Return to The Artifact Chapter Fourteen

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.

As usual, just after crossing the threshold, they heard a loud noise and the entrance closed, trapping them inside the new space.

They stayed close to the door and to each other, prepared to react if any threat should arise. A few minutes elapsed and nothing happened, so they relaxed and took a closer look at their surroundings.

The area was circular in shape, and in the middle of the room stood an impressive stone column.

On top of the pillar facing the door rested a large circular stone. Twelve long lines scarred its surface. In each section between those marks, three, equally-spaced, smaller lines were etched. In the center of the stone a miniature obelisk stood out and cast its shadow over the fifth of the larger lines.

The walls were bare except for twelve places where long, engraved, vertical lines marked the stones. They noticed that the only other distinctive feature of the room was a blue circle that had been drawn on the floor all the way around the pillar.

"There's no other door," Tara stated, in surprise accompanied with a frown. The sound of her voice broke the comfortable silence that surrounded them.


Willow had been looking around, her trained eyes mechanically examining this new place. She took in the large pillar and the strange stone on top of it, and immediately recognized it for what it was; a sun clock. Even though she thought the marks on the stone were strange and more closely resembled a modern clock than an ancient Egyptian one, there was no mistaking the miniature monument in the middle of the circular shaped stone. It was an obelisk, designed to cast its shadow on the marks around it and signal the passage of the hours as the Earth moved and the day progressed.

But Willow's brain was mainly attuned to how good and right it felt to hold Tara's hand, despite the bandages that reminded them both of her fall down the 'rabbit hole' and prevented them from full skin-on-skin contact. Even though their touch was diminished by the cloth that covered Tara's bruises and cuts, Willow couldn't help but notice how well their hands fit and what strong, long, and well-shaped fingers Tara had.

Her attention was so centered on those elegant fingers, in fact, that Willow neglected to notice much about the room and its characteristics. She was startled back to the moment by Tara's voice, and only after hearing her companion's words did Willow acknowledge the obvious; for all appearances, there was no way out of this room.

"Oh, you're right. There's no door... I mean... of course there's a door. 'Cause we got here. But there's no door other than the one we came through. So... looks like we're trapped without a visible way to get out. Ok, well, it's not all bad news - at least we're together." Willow smiled and squeezed Tara's hand in reassurance.

The sudden added pressure on her wounded hand and the pain that accompanied it caught Tara by surprise, making her flinch before she could stop herself.

As soon as she saw Tara's reaction to her touch, Willow remembered the recent injuries her partner had sustained from the fall. She immediately dropped her hand and nervously began to apologize.

"Oh gosh Tara, are you ok? I'm so sorry... I didn't mean to hurt you. I -"

The blonde leaned in and pressed her lips firmly to the redhead's, cutting off what had probably been the start of a long and panicked example of Willowbabble.

After a couple of seconds Tara pulled away, and while gazing deeply into her love's eyes she answered Willow's question tenderly.

"I'm fine, Willow. I'm with you."

The redhead smiled and leaned in to leave a quick peck on Tara's lips.

"I love you, Tara."

"I love you, too."

They stood there silently, simply gazing deeply into each other's eyes until Willow spoke again.

"You know, those bandages have been on for quite some time now. It's probably a good idea for you to let me take them off and check your wounds. You know, see if your cuts have all closed and let them get some air... or clean and bandage them again with some fresh gauze."

Tara couldn't help but smile when she heard the redhead's words and saw her hopeful expression. She was perfectly capable of tending to her own injuries and had in fact done exactly that during her years as a solo tomb raider, but she was more than willing to let her partner help her. She needed Willow's touch desperately; more than she'd thought it was possible to need anything.

As her answer, she wordlessly extended her hands toward Willow.

Willow took hold of Tara's right hand and carefully freed it from the cocoon of its bandage. She saw that the cuts were all closed and the bruises had faded some, but it was clear that the hand was still in pretty bad shape.

Without thinking, Willow bowed her head and kissed the center of the blonde's palm, earning a gasp from Tara. Misunderstanding the blonde's reaction, the redhead immediately lifted her head to once again apologize.

Jeez... what the Hell is wrong with me? Her hand is hurt and what do I do? First I squeeze it and now I press my lips against it. It's just that Tara has the most entrancing hands. I wonder what it will be like to feel her hands on me... in me... Oh God. Why did I want to wait, again?

"Willow, y-you didn't hurt me. Far from it. It was just... unexpected."

Tara's words brought Willow back from her reverie and as she focused on the girl in front of her and her flushed appearance, she realized that Tara's gasp had nothing to do with pain and everything to do with desire and pleasure. The blue eyes in front of her slightly dilated and darkened just as she was sure hers had.

"Oh. That's good. So, uhm, your wounds look better so you probably should leave them free to breathe a bit. I'll take the bandages off the other hand now, ok?"

Tara simply nodded and extended her other hand. Once again Willow took the bandages off carefully and tenderly. When the gauze was completely off she saw that this hand had healed to roughly the same level as the other.

Willow simply gazed at Tara's hand for a little while before she brought her own hand up and started to reverently trace Tara's cuts and bruises with one of her fingers. She heard Tara's sudden intake of breath and smiled, recognizing the sound. Without thinking, she leaned her head and placed a kiss on the center of the blonde's palm. Then, with her lips she followed the path her fingers had already traced, and kissed every single bruise and cut she found along the way.

When she was out of injuries to kiss, she moved her lips to Tara's forefinger and kissed all the way to its tip. She was unable to restrain herself and gave in to her desire to taste and feel more of the woman she loved. She opened her mouth and gave one tiny lick to the finger's sensitive skin, before engulfing the whole digit with her mouth and sucking lightly.

By then Tara was completely aroused. Her lips had parted, her heart was hammering in her chest, and her panties were beginning to get soaked from the continuing flow of wetness from her center. Until now she'd somehow been able to control her responses to Willow's ministrations, even though the feeling of hot lips kissing almost every inch of her palm had been almost too much for her to bear silently. More than once she had to bite back a moan of pleasure. But when she felt Willow's tongue take that first taste of her finger and then her mouth close completely over it, Tara just couldn't control herself. A low moan of pure arousal escaped her lips.

"Mmmm... "

Willow was acutely aware that she should probably stop. She was getting more aroused by the second. Judging by Tara's erratic breathing and the sounds emanating from her, Willow could tell that her partner was into the moment every bit as much as she herself was. She opened her mouth, released Tara's finger, lifted her head, and looked up at the blonde.

As she looked at Tara, she felt herself grow even hotter, and the fluttering sensation in her stomach increased and quickly traveled south... awakening a wet, throbbing ache from deep inside her.

The blonde was breathing in gasps, her lips wet and parted, her face flushed, and her eyes... her eyes had darkened into a night blue that conveyed the scorching desire burning there. It was the most sensual sight Willow had ever seen.

Oh my God... Willow swallowed hard. She could feel herself go weak in the knees and become increasingly dizzy. Those two breathtakingly blue eyes made her yearn and ache to give in to her desires, to simply let go and press herself passionately against Tara, to kiss her deeply, to dive in and not stop until neither of them could move.

I have to look away... like now! Otherwise, in about a minute, we're going to be rolling on the floor, naked... stroking each other... .Oh my... and what would be so wrong about that, again?! I want her so much...

In the meantime, Tara was having an equally hard time controlling herself.

Doesn't she know what she does to me? Oh goddess! I don't think I can wait... I just want her, NOW.

Tara's brain, overrun by blazing passion, completely blocked rational thought from that point on. She closed the distance between herself and Willow and claimed the redhead's mouth in a fierce kiss. Her tongue forcefully entered Willow's mouth while she pulled the woman even closer.

The redhead moaned, surprised and oh-so-aroused at the sudden forcefulness, and she could do nothing but respond in kind, opening her mouth wide and embracing the blonde tightly, her tongue rising to meet its mate. All doubts disappeared from her mind, along with coherent thought, other than...

I love her... and I need her, now.

Instantly, it was not enough for Tara. She wanted to kiss and feel every inch of the woman in her arms, and the clothes between them were completely frustrating her.

She pulled away from the kiss, making Willow whimper in protest. That whimper soon turned to an aroused groan when Tara took her t-shirt off, revealing her black cotton bra. Her stiff nipples showed through the fabric as she stood there, breathing heavily, offering herself to Willow.

Willow's eyes widened and her mouth watered as she took in the sight before her. She was completely mesmerized by the blonde's chest, clad only in black fabric.

She's a Goddess... Mmmm... Tarabreasts...

Tara saw the redhead's reaction to her body, and she smiled. It was obvious that Willow found her attractive, and the hungry look she was receiving only served to inflame the blonde more.

Willow brought her hands up and slowly, reverently began to trace the underside of Tara's breasts with her thumbs before bringing her hands up in a fluid motion to fully cup the blonde's breasts. They both moaned at the contact.

"Oh God, Tara... you feel... so good... " The redhead's voice was thick with wonder, want and love.

Tara felt her nipples harden even more under the probing palms and she couldn't help but arch her back, looking for more friction and pressure. Just then, Willow began to rub her palms in circles before trapping Tara's nipples between her thumbs and forefingers, pinching them both through the fabric, making the blonde shiver and beg.

"Mmmm... Willow... please... don't stop... " she whispered between moans.

Willow was completely entranced by the blonde's passionate response to her ministrations. Knowing that she was giving Tara pleasure filled her with contentment unlike anything she'd ever felt before. Needing to get closer, she kissed Tara deeply - her tongue seeking the velvety warmth - all the while keeping her fingers busy on the blonde's nipples.

Tara could feel herself getting even more hot and wet... and in desperate need for release. Her clit twitched and throbbed, aching to be touched.

She tugged at the redhead's t-shirt, wanting to feel Willow's skin sliding against her own, needing the connection. She pulled away slightly and pleaded directly with smoky green eyes.

"Off... now," Tara managed to get out between ragged breaths.

Willow took her hands from Tara's cleavage and hastily discarded her own shirt, throwing it to the floor before attaching her lips to the blonde's once again. As their nearly bare chests brushed together for the first time, both women moaned loudly, and a jolt of energy flowed directly from the point of their nipples to between their legs, sending them to new heights of arousal.

They slowly and deliberately moved against each other, their rock hard nipples brushing together through thin fabric. They teased themselves with the small friction until they reached the point that neither could take anymore and they were virtually screaming into each other's mouths.

Both of them were completely soaked, their bodies shaking, needing more.

Tara's hands traveled down the other girl's back until she was firmly cupping Willow's ass. She squeezed her firm behind - making the woman gasp - and then effortlessly lifted Willow without stopping their kiss.

Willow wrapped her legs around Tara's waist, ground her very wet center to Tara's smooth stomach, and tightened her grip around the blonde's neck.

When Tara felt that hot, wet sensation on her skin, a wave of pleasure shot through her spine, making her shiver and groan. She pulled Willow closer and moved the redhead slightly up and down once... twice... three times... again and again... making the redhead's clit rub against the fabric of her shorts.

Willow's head shot back, and her mouth dropped open in a long soundless moan of pleasure at feeling her throbbing little bundle of nerves being stimulated.

To see the woman she loved reacting to her like this had an explosive effect on Tara; she completely forgot everything else. She desperately needed to see Willow come in her arms.

Searching for more leverage, she carried the redhead forward, pressing her firmly up against the rough wall. She let Willow's legs down, and moved her right hand to the redhead's hip for balance. She pushed her right leg up between Willow's slender thighs, and Tara's thigh was immediately drenched in Willow's juices. Then Tara pushed Willow's white bra down with her free hand and dropped her head to the awaiting breasts.

The redhead moaned loudly and brought her hands down to Tara's head trying to guide her.

But the blonde suddenly wasn't in a mood to be rushed.

First, she kissed all around the right breast's erect nub, closing in but never quite getting to where Willow wanted her... teasing the redhead with her lips... and with her thigh, which was simply pressing against Willow's center, making her mad with desire.

She could feel Willow writhing against her and trying to rub herself on her thigh but to no avail. Tara had her pinned in place, preventing any major movement. When Willow couldn't take it anymore, she half screamed and half moaned her desperate plea.

"Mmmm... please, please, Tara! I need... Ohhhh..."

As she heard Willow's voice, Tara felt herself grow even wetter, and a groan escaped her mouth. She couldn't take the teasing any longer, either. She finally relented and complied with Willow's need that matched her own.

Her mouth finally focused on the nipples... going from one to the other... kissing, licking, biting, and then sucking hard as she began rubbing her thigh hard against the redhead's center, making Willow moan uncontrollably and push even harder against the blonde.

"Tara... mmm... Baby... Ohhh... that feels... so good... mmm... "

It was, at once, too much and not nearly enough for the blonde. She wanted to get closer - needed to be inside Willow, to draw her pleasure out with her fingers, and feel the woman she loves explode against her hand. She brought her hand down to Willow's shorts and started to tease the first button out of its hole.

In the middle of their frantic passion, neither one noticed a sudden movement on the floor to the left... as an armed skeleton emerged from the ground and began walking toward them.

Willow nearly screamed with pleasure, feeling Tara's hand slowly inching down her shorts. The redhead's eyes opened slightly - on their way to roll back in ecstasy - and she caught sight of the perpetually smiling attacker as it lifted its sword in preparation to strike.

The redhead moved swiftly, rolling just in time to prevent the menacing blade from hitting either of them. However, the raiders were still tangled up in each other's arms and legs, and in the commotion, they lost their balance and tumbled to the floor. Willow landed on her side, softened Tara's fall, and caught the blonde safely in her arms.

Tara was completely caught off guard by Willow's abrupt movement. She hadn't seen, heard, or felt any threat approaching. She was far too distracted; her senses completely drowning in all that was Willow... her groans, moans and pleas, her exquisite taste and smell, and the ever-flowing juices coating her thigh.

Only Willow's cradling her prevented Tara from getting hurt in the fall.

"What... ?" the blonde began to ask as she was rolled onto her back and then quickly to her other side by Willow. There was no time for an answer, as a heavy sword hit the ground right next to their heads. She then got her first look at the cause of the interruption. Perhaps it was only because her brain hadn't fully processed the situation, but Tara didn't feel afraid; she felt annoyed and mighty frustrated. And it was the thoughtlessly rude skeleton that was going to pay for it.

Taking advantage of her lower position, Tara instinctively delivered a powerful scissor-kick to the skeleton's legs, effectively sending the bag of bones to the ground. They stood up and Willow drew her guns, firing on their attacker. It had lost a few bones when it hit the ground, so it didn't take long for it to be completely torn apart. In a matter of seconds, its bones turned to dust, leaving scarcely a trace that there had been an attack.

Willow walked over to investigate the dusty remains of the skeleton, while the reality of the situation started to sink in to Tara's rattled brain.

This can't be happening. First, I let my body rule my actions and start to ravish the woman I love just half an hour after agreeing that we should wait... then to add a little more fun to the mix, a skeleton attacks us just as I'm about to make love to her... against a cold stone wall...for her first time. She's probably completely disgusted with me.

Tara slowly sat down, dropped her eyes to the ground miserably, hugged her knees close to her chest, and felt a single tear escape her eyes.

Willow still stood near the dust with a puzzled look on her face.

As she turned to talk to Tara, she realized the uncomfortable position in which her bra was left, and it occurred to her that her shorts were also hanging a little loose. A bright smile came to her lips when she thought about why her clothes were tugged aside. She put her outfit back in place and reluctantly buttoned her shorts. Only then did she turn back to the blonde, fully intending to make some kind of joke about the advantages of fighting while naked, just hoping to lift the mood.

She never had the chance to make that wisecrack. The second she saw Tara on the floor looking so vulnerable and broken, all thoughts other than comforting her partner fled her mind. She quickly covered the distance between them and dropped to her knees in front of Tara.

"Tara, Baby...are you all right?" she asked tenderly and lovingly, before continuing in an even lighter tone. "Because you sure did one hell of a nice job with that skeleton...I mean, that was a kick to die for."

Just feeling Willow this close made Tara's heart lift a little, and when she heard the tenderness and amusement in the redhead's voice, she simply couldn't resist its warmth. She lifted her eyes, and they were immediately met by adoring green ones.

Willow saw that the blue eyes she loved so much were filled with pain and unshed tears. It made her feel as if someone were driving little needles through her heart. She moved to sit next to Tara and immediately pulled the blonde into her arms. She quietly held Tara tightly against her chest, kissing her forehead with such tenderness that Tara could almost feel her heart being wrapped in warmth and love.

"Tara, please tell me...what's wrong? You know you can tell me anything." Willow pleaded, worried that her love regretted their moment of rapture.

"I'm sorry," Tara managed to choke out without stammering, all the while struggling not to cry.


Please don't tell me you think it was a mistake. Don't tell me you want us to be just friends...

"We'd just agreed that we weren't going to rush... and I wanted it to be special for you. Not in some room in a temple... against a wall... " Her voice dropped to a near whisper, as she bit back a sob.

"Tara... please look at me."

The blonde tilted her head up, and gazed deeply into emerald orbs. Willow then continued in a low, thick voice.

"It takes two people to do what we were doing and... heh, I wasn't exactly complaining. I know we said we were going to take things slow... wait for the right time and not rush. So ok, I know some people might think that half an hour isn't exactly a lot of waiting. But it's a known fact that time is a relative concept. Einstein proved that ages ago... uhm, although his theory involved traveling at close velocity to the speed of light which, well, we obviously aren't doing... and I'm not sure why I decided to bring Einstein into this conversation in the first place. What I mean is that sometimes half an hour is enough time. And I didn't feel rushed. It just felt so right to be with you. I love you so much and... and I want you so much all the time. I was feeling more than ready."

Willow paused for a second while she searched for the right words to express her feelings. She wanted to make Tara understand that she hadn't ruined anything, that she never could as far as Willow was concerned. She needed to make the pain disappear from the sapphire eyes in front of her.

"Tara, you have to know that as long as it's with you, my first time will be beyond special. I don't care if it's against a wall in a temple, or in a bed of roses by a fireplace. We can wait as long as you want. Certainly at least until we get to a room where we don't have discourteous skeletons popping up out of nowhere to interrupt us."

Willow stopped for a second before continuing in an even lighter tone, desperately wanting to lift the mood.

"Stupid, perverted, dead things. You know? I mean, jeez, how rude was that? To strike just when -"

Tara smiled and cut the redhead's joking babble by grabbing the back of her head and pulling her in for a slow, sweet kiss.

"I love you," she said simply as she pulled away.

"I love you, too," was the happy reply, followed by another soft kiss. Willow then became serious again.

"It's getting dark and I think we should call it a day. We can eat those tasteless protein thingies as usual, and then snuggle inside the sleeping bag so we don't freeze to death. Then we should get some good rest. Today was a long day."

Tara nodded her approval to the plan and added her trademark half smile. Even though she wanted nothing more than to make love to Willow all night long, she knew they both needed time to process all that had happened. So she sighed a bit sadly, stood up, collected both of their shirts, and rapidly put hers back on.

If we're going to wait at least until tomorrow, then I guess it's better to cover ourselves. I don't know how much longer I can stand to look at Willow's cleavage in that cute bra before I give in and push her right back up against the wall.

She walked back to Willow and gave her the t-shirt. She was about to turn her face away as Willow got dressed to prevent torturing herself too much, when she caught sight of the cut and blood on Willow's right arm.

Oh God, she's hurt! I'd completely forgotten the clones... the knife. She could have been killed.

"Tara? What's the matter?" Willow asked. She could see the way Tara was nervously staring at her arm and she wanted the blonde to talk to her.

"Your arm... "

"Oh this? It's just a tiny, tiny cut. Besides, it's as superficial as they get. Couldn't be more superficial without having missed me all together," Willow said lightly, trying to put Tara's fears to rest.

Tara understood what Willow was trying to do and her lips curved into her trademark lopsided smile as she felt herself falling even more in love with Willow.

Willow, you're the sweetest thing. How did I ever get this lucky?

"I love you."

Willow smiled before answering in the only way possible.

"I love you, too."

"And I think you should let me clean and bandage that cut before we go to bed," Tara said in a voice that left no room for arguing. But then again, Willow wasn't about to protest.

"Ok. Let's get things ready for the night and then you can take care of this little cut."

If Tara wants to play doctor with me who am I to complain? Hmm... Tara in a white uniform. Okay now, gotta stop here before my thoughts turn to what she'd be wearing under that nice uniform.

They quickly made arrangements to settle for the night, and were soon both eating the ever-present, never-tasty protein balls. Willow was the first one to finish, closely followed by Tara.

True to her word, as soon as she finished eating, Tara pulled from her backpack all that she'd need to clean Willow's cut; some antiseptic, a cloth, and a clean bandage. When she was ready, she turned to face Willow and found her "patient" smiling and positioning her wound directly in front of the blonde.

No words were needed between them as Tara tended to Willow's cut; the blonde's soft, tender touch so evidently full of love and care.

In a couple of minutes the cut was cleaned and safely bandaged and they were now finally ready to call it a day.

They slid into the sleeping bag at the same time and swiftly moved to embrace each other tightly, coming to rest face-to-face.

Willow leaned closer until they were breathing the same air, and she began to softly tease Tara's lips with her tongue. She gently licked the beautiful flesh of the blonde's sensitive lips until Tara couldn't take it any longer...and she leaned forward to capture the redhead's mouth. Willow smiled and pressed closer into their kiss, blissfully enjoying the light caress.

They kissed for a long moment, neither of them seeking to deepen the contact. This was not a kiss meant to arouse, it was meant to soothe and reassure.

Willow finally broke the kiss and nestled her head in the crook of Tara's neck. Peacefully settling in for the night, exhaustion suddenly consumed her.


"Good night, my love," Tara answered, and bowed her head to leave a kiss on her partner's head. Her actions made Willow sigh contently and snuggle closer as she drifted off to sleep.

Tara then closed her eyes and let sleep claim her.

In the morning, Willow was the first to awaken. As she opened her eyes, she was greeted with a sight she was sure she'd never grow tired of; Tara was asleep in her arms, her mouth curled in a half smile as she softly breathed.

The redhead felt a surge of love so strong that it seemed as if she was too small to contain it. She simply lay there without moving, lost in contemplation, truly believing she'd be content to stay right there forever.

When Tara woke up, the first thing she felt was the warm body pressed close against hers, and she sighed contentedly before opening her eyes and being greeted by two jade orbs full of love and adoration. She moved closer and embraced Willow's neck, tightly pushing those ruby lips against her own. She simply reveled in the extraordinary feel of their lips pressing together.

When Tara started to get frustrated and began to want to deepen the kiss, she pulled back, earning a whimper of protest from Willow.

"Sorry, my love. But we can't be distracted. We have a puzzle to figure out."

"But, I was loving the distraction..." Willow pouted. She was completely aroused and desperately wanted Tara. Her desire returned quickly and with a vengeance after the interruption the night before.

She moved closer again, snaked her arms around Tara's waist, and buried her face in the blonde's neck. Her lips slowly caressed the sensitive skin, leaving a wet, warm trail behind them. Between kisses she continued to argue her point in a low, sensual voice, using her hot breath to tease the blonde further. "...and these traps have been here for thousands of years. It's not like they're going anywhere in the next few hours."

Tara's breathing hitched as she felt Willow's soft lips kissing her neck. As she heard her love's voice and fully understood exactly what was being suggested, the blonde started to shake uncontrollably.

She could feel her body responding to Willow's caresses; swelling and opening, needing and begging. But she was terrified. After what happened the night before, she wanted more than ever for their first time to be special.

Willow noticed the way Tara was shaking, so she pulled away slightly... looking for reassurance that she should continue. The mixture of fear and desire she saw in Tara's eyes offered no such thing. She quickly slid back, making space between them.

"Tara, Baby, are you all right? Did I do something wrong? Do you want to stop? We can stop... we don't have to do anything. In fact, maybe it's best if we focus on the trap as you said. Yep, this is a temple...has many traps to overcome...better to work on the - "

The redhead went into full babble mode, fighting back the tears she felt pooling in her eyes. She was sure it was her fault that Tara was uncomfortable, and she felt miserable for hurting her companion.

Tara's response was to cut Willow off in mid-babble and pull the distressed girl back into her arms.

"Willow, didn't do anything wrong," she said in a soft, reassuring voice. She then continued in a playful tone. "In fact, from where I was sitting, you were doing everything very, very right."

The redhead blushed and then questioned Tara in a small voice.

"Then why... ?" She left the question unfinished, not quite sure how to phrase what she wanted to say, and still unsure of what she'd sensed earlier when she pulled away. Somehow, she knew Tara would understand her question.

Tara was silent for a second, as a feeling of anxiety filled her again.

Oh, for God's sake... just tell her.

"I was nervous," she finally confessed.

Willow lifted her head from its resting place so she could look the blonde straight in the eyes. Surprise reflected in her emerald orbs.

"Nervous?! But, uhm, haven't you done this before? I mean, you're the most gorgeous, intelligent, kind, sexy woman I've ever met. Tons of women - and men - must have been drooling all over you. I bet you only had to raise a finger to have whomever you wanted."

Tara felt herself blush when she heard Willow's words. The sincerity and love she could see pouring out of those two sparkling jade eyes warmed her heart and made her dizzy. She leaned closer and kissed Willow softly and slowly before pulling away and replying.

"Willow, I had sex before...but, I've never done this."

Tara saw the look of confusion spread across Willow's face, so she continued.

"When my mother died, I was completely torn apart. She was the only person who believed in me...loved me. I loved her so much. When she was gone, I felt like someone had ripped my heart out... and I became so angry. Angry at my father for the way he treated her, at my mother for letting go and leaving me alone, and at the world for continuing to spin... as if nothing was wrong." Tara's voice cracked in that last sentence and she felt Willow shift a little and pull her tight against her chest. The redhead's slender but strong arms protectively closed around Tara's shoulders.

"I love you. You won't ever have to be alone again," Willow vowed, as she placed a long, tender kiss on Tara's head.

In that moment, Tara felt the absolute truth in Willow's words. They gave her the strength to pull away slightly so she could look into gentle green eyes and give a reassuring smile to the redhead. Tara then continued her story.

"So I went on like that, angry, hurt and alone. One night I decided to go to a local bar...I desperately wanted to try and forget... escape the pain. I met a girl... her name was Christine."

Willow felt a pang of jealousy as she heard the girl's name, but she pushed it down and focused on the story, on Tara, and on offering comfort to the woman in her arms.

"She'd run away from home and was just as confused and angry as I was. We became friends, and got closer by sharing our troubled pasts. She introduced me to her group, and I was immediately 'adopted' by them. A band of rebels without a cause, we were."

Willow could see the hurt look on Tara's face, and she wanted nothing more than to take the blonde in her arms and rock her softly, taking all of her pain away. But she sensed that Tara wanted to tell her this story, so she willed herself to be still and wait. Soon the blonde resumed her narrative.

"We spent our time drinking, smoking, and basically complaining about everything. We made plans to change the world. Every night a couple of great revolutions were born and died without seeing the light of day - all between cigarettes, beers and vodka.

And of course, one of the things we talked about most was love. We all agreed that love was overrated; it clouded people's minds and offered far more pain than pleasure. So with that in mind, almost everyone in the group had casual lovers now and then... for one night only... no strings attached."

The blonde swallowed hard and tried to overcome the lump she felt forming in her throat at the mere thought of telling Willow the next part of the story.

So this is it. Oh, God...

Willow could see that Tara was becoming more distressed by the second, and it was killing Willow to be just lying there doing nothing. Once again, she willed herself to wait. There would be a time for comfort and reassurance, but it hadn't arrived yet.

"So, one night when I'd had way too much to drink, this girl I'd never seen before approached me and asked me to dance. I accepted. I don't remember much between that moment and ending up with her in a dirty bathroom, my clothes roughly pushed aside. It was my first time...not exactly moonlight and roses. After that, I was with a couple more near strangers...girls I'd met in clubs. One night stands only."

Willow could feel her stomach clench when she thought of what Tara had gone through. She immediately pulled the blonde tight against her... reveling in their closeness.

"That's why I'm so nervous. I've never felt like this for anyone before you, Willow. Never. I know without a doubt that I love you... and I want to make love to you. God, I want it so badly that it scares me. I'm petrified that I won't be good enough... that I'll do something wrong and hurt you." The blonde buried her face in Willow's shoulder.

Willow gently lifted the blonde's face with her hand until blue was left gazing into green. Then she spoke warmly, her voice full of love and compassion.

"Tara... I love you too... so much. You're the only one I want to make love to me... now and forever. You could never do anything wrong. And if you're not ready, I can wait for you. I think I've been waiting for you all my life; a few more days won't really matter."

Willow pulled Tara's face closer until their lips were almost touching, and she teased the blonde's lips apart with her tongue, asking for permission to slide into her mouth. When it was granted, Willow entered slowly, languidly caressing the inside of the blonde's lips before going deeper and meeting Tara's tongue. They stayed like that, exchanging stroke by stroke, drinking deeply from each other for a while.

It was a kiss full of passion and love. A promise for later.

When they broke apart, they smiled at each other there was no need for words between them.

Willow broke the silence and attempted to refocus their attention.

"So... I suppose it's time for us to get outta here!"

Continue to The Artifact Chapter Sixteen

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