Tara's body was her house, and for the first time in a very long time, her house was messy.
Part of her had known what Willow was capable of, when the redhead sat in that garish chair and sipped the hot sweet tea. Part of her had known that Willow would ruin her.
Now her house was a shambles, and every room was spattered with blood and pain.
It had been the first time in a very long time that Tara felt so alive. Did humans know how precious a gift pain actually was? To feel pain is to know that you are still alive, to feel pain means that you have not been cauterized by the fiery evils of the world, to feel pain was good because feeling pain is better than feeling nothing at all.
So Tara understood the pain.
What she didn't understand was why she couldn't seem to wake up.
The magic of a djinn is remarkably caged by their Master; Tara did not float outside her body to witness what was going on while she was unconscious. All she knew was that Willow said the fatal words, tripped the wire in Tara's psyche, and Tara was shunted aside while her Master fought the new menace.
Tara's eyes had been open. She had seen everything up to the ritual death. They were her hands that wielded the belly-ripping blade, and they were her shoulders that crunched into Willow's broken ribs. A guillotine had dropped between her spirit and her body, and while Wilkins fought Willow, all she could do was watch and pray to a God that had no patience for the likes of her to spare Willow's life.
Tara's only solace was knowing that Wilkins couldn't see who he fought when he took control of her body. Some filter remained; he fought against absolutes, the shadowy adversary who threatened his property. He did not know it was Willow.
Perhaps God did care, just a little.
Not enough. Tara couldn't wake up, and she didn't know why.
So she stayed in her house of pain, and the lights were dim, and the smell of blood crept into her pores. She sat, and waited as patiently as any genie could for a new dawn.
She was astonished when she realized that there was someone in the house with her.
A smell drew her first; it was rosewater. Tara rose to her feet and cautiously began searching the rooms of her house, looking for the intruder.
In her library
(the storehouse of my memories)
Tara saw her.
The woman's face was pale and luminescent as algae that never sees the sun. She wore a long black Victorian gown, and she was watering Tara's plants with a jug of bleach, crooning a strangely minor lullaby.
"Who are you?" Tara asked.
"Hush, little poppet," the woman crooned, still not looking at her, focusing all her dark intent on the ritual destruction of Tara's potted plants. Tara tried to flick on the lights, and when that didn't work, she moved to the wall and tried to open the blinds.
They remained shut, as if cemented in place.
The woman finally looked at her, and her eyebrows were dark and dour, her cheekbones high and dainty, and the very timbre of her voice was trembling on the abyss of screaming madness. "That won't work, you know," she said, rather simply. "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.”
Enough talk. Tara moved to eject this unwanted visitor, but she suddenly stopped. There was a burning sensation on her abdomen, and then her body was frozen entirely in place.
Magic to emasculate a djinn was rare. Tara looked at this woman, this stranger, and knew her. "What is your name?" Tara asked, and the burning continued, thickening her muscles, freezing her bones, creeping up her chest to her throat. Soon Tara wouldn't be able to speak at all.
"They call us Drusilla in the nighttime, yes they do, and when daylight comes I get to sing a new song."
The strange woman set down the jug of bleach and began to walk down the dimly lit shelves. She drew her wickedly white finger along the shelf, and Tara remembered how her Master did likewise every time he came to her den. Tara began to get nervous.
Until the woman stopped in front of several massive, black bound volumes. Tara opened her mouth to yell or scream or say anything to halt Drusilla, but nothing emerged. She was completely frozen, trussed up like a calf awaiting a brand. In front of Drusilla was a black volume, heavy and locked. It contained the worst memory of Tara's life.
Drusilla pulled it slowly from the shelf. Tara's soul screamed in a doubletime of worry; that book alone contained enough ammunition to blow up what remained of Tara's house, and in her death the world would fall. Yet Tara was just as worried about the book hidden behind it.
True to her great fear, the witch noticed the other book that had been hidden behind the great and black book. Her fingernails a gleaming black; Drusilla reached past the book to take out another volume. It was a slow and wicked smile that cracked across Drusilla's face as she retrieved the red leather bound book, the book that smelled of coconut and Chanel.
(My Willow book)
Drusilla opened the book with a shiver of glee. Rage rippled through Tara, but she was helpless, unable to move, unable to speak. Drusilla's ruby red lips formed the words as she read, and once in a while she said the words aloud, reciting in that same soft litany of malignant evil, "Are your mother's parents still alive?"
Those had been the first words Tara had ever spoken to Willow.
Drusilla took the page and ripped it from the book in a slow and loving manner. When the page fluttered to the floor, the memory was gone.
Dear God, no!
(God died with Buffy.)
Drusilla kept reading and tearing, and soon Willow's request for a dream was ripped away, joining the other memory, castrated and blind upon the floor of Tara's library.
(She cannot speak to you from the dead.)
The witch licked her lips as she continued reading, and by the time she had come to the moment of Tara's return through the silken curtain with Willow's dream behind her eyes, Tara was defeated. She couldn't even beg for mercy, beg this stranger to leave those last few precious memories alone. The cover of the book was already fading from its brilliant autumn splendour to a lifeless beige as page after page of Willow was ripped away. If Tara could have spoken, she would have promised nearly anything to stop this destruction.
The kiss loomed. Soon it would be gone as well.
It was so very strange then, when Drusilla decided to halt her destruction. She turned to look at Tara, and her long fingers were like pale spiders against the midnight of her dress. She put the ravaged book on the shelf and came up to her. "The Gyptian speaks," Drusilla said. She caressed Tara's cheek, and Tara couldn't even cringe away. Holding Tara's chin in her surprisingly strong hands, Drusilla whispered, "The cumin is the cathedral, and the Delphi sits upon a throne with a snake in her hands. The Oracle Pythia has been summoned."
With every cascading word, Tara's heart was twisted further and further, the motivation of this strange witch very clear.
(how we persecuted them and attempted to cleanse the world of any magic that wasn't ours)
(a plea to the gods)
(romancing the snake, and whispering of the future)
Drusilla's chin lifted, and her eyes slowly rotated to the back of her head, showing only those malevolent whites. Still holding Tara's chin, the woman said, "Giles, Tara is the key." Drusilla moved one hand and placed it over Tara's heart. "For night has come, and there is no Dawn." Her mouth descending as if to kiss Tara, she finished with, "She is the key for us all."
Immobile, despairing, Tara could do nothing as Drusilla's eyes returned to normal, and then the witch did kiss her. Upon her lips she kissed her, and the witch's lips were cold, and they seemed to draw out Tara's own heat and vitality.
Drusilla licked her lips after she pulled away. Her tongue was small and pink and perfect, flickering like the forked tongue of a cobra.
"It seems like they're going to keep you alive, little poppet," Drusilla said. "But really, if we are to see the whole future we might as well prophesy on your entrails. After all, the entrails of the swine only have meaning for the swineherd."
Tara remembered the slash she delivered on Willow's belly, and wished she could shiver.
Drusilla started to return to the bookshelf, to the raping of Tara, and soon all of Willow would be gone.
And then Tara saw Drusilla flying through the air to smash against the bookshelf.
Another woman had appeared next to Tara, and her brown eyes were blazing. "Consider yourself fired," the new woman said, and then she made a curious gesture with her hands.
There was silence and darkness for a moment, and then the newcomer snapped her fingers, and the lights came on, illuminating the destruction of her house and the annihilation of her book. After surveying both the blizzard of pages and the caged genie in front of her, the woman sighed. She moved to stand in front of Tara, and her eyes were still rock hard and skeptical. "I apologize for my colleague. She had sworn not to violate you. I guess I know what her word is worth now."
The only change Tara could make was in the tightness of her own eyes.
The woman frowned, and then said, "Release."
Tara's muscles tingled as the magic washed over her, and she stretched slightly as she stared at her timely rescuer, who was yet another uninvited intruder. She wanted to focus on this stranger, but her eyes were captivated by the empty blankness of the pages on the floor. Her throat impossibly tight, Tara walked past the woman; she stooped to pick up a few pages, looking at the vast emptiness upon them.
Those words could never be rewritten. Whatever had happened between her and Willow was now lost. All she had left was the kiss. Tara tried to hold to that, but anger swept within her as she looked at the woman standing across the room from her.
"Are you the one keeping me asleep?" Tara asked, trying to keep her voice low and clean. She bent over to pick up more pages, not looking at her, but keeping her in her peripheral vision.
"Yes," the woman replied. "My name is Jenny Calendar." For a moment, it looked as if the woman was going to offer her hand for Tara to shake, but she didn't, which suited the djinn just fine. If she was a colleague of Drusilla, then she was not to be trusted.
"Are you here to kill me?" Tara asked, not looking at the woman, looking at the empty pages instead. Empty and lifeless as the thumbnail moon.
Empty Willow pages. Willow was almost gone. All those pages devoted to their kiss, whole chapters written of Tara's longing for her. Ripped out. Destroyed. Gone forever.
"No," Jenny replied.
"I can't seem to find anyone who will kill me these days," Tara said softly. She finally looked up. The woman was standing still, her arms folded and her eyes tight and suspicious. "Then why are you here? Have you come to finish your colleague's work?" Tara asked. She picked up the beige covered book and held it out in her hand. "Will you take even my slimmest hope away?"
Jenny would not take the book, neither did she speak.
The longer Tara looked at Jenny Calendar, the more she began to understand her. The talent Tara used in her den was not one of djinn-magic; it was only the consequence of her age long association with humans. There were so few of them that could surprise her.
It was obvious that this woman didn't trust Tara, yet she was here in the first place, and had ejected Drusilla from Tara's house. It was unlikely that these events were unrelated to the battle with Willow; after having been gored by Willow's rapier, Tara would have expected to spend some time in her house. That she couldn't wake, that her house had been stormed by intruders, meant that they considered Tara dangerous.
As they should.
Of course Jenny did not trust her.
But she was still here. Which meant that Jenny must be acquainted with Willow, indeed must love Willow in some way, to come to this place where Tara could be so easily destroyed and still choose not to destroy her. Jenny made no move towards the last of the violated book, but neither did she speak.
"Why are you here, Jenny Calendar?" Tara asked.
"Because I serve Willow Rosenberg."
Rosenberg. Willow's last name was Rosenberg.
More than that. Tara looked at Jenny Calendar, her olive skin, her dark hair, and knew who she was. "You are of the Kalderash?" Tara asked.
"I am," Jenny replied, looking right at her, not flinching from Tara's knowledge.
"If you would serve her well, you would tell her that I am not worthy of trust," Tara forced herself to say. "You have the power here to enact your vengeance. Why do you stay your hand?"
Jenny's eyes were titanic earthquakes; the magic within her could rip apart Tara's house forever. Her lips were thin and compressed and she finally replied, "Because it seems as if we need to keep you alive."
"Will I find myself in chains when I wake?"
"It's possible. Willow will decide."
"Willow will decide wrong."
The Gyptian princess looked at her, evaluating Tara's every word. "You know what I'm capable of," Tara continued. "Willow managed to defeat me this time, but there is no magical chicanery that exists to sever the relationship between me and my Master. Every moment she spends with me she is in danger."
"Do you think I don't know that?" Jenny replied, taking a step closer. "I tried everything in my power to keep from returning to your den once I found out who you were. But trying to stop Miss Rosenberg from achieving a goal is like trying to reason with a tidal wave. It simply cannot be done."
"So you can't kill me and you can't trust me," Tara summed up. "What will you do now?"
The woman paused. "I could rip the last pages of that book," Jenny said, quiet and low, "and find Willow a contract on the other side of the globe. I cannot stop her from remembering you, but I can help you forget her. Between us, we could betray her, convince her that you don't care. Between us, we could save her from you."
At her words, Tara reflexively tightened her hold on the book. Lose her kiss? Her slim hope?
She forced her eyes to look at the great black book Drusilla had touched, the locked book. Jenny followed her gaze. The pages inside it detailed what had happened the last time Tara had loved someone enough to kiss her. While Wilkins held her collar, Tara could not guarantee the safety of anyone she associated with. She was terrified of what would happen to Willow, because of what had happened to Lilith.
"Do you understand what that kind of sacrifice would do to me?" Tara asked softly. "My humanity teeters on the edge of breakdown even now. You take the hope of Willow away, and I could become like my sister Alyanya. I know what she did to your people. I know what she did to you."
Did Jenny still remember the hiss of the brand touching her perspiring skin, followed by the raging flood of pain?
Jenny had flinched as Tara said that hated name. Of course she remembered.
"Would you risk others to protect Willow?" Tara asked. "Will you risk destroying me?"
Jenny's face was pale and stricken. "I don't know what to do," the Gyptian finally replied. "Willow is in love with you." Tara's heart faltered as she heard the words; her mouth slightly open, she continued listening. "I don't know if it is you yourself she is in love with, or merely the idea of you. She has been alone so long now, alienating herself from us. If I take your hope away, I might be taking hers away as well."
The tumour of emotion continued to form in Tara's throat, and her eyes stung.
"I know you were trying to keep her away, Tara," Jenny said. "You tried everything you could to keep her away from you, because you know the consequence of love."
Tara couldn't help herself. She had to look at that black book again, and she remembered the shiny stink of Lilith's blood on her hands.
"It's not my choice, Tara," Jenny said. "It is yours. You love her, so you choose."
Tara wasn't quite sure what to make of this alarming woman, or of the maelstrom of feelings brewing in her chest. Willow was still a Siren to her, calling her across the turbulent oceans of life. What would happen if she opened her heart to her?
The same thing that happened to Lilith.
"I think I finally understand you," Jenny whispered. "You love her, too. You've already tried to protect her by pushing her away." The woman stopped and looked hard at Tara, the forlorn book in Tara's hands, one last time. Her eyes pained with empathy for Tara's choice, Jenny seemed about to say something more, but then she suddenly turned and was gone.
Tara looked down at the empty pages and chose.