Return to The Artifact Chapter Three

The Artifact

Author: sabina
Rating: NC-17
Disclaimer: The Buffy the Vampire Slayer series and its characters are the property of Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy. The Tomb Raider videogame is the property of Eidos Interactive and Core Design. This fic is not meant to infringe any copyrights.

"No, I can't move the bowl or its supporter! I think I'm going back to you, since there's nothing here."

"Ok. Come on back, then," she said relieved. The redhead was becoming restless, wanting Tara to be near her.

Tara thought about the situation for a couple of minutes, then thoroughly searched the walls, the floor, and the bowl. She knew they couldn't afford to be going there and back repeatedly. She'd worn a path, she might as well make it worth the effort. On the other side, Willow was pacing back and forth. She knew the blonde was doing the right thing, but it was taking too much time as far as Willow's nerves were concerned.

She wanted to sit down with Tara and just feel her near for a while, maybe hold her hand. Come back Tara. I know I'm being paranoid but I don't want you to be away from me. When she saw Tara finish her search and begin to walk towards the wood pieces, Willow sighed with relief. But then she realized that Tara was coming back the same way she had gone, so as not to use another course. When the panels began to fall one after another under Tara's running feet, Willow held her breath, only letting it go when the blonde made it safely across the room.

"Are you ok?" Willow asked concerned.

"Yeah. I'm fine. I'm just feeling frustrated. There's no clue whatsoever on that other side about how to open this door. Damn. It looks like we're sort of stuck."

"Hmm. Maybe we could try pushing the lever in the other room. Maybe pushing it has two consequences - freeing the rolling stone, and opening the door. We spent a lot of time on the floor back there, so maybe the door only opens for little time and then closes again... and that's why we missed it," the redhead said hopefully, but not really convinced. She was a veteran in dealing with these trap things, and she knew that all things had their purpose in these crypts. That bowl was no exception. They were missing something, and she didn't truly believe that the other handle was the answer.

"That's an idea, and if nothing else maybe another stone'll come rolling down and we can see what happens to it. It's nagging at me that there's no sign of the first one. It has to have come crashing down here somewhere."

Apparently I'm not the only one who knows about temple tricks. She doesn't believe in my lever solution any more than I do. But she's right about the rock thing. I'd completely forgotten about it... with the whole being on the floor laughing until my belly hurt... and then spending the next half hour sitting there... next to her... I could even smell her perfume... feel her heat... mmm. Hey! Focus!

Willow blushed slightly, but Tara didn't notice.

"You're right. I'd completely forgotten about the rock. Maybe it plays an important role in all of this." Ah, who am I kidding? This rock thing... it's just curiosity. Its purpose is to crush the other door, and that's all it's supposed to do.

"Well, maybe." Tara said trying to be supportive.

"Ok, then. You stay here, away from the door, and I'm going to the other room to push the handle. I'd probably have time to come back here before it reached me, but I think I prefer to jump over it. That way I can be certain it's not going to hit me in the back."

"Be careful, Willow." I know you've done this kind of thing hundreds of times and you did it again just this morning, but still I don't like the idea of you being in danger.

She worries about me. Wow. Willow smiled brightly. "I will. Now, you watch the stone. I'll be right back."

The redhead pushed the lever and heard the familiar sound of rolling thunder. She got herself ready to jump and waited, and as the stone came rolling down, she jumped over it easily. She went back to the other room and saw Tara wide-eyed looking at the wooden panels. There was no trace of the stone, and just as she'd thought, the other door was still closed.

"Tara, what happened to the stone?"

"It crushed the first two wooden panels and then fell toward the spikes," she said in a shocked whisper.

"Huh?!" Willow looked to the panels. They were unharmed and undisturbed. "How?"

"I don't really know. A mist formed where the panels were and then it got solid in a matter of seconds." Tara was astonished and worried. This thing they were trying to overcome was more powerful than she'd thought.

"Oh man! I hate when there are mystic forces at play when I'm on a quest! It usually leads to undeadly-dead mummy attacks, heavily-armed, insane statues coming to life, assaults by creepy-crawly slimy objects that don't appreciate the essential nature of my head's attachment to my body... that sort of thing. Quite unpleasant. But hey, they usually die by gunshots... some taking more than others. And when they don't, almost none of them can resist the almighty shotgun. Anything else we come up against we can probably outrun. Stone statues are really heavy and typically slow...and mummies trip on themselves a lot, must be all the loose ends..." Willow was out of breath, but she was rewarded when she saw Tara smile and start to giggle.

Oh, that's better. That makes me making a babbling fool out of myself worthwhile. When she looks sad, I feel as if someone extinguished the sun. Willow smiled.

She is just so cute. Even if we die here, I swear I don't regret coming to this place. It doesn't matter, because she's with me. Oh my god, I think I'm in love... I can't be in love, can I? I've just met her. Tara was still trying to sort her feelings out when Willow interrupted her.

"Now what? Do you have any ideas?"

"None. We probably should just sit down and try to think."

"Yeah. I guess you're right. Thinking's good. Usually".

The blonde sat on the floor facing the door. Willow felt the urge to go to her but she fought it, and instead began pacing back and forth. Of all the times to meet the woman of my dreams, it had to be now? Trapped inside a goddamn temple and what the hell am I thinking? I don't believe in dreams coming true, I don't believe in love, and I certainly don't believe in love at first sight. This is just a fleeting infatuation. It began today, it'll be over by tomorrow. Willow stopped and faced the wall, not really seeing it. I should have backed away and run like the wind the moment I laid eyes on her. Just the way my heart started hammering in my chest should have been warning enough. But I stayed, and now I don't even care if I die in this room... because I don't feel alone anymore. I'm with her, and that's the only place I ever want to be.

The redhead put her hands on the wall in front of her, hanging her head low. She hadn't been happy before while on her own, but that arrangement felt safe, and now her heart was blindly giving itself to the blonde sitting across the way. Willow's heart hadn't bothered to ask the rest of her - mind or body - for permission. So ok, I think my body's more than happy with my heart's choice. The way it warms itself up when she looks at me with those big blue eyes is proof enough of that. But what about my mind? I don't want to fall in love. I don't want to open myself to all kinds of heartbreak and pain. I'll fight it! Willow smacked the wall with her palm and felt something under her opened hand.

Meanwhile, Tara was using this break to think a little about her own feelings. Everything was happening at lightning speed and she needed to think a little about it. So I'm attracted to her. Not much of a surprise there; I'm gay, she's gorgeous. Duh... why wouldn't I be attracted to her? Ok, maybe at least in my mind I should be truthful. I'm not only attracted to her, I care for her. I want to bear her burdens for her, my arms yearn to be the ones that hold her safe at night, and I want my voice to be the one that soothes her after a nightmare. I'm in love with her, I truly am. Tara's face lit up with that last thought.

Then she started panicking. What if she doesn't like me... or worse, what if she doesn't even like girls? She probably doesn't, otherwise, why would she be over there staring at the wall instead of here with me? And even if she is gay, she's a knock-out and I'm not much to look at. Dad and Donnie always made sure I wouldn't forget that. Fortunately Willow's voice interrupted her before she could continue putting herself down.

"Tara, I think I found something. Could you come here and take a look?" The blonde was rapidly back on her feet and approaching Willow.

"What is it?"

"Look right here." Using her index finger, the redhead pointed to a spot on the wall.

"I can't see a thing." Tara was a little puzzled. Even if she's beginning hallucinate, she's still adorable. Apparently Tara's affection was making itself noticed in every way possible, maybe to take revenge of the blonde's initial denial of its existence.

"Now try putting your hand on that spot and rubbing it a little." Willow's expression was hopeful.

Tara did as she was told, and she noticed something engraved in the stone. It was superficial, so it wouldn't be noticed by only looking at the wall, its roughness masking the inscriptions. A hand had to be pressed against it in order to detect its existence.

The blonde's mouth began to form a smile - one that Willow had not seen before, but in the future she would recognize it to be Tara's trademark lopsided grin. Willow thought it was absolutely gorgeous. Like that's a surprise. You think everything about her's gorgeous. Her conscience seemed to be mocking her.

"I think something's written here," the blonde said happily.

"It might not have anything to do with the way out of here, but since it's hidden, it's got to be important somehow." Willow was trying not to be too happy about this... it could turn out to be nothing.

"Willow, please search the rest of the wall to see if this is the only thing imprinted. I'm going to start writing it on paper so it'll be easier to read." Tara was already searching for paper and a pencil in her backpack.

"Hmm..." The redhead looked disappointed all of a sudden.

"What's the matter?" Tara asked concerned.

Willow was fidgeting with her hands. "Well, I can't read hieroglyphs, and that's what the markings seem to be. Give me Sumerian, ancient Greek, or Latin, and I'm your girl... but not hieroglyphs."

Tara felt relieved. She didn't like to see Willow worrying, and this was a concern she could easily put to rest. "Yeah, I think it is hieroglyphs. But don't worry, I can read them."

"You can? Wow." Her green eyes were filled with admiration and maybe something more, but Tara didn't dare to hope for the "more" part. As it was, that green gaze was already warming her up from the inside out. The blonde shook herself out of her self-induced Willowdream, and concentrated on drawing the forms her fingers were feeling.

Willow watched the blonde for a little longer, then walked away to begin methodically searching every inch of the wall. They were both progressing make sure they weren't missing anything, but also because every now and then, one would stop and stare at the other and completely lose focus.

Willow had already searched the same area three times, not because there was anything wrong with it, but because she kept catching glimpses of blonde hair and a blue shirt, and all else was forgotten. Tara wasn't doing much better. Willow's movements, as she felt along the wall, were showing her assets off nicely and the blonde was starting to feel quite hot and bothered...her hands tingling and aching to feel Willow. So it wasn't terribly hard to understand why they ended up taking twice the time to finish their respective tasks than they would have if they'd been able to concentrate.

When they finally finished their tasks, the light entering the crypt had become dim, signaling the end of the day.

"Tara, whatever you find out with your translation, I think we should sleep here tonight. At least we know there's no danger here. We don't know if the same is true behind that door."

The blonde thought for a moment about it. They hadn't really made that much progress, but she didn't know if they'd really lost any time because the whole "right timing" thing was just too vague in the book. And Willow did have a point - it was dangerous to be wandering around in the dark.

Willow saw the different expressions that crossed Tara's face, and she waited for the blonde to give her opinion. "You're right. It's better for us to stay here tonight".

They made their preparations for the evening, both taking sleeping bags from their backpacks and unfolding them next to each other on the floor of the crypt.

They sat on the bags and leaned against the wall. Tara was trying to translate the hieroglyphs, but clearly something wasn't right as she had a worried wrinkle on her forehead.

The redhead was chewing her protein ball of the night and watching Tara work. When she couldn't hold her curiosity anymore, she asked, "So, what does it say? You look worried."

"Well, I've translated it and it doesn't make much sense."

"What does it say?" Willow asked again. She was good with riddles and if that was the problem, maybe she could help. Tara started blushing, which only served to make the redhead even more curious... but she wasn't about to ask again.

"W-Well..." the blonde cursed that stupid stutter. Just because your mind seems to be in the gutter, doesn't mean that hers is, too. So quit being nervous and just tell her for god's sake.

She tried again. "Well, it says something like this: Only two hearts beating as one can open doors, only two bodies as one can cross a field of spikes, and only the fire in their hearts can light an undying flame."

Willow blushed bright red, her face matching her hair perfectly, as one of those phrases replayed itself over and over in her head. "Two bodies as one." Does that mean what I think it means? Willow gasped as images of Tara and herself naked, making love - hot, sweaty bodies moving against each other faster and faster - entered her mind. She shook her head, trying to regain some control. That blonde-haired goddess affected her too much. She could feel her body awakening, aching for Tara's, and that just wouldn't do. She had to be focused.

Tara had to repress a smile while watching the redhead's expression. Well, well... it looks like I'm not the only one who misunderstood that phrase.

"I've been thinking about it..." And what delicious thoughts those were. Get a grip Tara! "...and I think that it's indeed the solution to our problem. We'll have to be as one to cross the spikes field." She watched delightedly as Willow's blush deepened further.

I wish I could see what she's seeing. Maybe we could make it come true right here and now. Oh stop it! She's probably just embarrassed. I don't think it's too likely that this flame-haired, gorgeous woman is having lusty thoughts about me. She can have anyone she wants, so why would she want me? Tara's depreciative thoughts about herself sobered up her tone of voice, and all traces of her previous amusement had disappeared.

"So, to be 'as one,' I guess one of us has to carry the other one. Only one pair of feet touches those panels. Then over there... I'm betting that if we try to light the bowl together, it'll burn, and that's probably the way to open the door."

As she heard the blonde's interpretation of the phrases they'd found, the redhead felt the temperature start to drop.

After a while Willow was calm enough to try to speak, trusting her voice to be able to hold itself. "Yeah, I think that's a good plan, and it sure fits the requirements of what was imprinted in the wall." As she said 'fit the requirements,' she blushed and felt the temperature rise again. There is just no stopping you, is there, body of mine? she chastised herself.

"So we probably should try to sleep now. Since we didn't move much today, we'll probably need to go faster tomorrow." "Well, we don't know if we've fallen behind, but you're right, we should make the most of tomorrow," agreed the redhead.

They finished prepping for their night's rest. Willow's guns were close enough to pick up quickly if any danger would arise. Their backpacks served as pillows.

Willow looked around for a second before entering her sleeping bag. She left it unzipped - you never know when you might need to get up in a hurry. It wasn't comfortable to sleep fully clothed with her boots on, but she was used to it. She watched Tara doing exactly the same thing, then settled in for the night.

"Good night, Tara."

"Sleep tight, Willow."

It was completely dark, too early for the moon to cast its light through the entries on the ceiling. The temperature seemed to have dropped several degrees. In fact, it was freezing.

Oh man. I'm chilled to the bone. Stupid temple and its traps: "If you can't smash them to bits, or spike them to shreds, go on ahead and freeze 'em to death." And as if that's not enough to keep me up all night, I can hear every single movement Tara makes. Damn lucky sleeping bag. I want to be the one who's wrapped around her. But I can't, I won't give in! I'm keeping my distance and I'm wearing my resolve face so that I don't forget that I won't give in. Willow sighed profoundly and tried to forget she was cold... and that there was a blonde angel... so warm and oh so tempting... sleeping so near to her.

It's so cold. I don't remember being this cold before we lay down. Maybe I could suggest to Willow that we share the same sleeping bag. That way we could put the other one on top of us... sort of like an extra blanket. Of course, we'd have to be snuggled tight together to fit in this small space but that would only help to keep us warm. Who am I kidding? I just want to feel her pressed against me... me in her arms or her in mine... it doesn't matter. Tara decided to voice that last thought, although the reasons she was planning to use weren't exactly the true ones.

Continue to The Artifact Chapter Five

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