Disclaimer: I do not own Buffy or any of the characters. They belong to Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy.
"Everyone five by five down here?" Rushing into the hallway connecting the doorway and the kitchen, Faith saw both Dawn and Anya struggling to their feet as a stunned Xander tried to collect himself. There was an enormous amount of scattered dust and smoke in the house, making it slighty harder to see.
"Yeah, just fine." Casting a short angry glance at the dark-haired Slayer, Dawn looked around the house in order to make sure that no-one was injured.
"You think that the villains would know enough to knock before we come out and play." Shaking his head slightly, Xander leaned back against the wall for support. "Because I'm kinda sick of having to rebuild everything around here."
"It brings us money though!"
"Anya, I do it for free!" Shaking his head again, the man took a step towards where the vengeance demon was standing. "You alright?"
"Fine. I don't break limbs as easily as I used to."
"Buffy? Are you alright?" Seeing her sister stumble back into the house, Dawn rushed towards her.
"You don't look very five by five, B. You kinda look like Hell tried to run over you with a truck." Seeing the various bits and pieces of grass and dirt covering her fellow Slayer's clothing, Faith stepped aside as the girl moved into the kitchen.
"I'm fine, Faith. Things just didn't work like I planned."
"Buffy…" Standing in the corner of the kitchen while Anya pulled the blinds on the window shut in order to allow him to move towards the girl, Angel's eyes were lined with concern.
"Does everyone understand this? I'm fine." Forcing herself to take a deep breath, Buffy closed her eyes. "Is everyone alright?"
"Fine." Answering the question at nearly the same time, Xander, Anya, Angel, and Dawn all looked at one another as the moment passed.
"Where's Tara and Willow?" Looking around the kitchen, the light-haired Slayer saw looks of concern spreading across the other Scoobies.
"Willow tried running out of the house, but Tara stopped her. I thought they were with you."
"Considering how I was enjoying the trees' and grasses' company, I can safely say they weren't."
"Wait, so you're saying that the dark and veiny Willow might have taken them?" Looking at her older sister, Dawn turned and ran up the stairs before anyone else in the room could react. "Tara? Willow?"
"Great, so not only are we screwed, but the other Willow decided to make the game harder by taking away our Witches. Why do I get involved in these situations?" Her comment causing a few of the remaining Scoobies to look at her, Anya's expression only strengthened. "I mean, I risk being killed, destroyed, or even hurt by helping all of you, and I get no thanks."
"None of us do, Anya." Turning towards the Vengeance Demon, Xander sighed. "You know that."
"I do, but I just wanted to point it out, in case anyone didn't know how frustrated I am by all of this."
"Buffy, we'll find them." Finally able to pull the girl into his arms, Angel gave Buffy a kiss on her head. "I promise."
"I believe I might be able to help with that endeavor." As he spoke, Giles saw all eyes within the kitchen turn towards him. "As I do believe that that sort of thing is needed."
The walls of the Coven's castle were completely silent as Tara stumbled along with the red-head still clinging to her clothing. She hadn't seen any sign of Buffy, or any of the other Scoobies for that matter, and had no idea if Willow's doppelganger had even teleported them here along with herself and the real Willow. Her mind struggling to remember the layout of the upper levels of the castle, Tara took her steps both with consideration and care, but still with a slightly rushed speed. Just because they were safe for the moment didn't mean that the entire scenario couldn't change within a moment's notice.
"Moonlight's coming! Moonlight's coming, Tara!" Her green eyes filled to their brim with fear, Willow looked all around at her surroundings, obviously recognizing them. "It's coming to hurt the Sunlight!"
"Honey, it's alright, look at me." Looking down at the other girl, the blonde Wiccan gazed into the former Witch's green eyes. "Be calm…"
"Calm…Sunlight is calm…" Her stance and tone of voice changing as she stared into the blue irises looking down at her, Willow nodded slowly. "Calm…calm…"
"Come on, we have to keep moving." Breaking her eye contact with her girl, Tara turned back towards the hallway ahead of them. There was a distinct lack of any sound apart from the way the two girl's footsteps echoed throughout the stone labyrinth. Part of her wished that Willow's doppelganger would show herself, just to end the almost heart-attack worthy anticipation. The Dark Witch had them exactly where she wanted, and now all she was doing was standing by.
What was she waiting for?
"Giles!" Running towards the recently arrived Englishman, Anya wrapped her arms around his chest. "I'm so glad that the evil Willow didn't disembowel you!"
"I think that she speaks for everyone when she says that." Smiling at the Watcher, Buffy felt a small portion of confidence sink back into her heart. Having Giles at her side once more added yet another body to her cause, and strength in numbers was something that she needed desperately at the moment. It seemingly was a reunion atop the Hellmouth, considering that almost everyone who had fought at her side during the conflict with the Mayor was here, save for Cordelia and Oz. From what she had gathered from Angel, Buffy knew that Cordelia was still in Los Angeles, keeping control of Angel Investigations until the entire matter of the First and Willow's doppelganger was settled. No-one inside the group had heard from Oz since his rescue from the Initiative almost two years ago, although they were sure he was fine wherever he was. The man knew how to take care of himself.
"Would one you buggers invite me in already? I'm on bleeding fire here!" As a new voice scattered its sound through the kitchen, the newly reunited Scoobies saw an all too familiar face staring at them from behind both the screen door of the room, and a blanket.
"Spike?" Saying the vampire's name, Buffy felt every muscle inside her body instantly go on edge as the memories of what the vampire had tried to do to her came flooding back.
"Considering what you tried to do to Buffy, I'm pretty sure that would be a fair punishment." Rushing over to the door, Xander pressed his hand against the lock, knowing that everyone else in the kitchen was watching him. "Anyone object to that?"
"Wait, what do you mean what he tried to do?" His normally calm eyes filling up with anger, Angel watched as smoke continued to come out from under the blanket that was covering his grand-childe'. "Spike, I swear if you even laid a hand on her…"
"Wait, you didn't know that Buffy and Spike made together with the fleshy bits?"
"Anya!" Staring at the vengeance demon as if her gaze alone would force her to stop, Buffy avoided even trying to meet Angel's eyes. "It was only once!"
"The hell it was!" Shouting from where he was standing, Spike looked at every face in the room with a seemingly desperate quality to his eyes. "Come on, I'm burning out here!"
"Wait, wait, wait…hold up here, B…" Her mind just beginning to put together the dots, Faith's brown eyes lit up with slight amusement. "Damn, they should call you the Vampire Layer…"
"Faith, shut up!"
"WILL SOMEONE JUST LET ME IN ALREADY?!" Shouting the answer from a pain-filled voice, Spike knew that any moment longer would eventually cause him to burst into nothing but dust.
"Alright, alright, I invite you in!" As the invitation left her lips, the Slayer watched as the vampire charged into the house, throwing the blanket off of himself in the process. His eyes still focused on the other vampire, Angel took a single step towards him before he wrapped his fists around Spike's leather duster.
"Something you want to tell me about, Spike?" Growling out the question, the ensouled vampire looked into the Demon's eyes, and felt a certain spark of recognition in the way the man's eyes looked at him. "It can't be…"
"Angel, I don't think we need to have any blood spilled on Buffy's floor, that costs mon…" Catching the way the vampire was looking into Spike's eyes, Anya turned her gaze on them before seeing the same spark that Angel had.
"Spike, I don't believe it…Where did you get it?!" Her voice filling up with excitement, the Vengeance Demon seemingly forgot that everyone else in the room was unable to see what either she or her fellow Demon were able to see.
"Ok, I'm lost, and I'm not looking to be the Lost Slayer again. Somebody fill me in." Still observing the entire scene, Buffy looked at the vampire being held against the wall, and took a step back as a memory of what had happened months ago came flying back. Her body tensing up for a split second, the Slayer heard Dawn's voice echo back through the kitchen as she returned from checking the upstairs portion of the house.
"Willow and Tara aren't here, Buffy. Are you sure they're not outside?"
"Dawn, the dark and veiny Willow took them…" Unsure of how to voice the truth of the matter to the younger Summers girl, Xander came to stand beside where Giles had taken perch. Catching sight of the Watcher, Dawn's expression lightened somewhat as she ran to the man and embraced him in a hug.
"You said you might be able to help, Giles? I'm going to take that as a 'Yes, I have information that could help Buffy make with the Slaying'." Forcing her mind to concentrate on the matter at hand, Buffy stepped around where Angel was still holding Spike to the wall, and kept her eyes focused solely on her former Watcher.
"Oh, yes. I believe that I might have a theory on that matter." Turning towards the living room as Dawn let her hands drop back to her sides, Giles heard the footsteps of the other Scoobies following him into the room. Inside, he hoped that the answer he was about to provide wouldn't add to any of their fears.
"Tara…calm…" Repeating the sentence over and over again for comfort, the red-head closed her fear-filled green irises for a moment as she continued to cling to Tara's shirt. "Sunlight's calm even though Moonlight wants to hurt and make it sad…"
Sunlight and Moonlight…wait… Turning towards the other girl, Tara looked into Willow's green eyes once more.
"Honey, do you mean that you're the Sunlight and the other you is the Moonlight?"
"Sunlight good, Moonlight bad…" Nodding as she started to babble, the red-head saw Tara's expression flood with shock. "Sunlight protects, Moonlight hurts…"
"You were trying to say that Sunlight and Moonlight need to come back…you mean they have to be the same person?"
"Come inside before it rains…"
"Before the other you does something that will hurt all of us?"
"They have to get along…"
"You mean they have to be…the Dark and Light Magicks have to be back inside you?" Her tone growing more and more excited yet nervous, Tara felt her heart jumping at the realization that she had been right, and that Willow's seemingly insane babble hadn't been insane after all. "You have to have both of them?"
"Make them come inside, Mommy." Nodding once more, Willow felt Tara pull her closer into her grip.
"Oh, Goddess…" Whispering the words underneath her breath, the blonde Wiccan closed her eyes. "Why?"
"Honey, it's alright."
"MOONLIGHT!" Struggling to free herself from the other girl's grip as her green eyes widened in shock, Willow pointed at the entity standing behind both herself and Tara. "MOONLIGHT!"
Turning around with her arms still wrapped around the other girl's waist and back, Tara's own irises filled to their brim with shock as she saw the figure watched them. Slowly clapping, the dark-haired girl smiled.
"Bravo, Tara, bravo. You finally figured out the little puzzle."
"Giles, we really need to figure out where this dark and veiny thing would take Willow and Tara." Following the former Watcher into the living room with the remaining Scoobies following closely behind, Buffy knew that she was exhausted and her clothes were covered in grass and dirt stains, but she ignored them. She had been through worse in her life, and she would survive being dirty for a little while longer. Although she hadn't been able to defeat Willow's doppelganger, she had learned something from the fight itself. She couldn't defeat the Witch head on by herself. She needed to have backup if she was even going to get close to the doppelganger.
"And that could be anywhere, I hope you realize that, B. Considering how quick this thing is to make with the Magicks and lightning bolts, I don't think it took all of them to a picnic."
"For once, I actually agree with her." Her arms crossed over her chest, Dawn kept her eyes focused on her sister. "We need to get Willow and Tara back before that thing does anything to them."
"We're going to do that." Turning around to face the group gathered behind her, the Slayer closed her eyes. "We just have to figure out where they are."
"I think I might have an answer to that question." Easing himself down into the slightly askew couch, Giles removed his glasses from his face and rubbed his eyes. "It is a distinct possibility that this…other Willow took both Tara and the real Willow back to the Coven's castle."
"You said that the First separated the Dark Magicks from Willow?" Seeing his Slayer nod, the Watcher pushed his glasses back into place as all the eyes within the room focused directly on him. "Then, those Magicks will naturally feel some kind of aggression towards those that tried to eradicate them, with Willow being the obvious target at the center of all of this."
"And how does Tara and the Coven factor into all of this?" Still sitting down in one of the chairs he had returned to its legs, Xander felt exhausted and hurt, but continued to soldier on. "Besides the two of them being connected with the whole helping Willow thing-y."
"The Magicks said that they knew of everything that occurred when the three of us were in the Coven's presence, so that would naturally imply that it's aware of what Tara means to Willow."
"The whole going Dark thing?" Still pinned against the wall by the older vampire, Spike saw Buffy glare at him. "I heard Red tried being the Big Bad for a while. Guess it didn't work out for her?"
"Shut up, Spike."
"So, the Magicks obviously took Tara with Willow because they want her to see Tara get hurt. Doing such a thing would hurt Willow enough that she would do anything to help her, am I correct?"
"You've got it." Nodding, Buffy waited for the man to continue. "So, I take it that dark and veiny Willow already took care of the Coven?"
"As far as I know, all of them were absorbed by her. You said that she had already done this to another Witch?"
"Mhm. Amy." Saying the girl's name with a small amount of contempt, Buffy forced her vision to remain on the Englishman. "It killed her a few minutes after it did whatever it did to Willow's mind."
"Such a thing has occurred in the histories before. There have been accounts of a person's Magickal connection being severed. It usually involves a great deal of pain for the person, and it has been known to drive said person insane."
"So, you're saying that Willow's gone all Wiggins on us, and there's nothing we can do?"
"Allow me to finish." Accepting the bottle of water that Anya had fetched for him, Giles took a moment's break in order to take a large swig of the liquid. "It is possible to reattach the person's connection, but again, it is an extremely painful process, and it may only succeed in driving Willow only deeper into insanity."
"Then how did the Coven do the whole 'taking the Magicks out of Willow' thingy? I remember Tara describing it a little bit in one of her letters. Isn't that the same thing?"
"No, in a manner of speaking. The Coven's Rituals, while having quite nearly the same amount of pain, only took bits and pieces of the Dark Magick out of her. By doing this, it saved her from the insanity that would have accompanied having all of it removed at one time."
"So, they basically forced her through the same amount of pain, but without the whole 'going insane' thingy?" Speaking up from where she had come to stand behind Xander, Anya somewhat anxiously awaited the man's answer.
"In a manner of speaking ,yes. However, even doing that at such as slow pace put Willow through a great deal of pain. To have it done all at once, it would have to be unbearable."
"And yet, Willow went through it, and survived it…somewhat…" Mummering the sentence underneath her breath, Buffy looked up in order to address Giles. "Giles, are you saying that if we restore Willow's connection, it'll make her sane again?"
"There are no guarantees that such a thing would be a success, but it is extremely possible."
"Then that's what we need to do." Her gaze dropping down to the ground again, the Slayer turned away and headed towards the kitchen. "Tara was right all along. Willow was trying to tell us something."
As she stared at the Dark Witch in front of her, Tara pushed Willow behind her in order to shield her from her dark doppelganger. Inside her chest, her heart was racing, the adrenaline and fear running through her system giving her enough focus to know that the Witch would try to attack Willow before anything or anyone else.
"Aww, is Tara hiding little Willow from me? What a motherly thing to do." Her voice drenched in sarcasm and spite, Dark Willow took a step towards the two Wiccans. "Again, you're enjoying this, just like I said you would."
"S-Stay back." Struggling to remember the right words to the defensive spell she had used before at the house, the blonde girl kept Willow effectively hidden behind her.
"Ah, you're starting to stutter, does that mean you're nervous?" Still converging on the two girls, the Dark Witch raised her finger and smiled as she saw the other girl flinch. "I can tell you're afraid."
"Repellendos hostes tuos, et tu etiam protege me." The words finally coming to her, Tara muttered the Latin phrase and grinned slightly as a small shield erected itself in front of herself and Willow.
"Tara, Tara, Tara. You should know that these sort of things don't last." Waving her hand over the shield, the doppelganger's eyes seemingly took on a confused look to them as the shield remained intact.
"Goddess, protect us…" Turning away from where the shield continued to stand, Tara looked into Willow's fearful eyes. "Honey, we need to go…"
"Moonlight…" Only saying the term she used to describe the doppelganger, Willow nodded as Tara pulled her feet into step. As the two of them raced down the stone hallway, the sound of the Dark Witch blasting away at the shield with various assorted spells continued to echo along with their footsteps. Turning the corner just as the first crack appeared on the surface of the Magick infused shield, the two Wiccans found themselves at a dead end, with only the sight of stone walls appearing to their eyes. Grabbing hold of the red-head's hand as she turned around and headed for the first door in sight, Tara heard Willow cry out the word 'Moonlight' once more as another, larger crack appeared in the shield. It wouldn't last for much longer, and that fact only urged the Wiccan on even faster.
As her fingers wrapped around the door-knob, Tara threw the door open and pulled Willow in with her, pulling the door shut as the room became engulfed in darkness. Still able to feel Willow's fingers wrapped around the sleeve of her shirt, the Wiccan felt the wall around her for a light switch of any kind, or even a book of matches. Having any sort of light would be better than sitting in the dark waiting for Willow's doppelganger to return and do to them what it had planned to do originally.
"Moonlight doesn't like Sunlight's Tara…" Mumbling, the red-head clung to the other Wiccan with every inch of her strength. Feeling her way along the wall until she found a corner, the blonde girl pulled Willow down into a sitting position in the corner. As the sound of the Dark Witch's voice began to grow closer and closer with each passing second, the two Wiccans gave each other a silent look.
"Come out, come out, wherever you are, little Witches." From behind the closed door, Tara heard the unmistakable sound of the Dark Witch's voice echoing into the room. "I only want to play…"
Turning her head, the blonde Wiccan saw Willow press a finger against her lips and shake her head. Nodding, Tara pulled the girl closer to her side as she silently whispered the words to a cloaking spell that she had only a vague memory of ever using before. Letting the last word glide from her tongue into the air surrounding herself and the other girl, the Wiccan felt a small degree of comfort as the room they had entered blurred slightly, a sign that the cloak had worked properly. Whether or not it was strong enough to prevent Dark Willow from finding them remained to be seen, and as the thought came to mind that it might not be powerful enough, Tara closed her eyes and shook her head.
"Are you in here, little Witches?" As the words left the Dark Witch's lips, the doppelganger entered the room, the wooden door splintering into scattered pieces as the Witch raised her hand. Her blackened eyes scanning the room, the doppelganger hovered above the floor silently.
Please work, please work, please work, please work… Almost chanting the plea inside her head, Tara watched as the Witch moved through every corner of the room, silently searching for the two Wiccans. Her green eyes staring attentively at her doppelganger, Willow remained silent, biting the bottom of her lip at times in order to ensure that she didn't babble. Even in her insane state, she knew that having the 'Moonlight' find the 'Sunlight' wasn't a good thing or a wanted one.
"Really, Tara, you're making poor little Willow play hide-and-seek? She doesn't seem to be in the right state of mind to understand what the point of that game is." Hearing the Dark Witch's taunt, Willow turned her head towards Tara and shook her head before grabbing her hand and entwining her fingers within the other Wiccan's. Looking down at the fingers holding onto her hand, Tara nodded at the way her girl was staring at her. In many ways, it reminded her of the day the Gentleman had come, when the voices of Sunnydale had been taken away, and she had first held hands with the red-head sitting next to her.
"Hmmm, I wonder…" Extending her hand out to a nearby wooden chair, the dark-haired doppelganger flicked her finger as the object jumped from the floor and flew through the air until it made contact with an opposing wall. Sitting underneath the spot where the piece splintered into fracture pieces, Tara and Willow covered their heads as the pieces crashed to the ground directly in front of them. Biting down hard on her bottom lip, the red-head tasted blood as it hit her tongue. Almost whimpering, the former Witch remained absolutely silent as she held onto Tara's hand.
"Nope, no Witches in here." Turning towards the doorway, Dark Willow exited the room, leaving the destroyed door and chair where they laid. Waiting for what seemed like hours, Tara finally uttered the phrase that brought the cloak down, and left them exposed to whatever dangers filled the Coven's castle.
"Are you alright, sweetie?"
"Moonlight didn't hurt Sunlight. Grass didn't get hurt or stained with red, red blood." Nodding as she babbled in a hushed tone, Willow allowed the other girl to help her onto her feet. Staring into the girl's green eyes, Tara sighed.
"We have to find a way out of here, honey. Alright?"
"Sunlight knows that Moonlight doesn't like her." Nodding again, the red-head offered the girl a smile. "Sunlight doesn't want her Tara to get hurt…"
"I know." Reaching out and laying her hand against the former Witch's cheek, Tara sighed. "I know."