DISCLAIMER:I do not own any of these characters. I think by now we all know who actually does.
SPOILERS: If you haven't seen the episodes THE WISH or, more importantly, DOPPLEGANGLAND, this will probably not make a lot of sense to you. You're also way behind.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: In case you couldn't tell from the title, this story takes place in a slightly alternate version of THE WISH and DOPPLEGANGLAND'S already alternate reality. VampWillow has just been sent back to her own world. I'm diverging from the show's storyline from there. Read on and you'll understand, I hope.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Alternate Alternatives
By Kirk Baldridge


It felt as if her entire body was being turned inside out.

Willow opened her eyes, thankful--not for the first time--that she didn't have to breath, and looked around. She knew in an instant she was back in her own world, and smiled. Everywhere she looked humans were running, they were screaming, and they were dying at the hands and fangs of her brethren.

Of course, Xander was dead too. So was her puppy, Angel. One killed by the Slayer, the other killed protecting her. It made no sense to Willow. Why had her puppy turned on her so? And why had Xander gone? They were too close. She missed him already. Not her puppy so much. She could always find another, even if no other vampires had souls which could be tortured.

Willow searched for the Master. He was their leader. He would tell her what to do.

Almost too late she saw the White Hat. He grabbed her and shoved her toward an exposed piece of two-by-four sticking out of the side of the cage they'd kept the humans in. He wanted to kill her.

At the last moment she jerked her body to one side, just slightly. It wasn't much, but he didn't seem to notice as he just impaled her and moved on. The pain was excruciating. The wood had entered her back and burst out of her chest, piercing one of her lungs in the process. Again she was happy she didn't have to breath. She was also lucky it had missed her heart. She was hurting, but still alive.

And angry. Snarling, Willow lurched forward, ignoring the sickening squelch as she pulled free. She cursed and spit up precious blood. Her wounds were severe, even by vampire standards. Rage and revenge conflicted with an overwhelming need to feed. To replenish herself. When she saw that White Hat again, staking one of her vampire 'siblings', revenge won out. Howling, she leaped upon him.

Oz--in a moment of clarity she recognized him from the other world, and delighted in the irony--never saw her coming. Willow ripped his throat out and drank him dry. Then, remembering what he had meant to her other self; she plunged her hand into his chest, forcing it through his ribcage and ripped out his heart. Sated, for the moment at least, her body already starting to heal, she stood up and stretched languidly.

Still no sign of the Master. The last time she saw him, before her reality was ripped away from her, he had been fighting the Slayer. But surely that slip of a girl had not been too much for the Lord of Aurelias.

Willow's nose crinkled up as she smelled blood. Strong, hot blood. It was intoxicating, and she traced the scent to a body. A girl. Her eyes widened. The Slayer. Dead. Her face was crushed. At her feet though, lay the skeleton of a man with what appeared to be an entire table-leg shoved through the ribcage. The Master. Apparently, he and the Slayer had gone for the kill at the same time.

Both succeeded, which of course meant they both lost.

Willow whimpered. She had asked her other self to send her home because she didn't like that world. Only now her world was even worse. Xander was gone. Her puppy was gone. And now, the Master. There was no one left to play with. Even her brother and sister vampires had run off, either because all their food was gone or because the Master was dead. They had no reason to stay. None of them cared about her.

The vampire left the factory in a daze. She was lost, with no idea where to go. The Bronze would be empty. The Master had told everyone to attend the ceremony at the factory. Any who survived would move on, to make their own places in the world. But she had no place. No family. No friends. She wandered aimlessly, until she became aware of a familiar tingling sensation on her skin. She was starting to smolder.

The sun! The sun was coming up, Willow realized. Snarling, she dove toward the nearest door. A warehouse. In this part of town it would most likely be empty. That meant no food. She would have to spend all day long hungry and alone. She didn't know which was worse. Crashing through the door she flung herself into the shadows with a grunt, rolling around on the ground to extinguish her arm. The pain of the burns was almost as great as that of her chest, which was not yet fully healed. She groaned.

"Are you okay?"

The question took Willow by surprise. It was quiet, timid, and oh so feminine. The vampire twisted her body to find the source. A pair of wide blue eyes peeked around an old piece of machinery. Her face was framed by long blonde locks. She was pale and trembling.

"Hurt," Willow hissed. It was a struggle to maintain her human face. The girl smelled delicious. The fear caused her heart to beat faster, which made her blood hotter. The vampire feigned weakness, even though given her state at the moment it was not entirely a lie. Humans usually responded to helplessness.

The young woman crawled slowly out from under the machine. She was wearing blue jeans and a flaky gold top, with a light gray jacket over it. If she was a vagrant she had obviously not been on the streets for long. A pleasing thought for Willow. She was untouched. Pure.

"I-I don't k-know much..." The blonde was hesitant to get too close. "...but m-maybe, I can..." She stopped. "Your aura. It's all w-wrong. I've n-never seen anything like it."

Willow's eyes narrowed. Most humans could not read auras. Only witches, usually. Witches meant magic. Both the Master and Xander had warned her to stay away from anyone who did magic. They were the only kind besides Slayers who were really dangerous to vampires.

"I w-want to help you," said the young woman. "But I've heard s-strange things...about this town."

Willow nodded. No doubt most of them were true. "What's your name?"


'Pretty name,' the vampire thought. It's owner was pretty too. She liked pretty things. "I'm Willow."

"It's n-nice to meet you." Tara slowly edged closer. "How...umm, badly are you hurt?"

"Oh, nothing a bite to eat wouldn't fix." As the girl got close enough Willow caught her scent more clearly. And not just fear either, though that was certainly present. There was a combination of lavendar and vanilla, more than likely stemming from her perfume and perhaps her shampoo.

"I don't have any m-money," said Tara. "I just got into town, and someone s-stole my purse."

The vampire pouted. "That's terrible." Just a little closer.

Tara knew something was off about the redhead, but she just couldn't put her finger on it as she kneeled. "I'll do what I can to help. What do you want me to do?"

"You've already done it," Willow replied. She shifted to vamp-face and attacked.

Tara screamed and threw herself backwards all at once, throwing off the vampire's aim and forcing her up into a crouch position for a second attack. But before the redhead could make a move her would-be prey lifted her own hands and began chanting. Willow did not recognize the language.

Streams of thick gray smoke erupted from Tara's palms. They clung to the vampire's face and head, temporarily blinding her. Had the redhead needed to breathe it would no doubt have been choking her as well. But despite this effort all Tara really seemed to accomplish was to make Willow madder.

"Witch! This won't stop me!" Once the smoke cleared and the vampire was finally able to see again she realized Tara was nowhere in sight. "Damn!" Willow searched high and low, but the only living thing she found was a little brown rat. It was little more than a light snack, but she was quite hungry. After eating she searched for Tara some more, and her nose eventually led her to a machine near the back door.

"Blood?" Fresh. Tara had, apparently, cut herself in her haste to get away. Willow smiled. There wasn't much so it was likely only a scrape, but an open wound of any size meant blood she could track. Regardless of where Tara tried to hide the vampire would find her. And make her pay for this humiliation. "As soon as the sun goes down, I will find you!" She snarled. "And I'll eat you all up, little girl!"

Tara was in tears as she ran from the warehouse, as far and as fast as she could.

It wasn't fear that motivated her though. Not just fear, at least. She was also angry with herself. At how easy she had been fooled by the vampire. She shook her head. That was still hard to imagine. A vampire. She already knew demons existed, but she had never actually seen one before.

Tara had a demon inside her. It was where the magic came from, and it was the main reason she was reluctant to use her powers at all. Her father told her it was evil. She was evil. That was why she had come to Sunnydale in the first place. She wanted to get rid of the darkness within her.

Once she was sure the vampire wasn't following her Tara slowed down. That was when she became aware of the throbbing pain in her right hand. She realized she had cut herself. It wasn't deep enough to need stitches but it did still hurt quite a bit. She whispered an incantation that dulled the pain.

Tara sighed. A part of her had hoped Willow would be a new friend in this strange town. But once again she was on her own, which was okay. She was used to that.

"I better get on with it. Have to...oh no. Where's the address?" Tara began digging through her pockets, and after a prolonged search came up with a folded piece of paper. "Thought I lost it."

It was a page from a local phone book. Normally she would never have vandalized public property like that. But within minutes of stepping off the bus in Sunnydale someone had stolen her purse, and while she hadn't been hurt she didn't even have enough money for a lousy phone call. She needed to get to one of the addresses on the page, and inwardly hoped she had seen the last of the monsters.

A few minutes later, Tara found herself standing outside of a seedy little bar called WILLY'S. She hadn't known it was a bar when she started looking for it though.

After finishing her daily chores she would check to be sure her father and brother were asleep, then sneak into his study to use the computer. There, in a private chat room for Wiccas, she told other witches about her mother, her magic, and how she desperately wanted to be rid of her demon side. One mentioned Sunnydale and its history of dark magic, mysterious rituals, and all kinds of demonic activity. They went on to mention Willy, declaring he was the man to contact about these sorts of things in Sunnydale. So she stole some money from her father, threw a few things in her purse, and bought a one way ticket.

"I just hope this Willy guy can help me." Tara stepped through the doors, and immediately began to question the wisdom of coming here at all. The place was full of vampires, demons, and humans, who weren't reacting to them one bit. She nervously approached the counter, where she sat down next to a seven foot tall creature with green scales, red eyes, and a tail. "Umm..."

The mousy, wiry little dark-haired man behind the counter dropped a coaster in front of her. "What can I get for you, little lady?"

"Are you...Willy?"

He nodded. "That's what it says on my license. What can I do you for?"

"M-My name is Tara. I need some h-help, and I w-was told you were the m-man with information."

"Could be." Willy stared at her for a moment. "But first, let me get you a cup of coffee. You look like you need it." He waved away her attempts at a protest. "Don't worry about it. I know flat broke when I see it." He poured her a cup and slid it over to her. "Drink up. Calm down. Then ask."

Tara smiled. "Thank you." It took her a while to calm down. She kept seeing Willow's face, and shuddered at the thought of so beautiful a woman actually being a monster.

Willy came back to her end of the bar, after pouring a vampire at the other end a glass of suspiciously thick red liquid. "Ready to talk yet? Or do you need some more time?"

"I need some...what do you know about magic?"

"Afraid that's not my forte."

"How about demons?"

"Them I know. What do you need?"

Tara considered her next question carefully. "If I wanted to get rid of one, where would I go?"

"Here in Sunny-D? Depends. What kind of a demon are we talking about?"

"I-I'm not sure. One inside of...a person."

"Oh, those are nasty."

Tara blanched.

"You're not, by any chance, a witch are you?"

Tara gasped. "How did you know?"

"Didn't," Willy replied. "It has recently come to my attention that one of the local magic shops wasn't looted. If you're lucky, there might still be some books there. Nobody in town does much magic anymore, 'cause it attracts too much vampire attention. Anyway, if you want some spells on exorcising demons, I'd wager that's the best way for you to start. Assuming you're staying in town, of course."

"Do you know the address?"

Tara stood in front of the shop, wondering if it was even worth her time. Many of the stores in this part of town had been looted, ransacked or torched long ago. But the doors and windows of this particular place still appeared to be intact, so there was at least a chance.

Tara sighed. "The Magic Box huh?" Shaking her head, she approached the door. Only when she got close did the aura of magic finally register. She realized, now, she had been sensing it all along, but since Sunnydale was more or less seething with magical energies all the time it was hard to tell one from the other. "Is that...a ward? Or just a protection spell?" Either way, it explained why the shop remained untouched.

It also presented the witch with a problem. How to get in. This kind of magic was usually hard to counter under the best of circumstances. If the caster really knew what he or she was doing, it might not be possible for anyone else to get in at all. She took a deep breath and considered her options.

"If I can figure out what kind of spell is protecting the place, I'll know how to counter it." Of course she knew it wouldn't be that easy. Even if she knew what it was, there was no guarantee she could get through. Still, this did seem like her best shot.

When her purse was stolen Tara had felt terrible. But nothing like she would have felt if they had found what she now took out of her jacket pocket. It was her most prized possession.

A large crystal, shaped almost like a diamond, that was delicately cut and clear. The dolls-eye crystal belonged to her grandmother. She found it in the attic and took it with her when she left home because she had a feeling its mystical properties might come in handy. Apparently, she had been right.

"Goddess Thespia." Tara held the crystal above her head. "Please. Reveal that which is unseen. This I beseech of you, Thespia. Open my eyes...that I might know the truth." The crystal began to glow, and a similar glow filled her eyes. She gasped. "It is a ward. A powerful one. But I think I can break it." She held the crystal in her left hand and pointed the other at the front door of the Magic Box. "Open!" She channeled her energy through the dolls-eye, to amplify her spell's power, and though there was a great deal of resistance at first she eventually felt the ward thin out and then shatter like so much glass. The effort left her exhausted. "I hope it was worth it."

Tara wasn't sure what she was expecting as she entered the magic shop, but she knew it didn't involve the heater being on or candles lining several of the walls. There was a cot set up behind the counter and some lawn chairs in various places around the room. "Someone's living here."

"Yes," said a voice. "Me." There was a woman standing in a door near the back of the shop. She had long, stringy brown hair, and was wearing an ill-fitting blue jumpsuit. Under her arm was a folded gray shape Tara guessed was a laptop computer. "Question is, what are you doing here?"

The blonde started. "Oh. I'm s-sorry. My name is Tara."

"Tara?" The other woman sat her computer down on the counter. "Tara Maclay?"

"That's right? Do I know you?"

"Yes. Well, no, not really. My name is Amy. I'm the one you talked to in the chat room."

"You're WiccaWannaBe?"

Amy nodded. "I never had the patience for the whole religion thing. I just like doing the magic."

"Wow. I'm glad to meet you. You've been so helpful."

"I see you made it. I didn't know if you'd ever take my advice or not. How's Willy?"

"He's fine. I don't know about that bar though. All those demons..."

"I wouldn't worry. Most of them will leave you alone, so long as you don't piss them off. You have to watch out for the vampires though. You can't trust a bloodsucker."

Tara nodded. "I know what you m-mean. I got attacked by one earlier this mornning."

"Oh my God. Are you all right?"

"I think so. She didn't bite me or anything."

Amy went for one of her lawn chairs. "Here. Sit down and tell me about it."

Tara spent some time recounting her story for Amy, including everything she had been through both before and after coming to Sunnydale.

"This vampire," said the other witch. "Her name was Willow?"

"That's what she told me. Why? Do you know her?"

Amy shook her head. "Not personally. I've heard about her though. She works for the Master."


"Oh, the Master is the supreme vampire in this town. He's supposed to be really old and really powerful. All the other vamps pretty much bow down to him. Willow is one of his favorite servants. I've heard she liked to prey on pretty young woman, so I'm not surprised she came after you."

Tara felt her cheeks reddening, and she turned away. Her gaze fell upon the cot behind the counter. "So, um...do you really live here? All by yourself?"

"Yes. I have for, oh, I guess going on two years now."

"What about your parents? Your family?"

"My Dad left us a long time ago. I don't really remember him. And my Mom, well...let's just say that dark magic got the better of her. I tried to get her to stop but she never listened."

Tara nodded. "I'm sorry. I-I lost my mother too."


"N-No. I mean, yes she was a witch, but it wasn't the magic that killed her."

Amy leaned back in her chair and sighed. "Anyway, after my mom...I couldn't stay in the house anymore. I mean literally. The bank took it away. I didn't have anyplace else to go, so I wound up on the streets. About that time, as I understand it, the Master got free of wherever he was locked up and the whole town went to hell. One night just before the sun went down I wandered into here. I figured it'd be a safe spot to sleep for a change, but it turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me."

"How so?"

"Look around you. Books. Crystals. Just sitting around. There's nobody left in Sunny-D who does this stuff. All the other witches died or took off, and the monsters don't seem to care about magic. This place is a gold mine. In the first evening alone I learned more new spells than I ever did from my mother's books, and the next day I put a protective barrier around the shop. It collapsed pretty quick, but I managed to figure out how to do a sealing ward so none of the doors or windows would open again."

"But how do you get in and out? I mean, you must have to eat and you smell...clean." Tara blushed again. "You've obviously been taking care of yourself."

Amy nodded. "In the back room I found a hidden sewer entrance. It lets me come and go without being seen. It's under the same ward as the rest of the shop, and I'm the only one who can get through it." She arched an eyebrow. "At least, I used to be. You must have some power."

"I-I don't have much...in the way of power," said Tara. "Just l-lucky I guess."

"Anyway, on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday I waitress over at Willy's. He gives me a few bucks, or a meal, and lets me use his washer and dryer and shower too. It's a pretty good deal."

"And the computer?"

"I found it under the counter. The phone works, and I found a spell to create mystic electricity for powering the computer and the little TV I used to have. It would work on the lights too, but I enjoy the ambience of the candles myself." Amy shrugged her shoulders. "That's pretty much it."

Tara nodded. "It sounds like you're the one with all the power. Can you...help me?"

"Maybe. You say this demon inside you, it's a family legacy kind of thing?"


"Hmm...it doesn't sound like Tobin's would be much use. Maybe the Codex." Amy stood up. "Let's look upstairs in the stacks. This may take some time though. Hope you're not in a hurry."

Tara shook her head as she followed.

Willy always knew precisely when the sun went down even without any windows in his place. The few vampires who ventured into the bar during daylight hours became more active, in preparation for the hunt, and large groups of others often came in together. He was used to the ruckus that followed.

However he wasn't prepared for one particular arrival. A leather-clad, female vampire with red hair. She'd never been in his place before, but he knew her face. Everyone in Sunnydale did. He nervously cleared his throat as she stepped up to the bar. "Help you?"

Willow's smoldering golden eyes narrowed as she snarled. "Where is she?"

"To whom are you referring?"

Willow lowered her head and sniffed the bar. "Tara. I know she's been here. I can smell her!"

"I'm not...uhh, I don't know this individual. Perhaps you could describe her for me?"

The vampire dug her nails into the surface of the bar. "You're lying!"

Willy knew he had to be very careful here. Not only was this girl one of the Master's most prized disciples, she was also said to be a bit of a lunatic even among vampires. "I would never..."

"Bored now." Willow lunged across the bar and grabbed Willy's shirt. "Tell me! Or else!"

Willy's eyes nearly bugged out of his head. "Help!"

A huge, leathery gray hand clamped down on Willow's wrist. It didn't squeeze hard enough to cause the vampire any real pain, but it definitely got her attention. She glared up into the ugly, scarred face of a Gargo demon. They were very strong, not very intelligent creatures who usually worked as bodyguards.

"Let him go."

Surprisingly, Willow did so. She released Willy and drew her arm back, so the demon did the same. She hissed, then before the demon knew what was happening stepped forward again and punched it in the throat. As it fell she grabbed its head and twisted so its neck cracked in a particularly satisfyingly sickening way. The vampire grinned as she turned to face the barkeep once again. "Ready to talk now?"

Willy nodded.

Researching took the better part of a day, and by the time they started setting things up in the front room it was well past sundown. Not that either witch noticed.

"Are you sure about this?" Tara asked. She was kneeling inside a circle of candles and crystals while Amy stood nearby, holding a book.

"It's safe, if that's what you mean. The worst thing that should happen is it just doesn't work."

Tara nodded. "Tell me again what's going to happen? I just want to be clear."

"Since we don't know for sure what kind of a demon is connected to your family line, we're going to try doing a general cleansing of your spirit. To rid you of any demonic qualities."


Amy handed Tara the book. "Here. I've highlighted the passage you need to recite."

"I can't...Amy, I don't know how to read this. What language is this?"

"It's an offshoot of Latin but don't worry. You don't need to understand the words to make it work, you just have to read them outloud."

"If you say so."

Amy really hated to say the next part. "One more thing. This is a one shot deal. The ritual is very delicate. Once it has begun, if you stop reading or if the circle is broken for any reason it will end. Pow. Just like that. We won't get another shot at it either. It works once per person, and that's it."

"So, no pressure." Tara chuckled nervously. "I'm ready."

"Good. You concentrate on the ritual. Remember, nothing can go wrong as long as you aren't interrupted." Amy crossed her arms. "And I'm here to make sure that doesn't happen."

Tara took a deep breath. "Okay. Here goes." She lowered her head and began reading. For a few minutes nothing happened, then one by one the candles flared up and gave off more light than should have been possible. The light was absorbed by the crystals, which in turn glowed even brighter. In addition, the air around her became ionized, a strange tingling sensation that made both women's skin develop goosebumps.

Amy stepped back, her eyes wide. There was energy coming off the blonde in waves. She couldn't see it but she could feel it. She wasn't sure whether to be excited or scared.

The decision was taken out of her hands when something hit the front door of the shop. Hard. She turned to see the frame of the door and its locks holding up, but one of the hinges had been bent by the impact. As she watched it happened again, and this time the door itself was dented. No human could do that.

Amy gasped. "The wards!" In her efforts to help Tara she had completely forgotten to put them back up. It was a stupid mistake, born out of a complacency she was now forced to accept. She had been so safe for so long, she'd forgotten just how dangerous the world was.

The door was struck a third time, and this time it collapsed under the pressure. The hinges tore like so much tin foil, and the whole door fell flat forward. Behind it, in a haze caused by dust and a half-working streetlight, stood a wiry, leather-clad figure with long red hair.

Willow, in full vamp-face, snarled as she caught sight of Tara. "Found you!" She started forward. "Be nice, and I may make you my new puppy." She paused when Amy stepped in her way. "Who are you?"

"None of your business. This is my home, and I don't invite you in."

The redhead smiled and walked right across the threshold.

"How?" Amy asked. "I-I thought you had to be invited into someone's home?"

Willow shrugged her shoulders. "I don't make the rules." She approached as Amy backed up. "You may live here but this is still a public place. Sorry. You lose. I win." She looked the brunette up and down and licked her lips. "If you're a good little girl, maybe I'll let you play with my new puppy."

"Shut up!" Amy put her hands together in front of her in the shape of a cross.

The vampire laughed. "You're kidding, right?"

"Not really." Amy smiled. "Lumen...Lux...Accendere!" Her hands erupted into flames, and Willow was suddenly confronted by a burning cross hovering in mid-air between them.

The vampire recoiled, her face fearful and shocked and angry all at once. "Another witch?"

"That's right. You have a lot to learn about magic."

Willow raised her head, the fear gone. "And you have a lot to learn about vampires." She ducked under the cross and punched Amy in the stomach, doubling her over, then grabbed the witch by back of the head and slammed her face down into her knee. Several bones in the girl's face and nose shattered, and the vampire drank in the scent of free-flowing blood as she tossed Amy's still shuddering body aside.

"She was no fun." Willow was pouting as she turned to Tara. "Can we play now?" If the blonde was aware of what had happened to Amy she showed no sign. Tara's head was angled back and there were tiny pinpoints of light, like really bright fireflies, swirling all around her. "What's this? Another trick?"

Tara's eyes snapped open. "It isn't working! Amy, I think it's..." She saw Willow and gasped. "Goddess, no! What have you done with Amy?"

"I tried to play with her but she broke too easily. Don't you disappoint me too." Willow got closer, and the little lights around Tara suddenly surged toward her. They began to brighten as they circled around and around her. "It's my game now witch! This won't..." The vampire's words were abruptly silenced as several of the lights darted into her mouth and went down her throat. Soon the others followed.

"It left me," said Tara. "The magic wouldn't work. Why didn't it work? I don't understand." As Willow dropped to her knees and clutched at her head, hissing and snarling, the blonde saw Amy. "Goddess no!" She rushed to the brunette's aid, but she could already tell her new friend wasn't breathing. Amy's eyes were glassy and her face was soaked in blood. "No...no...no..." Unwanted memories of finding her mother on the kitchen floor came flooding back to her and so did the tears that came with them. "Not again! Don't leave me all alone!"

Tara's scream was met by a far more anguished one from the vampire, who had fallen on her back and was thrashing around. She clawed at her eyes and her chest and bellowed in pain. Tara noticed that her aura was flaring, brighter in places where it had been dark before, and was almost nonexistant in places where it had once been so bright. Something was terribly wrong. Whatever it was, made Willow vulnerable.

Tara stood up and reached for a stake. She had seen enough vampire movies to know what to do. Up until now she had wondered if she would actually have the courage to do it. The blonde took a deep breath and kneeled down beside the vampire. She raised the stake above her head.

Willow's face reverted to human, and she was crying as she looked up at Tara. "Please..."

Tara hesitated, with the stake inches from the vampire's chest. "What?"


"Don't you dare ask for mercy. After what you did to Amy..."

Willow shook her head. "Please...make it quick."

"Make it...you want me to kill you?"

"Yes. I just want to end it."

"End what?"

Willow slowly sat up. "The loneliness."

Tara noticed that the vampire's voice and mannerisms were different somehow, and she clearly wasn't trying to attack or run either. She slowly lowered the stake. "What are you talking about?"

"The Master. Xander. My puppy. All gone. And now, my insides..."

"What about them?

"I feel like I've lost something."

Tara sensed a strange void within Willow. All the vampires at Willy's had this throbbing demonic energy. But it was muted, though still existent, in the redhead. Something had obviously changed. But what? And how? Then she knew, or at least she suspected. "The cleansing ritual!"


"I was doing a ritual to rid myself of demonic traits, but you interrupted it. Something must have gone wrong. It affected you, somehow."

Willow stared at her hands. "I smell...blood." Her eyes widened. "Fresh blood?"

"You killed my friend." Tara pointed. "Amy. It's her blood you smell."

Willow nodded. "I remember. But you don't understand." She lurched to her feet and Tara moved back, the stake up and ready. "It doesn't excite me. I can smell the blood, but I don't feel any hunger."

"What does that mean?"

"Don't know."

"Maybe you should go home," Tara offered. "Surely someone there can explain this to you."

Willow shook her head. "All dead." She was trembling. "Xander. My puppy. The Master. Gone. All gone. Turned to dust." Her shoulders sagged. "Dust to dust." She fell to her knees and started sobbing.

Tara surprised herself by actually feeling bad for the pitiful creature. "Look, if you'll promise not to bite me or rip my throat out or anything, I'll try to help you figure this out. Okay?"

The vampire was surprised too. "Really?"


"Then I promise," said Willow. "Just don't make me swear on a Bible or anything."

At that, Tara smiled slightly. Soon after, so did Willow.

Tara told Willow that before they did anything else, they needed to do something about Amy.

"This is both of our faults you know." Tara held a cross just in case, but made sure to keep it away from Willow otherwise. "This wouldn't have happened if you hadn't been after me."

The vampire nodded. "I wish I could tell you how sorry I am but...I just don't feel it. I don't even remember what remorse is really. It's been so long."

Tara scattered some colored powder on Amy's body, which they had wrapped in a sheet. "If I were you, I'd stand back." She began to gesture and mutter under her breath.

"What for?" Willow screeched and lurched back as Amy's body burst into flames. "Son of a..."

"I did warn you." Tara sighed. "Good-bye, my friend."

Willow glanced at the blonde, and frowned when she saw tears in her eyes. They had not known one another for very long and yet it was obvious Amy's loss hurt Tara deeply. This was something the vampire understood. For so long Xander had been her everything. Now he was nothing. She was nothing.

Tara felt a flash of emotion from the vampire. Sadness. It was fleeting though and then it passed. She looked up at the redhead, who stared straight into the flames with an expressionless face. Once again, the blonde was struck by just how beautiful this woman--no, creature, she corrected herself--was. Another time, another place, and this would definitely be the type of woman she would be attracted to.

Willow knew Tara was staring at her even without looking. She wondered why. Then Amy's body was consumed completely by the flames and she knew. Tara hated her. She had killed her friend and now Tara was having second thoughts about helping her. Who could blame her?

Tara concentrated and gestured, ending the spell and causing the fire to dwindle away to nothing so it would not set the rest of the shop ablaze. She knew Amy would never want to destroy the books or other artifacts here. In a sense, they were her legacy. "Okay. I'm ready now."

"For what?"

"I said I'd try to help you, and I will."

The vampire was surprised, but didn't show it. "What do we do?"

"We have to go back through the books, and see if Amy or I missed anything. There has to be an explanation for why the spell didn't work. Or at least, why it didn't work right."

Willow nodded, and followed her.

Tara sat in the upper section of the Magic Box with a book in her lap and a cross by her side, just in case. From her perch she was able to watch Willow. The vampire moved with a languid grace, slow and deliberate, and not an ounce of wasted energy.

'Amazing,' the blonde said to herself. 'Before she was like a coiled spring. Ready to snap at any moment.'

Tara saw Willow take another book off a shelf and sit down at the table with it. She had been doing that off and on for the last couple of hours. As far as Tara could tell though, she was choosing them at random. There was not any rhyme or reason to the vampire's actions that she recognized.

Not that Tara herself was having any better luck. The book she had recited the spell from was decidedly lacking in supportive information. All it said was the ritual was intended to cleanse a human body of primary and in some cases secondary demonic characteristics. There was nothing in that book or any of the others she read to explain what could have gone wrong, and what had happened to Willow.

The thought still struck Tara as odd, to say the least. She was trying to help a vampire. A creature that had killed someone, practically right in front of her. Yet for reasons she wasn't fully conscious of she felt compelled to try and help the redhead, and experience had always shown her that so long as she listened to her instincts she would always know she was on the right path.

Tara heard a sharp cry from downstairs, and saw Willow holding a book in front of her face. Obviously, she had found something of interest. The blonde went down to have a look. "What is it?"

"Pretty pictures," Willow replied. "Wanna see?" She turned the book to reveal a scene of carnage. Demons with human bodies scattered around. Some eviscerated, others with their heads cut off. Some children with their eyes gouged out. Several vampires were drinking the blood.

Tara turned away, her face ashen. "Goddess."

"What?" Willow saw this, glanced at the book and then looked back. "You don't like this, do you?" She slammed the book closed. "It's not right." She tore the thick, metal bound book apart with her bare hands and then threw the pieces aside. "How could I be so stupid?!"

Something about the tone of Willow's voice startled Tara. She sounded upset. Ever since the ritual, the vampire had been calm, in a morose sort of way. She turned back. "It's all right."

"No, it's not!" Willow slapped the side of her head. "The voice is dim, but I can still hear it. Whispering. Telling me to carve you up and eat you for dinner." She frowned. "But I don't want to. I'm not hungry. Why aren't I hungry, Tara? What's going on? What's wrong with me?"

"I don't know." Tara sat down and sighed. It was late and she was tired. "This makes no sense. The ritual was only supposed to affect demons. But you're a vampire, not a demon."

Willow shook her head. "Yes I am."


"I am a demon."

"You are?"

"Vampires are human bodies with demons inside."

Tara blinked. "Really?"

"I thought everybody knew that."

Tara chewed on her lower lip for a moment as she pondered this new bit of information. "The ritual cleanses its target of demonic traits. It must have attacked you because of the demon, but it couldn't wipe out the whole thing so it took as much as it could. Your bloodlust, and the animalistic part of your nature. Without them, there's kind of a void. That must be why you feel so empty."

"No tummy rumblings," Willow offered. "Without the blood, what I am?"

"Question is, why didn't it work on me in the first place? Why did it jump to you?"

Willow shrugged her shoulders. "Don't ask me."

Tara sighed. "I need some sleep" She lowered her eyes. "Don't take this the wrong way, but..."

"You don't trust me?" Tara nodded sheepishly, but Willow just shrugged her shoulders. "I get it. Better safe than sorry." She held her hands out wrists together. "Go ahead."

Tara blinked. "What?"

"Tie me up. I'll help you. I know all about knots. Xander loved the tie-up game."

After Tara finished tying her to a chair with a handful of extension cords, Willow sat and counted the books on a nearby bookshelf until she fell asleep. In her dreams she drifted back to a time in her past, before she became a vampire, when she and Xander and Jesse were the best of friends.

Then she remembered the night Xander showed up at her house after being missing for days. She invited him in because there was no reason not to, then he grabbed her and sank his fangs into her neck. He didn't drain her right off though, instead he kept her alive so she could watch him kill her parents. Then he turned her into a vampire as well, and the two of them tracked Jesse down and killed him together.

Willow woke up in pain. Not from within. One of her arms was smoking. Tara had left her near the window, and one of the curtains had come open just enough to let a stream of sunlight into the room. The vampire shrieked in pain as part of her flesh burst into flames. She flung herself to the left, out of the way, and in the process broke a leg off the chair. It slumped to one side, and the ropes went slack.

The redhead shrugged off her bonds, then stood up and stretched her shoulders. It was more force of habit than anything else really. Vampires had no blood flow so they didn't experience cramps, but she didn't like sitting still even when she was hunting. Which, strangely, she still had no urge to do even though this was the longest amount of time she had ever gone without feeding. All she felt was tired, and a little lonely. She and Xander always slept together, even on those rare occasions they didn't have sex.

Willow walked around the counter, stopping when she saw Tara curled up on Amy's cot with one long, beautiful leg sticking out from under the covers. The vampire cocked her head and smiled. She had thought the blonde was attractive the first time she saw her back in the warehouse, which was why even at that time she considered doing more than just killing her. Tara was the first human in a while she thought about converting. Making her immortal and beautiful, like an angel, forever and ever. Now she shook her head.

Willow no longer wanted that. Tara didn't deserve to be a monster, and she didn't deserve anyone like Tara. The vampire was conflicted. A part of her wanted to run out into the early morning sun and end it all. But another part of her wanted the kind of companionship she had been denied for so long. The redhead slowly, carefully climbed onto the cot and snuggled up as close to Tara as she could. She knew the blonde would probably be mad when she woke up, but at least she would have this one moment to remember.

Willow closed her eyes and sighed.

Tara was awakened by a strangely comforting warmth spreading through her entire body.

She felt aroused, but wasn't sure why. Then she tried to roll over and found she could not, both because of the strong arms wrapped around her and the pale hands just cupping her breasts. A leg had also been wedged between her thighs. Realizing this set her body on fire even more.

"Goddess!" Willow. The vampire was spooned up against her, and Tara was all too aware of the firm breasts that were pressing into her back. She shuddered. 'What's she doing?' the blonde asked herself. 'How did she get untied anyway?' She was afraid to move, in case she might set the vampire off.

As it turned out Willow was the one who made the next move. Unfortunately for Tara, that move consisted of a rolling motion with her hands. Needless to say, having her breasts be caressed and kneaded sent jolts of pleasure through Tara's body. In spite of herself, she moaned.

Willow's eyes snapped open. Her vision was obscured by long blonde hair so she lifted her head. She also took her hands away though, deep-down, Tara was having a hard time deciding whether she was happy about that or not as she rolled out of bed and stepped away. In all the confusion she lost her grip on the stake and it dropped to the floor. Both women were shaking, for different reasons.


"I...you...how did you...get loose?"

Willow sat up and shrugged her shoulders. "Chair broke. It wasn't your fault. You tie good knots."

"Um, yeah. Thanks. But why did you climb into my bed?"

The vampire looked confused. "What? You don't like to cuddle?"

"Well sure, but..." Tara's eyes widened. "I mean...hey! Don't change the subject. What are you doing?"

Willow lurched to her feet. "You don't like me. Nobody likes me." She turned and walked away.

"Look." Tara couldn't believe she was trying to apologize to a vampire. "Willow? I'm sorry. I didn't mean to hurt your feelings." She thought about that for a moment. "Did I?"


"Hurt your feelings? Do you even have any?"

Willow turned. She had tears in her eyes. "Don't you see? I'm a monster. I kill people, like your friend. It's what I do. I shouldn't be here with you. I should get what I deserve."

Tara watched as the redhead threw open the front door. But as soon as the sunlight came pouring in and Willow started to scream she just reacted without a thought. Reaching out with her power she grabbed Willow and pulled her back out of the way while at the same time slamming the door closed. She rushed to the side of the thrashing redhead, whose exposed skin was still smoldering.

"Are you crazy?"

Willow snarled and slapped at the blonde, but she had little strength in her scalded arms. There were also burns across her face and much of her chest. "Why?! Why did you save me?" She was crying again, though Tara couldn't tell if it was from physical pain or whatever she was feeling. "Why didn't you just let me end it? I don't want to be like this anymore!" She threw her arms around Tara. "Please! Make it stop!"

Tara absently, almost comfortingly began stroking the vampire's hair. "I'll try. I promise."

Willow was obviously in a great deal of pain, in more ways than one, but there wasn't much Tara could do about it except keep her away from the door. The vampire retreated to a far corner of the shop, sat down with her knees against her chest, and began rocking back and forth.

Tara felt bad. The books she had read about vampires told her Willow would heal on her own, and fairly quickly if the stories were any indication. But it also said everything would also go faster and be far more effective if the rest was accompanied by a fresh supply of blood. Of course someone usually had to die to make that happen, and though she was coming to like the redhead she wasn't about to offer her own.

'Besides,' Tara said to herself. 'She doesn't seem to be hungry.' She started to wonder how long a vampire could go without feeding. None of the books mentioned that. "Hey Willow?" She slowly approached the redhead. "Can I ask you a question?"

Willow acknowledged her, for the first time in a while, by raising her head.

"Out of curiosity, how long can you go without feeding?"

The vampire blinked, but said nothing.

"I-I'm just wondering. It has been something like a day and a half or something, right?"

Again, just the blank stare and silence.

"Willow, come on. I'm trying to understand this so I can help you. You need the blood, don't you?"

"Not hungry."

Tara nodded. At least the redhead was responding. "I get that. But whether you want it or not you need the blood to heal correctly, right? You need it to survive?"

"Are you offering?" Willow started staring at the blonde's neck, though it did nothing for her. She could see the pulse beating there, yet was not moved to attack.

"N-No." Tara decided to try another approach. "The blood? Does it have to be human? I saw a slaughterhouse on the way into town. Maybe..."

Willow shook her head. "Animal blood can sustain us, but human blood makes us stronger."


"We had many humans at the Bronze. The Master kept them like cattle."

"Who's the Master?"

"Our leader. The Master was the oldest and strongest of us. Head of the Order."

Tara took this in and nodded. "Where is he now?"

"Dead. Killed by the Slayer. Xander too. And puppy. All gone. Dust in the wind." Willow began to shake. "All by myself now. All alone. No family left. All alone."

Tara put her hand on part of the redhead's arm that wasn't burned, and noticed she didn't recoil. "Hey. You're not alone. I'm here."


"I told you I'd help you, didn't I?"

Willow nodded. "Okay."

"Now then, is there anyone else you can turn to for help? Preferably someone who knows more about vampires and magic than I do?"

"Are you sure about this?"

Tara was following Willow through the sewer, trying her best not to think too hard about what was flowing past her feet every time they stepped into the water.

"You don't trust me?" the redhead asked.

"It's not that." Tara saw no reason to tell Willow she had a cross and several stakes in her pockets. "I'm just a bit confused. Who is this guy we're going to see?"

"I told you before. One of the few magic users left in Sunnydale. Even the Master used him." Willow stopped at a ladder. "Here."

To Tara it looked like all the other rusty ladders and manhole covers. "How do you know?"

"I can sense him." Willow tapped the side of her head. "It's a demon thing." She scaled the ladder and shoved the manhole cover aside with one hand. "Come on!" She climbed up and out almost effortlessly, without bothering to wait and see if Tara was behind her or needed any help.

When the blonde finally managed to climb up she saw Willow talking to a man. He had long, stringy brown hair and a scarred face. He had on black jeans and no shirt, and stood in the open door of an apartment. A small metal structure had been erected around the manhole to block the sun.


The redhead glanced over her shoulder. "Oh. There you are. I thought you got lost." She turned back. "This is the one I was telling you about. Pretty, isn't she?" He nodded. "Tara, this is Rack."

"I'd peg you for a witch, blondie." Rack smiled when her eyes widened. "That aura's a dead giveaway. You should learn to control it better. Suppress your magic, or you're gonna give yourself away every time." He looked her up and down. "Well, I'll say this much, Red. You got good taste."

The way his eyes roamed her body made Tara feel the need for a long hot shower but she pressed on. "We need help. Magical help. Willow seems to think you can provide it?"

"I'm flattered." Rack clasped his hands behind his back. "So what is it you need?"

Tara described the cleansing spell she had been trying to cast, and what had apparently happened to Willow. "So do you know what happened?"

"Maybe. I'll need a closer look first. To be sure."

"At what?" Tara asked.

Rack put one outstretched hand on either side of the blonde's head and smiled. "Now, relax."

"What are you going to do?"

"I have to check something first, but don't worry. I promise, this won't hurt."

Willow growled. "It better not."

Though she tried not to show it, Tara was a little surprised by the redhead's sticking up for her. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes, waiting until she felt a not all-together unpleasant tingling sensation before opening them again. Her head was spinning a little as she looked up at Rack expectantly.

"You said you were doing a cleansing ritual when this happened?"

Tara nodded. "Yes. To rid myself of my demon side."

"And what makes you think you have one?"

"My father told me so. It's a family legacy. Passed down on my mother's side. We all have the demon inside us, causing the magic and making us crazy. I wanted to get rid of it."

Rack steepled his fingers in front of his face. "The Black Luster Ritual is a very powerful spell. It's supposed to eliminate all traces of demonic influence within a human body. It can't necessarily wipe it out all-together, but in every case I've ever heard of it at least removes the strongest characteristics."

"So what went wrong with me?"

"Nothing." Rack smiled at her surprise. "As powerful as it is, the ritual can only work with what is available. The magic failed in your case, because there was no demonic influence."

Tara blinked. "I...I-I'm human? Completely?" He nodded. "It was a lie. All these years...my father, my brother...it was a lie. I was never evil, and they knew it! They must have! They wanted to keep me at home, keep me doing the cooking and cleaning for them." She gasped. "So where does the magic come from?"

"You, sweetness. The power comes from within. It always has."

Tara took a step back. Her whole life had just been turned upside-down. She felt light-headed. "Goddess." There was a moment when she started to feel faint and then a pair of strong, cool hands grabbed her. Willow had caught her just as her knees buckled. "T-Thanks."

Rack turned to Willow, who glared right back at him. "As for you, I'm afraid you were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. The magic of the Black Luster Ritual is difficult to contain. When it failed to find any demon in your friend here it surged outward into you. The power attacked your inner-demon, burning away as much of it as it could before its energy was expended. It eliminated your bloodlust, and the parts of your physiology that were connected to it." He shook his head. "You're lucky."

"Lucky?" Willow snorted. "How?"

"It didn't kill you."

"Why would it?" Tara asked. "I was told the ritual wasn't dangerous."

"It's not. To humans. Or half-demons, maybe. But Red here is a vampire. That demon inside of her should never have been able to survive the trauma you put it through."

"So how did she?"

"I have no idea. Unless, your souls..."

Tara could tell he was on to something, but was reluctant to continue. "What is it?"

"Nothing. Never mind." Rack turned to Willow. "You have another problem. Besides this one."

The vampire just glared at him, waiting, and said nothing.

"I heard about the Master. The buzz is all over town. Beyond, really."


"Aurelius is in chaos, Red. With the Master gone, and you bumping mojo with the witch here, there's a vacuum opening up among the vamps in Sunnydale. My sources tell me a couple of really heavy hitters are coming to see if the rumors are true. Sooner or later, they'll be after you."

Willow shrugged her shoulders. "I'm not worried."

"From what I'm hearing about the two who are coming," said Rack. "You should be."

Willow and Tara didn't speak to one another as they walked back through the sewers to the Magic Box. The two of them were too distracted by the strange turns their lives were taking.

By chance Tara got to the ladder and start climbing first. She was about halfway through the trap door when she suddenly cried out and was jerked the rest of the way up.

"Tara!" Willow shifted to her game-face and practically flew up the ladder. As she landed, in a defensive crouch with her teeth and hands clenched, she saw the blonde in the grip of a dark-skinned vampire. Two others stood on either side of a big bald vampire. "Let her go!"

"She's important to you?" The bald vampire, obviously in charge, smiled. "Excellent. Now maybe you'll be more inclined to listen to what we have to say."

Willow snarled. "Who are you?"

"My name's Lucas. My boss sent me to find you. He wants a meeting."

"With me? Why?"

"You were the Master's lieutenant, and now you're the last important member of Aurelius left in this town. That makes you either a powerful ally, or a dangerous enemy. He wants to know which."

Willow shook her head. "Who's this boss of yours? And how did you find me here anyway?"

"Willy talked," Lucas replied. That was enough of an answer. "After we...convinced him. As for who my boss is, if you want to find out, you have to come with me."

Willow was badly outnumbered, but she wasn't afraid. Not for herself at least. She rarely felt fear anymore. But in this case she was worried about one thing. "I'll come."

Lucas nodded. "Excellent."

"Under one condition."

"What's that?"

Willow glanced over her shoulder. "You let my friend go."

Tara's eyes widened.

"She's not a part of this," said the redhead.

"Wish I could," Lucas replied. "But I have my orders. I was told to bring you, and anyone with you. No reason to leave loose ends laying around."

The redhead growled.

"Bring her," Lucas said to the vampire holding Tara's arms.

"Wait." The blonde's captor, who had been sniffing hair the whole time, now leaned down to nuzzle her neck. "It would be a pity to let such a tasty morsel go to waste." He smiled. "Why don't we have a bite to eat before we go, and that way it's one less body to carry?"

Tara gasped as he bared his fangs. "Willow!"

With a throaty roar the redhead turned and lunged at the other vampire, who had to shove Tara out of the way in order to protect himself. She drove her shoulder into his stomach to double him over, then threw her arm around his neck and began to squeeze. "Run!" she said to Tara.

Lucas shook his head. "Idiot." He gestured to the others. "Get in there and help him. Break anything you want so long as her mouth still works!"

The remaining vampires snarled and charged Willow, who headbutted the guy she was fighting. He was stunned, momentarily, allowing her to lift him off his feet. She turned and pitched him at the others, who crumpled to the floor in a tangled heap of roars, grunts, and flashing fangs.

Lucas sighed. "I don't believe this."

Willow was surprised and confused to see Tara step up beside her. "What are you doing? Get out of here now! I can't hold them off forever!"

"No." Tara reached into her pocket and pulled out a cross and stake. She made certain not to show the former to the redhead. "I'm not going to let you face all these guys alone."

Willow just stared at her. Was Tara worried about her? "You're crazy."


As the others clambered back to their feet, Willow knew she didn't have time to try and talk Tara out of it. "You be careful," she said quietly.

Tara nodded. "You too."

Lucas was seriously considering staking his lackeys and finishing the job himself. But that would likely cause a bigger problem than they were having now.

"There's only two of them. Come on!"

The other three vampires got up and began to circle Willow and Tara. Without even realizing it the two of them moved back to back. Everything got really quiet and still.

The silence was broken when one of the vampires suddenly charged Willow. She met him head-on, driving both fists into his chest with such force that something cracked within him. He was staggered, his face a mask of pain, while she shoved him back into a display case that half-buried him in debris.

Tara's eyes widened. "Whoa."

Thinking the blonde distracted, one of the other vampires snarled and came at her. But she brought up her cross at the last moment and he recoiled, hissing. "That's not nice."

The vampire jerked his head from side to side. "Bitch!"

"Hey!" Willow came up behind him. "Watch your tongue." As he turned she grabbed his neck and twisted until it snapped like a twig. Before he could fall she grabbed his mouth, pulling until his jaw dislocated completely, then shoved a hand down his throat and ripped out his tongue. "Or better yet, I'll do it for you."

Tara blanched. "Goddess."

Lucas shook his head. "All right."

Willow picked up a sword from the shattered display case, and used it to decapitate the fallen vampire. Even as he turned to dust she spun around and did the same to the other, who was attempting to sneak up on her. A throaty laugh escaped from the redhead. "I win."

"That's enough!" Lucas stepped forward. "He just wants to talk to you."

"You're just afraid," said Willow, who smiled. "You should be."

Lucas nodded. "And so should you."

A scream rang out. Willow jerked her head around to see the other vampire had gotten through Tara's defenses, and was gripping the blonde's arm. "I'm sorry." The cross and stake she had been holding were laying on the floor, and she had tears in her eyes. "Willow."

"How noble. Alex will kill her," Lucas said to the redhead. "Unless you agree to give up and come with us. Once you've heard what my boss has to say, you'll probably be free to go."

Willow snorted. "Probably?"

"Well, it's up to him."

Willow looked from the sword to Tara and back again, then threw the weapon down. "Fine!"

"Smart girl," said Lucas. "Alex."

The other vampire nodded, and started dragging Tara toward the back room.

"Hey! Watch it, you're hurting me!"

Willow growled angrily.

"Take it easy," Lucas commanded. "Wouldn't want our friend here to lose her temper, again." He gestured to the redhead. "After you."

Because it was still daytime Lucas led Willow and Tara down into, and then through the sewer, with Alex taking up the rear.

"So why did you just give up?" Tara asked. "You could have beat them. You were amazing."

Willow shrugged her shoulders. "They would have killed you."

"Don't take this the wrong way, Will..." She paused. "Do you mind if I call you Will?"

The vampire shook her head.

"When we first met, you were trying to kill me, too. What's changed?"

"You tell me. You did it."

Tara nodded. "I know. And I'm sorry."

They all walked in silence for a few minutes. The tunnel was fairly well-lit thanks to storm-drains, and Tara was able to see that Willow was starting to look paler than usual. Her gait also seemed a little off, and every once and a while she would shake or twitch.

"Are you okay?"

"I'm tired."

Tara gasped. "Oh no. Will, we never got you any blood. With all the healing, and now this fight, you've probably maxed your reserves. Your body's starting to suffer for it."

"Still not hungry."

"But its getting dangerous. We still don't know everything that happened to you. You may not be able to survive without blood anymore. You could die."

Again, Willow shrugged her shoulders. "I'm not afraid."

"I can see that. But you'll feel better and you may even be able to think more clearly once you've fed." Tara tore the band-aid off the cut on her hand. "Here." She aggravated the wound until it started bleeding again, even though it sent stinging pain up and down the length of her hand. "Eat."

Willow eyes widened. "Are you...sure?"

"Go on, before I change my mind." Tara turned her head as Willow grabbed her wrist. She closed her eyes when an unnaturally cool pair of lips touched her delicate skin. Pain, fear and unmistakable excitement rippled through her body as the redhead began to drink. "Just...be careful."

Willow had no interest in killing the blonde, though it would have been a simple matter to do so, and pulled her mouth away after a few short moments. But in that brief time she ingested enough blood to make up for what she had lost to the healing and in the fight at the Magic Box.

Tara, however, felt light-headed, and leaned against Willow for support. "Whoa."

"Are you okay?"

The blonde nodded. "I t-think so."

"Hey you two." Lucas growled. "Save it. Come on! He's waiting."

"Who is he anyway?" Willow asked. She put one arm around Tara's waist to help her walk.

Lucas led them up into a warehouse that Willow recognized as being somewhere on the docks. There were half a dozen other vampires there, including one using some crates like a makeshift chair.

He had short-cropped, platinum-blonde hair, and was dressed all in black. "Looky, looky. And which one of you lovely ladies is Willow?"

The redhead growled. "I don't know you."

"I should think not. As a rule, I never associate with those of your...caliber."

"Who are you?"

"My name, if you must know, is William."

Once she was sure Tara was steady enough to stand on her own, Willow let her go and crossed her arms. "What is it you want from me, Willy?"

He growled. "Never call me that."

Willow shrugged her shoulders, but said nothing else.

"Now then, on to my reasons for bringing you here. It's really quite simple. The Master. Is it true?"

"Is what true?"

"Rumors abound that he has met his end." Willow frowned, and William sighed. "Is he dead?"

The redhead nodded. "I saw his body with my own two eyes."

"And Angelus? He as well?"

"My puppy was put down," Willow replied. "So what's your connection to all this? You sound too upper-crust to be local. Are you one of the wayward children the Master used to talk about?"

"I suppose I am at that." William stared at her for a moment. "I must admit you seem somewhat more intelligent than I anticipated. So I'll be straightforward with you. I'm planning to take over the Master's domain. My question to you is, are you going to get in my way?"

"Why would I? I don't care what you do, and I have no interest in running things."

William laughed. "I've heard that before."

"Guess you'll just have to trust me."

"Love, I don't trust anyone." William leaned back and clasped his hands behind his head. "You've been one of the Master's followers for a while now. How does it feel to be all alone?"

Willow glanced at Tara. "Who says I am?"

"A mortal. What could she possibly have to offer..." William stopped and smiled. "Oh. I see. Tell you what. You agree to leave town, now, and I'll let you take her with you."

"Now who's being untrustworthy?" Tara was tired of being silent, and turned to Willow. "He's lying. He plans to try and kill you the first chance he gets. He can't afford to have you running loose."

William growled. "Bloody hell. Would someone shut this bird up?"

"Careful boss," said Lucas. "Red here gets real defensive about her girlfriend." A sharp piece of wood similar to an arrow burst out of his chest from behind. His eyes grew wide, just before he turned to dust.

William leaped to his feet. "Who did this? Show yourself!"

"Tsk...tsk...tsk." A woman in a long black dress strode out of the shadows. "Really now." She had long black hair, wild eyes, and also spoke with a British accent. "Such manners, Spike."

William angrily gnashed his teeth. "I told you never to call me that!"

"Oh, that's right." She smiled. "Guess I forgot."

"What the bloody hell are you doing in this burg, Drusilla?"

"Same as you, I imagine. I heard about the Master."

"Don't tell me you're all by your lonesome? Dru, I'm disappointed."

Drusilla smirked as a group of female vampires appeared around her. One carried a crossbow. "As you can see, I'm keeping better company these days."

He shook his head. "Trollops. The lot of you."

"You always were a pitiful excuse for a vampire, Spike." Drusilla shifted to her game-face, as did all the women behind her. "I think it's time to finish what we started a century ago!"

William's face changed as well. "Fine with me."

As both sides hissed and snarled and charged one another, Willow and Tara turned and found themselves saying the same thing at the same time. "Now's our chance!" They both blinked, smiled, then took each other's hands and ran for the trapdoor. The other vampires were too busy to stop them.

It turned out Tara was more tired than she thought, and after only a few minutes of running she got light-headed and then passed out. When she came to she was being carried in Willow's arms.


The redhead smiled. "Hey yourself." She stopped and put Tara down. "Feeling better?"

"I think so. How long was I out?"

"Half an hour maybe. I don't have a watch."

Tara nodded. "I don't know what happened. I've never felt like that before."

"It was the blood I took. You need to replenish. We should probably get you something to eat."

"Later." Tara glanced over her shoulder. "They're not following us, are they?"

"Doubtful. Even if some of them did stop fighting long enough to chase after us, I've backtracked so much even I'm starting to get lost. And these are my sewers."

"Who are they? Do you know them?"

"Only by reputation. The Master used to talk about his favored children. The ones before me and Xander. I got a lot from him, and the rest from Angel."

"Tell me."

Willow's brow furrowed as she sought to remember. "First came Darla. She was one of the Master's favorites, I think. One of his personal converts. She was always the most loyal and trusted. I don't know how long she served, but the Master said she got bored one day so he brought her a new toy. Angel."

"You've mentioned him before."

The redhead nodded. "Angel was vicious even by our standards. The Master let him get away with things that not even Darla could. That hurt her I think, so Darla went out and found herself a new convert. Drusilla. Angel fought back by siring an English nobleman named William. He wasn't nearly as strong or smart as Dru and Darla, so Dru took to calling him Spike as a joke. The two of them were at odds for decades."

"So what happened?"

"Angel got his soul back," Willow replied.


"Magic. Gypsy magic. After regaining his soul Angel turned his back on the others. William felt betrayed and left the Order. So did Darla and Drusilla. The Master never saw any of them again, until Angel showed up, here in Sunnydale, waiting for the Slayer. After the Master finished he gave Angel to me."

"Talk about dysfunctional families." Tara sighed. "So, what? Back to the Magic Box now?"

Willow shook her head. "No. It's not safe there anymore."

"Why? You don't think they're really going to come after us, do you?"

"You said it yourself. William considers me a threat. He knows the shop now, and Willy could tell Drusilla just as easily. We need to go someplace else. Someplace safe."

Tara smiled. "Is there anyplace safe in this town?"

Unnoticed by the duo, a dark shape moved in the shallow water nearby. Then a thick black tentacle burst out and wrapped itself tightly around Tara's right ankle. She screamed in surprise as it jerked her off her feet and dragged her down into the water before even the vampire had a chance to react.

"Tara!" Without a second thought Willow dove in, and was surprised to find herself floating at the entrance of a rather large hole. She made a face and then swam down into the darkness.

Within a few seconds she found Tara, her arms and legs bound by tentacles. She had her eyes closed tightly and was trying desperately to hold her breath. Beneath her was a large black mass, an amorphous creature with a wide maw full of glinting, dagger-like teeth, and bright red eyes.

Willow swam straight at the thing and punched it square in its 'face'. It felt very much like driving her fist into a plastic bag full of jello, but was apparently enough to make the creature reconsider its dinner plans. It screeched and released Tara, then sank quickly into the darkness.

By then the blonde was pretty much out of air. She went limp and was starting to black out when Willow caught her under the arms and swam her quickly to the surface. The redhead heaved Tara over the side of the hole so her upper body was out of the water, and slapped her back until she coughed up most of the slimy liquid. The vampire was thankful Tara hadn't required mouth to mouth. She had no breath.

"W-Wha...what the hell...was that?"

"Craken demon," Willow replied. "They prowl the sewers, and hunt by body heat."

Tara felt like she was going to throw up, for more than one reason. "I'm glad...you were...here."

"Me too." Willow climbed out of the water and then helped Tara up. "Now, come on." She put an arm around the shivering blonde. "We need to get you out of those wet clothes before you get sick. I can remember what it's like to be sick, vaguely, and it's not fun."

Tara was not in any condition to argue, and just nodded instead.

Willow led them to a sewer entrance at the end of a city block, its manhole cover that was partially shaded by a long-hanging branch. At that point she seemed to hesitate, then she finally slung Tara over her shoulder and raced across the street, ignoring the sizzling of her exposed flesh. She lunged at and burst right through the door of the first house she came to and then crashed to the floor, thrashing and moaning, while Tara slid until finally coming to a stop near the base of a staircase.

"Goddess." The blonde slowly sat up. Her body ached. "Let's never do that again." She heard groaning and turned to see Willow writhing on the floor nearby. "No!" She crawled over to the redhead, who she realized had many of the same burns as before. "Goddess! Willow? What can I do?"

Willow snarled. "I'll...be fine."

"Y-You're hurt," said Tara. "Again. Because of me. Let me help you. Let me..."

"No!" The redhead's face softened when she saw the hurt in Tara's. "You can't. Only blood."

Tara held up her hand. "I can..."

"Thank you, but no. You've already given too much. I don't want to hurt you." Willow sat up. "I'll be okay. Once I rest, the burns will heal. They're not that bad."

"Are you sure?"

Willow nodded. "Trust me."

"I do." Tara stood up, then helped the redhead to her feet. "Now."

The blonde smiled, and so did Willow. "Now, let's go upstairs and see if their shower works. Hopefully, there'll be some clothes laying around too."

"Why would people abandon a perfectly good house?"

"A lot of them died when the Master first rose during the Harvest. Those who stayed hid in their homes at night and many evacuated during the daytime. You'd be amazed what they leave behind."

Tara nodded. "If you say so." She started up the stairs, pausing to look back over her shoulder when she realized Willow had slumped into a chair. "Are you sure you're all right?"

"I'm just tired, is all. Go on." Once Tara was out of sight, Willow lowered her head and groaned.

A search of the upstairs bedrooms did indeed reveal closets with clothes in them, but two belonged to children and one to an apparent teenager half-again her size. The larger of the rooms seemed to be that of the parents, and in their closet were various outfits that fit, though they were hardly her usual style.

Tara strippd off her old clothes, which stank so badly it made her eyes water, and got into the shower. She used a whole bar of soap and most of a bottle of shampoo before she even came close to feeling clean again, and turned the water up so hot it was practically scalding.

The massager setting on the shower-head helped her body to relax in time, but her mind was still going a mile a minute. She wasn't a demon. She had found a new friend in Amy, only to see her brutally murdered by the woman for whom she was now trying to convince herself she didn't have feelings.

Tara leaned her head back against the shower wall and closed her eyes. "Goddess!" She never saw the bathroom door opening. "Please...give me a sign." The blonde nearly jumped out of her skin as she heard the shower curtain open and another body slid into the tub with her. "Willow?" The redhead was also naked. "What in Gaia's name are you doing?" She turned and twisted her body in an effort to cover herself.

"I'm dirty too." Willow stuck out her lower lip. "What? I thought you liked me?"

"I-I do, but..." It was taking all of Tara's willpower not to look at the redhead's body. She wanted so badly to take her in her arms and make love to her all day and all night long. She wanted it more than anything she had ever felt in her entire life. But something was stopping her. "Willow, please."

"Oh, come on." Willow reached up and cupped the blonde's full breasts. "You want me. Don't you?"

Tara started trembling. "Y-Yes."

"I want you too. I want us to be together. We can, you know."


"Why not?"

"What's wrong with you? Why are you acting like this?"

Willow leaned in and nuzzled Tara's neck, smiling when she shuddered and moaned. "Like what? Like a lover? It feels so good, doesn't it?" Her hand drifted down toward the blonde's thigh. "I've wanted you since the first time I saw you. You're all mine, you know that? You belong to me."

Tara felt a stab of pain as one of the redhead's fingernails cut into the delicate flesh of her leg. Willow dropped to her knees, clamped her mouth over the wound and began to suck. "Goddess, yes!" The blonde felt as if she was going to faint from pleasure. "Willow!" She tangled her fingers in the redhead's hair. Soon her head began to spin and little dark spots appeared in front of her eyes. "Please."

As the blood poured down her throat and made her stronger, it also caused Willow's mind to clear. She realized right then what she was doing and pulled her head back. Tara whimpered at the loss of contact. "No!" It scared her to think how close she was to killing this woman. A woman she had strong feelings for. "Tara?" The blonde's eyes rolled back in her head, and she collapsed into Willow's arms. "Tara?!"

Tara awoke to find herself in the soft, warm confines of an unfamiliar bed in an unfamiliar room. She felt more than a little disappointed that she was alone.

"Willow?" She sat up and noticed a fresh bandage on her hand. Then she remembered what went happened in the shower and blushed. A quick check told her there was a bandage on her leg too. Both of them had obviously been done with great care. "Where are you? Willow?"

She rolled out of bed and stood up. She found a pair of jeans draped over the back of a chair, along with a green top and some tennis shoes. She smiled as she was getting dressed.

"Willow?" Tara went looking for the redhead. They really needed to talk. She wasn't scared or even angry, since she knew that if the vampire had really wanted her dead she would have been. As she walked into the dining room the blonde became aware of two things at once. It was dark outside, so she had obviously been asleep for a while, and there was something burning.

"Willow?" Tara found her way into the kitchen through a thick cloud of smoke. She waved her hands and said an incantation to dispel it, then tracked the source to a frying pan on the stove. Whatever had been cooking was long past recognizable, and she dumped the whole thing in the trash. Only then did she see Willow, who was seated on the floor with her knees drawn up to her chest, slowly rocking back and forth.

"What is it, Willow? What's wrong?"

The redhead didn't look at her. She wouldn't even raise her head. "I-I wanted to make you something to eat but it didn't work. The fire...I screwed it up. I screw everything up."

"That's not true."

"Yes, it is!" Willow appeared about ready to start crying all over again. "I tried to kill the most important person in my life. How could I do that? What kind of a monster am I?"

Tara sat down beside Willow and put her arm across the redhead's shoulders. "Take it easy. It's okay. I've burned plenty of meals in my time. Believe me, that's nothing to be ashamed of. I'm just flattered that you were trying to cook for me in the first place. I really appreciate you making the effort."

"I hurt you!"

"You didn't do it on purpose, and that's the important thing."

Willow shook her head. "But I did. Don't you get it? I'm hungry..." She looked Tara right in the eye. "...for you. I want you, Tara. More than I've ever wanted anyone or anything in my life. I drank your blood because that's what I do, but it's all about possession. I couldn't control myself. Whenever I'm near you, I just feel like I need to..." She lowered her head. "You're better off staying away. I don't know what else I might do. And I couldn't stand it if you got hurt, I mean really hurt, because of me."

"Goddess." Tara didn't know what else to say after a declaration like that.

Willow, however, cleared her throat. "There is still plenty of stuff in the fridge. You want me to try again?" She started to get up, but Tara grabbed her arms and pulled her back down.

"No. Please. Just...stay here with me for a while."

The redhead nodded. "Okay."

Neither moved or spoke for some time, until the silence was broken by Tara's stomach rumbling. Both of them then looked at one another and just started laughing hysterically.

The battle at the dock proved to be a long and dusty one, in the end leaving William and Drusilla the sole survivors on either side. Realizing one of them would have to die if they continued, and neither of them willing to risk that fate befalling them, they agreed to put their differences aside for the time being, in order to concentrate on their mutual problem. Willow.

She was a potential threat neither was prepared to ignore. They sought out a couple of local vampires, and were told to ask Willy for more information about Willow. He in turn told them that he had no idea where she was but knew someone who might be able to help them find her.

They were with him now.

"Well, well." Rack dropped into a chair. "I seem to be all the rage with the undead in this town." He steepled his fingers in front of his face. "And what can I do for the two of you?"

William growled. "The redhead. Willow. I want her. And you're going to help me get her."

"Is that right?"

Drusilla shoved William aside. "Oh shut up! You couldn't intimidate a child, let alone this guy." Her face turned demonic. "Let me try."

"Save it for someone who cares, would you?" Rack reached into his shirt and pulled out a tiny metal crucifix on a chain around his neck. "See this? I'm protected. There is a ward on this thing. One of you tries to lay so much as a fang on me, and I promise you'll regret it."

Drusilla proceeded to do just that. She reached for Rack, but as soon as her hands came in contact with his arm there was something akin to an electrical discharged that threw her across the room. She struck and shattered the full-length mirror hanging there, then slid to the floor and groaned.

"Told you."

William smiled. "Nice one. Can you teach me that?"

"You came here to ask me a favor," said Rack. "Right? Now, if I were a betting man, and I am, I'd say it has to do with Willow. She's the last important member of Aurelius left, which means she's the only thing standing in your way. Only problem is, now you can't find her." He smiled. "How'm I doing so far?"

Drusilla brushed herself off as she rejoined them. "You're obviously very well-connected."

"I try."

"What can you do for us? Or are you just blowing smoke here?"

"You want me to help you find Willow, right?" Rack sighed. "Well, a locator spell is out of the question. She's a lone vampire, in a city full of vampires. Even with her inner-demon all screwed up there's nothing special enough about her to make her stick out." He arched an eyebrow. "However, when she came to see to me earlier, she had a new...friend, with her. A girl. I saw into her mind, and I think I can work with that. She has a very recognizable and traceable mental signature, if you know what to do with it."

"Do you?" William asked.

Rack stood up. "Of course I do." He led them to a room full of cages full of a wide variety of exotic and mostly poisonous animals. From one he took a six-foot long, solid black snake which entwined itself around his arm and hissed at the vampires. "I'm going to help you. The Seeker will find Tara..."

"...and where she is, Willow is sure to be," said Drusilla. She smiled. "Excellent."

William cleared his throat. "What, precisely, do you get out of all this?"

"The girl. Tara." Rack was patting the snake as he talked. "I want her. You can do what you want with Willow and Sunnydale, burn everything to the ground for all I care, but let me have Tara. What I saw in her mind, and her aura, she has great potential. I'm going to enjoy bringing it out of her."

Drusilla glanced at William, who shrugged his shoulders, and then nodded. "Done."

"I'm telling you, I think it's our best bet."

Willow and Tara were back on Sunnydale's surface streets. It would be dark for some time yet, and the blonde's initial dislike for the sewer had grown into full-blown antipathy.

"But why?" Willow counter. "William already knows about the Magic Box. So does Drusilla, probably, by now." They had been having the same disagreement for blocks. "Why take the chance of going back to one of the places whoever won will probably check first?"

"Interesting use of grammar," said the blonde. "But the Magic Box is full of stuff that can help us. Weapons and books with spells in them. I might even be able to reestablish the protective wards that Amy had up. Anything that might keep William or Drusilla away from us. Give us a chance to fight them."

"I still say it's a long shot."

"If you have a better idea, I'd love to hear it."

Willow walked in silence with her head bowed, until Tara looked at her. "Well?"

"I'm thinking."

A few more minutes passed. "Well?"

Willow grabbed the blonde's arm to stop her, then leaned in and kissed her hard on the mouth. When she finally pulled away and saw the stunned look on Tara's face she smiled. "You win."

Tara continued to stand there and stare until Willow was several steps ahead of her, then hurried to catch up. "If that's the way you always end an argument, we should fight more often."

Rack stood in the open doorway of his home, bathed in the warmth of the afternoon sun.

"Do you understand what I told you?"

Behind him was a bizarre-looking creature. Six feet tall, with oily black scales and a hooded, undeniably snake-head. It had long muscular arms with four-clawed hands, slitted golden eyes, two sets of sharp fangs and a forked tongue. Below its more or less humanoid upper torso was a long, thick snake's body.

The Seeker nodded.

"Go then," said Rack. "Find the witch!" It slithered out the door as he turned to William and Drusilla. The two of them were standing, uncomfortably close together, as far from the sun as possible. "Oh, don't feel too bad. You'd never be able to keep up with him anyway."

William frowned. "Are you sure this will work?"

"Positive. Once the sun is down, it can lead you to Tara. Even if Willow's not with her she can probably tell you where she is. Now..." He closed the door. "...shall I order us a pizza?"

"We don't eat," Drusilla replied. "Food."

"But I do." Rack smiled. "And the pretty little pizza girl who delivers here is only nineteen."

"It's no use."

Tara put the book she had paging through down and rubbed her eyes.

"We've been at this for hours and we've barely gone through a fraction of these books. There is no way to know which one Amy used, and that's assuming she didn't make a spell up on her own." She glanced at Willow, who was sitting on the other side of the table and holding a book...upside-down. "Uhh, Will?"

The redhead didn't look up. "What?"

"What're you doing?"

"I can't make heads or tails of this stupid book. I was hoping this would help."

"Does it?"

"No!" Willow tossed the book aside. "I just don't understand magic."

"Take it easy. We'll figure something out."

"We shouldn't have to!" The redhead lurched to her feet. "Damn, it's all my fault. You wouldn't be in this mess if it wasn't for me!" She grabbed the nearest bookshelf and tumped it over with a throaty roar. Books went flying all over the room, some of them whizzing past Tara's head.

The blonde jumped up. "Hey!"

"What?" Willow blinked, as if just realizing what she had done. "Oh. Did I...hurt you?"

"No, but you..." Tara noticed something near her feet. "What's this?" She bent down to pick up the leather-bound book that had caught her eye. "Hmm."

Willow cocked her head. "What is it? Don't tell me that's the book we're looking for."

"I wish. No. There are no barriers or anything like that in here. But this volume does contain a virtual arsenal of offensive spells. Cantrips for confounding or blinding ones opponents. Electrical discharges. Nothing really big or powerful, but if I can learn this stuff I can help you fight next time."

"If we could find one of those barrier things, you wouldn't have to fight at all."

"You don't want my help?"

Willow's face softened. "Of course I do. But I don't want you to get hurt. Not because of me."

"This is not your fault. I told you that already. Will, this is a dangerous city. Even if I had never met you, one of the monsters here would probably still be after me. I'd most likely be dead by now, or a monster myself." Tara bit her lip. "I'm just lucky you were the one who found me first."

"Why? In case you forgot, I tried to kill you too."

"Yes but you're a different person now, whether you like it or not. A wonderful, beautiful, exciting person." The blonde took a deep breath. "Will? Can I..."

Willow could tell Tara was becoming nervous, though she didn't know why. "What?"

"Can I...kiss you?"

The redhead blinked. "What?"

"Ever since you kissed me before, I haven't been able to stop thinking about it. I've known I liked girls, that way, since I was younger. But you are the first woman since my eighth grade English teacher, and she was just a crush, who has dominated my mind like this."

"Yes, but why would you want me?" Willow put all her emphasis on the last word.

"Have you seen you?"

"No," the redhead replied. "Not in a long time."


"I've actually forgotten what I look like. Isn't that weird?"

Tara shook her head. "I don't understand."

"Here..." Willow's eyes darted around the room, until she saw what appeared to be an antique silver hand-mirror in one of the viewing cases. "I'll show you." She took the mirror out of its display and gave it to Tara, then put her chin on the blonde's shoulder. "Now look at yourself."

Tara did as she was told. She saw her own face, her shoulder and the shop behind her, but no Willow. There was no sign of the redhead, though she knew she was there. "You have no reflection!"

"I know. That's what I've been trying to tell you. I'm not human. Flirting aside, I'm really not someone you ought to be involved with Tara. I do want you. I want us to be together. Believe that. But I'm not good for you. I'm a very dangerous creature. I'm one of those monsters you were talking about."

Tara put the mirror and the book aside and took Willow's hands. "I understand all of that. I do. Will, I know what you are. How dangerous and difficult this will be, but do you know what? I don't care." She smiled, and in spite of herself, so did Willow. With the redhead off balance it was easy for her to pull Willow in, and stifle any protests she might have been planning with a long, luxurious, hungry kiss.

The two of them were so busy they didn't see the reptilian shape of the Seeker appear in the window. Its golden eyes flashed, then it turned and slithered away.

William and Drusilla kept the pizza girl alive for most of the day, choosing to feed a little bit at a time in order to prolong her agony and thus make her blood more flavorable to them. In time the Seeker returned, and while its hisses and snarls proved meaningless to them Rack obviously understood.

"Was the vampire with her?" It nodded. "Excellent." Rack pointed to William and Drusilla. "See them? Once the sun is down, you will lead them to where you found the vampire and the witch. If they've moved since then, you'll lead them to their new location. And you will help them fight if need be. Understand?" Again, it nodded. "Go over and eat what's left of that girl. I don't want her stinking up the place."

As soon as the sun set the Seeker headed out again. This time William and Drusilla were following it. Or trying to at least. It had to move slower than usual and every so often stop or even backtrack in order to let the vampires catch up. Yet it showed no signs of anger or frustration. Unlike others.

"Bloody hell!" William was not accustomed to such rigorous physical activity as running. Early on, in the living years, he had innumerable servants catering to his every whim. As a vampire, he had taken to surrounding himself with minions to do all the running, searching and fighting for him. "I still don't see why we can't hire one of those lorries, or...what is it they call them over here? Taxis?"

Drusilla snorted. "Unbelievable. It's been how many decades since I last saw you? You haven't changed. You are still the same poncy bugger I've always hated. Go back to London, Spike."

"Not bloody likely."

The Seeker was waiting for them as they rounded a corner. When they arrived it pointed to a building at the end of the street. Even from this distance, in the dark, they could make out the sign.

"Magic Box?" William asked. "Lucas mentioned that name. Why would the witch come back here?"

Drusilla shrugged her shoulders. "Who can figure humans?"

Tara woke with a jerk, her eyes watering and her breathing ragged. She didn't even remember falling asleep. The last clear memory she did have was of kissing Willow, and Willow kissing her back, then the two of them sliding down on to the bed together.

Now she sat up, or tried to at least. There was an arm wrapped tightly around her waist, and the cool softness of Willow's skin felt so good against her bare stomach. She blinked. Bare?

Tara slowly lifted the blanket, eyes widening. "Uh huh. No clothes." Her face turned several shades of red. Then she rolled over, still in Willow's grip, and peeked under the blanket again. The redhead was also naked as she. For a moment she openely marveled at the beauty before her, then she sighed. "What happened? Goddess what did we do?" Her mind was all fuzzy. It almost felt like she had a hangover, though she was pretty sure she had never had a drop of alcohol in her entire life. Her father forbid it.

Willow lifted her head. "You don't remember?"

They were face to face, lip to lip practically, and Tara was struck by the fact that Willow had no breath. She did, however, and was holding her breath now as their breasts were crushed together. It was the most erotic sensation she had ever experienced, or even imagined.

"Afraid n-not," said the blonde. "Care to, umm, fill me in?"

Willow pulled her arm away and sat up. "We were kissing in bed." Tara's face flushed, but Willow continued. "It was great. Until I got my hand into your shirt. You panicked. Started stuttering that things were moving too fast. I watched you get up and go back to the book. You threw yourself into the magic. You said one of the spells would make our clothes hard, like armor. Instead, it made them disappear."

Tara blinked. "So that's why we're naked?" Willow nodded. "Why are we in bed?"

"After our clothes vanished, you got all light-headed and passed out. I guess the magic was too much. You were thrashing around, moaning in your sleep, and I got a little worried, so I crawled in to keep you company. I guess I fell asleep too. I didn't take advantage of you, if that's what you're thinking."

"N-No, I w-wasn't..." Tara saw the hint of a smile on Willow's face. "Hey!" She playfully slapped at the redhead's arm. "I've never...you know. I didn't want my first time to be like this."

Willow's face fell. "You mean with some...thing, like me?"

"No. Goddess." Tara cupped Willow's cheek. "That's not it at all. It was like being drunk. If we ever do...I want to make sure I remember it. You understand? Please, tell me you understand."

"I do."

Tara held the sheet around herself as she slid out of bed. "I wonder how long we were out?" A clock on the wall read 6:30, PM. "Six hours?"

"Is that a problem?"

"No, I just...the sun is down. If anyone was going to come after us, it'd be now." Tara looked around. "We should find our clothes. They must be around here somewhere."

In time they found the clothes, together, in a corner. Willow, who didn't even remember what shyness was like, stood naked in the middle of the room and watched as Tara went into the back room. When she emerged with her clothes on and still looking embarrassed, the redhead approached her.

"Can I ask you a question?"

Tara nodded. "Sure."

"Do you like me?"


"I don't think I need to repeat myself."

Tara crossed her arms. "Of course I do."

"So why are you hiding from me?"

"I d-don't...it's complicated."


Tara blinked. "What?"

"That's crap. If it's complicated, it's because you want it to be. You like me. I like you. We kissed. You want me just as much as I want you. What's the problem?"

"I told you, it was the spell."

Willow nodded. "Oh yes. The magic. Didn't you tell me magic is mostly force of will? It's not like a demon that has a mind of its own. Its energy to be bent, twisted, controlled. Right?"

"More or less."

"Then your spell didn't screw up at all. It responded to your will. This is what you really want."

"How do you figure that?"

"The spell made our clothes disappear. Don't you see? Some part of you, a deep down part you're not even aware of maybe, wanted us naked. Together. Your desire was to be rid of the clothes."

Tara was almost speechless. "H-How did you get so...perceptive? Not to mention verbose?"

"I told you..." Willow tapped the side of her head. "I was always in here. The demon suppressed what little bit of me was left, kept it locked away in a cage somewhere deep down in my subconcious, but it was always there. The cleansing spell you cast just helped bring it out again. And for that, I owe you."

"Just think." Tara touched the redhead's face. "Right after it happened, you wanted me to kill you."

They both turned as the front door burst open, revealing William and Drusilla in full vamp-faces. "I'd be happy to oblige," he growled. "Hello again, ladies."

"Crap," Willow muttered, and not for the first time. Only now it had a different connotation.

"How did you find us?" Tara asked.

Drusilla smiled. "You can thank our guide for that." She and William stepped aside to let the Seeker inside. "He was a little present from your friend Rack."

Willow shifted to her game-face and snarled. "Remind me to thank him."

"Oh, you needn't worry about that love," said William. "You won't be around long enough."

"This is bad," Tara whispered. "Very, very bad."

Drusilla shook her head. "Not at all, dear. You're very fortunate. It seems Rack has a fondness for you. We have an agreement. We get Willow, and he gets you."

"Like hell!" Once again the redhead threw herself headlong into the fight. She tackled Drusilla, who snarled and clawed and hissed at her. They sounded like wild animals.

"Bloody hell, Dru. Can't you go five minutes without pawing some bird?" William motioned to the Seeker. "Get the witch, but remember...don't hurt her."

It nodded and slithered toward Tara.

"Goddess, no!" The blonde brought her hands together in front of her. She concentrated, feeling the energy as it flowed through her and built up, growing stronger and stronger with each passing second. When it felt as if it was almost beyond her capacity to contain any longer she spoke the word. "Dissolvo!" A surging, crackling ball of the purest magical energy exploded into being, shot away from her and struck the unsuspecting Seeker. It howled, in surprise if nothing else, as it was hurled across the room. "It worked."

That was one of the spells she had learned from Amy's book. It was quite powerful. Using it was easier than she had expected too, but it had one major drawback. Tara forgot her old concerns and replaced them instead with all new ones, as the now hurt and angry Seeker rose before her once more. "Uh oh." Not for the first time, she found herself looking around for Willow.

Drusilla and the redhead locked arms and eyes, as they vied for dominance, but before too long it became clear it was the former who was the stronger of the two. She broke Willow's grip with relative ease and slashed several deep gouges across her face, then picked her up and threw her like a rag doll. She crashed through one of the few remaining display cases and crumpled to the ground in a bloody heap.

"I'm not impressed," said the dark-haired vampire. "The Master must have lowered his standards."

William bit his lip to keep from smiling. "Umm, Dru?"

"What is it?"

A part of him wanted to say watch out, but instead he said "Turn around."

Drusilla did just that, in time to catch Willow's fist in her face. She was staggered, caught off-guard, and unable to defend herself from a flurry of vicious kicks and punches. Willow's attacks had no rhyme or reason to them, it was all a matter of hurting her target as much as was physically possible.

"You witch! I'll kill you!"

"Speaking...ooof...witches..." Drusilla grunted between each blow. "...yours...seems to be..." She didn't even have an opportunity to defend herself, or try and get away. "...in a...spot of...trouble."

Willow stopped her attack and looked over her shoulder. Tara had been backed into a corner by the Seeker. The blonde's face was displaying a myriad of emotions, fear most of all. "No!"

Seeing that the redhead was distracted, Drusilla picked up a chair and cracked it over her head. As Willow fell a throaty chuckle escaped the dark-haired vampire's mouth. "Fool." She found a makeshift stake among the remains of the chair and kneeled by the redhead's side. "It's past time to end this!"

Tara didn't have time to focus her magicks and use the repulse spell again, the snake-thing was almost upon her, but she did have another idea. Looking around for a bottle of liquid she found several of them--marked with little crosses--on a shelf to her right. Holy water.

She grabbed one and threw it at the Seeker. The bottle shattered on the snake-thing's chest, soaking it good. But since it wasn't a vampire so it had no effect other than to momentarily startle and distract it. That was enough, for what Tara had in mind at least.

The blonde held up one hand, fingers extended. "Fulgetrum flagrare!"

Tendrils of blue-white, lightning-like energy surged and crackled across the Seeker's body. Using the water for a conductive agent it burned the creature internally. It shrieked in agony as it must have felt like every fiber of its being was on fire. It convulsed, spittle flying from its toothy maw, then fell to the ground and continued to seize, its thick tail whipping around and knocking things over.

Tara paled. She had no idea the spell would be that intense. The creature was in pain. She had only meant to hurt it enough to make it leave. She never wanted to kill it. "Goddess forgive me." Then she heard a crash, followed by a familiar roar, and saw Drusilla standing over Willow with a stake. "No!" After what had just happened she wasn't sure if she could kill the vampire, but there were other ways.

She grabbed another bottle of holy water and threw it. "Rumpere!" The bottle shattered, raining holy water on to Drusilla. The dark-haired vampire howled as her exposed flesh began to smolder. Too late, Tara realized some of the water was falling on Willow too. The redhead didn't cry out though, she ignored her burning flesh and instead focused on prying the stake out of Drusilla's hands.

"Die, bitch!" The dark-haired vampire never saw it coming, but she certainly felt it when her heart was peirced. She took a step back, her eyes growing wide, then her body turned to dust.

William watched all this with open complacency on his face. With Drusilla gone now the only thing standing in the way of his running Sunnydale was Willow. But she was clearly a more formidable opponent than he had given her credit for, especially with the witch by her side.

Willow held on to the stake as she turned to the platinum-haired vampire. "Your turn."

"Now ladies, I believe some sort of an arrangement can be reached." William considered himself a lover and an exceptional leader, not a fighter. He was fairly certain he couldn't take the redhead. Especially not so long as she had Tara. "What say we have a chat?"

"I'm not interested," Willow growled. "I'm tired, I'm sore, and I'm sick of you."

William crossed her arms. "You've got a sharp tongue, love."

"Get out of here." Willow held up the stake. "This is your last warning."

"I'd listen to her if I were you," said Tara. She put an arm around the redhead's waist. "Go home!"

William's face shifted back to its human appearance. "Fine. You want this town so bad? But I'm willing to wager you're not prepared for what's coming." He turned and walked out of the shop.

"Thank the Goddess that's over."

Willow dropped her arms. "I can barely move as it is. Not sure I could have fought him even if I wanted to." Her face returned to normal. She smiled at Tara. "I'm just glad you're okay."

"Me too. About you, I mean." The blonde glanced at the door. "But what was he saying? Something's coming? I don't think I like the sound of that."

"Who cares? If there's trouble, I'm sure we can handle it."

Tara blinked as she took in the redhead's words. "We?"

"Isn't that what I said?" Willow cupped Tara's chin, tilted her head back, and kissed her.

On the outskirts of Sunnydale, under a roiling sea of dark, foreboding clouds he appeared, wearing a long black cape that flowed regally out behind him as he walked.

Piercing golden eyes smoldered as the fanged mouth twitched into the barest hint of a smile.

The End

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