the field, the Clava demons circled and banked, immolating runners breaking away from the pack, rescuing anyone of their own, human or demon, who was about to or had gone down.

***

Robin Wood held the ground between the two mausoleums and the chapel. He’d already switched out two of his four propane tanks. What would happen if the hoard didn’t stop before he ran out of fuel, he wondered, but only for a moment. He preferred to focus on practicalities, of what to do in a situation, not its likely outcome. His present situation, oddly enough, was giving him time to think about the why. In the midst of this great battle he was having existential thoughts, and wasn’t that amusing. But he was thinking even more about his secret, the one he’d been about to tell Buffy on more occasions then he could count on one hand, the one he always held back. What would it mean to tell the Slayer he was the child of another Slayer, Nikki Wood, who’d died at the hands of a vampire on a New York subway car? And because he couldn’t answer his own question, he kept silent.

Wood spotted a vampire breaking away, running towards the Mayor’s crypt. A short blast of propane turned the vampire to dust. A smile of deep satisfaction appeared on his face. That, he thought, was for my mother.

***

Giles felt something shift, the air, a sound, a scent, he could not say. He looked towards Tara and saw her fire nets extinguish, and then a cold, icy, wind, like something from his boyhood, like something from the deep of winter off the Atlantic, rushed past him. He forgot himself entirely as he watched rods of ice materialize about a meter above Tara’s head. The rods shifting in the air, taking on horizontal, vertical, and diagonal positions, as they formed into the walls of a cage big enough to hold a single man.

Anya’s scream pulled him back into the battle, and he looked up to see that the net he’d been forming was now a good fifteen feet in diameter. He hurled it forward into the breach and snared two lines of Yeknom.

“Nicely done, but pay attention,” Anya shouted, “there’s no prize for who snags the biggest kill.”

Point taken, Giles thought as he prepared yet another fire net.

***

Tara’s lips formed words that she did not say aloud as she crafted the conjure, drawing from the air and the ground the water needed to form the ice, her body alive inside the magicks, her mind consumed within the learnings of countless generations of witches.

***

Willow dropped off the side of the mausoleum, landing atop grass, and steadied by Spike.

“Is the circle ready?”

Spike nodded to the ground to his left.

Willow heard someone running towards them. She looked up to see Riley.

“I just put Wood in position. How much time will you need?”

“Not much after the Apprentice makes his stand,” Willow said, she glanced at Spike for a second. To Riley she said, “You understand what I’m going to do. Spike explained it to you.”

“He filled me in on the details this morning,” Riley said, his expression somehow both sympathetic and grim.

Willow stepped into the circle and closed her eyes and opened her mind and her body to the magicks, letting all of the forces fill her skin, her heart, her soul, her mind. Terror whistled through her, but so did familiarity. She knew this, she’d know this before. Bile rose in her throat and she swallowed it down hard. When her eyes opened, they were black as night and words and symbols moved atop her skin, slipping like water moving over a fall, sliding likes snakes along the desert floor, scattering like ants disturbed from their hill.

***

Warren Mears, no longer the apprentice, now the self-declared Master, entered his new reality naked, but surrounded by his most trusted fighters: vampires and demons sworn to his fealty. The fight on the ground meant little to him. It was but a distraction to ensure he would have sufficient time to transport to safety. He was not usually sentimental, but he was happy to accept the robes handed to him by his vampire general. They’d belonged to his old teacher. Ethan had taught him well.

He hoped very much to find the young woman whose book of shadows had taught him even more. He knew she’d escaped here ahead of him. But he also knew she was ultimately weak. She had no sense for the purpose of power.

***

The trap was much harder to wield than she expected, or at least than she remembered from her dreams. She’d conjured two of them in this reality, but not under these conditions. Updrafts from the battle below and downdrafts from the dimensional rift worked against her. Her concentration was so great, she didn’t realize Willow no longer stood next to her.

***

Warren Mears smiled as felt ground beneath his feet, the pull of gravity again, the crunch of earth. He rose his hands into the air, and began his incantation to deliver himself to safety. Something began falling from the sky. When it dropped over him, it crushed the two of his guards who lacked the instinctual resources to jump back. All of them had been warned. All was happening as he predicted. Not only did his foe have no sense for the purpose of power, her book of shadows had let him guess her three most likely strategies to stop him. An ice cage was the greatest of what he thought as her three inconveniences to him, but he had his counter-measures already in place.

***

Wafting above, the Mayor of Sunnydale watched the ice cage drop atop a single figure. So, this is the newest of the big bads, he thought, using Anya’s favorite term for the menaces that had plagued his hometown all his life. And then he saw something entirely unexpected, as the demon hoard following behind him started going to flame. Vampires and Yeknom setting themselves to blaze. What he now knew as Scarmonti setting Tsuris demons and hell hounds ablaze. The demon hoard running pell-mell through the breach and hurling themselves against the ice cage.

***

Giles heard Anya’s scream, but he already knew understood was happening. He let go the fire and embraced water and air, combining his will to Tara’s, using his strengthen to harden the ice.

***

“Stand your ground,” Faith yelled to Xander, as the fight seemed to shift. More and more of the hoard coming their way. She spared a quick glance and saw Buffy and Angel in the thick of their own fight. The forces of the apprentice were now focusing on trying to stop Tara and Giles. She didn’t see the Yeknom bank around a row of headstones coming her way, a spiked club raised in the air, ready to strike.

The Yeknom was too close to immolate. Xander used his sword, the one he favored despite the fact it took forever to hone the blade, to stab deep into its belly. He gave the blade a slight twist as he pulled it back.

A pile of Yeknom intestines spilled onto the ground, sending up a waft of steam and a smell that could take paint off a fence.

“You okay?” Xander shouted, as he slipped his blade back into its scabbard.

“Five by five,” Faith said. And I would kiss you if I didn’t think your demon girlfriend would deliver me into some hell dimension beyond the telling.

***

Giles noticed he was bleeding from his nose, and for the first time in a very long while, he felt afraid. Together, they’d fought off the Master, Angelus, the Mayor, Adam, Glory, those three idiots, and dark Willow. Together, they’d put evil down, time and again. He felt fear, but not of this new big bad seeking to set up house in Sunnydale. He feared he was not up to the task. And then he hardened his resolve as he hardened his focus, putting all of his effort to Tara’s. He didn’t notice Willow was no longer standing by Tara’s side.

***

A sliver of light formed along the ground, lengthening, widening, turning more and more bright. And then something else, blood and entrails, dust and burning bits, slithering towards the light, coming together, combining.

***

Spike looked away from the thing forming atop the ground to watch Willow, to watch in dumb amazement at unseeing eyes turned black, at lips moving soundlessly, at words and symbols crawling downward along her skin and then bleeding into the ground. He breathed in the scent of magicks, a mix of miasma and perfume, letting it fill his nose, his throat, his useless lungs.

***

Buffy crushed a Yeknom’s head with his own club, and then staked two more vampires. Through the explosion of dust, she saw something on the ground begin to rise up, at first the shape was indistinct, but then she could see it form and reform, becoming something like an arch, but then reforming again, the base of the arch splitting into two, something extending from the top. The shape reforming again, into something the size and silhouette of a dog or a wolf; reforming again as four legs became two legs and two arms, as a neck and head appeared. She disposed of yet another Tsuris demon as the shape rose up, and then she knew it was becoming human. “Willow,” Buffy whispered, “Oh, god, Willow, no.”

***

His will still intertwined with Tara’s, but his eyes now caught by light and shape, Giles watched as the thing forming on the ground began taking on color, no longer a dull grey, turning to a blood-soaked red. He watched in horror as skin wrapped around it. He saw a face appear and a cap of dark brown hair, and he nearly vomited. Lips stitched shut, then freed. A human scream of sheer agony issuing from it. “Willow,” Giles whispered, “Please, dear god, protect her.”

***

Dazed, his mind not yet fully awake, Warren Mears stood naked atop a ground covered in offal and blood, his body pulsing with energy, with magicks. He didn’t see the man came towards him at a full run.

And then something hit him along, striking along the side of his head, and he was down. He felt handcuffs clamp along his wrist.

Riley Finn stared down at the man who’d set countless lives to ruin. His wife was dead, but this creep was going to get to live. It was all he could do not to snap the asshole’s neck. And then he watched as Mears’ spine bend, sending his chest upwards before Mears collapsed back to the ground. Mears began screaming and thrashing, and then he fell still. Riley used his fingers to check the pulse in Mears’ neck. Steady and strong. He resisted again the impulse to snap Mears’ neck. It would be so easy, so quick. But he’d made a promise to let Buffy set the rules of engagement.

***

Spike caught Willow in his arms as she fell to the ground unconscious. He checked for a pulse. Steady and strong. He kissed her on the forehead.

“You did it, Red,” he muttered, “You saved the effin’ world.”

***

Tara collapsed to her knees as the cage exploded with the Apprentice, and all of the air sucked out of her lungs. Tears ran down her cheeks, as she caught her breath. And then she was running, jumping down to the ground, running again, running to Willow.

***

Willy the Snitch and Clem waited inside the abandoned building. They’d spent most of the evening pitching pennies, gambling on the outcomes, both of them doing their best to cheat. When the magicks began flooding the room, they knew what to expect. They waited, biding their time as the warlock materialized out of the offal they’d left in the room (mostly dead hell hounds and a gallon or two of bio waste Clem had stolen from the hospital). Willy fired first. Clem second. The warlock fell dead to the ground as the scent of spent gunpowder overwhelmed the final traces of the magicks.

“That was for killing my sister, you motherfucker,” Willy said.

“That was for what you did to Willow, jackass,” Clem said.

***

Faith watched in amazement as the apprentice’s hoards turned tail and began to run, heading back to the breach. More made it through than didn’t, more than a few were caught in the rift as it closed. She heard a noise and looked to see Xander kneeling on the ground vomiting. She ran to him.

“Buck up, buttercup. I think we just won.”

***

Buffy sensed the Scarmonti before she turned to see it on a dead run, spiked club raised high in the air, leaping over the grave stones. A last-ditch effort. A final act of mayhem. Her feet carried her body as if in a dream. As if she were remembering something told to her. She leaped into the air, her tabar raised even higher, and she cleaved the Scaramonti’s head from its body in a single, oh so very satisfying whoosh.

Angel whirled around, his black coat billowing upward. He looked down at the thing lying dead at his feet. He hadn’t seen it or heard it coming for him.

“Thanks,” Angel said.

“Don’t mention it,” Buffy said.

***

Police sirens began to sound, and the Mayor of Sunnydale came to ground. He found his shirt, jacket, and tie where he’d left them, tucked under a public bench in front of Mayor Wilkins’ crypt. All the rest of Sunnydale’s demon army were heading home or to the bars. Willy the Snitch had promised half-price beers to everyone who joined the fight. He started rehearsing in his head an explanation for the night’s melee. Eco-terrorists or PCP enraged bikers. It didn’t really matter. This was his town, his home. Anything he said would be accepted with the usual Sunnydale shrug.

***

Anya led the police to Warren Mears, wrapped in a dirty blanket, already in handcuffs, and with a ward forced deep into his flesh, where it would reside inside his heart, before heading over to Buffy, who was standing with Giles, Angel, Faith, and Mayor Bennington.

Anya had bought the ward off of a Romani woman, an old acquaintance of D’Hoffyren’s, and she’d seen to the implantation herself. Riley had only needed to hold Mears still long enough for Anya to complete the task, remotely and without Mears’ knowing. She liked to think how many times Mears’ would test his old abilities before he figured out the only way he’d ever cast another spell would be if he first plunged a knife into his own heart. She liked even more knowing Mears would figure it out, and probably also figure out she could have shoved it into his brain, but then he’d have been corked. And where’s the fun it that for a vengeance demon. Vengeance needs to be perceived, otherwise what’s the point. Riley could collect the reward for Mears’ capture; the creep was still wanted for the murder of Katrina Silber. Anya only wanted to collect the service points, helping bring resolution to a cold case murder was bound to win her the Sunnydale Downtown Association Public Service Prize.

***

Tara cradled Willow in her arms, pressing her face into Willow’s hair, wondering how Willow could possibly feel so indistinct, so small, so fragile.

“Tara,” Willow said, her eyes still closed. “Tara, I’m so sorry.”

“Hush,” Tara whispered. “Don’t you know. Willow, you saved the world.”


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 Post subject: Re: Doppelganger Redux
PostPosted: Fri Mar 31, 2017 2:48 pm 
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3. Flaming O

Joined: Sun Jan 10, 2010 11:27 am
Posts: 50
Location: So Cal
Chapter 40

Buffy glanced at the kitchen clock. It was three minutes past midnight, November seventh. The world continued. She closed the cupboard door and set to work making the peppermint tea. It was too late for anything with caffeine, but it was never too late for herbal tea, especially if it was laced with sugar. Lots of sugar. She heard someone come into the kitchen and turned around to see Spike.

“Finished helping Angel unload the box of books he brought back from L.A. He and Faith just took off. Should have plenty of time to make it back before daybreak,” Spike said. He took a seat at the kitchen counter. “So, Army boy’s gone, too?”

“Riley caught his connecting to San Francisco, and it’ll be a non-stop to London.”

“Did you know?”

“That he was going to leave tonight, no,” Buffy said, shaking her head. “That he was going to join the Watcher’s Council, yes. We talked about it while we were doing our time in Giles’ proto-world.”

Buffy poured hot water from the tea kettle into the pot, and the scent of peppermint filled the room. Maybe I should put out some cookies, too, she thought. Xander can always eat.

“I’ve got a pint of pig’s blood in the fridge,” Buffy said.

“No need. I fed before the party.”

After a moment, Spike added, “Didn’t want to be tempted to take a nip of anything.”

“Good thinking,” Buffy said.

Both of them were joking, both of them knew it.

“So, when exactly did we become friends again?” Buffy asked.

Spike reached for the box of peppermint tea and carefully folded down the wax paper liner.

“Probably the moment you decided not to read me the riot act for drumming up Spike’s regulars.”

“Whose idea was it to bring in the Mayor?”

“I thought of it, too, but Riley boy did the askin’. Couldn’t quite fathom Bennington having me visit his office for a quick sit down.”

Spike reached for the tray Buffy had loaded with the teapot, cups, and a plate of cookies.

Giles, Xander, and Anya were waiting on them in the front room.

“Shall we?” Spike asked.

***

Tara came through the bedroom door still toweling her hair and wrapped up in her bathrobe. Willow had showered first, and was seated in front of the vanity taking off her earrings. She was dressed in a Sunnydale U sweatshirt and matching pants.

“You look cozy,” Tara said.

“Mostly I’m happy to be clean. I already took all of my clothes and yours downstairs and out to the trash bin. Between the dust, the blood, and the entrails, there was no getting any of it clean again, including our shoes.”

“Lucky I took your advice and wore the stuff I stole out of Mr. Klinger’s basement.” Off Willow’s quizzical expression, Tara added, “He owns the hardware store on Fourth Street.”

Tara went to their bed. Willow had laid out fresh underwear, a clean t-shirt, and a pair of drawstring pants. She changed into the clothes quickly, conscious of Willow’s averted gaze. Then she went to Willow’s side and knelt down.

“You saved the world. You saved me. He was going to break free,” Tara said.

A shiver came over Willow’s skin, a residual memory of the magicks she’d allowed to root in her, she shook it off. “I have to hate what I did. You get it, right? I drew on what I vowed never to draw upon again.”

“No, Will. You released it back.”

Tara said the words, knowing Willow still didn’t quite grasp the difference between using magicks and being used by them. That time would come, soon enough. Of that, she was sure.

“I’ve still killed.”

It was true, Willow had killed.

“And yet you’ve not taken a life.”

And that was true, also.

Tara reached up to draw Willow’s face to hers. She kissed lips familiar from all the kisses before. Willow drew back. She smiled. “I love you.”

Tara knew that; Willow’s love, so precious, so pure, so necessary, and it was everywhere around her. She said the words back, and then:

“The both of us. We’ve thought we knew what we were, what’s to come. We haven’t yet begun,” Tara said.

***

Tara and Willow came downstairs to find Giles sprawled in his usual chair, Xander and Anya sacked out together on the sofa, Buffy sitting in front of the fire, and Spike parked on a stiff-backed chair he’d pulled in from the dining room. Willow went to join Buffy by the fire, and Tara went to sit in the other wingback.

“So, does anyone have any plans for tomorrow, cause my plans largely involve sleeping in and then taking a long and restful nap,” Xander said.

“I’m expecting blockbuster business tomorrow. There’s nothing alike a good near apocalypse for driving traffic. Plus, I have a great sale in the Sunnydale circular, half-off on the henbane.”

Xander shot Anya a tender smile. He wondered when he’d get up the nerve to propose a second time. And then he remembered, he had all the time in the world. Well, until the arrival of the next big bad. That was the thing, the big bads would always find their way to Sunnydale.

“Isn’t the henbane about to expire,” Buffy asked as she used the fire poker to push one of the logs back, sending a tower of sparks up the chimney, Willow to sit closer to Tara, and White Leg, who’d been sleeping underneath the coffee table to raise her head, look about, and then promptly drop back to sleep.

“And you know this how?” Xander asked.

“Inventory. Hey, I can pay attention,” Buffy said.

“Me, too,” Anya said. “So, what made you look when that Scarahooti thing went after Angel? Both of you had your back to him. I could see what went down from the chapel roof.”

“I think Tara,” Buffy said, slowly. “Not you,” she said looking at Tara, “our first Tara. I had this dream the other night.

“She came to you, too, then,” Spike said. “I had this dream I was having a beer at Willie’s Place, and there she was sittin’ next to me. Drinkin’ one of those fruity cocktails she liked, the kind with the slice of watermelon.” Spike shook his head, needing to regroup. “Anyway, she said somethin’ about gathering up the Sunnydale regulars. Then Riley shows up this morning, all hot on some dream he had about Tara and the mayor. Had no idea the ponce is a Clava demon. Go figure.”

Xander looked from Buffy to Willow and back. “I had this nightmare of a dream about the battle, and Tara yelling at me to look to my left and to use my long blade, and then a pile of stinky, yellow guts.”

Anya sat up, but kept one of her hands wrapped in Xander’s. “A few nights ago, I dreamed Tara presented me with the Association award and that I beat out the manager of the Sunnydale Dry Cleaning because of the points I earned for solving the murder of Katrina Silbur, but the dream was all mixed up with acquiring a suppression ward from this old Romani acquaintance of D’Hoffryn. Took me days to sort it out, and then I had to trade her my favorite piece of Haxil Beast statuary. But I suppose it’s a fair trade to neuter Warren Mears.”

“Neuter?” Xander said. “As in ….”

“No, I didn’t remove his testicles. I just insured he won’t be able to commit any acts of magick, lest he experience a sudden heart explosion.”

“Heart explosion,” Giles repeated softly.

“Still,” Anya added, “spirit Tara could have done a better job instructing me on what to do. First I needed to find Katrina’s spirt, so I could get her to make the wish, then I needed to make sure the ward I implanted would also keep Warren’s heart good and healthy. Warren deserves to have a long life sentence. Plus, I don’t want him to qualify for anything like a heart transplant.”

“Good thinking on that then,” Spike said.

The room fell silent until Giles spoke up.

“I was having trouble conjuring a scrying pane until one night Tara and I made one together.” Giles looked at Willow. “She came to all of us, didn’t she? According to Cordelia, she had a vision of Angel and Faith in a great battle, but the vision was unusually coherent. Clearly, she came to Anya and me. As well as Spike, and I’m guessing not just to advise him to gather up the ‘Sunnydale regulars’.”

“Well, yeah,” Spike said slowly.

Willow nodded at Giles and then turned to look at Tara. “I’m sorry I lied to you. But Tara thought it was the only way. She didn’t want her plan to interfere with yours. You needed to hold the Apprentice long enough for me to be able to undo the deaths I caused.” Willow looked at Buffy. “I couldn’t just undo what I did to Warren. Rack is probably back, also.”

“He was, and now he’s not,” Spike said. “Spirit Tara didn’t tell me, but I figure out what was likely to happen. Willy and Clem were waiting for him. Willy because Rack drained his sister. Clem … well, Clem had his reasons, too. Anyway, no one wanted Rack to set up shop again. Bad for business. That sort of thing. Willy and Clem took care of old Rack before he could get up to anymore mischief.” Spike looked at Buffy. “Sorry, Slayer, but code of the demon kind of rode over the code of the slayer.”

Buffy nodded, but said nothing.

Tara looked at the Scoobies, one to the next, and broke the silence that had fallen over the room.

“So, Tara came to all of us,” Tara said. “She saved me, she saved us, so that Willow could save the world.”


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 Post subject: Re: Doppelganger Redux
PostPosted: Fri Mar 31, 2017 2:50 pm 
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3. Flaming O

Joined: Sun Jan 10, 2010 11:27 am
Posts: 50
Location: So Cal
Chapter 41

This table is laden with food, Willow thought as she put down a serving dish filled with cranberry sauce. She didn’t usually need the word laden, she also thought. It was rare when anything was truly laden, but laden the table was with covered bowls of twice-cooked green beans (first lightly steamed and then quickly stir-fried in olive oil, salt, and garlic), yams baked in cumin and cinnamon, buttermilk biscuits, roasted asparagus with bacon, grilled Brussel sprouts with nuts and cheeses, and in the center a roasted turkey and a stuffing made of bits of baked sourdough and hot Italian sausage, hazelnuts, fresh fennel, celery and sage. Tara and Giles had spent the entire morning cooking, giving her, Buffy, and Dawn the occasional task, but mostly making it clear they wanted no one underfoot.

Now Giles and Tara were sitting in the front room with Buffy and Dawn, Xander and Anya, her father and Principal Wood (Willow was still having to remember to call him Robin), and Stefan and Laurie, a house filled to the brim. But it was more than a house full of people. A fire was crackling in the fireplace, candles were sending delicate shadows up the walls, and everyone, including Dawn (because it was a holiday) was holding a glass of sparkling wine, a really lovely vintage she’d picked up the weekend before when she’d taken Tara to her favorite winery as part of a romantic getaway.

Willow took note of salt and pepper shakers on both ends of the dining room table, stretched out to its fullest glory, both of its extra leaves installed by Xander. Even if all of its chairs didn’t quite match, it was a splendid table. Still, she decided a second butter dish was needed.

From the front room, Tara watched Willow dart back into the kitchen, she’d been setting the table for some thirty minutes, putting down the tablecloth and napkins, plates and glasses and cups with saucers. She’d used the good silver, Joyce’s silver handed down to her from her grandmother, and she’d used a sugar bowl Ira had given her the day before, it a legacy of Great-grandma Irene. Tara liked watching because it struck her she was seeing the forming of a tradition, that next year there would be another trick or treat and another Thanksgiving.

A knock sounded on the door, and Tara got up to answer. Spike stood outside, holding a bundle of wild flowers.

“You came,” Tara said, surprised because she’d heard him tell Buffy he had other plans. But unsurprised because Willow had put out a chair anyway.

“So I did,” Spike said. “Not too late?” He handed Tara the flowers.

“Perfect timing,” Tara said, smiling her lopsided grin, and pulling Spike into a quick hug. “Thanks for coming. I’d have missed you,” she whispered.

And then everyone had arrived, all the food remaining piping hot (a conjure courtesy of Mrs. Edwards) on the table, all of them going to find their seats at the Thanksgiving table.

Willow hid a smile as she watched her father cast a curious eye towards Spike before finding his seat next to Stefan, Ira Rosenberg would have much to tell Sheila in his nightly phone call to Chicago. And then she slipped into the chair next to Tara.

“I had a couple of the green beans before I brought the all the dishes out to the table. They’re delicious,” Willow whispered near Tara’s ear. She also gave the lobe a quick bite, before remembering her father was sitting directly across from her.

Tara turned to see the color rising onto Willow’s cheeks, and she wished her counterpart were there to whisper the words that would cool Willow’s skin, and since she didn’t have the words, she took Willow’s hand into her own to weave their fingers together.

“Thank you, for this, for making a Thanksgiving,” Tara said.

“You and Giles did all the cooking,” Willow said confusedly.

“But you made it happen, for me, for Dawn, for all of us.” Tara leaned close and placed a tender kiss atop Willow’s lips, not caring who might be watching. “Always?” Tara said, softly.

“Always,” Willow said, just as softly.

***

Dinner was served and eaten, relished and appreciated. Praise was heaped upon the cooks and the organizer. When Giles produced a traditional English trifle, a flaming plum pudding, and an apple pie a la mode for desert, applause was heard around the table, and Spike had a slice of each after imbibing most of his dinner as a blood wine cocktail mulled with cloves, mace, and freshly grated nutmeg.

Ira left the party first, but not before securing a promise that Willow and Tara would join him for next Tuesday’s dinner. Stefan and Laurie soon enough followed Ira out the door, both eager to greet the next work day. Dawn was soon off to bed, more unused to sparkling wine than she cared to admit, and thus it was the rest of them found themselves gathered near the fireplace.

Tara sat atop a floor cushion next to Willow’s feet, enjoying the gentle movements of Willow’s fingers untangling her forever tangled hair, and the soft weight of White Leg atop her lap.

Giles, sitting in his favorite wingback, quietly watched the two of them, as he also watched the play of light sift through the rather nice fifteen-year-old Scotch Ira had brought to the party. He hated to bring up business, but he did so nonetheless.

“Are you prepared for tomorrow’s trip to Istanbul?” he said to Tara.

Tara nodded. “Willow fixed up my passport in case anyone asks me for my papers. I also goggled a city map. I should be able to find the book dealer w-without any trouble.”

“It’s a pity the portal entrance isn’t closer,” Giles said. “But at least it’s within the city limits. The portal entrance for Paris is kilometers outside the city limits.”

“I suppose Albert couldn’t really anticipate where would be the best place to build the portal transits. Didn’t you say most were built in the mid-nineteenth century,” Xander said.

“He built most of them then, and a handful more in the 1950s,” Giles said. He grimaced at his glass. “Unfortunately, I’m a good decade out before I’ll be able to build even one, let alone untangle the magicks that have left more than a few barely operational.”

Giles expression turned somewhat dark as he contemplated the work in front of him. Once he’d realized the annex door could be reoriented to other entry points on Earth, he’d begun the process of cataloging them. So far as he could tell, there were passage points leading to all of the major cities of Europe, the subcontinent, Japan, and Northern Africa. When it came to Australasia, unfortunately, the only working portal linked the annex to Christchurch, a lovely city, but hardly the best of options.

“Oh, come on Giles, you’re loving learning how to do all this new stuff,” Buffy said, drawing Giles out of his thoughts. She had her hands on the fire poker, but was blessedly resisting stirring the logs.

Giles took another sip of his very good Scotch and observed, matching Buffy’s teasing, if not her precise tone: “Much like you’ll be loving completing your degree at university, I suppose.”

“Did you finish registering for next semester’s classes?” Willow asked, trying very hard not to sound overly eager.

“Yes, and I decided against keeping my status as a psych major. I’m switching to art history.”

“So, you and Tara both,” Xander said. “Maybe you’ll end up reopening your mom’s old art gallery.”

“Another family business,” Giles said.

The idea of reviving Joyce Summers’ Gallery had been playing on Buffy’s mind for a month now, but first she’d need to finish her Bachelor’s degree, and maybe a Master’s, for good measure.

“And speaking of the family business,” Buffy said, glancing towards Spike. “Can you step in for Tara tomorrow night.”

“No problem. Willy’s Friday night game is cancelled. Some Miquot came on Tuesday and trashed the back room after they lost their last kitty.” Spike shook his head. “God, how I hate those poncy-buggers.”

Giles nodded towards the second floor, where he assumed Dawn was already fast asleep.

“Have you thought more about my proposal?” Giles asked Buffy

“I’m still trying to decide what mom would say. You’re right Dawn is going to need training. But joining a technopagan circle is giving me a wiggins.”

“I’ve met with each of the circle members face to face, and aside from some questionable choices with regard to facial tattoos and piercings, I’m confident their embrace of magicks is entirely ethical. I really think it will benefit Dawn to work with them, especially if she’s going to spend time with Devon coven in the summer.”

Willow kept her silence as Buffy and Giles debated. She and Tara had both said their piece the day before. Neither of them felt comfortable taking over Dawn’s training. It was Spirit Tara, as they’d all taken to call her, who’d suggested the technopagans in a dream Willow had had the week before, an idea Giles had seized upon immediately, but Buffy had shied from, which wasn’t terribly surprising given Buffy’s complex relationship with the departed but still remembered Jenny Calendar.

Willow liked that her lover’s spirit still came back to her. She was less enthusiastic over Spirit Tara’s insistence she would someday become a teacher of magicks, let alone she would form a coven. They’d argued about the matter half the night, Willow thought, although she could not say for certain the actual length of time of the dream. And when she’d told Xander about the dream, he’d taken Spirit Tara’s side, of all things, especially about naming the coven Revane.

Tara stirred near Willow’s feet, drawing her out of her reverie, but it was Spike who interrupted the debate.

“Seems to me Red could set up one of her little tracking bots to alert for any untoward talk. Mentions of dark magicks and what not.”

Out of the mouths of vampires, Willow thought. “That’s actually doable. I wouldn’t be spying, really. Just tracking, and it wouldn’t be me doing the tracking. I could set up a bot exactly as Spike said, to look for problem words, and set up an alert system.”

Bored with the conflict over Dawn’s training to become a witch, Anya interjected. “So, what do you want to do about the vresh? Xander’s fixed the roof of the Magic Box so many times, the building owner just takes for granted anything Xander wants to do is acceptable. So we could just leave it up there.”

“I think that would be best,” Giles said. He took off his glasses and used the end of his tie to clean the lenses. “The apprentice has been defeated. However, the effects of his incursion will continue to reverberate for months, probably years to come.”

“Years?” Xander said.

“I’m afraid, so. Glory’s attempts to unlock the barriers between the dimensions were quite singular, ultimately. Unlike her, the apprentice was able to send through hundreds, probably upwards to a thousand denizens into this reality. Others will want to follow suit, albeit most likely to extremely limited success. Dimensional crossing of this particular kind is rare because it’s extremely difficult, fraught with problems involving timing, not to mention the perils of duplication.” Giles glanced at his lenses, and decided to give them another scrub.

“You have ‘but’ face,” Buffy said. “I mean, you’re about to say—.”

Giles smiled as he looked upon the young woman who would always be in his heart, his Slayer. This wasn’t the first time he’d had “but” face, and it wouldn’t be the last.

“But,” he continued, “Sunnydale has always been somewhat of a beacon to the demons of this world. I fully expect our recent conflict has only intensified Sunnydale’s allure.” Giles leaned forward, elbows atop his knees. “We must never forget we live upon a center of mystical convergence, and that once again, perhaps very soon, we may find ourselves standing between the earth and its total destruction. Fortunately, I seriously doubt we are in any way doomed.”

“Nice to hear the note of confidence,” Xander said, “especially when the notes are spoken with an English accent. It just makes people feel more confident.” Xander looked at Spike. “Not yours, of course.”

Spike held up his mug of warmed blood. “Up yours, nancy boy.”

“Now boys, just when I thought we’d all just get along,” Buffy said, as she got onto her feet. “Is anybody else wanting another slice of pie?”

“I’m all for the pie,” Anya said. “Even though I should be getting home soon. Black Friday’s an important work day.”

“Maybe not another piece of pie, but popcorn would be good,” Willow said. She leaned down to press a quick kiss atop Tara’s hair. “What about you, sweetie, more pie, popcorn?”

“Plum pudding, please,” Tara said, marveling that she made it through all of the Ps without a stammer. She turned her face to Willow’s, delivered a tender kiss atop her lips, and whispered, “Yours, always?”

“Always,” Willow whispered.

***

Sound asleep, Tara curled her body around Willow’s, one arm flung over Willow’s belly, the other tucked underneath Willow’s neck. Her feet moved ever so slightly as she walked along a sandy beach deep inside her dream, White Leg tucked into the roomy front pocket of her coat, her hood pulled high over her head.

There was a cold wind coming off the lake, but the girl kept her eyes on the outcropping dead ahead. Behind it was the cabin, and Willow and Tara said they’d wait there for her to join them, and they always kept their promise. They also said there would be sandwiches and hot chocolate for her and a dish of milk for White Leg.

They were meeting to talk about magicks, to share their knowledge, and maybe even figure out some new conjures and spells. The girl was looking forward to sharing her ideas about bringing better focus to an air shock.

After their lunch, the girl would continue her walk. She was heading back to Books of Shadows, 1348. There was a new wizard she wanted to meet, and because the girl never quite stopped thinking about food, she was also looking forward to a plate of Mrs. Edwards’ cookies. It would be a long walk, but she would have White Leg to keep her company. And truth be told, walking, putting one foot in front of the other was the best way to travel.

The End (not quite)


Last edited by Tecnopagan on Fri Mar 31, 2017 2:54 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Doppelganger Redux
PostPosted: Fri Mar 31, 2017 2:52 pm 
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3. Flaming O

Joined: Sun Jan 10, 2010 11:27 am
Posts: 50
Location: So Cal
Doppelganger Redux

The Coda

October 2017


Tara came through the portal, her book bag slung over her shoulder, her heavy coat billowing behind her in the draft.

“Did you find it?” Giles asked. He was standing in the annex, dressed in his usual gray suit, pale blue shirt, and a red and blue striped tie over which he was wearing his favorite robes, black, silk, and covered with a lovely print of round moons and crescents.

“Exactly where the scrying panel pointed me. Although how the book managed to land in the basement of a defunct furniture store, I have no idea. The good news is that it was incased in a m-metal box that protected from insect damage,” Tara said, as she drew a thin metal box, roughly the dimensions of a magazine from her book bag. She handed the box to Giles, and started pulling out of her coat.

Underneath her coat, she was dressed in what Tara liked to think of as her most nondescript blouse, skirt, and heels, the blouse white, the skirt and gunmetal gray. She was also wearing a pair of non-prescription tortoiseshell glasses to help her look her the age on her passport. At 37, Tara still appeared very much a young woman in her middle-twenties.

Willow was working on the problem. All of them, Tara, Willow. Buffy, Anya, Xander, and Giles were facing the challenge Spike and Angel had endured for centuries. What to do about aging when you didn’t truly age? The problem was far more complex in 2017 than it was in years past, due to the ever more complex nature of computer records. Only Dawn had rejected sleeping in one of Giles’ bedframes made of regiano wood, her thinking being she’d already missed out on aging from infancy to fourteen, and she didn’t want to miss out on it any further, not at least until she reached 40. The all bets were off.

Tara went to poke her head out the annex to wave at Harold, who was, as usual, working on the special orders, before she went to snoop around Giles’ lab table.

“Any luck with distilling the kaysom nectar?” Tara asked.

“It remains very much a work in progress,” Giles said, far more cheerfully than anyone would expect. He’d been attempting to distill kaysom nectar for the better part of the last seven years. “I found a very promising procedure for distilling rose nectar in a grimoire kept by Esmeralda De La Mora of Montevideo. It may prove adaptable.”

Giles shucked out of his robe and hung it on the coatrack he kept near his desk.

“If we’re to make it to the tonight’s gallery opening, we’d best be moving. It’s already half past five, and I wouldn’t care to disappoint Buffy, especially given our tardiness for the Martin opening.”

“Did Willow leave already?” Tara said, confusedly. “I thought we were going to walk over together?”

“Yes, she wanted to stop by the post office first, to send off that parcel of magicks supplies to Dawn.”

Dawn was finishing a post-doctorate in medieval history at Oxford; she wouldn’t be back for Thanksgiving, but she promised not to miss Christmas. Tara nodded.

“What about Xander and Anya?”

“Anya is coming, but Xander is staying home to look after the baby. It seems little Aud’s cold has yet to clear. He also is finishing some work on that set of side-chairs the Mayor’s office ordered. Apparently, he’s eager to claim the payment, as there’s some new miter box he wants to purchase.”

The success of Xander’s carpentry shop was now rivaling the Magic Box, much to Anya’s public joy, and less than secret jealousy.

Spike stepped into the annex. “The Slayer sent me over here to fetch you two. Let’s try not to piss her off tonight. She’s wound up like a top over tonight’s reception. Seems some big wigs from the University are coming, including her ponce of a dissertation advisor.”

Tara nodded at Spike. If Professor Sinclair was coming, Buffy would be in a minor frenzy. “I’m ready to head out,” she said to Giles.

***

The three made the short walk from Uncle Albert’s Books Used and Almost New (Giles had yet to think of a better name for the shop) to The Joyce Summers Gallery under a moonlit night and on sidewalks crowded with shoppers. Since the night of the apprentice, the Scoobies had vanquished three additional big bads and an uncountable number of vampires and demons invested in formulating destruction, but Sunnydale’s mean streets had been mostly friendly of late. Giles and Buffy were confident this time would soon pass. If there was any constant to Sunnydale, soon enough some new evil would arise.

Tara spotted Willow through the gallery’s storefront window as soon as they rounded the corner. Willow was wearing one of her shorter skirts and a somewhat loose fitting top with a scoop neck. Fifteen years into their relationship, two years into their marriage, and Willow could still make her heart flutter in an instant. She also noted Willow’s father and mother standing nearby, both with wine glasses in hand, and decided against greeting Willow with a lingering kiss. Kisses, lingering and not, would be sure to come later in the evening, she thought. She also noted Buffy in a conversation with Professor Sinclair, and she picked up her pace. Tara knew from unplanned encounters with dissertation advisors; she’d spent the better part of the three years she’d needed to write her literature dissertation avoiding any and all casual contact with Professor Noxon.

The chime above the door jangled as the three entered the shop, Giles and Spike heading to the refreshment table to snag glasses of wine, Tara to Willow’s side.

“Hey, sweetie, sorry I’m late,” Tara said.

Willow turned to look at her girl and smiled. It was her vixen smile, and a thrill ran through Tara’s body, starting at the top of her head and reaching all the way to her fingers and toes. Willow saw it as something akin to a blush, but also like a tiny electrical charge.

“Not late, perfectly on time,” Willow said, her voice a soft purr. She leaned in and pressed a truly impressive kiss onto Tara’s mouth, before pulling back slightly to whisper, “I bought something for you this afternoon. It’s wrapped in tissue paper and atop our bed.”

“For me?” Tara said, a smile dancing atop her lips.

“Always,” Willow said.

The End


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 Post subject: Re: Doppelganger Redux
PostPosted: Fri Mar 31, 2017 3:07 pm 
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3. Flaming O

Joined: Sun Jan 10, 2010 11:27 am
Posts: 50
Location: So Cal
I like to keep my promises, and so at long last I have brought this tale to its close. I have loved writing DR, loved writing it beyond the telling.

Spoiler Alert

I wanted to end DR with a hint towards the future. So yes, Xander and Anya found their way back together; Buffy, Dawn, Tara (and Willow) completed or will soon complete their formal educations. Giles and Tara have found their vocations. I left out the bit about Willow's school of magicks and Revane coven, but I've no doubt both came to pass. Buffy remains the Slayer, of all else for her I am unsure. I could never quite fathom how to deliver her a worthy suitor. Spike has become Buffy's loyal friend.

So that's it. I am working on a cleaned up (read, better edited) version of the text, and I hope someday to find a place to post it. I am also going to try to work through the DR posts here. Over the years, the posts have gone a little wonky, and there is the not small matter of typos, missing words, etc.

Fond wishes to you all and many thanks to the Kitten Board for giving me this platform,
Technopagan (you can find me at technopagan78@yahoo.com if you wish to drop me a note)


Last edited by Tecnopagan on Mon Apr 03, 2017 4:55 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Doppelganger Redux
PostPosted: Sat Apr 01, 2017 2:27 am 
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7. Teeny Tinkerbell Light

Joined: Tue Apr 26, 2005 11:14 am
Posts: 525
Location: wales
So glad you found the time [and inclination] to finish this most important and best written [in my mind] of all the altWT fic I have read.
I have taken the liberty of transcribing these final chapters over onto my kindle so that I can re-read the whole epic tale in one go.
Scrolling back to the begining I can scarcely believe that it was 15 years ago when you started this story! a lot has happened in this time and I'm sure none of us are the people we were then. I will be interested to see how you have managed to hold to the line you set out all those years ago.

Thank you again for closing the circle on this tale

Hwyl a Sbri.

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 Post subject: Re: Doppelganger Redux
PostPosted: Tue Apr 04, 2017 7:15 am 
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3. Flaming O

Joined: Sun Jan 10, 2010 11:27 am
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Location: So Cal
Thank you, Still Waters. Your praise means the world to me, as I know you to be a discerning reader and writer. I am so very happy to have been able to close finally the circle (and, in my opinion, to a happy ending).

I now have a new copy of DR, freshly (if not perfectly) proof read. I know that some of the DR posts have gone a bit wonky over the years, and that there are far too many typos, missing words, and grammatical tangles. Oddly enough, my continuity has generally been spot on (thanks to a detailed outline I have been upgrading from one copy of Word to the next, from one Apple OS to the next). Anyone who wants a copy of a DR pdf is warmly invited to shoot me an email at technopagan78@yahoo.com. At 800 some pages, DR is a tough read off of a Web Site, even one so lovely as the KB. Still, my intention is to try to upgrade the posts. I have always loved reading the comments as contributions to the story itself. Simply seeing peoples' KB names warms my heart.

Always,
Technopagan

(P.S. If there is a brave beta out there, shoot me a lifeline!)


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 Post subject: Re: Doppelganger Redux
PostPosted: Sun Apr 16, 2017 1:42 pm 
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20. Not one Much for the Timber
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Techopagen-

First, thanks so much for sending me the pdf and second, thank you for writing this wonderful story. A true masterpiece! Seriously, fifteen years in the making and you didn’t miss a beat. The flow is perfect and your attention to detail is impeccable. This fic most definitely made my list of all-time favorites.

I spent the better part of the last two weeks re-reading DR from start to finish and STILL didn’t see how they would kill The Apprentice. But now, it seems so simple, resurrect one to kill the other, because two cannot exist in the same reality. It literally never dawned on me, so yay for spirit Tara!

I’ve read through this story several times over the years and it never fails to spark emotion. It also never fails to make me cry. Willow’s grief is palpable and having to say goodbye to “her Tara” again is heartbreaking. Upsetting as it may be, I’m always glad to see Willow have a chance to grieve for her loss. It was something left out in canon that always pissed me off. I think our hearts would have had the opportunity to mend easier if we’d been given the chance to grieve along with Willow.

There are many moments throughout the story that you really captured Willow’s devotion and dedication to Tara. Some of the sweetest being right after the rejoining. Those always make me smile and love Willow just a little bit more. She lost the love of her life again, she has new Tara to care for, a pending apocalypse and yet she is still the responsible “dog-gyser person.” Willow is a master at keeping her daily routine intact. And through all of it, the happiness, the anger, the dark magic, the unfathomable grief, school, the grocery store and so on…she somehow finds the time to save the world.

Such a beautiful story. Thank you again for writing it and bringing it to an epic and well thought out close.

{{hugs}} -Shelby

_________________
Shelby - Racing The Rain (IN PROGRESS) / Baby Makes Three (IN PROGRESS) / The Santa Line / Everything She Does...Is Beautiful / Calfornia Grass

"Transform your pain. Release your past. And ... uh ... get over it."
~Willow, Where The Wild Things Are


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 Post subject: Re: Doppelganger Redux
PostPosted: Sun Apr 16, 2017 7:14 pm 
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9. Gay Now
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Location: Beyond the orbit of Mars and accelerating...
Just finished the story, top to bottom :)

Good read!

And a good story to boot.
Impressively, i didn't notice any jarring changes in tone from old to recent chapters, so: Well done!

So, thanks for the entertaining read :P

And if you want a hand with any beta-ing, i'm always up for beta-ing any W?T or Buffy favoured stuff. :bounce

R :flower

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“All I feel is sunlight. All I hear is music.” Willow
How i Met Your Mother - By Ariel


My Story: Coming Home


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 Post subject: Re: Doppelganger Redux
PostPosted: Sun Apr 16, 2017 7:24 pm 
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3. Flaming O

Joined: Sun Jan 10, 2010 11:27 am
Posts: 50
Location: So Cal
Shelby, I hope I can fully express to you my gratitude for your kind words regarding DR. I could never quit the story, and I am so deeply grateful others could not either, even though it took me 15 years to write it, even though it's gargantuan in length (when I wrote my outline, I did not quite understand my undertaking).

{Spoiler Warning}

I am also tickled you did not figure out the Apprentice's demise. I dropped a big hint in something Anya said, Anya being my favorite character for expressing unfiltered truth. And then I hoped and hoped no one would guess the Apprentice's final outcome. My "solution" gave me opportunity to bring several threads of the Willow story full circle, and to maintain the idea that it's in going it alone that folly often lies. I also wanted to demonstrate the continuing influence of our original Tara, now a spirit. I could never quite quit her, either.

As ridiculous as this may seem, I am also at times moved to tears by our wonderful characters. So much of DR is about reclaiming their, and I hope this term is not too overblown, dignity. The dignity of Anya's broken heart and Xander's regret, of Buffy's and Giles' noble roles as Slayer and Watcher, of Willow's terrible grief and Dawn's achingly youthful need for family, and all of this also meant reclaiming Spike, if not redeeming him. And at the same time, I hoped very much to leave our characters with a clear sense of how they will go on, (Giles especially) and by that I mean go on as the Scoobies, as heroes one and all. And I also wanted very much to leave Sunnydale intact. (That I gave Giles my dream job is possibly pure indulgence on my part.)

In any event, thank you for sticking with DR. Finishing DR and hearing the kind words of my readers on the KB has emboldened me to work on an original fiction. Like DR, it is filled with magic and friendship and love and tragic death and noble action and loyalty and heroics, as well it is filled with people trying to do the impossible for little recognition and for no reward other than to do the right thing. And this time my outline is far more sensible--my new work will not run some 800 pages!

Technopagan

P.S. A brave and wonderful kitten is helping me on a copy edited DR. When it is finished, I will send a "clean" copy to all who've already received my DR pdf.


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 Post subject: Re: Doppelganger Redux
PostPosted: Sun Apr 16, 2017 7:29 pm 
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3. Flaming O

Joined: Sun Jan 10, 2010 11:27 am
Posts: 50
Location: So Cal
Thank you Azirahael for reading and enjoying DR and for your kind offer of helping me Beta my grand opus. At this point, another brave Kitten is working wonders on my typos and other errors.

I am delighted you did not notice a break in the tone of the story. I tried very hard to do exactly that, as I wanted the story to seem as covering a relatively short period of narrative time, setting aside the flashbacks.

Best,
Technopagan


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