Return to The Apothecary Chapter Three

The Apothecary

Author: Phoenix
Rating: PG to start with, though that will change...
Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer is the property of Joss Whedon/Mutant Enemy/etc.
Feedback: Please!

On her knees before Tara, Willow waited, her serene patience belied only by a slight twinge in her eyes. Tara's hands were clasped behind Willow's neck, her thumbs in that hollow just below Willow's ears. There was no sound except for breathing: Tara's slow and steady exhalation, and Willow's slightly more ragged breaths. Both of their worlds had crystallized in this one moment, the fulcrum of their destiny.

(I must bring her back

I don't have much time left)

Tara didn't have to pull. Of her own accord, Willow rose on her knees, then hovered at the distance she deemed appropriate, somewhere between forehead and mouth. Yet she still distanced herself from the event about to occur; her arms lay passively by her sides. Tara calculated that distance between Willow's mouth and her own, and hated herself for it. With a slight puff of breath on Willow's skin, Tara drew her face close, close, closer, and then stopped, hovering just above completion. She could pull, but she wouldn't.

How long would Willow wait with the hint of warmth just above, just millimetres away?

(Kiss me, Willow.)

Willow closed the distance as Tara hoped


she would, thrusting her lips at Tara in a manner that might almost be deemed frantic. Tara caught them, and held them, and could have wept for the pain of it. It had been so very long.

Here, in safety, in privacy, Tara let Willow explore, though she doubted Willow knew that was what she was doing. For a long moment Willow's lips simply pressed against Tara's own, then a bit harder as she adjusted to the fullness, the roundness. There was the tiniest tilt as Willow breathed through her nose and Tara, helpless now, captive of Willow's whirlpool, felt the tip of Willow's tongue brush against her closed lips.

With a great deal of restraint, Tara kept herself from crushing the woman in an embrace, choosing for now to let her hands stay exactly where they were, nestled in the silken depths of Willow's hair. She felt Willow's tongue again, and Tara parted her lips ever so slightly, wondering, wondering.

What was this? Willow's hands had been by her sides mere moments ago. Now they were lifting, and Tara felt the tips of Willow's fingers run almost shyly along the ridge of Tara's spine, igniting sparks and shivers deep in Tara's core, then those fingers crested the rise of Tara's shoulders to sink into the warmth of blonde hair. Her thumbs were mimicking Tara's thumbs, finding that exquisite hollow between jaw and ear, and pressing lightly in it.

And Willow pulled her lips away, and for a moment Tara despaired, but then Willow recaptured Tara's lips again, turning what had been a somewhat chaste kiss into a lover's kiss. Tara wondered if Willow knew it, had planned it, but then she had no more space in her addled brain to analyze anything but the exquisite taste of Willow's lips, the lips that opened a little more now, the lips that teased open Tara's own, the shy tongue that would run over Tara's bottom lip but no more.

It was all Tara could do to suppress a moan, and Willow pulled away only to find yet another sweet spot, another oasis for unlucky and lovelorn travelers. Willow's fingers had been content in Tara's hair, but now they moved closer, squeezing Tara's unadorned earlobes between thumb and forefinger. Desire pooled in Tara's limbs, made her feel weak, and she wondered what signals she had been sending Willow to make her so brazen.

The beauty could not last, and a moment later Willow pressed hard one last time before she pulled back for good, Tara's kiss-swollen lips feeling stark and empty. Tara could immediately feel the emptiness behind her eyes and knew that the dream had been transferred successfully to her newest client. Would Willow like it? Would Willow come back for another one?

(I should bring her back, I should)

Would there be shame in Willow's eyes when she opened them now?

Astonishingly Willow's gaze was clear, her cheeks flushed, and she was trying to control her breathing, as Tara was. There was something in her eyes, some new confusion as she looked on Tara, but Tara was too exhausted and exhilarated to determine just what it was.

"That's it?" Willow asked timidly, using the arm of the chair to help her stand up. "Just a kiss and it's done?"

(I should)

Tara nodded, then she tried to rise. Her muscles felt gummy and thick, and Willow seemed to notice. She extended her fingers, those delicate and exquisite fingers, and helped Tara rise. Her designer clothing and petite frame very effectively hid the enormous amount of strength in Willow's arms and hands. Tara was lifted so quickly and efficiently that she felt dizzy for a moment. Tara stood there, blinking, her head ducked, and Willow kept holding her hands.

(get her out)

Chanel and jasmine and oiled leather. Tara was drowning in Willow, captured in the depths of the Aegean seas of Willow's eyes, chained by her soft and strong hands.

(Remember the collar.)

Looking into Willow's eyes, losing herself in the tranquil depths of forested paths that led through space and time, Tara deliberately ran her tongue over her mouth. She had a taste now. How long could she make it last?

Willow's open face was enchanting, with a soft and rosy glow to her cheeks, and Tara still looked at her in wonder.

(I'm running out of time

I must use her, I must)

Tara could not help herself; she dropped one of Willow's hands to caress Willow's cheek, her client's eyes widening as she did so. Tara's fingers tucked a piece of hair behind Willow's delicate ear, then trailed down Willow's neck, feeling once again the sinewy strength within. The desire to kiss her again, and again, rose inside her with clawing fury.

Tara wanted to rip off those designer clothes, and draw Willow's breast into her mouth, to feel if Willow's stomach was as hard and tight as her shoulders, to hear what sounds would come from Willow's throat if she licked the skin underneath the pendant.

(I won't)

Tara dropped her hand, forced her mouth into a tight little line. With every ounce of effort in her soul, Tara closed herself in, and set a mask of disdain and condescension on her face. Willow immediately noticed, and her eyes narrowed in surprise.

(I never want to see you again)

Silence was a two-bladed sword that cut them both. Every moment that Tara continued her haughty, arrogant posture, Willow followed suit, until they were two strangers staring at each other.

"How much do I owe you?" Willow asked, her voice tight and raw. She opened her handbag and drew out a sleek leather wallet, not new, but never used before today, either. By all indications, Willow had been preparing for this day for quite some time.

Gold buttons. Diamond studded watch.

(never again, Willow)

Tara's sliding scale went from $50 for those who could barely afford it, to $10,000 for those that could. She did not bother at all with rupahs - the coinage of the lower classes. Willow may have been surprised to know how many celebrities had been in that chair, had received a kiss on the forehead from Tara. That top calibre of her clientele just proved how lonesome their lives were, how empty and unsatisfying money and fame was. She had built many a dream of mediocrity for them, just to give a little respite. They more than willingly shelled out thousands for Tara's dreams.

And damn her, Tara let them. They may not stink of burnt poppy, shambling away in opiate bliss, but they were junkies all the same. Dream junkies, coming to her again and again, until waking was the nightmare and the dream the only reality they wanted.

(I am as much a slave)

And when that cataclysmic moment came, those clients ascended the stairs one floor further, and disappeared forever.

Tara looked into the hurt and bleeding eyes of Willow and knew she never wanted to see Willow again. Part of her heart had been captured by this fragile woman, held hostage in the shadowy recesses of Willow's soul.

And Willow could never know it.

(I will never let her go upstairs)

By entering the poppy den below, Willow had unwittingly entered a realm of the damned. In the space of this one afternoon, Tara discovered that she would not lead Willow any further down this dark and dangerous path. Willow deserved light, and love, and a future untainted by Tara's eventual betrayal.

(my road leads to hell)

"Tara?" Willow asked softly, breaking into the apothecary's reverie.

(and you will not be my sacrifice. I'll die first.)

"Ten thousand dollars," Tara said quietly, looking straight into Willow's eyes. She wanted to memorize them, because when night came, when the screams came, she would doubt this resolve.

(You will never know enough to thank me.)

Willow didn't flinch, but her eyes started blazing. Distant, condescending, her heart aching because of it, Tara kept her mouth in that sharp line and waited for Willow's response.

Willow had to put away her wallet. She reached into her bag and withdrew 15 stacks of bank notes, staring at Tara the entire time. Neither of them said a word. When Tara would not extend her hand to take the money, Willow bent over to place it on the tea table, next to the book, next to the stale and cool pot of tea.

"Thank you," Willow said, her chin stubbornly raised again, her eyes hard as tulipani jewels. As she brushed past her, Tara could smell Chanel in her wake. The beads clattered as Willow let herself out, and Tara stood very still, just breathing.

(go with whatever blessing you'll accept from the damned, Willow)

After a few moments, Tara forced her body to move. Her movements sluggish and slow, Tara gathered the tea tray. She ran her fingers over the book Willow had been reading. She left the bills right where they were.

Retreating to the kitchen, Tara finally realized why Willow had looked confused right after their kiss. Gazing at her reflection in the mirror, Tara saw that at least half of the brown colour had retreated from her sunny tresses.

Tara had never kissed a client on the mouth before.

Willow had just taken half of Tara's nightmare with her, a most unwelcome and unknown souvenir of her visit. Tara's throat closed in pure anguish.

(You didn't want her to come back, remember?)

Now it was at least certain. Willow's perfect dream of Buffy-bliss at the fair was going to turn horrific on her. After spending fifteen thousand dollars on it, Tara knew that Willow would never return to her den.

(That's better. Safer. Not for you, but for her.)

Tara still wished she could warn Willow of the impending change, but there had been no exchange of information, no business card, no phone number.

(I don't even know her surname.)

No hope of seeing those eyes, kissing those lips again.

Tara thought of those lips, and ran her tongue over her own, tasting Willow there. Her eyes burned in remorse.

(doamne fereste!)

Continue to The Apothecary Chapter Five

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