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

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 Post subject: FIC: Reflections in Raindrops
PostPosted: Sat Mar 23, 2002 5:52 pm 
Reflections in Raindrops (1/?)
Authors: Shadowriter (shadowriter@kc.rr.com) and TrueXena (truexena@columbus.rr.com)
Rating: R
Couples: W/T
Spoilers: Through this season
Notes: This is us trying to get beyond the W/T rift, kind of.... a continuation of where the Letter challenges end.
Archiving: Sure, but please talk to us first.
Feedback: Please. Pretty please? Public or private, either one.
Copyright: The characters in the story are the property of Joss Whedon (much bowing in his general direction) and Mutant Enemy. We are borrowing them for a short time, but will return them in perfect condition. The plot, however, is ours.
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Reflections in Raindrops


The restaurant they had chosen was one neither had ever been to. It was agreed upon partly because there would be no old memories to haunt them.

They had maybe spoken four words since leaving the dorm, and Willow wasn't sure what to say, so she didn't prompt any talking. She was so nervous she kept rubbing her hands on her pants to wipe off the sweat. She really wanted to look into Tara's eyes. But that wasn't gonna happen anytime soon.

Tara couldn't seem to bring her eyes up off the floor. She wanted to look at Willow, but she didn't know if she could. Those green eyes held so much hope, and Tara was just not sure yet if things could ever be the same.

But, if she had to admit it, she was hoping, too.

They were seated near the rear of the restaurant, in a high-backed booth. It afforded them a modicum of privacy, and it made Tara both comfortable and a little more nervous.

"Um, I hear this place has great seafood."

Willow fiddled with her silverware until she heard Tara finally speak, then stilled. "Yeah? That's good, really good," she said, not knowing what else to say about the comment. Willow just wanted to proclaim her love for the woman and get it over with, but knew it was too soon. She didn't want Tara to feel rushed.

"Yeah. I'm gonna have the chicken, I think, though." Tara smiled at her friend. She wished she didn't feel as tongue tied as she did. And she hoped she wouldn't break out in her stutter or an imitation of Willow's babble.

Willow just nodded, then picked up her menu and started to read the dinner selections, more often than not looking over the menu to sneak a glance at the woman sitting across the table from her. "I'm not sure what I'll have; give me a minute."

Tara smiled, noticing that Willow's eyes often strayed from her menu. She couldn't resist doing the same, and occasionally, when their eyes met, she felt that familiar flutter in her stomach that was totally Willow.

"I'll just go with the Seafood platter, since you say it's so good."

Willow set the menu down and looked around the room one more time. "So, how are classes?" She wanted to get more of a conversation going, so she had an excuse to look into Tara's eyes.

"Classes are good. I really like my new philosophy instructor." Tara sipped her water. "Are you back in sociology this semester?"

"Yeah." Willow took her cue from Tara and drank some water as well. "Tara, I really want to talk to you, but I'm so nervous. I don't know where to start..." Willow trailed off when Tara lifted her gaze, and all she saw were the beautiful blue eyes she fell in love with so long ago. Her breath caught.

Tara nodded, looking into those green eyes she knew so well. "I know. I feel the same." She lowered her gaze, her fingers tangling in the napkin in her lap. "I'm not sure what to do about this though. It seems like there's so much to tell you, to ask you, but...." She shook her head.

They gave their orders to the waiter and were quiet until he returned with their drinks. Tara sipped her ice tea, watching as Willow ran her fingers down the side of her soda glass.

"Look, you need to know that I haven't done any magic for a month now." Willow didn't dare look up to see one of the many pained expressions she knew Tara could convey. "I just thought you needed to know that, and hear it from me. It wasn't easy, but I stopped, and I promise you that I won't do it anymore.The magic, I mean." Willow realized she was close to babbling and sighed as she played with the sweat on her soda glass. "I'm sure Dawn has been keeping you informed."

"Yeah, she has." Tara's lips twisted in a soft smile. "She's been pleading your case, actually."

"What?" Willow looked up from the table and saw the smile on Tara's face. Breathe, she whispered to herself. "She what?"

"Yeah, she's been telling me how great you've been, and that I should give you a chance."

"She has? Really? Wow, really? Wow." Willow started to smile a little. The butterflies in her tummy began leaving slowly.

Tara took a deep breath. "She said that everything's changed since...."

Willow's smile waned a bit at that. A few of the butterflies returned.

"She never told me all that happened that night though." Tara's voice went very soft. "So, tell me, Willow.... what happened? W-what was it
that finally made you stop?"

"It -- it was a lot of things that did it. You leaving me for one. That hit me like a brick." Willow looked down at the tablecloth. "But that wasn't the only thing. Some stuff happened with Amy, too. You know I deratted her, right?" Willow asked almost proud, but a little sad as well. "Yeah, so, she got deratted, and I sorta went on a binge with her. Then when Dawn got hurt..." She trailed off, remembering that night.

Willow took a sip of her soda. "So, basically Buffy said either get rid of the magic, or find a new home. I almost left." Willow looked up from her glass to see Tara listening carefully.

The blonde nodded, then focused her gaze at her glass of tea. "So w-why didn't you?"

Willow shrugged. "I don't know, something made me stop and think. And suddenly I understood. I don't know how, or why, but it felt like a fog had lifted, and everything was so much clearer. I knew why you left, and what I had done to you, and I...I just..." Willow took a breath and looked into Tara's eyes. "I didn't want the magic, I wanted you. I wanted everything back that Magic had taken from me." Willow looked back down at the table and fiddled with her silverware again.

Tara continued watching Willow, and sipping her tea. She knew that the red-headed witch had gone through a rough time the last few weeks -- saying no to the power she'd been handling couldn't have been easy. Dawn had been glossing over the few incidents where Willow had taken steps backward. But Anya and Xander had kept Tara well informed.

"So, you gave it up? Just like that?" She really wanted Willow to be honest about this.

Willow looked up, "Well, no, not just like that. I had problems in the beginning. But I've overcome and adapted," she finished with a proud tone.

Tara raised an eyebrow. "Are you still hanging out with Amy?"

"No, she was bit peeved at me, for quitting. I think she felt cheated." Willow took a sip of her soda. "Not that I blame her much; I mean she did spend three years of her life as a rat. But that wasn't my fault." Willow looked up to see Tara's eyebrow raise a little more. "Well, it wasn't, she did it to herself. Anyway, she isn't all that happy with me at the moment, 'cause I won't help her do magic anymore. I've tried to explain it to her, but she just doesn't seem to get it. So I just -- try and stay away from her."

Tara smiled at the waiter as he placed their dinners on the table, then waited till he'd left before looking back at Willow. "Dawn told me Amy wasn't happy. And Anya said she had come by the shop, and there'd been some kind of argument. What happened?"

"Oh, that? Yeah, well, she stopped by the Magic Box looking for some book called The Grimoire of Salarion, only Anya didn't have it. So Amy asked me if I'd help her search for it on the internet. I refused as nicely as I could. But she just started to accuse Anya of holding back information and supplies from her because of me and my 'condition'." Willow laughed as she remembered how Amy had spat the word out like it was distasteful in her mouth.

"I didn't stick around for much after that," she added as she picked up her fork and started to eat. She was feeling much more comfortable with how things were going.

Tara frowned. "The Grimoire of Salarion was lost a hundred years ago, I thought. It was a very powerful book though. I wonder what Amy wanted with it."

Around a mouthful of food Willow said, "I don't know, and I don't care. As long as she doesn't ask me for any help, it's all good." Tara chuckled, and dug into her own dinner.

Things were quiet for a few moments as both of them concentrated on the food in front of them. Finally, Willow looked up and asked, "So, what made you finally decide to see me again?"

Tara froze for just a second, and postponed having to answer by taking another bite of her chicken. She glanced at Willow, seeing the serious look in the green eyes. She swallowed, then took a sip of ice tea.

Willow waited for the answer, but so far nothing. "Is that something we're not supposed to talk about?"

"Well." She let a grin slip onto her face for a moment. "It was all those letters you sent. Especially that one about the storm we had last week." Tara shook her head. "I remember sitting by the window that day, watching the rain, thinking about walking in it with you. Wondering where you were, and if you were warm and dry --" she had to take a breath, "and then I got this letter about the same thing, and I -- I just figured we should talk, since we seem to still be on the same wavelength."

Willow's ears turned red as Tara spoke of the letters, and that one in particular. "Well...umm...yeah." She waited until her ears cooled some, then continued. "Well, whatever made you decide to see me is a good thing. I missed you. And I hope I didn't bore you with all those letters. I just didn't want you to think I didn't care..." She trailed off when another voice asking about dessert interuped her babble. "Huh? Oh, um -- yes?" She looked at Tara for confirmation that the date would continue a little while longer.

Tara smiled. "Well, I suppose we could maybe share some cheesecake?"

"Oh, yes. Cheesecake, there is always goodness in cheesecake." Willow said as she looked up at the waiter. "We will have a slice of cheesecake, please." She couldn't resist smiling as she looked back at Tara and that cute little grin of hers.Feeling a blush come on, Tara looked down, letting her long blonde hair cover most of her face.

"Aw, don't do that. Please?" Willow asked as she watched Tara hide behind her hair. "I don't get to see enough of you; I want every second to count." She reached across the table to the hand resting in front of the blonde. Lightly, she touched Tara's fingers to get her attention. Feeling the touch on her hand, Tara's blush intensified, even as she raised her head. The love she saw in Willow's green eyes, combined with the still electric touch of her former lover was enough to sting her eyes. She turned her head, but not quickly enough as one teardrop rolled down her cheek.

Willow saw the tear and felt the pain in her heart as if someone had stabbed her. She slowly pulled her hand away. "I'm sorry, Tara. I-I d-didn't mean to hurt you. I'm so sorry." Her voice dropped to a whisper as she tried to fight back the tears that threatened to fall. Reaching forward, Tara caught the hand that Willow had drawn away. She held it firmly but gently, opening the fingers and tracing the lines of the palm. "It's okay," she glanced up, tears rolling down her face, "I just missed the feel of my Willowhand."

Willow's fight to keep the tears at bay was lost, and she sobbed. "Oh, gods. How could I...why..." She lost her train of thought as the warmth of her ex-lover's touch raced up her arm. "I love you." There was concern and affection in Tara's blue eyes and it made Willow cry even more, reaching with her free hand to cover the one holding hers.

Both women were crying softly when the waiter arrived with their dessert.

Tara smiled at Willow and looked at the cheesecake in front of them. She wiped her cheek with her free hand and then gestured to the dessert. "Um... could we possibly get that to go?" She glanced up at the waiter, then returned her gaze to her lover. "We could go back to my room and... talk."

Willow smiled "Sure. I'd like that."

The waiter glanced at both of them and nodded. He slid the check on the table and went to box up their slice of cheesecake. When he returned moments later, they were still holding hands and looking into each other's eyes. He smiled, leaving the box on the edge of the table.

Tara reached for the check, but Willow peeled one hand from its comfortable nest and slipped the bill away from her. With a wink, she reached for her wallet. Tara smiled as the redhead struggled to open her wallet and pull money out with only the one hand.

"You could use your other hand, you know."

Willow shook her head. "Uh-uh. Not letting go of you again." She managed to get the money on the table and slide her wallet back in her pocket. Looking up, she grinned at Tara. "Shall we blow this joint?"

Both women were still smiling as they left the restaurant. They hadn't said a word since standing up, but the silence between them had grown comfortable. It was nothing like the angry quiet spaces that filled the air before their breakup.

Their hands were still clasped together, as well.

The air was chilled, but Willow couldn't feel it. The warmth in her heart was strong enough to combat any cold winds right now. Tara trusted her. Not completely, but enough to let her touch her, and to walk her home, and to talk some more. That, for now, was enough. She knew they had more road to travel before everything would be okay again. But Willow was happy for this chance to prove herself worthy of Tara's love. At that moment she swore to herself that she would never disappoint Tara again.

They had just turned the corner a block from the restaurant, when they were stopped by a familiar dark-haired figure. Tara looked up to see Amy, her eyes glittering at them in anger.

"Finally. I thought you two would never get out of there." She glanced down at where their hands were still joined. "Oh, how pathetic."

Willow bristled. "What do you want, Amy? I told you I'm not helping you."

"Oh, I know. You've sworn off magic." Amy raised her hand dismissively. "No biggie. Thought I'd give you one last chance to say yes."

"I just told you, no." Willow felt Tara's fingers tighten around hers in support. She squeezed back gratefully.

"Fine." Amy smiled. "Just wanted to make sure." She reached out toward Willow, offering her something. "Then here. I guess I won't be needing this any more."

On instinct, Willow took the object, surprised to see a golden pyramid in her hand. She looked up at Amy, puzzled.

Tara realized what the object was, and took a step closer to her lover. "Willow, don't --"

She never got any farther as the teleport device activated, and suddenly the three of them just weren't there anymore.


Part Two

Wherever she was, it was dark. Tara knew she'd just opened her eyes, but she couldn't see anything. Not the slightest light flickered through the darkness.

She shivered for a moment, on the verge of panicking, but calmed down when she felt her hand being squeezed. With a sigh of relief she squeezed back, grateful that where ever she was, Willow was with her.

There was a whisper of sound in the air, and then a light blinded her momentarily. Tara blinked, raising a hand to her face. When she could see again, her eyes focused warily on Amy, who stood in front of them, grinning. A spinning ball of white light hung over them all.

"Well, that went well." Amy glared at Tara. "Except you weren't supposed to be along for the ride." She shrugged. "Guess it was 'cause you were holding her hand. Sorry."

Tara shook her head to clear it. "Amy, what have you done?"

Amy just smiled, watching as Willow stared down at the gold pyramid in her hand.

"What is this, and where are we?" Willow asked, looking up at Amy.

"We're in Castle Desiavor. It's in a dimension apart from our own. And that," she pointed at the object in Willow's hand, "that is --"

"A gatemaker, for teleportation." Tara took it from her friend. "You can use it to travel any distance, or even between dimensions, if you have the power and the correct spell." She glared at Amy. "Where did you get this?"

"Actually, I found it among my mother's things. She had such great power. It's too bad she went crazy, really. We could have done great things together."

"Yeah, well, it's just too bad she wanted a second childhood huh?" Willow took the teleporter back.

Amy laughed. "Yeah, well, no chance of that with the Slayer around, right?"

"What do you want, Amy?" Willow almost yelled, getting more annoyed by the minute. "I mean, you didn't bring us here to talk about high school days, did you?"

"You know what I want! I want the Grimoire!" She glared at Willow. "I found it. I know where it's at, I know how to get to it, and I want it."

"So, go get it. I'm not stopping you," Willow said, still puzzled.

"Yes, unfortunately, you are."

Tara stepped between the two of them, hoping she didn't suddenly find herself caught in the crossfire if one of them threw a spell at the other. She still had one hand clutching Willow's, and with the other she stroked the redhead's arm.

"Calm down, Will. We'll figure this out."

Willow smiled at Tara's touch. "Look, Amy. I'm all for you realizing your dream, whatever it is, but I still don't have a clue what you're talking about." Willow glanced around the dimly lit room, searching for a way out. "And you're really starting to give me the willies."

So was the place they were in. Amy's light orb was large enough that they could see most of the edges of the room -- not that there was much to see.

It appeared to be a basement of some kind, with a hard dirt floor, and stone or cement walls. There were remnants of a few tables and chairs around the place, but nothing that spoke of recent habitation.

Nothing human, anyway.

"Look, it's really simple. The book is hidden here in the castle. It's guarded by a few minor demons and traps, but it's here for the taking." Amy folded her arms and looked at the two witches in front of her. "There's just one problem. It's trapped, and spell bound. And it can only be released and opened by two witches." She eyed Tara. "You're completely unnecessary."

Tara winced at Amy's statement. It was a familiar feeling, being told that she didn't matter. She'd learned long ago to let statements like that roll off of her. But this time, it seemed different. Possibly because she knew it was true. Amy didn't need her; she needed Willow, the Willow that cast spells with her for the heck of it.

But that Willow was supposed to be gone. Tara could only hope she'd stay gone.

"Whoa -- hey, there." Willow stepped in front of Tara defensively. "Just back up a minute here. No need to get all snarky. Tara is very necessary, trust me." She gave Tara a slight grin and squeezed her hand. "As for the demons, you should have brought Buffy."

"You don't get it, do you? This isn't about who's got the biggest stake, it's about power. You can only get the Grimoire through magic. Which is what we're going to do."

"I'm sorry, Amy, but I can't help you with the spells." Willow turned to look Tara in the eye. "I made a promise-- "she glanced back at Amy-- "to myself, and I'm not going to break it. Not for you, not for anyone."

Tara smiled at her former lover, proud of her for saying no.

Amy simply smirked at them. "Great. Fine. Okay." She looked around the room. "Well, then, guess you better get used to your new home. You won't be leaving it."

"Do we get cable?" Willow asked while looking around the room.

"Oh, ha. Very funny."

"Well, you'll have to forgive us, but we're not staying. You can teleport us back to the restaurant." She glanced at Tara. "Or better yet, send us directly to the dorm, please."

Amy shook her head, grinning all the while. "Sorry, no can do." She pointed at the teleport device still in Willow's hand. "That's preprogrammed. It will only activate when the spell is completed."

Tara sighed. "And how do we complete the spell?"

"We find the book, of course."

"You mean... we all stay here until the book is found?" Willow asked.

"Yes."

Tara looked at Willow. "I think we're in trouble."

Willow's face paled. "I think you're right."

************

"Tara, this is gonna turn out bad, I can feel it." Willow whispered. "I really don't want to do this."

"I don't think we really have a choice, Will."

The trio had left the room they'd teleported into, and were currently walking down a dark, dank corridor. Amy, the witch light still burning in the air above her, was consulting a diagram she'd pulled from her small purse. Tara and Willow were lagging back, whispering quietly to each other.

"If we want to get out of here, we need to find the book. That's the only way to activate the teleport gateway."

"Yeah, but you heard her. The only way to get the book is to do a spell. That's magic. You know, the stuff I don't do anymore?" Willow's voice was strained.

Tara glanced at Amy in front of them. Seeing that she was still preoccupied, the blonde slid an arm about her former lover's waist and leaned closer to her.

"I'll handle the magic. You can be my anchor this time. Okay?"

Willow leaned into the hug, letting her eyes shut briefly. Basking in the warmth of her friend. "Yeah, I can do that." Willow turned to face Tara. "If it's something you don't want to do, just tell me. I'll figure another way out of it." She looked around the dark hallway. "I'm sure I can find another way, maybe."

Amy stopped suddenly and turned towards them. "And this is test number one." She tapped on the door she next to her. "We need to unlock this. It's the stairway to the first floor."

"Test? You didn't mention any tests." Willow said, looking from Amy to Tara and back again. "Maybe we should study first. I do way better on tests after a good study session."

"First floor?" Tara gestured around her. "If that takes us to the first floor, then w-where are we now?"

"The dungeon. It's the only place in the castle not guarded against teleport devices." She folded the paper and put it in her pocket. "And I did mention tests. A few traps and demons and such. Nothing serious, just nothing that can be done single handedly."

"Oh, I didn't think those were tests, just -- obstacles?"

"Obstacles, tests -- what's the difference." She pointed at the door handle. "I think a simple unlocking spell will do it, don't you?" Amy glared at Willow. "Well, get over here. We have to say it at the same time."

Willow's face showed worry. "But I can see how they would be tests. Seeing as how if we fail at them, then poof, no more exam. Right?"

Tara let one hand rest on the small of Willow's back. She waited until the red head looked at her, then smiled, and stepped forward.

Willow gave a slight grin, but her eyes were still showing fear.

"W-willow won't be doing magic with you, Amy. She's sworn off it, remember?" Another step. "W-which means, I guess it's a good thing I was holding her hand. Since I'll do the spells in her place."

Amy's eyes widened, then narrowed. She turned an accusing gaze at Willow. "You never told me your ex was a witch."

"Well, you never asked." Willow stated. "Besides, that's not the most important thing about Tara; she is way more than just a witch. She is kind, and loving, and caring, and sweet, and special, and -- and stopping with the babble now." She stared down at the floor.

Tara smiled at Willow and reached out to touch her chin. Willow looked up and smiled back. Then Tara turned to Amy.

"Ready?"

Amy shrugged. "Fine. Let's do it. Together, on the count of three, right?"

"Right."

"Uh, wait!" Willow interrupted them. "Do we know what is behind that door?" She looked at Amy. "I mean, do we need to be in full ready attack mode when it opens? Cause if so, what are we going to fight it -- them -- with?"

"Oh, please." Amy rolled her eyes. "If there is anything on the other side of that door, one of us will just throw a spell at it, and it'll go poof." She smirked. "But, if you're scared, you can just stay behind us, okay? We'll protect you from the big bad nasties."

"Ok, I'm sorry, I'm just a little jumpy is all. I'm sorry," Willow apologized softly.

Amy counted, and she and Tara said the spell at the same time. There was a soft click, and Amy reached for the handle, turning it easily.

"See? Nothing to it." She threw open the door, and stepped forward.

And screamed.

Part Three

Willow stepped forward and grabbed Tara by the arm, pulling her back and out of the path of the doorway.

Tara closed her eyes tightly and whispered a spell. There was the noise of a small explosion inside the room. Reaching out, Tara grabbed Amy by the back of her shirt and pulled her away.

"Willow, close the door!"

Willow rushed forward and slammed the door shut. "What the frilly heck was that?" she asked Amy.

Amy just backed away, her eyes wide and staring at the now closed door. Her mouth kept moving, as if she was speaking, but nothing came out.

There was a bang against the door, and all three of them jumped. The witch light over Amy went out, and they were plunged into darkness.

Tara took a breath and felt for the doorknob. She quickly said a locking spell, then concentrated and brought to life a tiny orb of light, just enough for them to see by.

"Tara, are you all right, baby?" Willow asked in a whisper.

"Fine. W-we need to get out of here, like n-now. Amy?" They both turned to their companion, who was now on her knees, struggling to regain her composure.

There was another loud bang, and this time it sounded like the thunk of an axe. Tara had a bad feeling that was exactly what it was.

Willow went to Amy's side, pulling her to her feet. "Amy, come on. Where do we go? We have to go!"

Amy seemed frozen, still unable to process what she'd seen. She reached into her pocket and pulled out the map, opening it with shaky fingers.

Tara reached over and took it from her. "W-we don't have time. Come on!"

She yanked on Amy's arm and reached for Willow at the same time.

The three of them fled down the hall, Tara's small light leading them.

There was a crash behind them, and they heard a great roar. Amy squealed and increased her speed.

Tara grabbed Amy's arm again and pulled, taking the group down a side corridor. They could hear pursuit behind them, and Tara threw a spell of concealment at the entrance to the corridor. Then she stopped, pushing herself and Willow against a wall. Amy followed her lead. With a word from Tara, the ball of light extinguished itself.

They waited, their breaths coming in short gasps as they tried to control the panic. Tara kept trying to blink back the image she'd seen in the doorway. She found Willow's hand in the dark and clung to it.

Willow found it even more difficult to breathe with Tara pressing against her so close, but she wrapped an arm around her and hung on.

Noises from the outer hall made them shrink back even further, trying to blend in with the wall. Tara knew the concealment spell would hide them, but couldn't make herself believe it. She glanced at Willow, then down to the door.

Willow could feel her own panic grow as she saw several shapes passing by the doorway. The things were huge, and seemed to be wearing armor. They carried axe-like weapons of some kind and had long bodies with short legs, but that was the only detail she could see in the light of their torches.

After a moment, they passed on, and Tara was able to catch her breath. She gently pushed Amy ahead of her, further down the corridor, pulling Willow along behind her. She brought the light orb back, keeping it as small as possible, and looked for a place the three of them could duck into.

She finally found what looked to be a large storage closet of some kind, with several piles of large crates stacked around the room. Tara tugged on Amy's shirt and pointed.

Amy nodded and ducked inside. Tara followed her, feeling Willow's presence close at her back. All three of them dropped to the floor behind a crate.

Willow leaned in close to Tara's ear and whispered, "I don't think we passed that test." She pulled away slightly to look up at her friend. "What do we do now?"

Tara shook her head. "I'm not sure." She looked at Amy. "But I don't think we're going to try that doorway again."

Amy looked away, her eyes still showing her shock.

"Those things in the hall, were they -- they what you two saw?" Willow didn't move away, but began to look around the small room for anything she could use as a weapon.

Tara nodded. "Yes. Only there were a lot more of them. And I mean, a lot more." She kept her voice in a whisper, glancing every once in a while to Amy to see if she was coming out of her shock. "Somehow I don't think Amy was expecting that."

Tara called the orb over closer to her and pulled the map from her pocket so she could examine it closely. She could see that it was a reproduction, and there were engravings in some language she couldn't understand. Amy had made a mark in one room, putting a 'T' on it.

"Yeah, well, I won't say I didn't warn her." Willow spotted a crate with no lid and scooted towards it to see what was inside. It was empty.

"That must be where we teleported in to." Tara traced a line Amy had penciled on the page, following it down to where it turned into a room.

"And that must be where she thought the stairs were."

"Don't tell me. We picked door number one with the donkey, when we should have gone for door number three with the new car." Willow checked another crate to find it held little more than dust.

Tara peered again at the language on the page, trying to make sense of it. It seemed slightly familiar, but she couldn't place it, so finally she gave up.

"Willow? Can you come see if you can decipher this? You're better with languages than I am."

Willow rejoined Tara and took the map. "Let me see."

She studied the words for a few minutes. "Yeah, I think I can. It looks like Celtic, maybe Brythonic . . ." She trailed off. "Wait, I know that word, that's Gaulish, but... oh! I see. It is Gaulish, only it's backwards." Looking up she saw Tara's eyebrow rise. "No, see." She showed Tara the map again print side down with the light behind it.

"See, it's written backwards."

Tara shook her head. "Great, so you can only read it with a light behind it, or in a mirror. Very clever." She looked at it again. "But I can't read it anyway. Can you?"

Willow took the map and held it to the light again. "Well according to this, if we entered here..." She pointed at the marked 'T'. "We should have gone left from that point, but instead we went right." Her finger moved over the lines of script as she read, then followed it along the diagram. "We should find stairs here."

Tara nodded. "Yeah, I agree." She pointed at some words written next to the door they'd opened. "What does this say?"

Willow looked at the words, then at Tara. "Do not enter." They both peered over at Amy.

"Great. Just great." Tara rubbed her temples as a headache began to creep up on her.

"Aw, Baby, you okay?" Willow asked. She reached over and moved Tara's fingers out of the way, gently taking over the massage.

Amy had raised her head, but was still just staring at them both. "But... but, the book...." She pulled a small leather bound volume out of her purse. "I found it in the book. It was in this book and I followed the directions to the letter."

Tara glanced at the map, still resting where she'd placed it, with the orb behind it glowing through the page. "Right. To the letter. The backwards letter."

"What book?" Willow reached out and took it from Amy's hand.

As she flipped through the book, Willow noted that most of it was in Gaulish. A few pages here and there were written in another language she didn't know, though she suspected it was a Demon language of some sort. One page described the room in which the Grimoire was hidden, and a notation of which spell to use to free it from its resting place. She also found names of some of the castle's inhabitants, and where they liked to dwell.

Suddenly, Tara noticed something on the map that she didn't remember seeing. As Willow took the book from Amy and started flipping through it, Tara stayed focused on the crinkled diagram.

Willow mentally stored most of the information, then turned to Amy as a thought occurred to her.

"Amy, how did you read this? How did you know it had anything to do with the Grimoire of Salarion?"

"I cast a spell that let me read any language." She shrugged. "It didn't last long at all, but it was enough and I knew the map was the key."

"Right. You just didn't know how to use the key."

"Willow?" She didn't need to look up to know that it was Tara calling her.

"Yeah, sweetie?"

Tara reached over and picked up the map, keeping the light close behind it. "I think you should see this."

"What?" Willow crawled closer to Tara to see what she was pointing at on the map.

There were things that hadn't been there in the beginning. Large shapes that looked vaguely like the things they'd run into, and a few other creature types. Also, more words had popped up, and small arrows that glowed.

Tara pointed to the arrows. "I think we're supposed to follow them. They lead the way we would have gone if we hadn't turned the wrong way out of that room."

Willow closed the book to study the map and watched as the images faded. "Where did they go? What happened?" she asked.

Tara shook the map. It didn't change. "I don't know." She sighed. "Great, another mystery in this place. Did you happen to get anything out of the book?"

"Not much, just a few spells to use for parts of the castle. Where to find the book, and some stuff on things we might find lurking about." She admitted to herself that she was a bit unnerved by the appearing and disappearing images. "I'll keep looking. Maybe I'll find something about that map in here." She opened the book and leaned back against the crate, right next to Tara.

"Um, Will? They're back."

"What?" She reached for the map, discarding the book again. Once more the shapes and images started to fade. "Oh, give me a break! This is just sick wizardry practical joke time!"

Tara smiled. "Maybe not." She held the map up in the air. "Open the book."

Willow did as asked and watched as the shapes and images returned. "Oh." She smiled at Tara, feeling a little foolish for her outburst.

"So, the map and the book correlate. Who cares?" Amy asked. "We're sitting in a dungeon being chased by those... those.... things -- and you're having fun with parlor tricks."

"Hey!" Willow snapped. "If it weren't for you, we wouldn't be stuck in this dungeon at all. And we wouldn't be getting chased by those things if you had read the map right in the first place. So either help us, or shut up." She flipped open the book angrily, searching for the page that had mentioned the demons in the castle.

Tara glared at Amy, but had to admit she had a point. "Will? You study. Amy and I will look around to see what we might use as weapons, okay?"

Willow broke from her reading to look Tara in the eye. "Be careful. Don't go far. I think this book can tell us how to deal with those things. If I can only decipher it. I'll get it."

The blonde witch smiled at her. "I know you will." She leaned forward and kissed Willow's forehead, letting her lips linger for a moment.

Blushing, Willow took her hand and kissed it, letting Tara's fingers slide through her own as her friend stood.

Amy rolled her eyes, but got up when Tara motioned to her. She followed the blonde witch over to the stack of crates, watching as Tara reached up to pull the first one down.

"Are you gonna stand there or help?"

Sighing, Amy reached up and grabbed the opposite end of the crate.

Together, they lifted it from the pile and lowered it to the ground; the hinges creaked as they opened the top.

"Tara? Just how long is that spell going to last? Can they hear us? Cause that's making a lot of noise at the moment, and I don't know how to kill them just yet." Willow whispered louder than normal, watching the two women digging inside the crate.

Tara looked up. "I don't think they can hear us. And it should last until someone breaks the plane of the doorway, either on purpose or accident."

"So basically, we need to hurry, right?" There was a note of worry in Willow's voice.

"Well -- let's just say we shouldn't spend the night."

Willow chuckled. "Ha, ha. I have no intentions of doing that." She focused again on the book.

Amy was staring into a mass of tangled cuffs and chains. "Oh, this will really help."

Tara glanced up at her. "Keep searching. Otherwise we just might be spending the night. And tomorrow night. And the night after that." She dug through the chains and found a mace. "See? There are things that will help."

"I've got it." Willow exclaimed. "It's right here. They're called Goshti -- Goshtim -- oh hell, I don't know what they're called. But it tells here how to kill them." She looked up to see Amy holding a bunch of rusted chains and grimaced. "Bleagh."

Tara dropped the iron ball on the ground next to the redhead. "Very good, sweetie," Willow said with a smile.

Tara grinned at her lover, then motioned with her head. "Come on, Amy, next crate."

They pulled the next large box off the pile and put it next to the one they'd opened. Amy stood and looked at her hands in disgust.

"This one's filthy. What is this, oil?"

Willow didn't look up. "That could be useful for light." She pointed at the glowing orb that now hung over her head. "Tara isn't going to be able to keep this going forever, you know."

Tara rubbed one hand on her jeans while reaching for the top of the box with the other. She was surprised when her hand sank into the material.

It felt like she'd put it into a mass of liquid wax.

When she tried to pull it out, she felt something clamp onto her.

"Hey!"

Willow looked up to see what was happening. Her eyes widened as she watched Tara struggling, her face twisted in pain.

Tara felt something puncture the skin near her wrist. She bit her lip, then gasped as the sensation grew steadily worse. "Willow, help me!"

"Tara!"

Part Four

Willow scrambled to her feet and reached out for Tara. She grabbed the trapped arm and pulled, trying to free her friend. The only result was another cry from the struggling captive.

The light in the room began to fade as Tara's magic orb slowly winked out. For a few seconds they were plunged into total darkness. Then, with a word, Amy's witch light returned, filling the area with a yellow brilliance.

Once the light returned, Willow tried to figure out what was holding Tara, but all she could see was the top of the crate. Tara's arm seemed to disappear a little above the elbow. Willow reached down and watched her own hand slide through the box top as if it wasn't there.

"Tara, it's an illusion -- you have to dispell the magic." She looked up at Amy. "Don't just stand there, help us!"

Tara gritted her teeth against the pain and focused on the top of the crate. "Aperio!"

The illusion dissipated, to reveal a slimy, greyish creature in the box, its two thick limbs wrapped tightly around Tara's forearm. It was about two feet long, with two short legs curled at its side. Two mouths, side by side, were attached to Tara's arm. Blood was leaking down her wrist to drip from her fingertips. One neon green eye swiveled to stare angrily at them.

Whatever it was seemed to renew its grip, and Tara groaned, slumping to her knees. She landed next to the mace, which Willow grabbed.

"Tara, hang on! Amy -- find something to kill it!" She swung the spiked ball up and over the side of the crate, bringing it down on the creature's head.

Amy shook off her shock and grabbed a set of chains from the other box, swinging it as hard as she could. There was a high pitched whine, and after several more blows, the thing in the box let go.

Tara pulled away, cradling her bleeding arm. Willow dropped the mace and knelt beside the blonde witch.

Amy kept beating the creature, slamming her chain into it over and over until it stopped moving. Breathing hard, she looked up to find Willow trying to stop the blood that was pouring from Tara's wounds.

"Tara?" Willow slipped her vest off and wrapped it tightly around the injured forearm. "Easy, baby, I'm here. I've got you."

Leaning into Willow, Tara groaned. Her hand was numb, but her arm ached and it felt like the thing was still biting her. She felt nauseous and her mouth was dry. Closing her eyes from the pain, all she could do was trust that Willow would take care of her.

It wasn't long before blood was soaking through the vest, and Willow knew there was a real possibility a vein had been opened. The bite was just above the wrist, on the inside of the arm.

"Tara? We need a healing spell. Something..."

Tara shook her head slightly, trying to think. She knew she had no chance of healing herself, but she wasn't sure she wanted to lay the burden on Willow. Giving up the magic had been hard, and even a healing spell might restart the dangerous cycle out of which the redhead had broken.

Amy knelt beside them. "I can do it. You'll need to tell me what to do, but I can do it."

Willow nodded. Part of her wanted to do this, but another part was afraid to even test the magical waters again.

"Need --" Tara coughed, and swallowed. Her throat was dry and it hurt to talk. "Need sage. And a clean crystal."

"Sage, I have." Amy pulled over her purse, which she'd managed to hold onto during their frenzied flight down the hall. "But, a crystal -- I have one, but I've used it before. Is it still okay?"

Tara shook her head. "Not if it was dark magic. It wouldn't work."

Amy's shoulders slumped.

Willow dug into her pocket. "This one should work," she said quietly as she showed them the doll's eye crystal.

"You -- you never used it for dark --"

"I never used it." Willow lowered her head. "Not without you, anyway."

Tara tried to smile, but it was broken by a pain shooting up her arm. She gasped and arched her back a little. Her face went white.

Willow tightened her grip. "Amy, hurry."

Amy nodded and scooted closer to Tara. "I know a general heal injury spell, but -- is there a different one that I should use?"

"No, that's fine." Tara tried not to look as Willow and Amy peeled the cloth off her arm. "Oh, ouch."

Tara's arm was bloody from the midpoint of her forearm down to her fingertips. In the area above her wrist there were two semi-circular sets of bite marks. Most of them were sluggishly oozing, but there were two that were bleeding freely and heavily.

"Okay." Amy slid her own arm along the inside of Tara's, holding the blonde witch's right elbow. With her left hand she took a pinch of sage and sprinkled it around and on top of the wound. Taking the crystal, she held it over the bloody tooth marks.

"You do know this is going to hurt? And it'll knock out your powers for at least a little while."

Tara nodded. "No choice. We can stay here for another half hour without a problem, I think. And as far as the pain --" She shrugged with her good shoulder. "It's not like it doesn't hurt now."

Amy nodded; Willow held Tara's hand as Amy closed her eyes and started to chant.

"Great Mother, bringer of all life, I beseech you.
Brigit, Goddess of moon and healing, hear me.
Life and death are yours to give,
they are also yours to hold.
By Crystal's might, and magic white,
heal this wound by way of light.
Heal your daughter, of mortal birth,
this I ask by sky and earth."

The crystal began to glow, emitting a blue-white light that reached out to envelop Amy's hand and Tara's arm. A tingling began in Tara's elbow and fingertips at the same time, and she squeezed Willow's hand hard as the tingles became a wave of pain that washed through her forearm. She closed her eyes, tears leaking down her cheeks, and pressed back against Willow as hard as she could. When the pain finally ended, she slumped against her former lover, tired and spent.

Willow held on through Tara's painful grip on her hand. Whispering into her ear, she wiped away the tears that fell, and kissed her temple till she finally went limp in her arms. "I love you, Tara." Willow used her sleeve to dry the beads of sweat that had formed on Tara's brow, holding the blonde close as she rested in Willow's lap.

Amy wiped away the blood and what little remained of the sage she'd used. The puncture marks were still evident on Tara's wrist and arm, but had fully closed and were in the early stages of healing. Amy smiled up at the blonde, her own fingers still tingling from the spell.

Tara glanced at the now sealed wound and nodded. Her eyes were very heavy, and she tried to keep them open, but couldn't. "Willow? Gotta sleep." She turned her head slightly and sighed. By her next breath, she was out.

Willow watched Tara sleep for a moment as she fussed with a strand of the blonde hair matted by sweat. Her face was still white, but now calm in slumber. Her jaw had relaxed, releasing the tension that had told Willow just how much pain her love had been in. Tara's appearance was one of peace as she breathed deeply through her slightly open mouth.

But there was still fear in Willow's voice as she asked, "She'll be okay?"

"Yeah, she'll be fine. I -- I think between the pain, and the energy the spell took -- she's just tired. She'll be okay, Willow." Amy tried to sound sure of herself, knowing it was what Willow needed. She was certain of one thing -- Tara's arm would heal fine. But Amy was suddenly really unsure of everything else.

She moved away slightly, leaning against the stacked crates she and Tara had been going through. Her hands rested on her knees as she sat with her legs pulled up in front of her. Amy grimaced slightly at the grime now coating her hands and arms. The dirt had mixed with the oil from the crate and Tara's blood, to form a layer of paste that covered the backs of both hands. Along with that red-tinged grime was an occasional speck of green, the result of the creature's blood splattering over her as she killed it.

She couldn't help but wonder what the hell it was.

A low growl came up from her stomach, and she realized she was hungry. This was quickly followed by the understanding that they were trapped in a dungeon with no food or water. And she was responsible for it.

"Willow?"

"Hum?"

"I'm sorry. I really thought this would be a quick job for you and me. I'd bring you here, we'd wipe the floor with a few demons, and be home by dawn." Amy gestured at the room around them. "I never expected -- this."

Willow didn't know exactly what to say. She was upset about Tara being hurt. About Tara being dragged into this just for being with her on a date. Upset that Amy still thought she could get her to do magic after all this time, by force if need be. Willow stared at the woman in her arms for several moments before replying.

"Amy, this book that you want? It's not worth all this; you have to know that. I know you think I'm a powerful witch, and in truth I had power. But I didn't have control of it. The magic was in control of me. Instead of using the magic, it was using me." Willow looked back down at Tara's sleeping face. "She knew that. She tried to warn me, but I didn't listen." Tears began to form in her eyes. "She was the one that was strong when I was weak. She's the one that understood that you have to have respect, and understand the consequences. You could learn a lot from her. I know I have."

She paused for a moment, then turned to Amy again. "You have the same problem that I did. You've lost control, and that will only get you into trouble." She waved a hand around the room they sat in. "Take a look around you. How fast did your simple plan get out of control?" Willow just shook her head. "You're just as addicted to magic as I was. And it's only going to get worse if you don't try and stop now."

Amy looked down at the floor, and then up at Willow, whose eyes were focused on the blonde asleep in her arms.

She knew Willow was right, at least in part. It was her fault that they were all trapped there, and the plan had gone wrong awfully fast. And the magic lately -- well, she had to admit to feeling a little out of control.

But, give it up, like Willow had? She shook her head mentally.

I have to get to the book, she thought. Then I can make this whole thing up to them. I can get them safely out of here, and I can get control of my life again. I can.
There were shouts off in the distance. Guttural voices could be heard echoing down the hallways. Amy doused her witch light, and Willow huddled down with Tara, covering the injured woman as much as she could.

They stayed that way in the dark for several minutes. More sounds drifted through the air, but there were no footsteps that they could hear. It seemed that Tara's spell was still working.

Amy relit the magic light, and watched for several moments as Willow gently stroked Tara's cheek, whispering in her ear every few minutes. She knew she had to make things right. "First things first," she muttered to herself.

"Willow? Hey." Amy kept her voice down in order to not wake Tara. "Listen, I'm going to go scout around, okay? Follow this tunnel down a little further. You stay put and watch over her?"

Willow didn't even look up."I'm not going anywhere without her. I won't lose her again."
Her voice was soft, but it came across to Amy clearly and strongly. The absolute love she felt for Tara was evident, and had been all along. For a moment, Amy was jealous. Then she just felt guilty.

"Oh. Hey, what about the light?"

"I'll need to take it with me." Amy looked apologetic. "It's kind of attached to me."

"Um ... I'm not so sure I want to sit here in the dark. Any chance of finding a non-magical light source?"

"Don't know." Amy looked around the room. She noticed an odd shaped metal holder on the wall, and stared at it till she realized what it was. "Hey, wait, I think --" Creeping over to the box she and Tara had gone through earlier, she dug through the chains until she came up with a long piece of wood, one end covered in black pitch.

"Exuro." Light flared from the end of the torch, and Amy grinned over at Willow. "Saw it earlier in the box but didn't know what it was till I saw that." She pointed at the metal object on the wall, then moved over to it and slid the torch into it. The room was doused in an almost cheery glow.

Willow nodded. "Nice."

"Okay. I'm going. I won't be long. Maybe I can find.. I don't know. Something."

Willow looked up. "Fine, but be careful and don't break the concealment barrier." She returned to stroking Tara's face.

As Amy got to the door, Willow called to her and she turned.

"No magic." Willow's voice was firm.

Amy hesitated but nodded, then walked quietly through the door and disappeared around the corner.

Part Five

Stepping out the door of their hiding place, Amy quietly set off down the hall. She kept her witch light much smaller than the one she'd used earlier, smaller even than Tara's orb, but she didn't need too much light anyway. Just enough to show her the next few paces in front of her.

Not that there was much to look at. The walls were dirty and grey, with a few cobwebs in some of the upper corners. Amy couldn't help but think that spiders must be the one constant through every universe ever
created.

She came to a T-junction of corridors, where she had to turn left or right. She peeked carefully around the corners before choosing the right hand tunnel. It didn't seem much different than the one on the left, but Amy thought she could see some light down near the end.

As she got closer, she began to get nervous. There was definitely a light, and every once in a while she thought she could catch the sound of a voice.

She was about to turn back when she smelled it. It was roast something, and she guessed it had to be this world's equivalent of roast beef. She inhaled slowly through her nose, enjoying the scent of meat cooking. Her stomach rumbled a little more, and her mouth watered.

Going forward didn't seem like a good plan; after all, there had been voices. On the other hand, she had no desire to walk back to Tara and Willow empty handed. She'd caused them enough harm, and it was time to repair a little of it.

I know I said I wouldn't, Willow, but I have to. She sent a mental apology to her friend, then closed her eyes and cast a spell. When it was done, she looked down at her hand to see that it wasn't there.

Invisibility is the key, she thought. With that, she could roam around the castle and not be seen. Pleased with herself, she set off towards the light with a confident step.

====================

Willow yawned lightly and shook her head. Tara was still asleep in her lap, and the redhead was passing the time by reading.

It was difficult, but a good challenge for her mind. Gaulish was an extinct language that was part of the Celtic group. It came from a group of Celts that had remained on the European continent and were eventually eliminated or assimilated by the Romans. Not only that, but it was very obscure, and there was little documentation.

Giles had spent some weeks tutoring Willow on extinct languages, Gaulish included. It was a time Willow had enjoyed, before Glory, before Buffy's death and resurrection -- before she'd lost control.

Before Tara left her.

Tears stung her eyes for a moment and she set the book aside.

Tara mumbled something and stretched. She turned over slightly and opened her eyes.

"Hey, baby."

"Will." Tara sighed. "Wow. That's nice."

"What is?"

"Waking up in your arms."

They smiled at each other, and Willow gently touched Tara's cheek. "How are you feeling?"

One blonde eyebrow rose, and Tara stretched a little more. "Not bad. A little tired, yet, but after all that's happened, I think I'm okay."

"Yeah? How's your arm feel?"

The fingers at the end of said arm wiggled, and Tara gently moved flexed her elbow. She grimaced a little, but didn't stop moving it.

"Pretty good, actually. I mean, it aches, but that's to be expected." She wiggled her fingers again. "Hand's still tingly."

Willow reached down and tangled her fingers with Tara's. She felt her hand being squeezed and looked up to find Tara's blue eyes smiling at her. She couldn't help but return the expression.

Tara glanced around. Seeing the box, she shivered. "Willow, what was that thing? Do you know?"

"Oh, yeah. I found it in the book. I sorta did some reading while you were sleeping." She grabbed the book she had put aside.

"Studying again, huh?" Tara smiled up at Willow.

"Uh huh. You know me, study girl." Willow smiled back. "So, if I'm reading this right, it was a Kradtic. Your basic low level, third dimension demon, with a nasty outlook on life. Who sits in wait for anything that comes along to snack on."

Tara frowned. "You can really read that? I didn't think you could understand it that well."

"Well, most of it's in Gaulish. There are only a few pages in a different language that I don't understand. Demon, I think, but I'm not sure."

"I know Giles was teaching you Gaulish, but I didn't think he taught you the whole language."

"Not even close." Willow smiled at her. "But -- it's like a puzzle, and puzzles I can figure out." She pointed at a word on the page. "I'm not too sure what that word is, but I know what the surrounding words are, and I'm pretty good at context associations."

Tara nodded. "Right. Puzzle gal, with the photographic memory."

Willow grinned. "Well, it helps that Giles taught me the really important words."

"Like?"

"Like demon, slay, kill, magic."

They shared a chuckle and then fell silent at a sudden noise from the hall. There was a loud boom, like the sound of a heavy door slamming shut, and more shouts and yells. Then everything was quiet again.

Tara suddenly sat up. "Where's Amy?"

"She went to go have a look around."

"Alone?"

"Well, yeah. You were sleeping, and -- well, I wasn't about to leave you by yourself." She avoided Tara's gaze. "Besides, I rather enjoy watching you sleep, if you must know."

The blonde witch smiled. "Oh, yeah? You do that a lot, huh?

"Well, not as often as I'd like to, but when given the chance I'm not going to pass it up."

They sat quietly for several moments, just enjoying the peace and quiet. Then more voices and the sound of footsteps echoed from the hall. They looked at each other in alarm. Willow started to stand.

"What are you doing?"

"The torch!"

Tara shook her head and pulled Willow back to the ground. "Exuro abeo." The torch fluttered and died, leaving them in darkness.

The sounds of marching boots seemed to come closer by the moment. Willow wrapped her arms around Tara and pulled her down behind the crate. The stayed there, hardly daring to breathe, as the footsteps went past the
door, never stopping.

Slowly, they sat up. Neither of them moved away, though, and neither said anything about relighting the torch. Willow kept her arms around Tara as they sat in the darkness.

"Where did you say Amy went?"

"To look around."

They both sighed, hoping she hadn't been the cause of the marching soldiers.

=================

Amy, at that moment, was sitting under a table. On the other side of the room were several of the whatevers that had surprised her when she opened the door to the stairs, speaking to each other in low guttural voices. Unable to understand the language, but certain she would be unwelcome in the conversation, she stayed hidden, hoping to find a way to take some food and water back to her friends.

The problem, as she saw it, was twofold. One, she needed to get to the area around the fire without being stepped on or bumped into by any of the creatures at dinner. Two, she needed to know just what the spell of invisibility included.

Feeling her pockets, she felt the lump of her wallet in her back pocket. She slid it out and looked at her hand. There was nothing there; no hand, and no wallet. Reaching out, she set it on the floor next to her and glanced up to see if anyone was watching. They weren't, so she looked down and slowly took her hand off the wallet.

It appeared the moment she stopped touching it. Nodding, she put it back in her pocket and crawled out from under the table.

There was a table loaded with empty water skins, along with several full ones. Next to the table was a barrel of water. Slowly, Amy approached the stack of water skins, reaching out carefully. Once again, she made sure none of the creatures were looking her way. Then she put her hand on the top of a full skin and it disappeared.

She tied that one to her belt and was reaching for another when one of the creatures stood and started to lumber towards her. Moving away, she stepped carefully around a chair and plastered herself against a wall.

It was the first good look she'd gotten at the Goshti, as she remembered Willow had called them. She admitted to herself that she could have lived without the close-up shot.

The one in front of her was big, over six feet, and very muscular. His (she was pretty sure it was male) face was a cross between a boar's and a man's, with yellowed tusks protruding from his mouth. His eyes were black with white pupils, and his forehead sloped back from his eyes. Dirty looking strands of black hair stuck to the sides of his head covering half of his long ears. His forearms were as thick as her thighs and his thighs were wider than her whole body.

The uniform, which she could see was pretty much the standard among his companions, was made of strips of metal over a solid leather coat. He had a type of battle axe strapped to his back, and a short sword attached to his belt.

Amy covered her nose; whatever the thing was, he reeked.

The soldier creature grabbed all of the filled water skins and tossed them to his comrades. They stood from the table and all started heading out the door. One of them seemed to argue with his fellow, and Amy wondered if maybe she had swiped his water skin.

After several minutes of yelling the Goshti grabbed an empty skin and tossed it to his angry companion. This seemed to mollify the creature and the group of them headed out the door, leaving Amy completely alone in the room.

Breathing a sigh of relief, she filled two more skins from the water barrel. After that she went to look at what was left behind on the table. There wasn't much there, but towards the back of the room, near the hearth, was the spit where the roasted meat was still waiting. Her mouth watered as she approached.

She found not just meat but bread and cheese as well. The only problem was she had no way to carry it.

Looking around, she found a small wooden box. After first making sure there was no magically hidden creature, she used a spell to change the box into a bag. Then she loaded the food into the sack and prepared to leave.

Only to duck back under her original table when several more of the creatures entered the room.

Amy waited, listening to their low gravelly voices, and wondered what they were saying. Then a smile crossed her face as she realized that she could easily find out. Whispering carefully, she did a language recognition spell, and leaned against the wall with a smile on her face.

==============

The darkness was broken by a tiny flare of light as Tara brought back her orb. It was barely the size of a marble, and its glow was dim, but it gave enough light for them to see each other.

"Do you think that's safe?"

Tara nodded. "We haven't heard anything for a while. No yells, or footsteps. Besides, it's nice and small." She shrugged. "I just couldn't stand the dark anymore."

"And it's not going to wear you out?" She looked at Tara in concern.

"No, it's relatively low energy output. I don't think I could do anything big right now, but I can handle a little light."

Willow sighed and glanced around the room. "I wonder what's taking Amy so long. We definitely need to be getting out of here, before someone -- or some thing -- finds us."

She picked up the doll's eye crystal from where it had rested on her bloody vest. With another sigh, she reached to put it back in her pocket.

Tara stopped Willow's hand, pulling it closer to her. She opened the fingers to reveal the hidden crystal. "Guess it was lucky for me that you had it with you."

Willow shook her head. "Wasn't luck. I always have it with me." Even in the dim light of the orb, Tara could tell the redhead was blushing. "Just call me sentimental gal."

Tara looked at her, startled, then smiled. "That's very sweet, Willow." She settled back, leaning her head on a soft shoulder. "I didn't know if you'd kept it. Why did you? Why didn't you ever use it?"

"Because it's -- well, because you gave it to me." Willow finished in a whisper. "I don't know why I never used it. It just didn't feel right, is all." She closed her hand around the crystal, squeezing tightly. "Because I didn't want to lose something else that was you."

Tears stung the corners of Tara's eyes, and she let a few roll down the sides of her face.

"I missed you so much." She curled a hand around Willow's. "And I didn't know how to reach you, or help you."

Willow's heart skipped a beat. "I - I missed you too." She wrapped her arm around Tara, bringing her mouth closer to the blonde's ear. "I was wrong to do what I did to you. I was out of control. I couldn't see it, but I do now. You did what you had to. I don't know what would have happened if you had stayed." She kissed the blonde's cheek lightly. "Thank you for being strong enough to leave." In a gentle motion, she brought their entwined hands to her lips.


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 Post subject: FIC: Reflections in Raindrops
PostPosted: Sat Mar 23, 2002 6:00 pm 
The crystal began to glow, emitting a blue-white light that reached out to envelop Amy's hand and Tara's arm. A tingling began in Tara's elbow and fingertips at the same time, and she squeezed Willow's hand hard as the tingles became a wave of pain that washed through her forearm. She closed her eyes, tears leaking down her cheeks, and pressed back against Willow as hard as she could. When the pain finally ended, she slumped against her former lover, tired and spent.

Willow held on through Tara's painful grip on her hand. Whispering into her ear, she wiped away the tears that fell, and kissed her temple till she finally went limp in her arms. "I love you, Tara." Willow used her sleeve to dry the beads of sweat that had formed on Tara's brow, holding the blonde close as she rested in Willow's lap.

Amy wiped away the blood and what little remained of the sage she'd used. The puncture marks were still evident on Tara's wrist and arm, but had fully closed and were in the early stages of healing. Amy smiled up at the blonde, her own fingers still tingling from the spell.

Tara glanced at the now sealed wound and nodded. Her eyes were very heavy, and she tried to keep them open, but couldn't. "Willow? Gotta sleep." She turned her head slightly and sighed. By her next breath, she was out.

Willow watched Tara sleep for a moment as she fussed with a strand of the blonde hair matted by sweat. Her face was still white, but now calm in slumber. Her jaw had relaxed, releasing the tension that had told Willow just how much pain her love had been in. Tara's appearance was one of peace as she breathed deeply through her slightly open mouth.

But there was still fear in Willow's voice as she asked, "She'll be okay?"

"Yeah, she'll be fine. I -- I think between the pain, and the energy the spell took -- she's just tired. She'll be okay, Willow." Amy tried to sound sure of herself, knowing it was what Willow needed. She was certain of one thing -- Tara's arm would heal fine. But Amy was suddenly really unsure of everything else.

She moved away slightly, leaning against the stacked crates she and Tara had been going through. Her hands rested on her knees as she sat with her legs pulled up in front of her. Amy grimaced slightly at the grime now coating her hands and arms. The dirt had mixed with the oil from the crate and Tara's blood, to form a layer of paste that covered the backs of both hands. Along with that red-tinged grime was an occasional speck of green, the result of the creature's blood splattering over her as she killed it.

She couldn't help but wonder what the hell it was.

A low growl came up from her stomach, and she realized she was hungry. This was quickly followed by the understanding that they were trapped in a dungeon with no food or water. And she was responsible for it.

"Willow?"

"Hum?"

"I'm sorry. I really thought this would be a quick job for you and me. I'd bring you here, we'd wipe the floor with a few demons, and be home by dawn." Amy gestured at the room around them. "I never expected -- this."

Willow didn't know exactly what to say. She was upset about Tara being hurt. About Tara being dragged into this just for being with her on a date. Upset that Amy still thought she could get her to do magic after all this time, by force if need be. Willow stared at the woman in her arms for several moments before replying.

"Amy, this book that you want? It's not worth all this; you have to know that. I know you think I'm a powerful witch, and in truth I had power. But I didn't have control of it. The magic was in control of me. Instead of using the magic, it was using me." Willow looked back down at Tara's sleeping face. "She knew that. She tried to warn me, but I didn't listen." Tears began to form in her eyes. "She was the one that was strong when I was weak. She's the one that understood that you have to have respect, and understand the consequences. You could learn a lot from her. I know I have."

She paused for a moment, then turned to Amy again. "You have the same problem that I did. You've lost control, and that will only get you into trouble." She waved a hand around the room they sat in. "Take a look around you. How fast did your simple plan get out of control?" Willow just shook her head. "You're just as addicted to magic as I was. And it's only going to get worse if you don't try and stop now."

Amy looked down at the floor, and then up at Willow, whose eyes were focused on the blonde asleep in her arms.

She knew Willow was right, at least in part. It was her fault that they were all trapped there, and the plan had gone wrong awfully fast. And the magic lately -- well, she had to admit to feeling a little out of control.

But, give it up, like Willow had? She shook her head mentally.

I have to get to the book, she thought. Then I can make this whole thing up to them. I can get them safely out of here, and I can get control of my life again. I can.
There were shouts off in the distance. Guttural voices could be heard echoing down the hallways. Amy doused her witch light, and Willow huddled down with Tara, covering the injured woman as much as she could.

They stayed that way in the dark for several minutes. More sounds drifted through the air, but there were no footsteps that they could hear. It seemed that Tara's spell was still working.

Amy relit the magic light, and watched for several moments as Willow gently stroked Tara's cheek, whispering in her ear every few minutes. She knew she had to make things right. "First things first," she muttered to herself.

"Willow? Hey." Amy kept her voice down in order to not wake Tara. "Listen, I'm going to go scout around, okay? Follow this tunnel down a little further. You stay put and watch over her?"

Willow didn't even look up."I'm not going anywhere without her. I won't lose her again."
Her voice was soft, but it came across to Amy clearly and strongly. The absolute love she felt for Tara was evident, and had been all along. For a moment, Amy was jealous. Then she just felt guilty.

"Oh. Hey, what about the light?"

"I'll need to take it with me." Amy looked apologetic. "It's kind of attached to me."

"Um ... I'm not so sure I want to sit here in the dark. Any chance of finding a non-magical light source?"

"Don't know." Amy looked around the room. She noticed an odd shaped metal holder on the wall, and stared at it till she realized what it was. "Hey, wait, I think --" Creeping over to the box she and Tara had gone through earlier, she dug through the chains until she came up with a long piece of wood, one end covered in black pitch.

"Exuro." Light flared from the end of the torch, and Amy grinned over at Willow. "Saw it earlier in the box but didn't know what it was till I saw that." She pointed at the metal object on the wall, then moved over to it and slid the torch into it. The room was doused in an almost cheery glow.

Willow nodded. "Nice."

"Okay. I'm going. I won't be long. Maybe I can find.. I don't know. Something."

Willow looked up. "Fine, but be careful and don't break the concealment barrier." She returned to stroking Tara's face.

As Amy got to the door, Willow called to her and she turned.

"No magic." Willow's voice was firm.

Amy hesitated but nodded, then walked quietly through the door and disappeared around the corner.

Part Five

Stepping out the door of their hiding place, Amy quietly set off down the hall. She kept her witch light much smaller than the one she'd used earlier, smaller even than Tara's orb, but she didn't need too much light anyway. Just enough to show her the next few paces in front of her.

Not that there was much to look at. The walls were dirty and grey, with a few cobwebs in some of the upper corners. Amy couldn't help but think that spiders must be the one constant through every universe ever
created.

She came to a T-junction of corridors, where she had to turn left or right. She peeked carefully around the corners before choosing the right hand tunnel. It didn't seem much different than the one on the left, but Amy thought she could see some light down near the end.

As she got closer, she began to get nervous. There was definitely a light, and every once in a while she thought she could catch the sound of a voice.

She was about to turn back when she smelled it. It was roast something, and she guessed it had to be this world's equivalent of roast beef. She inhaled slowly through her nose, enjoying the scent of meat cooking. Her stomach rumbled a little more, and her mouth watered.

Going forward didn't seem like a good plan; after all, there had been voices. On the other hand, she had no desire to walk back to Tara and Willow empty handed. She'd caused them enough harm, and it was time to repair a little of it.

I know I said I wouldn't, Willow, but I have to. She sent a mental apology to her friend, then closed her eyes and cast a spell. When it was done, she looked down at her hand to see that it wasn't there.

Invisibility is the key, she thought. With that, she could roam around the castle and not be seen. Pleased with herself, she set off towards the light with a confident step.

====================

Willow yawned lightly and shook her head. Tara was still asleep in her lap, and the redhead was passing the time by reading.

It was difficult, but a good challenge for her mind. Gaulish was an extinct language that was part of the Celtic group. It came from a group of Celts that had remained on the European continent and were eventually eliminated or assimilated by the Romans. Not only that, but it was very obscure, and there was little documentation.

Giles had spent some weeks tutoring Willow on extinct languages, Gaulish included. It was a time Willow had enjoyed, before Glory, before Buffy's death and resurrection -- before she'd lost control.

Before Tara left her.

Tears stung her eyes for a moment and she set the book aside.

Tara mumbled something and stretched. She turned over slightly and opened her eyes.

"Hey, baby."

"Will." Tara sighed. "Wow. That's nice."

"What is?"

"Waking up in your arms."

They smiled at each other, and Willow gently touched Tara's cheek. "How are you feeling?"

One blonde eyebrow rose, and Tara stretched a little more. "Not bad. A little tired, yet, but after all that's happened, I think I'm okay."

"Yeah? How's your arm feel?"

The fingers at the end of said arm wiggled, and Tara gently moved flexed her elbow. She grimaced a little, but didn't stop moving it.

"Pretty good, actually. I mean, it aches, but that's to be expected." She wiggled her fingers again. "Hand's still tingly."

Willow reached down and tangled her fingers with Tara's. She felt her hand being squeezed and looked up to find Tara's blue eyes smiling at her. She couldn't help but return the expression.

Tara glanced around. Seeing the box, she shivered. "Willow, what was that thing? Do you know?"

"Oh, yeah. I found it in the book. I sorta did some reading while you were sleeping." She grabbed the book she had put aside.

"Studying again, huh?" Tara smiled up at Willow.

"Uh huh. You know me, study girl." Willow smiled back. "So, if I'm reading this right, it was a Kradtic. Your basic low level, third dimension demon, with a nasty outlook on life. Who sits in wait for anything that comes along to snack on."

Tara frowned. "You can really read that? I didn't think you could understand it that well."

"Well, most of it's in Gaulish. There are only a few pages in a different language that I don't understand. Demon, I think, but I'm not sure."

"I know Giles was teaching you Gaulish, but I didn't think he taught you the whole language."

"Not even close." Willow smiled at her. "But -- it's like a puzzle, and puzzles I can figure out." She pointed at a word on the page. "I'm not too sure what that word is, but I know what the surrounding words are, and I'm pretty good at context associations."

Tara nodded. "Right. Puzzle gal, with the photographic memory."

Willow grinned. "Well, it helps that Giles taught me the really important words."

"Like?"

"Like demon, slay, kill, magic."

They shared a chuckle and then fell silent at a sudden noise from the hall. There was a loud boom, like the sound of a heavy door slamming shut, and more shouts and yells. Then everything was quiet again.

Tara suddenly sat up. "Where's Amy?"

"She went to go have a look around."

"Alone?"

"Well, yeah. You were sleeping, and -- well, I wasn't about to leave you by yourself." She avoided Tara's gaze. "Besides, I rather enjoy watching you sleep, if you must know."

The blonde witch smiled. "Oh, yeah? You do that a lot, huh?

"Well, not as often as I'd like to, but when given the chance I'm not going to pass it up."

They sat quietly for several moments, just enjoying the peace and quiet. Then more voices and the sound of footsteps echoed from the hall. They looked at each other in alarm. Willow started to stand.

"What are you doing?"

"The torch!"

Tara shook her head and pulled Willow back to the ground. "Exuro abeo." The torch fluttered and died, leaving them in darkness.

The sounds of marching boots seemed to come closer by the moment. Willow wrapped her arms around Tara and pulled her down behind the crate. The stayed there, hardly daring to breathe, as the footsteps went past the
door, never stopping.

Slowly, they sat up. Neither of them moved away, though, and neither said anything about relighting the torch. Willow kept her arms around Tara as they sat in the darkness.

"Where did you say Amy went?"

"To look around."

They both sighed, hoping she hadn't been the cause of the marching soldiers.

=================

Amy, at that moment, was sitting under a table. On the other side of the room were several of the whatevers that had surprised her when she opened the door to the stairs, speaking to each other in low guttural voices. Unable to understand the language, but certain she would be unwelcome in the conversation, she stayed hidden, hoping to find a way to take some food and water back to her friends.

The problem, as she saw it, was twofold. One, she needed to get to the area around the fire without being stepped on or bumped into by any of the creatures at dinner. Two, she needed to know just what the spell of invisibility included.

Feeling her pockets, she felt the lump of her wallet in her back pocket. She slid it out and looked at her hand. There was nothing there; no hand, and no wallet. Reaching out, she set it on the floor next to her and glanced up to see if anyone was watching. They weren't, so she looked down and slowly took her hand off the wallet.

It appeared the moment she stopped touching it. Nodding, she put it back in her pocket and crawled out from under the table.

There was a table loaded with empty water skins, along with several full ones. Next to the table was a barrel of water. Slowly, Amy approached the stack of water skins, reaching out carefully. Once again, she made sure none of the creatures were looking her way. Then she put her hand on the top of a full skin and it disappeared.

She tied that one to her belt and was reaching for another when one of the creatures stood and started to lumber towards her. Moving away, she stepped carefully around a chair and plastered herself against a wall.

It was the first good look she'd gotten at the Goshti, as she remembered Willow had called them. She admitted to herself that she could have lived without the close-up shot.

The one in front of her was big, over six feet, and very muscular. His (she was pretty sure it was male) face was a cross between a boar's and a man's, with yellowed tusks protruding from his mouth. His eyes were black with white pupils, and his forehead sloped back from his eyes. Dirty looking strands of black hair stuck to the sides of his head covering half of his long ears. His forearms were as thick as her thighs and his thighs were wider than her whole body.

The uniform, which she could see was pretty much the standard among his companions, was made of strips of metal over a solid leather coat. He had a type of battle axe strapped to his back, and a short sword attached to his belt.

Amy covered her nose; whatever the thing was, he reeked.

The soldier creature grabbed all of the filled water skins and tossed them to his comrades. They stood from the table and all started heading out the door. One of them seemed to argue with his fellow, and Amy wondered if maybe she had swiped his water skin.

After several minutes of yelling the Goshti grabbed an empty skin and tossed it to his angry companion. This seemed to mollify the creature and the group of them headed out the door, leaving Amy completely alone in the room.

Breathing a sigh of relief, she filled two more skins from the water barrel. After that she went to look at what was left behind on the table. There wasn't much there, but towards the back of the room, near the hearth, was the spit where the roasted meat was still waiting. Her mouth watered as she approached.

She found not just meat but bread and cheese as well. The only problem was she had no way to carry it.

Looking around, she found a small wooden box. After first making sure there was no magically hidden creature, she used a spell to change the box into a bag. Then she loaded the food into the sack and prepared to leave.

Only to duck back under her original table when several more of the creatures entered the room.

Amy waited, listening to their low gravelly voices, and wondered what they were saying. Then a smile crossed her face as she realized that she could easily find out. Whispering carefully, she did a language recognition spell, and leaned against the wall with a smile on her face.

==============

The darkness was broken by a tiny flare of light as Tara brought back her orb. It was barely the size of a marble, and its glow was dim, but it gave enough light for them to see each other.

"Do you think that's safe?"

Tara nodded. "We haven't heard anything for a while. No yells, or footsteps. Besides, it's nice and small." She shrugged. "I just couldn't stand the dark anymore."

"And it's not going to wear you out?" She looked at Tara in concern.

"No, it's relatively low energy output. I don't think I could do anything big right now, but I can handle a little light."

Willow sighed and glanced around the room. "I wonder what's taking Amy so long. We definitely need to be getting out of here, before someone -- or some thing -- finds us."

She picked up the doll's eye crystal from where it had rested on her bloody vest. With another sigh, she reached to put it back in her pocket.

Tara stopped Willow's hand, pulling it closer to her. She opened the fingers to reveal the hidden crystal. "Guess it was lucky for me that you had it with you."

Willow shook her head. "Wasn't luck. I always have it with me." Even in the dim light of the orb, Tara could tell the redhead was blushing. "Just call me sentimental gal."

Tara looked at her, startled, then smiled. "That's very sweet, Willow." She settled back, leaning her head on a soft shoulder. "I didn't know if you'd kept it. Why did you? Why didn't you ever use it?"

"Because it's -- well, because you gave it to me." Willow finished in a whisper. "I don't know why I never used it. It just didn't feel right, is all." She closed her hand around the crystal, squeezing tightly. "Because I didn't want to lose something else that was you."

Tears stung the corners of Tara's eyes, and she let a few roll down the sides of her face.

"I missed you so much." She curled a hand around Willow's. "And I didn't know how to reach you, or help you."

Willow's heart skipped a beat. "I - I missed you too." She wrapped her arm around Tara, bringing her mouth closer to the blonde's ear. "I was wrong to do what I did to you. I
was out of control. I couldn't see it, but I do now. You did what you had to. I don't know what would have happened if you had stayed." She kissed the blonde's cheek lightly. "Thank you for being strong enough to leave." In a gentle motion, she brought their entwined hands to her lips.

The tears continued to leak from Tara's eyes, but her lips were curved in a smile as she watched Willow kiss her hand. She squeezed the fingers wrapped around her own, and brought them down to return the favor.

With her free hand, Willow played with Tara's golden hair. It had been a privilege long denied, and one she swore she'd never lose again. Slowly she curled a tuft of it around her finger and used it to tickle Tara's sensitive skin near her shoulder. It had always made the other woman squirm, and she was pleased to get the same result this time.

Until Tara winced.

"Are you okay?"

"Yeah. Just twisted it a little." She waited for Willow to speak or move or do something, but Willow did nothing.

"Willow?" Tara looked back to see green eyes filling with tears. "Willow, what's wrong?"

"It's nothing."

"It's something, or you wouldn't be crying. What is it?"

Willow shook her head. "I just -- I just wish I could have done more with ..." She trailed off, gesturing towards Tara's injured arm.

"With what?" Tara followed her gesture. "Oh. Oh! You mean with the spell?"

Willow nodded slightly. "I know Amy did it fine, and you shouldn't have any problems. I don't know, I feel -- I just feel useless now. Like someone took away all my super powers, and I'm just -- just me."

"Super powers?" Tara frowned. "Is that how you think of magic?"

"No! I'm just saying -- well yeah, sorta. I mean I felt like somebody when I did magic. I was useful, and helpful in lots of ways. Free from the geeky nerd I was in high school. And that felt good." She looked away.. "Too good, I guess. But now, no more magic, so everybody gets geeky, useless, plain Willow again."

Tara just stared at her for several minutes. At first she couldn't believe Willow could feel that way, and then she realized that of course Willow would feel that way. She should have realized it sooner.

She sat up and turned around, mindful of her injury. Taking hold of Willow's chin with one hand, she brought her love's gaze up to meet her own.

"You, Willow Rosenberg, are not, and never could be, useless or plain." Willow started to protest, and Tara put her fingers over her lips to stop the words. "You are one of the most intelligent, resourceful, unique, and special people in the world. You always have been, and you always will be. With or without magic, it's you Buffy turns to when she needs advice or information. It's you who's always learning and teaching and helping other people. You're the one who everyone looks to for strength when they need it."

Tara moved her hand down and stroked Willow's cheek. "Darling, I don't care if you can use magic or not. I didn't fall in love with a superhero. I fell in love with you -- you, Willow Rosenberg. Computer geek, bookworm, and research girl." She leaned forward and kissed Willow's nose. "I love you, Willow. I love you, and I need you, and don't you ever call yourself useless again." She smiled. "You're essential."

Willow blushed at hearing her own words from so long ago. The tears dripped down her cheeks. Tara wiped them away, her own going unnoticed. Their gazes locked and they came together, hands reaching, lips touching in a soft kiss --

"Willow?"

Amy's voice made Tara jump, and she and Willow pulled away from each other hastily.

Tara looked around, but saw nothing. "W-willow, did you just hear --"

"Yeah, I heard it too." Willow risked a peek over the top of the crate toward the place the voice had come from, but saw nothing. "Amy? Is that you?"

"Of course it's me." The voice seemed to come from the thin air just in front of them.

"Where -- where are you?" Tara asked.

"Right here -- oh. Sorry. Aperio."

With the banishment of the illusion, Tara and Willow found Amy sitting just a few feet away from them. She looked none the worse for her wanderings, and was in fact smiling. A bag was perched precariously on her lap and she was busily digging through it.

"Amy!" Willow whispered fiercely. "I said no magic!"

"I know, but it was just an invisibility spell. No biggie. Besides, if I hadn't used it I wouldn't have been able to bring back this." She pulled out a chunk of cheese and handed it over to Willow. "Even got a small knife to cut it with."

She grinned as she kept pulling food items from the bag.

Tara's stomach growled. Willow shook her head, and muttered something about 'no more magic.' Then she cut a slice of cheese and handed it to Tara.

"I don't suppose you got any water?"

"Oh, sure did." She untied a water skin from her belt and handed it to Tara. "I got three of them, so don't be afraid to drink up."

Willow held Tara's portion of cheese while the blonde woman uncorked the skin and took a drink.

Tara choked after the first swallow. "Gah! That's not water, Amy." She wiped the back of her hand across her mouth, a grimace on her face.

"What is it, then?"

She shook her head. "I don't know. Tastes like alcohol, though."

"Huh." Amy untied another one and tested it. "Okay, this one's definitely water." She traded skins with Tara. "Sorry. I grabbed this one off a table, and it was already full." She stopped. "Oh. So maybe that's what the guy was yelling about. I stole his liquor." She gave a grin at the perplexed looks on Willow and Tara's faces. "Never mind."

"How did you get this stuff?" Willow asked.

"Well, I made myself invisible and found this kind of dining hall. I hid there until I was alone, then grabbed a bunch of stuff." She stuffed a piece of bread in her mouth and chewed. "Good thing, too. I was getting pretty darn hungry."

Tara shook her head. "You could have gotten in trouble, Amy. You can't use that kind of spell without a consequence."

"I know." Amy shrugged. "It was kind of necessary. Besides, I have information as well as food."

"Information? What kind of information?"

Amy grinned at Willow's question. "I know where the back set of stairs are. And I wandered down there and checked it out. There aren't any guards. It's like six turns, and this really long corridor, then twenty-two stairs and we're on the next floor." She looked back and forth between them. "I did good, huh?"

Willow just stared.

"And you got this information by just walking around?"

"Nope. I was sitting under a table in that dining place and listening to a bunch of these Goshti - whatevers talk. They're the ones that chased us, you know."

"Right." Tara nodded. "They were speaking English?"

"Well, no, they were speaking their own language. But I understood them."

"How?"

"I c--"

"Cast a spell," Tara finished for her. "Amy, just how many spells did you cast while you were gone?"

Amy thought about it. "With or without counting the magic light?"

"Without."

"Four."

"Four?"

"Uh-huh." She counted on her fingers. "Invisibility, language, turning a box into a bag -- it made the food easier to carry -- and I cast a sleep spell on this guy that bumped into me." Another piece of bread disappeared into her mouth. "And of course, the light. But you said not to count that one."

Tara shook her head.

"Amy, you've gotta stop with the magic." Willow was vehement in her protest.

"Right. Okay. Next time, I'll just ask for the food from these Goshti guys, and I'm sure they'll be more than willing to just hand some over to us. And I'll remember to ask them for directions as well. How's that?" She glared at Willow. "You're eating food that I got by using magic. If it bothers you so much, don't eat it."

Willow looked at Tara, who gave her a gentle smile.

"Amy, we're just worried. This isn't our world, we don't even know most of the rules. So far all our casting seems to be the same, but there's always the possibility that a spell won't work the same way, or won't work at all. So," Tara shrugged. "Just be careful. Please?"

Amy nodded. "I will be, Tara. I promise." She leaned forward. "I'm sorry I got you two into this, and I fully intend to get us all out, okay?"

Tara smiled and nodded.

They ate in silence for a few minutes.

Willow glared at a piece of bread. "This is so not what I was wanting as dessert."

Tara chuckled. "What happened to the cheesecake anyway?"

"I dropped it when the teleport thingy happened." She turned her glare to Amy. "You couldn't wait until after desert to kidnap us?" She bit into the bread and chewed as Amy and Tara both laughed softly.

Willow swallowed, then cleared her throat. "So, Amy, how long were you, um, here, before you announced yourself?"

"I had just walked in the room. Sorry about startling you. I didn't think about the invisibility thing until Tara asked where I was."

"You had just walked in right then?"

"Uh-huh. Why?"

"No reason." Willow looked up at Tara and winked.

Tara blushed and took another bite of cheese.

Part Six

After a long and vehement discussion, Amy finally was allowed to cast a cloak of invisibility over herself and her two companions.

Tara and Willow had both protested, insisting that using that much magic was dangerous. Amy said it was the only way for them to travel safely through the castle, and after several close calls with passing Goshti soldiers, Tara finally gave in, and Willow simply nodded.

The biggest problem about the invisibility spell was that they wouldn't be able to see each other. To combat this, it was agreed that Amy would lead and Tara would be at the back. Willow would be between them, each of them holding one of her hands.

Before leaving, Willow insisted they look through the rest of the crates. Their search yielded a few rusty swords in molding leather scabbards, along with some old leather jerkins. These, they decided, would give them added protection if they had to battle anything physically. Amy and Tara put theirs on over their regular shirts, but Willow pulled her shirt off and put the jerkin on.

Then she ripped the shirt into pieces and used it to wrap Tara's injured arm.
The food bag was secured to Amy's back, and Willow, now girded with a belt and sword, carried the book and map in her back pocket. She had already planned out their route through the second floor but was worried, since the book's references to the creatures had been too jumbled and obscure for her to make out.

Finally, they were ready, and Amy grasped Willow's hand and cast the invisibility spell.

It was strange for Willow. The taste and feel of the magic were all about her, but she couldn't touch it, couldn't use it, and dared not reach out to it. Even though she couldn't see her, she could feel Tara's hand in her own, and she squeezed it tight, taking comfort in the responding pressure.

"You all right, Will?" Tara asked in a whisper.

"Oh yeah, just fine. Heck, I usually go invisible twice a day just for the fun of it, right? That was a joke, of course," Willow finished quickly.

Tara chuckled and tightened her grip. She knew Willow was nervous about having magic used on her, afraid it would refuel her addiction. Tara had worried about it a little herself, but she had faith in Willow. Closing her eyes for a moment, she tried to project all her love and strength into the redhead next to her.

Willow pulled Tara closer to her. "I love you too. And I'm okay, really."

Amy turned and glared in their general direction. She knew they couldn't see her, but it just felt like she should. "Glad you're okay, Willow, and I hate to break up such a loving moment, but if you two don't shut up, the spell isn't going to be any use."

"Sorry."

"Sorry, Amy. Lead on." Tara felt a tug on her arm as Willow followed Amy out the door. She followed, being careful to stay close, but not too close, on the redhead's heels.

After several twists and turns, Amy suddenly yanked on Willow's hand and pulled her out of the middle of the corridor. Willow hit the wall, and pulled Tara over with her. Tara flattened herself against the cold stone, eyes wide, holding her breath.

They waited there while a group of Goshti soldiers went by. Tara was grateful the corridor was as wide as it was, but even so, it was very close. The last soldier came within two inches of her.

Amy got them safely to the back stairs, and then suddenly stopped. They heard her softly cursing to herself.

"What is it?" Willow whispered softly.

"They've posted a guard. I don't know why."

"Can we get by him?"

"There are two, one on either side of the doorway. But the door's open, so if we slide between them quietly we shouldn't have a problem."

"So what are we waiting for? Let's go."

Amy took a deep breath and nodded to herself. She got a good grip on Willow's hand and led them around the corner.

The guards, as Willow and Tara saw, were very big. Their uniforms were stained and dirty, and they smelled like week-old garbage. The color of their skin was a sickly yellow that made Tara think of disease and illness. They carried battle axes on their backs and were both staring straight ahead, their white on black eyes gazing off into the distance.

Amy tried to keep her breathing very light as she crept closer to the guards. Finally, she was between them and her foot was on the first stair. Willow was right behind her, turned sideways and moving carefully. As Amy stepped up to the second and third, it was Tara's turn to step between the guards.

It was at that point their luck ran out.

Another guard entered the chamber. He spoke to his fellow Goshti and was about to leave just as Tara put her foot on the first step. A low whine filled the air, and Tara looked back to see the soldier holding the leash of a creature which looked much like a large gray, furless cat. It was staring directly at her, growling and whining. Its yellow eyes were trained on her, and it held its mouth open, showing a double row of grey teeth, fangs hanging down near the front of its muzzle.

Amy tugged hard on Willow's hand; Willow lost her balance and fell forward. Tara, trying to move up the stairs and away from the guards, tripped over Willow. Alerted to the fact that someone was there, the guards drew their battle axes and turned to the stairs.

The first blow from the first guard landed just inches from Willow's outstretched hand. There wasn't a second from him, as Amy blasted an energy bolt into his chest. He staggered back and fell to the ground.

Willow regained her feet and pulled Tara out of the way as the second guard swung. Tara muttered a word in his direction, and his face was covered by a thick gooey substance. He dropped his axe and tried to pull off the mask.

The third guard loosed the creature, and it aimed straight for Tara. Willow stepped in front, but it dodged around her and leaped for the blonde witch; its teeth became entangled with the leather shirt she wore.
Amy, after sending a bolt into the third Goshti's chest, sent one at the cat-like creature; its reaction was to let go of Tara and leap at Amy.

Willow grabbed it around its middle and hung on. She could feel its claws dig into her shoulder and side, and it was all she could to keep her grip. "Kill it! Use your sword!"

Amy tried to blast it again, but the bolt seemed to have no effect. Tara pulled her sword out and stabbed the thing, pushing the blade through the ribcage and pinning it against the wall.

Willow let go of the now feebly struggling creature. She pulled Tara's sword out of it, intending to pass it back to her carefully. Instead, she turned back to see that the second Goshti had freed himself of his blinding mask.

"Tara, get down!" Praying that her love was safely out of the way, Willow thrust the sword into the Goshti's belly. At the same time, Amy's bolt struck him in the face, and he went down.

Tara had managed to avoid Willow's blow by throwing herself against the wall. She struggled to keep her feet, knowing they had very little time to get to the top of the stairs. Already she could hear the tramp of feet as more Goshti approached.

"Come on, you two! Where are you?" Amy's voice called to them from near the top of the second flight of stairs. "We need to get to the door!"

Willow reached a hand out, colliding into Tara accidentally. She slid her fingers down the woman's arm until their hands were once again clasped together. Without a word they followed the sound of Amy's voice.

Amy heard footsteps on the stairs and breathed a sigh of relief. She reached over to the door and spoke a simple spell of opening. To her dismay, nothing happened.

"Damnit!"

"What's wrong?" Tara's voice was very close to her ear and she jumped.

"I can't get the stupid lock open."

"Do we have to open it together, like last time?"

"Maybe." Amy felt Tara's hand land on her arm, and they stayed in contact as they reached for the handle.

The noise from the stairs was growing and Willow could hear booted feet ascending. "Hurry up.... Beasty Baddies coming, remember?"

The lock finally turned under the strength of their combined spells. The Goshti were on the second staircase as Amy pushed open the door and went through it. Tara followed a little more slowly, pulling Willow behind her. Once they were through, they turned to close the door.

To find it being pushed back open by a Goshti soldier.

"Amy!"

Amy turned at Willow's call and threw herself back at the door, accidentally slamming into Tara, who gasped at the pain in her arm. The three of them pressed their full weights against the door, but it wasn't enough; slowly the door continued to swing open.

There was a yell from somewhere down the stairs and suddenly, the struggle was over. The Goshti pulled back, and the door slammed shut.

Willow felt splinters from the heavy wooden door dig into her hand as she slid down it. Tara fell on top of her, with Amy sprawled next to them.

Tara whispered a spell and heard the mechanism click, locking the door they had just closed.

For a moment, they just lay there, breathing hard.

"Aperio." Tara banished the vanishing spell and sat up.

Willow didn't move. "They must've been late for dinner."

Amy rolled over and got to hands and knees. "Couldn't be. I watched them eat." She wrinkled her nose. "Slobs."

"Hey, Will, maybe they found our cheesecake."

They looked at each other for a moment, then burst out laughing. It didn't last long, but they all felt better for it.

"Okay." Tara stood. "Time we got moving. We were supposed to turn left up here, weren't we?"

"Yeah." Willow stood carefully, putting a hand to her side where the creature had clawed her.

Tara eyed her, not liking the paleness in her cheeks. "And we're going to look for a place we can sit and rest, and do some first aid."

Amy nodded. "Yeah, good idea." She looked down at the floor and shuffled her feet a bit. "Uh, Willow?"

Willow's green eyes tracked to Amy, but she didn't say anything.

"Um, thanks. For stopping that thing." She gave an embarrassed smile, and Willow returned it.

"Any time. Good aim with those bolty things."

Chuckling softly, Amy nodded and shrugged. Then she turned and led the way down the hall.

Tara held back a little, keeping an eye on Willow. She didn't like the pinched look on the woman's face, or the way she kept reaching for her shoulder.

"How bad is it, Will?"

It was Willow's turn to shrug. "Not bad. Hurts, though."

"We'll stop soon and I'll do --"

"Um, Tara? Willow?" Amy 's call came from around the corner, and they quickened their pace.

They found her standing in front of the door they'd expected to find.

But they hadn't been expecting the two little brown creatures that stood in front of it, staring back at them.

Part Seven

It was easy to see the creatures in the light from the torches that hung on the walls every twenty feet or so. They didn't look dangerous. As a matter of fact, they looked rather harmless.

Standing a little taller than the cat-like animal they'd killed earlier, the creatures in front of them were covered in brown fur and had large pointy ears that flopped over at the top. There was no visible sign of danger about them; no claws showing on their paws, and no fangs protruding from their long pointed snouts. Their mouths didn't appear to open like a regular mouth. All that could be seen was a circular hole at the end of the snout through which a long pointed tongue appeared every so often.

Amy looked back at her friends. "I wouldn't call them cute, but at least they're not growling at us."
"Not that I don't agree with you, but in this place. I'm not taking any chances." Willow stated as she unsheathed her sword. "We need to get through that door."

Tara didn't like it. There was something about the creatures that she didn't like at all. She shook her head, thinking that maybe the pressure was getting to her. Her headache was back, and getting worse. She wanted out of there. "I agree with Willow. We need to move them, or something."

"Amy, go shoo them away." Willow smiled at her friend. "Aw, come on, they don't even look like they bite."

Amy shrugged. "Okay. I'm sure they'll move if we just -- hey!" She looked down to see one of them put its snout up against her leg. A sharp pain jabbed her. "Ow! Stop that!" She kicked at it and moved back, but it came forward with her. A thin trail of blood trickled down her leg.

Willow quickly stabbed her sword at the little monster following Amy.

The dark haired witch backed away, frightened. The second creature began to come forward. "Willow, look out!"

Amy sent a bolt flying toward the thing, surprised when it seemed to have no effect.

She immediately grabbed her head and moaned in pain.

Willow quickly turned to find the second little demon headed straight for her. She swung her sword around to ward off the attack, severing its little head in the process.

"Nice swing, Will." Tara put a hand on Amy's shoulder. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah, I think so. Wow, that was some wicked backlash, though." She stared down at the thing. "Did I miss and not hit it, or what?"

"No, you got it, but I think they're immune." Amy's eyes went wide. "Yeah. There are some creatures that aren't affected by magic, you know."

"I knew that." Amy glowered. "Just didn't think we'd run into any here."

After a moment Willow headed toward the door. Looking it over she noticed it had no knob or handle, and appeared to open from either side. Slowly, with the tip of her sword, she pushed the door open. It gave easily with a minor squeek. After a peek through the opening, Willow quickly let the door close. "Umm, can we talk about this later? Right now would be a good time to run."

Tara looked up sharply. "Why? What's wrong?"

She got her answer as the door swung open towards Willow. Several more brown creatures came through.

Amy screamed and threw another energy bolt. Again, the backlash made her clutch her head. Tara's own headache got worse, but she grabbed Amy's arm and pulled her away from the wall.

"Come on! We have to get out of here!"

Amy hesitated for a second. "But that's the way we need to go!" She looked over to find Willow swinging and stabbing at the creatures, with more coming through the door every moment. She fled, going past Tara, who'd pulled her sword.

One of the creatures got behind Willow and attached itself to the back of her knee. She stumbled, but kept her feet.

Tara brought her sword down on the thing's head, watching it fall away from her friend. Then she was side by side with Willow and they were backing down the corridor, their slashing weapons keeping the creatures at bay.

Willow risked a glance beside her. "Thanks, sweetie." She turned her attention back to the demons. "I think we can get to that hall we were in earlier, and hold them off."

"Maybe. Doesn't do much to get us out of here though." Tara grunted as one of the things leaped at her, connecting with her thigh. Willow stabbed it through the throat even as Tara brought her sword down on its
back.

More of the things came through the door. With one last stab, they were in full flight down the hall, the creatures just a few paces behind them.

They heard Amy calling them, and followed her voice to a small alcove. She was holding a door open for them and telling them to hurry. They had almost reached the door when Tara felt a thud against her legs and she stumbled. She felt something puncture her calf and kicked hard, dislodging the creature and sending it flying several feet away. Then a hand was reaching out and she grabbed it. Amy helped her to her feet and pulled her inside the door as Willow followed them, backing away from their attackers.

As soon as she was through the door, Amy slammed it shut and locked it. The heard some scuffling on the other side, but nothing else.

Tara leaned back against the wall with a sigh. Her head ached, her leg hurt, and her arm was once again throbbing. She wanted to sleep, for days, and not have any dreams.

But that didn't look like it was going to happen anytime soon.

Amy turned and looked at the room they were in. It appeared to be the remains of a grand dining hall, with the remnants of a long wooden table running down the center. Now it was just a pile of splinters, but the massive bases could be seen in three places. Chairs, mostly overturned and broken, littered the room.

She noticed a door at the other end of the hall, and rushed down to make sure it was closed and locked. There was no way she wanted those little creatures in the room with her.

Tara, too, was looking at their new hideout. The walls were covered with fine tapestries and scenes of knights marching off to battle could still be glimpsed in the faded fabric. Silver candle sconces still hung from the walls, several with candles still burning in them. Another glance told Tara that the candles were magical in some way -- they burned without melting. The light they gave off left shadows in the corners of the room.

It was as good a place as any to rest, she guessed.

Willow was leaning against the wall, looking drained. The front of her was spattered in blood and gore, and Tara couldn't tell how much of it was hers. The redhead was still pale, and had one arm across her middle, holding her side where the cat had scratched her. The other arm hung down, her hand still clutched tightly around her sword.

"Will? Are you okay?"

"I don't know. Geesh, can't I rest a little after a big battle without getting the third degree? We've been in plenty of those, big battles I mean. You should know how fatigue works. It's not like I don't remember you breathing pretty hard after a few chases, you know."

Tara's eyes widened for a moment, and she pulled slightly away. "Sorry. Didn't mean to bother you." She waited a second for a response, then sighed and stepped away, following Amy further into the hall. She put a hand to her temple, rubbing it. If only her head didn't hurt so damn much.

A hand touched her shoulder, and Tara turned back to Willow.

"I'm sorry, I don't know why I said that. Forgive me?" Willow said, pleading with her eyes as well. Her voice was softer, and full of pain. "I'm just really hurting, and tired, and we're stuck here, and I don't know how to get us out of here, and all these things keep coming at us, and -- I'm sorry." She finished her babble with a miserable look on her face.

Tara nodded and managed a half smile. "If you feel anything like I do, I'm not surprised you snapped." She winced as her head throbbed. "Come on. Let's find a place to sit and get you cleaned up."

Amy had found a couple of serviceable chairs and turned them upright. She'd unpacked some food and pulled out what was left of Willow's shirt. One piece she'd already folded up and was using it to clean the blood off her own leg.

For some reason, that irritated Tara. It was Willow's shirt, and one of Tara's favorites, and had been sacrificed for Tara, not Amy. But, that was irrational, Tara decided, and she closed her mouth tightly to keep from saying anything about it.

Willow dropped to the floor and leaned against the broken base of the demolished table. She ached everywhere, and her head hurt. There was an itching in her ears, and the smell of the blood on her was making her nauseated.

Tara offered her some bread and cheese, and Willow had to clench her jaw and swallow hard a few times before she shook her head. She accepted some water, swallowing it slowly, watching as Tara cleaned herself off and grabbed a piece of bread.

Amy leaned back in her chair. "Anyone know where we are now?"

Tara spoke up in her best sarcastic tone. "Well, I don't know. Somewhere in the same stupid castle maybe?"

Willow didn't waste time on sarcasm; she went straight to scathing. "Where do you think we are? Stuck in some hell dimension, with nasty demons who want to kill us, all because you wanted the Gremlin of Silmarillion."

"Grimoire of Salarion."

"Whatever." Willow's head pounded and she held a hand to her forehead. "You couldn't get it on your own so you dragged us into it. How nice of you. I sure hope you're happy, 'cause I know I'm just peachy over here."

Amy didn't hesitate to return Willow's venom. "Well, if you had just agreed to help me in the first place, this wouldn't have had to happen. It only went wrong because she twisted your brain." She pointed at Tara and sneered. "Oh, mustn't use too much magic. Oooh, mustn't use your power at all. Shouldn't play with dark side. Hah! She's just afraid, and she's made you into a wimp."

Tara looked from one to the other. Something was happening here that she just didn't like. She could figure it out, if that infernal buzzing in her ears would just stop.

"Both of you, calm down." She knelt by Willow, using the last scrap of clean cloth to try and get some of the gore and blood off the woman's skin. Willow flinched as she ran the cloth over one of the numerous puncture wounds on her legs.

"Stay still," Tara snapped. "I'm trying to clean you off, and it would be a lot easier if you didn't move so much."

"Easy for you to say." Willow pushed Tara's hands off her body. "Stop it. Don't touch me."

For a moment, Tara felt hurt. It quickly turned to anger. "Fine." She dropped the cloth into Willow's lap. "Clean yourself off."

Willow glared and shoved the material aside. "Amy, why don't you go do something useful instead of staring at me?"

Amy sneered at her again, but picked up Tara's sword to clean it. She shook her head several times, and rubbed an ear.

Tara tried to look grateful, but failed. She sat down on the floor, several feet from both her companions, with her knees pulled up under her. She put a hand on either side of her head, wishing for a huge bottle of painkillers.

With a disgusted sigh, Willow pulled the book from her pocket. "Guess I gotta find us again, since you two keep getting us lost."

Amy stood up and slammed the sword down on the floor. "I'm sick of you and that damn book, Willow! All you do is pretend to read it, and try to impress Tara 'cause you can read the words." She balled her hands into fists and took a step toward them. "Well, when I get my hands on MY book, I'm gonna turn you both into... into... something ugly! Something your precious Buffy will want to kill!" She reached up and rubbed her ear, almost scratching at it. "Dammit! Why are my ears itching?" She used both hands to scratch, shaking her head. "Make it stop!" Tara was too busy rubbing her temples to pay any attention to Amy.

Willow stared at the enraged woman for a moment. Her own ears had been itching, as well. She realized there had to be a reason they were all snapping at each other, but she'd never connected it with the physical symptoms.

Or with the creatures from which they'd just run.

"That's it!" She flipped through the book rapidly. "Where are you, where are -- there."

The pain was making Tara's head pulse, and she grimaced. "What's it, Willow?"

"Those little brown thingies. They're called avilingua. Small demons who feed on the blood of their victims. They're immune to magic, but easily killed." She scanned further down the page. "Ah! Their biggest weapon is the power to emit high-pitched sound, far above the range of the human ear, high enough and loud enough to cause irritation of the ear, headaches, and dizziness. Prolonged exposure can cause damage to the nervous system, and eventually impair motor functions." She looked up at Tara. "That's why we're all snapping at each other. They're using ultrasound, and it's making us crazy."

"W-wouldn't that be blocked by the walls and doors?"

Willow shook her head. "Not enough, obviously, or we wouldn't be feeling like this." She fought through the pain in her own head and turned to the map to plot a way out of the room and away from the avilingua. "It says they're afraid to go to the third floor for some reason, so that's where we're headed."

Tara reached over and pulled Amy's hands away from her ears. She'd been rubbing so hard Tara was afraid she'd do damage to them. "Amy, stop it."

"But it hurts!" Amy struggled briefly in Tara's grasp, then went still as she began to cry. "It hurts so much."

Tara nodded. Her own head felt like a balloon about to burst. The pain was making her dizzy.

Willow followed a route on the map with her finger. "Sticking around here is not turning out to be an option, we're just --"

She stopped in mid sentence and looked around the room.

"What?" Tara still had Amy's hands in hers, not just to keep Amy from scratching her ears, but to help stop herself from scratching her own. "Willow, what is it?"

"The map says there's another entrance to the room." She got to her feet, swaying a little unsteadily at first. "Over there, behind the tapestry. Tara, they're in the room with us."

Amy looked around the room in a panic. "No no no no -- "

"Amy." Tara took hold of her by the upper arms and shook her. "Amy, stop it. We need to get out of here, and that means you, too. You can't lose it, Amy. Got it?"

For a moment the dark haired woman just looked at her. Then she nodded slightly, her eyes registering comprehension. Tara let her go and turned to Willow, who had repacked the book in her pocket and drawn her sword.

Willow stood guard while Tara helped Amy pack up what little remained of the supplies. Then Tara drew her own sword, and Amy followed her example.

They were headed for the door when they caught sight of several of the creatures on the other side of the room. The little demons didn't move, but Willow felt her headache increase even as Tara flinched. Amy moaned and started to reach up to her ear. Willow grabbed her hand and pushed it away.

"Tara, Amy, listen to me." She waited until their attention was on her. "We're headed for the main staircase, in the big hall. It's out this door, to the right, and take the next left. Try and stay together, and keep your back against the wall as long as you can." She took a deep breath. "Ready?"

They nodded, and Willow reached for the door handle. With a steady motion she turned it and pushed the door open, stepping quickly into the hall. Seconds later, she was thigh deep in the creatures.

Tara followed her into the hall, staying in front of Amy. Something jumped at her from her left, and she swung at it, decapitating the creature easily.

They weren't hard to kill. There were just so many of them.

Amy followed closely on Tara's heels, her sword gripped tightly in both hands. Her head hurt, and she felt like someone had poured sand in her ears. All she wanted to do was blast these things out of existence. But she remembered the backlash the last time she tried, and decided to just follow Tara and hope they didn't stab each other with their respective swords.

Willow swung madly, moving forward and towards the opposite wall. She could feel Tara off to her left, and knew Amy must be there with her. Using a wide, sweeping stroke, she drove several of the avilinguas out from in front of her. A gap opened up and she took it. Reaching the other wall, she put her back against and turned to keep fighting.

Grabbing hold of Amy's leather jerkin, Tara pulled her backwards and knocked off two avilinguas who had attached themselves to the woman's arms. "Go! Follow Willow!"

Amy leaped towards Willow, sliding under a sword's strike and squeezing next to her against the wall. She hacked down, killing a creature attached to Willow's leg, then striking at another trying to bore into her own.

"Tara! Come on!" Willow leaned forward and reached out a hand toward Tara, who grabbed it. She pulled the blonde through the mob of demons and stepped in front of her. "Down the hall! Move!"

Tara grabbed Amy's arm and tugged. Amy slid between Willow and the wall, and followed Tara as they moved, keeping the wall to their backs. Willow followed more slowly, taking the brunt of the attack.

It was slow progress, and Tara's arms felt like lead, but she finally felt air behind her. She glanced that way, and saw that, for the moment, the hall was empty and they had a clear shot to the bottom of the steps. Grimly, she hacked down two more creatures, then pushed Amy towards the staircase.

"Go!"

"But -- "

"Just go!"

Amy ran.

Tara waited for Willow to inch down to the corner. She could see the exhaustion on the pale face and knew the redhead was close to dropping. Several more hacks and she pulled Willow free of the group. Willow slammed one leg against the wall, dislodging a demon from her calf.

"Tara, get out of here!"
"Not without you."

Willow turned and pushed Tara as hard as she could. "I'll be right behind you. Move!"

Tara ran, glancing back every few steps to make sure Willow was indeed where she said she'd be. Amy was beckoning from the stairs, and she put on a burst of speed, leaping up the first three stairs before she collapsed to one knee.

She was trying to stand and catch her breath when she saw one of the monsters hit Willow in the back of the leg. To her horror, Willow went down.

Amy saw it as well, and immediately rushed back into the fray. She swung as hard as she could, cleaving several smaller avilingua in half. Willow managed to get to her feet, and limped toward the stairs.

Amy took one last swing and then slid an arm around Willow to help her. When they reached the bottom of the steps, they put their backs to the wall and waited to defend themselves.

But there was no attack. The few avilinguas left alive in the room were busy drinking the blood of their dead comrades. Those that weren't engaged in that pursuit were standing and staring at them, but not attacking. Slowly and silently, those watching avilinguas turned around, ignoring their prey as if they had never been.

"Why'd they stop?" Amy managed to get the question out in between gasps for breath.

Willow shrugged and lowered her sword. "Guess they... don't like the stairs." She felt a hand touch her shoulder and she winced.

"Willow? Amy? Come on. Let's get upstairs."

Willow nodded, but didn't move.

Amy slid her sword back in the worn sheath and slid an arm around Willow again. "Let's go. Don't want Tara mad at us, now do we?"

Shaking her head, Willow slowly started up the stairs. She used her sword as a cane, digging it into each step to pull herself up to the next. As soon as she was at the top, she let go of the handle and collapsed into Tara's arms.

Tara was ready, catching and her and lowering her to the ground gently. She found the water skin and got some into Willow. As quickly as she could she washed off some of the grime and gore, examining her love for injuries.

There were too many puncture wounds to count. Tara could tell, even through Willow's jeans, that her legs were filled with them. Most were small pinpricks, but there were several that were larger, up to a quarter inch around. Several were still sluggishly bleeding.

"Oh, Willow."

Green eyes opened and locked onto Tara's blue ones. "I'm okay. I'm just so tired." She flexed her leg and winced. "And my knee hurts. I twisted it when that thing knocked me down."

Tara examined the knee Willow was complaining about, feeling it through the pant leg. "It's swollen." She looked up at Willow's face. "How's your head?"

"Better. My ears are still itching, but not as bad."

"Mine, too." Tara sighed. "I hate to do this, especially since we all need rest, but we should move away from the stairs. The farther we get from those things, the better I'll feel."

Amy nodded. "I agree. Willow, I don't think I could do it now, but if we can find a corner or someplace that feels safe, I'll do a healing spell on you. Until then you can lean on me."

Tara shook her head. "No, I need you to scout ahead, Amy. I'll take care of Willow." She smiled at the dark-haired witch. "But thanks. For the offer, and for going to help her."

"Sure." Amy shrugged. "Can't leave a friend behind."

The three of them were silent for a moment, simply exchanging glances. Then Willow pulled herself to a seated position and offered an arm to both Tara and Amy. "Help me up. I wanna find this book and go home."

Each of them slid an arm under hers and lifted her to her feet. Amy waited until she felt Willow steady herself against Tara, and then she stepped away.

"Okay. Any monsters I should know about up here, Willow?"

A negative head shake. "I can't tell you. The pages on this floor were mostly in that demon language. I couldn't read it. The only thing I know about this place is that there's a test. That's all I could understand."

"A test." Amy grinned. "Well, in school you always did the best on tests, so if it's written, you're our gal."

Willow managed a chuckle, and they headed out of the stairwell and into the corridor.

"Any idea which way?" Amy asked.

"Left. Then turn right at the second door, and we go through that room. Then left again." Willow winced as she put a little too much weight on her knee. "This third floor is like a maze, with the steps to the tower in the middle. Once we get there, it's a straight shot up to the book, I think."

"Good. I want to go home." Amy flinched at her own statement, realizing she was the one who had brought them here in the first place. She waited for a verbal response from the two women behind her.

It never came. When she glanced back, she saw them both looking down, concentrating on the floor.

All of them were feeling much better by the time they reached the first turn. Getting away from the avilingua's ultrasonic sound waves had given their heads time to clear. Amy was glad her ears had stopped itching, and Tara could think without a band of pain around her head. Even Willow felt better, though her knee kept her leaning against Tara for the most part.

They opened the second door slowly, ready to defend themselves. When nothing came charging out at them, Amy felt somewhat encouraged. She stepped into the room and looked around. Once again, the remnants of furniture were in evidence, but little else. There was, however, a fireplace, with a large hearth around it.

"Okay, it's clear."

Tara helped Willow limp into the room. Amy pointed to the hearth, and Tara nodded. She helped Willow over to it, and got her seated, leaning back against the wall with her leg stretched out in front of her.

Tara took a deep breath and sighed. She stretched her muscles a bit, trying to loosen a few knots. "Amy, why don't you see what we have left in the way of food and water. I'm going to look for a piece of wood long enough to make a crutch."

Amy nodded, and sat down on the other end of the hearth with the food bag; Tara wandered over and started kicking pieces off a debris pile. They were both concentrating on their tasks when Willow screamed.

"Tara!"

Tara turned in time to see Willow disappear, falling backwards through an open trap door.

Part Eight

"Willow, no!"

Tara dived back toward the hearth. Amy beat her to the spot, reaching into the opening that Willow had just fallen through.

She had to quickly pull her hand back as the trap door slammed shut. "Damn."

Tara said nothing. She just stared at the space where the door had opened and then closed. Reaching out, she touched the stone as she dropped to her knees.

"Willow?"

There was a vacant look in her eyes that worried Amy. "Tara?"

Tara ignored her completely, tracing the edges of the stone. She started trembling and tears ran down her cheeks. "Willow."

Amy put her hands on the blonde's shoulders. "Tara, we'll find her. We will."


Top
  
 
 Post subject: Re: FIC: Reflections in Raindrops
PostPosted: Sat Mar 23, 2002 6:00 pm 
The grieving woman stayed where she was, crouched on the stone hearth, her body tense and shaking. Her face was a mask of disbelief and shock.

Suddenly she was screaming, and pounding on the door. She called out Willow's name, slamming her hands down time and time again.

Amy slipped to her knees and put her arms around the woman, her hands grabbing Tara's wrists in an effort to stop her from hurting herself. For several moments there was a struggle, with Tara trying to wrench herself free, and Amy trying desperately to hang on. Then the energy of her anger faded, and Tara slumped into the shelter of Amy's arms, sobs tearing through her body. She curled up into a ball and wept.

There was nothing Amy could do but hold her.

=====================

Willow fell straight down for several feet until her back slammed into the wall of a tunnel, and then she was rolling and tumbling, unable to stop her gathering momentum.

It was all she could do to wrap her ams around her head to protect it. She felt the back of her head strike hard against something, and she tucked herself in closer, ignoring the pain that shot through her from a dozen injuries.

She didn't know how long she rolled, but eventually she came to a stop on a dirt floor, landing hard on her side. The impact knocked the breath out of her and when she tried to breath, all she inhaled was the dust kicked up by her landing. She coughed for several minutes, and then slowly rolled onto her back, looking straight up.

Into the strangely colored eyes of several Goshti soldiers.

There wasn't even time for her to scream before she passed out.

======================

Tara let Amy rock her for several moments as she cried. Then her blue eyes closed, and re-opened. There were still tears rolling down her face, but she felt better, calmer. It was as if she'd gone to sleep and woken up a different person -- even though she'd only been asleep for a second.

She pulled away from Amy and stared at the trap door again. Then she felt all along it, and along the edge of the hearth where Willow had been sitting. She sat down in the same place her friend had been, and leaned back against the wall.

"What are you doing, Tara?"

"Trying to open the door." She shifted position again and felt along a seam between the stones. "Where is it?"

"Where's what?"

"The lever. Willow must have sprung a lever of some kind to trigger the door. We need to find it."

Amy joined in the search, and they examined every crevice in the hearth with no luck.

"Where is it?" Tara slapped her hand against the stone in irritation. She could see the minute cracks in the stone that outlined the trap door, but couldn't figure out how to trigger it. Finally, as a last resort, she pulled her sword and tried to pry the stones apart. They wouldn't budge.

She was about to slam her sword into the stones when Amy put a hand on her shoulder. Tara turned and looked at the woman, glaring slightly.

"Tara, it's no use. We're not going to get through that."

"Amy, we have to find her."

"We will. But that's not how."

Tara lowered the sword. "Then how?"

Amy took a very deep breath, knowing Tara wasn't going to like what she had to say. "We go get the book."

The blonde stared at her. "The book?"

Amy nodded.

"The book is up." Tara pointed to the ceiling. "Willow went down." She pointed to the floor. "How does going up help us find Willow?"

"Tara, think about it. We can't follow her down the trap, and we don't know where it leads. We have no idea where she is. Besides, if we try to go back downstairs, we get to go back through those avilung guys. You know, the ones that make high-pitched noises to drive us crazy while they use us as pin cushions?" She pointed at several of the red dots that marked Tara's arms, and at the tears in her pants where the creatures had born into her legs. "I don't really like the idea of meeting them again."

"Neither do I. But I'm not leaving Willow."

"I'm not suggesting we do." She touched Tara's arm hesitantly. "The Grimoire would give us the power to find her and bring her to us. It's the best, and the quickest way to find her."

"No." Tara shook her head and took a step towards Amy. "All you want is that damned book. You don't care what happens to Willow."

"That's not fair." Amy balled up her fists and faced Tara head on. "She's my friend. She's been my friend since high school. I care about her."

Tara laughed, but it had no humor in it. She leaned forward slightly, glaring into Amy's eyes.

"Oh, right. I forgot. You care so much that you dragged her into a separate universe and trapped her in a dungeon to play games with muscular ugly guys that want to kill her." They were only inches away from each other. "If that's how you treat your friends, please don't call me one." Tara jerked away from Amy and raised her sword, intent on trying to cut through stone. Willow's absence was like a hole in her gut, and all she could think about was going after her.

"Well, at least I didn't leave her when she needed me." Amy's voice was quiet, but it cut through the air to Tara's ears and heart, freezing her in mid-swing.

Amy dropped her eyes to the floor, embarrassed by what she'd just said. It wasn't true, she knew, Willow had told her that; but she did care about Willow and had watched her friend cry over the blonde woman for several nights. It wasn't Tara's fault that they'd broken up, Willow had made that very clear.

But the pain it had caused still made Amy ache for her friend.

Tara froze at having her deepest fear spoken out loud. Ever so slowly, she lowered her arms. Yes, she had left Willow, and yes, Willow had needed her. She agreed with that; she knew she had walked away at a time
when Willow was very vulnerable. And a part of her had always questioned whether her decision had been the right one.

It had certainly been the right thing for Tara. She had learned much about herself in their time apart, growing more confident in her own power and her own life. She'd come to realize that she could be Tara, without having to be a part of Willow and Tara. While there was a certain void in her life that had been Willow, it hadn't paralyzed her; instead, it had made her stronger.

But had it been right for Willow? For a while she hadn't thought so. Willow had hit rock bottom and Tara always wondered: if she had been there, would the fall have been that bad? She had convinced herself that had she stayed, she could have made a difference.

Willow had also told Tara, though, that she understood, and that it had been the right thing to do. Tara's leaving had only been one rung on the ladder to the bottom. An important step, perhaps, but not the final one.

And if she had stayed, who was to say that there wouldn't have been many more steps until a fatal one was taken?

Tara turned slowly to Amy. "My leaving Willow was the right thing to do, for her and for me. She knows it, I know it -- and I think you know it too."

Amy nodded. "Yeah. I know. I'm sorry I said that." She looked down and took a breath, then gazed back into the angry blue eyes in front of her.

"I do care about her, though. I admit I blew it, I should never have cast that spell, should never have brought us here, and I'm sorry. I don't know what else I can say, Tara. I'm sorry. I care about Willow, and I swear, we'll find her." She waited half a moment. "I swear it."

Everything in Tara was screaming for her to go find Willow. Willow needed her, and here she was arguing with Amy when she should be searching for Willow.

The only problem was, Amy was right. It was suicide to go back through those creatures on the second floor. Not only that, but they had no idea where Willow had ended up. Going off on a general search seemed an unlikely way of saving any of them.

Slowly, Tara nodded. "All right. We go up."

Amy smiled, relieved, and stepped forward. "You won't regret it, Tara, I prom--" She broke off as Tara's sword came up, stopping at her throat.

"We'll go up. And we'll find the book. But I'm telling you, Amy. If anything's happened to Willow, I'll show you what happens when a white witch plays with black magic." She waited, her eyes pinning Amy to the spot. Only when the other woman nodded slightly did she lower the sword.

They didn't look at each other as they gathered their supplies and left the room.

========================

The first thing Willow felt was cold. She was definitely cold, and as she reached down to grab her blanket, she heard a clanking sound and felt something heavy on her wrists. Opening her eyes, she found herself chained to a wall.

She groaned as all the aches and pains of her body seeped back into her consciousness. Her knee had swollen more, and was now pressing tightly against her jean pantleg. Her other wounds stung, especially the claw marks on her side and shoulder.

Using her arms for leverage, she pushed herself up and scooted over to lean against the wall to take stock of the situation.

She'd fallen through some kind of trap, she guessed. To end up somewhere near the first floor with the Goshti, who had, at least, not killed her, but taken her prisoner. Not seeing Tara or Amy anywhere, she gathered that they hadn't followed her down the chute.

Lucky them.

Willow shivered in the cold. She glanced around, she saw that she was chained in a small holding pen with wooden fences. She also noticed for the first time that she was outside the castle walls. It was cold outside, and very grey. Rain came down in sheets, and she was grateful for the wooden roof that kept most of it off of her.

She wondered where Tara and Amy were.

Meat was cooking and the scent of roast beast wafted over to her. Her stomach clenched and then relaxed. Willow wasn't hungry but had to admit the meat smelled very good. She wondered what it was, and hoped it wasn't something cute, like a rabbit or something.

Which made her think of Anya, and Xander, and Buffy, and home. She thought about the big fluffy blanket she'd reached for when she woke, and how, if she was at home, she'd be wrapped up in it -- and maybe Tara would, too. Tears flooded her eyes and she let them come.

One of the Goshti opened a gate in the pen's corner and entered. Willow looked up at him, and did the only thing she could think of.

She babbled.

"Hello there, nice big demon guy. Please don't eat me." He stared at her for a moment. "I'm not at all tasty, nope, not at all. Probably couldn't even pick out enough meat from between your..." She trailed off after getting a good look at the demon. "Tooth?"

The soldier turned away from her and crossed to a trough in the corner of the pen. Willow breathed a sigh of relief.

"Oh. Oh, you're getting water. That's nice. That's a nice non-dangerous thing to do." She watched as he filled a waterskin and stood. "Non-dangerous for me, that is. Not that you'd be dangerous to yourself, but --"

He stared at her for a moment again, and she shut up momentarily. After grunting at her, he closed the gate behind him and she was alone again.

Alone in the pen, that is. Outside of her wooden pen she could see Goshti soldiers going about their chores, whatever they were. She could hear the sounds of swords clashing and guttural voices yelling.

"Battle. Those are noises from battle. Is that good? Tara and Amy fighting their way here to save me? No, maybe not. But maybe it is, and they are in trouble, and I cant help them. This is bad, very bad."

When none of the Goshti reacted to the noises she realized it must be a practice drill.

She twisted in her wrist cuffs and pulled at them, but to no avail. "Well, that won't work." Slumping against the wall again, she took a deep breath, pulling in a lungfull of the cool air. "Ok, stay calm Willow, no need to panic. They -- they hardly even notice I'm here, so that might be a good thing. I could maybe get myself free."

Another tug on the cuffs cut that idea off.

"Gotta get out of here, find Tara, get home." She spoke haltingly, her breathe coming in tiny gasps between phrases. "Home. That's a nice thought. Who'da thunk there was a place worse than Hellmouth City? It boggles the mind I tell ya. Uh-oh, more demons approaching, act casual."

She looked away as a group of Goshti passed her by.

"Wait, I'm being held prisoner, probably gonna be eaten or worse. Shouldn't I be screaming? And kicking? 'Cause then, maybe they wouldn't think I was planning an escape."

Again, Willow paused. "Escape? Right. Who do I think I am, Houdini?"

She was silent for several moments. "They're totally ignoring me. So, okay, I'll talk. Better than doing nothing, even if it really isn't doing anything." A sigh. "I wish Tara was here. Oh, wait, no I don't. That would mean she was chained up, too, and we wouldn't want that. Would we?" For a moment an image flashed in her mind and she grinned, but then shook her head. "Not here. Don't want her chained here. Nope. Not in a prisonery sorta way."

Babbling kept her from being frightened by the surrounding strangeness. "I wish I was where ever she's at. Even if it's worse than here. Cause then at least I wouldn't be here, I'd be there, and I could protect her. I can't protect her now, and it's my fault she's here. All my fault."

After a moment of turning that over in her brain, she realized it was only partially true. Amy had been the one to bring them here, and Tara would have been the first to point that out. Willow could say that it was her fault Amy had been de-ratted in the first place, but Tara would say it was just fate. She'd say it wasn't Willow's fault at all.

"Boy, wish I could believe that." Willow twisted in her chains, trying to find a position that didn't make her knee ache. Not that it would matter, because even if that stopped hurting, she'd be feeling the pain of about a hundred or more stings on her legs from those avilingua demons.

"A hundred? Try a thousand, Willow." She groaned and shifted again.

Noise from outside her wooden pen caused her to raise her head. She saw three Goshti come up to her pen. Nervously she waved at them. "Hi, demon guys."

They opened the gate and one of them stood outside while the other two came in.

"Or maybe . . . you don't wanna be called demons? Is there something else, some other name you prefer, maybe? 'Cause if that was an insult, well, hey, no offense meant, okay? And, um, I could call you something else if you want."

Willow was picked up, and the chains from her wrist cuffs were detached from the wall and hooked behind her back. A collar was placed around her neck, with a long chain leash attached.

When they stepped away from her, she tried to stand on her own. Her knee buckled at the pain and she fell, landing hard on her right side.

The soldier outside the pen yelled, and the other two picked her up under her arms. Once again they set her on her feet, and this time her knee held. The pain was intense though, and as they led her out of the pen, she started crying, tears mixing with the rain as she was instantly soaked.

Shivering, Willow kept her head down, concentrating on just walking. She had no idea where they were going, she just wanted to get there without falling down.

They led her up to a set of steps, and Willow looked up to see how many she'd have to try to negotiate. Her eyes widened as she took in the sight of the huge staircase that reached up to the top of the castle. There must have been over a hundred of them, and they ended at a door built into the tower. It was too far away to see it clearly.

She was prodded in the back, and tried to move her leg to get up the step. Her knee collapsed under her again, and she fell, crying out in pain. The third soldier, who'd stayed outside of her pen, brought a thick leather flogger down on her back, once, twice, and again. Willow was thankful for her leather jerkin, which protected her skin, but did nothing to ease the severity of the blows.

The other two lifted her again. This time they didn't let her go, and Willow started praying with all her might as they half carried and half dragged her up the staircase.

Reflections in Raindrops (1/?)
Authors: Shadowriter (shadowriter@kc.rr.com) and TrueXena (truexena@columbus.rr.com)
Rating: R
Couples: W/T
Spoilers: Through this season
Notes: This is us trying to get beyond the W/T rift, kind of.... a continuation of where the Letter challenges end.
Archiving: Sure, but please talk to us first.
Feedback: Please. Pretty please? Public or private, either one.
Copyright: The characters in the story are the property of Joss Whedon (much bowing in his general direction) and Mutant Enemy. We are borrowing them for a short time, but will return them in perfect condition. The plot, however, is ours.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Reflections in Raindrops


The restaurant they had chosen was one neither had ever been to. It was agreed upon partly because there would be no old memories to haunt them.

They had maybe spoken four words since leaving the dorm, and Willow wasn't sure what to say, so she didn't prompt any talking. She was so nervous she kept rubbing her hands on her pants to wipe off the sweat. She really wanted to look into Tara's eyes. But that wasn't gonna happen anytime soon.

Tara couldn't seem to bring her eyes up off the floor. She wanted to look at Willow, but she didn't know if she could. Those green eyes held so much hope, and Tara was just not sure yet if things could ever be the same.

But, if she had to admit it, she was hoping, too.

They were seated near the rear of the restaurant, in a high-backed booth. It afforded them a modicum of privacy, and it made Tara both comfortable and a little more nervous.

"Um, I hear this place has great seafood."

Willow fiddled with her silverware until she heard Tara finally speak, then stilled. "Yeah? That's good, really good," she said, not knowing what else to say about the comment. Willow just wanted to proclaim her love for the woman and get it over with, but knew it was too soon. She didn't want Tara to feel rushed.

"Yeah. I'm gonna have the chicken, I think, though." Tara smiled at her friend. She wished she didn't feel as tongue tied as she did. And she hoped she wouldn't break out in her stutter or an imitation of Willow's babble.

Willow just nodded, then picked up her menu and started to read the dinner selections, more often than not looking over the menu to sneak a glance at the woman sitting across the table from her. "I'm not sure what I'll have; give me a minute."

Tara smiled, noticing that Willow's eyes often strayed from her menu. She couldn't resist doing the same, and occasionally, when their eyes met, she felt that familiar flutter in her stomach that was totally Willow.

"I'll just go with the Seafood platter, since you say it's so good."

Willow set the menu down and looked around the room one more time. "So, how are classes?" She wanted to get more of a conversation going, so she had an excuse to look into Tara's eyes.

"Classes are good. I really like my new philosophy instructor." Tara sipped her water. "Are you back in sociology this semester?"

"Yeah." Willow took her cue from Tara and drank some water as well. "Tara, I really want to talk to you, but I'm so nervous. I don't know where to start..." Willow trailed off when Tara lifted her gaze, and all she saw were the beautiful blue eyes she fell in love with so long ago. Her breath caught.

Tara nodded, looking into those green eyes she knew so well. "I know. I feel the same." She lowered her gaze, her fingers tangling in the napkin in her lap. "I'm not sure what to do about this though. It seems like there's so much to tell you, to ask you, but...." She shook her head.

They gave their orders to the waiter and were quiet until he returned with their drinks. Tara sipped her ice tea, watching as Willow ran her fingers down the side of her soda glass.

"Look, you need to know that I haven't done any magic for a month now." Willow didn't dare look up to see one of the many pained expressions she knew Tara could convey. "I just thought you needed to know that, and hear it from me. It wasn't easy, but I stopped, and I promise you that I won't do it anymore.The magic, I mean." Willow realized she was close to babbling and sighed as she played with the sweat on her soda glass. "I'm sure Dawn has been keeping you informed."

"Yeah, she has." Tara's lips twisted in a soft smile. "She's been pleading your case, actually."

"What?" Willow looked up from the table and saw the smile on Tara's face. Breathe, she whispered to herself. "She what?"

"Yeah, she's been telling me how great you've been, and that I should give you a chance."

"She has? Really? Wow, really? Wow." Willow started to smile a little. The butterflies in her tummy began leaving slowly.

Tara took a deep breath. "She said that everything's changed since...."

Willow's smile waned a bit at that. A few of the butterflies returned.

"She never told me all that happened that night though." Tara's voice went very soft. "So, tell me, Willow.... what happened? W-what was it
that finally made you stop?"

"It -- it was a lot of things that did it. You leaving me for one. That hit me like a brick." Willow looked down at the tablecloth. "But that wasn't the only thing. Some stuff happened with Amy, too. You know I deratted her, right?" Willow asked almost proud, but a little sad as well. "Yeah, so, she got deratted, and I sorta went on a binge with her. Then when Dawn got hurt..." She trailed off, remembering that night.

Willow took a sip of her soda. "So, basically Buffy said either get rid of the magic, or find a new home. I almost left." Willow looked up from her glass to see Tara listening carefully.

The blonde nodded, then focused her gaze at her glass of tea. "So w-why didn't you?"

Willow shrugged. "I don't know, something made me stop and think. And suddenly I understood. I don't know how, or why, but it felt like a fog had lifted, and everything was so much clearer. I knew why you left, and what I had done to you, and I...I just..." Willow took a breath and looked into Tara's eyes. "I didn't want the magic, I wanted you. I wanted everything back that Magic had taken from me." Willow looked back down at the table and fiddled with her silverware again.

Tara continued watching Willow, and sipping her tea. She knew that the red-headed witch had gone through a rough time the last few weeks -- saying no to the power she'd been handling couldn't have been easy. Dawn had been glossing over the few incidents where Willow had taken steps backward. But Anya and Xander had kept Tara well informed.

"So, you gave it up? Just like that?" She really wanted Willow to be honest about this.

Willow looked up, "Well, no, not just like that. I had problems in the beginning. But I've overcome and adapted," she finished with a proud tone.

Tara raised an eyebrow. "Are you still hanging out with Amy?"

"No, she was bit peeved at me, for quitting. I think she felt cheated." Willow took a sip of her soda. "Not that I blame her much; I mean she did spend three years of her life as a rat. But that wasn't my fault." Willow looked up to see Tara's eyebrow raise a little more. "Well, it wasn't, she did it to herself. Anyway, she isn't all that happy with me at the moment, 'cause I won't help her do magic anymore. I've tried to explain it to her, but she just doesn't seem to get it. So I just -- try and stay away from her."

Tara smiled at the waiter as he placed their dinners on the table, then waited till he'd left before looking back at Willow. "Dawn told me Amy wasn't happy. And Anya said she had come by the shop, and there'd been some kind of argument. What happened?"

"Oh, that? Yeah, well, she stopped by the Magic Box looking for some book called The Grimoire of Salarion, only Anya didn't have it. So Amy asked me if I'd help her search for it on the internet. I refused as nicely as I could. But she just started to accuse Anya of holding back information and supplies from her because of me and my 'condition'." Willow laughed as she remembered how Amy had spat the word out like it was distasteful in her mouth.

"I didn't stick around for much after that," she added as she picked up her fork and started to eat. She was feeling much more comfortable with how things were going.

Tara frowned. "The Grimoire of Salarion was lost a hundred years ago, I thought. It was a very powerful book though. I wonder what Amy wanted with it."

Around a mouthful of food Willow said, "I don't know, and I don't care. As long as she doesn't ask me for any help, it's all good." Tara chuckled, and dug into her own dinner.

Things were quiet for a few moments as both of them concentrated on the food in front of them. Finally, Willow looked up and asked, "So, what made you finally decide to see me again?"

Tara froze for just a second, and postponed having to answer by taking another bite of her chicken. She glanced at Willow, seeing the serious look in the green eyes. She swallowed, then took a sip of ice tea.

Willow waited for the answer, but so far nothing. "Is that something we're not supposed to talk about?"

"Well." She let a grin slip onto her face for a moment. "It was all those letters you sent. Especially that one about the storm we had last week." Tara shook her head. "I remember sitting by the window that day, watching the rain, thinking about walking in it with you. Wondering where you were, and if you were warm and dry --" she had to take a breath, "and then I got this letter about the same thing, and I -- I just figured we should talk, since we seem to still be on the same wavelength."

Willow's ears turned red as Tara spoke of the letters, and that one in particular. "Well...umm...yeah." She waited until her ears cooled some, then continued. "Well, whatever made you decide to see me is a good thing. I missed you. And I hope I didn't bore you with all those letters. I just didn't want you to think I didn't care..." She trailed off when another voice asking about dessert interuped her babble. "Huh? Oh, um -- yes?" She looked at Tara for confirmation that the date would continue a little while longer.

Tara smiled. "Well, I suppose we could maybe share some cheesecake?"

"Oh, yes. Cheesecake, there is always goodness in cheesecake." Willow said as she looked up at the waiter. "We will have a slice of cheesecake, please." She couldn't resist smiling as she looked back at Tara and that cute little grin of hers.Feeling a blush come on, Tara looked down, letting her long blonde hair cover most of her face.

"Aw, don't do that. Please?" Willow asked as she watched Tara hide behind her hair. "I don't get to see enough of you; I want every second to count." She reached across the table to the hand resting in front of the blonde. Lightly, she touched Tara's fingers to get her attention. Feeling the touch on her hand, Tara's blush intensified, even as she raised her head. The love she saw in Willow's green eyes, combined with the still electric touch of her former lover was enough to sting her eyes. She turned her head, but not quickly enough as one teardrop rolled down her cheek.

Willow saw the tear and felt the pain in her heart as if someone had stabbed her. She slowly pulled her hand away. "I'm sorry, Tara. I-I d-didn't mean to hurt you. I'm so sorry." Her voice dropped to a whisper as she tried to fight back the tears that threatened to fall. Reaching forward, Tara caught the hand that Willow had drawn away. She held it firmly but gently, opening the fingers and tracing the lines of the palm. "It's okay," she glanced up, tears rolling down her face, "I just missed the feel of my Willowhand."

Willow's fight to keep the tears at bay was lost, and she sobbed. "Oh, gods. How could I...why..." She lost her train of thought as the warmth of her ex-lover's touch raced up her arm. "I love you." There was concern and affection in Tara's blue eyes and it made Willow cry even more, reaching with her free hand to cover the one holding hers.

Both women were crying softly when the waiter arrived with their dessert.

Tara smiled at Willow and looked at the cheesecake in front of them. She wiped her cheek with her free hand and then gestured to the dessert. "Um... could we possibly get that to go?" She glanced up at the waiter, then returned her gaze to her lover. "We could go back to my room and... talk."

Willow smiled "Sure. I'd like that."

The waiter glanced at both of them and nodded. He slid the check on the table and went to box up their slice of cheesecake. When he returned moments later, they were still holding hands and looking into each other's eyes. He smiled, leaving the box on the edge of the table.

Tara reached for the check, but Willow peeled one hand from its comfortable nest and slipped the bill away from her. With a wink, she reached for her wallet. Tara smiled as the redhead struggled to open her wallet and pull money out with only the one hand.

"You could use your other hand, you know."

Willow shook her head. "Uh-uh. Not letting go of you again." She managed to get the money on the table and slide her wallet back in her pocket. Looking up, she grinned at Tara. "Shall we blow this joint?"

Both women were still smiling as they left the restaurant. They hadn't said a word since standing up, but the silence between them had grown comfortable. It was nothing like the angry quiet spaces that filled the air before their breakup.

Their hands were still clasped together, as well.

The air was chilled, but Willow couldn't feel it. The warmth in her heart was strong enough to combat any cold winds right now. Tara trusted her. Not completely, but enough to let her touch her, and to walk her home, and to talk some more. That, for now, was enough. She knew they had more road to travel before everything would be okay again. But Willow was happy for this chance to prove herself worthy of Tara's love. At that moment she swore to herself that she would never disappoint Tara again.

They had just turned the corner a block from the restaurant, when they were stopped by a familiar dark-haired figure. Tara looked up to see Amy, her eyes glittering at them in anger.

"Finally. I thought you two would never get out of there." She glanced down at where their hands were still joined. "Oh, how pathetic."

Willow bristled. "What do you want, Amy? I told you I'm not helping you."

"Oh, I know. You've sworn off magic." Amy raised her hand dismissively. "No biggie. Thought I'd give you one last chance to say yes."

"I just told you, no." Willow felt Tara's fingers tighten around hers in support. She squeezed back gratefully.

"Fine." Amy smiled. "Just wanted to make sure." She reached out toward Willow, offering her something. "Then here. I guess I won't be needing this any more."

On instinct, Willow took the object, surprised to see a golden pyramid in her hand. She looked up at Amy, puzzled.

Tara realized what the object was, and took a step closer to her lover. "Willow, don't --"

She never got any farther as the teleport device activated, and suddenly the three of them just weren't there anymore.


Part Two

Wherever she was, it was dark. Tara knew she'd just opened her eyes, but she couldn't see anything. Not the slightest light flickered through the darkness.

She shivered for a moment, on the verge of panicking, but calmed down when she felt her hand being squeezed. With a sigh of relief she squeezed back, grateful that where ever she was, Willow was with her.

There was a whisper of sound in the air, and then a light blinded her momentarily. Tara blinked, raising a hand to her face. When she could see again, her eyes focused warily on Amy, who stood in front of them, grinning. A spinning ball of white light hung over them all.

"Well, that went well." Amy glared at Tara. "Except you weren't supposed to be along for the ride." She shrugged. "Guess it was 'cause you were holding her hand. Sorry."

Tara shook her head to clear it. "Amy, what have you done?"

Amy just smiled, watching as Willow stared down at the gold pyramid in her hand.

"What is this, and where are we?" Willow asked, looking up at Amy.

"We're in Castle Desiavor. It's in a dimension apart from our own. And that," she pointed at the object in Willow's hand, "that is --"

"A gatemaker, for teleportation." Tara took it from her friend. "You can use it to travel any distance, or even between dimensions, if you have the power and the correct spell." She glared at Amy. "Where did you get this?"

"Actually, I found it among my mother's things. She had such great power. It's too bad she went crazy, really. We could have done great things together."

"Yeah, well, it's just too bad she wanted a second childhood huh?" Willow took the teleporter back.

Amy laughed. "Yeah, well, no chance of that with the Slayer around, right?"

"What do you want, Amy?" Willow almost yelled, getting more annoyed by the minute. "I mean, you didn't bring us here to talk about high school days, did you?"

"You know what I want! I want the Grimoire!" She glared at Willow. "I found it. I know where it's at, I know how to get to it, and I want it."

"So, go get it. I'm not stopping you," Willow said, still puzzled.

"Yes, unfortunately, you are."

Tara stepped between the two of them, hoping she didn't suddenly find herself caught in the crossfire if one of them threw a spell at the other. She still had one hand clutching Willow's, and with the other she stroked the redhead's arm.

"Calm down, Will. We'll figure this out."

Willow smiled at Tara's touch. "Look, Amy. I'm all for you realizing your dream, whatever it is, but I still don't have a clue what you're talking about." Willow glanced around the dimly lit room, searching for a way out. "And you're really starting to give me the willies."

So was the place they were in. Amy's light orb was large enough that they could see most of the edges of the room -- not that there was much to see.

It appeared to be a basement of some kind, with a hard dirt floor, and stone or cement walls. There were remnants of a few tables and chairs around the place, but nothing that spoke of recent habitation.

Nothing human, anyway.

"Look, it's really simple. The book is hidden here in the castle. It's guarded by a few minor demons and traps, but it's here for the taking." Amy folded her arms and looked at the two witches in front of her. "There's just one problem. It's trapped, and spell bound. And it can only be released and opened by two witches." She eyed Tara. "You're completely unnecessary."

Tara winced at Amy's statement. It was a familiar feeling, being told that she didn't matter. She'd learned long ago to let statements like that roll off of her. But this time, it seemed different. Possibly because she knew it was true. Amy didn't need her; she needed Willow, the Willow that cast spells with her for the heck of it.

But that Willow was supposed to be gone. Tara could only hope she'd stay gone.

"Whoa -- hey, there." Willow stepped in front of Tara defensively. "Just back up a minute here. No need to get all snarky. Tara is very necessary, trust me." She gave Tara a slight grin and squeezed her hand. "As for the demons, you should have brought Buffy."

"You don't get it, do you? This isn't about who's got the biggest stake, it's about power. You can only get the Grimoire through magic. Which is what we're going to do."

"I'm sorry, Amy, but I can't help you with the spells." Willow turned to look Tara in the eye. "I made a promise-- "she glanced back at Amy-- "to myself, and I'm not going to break it. Not for you, not for anyone."

Tara smiled at her former lover, proud of her for saying no.

Amy simply smirked at them. "Great. Fine. Okay." She looked around the room. "Well, then, guess you better get used to your new home. You won't be leaving it."

"Do we get cable?" Willow asked while looking around the room.

"Oh, ha. Very funny."

"Well, you'll have to forgive us, but we're not staying. You can teleport us back to the restaurant." She glanced at Tara. "Or better yet, send us directly to the dorm, please."

Amy shook her head, grinning all the while. "Sorry, no can do." She pointed at the teleport device still in Willow's hand. "That's preprogrammed. It will only activate when the spell is completed."

Tara sighed. "And how do we complete the spell?"

"We find the book, of course."

"You mean... we all stay here until the book is found?" Willow asked.

"Yes."

Tara looked at Willow. "I think we're in trouble."

Willow's face paled. "I think you're right."

************

"Tara, this is gonna turn out bad, I can feel it." Willow whispered. "I really don't want to do this."

"I don't think we really have a choice, Will."

The trio had left the room they'd teleported into, and were currently walking down a dark, dank corridor. Amy, the witch light still burning in the air above her, was consulting a diagram she'd pulled from her small purse. Tara and Willow were lagging back, whispering quietly to each other.

"If we want to get out of here, we need to find the book. That's the only way to activate the teleport gateway."

"Yeah, but you heard her. The only way to get the book is to do a spell. That's magic. You know, the stuff I don't do anymore?" Willow's voice was strained.

Tara glanced at Amy in front of them. Seeing that she was still preoccupied, the blonde slid an arm about her former lover's waist and leaned closer to her.

"I'll handle the magic. You can be my anchor this time. Okay?"

Willow leaned into the hug, letting her eyes shut briefly. Basking in the warmth of her friend. "Yeah, I can do that." Willow turned to face Tara. "If it's something you don't want to do, just tell me. I'll figure another way out of it." She looked around the dark hallway. "I'm sure I can find another way, maybe."

Amy stopped suddenly and turned towards them. "And this is test number one." She tapped on the door she next to her. "We need to unlock this. It's the stairway to the first floor."

"Test? You didn't mention any tests." Willow said, looking from Amy to Tara and back again. "Maybe we should study first. I do way better on tests after a good study session."

"First floor?" Tara gestured around her. "If that takes us to the first floor, then w-where are we now?"

"The dungeon. It's the only place in the castle not guarded against teleport devices." She folded the paper and put it in her pocket. "And I did mention tests. A few traps and demons and such. Nothing serious, just nothing that can be done single handedly."

"Oh, I didn't think those were tests, just -- obstacles?"

"Obstacles, tests -- what's the difference." She pointed at the door handle. "I think a simple unlocking spell will do it, don't you?" Amy glared at Willow. "Well, get over here. We have to say it at the same time."

Willow's face showed worry. "But I can see how they would be tests. Seeing as how if we fail at them, then poof, no more exam. Right?"

Tara let one hand rest on the small of Willow's back. She waited until the red head looked at her, then smiled, and stepped forward.

Willow gave a slight grin, but her eyes were still showing fear.

"W-willow won't be doing magic with you, Amy. She's sworn off it, remember?" Another step. "W-which means, I guess it's a good thing I was holding her hand. Since I'll do the spells in her place."

Amy's eyes widened, then narrowed. She turned an accusing gaze at Willow. "You never told me your ex was a witch."

"Well, you never asked." Willow stated. "Besides, that's not the most important thing about Tara; she is way more than just a witch. She is kind, and loving, and caring, and sweet, and special, and -- and stopping with the babble now." She stared down at the floor.

Tara smiled at Willow and reached out to touch her chin. Willow looked up and smiled back. Then Tara turned to Amy.

"Ready?"

Amy shrugged. "Fine. Let's do it. Together, on the count of three, right?"

"Right."

"Uh, wait!" Willow interrupted them. "Do we know what is behind that door?" She looked at Amy. "I mean, do we need to be in full ready attack mode when it opens? Cause if so, what are we going to fight it -- them -- with?"

"Oh, please." Amy rolled her eyes. "If there is anything on the other side of that door, one of us will just throw a spell at it, and it'll go poof." She smirked. "But, if you're scared, you can just stay behind us, okay? We'll protect you from the big bad nasties."

"Ok, I'm sorry, I'm just a little jumpy is all. I'm sorry," Willow apologized softly.

Amy counted, and she and Tara said the spell at the same time. There was a soft click, and Amy reached for the handle, turning it easily.

"See? Nothing to it." She threw open the door, and stepped forward.

And screamed.

Part Three

Willow stepped forward and grabbed Tara by the arm, pulling her back and out of the path of the doorway.

Tara closed her eyes tightly and whispered a spell. There was the noise of a small explosion inside the room. Reaching out, Tara grabbed Amy by the back of her shirt and pulled her away.

"Willow, close the door!"

Willow rushed forward and slammed the door shut. "What the frilly heck was that?" she asked Amy.

Amy just backed away, her eyes wide and staring at the now closed door. Her mouth kept moving, as if she was speaking, but nothing came out.

There was a bang against the door, and all three of them jumped. The witch light over Amy went out, and they were plunged into darkness.

Tara took a breath and felt for the doorknob. She quickly said a locking spell, then concentrated and brought to life a tiny orb of light, just enough for them to see by.

"Tara, are you all right, baby?" Willow asked in a whisper.

"Fine. W-we need to get out of here, like n-now. Amy?" They both turned to their companion, who was now on her knees, struggling to regain her composure.

There was another loud bang, and this time it sounded like the thunk of an axe. Tara had a bad feeling that was exactly what it was.

Willow went to Amy's side, pulling her to her feet. "Amy, come on. Where do we go? We have to go!"

Amy seemed frozen, still unable to process what she'd seen. She reached into her pocket and pulled out the map, opening it with shaky fingers.

Tara reached over and took it from her. "W-we don't have time. Come on!"

She yanked on Amy's arm and reached for Willow at the same time.

The three of them fled down the hall, Tara's small light leading them.

There was a crash behind them, and they heard a great roar. Amy squealed and increased her speed.

Tara grabbed Amy's arm again and pulled, taking the group down a side corridor. They could hear pursuit behind them, and Tara threw a spell of concealment at the entrance to the corridor. Then she stopped, pushing herself and Willow against a wall. Amy followed her lead. With a word from Tara, the ball of light extinguished itself.

They waited, their breaths coming in short gasps as they tried to control the panic. Tara kept trying to blink back the image she'd seen in the doorway. She found Willow's hand in the dark and clung to it.

Willow found it even more difficult to breathe with Tara pressing against her so close, but she wrapped an arm around her and hung on.

Noises from the outer hall made them shrink back even further, trying to blend in with the wall. Tara knew the concealment spell would hide them, but couldn't make herself believe it. She glanced at Willow, then down to the door.

Willow could feel her own panic grow as she saw several shapes passing by the doorway. The things were huge, and seemed to be wearing armor. They carried axe-like weapons of some kind and had long bodies with short legs, but that was the only detail she could see in the light of their torches.

After a moment, they passed on, and Tara was able to catch her breath. She gently pushed Amy ahead of her, further down the corridor, pulling Willow along behind her. She brought the light orb back, keeping it as small as possible, and looked for a place the three of them could duck into.

She finally found what looked to be a large storage closet of some kind, with several piles of large crates stacked around the room. Tara tugged on Amy's shirt and pointed.

Amy nodded and ducked inside. Tara followed her, feeling Willow's presence close at her back. All three of them dropped to the floor behind a crate.

Willow leaned in close to Tara's ear and whispered, "I don't think we passed that test." She pulled away slightly to look up at her friend. "What do we do now?"

Tara shook her head. "I'm not sure." She looked at Amy. "But I don't think we're going to try that doorway again."

Amy looked away, her eyes still showing her shock.

"Those things in the hall, were they -- they what you two saw?" Willow didn't move away, but began to look around the small room for anything she could use as a weapon.

Tara nodded. "Yes. Only there were a lot more of them. And I mean, a lot more." She kept her voice in a whisper, glancing every once in a while to Amy to see if she was coming out of her shock. "Somehow I don't think Amy was expecting that."

Tara called the orb over closer to her and pulled the map from her pocket so she could examine it closely. She could see that it was a reproduction, and there were engravings in some language she couldn't understand. Amy had made a mark in one room, putting a 'T' on it.

"Yeah, well, I won't say I didn't warn her." Willow spotted a crate with no lid and scooted towards it to see what was inside. It was empty.

"That must be where we teleported in to." Tara traced a line Amy had penciled on the page, following it down to where it turned into a room.

"And that must be where she thought the stairs were."

"Don't tell me. We picked door number one with the donkey, when we should have gone for door number three with the new car." Willow checked another crate to find it held little more than dust.

Tara peered again at the language on the page, trying to make sense of it. It seemed slightly familiar, but she couldn't place it, so finally she gave up.

"Willow? Can you come see if you can decipher this? You're better with languages than I am."

Willow rejoined Tara and took the map. "Let me see."

She studied the words for a few minutes. "Yeah, I think I can. It looks like Celtic, maybe Brythonic . . ." She trailed off. "Wait, I know that word, that's Gaulish, but... oh! I see. It is Gaulish, only it's backwards." Looking up she saw Tara's eyebrow rise. "No, see." She showed Tara the map again print side down with the light behind it.

"See, it's written backwards."

Tara shook her head. "Great, so you can only read it with a light behind it, or in a mirror. Very clever." She looked at it again. "But I can't read it anyway. Can you?"

Willow took the map and held it to the light again. "Well according to this, if we entered here..." She pointed at the marked 'T'. "We should have gone left from that point, but instead we went right." Her finger moved over the lines of script as she read, then followed it along the diagram. "We should find stairs here."

Tara nodded. "Yeah, I agree." She pointed at some words written next to the door they'd opened. "What does this say?"

Willow looked at the words, then at Tara. "Do not enter." They both peered over at Amy.

"Great. Just great." Tara rubbed her temples as a headache began to creep up on her.

"Aw, Baby, you okay?" Willow asked. She reached over and moved Tara's fingers out of the way, gently taking over the massage.

Amy had raised her head, but was still just staring at them both. "But... but, the book...." She pulled a small leather bound volume out of her purse. "I found it in the book. It was in this book and I followed the directions to the letter."

Tara glanced at the map, still resting where she'd placed it, with the orb behind it glowing through the page. "Right. To the letter. The backwards letter."

"What book?" Willow reached out and took it from Amy's hand.

As she flipped through the book, Willow noted that most of it was in Gaulish. A few pages here and there were written in another language she didn't know, though she suspected it was a Demon language of some sort. One page described the room in which the Grimoire was hidden, and a notation of which spell to use to free it from its resting place. She also found names of some of the castle's inhabitants, and where they liked to dwell.

Suddenly, Tara noticed something on the map that she didn't remember seeing. As Willow took the book from Amy and started flipping through it, Tara stayed focused on the crinkled diagram.

Willow mentally stored most of the information, then turned to Amy as a thought occurred to her.

"Amy, how did you read this? How did you know it had anything to do with the Grimoire of Salarion?"

"I cast a spell that let me read any language." She shrugged. "It didn't last long at all, but it was enough and I knew the map was the key."

"Right. You just didn't know how to use the key."

"Willow?" She didn't need to look up to know that it was Tara calling her.

"Yeah, sweetie?"

Tara reached over and picked up the map, keeping the light close behind it. "I think you should see this."

"What?" Willow crawled closer to Tara to see what she was pointing at on the map.

There were things that hadn't been there in the beginning. Large shapes that looked vaguely like the things they'd run into, and a few other creature types. Also, more words had popped up, and small arrows that glowed.

Tara pointed to the arrows. "I think we're supposed to follow them. They lead the way we would have gone if we hadn't turned the wrong way out of that room."

Willow closed the book to study the map and watched as the images faded. "Where did they go? What happened?" she asked.

Tara shook the map. It didn't change. "I don't know." She sighed. "Great, another mystery in this place. Did you happen to get anything out of the book?"

"Not much, just a few spells to use for parts of the castle. Where to find the book, and some stuff on things we might find lurking about." She admitted to herself that she was a bit unnerved by the appearing and disappearing images. "I'll keep looking. Maybe I'll find something about that map in here." She opened the book and leaned back against the crate, right next to Tara.

"Um, Will? They're back."

"What?" She reached for the map, discarding the book again. Once more the shapes and images started to fade. "Oh, give me a break! This is just sick wizardry practical joke time!"

Tara smiled. "Maybe not." She held the map up in the air. "Open the book."

Willow did as asked and watched as the shapes and images returned. "Oh." She smiled at Tara, feeling a little foolish for her outburst.

"So, the map and the book correlate. Who cares?" Amy asked. "We're sitting in a dungeon being chased by those... those.... things -- and you're having fun with parlor tricks."

"Hey!" Willow snapped. "If it weren't for you, we wouldn't be stuck in this dungeon at all. And we wouldn't be getting chased by those things if you had read the map right in the first place. So either help us, or shut up." She flipped open the book angrily, searching for the page that had mentioned the demons in the castle.

Tara glared at Amy, but had to admit she had a point. "Will? You study. Amy and I will look around to see what we might use as weapons, okay?"

Willow broke from her reading to look Tara in the eye. "Be careful. Don't go far. I think this book can tell us how to deal with those things. If I can only decipher it. I'll get it."

The blonde witch smiled at her. "I know you will." She leaned forward and kissed Willow's forehead, letting her lips linger for a moment.

Blushing, Willow took her hand and kissed it, letting Tara's fingers slide through her own as her friend stood.

Amy rolled her eyes, but got up when Tara motioned to her. She followed the blonde witch over to the stack of crates, watching as Tara reached up to pull the first one down.

"Are you gonna stand there or help?"

Sighing, Amy reached up and grabbed the opposite end of the crate.

Together, they lifted it from the pile and lowered it to the ground; the hinges creaked as they opened the top.

"Tara? Just how long is that spell going to last? Can they hear us? Cause that's making a lot of noise at the moment, and I don't know how to kill them just yet." Willow whispered louder than normal, watching the two women digging inside the crate.

Tara looked up. "I don't think they can hear us. And it should last until someone breaks the plane of the doorway, either on purpose or accident."

"So basically, we need to hurry, right?" There was a note of worry in Willow's voice.

"Well -- let's just say we shouldn't spend the night."

Willow chuckled. "Ha, ha. I have no intentions of doing that." She focused again on the book.

Amy was staring into a mass of tangled cuffs and chains. "Oh, this will really help."

Tara glanced up at her. "Keep searching. Otherwise we just might be spending the night. And tomorrow night. And the night after that." She dug through the chains and found a mace. "See? There are things that will help."

"I've got it." Willow exclaimed. "It's right here. They're called Goshti -- Goshtim -- oh hell, I don't know what they're called. But it tells here how to kill them." She looked up to see Amy holding a bunch of rusted chains and grimaced. "Bleagh."

Tara dropped the iron ball on the ground next to the redhead. "Very good, sweetie," Willow said with a smile.

Tara grinned at her lover, then motioned with her head. "Come on, Amy, next crate."

They pulled the next large box off the pile and put it next to the one they'd opened. Amy stood and looked at her hands in disgust.

"This one's filthy. What is this, oil?"

Willow didn't look up. "That could be useful for light." She pointed at the glowing orb that now hung over her head. "Tara isn't going to be able to keep this going forever, you know."

Tara rubbed one hand on her jeans while reaching for the top of the box with the other. She was surprised when her hand sank into the material.

It felt like she'd put it into a mass of liquid wax.

When she tried to pull it out, she felt something clamp onto her.

"Hey!"

Willow looked up to see what was happening. Her eyes widened as she watched Tara struggling, her face twisted in pain.

Tara felt something puncture the skin near her wrist. She bit her lip, then gasped as the sensation grew steadily worse. "Willow, help me!"

"Tara!"

Part Four

Willow scrambled to her feet and reached out for Tara. She grabbed the trapped arm and pulled, trying to free her friend. The only result was another cry from the struggling captive.

The light in the room began to fade as Tara's magic orb slowly winked out. For a few seconds they were plunged into total darkness. Then, with a word, Amy's witch light returned, filling the area with a yellow brilliance.

Once the light returned, Willow tried to figure out what was holding Tara, but all she could see was the top of the crate. Tara's arm seemed to disappear a little above the elbow. Willow reached down and watched her own hand slide through the box top as if it wasn't there.

"Tara, it's an illusion -- you have to dispell the magic." She looked up at Amy. "Don't just stand there, help us!"

Tara gritted her teeth against the pain and focused on the top of the crate. "Aperio!"

The illusion dissipated, to reveal a slimy, greyish creature in the box, its two thick limbs wrapped tightly around Tara's forearm. It was about two feet long, with two short legs curled at its side. Two mouths, side by side, were attached to Tara's arm. Blood was leaking down her wrist to drip from her fingertips. One neon green eye swiveled to stare angrily at them.

Whatever it was seemed to renew its grip, and Tara groaned, slumping to her knees. She landed next to the mace, which Willow grabbed.

"Tara, hang on! Amy -- find something to kill it!" She swung the spiked ball up and over the side of the crate, bringing it down on the creature's head.

Amy shook off her shock and grabbed a set of chains from the other box, swinging it as hard as she could. There was a high pitched whine, and after several more blows, the thing in the box let go.

Tara pulled away, cradling her bleeding arm. Willow dropped the mace and knelt beside the blonde witch.

Amy kept beating the creature, slamming her chain into it over and over until it stopped moving. Breathing hard, she looked up to find Willow trying to stop the blood that was pouring from Tara's wounds.

"Tara?" Willow slipped her vest off and wrapped it tightly around the injured forearm. "Easy, baby, I'm here. I've got you."

Leaning into Willow, Tara groaned. Her hand was numb, but her arm ached and it felt like the thing was still biting her. She felt nauseous and her mouth was dry. Closing her eyes from the pain, all she could do was trust that Willow would take care of her.

It wasn't long before blood was soaking through the vest, and Willow knew there was a real possibility a vein had been opened. The bite was just above the wrist, on the inside of the arm.

"Tara? We need a healing spell. Something..."

Tara shook her head slightly, trying to think. She knew she had no chance of healing herself, but she wasn't sure she wanted to lay the burden on Willow. Giving up the magic had been hard, and even a healing spell might restart the dangerous cycle out of which the redhead had broken.

Amy knelt beside them. "I can do it. You'll need to tell me what to do, but I can do it."

Willow nodded. Part of her wanted to do this, but another part was afraid to even test the magical waters again.

"Need --" Tara coughed, and swallowed. Her throat was dry and it hurt to talk. "Need sage. And a clean crystal."

"Sage, I have." Amy pulled over her purse, which she'd managed to hold onto during their frenzied flight down the hall. "But, a crystal -- I have one, but I've used it before. Is it still okay?"

Tara shook her head. "Not if it was dark magic. It wouldn't work."

Amy's shoulders slumped.

Willow dug into her pocket. "This one should work," she said quietly as she showed them the doll's eye crystal.

"You -- you never used it for dark --"

"I never used it." Willow lowered her head. "Not without you, anyway."

Tara tried to smile, but it was broken by a pain shooting up her arm. She gasped and arched her back a little. Her face went white.

Willow tightened her grip. "Amy, hurry."

Amy nodded and scooted closer to Tara. "I know a general heal injury spell, but -- is there a different one that I should use?"

"No, that's fine." Tara tried not to look as Willow and Amy peeled the cloth off her arm. "Oh, ouch."

Tara's arm was bloody from the midpoint of her forearm down to her fingertips. In the area above her wrist there were two semi-circular sets of bite marks. Most of them were sluggishly oozing, but there were two that were bleeding freely and heavily.

"Okay." Amy slid her own arm along the inside of Tara's, holding the blonde witch's right elbow. With her left hand she took a pinch of sage and sprinkled it around and on top of the wound. Taking the crystal, she held it over the bloody tooth marks.

"You do know this is going to hurt? And it'll knock out your powers for at least a little while."

Tara nodded. "No choice. We can stay here for another half hour without a problem, I think. And as far as the pain --" She shrugged with her good shoulder. "It's not like it doesn't hurt now."

Amy nodded; Willow held Tara's hand as Amy closed her eyes and started to chant.

"Great Mother, bringer of all life, I beseech you.
Brigit, Goddess of moon and healing, hear me.
Life and death are yours to give,
they are also yours to hold.
By Crystal's might, and magic white,
heal this wound by way of light.
Heal your daughter, of mortal birth,
this I ask by sky and earth."

The crystal began to glow, emitting a blue-white light that reached out to envelop Amy's hand and Tara's arm. A tingling began in Tara's elbow and fingertips at the same time, and she squeezed Willow's hand hard as the tingles became a wave of pain that washed through her forearm. She closed her eyes, tears leaking down her cheeks, and pressed back against Willow as hard as she could. When the pain finally ended, she slumped against her former lover, tired and spent.

Willow held on through Tara's painful grip on her hand. Whispering into her ear, she wiped away the tears that fell, and kissed her temple till she finally went limp in her arms. "I love you, Tara." Willow used her sleeve to dry the beads of sweat that had formed on Tara's brow, holding the blonde close as she rested in Willow's lap.

Amy wiped away the blood and what little remained of the sage she'd used. The puncture marks were still evident on Tara's wrist and arm, but had fully closed and were in the early stages of healing. Amy smiled up at the blonde, her own fingers still tingling from the spell.

Tara glanced at the now sealed wound and nodded. Her eyes were very heavy, and she tried to keep them open, but couldn't. "Willow? Gotta sleep." She turned her head slightly and sighed. By her next breath, she was out.

Willow watched Tara sleep for a moment as she fussed with a strand of the blonde hair matted by sweat. Her face was still white, but now calm in slumber. Her jaw had relaxed, releasing the tension that had told Willow just how much pain her love had been in. Tara's appearance was one of peace as she breathed deeply through her slightly open mouth.

But there was still fear in Willow's voice as she asked, "She'll be okay?"

"Yeah, she'll be fine. I -- I think between the pain, and the energy the spell took -- she's just tired. She'll be okay, Willow." Amy tried to sound sure of herself, knowing it was what Willow needed. She was certain of one thing -- Tara's arm would heal fine. But Amy was suddenly really unsure of everything else.

She moved away slightly, leaning against the stacked crates she and Tara had been going through. Her hands rested on her knees as she sat with her legs pulled up in front of her. Amy grimaced slightly at the grime now coating her hands and arms. The dirt had mixed with the oil from the crate and Tara's blood, to form a layer of paste that covered the backs of both hands. Along with that red-tinged grime was an occasional speck of green, the result of the creature's blood splattering over her as she killed it.

She couldn't help but wonder what the hell it was.

A low growl came up from her stomach, and she realized she was hungry. This was quickly followed by the understanding that they were trapped in a dungeon with no food or water. And she was responsible for it.

"Willow?"

"Hum?"

"I'm sorry. I really thought this would be a quick job for you and me. I'd bring you here, we'd wipe the floor with a few demons, and be home by dawn." Amy gestured at the room around them. "I never expected -- this."

Willow didn't know exactly what to say. She was upset about Tara being hurt. About Tara being dragged into this just for being with her on a date. Upset that Amy still thought she could get her to do magic after all this time, by force if need be. Willow stared at the woman in her arms for several moments before replying.

"Amy, this book that you want? It's not worth all this; you have to know that. I know you think I'm a powerful witch, and in truth I had power. But I didn't have control of it. The magic was in control of me. Instead of using the magic, it was using me." Willow looked back down at Tara's sleeping face. "She knew that. She tried to warn me, but I didn't listen." Tears began to form in her eyes. "She was the one that was strong when I was weak. She's the one that understood that you have to have respect, and understand the consequences. You could learn a lot from her. I know I have."


Top
  
 
 Post subject: Re: FIC: Reflections in Raindrops
PostPosted: Sat Mar 23, 2002 6:00 pm 
She paused for a moment, then turned to Amy again. "You have the same problem that I did. You've lost control, and that will only get you into trouble." She waved a hand around the room they sat in. "Take a look around you. How fast did your simple plan get out of control?" Willow just shook her head. "You're just as addicted to magic as I was. And it's only going to get worse if you don't try and stop now."

Amy looked down at the floor, and then up at Willow, whose eyes were focused on the blonde asleep in her arms.

She knew Willow was right, at least in part. It was her fault that they were all trapped there, and the plan had gone wrong awfully fast. And the magic lately -- well, she had to admit to feeling a little out of control.

But, give it up, like Willow had? She shook her head mentally.

I have to get to the book, she thought. Then I can make this whole thing up to them. I can get them safely out of here, and I can get control of my life again. I can.
There were shouts off in the distance. Guttural voices could be heard echoing down the hallways. Amy doused her witch light, and Willow huddled down with Tara, covering the injured woman as much as she could.

They stayed that way in the dark for several minutes. More sounds drifted through the air, but there were no footsteps that they could hear. It seemed that Tara's spell was still working.

Amy relit the magic light, and watched for several moments as Willow gently stroked Tara's cheek, whispering in her ear every few minutes. She knew she had to make things right. "First things first," she muttered to herself.

"Willow? Hey." Amy kept her voice down in order to not wake Tara. "Listen, I'm going to go scout around, okay? Follow this tunnel down a little further. You stay put and watch over her?"

Willow didn't even look up."I'm not going anywhere without her. I won't lose her again."
Her voice was soft, but it came across to Amy clearly and strongly. The absolute love she felt for Tara was evident, and had been all along. For a moment, Amy was jealous. Then she just felt guilty.

"Oh. Hey, what about the light?"

"I'll need to take it with me." Amy looked apologetic. "It's kind of attached to me."

"Um ... I'm not so sure I want to sit here in the dark. Any chance of finding a non-magical light source?"

"Don't know." Amy looked around the room. She noticed an odd shaped metal holder on the wall, and stared at it till she realized what it was. "Hey, wait, I think --" Creeping over to the box she and Tara had gone through earlier, she dug through the chains until she came up with a long piece of wood, one end covered in black pitch.

"Exuro." Light flared from the end of the torch, and Amy grinned over at Willow. "Saw it earlier in the box but didn't know what it was till I saw that." She pointed at the metal object on the wall, then moved over to it and slid the torch into it. The room was doused in an almost cheery glow.

Willow nodded. "Nice."

"Okay. I'm going. I won't be long. Maybe I can find.. I don't know. Something."

Willow looked up. "Fine, but be careful and don't break the concealment barrier." She returned to stroking Tara's face.

As Amy got to the door, Willow called to her and she turned.

"No magic." Willow's voice was firm.

Amy hesitated but nodded, then walked quietly through the door and disappeared around the corner.

Part Five

Stepping out the door of their hiding place, Amy quietly set off down the hall. She kept her witch light much smaller than the one she'd used earlier, smaller even than Tara's orb, but she didn't need too much light anyway. Just enough to show her the next few paces in front of her.

Not that there was much to look at. The walls were dirty and grey, with a few cobwebs in some of the upper corners. Amy couldn't help but think that spiders must be the one constant through every universe ever
created.

She came to a T-junction of corridors, where she had to turn left or right. She peeked carefully around the corners before choosing the right hand tunnel. It didn't seem much different than the one on the left, but Amy thought she could see some light down near the end.

As she got closer, she began to get nervous. There was definitely a light, and every once in a while she thought she could catch the sound of a voice.

She was about to turn back when she smelled it. It was roast something, and she guessed it had to be this world's equivalent of roast beef. She inhaled slowly through her nose, enjoying the scent of meat cooking. Her stomach rumbled a little more, and her mouth watered.

Going forward didn't seem like a good plan; after all, there had been voices. On the other hand, she had no desire to walk back to Tara and Willow empty handed. She'd caused them enough harm, and it was time to repair a little of it.

I know I said I wouldn't, Willow, but I have to. She sent a mental apology to her friend, then closed her eyes and cast a spell. When it was done, she looked down at her hand to see that it wasn't there.

Invisibility is the key, she thought. With that, she could roam around the castle and not be seen. Pleased with herself, she set off towards the light with a confident step.

====================

Willow yawned lightly and shook her head. Tara was still asleep in her lap, and the redhead was passing the time by reading.

It was difficult, but a good challenge for her mind. Gaulish was an extinct language that was part of the Celtic group. It came from a group of Celts that had remained on the European continent and were eventually eliminated or assimilated by the Romans. Not only that, but it was very obscure, and there was little documentation.

Giles had spent some weeks tutoring Willow on extinct languages, Gaulish included. It was a time Willow had enjoyed, before Glory, before Buffy's death and resurrection -- before she'd lost control.

Before Tara left her.

Tears stung her eyes for a moment and she set the book aside.

Tara mumbled something and stretched. She turned over slightly and opened her eyes.

"Hey, baby."

"Will." Tara sighed. "Wow. That's nice."

"What is?"

"Waking up in your arms."

They smiled at each other, and Willow gently touched Tara's cheek. "How are you feeling?"

One blonde eyebrow rose, and Tara stretched a little more. "Not bad. A little tired, yet, but after all that's happened, I think I'm okay."

"Yeah? How's your arm feel?"

The fingers at the end of said arm wiggled, and Tara gently moved flexed her elbow. She grimaced a little, but didn't stop moving it.

"Pretty good, actually. I mean, it aches, but that's to be expected." She wiggled her fingers again. "Hand's still tingly."

Willow reached down and tangled her fingers with Tara's. She felt her hand being squeezed and looked up to find Tara's blue eyes smiling at her. She couldn't help but return the expression.

Tara glanced around. Seeing the box, she shivered. "Willow, what was that thing? Do you know?"

"Oh, yeah. I found it in the book. I sorta did some reading while you were sleeping." She grabbed the book she had put aside.

"Studying again, huh?" Tara smiled up at Willow.

"Uh huh. You know me, study girl." Willow smiled back. "So, if I'm reading this right, it was a Kradtic. Your basic low level, third dimension demon, with a nasty outlook on life. Who sits in wait for anything that comes along to snack on."

Tara frowned. "You can really read that? I didn't think you could understand it that well."

"Well, most of it's in Gaulish. There are only a few pages in a different language that I don't understand. Demon, I think, but I'm not sure."

"I know Giles was teaching you Gaulish, but I didn't think he taught you the whole language."

"Not even close." Willow smiled at her. "But -- it's like a puzzle, and puzzles I can figure out." She pointed at a word on the page. "I'm not too sure what that word is, but I know what the surrounding words are, and I'm pretty good at context associations."

Tara nodded. "Right. Puzzle gal, with the photographic memory."

Willow grinned. "Well, it helps that Giles taught me the really important words."

"Like?"

"Like demon, slay, kill, magic."

They shared a chuckle and then fell silent at a sudden noise from the hall. There was a loud boom, like the sound of a heavy door slamming shut, and more shouts and yells. Then everything was quiet again.

Tara suddenly sat up. "Where's Amy?"

"She went to go have a look around."

"Alone?"

"Well, yeah. You were sleeping, and -- well, I wasn't about to leave you by yourself." She avoided Tara's gaze. "Besides, I rather enjoy watching you sleep, if you must know."

The blonde witch smiled. "Oh, yeah? You do that a lot, huh?

"Well, not as often as I'd like to, but when given the chance I'm not going to pass it up."

They sat quietly for several moments, just enjoying the peace and quiet. Then more voices and the sound of footsteps echoed from the hall. They looked at each other in alarm. Willow started to stand.

"What are you doing?"

"The torch!"

Tara shook her head and pulled Willow back to the ground. "Exuro abeo." The torch fluttered and died, leaving them in darkness.

The sounds of marching boots seemed to come closer by the moment. Willow wrapped her arms around Tara and pulled her down behind the crate. The stayed there, hardly daring to breathe, as the footsteps went past the
door, never stopping.

Slowly, they sat up. Neither of them moved away, though, and neither said anything about relighting the torch. Willow kept her arms around Tara as they sat in the darkness.

"Where did you say Amy went?"

"To look around."

They both sighed, hoping she hadn't been the cause of the marching soldiers.

=================

Amy, at that moment, was sitting under a table. On the other side of the room were several of the whatevers that had surprised her when she opened the door to the stairs, speaking to each other in low guttural voices. Unable to understand the language, but certain she would be unwelcome in the conversation, she stayed hidden, hoping to find a way to take some food and water back to her friends.

The problem, as she saw it, was twofold. One, she needed to get to the area around the fire without being stepped on or bumped into by any of the creatures at dinner. Two, she needed to know just what the spell of invisibility included.

Feeling her pockets, she felt the lump of her wallet in her back pocket. She slid it out and looked at her hand. There was nothing there; no hand, and no wallet. Reaching out, she set it on the floor next to her and glanced up to see if anyone was watching. They weren't, so she looked down and slowly took her hand off the wallet.

It appeared the moment she stopped touching it. Nodding, she put it back in her pocket and crawled out from under the table.

There was a table loaded with empty water skins, along with several full ones. Next to the table was a barrel of water. Slowly, Amy approached the stack of water skins, reaching out carefully. Once again, she made sure none of the creatures were looking her way. Then she put her hand on the top of a full skin and it disappeared.

She tied that one to her belt and was reaching for another when one of the creatures stood and started to lumber towards her. Moving away, she stepped carefully around a chair and plastered herself against a wall.

It was the first good look she'd gotten at the Goshti, as she remembered Willow had called them. She admitted to herself that she could have lived without the close-up shot.

The one in front of her was big, over six feet, and very muscular. His (she was pretty sure it was male) face was a cross between a boar's and a man's, with yellowed tusks protruding from his mouth. His eyes were black with white pupils, and his forehead sloped back from his eyes. Dirty looking strands of black hair stuck to the sides of his head covering half of his long ears. His forearms were as thick as her thighs and his thighs were wider than her whole body.

The uniform, which she could see was pretty much the standard among his companions, was made of strips of metal over a solid leather coat. He had a type of battle axe strapped to his back, and a short sword attached to his belt.

Amy covered her nose; whatever the thing was, he reeked.

The soldier creature grabbed all of the filled water skins and tossed them to his comrades. They stood from the table and all started heading out the door. One of them seemed to argue with his fellow, and Amy wondered if maybe she had swiped his water skin.

After several minutes of yelling the Goshti grabbed an empty skin and tossed it to his angry companion. This seemed to mollify the creature and the group of them headed out the door, leaving Amy completely alone in the room.

Breathing a sigh of relief, she filled two more skins from the water barrel. After that she went to look at what was left behind on the table. There wasn't much there, but towards the back of the room, near the hearth, was the spit where the roasted meat was still waiting. Her mouth watered as she approached.

She found not just meat but bread and cheese as well. The only problem was she had no way to carry it.

Looking around, she found a small wooden box. After first making sure there was no magically hidden creature, she used a spell to change the box into a bag. Then she loaded the food into the sack and prepared to leave.

Only to duck back under her original table when several more of the creatures entered the room.

Amy waited, listening to their low gravelly voices, and wondered what they were saying. Then a smile crossed her face as she realized that she could easily find out. Whispering carefully, she did a language recognition spell, and leaned against the wall with a smile on her face.

==============

The darkness was broken by a tiny flare of light as Tara brought back her orb. It was barely the size of a marble, and its glow was dim, but it gave enough light for them to see each other.

"Do you think that's safe?"

Tara nodded. "We haven't heard anything for a while. No yells, or footsteps. Besides, it's nice and small." She shrugged. "I just couldn't stand the dark anymore."

"And it's not going to wear you out?" She looked at Tara in concern.

"No, it's relatively low energy output. I don't think I could do anything big right now, but I can handle a little light."

Willow sighed and glanced around the room. "I wonder what's taking Amy so long. We definitely need to be getting out of here, before someone -- or some thing -- finds us."

She picked up the doll's eye crystal from where it had rested on her bloody vest. With another sigh, she reached to put it back in her pocket.

Tara stopped Willow's hand, pulling it closer to her. She opened the fingers to reveal the hidden crystal. "Guess it was lucky for me that you had it with you."

Willow shook her head. "Wasn't luck. I always have it with me." Even in the dim light of the orb, Tara could tell the redhead was blushing. "Just call me sentimental gal."

Tara looked at her, startled, then smiled. "That's very sweet, Willow." She settled back, leaning her head on a soft shoulder. "I didn't know if you'd kept it. Why did you? Why didn't you ever use it?"

"Because it's -- well, because you gave it to me." Willow finished in a whisper. "I don't know why I never used it. It just didn't feel right, is all." She closed her hand around the crystal, squeezing tightly. "Because I didn't want to lose something else that was you."

Tears stung the corners of Tara's eyes, and she let a few roll down the sides of her face.

"I missed you so much." She curled a hand around Willow's. "And I didn't know how to reach you, or help you."

Willow's heart skipped a beat. "I - I missed you too." She wrapped her arm around Tara, bringing her mouth closer to the blonde's ear. "I was wrong to do what I did to you. I
was out of control. I couldn't see it, but I do now. You did what you had to. I don't know what would have happened if you had stayed." She kissed the blonde's cheek lightly. "Thank you for being strong enough to leave." In a gentle motion, she brought their entwined hands to her lips.

The tears continued to leak from Tara's eyes, but her lips were curved in a smile as she watched Willow kiss her hand. She squeezed the fingers wrapped around her own, and brought them down to return the favor.

With her free hand, Willow played with Tara's golden hair. It had been a privilege long denied, and one she swore she'd never lose again. Slowly she curled a tuft of it around her finger and used it to tickle Tara's sensitive skin near her shoulder. It had always made the other woman squirm, and she was pleased to get the same result this time.

Until Tara winced.

"Are you okay?"

"Yeah. Just twisted it a little." She waited for Willow to speak or move or do something, but Willow did nothing.

"Willow?" Tara looked back to see green eyes filling with tears. "Willow, what's wrong?"

"It's nothing."

"It's something, or you wouldn't be crying. What is it?"

Willow shook her head. "I just -- I just wish I could have done more with ..." She trailed off, gesturing towards Tara's injured arm.

"With what?" Tara followed her gesture. "Oh. Oh! You mean with the spell?"

Willow nodded slightly. "I know Amy did it fine, and you shouldn't have any problems. I don't know, I feel -- I just feel useless now. Like someone took away all my super powers, and I'm just -- just me."

"Super powers?" Tara frowned. "Is that how you think of magic?"

"No! I'm just saying -- well yeah, sorta. I mean I felt like somebody when I did magic. I was useful, and helpful in lots of ways. Free from the geeky nerd I was in high school. And that felt good." She looked away.. "Too good, I guess. But now, no more magic, so everybody gets geeky, useless, plain Willow again."

Tara just stared at her for several minutes. At first she couldn't believe Willow could feel that way, and then she realized that of course Willow would feel that way. She should have realized it sooner.

She sat up and turned around, mindful of her injury. Taking hold of Willow's chin with one hand, she brought her love's gaze up to meet her own.

"You, Willow Rosenberg, are not, and never could be, useless or plain." Willow started to protest, and Tara put her fingers over her lips to stop the words. "You are one of the most intelligent, resourceful, unique, and special people in the world. You always have been, and you always will be. With or without magic, it's you Buffy turns to when she needs advice or information. It's you who's always learning and teaching and helping other people. You're the one who everyone looks to for strength when they need it."

Tara moved her hand down and stroked Willow's cheek. "Darling, I don't care if you can use magic or not. I didn't fall in love with a superhero. I fell in love with you -- you, Willow Rosenberg. Computer geek, bookworm, and research girl." She leaned forward and kissed Willow's nose. "I love you, Willow. I love you, and I need you, and don't you ever call yourself useless again." She smiled. "You're essential."

Willow blushed at hearing her own words from so long ago. The tears dripped down her cheeks. Tara wiped them away, her own going unnoticed. Their gazes locked and they came together, hands reaching, lips touching in a soft kiss --

"Willow?"

Amy's voice made Tara jump, and she and Willow pulled away from each other hastily.

Tara looked around, but saw nothing. "W-willow, did you just hear --"

"Yeah, I heard it too." Willow risked a peek over the top of the crate toward the place the voice had come from, but saw nothing. "Amy? Is that you?"

"Of course it's me." The voice seemed to come from the thin air just in front of them.

"Where -- where are you?" Tara asked.

"Right here -- oh. Sorry. Aperio."

With the banishment of the illusion, Tara and Willow found Amy sitting just a few feet away from them. She looked none the worse for her wanderings, and was in fact smiling. A bag was perched precariously on her lap and she was busily digging through it.

"Amy!" Willow whispered fiercely. "I said no magic!"

"I know, but it was just an invisibility spell. No biggie. Besides, if I hadn't used it I wouldn't have been able to bring back this." She pulled out a chunk of cheese and handed it over to Willow. "Even got a small knife to cut it with."

She grinned as she kept pulling food items from the bag.

Tara's stomach growled. Willow shook her head, and muttered something about 'no more magic.' Then she cut a slice of cheese and handed it to Tara.

"I don't suppose you got any water?"

"Oh, sure did." She untied a water skin from her belt and handed it to Tara. "I got three of them, so don't be afraid to drink up."

Willow held Tara's portion of cheese while the blonde woman uncorked the skin and took a drink.

Tara choked after the first swallow. "Gah! That's not water, Amy." She wiped the back of her hand across her mouth, a grimace on her face.

"What is it, then?"

She shook her head. "I don't know. Tastes like alcohol, though."

"Huh." Amy untied another one and tested it. "Okay, this one's definitely water." She traded skins with Tara. "Sorry. I grabbed this one off a table, and it was already full." She stopped. "Oh. So maybe that's what the guy was yelling about. I stole his liquor." She gave a grin at the perplexed looks on Willow and Tara's faces. "Never mind."

"How did you get this stuff?" Willow asked.

"Well, I made myself invisible and found this kind of dining hall. I hid there until I was alone, then grabbed a bunch of stuff." She stuffed a piece of bread in her mouth and chewed. "Good thing, too. I was getting pretty darn hungry."

Tara shook her head. "You could have gotten in trouble, Amy. You can't use that kind of spell without a consequence."

"I know." Amy shrugged. "It was kind of necessary. Besides, I have information as well as food."

"Information? What kind of information?"

Amy grinned at Willow's question. "I know where the back set of stairs are. And I wandered down there and checked it out. There aren't any guards. It's like six turns, and this really long corridor, then twenty-two stairs and we're on the next floor." She looked back and forth between them. "I did good, huh?"

Willow just stared.

"And you got this information by just walking around?"

"Nope. I was sitting under a table in that dining place and listening to a bunch of these Goshti - whatevers talk. They're the ones that chased us, you know."

"Right." Tara nodded. "They were speaking English?"

"Well, no, they were speaking their own language. But I understood them."

"How?"

"I c--"

"Cast a spell," Tara finished for her. "Amy, just how many spells did you cast while you were gone?"

Amy thought about it. "With or without counting the magic light?"

"Without."

"Four."

"Four?"

"Uh-huh." She counted on her fingers. "Invisibility, language, turning a box into a bag -- it made the food easier to carry -- and I cast a sleep spell on this guy that bumped into me." Another piece of bread disappeared into her mouth. "And of course, the light. But you said not to count that one."

Tara shook her head.

"Amy, you've gotta stop with the magic." Willow was vehement in her protest.

"Right. Okay. Next time, I'll just ask for the food from these Goshti guys, and I'm sure they'll be more than willing to just hand some over to us. And I'll remember to ask them for directions as well. How's that?" She glared at Willow. "You're eating food that I got by using magic. If it bothers you so much, don't eat it."

Willow looked at Tara, who gave her a gentle smile.

"Amy, we're just worried. This isn't our world, we don't even know most of the rules. So far all our casting seems to be the same, but there's always the possibility that a spell won't work the same way, or won't work at all. So," Tara shrugged. "Just be careful. Please?"

Amy nodded. "I will be, Tara. I promise." She leaned forward. "I'm sorry I got you two into this, and I fully intend to get us all out, okay?"

Tara smiled and nodded.

They ate in silence for a few minutes.

Willow glared at a piece of bread. "This is so not what I was wanting as dessert."

Tara chuckled. "What happened to the cheesecake anyway?"

"I dropped it when the teleport thingy happened." She turned her glare to Amy. "You couldn't wait until after desert to kidnap us?" She bit into the bread and chewed as Amy and Tara both laughed softly.

Willow swallowed, then cleared her throat. "So, Amy, how long were you, um, here, before you announced yourself?"

"I had just walked in the room. Sorry about startling you. I didn't think about the invisibility thing until Tara asked where I was."

"You had just walked in right then?"

"Uh-huh. Why?"

"No reason." Willow looked up at Tara and winked.

Tara blushed and took another bite of cheese.

Part Six

After a long and vehement discussion, Amy finally was allowed to cast a cloak of invisibility over herself and her two companions.

Tara and Willow had both protested, insisting that using that much magic was dangerous. Amy said it was the only way for them to travel safely through the castle, and after several close calls with passing Goshti soldiers, Tara finally gave in, and Willow simply nodded.

The biggest problem about the invisibility spell was that they wouldn't be able to see each other. To combat this, it was agreed that Amy would lead and Tara would be at the back. Willow would be between them, each of them holding one of her hands.

Before leaving, Willow insisted they look through the rest of the crates. Their search yielded a few rusty swords in molding leather scabbards, along with some old leather jerkins. These, they decided, would give them added protection if they had to battle anything physically. Amy and Tara put theirs on over their regular shirts, but Willow pulled her shirt off and put the jerkin on.

Then she ripped the shirt into pieces and used it to wrap Tara's injured arm.
The food bag was secured to Amy's back, and Willow, now girded with a belt and sword, carried the book and map in her back pocket. She had already planned out their route through the second floor but was worried, since the book's references to the creatures had been too jumbled and obscure for her to make out.

Finally, they were ready, and Amy grasped Willow's hand and cast the invisibility spell.

It was strange for Willow. The taste and feel of the magic were all about her, but she couldn't touch it, couldn't use it, and dared not reach out to it. Even though she couldn't see her, she could feel Tara's hand in her own, and she squeezed it tight, taking comfort in the responding pressure.

"You all right, Will?" Tara asked in a whisper.

"Oh yeah, just fine. Heck, I usually go invisible twice a day just for the fun of it, right? That was a joke, of course," Willow finished quickly.

Tara chuckled and tightened her grip. She knew Willow was nervous about having magic used on her, afraid it would refuel her addiction. Tara had worried about it a little herself, but she had faith in Willow. Closing her eyes for a moment, she tried to project all her love and strength into the redhead next to her.

Willow pulled Tara closer to her. "I love you too. And I'm okay, really."

Amy turned and glared in their general direction. She knew they couldn't see her, but it just felt like she should. "Glad you're okay, Willow, and I hate to break up such a loving moment, but if you two don't shut up, the spell isn't going to be any use."

"Sorry."

"Sorry, Amy. Lead on." Tara felt a tug on her arm as Willow followed Amy out the door. She followed, being careful to stay close, but not too close, on the redhead's heels.

After several twists and turns, Amy suddenly yanked on Willow's hand and pulled her out of the middle of the corridor. Willow hit the wall, and pulled Tara over with her. Tara flattened herself against the cold stone, eyes wide, holding her breath.

They waited there while a group of Goshti soldiers went by. Tara was grateful the corridor was as wide as it was, but even so, it was very close. The last soldier came within two inches of her.

Amy got them safely to the back stairs, and then suddenly stopped. They heard her softly cursing to herself.

"What is it?" Willow whispered softly.

"They've posted a guard. I don't know why."

"Can we get by him?"

"There are two, one on either side of the doorway. But the door's open, so if we slide between them quietly we shouldn't have a problem."

"So what are we waiting for? Let's go."

Amy took a deep breath and nodded to herself. She got a good grip on Willow's hand and led them around the corner.

The guards, as Willow and Tara saw, were very big. Their uniforms were stained and dirty, and they smelled like week-old garbage. The color of their skin was a sickly yellow that made Tara think of disease and illness. They carried battle axes on their backs and were both staring straight ahead, their white on black eyes gazing off into the distance.

Amy tried to keep her breathing very light as she crept closer to the guards. Finally, she was between them and her foot was on the first stair. Willow was right behind her, turned sideways and moving carefully. As Amy stepped up to the second and third, it was Tara's turn to step between the guards.

It was at that point their luck ran out.

Another guard entered the chamber. He spoke to his fellow Goshti and was about to leave just as Tara put her foot on the first step. A low whine filled the air, and Tara looked back to see the soldier holding the leash of a creature which looked much like a large gray, furless cat. It was staring directly at her, growling and whining. Its yellow eyes were trained on her, and it held its mouth open, showing a double row of grey teeth, fangs hanging down near the front of its muzzle.

Amy tugged hard on Willow's hand; Willow lost her balance and fell forward. Tara, trying to move up the stairs and away from the guards, tripped over Willow. Alerted to the fact that someone was there, the guards drew their battle axes and turned to the stairs.

The first blow from the first guard landed just inches from Willow's outstretched hand. There wasn't a second from him, as Amy blasted an energy bolt into his chest. He staggered back and fell to the ground.

Willow regained her feet and pulled Tara out of the way as the second guard swung. Tara muttered a word in his direction, and his face was covered by a thick gooey substance. He dropped his axe and tried to pull off the mask.

The third guard loosed the creature, and it aimed straight for Tara. Willow stepped in front, but it dodged around her and leaped for the blonde witch; its teeth became entangled with the leather shirt she wore.
Amy, after sending a bolt into the third Goshti's chest, sent one at the cat-like creature; its reaction was to let go of Tara and leap at Amy.

Willow grabbed it around its middle and hung on. She could feel its claws dig into her shoulder and side, and it was all she could to keep her grip. "Kill it! Use your sword!"

Amy tried to blast it again, but the bolt seemed to have no effect. Tara pulled her sword out and stabbed the thing, pushing the blade through the ribcage and pinning it against the wall.

Willow let go of the now feebly struggling creature. She pulled Tara's sword out of it, intending to pass it back to her carefully. Instead, she turned back to see that the second Goshti had freed himself of his blinding mask.

"Tara, get down!" Praying that her love was safely out of the way, Willow thrust the sword into the Goshti's belly. At the same time, Amy's bolt struck him in the face, and he went down.

Tara had managed to avoid Willow's blow by throwing herself against the wall. She struggled to keep her feet, knowing they had very little time to get to the top of the stairs. Already she could hear the tramp of feet as more Goshti approached.

"Come on, you two! Where are you?" Amy's voice called to them from near the top of the second flight of stairs. "We need to get to the door!"

Willow reached a hand out, colliding into Tara accidentally. She slid her fingers down the woman's arm until their hands were once again clasped together. Without a word they followed the sound of Amy's voice.

Amy heard footsteps on the stairs and breathed a sigh of relief. She reached over to the door and spoke a simple spell of opening. To her dismay, nothing happened.

"Damnit!"

"What's wrong?" Tara's voice was very close to her ear and she jumped.

"I can't get the stupid lock open."

"Do we have to open it together, like last time?"

"Maybe." Amy felt Tara's hand land on her arm, and they stayed in contact as they reached for the handle.

The noise from the stairs was growing and Willow could hear booted feet ascending. "Hurry up.... Beasty Baddies coming, remember?"

The lock finally turned under the strength of their combined spells. The Goshti were on the second staircase as Amy pushed open the door and went through it. Tara followed a little more slowly, pulling Willow behind her. Once they were through, they turned to close the door.

To find it being pushed back open by a Goshti soldier.

"Amy!"

Amy turned at Willow's call and threw herself back at the door, accidentally slamming into Tara, who gasped at the pain in her arm. The three of them pressed their full weights against the door, but it wasn't enough; slowly the door continued to swing open.

There was a yell from somewhere down the stairs and suddenly, the struggle was over. The Goshti pulled back, and the door slammed shut.

Willow felt splinters from the heavy wooden door dig into her hand as she slid down it. Tara fell on top of her, with Amy sprawled next to them.

Tara whispered a spell and heard the mechanism click, locking the door they had just closed.

For a moment, they just lay there, breathing hard.

"Aperio." Tara banished the vanishing spell and sat up.

Willow didn't move. "They must've been late for dinner."

Amy rolled over and got to hands and knees. "Couldn't be. I watched them eat." She wrinkled her nose. "Slobs."

"Hey, Will, maybe they found our cheesecake."

They looked at each other for a moment, then burst out laughing. It didn't last long, but they all felt better for it.

"Okay." Tara stood. "Time we got moving. We were supposed to turn left up here, weren't we?"

"Yeah." Willow stood carefully, putting a hand to her side where the creature had clawed her.

Tara eyed her, not liking the paleness in her cheeks. "And we're going to look for a place we can sit and rest, and do some first aid."

Amy nodded. "Yeah, good idea." She looked down at the floor and shuffled her feet a bit. "Uh, Willow?"

Willow's green eyes tracked to Amy, but she didn't say anything.

"Um, thanks. For stopping that thing." She gave an embarrassed smile, and Willow returned it.

"Any time. Good aim with those bolty things."

Chuckling softly, Amy nodded and shrugged. Then she turned and led the way down the hall.

Tara held back a little, keeping an eye on Willow. She didn't like the pinched look on the woman's face, or the way she kept reaching for her shoulder.

"How bad is it, Will?"

It was Willow's turn to shrug. "Not bad. Hurts, though."

"We'll stop soon and I'll do --"

"Um, Tara? Willow?" Amy 's call came from around the corner, and they quickened their pace.

They found her standing in front of the door they'd expected to find.

But they hadn't been expecting the two little brown creatures that stood in front of it, staring back at them.

Part Seven

It was easy to see the creatures in the light from the torches that hung on the walls every twenty feet or so. They didn't look dangerous. As a matter of fact, they looked rather harmless.

Standing a little taller than the cat-like animal they'd killed earlier, the creatures in front of them were covered in brown fur and had large pointy ears that flopped over at the top. There was no visible sign of danger about them; no claws showing on their paws, and no fangs protruding from their long pointed snouts. Their mouths didn't appear to open like a regular mouth. All that could be seen was a circular hole at the end of the snout through which a long pointed tongue appeared every so often.

Amy looked back at her friends. "I wouldn't call them cute, but at least they're not growling at us."
"Not that I don't agree with you, but in this place. I'm not taking any chances." Willow stated as she unsheathed her sword. "We need to get through that door."

Tara didn't like it. There was something about the creatures that she didn't like at all. She shook her head, thinking that maybe the pressure was getting to her. Her headache was back, and getting worse. She wanted out of there. "I agree with Willow. We need to move them, or something."

"Amy, go shoo them away." Willow smiled at her friend. "Aw, come on, they don't even look like they bite."

Amy shrugged. "Okay. I'm sure they'll move if we just -- hey!" She looked down to see one of them put its snout up against her leg. A sharp pain jabbed her. "Ow! Stop that!" She kicked at it and moved back, but it came forward with her. A thin trail of blood trickled down her leg.

Willow quickly stabbed her sword at the little monster following Amy.

The dark haired witch backed away, frightened. The second creature began to come forward. "Willow, look out!"

Amy sent a bolt flying toward the thing, surprised when it seemed to have no effect.

She immediately grabbed her head and moaned in pain.

Willow quickly turned to find the second little demon headed straight for her. She swung her sword around to ward off the attack, severing its little head in the process.

"Nice swing, Will." Tara put a hand on Amy's shoulder. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah, I think so. Wow, that was some wicked backlash, though." She stared down at the thing. "Did I miss and not hit it, or what?"

"No, you got it, but I think they're immune." Amy's eyes went wide. "Yeah. There are some creatures that aren't affected by magic, you know."

"I knew that." Amy glowered. "Just didn't think we'd run into any here."

After a moment Willow headed toward the door. Looking it over she noticed it had no knob or handle, and appeared to open from either side. Slowly, with the tip of her sword, she pushed the door open. It gave easily with a minor squeek. After a peek through the opening, Willow quickly let the door close. "Umm, can we talk about this later? Right now would be a good time to run."

Tara looked up sharply. "Why? What's wrong?"

She got her answer as the door swung open towards Willow. Several more brown creatures came through.

Amy screamed and threw another energy bolt. Again, the backlash made her clutch her head. Tara's own headache got worse, but she grabbed Amy's arm and pulled her away from the wall.

"Come on! We have to get out of here!"

Amy hesitated for a second. "But that's the way we need to go!" She looked over to find Willow swinging and stabbing at the creatures, with more coming through the door every moment. She fled, going past Tara, who'd pulled her sword.

One of the creatures got behind Willow and attached itself to the back of her knee. She stumbled, but kept her feet.

Tara brought her sword down on the thing's head, watching it fall away from her friend. Then she was side by side with Willow and they were backing down the corridor, their slashing weapons keeping the creatures at bay.

Willow risked a glance beside her. "Thanks, sweetie." She turned her attention back to the demons. "I think we can get to that hall we were in earlier, and hold them off."

"Maybe. Doesn't do much to get us out of here though." Tara grunted as one of the things leaped at her, connecting with her thigh. Willow stabbed it through the throat even as Tara brought her sword down on its
back.

More of the things came through the door. With one last stab, they were in full flight down the hall, the creatures just a few paces behind them.

They heard Amy calling them, and followed her voice to a small alcove. She was holding a door open for them and telling them to hurry. They had almost reached the door when Tara felt a thud against her legs and she stumbled. She felt something puncture her calf and kicked hard, dislodging the creature and sending it flying several feet away. Then a hand was reaching out and she grabbed it. Amy helped her to her feet and pulled her inside the door as Willow followed them, backing away from their attackers.

As soon as she was through the door, Amy slammed it shut and locked it. The heard some scuffling on the other side, but nothing else.

Tara leaned back against the wall with a sigh. Her head ached, her leg hurt, and her arm was once again throbbing. She wanted to sleep, for days, and not have any dreams.

But that didn't look like it was going to happen anytime soon.

Amy turned and looked at the room they were in. It appeared to be the remains of a grand dining hall, with the remnants of a long wooden table running down the center. Now it was just a pile of splinters, but the massive bases could be seen in three places. Chairs, mostly overturned and broken, littered the room.

She noticed a door at the other end of the hall, and rushed down to make sure it was closed and locked. There was no way she wanted those little creatures in the room with her.

Tara, too, was looking at their new hideout. The walls were covered with fine tapestries and scenes of knights marching off to battle could still be glimpsed in the faded fabric. Silver candle sconces still hung from the walls, several with candles still burning in them. Another glance told Tara that the candles were magical in some way -- they burned without melting. The light they gave off left shadows in the corners of the room.

It was as good a place as any to rest, she guessed.

Willow was leaning against the wall, looking drained. The front of her was spattered in blood and gore, and Tara couldn't tell how much of it was hers. The redhead was still pale, and had one arm across her middle, holding her side where the cat had scratched her. The other arm hung down, her hand still clutched tightly around her sword.

"Will? Are you okay?"

"I don't know. Geesh, can't I rest a little after a big battle without getting the third degree? We've been in plenty of those, big battles I mean. You should know how fatigue works. It's not like I don't remember you breathing pretty hard after a few chases, you know."

Tara's eyes widened for a moment, and she pulled slightly away. "Sorry. Didn't mean to bother you." She waited a second for a response, then sighed and stepped away, following Amy further into the hall. She put a hand to her temple, rubbing it. If only her head didn't hurt so damn much.

A hand touched her shoulder, and Tara turned back to Willow.

"I'm sorry, I don't know why I said that. Forgive me?" Willow said, pleading with her eyes as well. Her voice was softer, and full of pain. "I'm just really hurting, and tired, and we're stuck here, and I don't know how to get us out of here, and all these things keep coming at us, and -- I'm sorry." She finished her babble with a miserable look on her face.

Tara nodded and managed a half smile. "If you feel anything like I do, I'm not surprised you snapped." She winced as her head throbbed. "Come on. Let's find a place to sit and get you cleaned up."

Amy had found a couple of serviceable chairs and turned them upright. She'd unpacked some food and pulled out what was left of Willow's shirt. One piece she'd already folded up and was using it to clean the blood off her own leg.

For some reason, that irritated Tara. It was Willow's shirt, and one of Tara's favorites, and had been sacrificed for Tara, not Amy. But, that was irrational, Tara decided, and she closed her mouth tightly to keep from saying anything about it.

Willow dropped to the floor and leaned against the broken base of the demolished table. She ached everywhere, and her head hurt. There was an itching in her ears, and the smell of the blood on her was making her nauseated.

Tara offered her some bread and cheese, and Willow had to clench her jaw and swallow hard a few times before she shook her head. She accepted some water, swallowing it slowly, watching as Tara cleaned herself off and grabbed a piece of bread.

Amy leaned back in her chair. "Anyone know where we are now?"

Tara spoke up in her best sarcastic tone. "Well, I don't know. Somewhere in the same stupid castle maybe?"

Willow didn't waste time on sarcasm; she went straight to scathing. "Where do you think we are? Stuck in some hell dimension, with nasty demons who want to kill us, all because you wanted the Gremlin of Silmarillion."

"Grimoire of Salarion."

"Whatever." Willow's head pounded and she held a hand to her forehead. "You couldn't get it on your own so you dragged us into it. How nice of you. I sure hope you're happy, 'cause I know I'm just peachy over here."

Amy didn't hesitate to return Willow's venom. "Well, if you had just agreed to help me in the first place, this wouldn't have had to happen. It only went wrong because she twisted your brain." She pointed at Tara and sneered. "Oh, mustn't use too much magic. Oooh, mustn't use your power at all. Shouldn't play with dark side. Hah! She's just afraid, and she's made you into a wimp."

Tara looked from one to the other. Something was happening here that she just didn't like. She could figure it out, if that infernal buzzing in her ears would just stop.

"Both of you, calm down." She knelt by Willow, using the last scrap of clean cloth to try and get some of the gore and blood off the woman's skin. Willow flinched as she ran the cloth over one of the numerous puncture wounds on her legs.

"Stay still," Tara snapped. "I'm trying to clean you off, and it would be a lot easier if you didn't move so much."

"Easy for you to say." Willow pushed Tara's hands off her body. "Stop it. Don't touch me."

For a moment, Tara felt hurt. It quickly turned to anger. "Fine." She dropped the cloth into Willow's lap. "Clean yourself off."

Willow glared and shoved the material aside. "Amy, why don't you go do something useful instead of staring at me?"

Amy sneered at her again, but picked up Tara's sword to clean it. She shook her head several times, and rubbed an ear.

Tara tried to look grateful, but failed. She sat down on the floor, several feet from both her companions, with her knees pulled up under her. She put a hand on either side of her head, wishing for a huge bottle of painkillers.

With a disgusted sigh, Willow pulled the book from her pocket. "Guess I gotta find us again, since you two keep getting us lost."

Amy stood up and slammed the sword down on the floor. "I'm sick of you and that damn book, Willow! All you do is pretend to read it, and try to impress Tara 'cause you can read the words." She balled her hands into fists and took a step toward them. "Well, when I get my hands on MY book, I'm gonna turn you both into... into... something ugly! Something your precious Buffy will want to kill!" She reached up and rubbed her ear, almost scratching at it. "Dammit! Why are my ears itching?" She used both hands to scratch, shaking her head. "Make it stop!" Tara was too busy rubbing her temples to pay any attention to Amy.

Willow stared at the enraged woman for a moment. Her own ears had been itching, as well. She realized there had to be a reason they were all snapping at each other, but she'd never connected it with the physical symptoms.

Or with the creatures from which they'd just run.

"That's it!" She flipped through the book rapidly. "Where are you, where are -- there."

The pain was making Tara's head pulse, and she grimaced. "What's it, Willow?"

"Those little brown thingies. They're called avilingua. Small demons who feed on the blood of their victims. They're immune to magic, but easily killed." She scanned further down the page. "Ah! Their biggest weapon is the power to emit high-pitched sound, far above the range of the human ear, high enough and loud enough to cause irritation of the ear, headaches, and dizziness. Prolonged exposure can cause damage to the nervous system, and eventually impair motor functions." She looked up at Tara. "That's why we're all snapping at each other. They're using ultrasound, and it's making us crazy."

"W-wouldn't that be blocked by the walls and doors?"

Willow shook her head. "Not enough, obviously, or we wouldn't be feeling like this." She fought through the pain in her own head and turned to the map to plot a way out of the room and away from the avilingua. "It says they're afraid to go to the third floor for some reason, so that's where we're headed."

Tara reached over and pulled Amy's hands away from her ears. She'd been rubbing so hard Tara was afraid she'd do damage to them. "Amy, stop it."

"But it hurts!" Amy struggled briefly in Tara's grasp, then went still as she began to cry. "It hurts so much."

Tara nodded. Her own head felt like a balloon about to burst. The pain was making her dizzy.

Willow followed a route on the map with her finger. "Sticking around here is not turning out to be an option, we're just --"

She stopped in mid sentence and looked around the room.

"What?" Tara still had Amy's hands in hers, not just to keep Amy from scratching her ears, but to help stop herself from scratching her own. "Willow, what is it?"

"The map says there's another entrance to the room." She got to her feet, swaying a little unsteadily at first. "Over there, behind the tapestry. Tara, they're in the room with us."

Amy looked around the room in a panic. "No no no no -- "

"Amy." Tara took hold of her by the upper arms and shook her. "Amy, stop it. We need to get out of here, and that means you, too. You can't lose it, Amy. Got it?"

For a moment the dark haired woman just looked at her. Then she nodded slightly, her eyes registering comprehension. Tara let her go and turned to Willow, who had repacked the book in her pocket and drawn her sword.

Willow stood guard while Tara helped Amy pack up what little remained of the supplies. Then Tara drew her own sword, and Amy followed her example.

They were headed for the door when they caught sight of several of the creatures on the other side of the room. The little demons didn't move, but Willow felt her headache increase even as Tara flinched. Amy moaned and started to reach up to her ear. Willow grabbed her hand and pushed it away.

"Tara, Amy, listen to me." She waited until their attention was on her. "We're headed for the main staircase, in the big hall. It's out this door, to the right, and take the next left. Try and stay together, and keep your back against the wall as long as you can." She took a deep breath. "Ready?"

They nodded, and Willow reached for the door handle. With a steady motion she turned it and pushed the door open, stepping quickly into the hall. Seconds later, she was thigh deep in the creatures.

Tara followed her into the hall, staying in front of Amy. Something jumped at her from her left, and she swung at it, decapitating the creature easily.

They weren't hard to kill. There were just so many of them.

Amy followed closely on Tara's heels, her sword gripped tightly in both hands. Her head hurt, and she felt like someone had poured sand in her ears. All she wanted to do was blast these things out of existence. But she remembered the backlash the last time she tried, and decided to just follow Tara and hope they didn't stab each other with their respective swords.

Willow swung madly, moving forward and towards the opposite wall. She could feel Tara off to her left, and knew Amy must be there with her. Using a wide, sweeping stroke, she drove several of the avilinguas out from in front of her. A gap opened up and she took it. Reaching the other wall, she put her back against and turned to keep fighting.

Grabbing hold of Amy's leather jerkin, Tara pulled her backwards and knocked off two avilinguas who had attached themselves to the woman's arms. "Go! Follow Willow!"

Amy leaped towards Willow, sliding under a sword's strike and squeezing next to her against the wall. She hacked down, killing a creature attached to Willow's leg, then striking at another trying to bore into her own.

"Tara! Come on!" Willow leaned forward and reached out a hand toward Tara, who grabbed it. She pulled the blonde through the mob of demons and stepped in front of her. "Down the hall! Move!"

Tara grabbed Amy's arm and tugged. Amy slid between Willow and the wall, and followed Tara as they moved, keeping the wall to their backs. Willow followed more slowly, taking the brunt of the attack.

It was slow progress, and Tara's arms felt like lead, but she finally felt air behind her. She glanced that way, and saw that, for the moment, the hall was empty and they had a clear shot to the bottom of the steps. Grimly, she hacked down two more creatures, then pushed Amy towards the staircase.

"Go!"

"But -- "

"Just go!"

Amy ran.

Tara waited for Willow to inch down to the corner. She could see the exhaustion on the pale face and knew the redhead was close to dropping. Several more hacks and she pulled Willow free of the group. Willow slammed one leg against the wall, dislodging a demon from her calf.

"Tara, get out of here!"
"Not without you."

Willow turned and pushed Tara as hard as she could. "I'll be right behind you. Move!"

Tara ran, glancing back every few steps to make sure Willow was indeed where she said she'd be. Amy was beckoning from the stairs, and she put on a burst of speed, leaping up the first three stairs before she collapsed to one knee.

She was trying to stand and catch her breath when she saw one of the monsters hit Willow in the back of the leg. To her horror, Willow went down.

Amy saw it as well, and immediately rushed back into the fray. She swung as hard as she could, cleaving several smaller avilingua in half. Willow managed to get to her feet, and limped toward the stairs.

Amy took one last swing and then slid an arm around Willow to help her. When they reached the bottom of the steps, they put their backs to the wall and waited to defend themselves.

But there was no attack. The few avilinguas left alive in the room were busy drinking the blood of their dead comrades. Those that weren't engaged in that pursuit were standing and staring at them, but not attacking. Slowly and silently, those watching avilinguas turned around, ignoring their prey as if they had never been.

"Why'd they stop?" Amy managed to get the question out in between gasps for breath.

Willow shrugged and lowered her sword. "Guess they... don't like the stairs." She felt a hand touch her shoulder and she winced.

"Willow? Amy? Come on. Let's get upstairs."

Willow nodded, but didn't move.

Amy slid her sword back in the worn sheath and slid an arm around Willow again. "Let's go. Don't want Tara mad at us, now do we?"

Shaking her head, Willow slowly started up the stairs. She used her sword as a cane, digging it into each step to pull herself up to the next. As soon as she was at the top, she let go of the handle and collapsed into Tara's arms.

Tara was ready, catching and her and lowering her to the ground gently. She found the water skin and got some into Willow. As quickly as she could she washed off some of the grime and gore, examining her love for injuries.

There were too many puncture wounds to count. Tara could tell, even through Willow's jeans, that her legs were filled with them. Most were small pinpricks, but there were several that were larger, up to a quarter inch around. Several were still sluggishly bleeding.

"Oh, Willow."

Green eyes opened and locked onto Tara's blue ones. "I'm okay. I'm just so tired." She flexed her leg and winced. "And my knee hurts. I twisted it when that thing knocked me down."

Tara examined the knee Willow was complaining about, feeling it through the pant leg. "It's swollen." She looked up at Willow's face. "How's your head?"

"Better. My ears are still itching, but not as bad."

"Mine, too." Tara sighed. "I hate to do this, especially since we all need rest, but we should move away from the stairs. The farther we get from those things, the better I'll feel."

Amy nodded. "I agree. Willow, I don't think I could do it now, but if we can find a corner or someplace that feels safe, I'll do a healing spell on you. Until then you can lean on me."

Tara shook her head. "No, I need you to scout ahead, Amy. I'll take care of Willow." She smiled at the dark-haired witch. "But thanks. For the offer, and for going to help her."

"Sure." Amy shrugged. "Can't leave a friend behind."

The three of them were silent for a moment, simply exchanging glances. Then Willow pulled herself to a seated position and offered an arm to both Tara and Amy. "Help me up. I wanna find this book and go home."

Each of them slid an arm under hers and lifted her to her feet. Amy waited until she felt Willow steady herself against Tara, and then she stepped away.

"Okay. Any monsters I should know about up here, Willow?"

A negative head shake. "I can't tell you. The pages on this floor were mostly in that demon language. I couldn't read it. The only thing I know about this place is that there's a test. That's all I could understand."

"A test." Amy grinned. "Well, in school you always did the best on tests, so if it's written, you're our gal."

Willow managed a chuckle, and they headed out of the stairwell and into the corridor.

"Any idea which way?" Amy asked.

"Left. Then turn right at the second door, and we go through that room. Then left again." Willow winced as she put a little too much weight on her knee. "This third floor is like a maze, with the steps to the tower in the middle. Once we get there, it's a straight shot up to the book, I think."

"Good. I want to go home." Amy flinched at her own statement, realizing she was the one who had brought them here in the first place. She waited for a verbal response from the two women behind her.

It never came. When she glanced back, she saw them both looking down, concentrating on the floor.

All of them were feeling much better by the time they reached the first turn. Getting away from the avilingua's ultrasonic sound waves had given their heads time to clear. Amy was glad her ears had stopped itching, and Tara could think without a band of pain around her head. Even Willow felt better, though her knee kept her leaning against Tara for the most part.

They opened the second door slowly, ready to defend themselves. When nothing came charging out at them, Amy felt somewhat encouraged. She stepped into the room and looked around. Once again, the remnants of furniture were in evidence, but little else. There was, however, a fireplace, with a large hearth around it.

"Okay, it's clear."

Tara helped Willow limp into the room. Amy pointed to the hearth, and Tara nodded. She helped Willow over to it, and got her seated, leaning back against the wall with her leg stretched out in front of her.

Tara took a deep breath and sighed. She stretched her muscles a bit, trying to loosen a few knots. "Amy, why don't you see what we have left in the way of food and water. I'm going to look for a piece of wood long enough to make a crutch."

Amy nodded, and sat down on the other end of the hearth with the food bag; Tara wandered over and started kicking pieces off a debris pile. They were both concentrating on their tasks when Willow screamed.

"Tara!"

Tara turned in time to see Willow disappear, falling backwards through an open trap door.

Part Eight

"Willow, no!"

Tara dived back toward the hearth. Amy beat her to the spot, reaching into the opening that Willow had just fallen through.

She had to quickly pull her hand back as the trap door slammed shut. "Damn."

Tara said nothing. She just stared at the space where the door had opened and then closed. Reaching out, she touched the stone as she dropped to her knees.

"Willow?"

There was a vacant look in her eyes that worried Amy. "Tara?"

Tara ignored her completely, tracing the edges of the stone. She started trembling and tears ran down her cheeks. "Willow."

Amy put her hands on the blonde's shoulders. "Tara, we'll find her. We will."
Part Nine

Willow was chilled to the bone by the time they approached the stone and wood deck immediately outside the tower. She watched as the door loomed ever larger. It looked odd, like it had been built well after the original tower. It was circular at the top and tapered. Different colored bricks were mortared into the area around the wooden frame. While the other stones were dark and had signs of age, these around the door showed no marks from weather erosion.

When they reached the deck she was pushed against the stone wall and allowed to slide down it. The two guards who had carried her up the stairs took up positions on either side of her. The third entered the tower. Willow closed her eyes and sighed.

Quietly, she contemplated her situation, which hadn't gotten any better in the last fifteen minutes. Instead of a decently dry wooden pen with a roof she was sitting on cold stone with no shelter but the two guards. Obviously they had plans for her, and for all she knew she'd end up barbecued, or sacrificed to some war god. Or both.

Plus, it was raining, heavily. It made her captor Goshti smell rancid, and she wondered for a moment if it was the rain that made them smell that way? After sniffing her hands, she decided that no, it really was just how a Goshti smelled.

They didn't seem to even feel the rain, but Willow did. The cold was making her muscles cramp and her body shake. Granted, most of the blood and gore from the battle with the avilingua were gone, but she was waterlogged.

It didn't rain often in Sunnydale, she thought, but when it did, it did it right. She hadn't really considered rain fun until Tara started taking her for walks during the California showers. It was something in their relationship that was just for fun, and for pleasure. Not that the rain was pleasurable. It was nice, but the best part was that afterwards Tara would take her into a hot shower, and then bundle her up and bring her hot chocolate. Willow had started to look forward to rainy days.

With Tara, she had tasted the rain itself, seen how it gave life to the earth and all her creatures. Tara had taken Willow into the park to listen to the drops of rain as they hit the leaves on the trees. They'd danced to no music but that of the rain. Each time they'd walked through it together, Willow had felt cleaner.

Of course after those rains there would be some flooding, and everything would be coated with mud. She hated that. Mud was.... muddy. And floods in California were dangerous because a lot of California was just dried mud anyway. It was often the the flooding that started a mudslide, and the mudslide could take out people and homes in minutes.

It was a consequence of the rain, and Willow had always known that. If you have rain, there would be a reaction from the earth. So, it was a pleasure and a nuisance, all at the same time.

Frowning, she wondered why she'd never looked at it that way before.

"Tara," she whispered. "Where are you, baby? Are you okay? Please, you've gotta be . . ." Willow pictured Tara's smiling face, tried to bring alive those blue eyes in her mind. When she finally got the picture the way she wanted it, she tried to project all her energy into it, all her love and need. She could feel herself reaching out, feel her
hand touching Tara's cheek.

Something in her grew warm as the image of Tara began to glow, suffused by a rainbow of light behind the blonde. Slowly, the rainbow effect faded, and turned into rain, though the Tara in her mind didn't seem to notice. Willow smiled in her fantasy. The rain there was like a warm blanket and she sighed.

Then her eyes popped open as her injured knee was kicked. She bit her lip to keep from screaming and looked up to find the third Goshti had returned.

"Coshemti." She shook her head to show she didn't understand what he was saying. He growled at her and took the leash that he'd handed to one of the other guards. Giving a tug on the collar, he said again, "Coshemti."


Top
  
 
 Post subject: Re: FIC: Reflections in Raindrops
PostPosted: Sat Mar 23, 2002 6:00 pm 
Carefully Willow stood. She found she was able to put a tiny bit of weight on her knee, enough that she could hobble along behind him as he led her to the tower door.

He pulled her inside and then took off her collar. It took a moment for her eyes to focus in the dim light of the room. When she finally could see, the first thing she noticed was a podium of some kind in the middle of the floor. It was silver, and shined to such perfection that it sparkled even in the glow of the candles on the walls.

The second thing she saw was a man. From his profile, he looked human. He was staring at the podium, his arms crossed, with a mixture of surprise and pleasure on his face.

He turned to look at her, and she saw that he had a silver scar that ran along the left side of his face, from his jaw to his hairline. He regarded her steadily, as if measuring her.

A smile played across his face. "Well, well. A human witch at last." His eyes flashed, and Willow shivered. "Must be my lucky day."

==========================

It didn't take long for Amy and Tara to understand why Willow had said the third floor was like a maze. They tried to follow the directions she had stated earlier, but either they weren't right, or they weren't complete. Soon, the two witches had to admit they were lost.

"We need the book."

"Yeah, well, that's a problem. It went with Willow."

Amy sighed. "I know. Just stating the obvious."

The bright side was that they hadn't run into any monsters. It didn't mean they wouldn't, but they hadn't yet.

Tara stopped so suddenly that Amy almost ran into her. She put a hand to her chest, and looked around the hall in confusion.

"What's wrong?"

For a moment, the blonde didn't answer. Then she closed her eyes and gasped. "Willow?"

Amy looked around. She saw nothing. "Tara? What's going on?"

Tara slowly sat down, her eyes closed tightly. "God, Amy, she's in so much pain."

But there was more than pain coming down her fragile connection with Willow. There was a great deal of love. In her mind she saw Willow reach up with her hand to stroke Tara's cheek. She could almost feel the touch, even though she knew Willow wasn't there.

She tried to send love and strength back to her friend, but the tenuous connection was broken with a jolt. Tara cried out Willow's name once more, softly, then lowered her head.

Amy knew Tara was crying, but didn't say anything. She waited until the blonde wiped her eyes and looked up.

"What happened, Tara?"

"I-it was Willow. She was reaching out to me, w-with her mind."

"Her mind?" Amy frowned. "But, how could she do that without....." She trailed off when she realized what had happened.

Tara shook her head. "No. That was no spell. I - I would have felt it." She looked away, staring at the ceiling. "No, that was all Willow."

"But she had to tap into her magical power to do that."

"She might have, but I don't think she intended to, or even knew it."

"Did she say anything?"

"No. She just --" The blonde blushed when she thought of what Willow's eyes had conveyed. "She just told me she loved me."

Amy nodded. They were quiet for a few moments, each of them mulling over what had happened.

Tara knew Amy was right; Willow had just used magic of some kind. But there had been nothing of the heavy dark energy associated with her ex-lover's magic at the end of her and Amy's rampage. This hadn't been an out of control spell, or a spell of any kind. It had been ... well, natural.

As she waited for Tara to recover from this sudden twist of events, Amy brooded over it in her own mind. Willow had used magic. Knowingly or not, Willow had used. It left the dark haired witch with a sick feeling in her stomach. After all, if she hadn't brought them here, if they hadn't gotten separated, Willow wouldn't have had to reach out with anything other than her hand.

She wondered if the book was really worth all this. So far, all this quest had done was put all three of them in mortal danger.

For the first time, she wondered if she was as addicted as Willow said she was. Why else would something like this have been so important? Why else would she have risked all their lives?

Tara finally shook herself and moved to stand up. "Well, that was interesting." Amy reached out a hand and helped her. "I think I can find the way we need to go."

"Why do you say that?"

"Well, there's a slight trail left by the magic; like a pull from a magnet. I can feel it. If we follow that, we should find Willow without a problem."

Amy frowned. "But, Willow's downstairs. I thought we agreed it would be too dangerous to go there."

Tara shook her head. "I don't know how, but Willow isn't down, she's up.

I can feel it. I can feel her."

Her companion raised both eyebrows, but just nodded. "Okay, then. Lead on. Which way to do we go?"

Tara pointed back the way they'd come. "This way."

After several more twists and turns, they finally came across what seemed to be a path to the center of the maze. Instead of seeing doorways they'd already marked, they were seeing new and different rooms, some still with remnants of finery in them. A few more turns, and they were in a long hallway that had no doors. The end appeared to open out into a large room.

"Bout time."

Tara nodded. "Now let's just hope we can pass whatever test Willow was talking about."

Amy swallowed, regretting yet again her rash decision in bringing them all to the castle. "Tara, I was never very good on tests."

"Me neither. Always preferred writing papers." She glanced at Amy with a smile. "Guess we'll just have to wing it."

"Right. Wing it."

They slowed down as they got closer. Finally they could see into the room, and they stood outside the door looking around carefully.

It was a large chamber with a round dais in the middle. At the end of the dais opposite them was a staircase that they could see twisting up into a part of the ceiling. It was, presuamably the tower.

The other end of the room, between the door and the edge of the tower, was open. Rain came pouring down from the grey sky.

Tara looked at Amy and quirked an eyebrow at her. Amy shook her head, and looked down. She took a couple deep breaths and looked back up. Meeting Tara's gaze solidly, she nodded.

Together they stepped into the room.

Tara expected to feel rain, but she didn't. Instead, she found herself standing in a dark room. She couldn't see any walls, and the only light was behind her.

"Amy?"

A hand came down on her shoulder and she turned.

"Guess again."

Tara froze as she looked into the face of her older brother Donny.

===================

He looked to be about thirty or thirty-five, with a cleanshaven face and pale skin. His scar stood out in contrast to his hair, which was deep chestnut brown, about collar length, and swept back over his ears. He had dark eyes, though in the light she couldn't see their exact color.

When she realized he'd spoken to her, Willow looked up, startled. "Oh, hey. I can understand you. That's different." She realized just what he had said. "But I'm not a witch. Well, not anymore."

The man folded his arms and looked at her. "No? Why do you say that?"

"Because I'm not?"

He stepped around the podium putting it between them. "Ah, but you are. And a very powerful one at that."

"N-no, not anymore," Willow protested. She shook her head. "I don't do magic anymore. Long story, but not anymore."

The man smiled at her. "But you just did. Right outside. I felt it."

"What? I didn't do anything outside."

"You reached out magically to your friend." He laughed slightly. "The fact that you did it without realizing it shows just how much power you have."

"I did? But I didn't, I swear. Did I?" Willow remembered how real it had felt to touch Tara's face, and she knew he was right. A part of her was appalled that she had actually used magic again. "I didn't mean to; it was an accident, I swear."

"It's alright. You don't have to apologize to me." He picked something up from the podium and walked slowly over to Willow.

"My name is Loshar Exbron. I'm a wizard. A sorcerer if you will." He smiled down at her. "And you are?"

"W-Willow."

He smiled. "Willow. Wonderful name."

"Not a witch," she added insistently.

Loshar laughed again. He stepped past her and looked out a small window set in the stones. "For a hundred and fifty years, there have been witches from all dimensions and all the worlds, looking for the book. Most have perished on the floors between here and the ground. Those that
have gotten here have proved rather useless." He turned back to her. "The Goshtimjaharan have brought me every witch they catch in the castle."

"I'm sorry, the Goshti- Goshtim --"

He turned back to her. "Goshtimjaharan. They were my soldiers in the battle against Salarion, and now they guard the castle."

"I see."

Loshar smiled at her."You, Willow, are the first human witch to be brought to me in more than ten years. And the last one was, unfortunately, useless." He stepped closer and held something out to her. "We'll see if you will turn out to be the same or not."

Remembering what had happened the last time she accepted something from someone, Willow kept her hands at her sides.

"Oh, please. It's harmless, really."

"I've sorta got issues about people handing me things lately. What is it?"

Loshar shrugged. "It will simply tell me if you and I come from the same dimension. If you can open it, we do. If you can't, we don't." He smiled. "Rather simple, don't you think?"

Willow looked closely at the object, seeing only a thin silver box about the length of his hand.

"Nothing else? I won't be sucked into a vortex and stuff, where I'll go to another demension?"

Another chuckle. "No. No vortex will open."

"O-okay." Hesitantly, she reached out and took the box from his hand.

"Try to open the clasp."

Willow found a golden clasp on one end, and flipped it open with ease.

"Like that?"

Loshar smiled again, this time letting it turn into a grin. Willow found herself thinking that he looked like Xander did when he was possessed by hyenas. "Perfect. That proves you are what you appear to be; namely human. Now," he stepped closer, well within arm's reach, and fixed his gaze on her, "Open it."

Willow moved her thumbs to opposite sides of the clasp and pulled them apart. The box opened easily.

Only, it wasn't a box after all. It was two solid silver plaques that fit together exactly. Something was engraved inside them, and as she looked at it, she realized it was a spell.

Loshar was laughing triumphantly. "Yes! Well done, Willow!" He turned away and went to the podium, staring down at something on it. "Soon," he

whispered. "Ah, Salarion, you are about to be defeated at last."

"Salarion," Willow whispered. Her eyes widened. "The book!"

He looked up at her. "Yes. The book. So, you've heard of it, hmm? It is why you came here, isn't it?"

"Well, no I didnt really have a choice in coming here, but yes I know of the book."

He beckoned to her. "Come. Come see what all your effort has been for."

Willow stepped forward and looked at the face of the podium. Set into the middle of the silver surface was a golden book with a gleaming white diamond on the cover. As she looked closer she could see that there were two hand prints on the cover as well, one with a black jewel in the middle and the other with a blue gem.

"Nice. So, that's the Grimble of Salarion?"

"Grimoire, and yes. You'll notice the two handprints on it. That is, of course, because there must be two witches to remove it from this location. One alone cannot free it."

Willow looked up. "Oh, no. Sorry, Loshar, but no. I'm not a witch anymore, remember?"

He shrugged. "Would't matter even if you wanted to free the book. Right now, I'd be of no use to you." He glanced around the room. "You see, I'm trapped here. Have been for a very long time. And until I'm free, I can't free the book."

"Oh." Willow took a breath. "How'd you get stuck here?"

"You don't know the story of Salarion and his golden spell book?"

She shook her head.

"Well, then, I'll tell you, shall I?"

Willow nodded, and Loshar folded his arms, putting them on the podium.

"Solarion was a wizard born on earth, in our own dimension, about fourteen hundred years after Christ. He was a sheepherder until one day when he came upon a younger child lying in a field after having been injured. He cured the child, and was heralded as a messenger of god. However, when someone he tried to cure ended up dying, his village thought him an evil spirit instead. They were going to hang him when he was rescued by Sir Robert Aurejoin, a member of the Knights Templar. Sir Robert recognized the boy for what he was and he took him to be education by a wizard named Raymar. Now, the story of Raymar is actually fascinating, but since it doesn't bear on our current tale, I'll move right along."

Willow shuffled her feet a little and winced. Loshar looked up from his story.

"I'm sorry, how rude of me." He left the room, going into a small back area where Willow could see a table and chair and the end of a bed. Then Loshar returned, his lone chair in his hands. He set it down for her, and she slid into it gratefully. He leaned back on the podium.

"Are you comfortable?" She nodded. "Good. Now, where was I? Oh, yes, Raymar. . ."

"Suffice to say that Raymar was a very powerful wizard and he taught Salarion many things. All of which were recorded in the book." He tapped on the golden volume on the table. "This book. It has spells of binding,
of healing, of power, and many more. It gives the secrets of many magics, and can even tell the resting place of the last known phoenix, who died in the fifth century before Christ." Loshar stroked the book with his fingertips. "It is even said that the spell of immortality was in here." He looked at her. "Do you see why it's so important?"

Willow nodded. "Right. Important. Spell of immortality, even."

"Yes." Loshar turned his eyes back to the gold on the pedestal. "And I wanted the book. Salarion learned I was searching for him. He knew it was only a matter of time, and he knew that face to face, I was better than him and would kill him. So, he switched dimensions. But I tracked him nonetheless. Once I knew he had settled here, I knew I had him." He sighed. "Unfortunately, I made an egotistical mistake that cost me my freedom."

"What was your mistake?"

"I gave him too much time." He moved away from the pedestal and began pacing. "I knew he was trapped, as I had closed all possible means of escape, including dimensional. He couldn't leave his castle. So, I waited. I kept a superior force outside, thinking he would bargain with me. And the book would be mind." Another shrug. "Instead, he set a trap for me."

Loshar stopped and looked up at her, a smug expression on his face. "I killed him. Right in this very tower. I used a spell and sent a bolt of lightning through his body and I watched him fall. His body burned to death before my eyes." He sighed.

"But the trap was already sprung. Salarion set the spell to trigger if he was killed by magic. His killer -- that would be me -- would be trapped here, in this tower. Unable to leave these two small rooms. Forever." He gazed at the podium. "And he left the book here as a final punishment. He trapped it, making sure that I couldn't get at it. Spell bound so that only two witches can free it, and only if they're both free." Turning to her, he smiled. "So, you see my dilemma."

Willow nodded. "Oh, yes, of course." Then she stopped and took a breath. "Well, no. Not really."

"It's very simple. I need you to free me." He picked up the now opened silver box. "You see, Salarion left this behind as well. It's a spell that will free a prisoner from all magical traps. The only problem is it only
works if used by someone of your own dimension." Loshar sighed again dramatically. "And coming from a planet where magic is not very accepted, and those that practice the arts are outcast and even killed -- well, let's just say things weren't looking very good."

He stepped in front of her and smiled. "But now you're here. And you will free me."

For a moment, Willow couldn't speak. When she did find her voice it squeaked out. "Me? Um, no. No, I - I don't do magic anymore. Not at all. I can't."

"Oh, but you can. And you will."

She shook her head. "I can't."

"You mean you won't."

Willow shifted nervously in her chair. "Well, yeah, that, too, but -- can't sounds much better than won't, don't you think?"

He smiled at her. "You know, I can't force you to use the spell. It must be read willingly."

She tried not to smile in relief.

"However." Loshar leaned down and grabbed her leather jerkin, hauling her up till her face was a bare inch from his own. "I can always make you change your mind."

He dropped her into the chair and stepped behind her. His hand gripped the back of her neck and pain flared through her head.

"Now, Willow. Let's discuss the fate of you and your friends, shall we?"

Part Ten

Loshar tightened his grip on Willow's neck and closed his eyes.

Willow felt him enter her mind and tried frantically to stop him. It was too late, though and he took control of her easily.

He searched through her memories, forcing her to watch them and experience them again. She saw herself as a child, being laughed at for falling off her bike. Watched Xander getting beaten for protecting her. Buffy forced to save her time and time again. Her almost attempt at cursing Oz and Veruca.

She experienced again the horror of watching Glory take Tara's mind, and then her failed attempt to use black magic to defeat Glory. She saw the final scene of Buffy leaping from the tower, and cried, blaming herself again for not being fast enough or strong enough.

In her mind, she saw herself use the spell to bring Buffy back, and felt the power flow through her again. She again went through the fights with Tara and their terrible breakup, and her awful night with Dawn and Rak. The word strawberry slipped through her as she felt his mind numbing magic pulsing in her.

Then she was back in the tower, gasping for breath and crying.

"You, Willow, are quite a prize," Loshar whispered in her ear. "So much power, and yet untrained in control. On the edge between good and evil."

Willow whimpered slightly and bit her lip. She could still feel him in her mind, and was frozen in his grasp. But she could still use her voice.

"I won't -- use -- magic."

From the corner of her eye, she could see him smile.

"Oh, yes, you will."

He dove back into her mind.

===========================

Tara stared at Donny.

"You can't be here. You're not h-here."

He grinned and spread his arms. The room around them came into focus and Tara found herself back home, in the kitchen of the three bedroom house they'd shared outside Cleveland.

"Where else should I be?" Donny put his hands on his hips and looked down at her smugly. "Dad's gonna be home in a few, and he's gonna whip you for not having those dishes done."

Tara looked around her in shock and in fear. Her clothes had changed, gone back to the long grey dress that her father had commanded she wear at home. The one she'd hated so much.

"How did I get here? I w-was in the --"

"You were off in some fantasy world again." He shook his head. "If you don't stop talking about magic and all that crap, you know what Dad'll do."

"He... he can't h-hurt me." Tara faced him, nervously, her fingers plucking at her dress. "This i-isn't re-real."

"Oh, yeah?" Donny pulled his arm back and slapped her. Tara fell heavily on her side. "Tell me again I ain't real."

She sat up, one hand to her cheek, staring at him. "B-but I'm n-not here. I left. I w-went to college..."

Donny's laughter was loud and obnoxious. "You? You couldn't get into college if you tried. Not that Dad would let you. You're just a stupid little twit who's only good for --"

They heard the screen door slam.

"Oh, now you're in for it. Dad!"

"Donny? Tara?"

Tara slowly got to her feet as her father walked into the room. He looked exactly the same as he did when she left home, still razor thin, and angry. He had always looked perpetually angry.

He glanced at the sink, then glared at Tara. "I thought I told you I wanted the dishes done and dinner on the table."

"B-but ... " Her father stepped forward and she cringed, stepping back.

"She's been off in her fantasy world again," Donny said. "Talking about castles and spells and shit. And col-lege -- said she'd gone off to college."

Tara looked back and forth from her brother to her father and back again. There wasn't anywhere to run, nowhere to hide that they couldn't find her. Her fear began to rise into panic as her breathing picked up.

"Tara, what have I told you about pretending?" Mr. Maclay looked at Donny and held out his hand. Donny, with a grin at Tara, took off his belt and handed it to his father. "Why do you make me punish you, Tara?"

He shook his head. "I was hoping I'd be able to save you from the demon, but...." He trailed off with a sigh.

The panic was making it hard to see straight. She couldn't catch her breath, and her heart was racing. As her father raised his arm and the first lash stuck, all she could think about was hiding.

But she knew there was no where left to go.

==================

Amy Madison was staring at herself in a mirror. Only it wasn't her face.

It was the face of her mother, who was also a witch and who had forcefully switched bodies with Amy in an attempt to steal away her daughter's youth.

And it seemed to be working.

The woman in Amy's body flounced into the room and ordered the girl out.

"Out. I have to do my make up; Kenny's going to be here in a little while to take me to dinner."

Amy moved aside and watched her mother begin putting blush on her cheeks.

"Mom? Why'd you do it?"

"Because you weren't strong enough to stop me." Catherine opened her lipstick tube. "Besides, you couldn't control yourself anyway."

"But - but, Willow said --"

"Willow?" Her mother turned to her angrily. "Since when have you been talking to Willow?" Catherine Madison grabbed her daughter's arm. "What did you say to her?"

"N-nothing. We just talked .... it was...was..." Amy couldn't remember. How long had she been in this body?

Catherine glared at her. "You know I don't like you talking to anyone. You stay away from them, you understand me?"

Amy nodded. After all, she had always done what her mother told her.

Hadn't she?

======================

Willow was tired. Her body ached, and her muscles had started cramping from being so tense. She couldn't move them to release the tension, and the only time she could relax was when Loshar let her. Those moments, however were few.

Again she was pulled back to watch the scene in the park where Glory took Tara's mind. She heard herself screaming, and watched the short battle to stop the hellgod.

"You couldn't save her then." The voice was a whisper in her mind. "But you can save her now."

The scene changed and she saw Amy and Tara fighting a sea of creatures, battling them back with swords and magic. But it wasn't enough. She watched them get overrun, watched Amy falling, dying, and then heard Tara scream her name.

"Free me, Willow. I can help you save her."

She saw Tara, lying on the floor, bleeding. The blonde raised herself slightly from her prone position and reached out a hand. "Willow. Help me."

"The spell, Willow. All you have to do is read the spell. Then Tara will be safe."

"Willow, help me." Tara's voice was filled with pain and pleading. "Please, Will. Use your magic and help me."

Something inside told Willow that was wrong. Tara would never want her to use magic. She'd promised Tara and herself that she wouldn't.

But hadn't she already? Hadn't she tapped into the magic when she called out to Tara? The earlier image of Tara's face rose in her mind, smiling at her.

She was confused and shaking. Her breath came in gasps and she tried to hold onto Tara's smile. It faded away, the tower room coming back into view.

"You're very strong, Willow." Loshar was kneeling beside her chair, one hand at the back of her neck, and the other on her forehead. "Very strong. But I've waited too many years to let you beat me."

He moved his hand from her forehead for a moment and wiped the sweat out of his eyes.

"Time to break you, little witch."

===============

Tara saw the belt descending as it in slow motion. Then things returned to normal and the blow struck her on the shoulder. She winced and pulled away.

"You will not be like your mother!" Mr. Maclay raised the belt again and swung, another blow cutting across Tara's side. She cried out and twisted away. "If the only way to get rid of the demon in you is to beat it out, then by God..." His next swing forced her to her knees, and she curled up in a ball, trembling and crying.

"Th-this i-isn't happening, this i-isn't r-real!"

Her crying seemed to make him angrier and his blows intensified, coming faster and harder.

"You will never leave this house, Tara!"

"B-but I already d-did," she whispered to herself.

"You will obey me! There will be no magic in this house!" The blows continued to fall.

"Willow..." Tara closed her eyes and concentrated on a picture of the woman she loved more than anything. In her mind she could hear Willow telling Buffy that Tara was a powerful witch. She saw the rose in her room rising, and Willow and her clasping hands as the coke machine flew across the floor and barricaded the door.

Then it was the scene in the magic box, where her father called her demon and ordered her home. Willow and Buffy and the other Scoobies standing up for her. Spike proving that she wasn't a demon.

"I will beat the demon out of you!"

Tara realized there was a part of her that still accepted herself as a demon. There was still a part of her that saw herself as unworthy of Willow's love. If she had been stronger, Willow wouldn't have needed the darkness, the magic. She should have been enough for Willow. But how could she be when she wasn't enough for her own family?

She reached into her pocket to touch the crystal her mother had given her. When it wasn't there, she started to panic. Then she remembered. She'd given the doll's eye crystal to Willow. Willow still had it. Willow always carried it with her.

Even as her father continued yelling, Tara closed her eyes and listened to another voice, one that told her she was loved. Told her she was needed, and wanted and cared about. She pictured Willow's beautiful face, surrounded by her red hair, as they lay on their bed, spent with passion.

She heard Willow tell her that she'd done the right thing in leaving. And then she knew.

Tara opened her eyes again, and grabbed the belt on it's next down stroke. Her father's eyes went wide with rage, and he jerked the belt out of her hand. She stood slowly, facing him.

"I'm. Not. Here." Her words were slow and distinct. "This i-isn't real."

Her father smiled. "Of course it is." He swung the belt at her again.

She caught it again.

"I left. I went to college. I met Willow, and we f-fell in love. This," she gestured around the room, "is an illusion. Because I left." Her voice dropped to a whisper, but was still loud in the quiet room. "And it was the right decision."

Her father snarled at her. "You failed. You'll always fail."

She shook her head and smiled. "No. I know where I belong, and I know who I belong to." Her voice began to pick up volume. "And it's not here, and it's not you, and I refuse to believe in you anymore!"

The house faded, along with the image of her father and her brother. She found herself standing in the rain where she'd been just a few minutes ago.

Her body ached. It felt like all the blows from her father had been real, and she guessed that in her mind they had been, and so manifested themselves on her body. With a sigh, she tilted her head back and opened her mouth to let the rain in. The water was cool, and fresh, and she was able to breathe much easier.

She turned to where she'd left Amy, and found the woman staring straight ahead, her mouth open in shock, and her eyes round with fear.

"Amy?" Tara touched her companion tentatively. There was no response. "Amy? Come on. It's not real, Amy, it's not. Whatever you're feeling, whatever's happening, it's not real." She took hold of Amy's shoulders and shook her.

Again, there was no reaction from Amy, who continued to stare. Her breathing was coming in short gasps, and her pulse was racing.

Tara made a decision and placed her hands on either side of Amy's head, her fingers touching the other woman's temples. With first a tentative whisper, she reached out. When she found no barriers, she plunged ahead, sending herself into Amy's mind.

====================

Amy was sitting on the couch. Her mother, still in Amy's body, bounced into the room and twirled around.

"I look great, don't I?" Amy nodded halfheartedly. "You could never look this good in this body."

"I --"

"Oh, do shut up. Here, have another brownie." She snapped her fingers and there was a plate of brownies on the coffee table in front of Amy.

"But --"

Amy was startled to see Tara appear. For a moment, she wasn't sure who the blonde woman was, but when the blue eyes flashed at her, she knew. This was Willow's love, the one who had drawn her back from magic. But why was she here?

Tara looked back and forth at the two. She saw Amy putting on her jacket, but somehow she knew it wasn't Amy. And this woman, who appeared to be Amy's mother Catherine, wasn't.

"Amy?" Tara whispered.

The older woman nodded. She felt the press of memories filling her and she let them in, remembering her binges with Willow, and the night they'd gone to Rak's together. And when she'd kidnapped Willow and Tara.

Tara saw the memories begin to replace themselves in Amy's troubled mind. "Yes. Come on, Amy. Fight. You need to fight this."

"Who the hell are you?" The non-Amy grabbed Tara's arm and glared at her. "Get the hell out of my house."

"I'm not in your house." Tara jerked her arm free and knelt by the couch. "Amy, listen to me. This isn't real. None of this is true." She reached out and touched Amy's arm.

The non-Amy figure laughed. "Of course it's real. I'm in her body and she's in mine."

Amy looked down at the floor.

Tara took her hand. "No, she's not. Amy, this whole thing is in your mind. You and I are still at the castle, and we're trying to find Willow, remember?"

Catherine laughed. "Right. Castle." She put her hands on her hips and glared at her daughter. "Amy would never go anywhere. She's too scared. And even if she did, she'd just screw it up."

"She's right," Amy said quietly. "I just mess everything up. That's why she's got my body again. Cause I wasn't strong enough."

Tara realized that Amy was fighting a similar battle to hers. The only difference was that she had Willow to bolster her strength. Amy had no one.

"Amy, I need you."

"No, you don't. The only thing she's ever given you is trouble. That's all she's good for."

"You are strong, Amy, and you are important. I need you to help me."

"But I can't help anyone. I can't. I tried, but I'm not strong. If I was she wouldn't have my body." Amy wrapped her arms around self. "I can't control anything."

Tara could feel Amy's body beginning to shut down. Her heart was slowing, as was her breathing. Amy was giving up.

"Amy, you can't quit. You promised me you'd help me find Willow. You promised."

The only response was for Amy to burst into tears.

"See? Told you. Weak. Unable to do anything for herself. Even be herself." Catherine looked at her daughter with disgust.

That's the key, Tara thought. Reaching out, grabbed the sides of Amy's face and forced the woman to look into her eyes.

"Amy, why'd you start studying magic?"

The other woman stuttered.

"Amy, why? Because you wanted to be like your mother?"

"No." The word was said forcefully. "No, I wanted to be different. I knew she had power, but she used it wrong. She used it to hurt people." Tears rolled down her face. "But all I did was hurt people. Like you and Willow. I couldn't do anything right."

"Amy, you're not your mother. You can't be like her, ever. You know why?"

"Oh, please, tell us why." Catherine's voice was sarcastic as she stood watching them.

"You could never be her, Amy, because she didn't care. You do. Yeah, you messed up, big time. But you're not her. Because you care." Tara pulled Amy's gaze back to meet her own. "You cared enough to put yourself in danger a few hours ago when Willow fell, and you had to pick her up, and all those little creatures were there, remember?. That's something your mother would, and could, never do."

Amy's gaze was locked on Tara. She remembered the fight on the second floor, just before they reached the stairs. Something flickered in her eyes.

"You know why else you couldn't be her? Because you admitted you were wrong, and you apologized. You think she would?"

"No." It was a whispered word, but the effect was tremendous. The room started to vaporize slightly.

"I'm not my mom."

Tara smiled. "You're not."

"I'm not my mom, and I won't be like her. I won't."

The image finally shifted completely and they both found themselves standing in the rain, Tara's hands still on Amy's head.

They separated slightly. Both of them were still dazed, and not sure what to say.

Amy finally let out a long breath. "Thank you, Tara."

Tara nodded. "Ready?"

The dark haired witch nodded. She pulled her sword out and took a step forward. "Let's get your girl and go home."

====================

"Tara!"

Once again, the image of Tara's bleeding body filled Willow's head. By this time she wasn't sure what was real and what wasn't. All she knew was Tara was in danger and she had to help her.

"That's right, Willow." The voice was continually whispering to her. "She's dying, but you can help her. You know how."

"Th-the spell?"

"Yesssss. The spell."

Loshar smiled to himself. He had practically exhausted himself in working his mind magic on this witch. She had a great deal of power and used it to resist him. But it would all be over shortly.

"Read the spell, Willow. Then we can save Tara." He wanted to meet this Tara who had inspired such loyalty, and could chain such a powerful witch as Willow.

"B-but -- " Willow frowned. "But, Tara doesn't.... want..."

"She does. Can't you hear her calling to you?" He tightened his grip on her, bringing her back to Tara's body. This time the bloody phantom reached out and called to Willow.

"Use your magic, Will. Save me."

"We can still be in time, Willow. Just say the spell and we can save her."

Willow nodded, tears running down her face. "I'll -- I'll s-say it."

Loshar took the hand off her neck and reached down to the silver box on the floor. He placed it in her lap and pulled her head forward.

"Here, Willow. Read the spell and we will go get Tara."

Willow opened her eyes and focused on the words in front of her. Slowly, she began to read.

Part Eleven

Getting up the stairs to the tower was made difficult by a tangled vine that Amy and Tara had to hack their way through. By the time they got to the door, both were covered in scratches and cuts.

Amy ran a hand across her forehead and winced.

"You okay?" Tara asked.

"Yeah. Forgot I had a scratch up there and I just rubbed sweat into it."

"Ouch."

Tara tried to turn the handle of the door but it was locked. After a quick unlocking spell she tried again, with no luck. "Amy, I think this is magically sealed."

"Well, then, I guess we'll just have to unseal it." She held her hand out towards the door and concentrated. "Yeah, this is a powerful lock spell. We'll have to break it together."

Tara felt the stirrings of magic in the back of her mind. She tried to dismiss it as the spell they were about to break, but there was something too familiar about it. She closed her eyes and searched for the memory, finding it only seconds later.

She inhaled and put a hand on Amy's shoulder. "We need to hurry. Willow's in trouble."

=====================

Willow watched as a drop of blood fell onto the silver plaque on her lap.

Her head was throbbing, made worse by the nosebleed, and she couldn't think. All she knew was that Tara was in trouble, Tara was dying, and she had to save her.

Something inside her wavered a little. There was a familiar feeling of comfort that soaked into her, something that eased her cramped muscles, something that reminded her of --

Tara.

She stopped reading and immediately the grip on her neck tightened.

"Read, Willow. Finish it."

"But -- I felt --"

"No. It couldn't have been. She's dying, remember?"

Another image of Tara falling, bleeding, dying, and the comfort in her was driven back. She opened her mouth to speak the final few phrases.

"Willow, don't!"

The voice came from the door to the hall, and Loshar looked up in rage. That door had been double sealed with spells, and this witch had opened them.

He pulled one of his hands off of Willow and pointed toward Tara. Tara ducked slightly, and aimed a spell at a point between him and Willow.

They were both thrown several feet away, with Willow tumbling from the chair and landing hard on her side. The magician rolled quickly to his feet, his face twisted in rage.

Amy held her position in the doorway, concentrating. She and Tara had agreed that one of them would be on the defensive, throwing up a protection spell and holding it as long as they could. Although she originally thought it would be Tara protecting her, she had to admit that the white witch had a great deal of power -- more than she herself did.

Loshar sent out a call to his soldiers. Between his magic and their might, he'd kill this intruder and finally free himself. All he had to do was keep the witch occupied until they got here.

The heavy tramp of running feet got loud, and then the outside door slammed shut and locked itself.

And now the sorcerer was furious. He'd been moments, just moments, from being free. It had taken much of his energy to force images into the redheaded witch, to gain control of her -- all for naught, as the spell had been broken.

He let his anger fill him, drawing energy from the darkness within it. Loshar knew he wasn't at full strength, but it didn't matter. This inexperienced upstart would fall as easily as all the others he'd faced.

Tara sent another spell toward the sorcerer, but his own protection had kicked in and he swatted it away like an annoying fly. Loshar sent a lightning bolt towards the witch in return, and was surprised to sense it hit a barrier in front of her. Then he smiled, sensing that barrier was down.

Amy felt the bolt hit her shield and she groaned, dropping to her knees as it overloaded her senses for a moment. She tried to focus her energies, but couldn't pull enough of them together to reform the shield around Tara.

Knowing her shield was down, Tara tried to bombard her opponent with fireballs. Most of them bounced harmlessly off him, but it at least kept him from throwing another bolt at her. She figured if she could just outlast his protection, she'd have a chance against him.

Loshar knew what her plan was, and with the next fireball, he merely held his hand up, redirecting the energy back at her. She dove to avoid the rebounding spell, and in that moment, Loshar threw an energy bolt at her.

It never hit. Amy, who'd been dealing with the aftereffects of his lightning bolt, could barely gather enough energy to pull a protection spell around herself. She prayed it would be enough and as Tara dove for cover, Amy moved. By the time Loshar cast his bolt, Amy had thrown herself between the two spell casters. Her shield partially deflected the energy, but a great deal of it hit her. She was thrown backwards her head cracking hard against the wall. When she hit the floor she lay still.

Tara knew there was no place to hide. She was tiring quickly, and only had enough energy for a few more spells.

Loshar knew he was moments away from defeating her, and he couldn't help but gloat. "I was almost free, and you ruined everything. But you'll pay for this, witch."

Tara threw another fireball, but it erupted harmlessly against his shield.

Movement behind the magician caught her eye. She waited until he was ready to cast, and then threw a fireball at the same moment Loshar threw his spell. The two energy balls collided in the air, not far from Tara. The collision was enough to knock her backwards against the wall.

A split second after Loshar fired, Willow crashed the chair into his back. It knocked him to his knees, and he hit the floor with a groan. Willow didn't have enough strength to use the chair again, but she pulled herself together and mumbled a spell. Loshar rolled over quickly, only to have a mass of soggy white material hit his face, blinding him and silencing him all at the same time.

By the time Loshar could pull the goo off his face, Tara had reached him. The magician looked up just in time to see the blonde witch holding the chair over him. She slammed it down, cracking it against his skull. His eyes rolled up into his head and he slumped over, unconscious.

Tara dropped the arm of the chair that had broken off in her hand. She looked down, seeing the man's chest moving up and down in regular motions. She leaned over him and whispered a sleep spell that would keep him knocked out until they could get out of there.

Which, she realized, might be a problem.

Ignoring that, she went to Willow, who had slumped against the wall after casting the obstruction spell on Loshar. She was holding a hand to her still bleeding nose and trying to stop gasping for breath.

"Ta-ra?"

"Yes, sweetie." Tara wrapped her arms around the redhead and held her close. "Willow, what happened? Can you tell me?"

Willow grabbed onto Tara and squeezed. Her hands touched the blonde hair and then slid down her back. She pushed away, and looked at Tara, tears streaming down her face. One shaking hand slowly stroked Tara's cheek.

"I saw -- he showed me. I saw -- you were hurt. I couldn't help you." More tears came. "He wanted free -- but I couldn't save you. Oh Tara, I couldn't help. I saw -- but you're okay?" Willow looked down at Tara's body as if searching for a wound.

"Darling, it's okay. I'm not hurt."

"I couldn't move, and then he -- and the spell. Oh, Tara!" With that she was back in Tara's arms, and the blonde witch rocked her back and forth, whispering in her ear.

"Shhhhh..... Will. I know. It's okay." It wasn't clear to Tara exactly what had happened, but something had terrified her friend. "Willow, it's okay. I'm all right."

They stayed wrapped around each other for a few more minutes, until Willow's crying eased off. Then Tara leaned the other woman back against the wall and looked at her. She touched her face gently and smiled.

"I love you, Willow." She leaned forward and let her lips touch against her love's. It was a kiss of comfort, not of passion, and it told Willow just how much she was loved, and that, for the moment, she was safe.

"I love you too. Can we get out of here now? Please?"

Something in Willow's voice, and her blue-green eyes, told Tara there was a lot more to talk about. Willow couldn't seem to look her in the eye for more than a moment. Her gaze moved restlessly, and her hands shook.

But they didn't have time to talk now. "We just need to find the book."

Willow nodded, and wiped her eyes. "It's on the podium. I have the spell we need to release it."

"Good. Then we need to get it and Amy's little teleport -- oh, no, Amy!"

Tara jumped up and headed for the corner near the door where Amy had collapsed.

"Oh God, is she ok?" Willow asked as they approached the dark haired witch, who lay still on the floor. Together, they rolled her over, glad to see her chest moving as she breathed.

There was a scorch mark on her side, and Tara could see some reddened flesh through the torn clothing. She was bleeding from a gash in her head, and had a large bump there as well.

"If she hadn't had that protection spell to deflect it, that bolt would have killed her." Tara leaned forward and slapped Amy's face lightly. "Amy!"

Willow grabbed the water skin off of Amy's belt and uncorked it. She poured some in her hand and sprinkled it over Amy's face, then splashed some into her mouth. Amy swallowed, and coughed. "Amy?"

Amy opened her eyes, but closed them quickly. She rolled over on her side and coughed some more. With a moan, she flung an arm over her head as Tara patted her gently on the back.

"Amy, can you talk to me?"

"Tara, please don't yell." Amy's voice was barely a whisper. "Everything hurts."

Tara looked up and saw that Willow understood the situation as well as she did. Amy wouldn't be able to work the spell that freed the book. Since it took two people, it would have to be Tara and -- Willow.

The Goshti had been pounding at the door for several moments, but now the noises became steady, repetitive. The reverberations made Amy whimper in pain.

Willow swallowed. "Tara, we have to get out of here before Loshar wakes up, or the Goshti
come through that door. Amy's not gonna be able to do the spell, so I will."

Tara knew she was right. Had known it, since Amy hit the wall. But she didn't have to like it. Willow looked very pale and was still very shaky.

She sighed and looked at her red-headed friend. "Then we'll do it together, Will." She glanced at the door the Goshti were pounding on. "And we'll have to do it soon. I don't think battering rams will hurt that door, but it won't hold long if they use axes."

Willow nodded and leaned over Amy. "Amy? Where's the teleport device?"

Amy pointed at their food bag. Willow reached over and dug out the golden pyramid that had gotten them there.

"Okay, now how does it work? What do we do?"


Top
  
 
 Post subject: Re: FIC: Reflections in Raindrops
PostPosted: Sat Mar 23, 2002 6:00 pm 
The injured witch groaned and forced herself to sit up. She swayed for a moment and Tara slid an arm around her to hold her upright. "Um. It's simple really. Works the same way it did to get us here." Closing her eyes, she waited for the spinning to stop. "It, um, was programmed to activate and send us here if you held it in your hand for ten seconds. To return us, it's set to activate ten seconds after the book is freed. As long as we're touching the book or each other, we'll be transported home."

Tara stood. "Then we'd better free this thing and get out of here." She heard a thud against the door and then another one. "We need to leave before our visitors get in."

Willow pulled the book out of her back pocket and fumbled for a few moments. Opening it, she ripped two pages out, then tossed the book on the floor. "We use these for the spell." She handed one to Tara.

Tara stared down at the page, confused. "Will? How does this spell work?

I mean, I know it takes both of us, but -- don't we just say the same words? Why two pages?"

"Umm, yeah. Not exactly the same words for the both of us though. Two spells to make the one." Willow said. She hoped that would be enough of an explanation.

The blonde witch watched her closely for a moment, then pulled her to her feet. She led Willow a few steps away from their friend. "There's something you're not telling me. What is it, Will?"

Willow sighed. "The two spells are different, because one of us has to channel White magic, and the other Dark." Her green eyes let Tara know that Willow was not happy about
this.

"Will, I can --"

"No. Don't even say it." The redhead held up a hand. "I can do it. I know I can." She paused. "I've been through it before, and I can handle it." She looked Tara in the eyes, seeing understanding there. Her voice dropped to a whisper. "I'll be fine, really." She paused for a moment, looking down at her hands. "I'm just scared of getting lost again."

Tara admitted to herself she was afraid of the same thing. Losing Willow once had been hard, but to let it happen a second time would cut her soul in two.

But it was the only way out.

Putting a determined look on her face, Tara put her arms over Willow's shoulders. "I don't like that you'll have to use dark magic to get us out of here, but -- it doesn't look like I have a choice." She raised her hand and swept Willow's bangs away from her eyes. "I know you're scared. But I want you to remember something." She stepped closer, her eyes scant inches from Willow's. "Do you remember what you said to me after you saved me from Glory? You told me that you would always find me. Now I'm telling you. I will find you, Will. Trust me. The darkness can't have you, because you belong to me, and I will find you, no matter what."

This time it was Willow who brushed her lips across Tara's.

As she pulled back slightly, Tara took Willow's face in her hands and forced their gazes to meet. "Are you okay, Will?"

Willow swallowed hard and nodded. Tara held her gaze a moment longer, and Willow shook her head, no.

"Can you tell me?"

Another swallow, and Willow shook her head again. "After we get out of here, please?"

Tara nodded. The two of them hugged each other tightly, and only separated at the sound of splintering wood. Looking up, Tara saw the door shudder under the strain.

The two of them helped Amy up, and held onto her as they moved to the podium. Willow was shaking, but all Tara could do was offer silent support to her friend.

They stood close together, with Amy leaning on both of them for support.

Her arms were around their shoulders and her right hand held the teleportation device.

"Okay, Amy, wanna tell us once more how this is going to work?" Tara asked.

"Sure." Amy had her eyes closed to stop the room from spinning. "You two say the spell, the book is freed, and ten seconds later the three of us go poof."

Willow nodded. "Poof is good, let's get to Poofing"

Tara placed her right hand over the print on the book that held the blue stone. She watched while Willow, who hesitated for just a second, placed hers over the black stone.

Together, they started the spell.

By the third line of the chant, Tara felt the power growing within her, the magic welling up to fill her. This was not the ordinary magic that she used for spells, this was the deep magic, that came from within her and without her. She felt a charge go through her and reveled in it.

Willow, too, could feel the power, but instead of it being comforting, it was nauseating. Pulling in this much dark magic was always dangerous, and she struggled to contain it and direct it into the spell. The amount of power flowing through Willow was more than she'd ever touched, even more than Rak had given her. She could almost hear it calling to her, telling her to take more. She struggled with it, even as it grew within her.

Amy glanced at Willow to see blood flowing steadily from her nose. Her eyes had gone totally black. Each time they sparked, Amy winced.

Willow threw her head back and screamed as the spell crackled through them, and the book was released. When she could speak, Tara called to Willow. There was no response and she knew Willow was losing control, but there was nothing she could do about it at that moment.

The head of an axe broke through the door, and Tara knew they were out of time.

The seconds counting down were like an agony of waiting. The first Goshti soldier broke through the door and raised his battle axe. As he did, the device activated, and the three witches disappeared.


Part Twelve

The energy flowing through her was primal, seductive, and very powerful. She had felt this before, on a smaller scale, and had reveled in the feel of the power moving through her veins. It had been so long since she'd given the magic free rein, and now it called to her, singing in her mind, in her body......

======

The first thing Tara felt was the rain on her skin. She opened her eyes and sat up, looking around in a daze.

All three of them were lying on a sidewalk, not far from where they had run into Amy. It was dark, and appeared very late at night. A storm had developed while they were gone, and Tara shivered from the cold. She was soaked to the skin, her leather jerkin heavy from the water it had absorbed.

She could see Amy lying close to her, in between Tara and Willow. After a glance to make sure the woman was breathing, Tara crawled around her and went to check on Willow, who was lying on her side, curled up in a ball. At first Tara thought she was asleep, until she noticed that Willow was shaking, and her hands were clenching and unclenching.

"Willow?" She touched the redhead's shoulder and was surprised when the woman flinched at her touch. "Hey, come on, it's Tara. Are you okay?"

Slowly, she rolled Willow onto her back, and saw that she was definitely not okay. Her eyes were still black, with sparks flying through them. All of Willow's muscles were tensed, and her jaw was clenched so hard that the veins stood out on her forehead.

"Willow, no. Let it go, let the energy go."

Untamed energy flowed through her now, and it was inviting her to use it, to take hold of it. It was darker than she had ever expected, and more powerful than she had dreamed. She knew, somehow, that if she reached out to it, the darkness would give her whatever she wanted.

Willow showed no sign that she'd heard. Tara grabbed hold of her shoulders and pulled her into a sitting position, then wrapped her arms around the shaking woman.

"Let it go, Willow. You're safe, I've got you. Just let it go."

Still no reaction. Tara was frightened now, and she put her hands on either side of Willow's face, shouting at her. "Willow!"

======

She could feel every part of her being, every cell touched by the power that surged through her. It called to her, asking her to stay and be one with it.

But there was another voice calling, one that she would have to give up if she took hold of the magic. The price was more than she could pay, and Willow struggled to break through the darkness she was swimming in.


======

There was a flicker of movement in Willow's eyes, but nothing more. Tara could feel the darkness swirling up through her friend, and she knew she had to break the stranglehold it had. She thought about slapping the woman, but then did something completely different.

She kissed her.

It wasn't a kiss of comfort, nor of passion, but one of possession. Tara held onto Willow, forcing a connection between them. After a long moment, Willow's mouth gently opened, and Tara deepened the kiss with a moan.

They stayed that way for a several long seconds, until Tara's lungs demanded that she breathe. She pulled away with a gasp and stared at Willow, whose eyes were now closed.

"Willow? Come on, sweetie, come back to me."

Slowly, she saw Willow's eyelids flutter up and down, then stay up. Those beautiful green eyes looked at her in fright.

"T-Tara?"

"Yes, darling. Yes." Tara wrapped her arms around her love and held her, whispering her name over and over.

There was still a great deal of tension in Willow. When Tara finally looked back into her eyes she could see sparks still surging through them. "Willow, are you all right?"

Willow nodded. "I -- I --" She took a deep breath and tried to relax. "I'm okay. I think." She shook her head a little and the sparks disappeared. Her muscles relaxed just a little. Tara hugged her, holding tight.

Amy groaned.

"Hang on, Will, I need to check Amy. Okay?" She looked closely at Willow who nodded and simply wrapped her arms around her legs.

Tara moved over and touched Amy's shoulder. "Amy?" She tapped the woman's cheek. "Amy, wake up."

Another groan and Amy opened her eyes, gazing up at Tara. She closed them again. "My head hurts."

"I know. Do you remember what happened?"

"I think -- I hit the wall?"

"Right."

Amy opened her eyes again and glanced around. "Are we home?"

"I think so. It looks like it anyway. You feel like sitting up?"

"Sure."

Tara raised her up and moved her a little to the side so she could lean against a wall. "Okay?"

"Oh, God, I hurt." Amy clutched her head and moaned. She felt like vomiting and had to swallow several times.

Looking up at the sky, Tara tried to think of how she could get them home. She needed to get Willow to Buffy's house and try to bring her fully out from under the spell of the dark energy. Amy needed rest, and maybe to see a doctor.

"All right, I think we --"

Sudden headlights blinded Tara and she closed her eyes. She opened them again when the vehicle skidded to a halt by them and both front doors opened.

"Willow? Tara?"

It was Buffy's voice, and Tara had never been so glad to hear it. "Thank you, Goddess."

Buffy and Xander both appeared in the glare of the headlights. Xander knelt at Willow's side, and touched her shoulder. "Will? Hey."

Tara gently leaned Willow into his arms. "Xander, help her to the car, please?"

"Is she okay? What happened?" Buffy's concerned voice cut through the sound of the storm, which seemed to intensify. "Tara, we've been searching for the two of you for over 24 hours. Where the hell have you been?"

"Twenty--" Tara stopped and took a breath. "It's a long story, Buffy, and we're all tired. Amy's got a concussion, and Willow's in shock. Please, can we talk about it at your place?"

Xander looked up at Buffy, who nodded. He helped Willow to stand, and when she swayed unsteadily, Xander leaned over and put an arm behind her knees, lifting her and carrying her to Buffy's Jeep.

Buffy picked up Amy and jostled her into place so she could carry her.

"Better be a damn good explanation, Tara."

Tara nodded.

Amy was loaded into the back of the Jeep, laying down. Willow was leaning against the driver's side door in the back seat.

Buffy had already gotten into the car, and Xander was opening his door when he saw Tara go back and pick something up. She held it to her chest and stumbled back to the vehicle.

"What is that?"

Tara glanced at the book in her arms, and then up at Xander. "I don't know, but it had better be important, or I'm gonna kill Amy." With that, she opened to the door to the back seat and climbed in.

Xander raised his eyebrows and looked at Buffy. Her mouth hung open in astonishment.

As soon as Tara was in the backseat, Willow leaned over and put her head on Tara's lap. Leaning down, the blonde witch put a soft kiss on Willow's head and closed her eyes.

Buffy and Xander traded looks, but didn't say anything. Silence prevailed in the car as they drove home.

==========================

By the time they got to Buffy's house, Amy had talked them out of taking her to the hospital. It was agreed, though, that she would stay over night on the couch. She was still very pale and dizzy, so Xander carried her into the house while Buffy and Tara helped Willow, who was limping due to her knee stiffening up.

As they neared the door, Buffy asked quietly, "Willow, what --"

"Buffy." Tara broke in and shook her head. Buffy raised an eyebrow, and Tara whispered, "Not yet. Please." She glanced down at Willow, who hadn't spoken during the ride home.

Buffy took the hint and was quiet. When then got inside, she offered to help them upstairs, but Tara declined, saying she'd take care of Willow. The Slayer nodded, but kept an eye on the two of them as they climbed the steps. Tare looked down at her when they got to the top, and Buffy mouthed the word 'Soon.' Tara nodded and the Slayer turned to go help settle Amy for the night.

Willow's mind was spinning at the implications of all that had happened. Two months ago she'd promised Buffy that there would be no more magic. She'd sworn it to herself, to Tara, and to Dawn. She'd kept that promise, fighting through weeks of withdrawal, and compulsions. And now she'd broken it. She could say that there was no other choice, but it didn't erase the fact that she'd used magic four times in just a couple of hours. Once, without even meaning to.

She wasn't really paying attention when Tara pushed her against the wall near the bathroom. She never saw her friend come out of their former bedroom with their robes. There was no reaction when she was led into the bathroom. Willow followed orders to shift her body and her legs as the blonde undressed her, but she never spoke. There were too many voices in her head for her to answer just one.

Tara was beginning to get scared. Willow's face was drawn and pale, and her eyes refused to focus on anything. She could feel the waves of pain coming from the redhead, and it hurt Tara to realize just how badly this experience had injured her love.

Mechanically, Willow moved into the shower, leaning against the wall and letting Tara gently scrub her skin.

Buffy's going to hate me. I broke my promise, and she'll be angry. Oh, God, what if she tells me to leave? Where will I go? And Dawn... what will she think? I hurt her last time -- what if I hurt her again? I don't want to, but what if I do?

She tried pulling further into herself, wanting to shut out the voices, but Tara simply stayed with her, talking quietly the whole time. "Willow, it's okay. You're home, and we're all safe. Everything's going to be fine."

Oh, God, what if I hurt Tara? I used the magic without even knowing it. What if I did it again, and I hurt her?

Willow started to turn towards the wall, but Tara pulled her around and held her tight.

"Please, Willow, come back. I can't lose you now, not now." Reaching over, she grabbed the movable shower sprayer from it's holder. With a push of the button, she sprayed it directly into Willow's face, holding it there until she got a reaction.

When Willow pulled away, Tara let go of the sprayer and leaned in to kiss her. Willow relaxed a little under Tara's touch, but then suddenly tensed again, and pushed her slightly away.

"Tara, you shouldn't be here. I -- I don't want you to get hurt."

"What are you talking about, Willow? How would I get hurt?"

"I -- I might lose control, I might hurt you."

Tara felt her tears mixing with the water from the shower. "Willow, you won't hurt me, and you won't lose control. I'll help you, and we'll get through this." She pulled the other woman's chin up so she could look into those green eyes. "I love you. I'm not leaving your side, Willow."

"But --" Willow's breath was coming in gasps as the tumult in her head began to roar louder. "I used the magic. I promised I wouldn't and I did. I didn't mean to, I swear."

"I know you used magic, Will, you had to. It's okay."

Willow shook her head. "No. Before. Before you and Amy came in -- before they even took me into the tower. I -- I didn't think --- I just reached out --"

Tara flashed back to that moment in the hall when Willow's mind had touched her own.

"Oh, Will. No, baby, that wasn't wrong. You didn't cast a spell, you just reached out to me. It's a natural thing to do, Willow."

"But I promised, and I --"

"Willow, I'm not going to let you beat yourself up over this. We all went through a lot in that place." She shuddered, remembering her father's look as he whipped her. "I don't blame you for needing to reach out for comfort. I would have done the same thing in your shoes."

"Really?" Willow tried to get her breathing back under control. "You're -- you're not angry with me?"

Tara's answer was to lean in and kiss her gently once more. "No, sweetie, I'm not angry with you. Not at all."

They held each other under the water until it turned cooler, then climbed out. Tara took her time with Willow, gently running the towel over her skin, and rubbing her hair till it was mostly dried.

She knelt down in front of her love, and took her hands in her own. "Will, look at me."

Green eyes closed, and then opened again to lock onto deep blue. "Tell me what happened in the tower, Will."

Tears began to pour down Willow's cheeks, but she didn't look away from Tara. Her mouth opened and closed a few times and she swallowed. When she finally spoke, it was in a voice so low, Tara could hardly hear her. "He -- he got into my mind. He showed me -- all the things I did wrong. He made me watch Glory -- when she -- " Then she was sobbing in Tara's
arms, tears and words coming in a torrent.

"Then-- I saw you die. Over and over, he showed me pictures-- you were dying and I couldn't stop it. I couldn't save you -- I just -- he said -- if I used the spell, he'd help me save you -- and I wanted to save you, but I couldn't -- and it hurt so much..." Willow trailed off, her voice breaking.

By that time, Tara was crying as well, her arms wrapped around Willow and her jaw clenched tight against the pain inside.

"I love you, Willow. I'm here, and we're home, and you're safe. It's over, love, it's okay."

They stayed like that for several minutes, Tara rocking Willow and talking softly to her. Even after the tears had ceased, she kept rocking and whispering, trailing off to a soft humming and then silence.

Eventually, Willow sighed and pulled back. She managed a tiny smile, just a little one, but it brightened Tara's heart immensely.

They slipped into the robes that Tara had brought from the bedroom. The blonde witch was glad that she had left hers in the box of things she never took when she moved out of the house.

Before they left the bathroom, Tara tipped Willow's chin up and looked carefully into her eyes. "Still with me?"

Willow nodded. Her eyes were focused again. Breathing a sigh of relief, Tara opened the door.

They found Buffy waiting for them in the bedroom. The Slayer was sitting on the chair at the desk, fingering the leather jerkin that Amy had been wearing.

"Feeling better?"

Tara nodded. "Clean at least." She helped Willow over to the bed and pulled down the covers for her. Willow slipped under them and curled up on her side. She didn't think she could face her best friend just yet. Leaning down, Tara kissed her, then jerked her head and motioned Buffy into the hall. The Slayer raised an eyebrow, but didn't object.

"Sleep well, Willow. We'll talk tomorrow, right?"

Willow squeezed her eyes shut and nodded. Her voice was very soft as she spoke. "G'night, Buffy."

Tara stroked Willow's red hair. "I'll be back in a moment, darling, okay? Just want to talk to Buffy for a moment." She sensed Willow cringing at the prospect of Buffy learning she'd used magic, and leaned down to whisper in her ear. "Everything will be okay, Will. I promise."

Buffy waited quietly, eyeing the blonde witch. With a sigh, Tara pulled the door closed and leaned back against it.

"Tara, what happened? Where have you guys been?"

"It's -- a really long story, Buffy. Can I just give you the basics tonight? I don't want to leave Will alone for too long."

"Why not? What happened?"

Taking a deep breath, Tara hesitated for just a moment. "We were kidnapped. Taken to another dimension. Willow had to use dark magic to get us home." She watched as Buffy's eyes went wide. "She's okay, really. She's just -- kind of in shock. Things were -- pretty bad for a while."

"And Amy? What happened to her? And why was she with the two of you?"

"She --" Tara hesitated, not sure whether she should admit Amy was the kidnapper. "There was a battle with a sorcerer. Amy got tossed against a wall. She's actually lucky; the spell could easily have killed her."

"A sorcerer? Willow faced a sorcerer in a magical battle?"

"No. I did." Buffy's eyebrows rose. "With help from Willow and Amy. Listen, Buffy, please, can I just tell you the rest in the morning? Willow -- she's really hurting inside." Tara glanced at the door, her hand twisting the knob but not opening it.

"From the magic?"

"Well, that too, but --" She bit her lip, then faced Buffy, letting her see the tears. "She was tortured. Mentally. Images of people she loved suffering and dying. It's like -- her mind was raped." She dropped her gaze, the power of her statement hitting both of them in the face.

Buffy was still for a few moments, then leaned forward to give Tara a hug. "I'm glad you all got home safely." Releasing the blonde, she nodded towards the door. "Now go take care of your girlfriend.

Tara smiled. She watched Buffy go down the stairs, and stared at the floor for a moment.

"My girlfriend," she whispered to herself. She realized with a smile that it was true, and always would be. With that thought, she opened the door and went back into their bedroom.

Part 13

Willow had gotten into a t-shirt while Tara was gone, but she'd crawled right back into the bed and curled into a ball.

The blonde witch closed the door and then leaned against it with a sigh. She waited for a few minutes, until finally Willow looked up at her.

"Hi."

Tara smiled. "Hi. You mind if I stay? I don't really wanna go home and be alone..." she let her voice trail off.

Willow sat up and tossed a t-shirt at her. "I'd mind if you didn't stay. Get in here." She looked up at Tara with the puppy dog eyes her love had never been able to resist.

Not that Tara wanted to resist this time. She changed, then crawled under the blankets. Willow reached up and turned off the lamp.

She expected that it would be a little awkward, being in the same bed with Willow again, but it wasn't. Tara relaxed easily against the pillows, and Willow rolled onto her side, pulling Tara's arm over her waist.

"How are you, Willow?"

"Better."

Tara kissed the back of the redhead's neck. "Is that why you're still all wound up?"

Willow shrugged. "It's pretty noisy tonight."

Hitching herself up on one elbow, Tara used her hand to try and soothe away her love's tension. There was very little reaction. "Willow, talk to me. What's going on in your head right now?"

It was a couple of minutes before she could answer. "Lotsa voices. I can still -- see those images. And I can feel --" She shuddered. "It doesn't matter. I'm okay."

"It does matter." Tara pulled on Willow's shoulder, turning her onto her back. "Tell me. What do the voices say?"

After a deep breath, Willow answered. "That I blew it. I couldn't stop myself from using the magic." She wiped her eyes. "Now Buffy will be angry and Dawn will hate me. I promised them, and --" She went quiet when Tara's fingers settled over her lips.

"Hey. We talked about this, remember? You had no choice. In order to get us safely home, you had to use your power." Tara moved from Willow's lips to her chin and then her cheek. "I know that, I understand, and so will Buffy and Dawn."

"But --"

"No buts. You did what you had to."

"I didn't have to reach out to you."

Tara smiled. "Actually, I'm glad you did. It really helped when--" She stopped, taking in a quick breath when she again saw her father leaning over her, the angry smile on his face.

Willow frowned. "Tara?" The blue eyes squeezed shut, and Willow sat up quickly. "Tara? Baby, what's wrong?"

"Nothing, I'm okay." But her face had gone pale in the dim light from the window, and Willow knew it was a lie.

"Baby, talk to me, please?"

It was Tara's turn to swallow hard and be nervous. She took another breath, and let it go. "You know that test that was supposed to be waiting for us on the third floor?"

Willow nodded. Oh, God, I didn't even think of what might have happened to them!

"Well, we walked right into it and it was bad. Worse than finals." She managed a chuckle to let Willow know she really was okay.

"What was it?"

She was quiet for a moment, then nodded. "I-it was my family. My father and m-my brother." Tara cleared her throat a little and continued. "I was back home, and it was like I'd never left. They told me I'd been too dumb to go to college, and that all my memories were just a fantasy, just something I'd made up..." She winced. "My father was angry and he took the belt that he always used, and...."

Willow hugged her. "Oh, Tara. Baby, I'm so sorry."

Through her tears, Tara let out a real laugh. "I'm not, actually." She waited until Willow pulled back and looked at her. "I'm kind of glad, in a way. To get out of there I had to stand up to them. And I did." She smiled broadly. "I could, because I knew you were there. I knew that I had felt you, and you were real and were waiting for me. So, I told them I didn't believe in them, that they had lied to me and were still lying and I took the belt from my father and --" She motioned with her hands. "They went poof. And I was back in the castle."

"You stood up to them."

"Yep."

Willow leaned in and kissed her. "I'm very proud of you."

Tara smiled and moved her arm so her head was resting on the pillow. "And I'm proud of you. You helped me, you know. If you hadn't reached out like you did, I might not have been so certain. I might not have believed as much as I did."

"No, I don't believe that," Willow said quietly. "I think you would have had the strength no matter what. With or without me, you could have done it."

"Are you kidding? No way. I needed you, Willow." Tara reached up and touched her friend's cheek. "I always will."

Willow rolled onto her back, staring up at the ceiling. "I just -- I can't believe I just used those spells without thinking. I --" She bit her lip. "It was like nothing had changed. I did the magic, just like always."

"But everything had changed, Will. You changed. You reached out in your mind, which was completely natural. You didn't do it through a spell, you didn't try and change anything, you just reached out. For comfort. Anyone would have." Tara reached over to play with a strand of red hair. "When you needed something to fight with, you chose first the chair and then the obstruction spell. You could have just thrown black magic at him, and you didn't. But you didn't even think of that, did you?"

Willow had to raise an eyebrow. "No, I -- no. But, you have to admit, magic was my first instinct. I used those two spells without even thinking about it."

"Two spells?" Tara frowned. "I only remember the one."

"Two. I'm the one that slammed the door on the Goshti guys."

"Really? I thought it was Amy."

Willow shook her head. "Me."

"Hmm." Tara continued rolling the strands of hair between her fingers. "Still. Even that was a defensive instinct. And defense was all you thought about. I mean, come on -- if this had happened three months ago, would you have even bothered to knock the guy down with a chair?"

Another head shake.

"See? You've changed. You've grown, come full circle, and you're back to where you belong."

"Where's that?"

Tara smiled. "Right by my side." She gently leaned over and kissed Willow's lips.

Willow was silent for several minutes. Tara just watched her face.

"Tara?"

"Hm?"

"I'm scared."

"Why, Will?"

"Cause." Willow closed her eyes. "The darkness. It's still there. I can feel it all around me. It's -- it's like I can hear it calling to me. Ever since we did that spell, it's been right there." She turned her head and looked at Tara with wide green eyes. "I'm afraid I'll reach out and touch it -- and I won't be able to stop."

She's so very strong, Tara thought. How can she not know how strong she is?

With purposeful intent, Tara moved over Willow's body, then leaned down to stare into her eyes.

"Remember what I told you, Willow? You're mine. You don't belong to the darkness, it can't have you, because you're mine." She closed the last few inches to Willow's soft lips, kissing her firmly, then pulling back. "You belong to me, Willow. And don't you ever forget that again." Another kiss, and then another.

Then it was hands pulling off shirts, mouths opening and skin sliding against velvet skin.

Tara had rarely taken control in their lovemaking, and even when she had it was soft and gentle.

This time was different. This time, even though it was filled with love, there was nothing soft about it. This was Tara, staking her claim on Willow's body, and on her very spirit and soul, using their passion to drive the darkness back.

Willow gasped as Tara's teeth closed over her nipple. She reached up to tangle her hand in the blonde hair, shifting her hips up against Tara's.

Tara answered by thrusting her down, pinning her lover to the bed. Her hands teased down Willow's sides to her hips while her lips moved from one nipple, to the other, and back up to soft lips that opened under her demands.

Moving her hand slowly across Willow's stomach, Tara pulled back to look into green eyes. "Who do you belong to, Willow?"

Willow gasped as Tara's fingers reached the warmth between her legs. "You, Tara. I've ... always been ... yours."

"That's right. You belong to me, and to the light. The darkness can't have you." She kissed Willow once more, slowly, while sliding one leg between her lover's. She held her hand ready, and pulled back one last time.

"We belong to each other, Willow. Always."

Willow nodded, mesmerized by the blue eyes that locked her in place. "Always."

Tara entered her swiftly, filling her, and kissing her at the same time.

Willow felt it and thrust back against the questing hand. She realized, at the same time, that it wasn't just physical. She could feel Tara not just in her body, but in her mind, in her soul -- in all those places that had been ripped open in the past few months. It was the balm she needed, the last piece of her recovery, and she wept as their spirits melted together.

Tara felt the magic mixing between them, and let it. She knew this was what they both needed. Slowly, gently, she reached into Willow's mind, inviting the other woman into her own.

They moved together, first slowly, then faster. Each of Tara's strokes pushed the darkness back, forcing it away from Willow, and filling her with light. As more darkness fell away, Willow rose up, the combination of magic and Tara and physical sensation driving her beyond reason.

When the waves came crashing down, it caught both of them by surprise. The magic that bound them together pulled Tara into the swelling pleasure, and they came together, screaming and holding on, riding the sensations until there was nothing left but the peace that enfolded them.

Tara collapsed on top of Willow, her breath coming in gasps, her heart racing. Willow slid her arms around her lover and held on, unable to do anything else.

It took several moments for their hearts to slow and their breathing to calm. It was even longer before Tara had the energy to move. She levered herself up on one elbow, only to find Willow unwilling to release her.

"Don't move. Please?"

"But I'm too --"

"You're not. Just stay."

With a tired, but happy, smile, Tara nodded and let her body ease down onto Willow's.

They were quiet for a while, relaxing and listening to the sounds of the house and each other's breathing.

"Tara?"

"Hm?" The blonde witch turned her head to look up at her lover.

"I can't feel it anymore."

"Can't feel what, Will?"

Willow smiled. "I can't feel the darkness anymore." She shrugged. "All I feel is you."

A pleased expression crossed Tara's face, turning the corners of her mouth up into a grin. She lifted herself up to plant a solid kiss on Willow's mouth.

"I love you, Willow Rosenberg."

"And I love you, Tara Maclay."

Tara settled back down on top of Willow and closed her eyes.

Moments later they joined each other in their dreams.

Epilogue


"..... and then I was waking up on the sidewalk, with Amy and Willow beside me," Tara finished. "Amy was still knocked out, Willow was shaking, and -- a couple minutes later you drove up." She shrugged. "That's the story."

They were sitting in the living room of the Summers house, with the whole Scooby gang gathered around. The only one missing was Dawn, who was still at school. Anya and Xander were curled up in the recliner at one end of the room, with Buffy in a chair at the other. On the couch, with her leg propped up, was a very quiet Willow, who was leaning into Tara's warm embrace. The redhead hadn't had much to say while her girlfriend explained what had happened to them the previous couple of days.

Everyone stayed very quiet for several minutes. Tara began to fidget, not sure how Buffy was going to take all that had been said.

She was also beginning to be unnerved by the way Anya was staring at her, not blinking and not moving.

Finally, Anya's mouth shut with a snap, and she inhaled. "We always wondered what happened to Exbron."

Everyone turned to regard the ex-demon.

Anya looked back and then shrugged. "Exbron was pretty evil. Really evil, actually. He had a very rigid way of seeing things: if you didn't work for him, you didn't deserve to live." She shivered. "It didn't matter who you were, demon or human. D'Hoffryn hated him -- he killed quite a few demons just because they wouldn't help him. But nobody wanted him to get a hold of the book."

"Why not?" Xander twisted a little so he could see his girlfriend better. "What's so big about this Grimble --"

"Grimoire," Willow said softly.

"Right, whatever. What's so important about it?" He shrugged. "Sounds like it's just another spell book."

Anya nodded. "Aha. That's exactly what Salarion wanted everyone to believe. He was from our world, one of the good guys." She punctuated that last phrase by making exaggerated parentheses in the air with her fingers. "D'Hoffryn didn't like him, but he didn't hate him either. Anyway, Exbron, who was very evil, as I've said, found out that Salarion had recorded some very powerful spells in his book. He wanted to conquer our world, but he didn't have the power. So he tricked another demon into opening a portal to the dimension where Salarion had gone, and he followed him, hoping to get the book and come back and take over."

She shrugged. "That's the trouble with some of these really power-hungry types. They think it's going to be so simple. 'Oh, look at me, I've got the ambition and the brains!' They hatch elaborate plans and congratulate themselves on their brilliance, which gives them a blind spot the size of, oh, say, Saturn. So the result of that was that nobody heard from him again. We figured they'd destroyed each other. Then rumors of the book started surfacing -- people saying it was up for grabs since the two of them were dead. Lots of demons and witches said they were going to look for it. None of them ever came back." She tilted her head in thought. "I expect they met a rather nasty end. Probably too graphic for public consumption."

Buffy nodded. "So, there are powerful spells in the book that everyone wanted. Any guess as to what they were? Or are, since we seem to have the book in our hands?"

The ex-demon bit her lip. "Well, D'Hoffryn once said that it held the keys to the portals between dimensions. With that book, you could travel to any time, any place, in any conceivable universe." Another shrug. "Exbron wanted it so he could bring forces from other universes into ours and take over. Others wanted it for similar reasons."

She glanced at Tara, with obvious discomfort. "A lot of very powerful people and demons alike wanted that book, and they were all killed. It's a little disconcerting to know that you and Willow were the ones to free it. I didn't realize you had that much power. If I'd known beforehand, I'd probably have skedaddled by now."

Tara glanced down at Willow, who had closed her eyes. "We got lucky."

Xander shook his head. "Lucky? I don't think so."

"Tara's right, Xander." Everyone looked at Willow, whose head was still resting in Tara's lap, her eyes closed. "We got lucky. There were three of us, and that helped save us. Also, we didn't follow the route laid out in the book Amy found. I think if we had, we would have been killed. Either that, or Exbron would have gotten one of us to set him free. He was -- very powerful."

She hadn't opened her eyes once during this speech. Buffy found herself wishing she would, so she could tell that it was Willow, with her green eyes, instead of the black-eyed witch she'd been a few months ago.

"Okay, this leaves us with just one problem." The Slayer stood up and pointed at the golden covered book sitting on the coffee table. "What do we do with it?"

"We destroy it." Once again it was Willow speaking in her matter of fact way. Her eyes opened, and Buffy sighed when she saw the green gaze. "Tara and I are going to find a way to destroy it. We agreed on that this morning."

"Is Amy going to help?" Anya asked. "I mean, I think it would be a fitting punishment, having to destroy the thing she wanted so much."

Tara smiled. "We haven't approached her about it. But, this morning, when I asked her if she still wanted the book, she just shook her head and said no. Said it was too much of a temptation and she didn't even want to look at it." The blonde witch shrugged. "I agreed. So, no, I don't think Amy will be involved."

"I just --" Xander stopped for a minute, his hands thrown up in a useless gesture. "I don't understand why she did it in the first place. What's her game? Is she as addicted as Willow was?" He glanced at his oldest friend. "No offense, Will."

Willow smiled gently. "None taken."

Tara laid a hand on Willow's head, and sighed. "Well, Amy has a problem, too, but it's different from Willow's. She's just as addicted, but for a different reason."

"And, speaking of Willow's addiction," Buffy said softly, "how are you two dealing with that? Is Willow going back to being magic free?"

"Um, no." Tara shook her head. "I don't think it's a good idea to do that. She's proven she can, if she needs to. But, I think it's time she simply learned a new way of dealing with the magic, so she doesn't use it without thinking."

"Is that safe? I mean -- I love you, Will, but -- "

"You can't help but think I might lose control and hurt someone." Willow finished the sentence for Buffy.

"Well, yeah."

The redheaded witch sighed. "I know, me too. But I trust Tara, even if I don't trust myself. She's going to teach me all the things she said she should have in the beginning, and it will be a long time before I actually cast any spells. But, she's right. I can't just ignore it. Otherwise..."

Willow trailed off and Anya picked up her meaning. "Otherwise she's got all this power sitting there, and any big bad can come along and try to use it -- try to use her."

"Exactly." Tara nodded. "One of the reasons Exbron was able to do what he did was because Willow had no defenses -- magical defenses, I mean. So, he was able to use her own power against her, twisting her thoughts anyway he wanted." She felt Willow tense up, and moved her hand down to lightly stroke her cheek. "None of us here can afford to have someone possibly play with Willow's mind and convince her that we're the enemy."

Buffy nodded. "Then there's only one more question."

"What's that?"

She looked clearly at Tara. "When are you moving back in?"

Again, the woman in Tara's lap tensed.

"Soon. Not too soon, though. I kind of like having this place, and I want to keep it. Willow and I need a little time to get used to being together again, and used to being with the gang again. So, I might stay over a lot, but not move back in right away."

Willow relaxed and took Tara's fingers from her cheek, and kissed them. ::I love you, did I tell you that today?::

Tara felt a wave of love coming from the part of her that was Willow. She smiled, almost losing track of what she was saying.

"And even when I do move back in, I want to keep the other place. Willow and I can use it for spellwork -- I've already put a lot of magical shields on it, so it'll be a good place for her to begin practicing again."

::I can think of a few non-spell things we could do there too.::

A sudden image of the two of them naked and entwined on a bed together, along with a sudden jolt of desire, almost made Tara gasp. She covered it with a deep breath, and deliberately sent a one word message back to her lover.

::Vixen::

Willow smiled up at her.

The Slayer nodded. "That's a good idea. Of course, that means, Willow, that there's still no magic use in this house."

Willow regarded Buffy somberly. "I know. No magic unless Tara's there to guide me, or has given permission. We already went over the rules this morning."

"Good."

They looked at each other, and then once again at the book.

"So, what do we do with the book in the meantime?" Anya asked.

Tara frowned. "I think it would be best if we locked it up here. Maybe at the bottom of the weapons chest or something?"

"Can't we just burn it?"

"No, Xander. There are too many magical wards on the book. Burning would do little damage to it."

"Wonderful."

Buffy stood. "All right. I'll take charge of guarding the book until you two can come up with some way to get rid of it." She tilted her head and looked at Tara. "Do you want me to call Giles? He might be able to help."

"Hm. It's not a bad idea, but I think we need to be careful. Maybe tell him we need him for something, and ask him to come. I'm not sure I'd want to just blurt out over the phone that we have a book of power."

Willow nodded. "Tara's right. Giles needs to be told, but only when he gets here."

"Right. I'll call him in a little while. Anything else we need to discuss?"

There was silence, and Buffy shrugged. "Okay, then. I'm starving. Think I'll order pizza. You're all welcome to stay."

Anya stood.

"Um, no, thanks. I wanna get back to the store; can't leave it closed for too long or all the money will stop coming in. I've lost enough of it today as it is."

Xander sighed. "It was important for you to be here, An."

"Oh, I know. Tara and Willow are almost as important as the money, so I didn't mind closing the shop and losing all those customers just to find out what happened to them."

Tara chuckled, and even Willow smiled as she looked up at the ex-demon.

"Thanks for being concerned about us, Anya."

"No problem, Willow." Anya stopped and looked at Tara. "You know, you haven't stuttered once all day."

Tara raised an eyebrow as Xander and Buffy looked from her to Anya and back. Willow just smiled and snuggled a little closer to the blonde witch.

"I haven't?"

"Nope. Not once." She shrugged. "Just being observant. Xander likes it when I notice things." Anya kissed Xander's cheek and left.

"And on that note -- I have to go back to work." Xander leaned over and hugged Tara. He crouched down and kissed Willow's forehead. "I'm glad you got back in one piece, Will."

She smiled at him. "Me, too, Xander." Willow took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. "It's nice to be home."

"Yeah, well, you just stay put for a little while and let that leg heal, okay? It might only be a sprain, but --"

"Yes, mom."

They smiled at each other and Willow opened her arms to hug Xander. He accepted the embrace then stood. With a nod to Tara and Buffy, he left.

Buffy stood still, silently regarding the two witches on the sofa. She loved them both, for different reasons. Willow was her best friend, had been for many years now, and they had faced a hundred emergencies together, even saving the world time and time again. Willow had never failed to be there when the Slayer needed her, and Buffy had always tried to return the favor. There was no way she could not love Willow.

Tara was different, she thought. Tara had become a part of Willow, and for that reason alone Buffy had loved her. But it was more than that. The blonde witch had blossomed since the Slayer had first met her. Grown out of her shell, and become something more than Willow's shadow. Buffy respected her, not just because of Tara's power, but because she was caring, and sensitive, and even her own family hellmouth hadn't made her bitter. Buffy couldn't help but return the friendship that Tara offered.

Seeing the two of them together like this was almost enough to make Buffy jealous.

"So, who wants what on their pizza?"

Willow shrugged. "You know what I always get."

Tara chuckled. "I'll have whatever you're ordering."

Buffy nodded. "Okay. I'll be back in a minute, then." She smiled at the two of them and left.

Willow shifted positions and winced as her knee protested. "You know, I think Buffy's going to want to talk to me."

"Yeah, I know. I'll make myself scarce a little later and you can ease your best friend's fears."

They chuckled together.

"Will? Have I really not stuttered today?"

"Not once, baby." Willow squeezed Tara's hand. "In fact, I think I've only heard you stutter twice since we got separated at the castle. And that was last night when you were talking about your family."

A surprised look set in on Tara's face. "Huh. I didn't even realize..."

"I did." Willow reached up with one hand and pulled Tara down so they could kiss.

When their lips separated, they kept their eyes locked on one another, sharing their feelings without speaking.

Eventually Tara leaned back, but her blue eyes stayed focused on Willow's green ones.

"Did you know that this was going to happen?"

"That what was going to happen?" Tara asked.

Willow waved back and forth between them. "This. This -- connection between us. Did you know, when we were - you know - last night, did you know we'd stay connected like this?"

"Oh." Tara looked away and shook her head. "No. I mean, I suppose I knew it was possible -- which is why I never -- well, before we broke up, when we were making love, I never let the magic become a part of it. Cause I read about it in a book somewhere, that letting our individual magics meld would -- but, no, it wasn't something I was thinking about last night. It kind of -- just happened." She glanced back at Willow. "Is it -- do you think it's a bad thing?"

"Oh, no. Not at all." She smiled. "I like being able to feel you in the back of my mind. Knowing you can feel me in yours." Willow traced a line down the back of Tara's hand. "It's nice to know I can just -- reach out and touch you. Even if we're not in the same room. And -- " She paused for several seconds.

"What, Willow?"

"I like knowing I'm not alone." Her eyes stung for a moment but she blinked several times to chase away the tears. She'd cried enough the last couple of days.

Tara leaned over and kissed her again. "I know. I feel that way too." Another kiss.

"Okay, pizza's on its -- hey, you two, no heavy smooching in the living room." Buffy gave them a mock glare from the doorway. "Do I need to do a hands check on you two?"

The two witches blushed, but smiled and waved their hands at Buffy.

"Good. Just keep them where I can see them, got it?"

Willow chuckled.

Buffy pulled the coffee table closer, moving the book off to the side. "Remind me to put that away after we eat." She laid out three plates and forks, and set a Coke by each plate. "I figured we'd eat out here so Willow doesn't have to hobble into the dining room."

"Hey, I can hobble just fine." Willow pouted, and Buffy smirked.

The doorbell rang.

"Wow, that was fast." Buffy stood to go answer the door. Tara poked Willow and motioned for her to move off her lap.

"Hey, Buffy, let me get that, okay? Why don't you stay here and grill your friend like you've been dying to do?" Tara stood and took the money out of the Slayer's hand. She grinned at the expression on Buffy's face, and winked at Willow as she left the room to get their pizza.

Buffy looked down at her best friend. "Has it been that obvious?"

Willow nodded, and smiled. "It's okay. I missed you, too."

The Slayer slid down onto the floor and settled against the couch, turning so she could look at her friend. "So, tell me the truth. How are you?"

"I'm...." Willow took a large breath and let it out. "I'm alive. I hurt -- inside like, and my knee aches, and I've got all these stupid little holes from those avilingua thingies, but...." She shrugged. "I'm alive. And I'm with Tara. And I'm home with you, and Dawnie, and Xander and Anya."

"And Spike."

"Right, can't forget Spike." They chuckled, and Willow continued. "It was hard. I mean.... I almost did it, I almost let Exbron out of that tower. I was halfway through the spell when Tara showed up."

"But you didn't do it, Will."

"No. Thank God." She shook her head. "But it was so close, Buffy. Too close."

"You got through it. That's the important thing."

"No. The important thing is that I got Tara back. That's the most important thing in the world."

Buffy smiled at her friend. "And we have you back. The real you. And I'm glad."

The two of them smiled, their hands reaching out to hold onto one another.

Tara came back with a large pizza box and a smaller white to-go container.

"That actually was Amy at the door. The pizza guy arrived as she was leaving." She set both boxes on the coffee table, then moved around till she was facing Buffy, and sitting next to Willow.

Buffy opened the pizza and then tapped on the to-go container. "What's in here?"

"I don't know. Amy said it was for me and Willow." She pulled it toward her and opened the top. A note was folded up, and she picked it up to read it.

A moment later she handed the note to Willow and leaned over to look in the box. Tara started laughing, great big peals of laughter that echoed through the living room.

"What?" Willow glanced at her girlfriend then read the note.

Tara and Willow,

I know I have a lot of things to make up for, and it'll probably take me the rest of my life to do so, but.... well, I thought this was a good start.
Enjoy.

Amy

Willow looked up and Tara moved the box closer and tilted it so she could see better.

Nestled inside the box were two large pieces of cheesecake.

"Well, what do you know? She remembered dessert."

Willow grinned at Tara, who leaned over and kissed her.

THE END!


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 Post subject: Re: FIC: Reflections in Raindrops
PostPosted: Wed Aug 27, 2003 1:59 pm 
Hi there :)

I can leave replies here, right? I think I read that you could leave replies in the Completed fics archive.



This was one of the first fics that I read when I found this board, and I really fell in love with it.

I think that I have read it 3 or 4 times by now, and probably I will read it many times more.



I'm a sucker for romantic adventure stories, and this one is really great :wink



I love the way W/T are reunited.

They get closer fighting side by side, trusting each other, overcoming the obstacules that are tossed their way together.

It's a beautiful story :D



Keep on writing, you're too good writers to stop :bow




"If it makes you happy, it canĀ“t be that bad" - Sheryl Crow



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 Post subject: Re: FIC: Reflections in Raindrops
PostPosted: Sat Oct 04, 2003 5:27 am 
:applause I totally love this fic. I just found it for the first time and I just finished reading it. The only thing that would be better?? :hmm "A Sequel" (hint, hint):D



Lisa



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 Post subject: Re: FIC: Reflections in Raindrops
PostPosted: Mon Jul 16, 2012 7:31 am 
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2. Floating Rose
User avatar

Joined: Mon May 21, 2012 6:55 pm
Posts: 22
Location: Chiapas, Mexico
OMG, I love this fic...makes me want to roll my 20 Dice again xD...i'm all nostalgic now ( even if there was not a dragon, a big loot and the post-loot betrayal :P)...also love the characters portrayal, the enjoyable dialogs, and all the awesome and fluid dungeoniring (i dont know if that word exist...in spanish is "dungeonera/o") action. The asociation W/T shared with the rain is pure poetry to me...i love rainy days too...and cheesecake :P...love your story, thank you so much, good luck an best wishes.

Sereg D'Rauko
(Halfing Rogue /11-Shadow Dancer /5, of the LdM Clan)
\m/-___-\m/

_________________
"Abrire las puertas del cielo, ardere por ti, quemare con fuego tu hielo y te dare la paz..."
Rauko
\m/-___-\m/


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