DISCLAIMER: Definitely no money being made. All characters belong to Joss Whedon and ME. I own nothing except whatever characters I may make up for this story along with the storyline. I just like to play with them - I promise to put them back after I'm done!!
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To kinetic-kid[at]earthlink.net

Chasing Daylight
By Kinetic-Kid


Chapter 28

Faith snarls and slams her fist into the brick wall as she finds the bag of items Willow had obviously dropped when she was taken. "FUCK!" Kneeling beside the items, ignoring her bloody knuckles, she quickly sorts through them trying to see if maybe Willow might have been able to leave some clue as to what happened, though knowing in her gut that if Willow had any idea someone was after her she wouldn't be gone right now.

Turning her gaze to find something, anything that might give her an idea of which way to go, Faith runs a shaking hand through her hair. Seeing a small scuff on the sidewalk, she sighs. "There's no way for me ta' tell if it's Red's or not." Gathering the items, carefully putting them in the bag, she inhales deeply, silently wishing that the redhead wore some kind of strong, obvious perfume instead of the light slightly flowery scent she does wear. Setting the bag against the wall, she stands and takes a deep breath to calm her racing heart before she takes off at a quick walk, all her senses on high alert as she tries to find something to help her find the redhead.

"She was here." Buffy sees the bag. "Actually, both of them were." Buffy holds up the item on top of the bag.

Tara sighs at the sight of the mangled piece of metal. Looking around she points to the brick wall with a fist-sized hunk missing.

"Okay, from here, I want groups going out in every direction. If you find anything let us know." Buffy orders, pointing the different groups in the direction she wants them to take before she looks down at the ground and waves Tara over. "I think Faith headed this way. The blood drops from where she hit the wall seem to be going this way."

"Then we'll follow her." Tara starts digging through the bag of items, knowing Willow was planning on picking up stuff to be able to do tracking spells.

"Tara?" Giles questions softly, wondering what the witch is doing. Having been somewhat shocked and surprised at her willingness to silence Kennedy. Swallowing hard as he remembers the normally warm, soothing tones of the witch being cold and sharp when she'd told the potential in no uncertain terms that the two slayers aren't the only one's she'll be answering to if Willow was harmed in any way. And what she could do to her would make her wish for the slayers' retribution instead.

"Tracking spell." Tara answers the unasked question. "Buffy, one of your knives, please?" Tara holds her hand out as she kneels by one of the blood drops, placing the ingredients directly over it. Accepting the knife without looking at her lover, she uses the handle to grind the items together, effectively mixing the relatively fresh blood with them before whispering the incantation, a muted red ball rising and bouncing in front of her.

Buffy watches as Tara stands brushing off her knees after handing her the knife back.

"Definitely Faith's blood." Tara waves to the ball of light, sending it off as they quickly follow it.

"You can tell?" Buffy looks curiously at Tara as they jog after the light, everyone else already probably a block or further away in their different routes.

"The rage in her past is making it red, but she has control of it, more or less now or it would be a brighter red." Tara admits softly. "If it was Willow's, it would be darker, more a violet bordering on black because of the amount of dark magic she's done."

Giles listens to Tara's explanation as he makes Kennedy keep pace with the two women. He has actually been watching Buffy and Tara since he arrived back in Sunnydale, whenever he could get the chance. And the way the two women interacted with each other, there was no doubting that they were a couple in every sense of the word, but what was most surprising was how Buffy and Tara worked together trusting each other implicitly with very little extra words needed between them.

"Mine?" Buffy purses her lips as they continue to jog after the light.

"Honestly, I haven't any idea. It shows up colored by the sums of our experiences. With you…" Tara shakes her head and smiles sadly at her lover before turning her gaze back to the light that just turned the corner around a warehouse.

Buffy grunts softly in understanding, realizing because of her dying, her slayer status and a million other things, it would be hard to tell.

"Whatever color, I'm sure it would be warm and bright." Tara murmurs softly, under her breath. "It'll shine from your heart, love. Because that's what you are."

Buffy shifts closer to Tara, letting her shoulder brush softly against Tara's. Needing the contact and warmth she always feels when she's with her lover. Turning the corner, she catches sight of Faith turning the corner ahead of them. "FAITH!" Buffy yells, picking up her pace and running after the slayer.

Tara, Kennedy and Giles pick up their pace to catch up to Buffy and Faith.

Buffy slides to a stop behind a glowering Faith. "We have everyone looking for Willow, Faith. They're spreading out to search Sunnydale."

"I…" Faith starts only to stop as she unconsciously takes a step towards Kennedy, the anger at seeing the potential enough to where she has to fight the urge to rip the young woman limb from limb.

"Easy, Faith. Let's work on finding Willow first, then take care of everything else afterwards." Buffy quickly intercepts the dark-haired slayer, putting herself between Faith and Kennedy. "Is there a particular reason you were heading this way?"

"Nah. I can't find nothin' indicating which way she went." Faith admits, her shoulders dropping as she looks into worried hazel eyes. "I got a bad feeling, B. Can ya' do some kinda spell or somethin' to find her?" Faith finally questions as she looks at Tara.

Tara sighs at the pleading look in Faith's eyes, hating what she's going to say next. "I tried, Faith. Something's blocking me from Willow. I'll have to do some serious research and try different spells to see if there's a way to work around whatever is blocking me. Right now, searching Sunnydale is the next best thing."

Giles steps up after letting everyone know that they'd found Faith, but still haven't come across Willow, everyone else reporting in that there was no indication of where the redhead is, yet. "I suggest that we continue our search for another two hours, then head back to the Magic Box, pick up all the supplies and books that we might need and head back to the house. Everyone will be on research detail for any kind of spell to help us locate Willow if we haven't found her beforehand."

Faith shakes her head about to argue, before she finds herself being hugged between the two women.

"Shhh. Running around with no idea or clue where she is, isn't going to help anything. You'll need to be on top of your game when we find her." Buffy silences Faith looking up into worried blue eyes on the other side of the dark-haired slayer, not that surprised to find Tara trying to comfort Faith at the same time.

"We'll find her. It may just take some time. But we will find her." Tara promises softly to Faith and her lover, knowing Buffy's as worried as the rest of them are, though she's trying to hide it.

Faith stiffens her back and nods her head, fighting the worry and fear she's feeling, pushing it back as the two women step back releasing her. "Let's go." Faith finally growls softly, darting one last hateful look towards Kennedy before spinning around on her heels and taking off in the same direction she'd been heading before they had caught up with her.

Kennedy drops her gaze down to the ground, guilt finally working its way through her at the fact that Willow is definitely missing and possibly worse. Jogging after the hurrying slayers and witch at the prodding of the Watcher, Kennedy realizes she's fucked up bad.

"Are you going to keep your mouth shut?" Tara finally asks, the slight drain of keeping the potential silent, starting to tire her after having kept it in place for the last two hours. When Kennedy quickly nods her head, she disperses the spell and turns to look at her lover and Faith as they come out of the building they'd just finished searching. The disheartened look on both women's faces obvious.

Giles steps up after talking with the other groups. "No one's having much luck. One of the witches thought she felt some kind of disturbance but when she re-checked it, it disappeared."

Buffy furrows her brows as something tickles her memories her eyes on her lover as Tara seems to get a thoughtful look on her face. "I feel like that should mean something." Buffy admits, rubbing a hand over her forehead as she feels the stress headache that had been a dull pain starting to pound harder.

"Me, too." Tara admits, sighing heavily. "I think we're all too tired and stressed out right now to have our thoughts working properly."

"And I dare say it's going to be dark here soon and we should call an end to the search…" Giles starts only to be stopped.

"I ain't quittin'! She's here somewhere, and we gotta find her." Faith finally spouts out, having kept quiet the rest of the time as they searched Sunnydale.

"Faith, you're tired and hungry. Hell, we all are. We're not going to be much good if we're too worn out to fight whatever took her. Let's get everyone to head back to the house, pick up some maps of Sunnydale and work on a plan for tomorrow. We'll send people out in groups like we did today, but we'll concentrate in sections of Sunnydale. Each group working on a block until it's completely checked inside and out before working our way to the next block." Buffy offers, knowing that's going to be the next best thing. Even they hadn't been checking every building and every room.

"B…" Faith starts only to see the worry and sadness in Buffy's eyes, knowing the slayer doesn't like it any better than she does, but ultimately believes this is the best way to go about it.

"I think everyone will do better with food, a halfway decent night's sleep and a fresh start in the morning. We'll get up at the crack of dawn and start the search over again." Tara offers softly, her arm slipping around her lover's waist, frowning as her lover sinks heavily against her. "We'll also spend a good portion of the night working on different spells to try and locate her."

"Let's go." Faith finally murmurs, disheartened but knowing it'll make things harder trying to search at night, if there is some trace of what happened they'd probably miss it.

Giles quickly connects on the radio, telling everyone to head back to the Summers' residence for a meeting asking them if they pass anywhere that'll have street maps of Sunnydale to go in and grab all that they have.


Chapter 29

"Hello, Strawberry." Rack grins wickedly at the redhead as he sets down the tray with food and drink on it for Willow.

"I should have figured." Willow sighs, now the magical signature around her becoming clear, though Rack's signature is always different, since he usually uses a lot of other people's magic. Standing she narrows her gaze on him and starts to work a spell.

"Ah, ah, ah!" Rack waggles his finger around and shakes his head. "Won't do you any good Strawberry. Your magic won't harm me I have protective spells placed on me just for such a purpose." Pulling out the crystals, he sets them down on the table. "I can tell you've been keeping to the not so fun magic lately, but have been draining away all the excess. I also know that you're due for another drain and unless you put your magic into these crystals it'll keep growing within you."

Willow clenches her jaw and hands tightly, her eyes glaring at the magic dealer. Knowing he's right, that if she doesn't drain away the excess magic, eventually she'll lose control. Something she's promised herself she'll never do again, but knowing Rack isn't doing this out of the goodness of his heart, he's obviously wanting her magic for some reason or another. "What do you want, Rack?" She practically spits his name out as she glares at him.

"You, Strawberry, to taste you again, to feel your delightfully sweet-tasting power flowing through my veins." Rack shivers in remembrance of how much power is at the redhead's fingertips. "We could do so many things together, Strawberry. And we will." Rack laughs delightedly as he waves his hand, opening the magical doorway and stepping towards it. "Use the crystals. They're the only thing available here for you to drain your magic with."

Willow glares as the 'doorway' disappears behind the magic dealer, her eyes dropping to the crystals. She's not stupid, she realizes they're harnessing crystals and will capture her magic so it can be used again later, but honestly not knowing what else she can do. Deciding to wait as long as she can before having to drain her magic, Willow picks up a piece of fruit and sniffs it cautiously, though honestly believing Rack wouldn't chance harming his little 'magical' storehouse. Finally tossing the piece of cantaloupe in her mouth, she sighs as she chews the piece of fruit.

Sitting down in the chair, she slowly works her way through the food and the water, knowing she'll have to keep up her strength no matter what happens. Her eyes continuously moving as she looks at the room, knowing that her friends will find her. The only problem is, that no one would probably think about the possibility of Rack and his ability to 'hide' his always moving… business which is hard to find except for certain people. Though the amount of witches they have here in Sunnydale at this moment would actually probably work in their favor… if they realized what they were feeling to investigate it further. Sighing quietly, Willow finishes eating before standing and pacing slowly around the small room.

"Eventually I'll get out of here, Rack. And not only will you have to deal with me, but you'll have to deal with my friends. They won't be exactly happy, and they're not the type of people you want mad at you." Willow comments, even with her screw ups of the past, in her heart knowing that the group won't quit until they find her.

Tara holds her lover tightly, the slayer practically burrowing into her as she stares up at the ceiling, the niggling thought earlier having woken her from her restless sleep. Listening to the soft snores and movements of the potentials lying on the floor of the bedroom, the house filled with potentials, witches and Watchers, everyone having decided to stay here until they found out what happened to Willow. Xander and Jason having stayed at the house in case Willow possibly showed up while they double-checked the flamethrowers that the government had dropped off in response to Buffy's call a while back. Honestly not knowing what Jason had said to Xander to keep the man from barreling out of the house, but glad that he had spoken up.

Hands stroking over the back of the slayer, Tara blinks as she tries to remember what had flitted through her mind on waking, knowing that there was something she was missing in regards to where Willow might be that would help them to find her.

"You need to sleep." Buffy whispers softly, knowing her lover is awake.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to wake you." Tara leans down and brushes her lips softly over the top of Buffy's head.

"Not your fault." Buffy relaxes the grip she has on her lover and shifts to lie more beside her than on Tara. Propping her head up on her palm, she looks down and brushes a thumb under Tara's worried eyes.

"I'm missing something. Something Jeanine said about feeling a disturbance is ringing a bell." Tara reaches up and rubs a hand over her forehead.

"You were out of the room at the time when she spoke up saying it felt almost like a combination of a shielding and glamour spell." Buffy comments after a few minutes as she thinks about it, her lover having left the room while everyone was talking to check on Faith as the dark-haired slayer had strode out of the house angrily a few moments beforehand.

Tara shifts up in the bed, automatically shifting the pillows behind her to prop her up, running her fingers through Buffy's hair as Buffy maneuvers to lay her head on her lap. "We know that there have been the intermittent Bringers in town, a couple Uber Vamps and other demons have occasionally popped up. What does The First need to really enjoy what he has planned?"

Buffy furrows her brow as she thinks about it, deciding on the simplest answer. "A body?"

"Exactly. How can he enjoy world domination if he can't touch or smell it? Why bother? He needs to become physical." Tara scratches Buffy's scalp as she thinks, her mind going over the different information that she has.

"Major mojo to become physical… right?" Buffy finally gets where Tara's going, blinking at the thought.

"And Willow is very, very powerful." Tara sighs as she closes her eyes and tilts her head back. Though her body is tired, her brain is too busy to let her sleep.

Buffy looks up at Tara, noticing the dark circles under her eyes and the tension etched into her face. Carefully shifting around, she maneuvers Tara back down onto the bed and turns her on her side facing away from her before spooning against her back.

Tara smiles as Buffy's arm wraps around her and her hand gently strokes over her stomach. Feeling the other arm wiggle its way under her neck and reaching up to grasp across her chest holding her tightly to her.

"Sleep, Tara. You're not doing anybody any good wearing yourself down. We have something like forty people, Watchers, witches and two slayers to find her. We will find her, honey. And God help whoever or whatever took her because between you, me and Faith they aren't going to have a snowball's chance in hell of making it out of there alive." Buffy's eyes become cold as she thinks about what she'd like to do to whatever took her best friend.

Tara closes her eyes as she hears the cold fury in Buffy's voice. Knowing in her heart that none of them will be the same if something happens to Willow, and she's going to do her damnedest to make sure they find her before anything can happen to her ex-lover. "You need to sleep, too, Buffy."

"I know." Buffy admits after a few minutes, sighing heavily into Tara's hair. Hugging Tara even tighter to her, Buffy rubs her nose gently against the back of Tara's head. Inhaling deeply of her lover's scent, Buffy wiggles her hand beneath Tara's waistband. Feeling Tara tense slightly and start to say something, Buffy shushes her. "Not going to make love… I just need to feel you." Buffy admits softly, gently cupping Tara's apex sighing quietly at the feel of curls against her palm and the heat against her fingers. As Tara relaxes slowly Buffy lets her thumb caress over Tara's stomach as she starts to relax with her lover. "I love you."

"I love you, too." Tara moves her hand to stroke over Buffy's forearm and closes her eyes, having to admit the soothing stroking of Buffy's hand and the comforting feel of it against her is helping her to relax.

Buffy presses her lips to the back of Tara's head and closes her eyes relaxing as she feels Tara finally easing into sleep. Taking deep, measured breaths Buffy slowly falls asleep a few minutes after Tara. Knowing in her gut they'll find Willow, there's no other outcome that can come to pass.

Faith lies on the large bed by herself, thankful that none of the potentials had tried to share it with her, knowing her temper is short and she'd be just as likely to pick the girl up and throw her out a window than to tell her to get the fuck out of the bed. Staring up at the ceiling for an hour, her mind trying to come to grips with the fact that she's honest to gods scared that something might have happened to Willow.

Moving her arm up to rest over her eyes, Faith fights the anger and tears that are working their way through her. Knowing the anger will make her do something stupid, and the tears aren't good for anything. With her free arm she reaches over for Willow's pillow, pulling it on top of her and clenching it to her chest. The action woefully lacking as it doesn't come close to taking the place of the redhead's familiar weight.

Willow glares at the crystals, not knowing for sure how long she's been captured, but knowing that she has to start draining some of the magic away with the build up inside her, she figures she's been here for at least a day since she usually drains her magic every other day and hadn't done it the day before she was captured. The harnessing crystals worrying her though, knowing what they are and the fact that they capture her magic to possibly be used later isn't something she's thrilled with, especially with Rack and the Bringers working together. If they're working together, she's very aware of the fact that he's in league with The First and any way you look at it, her magic being in play is not of the good.

Sighing heavily with no other choice, she grasps two of the larger crystals, hoping that not filling them up and distributing the power might give everyone time to find her. But unless they think about Rack, they may never find her. His lair being magically cloaked and guarded against tracing spells would be extremely efficient in keeping them from finding her.

Settling on the cot, she starts her meditations and slowly drains her excess magic into the crystals, part of her mind trying to think of something that might help, but the magically blocked room limiting her.

Tara glances up as everyone hurries through breakfast, as with the rising of the sun everyone had gotten up and hurried through morning rituals, though with everyone in the house, that takes quite a while in and of itself. People eating in shifts while taking cold showers, though people are using the houses around them, but it still takes time and not willing to go any further away from the main house. Looking back at Jeanine, the witch that had felt the slight disturbance yesterday, Tara questions her softly. "What did it feel like?"

"It… It's honestly hard to explain. It felt like a combination of a glamour spell along with some kind of cloaking spell. What's weird is one second it was there and the next it was gone." Jeanine explains worriedly.

"You know…" Anna blinks and rubs a hand over her forehead. "I felt something very similar to that when we were heading back here after calling it quits yesterday. But we were at least six or seven blocks from where you were."

Tara starts to pace as she nibbles on her bottom lip. "Feels the same, moves around?" Tara stops and looks up at the morning sun, frowning as she thinks heavily. Remembering talking with Dawn after her arm was broken. 'She took me to a magic dealer's place. The people in it were like junkies, and she had to feel where it was magically because it moved around.' "Oh, sweet Goddess." Tara murmurs, realizing that the magic dealer was probably blocking any magic coming in and going out of his 'business'. Looking around the room, she doesn't see either Buffy or Faith. Darting outside, she sighs as she sees the two slayers sparring with each other, obviously trying to get some built-up tension released. Running over to them, she looks from Buffy to Faith and back again. "The magic dealer that she went to before." Tara sees the confusion on Buffy's face before it clears up.

"Rack." Buffy snarls angrily her eyes flashing. "Makes sense, he would know her and know how powerful she is. If I was playing with the big boys and needed major juice, the first person I'd grab is Willow since I was already familiar with her."

"Gather all the witches and whomever else can detect or do even a small amount of magic." Tara orders hoarsely, darting away and back into the house to gather ingredients for a simple spell that should help them find and track the magically cloaked lair.

"I'll hit the houses where the rest of 'em are on this side." Faith throws over her shoulder even as she's darting out of the yard to the surrounding houses. The worry she feels still in her, but now that they have something to go on, she feels better and knows that none of the people here will give up until they find Willow.


Chapter 30

"Sometimes the KISS method is the best method." Tara murmurs softly as she watches Anna finish the magic detection spell.

"Kiss?" Faith questions hoarsely, bouncing hard on the balls of her feet, anxious to find Willow and get the redhead back.

Buffy smiles softly at her lover, Tara having explained it to her before when she'd made a similar comment. "Keep it simple, stupid. K-I-S-S." Buffy explains softly.

"Instead of where I was trying to key into Willow, she's keying into the magic signature that will be left from Rack's little fortress and we'll track her down that way." Tara nibbles on her bottom lip, leaning back into Buffy's offered support as her lover wraps her arms around her waist.

"It might be a slower process, because we're following the trail of the magical signature, but we'll find her." Anna nods towards the group.

"We don't know what we're going to find, people. We don't know what kind of strength they have both physically and magically, so try and be prepared for anything." Buffy orders, looking around at the large group, before hugging Tara. "Don't blame yourself, you didn't know or you would have thought of this yesterday. You did great by realizing it's Rack."

Tara nods her head, though feeling guilty, as now the Magic Dealer has had Willow for at least twenty-four hours, looking up in surprise as Faith steps in front of her.

"Come on, Blondie. Don't blame yourself, ya' didn't do nothin' wrong." Faith pats Tara gently on the shoulder before striding away, having already loaded herself down with her weapons of choice.

"We'll get her back, Tara. You did everything you could with the knowledge we had at the time. Now because of you, we have more knowledge and are coming at this from a different angle." Buffy hugs Tara tightly against her, burying her face against the back of Tara's head. "I love you. Now, let's go get her back."

"I love you, too." Tara smiles as she slowly relaxes a small amount, knowing she won't be able to relax fully until after they get Willow back safe and sound.

"I told you it would take some time." Rack clenches his jaw as he looks at the ex-priest.

Caleb stares unblinkingly at the magic dealer. "We've waited long enough. My brethren have contacted me to make me aware you have what you were waiting on. Now rip the magic we need from her and let's get this show started."

Rack unconsciously shifts back from the ink-black eyes glaring at him. The pure menace and evil he feels directed towards him, makes even him scared. "But if I do that, she won't live through it."

"She wouldn't live anyway." Caleb points out, narrowing his eyes on the magic dealer, having been gathering their forces just outside of Sunnydale waiting for the moment that The First Evil can be made corporeal, and with the power of the Hellmouth at his disposal, turn this world into never-ending darkness.

"But…" Rack starts to only snap his teeth shut at the dead-eyed stare coming from the ex-priest. Knowing that Caleb isn't completely human, but honestly not knowing exactly what he is.

"Do it now, Rack. Tonight I want my body." The First coalesces beside Caleb.

Rack fights the snarl of his lip as The First appears as Buffy. Cracking his neck, he nods. "I'll need at least six hours to get the amount of magic from her that you'll need for the spell." Rack figures on the side of caution, Willow having already filled some of the crystals over the time she's been here even with putting it off as long as she can and only draining the tiniest bits to make her magic manageable.

"Go." The First orders unceremoniously as he watches Rack stand and stride out of the room. Turning to look at Caleb he quirks his eyebrow in silent question.

"I'm ready. As soon as the spell is done, my body will be ready for you to take it over." Caleb answers simply.

"You are a most trusted and loyal servant, Caleb." The First Evil smiles before fading away.

"Thank you." Caleb continues to stand, placing his hands behind his back as he calmly waits for Rack to drain the redheaded bitch of her power, a feeling of accomplishment already streaking through him at the thought of taking all that power back along with Rack to the caves for his master to have them do the spell, releasing his spirit at the same time as The First's spirit will inhabit his body. This is what he'd been bred and trained for, the perfect vessel for his Master.

"So help me, if that bastard has hurt her…" Xander growls deeply at the thought of Rack and what he might have done to Willow. Looking at Jason as his lover reaches down and squeezes his hand gently.

"We'll find her." Jason looks around at the group of men, women and yes, even children since a lot of the potentials are barely hitting their teenage years. Between the two slayers, and all the witches he swears that they could probably take on the whole world and win. "And one way or the other, I have a feeling things are about to come to a head."

"Probably." Xander smiles somewhat nervously, the rumbling in his gut getting louder at the thought of what might end up happening. Glancing towards Buffy, surprised to see her up front with Anna, the two women conversing together as he searches for Tara, usually the two women inseparable, but at this moment Tara seems to be using her own special brand of calmness to help Faith, the other slayer ready to come to blows with anyone and everyone, especially Kennedy. Smirking as he glances at the potential, seeing the swollen shut eye, from where Faith had given her a little love tap when Kennedy had unwisely opened her mouth this morning about Willow within Faith's excellent hearing distance.

"We're getting close." Buffy warns as she looks back over the group, unconsciously seeking her lover's blue eyes, relaxing when she makes contact before nodding at Tara. "As far as we're aware, Rack's human, just an asshole Magic Dealer that feeds off anyone with any magical ability. So, try not to kill him, I'd rather not have his death on any of our heads."

Faith snorts, her eyes glittering dangerously. "What's one more? At this stage of the game, the bastard deserves it, especially if he hurt Red."

Tara starts to open her mouth to argue with Faith, but realizing she pretty much feels the same way, she can't say anything, knowing in her heart that if Buffy had been the one taken and possibly hurt, she wouldn't stop at anything before getting her lover back. Hell, even with her and Willow being broken up for over a year now, she still feels protective of the redhead and would do almost anything for her. "Let's just get her back safe and sound."

The group continues working their way through Sunnydale, all the witches and even the other people that have a small amount of magic now able to feel the slight trace left from the hidden 'business'.

Tara reaches over to grasp Faith's arm as Anna calls a stop that they'd caught up to Rack's place. Looking at the slayer, she shakes her head. "Let three or four of the magic wielders in first, sweetie. Then Buffy and some other people that are good with weapons. We have to be prepared in case we get someone trying to sneak up behind us."

"I want to be in there." Faith growls softly.

Tara looks into angry, flashing brown eyes, staring at Faith as she sees worry and fear buried beneath the anger. "Buffy, swap out with Faith." Tara calls out softly. "Don't do anything that you'll regret, Faith." Tara begs softly to the slayer.

Faith stares at Tara, blinking momentarily before nodding her head. "I ain't gonna guarantee ya' I won't do something stupid, but I'll try not ta' kill anyone not a demon. But if she's hurt, all bets are off."

Tara nods her agreement as Faith spins and pushes her way through the group as Buffy works her way around the other side.

"Is that a good idea?" Buffy questions softly, directly into Tara's ear, watching the dark slayer make her way to the front, pulling a short sword as she bounces lightly behind the witches that are about ready to enter the hidden magic base.

"I don't know." Tara answers honestly. "But she needs to be up front, in the first wave going in there. I think she needs to find Willow, Buffy. Something about what happened before between them." Tara finally looks at Buffy, seeing the dawning realization in her lover's eyes.

"Giving back what she almost took." Buffy whispers, her eyes darting back to the front of the group as they finally breach the magic dealer's fortress. Taking a deep breath she runs a hand down Tara's shoulder as she looks around, keeping her eyes and senses open.

Nodding silently, Tara watches as the first wave goes in, clenching her jaw and sending up a silent prayer to the Powers That Be to be there for them, not knowing what they're going to encounter, magic-wise, Bringer-wise or even possibly other demon-wise.

Rack slams into the room, disbursing the magic door as he glares at Willow, not wanting to give up on having her, no matter what The First says. "You have one shot, Strawberry. Fill the crystals willingly and now, and you'll live or I'll have to take your magic from you. You know what that means."

Willow clenches her jaw as she stares at Rack, having stood as soon as he slammed into the room. The dealer obviously pissed, she crosses her arms over her chest and watches him intently. Already taking note that he's wearing one of the crystals and any magic she sends at him will be collected by it. "Why are you doing this, Rack?"

"It's none of your concern. All you need to know is that either you play nice and do what I want you to do, or I'll rip your magic from you and leave you to die. It's as simple as that." Rack warns roughly, pushing the crystals on the table to the edge and glaring at the redhead.

"No." Willow glares at him and shakes her head. "You're not getting anything from me, and it'll take someone better than you to take my magic from me, Rack."

"You forget, Strawberry." Rack starts as he strides over to the witch, reaching for her cheek, snarling as she jerks away from him. Grasping her chin tightly in his hand he stares into angry green eyes. "I've tasted you, I know you. You can't keep your magic from me. Once I've had you I can have you again easily."

Willow snarls her lip and jerks her head away from the tight grip, stepping back from the man. "You don't have enough magic left in you to take it from me, Rack. I might have believed you, if you hadn't touched me. But you can't hide your weakness. The lack of junkies in town has made you weak, since you have hardly no actual magic of your own."

"BITCH!" Rack backhands her hard, his eyes flaring with anger, watching as she collapses on the floor, groaning quietly.

Willow wipes the blood off her lip and blinks to try and focus on Rack, finally bringing him in and grinning at the anger in his eyes. "It's taking almost everything in you just to keep the protective shields around this place up, isn't it Rack? I'm not stupid, you're working with The First, but does he know that without all your little followers you're nothing?"

Rack reaches down, yanking Willow up and shaking her angrily. "You can't stop me if you're unconscious, bitch! You had your chance, Strawberry and you squandered it." Rack laughs wickedly as he draws his fist back planning on knocking the witch out and taking her magic from her, the witch not being able to block him while unconscious.

Willow glares up at the magic dealer, spitting the blood in her mouth in his face from where she'd bitten her tongue to go along with the split lip from where he'd hit her. "Then do it. I'm not stopping you. Because that's the only way you're going to get any more of my magic."

"So be it." Rack snarls back at the redhead.


Chapter 31

"Giles, have the Watchers surround the area, just in case. We're going in." Buffy orders Giles as she and Tara run inside having heard Faith yell out to them, leaving a good majority of the Watchers and a few witches outside to protect their back. Xander and Jason both going in with them, the two men having held back to wait and see what happened.

"SHIT!" Buffy snarls as she looks at the Bringers and demons seeming to come from everywhere, trying to overpower the group. "Xander tell them to send in some more Watchers, I think everything's going to happen in here."

Tara looks for the witches as they gather together, pooling their energies to help protect everyone from the Bringers and demons flooding the area.

"Uh, Buffy…" Xander blinks as he pokes his head back in from the magical entrance/exit, looking back at Buffy with his eyes huge. "I don't think we're in Kansas anymore."

"What?" Buffy growls as she swings, taking the head of a demon before stabbing a Bringer then spinning around to stab another Bringer.

"We've moved… I think we're somewhere out near the caves, because there's woods all around us." Xander calls out to the group.

"Fuck!" Faith snarls, fighting and wading her way through the demons and Bringers, her anger fueling her as she swears she can hear Willow. "Where is she?" Faith growls as she skewers a demon on her blade, snarling in his face as he just hisses back at her. Slinging him off the blade and into some Bringers heading her way, she pushes her way forward to another doorway.

"I don't think so." Caleb grins evilly as he steps up in front of the slayer.

"Get the fuck out of my way!" Faith snarls angrily, spinning the sword in her hand as she advances on the bastard.

"BUFFY!" Tara cries out to her lover as she sees Faith lunge at Caleb and the man… demon, whatever he is backhands the slayer, causing Faith to spin like a top into a wall even as he pulls the sword out of his stomach, grinning maniacally, black viscous liquid coming from the wound.

Buffy snaps her head around as she hears her lover calling her, unconsciously taking note of everyone fighting for their lives, a few SIT's wounded as Xander hacks at the demons and Jason grabs a couple of the wounded to pull back away from the fighting. As Tara points, Buffy frowns as she sees Faith stumbling up and swaying, blood pouring from a wound on the side of her head, the stubborn woman going after the devil son of a bitch, Caleb with her bare hands.

Tara looks pleadingly back at her lover, having a gut feeling if someone doesn't take out Caleb that he'll kill Faith, and Goddess only knows how many other people.

"Help her." Anna grabs Tara's hand and yanks on the woman, forcing Tara to go to Faith. "You have it in you to tap into their healing abilities… and other abilities, you can center it." Anna finally tells the witch, the other witches having been testing Tara without her knowledge since they'd been there and everything leans towards Tara having untapped resources in her.

Tara's eyes widen as she stares at Anna. When the witch nods her head and smiles encouragingly at her, she turns back to Faith, the woman fighting off the ex-priest with everything in her, though the woman is obviously weakening.

"Use me." Buffy growls, having heard what Anna said, grabbing Tara in her free arm and running towards Faith, dodging and protecting her lover as much as possible, wishing Tara was far away from this madhouse as she feels something bite into her side, but keeps going, prepared to do whatever's necessary to protect her lover since she can't have what she wishes.

It takes a second for Tara to realize what Buffy said, before taking a deep breath, opening herself to 'feel' for her lover, their relationship and love making it easy for her to tap into the 'slayer essence' deep inside Buffy. Silently asking for permission from the essence, realizing it's more of another entity within her lover, Tara feels a slight resistance even as she quickly explains to it what's needed, a bright flash of golden warmth and light seeming to coalesce and surround her, Tara accepts the gift.

Buffy arches slightly as she feels an unbelievable warmth inside her, blinking in disbelief as she literally feels the wound in her side heal quickly and her strength seem to triple. Setting Tara down beside Faith, she pushes the other slayer away gently into her lover as she snarls at Caleb. "Tag team time, bastard. You're mine!" Buffy snarls angrily and comes at the ex-priest.

"Goody. You'll die in just as much pain as she will." Caleb grins evilly at the blonde slayer, before grunting in pain, his eyes widening slightly as he watches the slayer pull out some of his insides gripped in her black-coated fist.

"I'll take you apart piece by piece." Buffy gets in Caleb's face, her eyes gleaming brightly. "And I'll enjoy every single second of it." Slinging the stuff off her hand, she dives back into the wound Faith had caused with both fists and ignores his flailing fists, honestly not even feeling the blows as she works on tearing him apart from the inside out.

Tara winces as she catches the blows Caleb is raining down on her lover, even as she centers on Faith, part of her realizing that the blows don't seem to be doing any damage, at least none that she can see and Buffy obviously isn't being phased by the powerful strikes as she works on ripping him to shreds.

"What the fuck?" Faith bounces up quickly from where she'd been knocked to the ground, looking in disbelief at Tara, knowing all the bumps, cuts, bruises, broken bones and everything else are healed.

"Find Willow." Tara orders softly as she turns back to the group of people fighting bravely, dodging and diving between the fighting demons and humans, Tara takes a deep breath and concentrates the warm, healing ball of energy on one of the fallen SIT's, thankful when she sees the girl healing in front of her eyes.

Faith hesitates, watching Tara before turning back to Buffy. "B?"

"Go, I have this bastard under control." Buffy head butts Caleb, smirking as his head splits partially open.

"NOOOO!!!" The First appears, looking like Buffy as he comes to be with Caleb as soon as he felt the life force starting to ebb from his vessel. Caleb's natural healing ability leaving him with every part that the slayer rips from him. "YOU CAN'T TAKE HIM FROM ME!!" The First screams, the link between them that he'd forged draining his powers as Caleb weakens even more, drawing closer to death.

Buffy laughs as she sees The First appear, but he appears more incorporeal than before, almost see through and as she rips more bits from Caleb, she watches The First become lighter and more transparent. "What's wrong, Firsty-boy? You have some kind of link with this prick bastard? Because I have to tell you, you're looking a little peaked there."

The witches look at each other, hearing the slayer's words as they make their way towards Buffy, the rest of the group having turned the tide with Tara's helpful healing and infusion of strength.

Anna nods her head. "It make sense, for him to be seen on this plane, he would have to tie his essence to something else."

"And if he wanted to become completely corporeal, that essence would end up being his body, because that's who he's anchored to." Tara growls angrily, her eyes flashing as it finally makes sense. "Kill him, Buffy!! Kill Caleb and it'll sever The First's link to this mortal plane."

"WAIT!! Not yet!" Claire yells, darting towards the slayer. "Anna, do you have Manga Root?" Claire calls as she digs into her bag of herbs, her mind working feverishly as she recalls the spell that is supposed to disperse a 'spirit' from the earthly plane forever.

"I think…" Anna frowns as she starts digging through her herbs, not even questioning Claire, the other witch extremely knowledgeable on different spells and with her photographic memory, she obviously recalls something. Finding the Manga Root, she hands it to Claire.

"What the hell?" Buffy steps back, panting heavily as she watches Claire combining the ingredients as she starts to incant some kind of spell that coalesces around The First and Caleb.

Tara grabs Buffy, unmindful of the black gore dripping from her lover, pulling her back and away from the spell being cast, knowing it shouldn't harm her lover, but not wanting to chance anything since Buffy is covered in Caleb's blood and guts. Listening with half an ear to the spell Claire is casting, she buries her face in Buffy's neck. "Caleb and The First are tied together, if you kill him it'll dissolve the link The First has to his incorporeal body and he'll be just an entity that can't be seen until he finds another willing vessel that is proper for what he wants. The spell she's casting will actually sever all ties to the mortal plane that The First has when you kill Caleb, severing their link."

"No more First?" Buffy pants, blinking as her lover's words ramble around in her head.

"No more First." Tara agrees softly, hugging Buffy tightly to her.

Xander and Jason come panting heavily up to the group. "Where's Willow?"

"Faith went after her. I have to knock out ex-preacher asshole here, then I was going to go after her." Buffy admits looking at the two men.

Xander glances at Jason, the two men nodding and darting around what's happening back through the doorway and disappearing from their sight.

"Oh, shit. How come I have a bad feeling about that?" Buffy groans, starting to go after them, but Tara's arms wrapped around her keep her from moving.

"No. Let them go, you need to finish with Caleb." Tara orders, pressing a quick hard kiss on Buffy's lips. "I love you. Find me when you're done." Tara doesn't give Buffy a chance to argue as she bolts for the same doorway.

"TARA!" Buffy yells her lover's name, glaring after the already gone woman. "I am so going to kick your ass."

Claire finishes the spell and steps back a few moments later and turns to Buffy. "Finish him off, hopefully that should end The First's hold here on Earth permanently."

Anna watches The First mouth something, but no sound is coming from him, tilting her head she slowly takes in his form with her regular sight before letting her inner sight see the tenuous link between The First and Caleb, the black light pulsing slowly and weakly.

"My pleasure." Buffy growls even as she's stepping up to finish what she'd started.

"Where the bloody hell did they go?" Giles spins around, not able to feel the magic hideout any longer as he glares at the other Watchers. Looking at the three SIT's left with them before dropping his hand and the sword in it to look disbelievingly at the place the slight shimmering had been before, his magical ability letting him see it after they'd located it.

John shrugs and lifts one of the walkie-talkies up to his mouth and tries it, calling for any of the group to answer him. Waiting for a few moments, he tries again, shaking his head as he looks at Giles. "They may be too busy to answer."

"Yes, and they may be bloody well in fuckin' Egypt and not ABLE to hear it." Giles snarls angrily, rubbing a hand over his forehead as he tries to think what he should do.

"Can you track the trace left over from the hideout, like Anna was doing?" Kennedy hesitantly questions, almost afraid to say anything, though Faith isn't there to hit her again. Her eye is swollen shut, and hurting more than she'll ever admit to anyone. Having a feeling the slayer cracked her cheekbone when she'd smacked her. Silently praying that Willow will be alright, because if not, she has a feeling the pain she's in right now will be a day in the park when the slayers and everyone else gets done with her. Wincing slightly as Giles turns his glare on her.

"No! I don't have the ingredients for it on me, and I think they pretty much wiped out the majority of ingredients I would need from the Magic Box." Giles admits angrily, running a hand through his disheveled hair as he looks at the other Watchers. "Any suggestions?"

John holds up the walkie-talkie and shrugs. "This is the only thing I can think of."

Giles looks down at his own walkie-talkie and sighs heavily. Turning his gaze back on the group, he realizes there are ten of them here. "Split up in two groups, keep trying to raise them on the walkie-talkies and make your way slowly to the other side of town. Keep your eyes and ears open for anything and anyone."

John hands a couple extra sets of batteries to Giles. "Just in case." John turns and points to two other Watchers and two SIT's. "You're coming with me, let's go."

Giles tucks away the batteries and looks from Kennedy to the other three Watchers. "Bloody fucking hell. Let's go." He finally orders as he heads in the opposite direction from John. Every block they travel, he tries to raise the group on the walkie-talkie.


Chapter 32

"Ya' lay another hand on her I'll rip your fuckin' heart out." Faith snarls as she enters the room, having heard what was said and taking in the damage done to Willow with a quick glance. Capturing happy green eyes with hers, Faith breathes out a sigh of relief as the woman is obviously not hurt badly. And obviously full of piss and vinegar with what she'd heard.

Smiling at the sight of the dark-haired slayer, ignoring the pain of her lip Willow feels a sense of relief and happiness working its way through her. "Rack, you just fucked up royally." Willow growls, darting forward and ripping the crystal from around his neck so her power won't be absorbed by it any longer even as Faith darts forward, popping him hard on the jaw.

"Yeah, and ya' ain't gonna get a chance to hurt her again." Faith growls angrily, picking up the unconscious Magic Dealer about ready to body slam him into the ground when she feels a small hand clasp her forearm gently. Turning to look into searching green eyes, Faith hesitates.

"Don't, Faith. You aren't that person any longer. Don't let it get the better of you, please." Willow begs softly, searching brown eyes that seem to soften, the anger slowly draining away.

"He hurt ya'… he was gonna…" Faith stops, feeling the lump in her throat grow as she can't continue what she had started to say. "Ain't nobody gonna do that to ya'… I ain't gonna let it happen." Faith swears softly, still holding the unconscious Rack above her.

"You didn't. You stopped him." Willow squeezes the strong arm under her hand more firmly. "Please, Faith. He has no hold over me… or anyone any longer. He tapped himself out by moving everyone here, look around you. Even as we're standing here, it's dissolving." Willow sees Xander and Jason slide to a stop as they come into the room. Smiling at the sight of the two men, she turns her gaze back on Faith. "If Tara is here, she and I can make it so that he can never access anyone's magic again. He doesn't really have any of his own. He always has to take from others. If he can't access that ability, he's just another asshole jerk that will slink away into the night."

Faith takes a deep breath, closing her eyes tightly as she thinks about what Willow's telling her before swallowing hard, the urge to break the man into a dozen pieces still working through her, the sight of Willow's split lip and the blood splattered top making her heart ache for the redhead.

"Please, Faith? For me…" Willow hesitates as Faith slowly opens her eyes to look at her. Taking a gamble, she runs her hand gently up Faith's arm to cup the woman's cheek. "For whatever may be between us?"

Faith whimpers softly and presses her cheek into the small hand before slowly nodding her head and easing Rack down onto the ground, standing she finds her arms filled with the redhead. "I…" Faith starts, only to stop as she doesn't know what to say. Finally she just buries her face in the redhead's neck, holding her tightly to her as Willow starts to shake. "I'm here, Red… I'm here." Faith hoarsely whispers, lifting the slight body and cradling Willow against her as the woman's legs start to give out on her.

"For once, I wish that this prick bastard would know what it's like to be used, abused and taken advantage of like he's done to all the people he's hurt over the years… of course, preferably somewhere far, far away from here." Xander growls looking at the Magic Dealer that's lying unconscious on the ground, leaning against Jason as his lover wraps his arm around his waist.

"Wish granted." Anya materializes, looking down at Rack, a wicked grin on her face as she zaps him to another world before turning to a shocked Xander. Looking from him to his boyfriend and back again, she slowly nods. "Have a long and fulfilling life, Xander. Be happy. Let Buffy know that the Hellmouth is all hers again, I won't be back here to visit."

Xander opens his mouth in shock, about to say something to his ex-girlfriend before she smiles softly at him and disappears. "Thanks, Anya." He finally whispers softly, feeling tears come to his eyes. "I'm sorry for what I did to you." Knowing the Vengeance Demon heard him, also knowing that she probably realizes he still does love her, but things have changed and there's no going back for either of them.

Jason pales slightly as he realizes who that was before he looks at Xander. "Is everything okay?"

"Better than okay." Xander hugs the blonde to him tightly, taking a deep breath and relaxing as he finally feels like he's come home.

Tara smiles as she watches the rest of the magical illusion dissolve around them, her eyes landing on Faith holding onto Willow like she never wants to let her go even as the redhead cries into the slayer's neck. Turning her gaze to the two men hugging each other tightly she slowly turns as she looks behind her, nothing left of Caleb except little clumps of black goo everywhere. Her lover striding towards her with the beginnings of a smile crossing her lips. Smiling in response, Tara starts to laugh and launches herself at her totally slime-covered lover, not caring one iota.

"I think this means we won." Buffy grunts quietly, hugging Tara tightly, her eyes being caught by brown eyes, chuckling at the sight of Willow being cradled against Faith's body and Faith obviously more than happy to have her there.

"Umm… where are we?" Anna questions, holding up the walkie-talkie that's now coming to life as they're being paged, realizing that the magic that powered the hideout was probably also blocking the walkie-talkies from working.

"Tell them we're out by the caves, and we'll start heading towards town, if they want to wait for us with some vehicles… hopefully." Buffy answers after noticing where they are, knowing it'll be something of a trek back towards town, but nothing to be done except to start walking.

"Hey, Blondie? Can ya' do your mojo over here?" Faith hoarsely questions, nodding towards Willow as she turns towards Tara.

"I don't know…" Tara searches for the golden ball of healing energy, finally locating just a small amount left in her, having spent almost all of it on healing everyone else. "Let me try." Tara squeaks as Buffy swings her up into her arms. "I can walk!"

"Uh, Uh. If Faith is going to act all studly by carrying Willow around, I'm carrying you." Buffy grins happily at her lover as she steps over towards Faith and Willow.

Xander eases back from Jason and eyes his lover.

"Don't you even suggest it. There ain't no way in hell either one of us could carry the other one more than ten yards." Jason warns, glaring at Xander.

"Spoil sport." Xander starts to chuckle, the fear finally draining away to leave a giddiness in its wake.

"I think you're all nuts." Tara grumbles even as she grins hugely, gently running her hand over Willow's head, smiling into watery green eyes that open to look at her. "Slayers are handy to have around, Willow. And just to let you know… their energy level can make for very, very happy witches!" Tara grins crookedly at the redhead even as she spends what's left of the healing energy on Willow.

"Ah, man." Faith groans loudly as Willow looks up at her with a mischievous smile.

"I don't know… mine hasn't even kissed me yet. How do I know if she's handy…" Willow whimpers as full, warm lips capture hers in a heated, demanding kiss. As Faith's tongue delves into her mouth, staking her claim, Willow groans loudly as a streak of pure desire flows through her body.

"Shut up, Red." Faith growls roughly as she looks into hazy green eyes after she ends the kiss. Not able to keep from chuckling at the sight.

Willow whimpers and licks her lips as she looks up into twinkling brown eyes. "Kiss me like that and I'll be more than happy to shut up."

"I'll keep that in mind." Faith grins down at the redhead in her arms before spinning around and taking off at a light jog towards town.

"Faith!" Willow squeaks, wrapping her arms more firmly around the slayer's neck.

"Wanna see what'll happen when we take this further than a kiss… and I'd prefer to do it on a bed this first time." Faith grins wickedly at the redhead even as she picks up her pace.

"Who said anything about going from our first kiss to bed?" Willow starts to laugh uncontrollably at the pure look of devilment that crosses Faith's face.

"I did, just now." Faith laughs with the redhead as she holds Willow tightly to her, not knowing what might happen between the two of them, but more than willing to take a chance and see.

"Don't you dare!" Tara warns Buffy, seeing the gleam of competitiveness starting to burn brightly in her hazel eyes. "Put me down, you aren't going to go jogging and running through the forest with me bouncing around like a sack of potatoes!!"

"But…" Buffy pouts as she looks down into twinkling blue eyes. "Tara!" Buffy whines slightly.

"A whiney slayer never gets what she wants." Tara starts to laugh as Buffy growls, yet sets her down on her feet.

"Slayer wants witch at home in bed, naked." Buffy growls softly in Tara's ear.

"Seems to be a re-occurring want here." Tara looks out to where Faith and Willow had disappeared before starting to giggle at the thought.

"Hmmm… wonder if there's something about slayers and witches in some kind of prophecy." Xander tilts his head before dodging the smack coming towards him from Buffy.

"Don't even MENTION the word Prophecy around me, you buffoon!!" Buffy growls menacingly. "Come on, I want to go home. And hopefully actually end up with it being my home again here soon." Buffy sighs deeply as she thinks about another apocalypse being avoided and The First being taken out, hopefully to never be heard from again… at least on her watch.

"What, you don't want the house invaded by roughly thirty people?" Tara grins crookedly at her lover as Buffy narrows her eyes on her.

"No. I want our bedroom to only have US in it from now on, tired of having to sneak away just because I want to get some lovings. That was getting seriously old." Buffy wraps her arm around Tara's waist and pulls her in tightly against her side. "We haven't been able to do an all-night love fest since you and Willow picked up Faith."

"I know, sweet one, I know. Trust me, I'm sure we'll have our bedroom back to ourselves before much longer… as a matter of fact, I bet you we'll have it all to our lonesome tonight." Tara grins at the thought. "I believe that the witches and Watchers might be able to take a few of the extra SIT's with them over to Willow's house tonight, now that the threat should be over."

"Don't tease the slayer, Tara." Buffy warns softly, her eyes gleaming at the thought of getting her lover alone for a full night without having to worry about anything or anyone else.

"I'm not." Tara chuckles softly before kissing Buffy firmly, knowing the rest of the group are now walking around them and heading back towards town. "I love you, Buffy."

"And I love you, Tara." Buffy whispers, holding her lover against her and pressing a soft kiss on her lips. Relaxing and finally willing to believe that maybe she does have a future after all.

The End

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