It was 10:30 in the evening when Willow made it to her bedchamber. She had stopped in her dressing room and donned a pair of silk shorts and a camisole for sleeping. There was a dull red line forming on her bandage from the oozing blood, but she didn't really care. This wouldn't be the first time she slept with a wound, and got blood on the sheets.
This was, however, the first time in a long time that Jupi wasn't allowed in with her. Her final summons to Giles of the evening had been explicitly clear: short of the apocalypse, Willow was not to be disturbed this night. He had nodded, inquired after the wound, and then led Jupiter away to the staff house where the puppy would spend the night with Jenny.
Willow programmed her computer not to wake her with an alarm in the morning, and she ensured that her blinds were tightly drawn. Nothing and no one would keep her from enjoying every possible moment of the dream she had paid for.
(had kissed for)
After brushing her teeth, Willow slid between the sheets; they were blessedly cool against the heat of her arm. For a short amount of time Willow attempted to read her bedside book (Stephen King's newest), but she quit when she realized she had no idea what was going on. With a soft touch the naphtha lamp was extinguished, and the room plunged into warm and familiar darkness.
Her heart was beating too fast. Willow tried to calm herself down, and after several minutes of careful breathing, she was successful. She started to replay every moment of her time with the apothecary, and between one blushed reminiscence and another, she was asleep.
"Will? Wills? Earth to Willow?"
Willow spun her head; Buffy was holding two ice cream cones and an infuriated expression. Taking one from Buffy before it melted into a slow line of luscious gloop, Willow blinked. "Um, I was paying attention," she said, quickly licking one of the more adventurous cavalries of cream.
"Yeah-huh. Then you can tell me exactly where I left off in my little story before your brain decided to go all Willowy on me."
"Willowy? You mean I am my own metaphor? That's kinda cool in a..." Willow's voice trailed off as Buffy stared at her. "Sad, bad sort of way," Willow swiftly concluded. "Uh... Cheerleading?"
"Face it, Wills, you totally did a zone-out. What on earth were you looking at? Was it a cute boy? Does he breathe? Is he available?" Buffy spun her golden head around, seeking among the crowds the object of Willow's interest.
Willow's midsection was aching with a delirious kind of hurt, and she knew that it would take years before she would confess to Buffy who she had been staring at, if she revealed it at all. Besides, now that the older blonde haired woman with slate blue eyes had vanished into the throngs of the fair, Willow wasn't really sure she had seen her at all. For some reason, Willow thought she should have known her name, which was impossible, seeing as older women wearing grey silk don't habitually associate with teenagers.
She could have sworn that the woman had been staring at her.
(I give it with a kiss.)
"Nah, it was nothing," Willow said, licking her ice cream again and beaming as they continued to meander through the crowds of the fair.
"Okay, so you remember me telling you that Cordelia's nose job went horribly awry and she tried to pretend that it was some sports injury? Please, people don't hurt their noses like that playing tennis." At Willow's somewhat shame-faced expression, and a nebulous touch to the tip of her nose, Buffy said, "Seriously, Willow, no one remembers that. It was so last year."
"Of course Xander remembers. He remembers everything about you. I remember when I first moved here he told me about the day he broke your yellow crayon in kindergarten and he made it up to you by stealing a lolly from the teacher's private stash."
(and in Persia he screamed as his eye was gouged out)
Willow blushed. Somehow Buffy seemed to ooze with supernatural grace through the crowds of people, all of them with bright faces and rupahs in their pockets, ready to lose their coins to the barkers in hopeless attempts at winning kewpie dolls and other assorted prizes. The smell was almost as cacophonous as the sound, mingled horse manure and hot oil, sweating bodies and the smudge pots that would keep the worst of the mosquitoes at bay.
"You really think he remembers everything?" Willow asked, a little balloon of hope rising in her flat fifteen year old chest. For as long as she could remember, Willow wanted
Xander to be more than a friend. Xander never seemed to reciprocate, but Willow couldn't seem to stop trying. As soon as blond Buffy moved into town, Xander had fallen for her, tearing Willow's heart out in the process. Willow remembered that for a while she wished she could hate Buffy Summers.
What a surprise it had been, when Buffy became her best friend, as close as a sister.
(my sword partner)
Yet when she thought of Xander, Willow still wished she had more of Buffy's confidence, more of Buffy's chutzpah, and more of Buffy's money.
(can you loan me a tenski, Will?)
"He remembers watching Charlie Brown Christmas with you every year. Mind you, there are probably things he wouldn't mind forgetting," Buffy said in a slow drawl. Willow glared at her, but the piercing asperity of her gaze seemed to lack integral fervour in puncturing Buffy's oration and Buffy continued, "I never did hear your side of the candy apple incident."
"My lips remain sealed," Willow said, still amazed that she was walking next to Buffy at all, that Buffy had asked her to go to the fair, and that Cordelia, possibly under some Buffish manipulation, had been leaving her alone lately. The last snide comment she received from the nasally handicapped cheerleader had something to do with Willow's clothing.
(nice to know you've found the softer side of Sears, Willow)
With Buffy at her side, calm, beautiful, witty Buffy, it was easy for Willow to tell Cordelia to put it where the sun don't shine.
Well, she didn't exactly say it, but she did think it. Naughty Willow.
"Uh huh," Buffy said, responding to the lips being sealed part. "I bet you wish they weren't."
"Come on, Wills, surely there is some boy you wouldn't mind sharing your... ice cream with." Buffy leered a bit, most likely at the innuendo.
Which Willow missed completely.
"He can get his own damn ice cream," Willow growled in laughter, inwardly blushing at using a swear word, and hoping it didn't show on her face.
Somehow in the space of their walking and Buffy's nonstop chattering, Buffy had managed to put away the ice cream cone, a hot dog, a plate of tomatillos and an ice cold root beer. She paused outside a vendor, who swiftly gave her a cracker jack box for two rupahs. "Doesn't your mom feed you?" Willow asked.
Buffy rooted around in the box, spraying tiny bits of caramel studded popcorn and nuts to the already bedraggled ground. "She was just saying the other day that she wished she had a trough. I thought that was a little rude of her."
"She's certainly better than my mom. She can spend an entire day in her office without eating anything but her own liver. I'm telling you, Buff, my mom is the most competitive non-sport person I've ever met."
"I hear she crucifies people with words," Buffy said, stuffing a handful of the snack in her mouth and chewing ferociously while still hunting for the elusive prize. Willow finally finished her ice cream (throwing the soggy bits of the cone away) and grinned at her best friend.
"Take some of this, Will," Buffy said, tipping some into Willow's hastily lifted palms.
"Not so much!" Willow laughed. "Remember the roles of our friendship? You're the human garbatron, and I'm the walking computer."
"And what, pray tell, is Xander?" Buffy asked, looking up briefly before stuffing more into her mouth and digging even deeper into the box.
(he should have been everything)
"I believe he provides the comic relief."
"I so want his job," Buffy muttered. "Aha!"
From the box tipped a tiny plastic sleeve, with a faint glob of something or other inside. Tucking the box by her elbow, Buffy ripped open the plastic and spilled the cheap plastic ring into her palm.
(cracker jack ring
she can't speak to you from the dead, Willow)
Something thrummed deep inside Willow, and she tasted sweetness on her lips. Was it jasmine?
Buffy grinned. "For you, Will," she said, placing the ring in Willow's now empty palm. Willow opened her mouth in a small O of surprise, and tears sparked behind her eyes.
"Why, Buffy?" Willow asked, her voice tiny, and she wrestled the ring on to her middle finger.
"Because you're not just Xander's Willow any more," Buffy said, her voice now serious yet light. "You're my Willow, too. And not just because of the homework privileges." Buffy lifted her lip and wheedled, "You are going to help with the computational math problem, aren't you?"
(I would walk through fire for you, Willow.)
Something heavy and thick obstructed Willow's throat, so she just smiled. Buffy smiled back, and then they both continued down the labyrinthian lanes of the fair. Willow frequently thumbed the ring on her finger, her heart more elated than it had ever been in her life. Buffy was more than a friend. Buffy was family.
(I'd mount an assault on the very gates of hell.)
Soon Buffy was pausing outside the strong man booth. "Step right up, step right up," the barker was calling. Both Buffy and Willow stared at the heavy sledgehammer and the bell mounted at the top.
(I would dance with the devil himself)
"Let's try it, Wills, it's only five rupahs."
The barker was looking at them with contempt, his oiled mustache and barrel chest screaming of stereotypical midway. "I don't know, Buffy," Willow said.
(You're my Willow too)
"I'm not exactly the strong man type. I'm not even the strong woman type. Now if there was a game for resequencing DNA or, or reciting pi to a hundred places, or listing all the lanthanides and actinides of the periodic table, I'd totally be the girl."
"Will, this is the midway. The only scientific game that exists here is the one that gives you your weight and tells your fortune. Neither of which needs to be public knowledge, ergo the strong man booth."
The moon was rising in the night sky, a large and pregnant moon, glimmering with secrets. Even among the pinwheeling lights of the ferris wheel, the paper lanterns on strings, the neon blazing of booths and games, the moon seemed to hold its own far and distant majesty.
It knew something Willow didn't know.
Willow suddenly tasted marzipan on her tongue, a grown-up taste, half sophistication and half almond. The lights grew creamier, and there was the far squealing of jazz. Was she this Willow, or an older one?
(are you sure that's what you found in Persia, Will?)
Willow stared at Buffy, convinced that Buffy had just said something, but Buffy was already making her way to the front of the line. As Willow made to follow her, she stepped on crackling foil paper, the liner transparent with stale grease.
"Come on, Will," Buffy was urging.
The jazz was getting stronger, and jenniver wine curdled in her stomach, implications of Persia rippling inside her mind.
(Giles' scar and Xander's eye and the price we pay in blood and pain)
Beyond and away the crickets were singing and Buffy began to shine like the sun. Too much for this paltry earth. Too much.
(it can't be me, Will. I'm just Buffy. Your Buffy. Riley's Buffy. Big bellied pregnant Buffy.)
Feeling tinny and lightheaded, chilly now even though it was high summer, Willow lingered in the line for the strong man booth, sensing more than seeing that another world was imposing on her.
(I'm only dreaming)
Buffy had already handed over her clinking rupahs - there were plenty more in her purse. "You first, Will," she said, marching behind Willow and pushing her forward. A small crowd was beginning to form, and Willow wished she could hide from them, because they could see that her shirt was second hand, that her shorts were mended by her non-talented nerdish hand, that her arms were like weeny matchsticks.
"Remember the DNA, Buffy?" Willow protested. "The tennis? The coordinated walking while talking and chewing gum? I didn't bring my body armour."
Buffy raised her head and laughed, a gentle rain of sound. Her face glowed with pride, and she put her fingers on her abdomen as if more than hot dogs and ice cream lay there.
(I'm sure Buffy, and I'm sorry.)
The heavy handle of the hammer was pressed into her palm; for an anxious moment, Willow couldn't even lift it from the ground.
(I'm scared, Will. What if I can't...)
Willow was staring at Buffy, but it wasn't really Buffy anymore, and they were no longer at the fair. They had been swallowed by the other world, by Willow's recurring nightmare, and Buffy was wearing a horrifying mask of Halloweve blood, streaming down her face in rivulets, her belly big with Riley's child.
(with this dream every night, no wonder I need the apothecary
just one night of peace)
And Buffy died there, on the sidewalk, to the crooning of the jazz and the singing of the crickets.
(I will not be caught by surprise.)
Willow spun, her rapier sliding from her scabbard with a steely whisk of sound, plunging into the body of the person lurking behind her.
It seemed to slide in so very easily, shearing past grey silk and bone to erupt on the other side like a bloody volcano. From the corner of Tara's mouth trickled a thin line of blood. In horror, Willow let go of the hilt and the slim sword hovered there, skewering the apothecary like a Turkish kebab.
The sound of Tara's knees striking the pavement was obscenely loud, like buckshot.
Willow caught the beloved body before it could slump forwards onto the blood-violated sidewalk; she sank into a crouch, oblivious of the red stain soaking through her clothing. "Tara?" she asked, even though she didn't even know she knew this woman's name until she said it aloud.
Tara's finger left a bloody print on Willow's cheek. As Willow rocked her back and forth, Tara's sleeve was pushed up, revealing a small mark on the inside of her elbow, hauntingly familiar yet elusive.
Tara didn't speak before she died.
(did you really think you could run from responsibility forever, Willow?
can you afford to dream your life away?
and there's no Dawn)