No time to waste.
As Tara fell unconscious to the floor, Willow tossed aside her rapier and stumbled to her pack. Her fingers left bloody prints on it as she yanked it open, her breath ragged and wet. First a thick pad of cloth she pressed against the slice on her belly. Then she fished for her phone; once she found it her fumbling and slick fingers had a hard time gripping it. Somehow she pressed the number one; when Faith immediately answered Willow said, "I need you up here right now."
Faith would come up from the back entrance, just as Willow had done. Willow hobbled back to the fallen woman, pressing as hard as she was able over her gut wound. Sparks and darkness wavered at the corners of her eyes as her stomach boiled; she forced consciousness on herself. She would schedule time for a faint later.
By the time she fell by Tara's side, Faith was already running through the silken curtain between the den and the living area. Willow was panting with pain and sick with fear. Faith didn't pause to curse or ask questions; she strode to the pack and yanked out the foam gun. Willow managed to touch the side of Tara's neck, comforted by the fluttery pulse she felt under the precious skin.
"You first," Faith demanded as she returned to Willow's side, setting the foam gun down for a moment. "This is going to hurt."
Willow clenched her jaw as her driver/bodyguard took Willow's nose in her hands. With yet another sickening crack and jab of pain, Willow's nose was reset. From the pack Faith took an ointment and gently mashed it into Willow's nose, constricting the blood vessels. When the flow of blood eased Faith softly pushed Willow to the ground. It wouldn't do to have Willow drown in her own blood, sliding down her throat.
"Hurry," Willow breathed.
Faith lifted the cloth away and swiftly applied a thick layer of foam over her belly wound. The coolness of the salve felt tremendous against her skin; Willow may have noticed it more if she hadn't been pierced with so much worry over Tara.
Faith rolled Tara on her back, and Willow could finally see the thin line of blood at Tara's throat.
(I almost killed her)
Willow managed to turn her head before she vomited on the Persian rug, coughing and spitting.
Faith applied the foam over the entrance and exit wounds in Tara's side, then along the deep cut of her leg. "Hospital or home?" the bodyguard asked as she finished.
"Home," Willow replied, her limbs shaking, pain roaring like a dragon enraged throughout her body.
There was blood in Tara's hair. There had been blood in Buffy's hair. Willow dry-heaved on her hands and knees. Faith helped her up, careful not to step in the mess of Willow's breakfast.
"Pick her up," Willow gasped, picking up her pack. She left the rapier discarded on the floor.
Faith didn't hesitate. She bent and picked up Tara's inert body, and Tara's head lolled against Faith's shoulder, and her hand hung down her side.
Those stolen blueprints had certainly come in handy. The vault door in the front was still locked. Willow followed her bodyguard through Tara's apartment, wishing as she did earlier that she had the time to drink in every part of Tara's existence, to see what pictures Tara had hung, what food was in her fridge, what music she listened to. Willow forced herself to stumble behind Faith.
Down the emergency exit, to the sedan that waited in the alley.
Willow opened the back door and sat down, then slid over a little on the shiny leather. Faith immediately tucked the Apothecary next to Willow, closed the car door and dashed for the front seat. In moments they were screaming down the morning streets of Sunnydale, but Willow didn't notice, nor did she care, because Tara was in her arms again, and blood was in Tara's hair, and there was a slash across Tara's throat that Willow dealt with her own sword.
Faith needed no further instruction. She drove as fast as she dared, talking through the speakerphone to Giles, telling him what happened and what preparations had to be made. Before Willow could ask, Faith also told Giles to order a cleanup crew to report to the den. In only hours the den of the Apothecary would not hint of their battle, not with a new and identical Persian carpet and teatable.
There could be no replacing of the priceless book. Narnia now had the taste of blood, in a betrayal far greater than poor Edmund could imagine.
Willow had her arm around Tara's waist; she could both hear and feel Tara's slight wet breathing. The weight of Tara's body against her broken chest was nearly unbearable, jagged icicles pierced her lungs, fire raged along the cut of her belly. The stink of blood was shiny and insistent.
She was holding Tara in her arms. It was something she had longed to do for the past seven days.
(that mark, I recognize it)
Not like this, though. Not like this.
When they hit Miller's woods Faith accelerated even more. At the gate to the estate Faith activated the emergency bypass, verified by Willow in her wavering voice. No time to submit to a retinal scan.
Robin and Jenny were waiting at the entrance to the house.
The sedan had barely screeched to a halt when Robin opened the back door. He picked Tara up carefully in his strong gardener hands; the sudden lack of Tara-warmth upon her was shocking. Jenny was helping Willow out of the car as Robin carried Tara into her house, Faith dashing ahead to open the front door.
Before Willow could comment on the absence of her puppy, Jenny said, "Jupiter is tied up outside. We don't need him underfoot right now."
Jenny had her arm around Willow's side, helping her stagger up the steps. Never had the entrance to her house seemed so daunting.
(did I kill her?)
Willow shut her fear away. There was no time for it. Tara would live. Willow hadn't killed her, no she hadn't.
(live, Tara, live)
It seemed to take forever to get through the house. By the time Willow and Jenny got to the recovery room next to the dojo, Tara's clothes had already been cut away, her body covered with a linen sheet. The pale-haired woman lay on a narrow cot, elevated to the ideal height for her steward's work.
A steward, a surgeon, and a sword-fighter. Giles really was amazing.
Robin was preparing the curved surgeon's needle and thread as Giles gave Tara an injection. The scar-faced Briton didn't look up as Willow and Jenny entered the room; he merely said, "Lie over there, Willow."
Another cot had been prepared, and Jenny helped Willow lay on it. A vast wave of black faint cascaded over her, her blood thundering in her ears and through her wounds; by some miracle Willow remained conscious.
"Will she be all right?" Willow asked, her voice trembling with post-traumatic stress. Her hands were quivering, which she could not stop.
"Yes. Jenny, give this injection to Willow," he said, still not looking at her, taking the prepped needle from Robin's gloved hands. Robin handed a vial to the Gyptian; she took out a syringe and asked, "How much, Rupert?"
Before Willow could protest, Jenny injected her; the prick led to a resulting heat that was nearly blissful. Willow wanted to protest, but already a veil of moonbeams and stardust seemed to lie between her body and her mind. This heated flood along her veins tasted a little like the dragonsbreath of the den; after kissing Tara the first time Willow had never wanted to succumb to drugs ever again.
Jenny asked Robin and Faith to leave; after they had gone she tenderly cut away Willow's own clothes, covering her with two different sheets, leaving a gap where the yellow foam squatted in Willow's belly wound.
As if from a great distance she watched the impromptu surgery of the Apothecary. "She'll need blood," Willow thought she heard her Steward say. Jenny fished in the fridge for a blood pack as Giles swiftly typed the Apothecary. Soon there was a steady drip of life back into Tara's body.
She still hadn't moved of her own volition since collapsing in the den.
When finished sewing Tara up, giving her another injection for the pain and against infection, Giles tore off his gloves and washed his hands in the basin. Toweling them dry, he drew on a new set of latex gloves and sat near Willow. There was only Jenny with them now; she held Willow's hand. He peered at Willow's nose first. This close the scar on his cheek looked like a canyon.
(I hurt everyone with my mistakes)
"Faith did a good job," Giles finally exclaimed. "This should heal nicely." He prepped another syringe. Willow, remembering the blissful heat from earlier and the promise she hadn't shared with anyone, said, "Don't knock me out, Giles."
(I don't trust you)
"It's just a local anesthetic, Willow."
(Why is he suddenly calling me Willow?)
Besides, she still wasn't entirely sure of him. If she slept, what would they do to Tara?
Would Jenny look at the Apothecary and remember her own scars?
Willow's belly went numb.
As accustomed as she had become to the sight of blood she still couldn't actually watch Giles work on her. The cut needed two separate layers of stitches, one deeper in her tissue, and one on the surface.
Willow looked at the ceiling instead. It was boring. It was this eggshell colour of off-white. There should be something up there. "Jenny, who painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel?" Willow asked. "His name started with an M, didn't it?"
"It was Michelangelo, Miss Rosenberg," Jenny replied, her hands suddenly in gloves, assisting Giles.
"I want to hire him. He needs to paint my ceiling."
"I'll see if he's available."
Willow blinked her eyes and when she opened them, the ceiling was different and the room was dark. She was about to congratulate Jenny on hiring Michelangelo so fast when she realized that she was no longer in the recovery room. Before she could sit up in surprise, a warm hand touched her bicep, holding her down.
"Don't get up," Jenny said. "Not yet."
As she woke, pain suddenly ignited in her veins, travelling at light speed through her body. With a light groan, Willow asked, "Tara?"
"Beside you. Be careful."
Willow swivelled her head carefully. Tara was there, lying on her back in Willow's broad bed, dressed in some of Jenny's pajamas; a light top and pants. She was breathing, but it wasn't the terrifying wet and shallow hiss it was earlier. Jenny must have washed Tara's hair; it was still a little damp and there was no blood in it.
With the cool dampness of her own hair, Willow realized that Jenny must have cleaned her up as well.
"How long?" Willow asked, starting to sit up.
"Stay down, please," Jenny said, pressing Willow's bicep again. "It's nightfall. You've both been out all day." There was a grim tightness to Jenny's voice, a very thin thread of hatred running through it.
"I thought I told Giles not to knock me out," Willow said.
"Your body has better sense than you, Miss Rosenberg."
Willow could barely recognize Miss Calendar here in the darkness, with that hatred in her voice, that ancient scorn.
Willow hadn't planned for this either.
"She didn't hurt me," Willow said softly. "It may have looked like her, but it wasn't."
The woman's eyes continued to blaze. Turning away from the suddenly alarming Jenny, Willow looked at Tara again, and her face was pale, her eyelashes golden on her cheeks. Hunger rumbled inside her, twisting her stomach with enough strength that even Jenny heard it.
"I'll bring you something to eat," Jenny said. "Stay down until I come back, okay? I'll help you up then."
Willow nodded, her face tight. Jenny paused on her way out and asked, "Would you like anything for the pain, Willow?"
"No," Willow said. "I'll be all right."
Jenny's eyes blazed a little brighter, and Willow was almost taken aback. For a moment it looked as if the Gyptian woman was about to protest again, and tell Willow she was being foolish, but then she merely swallowed and walked out of the room. The moment she left, Faith came in and crouched by the wall without saying a word.
It surprised Willow that Faith could wait there so patiently. Faith had always seemed to have too much restless energy to simply sit.
Did Willow know anything about her staff at all?
Time was a mischievous devil. Though it was probably only five or ten minutes until Jenny returned, to Willow it seemed hours.
Tara gave off heat like a furnace. Every molecule in Willow's body was aware of her.
When Jenny returned with soup, Willow wasn't quite able to feed herself. With that same resigned detachment, Jenny fed her, spoon after spoon, until all the hot liquid was gone. As sleep began to threaten, Giles came to her bedside.
In his hand was a fetish; beads and claws and a charm. Even as she saw it, she recognized it. It had come from the shah's palace in Persia, where it had been a trophy gained by the shah in a victory over the Tartars. It was usually locked in one of the vaults downstairs with the other dangerous items.
Giles had joined Willow's household when he was nearly forty years old. He had never completely revealed his past to her.
(when did he become a shaman?)
"You will sleep dreamless tonight," he intoned, swiping the fetish over her chest and over her forehead. Willow began to feel hot and lethargic, delightfully thick and contented, a feather pillow somehow between herself and her injuries.
And her eyes widened as she realized that Jenny and Giles had betrayed her.
What would they do to Tara, when she was asleep and helpless?
A strange woman was now standing in the doorway to her bedroom. All the light was behind her; her face was cast in shadow. She was tall and slender with skin so pale it was nearly luminescent. Chocolate brown hair was lush against her shoulders, creamy and bare with the Victorian gown she wore. When she took one more step into Willow's room, Willow could finally see her face, scarcely illuminated by the thumbnail moon. This strange woman had an ethereal and frightening beauty, with noble cheekbones and high eyebrows.
Her teeth were perfect.
Sleep assaulted Willow, even as she struggled to stay awake. Who was this person in her home?
(why did they betray me?)
She could not fight two such battles in one day. As she slid further down the sleep slope, clawing against it with fingers of dandelion fluff, she saw the woman enter her bedchamber completely. Her manicured fingernails clicked against the wooden beads of the rosary around her neck; she counted the beads in a steady fanatical flow.
She smelled of rosewater.
"Too close it was, Willow Rosenberg," the woman whispered in a Cockney accent, coming near her, her voice surprising girlish. "You danced with the devil and no one else could hear the music. If you hadn't been more careful all your insides would have been out and then how could we possibly predict the future? The entrails of the swine only predict for the swineherd."
Eyelids drooping, Willow watched the strange woman circle her bed before pausing by the sleeping Tara. She lifted the hem of Tara's borrowed shirt and placed her hand on Tara's belly. Willow wanted to jump up, push the woman away, skewer her like a pig if possible, but magic held her in chains and made her mind fuzzy. She managed a frown, even while inside she was screaming.
"Hush, little poppet," the woman crooned to Tara, "That won't work, you know. It's all dark in the house. You write your thoughts on the madhouse wall but I can still read them. The voices of the damned have a song to sing and even if the voices aren't real, they do have good ideas. Stay sleeping. My head will sing while yours is silent, and the orchestra is missing the fiddler."
The woman had the temerity to lie down completely on the other side of Tara; she draped her gown over Tara's blanket-covered legs before lifting the hem of Tara's shirt. She slid her white hand like a snake under the fabric, her hand gliding over bare skin, drawing perilously close to Tara's breast. Willow fumed, and could do nothing.
With her blood red lips, the woman kissed Tara on the cheek.
"Who...?" Willow stammered, furious and wilting, unable now to move, barely able to speak.
"They call us Drusilla in the nighttime, yes they do, and when daylight comes I get to sing a new song."
Willow fell asleep to the image of Drusilla kissing Tara again on the cheek, and then kissing her beads.