In what was a very rare, in fact probably unheard of occurrence, Tara Maclay and Rupert Giles were arguing heatedly. The last customer had left the Magic Box at 5pm and the pair were cashing up while waiting for Willow to show up for her first magic lesson. Giles had taken the opportunity to suggest that they bind Willow's powers without her knowledge. He had suggested it quite casually as though he were asking Tara what she was having for dinner. Tara had responded predictably, given her ethical nature in general...and her feelings towards Willow.
"I won't bind Willow against her will," Tara said in a quiet but vehement voice, standing with her fists placed firmly on her hips in her most defiant posture, "I'll ask her."
"Can we honestly leave such a choice up to someone who understands so little of how magic works...we know what's best for Willow, shouldn't that be enough?" Giles protested, removing his glasses and giving them a thorough clean.
Tara could not believe her ears and she was sorely tempted to leave the room and come back in just in case she was imagining all of this. Her mentor, whom she trusted with her life, had suggested a course of action that went against his principles...at least what she always thought had been his principles. It was now that she realised these principles could be dispensed with according to the situation.
"I don't understand, Giles," Tara felt sick to her stomach for arguing with Giles in the first place, and for what he was suggesting, "This isn't at all like you."
"It's not like me because this isn't something that we have ever had to deal with," Giles replied, his own voice also firm, "Willow represents a very real threat and I for one cannot help but think that her magicks are linked into everything that is happening at present. The fact that she was able to find us, even with the Heart's Fire spell in place, makes my very wary of her indeed...very wary. I'm concerned that she may not be who she appears to be. As such, I feel that binding her powers without her knowledge is the entirely appropriate course of action and will keep us all safe, Willow included."
"It's wrong..." Tara hung her head, ashamed that they were even having this discussion.
"Would you feel differently if Willow was clearly evil...or if you felt nothing towards her?" Giles was playing hardball.
Tara looked up with shock written all over her face. She was shocked that Giles would even think to play her like that and force her into giving opinions on hypothetical situations.
"Yes," she replied defensively, before her face fell slightly and she continued in a much quieter voice, "Maybe not if she were clearly evil..."
"My point!" Giles seized upon her words triumphantly as he pointed a finger in the air.
Suddenly, angered by his attitude, Tara's eyes blazed directly at Giles, "But she's not evil...and my feelings towards her are entirely irrelevant! So back the fuck off!"
Giles gaped and stared goggle-eyed at Tara, struck speechless for a good minute at uncharacteristic anger in Tara's voice. He had hoped that she would come to see his point of view. While Willow could quite possibly be innocent, she was just as likely to be evil...therefore they had nothing to lose by binding her powers and everything to gain.
His reply began rather feebly, "I-I..."
"I'll ask her," Tara replied in a firm voice that would tolerate no further discussion.
With a sigh, Giles replaced his glasses. Although he knew full well that Tara was right, it did not make him feel any better about her decision. If it had been purely up to him, Willow's powers would have been bound with the strongest binding spell that could possibly be concocted. For some reason, he didn't trust the usually chirpy redhead...and a Watcher had to listen to his instincts.
"I'm just worried..." Giles began slowly.
"So am I," Tara agreed and continued, "I'm worried about Willow...she's so vulnerable right now, I'm afraid for her."
Giles couldn't contain a derisive snort "I would hardly call a tough as nails detective who sets fire to things at will, vulnerable."
Tara silenced him with the fiercest glare that she could summon and they resumed cashing up the till in silence. It was mere minutes later that the doorbell chimed to admit a much cheerier Willow Rosenberg. Tara was relieved to see that she had at least showered and changed her clothes. She was looking decidedly casual, wearing jeans and a tight hooded sweatshirt, which made her look absolutely adorable.
"Hey, here and reporting for action!" Willow said brightly, striding over to where Tara and Giles were standing by the shop counter, she blushed the colour of her hair, "Um, magic type action...not any other kind!"
If Willow could sense the tension between Tara and Giles, she gave no sign of it. She leant against the counter, barely a metre from Tara and watched the blonde's slender fingers as she poured coins into bank bags. Tara felt heat rising up the back of her neck, as she knew Willow was looking directly at her.
It was a few more moments until they had finished their end of the day routine by which time Tara felt as though her entire body was on fire in Willow's presence. Willow obviously had no idea of her effect on the blonde, as she stood hunched over a book the lay on the counter. Her little nose was wrinkled, there was slight furrow in her brow and the tiniest corner of pink tongue appeared from her mouth, all signs that she was deep in concentration.
"I'm going to put all this in the safe, Tara. You might want to take Willow through to the training room?" Giles managed a small, but decidedly forced, smile.
Tara just nodded and turned to Willow who slammed shut her book with apparent eagerness. It was then that Tara saw the cover and read the title, 101 Most Useful Magical Plants and Herbs. She glanced back up to Willow and saw there was a twinkle in the redhead's eye. Both knew that there was no way Willow had been entirely engrossed in the book, rather she had been concentrating on a certain blonde out of the corner of her eye.
"So, what's gonna happen?" Willow asked once Tara had shown her back into the training room which Willow clearly recognised as the site of their encounter the day before, "I don't have spell books, or a cat, rat or toad."
Willow settled herself on a stack of exercise mats up against the wall, Tara stood a few metres away, her arms folded across her chest.
Tara smiled warmly, "You really have to stop relying on Harry Potter as your source of magical information. It's misleading to say the least."
"Well then I'll have to rely on you instead...and Mr Giles of course," Willow replied quickly and confidently.
Tara sighed, she wasn't entirely sure that Willow should rely on the two of them. Giles seemed determined to reduce Willow to a shell of who she actually was, while she herself couldn't tell up from down in Willow's presence. It was as though the redhead took everything that was carefully ordered and in its proper place and then put it in a blender. Right from wrong, good from evil...Tara could no longer be sure she knew the difference. Willow blurred the lines of distinction just by being.
Tara wanted to get what she had to say out of the way before Giles came back. She was determined that he would have no part in the conversation about binding. Most likely he would 'assume crash positions' and paint Willow a worst-case scenario picture of what may happen to her if her powers remained unfettered.
"Willow, what would you say if I told you there was a spell that may bind your powers?" Tara asked quietly, looking directly into Willow's eyes.
Willow appeared confused, "Bind? You mean like tie them up in some way? That's a funny choice of words, how can you bind something that isn't really real...I mean, it is real but not in a solid kinda way?"
"It's the same principle as taking something solid and binding it with rope...although it's just done magically. Think of it as tying something up so it cannot escape...in this case, your magicks. Do you get it at all?"
"I think so, so if I tried to use them...they couldn't come out, nothing would go poof?"
"Absolutely no poofing," Tara assured her.
"Will anything happen to me?" Willow had to be sure, it all sounded too good to be true, "Side effects, like growing warts or putting on weight...cos I kinda like my arse the way it is now."
So do I, Tara thought, trying to smother a grin that wanted to emerge at the most inappropriate time, "Nope, no warty side-effects. Although it is important to remember that the magicks will still be there, learning control and meditation will still be crucial."
Willow nodded, she had been worried that the binding spell would also remove the need for further magic lessons. She wasn't keen on giving up her regular meetings with Tara. At that moment Giles walked in and Willow leapt up from the pile of mats as though she had been doing something decidedly iniquitous instead of just sitting.
"Hi Mr Giles, I was just talking to Tara...just talking, no closer than this....although I was a little further away because I was sitting down here," Willow patted the mats and looked to Giles for a measure of approval, "Oh, and we were talking about binding me...well, not tying me up in a kinky sex sort of way...in a magical way...and I should just shut up before I really say something embarrassing."
Willow already appeared embarrassed enough, her whole face, right to the tip of her ears had gone red. Tara felt a warm, unbidden flutter in her heart that had begun sometime during Willow's latest babbling fit and built into a crescendo when the redhead grinned apologetically.
I know it's stupid to go on mannerisms alone...but how on earth can someone like that be evil? Look at her! She's gorgeous, well evil people can be gorgeous too...but gorgeous on the inside?
"How do you feel about that Willow?" Giles asked gently, almost on the verge of being patronising, Tara winced slightly.
"I think it's a fantastic idea...bind away...although can you be gentle?" Willow's voice was so innocent, Tara found herself nodding with a smile as the redhead continued, "And can I ask about the 'may' part of what you said, Tara. When you told me about the binding spell, you said it 'may' bind my magicks. Might it not work?"
Giles gave Tara a 'look' and Tara replied with one of her own, smile instantly wiped from her face. For the first time Willow realised the undercurrent that ran between the two of them, she dismissed it as none of her business. Giles quickly gave her a reassuring smile and the moment had passed.
"I cannot guarantee that it will work, there are certain rules that must be followed of course otherwise people would run around binding each other all the time. I doubt very much whether we'll run into any problems...will you being a willing participant and all," Giles said smoothly.
Willow nodded as though she understood...which she did, a little at least.
"Capital, simply capital," Giles responded, on the whole appearing much more enthusiastic, "Some of the preparations are quite time consuming however, and there are a few things I need to gather together...I think Saturday night would be the perfect time."
Just as Willow's face fell, Tara interrupted Giles' musings, "I think Sunday would be better...we're busy on Friday."
Willow sighed with relief. She didn't exactly want to get her powers bound on the same day as her date with Tara, the Saints and Sinners party at the Kitten. She felt as though it would be the magical equivalent of having a bikini wax done on the same day as a date.
"Sunday then!" Giles replied, Tara could see that he was happy just to be doing it...although she knew that he would be thinking the sooner the better, "Right, lessons, I thought we'd start today with meditation. Willow, if you'd like to take a seat opposite me on the mat."
Giles sat down on a training mat which lay on the floor, his long legs folded beneath him. Willow looked decidedly dubious and disappointed that Tara was not doing it with her.
Tara sensed it clearly, "Mr Giles is the expert on meditation...you'll be fine."
Willow gave in and came to sit opposite Giles on the mat so their knees were almost touching. She had been sitting for barely a few seconds when her knee started bouncing as though she had a tic. Giles' hand shot out grabbed it, forcing her to stop.
"Sorry, just nervous," Willow replied apologetically, trying to stop fidgeting of any sort.
By the time Tara walked her out to her car an hour later, Willow felt as though she were sleep walking. She could still hear Giles' rather soothing voice droning inside her head as he implored her to find her 'energy centre' and work on bringing it under control. Willow wasn't sure she had found anything besides a very nice image of Tara's arse in leather pants...so the session had not been entirely wasted.
The pair reached Willow's car and the now standard awkwardness between them ensued. It was the awkwardness felt by two people who clearly had feelings for one another but weren't quite sure what those feelings were...or how to find out.
Willow turned and pressed her back up against the cool metal of her car. She silently willed that Tara's body would press up against hers, pinning her firmly against the car as their lips converged. Tara stopped well short of fulfilling Willow's fantasy and once again folded her arms tightly across her chest as though she were protecting something.
"Don't be discouraged if you didn't feel much of anything tonight. It takes a while to become comfortable enough to open yourself up."
The corners of Willow's lips curled ever so slightly, "Open myself up? Tara, forgive me but it all sounds like a load of bunkum right now. I know I need to take this seriously, but seriously I'm feeling more than a little out of my element."
"That's where Giles and I come in...Willow, I assure you that you can trust us, the binding spell, I told you everything I know. On Sunday I'll explain everything to you before it happens, I won't do anything to you without your knowledge," Tara said firmly, it seemed to Willow almost as if she were apologising for something, "I said 'may' because binding spells don't always work...for instance, binding an enemy would be difficult, requiring a great deal more power simply to overcome their resistance."
"And I'm not an enemy!" Willow swallowed quickly as though nervous, "I trust you, I do...and...are you doing that spell, or is Giles? Cos it's totally okay if Giles is doing it!"
Tara felt her cheeks burning once more, as they often did in Willow's presence, "The spell requires magicks, and Mr Giles, while he is well versed in magical lore and theory, isn't endowed in that department. So I guess you'll be stuck with me for that one."
"Something I can live with!" Willow replied with a twinkle in her eye.
An awkward silence returned and the only conversation Willow could think of was entirely inappropriate given the fact that they hardly knew each other...and they had not even shared a kiss let alone what was running through her dirty little mind.
Bad Willow, bad! Willow inwardly chastised herself, "Um, I guess I had better be going."
Tara smiled, "I had better go put in some quality Mommy-time, Ashley doesn't seem worried but I haven't been spending much time with her over the past week."
"She'd definitely be missing you...say hi to her for me won't you?" Willow hoped that wasn't inappropriate, she did enjoy spending time with the precocious little girl.
"No problem, she sure does like you, keeps talking about wanting to be a detective when she grows up, bye Willow," Tara finally uncrossed her arms and gave a funny little wave.
On instinct, Willow reached out and picked up Tara's hand. She felt a thrill at feeling the smooth skin against her own. She wasn't quite bold enough to intertwine their fingers but she did grip it firmly. She was overjoyed when Tara did not pull away and met her gaze.
"I'm really looking forward to Saturday," Willow whispered quietly.
"M-me t-to," Tara didn't dare to try and get more words out, her stutter was working overtime.
They stood like that for a few minutes, the silence between them no longer awkward but comfortable. It was as though the touch of skin allowed them a better understanding of one another, a familiarity that brought with it contentment.
Willow felt that peace once more, the peace that had proved so elusive over the past few days and she bathed in it. Although Giles had worked with her for an hour to find her spiritual self and had failed...she found it in mere minutes with Tara.
Tara gave a last wave as Willow's red car pulled away from the curb and off down the street. She watched until it was out of sight and then sank down to the curb, tucking her legs beneath her. Tonight had taken a toll on her emotionally and spiritually. While she savoured every moment of Willow's company, she couldn't stop dwelling on the fears that Giles had voiced so relentlessly.
Despite the fact that she did not share Giles' instinctive doubts about the redhead, Tara was utterly aware of the danger she represented. At Giles' insistence, she had removed the Heart's Fire spell in order to prevent any drain on her own life force but the spell's lingering residue still had an effect. It was minuscule, and yet for someone as aware as Tara, it was uncomfortable. This discomfort had combined with Giles' rather negative presence during the evening to give her an insistent headache. It pounded lightly at the back of her head and threatened to go supernova in a matter of minutes.
Tara rubbed her forehead wearily; she had long since given up wishing that her life would just be normal. Someone or something was out to get her, going as far as to make sure that her love life was as catastrophic and complicated as possible. She had known Willow Rosenberg for a matter of weeks. For all intensive purposes, the redhead was an untrained, unpredictable dark witch...and yet she craved to see her. It was almost as though nothing else mattered.
At that moment Tara had a very sharp reminder of what was good and constant in her life in the form of a miniature whirlwind. Small arms flew around her neck and hugged to the point of suffocation. It was an assassin in the form of a small girl.
"Hi Mom!" Ashley said brightly, releasing her stranglehold on her mother, "Was wondering when you were coming up, Faith and me cooked...it's getting cold."
Tara swivelled around so she could look the little monkey in the eye, she cocked an eyebrow playfully, "You and Faith cooked? Should I be worried about attempts to poison me?"
There was a very large dollop of red sauce on Ashley's cheek, as well as on the front of her sweater. Tara had to guess that whatever they were having was tomato flavoured.
Ashley giggled and replied emphatically, "I wouldn't poison you! I love you!"
Tara smiled, "Help me up kiddo, let's go eat this culinary wonder you've created."
On the Wednesday morning of that week, Captain Diebel was sceptical to say the least when Buffy and Willow informed him of the next target of the 'Circle Murders.' He frowned over the name before looking up at them sharply.
"You don't have any leads at all and then you suddenly have the name of the next victim? How did you come by this information?" their precinct commander asked in uncompromising tone.
"One of our informants," Willow replied quickly, "He heard through the underground networks that this was to be the next victim and passed it on to us...for a price of course"
Giles had telephoned her that afternoon to inform them that he had traced the line of coven member Elizabeth Beaumont to Alan Gibson, a ridiculously wealthy IT baron who had made his money in online trading. As the youngest of the line, his daughter Chelsea had to be the third seal.
"The teenage daughter of one of the richest men in town?" Diebel narrowed his eyes at the pair of them, "I am of course reluctant to cause Mr Gibson unjustifiable worry but if your informant is correct then he will no doubt want to get his daughter somewhere safe, no doubt out of town altogether...I'll make available a special squad to accompany you to the Gibson's house, you are to inform the Gibson's of the situation and assist them in making any plans for their daughter's safety...am I understood."
"Yes sir," Buffy and Willow replied in unison.
"Summers and Rosenberg, I want you to accept with appropriate humility that you are two of my best detectives," Diebel swallowed as though it was difficult for him to hand out honest praise, "This is a difficult case and I appreciate the lengths to which both of you have gone in order to solve it...I would also however greatly appreciate a swift resolution. The press is steadily latching onto the 'Circle Murders' and our lack of leads. This is case where children are dying detectives, we need resolution before any more are murdered...I do not want this reflecting badly on the department. Understood?"
"I heartily agree sir," Buffy said as she cast a sideways glance at Willow, she was satisfied to see Willow's jaw set firmly in what she knew to be an expression of determination.
"Understood," was all Willow said in reply.
When both detectives left Diebel's office they felt a mixture of relief and trepidation. While their work on the case had not so far come into question, the pressure was being applied for them to pull out all the stops in order to apprehend whoever was behind the 'Circle Murders.'
"Swift resolution," Buffy said quietly to Willow as they made their way back to their office, "You know what that means."
Willow opened the door for Buffy and once inside they set about making preparations to pay a call to the Gibson residence. Including checking their form-fitting Kevlar vests and their ammunition supplies.
"Further dependence on the work that Mr Giles is doing for us," Willow replied in a monotone as she holstered her weapon and pulled on her suit jacket. "Which is fine."
Buffy made an angry sound of annoyance and waited for Willow to look at her. When she finally did it was with a questioning look on her face, as though she wondered what Buffy's problem was.
"Will, don't you think we ought to come clean to Diebel as to where all our info is coming from?" Buffy asked desperately.
Willow sighed and gave Buffy a tired look, "A thousand times no, Buffy. He could throw us off the case, or worse, lock the gang all up as potential suspects."
"Might have a point there. I'm not entirely sure I trust any of them." Buffy said as she snapped a clip into her weapon, "Not your girlfriend, her grandfather..."
"Tara's not my girlfriend and Mr Giles isn't that old!" Willow protested.
"Whatever, I don't trust him, Mr and Mrs Scooby or that brunette, leather-clad....Harley-riding...woman!" the conviction left Buffy's voice for a moment when it came to mentioning Faith but she gathered herself together and continued her tirade in full force, "Aren't you worried about the fact that your sudden appearance of magical powers coincides with your meeting them?"
"Buff, I don't think..." Willow began, she was cut short as Buffy continued.
"They're using you Willow! Can't you see it? I wouldn't be surprised if they gave you those powers to suit their own purposes," Buffy watched the colour drain from Willow's already pale face, "What if they are involved in the murders?"
That's absolutely ridiculous...Tara would never...hang on, how well do I really know her. I feel as though I've always known her. To be honest, Willow wasn't entirely sure what to make of her intuition when it came to the blonde. She did feel as though she'd always known her...but it was difficult to explain. It was as though they were age-old enemies, as though their endless duel brought familiarity to their relationship...but also an enmity that would never disappear.
Willow could not deny that she was terribly worried about the surfacing of her latent magical talent. She understood so little of it, and felt as though Giles and Tara could explain much more than they were letting on. However, her stubborn pride would not allow her to accept the warning coming from Buffy.
"You're calling me blind? Listen to yourself! You're grasping at straws. They have never been anything but helpful, from the moment I walked into that magic shop..."
"Hello? My point exactly..." began Buffy in a snarky tone.
Willow grabbed her car keys and silenced Buffy with an upraised hand, "I can't do this right now. Let's go and see if Mr Giles' research was correct, somebody has to start trusting around here," Buffy began to scowl and Willow spoke quickly to placate her, "...and I'll be exceptionally careful okay?"
"I'm not letting you out of my sight," Buffy replied grumpily.
Almost half an hour later Buffy and Willow stood outside the Gibson's pretentious abode on Fitzgerald Street. The gates were open so they walked straight up to the front door. Four uniformed officers wearing Kevlar vests followed closely at their heels, too closely until Buffy spun around and told them to keep their distance. Nothing seemed to get people more upset than seeing armoured police officers carrying automatic weapons...it usually denoted mortal peril. The house lay in silence and Willow hated eerie silences.
Willow rapped firmly on the door, while Buffy made an obvious show of pressing the doorbell which was located off to one side. The eerie silence was the only immediate answer.
"Don't people like this have a butler or something?" Buffy jabbed the door bell again...and again, but still no answer was forthcoming, "Should we have thought to call ahead? They might be..."
A blood-curdling scream rent the air, it sounded as though it were originating from within the house. Instinctively, Willow and Buffy drew their weapons and the officers behind them automatically fanned protectively on either side of them.
"What in the frilly heck?" Willow's hand moved towards the door.
Buffy had other plans, she shoved Willow to one side and signalled to the officers to move forward. One swiftly opened the door and in a rapid-fire movement all four were inside the lobby of the Gibson house. Their weapons trained on all vantage points, menacing black barrels roaming from side to side with dangerous precision. Buffy and Willow followed in a guarded manner, their weapons also raised.
Upon their entry into the house, further sounds issued from the above floor of the house. There was a great deal of thudding to and fro.
"Oh shit! We're too late!" Willow hissed, she pushed past the cops and made for the stairs, Buffy hard on her heels.
It was a worst-case scenario...they had hoped to arrive in time to spirit the family to safety. Willow and Buffy were thoroughly sick of constantly being one step behind their unknown enemy. Finally they had the info to get ahead...only to be cruelly thwarted at the last possible moment.
Willow had no sooner made it to the landing at the top of the stairs when a trio of men emerged from a doorway off to one side. None of them appeared surprised to see Willow, they simply advanced towards her. Each wore a black robe which was tied at the waist and fell down around their knees. In their hands they carried wickedly long, curved knives. With her sharp eyes Willow noted that the knife held by the man nearest her was bloodied and her heart sank.
"Stop right there! Come any closer and I'll blow your fuckin' heads off!" Willow yelled, keeping her gun trained on the one with the bloodied knife.
"I second that!' Buffy was at Willow's side almost instantly, her weapon also trained on the group of men with a steady hand.
They took absolutely no heed of the detective's warnings, springing forward en masse. Both Willow and Buffy were forced to open fire. Willow's bullet slammed into the shoulder of one and Buffy's into the forehead of another. Neither had time to question their actions as the remaining villain continued to advance.
"Stop!" Willow growled, seconds later Buffy put a bullet in his head and he dropped sharply to the ground.
"Buffy, stop shooting them in the head!" Willow snapped.
"Can't help it!" Buffy hissed in reply, kicking the knife away from the outstretched hand of the man Willow had wounded.
Three more figures emerged from the room. The central figure, flanked by two more henchmen, chilled the detectives to the bone. The cowl of his hood hung low over his face, rendering most of the visage in darkness save for a marble white chin. His robe was black, tied at the waist with gold braid and from his neck hung a solid, gold pendant. When the detectives raised their weapons he raised his hand and uttered in a harsh, guttural tone,
"Exarmo!" accompanied with a flick of his wrist.
Both Willow and Buffy were powerless as their weapons flew out of their hands and cluttered down the stairs, beneath the feet of the cops who were approaching warily behind them. Suddenly one of the flanking figures lunged at Buffy and snatched her wrist, twisting her entire body. Buffy was a strong young woman but she could do nothing as he took hold of her and in one swift movement sent her crashing over the balcony and down to the lobby below.
"Get her out of the way," the marble-faced man hissed to his other henchman, he indicated Willow with a flick of his wrist.
Willow had no time to do anything as the burly, and particularly nasty smelling man, slammed her up against the wall and out of the path of what was to come. Her face was jammed up against the wall but she could still see the four officers. They were stalwart in the face of unknown danger.
"Take them down!" the sergeant yelled to his colleagues.
"No! Get out of here!" Willow screamed in desperation, knowing it was much too late.
Before they had a chance to open fire a single word issued from the warlock's mouth, "Cremo!"
The word was accompanied by a searing bolt of fire from the man's outstretched palm. Willow felt the heat as it tore past her and down the stairs. It struck the four officers advancing up them with devastating effect. Their screams rung in Willow's head, and she was forced to watch as they tried in vain to extinguish their bodies. Gritting her teeth she brought her knee hard up as hard as she could into the man's groin, finding him to be very real and solid...and entirely human in the manner in which he grunted and dropped to his knees. Once he was down she delivered a perfectly timed drop kick to his head, snapping it backwards and knocking him out cold. With lightening fast reactions Willow was blocking the next punch thrown her way before she had even fully regained her balance. In the narrow confines of the stair landing, the blow sent her spinning back into the wall. She lashed out with another kick but the man caught it and twisted her leg cruelly. Willow yelped in pain as she fell heavily to the ground.
"Stand aside, I want to look at her!"
Willow watched as the leader swept his man aside and advanced on her, she scrambled backwards towards the stairs. His face contorted into what was supposed to pass as a smile.
"Stop!" Willow growled, wondering how on earth she turned on her own fireworks.
He continued to move forward, now less than a metre from her, his hand outstretched to touch her. Willow was crawling with revulsion at the very thought of his shock white skin upon her own, she felt the top of the first stair with her fingertips. Just as he was almost upon her he stopped in his tracks, enveloped within a translucent jelly like substance, which allowed him to move no further towards her. He pressed against it but it held fast. It reminded Willow of someone pressing up against sandwich wrap. His was face expressionless as he took a step back.
"Dispergo!" he flicked his wrist in the direction of the barrier.
Willow winced as he did so, but the substance stubbornly remained hanging in the air between him, effectively barring him from coming any closer to her. Gingerly, she rose to her feet, reaching out a hand to steady herself on the banister. All the while she kept her eyes focused on his beady little ones, which stared back at her relentlessly.
They faced each other, a bare metre apart. Slowly he removed his hood and let it settle down over his shoulders. Willow saw first hand his twisted visage. His skin went beyond wrinkled, it was dried and shrivelled so much that every plane of his skull showed beneath it. His head was bare save a few straggly, long strands of shock white hair growing around his ears. His eyes were sunk deep into their sockets and Willow shuddered to see that they were a mirror image of her own at times...obsidian black. For all intensive purposes Willow would have said he appeared to be dead. Except for the fact that he was clearly breathing, a raspy, rattling sound that issued from his throat and chilled her to the bone.
"So, I meet my creation at last," he wheezed, his voice sounded as though it were being squeezed out of a set of bellows, "I am well pleased."
Any number of replies ran through Willow's head but they all seemed incredibly juvenile in the face of the monster in front of her. Her reply was a stony silence, her face grim and determined even as her knees went weak.
"Have you nothing to say to your father?" he asked, cocking his head to one side.
Willow frowned angrily, "Gross! My father is Ira Rosenberg...well, he's not really much of a father, but he did the deed with my Mom!"
"Your birth father yes, but I created who you are today, you are made in my image and as I can see....every bit as powerful," he continued to rasp.
"Hello, are you blind?" the fact that the sandwich-wrap-shield had held emboldened Willow slightly, "Me, one hot mama yama...you, one ugly mother-fucker!"
"I love your humour...so young...you will see shortly...but until then, I must go," he waved his hand with a mumbled word Willow could not hear.
Willow blinked and he was gone along with his two cohorts, as though she had imagined them altogether. However, the clammy feeling she felt all over her body told her otherwise. She only had moments to reflect before she remembered her partner...and the officers that had accompanied them. Willow whirled around and was about to run down the stairs when she stopped in horror at the sight which befell her. Three bodies lay in contorted poses on the stairs, each blackened and unrecognisable. Willow felt sick to her stomach, she gagged once before managing to calm her raging innards. There was absolutely nothing she could do for them besides feel responsible for their death. She and Buffy had known full well what sort of power they were up against and yet they had brought them here with little warning and no extra protection.
She fought her way past the bodies, the smell of burnt flesh threatening to overwhelm her. Once at the bottom she saw the fourth officer had fallen over the banister. He lay a few metres from Buffy's still form. Willow gasped and quickly crossed the short distance in a few bounds. She knelt by her friend and reached out to brush the hair which had fallen across her face. Buffy suddenly jerked upright into a sitting position. Her eyes wild but she calmed when she saw Willow.
"Holy fuck," Buffy whispered quietly.
"Buff! My god, how is your neck not broken?"
Buffy experimentally tilted her head from side to side and found nothing out of the ordinary. However, when she tried to move her left arm she yelped in pain. Willow looked down at it to see the bone clearly protruding in unnatural ways beneath the skin.
"Super strength," Buffy whispered weakly, "Although not quite enough."
"I'm calling for backup, Buff," Willow fumbled for her mobile phone, "Then we'll go see about getting that arm fixed.
"What happened to you? You're chalk white?" Buffy asked, "And you're shaking...how did they let you off?"
"I know kung-fu," Willow tried to smile but it came out as a grimace.
"Will, I've seen your kung-fu, you couldn't hold off an old lady with a handbag!"
"I-I don't know...I wasn't important I guess," Willow ended the conversation by dialling her phone.
Both detectives knew that this case would explode with the deaths of the four officers...and they would be in for a huge amount of questioning as to what exactly had happened.
Willow only hoped that her skills as a liar were up to scratch. There was no way she was letting out what passed between her and corpse-man...not even to Tara.
"How incredibly cliché T," Faith dismissed Tara's costume almost contemptuously, "An angel of all things! What's the bet that Willow turns up as the devil?"
Tara whirled in front of the mirror, wrinkling her brow as she tried to discern whether her outfit really was as bad as Faith claimed. She was wearing a white dress with a tight bodice, flowing down and clinging tightly to her hips before flaring out to billow around her legs as she moved. Ashley had insisted on making her wear her a pair of angel wings and a sparkly, golden plastic halo. The halo was nestled atop a head full of golden curls. Maybe it was a little too childlike....
"I don't know what Willow is going as," Tara sighed, "Do you think it's that bad?"
Faith laughed, "Don't listen to me, besides, Ashley said you were pretty so that must count for something."
Tara sighed, the week's events were weighing heavily on her mind and the last thing she felt like doing was going to a party. Another child had died, a sixteen year old girl who had been gorgeous, vibrant and full of life.
"I don't know if it's appropriate to be going to the party after what happened to Willow and Buffy on Wednesday," Tara had heard the redhead's account through Giles who had fielded the phone call from Willow.
From what she understood it had been a case of disastrous timing, arriving at the house at precisely the same moment as the villains finished their vile task. Willow and Buffy had come face to face with a man whom Willow described as a 'walking corpse.' In the scuffle that followed, all four of the officers with them had been killed and Buffy had been extremely lucky to escape with only a broken arm. Willow had wounded one but he had unfortunately bitten a poison tooth and committed suicide before she could ask him anything.
"T, there is no way that you are going to let those sickos interfere with your love life, you are getting some booty tonight and that's that!" Faith said firmly.
"Willow and Buffy have had a rough time at work," Tara felt guilty even though it had nothing to do with her.
"Which is precisely why they both need a night out on the town!" Faith insisted.
Tara frowned and was about to query the 'they both' part of Faith's statement when there was a knock on the door. A very timid knock at first, followed by one which was more insistent as though the knocker were steadily gathering courage.
"Allow me," Faith bounded to her feet, eager to see Willow's costume, almost shoving Tara out of the way in the process.
Willow was about to wrap on the door for a third time, fearing that Tara may have gone into hiding to avoid going out with her after all, when the door swung open to reveal Faith. Willow blushed red, skin almost blending in with her hair, she had expectedly to only have to talk to Tara rather than the feisty slayer whom she still could not quite fathom. Not to mention her strange flirtation with Buffy which thoroughly weirded her out.
"Whoa Red, nice outfit!" Faith grinned and Willow for the life of her could not tell whether she was being serious or inwardly mocking her.
"Thanks," she mumbled, "Is Tara..."
"She's right here," Faith stepped aside to reveal Tara in all her magnificence.
The angel outfit had its intended impact on Willow who was struck entirely speechless. The expression on her face was entirely out of place with her costume.
Tara couldn't help but let out one of her beautiful laughs when she saw Willow. The young detective had opted to go 'butch', she was clad in a stunning suit of armour and chain mail, topped off with a white surcoat emblazoned with a red dragon.
"Saint George I presume?" Tara reached out to lay a finger on Willow's chest, tracing the outline of the dragon ever so gently.
"Well yes, it is a saints and sinners party so I guess I took it a little too literally...but the costume place had this...and it fit so well...and I guess it was rather presumptuous of me to want to be your knight in shinning armour but here I am," Willow went down onto one knee and took Tara's hand in her own before depositing a small kiss on her knuckle, then she resumed her furious blushing.
"You look very dashing," Tara replied, feeling the heat rise in her own cheeks at the thought of having her very own knight.
Willow stood up with a small amount of effort, the armour creaking slightly. There were footsteps on the stairs and Willow quickly stood, letting go her grip on Tara's hand as she did so. She looked over her shoulder to see Giles coming up the steps with a broad smile on his face, to add further insult to embarrassment he let out a low whistle of appreciation at the beautiful attired pair.
"G-Giles, what are you doing over tonight?" Tara stammered a little awkwardly, although she couldn't quite fathom why as she had absolutely no reason to be ashamed of her beautiful date.
"Faith asked me to baby sit, so here I am..."
Tara turned and gave Faith an eye,
"Well, you don't expect me to miss out on a good party do you?" Faith asked with raised eyebrows.
No one needed to respond to her question. The conversation petered out, Giles turned to Willow and the redhead's rather cheerful visage faded noticeably. It was their first face to face meeting since the fiasco on Wednesday night. Willow could tell that Giles wanted to be brought up to speed on everything that had happened. Her good mood ebbed even further, she had spent the rest of the week going over everything with her colleagues at the bureau...so much so that by the end of it all her head hurt from trying to cover up her use of magicks that night.
Faith glared at Giles angrily, "Don't even start with shop talk Mister! We are all going out and having as good a time as possible in this shitty city! You can grill Willow tomorrow."
Willow smiled weakly, she didn't like the sound of 'grill.'
"Are you going to dress up?" Giles tactfully changed the topic as he looked at Faith's long coat.
Faith laughed in reply, "I'm going as myself of course."
"Yes, now there's a sinner if ever I've seen one," Tara rolled her eyes.
"I'll see you guys there, I have to swing by and pick Buffy up," Faith waved and started down the stairs.
"Buffy?" Willow asked, "Buffy as in my Buffy?"
"No, Buffy as in my Buffy," Faith replied with a wink, with a toss of her brown curls she was off down the stairs and out the front door.
Willow and Tara walked hand in hand into the Kitten and surveyed the scene around them. Nearly every single woman there had taken the trouble to dress in costume. Willow noted quite a few devils and even more angels...although none were as beautiful as her own date. She scanned the room for a few moments and decided with satisfaction that Tara was the best looking woman there.
Faith chose that moment to arrive just behind them; she gave both Tara and Willow firm whacks on their respective arse cheeks. Willow spun around and glared, it was a form of greeting that she did not think would catch on. Just as she had said, Faith was herself...although if it were possible she was attired even more skankily that usual. Her skirt was little more than a belt and her top practically transparent. Willow's face reddened when she saw it was indeed transparent...and Faith wasn't wearing bra. The most substantial item of clothing she wore were her chunky 'Fuck me' boots.
Willow hadn't even noticed Buffy come in with Faith...even though the blonde was fairly conspicuous in her nun's habit and wimple. Whereas Faith was the epitome of sexy...Buffy was the opposite.
"Lookin' good Buff," Willow couldn't suppress a smirk.
"Shut up Will," Buffy mumbled, trying to pull her wimple over her face, the tip of her cast peeked out from beneath her sleeve.
"Can I say again how cute you two look," Faith smiled sweetly, "So cute I could puke...now let's go and get this nun a drink."
"I think I'd like a dance first," Willow said as she turned to Tara, quite anxious to be as alone as possible with her beautiful date.
She caught Buffy's look of outrage from the corner of her eye but she was gone quickly as Faith whisked her away, also happy to spend time with her date. Willow just wasn't sure how happy the date was...she made a mental note to try and check on Buffy later in the night.
"My lady," Willow extended her arm to Tara with a gracious bow.
Tara laughed, "Okay, against my better judgement I have decided that you are charming."
Willow beamed, well pleased with herself, as she led Tara out onto the dance floor. She carefully selected an area away from the more boisterous dancers that were liable to jab with their elbows and stand on people's feet.
The two of them settled into a rather awkward motion, neither quite sure exactly what to do with their various limbs. Willow desperately wanted to reach out and place her hand on Tara's waist but was caught up in her own internal monologue.
That would be too possessive, like you're keeping a grip on her or something...but Tara-waist! Willow watched Tara move her hips with perfect rhythm and a sense of grace, although she sensed that the blonde was holding a little something back, Stop staring for godssake Rosenberg, and whatever you do, don't drool!
Willow tore her eyes away from Tara's body and instead her eyes went everywhere else, roaming over the other partygoers but not really seeing them.
Tara frowned at Willow's wandering gaze, the redhead seemed to have eyes for everyone in the room save her. She was beginning to think that Faith was right and the outfit was a little too cutsey-wootsey.
I knew I should have hired the Elektra costume! Tara thought with a sense of frustration, thinking of her body clad in tight, red leather and inwardly daring Willow to try and keep her eyes off that!
However, Tara was not one for dwelling on mistakes, there was absolutely nothing she could do about her outfit. Instead, upon realising that Willow was not going to act, she took matters into her own hands. With careful, calculated movements, she edged closer to the diminutive, redheaded knight. Before Willow could even realise what was happening, she found that she and Tara were pressed together. Breast to breast, hip to hip. It took all of her pluck to keep herself in one place and not make a hasty retreat. Instead, she reached around Tara's back with her right arm, her hand came to rest in the small of Tara's back. The blonde was no longer holding anything back. Her hips swayed with a rhythm that left Willow struggling to both breathe, and match Tara's pace. Willow knew she was no Fred Astaire, whereas Tara was Ginger Rogers, Madonna and Fergie all rolled into one spectacular woman.
"Can you please tell me if my armour starts to squeak?" Willow almost had to yell in Tara's ear to be heard above the DJ.
She couldn't hear Tara laugh in reply; she just saw her white teeth flash and had to imagine the musical sound. With conversation impossible, Willow could instead concentrate on Tara's presence. Physically, she was breathtaking, every curve, every detail was perfection. From her strong jaw line to her sparkling sapphire eyes, Willow longed to be able to explore those curves and details...praying that Tara might one day give her that opportunity. Tara's spiritual presence was just as captivating, there was an aura about her that Willow tried and failed to comprehend. It had something to do with the sum of her parts...woman, mother, witch and lesbian. They all combined to make Tara.
During her contemplation, Willow had failed to notice her own rising body temperature. The Kitten was packed, bodies pressing up against them from all sides...and Willow was wearing a suit of armour. Tara saw the flushed appearance of Willow's cheeks and brought her thumb up to brush over one cheek lightly. The physical touch brought Willow out of her reverie and she looked to Tara expectantly.
"What do you say to that drink now?" Tara leaned in close.
"I'd say yes please!" Willow sighed dramatically, she felt sure that her armour was going to rust with perspiration, "Lead the way to liquidy nectar!"
"Do you mind if I go to the bathroom first?" Tara asked while they left the dance floor, hating to leave Willow on her own in a throng of lesbians.
"Not at all, um, I'll just be at the bar...ordering aforesaid liquidy nectar. What can I get you?" Willow found her ears were ringing even when they moved away from the speakers.
"Just a diet coke thanks, I think I'll go for refreshing rather than intoxicating,' Tara grinned and with a quick pat of Willow's sleeve she threaded into the crowd of people standing around and lounging at high tables.
Willow watched from the bar as Tara made her way through the throng to the bathrooms. She saw far too many other women cast appreciative glances over her date. For a few jealous moments, she wondered whether she should follow Tara and tell everyone to keep their beady eyes off her date. She dismissed this as way too creepy and turned to the bartender to order drinks.
Her order taken, Willow sagged against the bar in exhaustion. While the suit of armour looked fantastic and made her look incredibly tough, it was also damned heavy. Moments later, the bartender slapped her drinks down in front of her and she downed half her beer in a few thirsty gulps.
It seemed like an eternity until Tara returned. Willow was forced to watch as she made her way back across the room. Although it was hardly torture, she loved seeing Tara walk. Her eyes narrowed as woman dressed as catwoman stopped to say a few words to her. Tara smiled and spoke in reply but much to Willow's relief, she quickly moved away.
Hello, St George...catwoman, no competition, I have a sword! Willow puffed out her chest with pride, well as much as it was possible to puff while it was encased in a metal shell.
"I ordered you a drink," Willow indicated the diet coke sitting on the bar beside her.
Tara took a long sip, "Thanks...you look a little hot."
"I'm not used to all this extra weight," Willow tugged at her chest plate beneath the surcoat, "I'm sure it's good for me though, I'm losing pounds just by standing in one place!"
"You want to take it off?" Tara thought that was an extremely good idea.
"Are you kidding, I had padded underwear on! Nothing else!" Willow spluttered, she didn't note that the underwear was particularly hideous.
Tara laughed heartily, "Well, at least let's go outside for some air?"
Willow acquiesced readily, fresh air sounded like a little piece of heaven. She downed what remained of her beer and followed Tara. The blonde held out her hand behind her for Willow to take. Willow felt her sweaty fingers slid into Tara's palm with a decided thrill. It was only when she was outside in the fresh air that she realised how hot she was. They had to walk past all the partygoers who were outside for a cigarette to find the actual fresh air. The two of them ended up beneath a street lamp a good distance away from the club.
"Having a good night?" it was the only line Willow could think of to say instead of, "Can I kiss you?"
The latter was by far the better line but Willow couldn't quite bring up the nerve to say it.
"The best night...I'm so glad you decided to come with me," Tara replied honestly.
"Well, I had to consider all my options carefully, weighing up the other offers I had, writing out the pros and cons of each one," Willow had a thoughtful look on her face before she broke into a warm smile, "Are you kidding, I wouldn't have missed this for the world, being here...with you."
"What? Standing on a grotty street corner just down from a gaggle of smokers?" Tara asked jokingly.
"No," Willow felt emboldened enough to close the gap between them by taking a step forward, "The moment, us all dressed up, I love your costume by the way..."
"I thought you hated it...you didn't want to come within a foot of me when we first started dancing!" Tara teased mercilessly, "There I was waiting for big butch dragon slayer to sweep me into her arms but no, she was too busy cowering in her clunky leather boots!"
"I-I..." Willow was lost for an explanation other than that she had been terrified, she settled for another tack, "Look, your halo glimmers in the lamplight...it looks almost real."
"I'm no angel," Tara whispered with a decidedly impish smile, taking her own step forward.
They were mere inches from touching one another. Their closeness without actually touching was driving both of them crazy, without any further warning Tara took another step and closed the gap between them altogether. She surprised Willow who hadn't expected the blonde to make such a bold move. Her lips crushed against Willow's with a quiet intensity at first. It built steadily until Willow reached up her hand to cup Tara's cheek and Tara laid her hand on the back of Willow's neck. Their bodies pressed tightly together, hip to hip as when they were dancing. Tara's breasts were crushed against Willow's armoured breast but she did not notice.
As Willow explored Tara's lips she found them to be every bit as sweet as she had imagined them to be. When Tara let her, she pushed her tongue deep into her mouth and felt a shiver go down her spine.
More than anything in the world, Willow wanted to stay that way forever, where the whole world consisted of just her and Tara and their entwined bodies. She totally forgot that Buffy was trapped in the club with Faith expecting Willow to be on hand to rescue her. For that moment...just one moment, there were no murders, no dark magic or gloomy clouds of mistrust hanging over them all. Willow did not care when the first spatters of rain began to ping off her armour...it could rust for all she cared.
"Willow?" Tara whispered quietly between kisses.
"Yeah?" Willow was more than a little breathless.