Tara had spent a difficult night. Sleep hadn't come easy for her. Her thoughts had kept drifting towards Willow. She was an amazing young woman. Full of life and laughter. And Tara was the one who had to end that young woman's life.
It didn't make sense to Tara. She was a Reaper. Death was her whole reason of being. So why was this turning out to be so hard for? The Powers-That-Be had decided that Willow's time had come and she was the Reaper assigned to carry out that decision. That is the order of things. Who was she to question it?
Maybe she was just nervous. Willow's would be the first ever soul she'd harvest on her own. Yeah, maybe it's like opening night jitters... Or something like that. Part of her was looking forward to seeing Willow again, but another part of her was dreading what she would have to do. Nothing spectacular, then. No. Let's keep it subtle. Subtle and without pain. She shouldn't suffer. She doesn't deserve to suffer.
Tara jumped out of bed and headed straight for the shower. A few minutes later, Tara got dressed and donned her cloak. She suppressed a yawn and grabbed her scythe. After shifting into her ethereal form, she used her cloak to teleport herself right into Willow's home.
She was disappointed not to find Willow there. Tara realized she must had missed her by a hair...
The sound of running water coming from the bathroom alerted her to Willow's presence. Immediately, she realized she'd stumbled upon another opportunity. Tara moved through the door and found Willow showering just beyond.
Tara clicked the end of her scythe on the floor tiles and the blade snapped open, ready for use. It was at that moment that Tara realized that the only thing separating the very naked Willow from herself was a thin yellow shower curtain. She blushed brightly and turned around quickly, drawing her hood over her eyes a little. Professional ethics: Death should not be a peeping tom.
Alright, Tara, this is it. Breathe, Maclay, breathe... Click scythe, make floor slippery... Yes. She'll slip in the shower and break her neck. Quick... painless... Tara took a few deep breaths. This was it. Willow would finally die... and within in the next 10 seconds.
Tara turned around and pointed her scythe at the bottom of the shower. The blade was bathed in a dark yellow glow... but before it could deal its deadly damage, Tara held it to her body and turned her back to Willow again.
But... what if I screw up? What if she slips but doesn't break her neck? What if she hits her head? She'd have a concussion! And what... what if she slips and does break her neck... and lives! She... she'd be paralyzed! I... I can't do that to her! I can't!
Her train of thought was interrupted by Willow turning the knobs on the faucet. The water stopped flowing, and Tara suddenly was unpleasantly surprised to see an arm sticking through her belly, reaching for a towel.
Too mortified to turn around and walk out the door, Tara just stood there. Oddly enough, she had always hated it when people walked through her ethereal body because it left such a coldness in her whenever they did. People who say something feels as if somebody 'stepped over their graves' should try being stepped through just to find out how right they are. But... this was different. Willow's presence left a warmth inside of her. A very nice and fuzzy feeling in her chest that was completely new to her.
Suddenly, the hand, and with it the towel, were pulled back through her tummy. For Tara, it was slightly disorienting. Of course, it didn't help that her hood was pulled almost completely over her eyes and she couldn't really see what was going on around her. Sadly, fate chose exactly that moment for Tara to step on her cloak.
Willow stepped out of the shower... and Tara fell in.
She landed with a bit of a smack, hurting her elbow a little but thankfully not hitting her head against the wall. Tara was happy her cloak wouldn't absorb water in her ethereal form, or she'd be walking around in wet clothes for the rest of the day. Also, she was very grateful that Faith hadn't been around to see this.
Death slipping in the shower... Faith'd never let me hear the end of it.
Tara decided it was for the best to leave Willow to her privacy for a moment. After gathering her fallen scythe and scrambling to her feet, she pulled her hood completely over her eyes and quickly ran out of the bathroom by phasing through the wall.
A few hours later Tara was sitting on Willow's couch, watching the red-haired girl sitting behind her desk. Tara had come back inside as soon as she had been sure that Willow was fully dressed. Apparently, Willow had no classes until later and had slept late. After playing a game for a while, Willow had started work on... something else on her computer... Whatever it was...
Tara didn't know exactly what she was doing. It was something about writing a program for one of her classes and she working more than a little intently on it. There were times her nose almost touched the screen while she poured over the code. Tara smiled to herself whenever that happened. It just looked so cute.
At the moment, there wasn't much for Tara to do until Willow'd go out. She'd ruled out all domestic accidents in Willow's house now. Electrocution would be too painful for Willow. Slipping in the shower was too risky for Willow. Crushing Willow by tipping over her fridge would be too horrifying for Tara.
So, Tara simply settled to continue observing Willow, hoping another painless and quick opportunity would present itself soon.
Meanwhile, Willow continued working on her program. Her nimble fingers glided gracefully over the keyboard. It reminded Tara of a pianist, someone who created art with the subtlest of movements of her hands.
And yet she would have still have to end her life. Tara was at a complete loss, though, still unable to think of a proper method. Certainly, there had been plenty of opportunities, but none of them had been appropriate. They had either too slow, too painful or simply too mundane.
Rather startled to suddenly see her friend walking through the side wall of Willow's apartment, Tara literally jumped up and had to make a quick grasp for her scythe before it would slide out of her hands and clatter to the ground.
"Jittery much?" Faith's grin could just be seen from underneath her hood.
Tara grimaced. "I c-cut myself," she said, after seeing that she had sliced the back of her hand and saw a small trace of blood on the blade of her scythe. "W-what are you d-doing here?"
"Lieutenant Lehane, homicide," Faith rasped, doing her best Peter Falk impression.
"W-what?" Tara blinked.
"Ease the stutter, T," Faith said softly. "Didn't mean to scare you, 'kay? Just wanted to see how you were doing. Last time we talked... Well, you know. So," she turned her attention to the typing Willow. "This is your target, hm?"
Faith moved next to Willow, who was still working on her paper. She held her hand in front of Willow's eyes. Of course, being in ethereal form, Willow did not even see it and kept typing away diligently. "Heh," Faith grinned. "I love it when they do that."
"She's n-not my target," Tara said, a little too harshly for her own taste. "She's my assignment. And p-please stop doing that to her."
"Red's pretty darn cute, that's what she is," Faith smiled. "Figured out how to kill her yet? Oh, I got it, drowning," she said while looking at Willow's fishtank. "Be a bit tricky to get her to poke her head in there long enough, though. Oh, I know! Spontaneous combustion!" Faith said with a grin that could only be described as 'playfully sadistic'. "That's always a crowd pleaser."
Tara couldn't believe what she was hearing. "Spontaneous combustion?! Willow?! Faith..."
"Spike showed me how to do it," Faith crossed her arms. "You see, the trick is to manipulate the body's electrical fields until you set the whole thing on fire. Yay for scythe-powers, ey, T?"
"No, it isn't!" Tara said, a horrified expression on her face.
"Hey, check this out," Faith said and stuck her arm right through Willow. Faith's arm went through Willow's back to the elbow, while her wrist stuck out of her chest. Faith completed the picture by pretending to type on Willow's keyboard. "Ever tried this, T?"
"S-stop it," Tara said angrily.
Faith pulled her arm out, right through Willow, and reached her other hand right into Willow's skull. "Check this out, T. My, Red, what a big brain you got there," Faith laughed.
"I said s-stop it, Faith!" Tara said, more forcefully this time. "I m-mean it! It's d-disrespectful. Leave her alone!"
Faith withdrew her hand from Willow's cranium and turned to Tara. "Just having a little fun, T. It's not as if she knows we're..."
"Is anyone there?"
It was softly spoken, almost like a whisper, yet it stunned Faith and Tara into an uneasy silence when they both realized it was actually Willow who had just spoken those very words. Willow rose from her seat and looked in their general direction, scanning the room. Tara could see Faith holding her breath when Willow walked up to her and stopped short right in front of her. Willow was standing mere inches from Faith, and narrowed her eyes, as if trying to see something that wasn't there. This went on for several agonizing seconds.
Finally Willow shook her head and turned away from Faith, who finally let out a breath she didn't knew she was holding. Faith literally let herself drop onto Willow's couch, almost instinctively checking if her cloak was still covering her.
Oblivious to this all, Willow walked to where Tara was standing. For a moment, Tara was expecting the same treatment she had given Faith, but she was pleasantly surprised to see a smile tug on the corners of Willow's mouth. When she was sure Faith wasn't looking, Tara brushed a finger across Willow's cheek, just grazing her skin ever so slightly. Willow responded immediately, cocking her head slightly to meet Tara's caress. Tara was slightly started by this and quickly broke the contact. Willow just kept standing there, looking a bit confused for a moment while staring at the wall behind Tara.
No, Tara thought. Her eyes... she's looking at the exact spot where I am. It made her feel a little uneasy.
Finally, Willow shook her head and went back to her desk. "You're losing it, Rosenberg," Faith and Tara heard Willow mutter to herself. For a moment, it looked as if she'd go back to work. Instead, Willow rose from her seat again and quickly checked if her windows were closed. After making sure that her front door was locked, she returned to her desk.
"T-t-that ain't... usual," Faith finally dared to speak when Willow was again occupied with writing her program.
"Ease the stutter, F," Tara smirked.
"Hah hah," Faith said dryly. "She... knew we were here!"
"I don't think so," Tara said. "Didn't Spike tell you that s-some people can sense our p-presence? When it happens, it's only a slight sense of s-somebody being in the room with you. She didn't actually s-see us."
"Yeah, I knew that," Faith sighed. "But I've never actually seen it happen! Cripes, it was weird. Hey, did you see how Red was looking at me? Little miss thundercloud. She was much nicer to you!"
Tara crossed her arms and looked at Faith intently. "Well, I wasn't the one who stuck my hand up her skull, now did I?"
Faith's expression softened. "I'm sorry, Tara," Faith sighed. Tara had known Faith long enough to realize that Faith only used her full name when she was genuinely apologizing to her. "I only came over to wish you luck. Should have stuck with that plan, really."
"It's okay, Faith," Tara spoke gently. "I understand. I just... have to do this on my own."
"Some things you just have to do for yourself. You know, sweet dreams are made of these. Who am I to disagree? Travel the world and the seven seas. Everybody's looking for something. Some of them want to use you. Some of them want to get used by you. Some of them want to abuse you. Some of them want to be abused," Faith stated simply.
Tara raised an eyebrow. "Faith, that sounds suspiciously familiar."
"Cheered you up, didn't it?" Faith spoke, with a twinkle in her eye. "It's time for me to go back home. Come over whenever you like, T. We'll do Playstation."
Tara watched Faith phase through Willow's front door and sat down on Willow's couch, watching the red-haired girl typing away on her laptop, again wondering how any one person could look so cute.
"Tara!" Faith said, again in her raspy fake Peter Falk voice as she popped her head through the wall right next to Tara. "One more thing!"
Tara chuckled for a moment, resisting the urge to make a grab for one of the pillows on Willow's couch to throw it at her friend.
"You look exhausted, Will," Xander said while he and Willow made their way to Buffy's house through the darkened streets of Sunnydale. Willow was carrying a paper grocery bag filled with all kinds of snacks, while Xander was carrying a large white plastic bag filled to the brim with DVD's. Potential movies to play for video night.
"Been doing homework all day," Willow sighed. "I can really use a video night about now."
"Trust in the Xand-man. For the Xand-man brings you the gift of tacky, inappropriate, gory, funny, dull, exciting, scary, silly, witty, old, new, classic, and classic-for-the-wrong-reasons movies from his own private collection.
"Xander," Willow spoke up. "Do you believe in angels?"
"No. No, I don't"
"Because I don't believe in demons either. Demons and angels aren't mutually exclusive. If I believed in angels, I might as well start believing in other ridiculous things like demons, vampires, zombies, true love, God... And the Teletubbies. And I refuse to believe in the Teletubbies, because they're freaky as hell. So no, I don't believe in angels."
"Xander, I'm serious," Willow smiled. "I've... had this funny feeling lately."
"Funny as in 'ha-ha'-funny or funny as in 'whoa, how'd my butt get painted blue without me knowing about it'-funny?" Xander asked.
"The latter," Willow nodded. "Uh, I think... Less paint is involved. I... I just get the feeling someone's been watching me lately."
"Okay, that's not funny, Wills. That sorta falls into the 'worrying'-category."
"No, no, it's not like that," Willow said quickly. "It's more like a... a good feeling. Like somebody's trying to watch over you. Protect you. Kinda like a guardian angel."
Xander raised an eyebrow for a moment. "Will, I've known you for years and you've never mentioned anything like this before."
Willow shook her head. "Maybe it's nothing but... I was writing my program and all of a sudden... I just felt something was there. I can't explain it, but for some reason it really annoyed me. Like, when someone is poking you and you tell them to stop, but they won't? So you tell them again and again, but they still keep poking you? Cause, that's really annoying."
Xander frowned. "That's still not of the funnies, Will."
"But after that," Willow ignored Xander and continued her story. "I felt something else. Something that made me feel all warm inside. And I just knew that everything would be alright. That I was completely safe."
Xander snorted. "Or it wanted to lull you into a false sense of security so it can pounce on you later and eat your soul."
"Xander!" Willow giggled. "I'm trying to be deep and meaningful here."
"Or, it could just be the karmic cycle of the universe trying to tell you it's time to start dating again," Xander said softly.
Willow's face fell. "Xander..." she whispered.
"I know, I know, sorry," Xander sighed. "But the point is made."
Willow was silent for a moment. "You know what's really weird? I found a couple drops of blood on my couch."
Xander chuckled. "That's not unusual, Will. If you go looking around the construction site hard enough, you'll find yourself a nice little collection of severed limbs. Maybe you just cut yourself?"
"I'd know if I'd cut myself," Willow huffed. "And I clean my apartment very thoroughly, thank you very much. A place for everything and everything in its place. I'm regularly up to my nose in cleaning fluids. I blind people with the sheer shiny-ness of my furniture when they come over to visit me. I'm telling you, those drops of blood were not there when I cleaned it this morning."
Xander thought for a moment. "So heaven sent down an angel to watch out for you and to bleed all over your furniture?"
Willow shook her head. "I know it's not making any sense, but I was just thinking... general weirdy-ness. Maybe I've just been working too hard."
"All those classes, part time job at the computer shop, all that cleaning, the tonnes of homework," Xander smiled. "That leaves very little time for partying, boozing and the general loose life of the college sophomore."
"Xander!" Willow spoke in mock-anger, yet with a twinkle in her eyes.
Behind them, trying to keep up without tripping over her cloak, Tara trailed the two friends. Video-night at Buffy's house meant a new environment with new opportunities. She hoped to finally find a way to end Willow's life.
As long as it was painless, quick and humane.
Because Death has to be able to live with herself...