Return to The Artifact Chapter Nine



The Artifact
CHAPTER TEN

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.
Special Note: I had this chapter finished and ready to go, when suddenly I realised that I had to make some minor corrections to it. In the end those minor corrections turned into four and half pages (Yikes) and I wanted to send a special thanks to TKOLove for putting up with my last minute crazy ideas and betaing this over night.


Willow dunked the washcloth in the water and then brought it to Tara's face. She tenderly ran it over her forehead, tracing her eyebrows, her nose, her cheeks, and then finally her lips, effectively wiping the dust that had still covered the smooth skin even after her impromptu dive.

She then picked up the soap and worked up lather between her hands.

Willow began to wash Tara's stunning long arms. When Tara felt the girl's hands on her limbs she almost flinched. She steeled herself for the pain but it never came, as Willow's touch was light as a feather. As she ran her soapy hands over the blonde's sore arms, her touch was, in fact, so tender that Tara felt no discomfort, and she relaxed completely, feeling content and safe.

Willow felt the blonde's body go limp under her hands, and she looked up just in time to see Tara sighing in a satisfied manner before closing her eyes.

A happy smile curved her lips as she took in the sight before her. Her blonde goddess was lying in front of her, giving herself completely over to her care, and trusting her to keep them both safe. In that moment, the redhead felt her heart swell with love. And although Tara was the one lying helpless under her touch, it was the blonde who had control of the situation, as the only thought in Willow's mind was to please Tara.

What Willow was feeling wasn't in any way sexual. Her touches and caresses aimed to soothe and not arouse, to calm and not excite. She would do anything for Tara, and right now the blonde needed peace and rest above all else.

Blonde goddess... I'd love to ignite an inferno deep inside you that would burn us both... to worship you with my touches and caresses, with my lips, my tongue, and my hands... to take you to the pinnacles of rapture again and again. I know you don't want me that way, and I'll never push because... heck, even I think you deserve so much better than me... a babbling fool! But I'll always be here for you. And now all you need is to feel safe and relaxed, so that's what I want to give you.

When Willow thought she'd spent enough time on the arms, she decided to move to the legs. She eyed the blonde's boots for a moment before deciding to remove them. When she untied the first lace, she looked up to gauge Tara's expression, and when she didn't see any sign of displeasure, she kept going.

She even has beautiful feet. And it really amazes you that you find her feet beautiful? You've yet to discover anything about her that doesn't take your breath away.

When she was done taking off both boots, she began massaging Tara's feet and legs... carefully touching her bruised knees, first with her wet hands, then with the soap, and last with the washcloth, until every little molecule of dirt had been removed. The redhead's motions were so soothing that Tara was almost asleep; making little contented noises from time to time in appreciation of the treatment she was receiving.

Willow looked at the relaxed blonde and smiled in satisfaction.

She picked up a small towel from her bag and carefully and unhurriedly dried the blonde's body.

"Tara?"

"Hmm?"

"We're done with the washing part. Since you're almost asleep, I thought I could get you to bed... uhm... Ok, that didn't sound exactly right. I meant take to bed the bandage-making, the massage, and the sleeping. Although of course that would mean you and I getting into bed, too, but that was the sentence that started all this, so we'd better not..."

Tara decided to stop Willow. The way the other girl was completely freaking out over the one sentence that totally summed up Tara's greatest desire... well, it made the blonde feel like she was being stabbed in the stomach.

"It's ok Willow, I got your point," Tara said sadly.

The crestfallen tone in the blonde's voice wasn't lost on Willow.

Oh god. Does that mean she knows I want to get her into bed with me? That I want to sleep with her? Maybe that's the reason for her sad voice. I completely disgust her and she's so tired that her only reaction is to pity me. I guess it probably would be best if I cut the night's activities short and skip the massage... she'll think I'm only trying to get my hands on her, which isn't true. Well, not exactly anyway... of course, running my hands all over her body is a large incentive... but let's not even go there.

Willow was about to give voice to her thoughts and say it was probably best for them to sleep apart, that she'd massaged Tara enough while washing her, and that it'd be best if the blonde went directly to sleep... when Tara spoke.

"Let's move to bed then." This time the blonde's voice was normal, and Willow could even see a hint of a smile tug at the corners of Tara's mouth.

So the amateur masseuse calmed herself down and smiled.

Tara felt slightly lightheaded as she invited Willow to bed. It was for a completely chaste purpose, but she knew that merely sleeping with Willow was more powerful... more profound... than any touch or caress she'd ever received from anyone else.

The blonde stood up slowly, trying not to hurt herself in the process, and moved to the sleeping bag to lie down on top of it. Willow followed close behind. When Tara settled comfortably, the redhead knelt next to the blonde's injured knees and picked up a bandage. She carefully wrapped the wounds in sterile strips of gauze, and then had Tara roll over so she could give the same treatment to her elbows.

"Now, it's massage time. Please roll over." The blonde did as she'd been instructed. Willow swallowed hard as she took their positions in; Tara lying completely vulnerable, her legs slightly apart, waiting for the next touch... and herself kneeling next to the blonde.

Feeling her body temperature skyrocket, Willow moved to get the massage oil... and shook her head, trying to cool down. Man, did somebody turn up the heat in here? I can't get all hot and bothered now. But she's so sexy. Frogs, frogs, frogs... she recited in her head.

Tara just looked at the redhead, while longing clutched at her heart with an iron grip.

How is it possible to want someone this much? She sighed heavily.

In the meantime, Willow retrieved the massage oil, and began to pour a large amount of it into her own hands.

"I'll start with your arms, ok?"

Tara just nodded her approval. Willow could see that the line of her jaw had just tightened, and she knew she was going to cause the blonde pain, but it was necessary.

I can always finish with a relaxing massage on her back to make up for the initial pain. Or even better, a relaxing massage all over her body. Oh yeah, I just want to lay my hands on her. Knock it off!

Willow lifted Tara's left arm with one hand, and closed her other hand over the blonde's shoulder, putting just the right amount of pressure on the muscle. Slowly, she maintained the pressure and ran her closed hand over the length of the blonde's arm, all the way up to her hand.

When Tara felt Willow lift her arm, she had to bite back a scream of pain, but she soon felt the redhead's other hand on her shoulder, and it somehow relaxed her. Willow's hand was hot against the blonde's skin, and Tara could feel her muscles tense and release under the guidance of delicate but strong fingers. It hurt, but it was bearable, and she could feel the pain subsiding after a couple of seconds.

Willow repeated the procedure a few times. When she stopped, Tara could sense that her muscles were sore, but they didn't hurt as before. Now it was only a dull ache, as if she'd overdone it with a few too many pull-ups at the gym.

The redhead patiently got up, walked around Tara, and knelt down next to her other arm. She worked it the same way she'd done the first, and Tara was in a state of complete awe.

Wow, those hands are magic. Her powerful, long fingers kneading my muscles in all the right ways, soothing my pain away... She's like a pianist hitting all the right keys at exactly the right time. Hmm... I wonder how it would feel to have her hands doing their magic in other places... awakening deep, throbbing, wet aches... Oh stop it! First, the Egyptian sexfest, and now this. Stop torturing yourself!

Tara could feel a fire starting to burn in her lower belly, and it was melting her from the inside out. The liquid proof of that blaze was beginning to flow to her panties.

She took a deep breath and tried to relax. She couldn't get all worked up again now. This time Willow would surely notice, and that would be just too embarrassing.

I wonder if she'd freak out. Maybe she'd pity me and tell me that she'll always be my friend... that she cares for me, but just not in 'that' way. She has a big enough heart to do just that; feel genuinely sorry for me.

Tara's newest thoughts cooled her down almost instantaneously.

Willow had just finished massaging the blonde's right arm and was now looking at Tara intently, searching for any sign of pain.

"How are you feeling?"

The woman's gentle voice brought Tara back to reality. As she looked into those sparkling emerald eyes - eyes now filled with concern - she felt her spirits lift.

She attuned her brain to any feelings of pain in her arms, and found next to none. It was amazing.

"I'm... it's... my arms... they hardly feel sore at all. How did you do that?" the blonde asked, still astonished.

"Wouldn't you like to know?" She answered playfully, while winking at the blonde and grinning widely.

"Yes. Yes, in fact, I very much would." The blonde pouted.

Willow had never seen Tara pout, but now that she was witnessing it for the first time, she thought it was delectable.

"So you want me to tell you a story?"

"Willow!?" The blonde protested in a child-like voice.

"Oh, don't worry... I'll tell you what you want to know, but you'll have to turn around and let me give you a massage. You need to rest as much as you can, and well, this is kind of a bedtime story."

Tara readily complied, and turned over to lie on her stomach.

Willow poured a little more oil into her hands and started massaging Tara's feet. With her thumbs she found the desired pressure points and worked to elicit a few heavy sighs of pleasure from her "patient."

The redhead smiled happily, and began her tale with a cheerful voice and a glint in her eyes.

"Once upon a time... in a faraway land, lived a princess and all her fifty-seven maids. She was, as almost all fairy tales princesses, a spoiled brat..."

"Willow! That's not the kind of story I'm looking for." The prone woman's voice was muffled by the backpack she was using as a pillow.

She was feeling too peaceful and too comfortable to move, her previous aroused state now replaced by a contented, relaxed one. She was truly tired, and the sensation of Willow's hands massaging her sore muscles was pure bliss.

Lightly freckled hands had moved from her feet to her leg, and were now actively massaging her leg muscles, pressing and releasing, pushing and pulling.

"All right, then," Willow chuckled.

The redhead's voice lost the mocking undercurrent and grew in softness.

"When I was fifteen years old, I decided I was going to change my life radically. And the first thing I decided to do was practice all kinds of sports. So I tried everything I could think of in the sports genre. Well... almost everything. I never got into the horseback riding thing, because, well, I'm not large with the whole 'giant-horses-with-arm-mauling-teeth' thing."

Tara tried to respond... to inform her storyteller that horses were really gentle animals, but she couldn't muster the required energy. Willowhands were moving in time with her words, and Tara was so relaxed by the combined effect of the redhead's fingers and voice, that all she was managing to do was hang on in that limbo between slumber and an awakened state.

"So, in the middle of my 'sports fever,' I decided to go climbing. One sunny Friday afternoon I packed my things and off I went to the nearest mountains. "

Willow stopped for an instant while she positioned herself to massage Tara's other leg. The blonde was trying to gather enough energy to voice her displeasure at being deprived of Willow's simultaneous touch and voice, when the redhead resumed both activities.

"I had a detailed plan and everything figured out. At night I'd sleep in the camping park, and during the day I'd go walking and climbing. Well, it all went according to the schedule until Saturday morning. I woke up to the sound of water hitting and cascading down the side of my tent... absolutely pouring down. When I peeked through the door to look around my tent, I couldn't see a thing other than that ever-falling curtain of water. I felt like I was camping under a waterfall. Not something I'd highly recommend, by the way."

The redhead stopped her story for a minute while she concentrated on Tara's back. The palms of her hands rubbed in circles, while her fingers squeezed and kneaded, tensed and released rhythmically. When she reached the blonde's neck, her voice rose again, quiet and serious.

Tara fought to keep herself in this side of reality. She wanted to know everything there was to know about the flame-haired beauty, but it was becoming increasingly difficult to remain focused. Willow's fingers kept coaching her muscles to a deep rest, and the redhead's voice lulled her mind, prompting Tara's consciousness to give in and join her body in a deep slumber.

"It was a difficult time in my life. I was so angry at the world, that in the falling rain I saw another shameless plot from fate to frustrate my hopes. As if fate would ever take its time to tinker with my life... hello! That's such a ridiculous thought... it almost makes me laugh out loud now. But I was young and green, so I decided that fate, drops of water, and muddy tracks could all be damned, because I was not going to give up on my plan. Of course that wasn't such a smart idea because... hello again! Oceans were pouring from the sky. So, as soon as I got out of the tent, I got soaked to the bones and couldn't see a thing, but I kept going anyway. Ironically, I never got to the climbing part because about halfway along my route, I tripped on a loose rock and sprained my ankle. Pretty stupid, huh?"

Tara tried to answer - she really did - to say that Willow could never be stupid... that she was the kindest, smartest person that the blonde knew. But she couldn't overcome the delicious laziness that possessed her. She was exhausted. It had been a really hard day.

"So there I was, alone, lying in the mud, soaked to the bones, and with a sprained ankle. I thought I was going to die. I don't know how much time had passed with me crying my eyes out, lying defeated on the ground. But suddenly I saw a man standing just in front of me. He looked like a tramp with his long beard, hair, and torn clothes. And I... well, it's actually kind of embarrassing to tell you this, me being a fearless tomb raider and all. But, hey, I have good excuses... I was alone, I was young, hurt, and I was probably running a fever. I forgot to tell you that part! I was running a temperature from lying in the freezing rain for too long... and heck, that's certainly been known to alter one's behavior!"

The redhead dived headfirst into babble mode, and that caught the blonde's attention, pulling her out of the sleepy haze where she'd been immersed. Although Tara was curious about what happened next that made Willow so nervous to tell, the blonde was finding the girl's anxious babbling too cute, and there was no way she was going to try to stop it. Plus, Willow's hands were still moving on her neck, and Tara wasn't about to do anything that might bring about the end of that ever-pleasant rubbing and squeezing motion.

"So anyway, when I saw him, I... well, I sort of... fainted. It was like someone pressed my 'off' switch. One look at that man and the world went black."

So now she probably thinks I'm pathetic. Why'd I decide to tell her this story, anyway? It makes me look like the geek that I was and fought so hard to overcome! Fainting at the mere sight of a stranger! So ok, I feel more comfortable and safe with her than I've ever felt with anyone in my entire life. But that's no reason for me to tell her every single feeble detail of what took place in my life before I became a well-known, respected tomb raider. Way to seduce the goddess, Rosenberg! Hey, while you're at it, why don't you just tell her how everyone picked on you and mocked you in high school? Tell her how your computer was your best friend, and how you used to sit at home and talk to it, pretending it was a person because no one would actually talk to you... not even your parents. Tell her how pitiful you really were!

Tara thought the fainting detail was endearing, and the fact that Willow had been so nervous to tell her about it brought a smile to her lips.

So Miss Rosenberg, you're not the superhero - cool and collected 24/7 - that you appear to be. You're made of flesh and bone, you bleed and cry, and you can get scared and even faint like everyone else. You're only human, just like the rest of us. And you know what? Your vulnerability only makes me love you more.

Willow shook her head, trying to focus again on the story. Since she'd started it, she could at least finish it, even if that meant Tara would forever look at her with disappointment in her eyes. With one last squeeze on Tara's neck muscles, she removed her hands from the blonde's neck and lay down on her back next to the blonde. Tara slowly moved her head to look at the green eyes she loved so much, but the redhead was gazing at the ceiling, keeping the emerald orbs hidden from the blonde's view.

When Willow spoke again, her voice was strangled and tense. The blonde noticed the difference, and she wanted nothing more than to hug Willow close to her heart and never let go. The woman she loved was hurting, and Tara felt a primal, raw protectiveness emerge from deep inside her, making her arms and chest ache to be closed around the redhead's frame...to be the fortress that protected Willow from every possible threat. But since she had no clue to what was causing the distress, she didn't act on her heart's wishes...for fear of being rejected.

"When I woke up, I was lying in a strange bed, my ankle was bandaged, and I was dry and warm. I got up and hopped to the living room. There, I found the man whom I'd assumed was a tramp, whom I'd assumed was going to attack me, and who had instead saved my life. I talked to him, and he told me that he didn't like people very much, and that he lived alone, isolated in the mountains.

I asked him why he'd helped me, and his answer was, 'I don't usually go out of my way to help people, but as soon as I laid eyes on you, I knew you were special. You are strong, little one.'"

Willow stopped and laughed bitterly, the sound sending unpleasant shivers down Tara's spine. She could see that the redhead was hurting, and it broke her heart.

"It's actually ironic that the only person who saw something special in me was a mountain eremite who had long ago given up on mankind, and had found me in one of my worst moments. I was breaking down, sprawled in the mud in the middle of a raging storm, not exactly a sight for sore eyes, and certainly not fitting the role of 'heroine'... unless we're talking about a romance writer's nineteenth century heroine who spends the whole story sobbing, hurting, and fainting. But that's just plain annoying. I always wondered how anyone could stand to read about a suffering, boring, na´ve, submissive character for hundreds of pages."

Tara could see right through Willow's babbling.

Ah, now I can see where this is coming from. She thinks I think her moment of weakness was shameful. Oh, Willow...

The blonde gave up her fight against the urge to snuggle tight to the redhead. She scooted closer, and when she saw no negative reaction, she moved again. This time she pressed tightly against Willow's side and rested her head on the woman's shoulder. Moving carefully, so as not to hurt herself, she wrapped her left arm around the redhead's waist.

It felt so good to be like this, with her forehead against Willow's neck and her cheek resting comfortably near her heart. She could hear the powerful muscle beating steadily, pumping warm blood through the veins and setting the pace of life.

I could stay right here forever. Tara thought dreamily.

Willow'd been caught by surprise when the blonde pressed against her. She'd been so sure that Tara would want to put distance between them after hearing that she actually was a complete spaz. A smile made its way to her lips, and she lifted her own arm to gently stroke Tara's. She ran her fingers lightly up from the blonde's hand to her elbow and then back down, before resting her arm next to Tara, carefully avoiding putting pressure on the sore muscles, but still craving the warmth and the closeness.

It's amazing. She always seems to know exactly what to do to make me feel better. Whether it's a gentle word, a small smile, or a tight hug... she just knows. Blonde goddess, what I wouldn't give for the right to call you mine! So ok, again I have to ask... what's wrong with me? Now I'm going all cavewoman on her? I wonder if a '...Me Willow, You Tara. You. Me. Naked. Bed...' pick-up line would work, because apparently that's the way my brain's working now. I want her to belong to me?! She's an independent woman; she belongs to herself and no one else. But well... actually, cavewoman talk does have its advantages... no room for misunderstandings, everything's plain and simple... and when talking doesn't work, they have all those cute drawings. Yeah, because at least my drawings are up to Neanderthal standards. Oh, and since they didn't have that many words, I might not babble like a fool in my head!

Tara's voice brought Willow back to reality.

"Willow, I don't believe you finished your story."

Willow smiled for the first time in a long while, and without protesting, she resumed her tale.

"So anyway, he told me to sit on his couch, and at first I backed away. I mean, the man could be a psycho, serial axe murderer, ready to chop me into little pieces for all I knew. Eventually, it occurred to me that if he were a nutso killer, he could have just murdered me in my sleep. So in the end, I took a seat. He removed my bandage and then picked up a bottle of oil from the floor. He concentrated for a while, and then he laid his hands on my ankle. First it hurt like hell, but then, as the initial pain subsided, I felt my ankle getting better. Much better, almost as good as new."

The redhead paused for a moment while recalling that particular adventure.

"He taught me how to do it. He said I'd probably need it, that he could see it in my eyes... that I was going to get myself into trouble often. He was right on target, I guess even he'd be surprised if he knew how much, " she joked.

"So how do you do it?"

"Well, the oil is really a very good relaxing salve. It penetrates the muscles almost immediately after being applied. So you spread it over the sore area, and then you have to apply he right amount of pressure and make the right movements to make it work. Maybe I'll teach you sometime."

"Uh... huhhh." Tara, feeling that Willow's mood had improved, was finally letting slumber claim her, and in seconds was fast asleep.

The younger woman looked down at her drowsy companion and smiled widely before moving a little toward Tara in order to make them both more comfortable. Willow maneuvered so she could close her arms around the blonde's neck and shoulders, effectively pulling Tara closer to her chest and her heart.

"Good night, Tara."

When she received no answer, she looked down once again and felt a surge of love so powerful for the sleeping blonde, that it rose from her heart, broke through her defenses, and made it past her lips in a voice so tender and thick with love, that even in a deep slumber the blonde felt herself being surrounded by warmth.

"Sweet dreams... my love."

Willow closed her eyes and fell into a peaceful sleep.


Continue to The Artifact Chapter Eleven


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