"... as we commit her body to the ground, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust ..."
Willow barely registered the priestess reading out the words, though she knew she should be paying attention, it was the last chance she had to share with ... gods she couldn't think anymore, all she felt was numbness. If she was thinking rationally, she would be suggesting to herself that a monster, a wicked fiend like herself, should not be feeling numb at the sight of death, she should be rejoicing in it.
"You're not a monster. You stopped being a monster the minute I invited you into my room," the beautiful voice in her head said.
For the first time in a long time she felt every inch the shy awkward human seventeen year old self of her appearance, as she was overcome with panicky thoughts.
Wiccans are supposed to be cremated or scattered at sea, why am I burying her? What if she is mad at me cos I’m selfish? What if she can't get into witchy heaven cos I'm not giving her the proper funeral, and the goddesses are pissed? She'll be stuck in the Summerlands forever! How can I find her? How can she find me?
Outwardly, she appeared calm and expressionless, but the assault of the thoughts raged on in her busy head, she clenched her fists until she almost drew blood.
But she felt no pain.
As the ceremony progressed, her senses grew aware of the quiet weeping from some of the attendees. She could hear their sobs, smell their sadness, even taste the saltiness of their tears. It didn't matter if they were human or demon. Dru was distraught and had to be supported by Angel, himself sporting a frown so deep that his eyes almost disappeared underneath his knitted brow. Anya and Halfrek, two of the most feared vengeance demons in all dimensions, were no more than two women clinging onto each other for whatever solace they could get. Cordelia, Joyce and Amy grimly stood next to Clem and Brell. Willy was there too.
Even the slayers and watchers were present. At his age, Giles still stood ramrod straight, even though his face was heavily lined and his hair was almost all white now, a marked contrast to when Willow first met him.
A sweet 15 year old with a crush on her librarian, who would've thought?
Buffy stood with the latest slayer, a young slip of a girl whose name Willow didn't even bother remembering. She didn't spare a glance at the current watcher either, though she knew he was off at the side somewhere, trying to hide his nervousness at all the demons present.
As her eyes traveled across the crowd of attendees, she started to feel the touch of the elements around her. The light magic of the cloud spell she cast over the ceremony so the sun could not affect the attendees who would normally be, um, allergic, flowed effortlessly into the very air that surrounded them. Light magic, which came as naturally to Willow as bloodlust to a fledgling vampire.
She allowed herself a tiny internal smile at the thought of how much she and her love had changed the very fabric of their reality. How the covens and demon overlords virtually pee'd in their pants when they learnt that the evil Master of Sunnydale was able to wield light magic and not be burnt. And how little she cared, light or dark magic didn’t matter, she only cared that she was doing magic with her love.
She tried again to focus on the words of the ceremony, but her spell heightened her awareness of her surroundings. Even the air seemed heavy with the sadness that prevailed in the space marked by the spell. Her grief reached deep into the earth, seeping into the soil, spreading to the tips of every blade of grass, down to the roots of the large oak trees shading the gravestones.
Do you like this spot? I chose it specially for you, I can sit under the oak tree all day and all night.
With impeccable timing, the final segment of the ceremony began just as an imperceptible change in the atmosphere signaled the start of the sunset. The gold-streaked crimson that slowly advanced through the sky washed over her like thick, red blood, piercing her unbeating heart.
A soft but firm touch at her elbow jolted her back to the reality. The priestess had finished, and was looking at Willow expectantly. Willow frowned, then followed her gaze to the casket.
She stared helplessly at the casket, she knew she was supposed to be doing something, giving the signal to move the ceremony to the next stage, but she couldn't. She didn't want this to end, any action would bring them one step closer to the end.
Angel was at her side and he gave the small nod that started the machinery. Willow let out a whimper and covered her ears at the sound of the cables creaking.
This isn't happening. This can't be it.
There was no peroration for this moment. The air was still, even the birds and trees were quiet. The Earth itself seemed to stop moving. The casket (handmade from imported mahogany, only the best for her love) slowly lowered into the hollow that was covered with pleasing, inoffensive green cloth.
Willow knew it was a void, nothing else. The nothingness within her unbeating heart that once held so many rich emotions was reflected in that dark chamber that she insisted on carefully hand-digging herself. No one - nothing - was allowed to touch that space. She made sure of that, with her hands and her magic.
It seemed to take forever, the sinking movement. Inch by inch, foot by foot, until the casket disappeared underneath the green cloth. The machinery stopped with a soft clang. Then it was silent.
All eyes turned to her.
If I were walking toward you, would you be holding your arms out in greeting?
Her feet felt leaden as she walked up to the edge of the green carpet. One more step and she would be at the edge of the chasm. It was the hardest step she had to take in all her lives, human and demon. She stood there while minutes ticked away into the vacuum of her mind and soul. If she had a soul. She knew she had to be the first, she would let no one else be the first.
But it was torture.
She reached down and scooped up a handful of dirt, the fine, red-brown offering from the very earth that would swallow her love. It felt cool, even cooler than her skin. Her hand closed around the earth, she brought her fist up to her lips and she gave it one final lingering kiss. My love, when you are one with the earth, will the demon let me come back and remember you?
Six feet. She had carefully measured, to the exact millimeter. The distance seemed to stretch on forever as the fine particles rained down in slow motion onto the hard wood, scattering with a bounce and a thud before settling all over the surface.
It was her last chance to say something, feel something, know something. But she was blank. She could summon ... nothing ... as she collapsed suddenly to the ground, her legs no longer having the strength to hold her up.
Angel was there in a flash. His grip almost crushing her arm. She looked up at him, and her eyes were empty and desperate.
"Thanks for coming, Giles," Angel showed Giles into the living room and handed the watcher a cup of tea that the little folks had prepared as soon as they returned to the mansion.
"It's the least I can do. Tara is, was like a daughter to me,” Giles said.
"Willow should be here, but -"
"How is she?"
"Harmony is trying to get her settled, she hasn't said anything to us, hasn't eaten anything for days," Angel sighed as he stirred honey into his tea.
They busied themselves with their respective teas for a moment. Two men, one nearing the end of his life, the other facing immortality, stirring sugar and milk into their tea. It should be amusing, but neither could muster even a small grin.
"This isn't a social call. You're worried about something, aren't you?" Angel leant forward in his armchair and confronted the elder Watcher.
"You can guess what it is.”
"The state of affairs, as Wesley might put it."
Giles took a sip of tea before answering. "With Willow out of action, I, we, need to know if the Sunnydale Peace will hold. I also need to know if she is stable - she is very powerful, and if she is overcome by grief there's no telling what she might do. I'm sorry if I sound callous, but there are larger things at stake than a vampire in deep mourning."
"What about you? Can your slayers keep their side of the agreement?" Angel asked bluntly.
"We're not the ones with a potential loose cannon on our hands, Angel. The slayers are status quo. The demon population, on the other hand, is restless; we heard some are harboring thoughts of dissent. Even so I'm not concerned, I trust you to keep the fighting factions at bay. But can you control Willow?" Giles threw the question back at Angel.
Angel considered Giles' question carefully. He and the watcher had too much history, too much water under the bridge, they understood each other too well, for him to ignore the question, or dismiss it with false assurances. Truth was, Willow had passed over most of Master duty to the Family she carefully put together. Shortly after Tara was diagnosed she sent for Angel and gave him chapter and verse.
"Most of my businesses run themselves. Anya keeps an eye on the finances and deals with the demon world, Cordelia runs the legit businesses and Harm is my muscle. I'll make an appearance once in a while, but since you were the one who forced this Mastership on me, you're taking over until Kitten is cured. Don't come to me unless it's absolutely necessary," Willow the Master instructed while helping Tara pack for their flight to New York.
"The only person who could rein in Willow's power was Tara. If Willow goes on a rampage, we'll need a combined force of slayers and all the demons I can muster. Failing that, of course there's Dru," he said slowly.
"You're asking me to entrust the safety of the population of Sunnydale, perhaps the world, on your crazy childe?"
"And what's the alternative?"
Giles had no answer to that.
When Harmony came into the living room, she found the two men sitting silently across from each other, both in deep contemplation.
"Er Angel, am I interrupting?"
"No. Did you get Willow settled in?" Angel asked.
Harmony fidgeted uncomfortably. "She insisted on going to her Sanctum, won't let me take her to her bedroom. She's way stronger than me, Angel, I can't fight her," she tried to explain, her eyes following her boss as he jumped up from his seat and stormed toward the other side of the mansion.
Harmony and Giles exchanged a look and followed swiftly.
"Willow! Childe, let me in!" Angel rapped loudly on the doors of the Sanctum, doors of solid black glass that mocked him with their silence. He looked at Giles with fear in his eyes. "Willow, Giles is here, he wants to speak to you. He’s leaving soon."
Again the silence mocked his helplessness.
"If she's in the Sanctum surely she's safe, we can leave her be," Giles said.
"The problem is, no one can enter without her permission, and I don't know what she'll think up when the reality that Tara is gone sinks in. Besides, I want to make sure there is nothing made of wood that she can use," Angel replied.
"You think ... oh. Do you think she’ll do harm to herself?"
"Yes," Angel said simply.
"But taking everything made of wood away won't help. It won't stop her from casting a sun spell or conjuring up holy water," Harmony commented.
Angel turned back to the doors and raised his hand again. Before it connected, they slid open with an almost silent hiss. He stepped forward, and was stopped by an invisible barrier. He was about to shout out when Giles stepped in without problem.
Giles blinked as he entered the bright, white space. No windows but the light provided by discrete crystals was just like daylight. He felt the tell-tale signatures of high magic by two bonded witches, he couldn't tell where one ended and the other began, so interwoven was their magic. And their everything else.
Willow looked so small, hunched behind her giant translucent table where she conducted business over the years. Giles himself had been at the opposite end of that desk many times, receiving the cold-eyed stare of the Master of Sunnydale on matters to do with the slayers or watchers. Willow always seemed like a giant, sitting there at her desk, her confidence, her demeanor, her stature, all befitting her job.
He was shocked at how frail she looked now. There was no fire left in those eyes. As he approached, he heard soft whispering.
"Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays you work at the museum. You love the influence you have over the curators and the variety of art you bring to the exhibits. Sunnydale Museum has become one of the most notable in southern California because of your desire to nurture local artists."
She had on her lap a desk diary, the type that used to be popular before the advent of multi-functional PDA/camera/phone/mini-computer devices. She was flipping through page after page, full of a woman's flowery handwriting.
"Tuesdays you work in your studio, sometimes all day, until I have to come fetch you for dinner. You never show me your work until they're almost done and I fall more in love with you every time you show me."
Giles realized who she was talking about, talking to. His legs almost gave way and he had to lean on the wall for support, so absorbed was he in sharing Willow's reminiscence.
"Thursdays you go riding. You tease me continually about my horse fear. You say the most powerful Master on the west coast shouldn’t be afraid of itty bitty horsies. I love to taste the earthy scents on you after you come back from riding, it permeates your skin, your hair, inside you. There is something different about you after you ride, something earthy and solid. Thursday is when Cowboy Kitten comes out to play with Willow-pet."
Slim fingers traced a pattern on the page, along the words, as if wanting to follow the path forged by the ink.
"When you started treatment the first thing you had to give up was riding, and you said that was one of the biggest regret you had. And when you became too weak to hold a brush, you told me that at some moments you wanted me to forget about our promise. But I always keep my promise, I'll always keep my promise to you."
With a deep stuttering breath, she closed the diary and looked at Giles for the first time in, what was it, months, years?
"It's Saturday today. It's her favorite day because it's 'date night'. That's when we can forget about being vampire & human, Master & Kitten, black & white. We can be ourselves on a Saturday night.”
"I'm so sorry, Willow.” Giles meant it. Tara was his daughter, and over the years he had come to accept Willow as Tara's mate. It was unheard of, this amount of attachment between a soul-less vampire and a human. When the Council heard about this, they were both concerned and intrigued. It took him several years of playing hard politics to deflect the interest and stop the inquisition from the bumbling fools across the Atlantic.
"She made me promise to never Turn her, not under any circumstances. We thought we'd have 50 or 60 years together, and privately I thought I'd figure something out during that time," she paused, then she grimaced. "Is it because I'm evil? Undeserving? That I don't even get 50 years?" Her voice broke into a sob at the last few words.
"Oh, child." Giles didn't know how to begin to comfort the distraught vampire. He was sure she would want to forget this incident afterwards, of how vulnerable she appeared in front of him. He never expected when he started his training as a watcher that one day he'd be trying to console a vampire over losing her pet. Except he recognized that slotting Willow into the 'demon/vampire' box and Tara into the 'pet' box was far too simplistic. Tara had long shred the 'pet' identity to all but the newest demon overlords who came by for 'diplomatic' visits.
Willow was weeping quietly, her breath came in short gasps, as if she still needed to breathe to exist. Her grief was palpable, he recognized that grief in its purest form was still grief. His concern for her well-being grew.
"I was writing something for her, but I all have are crumpled bits of paper," she said suddenly, gazing at a small mountain of yellow paper that was scattered around her desk.
Giles picked up one of the balled up pieces of paper, asked the silent question and was afforded a small nod. He read the words in small, neat handwriting and tears welled up in his eyes, he had not felt as touched in his sixty-odd years.
He choked back a cry at the sensitivity of the words. But he stiffened, he had something more serious to discuss with Willow, and he didn't know how to start.
"There is no need for the frowny face, Giles. She made me promise, and I keep my promises to her, I always have and will do so till I'm dust. So you can go back to merry old England and leave your slayers and watchers to play with my grandsire." A harder edge crept into Willow's voice.
"Willow, I -" Giles started, surprised at the sudden change in atmosphere inside the Sanctum.
"I really appreciate you coming. She does too. But I also know the other reason why you're here. Your pitiful world is safe from this world destroyer. Now leave me alone with my pain."
Before Giles could utter another word, a blast of magic propelled him back toward the door. "Willow, what about you? You have to take care of yourself," he managed to shout out before he was unceremoniously dumped outside into the hallway and the doors closed behind him.
"Go home, Giles," Willow's voice projected inside his head.
"Well?" Angel and Harmony pounced on him immediately.
He could only look at them forlornly.
Willow waved her hand distractedly and a fire roared into life in the fireplace. Tara loved the fire, even though the temperature in the Sanctum was controlled so it was warm enough for them, in particular Tara, to sleep naked without needing to be covered, as they were wont to do if they were too exhausted after hours of lovemaking.
I feel so tired, bone tired. Even more tired than all those times put together.
She must have drifted off because when she opened her eyes the fire was flickering on the edge of extinction. She watched the dying fire in a trance, and tried to gather her thoughts.
Suddenly a sharp bang jolted her awake, she shook her head in annoyance that she must have fallen asleep again. She was about to make her way to the chaise lounge when she felt a gust of wind blow a chill through her, like a needle through silk. She felt bile creeping up at the back of her throat. Tried to shout out but no sound came out. Tried to summon her magic but there was just raw terror washing over her. She blacked out.
When she regained consciousness she was lying face down on the sidewalk of an unknown street. Her mind was a cottony jumble that stopped her from wondering why she was where she was. She pushed herself up and mentally tested her muscles and joints, satisfied that she wasn't hurt, and was still a vampire. She followed the streetlights down the street, having faint thoughts that she normally wouldn't need streetlights. Just as well because she turned a corner and was smothered in a blanket of darkness so thick she couldn't see beyond her outstretched hands. She turned back but was greeted by the same thick darkness that seemed to close in on her.
Unfamiliar fear grew inside her, threatening to break into the deathly quiet.
I must be entering some kind of hell.
Her feet mechanically brought her forward, till she reached what seemed to be a gate. She felt around it, eventually finding the catch and it opened with a creak.
Beyond the gate was a lighter space. Her extra-sensory senses told her that she was in a pentagonal room, not unlike her own Sanctum.
Spotlights came on with a clang, and she saw a small figure on a stage at the far side of the room. She squinted and realized it was a girl with an eerie resemblance to herself. Though she had no reflection, she had the technology to take photo images of herself, and since Tara loved those, they utilized that software frequently.
She was rooted to her spot, but she gradually became aware of her doppelgänger, who seemed ... human .. and seemed to be answering questions that an unseen interrogator was throwing at her. The questions were soundless, but Willow could hear the girl's answers inside her head, she could feel the emotions and thoughts of the girl, as if they were her own.
"Yes," she said, though she didn't know what for.
At the last answer, the girl turned and looked at Willow with sad, sympathetic eyes. She stretched out her hands in mock greeting, and then her face changed.
She sat up, covered in sweat, shivering from the cold, the scream from the nightmare fresh on her lips.
Willow stumbled into the kitchen, looked at the clock. 9.08pm. There was no life in the mansion. Angel was probably taking Giles back to his hotel. Harm and her boys were out, creatures of the night that they were.
She grabbed a bottle of water and drank it in one gulp.
"Tara, I just had the worst nightmare," she said to the empty room.
She rekindled the fire when she returned to her Sanctum. This time she decided to forego magic and carefully threw dried logs into the fireplace, watching as the wood caught fire. She sat precariously close to the fire, so close that her skin crackled and threatened to singe. She had always enjoyed these games of tempting fate, though it gave Tara heart attacks every time.
At the thought of Tara she choked back tears and had to support herself as she walked slowly back to her chair again, trying to ignore the sights and sounds from her nightmare that were still fresh in her mind. Unlike many humans, she remembered all her dreams, often more vividly than her 'awake' life.
"You're a witch, an unusual witch who has both darkness and light inside you, the dreams will never leave you alone," the beautiful voice in her head told her.
They discussed dreams often. Tara loved to dream, she loved to let her feelings go. She told Willow that "a night's dreaming is never enough." Willow smiled at that, and at the memories of the many nights they spent making their own dreams come true.
She groaned as her stomach felt the water she just drank. It was the first time in days, perhaps weeks, that she had taken anything. She knew she was weak, getting weaker, but she had no desire for any form of nourishment.
I know what you'll say, love, but I can't. It's my punishment.
She slowly reached for the diary again. She felt every cell of her undead body protest at the exhaustion. Soon her eyes closed.
Willow stood proudly, like a good lieutenant, a shade behind the Master, next to Xander. They were the apples of the Master's eye now, having dislodged older, staler has-beens like Darla and Luke. The way they arranged themselves, the way they held themselves, every movement and every word were carefully orchestrated to enforce the Master's power.
Willow opened her eyes and she was back in her Sanctum. She felt weak because of the need for blood, but at peace as she savored the residual remnants from the dream.
More than a dream. It was exactly how we met, and how we fell in love. I was such a young demon then, I had no idea of the magnitude of the gift I was about to be given.
The fire was almost out again. Must be the logs, must remind Clem to get better quality logs that burn longer.
She wondered whether time was passing quicker than normal and was surprised when the clock showed just past 10pm. She wondered if the moon was up yet, it was supposed to be a night of the full moon. Perhaps, she wasn't sure. She knew she should feel ashamed about letting such important information lapse, but she simply didn't care anymore.
She felt herself growing weaker as the cumulative effects of not feeding properly, and the events of the day, took their toll. She wondered if there had been studies on how long a vampire could survive without blood, and how it would feel to fade away. Would she suddenly become dust as her body ran out of whatever it was that sustained it? Or would she merely lose consciousness and return to her natural, dead state?
With difficulty, she tried to recall the dream just passed. She closed her eyes and thought back to the first few days that she and Tara were together, of how unbelievably happy she felt. But of course it didn't last. Nothing did, for she was a monster.
Willow impassively watched the screens as the sensors followed the progress of the intruder. Yellow and orange hues surrounded the shape, not the usual blue and green of room temperature vampires.
For the second time in one night, Willow woke up with a scream. But this was a scream of orgasmic bliss as a result of a climax that had shot through her at the end of the dream. Tara's touch in the dream had seemed so real that she was transported to that moment, when they threw all caution to the wind and decided that they would be together. Who cared about rules and traditions.
She remembered how they giggled at the inevitable scandal that would ensue. But that first night, when they were hidden away in Willow's Sanctum, they basked in the cocoon of their newly re-discovered love.
Willow craved sleep. In her delirium, with sweat pouring off her uncontrollably, her thin body shaking constantly, all she wanted was to return to the world of dreams to see Tara again.
"If you want me to experience all our time together, give that time to me," she said weakly. She thought she was dying, and it was strangely comforting.
She thought about her own Turning, at the hands (fangs, really) of Xander, about the whole universe of opportunities that were lost to her seventeen year old, fluffy self. She thought of the old Master and the Order and the unquestioned loyalty he demanded. She thought of the slayers and the motley assortment of characters that came into her life.
But most of all, she thought of Tara. Her constant sun, moon, star, air, water and universe. How even her demon grew to savor every second spent with her love.
She remembered the numbness they both felt, that day at the doctor's office. Of how Willow's demon had almost escaped and how she was tempted to savagely rip the poor man's throat apart.
And how the only reason for her existence faded away with the sound of that last rasping breath that would forever be etched in her mind. She had spent the endless stretch of time before The End at Tara's side, not sleeping, not feeding, not even blinking sometimes, so she could remember as much of her love as possible. Each labored breath, each struggle as her love tried to smile or speak or open her eyes, each weak squeeze of their entwined hands was desperately consumed and stored away.
Listening to the slowing heartbeat that had been her rock for so many years, as it stuttered, and then there was silence.
"I am condemned, but you owe me one last chance. Take me, but give me one last dream," she begged.
They were in the movie theater but since their tongues were buried deep in each other's throat they had no idea what was showing onscreen. Willow's hand slipped naughtily underneath Tara's thin t-shirt.
She woke up, and she couldn't even scream. She was jerking and throbbing from the aftershocks, she was sure she came physically.
She shivered from the sensations. Then another shiver ran through her, coldness creeped up from her back and the hairs at the back of her neck stood straight up.
"Tara?" she asked uncertainly.
At the recesses of her consciousness, she could vaguely feel Tara's presence. There was a movement at the corner of her eyes but when she turned around there was nothing. She was in her Sanctum, a sacred place, she was sure no one, nothing, not even a ghost, could enter without her permission.
She flopped back down and stared at the ceiling. The memories of times with Tara were so real she felt tears and despair coming, but she forced them away.
Just let me sleep. Let me go back to the world of dreams. Bring those memories back to me.
Willow told the crystals to dim the lights. They were starting to burn her eyes, small specks were swimming in front of her and she couldn’t focus.
A thin stream of tears fell from the corner of her eyes, trickling down her cheeks. She made no effort to staunch the tears or wipe them away. She knew that it was a wasted effort.
On one level she knew that she was slipping in and out of consciousness, and she knew she should try to snap her mind out of lethargy. There was something comforting about this fugue state. She could shut out the heartache and pretended that she was living in the world of dreams.
"You have responsibilities," a soft voice rang out.
"That were forced on me," Willow retorted.
"But you're always my responsible Will. Are you my responsible Will?" the beautiful voice said.
"I'm your everything Will," Willow sighed. She felt tears coming. Was this another dream, or something else?
Willow threw her senses wide open, to try to reach the source of the beautiful voice. She didn't want to open her eyes, she was afraid of what she wouldn't see if she opened her eyes.
"I'm here, you don't need to be afraid."
"I keep telling you, I'm an evil fiend, I'm not afraid of anything," she pouted.
"Then why are you so afraid to open your eyes?"
Willow hesitated, her love had always had the uncanny knack of calling her out, at exactly the right moment.
"I don't trust myself, Tara, I think I'm dreaming, and when I wake up you'll be gone."
"I'm here, Will, feel me. Trust yourself when you feel me."
Willow reached out with one open palm. "Hold my hand. If you really are here, take my hand, baby."
Her entire body stiffened in tension and she held a breath that she didn't need. The undead nerve endings on her fingers hummed in anticipation of the touch.
And when she felt, finally, the tender touch of warm fingers that she knew so well, her hand was shaking so much and she had no grip. She felt Tara's fingers slip out of reach, and cried out.
But strong fingers grasped her hand firmly, and wrapped it up in protection. Their fingers instinctively entwined, and Willow opened her eyes.
And a cry choked at the back of her throat.
Pre bone-thin Tara. Pre gray-pallor Tara. Pre all-life-sucked-out-by-chemotherapy Tara. This was the Tara of her soul, the Tara she had so carefully drawn so that she could treasure within her heart, each exquisite feature meticulously mapped out over the years.
She could barely contain the sob that escaped from her at Tara's smile. She pulled her love close and buried her head in the familiar chest. Her whole body was shaking.
"Baby, it's alright. I'm here," Tara soothed.
Willow couldn't stop. Tears were falling freely from her, and she held onto her love with an iron clasp.
"I'm making your shirt all wet," she murmured, but made no attempt to stem the flood of tears.
"You're worried about getting my shirt wet?" Tara teased.
Willow looked up, and was overwhelmed by an intensity inside her from Tara's benevolent look. Her mind was strangely quiet, as all her focus was on her love - her soft love who she had buried just hours before.
"Am I dreaming?" she wondered aloud.
"No, I'm really here," Tara answered, anticipating Willow's next question.
"Shh. I can't tell you yet."
"But you tell me everything." The Willow pout was in place again.
"I said I can't tell you yet, I'll tell you when it's time," Tara replied, and she reinforced the message by kissing Willow hard, so hard that their lips felt crushed and bruised.
Willow felt like a possession, one that Tara was stamping her ownership on. Mine, mine, Kitten seemed to be saying. To remind herself? To remind Willow? Tara must have suffered through their separation too.
Willow let her body go slack into a loose noodle form for Kitten to mold, to explore and cherish as she wished. It had taken her by surprise, when they first started their games, how easily she submitted to Kitten, how natural it felt to be under Kitten's dominance.
Tara caressed the small gold earring in Willow's ear, and with a small tug, removed it.
"No games tonight. Tonight, we're equals," she hummed into Willow's ear.
Willow shuddered as Tara breathed and nibbled on her sensitive ear, everywhere her love touched was fire. She didn't even bother with the pesky basics, with a wave of her hand, their clothes fell to the floor and she pulled her naked love into her arms. Tara grinned.
Tara's grin turned into full blown squeals as Willow set about exploring every inch of her love's body. Willow remembered visiting the blind, alternate universe version of her during her dimensional hopping days. She remembered her reaction when she first met the tiny, pathetic, girl in a plain T-shirt and second-hand jeans, of how repulsed she felt at the disability. Vampires were strong creatures, and weak vampires were usually culled. But they started talking, and the blind vampire told her about her brave Tara, and how it didn't matter that her sight was gone, the ravishment of her love was as powerful and arousing without sight.
She was mapping her lover again, with her hands, her lips, her skin, rediscovering one soft curve after another. Tara mirrored Willow's moves, her touch lingering over tingly skin, re-learning, re-heating. Ready fingers sought out hidden depths that were cool and wet, hot and smooth, tight and welcoming.
It had been a while for them. Since the doctors ran out of treatment and Tara grew weaker by the day, they hadn't been intimate, Willow refusing her love's plea to find release elsewhere.
They took their time, slowly allowing their passion to build up, teasing each other with kisses and feathery touches that fulfilled and swelled. Yet when they surged too high or too fast, they would slow down and returned to soft lazy strokes, waiting for the tightness to subside before starting the build up all over again.
We're on a journey together, and it will never end.
Time and time again, they brought themselves almost to the edge of their desires, then eased off the pressure to let the urgency pass. The powerful sensations didn't retreat, instead they slowly added to the tension and excitement spreading to every single cell in their bodies.
Willow no longer knew where her cold, undead body ended and Tara's warm, healthy body started. They found themselves, without thinking, at the center of the Sanctum, and their fused bodies and essences open to the forces of the elements that had been woven into the sacred space. The earth underneath them, the very earth that had swallowed Tara a few hours ago, seemed to be calling out to them, to invite them to let their energies flow into the natural rhythm of the universe.
The small part of her mind still thinking thoughts that weren't Tara, Tara, Tara wanted this ritual to last forever. She recognized that this was a ritual that she and her love were performing, a supplication to the goddesses who had watched over them for so many years, their mounting pleasure that they still held onto fiercely, but freely available for the goddesses.
She froze in fear at the one thought that lingered in her mind. What will happen when this ends? When our desire for each other had been sated, when the goddesses are done with us, what then shall we do? Will it be time for her to leave?
She felt her arousal draining out of her. But in a flash Tara was there, and with swift kisses and murmured words of love, brought her back to the brink.
"I'm here. I have you," Tara repeated until Willow's fears receded.
"I'm yours," Willow said.
"And I'm yours too," Tara replied.
This time they reached the peak quickly, and they knew, they knew it was time. The slow fire burning of their impeding release gathered power and when they hit climax together it was an exploding orgasm that released their love, their spirits and their magic in a blinding, deafening burst of pure whiteness that spun them round and round, up and down, in and out, and filled them with joy that radiated from the dead center of the pentagram into every corner of the Sanctum.
It was a long while before they could properly see, hear, taste, feel.
"I never want to move from here again," Willow said.
Tara answered with a sleepy, throaty, sigh.
They drifted off to sleep.
A distant clock chimed in the midnight.
Willow's subconscious thought it'd heard something, she frowned and woke up a part of her mind.
She was about to wake Tara when she felt her love move. Then abruptly sat up.
"What's the matter, love," Willow asked.
There were tears in Tara's eyes. "I-i-i didn't know it'll be this soon," she choked.
Willow felt a chill up her spine, the same chill as that day when they found out about the illness.
"No, no, no," her entire body was shaking. "No, you said you're really here, and I'm not dreaming. I … no."
"Will, listen to me. I said I'll tell you when it's time," Tara said, her voice trembling too.
Willow was still shaking. "Time? What time?" But she knew what the answer would be.
"They're coming for me," Tara breathed.
"They? Who are they? Whatever they are, they'll have to come through me first," Willow said through clenched teeth. She threw the covers off and pulled herself up.
Tara's hand on her arm gently pulled her back. "No. You can't fight them, just like you can't fight nature. Remember what we talked about. Remember your promise."
"How can I now? After what just happened? You expect me to continue my life without you?"
"Yes, darling. You've done so much good, you have to carry on," Tara whispered as she stroked Willow's cheeks, tracing the path of the tears that are still flowing unchecked.
"How can I? Eventually the demon will forget you and I’ll destroy worlds again."
"Have faith. I’ll come back to you," and with that Tara leant in and gave Willow a deep kiss.
There was chanting now, Willow could hear it more clearly.
She cupped Tara's face in her hands and returned the kiss. "Do you promise? Promise me you'll come back to me."
"I promise," Tara said as she stood up. Willow could see faint shapes nearing the Sanctum now, and Tara herself seemed to be growing in luminescence. Their hands were joined, but she could feel Tara's hand becoming lighter.
"I keep my promises, my love. Will you keep yours?" she asked the beautiful blue eyes.
The music stopped and she looked around to see herself and Tara surrounded by children. Angels.
Tara opened her hand and Willow saw that it held a small seed. With her other hand, Tara opened Willow's hand and placed the seed reverently in Willow's palm. She closed the fist, brought it up to her lips and gave it a lingering kiss.
"Yes, my love," Tara said. "I will keep my promise. I love you, Willow. Take this seed and bury it with me, let it grow in the earth that holds my essence. I know you have secured the space so it will never be touched. When it's time, I will return to you."
"When?" Willow's whisper was hardly audible.
Tara was fading away. She could only smile as the angels began their song again. Her last touch to Willow was when she place the gentlest of kiss on Willow's lips.
And then she was gone.
Willow woke up, felt like she woke up, and she hurt everywhere. There was pain and anger, her demon demanded violence.
When it's time, I will return to you.
Her demon was gathering her deepest, darkest black magic in a fit of rage. She needed something to throw.
She opened her fist and saw the seed.
Her demon whimpered as it was calmed.
Take this seed and bury it with me, let it grow in the earth that has my essence.
She called out silently to her lost love.
The sun rose the next day to find a small forlorn vampire kneeling in the shade of a large oak tree by a freshly dug grave.
She wove a protective spell around her and gently, with her bare hands, dug a small hole in the ground next to the grave.
She seemed to be saying a prayer, but it was too soft for any ears but her own. After the prayer was finished, she laid a small seed inside the hole and covered it with the earth again.
She returned to her perch underneath the large oak tree, wrapped herself up tighter in her coat, and sat to watch vigil over her love.
We're forever, Tara.
150 years later …
Angel and Harmony turned around the corner of the block and found themselves in a children's playground. All was quiet.
No noise. No traffic. No passers-by. Even the air was quiet.
Air did not normally have color did it? Not even a master vampire should be able to see the molecules weaving their way though the empty space, tracing Brownian motion against each other.
As Angel became accustomed to the sight before him, he could gradually make out shapes haphazardly arranged around the area. Human shapes. Children shapes. He was not sure whether it was the bright light or the actual pallor of the children but he found it difficult to focus on any one in particular.
He stayed still and closed his eyes for a moment. Took a deep breath, out of habit. When he reopened his eyes it was much clearer and he could tell that the children were singing, he could tell from the way their bodies swayed in rhythm, and the uniformity of the words coming silently out of their mouths. Yes, they were singing, but damned if Angel could hear the music or the words.
Magic. He could practically smell it. He decided to get a closer look.
Before he could, the choir stopped their silent recital and one by one the children started to disperse. The children shapes left their perches on the swings and slides and with a whiff of breeze disappeared into thin air.
Ambient sounds had returned to the playground - birds chirping, distance sounds of car horns, the creak of an abandoned seesaw.
The area was empty except for a figure slumped on the swings, unconscious, or worse.
Angel was the first to reach the child. A teenager, he estimated. Long blonde hair covering the head falling against her chest. Clothing that had seen better days barely providing enough protection against the rain, which had continued unabated. He gathered her up in his arms.
"Is she ... ?" Harmony asked hesitantly.
"Human. And breathing. But only just. Call the hotel, have a medical team on standby," he instructed.
He brushed her hair away from her face and nearly dropped her as recognition washed over him.
Harmony was the first to speak.
"Oh my god. It's Willow's Tara."