Return to The Apothecary Chapter Fifteen

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!

High school was the first place Willow learned that she could get anything she wanted as long as she worked hard for it. After high school, on the path of her illustrious and amazing career, this belief was strengthened; the world was not impenetrable, and that there was nothing that existed on this earth that couldn't be hers if she wanted it bad enough. No secrets too deep, no treasure too guarded.

For a while there she had forgotten the difference between the things she wanted and the things she needed.

When she prepared for this day, this altercation with the apothecary, traveling first to Rumania and then to Tokyo, writing more than a dozen scripts with alternate endings, Willow thought she had thought of everything.

She was a professional. She knew exactly what she was doing. The ending was always predictable because her designs were perfect.

Arrogant Willow. She hadn't expected this.

(this design is flawed)

Tara's eyes held anguish fathoms deep, and her voice broke as she said, "Willow, put your dagger at my throat."

One hand was still in Tara's hair, the other held Tara's wrist. There was no room for daggers here, especially at the throat of this woman. What was it that she was asking Willow to do?

Tara shoved Willow away, hard. Confused, Willow opened her mouth to follow and say something, but Tara overrode her, saying even louder, "Willow, for the love of God, put your dagger at my throat!"

Then Tara's eyes changed, and her face grew tighter, and Willow saw that this wasn't Tara anymore. Tara was shunted far far away.

Was this override of Tara's mind some compulsion laid upon her, or was the genie still here?

(is this her master?)

Surprising speed and strength as Tara lifted her booted heel. Then Willow was flying across the room to smash into the bookcase, a fierce roaring in her chest from the force of that impact, for Tara broke at least three of her ribs with that one resounding kick.

The Chronicles of Narnia fell to the ground, and the spine of the book broke.

Tara was already picking up the discarded rapier, and it was naked and thirsting. Then the terrifying woman in blue stopped for a moment, the rapier held in a steady hand, the tip hovering professionally low. Like a killing machine with no emotion on her face, Tara stared at Willow for a last moment.

(Jenny's scars

what is the price of truth?)

Willow drew the kris from the scabbard at her back, wincing as her broken ribs ground against each other in protest. She was barely able to lift the long, curved dagger blade before the rapier clashed against it; thankfully the straight edge of the rapier spun off the sinuous edge of the dagger as Willow flicked it away.

With a few steps Willow was next to the little table where she had left her stack of money. Tara was stalking her; Willow picked up the table with her hands and threw it at Tara's ankles. The woman tripped momentarily over the little table, giving Willow enough time to shove one of those garish chairs away; this sweet smelling den was the strangest arena she had ever fought in. With another one of those mighty Tara-kicks the little table was shivered into pieces, striking the intricately carved bookcase, prompting another showering of precious books.

Tears were trickling from Tara's eyes even as she lunged at Willow again.

(who holds her leash?)

Willow pivoted away from the thrust, cursing the Persian carpet that tugged at her heels, and she caught Tara's wrist with one hand, jerking her forward. Tara seemed to be too well trained to fall for such a simple ruse; the Apothecary slammed her free elbow into Willow's face. There was a sickening crack as Willow's nose broke, more blood streaming suddenly from it in a crimson waterfall. Dazed and blinded, Willow then felt Tara's shoulders duck underneath her, then a mighty shove into Willow's already broken ribs, sending Willow tumbling once again across the floor.

Willow struggled to her knees, and as Tara leaped with the rapier in her hands, Willow somersaulted to the side, slashing Tara's leg with her kris. The blade bit deep and the Apothecary tumbled mid-leap, crashing with sickening force into the wall.

If it had been any opponent but the woman that Willow was falling in love with, Willow would have been able to kill her at that moment. Instead, Willow rolled back up, wiping at her streaming nose as she re-entered the standard battle stance.

She sparred with Spike four times a week. Only in Persia had Willow ever encountered an enemy as proficient as Spike, and she had Giles and Xander to back her up.

The Apothecary was the most skilled and deadly adversary Willow had ever encountered.

As Tara jumped back to her feet, her leg a bloody ribbon, Willow wondered if she would actually survive this fight. She should have expected a genie to be an accomplished warrior; how old was Tara really?

Tara feinted and pivoted as she re-engaged; Willow was watching her eyes and was ready. Willow followed the course of the feint and lifted her dagger, knowing she had to get the rapier out of Tara's hands, and the sooner the better. Taking a gamble, Willow dropped her dagger as she used her thumbs to gouge into Tara's sword-wrist, seeking the pressure point that linked the wrist to unbearable agony.

Tara gasped, and still she wept salt tears, and still she punched Willow in the jaw with her free hand just before slamming her shoulder once more into Willow's tortured chest.

Winded, Willow spun with the movement, only temporarily releasing her hold on Tara's sword-wrist, wrapping herself around Tara's unprotected back to come at her from the other side. Once on Tara's sword side, she slammed her own elbow into Tara's throat and grabbed the wrist again with both hands, gouging her thumbs deeply into Tara's wrist.

And just as Tara wavered, Willow slammed Tara's chest with her shoulder, pain from her ribs like great sparks in her eyes, a great cloud of agony and faint obscuring her vision. There wasn't much time. One more mighty squeeze with her thumbs and the rapier finally slid from Tara's nerveless hands.

Even as the rapier fell to the ground, the Apothecary bent to draw out one of Willow's own boot-daggers; once it was in her grip, she sliced Willow across the belly.

Anticipating the move, the dagger did not quite disembowel her, but the slash still cut into her skin, leaving a smooth edge of cascading blood. Willow staggered back, grasping the sword hilt with her bloodied hands, knowing she had unwittingly encountered an adversary more skilled than both her Armsmaster and that Persian.

She should have hired Tara for her lessons.

And she should have realized that dead men tell no tales. No wonder it was the most closely guarded secret in the world; those who uttered it were immediately silenced.

(and no one can save me like I saved Jenny)

The battle continued in unnerving silence. Tara uttered no taunts in an attempt to infuriate Willow; it wouldn't have worked anyway. Long gone was the time that Spike could goad her, and in this fight for her very life Willow would not lose her focus.

Even guarding her movements, Willow had to stay alive. In one moment of that battle, she skewered Tara's sword-side, the blade erupting from her back like that bloody volcano of her dream. Tara staggered away, clapping her hand to the wound, but was still able to parry Willow's following lunge.

(god if you make me kill her)

Tara thrust again for Willow's belly with Willow's own dagger, but Willow had her rapier now. Three swift parries were followed by an even quicker lunge; the women sidestepped each other as they fought. Their blood continued to rain on the Persian carpet; drops bright as cranberries alighted on the discarded books.

Blood in Narnia.

(I will hate you forever)

As they fought around the room, Willow discovered a small weakness on Tara's left side, a tiny hint of old aches or wounds. Despairing that she had to use such tactics against the one person she thought she would never have to fight or kill, Willow baited that side by revealing her own unprotected side. Tara went for it with her dagger and Willow suddenly pivoted again, caught the flat of the dagger and spun it, then rapped Tara's left side with the flat of her rapier, the steel slapping with enough force to raise an angry welt.

Continuing her pivot as Tara gasped, Willow again spun around Tara's back, caught Tara's hair

(oh the golden honey)

with her left hand, and yanked back sharply. Tara gasped in agony, and the sound of it ripped Willow to her core.

(for the love of god put your dagger at my throat)

Tara stamped Willow's foot, and she was about to elbow Willow in the gut when Willow laid the edge of her blade against Tara's throat. Tara was shocked into stillness; that last minute movement caused Willow to graze the skin of Tara's throat with her rapier, leaving a thin line of blood.

Ritual death. Would it be enough to break this compulsion laid on her?

Please let it be enough.

"You are dead, Apothecary," Willow whispered harshly into Tara's ear, "I have defeated you." She trembled with the effort of the fight, the pain hot and brilliant over her whole body.

(yield Tara, please, I do not want to kill you!)

Willow could not see into Tara's eyes, could not tell if this ritual defeat would be enough to stop the rampaging bloody art of the skilled Apothecary, or if Willow would be forced to kill her.

Willow thought she'd rather die instead. If Tara would turn to kill her, Willow just might allow it.

Tara's body shivered, and Willow could feel that thrumming against her, the warm and sticky volcano of blood from the wounds Willow inflicted. Every breath Willow took was agony, and her wounds wept like her eyes.

"I am dead," the Apothecary whispered.

Willow could almost hear the subtle click in Tara's mind as the true woman returned to her body. Willow's desperate gamble to prove that it was not really Tara that she fought had paid off, but at a terrible price.

And Willow barely removed the blade from Tara's throat in time, as Tara collapsed in a bloody heap on the floor.

Continue to The Apothecary Chapter Seventeen

Return to Story Archive
Return to Main Page