Title: Love Squared (9/9)

Author: Cyclone

Feedback: Please be gentle.

Distribution: Gimme credit and a link. Plus, archived at http://fanfiction.net/profile.php?userid=62966

Rating: I'm gonna go say R.

Spoilers: Up to Grave.

Disclaimer: The characters depicted herein belong to the almighty Joss. I'm just borrowing them for a while.

Summary: Sequel to Dancing Around Love. The Scooby Gang comes to grips with the recent events and deals with the Trio.

Author's Note: B/W/T/X, along with hints of X/Amy and Jonathan/Amy.

* * *

"She's killed," Warren told Xander. "Killed me, actually, and you know what? She _loved_ it. You shoulda seen the look on her face..."

The recently-deceased robot-builder's form changed again, this time to Drusilla, and said, "The timid tiger has annointed her claws in blood now, Kitten. She shan't stop merely at your request."

Xander whirled and lashed out, his fist passing cleanly through the apparition, then turned for the door, "Maybe, but I gotta try."

"I thought the same thing too once," Ben's voice called from behind him, but he ignored it. "About Glory. And we all know how well _that_ turned out."

* * *

A ball of sickly green fire splattered harmlessly against an invisible barrier that shimmered briefly from the impact, and a split-second later, a barrage of blue, needle-like bolts of energy curved around and struck the spherical barrier from all directions in rapid succession.

Willow grit her teeth as her shield flickered. She had more power than Tara -- she always had -- but the veteran witch's greater experience was showing, as spell after spell struck weak points in her defenses. This last attack had nearly penetrated.

It was time to go on the offensive.

* * *

Tara stumbled back as a curling wave of blinding white energy suddenly rolled toward her from her lover. She staggered back at the sheer power of the attack as it hammered her defenses, nearly cracking it. She gasped as the pressure crushed the air from her lungs.

*All right,* she thought, grimacing and closing her eyes. *Time for a surprise.*

So far, the two of them had been assaulting each other with pure magic or conjured energy. Lightning had danced with fire, and raw mana had clashed in brilliant technicolor displays that would put any fireworks show to shame.

Now it was time to try something a little less direct.

* * *

Willow almost didn't notice the flash of magical fire lancing down into the street... toward the gas line that ran beneath.

She did the only thing she could think of. She shoved as much energy as she could spare into overcharging her protective spell.

The explosion threw her off her feet, and through the inferno in the middle of the shattered street, she saw Tara fleeing as she shook her head clear.

She struggled to her feet, but her vision wavered, and soon, she blacked out, exhausted.

* * *

Tara slumped against the wall. The battle with Willow had exhausted her, drained her of her power, and ever since she'd drained Giles, she'd been feeling an overwhelming assault on her psyche.

"It's the pain of the world, Tara."

She blinked and looked up, "Mother?"

The woman's weathered features twisted into a sad smile, "Yes, dear, it's me."

"How do I make it stop?" she asked desperately.

"Stop the suffering," the image of the deceased witch said quietly, looking away. "Stop the suffering, and you'll stop the pain." Her eyes flicked to the side. "You know where to find the power you need... and you know what he did."

Tara's gaze drifted to follow her line of sight, and suddenly, she understood.

* * *

Rack rose as the door to his establishment suddenly blew apart, flying inward. His eyes widened as he recognized... not the witch who stood where the door once was -- though recognize her, he did -- but the aura of the apparition next to her.

Glaring at the incorporeal form, he howled, "No! I did what you asked!"

But the intangible figure did not answer. Tara did.

"You helped Warren," she said evenly, and Rack's blood ran cold. "And you shouldn't talk to Mother like that."

* * *

"Oh, God," Xander gasped as he ran and crouched by the red-haired form lying prone on the ground. "Willow?"

She groaned and blinked her eyes open, "Xander?" She suddenly burst into tears, "I'm sorry, Xander. I couldn't... I just..."

"Shh," he murmured, holding her close, "it's okay. Where's Buffy?"

"I... I don't know."

"She's inside; hurt, but she'll be fine."

Xander looked up, "Giles? What are you doing here?"

The Watcher sighed, "A coven in Devon contacted me, and I came as soon as I heard. They'd received visions of this, but they weren't sure if it would be Willow or Tara. Xander..."

"I know," he said, rising. "We have to reach her, the real her. Don't worry, G-man. I got it covered. I just need to find her first."

Giles closed his eyes tiredly, "All right... go to Kingman's Bluff. She'll be there. I... I don't know any more, but the coven was certain about that much."

* * *

Suddenly, the flow of energy Tara was funneling into the Satanic temple was disrupted.

"Get out of my way, Xander," Tara said. "You can't stop me."

"Yeah, I get that," he said. "It's just... where else am I gonna go, huh? I love you, Tare. World gonna end... where else would I want to be?"

"Shut up!" she shouted, slashing at him, magically slicing him across his chest.

"No!" he shouted, stepping toward her again. "I love you, Tara. I love shy, stutter-y Tara, and I love... scary, veiny Tara. So if I'm going out, I'm going out right here. If you wanna kill the world... well, then start with me. I think I've earned that."

She paused for a long moment, looking at him.

"All right."

*Oh, shit,* was the last coherent thought he had before the magical blast sent him flying. He felt something hard strike the back of his head, and darkness claimed him.

* * *

"So, you're leaving?"

Spike looked up from the duffel bag he was carrying. He nodded to his sire, "Yeah."

"Going back to Sunnydale?" Angel asked.

The bleached blond vampire shook his head, "Not yet. Look, mate, I appreciate the talks, they really helped, but..."

"You need time to think," Angel nodded in understanding.

Spike shrugged, "Figure I'd do the road trip thing."

"Well," the other ensouled vampire said, "good luck. If you ever need anything, call. I still owe you for pulling me out of the ocean."

"Damn right, you do," Spike grinned.

* * *

Tara closed her eyes as she continued to channel energy into the blasphemous temple. She wasn't thinking; she refused to think. It hurt too much. All the pain, the misery, the despair... she was going to stop it all, shut out the... the suffering.

Tears ran down her cheeks. Not much longer now...

"Tara!"

The channel was interrupted again, and her eyes snapped open. "Willow. You couldn't stop me before, what makes you think you can stop me now?"

"Who said I was here to stop you?" Willow asked. "I just... came to say goodbye. It would be rude, y'know, to... leave... without saying goodbye to the ones I love."

"Rehashing Xander's plan?" Tara snorted. "Save the world by telling me you love me?"

"Maybe." The redhead stepped forward, and Tara lashed out again, slashing open Willow's cheek. "Tara, I do love you."

"Shut up!" Tara shrieked, blasting Willow again, but the redhead kept going, a Resolve Face etched on her face. "Just go away!"

"Not gonna happen," Willow shook her head. "I love you. Always. I never stopped loving you. Even when I thought I'd lost you."

"Shut up!"

"You were partly right, Tara," Willow said, reaching out to pull Tara into a hug. "It's not about revenge. But it's not about power, either."

"What is it about, then?" Tara snarled, a hint of desperation in her voice. "Pain? Grief?"

"No," Willow said quietly, stroking her cheek. "It's about love." The redhead leaned in and kissed the blonde, who crumpled against her.

* * *

Xander groaned as he sat up, trying to shake his head clear.

Where was he? What had happened?

"Xander, you're awake," a familiar voice said, clearly relieved.

He looked up, "An? Wh-where are we? What happened?"

Something was wrong. He could feel it... but he couldn't pinpoint what.

"That doesn't matter, sweetie," Anya smiled, crouching down in front of him. "You're with me, now. Everything will be all right."

Unseen by Xander, beneath the facade of his dead fiancee, the First Evil laughed.

* * *

Author's Postscript:

Watch for the sequel, Road to Love, in which the First Evil's master plan comes to fruition! One that actually makes sense, I hope, unlike the shoddy writing we got in canon. Did ME even ever actually _give_ the First a plan that made sense in canon?