Mirror, Mirror

by ObliqueReference

Graphic: Wolf - Find the wallpaper sizes version here.

Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: I own none of these characters, they are the sole property of Joss Whedon, UPN, FOX, and the rest. It is simply out of the grace of their hearts that I am allowed to even begin to write this. BUT the story is mine, so plagiarize and I will beat you to death with a halibut.
Distribution: Mystic Muse: http://mysticmuse.net, http://www.kennedyfanfic.com/fanfic/
As long as I get the street cred, toss this baby anywhere.
Spoilers: This takes place a few weeks after Chosen , so make of that what you will.
Feedback: I would love to hear from any adoring fans I might have.. Anybody? Hello?
Pairing: Willow / Kennedy

Summary: What if every dark fantasy you ever had could get up and walk around, alone? Willow must face her shadow self, while Kennedy learns that dark selves aren't relegated only to sorcerers.

Chapter One
"Mirror Mirror, on the Wall."

The alarm clock did a little jump as Kennedy brought her fist down on the snooze button. The red diode digits seemed to suspend in the air, danced for a second in defiance of all slumber, and chased the falling clock down. It screamed once, and was no more. Kennedy opened one eye, looking at the wreckage of the clock as it came to its final resting place on the bed stand. She made a noise that at some point in her mind was an actual word, but through the haze of sleep transformed into an extended hwuff. She groped out with her non-Willow occupied arm, grabbing the corpse of the clock radio.

Willow stirred from underneath Kennedy's arm. She rubbed her eyes, glancing to her left to look at the bronze-skinned woman holding the now oddly shaped clock.

"'Time's it?" she whimpered.

Kennedy shifted over, wrapping her arms around her lover's waist. She nestled her face in the crook of Willow's neck, inhaling deeply, relishing every iota of fragrance.

"It's twelve," answered the dark haired girl, "blinking twelve. I slayed it. It was a vampire clock."

Willow sat up with enough force to dislodge the stronger woman. Kennedy slid off to the side as Willow gasped in utter horror.

"Class!" was all she could say.

"It's sorta a lost cause to try an' convince you to stay, innit?" Kennedy asked through her stupor.

Willow shoved the big comforter off the bed, swinging her legs over to one side. Her eyes darted around the room as her mind calculated several different factors; multiple lines of thought converged, giving rise to one word: "Pants."

"No," Kennedy insisted, running her fingernails down the redhead's spine, "No pants. Pants bad."

Willow grabbed her rust colored jeans off of the floor, took a quick sniff, and tossed them into the hamper on the far side of the room. She twisted around, making sure that Kennedy's hand stayed in contact, and raised her eyebrows while pursing her lips to one side.

"You seen my pants?" She asked, "The gray, low-cut ones?"

Kennedy wrapped her strong arms around Willow's alabaster waist, making sure her pinkies rested at the edge of the witch's waistband. She looked up, pouting and making big, puppy dog eyes.

"You don't need pants. You need to curl up here, with me," she pleaded, "And I've got the super-strength, so I can keep you here."

Willow cupped the young slayer's face in her palms, looking deeply into her eyes, putting on her best 'resolve face'.

"Time for class," She said with whispered forcefulness, and kissed her lightly on the lips, a chaste peck.

Kennedy whimpered in defeat, unlocking her hands. She fell back onto the bed. Her wrists came up to rub the sleep from her eyes, and she pointed at the closet beside the bathroom door.

"In there," She admitted, "but you don't need to go. You've got time. Look."
She pointed at the 'L' shaped former clock.

"I killed time. It will come out no more."

Willow hopped over to the closet, sliding it open with one hand while scratching her head with the other. She glanced through the hanging garments, grabbing the pair of jeans she had decided on. She folded them over her forearm, and impatiently tapped her foot whilst shuffling the shirts that hung in front of her. Kennedy thought of continuing her line of begging, but she recognized the single-minded nature of her girlfriend's pursuit of higher learning. Even if it was summer school, there was no force in heaven or earth that could stop her. Kennedy pondered whether her previous thought was actually literally true.

"Kenn," Willow asked, inspecting a teal long-sleeved shirt, "is this mine or yours?"

"Not mine," she replied

Willow's eyes narrowed, and after a second, a memory caught. Her jaw unconsciously clenched, and she stared at the shirt for a heartbeat.

"Oh," was all she said as she put the seawater colored raiment back, hiding it in the depths of the closet. Quickly, she snatched a blouse from the nearest hanger, and walked over to the dresser, pulling underwear and a bra from its drawer.

"I'm gonna," she pointed towards the bathroom. Kennedy smiled knowingly, acknowledging what just happened, but not asking any questions. She had gotten used to moments like this, and knew that all she could do was accept them as they came. Willow smiled at her girlfriend's concern, and was thankful that she was wise enough not to try and push the point. The redhead nodded her head in the direction of the shower: "y'know. Shower time."

Kennedy watched the older woman (only two years older, she reminded herself) shut the bathroom door behind her. Kennedy then began her secret ritual. She did it every time Willow left her alone, and treated it with the utmost respect. She rolled over, wrapping her arms around the witch's pillow. Bringing it up to her face, she buried her head in its downy softness. She closed her eyes, inhaling deeply. She loved how her lover smelled: hazel wood and strawberries; sweat and mint. She knew the scent, knew how it changed with her moods, how she smelled when she cried, or laughed, or came. There was something so intensely personal about a scent, she thought between breaths, something that cut through all the pretensions people put up. Maybe she was part wolf, she mused, enjoying the thought of tracking her lover through a snow-covered plain, finding her, circling her, taking her. Her prey would turn, and the she-wolf would be so enraptured by her divinity that she would supplicate herself before the glowing being ahead of her. This was primordial: the unstoppable force meeting the immovable object. She would swear her love and fealty to her prey, a samurai lover. Kennedy opened her eyes, banishing the images of the two of them, entwined on a blanket of white. She wanted Willow in a way that sometimes frightened her in its ferocity. She wanted to keep her, protect her, make the world safe and beautiful for her. She was her goddess.

Willow looked at herself in the mirror as she peeled her nightshirt off. Every muscle in her body ached, and she stretched, enjoying the dull throbbing of her thighs. She felt. That was the miracle for her. Anything. She turned the water on, a nice, comfortable scalding. Steam rose from the water as it heated up. Willow stepped into the shower, pulling the semi-translucent stall-door closed behind her. Wasting little time, she grabbed the tiny, eroded bar of soap and began to lather up. Her mind wandered as she scrubbed, thinking of the raven-haired Slayer lying in bed, waiting for her. Her thoughts strayed towards Kennedy more and more often, she found. She would walk by a store, and immediately think, she'd like that poster, or shirt, or axe. Willow didn't know what that meant. Was she in love with her? Somehow, Willow doubted it was that simple. She marveled at how different each of her relationships had been. Xander was really just the guy who accepted her; then, that was enough to earn him a place in her heart. With Oz, things became so much more complicated. She knew he loved her, and she loved him, she really did. But he was always just not there, like he was watching everything through a glass window. It was because of the Wolf, she knew this intellectually, but emotionally, all she wanted was someone to be there. To feel the same way she felt. And with Tara, Goddess, why did she have to be so perfect? But that's not right, she wasn't perfect. She was perfect for Willow. They were like two halves of the same person. But she's dead now, Willow reminded herself. She was gone, but the horror of the loss often came to her at odd times. She didn't die all at once. Every little thing that she had, everything that she left, continued to remind Willow that she wasn't gone, she wasn't away visiting relatives: she was dead. The mail that stopped coming. The clothes that found their way into disuse. The makeup that she wore, dried out in its case. Willow often thought that she herself had been hollowed out, and for the longest time, the only thing that kept her going was the knowledge that she was needed. She was powerful, and smart, and Buffy needed her help. But that was it. And then, this girl showed up. This pushy, brazen, gorgeous girl who pursued Willow with single-minded intensity. It made her smile as she washed the shampoo out of her hair. Someone out there wanted her. Someone saw what a train wreck she was, and just seemed to see right through it. She knew me, Willow grinned, or really, she believed in me. Even when she saw what I could do, she thought, Kennedy didn't give up on me. Willow knew that her friends didn't give up on her, but that was just it. They were her friends, and in her depressions, she would tell herself that they had her confused with the little girl they used to know. It was easy to dismiss their trust that way. But here was this stranger, this person who didn't know her, not from before. And still she saw something that made her put her faith in Willow.

Willow turned off the water, grabbing the towel off its holder. She began to dry herself off, the towel moving back and forth rapidly. There never was enough time. Steam cloaked the bathroom in thick, white clouds. She flipped on the fan, shaking her head at her own pretension. It will take a little more thought than what she could muster in her ten-minute shower to puzzle her feelings out. The pink terrycloth towel was wrapped around her chest, and she grabbed another towel, the pale brown one, to dry her hair with. Willow pondered cutting her hair again, but remembered that Kennedy had said that she looked nice with long hair. The mirror was covered with a dense layer of mist, obscuring her view. She reached to wipe it clean, but paused. Did she just reconsider her appearance based on what Kennedy thought? Her heart beat off rhythm for a second, and a strange tingling sensation swept up through her core. Suddenly self-conscious, Willow brushed one of her red locks off of her face. She was being ridiculous, she thought. Why would I be getting giddy over the thought of caring what my girlfriend thinks? Willow shrugged, and wiped off the mirror, water dripping from the track of her hand. Absently drying her hand on her towel, she glanced up to her reflection, just to make sure she was presentable.

Her eyes met her reflections'. She stared hard for a few seconds, her chest pounding in an ever-increasing drumbeat. Inhaling deeply, she closed her eyes, forcing her consciousness deep within the Earth, feeling it's strength, it's fullness. The energy of Gaia, the force of life, flowed through her, rooting her into the mystical lines that tunneled through the planet. The roots crystallized, holding Willow's essence in place, keeping the panic from over taking her. She slowly opened her eyes, making herself look directly ahead.

And there she was. Skin the color of bone, eyes that seemed to absorb light, reflecting nothing, midnight tresses hanging down. Just beneath her skin, thin, dark veins writhed, humming with malevolent energy. Black lips twisted into a wry, mirthless grin. Willow. Just. Stared. Her brain refused to work. She took a step back, the reflection was so close, she was so close to that thing, she had to put some distance between her and it. Her foot slid on the wet tile floor, and the world went cockeyed.

Chapter Two
"Evil Eye Me"

Kennedy was lying in bed, still enraptured with the thought of her lover, when she heard the dull thump of a body hitting the floor. In an instant, she was on her feet, leaping across the bed to the bathroom door in two quick steps. Her mind raced, a thousand horrible possibilities dancing in front of her imagination. Maybe Willow hit her head, or maybe she accidentally cut herself, or maybe she was hurt, and couldn't yell, and had to bang on the floor. Her heart in her throat, Kennedy opened the door, scanning the room.

Willow was sitting on the floor, back against the wall, rubbing her hip. Kennedy kneeled down next to her, doing a quick, discreet inspection of any wounds. As a trained warrior, Kennedy had a near instinctive ability to detect weakness in anybody. She had honed her natural tendency for criticism into a finely edged weapon. In mere wordless moments, she learned that Willow was relatively unhurt, but more than a little shook up. She almost sighed in relief, but then reminded herself that a shook up Willow was capable of accidentally leveling a city block.

"Will," she breathed, offering a hand, "What's wrong?"

Willow accepted the hand up, rubbing the bridge of her nose. She stared at the floor for a few moments, composing herself. Sighing, Willow looked up at Kennedy. She tried to start a sentence three or four times, in fitful starts and stops, but saw Kennedy's eyebrows raised in confusion. Raising her hands up to her temples, she thrust a finger forcefully over the slayer's shoulder, making a sound that rested somewhere between a "look" and a "haah". Kennedy slowly traced the line Willow drew, turning her head to look at the mirror.

The reflection sneered in pure disdain.

Kennedy's mouth opened and closed a few times, like a fish gasping for air. She looked back to Willow imploringly.

Willow nodded, shrugging.

The slayer looked again at the reflection, watched it as it languidly scanned her from head to toe. There was no small degree of lust in the reflection's gaze, but it was an exploitive look: a philanderer staring at his secretary. Kennedy narrowed her eyes in thought for a second.

She turned back to Willow, and gazed at her with the same concentration. Willow's eyes darted back and forth, trying to follow her girlfriend's train of thought. Kennedy dipped her head and closed her eyes.

Her eyes opened, and smoldered. Her lips parted, lower lip protruding as her breathing grew harsh. A low, guttural growl began in the back of her throat. She planted her hands on either side of the redheads' shoulders. Willow's eyes grew wide, and she tried to back up a half step, but was pinned to the wall.

"Kenn," she pleaded, "This really isn't the t-"

Kennedy lunged at her, wrapping her arms around the back of her head. She brought her lips to Willow's in a flash, her tongue running along the witch's mouth, pressing into her. Willow moaned at the contact, the sheer simple desire that fueled Kennedy's kiss washed over her. The world collapsed to a point, all the sound in the room vanished as her bronze-skinned lover bit her lower lip gently, tugging playfully before diving back into the kiss. Something in the back of Willow's mind tingled, little pops of electricity danced to and fro behind her closed eyes. Kennedy's withdrawal was as violent as her entrance; she pulled back panting and flushed.

"Whoa," Willow managed to exhale after a few heartbeats. Her whole body was on fire as she reached out to hook her thumbs into Kennedy's waistband. Kennedy smiled, lightly kissing Willow. She hesitated for a second, then hazarded a glance at the mirror. The reflection gazed right at Kennedy, unimpressed. Kennedy jerked her head back around to face Willow, curling her lip in a way that seemed to approximate a shrug.

"Worked last time," she deadpanned, "I could go to plan 'b', but you'll be late for class."

"Kenn," Willow managed to speak after her lips stopped buzzing, "Hon, I think this might be outside the realm of your magic tongue-stud."

Kennedy paused for a minute, slowly turning on a heel to face the doppelganger glaring at the pair through the mirror. Willow stepped up beside her, forcing herself to make eye contact with her malignant double.

"Are you wiggin'?" The dark-haired woman asked plainly.

Willow pondered this for a moment.

"Y'know," she said wistfully, "Not so much. I mean, evil twins? Hello! Out of high school."

"Sooo," Kennedy ventured, "Have you been feeling guilty lately?"

"Raised Jewish."

"Ah," she paused, then added: "Any more so than normal?"

"No..." the redhead began, "But now I'm beginning to think that I should be feeling bad, and maybe this is my zany way of saying, 'self, feel worse.' So now I feel worse, but not about the right things, hence, evil veiny mirror me."

"Will?" Kennedy asked with genuine concern, "have you at any time figured out what is going on it that pretty head of yours?"

"I just live here," Willow sighed.

Both girls continued to stare at the reflection, who for her part seemed a little bemused by the pair's monotonous conversation.

"What do you think's going on?"

"I've pretty much got it narrowed down," the witch said in a voice barely above a whisper, "It's either a spell, weird science experiment gone wrong, some kind of demon, or a tear in the fabric of reality."

"That's not all that narrow," Kennedy observed.

"No, I've totally ruled out aliens trying to drive me insane..."

"Because that would be redundant."

"Right-a-rooni," the petite Wiccan quipped, "and redundancy is the enemy of the evil plot."

Kennedy finally looked at her lover, pursing her lips together: "I've noticed that. You'd think the bad guys would have, like, a whole bunch of back up plans."

"Yeah," Willow nodded, "I've noticed that too. Evil's pretty dumb."

The newly empowered slayer found herself nodding in time with Willow, both girls shaking their heads with pity for the silly fools who tried to take over the world from time to time.

Willow shook herself out of their reverie.

"Hey," she blurted, "mirror monster here, staring at us. Us, all... tangenty. Maybe us should be making with the research."

"God," the raven-haired slayer grinned, "you are just the cutest thing sometimes."

"Kennedy!" she yelled in disbelief, "I know this may be hard to grasp, but that's not how I wanted to see myself again. So crank your slayer-hormones down a notch or two, missy, 'cause I'm not relishing the idea of that thing giving me the hairy eyeball every time I try to apply mascara! So focus!"

"Hey, I'm focused. I am so focused. I am Captain Focus."

Kennedy paused for effect before looking at the doppelganger leering at her in the mirror. The reflection stood where Willow was standing, even holding her hands limply at her sides like real-world Willow was. But her bearing was so completely different. She had this smug sense of superiority, a laconic smirk, and although her head moved in time with her double, her eyes opened and closed of their own accord. A chill ran up Kennedy's spine.

"Is that," she paused, pointing at the monster, "Is that how you looked when...well, when you.."

"Turned evil and tried to destroy the world?" Willow completed, her voice almost a whisper.

"I was gonna say 'when you were sick'," Kennedy corrected.

"I wasn't sick," she said with more force, "And I don't like the euphemism. It makes it sound like I had a bad case of the flu."

"I was trying to be diplomatic," the raven-haired girl said dryly.

Willow raised an eyebrow: "Diplomatic? Who are you and what have you done with my girlfriend?"

"She was far too good-looking for you Earth women."

Willow ran her hands through her hair, sighing deeply, "I so do not need this today. Or, really, any day, for that matter."

"So what's the plan?" the younger woman crossed her arms in front of her chest. "Are you going to do this thing all solo?"

"Well," Willow said, wrapping her arms around the slayers' shoulders, sensing the trepidation, "I could always use some badass monster-fightin' girlfriend support."

Kennedy smiled, leaning in to the hug, but keeping her eyes locked on the twisted reflection of her lover. Despite herself, she smiled.

"You're gonna be late for school," she chided playfully.

Willow's eyes opened wide and changed color from a deep emerald to forest green. Her jaw clenched, and a high-pitched squeaking sound came from between her teeth. She shifted her weight to and fro, torn between staying and watching her evil self, and leaving to excel at her Advanced Genetic Algorithms class.

Kennedy chuckled, patting the slight redhead on the shoulder.

"I'll go get your books. You keep and eye on Queen of the Damned here."

Willow nodded. "You just got yourself girlfriend bonus points."

"Yay!" Kennedy yelled as she grabbed the books that had been neatly stacked on the dresser, complete with color-coded syllabus. After grabbing the diskette off of the table (which was also color-coded), she picked up the laptop from the side of the bed. Kennedy did a quick index of everything before she handed it to Willow. Despite the redhead's calm demeanor, she really didn't want to see what would happen if she forgot her orange highlighter in the middle of class. The headline popped into her head unbidden: Class Mysteriously Vanishes, Vandals Place Highlighters in Missing Student's Chairs. Today was an insulation and easement operation, as far as Kennedy was concerned. She would act as a buffer between irritating stimuli, and when something did go wrong, she would defuse the situation as quickly as possible.

Willow tried not to look into her reflection's eyes as she pulled on her pants, then put on her blouse. The doppelganger mirrored her actions perfectly, but there was something about the rhythm of her movement that made Willow think of a jungle cat, just waiting to strike. Her eyes bored holes into Willow.

"Okay," she whispered, "you just keep givin' me the evil eye, and I'm gonna figure out what the heck is going on."

The reflection lolled her head to the side, pouting playfully.

"And now I'm desperately trying not to freak out." Willow started to wring her hands together. "Because I'm pretty sure I didn't just do that, but you did, so now I'm gonna just baaack up a little bit."

The black clad doppelganger slowly brought her hand up, wagging her finger with a slow smile.

"Oh!" Willow gasped, her hands gesturing wildly. "Oh, I so didn't do that. And with that in mind, I am now going to freak out!"

Chapter Three
"I Against I"

Kennedy walked towards the bathroom, arms full of books. Her pace quickened as she heard the squeaky timbre of Willow's voice. She put her parcels on the dresser, and skidded onto the tile floor. Her skid brought her alongside her redheaded lover, who was in the process of uttering a string of Latin words whilst pointing forcefully at the Shadow form in the mirror. Seeing herself in the line of fire, she twisted her body around, dropping into a fighter's stance beside the witch.

"Taciti simulacris, repudio es!" A brilliant surge of white energy crashed like a breaking wave from Willow's outstretched palm, curling in on itself as it arced towards its target.

"Taesum est." The dark Willow waved her hand dismissively as the spell impacted with the mirror barrier. Her voice was flat and dull, but it swept through the pairs' minds like fingernails on a chalkboard. The glowing, roiling energy gathered itself in that spot, forming into a sphere.

The reflection and the original were once again mirrored in their actions, both extending their open palms, muscles tensing as magickal energies struggled with each other. Sweat beaded on Willow's forehead.

"Kennedy," she breathed through gritted teeth, "get out of here."

The slayer stood firm. "Not a chance. Get points for tryin', though."

The doppelganger bore her teeth through midnight lips, and hissed loudly, her hiss slowly twisting into a chant, something that flowed like snakes in a baby's crib.

"Nigrum amictus amaritudo sum!" The Shadow Willow's words grew in intensity, reaching a deafening level as the ball of energy streaked back towards the witch.

It all happened at once. As the whirling missile flew towards Willow, Kennedy's superhuman reactions kicked into overdrive. She saw the dawning look of fear on Willow's face, the gloating grin of the evil double, and knew that this was to be a killing strike. Without a second thought, indeed, there was no time for anything like thought, she leapt into the path of the magickal weapon. The impact was unlike anything she had ever felt before, all electric jangles and barbed wire whips that wrapped around her limbs. Through the haze of pain, she realized that the blow pushed her airborne. She felt something collide with her, and twisted in midair, desperately trying to right herself. Kennedy was then aware of a sudden pain in her head and neck; the world became viscous and dull. She thought she smelled sea salt.

Willow saw her slayer twist into the path of the agony spell. The Wiccan raised her hands, but the spell had too much power, and lifted the Hispanic woman off her feet and directly at Willow. Willow, an expert at blunt trauma, braced for impact. The larger woman slammed into the slight frame of Willow, knocking the wind out of her and sending her bouncing off the wall behind her. The two collapsed onto the floor, Willow trapped beneath her bloodied lover.

Willow's senses swam. She sucked in air hard; short, puffing breaths that never seemed to be enough. The coppery taste in the back of her throat told her that her nose was bleeding, and badly. Her vision couldn't seem to decide on how many images to present, everything rotated and merged. Her hand shot to her face, feeling warm stickiness spread down her chin. Willow's other hand tried to touch her stomach, but met with an unfamiliar object, something decidedly un-Willow. She held onto the object, knowing that it was something important. She focused, forcing her mind to work.

"Oh, oh Goddess," she said, blood flowing into her mouth, "Kennedy!"

She gripped Kennedy's limp hand tightly as she stared hard at the crumpled form on top of her. She felt her weight and heat, and her shoulders relaxed as she felt the strong, steady rhythm of the girl's heartbeat. She squeezed the hand in time with her words.

"Kenn? Kenn, baby, you've got to wake up." The slayer stirred slightly, but seemed exhausted by the effort. Willow felt a growing lump in her throat twist her voice into a high-pitched squeak.

"Oh, no," a rasp-quiet voice sardonically intoned, "Looks like you're making a habit of women dying in your arms, aren't you, Red?" The reflection pressed her hands against the glass, pursing her lips matter-of-factly.

Willow ignored the monster, stroking her lover's hair, tears mixing with the blood on her cheeks, dropping red dots on Kennedy's hand. "Kennedy, please. I need you to wake up. You're not allowed to get hurt. You're too stubborn to get hurt."

"Tsk, tsk," Dark Willow leaned her forehead against the mirror, shaking her head sadly, "You never could hold onto the good ones, could you? They all go away, in the end."

Willow looked up at her cadaverous double, eyes like diamonds. "Shut. Up."

The doppelganger raised an eyebrow in disgust. Her expression hardened into something venomous and cold.

"Leaving now." She pushed her hands into the mirror, which rippled like lake water. The mirror parted as her hands passed through, then her arms, until her whole torso was outside of the mirror. She dragged her legs behind her like a cripple, pulling them around until she sat on the edge of the sink. The double hopped off the sink, pointed boots clacking loudly on the tile floor.

Willow pulled the limp body of Kennedy closer to her. She clenched her jaw, glaring at her twin. The twin looked down at the duo, smiling broadly, rolling her eyes in amusement.

"Betcha didn't see that one coming, huh, skippy?" She squatted down next to Willow, looking her in the eye. "I'm gonna have fun with you. You think you've seen bad? The skinning thing? Warm ups."

Willow stared into the black pools that that thing called her eyes, and saw only her own reflection. The double stood back up, rolling her head in a languid circle before her gaze locked on Willow's prone form again. "Keep your eyes open, doll face. 'Cause I'm gonna show you a whole new way to hurt."

She threw her head back and laughed, her laughter deepening as blue-green bolts of lightning swirled around her, consuming her, leaving nothing but a wisp of black cloud in her wake.

Willow glanced around nervously, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Kennedy began to move on top of her, rolling over to her back.

"I'm gonna kick her ass," the battered slayer grumbled. She opened her eyes, looking over at Willow, who for her part leaned down to cradle the dark-haired girl's head in her hands. Kennedy's eyes focused on her girlfriend, then opened wide in alarm. "You're bleeding!" She felt her own head, wincing as she touched the side of her scalp. "I'm hurt. But we're alive." She searched Willow's face. "She got away, didn't she?"

Willow nodded. "I... she was stronger than me."

Kennedy sat up, carefully craning her neck from side to side, checking for any sign of neck trauma. She then ran her hands through her hair, touching her scalp tenderly, and from time to time squinting in pain. She turned to face Willow, bringing her hands up to gently caress her face. She traced her index finger along the bridge of her lover's nose, withdrawing suddenly when Willow flinched. Kennedy's eyes welled up.

"Sweetie, I think I broke your nose." She stood up with a grunt, lifting the slight girl to her feet. She led Willow over to the sink, sighing in relief at their unmolested reflections, and turned on the faucet. She soaked a washcloth in the lukewarm water, wringing it out, and began to carefully dab the blood off of her girlfriend's face. She sighed loudly. "You look like you just went ten rounds with Muhammad Ali."

Willow tried to smile, but found it too painful. "I went one round with flying Kennedy." She closed her glittering green eyes, her lower lip trembling.

"I float like a butterfly and sting like a rhinoceros." The slayer cupped Willow's face in her hands, lifting her head to meet her gaze. She frowned, but her voice was quiet and soothing. "Hey, hey, hey. That's enough of that. I'm not gonna let that walking dye-job lay so much as one finger on you, okay?"

"Kenn," the witch wheezed, "she won't hurt me."

"Well then. Maybe she just wants to grab a coffee and talk."

Willow met Kennedy's eyes, gazing longingly into orbs so brown as to be almost black. She shuddered at the thought of the ink-black eyes of her double, and looked deeper into the slayer. She could feel the concern Kennedy had for her wash over her. It made her next words terrify her all the more.

"She won't hurt me, not at first. She wants me to suffer. Kenn, she's going to kill you." The words fell out of her mouth in staccato gunshots. All the air rushed out of her, and she fought to remember to breathe. "That's why," she gasped, "that's why I have to do this alone."

Kennedy eyed Willow hard for a second. She could feel her fists rhythmically opening and closing. She closed her eyes, counting to ten slowly, then opened them, grin writ large on her full lips.

"Will," she chuckled, "you really are an idiot."

Willow's jaw dropped open. There was one thing that no one, ever, had called her. Geek, loser, dyke, psycho, deviant, she'd heard 'em all. But no one, no one ever had the nerve to call her an idiot. She leaned towards Kennedy, her heart falling in her chest. Is this what Kennedy really thought of her? Was she some sort of half-wit, some kind of child that needed protection? Maybe Kennedy never really trusted her, and was just using her like some slack-jawed sex toy. Gods! How could she not see it? Well, this girl's got her pride, and she'll be thrice damned if any little slayer brat's gonna treat her like this! With that thought, she decided to tell the other girl just what she thought!

"Hey!" Was all that came out. Kennedy grabbed Willow's fists, coaxing their hands together. She shook her head with a slow smile.

"Sweetheart, I get what you're doing. I really do. But you're being silly. If this thing really is more powerful than you, do you think for a second that you're going to stop her by going all Lone Retard on her? You need some heavy backup. And before you think it should be someone else, try to remember that the best chance I've got is with my badass Wiccan girlfriend at my side. Plus, I'm sticking with you, no matter what."

Willow pouted, still furious over the insult. "You didn't need to call me names. It hurts."

Kennedy's heart melted, and she drew the smaller woman into a hug, rocking her back and forth. "Oh, I'm sorry. Willow, you're the most brilliant, amazing, powerful woman I've ever met. But tactically...let's just say I'd kick your ass at Risk."

Willow smiled into her lover's shoulder. "Not if I'm red. I'm unstoppable when I'm red." She planted a quick kiss on Kennedy's lips, then pulled back to look into Kennedy's eyes. "If you ever insult me like that again, I'll turn you into... I dunno... something unpleasant. Possibly something with psuedopods."

"There's my girl." The slayer grinned. "Now, lets give the Giles-monster a call. I'm sure he'll be more than happy to help us out on this."

Chapter Four
"Collect Calls"

She stood, silent. Eyes so brown they envied black stared at the door, willed it to open, willed her to walk out. She focused on the voice coming from the other side, Willow's voice. She'd been on the phone with England for over two hours now, and Kennedy was getting antsy. She watched the windows, eyed the door. The fighter in her screamed for action, any action, just to release this tension that suffused her. She found herself grinding her teeth to the beating of her heart. This was always the worst part of a coming battle: the waiting. And it was going to be a battle, that much she knew. Anything powerful enough to overcome Willow's magick was a threat to the whole world. But Kennedy wasn't worrying for the whole world. She was worrying for her Willow.

Willow hung up the phone. The coven in England was as perplexed by this turn of events as she was. Their seer had immediately sensed the presence of the doppelganger. In her own words, it "'bout blew my bleedin' lid off." In fact, they were just about to teleport their heavy guns in to bring Dark Willow down when the person formerly known as Dark Willow gave them a call. The funny part was how they had apologized, especially when they revealed that their sorcerer killing hit squad was just about to bamf into Willow's living room and drop the nasty mojo on her. Willow then spent nearly an hour with them as they ran a series of spells trying to decipher this double's location. Apparently, it was keeping one step ahead of the coven's locator spells. This was, needless to say, a very bad thing. Willow had finally gotten a hold of Giles.

"I figured something like this would happen sooner or later," he'd said.

"Giles!" Willow nearly yelled into the receiver, "when were you gonna tell me about this! You think maybe I should know before I pull an Evil Kirk?"

"Well, I'm, I wasn't certain this would happen. I only knew that it would be something like this."

"Okay," Willow wheedled, "so you wanna tell me what caused this?"

"Um, the short version is: you harnessed more power than any living being on the planet, and now your, well, your psychic aftershocks are being felt."

"You know," the witch whined, "I'm really starting to get sick of my brain."

"Yes, well, that's the short version. The living embodiment of your...issues, as they say, is now walking around the world. I definitely feel more terrified now."

"Sorry," she grumbled, "It's not my fault. Well, in a sort of Jungian way, it is, but why now? And really, how do I get rid of it? Oh! Maybe if I went to a whole bunch of therapy sessions, she'd just dwindle away!"

"I doubt it. Willow, magick isn't technology. It's not science. You affect it as much as it affects you. Your thoughts, your fears, all these change the very fabric of the energy you are trying to manipulate. Magick responds to your deepest desires, and mirrors them."

"Giles, I'm not some wet behind the ears crystal tosser. I've been doing this sort of thing a long time."

"Oh, I'm sorry," Giles grew harsh, "I didn't realize five years of amateur study equated to mastery."

"Okay, fine, I'm a screw-up. Toying with forces that don't concern me, yadda yadda yadda."

"Willow," Giles sighed, "I'm sorry. You are not a failure. I'm actually quite proud of you. You've come so far. You just have a tendency to forget the spiritual side of things."

Willow relented, head bowed. "I know. I'm a lot better than I was."

Giles grinned on the other side of the Atlantic. "Well, as that you haven't tried to destroy the world lately, I'd say so."

"That's not funny, " she replied evenly, smiling despite herself. "But seriously, how do I stop this thing?"

"I'm not sure, " Giles admitted, "We don't know how your double was made, only that she, it, has tremendous mystical power."

"Giles, I couldn't fight back. It was stronger than me."

"Dear lord. Well, perhaps with the coven's... hm."

Willow started to pace. "Hm? Is that a good 'hm' or a bad 'hm'?"

Giles pondered for a second. "You say she was more powerful than you. So why didn't she kill you when she had the chance?"

"She said she wanted to hurt me, not kill me. She wants to take away my, well, everything."

"So, why didn't she kill Kennedy? You two are rather, ahem, rather close now, true?"

Willow grinned broadly as the answer dawned on her. "She was too worn out. She did some major mojo, what with the mirror walking and the spell reversal, and she knew she couldn't take me in a fight if she hurt Kenn. She needed to save some juice to make her getaway! Giles, I can fight this thing!"

"I'll give Buffy a call, " Giles offered, "Perhaps Robin and Faith would also be of assistance."

"No, no," Willow resolutely shook her head, "Buffy is on vacation. Faith's already in Cleveland. I'll handle this myself. If I need any more backup, I'll give the Angel crew a call."

"Are you sure?"

"Sure. I think it's about time I taught myself a lesson."

"You are a very odd girl."

Willow had hung up, a renewed sense of confidence bolstering her spirits. She strode over to the door, opening it wide, only to find Kennedy nervously fingering the long sword at her side. The slayer looked up questioningly at her.

"Gear up, Kenn," Willow said as she began grabbing her spell books off of the coffee table.

Kennedy nervously eyed Willow. She slowly began to gather several of her favorite weapons together. "What's the plan?" She asked.

"Well, I haven't got the particulars worked out yet, but basically, we go find the evil me and hand her her ass."

"Good plan," Kennedy nodded, "There's just one little problem."

Willow froze in her tracks: "What?"

Kennedy chuckled, tossing her twin hand crossbows onto the bed. "That's not so much a plan, as a suicide mission."

"So you're saying you're not with me on this one?" Willow's voice cracked of it's own accord.

"Of course I'm with you," Kennedy began to slide the throwing knives into their sheathes, "I just need to know what I'm up against."

Willow stopped, looking a little perplexed. "Evil Twin," she thumbed towards the bathroom, "Came out of the mirror?"

"There's no need to be condescending," Kennedy stopped organizing her weapons to make eye contact with Willow. "What I want to know is how we hurt her."

Willow emptied her laptop bag, loading it with her two favorite spell books. "I think it'll be pretty much like fighting me."

"And I do that so often... no, wait."

Willow sighed. "Kennedy, I'm not sure how much you can do. The last time someone went hand to hand with evil me, she-I-handed Buffy her ass."


"So maybe trying to get all violent with Evil Me could just get you hurt. And I have this feeling that she won't hold back with you."

Kennedy moved to stand in front of her girlfriend, arms crossed, hips cocked to the side: her 'assertive' posture. "One. I am not Buffy. Buffy stumbled onto her power. I've been trained for it since the age of three. Two. I am a better fighter than you realize. And Three. I've got something Buffy never had."

Willow raised a disbelieving eyebrow: "What's that?"

"You." Kennedy smiled, snaking her hand around the witch's waist. "So I heard most of your conversation with Giles. The question is, can we beat her before she gets a chance to recharge?"

Willow shook her head. "Not so likely. The coven can't track her. I'm betting she's found a few wannabe demon worshippers to munch on by now."

Kennedy thought for a second. A wicked grin crept across her face. "Well then. We'll just have to do this the old fashioned way."

"How's that?"

"We fight dirty."

Chapter Five
"Man With the Plan"

"I don't like this." Willow was abnormally succinct.

"You don't have to," Kennedy replied as the two walked down the noonday Los Angeles streets.

"I mean, sure, it's dangerous, but do we have to be so sneaky?"

Kennedy stopped mid stride, her jaw dropping open in disbelief. "Are you this attached to all your evil twins?"

Willow pondered this for a second: "Yes. Well, as far as I know. I haven't met a me I didn't try to like."

"You can try to like her when I knock her ass out."

Kennedy turned a full circle, scanning the cars that were parked by the side of the road. Her eyes locked onto a red sports car, something low and sexy, not to mention terribly expensive. She smirked, pointing at the Ferrari.

"That one."

Willow eyed the large crowds milling about them nervously. "Right now?"

"Only if you don't want Evil You wearing my guts for garters," Kennedy walked over to the car, sitting down Indian style next to it. "So let's make with the dirty."

Willow gulped, rolled her eyes at the clumsy double-entendre, and plopped down unceremoniously across from Kennedy. She reached into her overlarge purse, pulling out a large red candle and bottle of oil. She set the candle between the two of them, then settled back, closing her eyes and breathing deeply. Kennedy watched a couple eye them suspiciously as they walked around the duo.

"Performance art," Kennedy stated matter-of-factly. The two cringed, walking away with a bit more pep in their step. There is nothing like the threat of pretension to drive away onlookers, Kennedy thought wryly.

She turned her attention to Willow. The witch was simply staring at the candle, breathing steady, deep breaths. Within the span of ten heartbeats, the candle's wick smoldered, then burst into a calming, even flame. Willow reached out and grabbed the bottle of oil, quizzically inspecting it.

"Hm. Didn't even need this," she said with a shrug. She grabbed the candle from the ground as she stood up, blowing it out and emptying the molten wax onto the concrete. Kennedy raised an eyebrow, smiling seductively. Willow rolled her eyes again, chuckling to herself as she met the slayer's gaze with a knowing wink.

Kennedy actually stumbled when she stood up, shoving her hands into her pockets. She pulled out the Leatherman multi-tool she bought at the Army Surplus store, unfolding the wire cutters from it's metal sheathe. Willow turned around, wringing her hands together.

Willow began pacing slowly along the sidewalk as her girlfriend reached under the engine of the car, probing along the undercarriage with the Leatherman. A few pedestrians stared at the Hispanic woman tinkering around with this very expensive car. Willow bounced nervously in front of Kennedy, unleashing a wide smile and waving at everyone who so much as glanced their way.


Willow sighed loudly. "Good," she said through her forced smile, "can we go now?" Kennedy calmly walked over the witch's side, touching her arm as she slid the multi-purpose tool into her pants pocket. Without a word, the pair walked slowly and calmly (well, as calmly as Willow could manage) away from the area.

"Sorry I don't hold your hand," the younger girl said as they walked deeper into the less populated side streets. She held up her hand, fingernails black and grimy, reeking of burnt oil and gasoline. She waggled her fingers threateningly at the redhead: "Grease-monkey hands!"

"Ew," Willow recoiled, wrinkling her nose at the stench, "So, I have to ask: why the sports car?"

Kennedy shrugged. "Daddy issues."

Willow looked over to Kennedy, concern flit across her features. "You wanna talk about it?"

"It's no big thing. See, when I was fifteen, I brought my first girlfriend home to meet my dad. I sort of came out to him then. Anyway, he takes me aside, and promises to get me anything I want, so long as I ditch the girls. I look at him, and you know me, ever the smartass, I say 'I want a Ferrari'. Next day, bam! there it is."

Willow grinned to herself: "I guess giving up the ladies didn't take, huh?"

"Nope," the slayer beamed, "I stole the keys and drove it over to her house. He was pissed, but he got over it. My Watcher ran interference. Still, every time I see some little overpriced sports coupe, I can't help but think about what a prick he was."

"I wish my mom bought me a car when I came out." The redhead grumbled.

Kennedy scanned the buildings around them as they walked, mentally ticking off aspects of them in her mind. This one was too tall, with no roof access. That one was empty enough, but might cause problems if it got brought down on top of her. That was a crack house.

"Here we go," she intoned, looking over the derelict warehouse in front of her. Oh, this one couldn't be more perfect. Big, empty, in the middle of nowhere, a catwalk... the perfect place for this thing to go down.

"It's ugly," Willow pointed to the big gray corrugated metal walls, the bay windows that lined the upper half of the building all yellowed and cracked. "It's all angry. I mean, if you could feel the energy on this thing, whew, it's just... ickyness. All despairing. I think it's just really lonely."

"Perfect. We should set up."

Willow drew her brows together, almost biting her lower lip. "Kennedy," she started, "are you sure you want to do this?"

Kennedy moved in front of the slight witch. She reached out her hands, grasping Willow's shoulders, steadying her gaze at the redhead.

"Will," she squeezed her shoulders slightly, then suddenly pulled her filthy hand away. "Sorry," she cringed, holding up her hand as explanation, "Will, what I'm trying to say it that you've got to trust me on this. Can you trust me?"

"You might get hurt," Willow began to squeeze her hands together, her voice modulating wildly, "I, well, she might ki-hurt you, and then I'll be all 'oooh', and then she'll have won, 'cause if evil me beats evil me, then it's not like math, y'know, two negatives do not make a positive, but really, who thinks that? I mean, if you get hurt, and it's my fault, hello square one, remember me? Get it?"

Kennedy nodded slowly. "Willow, you know that that thing can't be you, right? Even if something happens to me, you won't end up like that again, okay?"

"You don't know that," Willow pressed, "how do you know that?"

The slayer smiled. "Because if you do I will come back from the dead to personally kick you ass all the way to New Jersey." She leaned over, kissing her lover's forehead lightly. "I know this is dangerous. There are no second place prizes here. But you need to understand that this is what I'm good at. Or, well, one of the thing's I'm good at. I know I can pull this off, but you need to believe I can do it. You need to trust me. Because if you don't, then we are in some serious trouble. Okay?"

"Okay," Willow started over towards the warehouse in quick, tiny steps, her clogs clack clacking on the concrete parking lot. "Okay, I'll go do my...thing, and you go get your stuff, and then we'll set up here. And do the thing. Oooh, boy." She stopped at the rusted metal door staring at the bright orange condemned sign nailed to its dull gray exterior. Her heart was thudding mercilessly against her ribcage. She realized something with a start: if this thing goes badly, this may be her last chance to talk to Kennedy. She turned, hoping to catch the young slayer before she left. Looking into the empty street, she knew that anything she had to say would have to wait.

Kennedy hit the second mile in a dead sprint, dodging between erstwhile pedestrians and cars, finally skidding to a stop at the entrance to a narrow alleyway. She walked towards the sewer grate at the end of the tiny street lined with yesterday's newspapers and less savory objects. She easily lifted the heavy iron grate with one hand, sliding it to the side with the harsh grinding sound of metal on cement. With her free arm, she grabbed the backpack that hung from the ladder rungs that led down to the tunnels beneath the city. Kennedy unzipped the bag, pulling out the thick Kevlar vest. Taking off her new leather coat, she strapped the big Velcro closures around her torso. The web belt she bought from the Army Surplus store went on next. The weight might have been an issue, but now that she had preternatural strength, the six fully loaded pouches that hung off her hips was barely noticed. She grabbed the last two items out of the bag, feeling the solid objects' weight in her hands.

"Okay," she pulled her coat back on, taking stock of her inventory, "Bat-Utility belt? Check. Pointy-Object proof vest? Check. Brass knuckles? Oh, hell yeah." She took a deep breath, steadying herself. "A big old pair of steel ball bearings? I sure hope so." She was off in a run again, counting seconds, running through scenarios. Willow would be more than able to handle her side of the equation. Kennedy just hoped that she'd be wise enough to stick to the plan.

The slayer ran the two miles back to the warehouse in under five minutes, marveling at her lack of fatigue. She did a quick perimeter run, taking note of possible escape routes if things really went tits-up. Of course, she reminded herself, if this does turn sour, there won't be enough of me left to bury. She finished her check, quickly getting into her position.

"C'mon, Red," she murmured to herself, "let's show this clown how it's done." Every sense danced in anticipation. Her sweat became tinged with adrenaline. Her hands shook, and nervously fumbled with the latches on her belt pouches. She jutted her lower jaw out, narrowing her eyes.

"Here we go," she stated, "here we go."

Chapter Six
"Pax Noctum"

She leaned down, touched the dead man's lips with her fingers, anointed them in his blood, and pulled them back to her face, inhaling the old copper scent deeply. She stroked his hair, whispered into his deaf ears.

"You gave me Hyacinths, first a year ago," she soothed in her lilting tones, "they called me the Hyacinth girl.'" She tilted the face of the corpse to look at her. The dead man shook his head at her, eyes rolled back in his head.

"You," she scolded, pointing a finger at eyes that had grown ashen, "are not a good listener."

"But," she punctuated the word with a poke on the body's forehead, "you are a good snack." With a chuckle, she took a moment to survey her handiwork.

The three men lay sprawled over tables and chairs, the tiny basement apartment reeking with incense, sweat, and vomit. She sauntered over to the pile of books that had been dashed to the side when the youngest one ran for the door, screaming, begging. The book on the top was a little octavo volume, The Lesser Key of Solomon. She ran a black nailed finger along the edge, savoring the humming charge it gave her.

She had smelled them, miles away. Power. Unrefined, amateurish, immature. The finest of all kinds. The boy had simply been there to tide her over; she clutched his head in her hands as he screamed himself hoarse, feeling his soul eaten away by her perfect blackness. The other two, old men, pretend Quabbalists, hastily drew their wards on the floor, chanting in Yiddish. They begged the dead boy's forgiveness, asked God to smite down the witch, prayed for strength.

God must have been busy. She smiled at the thought of them, huddled together, trying to cast spell after spell of defense. The ward shimmered as she had walked up to it, it's energy calling to her. The one man had screamed at her, commanded her to be gone, leave this place. A little droplet of spit flew from his flapping lips and landed on her worsted waistcoat.

"Ugh," she said in disgust, "That is just uncalled for. You and I are gonna have words, young man." With a gesture, the man was pulled across the barrier, feet dragging, kicking helplessly. She looked into his eyes, and then told him the truth.

"You don't matter." The man seemed to understand, for he went limp, stopped struggling, and stared right back at her. She ran her fingers through his short black hair, and sunk them into his skull, as effortlessly as a child dips a chubby digit into cooling pudding. The man gurgled, and his friend screamed in grief, the kind of wail that starts in the ground, and travels to the stars.

"You get it," she had grinned as she slowly walked towards the wards on the ground. She put her hands up to the edge of the barrier, black and blue sparks crackling off her palms.

"You know what we learned when we were twelve?" She canted her head to the side as she began pressing into the barrier, letting the man see it fail, a moment at a time.

"We learned about men who took an entire people, loaded them in cattle cars, drove them to factories where they were turned into ash." Her black eyes grew wide as she nodded slowly. "Ash. A whole human being can just be ash. Isn't that funny?"

The barrier moaned like twisting steel has she parted it's curtains. The man had backed into a corner, clutching his heart, wheezing in terror. She liked that. She pushed herself up against him, hand on his throat, squeezing with fingers that could grind stone to dust.

"You want to see something really funny?" she had hissed, opening her mouth wide. His breath flowed out of his mouth, and with it, his vitality. The wisps of strength were drawn into her mouth, and with a satisfied smile, she dropped the now lifeless body.

The dark thing broke her reverie. Something in the pit of her stomach changed, something shifted to where it wasn't supposed to be. Someone, somewhere, just did some kind of spell. Something very advanced. The other. It had to be her. Her, and her filthy little plaything. She felt bile rise in the back of her throat, and savored it. Playtime was over. She had to show the other, show her the truth of this world. She closed her eyes, felt her physical form float away, until all there was was the black sky.

She danced along the stars, burnt swaths in the ancestral memory, twisted the collective unconscious as she bound from symbolic edifice to mystical ley line. She searched for that horrible, searing white light that traveled amongst this, the astral plane. Little Willow, precious little toy, so filled with love that she gleamed like a well-oiled blade, sharp and wicked. The vibrant energy of that dirty whore Kennedy, thrumming and sexed with her sleek brown body and nightshade laced lips. They moved, dancing to and fro like binary stars, bound by the other's gravity. But gravity existed only as long as mass did. That mass will be removed, and she will laugh and rejoice as the little Red Witch spirals out into space.

She smelled the burnt tires from here, above and beyond it all. The thick black smoke that choked the life out of the sky spiraled up from its origin. She loved the smoke then, and danced in its comforting asphyxiation. The smoke lead her down, twisted into a furnace, a heating pipe, into a great empty space. That white light was here too, but the other one, the jagged ball of red energy, was not here. She pulled herself back in confusion, or perhaps glee, and sought out a higher perspective.

As she drew back, she forced her form into her consciousness, feeling the heady rush of physical sensation. Her eyes learned to see again, first in blurry bad photograph images, then sharp lines made themselves clear. There was a large metal building beneath her, and in that building she knew stood the other. Now to find the slut.

There she was. Pacing in front of the building, arms crossed in front of her. The idiot girl never thought to look up. This would almost be too easy. But wrong. The other needs to see this, needs to be able to see her lover's body go limp. Again, she added with a grin. And still, if she strikes, the witch will react, and may win. But there is so much more for her to know. This is just the start of her education. She couldn't wait to see the look on Xander's face when she eviscerates him. But she's getting ahead of herself. The witch needs to see this, and she wont if she strikes the slayer down unexpectedly.

The solution is really quite simple, she mused. She'll just have to contain Willow, and force her to watch helplessly as she burns her girlfriend to a cinder. Besides, there are some words that need to be exchanged.

She floated down to the top of the building, landing as lightly as a snowflake. The roof access door was locked, but with a sigh she willed the door to become oil, which was far less constricting. She opted for floating down the stairs, leveling off when she reached the catwalk that covered the perimeter of the building. The other, Willow, stood with her back to the black-eyed creature, gazing nervously out of the window. This just couldn't get any better.

As silent as infant death, she moved behind the witch. The thick layer of dust that covered everything formed little eddies and swirls behind her. She was so close; almost close enough to smell her. She raised a hand, snarling as she gathered the energy to render the other harmless.

"I know you're back there." Willow's voice was just a whisper, but held a veiled promise of pain.

"Damn," the doppelganger's boots clanged loudly on the catwalk, "I hoped this would go easy. But if you wanted do this the hard way, be my guest."

Willow turned to face her double, green eyes hard and cold, emeralds set in an Aztec blood idol. Her face was a mask of determination, her lips pulled thin and mouth turned down.

"You're not getting past me," she said with more force, jaw clenched, "We're gonna end this right here."

"Are we?" The double frowned, pouting playfully, "But I've just gotten started! Taelum!" She held up her hand, palm open, forcing all of her hate into the energy that filled her. A black, barbed dagger materialized, spinning in place before it zipped towards Willow.

Willow waved the blade away, reaching out with her energy, deflecting, not using any more willpower than absolutely necessary. The twirling missile sliced the air as it flew right beside the redhead's neck, slamming into the metal roof on the other side of the warehouse. There was a loud crack as black waves of energy discharged on impact, ripping a hole in the roof, throwing steel support beams into spider web disarray.

"Not impressed," Willow said through gritted teeth. She brought her hands out to her sides, clapping them together dramatically. "Retentum!" She called as the metal railing on the catwalk followed her motion, wrapping themselves around the black-clad doppelganger with horrible shrieking. The double struggled, twisting from side to side.

"We never could pass up a chance to show off," she said between grunts of exertion.

Willow didn't move a muscle. She forced more of her willpower into holding the creature still.

"There is no us," she said after a moment.

"Isn't there?" the doppelganger stopped struggling, shaking her head sadly at the comment. "Us is all there is."

Willow strode up to the double, staring into the black pits that masqueraded as her eyes.

"What are you?" She asked, her voice less certain than she had hoped, "Why are so strong?"

"You want to know me?" the Dark Witch replied. Suddenly, the steel bands that held her firm whipped off, writhing in the air. She winked at Willow, sending the warped railing after her in the literal blink of an eye. Willow tried to bring her hands up for a counter spell, tried to focus her will but the restraints were too fast. They wrapped themselves around her wrists and waist, their sharp edges biting into Willow's flesh. She gritted her teeth as droplets of blood stained her shirt, but knew better than to try and move. The double brushed the dust off of her arms before languidly stretching her neck.

"You aren't capable of knowing me," her voice lost its drugged perkiness, and began to drop into a low, monotonous whisper, "I am the burnt shadows of lovers in Hiroshima. I'm the corpses of children hacked apart in third world orphanages. I'm the bloodstain on a lover's shirt. I am the end of light, the beginning of pain. I am the nihilist, the lack of hope."

"Tara," Willow gasped as one of the rails tightened its hold, "Tara died in my arms. I betrayed her memory with my actions. But I'm not like that anymore."

"Idiot girl," the creature sneered, "you were me long before you ever met your precious 'Tara'." She spat the name in disgust.

"Okay, now you're grasping at straws."

"Think back. Think about every time you felt that weight on your chest, that guilt. Every time you thought about hurting Cordy when she mocked you, I was there. Every time you wanted to run and hide, and hated yourself for your fear, I breathed. I wasn't born with a little spell, or the impact of a bullet. I was born when you first knew that this world wasn't worth saving. When you realized that every little bit of good you do will be outshone by the evil that men do to themselves. You've just given me the strength to do what you can't."

Willow's breath caught in her throat. She steeled herself, a grimace of pain on her face. "What do you want?"

"Company," the monster stated, "It's lonely at the bottom. You've gone there before, but I live there. And with that in mind..."

The railing twisted Willow around, causing her to moan in pain as the barbed shackles wrenched her to face the window. She was pressed hard into the glass, palms pressed against the window. The doppelganger walked up beside her.

"You see that little sexpot down there?" She pointed playfully out the window. "Right now she's probably wondering if she should run in and rescue you or not. See, look, she's staring right at us." She pressed her lips next to Willow's ear: "Say goodbye to her, Red. She's gonna die screaming."

The double pointed her hand out the window, making a gun with her index finger and thumb. Willow's mind screamed out to Kennedy, telling her to run, to get out, just to hide. The dark witch grinned as she felt Willow's panic rise. With a quiet "Bang", a black bolt of energy flew from her finger. Willow saw Kennedy desperately try to react, to duck and roll, but the bolt traveled like a rifle shot.

The impact sent a low, subwoofer thump throughout Willow's chest. It made the windows rattle violently, and the metal walls hummed their approval. The blast hit just beneath the slayer's feet, and the explosion sent her body pin wheeling through the air, orange flames describing a spiral. They trailed her up to the apex of her journey, high enough that Willow had to crane her neck to see. The body limply spun towards the earth, landing face-first and crumpling like a crushed tin can.

"Whew!" the double exclaimed, "That looked like it hurt! So whaddya say, red? You want to pay a visit to the Xan-man?"


Chet strode purposefully out of his agent's office. He was a man with a purpose now, or at least, that was what he wanted them to think. The deal had gone well; he'd get thirty million to do this picture, plus whatever royalties kept flowing in. It was one of those snooty action-suspense features, the kind Harrison Ford kept making nowadays.

He had fought long and hard for a bigger cut of the gross, after all, he was Chet "The Stone Man" Walker, latest in a long line of pro-wrestlers turned actors, a line dating all the way back to Hulk Hogan. And that was almost fifteen years ago. But now was the future, or rather, the future was the future, which was in fact now, now. The future. But that was beside the point. The point was, he was now lead in a 'breakout role'. He might even get that reviewer guy, the one who used to be with that dead guy, to like his movie. This one had class. And action. Lots of action. In fact, they even rewrote the part for him. Now that is how you know you are a star, when they look at you and say 'hey, that guy can bench press a small car. Let's put him in a movie.'

And he could, you know. Well, not bench press, but he could lift one. When Chet won the World's Strongest Man competition back in ninety-seven, he'd had to lift a car. He was just that big. He went into the Extreme Wrestling Federation, and spent the next few years pretend hitting people with chairs. But he always felt limited. He could do more than just hit people with chairs: he could hit people with all kinds of objects. Tables, futons, even some entirely non-furniture related items. He had range. Finally, some agent noticed him.

He proved his ability in "To The Mat", a middling budget action movie about a wrestler whose favorite orphanage gets blown up by organized crime. He played a man pushed to the edge. His favorite part was where he did his infamous "nuclear head butt" against the charging Hummer. Hell, he even got to play across from Mos-Nutz, that rapper with the hit single "Who got da Mos". Oh, it was only the start. He was gonna be big. He had charisma, or screen presence, or whatever word they use to hide lack of talent. Which is unfair, because his lack of talent was never remotely hidden.

Chet cracked his trademarked too white, too wide smile. This next movie was gonna catapult him to stardom. It was about a retired pro-wrestler who learns that his wife is having an affair with a mobster played by THX, another up and coming hip hop artist. He didn't really read the script, but there seemed to be something about the wife getting killed, and him fighting his way to the top of the cover-up with the hip help of his wife's rapper boyfriend. Chet seriously pondered how many things he'd get to head butt in this movie.

He walked, no strode, have to stride everywhere now. He strode up to his car. The sleek racing machine couched low to the pavement. Ferrari Testerosa. Even the name sounded like testosterone. The car was a lot like him: powerful and hard to control. No wait, he liked his women like he liked his car: sleek and fast. And red. With 400 horsepower. The dual exhaust was nice too. Sensing that his metaphor was beginning to disintegrate, her opened the driver's side door and pressed his mass into the tiny compartment.

When the car refused to turn over, he began to panic. His meaty fist popped the dashboard once, and then began the painstaking task of getting out of his car. The trick was not getting folded in half inside the doorway. He did that once, and it took him twenty minutes to extract himself. No, he rotated his body so that his knees pointed out the door, and then slowly pulled his legs until they were hanging out onto the street. He then leaned back until his head pointed nearly out the passenger's window. With the help of the steering wheel and the back of the seat, he pulled his body, spear-like, out of the car. When his feet finally found the ground, he was surprised when they landed in something the splished.

He leaned down, peering at the growing puddle of multihued fluids coming from under his car. They reeked of gasoline; the scent bit into his nostrils and made his vision swim. His brow furrowed in concentration. Something was leaking, he decided. Frustrated, he wa-strode over to the sidewalk. With a well-practiced flourish, he flipped open his cell phone.

"Triple 'A'?" he began, then realized that he actually had to dial the number. With a grunt of irritation, he pressed the keypad rapidly.

"Triple 'A'?" he tried again. When the peon at the other end answered, he continued: "My car broke down. I think something's wrong with the transmission, or maybe the electrical system. I'd get it myself, but I don't have the tools to fix it here. ... What? Oh, you know me. This is The Stone Man. Yeah, that's me. I'm on the side of San Bernando. I'll be waiting here. Thanks. And don't forget: 'I am the hard place!'"

He ended the call with his copyrighted catch phrase, slapping the cell phone closed on his massive thigh. Now there was nothing to do but wait. Wait and wait and wait. Maybe he'd check out his bank account again, he mused. He pulled the internet capable cell phone out of his pocket again, flipping open again in the exact same manner as before.

That's when his car became an ashtray.

It didn't happen all at once, but it did happen. He was standing there, counting the zeroes on his bank account, when this horrible crunching noise startled him. An invisible foot came down, kicking the car like a soccer ball. Except that the car didn't move, just the entire side panel caved in on itself, sending plastic and glass shooting into the air. Chet leaped back a good five feet, shielding his face. By the time he looked up, the phantom soccer player had kicked the car a second time, this time crunching the front of it towards the back, making it look like an irritated dog's nose. A split second later, the roof buckled slightly, popping the rearview mirror off.

Chet looked around from behind his forearm, checking to see if anyone saw what he just saw. The answer was a resounding yes, as onlookers began to flock around the stunned wrestler. One of the younger looking men tapped the big man on the shoulder.

"Um, excuse me?" he asked hesitantly," Are you The Stoned Man?"

Chet blinked in confusion for a second, quickly sliding into character: "No, peon! I'm The Stone Man. What do you want!"

The man held out a pen and a napkin plaintively: "Sir, could I get your autograph?"

Chet snatched the napkin and the pen from his hand, grumbling loudly as he scrawled his nom de guerre on it. He shoved the napkin back to the man, getting an idea.

"Here. Now disappear, peon. Or you'll see what happens when you get stuck in the hard place!" He thumbed forcefully over to his crumpled car. The man's eyes widened as he shook his head rapidly. This would make the tabloids, no doubt: Enraged Wrestler Destroys Car. There was no such thing as bad press.

Chapter Seven

Willow grit her teeth, sweat beading her forehead. Her breathing deepened, her eyes closed. She felt the world spin beneath her, felt the worldwide murmur of the thousands of slayers, felt the icy reaches of the heavens above. She clenched her fists against the window, the roughness of the yellowed glass grounding her to the reality of her situation.

The ebon-eyed beast beside her murmured her laughter. She began to stroke Willow's red hair, shushing the witch as her fingers caressed Willow's head.

"Do you feel that?" She whispered, breath hot on the witch's neck, "That's the feeling of despair. That's the knowing of your worthlessness."

Willow's eyes didn't open, but her breathing slowed, her hands unclenching. The Dark Witch wrapped a hand around the woman's throat, squeezing hard and pulling her to face those familiar features now twisted with sardonic rage.

"Look at me!" She commanded, feeling the blood pump through Willow's carotid artery. Her captive slowly opened eyes rimmed with red. "Feel that little diamond in the center of your chest? You know what that is? It's nothing."

Willow coughed out something, her words lost in the vice like grip of her double. The Dark Witch pursed her lips together, frowning deeply.

"It's nothing," she continued, "nothing worth fighting for, nothing worth living for, sure as hell nothing worth caring for. That's what that little bitch is now, that's what your friends'll be. Now. What do you have to say about that?" She pulled her hand away suddenly, smiling as Willow gasped for air, blinking away the sworls in her vision.

Willow hung her head, working her jaw, driving out the kinks. She lifted her head, teeth bared in a snarl, green eyes gleaming with righteous hatred. She sucked in a deep breath, pulling power up from the Earth, mentally calling on Gaia, Diana, and Hecate to help her defend those that were powerless. That's when she felt it.

It started, oddly enough, in the bottoms of her feet. A warm tingling, like a really good foot massage, that traveled up the rest of her body. She felt it all, like the entire world was contained within her skin. Every growing thing, every ounce of pure love given with nothing expected in return, every death ordained by nature, every thunderstorm that shook the roof, every tear falling for a loved one was at once unified within her. She looked out, and saw not the black reflection, or the dilapidated ruins of a warehouse, but the bright blue sky and life giving sun. And she understood at that moment the banality of her double's words. There was life and beauty, and its beauty was in its temporary nature. Her eyes met the double's, and shook them to their hollow core.

"Bored now."

The steel restraints shuddered, crackling as they oxidized into rust, crumbling around the luminous witch. The double sneered, falling back a pace, hands in fists by her side. She opened her mouth to speak, but her lips pulled together against their will. Willow raised a hand, a gentle rebuke.

"Heard about enough out of you."

Willow slowly walked up to the seething face of her doppelganger. She moved directly in front of her, merely inches from the hateful thing. She smiled sadly, reaching out to touch her pale face.

"Got one question, though," she watched as the double gripped her wrist, snarling furiously as her muscles fought to move.

"Do I really sound like that?" She calmly lifted her palm to the double's chest, holding it over the creature's heart. With a slight smile, she pondered the concepts of mass and gravity. With that thought, a wave of energy rippled around her hand, warping the light around it in concentric rings. The Dark Witch's black-eyes shot wide, her mouth twisting to form an epithet, when the energy released itself.

She was thrown backwards, sailing through the air, past the edge of the catwalk. Her body traveled like a shot-put, preceded by the low hum of compressed air finding itself released. The gravity wave carried her into the ground floor of the warehouse, the impact sending up clouds of dust that formed a trail as she rolled into a collection of wooden crates that splintered and collapsed on top of her.

Willow walked to the edge of the catwalk where the railing had turned to rust. She stepped off of the thirty-foot drop, falling through the air. She smiled down to the ground, and it remembered her, rising to meet her before she traveled even a few feet. The pillar of earth lowered her down to the floor, gently depositing her within arms distance of the pile of wooden boxes. She whispered her thanks to the gracious Earth, and stepped off of its platform.

She stopped and looked at the pile. Her mind sought out the form in the sharp tangle of wood. She took a step back, startled by the energies she felt emanating there. The bile rose in her throat, nausea washing over her as she felt something old and black and foul wake itself. Something deep within the earth howled, shrieked its rage across the heavens, and shook the roots of Gaia.

Black lightning began to crackle and dance about the wooden shards, singeing them and making them smolder where they met. The pile shifted, a slight movement. Then, with the sound of children bellowing in terror, the wooden shards exploded into a rain of barbed arrows, showering the entire warehouse. Willow raised her hands before her, the deadly splinters turning to feathers as they approached. White down floated in the air, falling slowly, dreamily. Willow squinted into the harmless blizzard, desperately trying to see the source of the explosion.

The doppelganger stood, hands out to her sides, palms open. The black veins in her face grew darker, her hair began to whip and writhe around like a living thing. The inky sparks that danced around her burnt all they touched. She threw her head back, panting in ecstasy.

"Yes!" The Dark Witch bellowed. The darkness in her eyes began to bleed out, forming black circles around her eyes, the more pronounced veins snaking along her face, making it look like a quilt work interpretation of a mime. She pulled her hand up in front of her, clenching it into a fist, the black lightning pulled into her trembling hand.

"Two can play that game, bucko!" She yelled as she extended her hand towards the redheaded witch. A high-pitched whine was unleashed as she opened her hand, the malignant energy dancing out in jagged wanderings towards Willow.

Willow set herself, calling the earth to protect her. A great shield of stone rose from the floor in the blink of an eye, interposed between the energy and the target. The barrier burst into a thousand pieces, gray dust clouding the room. Willow's mind raced; oddly serene despite the panic that she felt she should be experiencing. With a simple gesture, she sent the falling rocks whirling towards her evil double, spiraling around her, solidifying into a stony tomb.

The rock began to crack, green ooze seeping between the edges. The cracks widened, consuming the stone, transforming it into the viscous substance that began to fall into a puddle at the feet of the doppelganger. She shook her shoulders briefly, expelling the last of the gook from her form. Willow felt the Earth shudder again, and knew that now was her cue.

The Dark Witch's eyes began to pulse dully, the inky blackness forming twin haloes. The lights seemed to dim around her; the air grew fetid. The windows began to hum, the air seemed to tingle with anticipation, and it took Willow a precious second to realize that the sound was coming from her double. She felt the power that the Dark Witch was harnessing, and it was great and terrible.

To most, life and death are polar opposites; states of being both defined as being the absence of one or the other. But that is not the truth of it. Life and death are the same, the same reflections of the ever-changing world. Death is as essential to life as birth is. Each Wiccan strives to understand this. It was not Death that the Dark Witch was drawing upon. It was the absence of life. It was entropy, the disintegration of all things that life desperately fights against. The pure essence of destruction.

Willow knew then what she had to do. She sent her soul deep into herself, felt the wholeness of life within her, and began to gather it there. She coaxed the forces into a spot, arranging her inner landscape to meet their needs. They knew her then, recognized something innate to her being, some feeling of responsibility and compassion to the world. It was that that the energy responded to. Willow opened her eyes, and they were radiant.

The two witches stood across from each other, again mirror images. Willows' eyes pulsated with a warm, white light, her double a negative image. The two energies, the light and the absence thereof, began to extend, amorphous blobs that reached out toward each other. They met between the pair, the nihilism canceling out the light, the light regrouping.

Energy clashed for what seemed to Willow to be eons, and even as the forces of regeneration suffused her, she felt herself grow weaker. Mentally reaching out to her double, she knew that she too grew weary. The stresses of channeling such energies were far too much for even the most powerful to handle for long. Willow decided to try to end this. With a gasp, she opened herself up wholly to the forces of life, pushing out to the Dark Witch with all her will.

The double responded instantly. With a shriek, she pushed back. The malevolent forces she called upon consumed the life energy, growing strong. She grit her teeth, leaning into the blast of inkwell darkness. With a final, hateful push, she sent the roiling night towards her pathetic source.

Willow felt her energy be overcome, and smiled. The impact drained the strength from her, dropping her to her knees. She gasped for breath, sweat drizzling down her cheeks, her back, her hands. She forced her head up to look at the approaching Dark Witch.

The doppelganger stumbled towards Willow, shaking her head as she got her footing back. She held her hand up to her head, blinking her eyes in bewilderment.

"That," She said as she walked up to tower over Willow, "was neat."

With on hand, she reached down to touch the witch's cheek. The doppelganger smiled wearily.

"You ready for round two?"

Just then, something small, cylindrical, and metallic clanged off the ruptured cement beneath the Dark Witch's feet.

"The hell..." she stared down at it for a second, flinching as a thick white smoke began to pour from the top of the can. The double looked up at Willow accusingly, surprised when the redhead simply fell onto her back, a wide grin on her face.

"Did you do this?" the doppelganger asked, turning around in a circle as the viscous smoke blinded her. She waved her hands in front of her, hissing out her anger. With a quick incantation, a warm breeze began to dispel the gas.

She turned to look for Willow, scanning the empty ground where she lay just mere seconds ago. She felt the bitter tang of frustration fill her: someone would pay for this trickery. With a growl, she turned again, deciphering the trajectory of the canister.

As she looked up, her vision was filled with a fist, something dull and bronze across the knuckles. For an instant she failed to grasp what she was seeing. Then came the impact.

She felt her jaw snap, her teeth buckle under the force of the hit. Her vision turned black, and she was dimly aware of the feeling of falling. Something hit the back of her head, and it was several second before she realized that it was the floor. She tried to speak, but found her mouth filled with the bitter black oil she called blood. Her eyes refused to focus, but she forced them open. With a whim, she willed her jaw to begin healing, and her eyes to stop swimming with images. She blinked twice, vision finally adjusting.

Kennedy stood over her, feet shoulder width apart. Her brown leather coat was gone, her chest covered by the thick, squarish Kevlar vest. The army issue web belt hung from her hips, one of the pouches open and empty. Her muscular arms were held tensed in front of her, both fists clenching ugly brass knuckles. Her chocolate eyes pinned the doppelganger to the floor, nostrils flared, jaw jutting forward. She opened her lips, and growled.

"You want round two? Well ding, ding, bitch!"

Chapter Eight
"Beat Down"

This was it. This was what all the planning, all the preparations came down to. Kennedy felt her consciousness submerge, living only in the moment. There was no time for thought, no moments for reflection. If what Willow said was true, and she didn't doubt for a second that it was, she was going to need every trick at her disposal to take this thing down. Thankfully, she packed a lot of tricks.

The Dark Witch rolled over to the side, stealing a second to begin the process of healing her shattered jaw. This was a bit of an unexpected surprise, but not a totally unwelcome one. As she pulled more dark energy from the universe, fortifying her body, she smiled at the thought of cowing anoth-

Kennedy leapt into the air, twisting her body until she was fully inverted at the apex of her leap. With a rotation of her hips, she brought her legs back down, knees bent, landing with terrifying force in the center of the double's back. The crawling woman was driven into the concrete, dust exploding around her at the force of the impact.

The slayer moved fast, faster than any human eye could follow. She reached around to one of the belt pouches. With a silvery flash, the pair of handcuffs were whipped out, one end ratcheting around a nearby water pipe, the other tightened painfully around the dark witch's wrist. She yanked at the chain, turning to hiss some invective at the woman sitting astride her.

Kennedy slammed her fist into the black-veined face, silencing the vocalization before it could start. She pulled back again, black blood glistening off the brass knuckles, and drove it home with all of her enhanced strength. Without waiting for breath, she pulled back again, determined to keep the pressure on, to not let up until-

She found herself sliding across the floor, the echoes of the elbow still throbbing, even through the armored vest. The slide took her into the side of the warehouse, banging loudly against the metal walls. There was no time to worry about injuries; she pushed herself up, crouching defensively. She watched with idle fascination as the black-clad doppelganger reached down, gripped the water pipe with both hands, and wrenched it out of the ground. Water sprayed in the air, an impromptu fountain that turned the thick layer of dust into gray ooze.

The Dark Witch sneered. That bitch just hurt her. Seriously hurt her. But that was no matter. The broken bones were already mending, knitting together with the feeling of ants crawling under her skin. The slayer was reaching into her thrice-damned bag of tricks, trying to keep her brown eyes on the malevolent sorcerer. The Dark Witch quickly decided that she couldn't let the slayer get anything more out of that bag, and with a burst of preternatural speed, covered the intervening distance, a dingy arc of water following her.

Kennedy managed to get the small cannister out of her pouch at about the same time she saw the hell-witch barreling down upon her. That was okay. In fact, this was better than okay. The monster spun one hundred eighty degrees an instant before she connected, building torque that was released with a snap of her foot. Kennedy folded in half, the air exploding from her lungs as her diaphragm nearly collapsed, the pepper spray sailing from her hand. Fortunately, the Kevlar backed by superhuman musculature absorbed the lion's share of the damage; a lesser warrior would have had his spine shattered. This was okay as well. Kennedy wrapped her arms around the offending leg, trapping it in place. The doppelganger reacted a tad quicker than Kennedy anticipated though, grabbing the slayer by the collar of the vest and delivering a jarring right cross to her unprotected cheek. Kennedy's head jerked violently to the side, blood splattering the hot silver wall beside her.

The double suddenly found herself pulled forward, glancing around in confusion as the slayer seemingly vanished from her sight. Kennedy jerked the leg up towards her, simultaneously falling backwards, until she held the foot tightly against her collarbone. As she fell, she wrapped her legs around the Dark Witch's thigh, locking her knee out. Then, with strength that could splinter tree trunks, Kennedy pushed up in the leg, pushed as hard as she could.

Willow had managed to crawl away just as the smoke grenade went off. She reminder herself to thank the tech geeks over at Angel's new gig for letting them use all of their cool toys. Kennedy had ran in with a list and an Army Surplus WWII-era utility belt, and ran out with a huge smile on her face. Willow's head buzzed for a second: wasn't Kennedy supposed to be doing something right now? The magick charge she just had must have made her loopy. She shook her head, blinking in an attempt to clear the cobwebs. That's right, Kennedy told her to just get out of the way when she made her entrance. That meant that she must be beating the stuffing out of the mirror monster right at this very instant. She looked around for her girlfriend, trying to overcome her muddled thoughts.

A loud bang brought her out of her reverie. Willow's head turned instantly, just in time to see her evil self deliver a lightning quick flying kick to Kennedy. Willow forced herself to her feet, teetering dangerously, wondering who turned up gravity while she was gone. Taking a second to glance at the two locked in battle, she had to wonder what was happening. Apparently, Kennedy was hugging the underside of the double's leg. She squinted in confusion, as that Kennedy was now almost completely upside-down. All of a sudden, Willow's mind blew a synapse. The human knee wasn't supposed to bend backwards, and it sure as shootin' wasn't supposed to make that horrible ripping sound, or be followed by screams of pain and rage. Willow raised a hand to cover her face. She had never seen anything like that. Even when Buffy crippled a vamp, there was never such a methodical deconstruction. She shuddered as the monster arched her back and howled at the ceiling.

Kennedy wasn't done yet. As soon as she released the shattered knee, she could actually feel the tendons stretching and unifying. The Dark Witch was on her back, hands clutching her ruined leg. Kennedy slid out from under her, rolling over to straddle her opponent, knees on each side of her ribs: the mounted position. Her training let her know that this was almost always a death sentence to an enemy in a fight with a normal person. You could just sit there, letting them struggle underneath you, wearing them out, and then end the fight at your leisure. Of course, against an opponent that could run a three-minute mile and dead lift a truck, it was far less of a sure thing. But this was what she had to do.

Kennedy swatted aside the clumsy punch the double threw, and gripped her wrist with an iron fist. With a quick twist of her body, she brought the monster's arm between her thighs, devastating her elbow by pulling down with her hand, and pushing up with her hips. There was another satisfying crunch, and another howl, but this time it was more one of frustration and rage than pain. That worried her. Kennedy knew she was outgunned. This dark Willow could be stronger, faster, and tougher than she ever could hope to be. But Kennedy always made a note to remember something her Watcher told her about fighting. "Kennedy," she'd say in that Marine Drill Instructor's growl of hers, "It's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog." Translation: Kennedy just had to be meaner, and hope that the doppelganger never got a chance to catch her breath.

The double was now getting very, very upset. She pushed the energy to finish healing her leg, when this little monkey swung herself around on top of her. She was so close, and the little slayer bitch just didn't let up. She'd much prefer fighting Buffy again. Buffy was so predictable, she always fought at the same range, the same style. It was really just a matter of outthinking the twit, something that was really quite easy. This little number, oh, she was something else entirely. There was this almost scientific way she was taking her apart, and the motions themselves were almost clumsy in their simplicity. That was when the Dark Witch's arm broke.

Okay, she thought, enough screwing around. She could feel her body wearing down, the energy reserves growing thin. She needed to put some distance between herself and the slayer, and quick. The slayer still had her wrist in her hands, but instead of letting it go after the arm was ruined, the tanned woman twisted her arm in an even more impossible angle as she flipped her legs back on top of the doppelganger.

Kennedy wrenched the shoulder joint hard, hoping to keep up the pain and disorient her opponent while she set up for her next lock. Sadly, she knew that the raw pain was wearing off, and that the witch's leg was already fully healed. As she sat astride her opponent, she reared back her fist, intent on pounding the abomination's face into the concrete, when she noticed a hand pressed to her chest.

"Candens!" The doppelganger forced through black lips streaked with even darker spots of blood. Kennedy smelled it first, the thick, sweet stench of melting plastic. Then came the pain, white-hot burning that made her leap off of the woman's chest. She looked down, seeing her Kevlar vest melting, the polymer fibers twisting and snapping like tiny piano strings. Kennedy ripped off the Velcro straps, dropping the sizzling armor onto the ground. Her hand instinctively clutched her chest, her singed t-shirt rubbing painfully against her sternum.

Willow saw her lover stagger back, and began to move to help her. She wasn't sure exactly what she could do in her weakened state, but by the goddess she couldn't just stand there while Kenn got fricasseed. Kennedy seemed to have seen Willow move, and raised her hand, stopping the witch's action.

"C'mon, Kenn," Willow whispered to herself, "tell me you have something planned." The doppelganger was already standing, her arm twisting back into place with a series of pops and crackles. She looked up at the slayer with weary determination.

"Willow, down!" Kennedy screamed, hurling something small and round at the feet of the Dark Witch. Willow didn't need to be told twice, and found gravity to be quite accommodating with her attempt at a dive. It was really more of a flop, but she was fairly certain her lack of grace was the least of anyone's concerns.

The double watched the apple-sized black object arc towards her. The slayer must be out of ideas, she thought, smiling to herself. With a look, a bluish wall of energy formed in front of her. As the object grew nearer, she began to realize just what Kennedy had thrown at her. Somehow the little twit had gotten a hold of a hand grenade. She had to hand it to her, when the girl wanted something dead, she really pulled out all the stops. With a sigh, she strengthened her force barrier. She'd never been hit by a grenade before, but at this point, it was better safe then sorry. She braced herself as the missile came closer.

And thumped off the barrier, loudly rolling to a stop at the edge of the wall of force. The Dark Witch stared down at the grenade in anticipation: weren't these things supposed to go boom? A long second passed, the doppelganger staring at the explosive, waiting for the impact. That was when she noticed the pin, still sitting comfortably in the grenade. The doppelganger blinked, sighing as she dropped the barrier, conserving precious energy.

When she looked up, she realized that maybe she should have kept the barrier up a little while longer. The slayer was on her again, snapping out a series of side kicks. The Dark Witch batted away the kicks, falling back into a defensive stance.

"Guess what, Morticia?" the slayer yelled between kicks, "I know scary foreign words too!"

With that, she suddenly dropped low to the ground, all her weight on her back leg, her front leg extended. One of the Dark Witch's roundhouse kicks sailed over Kennedy's head. The instant it cleared, she pushed herself out of her crouch, sailing though the air. Her rear leg traveled in a magnificent arc, crashing down on the top of the doppelganger's head, sending her stumbling back.


No sooner did Kennedy land than she bounced over towards the stunned monster, hands flashing. With a sound like ripping fabric, she alternately trapped, punched, and manipulated her enemy's form. She ended the rapid-fire series of strikes with a clenched fist slamming the double's nose flat.

"Wing Chun!"

She stumbled back, desperately trying to get a second to regroup her thoughts. But the slayer was attached to her. Kennedy's hands went up, both, like someone asking for a high-five. Instead, her left hand came down, punching the double across the cheek, then slipping around behind her head as Kennedy leaped into a knee strike. Before the witch could even react to the impact, the right hand came down, Kennedy's elbow slamming with devastating force into Dark Willow's temple. The world swam, twisting uncontrollably as she crashed to the ground, landing in an inch deep puddle of sludge, water from the burst pipe raining down on her.

"Muay Thai!"

Kennedy stood over the fallen monster, bringing her foot up high.

"And this," she yelled as she brought the heel of her boot down on the bridge of the double's nose, "is just an old fashioned monkey-stomping!"

She stomped again.

And again.

And again.

It wasn't until the creature stopped moving that she paused to catch her breath. Her hair hung around her head in long spidery tendrils, the water soaking through her ruined shirt. The form beneath her shifted.

"She.." the doppelganger gasped, opening her black eyes to look at her vanquisher.

"She doesn't love you."

Kennedy felt the floor drop out from under her. Willow said she'd do this, try to distract you with mind games, but still... it was Willow, or a part of Willow, lying there in the ice-cold water. She grabbed the monster by the lapels, hoisting her up to eye level. The double lacked the strength to even raise her arms in protest.

"You're lying!" Kennedy snarled, eyes staring hard into those black pools.

"Struck a nerve?" The Dark Witch raised her head, smiling despite the blood that covered her face. "Half the time she doesn't even like you. You're just a good lay."

Something deep within Kennedy snapped. She felt like she was falling, like her breath was sucked out of her. She was dimly aware of her fist pumping, over and over again, and somewhere the sound of dull, moist thumps was heard.

She didn't know how long she was out; her vision closed in on itself. The world fell away; everything became a point off in the far distance. Slowly, ever so slowly, the world returned. First the sensation of freezing water pelting her back, then the sound of exhausted sobbing, a hollow, hoarse sound. Someone was saying her name, yelling it really.


The slayer stopped, looking over to the source of the calling. Willow, beautiful, sweet Willow, was standing in the icy shower, reaching out a hand towards Kennedy. Kennedy wanted to fall into those arms, but there was a look in her lover's eye, a confused and almost frightened look. Kennedy tracked the gaze, and found that it rested squarely on her. She glanced down at herself.

The black blood of the creature covered her arms, water cutting rivers and gullies in the black landscape. Her blood was mixed in as well, leaving red pools in the water as her knuckles dripped.

She dreamily glanced over to where the Dark Willow was laying. God. She was barely recognizable. Her blood stained the water around her like a squid's ink. As Kennedy looked at the body, it began to fall apart, melting, droplets raining towards the sky, then evaporating. Everything came off in fast layers, first clothes, then skin, then muscle, viscera, and lastly bone. Within seconds, the only clue to her existence was the devastated remains of the warehouse. An iron girder fell. The crash it made when it landed jolted Kennedy out of her daze.

She looked over at Willow. Willow was standing, hands reaching out. Kennedy glanced down at herself again.

"Willow..." she croaked.

Kennedy fell to her knees, arms dangling loosely at her sides. Willow was there, wrapping her arms around the woman, all the youth and vibrancy absent from her battered and exhausted frame.

Willow felt the lover sob dryly into her lap, arms clinging to her. She leaned down to kiss the head of the slayer.

"Shhh," she whispered, "It's okay. It's over now."

"Its all over now."

Chapter Nine
"Fairest of Them All"

"Kennedy?" Willow lightly rapped on the bathroom door.

"Sweetie, are you okay?" She'd been in there a long time. The shower turned off an hour ago. It was okay to want some time to yourself, but she hadn't said a word since, well, since the fight. Or maybe it qualified as a battle: it certainly was large enough. Angel was nice about making sure the mess got fixed up. It was strange seeing him in such a position of authority. Actually, he seemed to be kind of enjoying it. Not 'perfect happiness', but still, nice seeing him smile.

They'd walked into their hotel room, the one they'd shared these past few weeks, Willow guiding the bruised and battered girl into the bathroom. Kennedy had just stood there for a second, nervously shifting her weight from foot to foot, staring at the floor. Willow had wrung her hands, not sure what her girlfriend wanted. Just as she reached for her, Kennedy turned around, facing the shower. With slow, pained motions, she pulled her shirt off, dropping the bloody garment to the floor. Without a word, she stepped out of her pants, turned on the shower, and stepped into the stream of water. Willow had looked on for a second, felt a lump form deep in the back of her throat, and stepped out of the bathroom, silently closing the door on her way out.

Willow sat on the bed, unable to get the lump out of her throat. Her mind did cartwheels: this was exactly the thing she was afraid of. Kennedy finally got to see what a monster she used to be, and it scared her away. But that didn't make sense, because really, was Kenn the kind of girl who was scared easily? She fought an army of super vampires, and still talked about it like it was the best day of her life. She was a warrior, a Slayer. But she still didn't really get the idea of magick. In fact, the more she saw of it, the more she treated it just as any old tool. It was just another weapon to use, another neat trick. Not that that attitude wasn't understandable: Willow had thought the same way once upon a time. But like that spell. Brilliant plan, Willow thought with a strange sense of pride, but still, very karmically risky. So she figured that if you could transfer a person from on place to another, could you transport a force from one object to another?

Willow remembered her micro-geekgasm at the thought. Her girlfriend just reinvented a transkinetic spell. The trick was to find a target that could take the abuse. That's when Kenn had insisted on using a car. She said she'd make sure no one was in it, but still, it was someone's property. Like she said, karmically, a gray area. But she was getting sidetracked. Kennedy was in the bathroom. She looked bad. Willow had never seen Kennedy cry, not ever. She was supposed to be the tough one. Well, no question about that: that girl fought like no one Willow'd ever seen before. Just absolutely relentless. Willow though back with a shudder to the way Kennedy just kept hitting her double, the look in her eyes.

Well, Willow decided, she needed to find out what the problem was. It didn't look like she was coming out of there anytime soon. That's when a horrible thought rushed unbidden through her mind: what if she got so scared that she panicked, what if she hurt herself? She stood up then, walking briskly to the door, thinking back to those horrible weeks after her episode. She got how tempting it could be just to give up, she really did. But no, Kennedy wasn't the giving up type, she wasn't. Okay, Willow thought, time to make an entrance...no, wait. What if Kennedy just needed some time to herself? Okay, time is fine, but she'd been in there an hour and a half. Time to knock. And knock she did.

"Kennedy, honey, are you okay in there?"

No answer.

Screw it, this door is opening. With a twist and push, the door swung open. Willow gasped in embarrassment, averting her gaze.

Kennedy was standing by the sink, hands resting on the countertop, locking eyes with her reflection. She was nude, her hard, muscled body damp from the shower. Dried blood caked the corner of her full lips, an ugly bruise on the side of her face. Her chest was blistered and raw, melding into the yellowed abrasion on her stomach. Her knuckles were nearly skinless, and a deep gash decorated the back of her right hand. But the most upsetting thing, to Willow at least, was the way she was looking into the mirror. She just stared, almost never blinking, eyes drooping from exhaustion, but her gaze never wavering. She looked like someone waiting for something to happen.

Willow forced herself to overcome her natural shyness, reaching over to the hook on the wall, grabbing the robe hung there. She opened it up, walking next to the naked woman.

"It looks like you got a little case of the nudsies," she smiled warmly, wrapping the robe around her shoulders. Kennedy's eyes darted over to Willow's reflection, something unplacable dancing across her features. Okay, she thought, that was almost an expression. It's a start. Now to keep talking.

"I was thinking about ordering us some dinner," Willow found it odd how she had to struggle to come up with something to talk about. It was like forced babble-mode.

"You know what Faith says about slaying-" Willow stopped herself, catching the glare Kennedy shot her. There was so much hurt in that look. Willow wrapped her arms around the younger girl's shoulders, laying her head lightly against her back. She sighed softly.

"Please just tell me what's wrong."

Willow almost jumped when she felt a feather light touch upon her hand. Kennedy simply laid her hand atop her lovers, not stroking, not pressing, just a confirmation.

"I'm sorry," Willow's voice seemed to fail her for a minute, fear making tears well up in her eyes. She closed them, taking a deep breath to finish the sentence.

"I'm sorry you had to see me like that."

Kennedy twisted herself around, looking at Willow with trembling lips. Her eyes screamed at the witch, pleading with her. She opened her mouth, almost forming a word, then clamped her lips shut, turning her head to the side.

"Kennedy," Willow reached out to lightly touch her unbruised cheek, "You know I'd never hurt you, right?

"I know." Kennedy almost breathed out the words.

"Please don't be afraid of me." Willow fought hard to keep her tears in check. She needed to reassure the girl. She needed to prove she was in control.

Kennedy looked into her lover's glistening green eyes, her own tears beginning to get the better of her.

"Willow?" She asked in a voice so quiet, Willow found it hard to believe it was Kennedy's at all.

"Am I a bad person?"

Willow hugged her girlfriend tightly, lightly rubbing her back.

"No, baby, no," she whispered, "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry you have to deal with my baggage. You deserve so much better."

Kennedy jerked away, mouth half open. Her eyes searched Willow, her chest heaved.

"Do you.." she swallowed hard, "Do you want to leave me?"

Willow stopped, her expression matching Kennedy's. She shook her head, barely a movement at all.

"No. Emphatically no. Why would I leave you?"

The slayer simply brought her hands up to her face, running her fingers through her black locks. Willow waited a second for a response. She reached out gently grabbing Kennedy's strong hands in her own, looking deep into her eyes for some hint.

"Did that thing say something to you?" Kennedy nodded slightly, but then turned away, still gripping Willow's hands. She looked over her shoulder at her.

"Can we just go to bed? I'm really tired."

Willow nodded, letting herself be lead out into the bedroom. She walked the wobbly form of Kennedy over to the bed, pulling back the covers.

"Do you want your pajamas?" Willow tried to be as chipper as she could be, but Kennedy just shook her head, sliding under the comforter. Willow leaned over her, gingerly tucking her in. She crouched down beside the bed, stroking her lover's hair, brow pulled together in concern. She kissed the girl on the forehead, leaning back to look into her chocolate eyes.

"Did that bitch tell you I was going to leave you? That sounds just like me."

Kennedy couldn't suppress the smile. She was just so precious sometimes, even in the worst situations, you had to love her. She nodded slowly, still not trusting her voice to stay even.

Willow stood up, walking around to the other side of the bed, pulling the covers over her as she slid up behind her girlfriend, spooning her. She felt her girlfriend relax at her contact. She lightly kissed the nape of her neck, nuzzling behind her ear. Kennedy gasped, leaning her head back to kiss her girlfriend. Their lips connected, and lingered. Willow broke the kiss, planting a few light brushes of her lips on her lover's as she pulled back.

"See? Still here," she grinned. Willow stopped smiling. She saw something in those beautiful eyes.

"You're not afraid of me, are you?" She asked, almost confused. Hell, even Buffy had her moments, times when Willow would be casting a spell, and Buffy would just sit there, unconsciously measuring her up, wonder what it would take to kill her. She'd hate herself for thinking like that, but Willow really couldn't blame her. That was the nature of her work. But Kennedy wasn't thinking like that. At least, not right now.

Kennedy held onto Willow like a life preserver. She has to tell her. It was just too painful to watch her girlfriend so filled with self-doubt. That was what she was here for, right? To help Willow? God, why did this have to be so hard?

"Willow?" She squeezed the tiny woman's hand, "do I scare you? Did I scare you?"

"What?" This was not exactly what the redhead was expecting. She started to deny it, but then saw the bloodlust in her lover's normally warm and compassionate eyes as she beat her double well past death and into disfigurement. She closed her eyes, sighing as she tried to banish the image.

"A little." As soon as she said the words, she felt a sob rise in Kennedy's chest.

"I'm.." Kennedy desperately tried to draw breath between sobs, "I'm scared too."

Willow found herself holding her lover, gently rocking her, whispering soothing nothings into her ear as she let the woman weep out her fear. Even when she was emotional, the slayer regained her bearing very quickly.

"I get it," Willow kissed the top of her head, "believe me, I really do get it. I know what it's like to see just how dark you can be."

Kennedy nodded. "It's just that... god, I've never felt anything like that. There was just this, this want. I just wanted to destroy. No, I wanted to kill. I wanted her to suffer. God, Willow. Is that what I am? Is it?"

"Yeah, it is. I can't lie to you; it's a part of you. It's a part of me too. I think the trick is to not let it be the only part. Does that make sense?"

Kennedy wiped her nose, sniffing loudly. "Thanks Will," she smiled, "you're supposed to tell me I'm a perfect angel." She took a few calming breaths, then turned to look up at Willow.

"How do you do it?"

Willow shook her head. "I don't know. I think I've been doing it wrong. She said something to me. I think I've been making excuses for a long time. Blaming my problems on all sorts of things."

"But not the right things?"

"You've got me there. Is there such thing as a right thing to make an excuse about? Jeez, I really can put people through a head trip when I'm evil, huh?"

Kennedy smiled. She ran her hand along the witch's taut belly. "You're not so tough. When you're evil, that is."

"Yeah," Willow tapped Kennedy's head playfully, "What made you so sure you could beat me...er, her?"

Kennedy shrugged. "Tactics. And I know you."

Willow raised a bemused eyebrow: "Do you now?"

"Yup," the girl nodded, "you really don't like it when things get too hectic."

Willow had to smile. The girl may not be the most book smart, but she seemed to really understand how to get to people. "So you just kept things hectic. Have I ever told you how amazing you are?"

Kennedy grinned back, putting on her serious face. "No, but now would be a good time to." She wrapped her arms around the redhead's slender neck, lightly kissing her. She moved her head to the crook of Willow's neck. They lay like that for several minutes, Kennedy basking in the feel of her lover's warm body.

"Kennedy?" Willow asked quietly.


"What did she say to you? Before you, you know, won. I couldn't hear."

Kennedy's eyes opened. She had to say it. She had to be sure.



"Can we just go to sleep?"

Willow smiled, snuggling closer to the powerful woman beside her. She reached out for the light switch, and with a loud click, plunged the room into darkness.

The End

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