There was pinkness and warmth. A more innocent and certainly younger Willow might have equated this sensation with whatever felicity babes felt in utero. Such a microcosm of love and affection, the physicality of devotion, all represented by a bundle of cells incubating in a mother's womb. Safe, warm; here snow did not exist.
Willow was neither young nor innocent.
Therefore this pinkness and warmth must be a sham. Perhaps it was the paper wrapping over a gift of garbage and hurt. Maybe it was a layer of icing over a cake seasoned with bitter despair. It was probably as everlasting as the cheap plastic rings that came in Cracker Jack boxes, or foil papers marked with grease.
Besides, the longer Willow wallowed in this pinkness and this warmth, the more aware she became of pain.
Willow Rosenberg had long ago discovered that physical pain was her friend. It kept her focused, it kept her strong. It was an adversary that could always be defeated by the careful application of patience and time. It was a way to cope with emotional pain; if she could equate a physical wound with a mental one, in the process of healing physically she could attempt to heal emotionally.
Pinkness, warmth, and pain. Willow realized her eyes were closed, and the pinkness was reflected light glowing on her eyelids.
Willow slowly opened her eyes to behold her ceiling. It was off-white; unsullied by a Sicilian painter's hand.
Why had the Willow that was chosen such a vague colour for her ceiling?
Off-white hadn't always meant despair.
Willow had been in Saskatchewan this past February. The snow was off-white and despairing. It had started the winter so fresh and excited, propelled perhaps by dreams of Christmas and snowmen and snowangels and other wintry Canadian delights.
(ice skates and hot chocolate and sundogs)
But February had come, and the snow would be a dirty shadow of its former self, praying for new snow to fall and cover its misfortunes and its scars. By February the snow knew that only the melting death of spring could provide any release from its static hell. Bitter February; the snow trapped in malignant inertia by the iron fist of the cold.
One bitingly cold night she stood beneath the coruscating shades of the aurora, rippling endlessly across the sky in green and pink waves. The northern lights looked like fiery tears from a wounded sky. Willow could have sworn she heard them weep.
That the sky could emote the feelings in her own breast gave her no joy. This was not a Willow that was.
(This is the Willow I am)
This Willow, upon evaluating that her ceiling was off-white, next determined that she was in her bed, and that someone was holding her hand.
The fingers were a little tough, a little callused, a little thick. The palm was dry against her palm. This was the hand of her Steward, who had once ironed her newspaper, who polished his glasses far too often, and who had a crater on his cheek that was Willow's fault.
Her head felt incredibly thick and heavy, and it took some time for Willow to swivel it enough to look Giles in the eyes.
He looked so sad.
While conducting her background check on the man who would eventually run her household, Willow had found a picture of him in the corner of a barista shop, strumming a six string guitar and singing into a microphone. The faces on those people privy to this most magical moment expressed an awe and wonder that made Willow ache to hear him as well, to hear the throbbing undercurrent in his voice that struck such chords in their hearts.
That was a Giles that was.
Could that Rupert Giles ever have imagined what turns his life would take? When he sat upon that stool and poured out his heart through his music, did he foresee the enemy that would place such a scar on his face? Could he have imagined the snow in February?
(has he seen Jenny's scars?)
Maybe he did sense it that long ago evening with the taste of kaf on his tongue and his heart in his throat. Maybe that is why that audience connected with him in such a manner, because he understood that the world had teeth and would bite you if it could, like a maddened dog with no kindly master. Maybe he spun a story for them through his song, a fairy tale with happy endings where all who suffered would eventually find peace.
Could he have imagined he would become such a hypocrite, in a household full of similar hypocrites?
Maybe he did, and that was why he was so incredibly sad right now.
(I only wanted to change the world)
He squeezed her hand as she looked at him. He was sitting on a chair by her bedside. Some form of light was in the room, for it shadowed the crater on his face.
(Persia and the shah and the broken glass)
Willow's belly was itchy, and her chest and face burned.
And suddenly she remembered everything.
She swivelled her head to her other side, her hair sliding over her pillow, and there she beheld Tara. The Apothecary was still asleep on her back, her eyelashes golden on her cheeks, and it was not the strangely lunatic Drusilla who sat by her. It was Miss Calendar who had her hand under the shirt Tara wore, her palm on the bare skin of Tara's abdomen. The intimacy of such hand placement sparked another flame of anger which Willow controlled only by examining the Gyptian further.
Jenny's eyes were open, but they were tenderized by a lack of sleep and bloodened by too many tears.
Still feeling thick and violated, willing her body to wake up, Willow turned back to Giles. Now that she was aware of Tara's body next to hers on the bed, Willow wondered how she could have missed it earlier. The woman gave off heat like a furnace, and her scent was mingled with the smell of laundry detergent and Giles' cologne.
There was the tiniest hint of rosewater.
"Why did you do it, Giles?" Willow asked, the words scratchy and indistinct in her thickened throat.
"I thought I was serving your best interest," he replied. "I thought you incapacitated by grief, by your mourning for Buffy, and that you could no longer make the right decisions. When you brought Tara under this roof, all I could see was danger, not only for you, but for the entire household." He glanced at Jenny, and then back to Willow.
As much as Willow wanted to scream at him, and tell him he had no right to do what he did, she could not. She understood love, even when she didn't have any for herself.
She understood blood.
(the bonds of blood are tightest)
"You betrayed me, Giles," Willow whispered. "Even if I come to believe that it was for my best interest, how can I forgive you and move on? You know what this world has done to me."
His voice low and defeated, Giles answered, "You may never trust me the same way, Willow, but even in the face of that consequence I would not have altered my decision. We had to be sure of her."
Willow pulled her hand out of Giles' and looked back at the off-white February snow ceiling. The pain was becoming more and more insistent, greedy for attention, a two year old throwing a tantrum. She stared at the ceiling and felt the thickness of her throat climb behind her eyes. Once there it hovered like a blizzard
(oh the February snow)
but Willow forced herself not to weep. Not in front of them.
With her eyes open, she could sense Tara next to her, the golden aura of Tara's hair on the pillow, the soft and slow rhythmic breathing that expanded Tara's chest. She had skewered Tara's side with her own sword.
Willow finally looked at Jenny. The Gyptian's hand hadn't moved; it was still touching the bare skin of Tara's flat stomach. She hadn't seen Jenny so tired and vulnerable in a very long time. "And what part do you play in this, Jenny?" Willow asked.
"While I touch her I can keep her asleep."
"And that other woman? Drusilla?"
"Another witch, like me. We rotated shifts during the night to keep her asleep."
"Why do you hate Tara so much?" Willow asked, and this time she couldn't keep a single tear from escaping her grasp on her emotions.
Mutinous tears; the betrayal just wouldn't end.
There was a pause before Jenny continued, "Because of what her race had done to my clan. To me."
Jenny didn't really need to say anything else. Willow remembered what the Gyptian looked like as she and Xander extricated her from her imprisonment. Each scar had significance. Jenny had been branded between her shoulder blades, and the wound had oozed with pus and infection. Heated chains had been wrapped around her thighs. Those and all her other burns nearly defied treatment.
All Jenny's hair had been shorn off; it was a low bristly stubble on her scalp. Her recovery was measured in months, not weeks or days. Giles hadn't been home; it was Joyce Summers who nursed Jenny back to health.
(How did Joyce sleep at night, now that both her daughters were dead and gone?)
Never in her life had Willow missed Giles more, and counted down the days until he could return to them. From the moment he came home he had been devotedly attached to the Kalderash witch. Both he and Willow had been equally astonished when Jenny eventually revealed her true ancestry.
Willow could not blame Jenny for reacting as she did, but she still said, "So we should hate her for what someone else had done? That's rather racist, you know."
"Blood feuds run deep in the Kalderash," Jenny sighed. "I had been indoctrinated from a very young age, learned and recited the afflictions of my people as if it were a catechism. During my imprisonment it was the only thought that gave me hope, that if I lived I could exact my revenge. From the moment I realized you had discovered one of her kind I wanted to kill her, as if taking her blood could somehow cleanse the past and ease my pain."
"Why is she still alive, then?" Willow asked, the thickness slowly starting to disappear, life and vitality gaining strength within her. She was still lying prone in her bed, rallying courage to sit up. "You've had plenty of opportunity in the last twelve hours to kill her. What stopped you?"
Jenny opened and closed her mouth. Willow wondered if her hand burned where she touched Tara's abdomen. Willow struggled to sit up, and shook off Giles' hand when he tried to assist her. Her heart beating frantically, Willow finally rested against the headboard, her wounds throbbing in the tempo of her heartbeat.
Did Jenny's brand throb at night?
"Are you too squeamish?" Willow asked, wildness rising within her. "You could just ask Giles and he would do it for you. Isn't that what lovers do for each other? No need to get blood on your own hands."
"Why are you doing this, Willow?" Jenny asked, choking on the words, her fingers trembling.
"Because I can't keep living like this!" Willow half screamed, half wept. "The more money I make, the more farcical this world becomes! Every day is a recitation of the day before it, and when I looked into the future all I could see was more of the same! All I could see was this great void, this great abyss, and I tried filling it with anger, and I tried filling it with work, and I tried filling it with pain, because it was more than an abyss, it was a black hole, and it was swallowing my light, and before long it would swallow all of me."
Tears dashed against her cheeks, and she angrily wiped them away as she continued, "Endless days with no hope, endless nights with only nightmares, and when pain couldn't even fix me anymore no matter how I fought or how I trained, saber, scimitar, kukri and kris, so I turned to the dragonsbreath, to the poppies, and told myself that no one cared.
"And that place! How I loathed it, how I longed for it, and every puff seemed to remind me of how I had screwed up my life and the lives of my loved ones. Xander's eye and Giles cheek and the brand between your shoulder blades, and each of them my fault. So I smoked and I knew the bliss was fake, I knew the den for the mirage it was, yet I needed it, and the depth of my need for it frightened me so damn much! No one in that den could understand me, all they saw was my money and my clothes, and they whispered to each other, poor little rich girl, what does she know of unhappiness, what does she know of pain? All I had was this deep and malignant inertia of snow in February, jaded and bitter and aching for death by spring. Even the aurora wept for me, even the aurora remembered Buffy."
Both Jenny and Giles were weeping now, but Willow could not stop, not while Tara was asleep next to her, not while her heart twisted in remorse and fear.
"In the end even that wasn't enough, even the opium couldn't fill that abyss inside me, and every moment I thought of Buffy I wished, how I wished we had switched places, so I could be dead instead of her, for just once I wanted to be the one to leave, and not the one left behind.
"So I went upstairs to visit The Apothecary, for I'd been told that she would create for me a perfect dream, that little slice of bliss I needed so damn bad, just a little happiness to help balance the scale that always seemed to lean to hurt and pain and betrayal. And then I, then..."
There was no stopping the tears now. Giles reached for her, but stopped just short of touching her, and Willow was glad, for there was no way she could bear his pity, not now. Willow looked at the genie who slept an enchanted sleep next to her, and with her fingers she stroked Tara's golden hair, that great thickness in her throat multiplying at an exponential rate.
"Then I kissed her," Willow said, her voice wavering like a shadow exposed to sun. "I kissed her and was rejected by her, and after the dream I swore to destroy her just like the self-centered and egotistical maniac I am. Never realizing what she had gone through, what horrors assaulted her, what sacrifice she made in rejecting me. A blind fool who had thought only of herself for far too long.
"I won't live that way any longer," Willow finished, looking at Jenny. "Whether she rejects, destroys, or loves me, I won't run from it. I need her. Come what may, I need her."
Giles handed Willow his handkerchief and Willow wiped her aching eyes, hiccuping a little as the tempest of her emotion calmed down.
Yet with every word, Jenny had become more and more upset. Willow looked at her chef, her friend, the Princess of the Kalderash, and saw something terrifying in Jenny's eyes. "What is it, Jenny?" Willow asked.
"I have betrayed you more than you realize," the Gyptian witch said, her voice breaking on the words.
Willow stayed silent.
Her voice faltering, Jenny spoke of Drusilla, how she had made Drusilla swear to protect Tara even as they imprisoned her, and not just any oath, a blood oath, and even though she had no reason to trust Drusilla, Jenny did now because the blood oath was strong.
Jenny had no idea that Drusilla would gladly trade her pain through breaking the oath for the opportunity for mischief and evil. Blood had been seeping from the pores on Drusilla's head as Jenny came crashing into Willow's bedchamber. Giles had her taken immediately from the house, but the damage had already been done.
And then Jenny spoke of the devastation she found inside Tara's mind, how Drusilla had massacred Tara's memories of Willow, and finally Jenny related how she left Tara with the last choice.
Every word hollowed Willow a little more, until she felt used up and empty.
"If she doesn't remember you, it's because she's made the biggest sacrifice of all, to protect you."
Could silence possibly be this tempestuous?
"That's supposed to make me feel better?" Willow growled. "When she wakes and doesn't remember me, am I supposed to be okay with that? Just let her walk out of this house, not knowing she is taking my heart as a souvenir? I just let her go?"
Jenny could not answer; she turned away, unable to bear Willow's gaze.
"God damn you," Willow said softly, raging with fire. "You had no right to do what you've done. You had no right to judge her without knowing her. I may not know anything about her, I have no reason to love her the way I do, I don't know what she eats, when she sleeps, what music she listens to. I don't know her favourite colour or her favourite holiday. I wanted to know all these things."
"I knew she was trying to keep me out. I knew she was trying to protect me. By the gods, I know how dangerous she is! She could reject me a million times with her words and her deeds and it would make no difference. I kissed her, Jenny."
"And she kissed me back."
There could be no lies in the kiss they shared. No falseness, no duplicity. Tara wanted her, and Willow knew it. And after all that the woman had suffered throughout the ages of her imprisonment, Willow knew she would stop at nothing to save her.
"If you were anyone else, I would fire you," Willow said. Jenny nodded, mute and dumb. "What do you intend to do now?" Willow asked.
"I will release her, and you'll see what she has decided."
Willow nodded, sharp spikes of ice in her throat, those mutinous tears threatening behind her eyes. Jenny took her hand from Tara's stomach, and then stood. "It will only take a few moments," Jenny said.
Defeated, Jenny walked around the bed to where Giles stood; they left the room hand in hand.
The next few moments were some of the longest of Willow's life.