Return to The Artifact Chapter Thirteen

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.

They stayed like that for a long moment. Eyes closed, breathing together, feeling the steady pace of each other's heartbeat on their chests.

Willow lifted her head from Tara's shoulder. She opened her eyes and for a second she was struck speechless.

?! What the Hell happened?! I'm pretty sure that just about a minute ago we weren't here. Am I dreaming? Hallucinating? Hmm... I do have Tara in my arms, so that's one point for the hallucinating team. On the other hand, never in my wildest dreams did anything feel as good as holding Tara, so maybe this is really happening.

Before Willow could say anything, Tara opened her eyes. The redhead felt Tara almost jump in her arms.

"What the... ?! But... this is... Willow, we're back in the first room of the temple!" the blonde stated, still stunned.

Willow had been so taken aback just seeing that they weren't in the other room anymore... she'd not even realized that they were in fact standing in the middle of the very first room. But now she easily recognized the circular form of the chamber, the paintings on the wall, and of course the three doors that were side by side.

"You're right! How did this happen? The last thing I remember is seeing the statue dissolve into ashes, and then you coming out of the corridor with a piece of the star in your hand. I was so relieved to see that you were all right that I simply closed my eyes and hugged you as tightly as I could." Willow's voice dropped to a whisper as she said the last part, and she realized they were still holding each other tight. She blushed and then tenderly removed herself from Tara's arms.

She immediately missed the closeness and she tried to take her mind away from how good it had felt to be pressed close to the blonde.

Tara too was disappointed when she felt the redhead pull away, but she shook her head and tried to focus on the problem they had on their hands. Finally, she broke the silence.

"Maybe each door leads to a part of the star. So, as we completed the first part of the challenge we were brought here to choose another door, to start another part of the quest."

"Hmm... I suppose that's a possibility. The whole "one-second-we're-in-this-room-then-poof-the-next-we're-in-another" thing is no less plausible than statues coming to life or hypnotic flowers. So you think we're only missing two parts of the star?"

Tara nodded before speaking.

"Yeah. It took us a fair amount of time to get to the first piece, and we only did so after going through one of three doors, so I think it's reasonable to think that our artifact only has three parts." She paused for a moment before speaking again.

"Willow, we don't have much time until nightfall, so I'm thinking we should get moving."

"I'm ready. Do you think we can choose any door? Or does it have to be a specific one?" the redhead asked as she walked toward the entryways. As she stopped in front of the ones they had yet to open, she added, "The other one was the only door I tried and it opened, but it could have been just a lucky guess."

"I don't think it matters. We'll try one of them and if it doesn't work we'll try the other. One way or another, to succeed in this challenge we'll probably have to go through them both," Tara answered, as she joined the redhead.

"Ok then. Here goes nothing." The younger raider took a deep breath and pushed the handle next to the door at the right. They both tensed, waiting for the portal to open... but nothing happened.

"I guess this answers my earlier question; apparently there is a sequence to opening these doors, and the next one isn't this one."

Tara nodded and this time it was she who walked to the last door and pushed the handle. The door opened without making any noise. Willow drew her guns before moving through the door with Tara closely behind her. She carefully looked everywhere in this new room, and when she saw no threat she put her guns away.

It wasn't a big room so it only took a few seconds for both raiders to scan it for possible threats and to look for the way out. It was a regular chamber with bare stone walls, the only distinctive characteristics were two passage-ways side-by-side on the farther wall.

"Hmm... I guess we have to go through one of those thresholds. Apparently there isn't anything for us here. I just wonder why there are two of them," the redhead said.

"You're right, clearly there's nothing here. So, I'm with you... we need to give the doors a try. But as far as why there are two, your guess is as good as mine."

They walked to the passage on the right. Willow drew her guns and took the lead, passing through the threshold first. When Tara tried to follow her, she found herself blocked. She couldn't see what was preventing her from going through, but no matter what she did, she couldn't pass through.

"Willow!" she called out.

The redhead turned around, puzzled about why Tara wasn't following her.

"Why are you waiting on that side?"

"I can't seem to get through. This must be another one of those traps... I guess I'll have to use the other passage." Tara sighed. She didn't like the idea of leaving Willow alone, even though she knew perfectly well that her partner was more than capable of holding her own.

What?! No, no!! Not again... I don't want to leave you alone. No! We're not splitting up again!! Ok, ok try to calm down. Going bonkers is not helping.

Willow walked towards the threshold and tried to join Tara, but found that she couldn't go back through. She punched the invisible barrier in disgust before giving up and placing her hand directly in front of Tara's. The only thing separating them was a transparent force field.

The redhead sighed and then looked deeply into cobalt eyes before speaking in a thick voice.

"Please be careful."

Tara was struck speechless by the intensity and the desperation of Willow's gaze. Those two emeralds burned deep into Tara's soul. She nodded her head to let the redhead know that she would be careful... and then she walked toward the other passage.

As Willow saw Tara move away and enter the other doorway, she could feel her heart being torn by fear and longing. She swallowed hard and willed herself to be strong.

Tara's a capable and strong woman. She can take care of herself. Now, I'll just run like a mad woman and I'll meet up with her in no time. Or, maybe it's better if I walk carefully; I think it just might improve my chances of actually being alive when we meet again!

Willow rapidly scanned this new place and saw that there was a door at the end of the room, and that the right wall ended a little short of the farther wall, which created a passageway to the right.

Tara entered through the right door... so if I make the turn to the right, I'm sure I'll find her quickly.

Willow walked to the end of the room, and just as she began to proceed through the passageway, she saw Tara making the turn and running toward her. The redhead broke into a run herself and met the blonde half way.

Thank the gods she's all right. Wha-... .is she trying to tell me something?

She stopped when she was close to the blonde and only then did she understand what Tara was saying... "Kiss me." Willow's heart skipped a beat before beginning to thump madly in her chest.

She wants me to kiss her?! Oh, please let this not be a dream. Please let this blonde goddess need to feel my lips on hers as much as I do.

"Kiss me," the blonde begged again.

Oh God... Ok, ok... relax. Good thing I brought the minty-fresh baking soda gum with me 'cause four days of 'protein ball breath' would just be... well... yuck. But why am I thinking about protein balls when I'm about to kiss a Goddess?! Mmmm... Tara... Taralips... so full and luscious... so perfect. Which brings me to the next five-million-dollar question; I have the woman of my dreams - the one who holds my heart and soul - in front of me asking me to kiss her... so why instead of kissing her am I standing here motionless, babbling in my head?!

Willow moved forward slowly and carefully. She wanted to savor every instant, every breath. When her lips were mere inches from the ruby ones waiting for her touch, she felt a sudden change in the air and out of reflex she moved just in time to avoid being stabbed in the stomach... by the knife the blonde beauty wielded.

She was once again saved by her years as an experienced tomb raider; she knew how to read every change in her environment and react to it instantly. Even though she moved quickly, the blade connected with her arm, making a superficial cut.

"Tara?! Why?!" Willow screamed in shock, as her hand clamped over the bleeding wound. The woman's only reply was to repeat, "Kiss me" and attack the redhead a second time. At this attempt, Willow easily avoided the knife, but her mind was spinning.

My blonde angel! What the hell's going on? What happened to you?!

Willow hastily moved a few feet away, and as she struggled to understand what was happening, she detected someone else in the room. As she discovered the source of the noise, her eyes went wide, and her brain threatened to shut down all thought. She found herself looking directly into the eyes of another Tara... and behind her was another, and another, and then another. Within seconds, Willow was surrounded by blonde raiders all pleading, "Kiss me".

The redhead backed away trying to avoid coming too close to any of the women. Her close encounter with the knife's sharp blade was still fresh in her mind.

What is this... the "Fuck With The Redhead's Head" show!? Think! This is a temple, a trap, a puzzle... and you're good with puzzles. There has to be a way out. Let's see... I have lots of... somethings... that look like the woman I love begging me to kiss them. Then I tried to kiss one of them, and nearly got a very unique belly piercing. Maybe the real Tara's in the middle of all these "clones!" Yeah, that must be it. The challenge must lie in recognizing my Tara among this sea of imposters... and, of course, trying not to get stabbed in the process. And then what do I do? Do I have to kiss her? Kissing her would be heavenly... but it would so put me in a vulnerable position. I'd be betting my life that the one I chose is the original and only Tara. And God, even if I do find the real one, what if she doesn't want me to kiss her?! Or what if she freaks afterwards?! What if I lose her forever?! Stop it! I have to calm down. First things first. We get out of here alive... then I can worry about the rest.

She looked at every one of the approaching women, trying to find something that would convince her that she was looking at the "real" Tara... the woman she loved. She backed away slowly as she conducted her frantic search, and after a couple of minutes the blondes had her cornered. And she still hadn't found the right one.

Willow felt lost. Just as she'd nearly given up, and began to think she'd have to choose randomly, she looked straight into a pair of cobalt eyes; profound like the sea and warm like a summer sky. And they were both found.

Willow heard the blonde whisper, "Kiss me," and her heart answered the plea. She smiled and started walking toward Tara.

As Tara went through the door, a blue beam struck her for just an instant. It was over as fast as it had begun, and it left her only slightly dizzy.

Ok, that was weird. What the... ? I have to get to Willow fast.

She looked around for a second, searching for possible threats, and for a way to get back to Willow's side. She quickly realized that there weren't any visible threats, which allowed her to relax slightly and begin a more thorough search.

She noticed that the wall on the left side of the room ended before the farther wall, leaving a passage to the other side. Supposedly that way would lead to Willow. Without searching any longer, Tara ran to that passage, thinking only of getting back to her companion as fast as possible. When she made the turn, the oddest sight greeted her.

She saw about a dozen versions of herself, all walking toward and smiling at Willow, who stood there looking confused and slightly panicked.

What the Hell?! Oh God... the blue beam!! This can't be good. I have to warn her!

As Tara opened her mouth to call out to Willow, not a sound came out. She opened and closed her mouth again and suddenly felt her voice travel from her vocal chords to her mouth and release itself without the blonde being able to stop it.

"Kiss me... kiss me."

When the meaning of what she was saying reached her brain, she felt herself blush bright red.

What? Oh God... what am I saying?! And why can't I stop saying it?! This has to be a trap for Willow. But why am I saying "kiss me"?! Couldn't it be, "pick me" or something like that?! Jesus... does she have to kiss me in order for this to stop? Mmmm... that doesn't sound so bad... Stop it, Tara!! This is serious! God only knows what'll happen if she chooses the wrong "me".

In much the same way as her vocal chords had betrayed her, her body began moving of its own accord. She walked mechanically toward the redhead, and as she neared Willow, she saw that blood was dripping from a cut on her right arm... and that one of the Tara clones had a knife - just like the one the original carried - clutched in her hand.

Willow!!! Tara's mind screamed even as her mouth endlessly repeated, "Kiss me... kiss me," just like all of the other "Taras" that were surrounding Willow.

She could see the confused look on her partner's face as Willow tried to keep her distance from the look-alikes while continuing to search for her true companion. Her head moved from side to side frantically, looking for any little detail... even as she moved to avoid coming too close to any of the other "Taras".

Then it happened. Willow looked Tara directly in the eyes... and the blonde could feel herself getting lost in those stunning emerald orbs once again.

This time, when she felt the words coming to her mouth she poured her heart and soul into them - "Kiss me."

Willow smiled and started walking straight toward her.

Everything seemed to fade away... leaving them alone, suspended in time. Willow walked resolutely toward Tara, all hesitation and fear gone from the redhead's steps.

When Willow was so close to Tara that they breathed the same air, she paused and waited... wanting confirmation one last time.

"Kiss me," Tara whispered in a voice thick with want and need.

That was all Willow wanted to hear, and slowly she closed the distance between them. She embraced Tara's neck softly with her arms and pressed her lips tenderly to the blonde's. She didn't move for a little while, choosing to simply revel in the feeling of the full, velvety lips against hers. Then she felt the blonde's mouth open and slide slightly against hers. Tara's voluptuous bottom lip teased Willow's lips apart, and softly tugged at her upper lip.

When Willow eagerly complied and opened her mouth slightly, Tara captured her bottom lip in her mouth and gently sucked on it, making Willow moan with pleasure and tighten her grip on the blonde's neck. Then it was Willow's turn to take Tara's luscious bottom lip into her mouth. She ran her tongue over it before she imitated the blonde's actions, sucking lightly on the pouting flesh. They continued their motions - opening and closing their mouths in time with each other - until Willow couldn't take it any longer.

The redhead wanted to taste all of Tara's mouth, to drink deeply from her, to run her tongue everywhere at once. She tilted her head a little to the side and pulled Tara closer as she pushed her tongue between the blonde's lips. Tara moaned, pleased with the sudden intrusion. She tightened her grip on the redhead and opened her mouth wide, inviting Willow to go deeper. She let Willow explore her mouth for a long moment before closing her lips tightly around the redhead's tongue, trapping it inside her mouth and sucking on it, thoroughly enjoying and absorbing the flavor.

When Willow felt her tongue being sucked, she practically growled with the rush of sensations. She could feel the rest of her body starting to react to the stimulation. Her temperature escalated and a surge of wetness pooled between her legs.

She needed to feel Tara like she'd never needed anything before in her life. She lifted the blonde's T-shirt, snaked her hand under it, and immediately came into contact with Tara's smooth skin.

The touch sent an electric bolt through both women, made them moan into each other's mouths and compelled Tara to let go of Willow's tongue. The redhead took advantage of the sudden freedom, and resumed her mapping of Tara's mouth. She slid her tongue over soft flesh and hard teeth until Tara's tongue decided it wanted to play too, and rose up to meet Willow's. Their tongues dueled for a while inside Tara's mouth before the blonde pushed their play to the redhead's velvety mouth.

In the meantime, Willow's hands moved in circles inside Tara's shirt, tenderly caressing her back. As time went by, their heated kiss and Willow's lazy caresses were intoxicating them both with desire to the point where neither could think straight.

Tara became desperate... she needed to feel Willow's skin against her own. She slipped her hands inside the redhead's t-shirt, up against the woman's soft side, and slowly let her hands travel up... effectively lifting the fabric from Willow's body. When Tara had nearly reached her breasts, Willow suddenly pulled from their kiss and hastily covered Tara's hands with her own, stopping her dead in her tracks.

"I... I'm s-sor-sorry." Tara managed to stammer before dropping her hands and her head down, hiding her eyes from Willow's view.

Oh great, just great, Rosenberg!! Now I've done it. Here I am, closer to the woman who holds my heart than I ever thought I'd be, and I have to go and spoil it with teenage fears and insecurities?! For heaven's sake, I have to at least explain myself.

"Tara... "

"No, Willow, you don't have to say anything. I... I understand," the blonde said, without lifting her head.

I know you could never want me. You had to kiss me; it was part of the challenge... and you were just carried away by our closeness. But that was all... and now you're probably freaked...

Willow's voice shook Tara from her reverie.

"No, I don't think you do. Tara... please, look at me," the redhead said softly.

When the blonde complied and Willow was able to look deep into blue gems, her heart nearly broke. They were oceans of pain and desperation.

"Tara, I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to pull away like that... " Willow's distress was now too great for her to contain, and she began pacing around while she continued to speak.

"I didn't mean to hurt you. But, of course I did anyway... what was I thinking?! First I'm all over you, and then suddenly I'm Miss Chaste. I'm sorry." She stopped for a moment and shook her head before turning to face Tara. "I'm not saying this right."

Tara felt a surge of love rise to her chest and she couldn't help but respond to it... and respond to Willow.

"Take your time. I'm not going anywhere," she said tenderly.

Willow fell even more in love with the blonde in that moment.

I hurt her and she's still here for me; she's still there to catch me if I fall. This is it. It's time to tell her how I feel. Ok, I just have to remember to breathe.

Willow looked deep into the blue orbs that won her heart and soul, and she spoke in a whisper.

"I pulled away... not because I didn't want you... but because... because I love you, Tara. I fell in love with you the moment I first laid eyes on you."

The blonde's head was reeling and she felt dizzy. A wave of hope lifted her very soul; simultaneously giving her life back to her and taking away her balance.

Oh...My...Goddess. She loves me?! She's in love with me?! But, then why did she... ?

Tara opened and closed her mouth several times, but no sound would come out. Willow filled the silence, so the blonde gave up her attempts at speaking.

"And you see, the thing is... I've never been with a woman before. Uhm, actually, I've never been with anyone before... and I want everything to be perfect between us. I don't want us to rush. I want to savor every single moment with you; the first kiss, the first touch... the first time we... we... " The redhead blushed bright red and swallowed hard before finishing the sentence in a whisper, "... the first time we make love."

Tara's mind was in overdrive.

She loves me. She's never been with anyone else, and she wants me to kiss her, touch her, make love to her. Mmmm... I get to be the first one to... Oh God!... What if I disappoint her?! It's not like I'm some kind of expert... it's been a long time since the last time, and it was never like this...

Willow started to get antsy as she looked at her newfound love. Tara's eyes were as wide as saucers and the spinning wheels of her brain were almost audible.

"It's ok if you don't want to. I, I mean kiss me... and, well, all the other things I said. And I understand if you don't love me... because, Hello! You're a gorgeous, intelligent, amazingly kind woman. Why would you want-"

It took a little while to register in the blonde's brain what the redhead was saying, since she was still too overwhelmed by Willow's declaration of love to be able to think properly. But when she finally understood the meaning of what was being said, she knew she had to do something. She couldn't let Willow think she wasn't loved.

Tara wanted to let Willow know just how much she was indeed loved, but she knew words wouldn't be enough to begin to express how strongly she felt. So she pressed her lips firmly against Willow's, swallowing whatever the redhead was saying, hoping that from breath to breath, she could convey her passion and love.

Willow was surprised to once again feel the velvety caress of luscious lips upon her own; so warm and tender... but very passionate. She quickly forgot all about her earlier distress, and she relaxed, closed her eyes, and opened her mouth wider to give herself over to the pleasure of kissing the woman she loved. She felt Tara's love for her seep into her being with every movement of lips on lips.

They stayed like that, simply opening and closing their mouths without deepening the kiss, until Tara pulled away and rested her forehead against Willow's. She looked deep into spectacular, tear-filled green eyes.

"I love you too, Willow Rosenberg."

As the blonde's statement sank in, Willow's face lit up in a grin that could nearly outshine the sun, and tears started running down her face.

"You do?" She asked in a small voice, needing confirmation even though she could feel with every single fiber in her body that it was true.

"I do. I fell in love with you the first time I saw you, too," Tara said with a thick voice as she began to cry.

Willow tentatively brought her hands up and cupped Tara's cheeks, and then ever-so-slowly, she pushed their lips together, the saltiness of their tears mingling with their kisses.

In mere seconds, it was not enough for either of them, and they opened their mouths wide to deepen the kiss, their tongues swirling together, caressing each other, sending pleasant shivers down each woman's spine, and launching tingles of energy directly to their centers.

After a few moments Tara pulled away. Her breathing was labored, her face was flushed, and her heart beat wildly in her chest.

"Also, I agree that we should go slow. There's no need to rush. I want to make every step along the way special for you, sweetie. So... that means we better pull away now, otherwise I don't think I'll be able to keep my hands to myself," the blonde said, with a not-so-innocent smile. Now that she knew Willow wanted and loved her, she was feeling a lot more brave.

Willow felt her heart soar with love when Tara called her "sweetie." And then she felt herself melt when she heard the rest of the beautiful blonde's words.

Willow also felt hot as Hell and fully aroused... and although she wanted nothing more than to give herself to Tara, some part of her brain knew that it would be better to wait.

"I guess you're right. We should go, then."

It was only then that they both looked around and realized they were again alone in the room. The only proof that the clones existed was the remainder of a dozen or so piles of dust scattered on the floor.

"So I guess the clones turned to dust just like that statue. It's so strange... I'd completely forgotten about the clones," Willow said.

"Well, you were a little preoccupied," the blonde replied playfully, before giving the redhead a quick peck on the lips.

"Oh well, who cares about replicas when I have the real thing?" Willow retorted, before returning Tara's kiss.

Tara grinned, took Willow's hand in her own, and faced the door at the end of the room. They both saw that the door was now open.

"Hmm... I suppose the door opened at the same time the clones dissolved," the blonde said.

"Probably. We missed that too, because well... gosh... distracted and all."

They smiled at each other and then laughed lightheartedly. Who cared if they were trapped inside a temple? They were in love and nothing else mattered.

They walked to the open door hand-in-hand.

Continue to The Artifact Chapter Fifteen

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