Author: Chris Cook
A luxury catamaran - equipped, were one to recognise them, with some very expensive and non-civilian radar and communications antennae - rested placidly on the calm sea, soaking up the bright sunlight streaming from a cloudless sky.
On the wide rear deck a curvaceous blonde in a white bikini, which proved quite inadequate to the task of covering her decently, lay on a sun lounge and stretched, murmuring to herself and stroking her lightly tanned abdomen. She smiled widely as she felt someone kneel beside her, between her and the sun, and a new hand joined hers, tracing the border between shadow and sunlight on her stomach.
"Ah, this is the life," Tara murmured happily. "I love field work." She opened her eyes, and her smile managed to widen as she saw Willow beside her, dressed in a bikini top and a cloth tied around her waist as a skirt, offering her a tall glass of juice.
"You don't get this kind of service in the office," she added with a wink.
"I could arrange it," Willow offered. "Provided there's a good lock on the office door?"
"You need privacy to give me a drink?" Tara asked.
"I didn't come out here just to give you a drink," Willow replied, blowing her a kiss. "M's last message said we'd be moved to a double office when we got back - we should give it a proper housewarming, don't you think? Office-warming, even?"
Tara parted her lips and Willow leaned over to kiss her, but just before she had the chance an urgent beeping interrupted them.
"Drat," she complained. "One of these days I'm going to conveniently 'forget' that we're supposed to have cellphones with us at all times, home and away."
"Let me know when," Tara sighed. "It'd be a waste if only one of us forgot." She flipped open her phone.
"Sorry to interrupt your time off," M said without preamble, "but we have a problem, and you two are the only team we've got. Link in via the satellite."
"Will do," Tara nodded, closing the phone.
"Will do," Willow sighed. "I guess 'do Will' will have to wait?"
"Will will wait?" Tara teased. "At least we got two days - on the last two assignments before we met, I had a whole hour between getting back and going out again."
"'Welcome home, back to the airport with ya,'" Willow grinned. Tara laughed and nodded.
"What's up?" Willow asked. Inside the yacht an array of flat-screen monitors had emerged from sliding panels in the bulkheads. M, from the Ministry headquarters in London, surveyed the two agents, now slightly more modestly clad in silk dressing gowns.
"We have a situation," she said. "Eighteen hours ago Jasmine Ash escaped from Europol custody. She's on the loose, and considered extremely dangerous. We believe she intends to pursue her usual goal, and we've confirmed she's kidnapped at least one civilian already."
"I'm not familiar with her," Willow said. Tara shrugged.
"Fred?" M asked. A split-screen brought Winifred Burkle into view from her R&R office.
"Jasmine Ash was an adult movie star," she explained. "A good one - I guess y'all would say too good, as it turned out. She became obsessed with herself, to the exclusion of all other performers in her field, and turned evil. Her life's goal now is to have all smut in the world service her. She started off sabotaging other films and writers, then moved to cyber-crime to shut down websites that competed with her own. She was arrested and was to be brought to trial."
"And that's when she escaped?" Willow surmised.
"Apparently the officer in charge of her detention was a friend of hers from their school days," M said. "He had a crush on her, and she has an almost hypnotic effect on people who fall for her. He'd blanked out the security cameras for six hours before anyone knew she was gone."
"You said we were the only team you've got?" Tara asked. "Why's that? Are all the other Bunnies on assignment?"
"No," M shook her head, "it's to do with the civilian hostage. So far as we're aware, Jasmine's current scheme involves some kind of artefact that she believes has magical properties. This artefact was imported, illegally, into Los Angeles, but there was a mix-up in shipping and it went on sale at a market instead of being kept in storage. A local woman bought it - that's why Jasmine had her abducted. And this is the woman in question."
A new image appeared on the monitors, and Willow and Tara both gasped in surprise.
"It's-" Willow began.
"Me!" Tara said in shock.
"Her name is Chance," M said. "She has no connection to any of this, all our files confirm she's an innocent bystander. But as you can see, she's an almost identical match for Agent Shy Bunny. That's why I'm assigning you two. Jasmine hasn't arrived in the US yet - if you can beat her there, you can switch places, and have the opportunity to locate her base of operations when you're taken there for whatever scheme she has in mind. We're sending Kitten One to transport you both, it should be there any minute now. Agent Cheerleader Bunny will be your backup, she's already in LA."
Willow and Tara looked up as the drone of a turbojet engine slowly grew outside, and the boat started to rock on shallow waves.
"Good luck, Bunnies," M said in closing.
Kitten One - Hypersonic Ministry Transport Aircraft
"This is too strange," Tara said, staring between a mirror and a print-out of Chance's photo.
"Are you okay?" Willow asked, massaging her shoulders gently.
"I think so," she nodded. "I feel kind of... I don't know. An odd sort of restlessness, I guess."
"Not every day you find a twin," Willow agreed. "Especially one you're only very vaguely related to, that is weird. Though, I really don't look like my mother at all, much, but go back to my great-great-grandmother... or maybe great-great-great-grandmother, there's some large number of greats involved anyway... and but for the wild west clothes you could swear it was me. Genetics play strange tricks."
"Wild west?" Tara asked, glad of the distraction. "You'd look pretty cute in a cowboy hat, you know. Nice waistcoat, tight pants, leather boots with spurs..."
"Yee-haw," Willow grinned. "Nah, she was a teacher, sort of. She'd travel around and stop at towns all over the place to weave her desert magic, telling all the children wild stories, educating them about the world outside their own little patch, making sure they had all their lessons learned, that kind of thing."
"Very commendable," Tara nodded. "You'd make a good teacher... you've certainly taught me a lot of interesting things I doubt I'd ever have learned anywhere else."
"I thought you preferred being the teacher, Miss Maclay," Willow said, adopting an adorably innocent expression that almost managed not to be undone by the way she leaned forward over Tara's shoulder, so she could see right down the front of her top in the mirror.
"Maybe it's time for my favourite student to have a lesson," Tara purred, reaching for a button on the console beside her chair. A section of the floor slid back to reveal a spa bath beneath, well-stocked with various scented oils and massage lotions, but unfortunately the tub itself seemed to be full.
"That's... odd," Willow frowned.
"That's odd," Tara agreed. "I mean... jello, okay, but jello in a blow-up baby pool, itself in a spa bath... isn't that kind of redundant, somewhere along the line?" Willow leaned forward and picked a note off the side of the spa.
"Oh," she said, handing it to Tara - it read '#113: inflatable pool + jello'. "Anya's smut challenge - lists were posted on the notice boards in the headquarters. Kind of like a scavenger hunt, only with, y'know, smut... She promised any device imaginable for the first agent to score the full two hundred."
"Two hundred," Tara chuckled, pressing the button to close the spa up again. "I wonder what the others are?" She idly opened a compartment beside her seat, looking for the plane's entertainment system remote control, and yelped when a helium-filled inflatable sheep with '#76' written on its side burst out of the hatch.
"I take it back," she said, as she watched the sheep bob around the ceiling, and Willow dissolved in a fit of giggles. "I'm not wondering that any more, ever."
Kitten One - Hypersonic Ministry Transport Aircraft
"Come in Kitten One, do you read me? Over."
"Loud and clear, Buffy," Willow replied, as she and Tara donned their leather espionage gear. "What's the sitch?"
"They took Chance out of LA, I just found out about it - they pulled a switch with vehicles and I lost her for an hour, only just caught up."
"Okay, what's the sitch of the switch?" Willow asked patiently, doing up the zipper running up the front of her outfit.
"I tracked her down to Las Vegas," Buffy replied. "Jasmine's jet is still in flight from Paris, you'll beat her here easily. The artefact is still with Chance, they're holding her in Caesar's Palace."
"Good, we'll make our switch on schedule," Tara replied, reaching around Willow and unzipping her outfit again.
"We're supposed to be getting ready," Willow complained, very half-heartedly - more like one-sixteethedly - as Tara's hand snuck down into her suit and started prowling around her lower abdomen.
"I am getting ready," Tara replied calmly. "Hmm... planning a commando raid, are we?" Willow chuckled, then lightly slapped Tara's arm until she reluctantly withdrew.
"Thanks Buffy," she said, zipping up her suit again, "we'll be in touch when we land. Out. You," she added to Tara, after Buffy had signed off, "are a thoroughly naughty girl."
"Uh-huh," Tara murmured, slowly pulling her jacket back to expose her shoulders. "We've got twenty minutes before we land... do you think that's enough time to properly punish me?" Willow gulped.
"God you're naughty," she said, pulling her zip open again.
Las Vegas, Nevada
"I've got a fix on her location with thermals," Buffy reported from her helicopter, whirring about above the Strip.
"We're at the theatre door," Tara said. "Hurry up, Willow. We're going to be late."
"But the kitty," Willow protested, crouching a few feet away scratching a well-fed cat behind the ears. "Aw, you're so cute, aren't you?" she cooed to it. Tara laughed softly and shook her head in mock-despair.
"Go in, third door on your left." Buffy said. "You'll be right beneath her, Fred said the blueprints show a service duct running up behind the rooms, in the south wall. You can use that to get in."
"Hey cutie," Tara said as Willow joined her, and the cat sauntered over and began arching its back against her leg. Tara chuckled and opened her roll of lock-picks.
"Gus is the cat at the theatre door," she sang as she worked at the door.
"Lucky Gus - I guess word must've got around about how nice it is to rub up against your leg," Willow quipped as the door opened and they proceeded inside.
"No offence, but could you guys switch me off the radio circuit when you want to flirt?" Buffy asked.
"Oops," Willow muttered, as she and Tara turned matching shades of red.
"Only Faith's been in Africa since Friday, and it's kind of cramped up in the helicopter for a girl who's feeling a bit antsy," Buffy went on, "and listening to you two isn't helping my situation, if you know what I mean-"
"Acknowledge that, stand by," Tara said quickly, hugging Willow around the shoulders and lightly bonking their foreheads together. They quickly made their way to the room Buffy had indicated, and Willow produced a compact power drill to open the grille to the service duct.
"This bag is really uncomfortable for crawling through ducts," she muttered as she and Tara crawled inside and began awkwardly climbing to the next floor. "Come to the coast, we'll get together, we'll have a few laughs..."
"What was that?" Tara asked in confusion.
"Die Hard," Willow replied. "Tell me you've seen Die Hard?"
"Not really my kind of movie," Tara grinned.
"Okay granted," Willow admitted, "but Alan Rickman in that, they just don't make villains any better. I mean this Jasmine Ash, with the artefacts and the kidnappings and sleeping around and weird porn-star megalomania... that's just confused. Hans Gruber knew where it was at, villainy-wise."
"Alright, alright," Tara shook her head, smiling. "When we get back I'll check it out, in the interests of recognising good villainy when I see it."
"Okay then," Willow agreed, satisfied. "I'm just sayin', is all..."
They emerged into a sparsely-furnished room containing a weatherbeaten old couch, a breakfast table with a stone cylinder resting on it, some chairs, and a very irate young woman tied to one of them. Willow dropped her bag to the floor and kicked it twice for good measure.
"Shh," she advised as the captive opened her mouth. "You're Chance, right? We're here to help." She paused, struck by the uncanny resemblance between the woman and Tara.
"Okay," Chance said, "this is one weird dream now - and it wasn't too sane to begin with. Did you guys know I've been kidnapped?"
"Yeah," Willow said, as Chance and Tara stared at each other in puzzlement. "Yeah, um, we're the rescue team. Willow Rosenberg, Tara Maclay, pleased to meet you. We'll have you back in LA before you know it."
"I wish," Chance grumbled. "My boyfriend sleeps with his watch, he'd have realised the moment I was later turning up than he figured I'd accidentally be anyway."
"Sleeps with his watch," Tara repeated.
"So far as threesomes go, I can live with that," Chance shrugged. "Do I get untied, or do I have to bring the chair along for the ride?" Tara set to undoing the ropes restraining the woman.
"So, you guys are like a pair of Jane Bonds?" Chance asked. "You and Talia McCay here?"
"Maclay," Tara said. "Tara Maclay."
"Oh, that was totally the 'Bond, James Bond' thing," Chance grinned. "So is this kind of rescue thing just your everyday run-of-the-mill job?"
"Yep," Willow said brightly, picking up the stone cylinder and examining it. "Just a day in the life. Well, more like an afternoon, really... Sunday afternoon to be exact, seeing as they don't give us the weekend off. Supervillains rarely stick to the five-day working week, which is very inconsiderate of them, but consideration for others really isn't a supervillain-y trait in any case-"
"Does she always do that?" Chance asked Tara.
"She does," Tara nodded fondly.
"Funny... stuff like this doesn't happen on weekends, usually." Chance shrugged, then turned to a theoretical camera and self-narrated: "I like weekends, no surprises. This is more a Wednesday thing. I have wacky Wednesdays a lot, this would fit right in."
"Buffy," Willow said, flipping open her cellphone and setting it to speaker, "we're in, we've got Miss Talkative - we're ready for Plan A."
"I'll get Fred on the line," Buffy said. "We'll need her help for the artefact switcheroo."
"And Anya too," Willow suggested. "It may need mechanical expertise to open."
"What kind of a name is Buffy?" Chance asked.
"What kind of a name is Chance?" Buffy retorted. Willow and Tara exchanged an amused grin.
"Okay, your friendly neighbourhood mechanical genius is here," Anya's voice came from the phone.
"Me too," Fred added.
"Apparently," Chance said in an aside to her imaginary camera, "spies like conference calling. A lot."
"Okay," Willow said, ignoring her. "The artefact is pretty much as the archaeological database described, and I think we're right in thinking it's a coded container."
"There's nothing significant about the artefact itself," Fred surmised. "Jasmine Ash must be after whatever's inside of it."
"Okay there's two end pieces and two rotary segments," Willow said. "Letters on each, a full alphabet - I'm guessing it's puzzle time."
"Dan Brown has a lot to answer for," Tara chuckled.
"The inscription on the end piece reads, 'Green grow the lilacs four, S/M one, three,' and then a blank space."
"I figured it was kind of cool to own a genuine artefact with S&M written on it," Chance offered. "Not my thing, but man, that's pretty funny anyway."
"S-M," Anya muttered in puzzlement.
"Green grow... seasons!" Fred exclaimed. "I get it, move the segments to W/T."
"How do you figure that?" Anya asked.
"Easy," Fred replied. "The answer is the third season, winter - W/T, season 3, y'all get it? S/M for summer, first season - it's syllabic breakdown. And plants grow in spring - count it off, spring gets the number four. Three is winter - win-ter, W-T."
"That's the silliest puzzle I've ever seen," Willow muttered, turning the segments to show 'W' and 'T'. The end of the cylinder screwed off, letting another, slimmer cylinder drop onto the table.
"It's doing a Russian doll thing," Willow sighed. "Next puzzle, again two rotary segments, each has... wow, dozens of words on it, whoever designed this liked carving real small. The end reads, 'You'll revealed what once was parted.' And their grammar sucked."
"It's a clue to a two-word series," Fred muttered to herself. "The deliberate mistake has to be deliberate..."
"Otherwise it wouldn't be a deliberate mistake," Anya added cheerfully.
"Got it," Fred said with barely a pause. "Does anyone want a hint?"
"Please - the series," Anya sighed. "If possible, without the attendant lording it over those of us who can't make head nor tail of cryptic crosswords."
"I always liked cryptography compared to other career paths. Diverged/Divulged, Will, check if those words are on the segments? See, 'you'll' is a clue to the letters 'u' and 'l' - say them together, 'ul'."
"The ancients spoke leet?" Willow muttered. "The words are here, I'm lining them up now."
"'Revealed' is divulged," Fred went on, "and u-l are the only two letters different from 'diverged' - parted."
"She must be great at parties," Chance commented idly.
"It's open," Willow reported, as the cylinder screwed open. This time a slender, smooth-edged jade rod dropped into her hand, which she held up and aimed her cellphone at.
"Getting video now," Anya confirmed. "I don't recognise it... where's Lara Croft when you need her?"
"I could go get changed," Tara offered, eliciting a giggle from Willow.
"Speaking of getting changed," she recovered, "shouldn't you?"
"Oh, yeah," Tara said, turning to Chance. "You, undress."
"Okay now this is getting too weird," Chance said, raising her hands. "Not that I have any specific objection to you, I've had a lot of good times alone with a body substantially like yours, on several occasions in front of a mirror - you're cute too," she added to Willow, "but-"
"In the bathroom," Tara sighed. "We swap clothes, the bad guys take me instead of you, I find out where their evil lair is, Willow and I kick butt, the world is saved. Okay?"
"And, the kicking butt part won't be a problem, if this Ash chick has lots of minions?" Chance asked.
"Nuh-uh," Willow shook her head. "They're minions, successful butt-kicking is inevitable with minions."
"Here's some clothes," Tara added, tossing Chance a bag. She shrugged and retreated into the bathroom.
"Strange girl," Willow commented.
"We've got a match," Fred announced. "The Ministry archaeological database has that thingy listed as the Culmination of Venus. It's a... erm... toy... for inserting in places..."
"Ew, I touched it!" Willow exclaimed.
"Since when have you been squeamish about dildos?" Anya asked. "I've seen the usage stats on your last mission's equipment, and-"
"Other people's dildos, no thanks," Willow clarified. "Does it have any actual unusual properties, or is it just folklore stuff?"
"It's hard to say," Fred explained, "there's no scientific proof of magical or mystical powers, but some of these old artefacts have been recorded to have some very strange permutations of the laws of physics attached to them... according to the database, the Culmination is... oh boy."
"Bad?" Tara asked.
"Very bad," Fred replied. "If, ahem, 'put to use' by a worthy vessel, the legend says that the artefact will mystically connect all woman in the world, everywhere, and draw all their climaxes into the single vessel."
"So, Jasmine thinks..." Tara summarised.
"...she's gonna steal everyone's orgasms!" Anya exclaimed. "You guys have to stop her, I need my orgasms!"
"Well, there's no actual proof it'd work," Fred offered.
"But best to keep it well out of Jasmine's hands just in case," Willow said with a shiver. "Okay, I'm putting the surprise present in the cylinder now... closing it up..." She resealed the slim cylinder, reinserted it in the larger one, and then sealed that too. At the same time, Chance sauntered out of the bathroom wearing a standard agent outfit.
"This," she said, "is cool - can I keep it?"
"Um," Willow said, looking between the two leather-clad women in front of her.
"Sure, whatever," Tara said, lightly whacking Willow on the back of her head, and grinning indulgently at her.
"So what next?" Chance asked.
"Next, we'll have a jet take you home," Tara explained, "I stay here in your place, and clothes, and continue being the abductee, and Willow's challenge will be to find a way to get into wherever it is Jasmine takes me."
"I'll get in," Willow promised. "Don't worry baby, I've got your back, always."
"I know," Tara smiled, giving her a brief kiss.
"We've turned off the main road, no more scorching highways," Tara's whispered voice came through Willow's headset. Willow stared at the monitor showing a satellite image of the convoy carrying Tara into the desert, while Buffy piloted the helicopter, and the sun neared the horizon behind them.
"Do you see any distinguishing features?" Willow asked. "The view's a bit hazy from the satellite now that the light's going, but we don't risk getting too close with the helicopter yet."
"I see tumbleweeds," Tara offered.
"No kidding? Actual tumbleweeds? Are they tumbling?" Willow asked.
"They'd just be weeds otherwise," Tara chuckled softly. "There's a big neon sign, it's facing the other way, I can't read it, but it looks run-down... I see an empty pool, a car park..."
"Some sort of tumbleweed private resort?" Willow wondered.
"There's an abandoned resort complex in that area," Fred interjected. "Blueprints have an airstrip attached, they may be taking Tara for a flight. Bringing it up on the satellite thermal scan now..."
"I can hear jet engines," Tara said. "A big plane by the sound of it... a Boeing- no, an Antonov."
"Nothing on heat or ground radar," Anya said, the frown audible in her voice. "They must've rigged it for stealth."
"We could try a mid-air docking once they're up and away," Buffy suggested, "but I don't like the chances of going into the wash of a jet that big without being tossed around and seen."
"We're picking up a satellite uplink from that location," Fred said. "Anya, can you read that?"
"Intercepted and decoded," Anya said happily. "It's a guest list, Miss Ash is assembling quite a team of black market antiquities experts... Carlsson, Engelberg, Meechum... Jasmine's people are uploading identity checks and getting results relayed back to them from the satellite."
"Jasmine must want to confirm the artefact before she attempts to use it," M theorised.
"There's other vehicles approaching the airstrip," Fred added. "Ground and air. That'd be the guests."
"Buffy, take us in," Willow said suddenly. "Anya, can you break into the uplink and add me to the list?"
"Can do," Anya confirmed.
"That's my way in," Willow nodded. "I'm coming Tara." The helicopter swooped forward as the sun set behind it.
Willow waited nervously in a line of shady-looking art dealers and disreputable archaeologists, as Jasmine's black-helmeted minions checked each of them one by one. She caught a glimpse of Tara being escorted aboard the huge Antonov air transport, surrounded by minions, and fought not to react visibly.
"I see you baby," she whispered inconspicuously.
"Mmm-hmm," Tara confirmed.
"Signal when it's okay to talk."
"Ladies and gentlemen," Jasmine Ash said, getting the group's attention. "You are here to bear witness to an historic event - my ascendancy to virtual godhood, as the divine, supreme being of humanity's erotic arts. You will each have your part to play in ensuring that everything goes to plan, but before that, I should introduce you to a little security measure, to ensure that all of you go to plan."
She stood aside to reveal a small spherical machine, hovering on the thrust of three miniature turbofans mounted around its perimeter. Its surface was dotted with lenses and sensors, and a long needle extended from its front.
"This is a Seeker," Jasmine explained. "It is capable of flawless facial recognition. Each of you has had your facial features scanned, and these scans will be programmed into the Seeker. If I order it, the Seeker will hunt you down, personally, and kill you. There will be nowhere to hide - once we take off we'll be heading straight for my headquarters, and there will be no stops along the way. The needle contains spectro-toxic poison - I'm told it's an extremely unpleasant way to die. Serve me well and you'll be amply rewarded. Betray me, and you will find out just how unpleasant a death it is."
"They've put me in a cell," Tara reported. "No surveillance. How's it going?"
"Jasmine's just giving the usual supervillain's-unique-mode-of-execution introductory speech," Willow whispered. "I'll get away from the group as soon as I can and come get you out."
She and the others were politely herded aboard the plane, which closed its rear loading ramp, taxied to the end of the long airstrip, turned, and with a roar of engines launched itself forward, and finally into the sky.
Jasmine Ash's Antonov Transport
"Are you okay?" Willow asked as she snuck into Tara's cell, a converted passenger cabin.
"Fine," Tara assured her. "Did you have any trouble giving Jasmine's minions the slip?"
"Nah, they're minions," Willow shook her head. "Let get out of here and cause a ruckus, huh?"
"Actually I've got a better idea," Tara said. "Half an hour ago Jasmine came in here to explain what she wanted with 'me' - Chance, technically. It seems as the artefact's owner I'm the only one who can open it without destroying its contents."
"Well, I managed," Willow shrugged.
"Yep, she's a little nuts," Tara nodded. "She said she'd take me to the plane's computer control room to open the artefact for her. I don't think she knows about the second cylinder, she only mentioned it needing one code, and apparently it took her three years to decode so I don't think we're in danger on that count."
"Not a Times crossword gal," Willow chuckled. "Getting into the control centre could be useful though - if you could surreptitiously hotwire a control panel, you might be able to start a feedback loop in the satellite uplink, and cause a spike big enough that the Ministry will be able to track the plane."
"Leading them right to Jasmine's hideout," Tara nodded. "But you'd have a better chance of rigging the controls than me."
"True," Willow admitted, "but she's not going to let me into the control room. Guests are confined to the passenger deck."
"I've got a plan," Tara said. "I slipped an IM kit into my boot back at the hotel, just in case..."
Jasmine Ash's Antonov Transport
Several minutes later Willow slipped out of the cell cabin, flexing her shoulders uncomfortably, and made her way stealthily back to the passenger deck, aided by the general ineptness of Jasmine's sentry minions.
"Miss Rosenberg!" someone called out just as she entered the lounge, where various ne'er-do-wells of the antiquities world were appropriately lounging. She turned to see Jasmine Ash herself smiling blandly at her.
"I sent for you almost twenty minutes ago," she went on. "I'd almost despaired of finding you - which would be most puzzling, on a sealed aircraft." Over her shoulder the Seeker hovered menacingly.
"Your guard must've gotten lost," Willow replied. "I saw one of them wandering the halls looking confused." Jasmine relaxed and smiled more warmly.
"Ah, yes," she nodded, "regrettably that often happens... I'm glad you're here nonetheless, I have prepared a short speech for my guests, on the subject of my imminent ascension to erotic godhood, I wouldn't want anyone to miss out."
"No, of course not," Willow smiled brightly, taking a seat. She leaned her elbow on the armrest and propped up her head with her hand, allowing her to whisper, "Oh, wonderful," into her tiny radio without being noticed.
"Something wrong?" Tara's voice emerged in her ear.
"No, our host's just gone into megalomaniacal speech mode," Willow grumbled.
"Thank you all for your attention," Jasmine began. "You're all busy men and women so to keep this as brief as possible I've pared my speech down to roughly two hours..."
"They don't tell you about this during recruiting," Willow complained. "Just the legions of armed guards trying to kill you, people locking you into exploding rooms and trying to feed you to carnivorous housepets... no-one ever mentioned the godawful villain speeches."
"They always hide the bad stuff in the fine print," Tara replied.
Jasmine Ash's Antonov Transport
The door to Tara's cell cabin opened, and a pair of burly minions pushed her back inside, closing the door behind her.
"Right," she growled. "Extra butt-kicking for you two." She checked her watch, on which a light glowed green, then activated her concealed radio earpiece.
"Is it safe to talk?" she asked.
"Not a problem," Willow's voice replied. "I'm in my room. I did have a roommate at one point - who said he liked 'fiesty redheads' by the way - but he seems to have decided solitude is the preferably option."
"What did you do to him?" Tara asked, sitting down and smiling.
"Me? Nothing," came the reply. "In fact I was very kind, I even demonstrated the proper technique for throwing the ceremonial blades he was carrying as part of his show-off collection."
"That's my girl," Tara grinned. "Always thinking of others."
"How are you sweetie?"
"Fine, can't complain," Tara replied. "Well, actually I can complain, having just been present for one of Jasmine's villainess-rants on the subject of how stupid her archaeology-minions are for not knowing that her stolen artefact had an inner cylinder. That took about three hours. Then she started into them about how they should already know what the solution to the second code series was, and that was actually good for four hours more. I kind of zoned out after that. Actually I'm not sure if she ordered her minions to take me back to my room, or if they just did it on their own because they figured she'd take too long to remember I was there otherwise."
"And the signal?"
"It's kind of careless of them to leave an unwilling guest such as myself standing near a communications console, without proper supervision," Tara grinned impishly. "Buffy should have started picking up a signal she can trace about two hours ago."
"Good work. So, nothing to do but sit tight and wait for us to land."
"Guess so," Tara nodded, sighing. "I really wish you were here..."
"In your cell?" Willow's voice sounded highly amused. "Should I be worried about your sudden predilection for getting me helplessly incarcerated?"
"You can worry if you want," Tara smiled. "But I hardly think you'd ever qualify as 'helpless'... not with that thing you do, the little smile on one side of your lips, and the steamy stare."
"Oh, that little trick has a certain sway over you, does it?"
"In a sense," Tara laughed. "The sense of being able to bring me to my knees showering kisses on your feet every time I see it. And then working my way up."
"Hmm... you're not the only one regretting your solitude," Willow chuckled. "But I think I may have a temporary solution... put on your glasses."
Tara pulled the pair of sunglasses out of her pocket and put them on. For a moment all she saw was her locked cabin, substantially darker of course, then the lenses lit up and she was seeing Willow. The view shifted slightly as Willow reached out, her hand looming large as she adjusted the camera at her end, resting on something at about chest-height, then she smiled and stood back.
"Can I tempt you?" she said through the radio.
"Baby, you could tempt me in your sleep," Tara murmured. Before her eyes Willow smiled and let her jacket fall from her shoulders, revealing her pale grey blouse. She undid the buttons one by one, pausing with each one to let her audience see each new stretch of skin revealed, as the vee of the neck deepened button by button.
"Mmm," Tara purred. "Lickable..." Willow just smiled, and slowly pulled her arms free of the blouse, letting it drop to the floor alongside her jacket. She reached behind her waist and undid the short zip holding her skirt tight, grinning seductively as it slid down the length of her legs.
Tara's mouth dried as Willow reached behind herself, arching her back as she undid her bra. The garment sprung free, releasing two generous breasts that the redhead cupped and stroked, tweaking the nipples to hardness.
"I know just what your face must look like now," she said mischievously.
"Yeah?" Tara asked, her voice unsteady.
"Oh yeah... and I know how wet you're getting." She released her breasts and slowly slid her panties off her hips, letting them fall. "Together?"
"Together," Tara breathed, quickly unbuttoning her jeans. She thrust a hand inside, beneath her own panties, and breathed: "...now..."
The two women sighed and shuddered together as they slid into their moist, welcoming centres. Tara watched Willow's motions and copied them exactly, stroke for stroke, her eyes devouring the elegant thighs, the curve of waist and hip, the gentle swaying and shuddering of breasts, the open-mouthed, shut-eyed expression of bliss on her partner's face.
"Oh yes baby," she whispered, pumping her fingers inside herself. "Oh that's good, you're in me..."
"Yesss," Willow's voice hissed through the radio.
"You're so hot," Tara moaned, "so wet, so perfect... come for me baby... I'm going to... please baby, together..."
"Oh... oh..." Tara sighed, fighting to keep her voice down, as her hand moved between her legs, thrusting deeply, lustily. Before her eyes Willow lay back on the bed in her cabin, planting her feet and raising her hips high, giving her an unrestricted view of herself as she plunged her fingers into her core.
"Yesssss," they breathed, together at heart.
Jasmine Ash's Antonov Transport
"Hey... hello? Anyone? Evil villain's lair up ahead, if anyone's interested," Buffy's voice faded in over the radio. Willow blinked and sat up from where she had been dozing in her cabin's single bed, idly imagining the warmth of her lover next to her.
"Buffy?" she asked sleepily.
"Were you asleep?" Buffy asked. "God I wish I could sleep on a plane! How do you do that?"
"Meditation," Willow smiled. "The key to being a long-distance flight survivor. Ash is landing? Where are we?"
"Small island off the coast of India," Buffy replied. "I've got your backs, and support teams are on the way."
"I'll tell Willow," Willow said. "Out."
Rows of trees, which proved to be mounted on rails, slid out of the way to reveal a long airstrip, as the huge Antonov transport came in to land. A hangar door opened in the side of the island's lone mountain, allowing ground crews to jog out and help the aircraft taxi safely inside.
Once the plane was secured and hooked up to gantries, Jasmine's minions herded her various guests, and Tara, out and into a spacious amphitheatre which had been specially prepared for the occasion. Jasmine stood on the stage, behind a dais covered in red silk, with the artefact's inner cylinder resting on top of it. Her audience quickly took their seats, with just the usual squabbling about places expected of international criminals. The Seeker hovered menacingly in the shadows behind Jasmine, while Tara was guarded at the side of the stage, two minions holding her politely but firmly.
"Ladies and gentlemen," Jasmine began, "you are gathered here for a momentous occasion. You all well know the love the world has for me - today, in front of you privileged few, that love will be made reality. The ultimate expression of passion, the climax, will be drawn from every living woman on this planet, drawn to me! What more perfect state could there be? I will literally become the centre of the world's love, passion and desire! You are so privileged to be present for this momentous event..."
"Good god this woman can talk," Tara's voice said in Willow's ear.
"I wish I'd brought a deck of cards," she agreed.
"...all remember my rise to prominence, in my first film, which shone with potential through its limited budget, and the admittedly workmanlike performances of my co-stars - though I suppose I should not be so harsh, for how could they not pale into insignificance in comparison? 'Appetite For Love' was a marvel of its genre, a landmark that, I would argue, is yet to be equalled by any in the field. Except myself, of course..."
Willow stifled a yawn.
"...the backward-thinking and detrimental attitudes of the nepotistic few, who in spite of the obvious superiority of myself as a focus of the world's lustful attention, continue to waste their time and money in futile attempts to promote other so-called 'adult stars'. But fortunately my legion of fans are far too discriminating for such tawdry tricks - as the great bard would say, the play's the thing, and my performances outshine any manufactured 'popularity' surrounding my competitors..."
"Guys," Tara said quietly to her captors. "Do you suppose we could sit down, or something?" The minions exchanged glances, then led their captive off stage and sat in the front row, having vacated three slumbering antiquities dealers.
"I hate it when villains quote Shakespeare," Willow sighed.
"...and I shall perform the next part of my speech in interpretive dance."
"The hell?" Buffy asked. "Did I hear that right?"
"...now the moment you have all been waiting for!"
The audience perked up and collectively rubbed the sleep out of its eyes.
"It is now only one hour until the moment when..."
A defeated sigh passed around the auditorium.
"God, can't we just skip it?" Willow moaned to herself.
"And now," Jasmine said, lifting the cylinder in her hands, "the code series that will unlock this, the instrument of my ascension to divinity - the two words that will unseal this ancient relic, the contents of which have not seen the light of day since-"
"Yesterday," Willow muttered to herself.
"Direction/Digression!" Jasmine proclaimed, twisting the cylinder's segments.
"Huh?" Tara's voice said.
"Well, I guess the archaeological world's criminal underbelly has a lot to learn," Willow shrugged. On the stage Jasmine appeared to be in some difficulty.
"Why won't this blasted thing open!" she demanded of everyone in general. "You!" she proclaimed, pointing around the auditorium. "You've betrayed me! One of you has attempted to sabotage my moment of glory! All for naught though, for I am not so easily defeated. Seal the room!" The auditorium's various exits were closed by minions, who stood guard vigilantly.
"The Seeker will kill you all, one by one," Jasmine hissed. "Now you learn the price of betraying me!"
"We can't let her kill everyone!" Tara protested.
"I've got it covered," Willow said, standing up. "Hey! Jasmine, up here! Mea culpa!"
"I see your conscience has gotten the better of you," Jasmine grinned, with an air of superiority that very nearly made both Willow and Tara laugh. "But it will do you no good! Seeker - kill Willow Rosenberg!"
The hovering machine swept up from the stage, through the crowd of people clambering over each other to get out of its way, homing in unfailingly on Willow. She stood calmly, waiting for it to approach, then when it seemed inevitable that it would strike her she quickly reached up to her neck, dug her fingers into a seam and pulled upwards. The mask came off, revealing Tara, smiling her lop-sided grin. The Seeker stopped in mid-air, deprived of its target, and hovered uncertainly.
"Surprise," Tara said, reaching forward and yanking the machine's main power cable out. She leapt over the seats in front of her, while the other Tara in the front row smiled at her dumbstruck captors, elbowed them both in the stomach, and sent them back to sleep with a pair of chops to the backs of their necks when they bent over.
There was an explosion from outside, and alarms started blaring. The remaining minions, who were already looking distinctly nervous at the current turn of events, opened the doors and fled.
"You fools!" Jasmine shouted after the two Taras as they made their escape. "I was on the verge of godhood! Divinity! Eternal splendour!"
"Hey!" Willow said, pulling off her mask and turning. "The code is 'diverged/divulged'!" Jasmine boggled at her as she and Tara turned and raced back towards the hangar, then grabbed at the cylinder and started turning its segments desperately.
"Well that should shut her up," Willow grinned as she and Tara raced along a catwalk and down to ground level.
"Why," Tara asked, "what did you put in there after you took the Culmination out?"
"Remember all that jello?" Willow chuckled. Tara nodded. "All of it," Willow said, "the whole poolful, in that tiny capsule, pressure-sealed." Tara grinned, then laughed out loud.
"You never know, she might not mind," she giggled. "Fun is in the eye of the beholder-" From the direction of the auditorium there came a loud, wet-sounding explosion and an enraged shriek, followed by a string of profanities.
"Or not," Tara said, feigning shock. "My, my. She swears like a sailor."
"I can't think why," Willow grinned. "I sincerely doubt it's the first time she's been covered in jello." She looked around. "What's the best way out, do you think?"
"Roof," Tara said. "The support teams would've come in via a helipad, or something like that."
"Actually I was thinking a maintenance shaft out onto the airstrip," Willow said.
"Call Buffy," Tara decided.
"Buffy?" Willow asked. "Conflict of opinion, advice needed. What's the quickest way out of here from where we are? I'm sending a video feed now." She held up a tiny camera and panned it around the hangar.
"Okay, see those crates off to your left?" Buffy asked.
"Go behind them." The two agents followed her directions.
"Now what?" Willow asked.
"Duck," Buffy said.
"Duck?" Willow wondered. "What does she mean 'duck'?" Tara grabbed her and pulled her down into a crouch, as the hangar doors exploded inward.
"She means duck, sweetie," Tara grinned, placing a kiss on Willow's lips. They peered over the crates to see Buffy steering an assault hovercraft into the hangar through what was left of its doors.
"Hi guys!" she called out. "Want a lift?"
Willow appeared on deck, carrying a tray with two glasses on it.
"Anything else I can get you?" she asked, setting the tray down next to the sun lounge where Tara was stretched out.
"Mmm, yeah, you," Tara replied, snaking an arm around her waist.
"Ooh!" Willow giggled. "You get frisky after we save civilisation as we know it... gotta do that more often."
"Uh-huh," Tara nodded. "The aprés-world-saving holiday cheer is always the best. Want some more sun lotion?"
"After our little lotion session earlier," Willow chuckled, "I think if I get any more lotion, I'll actually get paler the longer I lie here."
"Are you sure?" Tara purred, leaning up to whisper into Willow's ear. "It is the Ministry's patented lickable lotion... my favourite flavour... and I'm sure you'll enjoy how I apply it."
Willow's laughter, with the occasional giggling squeal and aroused moan, drifted out over the crystal-clear ocean.