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

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 Post subject: Re: Doppelganger Redux
PostPosted: Fri Oct 25, 2002 12:59 pm 
I'm with Snuggle79 on that one. I'm having a hard time thinking about waiting till next year for part 2, but thoroughly enjoying the ride by reading it again, along with all the Kittens, in installments.

And look at all the great praise you're getting!

Told you so :wink

 Post subject: Re: Doppelganger Redux
PostPosted: Fri Oct 25, 2002 4:11 pm 
Very cool story. I love seeing ghostly Tara become more substantial with each small step and I'm curious to see how she'll interact with doppelTara.


"Omnia mutantur, nihil interit. "   "Everything changes, but nothing is truly lost."

 Post subject: Re: Doppelganger Redux
PostPosted: Fri Oct 25, 2002 4:53 pm 
First off, I will be posting another installment, tonight, but it probably won't be until late, again. Sorry. I'm stuck at school for a halloween event, and I won't be home until late.

I also wanted to thank all of you who've been offering me so many kind words of encouragement. D.R. is kind of my testing ground for learning about writing character, setting, narrative and so forth. I've another project, a non-fan fic novel (also about memory) that I've been working on, receiving your feedback on D.R. is helping me continue that project as well.

As for Part Two, Snuggle79 and Big Dummy, it's coming along, slowly. I took some wrong narrative turns, but now I'm back on track. Thank you WiccansIllusion, mollyig, tommo (thanks in particular for your comments about "taking my time"), Caz, Rane018, saule77, AntigoneUnbound, tkheaven, Tullip, Chad, Zahir al Daoud, fontaine13, Grimlock72, darkmagicwillow, snuggle79 and Big Dummy for all of the feedback. I cannot express how much fun it is to read your thoughts and responses. Thanks also to everyone else who is reading D.R.

More later, and best wishes, Technopagan

 Post subject: Re: Doppelganger Redux
PostPosted: Fri Oct 25, 2002 5:49 pm 
FYI...there's a problem that pops up in many, many fanfics (actually fiction in general) of exposition. Far, far too often it consists of people just spouting the background material. Ick.

You, on the other hand, are using most tricks to reveal important facts without so much as a ripple or cough in the narrative flow. NOT easy. Well done!

Of course, all this would be meaningless if we were not drawn into the story. Which we are. That, more than your technical skill, is the special "spark" we all long to find in a story. So far this story does indeed have that spark, and so I look forward to many updates to come!

"GOD created Man in his own image. Man, being a gentleman, returned the courtesy." -Voltaire

 Post subject: Re: Doppelganger Redux
PostPosted: Sat Oct 26, 2002 12:44 am 
As promised, here are chapters 10 and 11 of Doppelganger Redux.

Chapter Ten

Willow pulled the door shut as she left the room. Her legs trembling, her stomach twisting, she laid her laptop and other things on the hall table and went into the bathroom to splash some cold water on her face. When she looked up, she saw Tara's reflection in the bathroom mirror.

The blonde witch wrapped her arms around Willow's shoulders and pulled her close. "That was hard, baby."

Willow took the comfort her lover offered and turned away from the memories of the most horrible days of her life. "We still haven't told her anywhere near the whole truth." A smile formed on her face as her lover kissed the small hollow near the base of her neck. "That feels so very nice."

"It's intended to." Tara whispered. The blonde pressed a series of kisses along Willow's throat and then changed tactics by capturing the soft flesh of Willow's ear lobe between her teeth.

Willow's body arched against Tara's. "The things you do to me, Miss Maclay."

"The things you inspire me to do, Miss Rosenberg." Tara countered, chuckling softly.

"Like making me relax when I'm all spazzed about, among other things, the fact that your double is sleeping in our bed." Willow said, her lips brushing against the palm of Tara's hand, as the blonde brushed her fingers along Willow's cheekbone.

"Like loving you so much I can't keep my hands away." Tara wrapped her fingers into Willow's hair and began gently stroking the red head's scalp. "I'm glad she's here, safe in our bed and not sleeping in some alley or worse. I just wish you didn't have to sleep on the couch." Tara's face formed a pout. "I don't like you being not comfy."

Willow turned in her lover's arms and captured Tara's lips in a brief but tender kiss. "I still wish we were being more truthful with her."

"Baby, we don't know the whole truth." Tara defended, before brushing her lips along Willow's temple.

The hacker changed gears. "Okay, I wish I knew what brought her here, and why now?" Willow pulled back and looked into Tara's eyes. "Buffy wants to hold off on that until tomorrow." She sighed as she let her head rest on Tara's shoulder. "And we haven't even discussed what we're going to tell Dawn."

Tara's hands began to trace delicate circles on her lover's back. "Will, you and Buffy will figure out what to do."

The hacker changed the subject, wanting to talk about what concerned her most. "How do you feel about all of this?"

Tara's expression revealed the question hadn't occurred to her. She took some time to respond. "I'm not sure how I feel. Not completely, at least."

Willow did not want to press the issue, but her worry overcame her good intentions. "Before, you said, 'she's me, you know.' I think I kind of know what you meant, but did you mean anything more." A faint smile formed on the red head's face as she watched her lover sort through her ill-phrased question.

"It's not exactly like looking into a mirror, but I feel this connection to her, like we're parts of the same whole." Tara wrinkled her forehead. "I'm not really sure what I meant. When you saw Willow-vamp, could you tell-?"

"She was a part of me?" Willow grinned and nodded. "I think that was why I didn't want Buffy to kill her."

Tara tipped her head to the side, letting her hair spill over one of her shoulder. "How did it feel to learn she died in the other reality?"

"Poofed, you mean. She was already dead." Willow corrected. She moved her head back to Tara's shoulder and kissed her lover's neck. "Good in a way, I don't have to worry about her hurting anybody, but weird in other ways. Kind of unsettling." An idea crossed the red head's mind; she raised her head to look in Tara's eyes. "You know, your counterpart looks like she's quite the hero. All those battle scars, and she saved my life. Must be nice knowing your counterpart works for good. Mine was very disappointing by any comparison."

"I heard she had interesting fashion sense." Tara giggled, before frowning. "Of course, my counterpart might be disappointed with me. I wasn't a great fighter."

"Don't over estimate fighting, your love was and is the best thing in my life." Willow pressed another kiss on Tara's lips. "You cared for people, for me, for Dawnie, for all of us. And you still do, even in death." The red head suddenly remembered the earlier conversation with Anya. "Tara, did you hear what Anya said about you."

Tara raised her hands so that she could hold Willow's face between her fingertips. "That I'm my essence and not a ghost?"

"Do you know what that means?" Willow questioned as she caught one of Tara's fingers with her lips, held it for a moment and then moved her head back to Tara's shoulder.

Tara laughed softly. "Not really. I guess, tomorrow, I'll be hitting the books with the rest of you guys. Kind of like old times." She paused. "I don't think I'll be able to make myself visible again for a while. To the others I mean. That took a lot out of me."

Willow pressed her body deeper into her lover's. "So long as we can do this, I don't really care. Do you?"

"Holding you in my arms, what else could I want?" Tara brought her head around and captured Willow's lips in a passionate kiss.

Willow opened her mouth letting Tara gain entrance. She lost herself in her lover's kiss, no longer even bothering to wonder how it was possible for Tara to hold her; it didn't matter how or why. The only thing that mattered was this: their connection, their love. Being able to have that again was everything to her.

The held each other several minutes longer, until Willow pulled back. "I should go back downstairs. I need to get her some antibiotics."

"Could you try to call her Tara? It is her name, Will." The blonde chided gently.

"I know-" Willow began.

"It doesn't mean you're being disloyal to me." Tara interrupted, rubbing her thumb along Willow's cheekbone. The blonde thought for a moment before explaining, "Baby, she is me. Me with different memories and different experiences, but in all the important ways she's me."

Still kissing her lover's neck, Willow mumbled. "I'll make more of an effort."

"Good." Tara pushed her lover back, smiling gently. "Now, my love, get downstairs and do the hacker thing, okay."

Willow looked into Tara's eyes. "I love you."

Tara whispered. "I know" and left the bathroom.

Willow followed her out the door, but Tara was gone. She picked up her laptop and headed downstairs. She found Xander, Anya and Buffy where she'd left them. "Maybe we could move this to the dining room so I can set up my laptop?"

Buffy stood up with the others. "Sure Will, do you need any help?"

"Nope, I've got it." Willow said, over her shoulder.

"You helped Tara settled in okay." Xander asked following the others into the dining room.

"She all set for the night." Willow set up her laptop on the table, disappearing into the kitchen for a minute while she plugged in the modem cable in the kitchen telephone jack. After a minute, she returned trailing a cable behind her, which she hooked into her laptop. "So, did you guys come up with anything while I was upstairs?" She asked, as she booted up the operating system.

"Only that tomorrow we need to figure out what she's doing here." Buffy said, quickly.

Willow looked up from her laptop. "Maybe she, I mean-" She paused before continuing. "Maybe Tara just wanted to escape her own world. It seems pretty awful." Using the girl's name was easier than she thought; still, she felt disloyal to her lover.

"Will, she's got a bag full of weapons." Xander said tilting back in his chair. "And after what happened in the alley, it's obvious she knows how to fight."

Buffy chimed in. "Honey, I know who she looks like. But she's not our Tara. We don't know what she's up to here."

"Hang on a second, I'm almost in." The others were silent as they waited for Willow to break into the pharmacy database. "Okay, I'm in."

Xander leaned forward. "How are you going to do this, Will?"

"I'm reordering one of my Tara's old prescriptions for antibiotics and charging it to her student health account. If anyone even notices, he will think it's a typographical mistake."

"Are you sure it's okay to give new Tara the same stuff that was given to old Tara?"

"If we really are each other's exact counterparts, it should be okay. Besides, an infections is an infection, right?" She explained, distractedly. "Hang on, just one more thing." She typed in some additional information. "There, all set." She closed her laptop. "I'll go fetch it from the pharmacy.

"Will, it's going past midnight." Buffy protested.

"I sent the prescription request to the twenty-four hour pharmacy by the mall. I'll be back in twenty minutes." Willow explained.

Buffy continued. "Yes, and you got your head smashed last night, which everyone seems to be forgetting for some reason."

Xander tried to intervene. "Guys, come on. It's late. We don't need to argue."

"Why don't Xander and I run and get the prescription. We'll be back in no time." Anya offered.

"No, why don't you and Xander go home." Willow awkwardly corrected herself. "To your homes I mean. And I'll go get the prescription." Sensing Buffy's scowl, Willow gave her best friend one of her most winning smiles. In a matter of seconds, she watched Buffy's resistance fade away.

"Okay, but I'm coming with you." Buffy stood up from the table. "Let's make a plan to meet tomorrow at the Magic Box at ten. Dawn won't be back until after five at the earliest and I'd rather she met our guest after we figured this mess out."

Everyone agreed and after Xander and Anya took off, Willow and Buffy left for the pharmacy in Buffy's car. As Willow predicated, they were home in twenty minutes. The ride there and back was mostly silent, punctuated only by Buffy's occasional quiet sighs. As they came through the door, she reached out to her friend and pulled her into a hug, saying softly, "She didn't hurt me."

Buffy took a deep breath. "She could have, Will. I almost didn't get there in time."

"But you did. And I'm fine?"

"Are you? How can you be? Will, I don't know how you can't be hurt in all of this." Buffy rubbed Willow's back with the tips of her fingers, tracing the tension in the red head's muscles. "Things were just beginning to settle down again, and now-"

Willow slowly shook her head. "Buffy, nothing was settled. I've been a mess, and you and I both know it." The hacker pulled back wanting to look into Buffy's face. "We'll work through this. Right now, I just need you to believe in me. I don't know what's going on, but I think she's here, Tara's here, for a reason. And I think she needs our help, I mean more than giving her a place to spend the night. But right now I don't think she trusts us enough to say why. And right or wrong, I want her to trust us, to trust me."

Buffy rubbed her thumb along Willow's cheekbone. "Goodnight, Will. I'll see you in the morning. You sure you want the couch? You could bunk with me instead?"

"And spend the night fighting with you for the covers, I don't think so." Willow said, laughing softly.

Buffy playfully poked Willow in the shoulder. "I am so not the blanket hog you make me out to be, Willow Rosenberg."

Grinning, Willow poked Buffy back. "Will you just go upstairs so I can get some sleep." The red head kissed her friend on the cheek and then watched the Slayer walk up the stairs to her bedroom. After a quick search in the hall closet, she dug out her sleeping bag from underneath the mountain of sports equipment, camping gear and beach toys and dragged it over to the couch, only then realizing she would need to get some things from her bedroom. As quietly as she could, she slipped into her bedroom to grab her pajamas and robe. The girl was sleeping and after checking her temperature, the hacker changed her mind about waking her to give her the medicine, thinking it could wait until morning. When she came down stairs, she found her Tara already sitting on the sofa waiting for her.

She fell asleep quickly, wrapped inside the sleeping bag and Tara's arms, and feeling safe from all harm. It was just a little past three in the morning when she woke to find Tara gone. She sat up on the couch, her heart pounding. She thought she heard a sound coming from the second floor. As soon as she recognized it, she was on her feet and up the stairs.

She did not knock. Instead, she slipped quietly into the room. The girl was crying in her sleep. Without thinking, Willow went to her. The girl's forehead felt hot to the touch. Thinking that a cool cloth might help Willow went to the bathroom and dampened a towel. When she returned, the girl was still locked in bad dreams.

Willow sat down on the side of the bed and held the towel to the girl's head, trying to draw the girl from her dreams, but not wake her. Sitting with the girl in the dark, the red head soon fell into a memory of caring for Tara after Glory had damaged her mind. Without thinking, Willow began to hum the lullaby she had used to help Tara sleep. The girl seemed to quiet, and Willow started to get up, when a hand closed around her arm.

"Sam?" The girl's voice was confused with sleep.

Wondering who was Sam, the hacker whispered. "It's Willow. You were having a bad dream. Are you okay?"

Still half asleep, the girl muttered, "I'm hot."

Willow watched as she twisted in the bed covers as if caught by the material. "I know. Try to lie still. You're fever is back. Let me run downstairs. We got you some medicine." Willow got up from the bed. "I'll get the aspirin, too."

"You're coming back?"

The girl's eyes were still closed and she sounded afraid. Willow pressed her hand to the girl's cheek. "I'll be back in a no more than a minute." The hacker hurried down to the front room where she retrieved the prescription, then to the bathroom where she grabbed the aspirin. She found the girl lying on her side watching as she came back into the room. Hoping not to wake Buffy, Willow closed the door behind her and went to the nightstand where she poured the girl a glass of water from the pitcher she'd filled earlier in the evening. She sat down on the side of the bed and took out one tablet from the prescription and two from the aspirin bottle.

The girl accepted the pills and the glass of water without a word, handing the glass back to Willow when she finished.

"You were having a bad dream. Do you want to talk about it? Sometimes it helps." Willow offered, shyly.

The girl moved on the bed, making more room for the red head. "The Master." She explained quietly.

Willow moved to sit with her back against the headboard and her legs crossed at the ankle. "Can you tell me what happened?"

"In the dream, or in real life?" The girl asked ruefully.

Willow looked into eyes familiar and not. "Which would help more?"

"Real life, I guess." The girl shifted on to her back and pulled the blanket back over her chest. "It's a long story. You sure you want to hear it?"

Willow smiled. "I've got the time."

The girl stared up at the ceiling as if trying to organize her thoughts.

Chapter Eleven

The girl was nineteen when she left her mother's house for the second time. She'd spent her time in Blackbird learning all she could about her mother, her grandmother and magick. She'd also kept up the fighting skills she'd learned from Larry and other members of her first cadre. The day she left was not special in any way. It marked no occasion, no anniversary. The girl simply knew it was time to go. She took little with her, only a few clothes, several stakes, her knife, and her Book of Shadows. She wanted to be able to move quickly.

On the road, she met dozens of other travelers. People like herself, without homes and families, refuges from an undeclared war. At night, they would band together in small camps, but by daybreak each would continue on his or her journey alone. She headed to the border towns, hoping to find a cadre looking for new recruits. Along the way, her questions were answered. She'd often wondered why only a very few travelers had passed through her town during her self-imposed exile. During that time, the girl had avoided contact with strangers, less out of fear and more out of her desire to commit herself entirely to the pursuit of magicks. Now she learned the reason fewer than a dozen strangers had passed through her hometown. Where once dozens of cadres had patrolled the area, now there were no more than six or seven. Attrition by death and injury as well as a new feeling of hopelessness had diminished the ranks of the volunteer fighters against the darkness. The Master's plan was succeeding; her world was slowly submitting to vampires.

But some still fought and they fought well. Where the cadres she had known before were loosely organized band of mostly misfits, the new cadres were well-organized paramilitary groups. They fought with traditional weapons, blades and battle-axes, stakes and crossbows, but they trained like contemporary soldiers. She found her second cadre after nearly a month of roaming from town to town and the girl felt entirely inadequate next to her new comrades. She could not help but wonder why they accepted her into their ranks.

Led by an ex-Marine named Sam, her new cadre was largely comprised of ex-military commandos and newly minted rebel soldiers. They held in common two things: unending hatred for the Master and untold respect for their commander. Tall and wiry with brown hair and black eyes, Sam led her band with quick wit and an impressive knowledge of guerrilla tactics, weapons procedures and surveillance techniques. The girl was scared to death of her.

Most but not all of the cadre's missions were search and rescue, escorting to safer lands humans who had strayed into demon territory, sometimes by mistake, sometimes with intentions honorable or otherwise. Other times the cadre set about gathering information, identifying demon strongholds and learning demon plans for new incursions. Independent runners usually sent information back to human lands, less often the cadres relied upon by short wave radio. Some of the information would filter back to official sources, but most of it was directed to the other remaining cadres.

The girl quickly adapted to the daily regiment. Every day they would break camp at dawn. Most days were spent traveling from abandoned town to abandoned town, inspecting for demon activity and checking for humans left behind. Even if they didn't find demons to stop or humans to save, they usually found valuable supplies, including weapons. Food was rarely a problem; most communities had been abandoned quickly, leaving plenty of canned and dried goods behind. But the social customs of everyday living for people born to the North American twentieth century, especially fresh water showers, were more difficult to maintain. After a while, a life spent on a perpetual camping trip began to lose its luster no matter how glamorous demon fighting might appear to the outside world.

At first no one really noticed the girl. Indeed, she didn't impress anyone until one evening, while patrolling, they were ambushed by a gang of Yeknom demons. The girl surprised everyone by casting a fire net, saving her comrades. That night, Diego and Carl insisted the girl join them at their fire, and the next morning, Susan fell into step with her as they began the day's march. The veil had been lifted, the girl was now a full member of the cadre and her abilities to work magicks became a part of the cadre's defensive arsenal. Soon after the girl was invited to join Sam's planning sessions. It was there that she learned the cadre's real mission. It was what she'd hoped for. They were heading for Sunnydale to take out the Master.

The demons wars were now eight years in duration. The release of the Master had precipitated the opening of other hellmouths in the United States and elsewhere in the world. What the girl had witnessed in Blackbird was now being seen in Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia. Demon attacks spilled out in towns hundreds of miles from the nearest hellmouth. No place was safe. The North American cadres believed that the one common denominator was the Master. They believed he was the lynchpin and therefore he was demon who needed to be stopped. From Sam the girl learned that America's military, and most of the other militaries of the world, had different ideas. They could not accept that one vampire could so dramatically change the fabric of everyday life. They saw the demon wars as dozens of separate assaults without a single unifying mission.

Given this perspective, it wasn't so surprising that the American military had more or less given up all land within a one hundred and fifty-mile radius of Sunnydale including Los Angeles, choosing to take their stand where the demon incursions were less deep, and were closer to the traditional seats of power. By the time of the opening of the hellmouths in Chicago, Baltimore and Atlanta, the military was prepared to fight. The declared plan was to surgically remove each new pocket of demon activity and for the time being keep Sunnydale and the areas around it in military quarantine.

The girl learned from others in the cadre that Sam left the military in disagreement over the so-called "Sunnydale Accords." Some thought she really left because she had family in Los Angeles, others because didn't believe the military knew how to fight demons effectively, and still others attributed it to the death of her husband, but no one really knew for sure. It didn't matter. Few fully understood their own reasons for joining the cadres let alone grasped why others might make the choice to give up family and home for a likely future of sudden death or worse.

The move deeper and deeper into demon territory was rough going. The cadre began to face daily assaults often from demons previously un-cataloged and with offensive capabilities not known. The worst was an attack by a pride of Tsuris demons. The girl, plus five other members of the cadre, was seriously wounded. Two others were killed. It was nearly three weeks before the cadre could continue moving and even then none of the wounded were at full strength.

Sam kept the cadre on a circuitous route, lengthening the time it would take to reach Sunnydale, but effectively disguising their true destination. In October, the cadre reached Blackbird. Because of her knowledge of the area, the girl was included in the advance team and to her nervous surprise she was crewed with Sam.

Despite many hours spent in planning meetings, and her admiration of Sam's formidable fighting skills, the girl still found the sometimes enigmatic leader of the cadre trying. Not sure of the reason, the girl was positive Sam did not trust her. She spent many hours trying to understand the source of the cadre leader's discomfort. Yes, she was not the most reliable fighter, but others in the cadre were far less skilled than she. Yes, she kept her thoughts to herself, but among the cadre that was not unusual. And yes, she had secrets, but so did everyone else. Try as she might, the girl could not rid herself of the impression that Sam was more interested in her secrets than in the secrets of other members of the cadre. Often times at night, sitting around the campfires, the girl would catch Sam watching her. When she would meet Sam's eyes, the older woman would never look away first, and that was only one of the many reasons why the girl found her assignment for the day troubling.

Sam and the girl entered Blackbird on the southwestern route, which took them past the hospital and medical complex. After surveying the area with her field glasses, Sam decided a side trip was in order, specifically a pharmacy raid for bandages, latex gloves and anything else that might be useful to them. The Tsuris attack had left the cadre's medical supplies seriously depleted. The girl called in their change of plan on her walkie-talkie and reconfirmed their five o'clock rendezvous in the town center.

As they crossed through the hospital doors, the girl patted the pocket of her cargo pants, reassuring herself that she'd remembered to carry an extra set of batteries for her flashlight. With no electricity, and few windows, the hospital was almost completely dark. Making a bad situation worse, vandals had trashed the place, filling the corridors with overturned furniture and gurneys, creating an obstacle course that the girl and Sam needed to climb over and around. As they moved through the corridors, the girl picked up bullet holes in the walls with her flashlight. It appeared there'd been a protracted gunfight. The girl couldn't help but wonder between who?

Sam held up her flashlight to one of the bullet holes. "Any idea how this might have happened? You don't usually see this kind of damage."

The girl shook her head, and then realized Sam couldn't possibly see her. "No," she explained, "When I came back I never went in h-here."

Sam held her flashlight under her chin and grinned. The light turned her face into the visage of a demon. "Hospitals freak you out too, huh."

"They're kind of creepy." The girl agreed while trying to decide which was more surprising, Sam's clowning or her enjoyment of it.

"And this ones the creepiest." Sam pointed her light down a corridor. "I saw a sign back there indicating we need to head this way to find the pharmacy. I'll take point, you stay behind me."

"Got it." The girl confirmed, falling behind the taller woman.

Sam quickly led them through the maze of junk to the pharmacy's main doors and then inside the storefront. A set of windows lined the ceiling, providing a measure of daylight. Like the rest of the hospital, the pharmacy had been tossed upside down. Tables and chair were overturned, and what had once been racks for brochures had been stomped and twisted into useless metal. The girl noticed one wall was marred with burn marks where someone apparently had tried to start a fire.

"It's weird. The more I see, the more this looks like human vandalism, not demon." Sam observed, pointing her flashlight at a shelf unit that had been kicked apart. "Demons usually save their violence for people." Sam picked up a piece of a broken chair looked at it and then tossed it aside. "When did you say your town fell?"

The girl watched Sam kick another piece of the chair across the floor. It was the first time Sam, or anyone for that matter, had asked her about her past. Usually, it was considered bad form to inquire. "About nine years ago. When I was ten years old."

Sam looked impressed. "This must have been one of the first towns to go under."

The girl looked away. "So I've been told." After a moment, the girl realized that Sam wanted a fuller report. "It was May," she continued, "a couple of weeks before summer vacation. My brother and I were playing in the backyard when they c-came." As always, the memories of the night she lost her mother overcame her. The girl looked away, not wanting Sam to see her cry. "The authorities-I think they might have been soldiers, although they weren't in uniform-they found us about a week later. We were hiding in the woods behind our house. They told us a motorcycle gang had invaded and spread some toxic chemical."

"Did you believe them?" Sam sounded skeptical.

The girl shook her head. "No, I saw what had been done to my mother." She paused before adding, "The vampires turned my father."

Sam took in a sharp breath. "Oh, god, kid. I'm so sorry. I had no idea."

The girl did not want Sam's pity. "No, it's okay. It's probably good to talk about it. To tell the truth instead of the lie." The girl added even if she wasn't sure she believed her own words.

A minute passed before Sam explained. "Back then most of the regular military didn't even know what was going on. The takeovers were happening outside of Sunnydale." The older woman stepped back to lean against the shop wall. "There didn't seem to be any pattern. No one knew about the Master, only that a lot of little towns were being attacked by something that no one seemed to be able to explain. It wasn't until the hellmouth opened in Baltimore that the authorities even admitted to the problem, or the media seriously took up the story of what was going on in and around Sunnydale." Sam pulled out her water bottle and took a long sip.

Not sure if she had a right to ask, the girl inquired. "How'd you get involved?" She held her breath waiting to see if Sam would answer her question.

Sam took another sip from her water bottle. "A military helicopter went down in the low desert about twenty miles out of Palm Springs, not too far from some golf resort. We were sent in on search and rescue. No one bothered to tell us the place was nested with vampires or prepare us with the right weapons."

"Nothing of wood?" The girl asked quietly.

Sam shook her head. "And they sent us in at night. God only knows what command was thinking." She added with disgust. "I lost most of my team, but saved the two government operatives, two entirely useless pieces of trash."

The girl could see Sam's growing anger and stepped back, unsure how to respond.

"When I got back I was told that the mission was classified, that nothing I'd seen existed and if I said anything they'd court martial me into my next lifetime." The shame in the older woman's voice was easily heard as she went on to explain, "Some of the vampires were kids. I used a flame thrower on a nine year old boy." Sam took another sip of water. "I don't know why I'm explaining this to you."

The girl knew a similar shame. The horror of vampires, the girl thought, wasn't so much in the blood sucking as it was in their status as the undead. When confronted by a vampire, no one she knew could fully separate in her mind the human that it had once been and the undead thing it had become. No matter what anyone said, killing vampires always felt a little like murder.

Sam stepped away from the wall. "We should probably get moving. You check the main store shelves and I'll check behind the counter. Look for anything that doesn't have an expired expiration date."

The girl set about her assigned task, quickly finding several boxes of gauze, white tape, a half dozen bottles of hydrogen peroxide, and two bottles of witch hazel. A more than reasonable haul, she thought. She had just finished transferring the loot into her daypack when she heard a crash and then Sam's yell.

The girl hurried to the back of the store, pushing past more overturned chairs and a tipped over store rack still covered with medic alert necklaces and bracelets. It was difficult to tell, but she thought the ceiling had caved in from the far end of the pharmacy to the mid-point. A rising cloud of dust now, not only blocked the little daylight that had previously come through the windows, but also increased the difficulty of seeing by flashlight tenfold. The girl covered her mouth and nose with her arm, trying to keep from breathing in the dust. As the air settled, she saw that three sections of the ceiling and several large beams had fallen, most of it, fortunately, on the shelf units behind the pharmacy counter, leaving space on the floor below. But the creaking sound of metal ready to collapse clearly signaled that there was no time to waste. Since Sam's initial yell, she'd heard nothing further. All of her cries to Sam had gone unanswered.

Fearing the worst, the girl dropped her daypack and kit to the floor and began frantically crawling underneath the fallen ceiling tiles and metal struts towards the back wall. The sensitive skin on her back and abdomen pulled against the scars left by the Tsuris demons and the girl winced in pain. Worse, glass, pills and spilled liquid littered the floor, cutting at her hands and knees. At one point, she put her hand down on something sticky, and for a moment thought it was blood, until she realized it was only cough syrup. Already panicked, her mind filled with memories of inching her way through the mudroom on her hands and knees while searching for her mother and father, memories that sent her into near hysteria. When she finally heard Sam cry out, she burst into tears.

Sam's cries came from another part of the store. The girl backtracked several feet and then turned to her left. She found Sam wedged in a sitting position against the back wall of the store, a heavy beam lay across her hips and blood spilled from a cut along her temple; Sam's flashlight lay at her side.

"Are you h-hurt badly?" The girl asked nearly breathless from all of the dust.

"Cuts and bruises. No broken bones, but I can't move. I'm stuck underneath this cross beam." Sam picked up her flashlight and ran it over the girl. "What about you? Are you okay?"

The girl flushed knowing that Sam was able to see she'd been crying. "I'm fine. Just a little scared." The girl reached towards the beam, thinking she might be able to move it when Sam yelled at her to stop. The girl jerked backward and smacked the back of her head against a large piece of the strut work, causing her to cry out in pain. To her embarrassment more tears filled her eyes.

"Take it easy, kiddo." Sam said, in a reassuring voice. "Come here a second."

Coaxed by Sam's gentle tone, the girl moved closer. Sam reached out, cupping the girl's face in her hand. "It's going to be okay." The girl started to apologize, but Sam interrupted. "You don't need to be sorry, just more careful. I'm afraid that if you try to move that beam you'll bring down more of the ceiling." Sam dropped her hand back to her lap and then twisted her head so that she could see upwards. "I think the ceiling was rigged to fall. Military must have been through here."

Confused by Sam's explanation, the girl forgot her embarrassment and asked Sam to explain what she meant.

"Way back when, during the first years of the demon wars, the military would sometimes go into hospitals and blood banks and booby-trap the places." Sam explained, as she reached overhead and pushed away some of the pieces of ceiling tile to let some of the dust escape.

"Why would they do that?"

"Some vampires would rather get their blood the easy way. Not have to actually feed." Sam turned to look at the girl. "I didn't think the military had even been here. Shows what I know, huh."

Sam's explanation didn't seem to make sense. "Wouldn't that just make it more necessary for the vampires to feed on humans? Destroying the blood banks, I mean." The girl asked.

"Now you're starting to understand why I had to leave the military." Sam said, raising an eyebrow. "But right now, I'm more concerned about leaving this place. Kiddo, I think you're-"

Before Sam could finish her sentence others parts of the ceiling gave way, adding to the weight of the debris field suspended above them. The girl heard Sam run through a lengthy string of obscenities anatomical, religious and otherwise and, as scared as she was, she couldn't help but be impressed at Sam's knowledge of invectives.

The dust grew thicker and the girl had to catch her breath before asking, "How do we get you out of h-here?"

Sam shook her head. "Even if I wasn't worried it would send down more of the ceiling, I doubt that you're strong enough to move this beam. You're going to have to go back for help."

Not sure where she found the courage to disagree, the girl protested. "Sam, this whole place could collapse any minute. I c-can't leave you. We need to come up with another plan."

A faint smile appeared on Sam's face. "You know the one thing I truly miss about the Marines is that subordinates do not questions orders."

The girl surprised herself by joking, "But doesn't everyone have to do a lot of push-ups? I'm thinking that's not such a good thing," and was gratified to see Sam's smile broaden.

"And marching around in circles, an even worse thing." Sam added her grin fading as more debris fell from the ceiling.

"This is getting bad." The girl said, unable to hide the worry in her voice.

"Bad but not impossible." Sam clasped the girl's shoulder. "Let's concentrate on solutions."

The girl nodded, nervously chewing on her lip. The only idea she could come up with was risky. "I know a way, but I need to go back and get my kit."

"Better yet, go and tell the others." Sam said, as another cloud of dust fell from the ceiling.

The girl's eyes caught on a large crossbeam hanging directly above them. "I don't think there is enough time."

"Tara, get out of here before the ceiling crashes in on the two of us." Humor completely forgotten; Sam was back in command mode.

Not hearing the change in Sam's tone of voice, the girl explained, "I'll be right back," and began to crawl backwards out of the ruin.

She found her kit where she'd left it, lying on the floor next to her daypack. After checking to make sure she had what she needed, she slung the small bag over her shoulder and inched her way back to Sam. More debris had fallen, whitening Sam's chocolate colored hair, making the woman look like a ghost.

The leader of the cadre's expression was one of bemusement. "I thought I told you to get out of here."

"I guess I must have m-misunderstood." The girl moved to Sam's side and emptied most of the contents of her kit on to the floor. "I'm going to try to enact a levitation, but I'm not sure how long it will last, or if it will even work." She explained, distractedly.

"What do I need to do?" Sam asked.

The girl smiled. "Uhm, maybe keep your fingers crossed."

"That I can do." Sam said, and then closed her eyes, giving the girl the necessary privacy.

She used what she had in her kit to paint the air symbol on the floor, and then offered her promise of obeisance to the purity of the elementals. Dust now rained continuously from above, sifting from the ceiling itself as well as the debris field that covered them. The girl forced herself to push aside her fears so that she could embrace with her mind the true world. She opened her ears to the sounds of her labored breath, gradually extending her scope to the catch the crackling of plaster over head, Sam's quiet coughing, rats moving amid the building structure and dust settling on their hands and feet. She caught sight of a spider scurrying away from them and the slow steady movement of the buttons of Sam's cotton cargo vest as the commander steadily breathed in and out. The girl pressed her hands to the floor and let the dampness of the linoleum seep into her fingers, extending into hers arms and torso. She breathed in the scents of sweat and rotten wood and something that reminded her of laundry detergent, and she tasted the acrid flavor of her own fear at the back of her throat. Through all of her senses, sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch she connected with the environment around her, awakening in herself the power of the elementals, bringing into her body the forces of the nature, making herself a channel for the magicks.

The incantation was short and needed to be said three times, the words acting as a kind of amplification device. Slowly, she felt the magicks build around her creating a force that she needed to shape. In her mind's eye, she created a crane for lifting the fallen ceiling and beams, as she also imagined struts holding back the shop's walls. The creaking sound of wood and metal lifting into the air let her know the conjure was working, within moments a space was cleared and Sam was able to slip out from under the beam.

The two began to crawl out from under the wreckage, most of which now levitated three to four feet over head. The girl struggled to maintain control of the energies; she felt her blood pounding in her ears and she struggled for breath. Fear swept over her, the forces were spinning out of her control. But then Sam's steady hand came down on the small of her back, keeping her from giving in to her panic. They cleared the wreckage just as the girl felt her casting melt away back into the ether.

Immediately, the ceilings and beams crashed back to the floor, this time collapsing the pharmacy shelf units. Sam captured the girl around her waist and pulled her to her feet. "We need to get out of here. This whole floor could collapse at any minute."

They passed back through the main store, the girl remembering to grab her daypack, slinging it over her shoulder as she started to run. Sam's instincts were correct. More parts of the ceiling began to collapse. Dust filled the air and the girl thought she could smell burning plastic. As they stumbled through the falling building, pushing past the wreckage, the girl learned that Sam's flair for invective extended to other languages.

Barely able to see in front of her, the girl thought she'd lost Sam amid the dust, but then heard the older woman yell, "this way." Moments later she spied daylight spilling through a set of glass doors. Unfortunately, the doors were chained shut. Sam pushed her to the floor telling her to cover her eyes. The next thing she heard was breaking glass. She looked up to see that Sam had thrown a chair through the glass and was now clearly away the remains to make it safe for them to pass.

By the time they were back outside, the girl's lungs felt like they were on fire. She fell to the ground, Sam collapsing a few feet away from her. The girl rolled on to her back and looked up into the clear blue California sky. Between the enactment and the physical trauma of their escape, the girl felt utterly spent. After several minutes spent regaining her breath, she turned to look at Sam.

"We made it." Sam said, grinning. "Thanks to you."

"I got us out from under the ceiling, you got us out of the building." The girl corrected. Starting to blush, the girl turned away.

A large flock of birds passed by overhead. The girl wondered if they migrated all the way to South America and, if they did, how many days until they reached their winter home. The cadre would probably reach their destination before the birds reached theirs. As frightened as she'd been inside the collapsing hospital, the prospect of reaching Sunnydale scared her even more. The girl forced her fears to the back of her mind and again turned to look at Sam.

Dust and debris caked Sam's hair and skin. The girl sat up and unzipped the main compartment of her backpack. "Your head's bleeding. I have some water and some antiseptic, but I think you might need stitches."

Sam sat up and moved to sit next to the girl. "Just clean it for now, the stitches will have to come later."

Despite her best efforts to be gentle, the sting of the antiseptic made Sam jump. "Sorry," the girl apologized, "I'm almost finished." She used her teeth to tear open a package of sterile cloths, placing the material against the wound and then wrapping it with a wide swathe of cotton gauze.

The girl leaned back to look at her work. "How does that feel?"

"Not quite good as new, but I'll get there." Sam struggled to her feet. "It's going to be dark soon; we should start heading back to the rendezvous point."

Together, they limped their way to the town's center. They were the last crew to return to the cadre and the only crew to run into trouble. Everyone else had managed to come back without a scrape. No people had been found during the sweep, although one of the crews had come across a still usable, two-person mountain tent and another had found a set of hi-powered field binoculars.

The girl turned her daypack over to Diego, who was this week's supplies manager, and reclaimed her personal backpack from Susan, while listening to Sam explain what happened in the hospital. She noticed that even while publicly congratulating her for keeping a cool head, Sam downplayed the danger they'd been in, only explaining to Marty, the cadre's medic, that she needed a few stitches.

Days before the cadre was scheduled to arrive in Blackbird, the girl had suggested they camp at her former home. Now covered with dust and dirt, her entire body aching from the casting, the girl was doubly grateful she'd be spending the night in her own, warm bed. When they arrived at the house, the girl was even happier to discover her protection spell had held during the time she'd been away. No vandals, animals or demons had breached the house.

While the others set up inside, the girl went out in the back yard to turn on the water and the solar generator. She also took a moment to visit her mother's grave. The flowers she'd planted had mostly withered away. The soil was poor and there was inadequate sun and water. She cleared away the dead growth, keeping some of it for kindling, and then said a quiet prayer for her mother to find continued peace.

After collecting wood for the fireplace, the girl went back inside the house. Already the temperature was dropping outside; soon it would be in the upper forties. The girl had just finished stacking the wood by the fireplace when Marty called for her to come upstairs. She found the medic and Sam in the bathroom, Sam sitting on the edge of the tub, Marty standing over her. When she came through the door, she saw that Marty had already unwrapped the bandage and was examining the wound on the side of Sam's head.

The cadre's medic was in his early forties but looked like he was pushing sixty. Grey haired, stocky, and often cranky, years of moving from conflict to conflict had taken its toll on his body and soul. The girl wasn't sure if he was a trained medic or if he'd simply picked up the skills along the way. What she did know was that he was a man of many talents. Not only could he reset a shoulder, he was also a good cook and he could drop a vampire as fast as anyone half his age. His loyalty to Sam was beyond question. Everyone in the cadre knew Marty would be the last to leave her side, no mater the consequences.

"Nice crease you got there, probably take four, maybe five to hold it shut." Marty explained his voice a deep grumble. The medic pulled his suture kit out of his shoulder bag and set it on the counter. He looked over his shoulder at the girl. "Good work here."

Feeling slightly tongue-tied, the girl simply nodded her thanks for the compliment. She watched the medic pull out his suture pack and shivered. The scars on her back and stomach from the Tsuris demon attack were still healing over.

"That's high praise from old Marty here." Sam interjected, pushing Marty's hand to the side. "I was thinking you might want to learn how to do this. Become our back-up medic." She glanced at Marty, before turning her attentions back to the girl. "Not that I'm doubting Marty's fine hand; he's been stitching me up for going on ten years."

Marty interjected. "That would be eleven, Sam. You're forgetting our happy time in Columbia."

Sam gave the girl a smirk. "As I was saying, Marty's been my medic for eleven years. But it would probably be a good idea to have someone else in the cadre who could work a needle and thread."

"Especially given the number of times you've needed to be sewn back together again." Marty scoffed. He turned to look at the girl. "Why don't you swing over to my right so you can get a better look at how this is done."

It did not occur to the girl to refuse. By the time Marty was finished, the girl felt slightly faint. But, wanting to please Sam, she agreed to start practicing suturing using some leather pieces Marty produced out of his shoulder bag. Later that evening, after diner and in front of the fire, the medic demonstrated basic suturing techniques, showing the girl how to close a minor wound.

While she was making her practice sutures, the girl noticed Sam watching her again. She'd thought the older woman had been staring at her over dinner, and had even asked Carl if he thought Sam was angry with her for disobeying orders. Carl had said no, his opinion echoed by Diego, as well as Susan and Jackie. The girl worried Sam was again mistrusting her, and she couldn't help but wonder why. Hadn't she proven herself today? Her questions were soon answered when Sam left the room and then, several minutes later, called her to come into the kitchen.

The girl found Sam sitting at the table sipping a mug of herbal tea. A dozen or so votive candles lighted the room, casting odd shadows on the ceiling and walls. "I made about thirty sutures. Marty said twelve were acceptable. Are you sure you want me as your backup medic."

"Marty's a taskmaster, and suturing is a skill that takes time to learn." Sam said, smiling slightly. "There's more tea in the pot. Why don't you pour yourself a cup?"

The girl did as Sam suggested before taking a seat on the opposite side of the table. It felt strange to be sitting in the kitchen with someone who wasn't a member of her family. She couldn't help but notice Sam was sitting in her father's spot, while she'd taken her old chair. She forced her attention back to the present by taking a sip of her tea. "You wanted to talk to me about something?"

"This afternoon, that spell you did in the hospital." Sam shifted about on her chair, clearly uncomfortable with what she was about to ask. "That was more than a simple incantation. If I'm not mistaken, you shaped elemental energies."

The girl looked into her mug. She wondered where Sam had found out about the real work of witchcraft. Most people thought magick was simply saying words and mixing herbs, how had Sam learned differently? The girl looked up, her eyes locking with Sam's for a moment, but then shying away. The questions in her mind persisted. How could Sam know about elemental energies? Flustered, not sure where to begin, she explained, "My mother was a witch, as was her mother, and her mother before her."

Sam took a sip of her tea. "If I looked at your Book of Shadows, I'd find a lot more than glamours and protection spells." Sam's voice was even, but the girl noticed that the older woman's knuckles had gone white from the death grip she held on her mug.

Although made nervous by Sam's behavior, the girl could not hide the pride in her voice. "You'd find the wisdom of twelve generations passed down from mother to daughter." The smile on the girl's face quickly faded as she remembered her father's disgust at her talent. A new worry crossed her mind. Maybe Sam mistrusted witches; many people did, even if they sometimes relied upon them. People were tricky that way. They often hated and feared the people they needed. The girl tried to stop her train of thought; Sam might be sitting in his chair, but she was not her father.

The older woman stood up and moved over to the sink. She poured out her tea and left the mug on the counter. "I'll be right back."

From her chair the girl looked out the window. Under the moonlight she could see the leaves of a jacaranda tree shifting in the wind. She left her chair to open the window and let in the cold night air. Her skin rose up in goose bumps, but the fresh breeze cleared her mind. A few minutes later, Sam returned carrying a bottle of Johnnie Walker and a shot glass. The girl recognized both items as her father's and quietly marveled that the vandals that raided the house had left the alcohol behind. She closed the window before returning to her chair.

Sam placed the bottle and shot glass on the table and sat down. "I'm guessing you don't drink."

"I'm not old enough." The girl explained, realizing immediately that her words sounded ridiculous.

"Going to wait until your twenty-one, huh. Even if there isn't a police officer around for miles." Sam teased.

Smiling faintly at the teasing, the girl admitted. "I've never had a drink." Put at ease by Sam's manor, she settled back into her chair, letting the wooden slats press against her back.

"Never had a drink? Clearly, your education's been lacking in some respects." Sam poured herself a shot, but left the glass on the table. "Getting back to what we were talking about earlier-" Sam began to twirl the glass between her hands. "What you did in the hospital was way beyond anything I've seen done before. There's been stories for years, but no one I know really believes them." She picked up the glass and held it up to the light and put it back down. "Kid, if the military got wind of you, you wouldn't know another day of freedom for the rest of your life."

A second wave of goose bumps swept over the girl's skin. "I t-thought the military didn't believe in witchcraft."

"The military makes use of all sorts of things it doesn't believe in." Sam picked up her glass, throwing back the shot in one easy movement. "That fire net you cast a while back, that was just a hint of what you can do, wasn't it?"

"I don't know what I can do." The girl twisted her mug in her hands, unconsciously imitating the older woman. "Not everything I've tried has worked. I'm still a novice."

"You learned from your mother?"

"My mother died before my talent manifested." The girl explained, softly.

Sam leaned forward. "Than how?"

"Why is it important?" The question was off the girl's lips before she realized.

Sam was blunt. "Because I think I'm going to need you if we have any chance in hell in taking out the Master."

"Me, but I only just-" The girl started to protest.

"Weapons alone won't be enough. I need to be able to fight him on all fronts. I need to know what I have standing behind me." Sam sat back in her chair and sighed. "And that's why I'm asking you these questions."

The tension that had formed in the girl's body dissipated. "You really hate explaining yourself?" The girl observed, her voice revealing her amusement.

Sam grinned. "I'm getting used to it."

The girl felt something change between them. She didn't know what, but something shifted. "Can you come with me? I should probably show you something." On Sam's quick nod, the girl rose from her chair and walked out the door towards the dining room, listening as Sam moved a few seconds later to follow. The others had already retreated to the bedrooms on the second floor, leaving the front room and dining room empty. The girl found the hidden catch, pressing it and causing the hidden door to slide back. She turned on the light switch, startling Sam who was standing behind her.

"There's a solar generator outside the mudroom. I turned it on when I turned on the water. These are the only lights in the house that work. The generator isn't powerful enough to run much else." The girl explained, walking through the door and leading Sam into her secret library. She partially closed the door behind them.

The girl watched Sam walk the length and width of the room taking in the shelves of books before calling back over her shoulder, "This is some collection you have here." When the older woman came to the girl's desk, she stopped to look at a couple of the girl's notepads. The girl held back her objections as she watched Sam riffle through them. This was not the time to claim privacy. Uncomfortable nonetheless, the girl continued to stand near the door as Sam turned back to the shelves, running a finger over the spines of the books, sometimes pulling one out to look at, and then carefully putting it back where she found it.

Fifteen minutes passed. The girl was unable to hold her tongue any longer. "So what do you think?"

Sam pulled one of the books off the shelf and look at its inside cover. "Some of the books in here date back to the time of Shakespeare, some even earlier."

"Twelve generations." The girl reminded the older woman. "This collection is over 300 years in the making."

"Twelve generations that you know of, right?" Sam questioned.

"That I know of." The girl responded. "The references in my grandmother's Book of Shadow go back no further. It's not clear who began the library. It didn't always pass directly from generation to generation. I know that my mother's side of the family came to North America in the early 1700s."

"Lucky them. They missed the Salem witch trials." Sam quipped.

"Timing's everything." The girl agreed smiling for a moment, but then turning away.

Sam returned the book she'd been looking at to the shelf and moved towards the girl. "What just happened? What did you just think of?"

The girl shook her head. "It doesn't matter."

"No." Sam disagreed. "I'm thinking it does matter. Something just upset you."

The girl's guilt was too complex to explain fully. Sam stood quietly waiting for the girl to say something. She chose one thread of her guilt. "I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I'd discovered my talent earlier. My great-great grandmother quickened when she was ten."

Sam looked puzzled. "Quickened?"

"It's what the women in my family call it. The quickening of your heart; it's one of the first signs." The girl looked into Sam's eyes. "Your talent begins to call you. No matter how much you resist, it draws you in."

"And if you had," Sam hesitated over the word, "quickened earlier?"

"Maybe I could have helped somehow? Saved my family, my mother and father." The girl watched Sam move to her side. The commander smelled of sweat and dust and the girl could see dots of dried blood on the bandage fixed to the side of her head. The girl wondered if Sam could have physically stopped the vampire that killed her mother.

Sam placed her hand on the back of the girl's head and began gently stroking her hair. "Don't eat yourself up over what ifs. There's no way to know if you could have done anything differently. What's done is done. There's no fixing the past."

The girl stepped back from Sam's touch, confused by the unexpected affection. "You sound like you're trying to convince yourself."

Sam did not let the girl back away; instead she pulled her into a loose embrace. "You might be right. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't be convinced. If you'd done something differently you might have gotten yourself and your brother killed. You did what your family would have wanted you to do. You survived."

Slowly, the girl let her head drop against Sam's shoulder. Even though it felt strange, she found she liked the attention. But pleasant as it was, the warmth of Sam's friendly embrace could not distract her entirely from the idea that she could have done something differently, she could have saved her family. When she stepped back, she didn't bother to try to hide her tears. She figured Sam had already seen her cry so many times throughout the day there was little point in trying to hide them now.

Sam crouched slightly so that she could be at the girl's eye level. "Let's table all of this for tonight. I want to call a meeting tomorrow and begin discussing strategies. Everyone is going to be asked for his or her ideas. I'll want to hear yours especially."

The girl nodded. Within seconds she tucked away her fears and guilt, refocusing herself on the mission. "Is it okay if I hang back for a while at first? Here what other people have to say first."

"Always a good strategy, kiddo." Sam looked towards the mattress. "You planning on bunking in here?"

"It's my old bed." The girl explained, somewhat self-consciously.

"Okay, I'll clear out and let you get some sleep." Sam turned to leave.

The girl wasn't sure if she should say it or not. She decided to take the risk. "Sam." She began, and waited until the older woman turned back to look at her. "The boy you killed. He was already dead. You killed the demon that was using his body;"

Sam nodded. Before leaving the room, she said. "Goodnight, Tara."

The girl waited until she heard Sam's footsteps going up the stairs before she headed back into the front room to fetch her backpack and the remains of her kit, while out there, she checked to make sure the doors were locked and her protection spell remained effective. Above her, she could hear people's movements in the hallway and bathroom, as they prepared for bed. She listened to Diego make a joke to Carl and Susan say goodnight to Jackie. As soon as everyone quieted down, she went back to the library, this time shutting the door.

She read through most of the night, reviewing every spell she could think of to fight something as powerful as the Master. And she spent considerable time searching for new conjures. When she'd first begun planning to take on the Master, now over a year ago, her plan had been one of assassination. Now she was part of a team and she needed to find spells that would serve a full range assault. It was nearly dawn by the time she finished and went to bed, quickly falling into a dreamless sleep.

When she woke the next morning, the girl learned, as did everyone else in the cadre that attack on the Master's stronghold would be planned in Blackbird. It would be a threefold approach: infiltration, weapons and magick. One cadre would not be enough, and so Sam sent out two of her best runners to call in the other cadres operating within the area. By th

 Post subject: Re: Doppelganger Redux
PostPosted: Sat Oct 26, 2002 6:18 am 
I always look forward to your updates because I'm assured of a really meaty read. There's so much in what you write; at times it's really quite stunning how much you cram into each chapter. I think what I enjoy most are the details that you give; the surroundings, the atmosphere, the emotion that hangs heavy in the air. Your description is at times clinical and then at others so palpably emotional that I find myself thoroughly enjoying that difference and contrast. It's a true testament to your manipulation of style that you're able to do that.

I'm often not a fan of a/u. Particularly, I find, if it's all about events and times and situations that don't involve Willow and Tara. I do know that this is often important in setting up the whole tenet of the story, or the plot that it hangs on, and I generally struggle through and read it as best I can before relishing the plot that brings Willow and Tara together.

However, with your story, I'm realising that to my chagrin, I'm actually more interested in "the girl" than I am in Willow and ghostlike Tara. Heh. Who'd have thought?

What I loved most about this chapter was that the girl's life is clearly so very different from what Willow and Buffy are expecting to hear. It's interesting that you had the girl tell Willow about what has happened to her, as you'd think that Willow would be too conflicted. But I suppose her curiosity has got the better of her this time, and there must be so many conflicting emotions going through her, and yet she still gets the cool cloth, she still gets the antibiotics, she still cares for this other girl who looks like her Tara. That's a wonderful exploration of her character, and of her love for humanity; something that I think the show failed to recognise in the later stages of Season Six. I'm truly glad that you've pinpointed this about Willow's character here. To me, it smacks of the truth that often, fanfic writers know the characters far better than those who created them. :)

The other thing that totally fascinated me was the relationship between Sam and the girl. Now, tell me, is this character based on Riley's wife? Not that it matters, but I thought that was really clever, heh. And you've managed to create in the girl a character of such inherent loneliness and mistrust and just...displacement, I suppose. There's something about the way you write her that makes her seem so lost and alone, and that's just heartbreaking. It's very real, given her circumstances, and in comparison to the Tara that is constantly holding Willow, and touching Willow and exuding that love from every part of her, it's a great contrast that you've built up here.

Woah. I don't normally ramble on so much, but it's very rare that I find a story as full as yours. I'm loving it; I really am. It's like eating a good meal; you know it's going to fill you up and it's so tasty you just want to wolf it all down, but in the end you finish up savoring every mouthful. And I'm happy to take each course as it comes.

Thank you so much for this; looking forward eagerly to more. :)

You exquisite little tart!" ~ Diana Letharby

 Post subject: Re: Doppelganger Redux
PostPosted: Sat Oct 26, 2002 7:12 am 

Very nice background build-up on DoppelTara. It's so good to see her in a group of people that like/respect/trust her. Give her self-confidence and such. I just hope Sam won't be hurt too much, I fear for the worst though.

Despite the fact that it must though for Willow to look/talk-to DoppelTara she still does. Very brave and sooo like the Willow we (I at least:) ) adore.

Funny that people already want part2 of this story, part1 is not finished yet is it ? I can imagine why 4-chapter-posts don't work, your chapters are HUGE :D .


"You hurt Tara," Willow said too calmly. "The last one who tried that was a god. I made her regret it." -- Unexpected Consequences by Lisa of Nine

 Post subject: Re: Doppelganger Redux
PostPosted: Sat Oct 26, 2002 9:44 pm 
Hello Everyone,

Tonight I am posting the final chapters of D.R. Part One and the first chapter (chapter fifteen) of Part Two. As most of you already know, I am still working on Part Two of D.R. and don't expect to have it complete until year's end. I promise that I am working hard at it, working nightly, in fact. However, I must confess to responding sometimes to the siren's call of certain fan fic writers, but I will try to keep my reading to a minimum.

Tonight's installments are upsetting. I mean really upsetting. Big time upsetting. Storm warnings, angst up ahead. And there is a clifffhanger of sorts at the end of Part One, one that is not very much solved in chapter fifteen.

I'll be stopping by to check for comments and feedback. Please feel free to email me at

 Post subject: Re: Doppelganger Redux
PostPosted: Sat Oct 26, 2002 9:48 pm 
Chapter Twelve

Willow and the girl lay on the bed side by side. The girl had been talking for nearly two hours. She was an excellent storyteller, but Willow couldn't help but notice how often she was unwilling to reveal her feelings about the things that had happened to her. Anytime the hacker wanted to hear the girl's perspective on something; she had to prompt her for it. Indeed, at times the girl seemed completely detached from her story, as if the events had happened to someone else, which made Willow uneasy; she could not help but wonder what had created such psychological distance.

"It took us another month to reach Sunnydale. Sam kept us moving, mostly during the night. We'd camp out during the day in little towns along the way and try to sleep. Sometimes we'd camp for several days so that we could train. I remember we spent three days inside an abandoned mobile home park." The girl grinned over the memory, but then her expression turned serious. "As we drew closer to Sunnydale, we started to find more and more vamp nests. For the most part they were living on animal life and waiting for the Master's next campaign into the human lands, so we'd usually catch them unaware. And in some ways the vampires were the least of our problems. About thirty miles out of Sunnydale, we were attacked by a werewolf pack and a member of one of the other cadres had his arm nearly torn off. Marty tried, but we couldn't save it. I had to help with the amputation." Again, the girl paused for a moment. She looked up at the ceiling. "His name was Gabriel, Gabriel Martinez, he was maybe two years older than me."

Willow watched the girl begin twisting the sheet between her fingers as she related the details.

"I used magick to help him with the pain, and to staunch the flow of blood. We were able to save him, and Sam tried to convince him to stay behind, but he wouldn't. Gabriel said he'd come to far to give up now. I don't know how he kept up, but he did. He kept up all the way to Sunnydale. Only to die at the Battle of the Stronghold." The girl trailed off, seemingly lost in the memory of Gabriel's death.

"Did you loose a lot of people in the battle?" Willow questioned softly, unsure if she had a right to ask.

The girl turned to Willow, but her eyes seemed caught on the memory of the battle. "I saw Marty get his head taken off by a broad axe. It happened so fast. One moment he was fighting for his life, and the next he was dead. None of it seemed real."

Willow moved on to her side, and touched the girl's face. She seemed unaware of the contact.

"I remember the day of the battle was beautiful. One of those perfect, California winter's days. Sunny. A cloudless blue sky. In the low seventies. Unbelievably lovely." The girl shook her head as if clearing away the thought, and returned to her narrative.

"We began the attack at about ten in the morning. A large part of the Master's complex was inside this huge abandoned airline manufacturing plant. Part of the strategy was to take down the walls of the structure and let the sun do the work. I was supposed to levitate out any sections that fell and offered them cover. At least that was the plan." Again, the girl trailed off.

"What happened?" Willow prompted.

"Several things." The girl rolled from her back on to her side, bringing her knees up to her chest. Her eyes seemed to focus on Willow. "Most importantly, we didn't count on the Master having a magician on his payroll."

Confusion appeared on Willow's face and the girl responded. "So far as anyone knew, no witch had ever joined forces with the demons. There were demon's that could do magicks, but none could control the elements, like a witch or a sorcerer. That talent belongs to humans and humans alone."

"I didn't know that." Willow interrupted.

The girl continued, as if unaware Willow had spoken. "Nobody knew about the Master's second. A human. I found out later that his name was Ethan Rayne."

Willow startled, this time pulling the girl out of her story. "We've met his counterpart here. He's a real troublemaker, but not-"

"Totally evil?" The girl asked raising an eyebrow. "Let's hope he doesn't realize his dark calling in this reality." The girl sat up and reached across Willow to take a sip from the glass of water that rested on the nightstand, groaning slightly over her sore ribs.

"Do you need more aspirin?" Willow asked, responding to the girl's pain. "Maybe we should call it a night."

The girl shook her head as she moved to sit with her knees raised and her back against the headboard. "Is it okay if I finish? I don't think I can tell this story again."

Against her better judgment, Willow agreed. "Okay, but you need to get some sleep."

"I'm almost finished with the story. At least this part. And you could use some sleep too, I'm not the only one with stitches in her head." The girl reminded as she brushed her fingers over Willow's hair.

Willow forced herself to ignore the girl's tender gesture, so reminiscent of her Tara. "What happened with Ethan Rayne?"

Already back in the moment of her story, the girl spoke as if she hadn't heard Willow's question. "The attack began with a series of timed explosions. Some of our people had infiltrated the complex and rigged a few bombs. I started taking out pieces of the ceiling and walls, moving them away. As soon as I would move a piece of the structure, our people would move in with flamethrowers, helping the sun do its job. It was working like a charm until everything went wrong."

Willow watched the girl begin pull and twist her fingers. Without thinking, she laid her hands upon the girl's, quieting them.

"I felt the elementals begin to s-shift, but I didn't know what it meant. I thought I was just losing control. And other t-things were happening; things I hadn't anticipated. Stuff I can't explain right now." The girl paused, regrouping her thoughts. "I didn't realize that control was being t-taken from me, worse, the energy I had tapped was now being diverted, used by Ethan to do the most amazing and awful thing imaginable." The girl's back straightened into a rigid posture, and she stared blank faced into the bedroom wall, as if seeing the battle in her mind's eye. "I don't know how he did it but he managed to block the sun, create the illusion of a total eclipse. I tried to stop it, but I was too weak. Once he had control over the elementals I was channeling, he had control over m-me."

The despair in the girl's voice cut into Willow like a knife. She sat up next to the girl, and slowly coaxed her into her arms, gently pulling the girl backward until she was leaning against her chest. "You're safe here, I promise."

The girl continued seemingly unaware of Willow's embrace or words. "I watched them die. Marty, Gabriel, Jackie, Susan, Carl, Diego, Sam, my cadre. At some point, I passed out. When I woke up, the sunlight was no longer being blocked. It was quiet, so very quiet. No birds, no insects. No sound. My cadre was dead, and it was my fault."

Refusing to let the girl take responsibility for the work of monsters, Willow disagreed. "How could it be your fault?"

"I had the knowledge of twelve generations, access to a library three centuries in the making. I should have anticipated."

The girl spoke words Willow knew she'd told herself a thousand times before. "What should you have anticipated? That someone was prepared to betray the human race? You couldn't have anticipated and neither could Sam or anyone else." Willow took the girl' hands in her own, noticing that for the first time the girl's flesh felt clammy. "What happened next? Where did you go?"

The girl seemed to need to think for a moment to answer the question. "Back to my mother's house. As soon as I returned I began reworking my original plan for killing the Master. And now I had all of this training. It took me almost another year to plan it; most of the time was spent gathering the supplies I would need. I had to go back to the human lands for some things. Other stuff I grew. And then it took me nearly two weeks to infiltrate the complex."

"You worked alone?" Willow questioned.

"I couldn't let anyone else risk their lives. It was my fault the Master continued to live."

Knowing it was useless to argue for now, Willow let the point go. "What happened?" She asked, worried that the girl's awareness of her was beginning to slip away.

The girl turned in Willow's embrace and looked into the hacker's eyes. "I destroyed him."

"The Master?" Willow confirmed.

"Yes. And, indirectly, Ethan Rayne, too."

Not sure if she had the right, Willow cupped the girl's face in her hands. "There's something else. It's why you're here, isn't it?"

The girl seemed unaware of Willow's touch. "I used magicks to destroy the Master and Rayne. I killed the head of the snake. I had done all of this research, but I never knew about Rayne's apprentice. He escaped you see. And he's come here."

"Okay, so we find him and we stop him." Willow interrupted, not seeing the danger.

"It's not that simple. Willow, he has my Book of Shadows." The girl protested.

The girl's use of her name brought the danger home to her. "That's bad, isn't it?"

"Very bad. The worst bad there can be. He's come here to recreate what was lost to him in my reality. He's going to unleash the apocalypse."

Already overtired, weary beyond all reason of the endless parade of power wannabes that saw Sunnydale as their north star, Willow dropped her hands away and started to laugh. "Well, take a ticket and get in line." Aware that the girl thought she was losing her mind, Willow explained. "This apprentice guy picked the wrong place. I would need to use both hands to count the number of times a big bad has come to Sunnydale to make with an apocalypse."

The girl seemed ready to argue Willow's unexpected response, but then stopped herself. "Your cadre must be pretty powerful, huh?"

The red head smiled over the use of the term cadre. "Let's just say the Scoobies always somehow manage to get the job done." Willow reached up and twisted a lock of the girl's hair between her fingers. "Nothing world ending is going to happen. I promise. Not on the Scooby watch." Willow kept the smile on her face, but deep inside her soul she cringed over the words world ending. The last time it was she who'd nearly ended the world. She stopped herself from falling into guilt. Now was not the time to feel guilty. The girl needed her to be strong. She stopped herself again, when had she begun to think the girl needed her?

Suddenly uncomfortably aware of the girl's nearness, Willow glanced out the window and was surprised to realize the sun was beginning to rise. She'd allowed the two of them to talk the night through. A second twinge of guilt whispered in the back of her mind. She was supposed to be taking care of the girl. "But right now we need to get some sleep. How about tomorrow I tell you just a few Sunnydale war stories." Forgetting herself once again, Willow stroked the girl's cheek "It's going to be okay. You can trust me."

The words were out of the girl's mouth before she realized. "I already do."

For a moment Willow looked into unfamiliar and familiar blue eyes. Unsettled by what she saw, Willow started to get out of bed, ready to go back to her sleeping bag, when the girl caught her by the forearm.

"You shouldn't have to leave your bed." The girl declared as her fingers slipped away from the red head's arm.

"And you're in no condition to sleep on the couch." Willow gently asserted.

The girl's voice was hesitant. "Stay here, with me. The bed is plenty big, I think."

Before Willow could respond, the girl moved over and made additional room for the hacker. Not sure she was doing the right thing, Willow slipped under the covers and turned off the light on the nightstand, just as the girl turned on her side, her back to the red head. The girl was asleep within seconds, but Willow found it hard to turn off the images inside her head. The girl had taken down the Master; she'd stopped the destruction of her world, and now she'd come to this one to prevent a similar apocalypse. The hacker began to feel badly for laughing. Yes, the Scoobies had stopped the Mayor, Adam and Glory, but they'd done it as a team. In the end, the girl had stopped the Master alone. Looking at the small figure huddled under the covers, Willow resolved that the girl would never again have to fight alone. From now one she would have the Scoobies at her side. The girl sighed softly in her sleep, reminding Willow that she needed to get some sleep as well. The hacker focused her attention on the steady rhythm of the girl's breath, letting the sound lull her whirling thoughts, and then she too fell asleep.

Willow woke to the sound of someone knocking on the door and the press of a body against her shoulder. Still half asleep, she rolled off the bed and went to the door finding a very startled Buffy standing on the other side.

"Will?" Buffy asked, obviously trying to see around her friend.

"What time is it?"

"Eight o'clock. I went downstairs to look for you, but you weren't there, so I thought I'd check up here." Buffy explained awkwardly.

"Tara had a rough night. Bad dreams and fever. We ended up talking most of the night. We only got to sleep a couple of hours ago."

"Oh." Buffy chewed on her lip. "Maybe you want to get some more sleep, then."

Not seeing the concern on her friend's face, Willow responded. "That would be great. Can you come and wake us up at ten?"

"Sure, Will." Buffy promised.

Willow closed the door on her friend and returned to the bed. The girl was still in a deep sleep. Exhausted, the hacker slid back under the covers, trying not to notice the way the girl automatically curled next to her. Just as she was about to fall back to sleep, something shifted in the room. Willow opened her eyes to see her Tara holding the girl from behind. Willow looked past the girl into her lover's beautiful eyes. She mouthed the words, "I love you" and smiled when Tara mouthed them back. Willow reached over the girl and took her Tara's hand in her own. Together, they cuddled the girl between them, until Willow fell back to her sleep and to her dreams.

True to her word, Buffy knocked on the door at ten. Willow awakened slowly, the knocking sound first registering as part of a dream. Buffy knocked a second time, this time waking the hacker. Willow carefully extricated herself from the girl's and her lover's sleepy embrace. On the other side of the door she found Buffy, still wearing an expression of concern on her face, but now holding a cup of coffee, which Willow gratefully accepted.

"Thanks for letting us sleep in." Willow mumbled.

"Want me to bring another cup? Buffy asked, craning her head around the door and Willow to see the still sleeping girl.

"I'm not sure if she drinks coffee or not. My Tara preferred a cup of English Breakfast in the morning, but who knows what new Tara likes. Besides, I need to get her up, and give her her medicine, first. And then, she should probably eat something. Some of the raspberry yogurt would be good." Unaware of her babbling, or the quizzical expression on Buffy's face, Willow yawned, and stretched her back. "What time are we supposed to meet at the Magic Box?"

"I called Anya a little while ago. The new plan is to meet at noon. I said we'd bring lunch for her and Xander."

"Subs from The Sub Factory?" Willow asked, already knowing the answer was yes. Xander had been on a Sub Factory kick for weeks.

Buffy grinned. "That's the plan. I've already got their orders. We can call everything in just before we leave."

"A vegie delight for lunch actually sounds great, especially if the sun dried tomato hummus spread is available today."

"I'll keep my fingers crossed for you." Buffy stepped back. "Okay, I'll leave you to get-" Buffy stumbled over the girl's name. "Tara up. Come downstairs when you're ready."

Willow closed the door and turned back to the bed. The girl was sleeping on her side and had snagged Willow's pillow to hold against her chest. It seemed like the girl might be dreaming, although her body was still. Tara was still spooned around the girl, holding from behind, one arm encircling her waist. The hacker moved to sit on the edge of the bed. She put her hand on the girl's shoulder and squeezed gently.

"Hey sleepyhead. Time to wake up."

Tara woke up instantly, but the girl snuggled deeper into the bed covers and pillows. Willow smiled at her lover. "Well, I guess that got one of you up."

A happy gin crossed Tara's face. "Good morning, sweetie." The blonde sat up to give Willow a tender and lingering kiss. "You need to get her up. And I shouldn't be here when you do. So I'm going to take off for a while, okay?"

"Why can't you be here?" Willow asked, a petulant tone creeping into her voice.

"Will, you need to take care of her without me hanging around. And you need to tell her about us. It's important you do it right away, before she finds out from someone other than you." Willow started to protest, but Tara held up her hand. "Baby, just trust me."

Willow nodded and turned her head away so that she wouldn't have to see Tara vanish. She swallowed several times to steady herself, and then began to gently shake the girl's shoulder. "Come on sleepyhead. It's time to get up."

This time, the girl awakened. When her eyes opened, she smiled. "What time is it?"

"It's after ten, I asked Buffy to let us sleep in since we were up so late. How do you feel?"

"Better, I think." The girl struggled to sit up. "My side is still really sore, but I don't have a headache." The girl stretched her arms over her head, relieving muscles that had tightened over the night. "Do you think I could take a shower? If I don't wash my hair soon, it's going to fall out."

Willow laughed. "I doubt that will happen. But yes, you can take a shower. Before that there's something I need to tell you." Willow's face turned serious. "Something I probably should have told you already."

The girl's expression turned serious. "Sounds kind of ominous."

The hacker shook her head. "No. Not ominous. But important. It's about your counterpart and me." She reached to pull open the nightstand drawer. From inside the drawer she pulled out a framed photograph of herself and Tara. Taken at the beach, they were sitting on a yellow and orange stripped blanket, arms wrapped around each other, locked in a gentle kiss. She turned the photograph downward on her lap, not wanting to reveal it right away. "When I said we knew the Tara from this world, I didn't explain something."

"She was your friend right. She was part of your Scooby group?" The girl hesitated over the term.

"I don't know if Tara ever really thought of herself as a full-fledged Scooby." Willow began. "You see, she came into the group after we all met in high school. Xander and Buffy and me, I mean."

"It was just the three of you." The girl asked, her expression curious.

"No, there were others. Cordelia, for one. Although she had her issues with being part of the gang, as well. She was sort of Xander's girlfriend." Willow stopped herself from making a face. "And then there was Oz. My high school boyfriend."

"And Anya came into the group as Xander's girlfriend."

"You knew that?" Willow asked, her tone surprised.

The girl's forehead wrinkled. "Xander mentioned that Anya was his ex-fiancée. It just stands to reason."

The red head nodded at the girl's logic. "And then there was Angel, and in a completely insane way, Spike. But Spike kind of joined forces after we graduated and went to college." Realizing she was babbling, Willow tried to rein in her explanation. "Things are more complicated when it comes to the two of them."


"Well, they're both vampires for starters." Willow admitted glancing at the floor.

"For starters?" The girl's eyebrows were approaching her hairline. "How could vampires be involved with vampire slaying?"

"They're both special cases. Angel has a soul." Responding to the look on the girl's face, Willow waved her hands. "It's a long story. But he's a vampire who fights for the good."

The girl started to object, but Willow held up her hands, smiling. "I know it sounds impossible, just work with me for a bit." She waited for the girl to nod before continuing. "And as for Spike, he was altered by a government operation. They put a chip in his head, and now he can't hurt humans, only demons." Willow's expression turned dark as she thought of the one exception to the rule. "Plus, he thinks he's in love with Buffy."

The girl startled. "Is he in love with Buffy?"

"That's complicated, too." Her smile entirely gone, Willow shook her head over the unresolved issue. "Complicated as in seriously messed up. Anyway, Angel now lives in Los Angles, and Spike went away last spring, and he hasn't returned."

"She died last spring, didn't she?" The girl asked softly.

It was Willow's turn to raise her eyebrows. "Yes, how did you know?"

The girl picked up one of the pillows and held it against her chest. "The expression on your face." After a beat, she prompted. "What happened?"

Willow's stomach began to twist. "I told you. "There was a shooting. Someone tried to kill Buffy, and he killed-" She trailed off.

"He killed Tara. And you killed him." The girl's voice was barely above a whisper; her expression was unreadable.

"He took away everything. She was my everything." Utterly lost in the pain of the memory, Willow could only stare at the bedroom wall. The photograph slipped from her lap on to the bed. She sensed the girl picking it up from the bed, but couldn't say anything to explain.

"She was your lover." The girl spoke slowly as if experimenting with the words.

Not really hearing the girl, Willow explained. "She was my light. When she was taken from me, everything became dark." Willow's eyes jerked towards the girl. "I became darkness. I killed him. I nearly killed his followers. I hurt my friends. I almost destroyed the world."

The girl looked away, as if ashamed. "You fell into dark magicks."

"I embraced dark magicks." Willow corrected, her tone bitter. "I was just lucky my friends stopped me. Giles had to come all the way from England and I nearly killed him too. I hurt Xander, Buffy, and Anya. God, I hurt Dawnie, and she's just a kid. The whole world was very lucky I was stopped. And I'm very, very lucky that my friends took me back. " Willow brushed away the tears that had sprung unnoticed. "Good people had to pull me from the fire, from the darkness. I didn't deserve anyone's forgiveness, but they gave it to me all the same, and now I'm trying to make amends."

"She was your lover." The girl repeated, blankly.

Willow sat on the side of the bed, no longer aware of the girl. Only of the pain she'd caused and the pain she still felt. Thoughts of all of the things she could have done differently crowded her mind. She barely noticed the girl moving from the bed, or saying she was going to go take her shower. She barely noticed Tara materialize next to her, or felt her lover pull her into her arms.

Chapter Thirteen

The girl sat on the floor of the bathtub, the water from the shower raining down on her body. At first she tried to cry, but she couldn't. The hurt lying trapped inside her chest wouldn't come out. She didn't even understand why she was so upset. The words she tried to put on what she was feeling didn't really fit. Angry? Jealous? Envious? Used? She'd welcomed Willow's comfort as she relived the horror of losing everyone she cared about, believing the red head cared about her. Now all she felt was sick. Her stomach twisted as she remembered waking up in the night and reaching for the red head, wanting to be wrapped inside Willow's arms. She didn't have a word for what she was feeling. The only word she could of was connection.

And now she realized she was exactly what the vampire had said she was. The loneliness of her life overwhelmed her. All of the grief that she'd held at bay, the sorrow of knowing she would never make her appointment with Larry in Los Angeles, the ache of knowing she'd failed Sam, the horror of watching Diego and Carl die rose inside of her. The entire time she'd spent preparing to avenge their deaths, preparing to stop the Master, she'd never allowed herself to grieve. Grief was weak and useless. Grief was everything that her father had said she was. Memories of her father flooded back, her father taunting her for crying and for running to her mother when she was afraid, memories that intertwined with other memories of losing her friends, of Ethan Rayne twisting inside her mind, of Sam's death. She fell to her side; the pain seeming to come from every direction and then the tears came.

She lay under the pounding water sobbing until she found the strength to push it all back again. Her legs shook as she drew herself to her feet. It took little time to wash her hair and body. Why should she care if her stitches got wet? She wondered if the high school were very far from the house? Maybe Gene would have some cookies today? She could leave right away. Nothing was holding her. But by the time she was finished in the shower, she accepted the fact that she couldn't stop her enemy herself. She needed the others to help her, but she had to remember that beyond her mission there was nothing for her here. She belonged nowhere. To Willow and the others she was what she was nothing more than a ghost.

When she came back into the room, wrapped in the bathrobe she'd found hanging on the door, she found the bed made and clothes laid out for her. She dressed quickly and then went downstairs. Willow was in the kitchen and had set out a bowl of yogurt and coffee. She kept her eyes averted, not wanting Willow to see she'd been crying.

"I need to go get ready. Why don't you eat something first and then take your meds. I'll just be a few minutes." The red head explained, heading out of the room before the girl could respond. Willow's voice was still thick from crying, and a new layer of guilt fell upon the girl's soul.

While Willow was upstairs, Buffy returned from outside, carrying a gallon of milk and a grocery sack. The two of them spoke awkwardly for several minutes waiting for Willow to return from upstairs. The girl could tell Buffy knew something had happened between her and Willow, and she noticed that when the red head came back to the kitchen the Slayer did not try to question her friend. They left for the Magic Box several minutes later as if nothing were wrong.

On the ride over, they stopped to pick up sandwiches. The girl sat in the backseat, clutching her backpack in her arms. Someone had returned her blades to the side pocket of her pack, and as they drove through the city, she ran her thumb along one of the knife handle, a small self-comforting gesture.

Buffy parked behind the store and they entered through the backdoor. The floor mats she'd laid on the day before had been put back. All signs of her presence had been erased. When they entered the store, Anya was ringing up a customer sale. It had not occurred to her that the store would be open for business. Since the demon wars had begun in her world, few stores were open on weekends, and no stores were open at night. She couldn't decide if it was a good thing or a bad thing that people could shop on Saturdays.

The three of them sat down at a round table near the back of the store, out of the way of the customers. Several minutes later, Xander joined them, coming through the door carrying a tray with five sodas. The girl couldn't help but smile as he made a big deal of serving the three of them, putting on some accent she couldn't quite identify.

As soon as the customer left, Anya closed the store to the obvious surprise of the others and came to sit with them.

"Aren't you foregoing your capitalist duty, Anya? Closing on a Saturday afternoon?" Buffy joked.

"We need to talk about something and I can't have customers pestering me with their silly questions about the merchandise. Besides, I'll just start overcharging on the newt's eyes. No need to worry." Anya explained, confidently.

"Okay. Understanding your logic there." Xander replied. "Should we eat first? Or is this something you can tell us on an empty stomach?"

Anya reached for the bag holding the sandwiches. "Eat first, discuss later. I'm starving."

As the five of them ate their lunch, Buffy, Xander and Anya kept the silence at bay with small talk about Sunnydale's newly renovated mall. The girl found the conversation difficult to follow, not only because of the references to stores and places unknown to her, but also because Willow kept looking at her and then turning away.

They finished their meal quickly. While Xander cleared away the papers and napkins, Anya climbed up to the newly finished loft to fetch several books. She brought them to the table and opened each to a specific and pre-marked page.

"I've been doing some research." Anya declared as she nervously tapped her fingers over the open pages.

"On your own?" Willow questioned, not bothering to hide the surprise in her voice.

"Yes, on my own." Anya ignored the possible jibe and glanced instead at the girl. "Something's been bothering me about new Tara's injuries. Why she isn't getting better."

"She's getting better." Willow bristled. "She just started the antibiotics, and the aspirin is keeping down the fever."

Now becoming annoyed, Anya leaned towards the red head. "And I bet if anyone checked Tara's sides she'd see that the bruises we saw yesterday have gotten only worse."

Uncomfortable with the friction between Anya and Willow, the girl self-consciously wrapped her arms around her middle. Anya was right. Her bruises were worse. But her fever had lessened. "W-what does any of this matter?" She started to interject, wanting to bring the conversation back to what was important, her mission.

"What matters is she's not getting better." Anya persisted, her eyes beginning to flash.

"Excuse me. Let's stop talking about Tara like she isn't here. No more third person talk, okay. It's not as if she's a ghost." Xander interjected, his tone one of annoyance.

Xander's words eased the girl's heart and she gave him a grateful look. "Maybe we should--"

"And that brings me exactly to my point about ghost Tara." Anya interrupted.

His eyebrows reaching towards his hairline, Xander repeated. "Tara is not a ghost."

Anya sent her ex-fiancé a look of naked frustration. "Not this Tara, I mean the other one. The one that's been hanging out with Willow."

The girl's eyes darted to Anya. Her heart was starting to pound. "What are you talking about? What ghost?"

Anya looked at Willow her expression one of confusion. "I thought you said you were going to tell her about Tara."

The girl watched Willow's face flush as the red head explained. "I did. I told her about me and Tara and what happened."

"You were supposed to explain--" Anya interrupted.

Willow glanced at Buffy and Xander. "No one told me that we were going to talk about-" The hacker stopped and looked away. "I didn't think we were going to bring up my Tara."

"Guys, this isn't helping." Buffy said, trying to intervene.

Anya, clearly annoyed with Willow and the others, continued. "How could you think our Tara's soul wouldn't be relevant? Of course it's relevant. It's probably the reason why-"

Her heart pounding, the girl interrupted. "What are you talking about? The other Tara died last spring. Willow told me."

"Tara's soul hasn't left the mortal plane. It's still here. And I think that's why you're not getting any better. But I need to ask you about how you passed into this dimension to be sure." Anya explained, regaining her usual even tone.

The girl stood up, her eyes blurring, her heart pounding. As calmly as she could, she explained, "I can't talk about this right now." She backed away from the table and limped to the practice room. She wasn't surprised when Willow followed her seconds later.

Shock was quickly turning to anger. "You left out an important detail in your story this morning." The girl turned to look Willow in the eye. "So let me get this straight. My counterpart just happens to be your dead lover and her soul has never left you." Unable to hide or explain the betrayal she felt, the girl looked away. Her legs beginning to shake, she dropped down on the floor next to a stack of floor mats, bracing her back against the edge and holding her head in her hands. "You should have told me the truth from the beginning."

Willow kneeled down next to the girl. "I've been trying to tell you. But it's been hard, and there hasn't been that much time."

To upset to hear what the hacker had to say, the girl continued. "This whole time, no one's been honest with me."

Willow's voice was tender. "No one's been dishonest with you either."

The hacker made the mistake of trying to reach for the girl's hand. She jerked away as if burned. The words were off her tongue instantly and without thought. "Yes you have. You let me think that you cared about me, and really this is all about the other one."

"No, it's not that at all. Of course we care about you." Willow protested.

"Only because of her." The girl said accusingly. Aware she was behaving badly, for once the girl chose not to care. "I thought you wanted to h-help me."

Starting to sound exasperated, Willow explained, "It's not a you or her. She's part of you."

"And you're a part of me." Tara said, from behind Willow.

The girl heard the voice speak from behind the hacker. For a moment there was a shimmering light in the air, and then she saw her. They were not identical. The other Tara's face and body was a little fuller, her skin unmarked by scars. But the girl knew immediately that the other Tara was a part of her. The girl moved towards Tara wanting more than anything to be held in her arms, believing that in her arms she would finally find peace and all of the pain and horror and loneliness of her life would ease. But when she reached for her, there was no substance. The girl collapsed, her body trembling with a hurt so awful she couldn't imagine it ever stopping. She felt the press of Willow's slim body wrapping around her own, and she wanted to pull away, to run away and never see the red head again. But she couldn't. Ashamed and afraid, she sobbed in Willow's arms.

A haze settled over the girl's thoughts until Willow's quiet humming drew her back to the here and now. When the girl spoke, her voice was still rough from crying. "My mother used to sing that to me when I was a little girl."

"So did my Tara's, she taught it to me, and later, after she got hurt, I used to sing it to her." The girl started to move to sit up, but the red head's arms closed around her. "Don't get up just yet. We need to talk, and it's easier this way."

Embarrassed, her anger returning, the girl asked. "Easier for whom?"

"Us. It's how we do things."

Willow's voice was calm and her tone incredibly soothing, but the girl refused the comfort. "We don't do things. We don't know each other." The girl bitterly explained. She tried to twist out of Willow's arms, but the red head wouldn't let her.

"Don't we? Than how do I know exactly the way you like to be held when you're feeling scared? Like this, from behind, my one arm wrapped around your stomach, the other around your upper chest. It makes you feel safe and secure. How do I know that you like to sleep with your head against my shoulder and your arm over my waist?" Willow's tone became amused. "How do you know to brush your hand over mine when I'm getting snippy, like you did last night when I started to get annoyed with Anya."

Slightly mollified, the girl remarked. "She's only trying to help."

Willow chuckled. "I know, but sometimes I forget. I used to forget a lot more often. Now it only happens once in a while."

The girl felt the lightest kiss against her head and despite herself she leaned into it her body unable to hide how much she wanted Willow's comfort. "How can you make me feel so safe? I never feel safe."

The red head's voice was gentle. "Tara, we don't have the experience memories, but you know me. I know you do. And you're right; I should have told you about my Tara. You shouldn't have found out the way you did. I just didn't know how to tell you. Telling you about how I lost her was--."Her voice trailed off for a moment. "Every time I've told the story it's felt like I was losing her all over again. Everyone seems to have this idea that talking about losing someone is supposed to make you feel better. But they're wrong. It's doesn't."

The girl moved inside Willow's embrace so that she could look into tender green eyes. "Where did she go? Your Tara, I mean. She'd isn't here right now."

"She had to go away for a while. Kind of recharge. Making herself visible takes a lot out of her." Mentioning Tara's needs caused the red head to remember the girl's "Your fever is back. You should take some more aspirin."

Willow started to move, but the girl held her still. "Please, can we stay here together for just another minute or two?"

A faint smile crossed the hacker's face. "Not quite ready to face the gang again, huh."

The girl took the easy out and tucked her face into the red head's shoulder. "Not just yet."

Willow shifted so that she could brace her back against the stack of floor mats and then helped the girl move on to her lap. Once they were settled, she wrapped her arm around the girl's waist and chest, smiling as the girl's head dropped back against her shoulder.

"Things keep coming at me. I feel so lost." The girl whispered.

"You're not lost. You're here, with me. And it's safe. I promise." Willow whispered back.

The practice room still smelled of chicken soup, sweat and liniment, but a new scent hovered around her. Gradually, the girl realized it was the scent of Willow's hair and skin. Delicate and fresh, the girl breathed in the scent, letting it fill her lungs. Unaware, she pressed her face into Willow's neck, breathing even deeper, reveling in the comfort of Willow's body.

Nearly thirty minutes passed before they returned to the main room of the store. Xander, Buffy and Anya were still seated around the table. It was obvious that Anya had explained what she knew to Buffy and Xander, and neither looked happy. The girl let Willow help her back into her seat and then watched Willow move back to her own. She missed Willow's arms around her and wished they were sitting next to one another.

"Are you feeling better?" Buffy asked.

Buffy's tone was solicitous, for the first time the girl did not feel regarded with suspicion by the Slayer. She nodded. "Willow explained to me."

"Well not everything, because I don't think Willow knows everything." Anya interjected, her tone impatient.

Willow reached for her shoulder bag and pulled out an aspirin bottle. "Anya, why don't you tell us what you know? I promise to stop interrupting." Willow said, her tone even. She took out two tablets and then leaned across the table to give them to the girl. "Here, take these. It will bring down your fever."

"For now. But not for long." Anya interrupted.

"Anya thinks she's figured out why Tara can't seem to throw off her fever, or heal." Xander explained, his tone deeply troubled.

Anya looked at the girl. "I think I have, but I need to ask you a couple of questions first."

Not sure what to expect, the girl replied "Okay," and steeled herself for another blow. Since coming to this dimension, every time anyone said she needed to be told something, it hurt. Again, she wished Willow were sitting closer.

The vengeance demon glanced down at her book before asking, "When you came to this reality. Did you use a teleportation spell or did you open a portal."

Not sure why the vengeance demon was asking, Tara cautiously replied that she'd opened a portal.

"I knew it. I just knew it." Anya's voice was filled with triumph. She closed her book with a satisfied snap.

Willow tried to hide a smile. "Knew what, Anya?"

"Okay, another question. This one may seem kind of weird. But when you moved through the portal were you able to take anything with you."

The girl flushed slightly. "No, I had to leave everything behind. My backpack, my kit, my weapons, my clothes, everything. It was part of the conjure."

Anya looked at Xander and Buffy. "That explains it."

"Explains what?" Willow's patience was obviously growing thin,

"Explains why Tara can't heal, why she can't do magicks." Anya opened another book, and used her finger to search for a passage.

"Can't do magicks?" Willow asked, clearly surprised.

Anya glanced at the girl. "You haven't even tried, have you?"

"No, there's not been any need." The girl explained uneasily. She's used a portal to ensure she could do magicks. Panic began bubbling in her stomach. How could she take down the apprentice if she didn't have her powers?

Anya's voice was matter of face. "Well don't bother. You can't."

Willow began to bristle, and the girl resisted the urge to reach for the red head's hand.

"And she can't because why?" Willow asked, her tone a warning.

The vengeance demon ignored the hacker and turned back to the girl. "Tara, you didn't just pass into this world, you made yourself a part of it. You're a part of the fabric of this reality, now. And I bet you knew that. I'm guessing that you needed to come here by portal to complete this mission of yours." Anya didn't wait for the girl's response. "But what you don't know is that you're incomplete." The vengeance demon pushed a book towards Willow. "Just read this passage, you'll see."

Willow read for a moment, her face at first interested and then horrified. "How do we stop this?"

"Tara needs to regain the parts of herself that are missing. She needs to become one being, instead of two."

"Anh, I thought you said she can't do magicks." Xander said, now confused.

Anya shook her head impatiently. "No, I mean she can't do spells."

"What? This isn't making any sense. What are you saying?" Willow asked, her voice rising in pitch.

Buffy pushed her chair closer to Willow's "Will, it's the only way. She can't live without her soul intact. And our Tara isn't living."

Not perceiving the potential effect of her words, Anya added." Right now she'd feeding off of the new Tara. It's why our Tara's been growing stronger ever since the new Tara arrived in our reality."

It had taken a moment or two, but the girl finally understood the implications of what Anya was saying. Shocked at herself for not realizing immediately what it meant that Tara's soul was still part of this reality, for a moment she couldn't think. And then she realized what Anya was trying to say. Her face ashen, the girl sat forward. "I can't take do this. I can't take her away from Willow."

Buffy's voice was filled with sorrow. "There's no other choice."

The girl turned to Anya. The demon knew magicks. She could help. "Then send me back to my world. Just let me tell you what you need to know to fight the coming evil."

Anya looked at the girl with sympathy. "It wouldn't help. You'd die anyway. You're already joined to this reality. You'd still be split in two."

The girl looked to Buffy, anything to avoid seeing the pain on Willow's face. "I can't hurt her."

Anya misunderstood. "Our Tara is already dead. She can't be hurt."

Tears filled the girl's eyes. "No, I mean Willow."

The hacker finally spoke. "I need to have some time to think."

 Post subject: Re: Doppelganger Redux
PostPosted: Sat Oct 26, 2002 9:53 pm 
Chapter Fourteen

Willow walked all the way back to Revello Drive. When she came through the door, she found Tara sitting on the sofa waiting for her.

"Can we go upstairs to talk?" Willow asked, her voice hesitant.

Tara straightened the waist of her skirt as she stood up from the sofa. "Of course, come on."

When they got to the room, Willow closed the door behind her. She kicked off her shoes and left her jacket sitting on the chair before getting on to the bed. Tara was already there, holding her arms open, and Willow sank into the comfort of the most loving embrace she'd ever known.

"You're going to leave me." Her voice seemed to come from some far away place.

"No." Tara countered. "I'll always be there. I'm a part of both of you, remember."

"But the memories of us. Our first kiss. The day you told me that you were mine. The night I brought you the candle. The song you sang to me. Even the bad stuff, our fights, watching you leave. That will all be lost." Willow protested, fighting back tears.

Tara spoke as she gently began stroking Willow's hair. "You'll tell Tara what she needs to know, and the rest you'll keep in your heart."

"I'm losing you."

"She's me, remember" Tara looked into Willow's face. "My Willow, I see it in her eyes. Already, even without this part of her soul, she loves you."

Willow shook her head, not wanting to hear the words she knew were true. "She doesn't even know me."

Tara pressed a kiss on the side of Willow's forehead. "I fell in love with you the day we met. The moment I saw you I knew. When we used magick together that first time, I gave you my heart and I never took it back. I couldn't. It belonged to you."

"How can you expect me to trade in you for her?" Willow asked, her voice breaking.

"It's not a trade. Willow, she's me." Tara began calmly, but as she spoke tears began to fall. "And she's scared, and she's hurt and she's the most alone person I've ever seen in my life. Will, I saw her, really saw her. She didn't give up everything to come here; she'd already lost everything she'd ever had. She doesn't know this, not consciously, but she came here to die. Her mission is a suicide mission." Tara brought her lover's hands to her lips and kissed the fingertips."

The enormity of what her lover was telling her was too much. "Tara, how can you know all of this?"

"I just do. Baby, please believe me. I don't know how, but when she passed through me in the practice room for a moment we were one. The way we're supposed to be."

"Tara, I'm not strong enough for this."

"Willow, she needs you so much, the way I needed you when Glory hurt me. The way I needed you when I came here and asked you to kiss me. Willow, you've always taken care of me." Tara's hands clutched at the fabric of Willow's shirt. "Don't stop caring for me now. Not when I need you the most."

Willow felt her heart shatter. "This is the last time then. The last time I get to look into your eyes and see all the memories we share. She's you, but you won't remember me anymore."

Tara's voice calmed. "My Willow, when Glory hurt me. You didn't stop loving me. You kept me close. You would never have let me go. Our memories were lost then, but you loved me all the same. Don't stop now."

Willow moved up in Tara's arms to capture a kiss. "I won't. I could never stop loving you."

Tara's lips brushed against Willow's as she spoke. "I know this is hard. Impossibly hard. But it's the only way. Maybe this is the reason I was kept here. Why I never really left you."

"How am I supposed to say goodbye to you?" Willow asked, pulling back, wanting to see the love in Tara's eyes.

Tara's half smile appeared on her face. "My Willow, you're not. You're bringing me home again. You're giving me back Dawnie and Buffy, Xander and Anya. You're giving me back everything that was lost." Tara tightened her arms around Willow. "You need to call them. Tell them to come here.

Willow clutched at the woman she loved more than life. "Can we be together a while longer? Just a little while."

Blue eyes looked deeply into green. "Okay, but call them. Tell them to come by sunset. And tell Buffy to have Anya and Xander take Dawn out for pizza. She can't see this."

"You know what needs to be done?"

Tara smiled tenderly. "While you were all sitting around the table in the Magic Box, I read over Anya's shoulder. Baby, you're going to need to be our anchor. Buffy will need to be there too."

"Tara, I can't do magicks." The half-lie was off her lips before she realized it.

"Will, it's not magicks." Tara reassured. "At least not the stuff we think of as magicks. It's another thing. Something older. Our other Tara will know what to do. But she's very weak now. To do this she'll need your strength and Buffy's drive."

Understanding came over the red head. "You know what she's come here to fight."

Tara pressed a kiss on the side of Willow's cheek. "Baby, it's going to be hard on you. Very hard. But you need to hear it from her, after she's rejoined with me. And you're going to need to be super strong. Because we're going to need your help."

"I trust you." Willow said quietly.

Still caught in her own misgivings, Tara continued. "I want to tell you, but it would be wrong."

"I trust you." Willow said again, her smile reminding Tara of another time she'd said those very words.

Tara's voice was filled with love. "I always counted on your trust. I don't know why I'm questioning it now."

"Because this is hard for you too." Willow said, as she caught Tara's lips in a long, slow kiss, wanting her lover to know everything that was in her heart.

Willow made the call to the Magic Box and explained what needed to be done, and then the then the two of them spent the rest of the afternoon together holding each other and talking quietly, trying to say everything that needed to be said, remembering the things they'd shared, caring for each other, as only they knew how.

Willow kept her back to the window, not wanting to see the sun make its slow descent, but when she heard the front door open she knew it was time. They held their last kiss as long as they could, and then Willow went downstairs. She did not look back; she knew Tara was already gone.

She found Buffy and the girl sitting on the sofa. The girl's fever was worse, and she could see small red lines beginning to spider out from the cut on her forehead. The infection was now in the girl's blood. Willow knew they had to act quickly.

"Tara kind of explained what needs to happen. She said you'll need to do some sort of ritual." Her voice sounded strange in her own ears, as if someone else were speaking for her.

"A conjure." The girl started coughing. "It's like a spell but it comes from a much deeper level. I'm sorry. I wish I could do this without you. If I could-"

Willow looked into blue eyes that she recognized from deep inside her heart. "I trust you."

Not hearing the hacker's words, the girl tried to explain. "If there was any other way-"

A smile crossed the hacker's face. "I trust you." Willow drew in a deep breath, and an unfamiliar calm began to rise inside of her. Her eyes held the girl's and suddenly an image of the girl as a young child appeared in her mind's eye. The girl was dressed in a sleeveless white shirt with turquoise rickrack and a pair of turquoise shorts. Her feet were bare, and around her mouth were the unmistakable signs of chocolate ice cream. The girl was laughing, but in her eyes Willow could already see an adult wariness. Willow's heart pounded with a fierce protectiveness.

Willow moved to the sofa and helped the girl to her feet. "Can you make it up the stairs. Tara said we need to do this where-"

"She died." The girl whispered, as she leaned into Willow's side. "Let's go."

Willow could tell it was taking all of Buffy's self-control to resist offering to carry the girl up the stairs. And when she stumbled halfway up, Willow had to resist asking for help herself. But she knew it was important to the girl to make it up the stairs on her own power.

Inside the bedroom, the girl asked Buffy to push back the rug, exposing the hardwood floor and then asked Buffy and Willow to leave her as she set up the magick space using supplies she'd brought from the Magic Box. When they came back in the room they saw a circle painted on the floor with pine oil. Inside of it was a pattern drawn in salt and what looked like tiny seashells. The girl leaned against the edge of the bed, and Willow could tell much of her energy was already spent.

The girl's tone was apologetic. "I still need to get myself ready, and prepare a tea for the three of us to drink, but now I think I need some help."

Buffy walked up to the circle and crouched down to look at it. "What do you need us to do?"

For a moment the girl appeared dazed and uncertain. She stared at Buffy as if she could not process the Slayer's question; after a moment she shook her head appearing to throw off her confusion. "Maybe you could prepare this." She said, holding out a small bag of tealeaves. "It's a sweetened black tea, nothing special by itself." Buffy took the bag from the girl. "If you could make it in a tea pot and bring up the pot plus three cups that would be great."

"I'll get right on it. Call me when you're ready." Buffy gave Willow and the girl a gentle smile and headed for the kitchen.

The girl looked towards Willow, clearly uncomfortable being alone with the hacker.

Wishing she knew the words that could set the girl at ease, wishing even more she understood the confusions of her own heart, Willow asked. "What do you need me to do?"

The girl sighed with weariness and embarrassment. "Help me get ready. I need to do this as I came into your world, which means getting undressed, taking a ritual bath and then painting several symbols on my skin, two on my back, one on my chest and one on my forehead. But right now, I don't think I can raise my arms over my head, let alone draw the symbols."

Willow nodded. "Do you have pictures of what I need to draw?"

"They're in my backpack." She explained, nodding towards the bag that lay open against the legs of the desk.

Willow moved to the bag and pulled out a folded sheet of paper. The symbols were simple line drawings, easy to execute. She brought the drawings to the bed. "What do I use to paint them?"

"The same oil I used to paint the circle on the floor." A faint grin crossed the girl's face. "Sorry, by the way, that's going to be a real job to clean up."

"If this works the way it should, you'll be strong enough to help me." Willow chuckled, noticing with relief that the girl was willing to share in her joke.

The girl needed to steady herself on Willow's shoulder as they walked to the bathroom, and Willow's concern grew even higher at the obvious heat now coming off of her skin.

Inside the bathroom, Willow hesitated, but raised the point anyway. "My Tara told me that the entire ritual is going to take at least half an hour."

"I need to chant between each phase of the conjure." The girl explained as she braced herself against the bathroom sink. "So, yes, it's going to take a while, probably thirty minutes, maybe more, maybe less."

"Would it hurt for you to take another dose of aspirin?" The hacker could see the protest ready to spring from the girl's mouth and without thinking she placed her fingers over her lips. "I'm worried about your fever. It's got to be over a hundred. Don't make this harder than it needs to be. Would it hurt for you to eat something?"

At Willow's touch, the protest dissipated from the girl. "I don't think I could eat. But the aspirin sounds okay."

"Okay, just wait here a second. I'll go downstairs and grab the aspirin bottle and a glass of water. Wait, your stomach's probably empty; milk would probably be better. What do you think?" Willow asked, as she bent over and turned on the tap.

"Milk sounds good." The girl attempted a smile, but it faded quickly.

Willow nodded, "I'll be back in a jiffy." She checked to make sure the water was flowing at the right temperature and then rushed out of the bathroom.

Downstairs, Willow found Buffy in the kitchen preparing a tray on which rested a pale green Chinese tea set. The teakettle sat on the stove over a low flame. The hacker warmed her hands over the kettle. "It's going to take a while to get Tara ready. Maybe twenty minutes or so. I'm going to try to drive down her fever before we start."

Buffy pulled Willow away from the stove and into her arms. "Will, I know this is killing you. I understand what you're giving up."

"I can't think about that right now." Willow protested, even as she let herself lean into her best friend's narrow frame.

Buffy's lips brushed across Willow's hair. "Sweetie, you're shaking like a leaf."

"I'm okay, Buff. But thank you for caring about me." Willow fought to hold back her tears as she felt Buffy's embrace tighten.

"Will, you're going to have to think about it eventually. Promise me you won't try to hide your grief this time."

"I won't, but I need to do this." The words came quickly, unbidden from her mouth. "Buffy, she's dying. I can tell. And she's scared, really scared." Ashamed of herself, of her weakness, Willow let her head fall on to friend's shoulder. "At least this time we got to say goodbye. And she got to be with all of us. Even Dawnie." Willow took in a deep, steadying breath and then pulled back, surprised. "God, was it only yesterday that all of this started?"

Buffy leaned forward to kiss Willow on the forehead. "Call me when you need me. And you know I mean that anytime, right?"

Willow stepped back into the circle of Buffy's arms, drawing in her best friend's strength, and then pulled away. She quickly poured a glass of milk. "I'll call you when we need you to come upstairs." Not wanting to see the expression on Buffy's face, she turned away and headed for the stairs. She found the girl where she'd left her. While Willow had been in the kitchen, she'd managed to kick off her shoes and was struggling with the button on her jeans.

"Let me do that." Willow said, first reaching around the girl to shut off the water, and then easily undoing the button. She helped the girl out of her pants, wincing as she saw the bruises that now decorated her shins and a particularly nasty one that covered most of her left hip. "Is that from falling last night."

The girl looked down at the bruise on her hip. "I think so. I got the ones on my shins from tripping over some floor tiles in a hardware store. Someday, I'll need to go back there and pay for the things I stole and for a case I b-broke."

"Let's worry about restitution later, okay." Willow said, drawing herself to her feet. "I'll try to be gentle, but I think this is going to hurt no matter what." The hacker explained as she took the hem of the girl's shirt between her fingers.

Willow wasn't sure if it was the intimacy of the gesture of taking away the girl's shirt, or the girl's inability to hide her pain that made her wince. The bruises on the girl's sides were now nearly black and stretched around underneath her breasts to just above the rise of her stomach. The cut on her lower on back also showed signs of serious infection. Helping her into the tub was a nightmare; the girl could scarcely lift her leg over the side, and as soon as she sat in the lukewarm water she started to shiver uncontrollably. Willow fought the urge to warm the water more; she needed to cool the girl's skin. She wouldn't survive if her fever didn't lessen. While she sat in the water, Willow gave the girl the aspirin, holding the glass of milk to her lips because the girl's hands were too unsteady.

"I'm sorry that the bath isn't very hot. I'm hoping the cool water will help drive down your fever."

The girl sat curled up in the tub hugging her knees against her chest. "I understand. There's some special s-soap and a bag of herbs in my backpack. Can you go get them?"

Willow nodded and headed back to the bedroom, returning with the entire backpack in hand. A quick search of the bag uncovered the soap and a small plastic bag holding several different kinds of herbs. Willow thought she recognized lavender and goldenseal. "What do I do?"

"First pour the herbs into the water. And then help me wash my hair and skin with the soap. I need to purify myself for the conjure."

It was easier said than done, by the time they were finished, the girl was quietly weeping from the pain. It seemed to Willow that the girl's body was breaking down before her eyes. When she helped her out of the tub, the tremors in her legs were so bad that Willow could barely hold her upright. The hacker toweled her off as gently as she could, and wrapped her inside her bathrobe before insisting on blow-drying her hair. Only then was she willing to take the girl back to the bedroom.

The girl crossed to the bed and picked up the sheet of paper. "The symbols need to be drawn in the order I've specified. The two on my back first, next the one on my chest and lastly the one on my forehead."

"Do we need to do anything before hand?"

"The symbols help me c-channel the energy. They don't really mean anything until after they're drawn. But could you grab my tarot pack from my backpack?"

Willow nodded and set to work. Because the girl could no longer control her shivering, drawing the symbols took far longer than Willow expected. By the time she was finished, Willow was beginning to seriously doubt the girl could complete the conjure. Knowing she was risking her ire, Willow asked. "Do you need to rest before I call Buffy?

The girl shook her head as she rose from the bed and crossed to the circle's northern point. "No, I need to do this now. You take the eastern point and Buffy the western. We drink the tea first, and then I start the conjure."

As soon as they were ready, Willow called for Buffy, who moments later came through the door carrying the tea set on the serving tray. Willow heard Buffy's sharp intake of breath at the sight of the girl's bruised body, and avoided her friend's eyes, knowing Buffy would want to call off the ritual. The hacker was no longer sure the girl could survive the rejoining, and she was terrified of what would happen to her Tara if the girl died, but she doubted even more her ability to be objective and so she kept her silence.

The girl instructed the Slayer to pour the tea and place the tray somewhere outside the circle.

"It's pretty simple." The girl explained as she opened the tarot pack and selected four cards, keeping one for herself and handing the other three to Willow. "Could you hand The Chariot to Buffy, keep Strength for yourself and place the Hanging Man face-up on the southern point of the circle." She placed The World face-up on the floor in front of herself. "We need to drink our tea in a three swallows, one after the other. Then I create the space for the joining. What ever happens, don't leave the c-circle. Towards the end, we'll need to join hands. You can put the cards down in front of you, or hold them."

"So, mostely we just sit quietly?" Buffy asked.

"Exactly." The girl smiled at the two of them and then closed her eyes. Willow watched as the girl began to breathe deep, long breaths. The hacker's eyes took in the body she knew so well, but didn't. For the first time she allowed herself to look at the girl carefully. Different lives had produced countless variations. It was obvious that even before the girl had become sick, she'd been painfully thin. Willow could see the malnourishment caused by years of subsistence living. Like her Tara, the girl was beautiful, but in her own way. Cut, bruised and scarred, her core gentleness had been tempered by a sad wariness. Her trials had brought her strength, but at the cost of her trust. A part of Willow wanted to hate her because of what was about to happen. But her Tara was right. She could no more hate the girl than she could stop loving her Tara.

The girl led them in the drinking of the tea, and then bowed her head. Several minutes later, the girl began to draw patterns in the air, patterns that slowly took on a light-like substance. She would finish one and then draw another, letting the patterns drift off of her fingers and sink into the circle. Fascinated, Willow looked down and realized the pattern the girl had painted on the floor was now beginning to glow a faint golden color, as were the patterns on her skin. She caught Buffy's eyes and saw that her best friend was as mesmerized as she.

After approximately ten minutes, the girl stopped, dropped her hands in her lap and began whispering a chant. Willow couldn't make out the words, if they even were words. When she finished chanting, she began making another set of forms. Where the first set had been tinged purple, the next set was a deep green. One of the patterns drifted towards her, and brushed against her face before drifting back into the circle. It felt warm but insubstantial. The sensation reminded her of the few times her hand had brushed through Tara.

When the girl finished making the green patterns, she chanted a second time. Willow couldn't be sure, but the chant seemed different. She thought some of the words might be ancient Greek, but she wasn't certain of that either. The final set of patterns was more sharply defined. Golden in color, they seemed familiar to Willow. She wondered if they might be letters from an ancient alphabet.

The circle was now covered in a carpet of light. The patterns began to intertwine, taking on new shapes. Willow wasn't sure if they were doing so independently or at the command of the girl. Her eyes locked on the colors before her, she did not see her Tara materialize at the southern point of the circle. Only Buffy's startled gasp alerted her.

Her lover was dressed in the clothes she'd died in except they were no longer covered in blood. They locked eyes for what Willow knew would be the last time. She felt as if her heart were being ripped from her chest as they whispered the words, "I love you." In her peripheral vision, she saw the girl reach for her hand first, Buffy's second. Before her lover moved, Willow knew how the circle was to be completed. She raised her other hand and closed it over her lover's and then watched Buffy do the same. As her lover began to fade away, she felt Tara drift through her body, filling the empty and lonely spaces with caring, soothing away the fears and doubts, extending through her arms and legs, into her fingers and toes, enveloping her in love. And then it was over, the hand that had held Tara's emptied and dropped to her lap.

End Part One


You think you know. What

is to come. What you are. You

haven't even begun.

An almost Haiku

Doppelganger Redux

Part Two

Chapter Fifteen

Into the abyss, she fell. Her thoughts quieted as she let go of the burden of her past and the wreck of her memories. She became her body, her skin and blood, her muscles and bones. She became the pumping of her heart and the break of sweat that ran between her breasts. Her body was opening in some new way, growing light, losing its substance. A cold tickle of fear brushed against her mind, a scream began to form inside her throat. Waves of searing pain slid across her skin, and a bitter taste formed in the back of her mouth. Panic grew inside her, but something pushed it back. Something enveloped her, filling all the lonely places, soothing away her fears and doubts. She spiraled back inside her skin. She slipped into the restful darkness.

She woke inside a cage. Blood spilled from a cut on her lower back. Her hair hung in front of her face, matted with sweat and dirt and tears. Bruises and wounds, bite marks and scratches covered her skin. Her back and leg muscles strained uselessly against the metal bars. Above her, a night sky glittered with a thousand stars, and in all directions she could see other cages, each of them filled with a single prisoner. She tried to scream, but she could make no sound.

Her fingers traced the delicate veins of a fallen leaf. Its green had wasted away, leaving behind vibrant shades of red and orange. The taste of autumn was on the air. She threw up her arms, reaching for the sky, and began to spin inside the leaves. Kicked up by her feet, the leaves spun about her, surrounding her in a veil of color. Gentle laughter sounded behind her as the leaves spun higher forming a canopy above her head, a fairy tale castle for a little girl princess forever loved.

It was hell, but it was heaven too. It was shadow and twilight. She saw colors that didn't exist. She heard music that was indescribably beautiful and terrifying. Sometimes she was locked inside her cage, but other times she fell from the sky, her skin on fire, and still other times she floated, adrift in some huge ocean. She lived in a world of pure sensation. Most of the time she was lost, but sometimes she heard a voice calling to her, a gentle sound that held back the madness.

Fangs pressed through the soft flesh of her throat. She struggled, twisting uselessly against the vampire's embrace. As her pounding heart gave the vampire her blood, her thoughts turned to her mother and father and to her little brother. She struggled harder, all the while crying and begging for mercy. When the vampire suddenly pushed her away, she lost her balance and fell to the pavement. From the ground she looked up into the vampire's eyes. Golden flecks gleamed amid the emerald green. The vampire spoke to her, and she took its words into her heart.

She road at full gallop, the horse and she had become one, a single machine moving over green hillsides. The sky was a perfect cloudless blue, and on the air she could catch the faint scent of pine. Her heart beat in time with the rhythm of hooves pounding against the earth. Laughter burst forth from her chest, a laughter that matched the joy of the moment, the joy of perfect peace.

She sat in the darkness, her mind's whirling had long stopped, and now she waited. The knock sounded at the door, and she tried to stop herself from rising from her chair. As she closed the distance from chair to door, she fought to swallow her tears. She had no right to them. She had no right to stand in front of another's happiness.

Searing pain radiated throughout her body. Crushing, burning pain like none she'd ever felt before. It snaked throughout her limbs, reaching from her shoulders and into her arms; it stretched down her back and into her legs, and then it stopped. She fell to the floor an awkward heap of arms and legs. Her face brushed against the soft wool of the carpet. The carpet smelled of roses and lilacs. Someone was screaming. Darkness fell.

She crept down the stairs, carefully stepping over the board that always squeaked. Around the corner, she saw her. The angel sat on her throne, a study in concentration. She wore a thick blue robe and her legs were tucked close to her body. Golden hair flowed over her shoulders and down her back. Her head was bent to the side, slate blue eyes focused on the book in her lap. The candle flickered on the table beside her, casting shadows against the walls. She hid behind the banister and watched the angel until sleep forced her eyes to close, and then she dreamed of her, of her angel unaware.

The needle pulled through the tender flesh of her back. She tried to lie still, hoping that the pain would be less. She'd counted the stitches, thirty-two thus far. Above her, behind her head, she could hear him breathing through his mouth and nose. He made a whistling sound that reminded her of guinea pigs, and he smelled of sweat and tobacco. Her eyes focused on an ant crossing on the ground in front of her. It carried something in its mouth. She watched the ant as it slowly struggled over a terrain rough with pebbles and turned over dirt. She watched until the ant moved out of sight, and then wondered if it had made its way back to its nest. She hoped it had. Blessed be.

She leaned back into arms, strong and sure. Hands moved over her skin, gliding over her belly and sliding over her breasts. Hands pressed between her thighs, massaging tender and excited flesh. She breathed in the warm mucky scent of sex. Her body twisted slowly as the pleasure built inside of her. When she came it was in joy, her back arching, her breasts pushing upwards. She reached behind and wove her fingers into soft, silk-like hair.

It was the third day; she was halfway home. The shockwave hit her while she was tying her shoe. She fell to the ground and the images and sounds and feelings and tastes and smells ripped through her body. She no longer fought it. She now accepted it for what it was. She had no right to refuse her punishment. The blame for their deaths was hers and hers alone.

She ran through the deserted city. The sound of her feet slapping against the concrete pavement echoed down the empty streets. It had no shape, no form, no mass. But it chased her all the same. Her hair hung down her back in two long braids that brushed against the scars that marred her flesh. She could smell the fires behind her, and feel the shockwaves of far distant guns. She came around a corner and stumbled in 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.

The wall of flames swept along the plain. She heard cries of terror and then agony as the fire consumed all that was above the earth. The scent of burnt flesh filled the air. She pushed uselessly against the bars of her cage. There was no hope of escape. She fell to her knees and tried to bring to her mind's eye the face of her angel. The sky turned from fiery red and orange to a peaceful slate blue. She brought the blue inside her, and the terror melted away. As the wall of flames rushed over her, the blue became green, and, in the greenness, she became whole.

Edited by: technopagan78 at: 1/29/03 7:18:59 pm

 Post subject: Re: Doppelganger Redux
PostPosted: Sat Oct 26, 2002 11:18 pm 
Ok, I have to admit something.

I'm usually a pretty patient person, but when I realized that the first part of this story was posted elsewhere in its entirety...

Well, I had to go and have a look.

It's just too gripping a story not to, and I commend all the Kittens who were able to restrain themselves and savor each piece as it was posted.

The writing here is incredibly powerful.

I'm grateful that you chose to refrain from calling "the girl" Tara. Even though she *is* Tara, she is her own person with her own separate and completely different history, and as such she deserves to have her story told and have it stand on it's own. If both girls had been called Tara from the start I would have personally filtered the life story of "the girl" through the history of the Tara we all know and love, and I really think that it would have dampened the power of the story for me.

I'm so excited to see the first bit of part two up and running.

The imagery is so vibrant, I really get the sensation of being caught in a whirlwind, twisting and turning in a double helix, watching two separate and distinct individuals become one person.

Only one thing is certain, the next time we are introduced to Tara Maclay she will be different from either of the two girls we have gotten to know thus far.

I'm looking forward to meeting her.

Just an incredible piece of writing, truly.

 Post subject: Re: Doppelganger Redux
PostPosted: Sat Oct 26, 2002 11:52 pm 
Cindiplitude, thank you for the quick reply. I'm sitting here on pins and needles terribly afraid of potential kitten rage over the ending of Part One.

I share your admiration for those who've read D.R. in insallments. I think I actually like the story better this way, with the comments interposed. Stories were never intended to be these one-directional things. Narrative finds its life in the telling and the retelling and the telling back. D.R. is clearly in debt to the creators of BTVS, but there is also a debt to other tellers of tales. (Chapter Fifteen is a composition of bits of stories drawn from D.R., but also from BTVS and from other fan fic writers--it's a collective memory of Tara.)

I love your comments about being caught in the whirlwind, and of a double helix. Chapter One begins and chapter fourteen ends with a birth of sorts (she's naked for a reason, folks). Of course, your comments also brought to my mind the saying, "Those who sow the wind shall reap the whirlwind." Or something to that effect. More evidence of paranoia, it's Saturday night and I am quoting the Old Testament.

And for those who are upset, please remember my promise to bring D.R. to a satisfying close. As I hope all of you have realized, the characters in D.R. are incredibly precious to me. They live and talk daily inside my head.


 Post subject: reply
PostPosted: Sun Oct 27, 2002 1:04 am 
Where to start... I honestly don't think I can explain or try to put into words how breathtakingly beautiful this story is. I could try, but I wouldn't do it justice.

As for negative comments... I can't even imagine what shape they would take.

This story is perfect, and I can't wait for more. Btw, I was supposed to write 8 pages for my Egyptian Archaeology class tonight. Thanks, Technopagan... I REALLY didn't want to anyway. ;)

 Post subject: Re: Doppelganger Redux
PostPosted: Sun Oct 27, 2002 1:11 am 

No, no.

No bad thoughts.

I can understand that it will be hard for some to see the last part of "our Tara" go. It was painful for me to read, actually.

Just more proof of how well written this fic actually is.

I get excited thinking about all the directions this story can go now, all the twists and the characters will deal with Tara now that the joining has taken place.

I felt such pain for Willow. She knew she had to let Tara go, or lose her completely and forever. And her heart. *sigh*

To have the person you love most in the world near you everyday, yet being the only person to remember the love and shared memories...that has to be the worst possible torture I can imagine.

Yet, I don't dread this for Willow.

Tara's essence remembers everything. And that essence is now wholly a part of a flesh and blood Tara. I really believe that the two became one...mixing and melding together to form a new whole, and not just one part phasing into the other with no lasting impact. The memories of one are entwined with the other, so the memory of the love Willow and Tara share hasn't been lost. In a way, it's been found.

Just my take on things:)

Oh, and by all means call me Cindi:)

Cindipitude is original, but a mouhful:)

 Post subject: Re: Doppelganger Redux
PostPosted: Sun Oct 27, 2002 5:17 am 
Ouch... I feel soooo sorry for Willow having to lose Tara twice, in the same place even... :cry . She's being very brave so far, wonder how long that will hold after the ritual is done. It makes sense to (at least try to) save the Tara who's still alive, still it must have been hard for Willow and Buffy to see 'their' Tara vanish like that :cry :cry :( .

Chapter 15 is indeed a whirlwind of thoughts and images. Impatient as ever I want to know what the result of the joining is, what does newTara know ? (she can't have both memory-sets, having double childhood memories is kinda weird:) )

I was suprised Willow didn't ask who Ethan's apprientice (sp?) was when Tara told her about him(or her?). I was thinking either Amy or Jonathan myself. Hmm.. will that apprientice have the same troubles DoppelTara had ? If so, wouldn't he/she be dead by now ?

Hey, I can hope can't I :)

I wonder, what would have happened if Tara hadn't been killed in the current reality and DoppelTara had still crossed over ??


"You hurt Tara," Willow said too calmly. "The last one who tried that was a god. I made her regret it." -- Unexpected Consequences by Lisa of Nine

Edited by: Grimlock72 at: 10/27/02 4:28:42 am

 Post subject: Re: Doppelganger Redux
PostPosted: Sun Oct 27, 2002 2:13 pm 

All questions will be answered in time. I've not entirely worked out the physics of crossing over, I'll leave that to better minds than mine, but my basic idea is that two people cannot entirely inhabit the same reality. Willow-vamp can cross over because she is souless. TaraX can cross over because only Tara's soul remains in this reality. Also, people can cross over either partially, via a teleporation spell, or entirely, by moving through a portal. Those who cross over via a teleportation spell do not become part of the fabric of this reality. Those who cross over via teleportation do. I am trying to keep these extrapolations logical, but logic had never been my strong suit....

To everyone who has emailed me. I've been having trouble downloading messages at There's about a dozen that have come up unreadable. I've switched my profile here to If you've written me, and have not received a response, please write again.

Best Wishes,


 Post subject: Re: Doppelganger Redux
PostPosted: Sun Oct 27, 2002 2:27 pm 
Wow, I'm so happy to see a new part of this incredibly well written story! :) And it's great as always!

Thank you! :)

snuggle79 :wave


"I got so lost"

"I found you, i will always find you"

 Post subject: Re: Doppelganger Redux
PostPosted: Sun Oct 27, 2002 3:41 pm 
Goddess, that's some awesome piece of writing we have here! I'm in awe of your talent. :clap

I sat here almost two hours a go to read the updates and everything was forgotten. I just couldn't take my eyes off the screen. I didn't hear anything (my gf swears she told me to get the clothes off the dryer an hour a go, but I told her she was delusional... ;) ). At the end, I can't seem to be able to bring my jaw off the floor... :)

If this story were a book, I'm sure it would win all awards of its category.

I'm going to stop now because I don't have enough talent with words to try to describe how deep this story touched me and how wonderful your writing is.

Thank you.


Edited by: sheila wt at: 10/27/02 2:42:27 pm

 Post subject: Re: Doppelganger Redux
PostPosted: Sun Oct 27, 2002 4:01 pm 

First, congratulations on needing to remove your laundry from your dryer. Would that mine simply find its way into the washing machine...

Second, thank you for the kind words. I love hearing that D.R. has swept you away. Mostly, because I love narratives that do precisely that. Last year, I spent days mesmerized in The Letting Go, by the Rainbow Writers.

Best Wishes,


 Post subject: Re: Doppelganger Redux
PostPosted: Sun Oct 27, 2002 5:31 pm 
For the record, I'm very impressed with this tale, and look forward to further installments. Bravo.

"GOD created Man in his own image. Man, being a gentleman, returned the courtesy." -Voltaire

 Post subject: Re: Doppelganger Redux
PostPosted: Sun Oct 27, 2002 6:59 pm 
God, this last part was wonderful!

Each paragraph giving different details about what was happening.



"In front of total strangers won't you kiss me, Flowers for no reason but you miss me - OOH, I wanna be in love"

Melissa Etheridge-Skin

 Post subject: Re: Doppelganger Redux
PostPosted: Mon Oct 28, 2002 2:58 pm 
I just want to add my congratulations - this is a thunderously amazing story. Thank you very much.

The last part of part one was harrowing, and I was wondering where you would go... and then comes an amazing new chapter. You write so well, and I feel humbled and that anything I say now will come across as contrite and as insufficient, but seriously, this story is amazing.

I was all happy with Willow that you brought back ghost Tara, and obviously hoping for the happy end, but I'm so glad you haven't taken the easy route out of this, because I believe the challenge of reconciling this situation will lead to a great story. And I'm sure that you can master this challenge, and torment us with some more angst soon.

Good luck with the rest of the story - I look forward to reading lots more.


 Post subject: Re: Doppelganger Redux
PostPosted: Tue Oct 29, 2002 9:52 pm 
This is incredible. I don't think I could begin to find the words right now to describe how I feel about this piece of work.

And, I cannot believe I am admitting this, but I found myself brought to tears during Chapter 14 when Willow and her Tara were meeting for the last time.

Willow felt her heart shatter. "This is the last time then. The last time I get to look into your eyes and see all the memories we share. She's you, but you won't remember me anymore."

I just wanted to let you know that I find you storytelling truly incredible. I anxiously await the next installment.

Edited by: SlayerSydney at: 10/29/02 9:04:11 pm

 Post subject: Re: Doppelganger Redux
PostPosted: Tue Oct 29, 2002 10:55 pm 
Cindipitude (such a wonderful name should not be shortened, instead it should be allowed to roll off the tongue and savored for its play of consonant sounds): Yes, letting go of "our" Tara is a terrible trial, but you are also right in thinking that that she is not really "gone." How could she be gone when she lives on in so many people's hearts.

Snuggle and Zahir al Daoud: I'm glad to hear that I have not worn out my welcome!

banabasvamp: I'm happy to hear you liked Chapter Fifteen, I know I was pushing the boundaries of narrative, but it was the only way I could begin to explain what "I think" is going on right now...

jaycat23:In D.R. there never seems to be an "easy way out," so I am glad to hear you are enjoying the torment.

SayerSydney:Oooooo, a fellow cryer. I'm hoping to elicit many more reader tears in Part Two. Narrative is great, but affect is where it's at.

To Everyone who has posted here or written to me: Thank you so very much for the feedback. It's wonderful knowing that you find D.R. moving. When I started it last April, I had no idea how important this story would become to me. Thanks especially to Tommo for your comments about "the girl." One of the biggest challenges of this story has been bringing the girl to life, trying to figure out ways of portraying her as simultaneously brave and lost--allowing her to be heroic, but letting her be human. Your comments make me feel like I'm doing right by her.


Edited by: technopagan78 at: 10/29/02 10:42:56 pm

 Post subject: Re: Doppelganger Redux
PostPosted: Tue Oct 29, 2002 11:30 pm 
*raises a brow*

Rolled off the tongue and!?

Heheh umm thats a first.

Ahh.. thanks:)

Er..sorry hehe never have been ableto take a compliment without scuffing my feet:)

Anxiously awaiting the next update...I hope that Tara heals quickly now that she is "whole" again.

Can't wait!

 Post subject: Re: Doppelganger Redux
PostPosted: Wed Oct 30, 2002 7:51 am 
Chapter 11

Our girls have a lot to figure out, I love how they were discussing the possibilities together, shows the infinite trust between them.

More backstory on the girl and her world. Such a frightful place. I'm glad she met up with Sam's cadre. She had the benefit of a close knit community, and it helped her gain more self confidence.

Chapter 12

It must have been so hard on her to lose her friends in the battle with the Master and Bloody Ethan. Willow's resolution to help her is wonderful. I also found the image of Willow and Tara caring for the girl to be really touching.

I'm losing you Poor Willow. I could actually hear her voice here, like in Tabula Rasa, that heartbreaking voice.

Tara's warning to Willow about what is to come. This is about Ethan's assistant, I think. Oh dear.

Adding up the total of a love that's true, multiply life by the power of two
Indigo Girls

 Post subject: Re: Doppelganger Redux
PostPosted: Wed Oct 30, 2002 1:21 pm 
I keep thinking about Ethan's assistant (and 'cause I just re-read The Silmarillion thoughts of Sauron come to mind). My own guess is that its some one we've seen before. Two candidates immediately spring to my imagination. One is Rack. Second is Catherine, Amy's mom. But that does present problems because of the "existing to two places" thing. Or not--with SHS's destruction who knows what happened to that trophy? For that matter, it could be what's holding her in check, ultimately.

Other candidates: Warren (the evil little toad), or (in a truly disturbing bit of alternate history) Jenny Callender.

I am sooooooo looking forward to finding out!

"GOD created Man in his own image. Man, being a gentleman, returned the courtesy." -Voltaire

 Post subject: Re: Doppelganger Redux
PostPosted: Wed Oct 30, 2002 4:01 pm 
I should be writing, but I couldn't pass up a new update to this wonderful story and then you mentioned physics. I really like the idea of a multiverse of worlds woven of the shimmering, multicolored strands of human lives and souls. It sounds like you're proposing an analog to the Pauli Exclusion Principle (no two particles can exist in the same quantum state and spacetime coordinates) for human souls which is a really neat idea.

It means that the girl as much Tara as Willow's Tara ever was. The laws of your physics say it has to be and that's irrefutable, especially to someone of Willow's scientific background. Perhaps that can give her comfort after the huge sacrifice she's making in chapter 14. That said, I really liked the confusing swirl of images as the two Taras become one, and I look forward to how that turns out.


"Omnia mutantur, nihil interit. -- "Everything changes, but nothing is truly lost."

 Post subject: Re: Doppelganger Redux
PostPosted: Wed Oct 30, 2002 6:17 pm 
:shock wow, and umm, wow...this fic is amazing, as it was mentioned earlier, Willow losing Tara twice in the same place..ouch..that hurt me...the way you've written this AU is pretty amazing, I really don't have the appropriate words to describe how wonderful this is. There are only a few fics I see as the way things should've been, this is definitely one of them.....please continue as i'm at the edge of my seat ... I'm thinking this assistant might be Warren (blech)...

Tk's new and improved "GrrArgg"...Tk's Heaven

Tara was similarly riveted, her body on slow burn as Willow's lips parted and her mouth opened, the food slipping inside and being consumed. Never in her life had Tara ever wanted to be a chicken casserole so badly... Later that night..."It's good to be a chicken casserole," Tara murmured, before passing out. ~ Answering Darkness by Sassette

 Post subject: Re: Doppelganger Redux
PostPosted: Thu Oct 31, 2002 5:01 pm 
Oh my God I just found this and spent all afternoon reading it. All I can do is echo what others have written. Your imagery is wonderful, your emotions true and painful, and the story gripping. I had to wipe tears from my eyes a number of times. Thank you for sharing this. I can't wait to see what happens next.

And can I just say damn it I want *this* Buffy who cares so much.



BUFFY: I could wrestle naked in grease for a living and still be cleaner than after a shift at the Doublemeat.

WILLOW: Plus, I'd visit you at work every single day.

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