As usual, Giles was already in the dojo before Willow arrived. He had also changed into training gear; a t-shirt and sweat pants. Also like Willow, he padded about in his bare feet. He was inspecting the weaponry on the walls, handling the knives, the kukri, the scimitars with a practiced yet reverent hand. Before she could announce her arrival, he said, without turning around, "Faith will be along shortly, Miss Rosenberg."
Willow smiled. When he had first entered her service, she had been frequently startled by his uncanny way of knowing where she was; she wondered if he had eyes in the back of his head. In the years since she had learned that he was just remarkably perceptive, a skill worth having in their line of work.
Along another wall was a shelf holding an array of every training implement imaginable. The other wall had windows that opened up to her orchard. She rolled open a yoga mat and began with a Sun Salutation. Even deep inside her breathing, trying to wrap a blanket of white space on her tumultuous thoughts, she heard Faith enter the dojo, her Armsmaster by her side.
Willow ignored them long enough to finish her Salutation, limbering her muscles and her mind; she could hear them quietly preparing for training. This was the first time she had invited Faith to join her personally. Usually Faith duelled with only Giles.
It was time Faith realized that Willow didn't really need a bodyguard, and wouldn't have a bodyguard had Giles not insisted upon it.
(I can take care of myself)
After she finished, she rolled up and replaced the mat. Only then did she look at her Armsmaster. As usual, his platinum hair clashed rather splendidly with his dark eyebrows. He was not particularly tall (still taller than Willow), but his body was hard and his reflexes were quick. He had a dour, sarcastic view of life, with just enough self-flagellation for past sins to infuriate Willow.
He was one of few people who didn't try to ingratiate themselves with her. "Ready to work, Willow?" he asked.
"Ready when you are, Spike."
"Good. We'll start with standard drill, seeing as we have a guest tonight." Willow caught him leering at her driver, a look easily reciprocated by Faith Lehane. Willow supposed that some women would find her Armsmaster handsome; he wore a tight sleeveless shirt and training pants like the rest of them, and padded around the dojo in bare feet. When Buffy was going through her rebellious phase, she had gone out with guys like Spike, who drank, drove too fast, and started brawls.
(does Tara kiss everyone like that?)
Giles was already gathering the hauks from the wall. When he had passed around the weighted wooden cylinders, Faith scowling at the bland choice of weapon, Spike had them separate.
Willow stood across from Giles; they nodded to each other.
(or just me?
Stop being full of yourself, Rosenberg. It's her job.)
Woolgathering, Giles almost made a touch on her before she could engage her hauk. Engaging his eyes as well as his weapon as she had been taught to do
(read your enemies eyes and conquer them)
closing Tara away again, Willow raised her hauk in time to counter him. The drill started ragged, and she could see that Giles knew exactly what was happening in her Willow-brain, that she wasn't really here at all, that part of her was still upstairs in the poppy den.
Soon the regular clacking was all she could hear as she was swallowed by the drill, punctuated with instructions from Spike as he engaged Faith. Willow almost wanted to watch her driver drill with Spike; she knew the girl was good, she had done a complete background check before hiring her
(she spent two years with the national guard, and another one guarding the President himself)
but how good was good?
The drill complete, Willow and Giles put up their hauks, sweating. It was apparent that Spike had made a few touches on Faith; the girl's cheeks were slightly crimson, she was grimacing in concentration, bruises were forming on her upper arms, and a small lump crowned her head. "Stop waggling that thing about," Spike barked, whirling his hauk around to poke her in the chest. She barely countered him.
"What are you, a bleedin' infant?" he bellowed next.
Willow could have grinned. She had fallen for this trap the first few times she engaged her Armsmaster. Faith took the bait, fury overriding her senses, and she fell into a flurry of movement. In only a moment, Spike had swept her knees and she landed on the hard floor, her hauk skittering away. In just another moment she would have launched herself at Spike, with bare fists and fingernails if necessary, but he backed away, concluding the engagement.
"Always a mistake to get angry," he said, his own voice rolling like the Briton he was as well. "Lose your cool, and someday it won't be a hauk or practice blade. Didn't you learn that with Wilkins?" Faith scowled at him in return, ignoring his proffered hand to help her up, jumping up on her own. Her bruises were rising like the sun, but it looked as if she would ignore them. "Go take a breather," Spike said, pointing to the wall.
Eyes blazing, for a moment it looked like she would attack anyway, but under Willow's cool and calculating gaze she sulked off to the wall, going into a resting crouch. Willow barely heard a muttering about fooling around with swords when all she needed was a decent pistol.
(we don't believe in pistols here)
"Now Willow," Spike said, "Let's see if you've been practicing."
From the wall Giles brought them two sabers, their curved edges gleaming wickedly in the electric light of the dojo. After her last mission in the Middle East, Willow discovered she needed more practice with a curved blade, and started with a scimitar, and had since moved on to a saber.
Willow faced off against her Armsmaster, trying not to notice Faith watching her with keen interest. Faith's lips were still a brilliant and vivid shade of red, and part of her dark hair had fallen from her ponytail, clinging to her neck. She looked pouty and hot and aching for sex. Willow was glad all her staff lived separately from her.
(Her lips aren't like Tara's)
Willow and Spike began with the same drill that she had used with Giles, slowly increasing their tempo. Spike began hitting harder and Willow followed suit. Then Spike left the drill sequence, seeking for a touch on Willow's shoulder; Willow countered it smoothly. She followed with a light flick of the wrist, her blade seeking Spike's throat, but he spun the edge, trapping her blade and then flicking it away. Before she could reingage her weapon, he made to sweep her legs as well.
Dancing away, Willow re-engaged, suddenly pivoting as he lunged, catching the underside of his elbow with the flat of her blade. He spun around himself, and suddenly there was a gleam of sunlight breaking through the cloud cover and the window, igniting his pale hair.
(Why did Tara's hair change colour?)
Before she knew it, Spike slashed her sword arm. The Armsmaster had been guarding his movements; the blade, instead of severing her arm completely, laid a gash open. Willow immediately stepped back, clapping her hand over the wound, her face suddenly pale, the fire of the cut raging through her arm.
"You bloody fool," Spike said softly. "What just happened?"
Willow's mouth was a tight line. "You are dismissed, Spike."
"No need to get shirty with me," he started, until Willow punctured him with her glare. He narrowed his eyes at her, and then stalked off. He put up his weapons, except for the saber that had cut Willow; that would need to be cleaned by Giles before storage. Faith was watching Willow with a little more respect in her eyes, and Willow didn't know if it was because of her skill or the way she didn't scream after getting cut.
It was almost funny to think that she used to be scared of getting a needle.
(that was before)
Giles dismissed Faith as well, and her driver and Armsmaster left as they had come in. Faith was touching Spike on his lower arm, smiling a sultry smile. Willow turned and made her way to the recovery room, a small chamber to the side of the dojo. Once inside the pristine surgical area, she sat on a bench. Giles handed her a thick cloth and she put it over the cut, pressing hard. He was already assembling the curved needle and surgeon's thread.
"Would you like anything for the pain?" he asked, sitting on a stool next to Willow.
"No," Willow said shortly. He grunted and took over the job of keeping pressure on the wound. Minutes passed in this unacceptable silence. Soon enough the flow of blood eased. Applying bactine, Giles began to sew up the wound, using small and precise stitches. Willow looked at the walls, her head reeling, nausea clouding her stomach.
(Her hair, what happened to her hair?)
"Will you not confide in me, Willow?" he asked quietly when he was halfway done.
(Black cat, black cat, bring me luck. If you don't I'll tear you up)
"Not yet, Giles."
"As you wish." When the impromptu surgery was complete, and a clean linen bandage over the wound, he stood to wash his hands in the basin. Willow got up slowly, stretching her already aching muscles. It really was time to include a masseuse among her live-in staff. When he was finished she washed her hands as well; her blood had dried to crusty flakes on them.
Willow changed out of her bloodied clothes before dinner, which turned into a sober affair. Jenny's eyes had narrowed at the bandage on Willow's arm, but the gyptian didn't say a word. Willow sat at the head of the table, eating slowly, savouring each bite, trying to keep the memories of the day at bay. She was joined by her entire staff: Giles sat across from Jenny, too dignified to play footsies with her even though it was vastly apparent to everyone that there was something going on between them. Faith sat across from Robin Wood, the gardener, her face still pouty and hot. Robin's bald head gleamed in the soft lights. When Faith first arrived, she had expressed more than a little disdain for his seemingly undignified position as gardener; that lasted as long as it took for her to spit the dirt from her mouth as he unceremoniously flipped her to the ground.
Hopefully Faith was smart enough to realize what no one would say outright.
(we're all warriors here, and for a reason.)
Willow missed Xander, wished he could come home soon. Her arm ached, Jupi was begging at her feet, and the golden Chablis tasted a little sour in her mouth. Maybe it was the memory of white tea and jasmine. Or the memory of jenniver, which she didn't drink anymore.
She found she was nervous about nightfall.
The staff waited until she had finished eating; as she stood, so did they. It was yet another gesture she tried to stamp out, but Giles had insisted.
(does he intend on alienating me completely?)
"Good night, everyone, and thank you," Willow said. She got a mumbled echo in return and then she swiftly retreated, knowing that they would be more comfortable the moment she was out of sight. As usual, that thought pierced her with a deep ache for lost friendships.
Buffy and Xander never treated her so. But Buffy was dead, and Xander was in Persia, and Willow was alone.
It was not late enough for bed, so Willow wandered into her library. The moment she did, she almost wished she hadn't.
(Tara would love this room.)
In all conscience, it couldn't be called a library. It was more like a personal museum. Like the rest of her house, the ceiling was high, decorated with exotic mouldings. The windows let in the deflected westering sunlight, as this room did not face the setting sun. Along the walls were bookshelves and cabinets, each handmade and handcarved of jovial cherrywood.
The cabinets held ancient maps and charts, outdated astrological equipment, and instruments used at sea and upon land by cartographers. Among them all were placed small but immensely valuable momentos of her travels, or the spoils she had been allowed to keep.
Unlike Tara's den, all these books and objects were painstakingly valuated, catalogued and filed, by genre, by author, by title. Every year a curator from the Briton Museum would come and catalogue her newest finds; both Jenny and Giles watching and learning as much as they could. Willow tapped the computer screen embedded in the wall, and it swiftly led her to the reference location of the tome she was looking for.
It was not a first edition, nor signed by the late author. It was still bound in leather, had gold leaf on the edges of the pages. Willow took the book and settled into her chair, flinging her legs over the side as she had done only hours before, her arm aching worse than ever.
When she found the page that she had halted at earlier, by the return of the apothecary
(and her changed hair)
Willow realized that she wasn't really looking at the words anymore.
For the first time since she had left the poppy den, Willow allowed her eyes to close, and allowed herself to remember. She had gone in expecting a dream, not a kiss. After this night, which would she remember more?
(I kissed her)
As Willow thought of Tara's lips, the way they were soft and pliable, warm and addictive, Willow uncovered a deep ball of desire in her throat. She reflected on those lips, and she imagined doing other sensual things, like touching bare skin with the tips of her callused fingers, of kissing Tara on the corner of her mouth, making her way down her jaw line, imagining the apothecary tilting her head up, leaving her throat open for Willow's lips.
But then her face would change again, and Tara would return to the hard and bewildering woman Willow had given her money to, and with eyes dripping in haughty disdain, she would turn away from Willow forever.
It was apparent that Willow had no right to love or desire her; the woman kissed everyone the exact same way. Why should Willow be different?
(Then why can't I stop thinking about her?)
An aching, gnawing sensation burned in her chest; she felt it for several moments before finally classifying it.
(Why did she close herself to me at the end? Was it my fault? What did I do wrong?)
It wasn't merely desire, or shame, or jealousy. Willow reflected back on those eyes that had closed off so precipitously after their kiss and determined that it was sorrow.