Five years previously
"Will? Will, come here, you need to rest and tie that bandage tighter. You're bleeding all over the floor."
Willow barely heard Buffy's words. She was busy trying to keep the raging pain in her body behind a wall, trying to forget that she was aching with exhaustion, hunger and thirst. In the last chamber, she had been stabbed deeply in the thigh with a Kris dagger, and her blood had spurted in a warm and wet stream when she yanked it out.
She still managed to use it on her attacker in return, and buried it in his side where the wound hopefully wouldn't kill him. It had bought her enough time to escape to this chamber, dragging Buffy behind her. In hindsight, this chamber hadn't been the best choice. The door had sealed automatically and there was a coundown clock beside it, and it didn't take a rocket surgeon to know that wasn't a good sign.
or is that rocket scientist?
She needed to force her muggy brain to cooperate because she had less than twelve minutes to get she and Buffy out of this chamber.
There was a vid terminal in front of her. The characters on it might as well have been in Klingon. Wait, maybe they were. Would any of her superiors have sense of humour enough to make this vital test in Klingon?
"I don't have time to rest, Buffy. See that countdown clock over there? Less than twelve minutes."
Her voice spoke, but she couldn't really have said that she knew what she was about to say. She had been starved and beaten for the last twelve days. Not to mention shorn of her hair and very recently stabbed.
Twelve. The freaking Drakensdvaerder Council sure had a fascination with the number twelve. She found her mind beginning to count to twelve like the Count from Sesame Street, complete with maniacal laughter after the number four.
you're losing it, Rosenberg.
"I don't care if it's less than one minute. If you bleed out on me, we're both screwed. Please come here."
Willow shook off her voice as she would shake off a gnat. She continued staring at the vid screen, knowing that normally she would understand the challenge in only a moment; she was the best cipher and hacker the Drakensdvaerder had seen in decades. Today of all days she could not wring coherence from her mind, and now that the Count was here, he wouldn't leave.
"Just let me concentrate," Willow said, using every ounce of strength to stay standing, to keep up that wall between herself and her horrific injuries. "Even though you're the Marshal General-Elect, if I fail at this they'll still let us die. There is no halfway for Lieutenants."
She was unconsciously echoing the words of her commanding officer, who had warned her before she had elected to undergo all twelve of the Lieutenant Trials.
"The only Lieutenant is one who has been tested in battle," Willow continued to mutter, beginning to poke at the Klingon puzzle before her. "If you fail the Trials, you will fail as a Lieutenant. Thus there is no failing of the Trials. You succeed, or you're dead."
"You had the choice, Will," Buffy pleaded from her slumped position, leaning against the wall. "Why do you always have to push so damn hard? Do you think I like seeing you hurt like this? Dammit, Will, there was no way out for me, but there was for you. Why are you doing this?"
"The question is a little academic at this point, isn't it?" Willow floated back. Her fingers were moving like molasses over the controls, wrestling out a comet here and there; a brief shining moment of lucidity that vanished too quickly in the fog-shrouded atmosphere of her agonized body. Thirst and more was driving her mad.
Would they possibly have tried a quantum entangled cipher? No, far too mortal for them, when they had all the information of the underworld to draw on as well. Perhaps it was a standard substitution, but then they would have placed the codebreaker somewhere.
Unless they meant it to be impossible. Unless they wanted me and Buffy dead.
Black fog and nonsense was creeping up her eyes. She found herself staring at her hands, which were now gripping the keyboard in a last ditch effort to keep her body vertical.
"Rosenberg, come here! That's an order!" Buffy laced her voice with every ounce of authority she could muster, and Willow found herself wrenched from the controls and walking on clouds of broken glass over to her best friend, whose hair had also been shaved off, who was also beaten and torn and worse.
Willow had found her in the eighth chamber of her ordeal, but she was not fast enough to save her. Buffy had been doused with some potion that turned her muscles weak; she could not walk, she could barely speak. She had turned into an instant liability.
Thus the dragging and the slumping.
"Sit in front of me and lean against me," Buffy ordered.
Willow did so.
"Take off your shirt and tie your thigh up tighter before you bleed out." When Willow put half her attention on taking off her shirt and half on the clock, Buffy hissed, "Stop staring at the clock and focus!"
Her hands were sticky with blood and sweat, but they finally did as Buffy bid, and her wound was tied tighter.
"Now pick up my arms and put them around you."
How was this the hardest of all? Willow closed her eyes and picked up Buffy's limp arms, and draped them around her like cloth. She allowed herself to lean back against Buffy's warm and solid body and now it took even more of her strength to funnel away the pain, the thirst, the hunger, the exhaustion, and the fact that there were now only six minutes left on the clock. She wore only a combat bra now, and though she knew they were being watched, she did not care. Not here, at the end of everything.
"Remember Will, there is only the now," Buffy breathed into her ear, trying to obscure her mouth's movements with the stubbled and blood streaked expanse of Willow's baldness. "If we die here, then at least we die together, and I will die happy, because I'm with you."
"I want to save you, Buffy." Willow's voice was small. "Can't you let me save you?"
"Let me save you first. And to achieve the victory here, you need to surrender."
Through the haze of faint and the monster of pain behind her prison walls, Willow managed to protest. She wanted to reiterate that there was no halfway, that if she surrendered here, it was all over. Thrust so precipitously into the afterlife, could she be at peace with the life she lived, a life so perilously out of balance? So much pain, and the joys few and far between.
There could be no surrender.
Before Willow could even attempt to say any portion of these words, Buffy continued to speak. "You misunderstand me, Will. I need you to surrender to your body. You're trying too hard. You can't do everything at once. I know you're in pain, God, Will, I know it," and here Buffy's voice shivered like glass, and the shards of it went straight into Willow's memory. Buffy swiftly regained her composure and continued, "You need to just feel, okay? Just acknowledge it, let it flood you, say that you know it hurts. Just a little surrender. Trust me."
"I trust you," Willow said automatically, the idea nebulous and terrifying.
She knew she had to stand up first. Buffy hid her face even deeper and whispered something while her blood was roaring, and only later did Willow realize what she had said. Something the Marshal General-Elect never said.
"I'm scared, Will."
Willow had never in her life surrendered to anything that felt this good. It was glorious to have the thought of surrendering to her body to the taste of cherry instead of the taste of blood.
That kiss, that small surrender of moments ago, was only a single drop of lusciousness, and now she was experiencing a deluge.
Her walls were down; her surrender continued.
Tara seemed to have an endearing fascination with wrists. The djinn's eyes had nearly popped from her skull as she writhed and smoked on Willow's thigh, as Willow paid exquisite attention to her wrists. A being of fire and lava, a genie with a collar, six thousand years old and she wanted only Willow.
At one point in her life, all Willow wanted was to be a Lieutenant, and it seemed forever out of her reach. She could never be fast enough, strong enough, brave enough. But even deeper was the unconscious truth of what she really wanted, and what she needed more than air or water; she needed an ocean of love, more than a whirlwind, more than a spark fanned brightly to a flame that would die all too soon.
All she wanted was to love, and be loved.
All she wanted was this.
She was in the muffled privacy of Tara's bedchamber, and above her head was the scream-catcher with twisted doe-skin. Her mind shut away the thought of its first purpose, and wondered if there were other ways she could make Tara scream this night.
Willow was almost surprised at her hunger for Tara. It seemed an insatiable beast, and licked at her insides the way starvation had during her Lieutenant's Trial. Could she possibly feast enough on her new lover to appease this beast?
She rather thought not.
She was also pleasantly surprised to discover that she felt no more fear, no apprehension. Her sexual encounters had been few and far between throughout the years; no one had filled her the way she craved. She hadn't been looking for love where she had found it in Tara, but at least she had learned never to waste time on regrets. Not when only the now mattered.
Bury the past.
Tara's immortal skin was covered in a light sheen of fairydust; streetlight spilling through the mundane curtains was transformed into a thing of beauty. She was draped over her on the bed and her weight was comforting, and her skin was hot, and Willow could have cried aloud for the joy of it. Tara's breasts, firm against her own. Tara's leg between her thigh.
And Tara's hand upon her wrist, guiding her down to the secret place.
Her lover swallowed rather heavily as Willow's hand brushed against her mound. As Willow's fingers slid through the moist folds, she realized that this was Tara's molten core, the center of her heated being, and she could bring her to an eruption.
Willow was still operating more on exploration and discovery than anything else. She grew entranced with the flicker in Tara's eyes as she moved her fingers along those silken folds, pressing slightly inward before pulling outward again, circling and teasing the hardened nub. This exploration got a little more difficult to maintain as Tara began to kiss her way down to Willow's breast.
When Tara enfolded her nipple in her mouth, Willow's fingers involuntarily jerked, and Tara's entire body shivered. Wrapping her free hand in Tara's hair, keeping her lover's pressure on her breast, Willow resumed stroking, her own shivers and finger spasms translating to a wave of delight for her lover.
Tara shifted to the other breast, giving Willow enough purchase to slide two fingers inside her; Tara had barely encircled her nipple with her firm lips when had to lift her head to gasp and growl.
Willow was entranced with the response, so she began to slowly and firmly pump her two fingers. In the silvery darkness, her body throbbing with need and blood, Willow sensed that something inside Tara was changing. She knew full well what it was. It was the same precipice that came closer and closer for herself, a place so rarely discovered with her male partners.
"I'm not going anywhere without you," Tara growled, and snuck her hand between their bodies. She gently dislodged Willow's slick fingers, and then her far vaster experience came into play; she slid her fingers along Willow's fold and held them there, then began rocking, her juices warm over Willow's thigh, their cores melded together and connected by her strong fingers.
"Come with me, my Willow," Tara whispered.
Willow barely needed an invitation; she could already feel the pressure building, the nerves firing, her loins weeping with joy and desire, and over her, around her, within her was Tara, who desired only her.
Willow's hands were hard against Tara's lower back, holding her there, trying to add even more depth to the event that was coming, the eruption that would consume them both, her toes curling and her body writhing and her breathing short and harried and upon it all, within every moment, spun into every heartbeat, whispering along the racing waves of blood was the sense of her soul's healing and completion, for this woman, this djinn, this Tara desired only her.
No one has ever wanted me.
Tara's lips, crushing against her own, and Willow opened her mouth for Tara to come in. Her tongue, sliding inside her cheek as her fingers ground even deeper at Willow's core.
(I need you to surrender to your body.
Just a little surrender.)
Willow let her walls down, and the remarkably intuitive djinn immediately noticed. She smiled as she kissed Willow, and as the last of Willow's tension dissolved her body exploded; her thighs clenched again and again, trapping Tara's hand. Her legs spasmed, and from her lips issued some sort of sound, caught neatly within Tara's mouth.
One moment of reality-bending bliss, and then Tara came as well, bucking against her trapped hand, her head snapping back and her spine curling underneath Willow's hands.
Then aching and wet stillness, and Tara's body curling deeper into her, and the most amazing orgasm notwithstanding, it was this moment that Willow treasured, when Tara laid her head upon Willow's breast, tucked her hands and feet tight and close and then breathed those rocking and tempestuous breaths.
Again Willow was struck by differences; she had always been the submissive one. Having Tara curled on top of her meant another emotion was rocketed to the front of her body: protection.
She didn't realize that she was the one Tara needed protecting from. That knowledge would come later, at the blood price of a gazelle.
The taste of her would not last long enough. Already Willow wanted more of her, wanted to touch her and taste her and memorize the smooth planes of her skin.
It seemed Tara already had the same idea; she lifted Willow's hand to caress her wrist, and once again she licked it, and puffed a soft and sensuous breath upon it, and Willow nearly came again. She grit her teeth to prolong the sensations, and Tara, the vixen, was now licking her way up Willow's arm.
By the time Tara had suckled on her forearm, Willow's higher brain function had completely surrendered to the passion that expanded within her like an atom bomb. She almost roughly brought Tara back up to her again, kissing her near savagely.
And tasted the nearly dried ruins of the dreamberry on Tara's lips, the fruit she was not allowed to partake.
Willow immediately pulled away, and saw surprise and fear flickering in Tara's widened eyes. "No time to explain," Willow breathed. "Whatever happens, I'm all right, okay? Trust me. I'm all..."