Return to The Artifact Chapter Four

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.

"Willow, are you awake?" For a second she thought about the uselessness of that question. Right, because if you weren't awake, you certainly would be after I called you.


"I'm really cold, and I was thinking that maybe we could share our sleeping bags. That way we could use the spare one to put on top of the other one, and we could warm each other up." Tara thanked the darkness, because she could feel herself blushing... just thinking of the many ways she could warm Willow up. Suddenly she didn't feel so cold anymore.

Oh my god. She wants us to sleep together. So ok, it's actually sleeping, but it's still more than I've ever done with anyone. I promised I wouldn't give in. I won't let myself be conquered without putting up a fight. I've only met her today, and already she affects me in ways that no one else ever has. If I do let myself fall and she doesn't catch me, I don't think I'll ever be able to stand'll destroy me. But it really is cold, and this is something I could do even if I hated her. And what a ridiculous thought that is. I know I could never hate her. Focus! Ok, so we need each other. I mean, not dying of hypothermia is a pretty vital component to our getting out of here with the Star.

Willow was silent for a long moment, pondering the pros and cons of Tara's suggestion. As time went by and Willow didn't say anything, the blonde began to worry that she'd gone too far in voicing her idea.

Maybe she doesn't like me and thinks the idea of sleeping next to me is disgusting. Maybe I've scared her away. The only woman I've ever loved, and now she probably can't even look at my face. The blonde's thoughts were going down a truly dark path when the redhead spoke quietly.

"Ok, I'll go to your sleeping bag and we can put mine on top of yours."

I'm a dork... an idiot... a... huh?? What?! She said yes? She said yes! Wow. "O-Ok." Tara again cursed her stutter.

"I can't see where you are, and I don't want to be disoriented and fall to the spikes, so I'll just crawl a little to my left and I should find you." Willow was starting to move as she spoke. Tara heard the little rubbing noise of the sleeping bag being tossed aside.

Why did she have to say she'd be crawling? Now I have all these mental images of Willow on her hands and knees... approaching me... coming to get me. Stop it! If you don't stop these thoughts, once she gets past traveling to the sleeping bag and gets to the part where she actually joins you, there's no way you'll manage to sleep with her without doing more than just "sleeping".

That's when she felt Willow's hand on her breast... touching... feeling her way. The redhead quickly realized where her hand ended up and withdrew it hastily. Tara's nipple was already hardened and tender due to the low temperature, and she gasped before she could control herself. Having all those thoughts about Willow and then feeling the redhead's hand on her breast was too much for Tara to bear silently. Her four senses had heightened because of the lack of vision, making that simple touch much more powerful.

"I'm so sorry! I can't see a thing and I didn't mean to do that. It's just that, well, it's dark, and I said that already, didn't I? And you're in the way, well of course you're in my way... that's the whole point..."

Tara decided to stop Willow's babbling before it got out of hand. She was afraid to hear something that she didn't want to hear like, "I wouldn't ever touch a girl's breast on purpose. I don't like girls in 'that' way."

"Willow, it's ok. Don't worry about it. Just put the bag on top of me, then I'll lift both bags so you can slide in here next to me."

It's ok? Does that mean I could touch you again? Maybe longer, and with fewer things in the way? I thought we'd agreed that you wouldn't let go without putting up a fight! I have to tell you both, 'Heart' and 'Body' o'mine... you're cheating! That's not even close to fighting it! Oh god, now I'm separating my mind from my heart and body, and I'm talking to them as if they're people! I'm simply going mad. I'm going to get locked up if I ever manage to make out of here alive.

"Willow, is something wrong?" Tara asked, concerned after the redhead had been still for a minute. She still didn't answer. Please don't tell me you've changed your mind, please don't tell me you've changed your mind. Being here with the covers lifted, I've gotten really cold again. I need to feel you wrapped in my arms so that I can heat up again. I beg you, please come here. "Willow?" Through her pleading tone, Tara tried to convey her need for Willow to join her under the covers.

The redhead resumed her movements and extended her open sleeping bag over Tara's body. Then she sat next to where Tara was laying, leaned back, and slid easily to the blonde's arms. "Sorry, I was just thinking about something and I froze for a second. Well, that's true in more ways than one," Willow joked. Tara only made a sound of acknowledgment, "Mmm-hmm," and pulled Willow deeply into her arms, pressing tightly against the redhead's back. Willow was caught off-guard and took in a sharp gasp of air as she felt Tara's breasts press against her back. The blonde's nipples hardened and rubbed against Willow's shoulder blades as Tara once again moved even closer, burying her head in Willow's neck and hair. By then, almost every single part of the blonde's body was touching Willow's.

If someone had asked Willow before today how she'd feel about being snuggled like this by a near stranger - a woman no less - she'd have undoubtedly laughed and answered, "She'd be dead before she even touched me." But here and now, with Tara nestled against her back, with her right arm holding her tight around the waist, and feeling her hot breath against her neck, Willow felt as if this was where she'd always been meant to be. She felt warm and cozy, and she wondered briefly how she'd ever managed to go to sleep before, without this amazing woman holding her. Willow then pressed softly back and covered Tara's arm, which was draped around the redhead's waist, with her own.

Willow let out a satisfied sigh, and let herself fall into a peaceful and sweet slumber.

Tara was feeling happier and more contented than she'd ever felt before in her life. She didn't know what had possessed her to be so bold as to pull Willow closer and then cradle her completely, even going so far as to bury her face in Willow's neck... but she was glad that she'd been brave enough to do it. The redhead hadn't pulled away, and had actually tried to push closer. Not that 'closer' was really possible. There wasn't even a molecule of air between us when she pressed herself to me, the blonde mused.

This feels so right. I've never felt like this. Yes, I'm extremely attracted to her. Goddess, I'd love to make love to her... to hear her scream my name at the top of her lungs as she comes so hard that it's the only thing she can remember. And I want her to take me too, over and over again until we pass out in each other's arms from the absolute, overwhelming pleasure of it. And then I want to wake up and do it all again.

But I feel so much more than that. I want her to be happy, even if it means hurting myself. I want her to be free, even if it means that I'll never have her. I want her to be protected, even if it means I'll have to give my life for it. And right now I feel more content and fulfilled just laying here with her than I've ever felt before. So I think... now it's official; I'm in love!

Tara smiled and sighed contentedly. She marveled briefly at the fact that she was feeling so warm and cozy when she'd been freezing cold just moments before, and then conscious thought abandoned her as she peacefully fell fast asleep.

They slept soundly all night. It's possible that not even a second giant rolling stone aimed directly at them could have awakened them. Well, at least not before it hit them.

In the morning, the blonde was the first one to get back from her visit to dreamland. When she opened her eyes, she was greeted by the sight of Willow's face so close to her that they were breathing the same air. With the majority of her brain still caught in the sleep's haze and only her instincts ruling her, Tara smiled widely and was just about to lean in a little to wake Willow up with a kiss. But then the rest of her brain started functioning properly.

What am I doing?! I can't kiss her, not like this. And how did we end up like this?

Only then did she fully realize their exact positions. And she started to panic.

Somehow in the middle of the night Willow had turned around, so now they were facing each other. But instead of creating space between them, her shift had brought them closer. They were completely tangled. Each of them was embracing the other tightly around the waist, their breasts pressing together, and their legs entwined from the knees down.

Oh man, oh man. This is downright intimate! Our bodies seem to recognize one another like old lovers, molding themselves against the other, adjusting to all the shifts in position. What if she doesn't want me and thinks I was taking advantage of her in her sleep?

Just then Willow moved a little and mumbled something in her sleep. Tara couldn't say what it was, since she'd completely lost the ability to focus on anything other than the small but delicious friction of breast-on-breast, provoked by Willow's little movement. Her nipples hardening immediately.

Nice! What if she notices this? Well, considering the way we're snuggled she can't help but notice. At least yesterday I had the cold as an excuse. I can't take this. I have to make a little room between us, otherwise I think I'll go insane.

As the blonde started to extricate herself from Willow, the redhead groaned unhappily and pulled Tara back to her, burying her head in Tara's neck. The blonde had been caught by surprise when the redhead moved, and she ended up with both her arms around Willow's even closer to the redhead. To make Tara's sweet torture almost unbearable, the redhead seemed to be talking in her sleep...her lips soft and moist while brushing against the blonde's neck.

Oh god. I don't know how much I can take before I kiss her senseless. Tara begin to feel Willow stir, and she noticed that the whispered words against her neck had stopped. The blonde had mixed feelings about this. On one hand, she was starting to get too turned on for her own good, but on the other hand, Willow waking meant that she would pull away soon.

The first things Willow felt when she woke up were the strong arms draped around her neck, keeping her safe. Then she felt Tara's pulse under her lips. And just after that, the awareness of where the rest of her body was pressed came rushing to her head in chaotic waves, making her dizzy. A thigh between her thighs, breasts against breasts, her own hand on the blonde's back pressing her closer. She felt lusty; a primal need to have Tara was arising from deep within her.

She willed herself to be quiet and still, to try to calm down. After a few moments she decided that the best course of action was to pull away, since there was no way she was going to cool down being so close to Tara. So she lifted her left hand from the blonde's back, and extricated herself slowly from their tight embrace. She tried to keep the awkwardness at a minimum by not moving too far, just enough to put her weight on her right elbow and look at Tara properly.

Wow. She's so beautiful. Tara's ponytail had survived perfectly the night - not even a hair was out of place. In the redhead's still blurred vision, it seemed as if a halo was surrounding Tara's head. She's an angel. Maybe I died and went to heaven. Well, that can't be right... I'd never make my version of heaven include protein balls for breakfast, lunch and dinner. If, however, I was sitting here eating a delicious salmon, I really would have cause to worry. Finally, Willow's gaze found two deep pools of blue, and she was lost.

Her eyes are the most exquisite blue I've ever seen. I could write a thousand poems about all the shades they have. Summer blue, stormy sea, sapphire... I could go on and on until the end of time and still I wouldn't say it all. Willow realized that she couldn't stare much longer into Tara's eyes before leaning in to kiss her, and if she kissed her now, there was no way they could just kiss. She saw it deep in Tara's darkened eyes, a raw hunger that matched her own. Oh yeah, if our lips even slightly touch each other's, there's no stopping us... and I'm not quite ready to go there. I'm just starting to accept this whole thing.

The redhead decided to break the silence. "So how did you sleep? Were you cold? Because I kind of fell asleep about two minutes after slipping into..." your arms, Willow thought. "...your sleeping bag. And I was feeling warm, so I thought that you probably were comfortable too, but I forgot to ask, because... well I fell asleep, and I already said that, didn't I?"

The redhead's voice brought Tara slowly out of the lusty fog she'd been lost in. When she heard the rambling redhead, a smile made it's way onto her lips. This was the best wake up call she'd ever had - Willowbabble. Only a few seconds later did the meaning of what Willow was saying register in her brain. It was, after all, still recovering from its Willow-induced trance, and it took a moment before she was able to reply.

"Oh yeah, I was really warm and cozy." Warm?! Talk about understatements! Goddess! It felt like a volcano erupted in my heart and sent its lava flow through my veins with each beat. I was burning all over.

"Good, good. Tara there is one thing I noticed, a-and I wanted to discuss it with you. Don't you think it's weird that two people are needed to open this room's door? Because, I wasn't originally thinking about coming here with you. I mean, I'm happy that I did, don't get me wrong, but I always worked solo before, and if I'd come alone, I'd have died here. I think there's something more to this temple than what I was told, and that's really buggin' me. I like to know what I'm going to face so I can be prepared."

The blonde was listening to Willow intently. She hadn't really thought about the "why" of it all. She'd just been happy to find evidence that they had to stick together to overcome this. It hadn't really crossed her mind that it was, in fact, rather strange that in the middle of the temple a room suddenly would only open if there were two people working together in it. That was a death sentence to any adventurer who entered alone.

Something's wrong here. These challenges tend to be arduous, but fair. The rules don't just go and change. Then the answer hit her.

"Since the beginning... that's it! We had to be together in order to be accepted."

Willow was deep in her own thoughts and almost missed what the blonde had whispered.


"Willow, think about it. When you arrived at the antechamber of the room, I'd already been there for about ten minutes, and I'd been fussing over the door to try to get it open, but nothing happened. Then you came in and the door just opened without either of us doing anything. We had to be two people... together... from the beginning, otherwise we wouldn't have been able to get in!"

"Oh man." Willow's face lost a little of its color. They sat in silence for a few moments, thinking about the implications of what they'd discovered.

The redhead was the first to speak. "Do you think we were hired by the same person? That we were set up to meet here? I bet we were! He seemed to know everything there was to know about this. So, why? I guess that's the next question."

Tara let out a little chuckle over Willow's run-on thoughts. "I think there could be many reasons. Both of us are known for always working alone. Maybe he wanted the best in the world and knew that if he told us we had to work together, we'd refuse."

Actually, I don't think I would have refused. I was too curious to meet you. Just hearing your name sent shivers down my spine. It makes sense now... I think we were destined to meet, Tara thought.

I don't know if I'd have been brave enough to accept working with you. You affected me too much without me even knowing you. The mere sound of your name would send me to daydreamland. And I've always run away from anyone who's managed to pass through my defenses. Maybe I'd have been a coward and hid behind my "I work alone" profile in order to avoid you, the redhead considered.

"That's a possible explanation, Tara. But I think we should keep our guard up. I still feel like there's something more going on, and it can't hurt us to be prepared."

"Yeah, I think you're right. I'll keep my eyes open."

They dropped the subject, both of them feeling too happy about being with each other to be thinking about deception and betrayal. Those concepts were so far from their hearts at the moment, that it was almost inconceivable to them that such things existed in the world at all.

They both shifted position and were now lying on their backs, staring at the ceiling. Their hands had somehow found the way to each other and were now entwined and resting between their bodies. A peaceful silence filled the room. Each girl was letting herself draw strength from the other for what was to come.

"Tara?" Willow asked, still looking up.

"Yes?" the blonde moved her head so she was looking at Willow. As the redhead next spoke, Tara was greeted once again with the sight of the most amazing emerald eyes, as Willow had moved to lock onto her gaze.

"Why don't you carry any guns?"

The blonde's body stiffened.

Willow immediately regretted her question. She could feel Tara's hand tense in her own, but more than that, it was the startled look in the usually calm blue eyes that told her she'd just asked the wrong question.

"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have asked that. I was just curious. I've met lots of tomb raiders and all of them carry guns big guns, actually. So when I first saw you, I was surprised to see that apparently you don't carry any guns at all. But hey, that's ok! So you don't like guns. Maybe you had a bad shooting experience. I don't like horses because I had a really bad pony incident during a birthday party. Uhm, so maybe you're the same with guns..." In her attempt to ease Tara's discomfort, the redhead probably would have continued her verbal back-pedaling until she passed out due to lack of oxygen, but the blonde's soft chuckles stopped her.

That sound relaxed Willow completely. The blonde was happy again, so everything was well in the world. "You're just too cute when you do that." Tara said, before she could stop herself.

Cute? She thinks I'm cute? Why would this blonde goddess think I'm cute? Nobody's ever thought of me like that. The redhead's eyes widened.

The blonde could see the astonished look swimming deep inside pools of green. Oh my god... she looks surprised. She looks so surprised. She's never thought of me like that, and she can't accept that I think of her as cute. God, she's probably straight, and now she's freaked. Tara had completely misunderstood the look in Willow's eyes, and was starting once again to panic. She decided to say something to chase away the silence that was weighing down on her heart, and the first thing that came to her mind was the answer to Willow's earlier question.

"I don't like violence," the blonde said quickly.

"Huh?" Willow was still kind of distracted.

Tara breathed deeply to steady herself for what she was about to reveal. What kind of powerful magic have you used on me Willow? I've never said any of this to anyone before. I was always so strong, carried my past deep inside myself so no one could see my unhappiness, and now... Now I want to bare my heart and soul, and trust you to take my pain away and keep me safe. Here next to you I don't feel like I have to pretend that everything's fine and good.

"My family used to be wealthy. Then, long story short, we lost everything. My father couldn't get a good job and he felt guilty for our misfortune, so he started drinking." Tara shivered slightly as the memories filled her mind.

Willow, completely focused on Tara's story, could see where this was going. "I don't like violence," Willow replayed Tara's comment in her mind, and a realization came to her. Oh my god... that goddamn bastard hit her! The redhead's knuckles were turning white, the result her tightly-clenched fists.

The blonde swallowed hard before resuming her story.

"He used to be a gentle man, but after he began drinking, he lost it completely. One day he came home later than usual and my mother waited up for him. She was worried. He was drunk and took offense to her waiting up for him; he thought she was trying to control him, check up on him or something. So he beat her up. When we heard the noise, my brother and I went down to see what was happening."

Tears started to fall from Tara's eyes, and they forged a wet trail down her cheek. That was too much for Willow to bear without doing something to comfort the blonde. Letting her instincts be her guide, she scooted closer and embraced the blonde tightly. Tara felt the circle of Willow's arms close firmly around her and she clung to the redhead as if her life depended on it, burying her face in the redhead's neck. I feel so warm and safe - as if nothing bad can touch me while she's holding me.

Willow felt Tara's face on her neck and she pulled the blonde even closer. Her left hand began rubbing tiny circles on the blonde's neck, trying to soothe away all the pain she sensed pouring out of Tara.

Tara started talking again. Now that she'd started she had to finish. "When I came downstairs I tried to hold his arm back so he couldn't hurt my mother again, but he picked me up and threw me against the wall, and I was knocked unconscious. When I woke up I was in the hospital, and they told me I had a pretty serious concussion. That was the first of the many accidents recorded in my medical history."

If he ever touches Tara again I'll hunt him down and kill him. Actually, scratch that. Even if he doesn't hurt her ever again, if I ever lay eyes on this guy, he'll wish he was dead. Her green eyes were full of rage, but tinted with compassion for the blonde.

How can anyone hurt Tara? She's gentle, kind, smart, and funny. To know that the person who should have loved her and protected her from the evil in the world... that he, instead, hurt her so much... it makes my blood boil!

Tara continued her story, nearly whispering it against Willow's neck, never letting go.

"While my mother was alive she tried to protect me and my brother from my father, so the beatings stopped for a while. But then she was diagnosed with cancer. We didn't have the money to pay for the treatments, and her health quickly deteriorated. It was a lost cause from the beginning because my mother had already given up. Six months later she was dead." The blonde had managed to hold herself together until then, but when she remembered her mother, her self-control broke and sobs started to shake her body. She couldn't speak, and struggled to catch her breath. Ten years of pain and sorrow long ago buried deep inside were now surfacing.

Willow held her, keeping up the soothing motions with her left hand, and she started whispering little words of comfort. "It wasn't your fault. It's all right now. I've got you and I'll never let anyone hurt you again."

They stayed like that for a long while, Willow continuing to whisper soft, sincere words of consolation.

Tara couldn't understand half the words the redhead was saying, but the calming tone was getting through. She relaxed and the sobs began to slow down. A huge weight seemed to have been lifted from her heart. Since the night after her mother died, Tara had never let herself indulge in crying. It felt good to be able to finally mourn her mother, and also mourn the happy times they shared. She could feel Willow's hand caressing her neck with such a gentle touch, her strong hand surprisingly tender and soft.

How much time has passed since someone touched me like this? How long since I let myself be held and comforted? I thought my heart had turned to cold stone. One look from this green-eyed adventurer and my armor melted like ice under the spring sun. It feels so good to be held by her. I feel safe like I haven't felt in the last ten years. But I have to wipe my tears and get up soon. It's time for us to go.

Willow was happy to be there for Tara. She understood all too well about repressed feelings. Oh no, brain... let's not even get started on my life. As always, she pushed her own painful memories to the back of her mind. She wanted to be what the blonde needed, and she was sure that breaking down was not going to help.

She felt Tara pull away from her arms in order to sit up. The blonde's eyes were red, and her cheeks were still wet from the tears she'd shed, but looking into those blue orbs, Willow could no longer see the overwhelming pain that was there before. She saw something else she couldn't quite understand - or maybe she just wasn't prepared to understand. In a flash, Tara put her defenses back in place, and the redhead was left looking into a calm sea of blue.

So, first I cry my eyes out on her shoulder, and now I'm sitting here looking like a love-struck idiot. She was just being friendly, Tara. You saw how she reacted when you said she was cute... let's not make more of it than it was.

"Thank you," the blonde said.

"There's no need to thank me. You needed me and I'm happy I could do something to help." Then Willow dropped her head and said in a whisper, "I'm so sorry about your father, Tara. A-and I'm sorry about bringing this up with that stupid question about guns."

The blonde spoke softly, trying to ease Willow's discomfort. "Well, first, it wasn't a stupid question. Secondly, it's not your fault that my father was always drunk and beat us up. And lastly, it felt good to let go. I've never cried before about my family. I never had the chance. I always needed to be strong. This was a good thing... cathartic for me. I'm feeling so much better now."

Willow smiled, and Tara decided to finally answer the question that had started the conversation.

"I don't use guns because I hate violence. I feel closer to being like my father when I do," Tara said sadly, without meeting Willow's eyes. It was only when she heard the redhead's voice that Tara looked at her.

Continue to The Artifact Chapter Six

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