Willow Rosenberg was afraid.
It was not an emotion that she appreciated but it was real, palpable and unmistakable. The fear coursed unchecked through her veins and despite her best efforts, she could not shake it off. The source of her fear was obvious. His words had left her confused; his wizened, distorted old face haunted her dreams. The walking corpse for whom she had no name had left his mark on her...most probably as he had intended.
Willow stood on the sidewalk outside the Magic Box. It was Sunday night...binding spell time. The spell had seemed like the appropriate solution to the magicks she now found in her possession. Seal them up so they could not be used to hurt someone. Willow had thought this was the necessary solution...but now she was having doubts...
She shuddered to think what Wednesday nights outcome may have been if not for the magicks, uncontrollable as they were. The mere sight of the warlock in black had repulsed Willow. For some reason she didn't think his intentions towards her had been anything to do with hugs and kisses. Although Willow understood very little of her magick, there was no doubting its potency. Whatever it was that she had wrought to halt the villain, he had been unable to cast it aside. That knowledge gave her a measure of confidence. It didn't alleviate her fear but it was enough to keep her from fleeing to the far ends of the earth to cower under a bed somewhere.
The more she had thought about that night, the clearer her mind had become. Now the hour had come, she had made her decision. Willow knew Giles wasn't going to like it one little bit...
The dinky, little bell above the door chimed happily in greeting when Willow entered the Magic Box. A now familiar smell enveloped her. Herbs, scented candles and other less pleasant odours combined to create the Magic Box's own peculiar scent. It was neither pleasant nor rank, but oddly comforting. As Willow's gaze fell on the smiling young woman behind the counter, she knew exactly why. It was the smell she associated with Tara.
"Hey you," Tara voice was like a jolt to her system.
Willow's potentially charming reply was cut off as she missed the stair leading down from the raised portion at the front of the store. She managed to avoid crashing to the floor outright, but the resulting scramble was less than graceful. She careened into a table full of merchandise and sent jars wobbling dangerously. One, full of pickled frogs legs, toppled onto its side and began a dangerous roll towards the edge of the table. It plopped soundlessly over the edge just as Willow's hand shot out and caught it. Shakily, she restored the jar to its rightful place on the table.
"Well, I can say one thing for you Willow Rosenberg," Tara moved out from behind the counter, "You certainly know how to make an entrance!"
Willow straightened carefully and put some distance between herself and the table...or anything else that she could possibly touch. She stood in the middle of the room and smiled gingerly at Tara. She tried to discretely wipe her sweaty palms on her jean-clad thighs.
"Not exactly the entrance I was going for...but it got your attention at least," Willow had to swallow quickly as she watched the blonde take a few more steps forward.
Tara was gorgeous, immaculately attired in a flowing skirt and tight blouse which managed to cling to every inch of her magnificent breasts without seeming revealing. Her hair hung down over her shoulders in soft waves.
When Tara noticed that Willow was blatantly staring at her she ducked her head to conceal the spots of red which were bound to surface on her cheeks. Strands of hair fell forward over her face.
That simply won't do, Willow boldly stepped forward and gently lifted the offending strands away from Tara's face.
She tucked the strands behind Tara's ear and revealed the bright red flush that the blonde had been trying to hide. Willow's hand lingered above Tara's ear for a few moments before she suddenly became self-conscious and it dropped quickly back to her side. They found themselves in the awkward situation, after having shared their first kiss, of not quite knowing how to greet each other.
Am I allowed to kiss her whenever I see her now? Or is that assuming much too much? Willow tried to keep her thought-process from appearing on her face and failed miserably.
She earned herself one of Tara's gorgeous smiles, and also the invitation that she had been waiting to hear, "You can kiss me Willow."
"I can?" Willow's eyes bulged, "Because I certainly wasn't assuming that I was allowed to...I mean, just because we shared one kiss it doesn't mean that I expect to be able to lock lips whenever I see you! But that kiss was really nice and so I would like to be able to kiss you all the time..." Willow managed to cut herself off mid-babble before anything truly humiliating escaped her lips.
Tara moved forward and slipped one slender arm around Willow's waist, "Willow, I said you could kiss me...not talk about kissing me."
Willow was bright enough not require yet another invitation. With absolutely no further hesitation, she claimed Tara's lips. Despite the intensity of the emotion that surged inside of her, she restrained herself to a gentle caress of Tara's lips with her own. Willow deepened the kiss and her lips parted as a soft sigh escaped. Her mind was working overtime as their tongues met, soft flesh tangling in a slow, languid dance.
Tara felt Willow's hands snake up her back, sending shivers down her spine. She couldn't do a thing as Willow drew their bodies tightly together. She needed Willow's strong arms around her otherwise she would have fallen to the floor, her knees no longer capable of supporting her own weight.
Willow and Tara's kiss intensified, both women finally giving in to the passion they felt for each other. Their mouths now met and worked furiously, lips were crushed together in bruising kisses as they tried to satisfy their hunger. Their bodies met and moulded together, moving against each other. They were a perfect fit, every curve joining seamlessly.
With a primal grunt, Willow pressed Tara back against the shop's counter. The blonde's back hit the edge with a jarring force but she did not notice. Willow moved both hands to the underside of Tara's thighs and without warning, lifted her in one swift movement. She deposited Tara roughly on the counter, knocking aside several small displays of candles. Some clattered to the floor about her feet. Her hands inched Tara's skirt upwards over her thighs, feeling the smooth skin beneath her fingers and the palms of her hands as she did so.
Tara groaned and wrapped her legs around Willow's back, drawing her body as close as possible. Willow responded to Tara's obvious urgings by grinding her body against Tara's. The blonde responded by thrusting her hips forward, instinctively needing to feel Willow's flesh against her intensely throbbing centre. Tara couldn't explain it...and nor did she want to. It was as though the intensity of the feelings which had once worked to keep them apart, were now thrusting them together...literally. All the pent up emotion that the two women had felt since that first moment they met was struggling for release. It was a release that had been suppressed for much too long.
Tara knew exactly what she needed...Willow's hands all over here, everywhere, moving inside of her. She had never wanted anything so badly in all her life...and Tara was not a person to usually make demands. Willow's lips finally left hers as she buried her head in the soft flesh of her neck. Tara heard Willow's hoarse pants against her throat and knew at that moment she could have demanded anything she wanted of the redhead.
"Willow!" Tara could not keep her emotions from overwhelming her voice and it came out as a strangled gasp.
"I know," Willow breathed, "I need you Tara, I want..."
Oh god, I know too, I want to! Tara tried to coral her raging thoughts into something resembling coherency, "Willow...stop...for goddess' sake stop!"
Willow withdrew immediately, she stepped back with a concerned look oh her face. She did not withdraw her touch completely, one hand rested lightly on Tara's knee in a reassuring gesture.
"Tara, I'm so sorry...I was moving much too fast and...everything was happening and it was good...and god it was good!" Willow managed to cut off her babbling and finished quietly, "I'm terribly sorry if I hurt you."
Tara smiled, a warm, bright smile that definitely did not belong to someone who had just been hurt. Willow relaxed visibly, calming down enough to realise that she was still breathing hoarsely.
"Bit out of shape detective?" Tara teased, hypnotised by the rapid rise and fall of Willow's chest.
"No...just...a little excited...to understate things," A little excited? More like blood pumping at a hundred miles an hour excited! Could this woman be anymore exciting if she tried?, Willow drew in a deep breath and looked around for a brief second as though she were re-discovering exactly where they were, "And I'm guessing that the counter of the Magic Box probably isn't the best place for this...for us to...ahhh...well, you know!"
"For us to what Willow?" Tara leaned forward and whispered in an all too seductive voice.
Willow squeaked at Tara's closeness, she could feel her breath falling on her face. It took everything she had to stop herself from grabbing Tara and picking up right where they left off a few moments ago.
"Um...Tara, I wasn't assuming anything..." Willow whispered lamely, She's a vixen!
"It was a simple question that didn't require explanation," Tara's lips curled upwards again, like a child who was about to do something deliciously bad, "For us to fuck?"
Bang! It was said so casually, innocently and yet it was enough to make Willow lose her balance and crash backwards to the floor as though she had been shoved by an invisible force. Willow winced as her tailbone hit hard. Then she found herself staring up at Tara who was still sitting on the counter, a lingering air of mischief about her.
"Why do I always end up on the floor when I'm in your presence?" Willow asked in bewilderment.
Tara gracefully hopped to the floor from her perch on the counter. For the second time she found herself helping Willow up off the floor. The redhead continued to stare at her, a mixture of confusion and wonder registering on her features.
"You lose your balance when you're around me," Tara replied, retaining her hold on Willow's hands, "And I'm not speaking literally...although you always take it literally, which you shouldn't...and now I'm starting to babble, just like a certain redhead standing not a metre away from me now."
Willow grinned, "It is an infectious disease...and I can't help it, god, Tara, if you even knew half of how you make me feel!"
"If it's anything close to how you make me feel...then yes, I do Will," Tara ducked her head in thought for a brief moment, when she met Willow's gaze once more her face was earnest, "I want you Willow...I've wanted you since the moment you walked into this store looking for frog's legs, there were just forces that kept us apart. Now that we're together..."
Willow raised her eyebrows expectantly, "We're together?"
Tara blushed, "Um...I assumed...which was stupid of me, you haven't even asked me out yet."
"Do people even ask each other out anymore...I mean, I don't really 'go out' with girls per se...I mean, I didn't!" Willow placed emphasis on 'didn't' as if to indicate her wild ways were definitely in the past, she gave a groan of exasperation at her own idiocy, "Look, Tara, I...really like you and I'd like the opportunity to be able to show you that there can be an 'us', despite all the shit that is going down at the moment. I think we could be really great together and..."
Tara put her index finger to Willow's lips, "Will, shut up...yes," Tara placed a tiny kiss on the bridge of Willow's nose, "But I think we should stay away from shop counters for a little while, it's taken us long enough to get to this point so I think we should be a little patient."
"Yes...much, much too much with the fastness!" Willow agreed a little too readily.
Willow felt as though her chest was ready to burst with happiness. She had spent so long playing the field, going from woman to woman and barely even pausing to find out a name. It had been fun...undoubtedly, but there was always something lacking. She longed for a closeness that could only come from knowing someone intimately. It took time and patience...neither of which Willow had, but she could learn to make an exception in Tara's case.
Tara watched the thought-processes flit across Willow's face. Much the same process was going on in her own mind. In all too many ways their relationship should never have gone past friendship...if even that. There were so many variables to take into account. Tara did not want to think how Giles would react to their relationship despite the fact that she and Willow had clearly been on a collision course from the day they met.
Then there was Ashley. Tara knew full well that Ashley thought the world of 'Officer Willow' but what was Willow like as a parent? She shook her head to clear the ridiculous thought. She and Willow had barely begun dating so it was hardly the time to be assessing Willow's parental capabilities.
Tara did not even want to start on everything else...
"Tara?" Willow interrupted her musings, "I have to tell you something...about Wednesday night."
Tara raised her eyebrows, Willow's voice sounded more than a little guilty.
"I didn't lie to you...I just omitted a few details in regards to what actually happened...or rather my role in what happened," Willow swallowed uncomfortably, "Um...their leader, the one I said looked liked a walking corpse, I used my magick to fend him off, not intentionally...it was like the time in the cemetery..."
"Willow, I think Giles should be in on this conversation," Tara added quickly.
Willow's face clouded, "I would rather get it out to you first...I don't feel comfortable around him..."
"Whatever for Willow?" Giles emerged from the training room at that precise moment.
Both Willow and Tara could only speculate as to how much he might of heard of their conversation. Even more mortifying to them both was how much of their counter-top antics he had seen. Willow let go Tara's hands and took a step back from the blonde, her mouth working soundlessly to try and formulate an answer to Giles' question.
"Could it be that you have something to hide?" he continued moving towards them until he reached the counter.
He lent back on it, elbow resting atop it with his hand tapping in such a way that made Willow and Tara squirm. He had seen them.
"I don't have anything to hide!" Willow growled angrily, "I didn't tell you because I thought it didn't matter. My powers were going to be bound anyway, whether I used them on Wednesday night or not! Anyway, the short of it is that they saved my life...or at least saved me from something unpleasant. I'm changing my mind...I won't go through with the spell."
"No!" Giles burst out before he could stop himself.
Tara glared at him and then turned back to Willow. The redhead's expression was determined, almost defiant as though she were daring them both to challenge her decision.
"Will...Willow, it's your decision, no one else's," she threw Giles a pointed look and continued, "I think we should all sit down and have a talk about this...maybe over a coffee?"
Willow had been inwardly raging, ready to sock Giles one on the jaw before Tara's swiftly defused the situation with careful words and glances.
Willow regarded Tara with appreciation and more than a little awe...How can one person be so perfect?, "I'm sorry, Giles. Coffee sounds great."
Giles just muttered something under his breath.
The conversation that night was tense to say the least. Giles challenged Willow every step of the way even as Tara supported her. Eventually he had to give into Willow's decision, although on the condition that she put more effort into learning to control it in nightly lessons from Tara. Willow couldn't see any problem with that at all...
Giles made detailed notes as she told them every aspect of what had happened on Wednesday night. Willow bravely omitted nothing, not even the villain's cryptic message that had chilled her to the bone.
It was almost 10 by the time Willow went to leave. As she walked through the darkened store, she knew someone was watching her from the dark shadows in the store. She turned directly to where she suspected the presence was hiding and narrowed her eyes.
"Giles, I know you're there. Do you have something to say to me other than being disappointed that I didn't agree to go along with the whole binding thing?" Willow asked in an impassive voice, she wasn't out to provoke him.
The tall Englishman emerged from behind a bookshelf, stepping into a narrow shaft of light emanating from a streetlamp outside. He was polishing his glasses again, a chore which Willow noted he did when he was upset or dwelling on something. She didn't have the energy to argue with him, all she wanted to do was go home and watch bad TV...and whoop with joy at least once in celebration of the fact that she and Tara were a couple. Willow and Tara, Willow decided that she liked the sound of their names together immensely.
"I don't quite know what to make of you Willow Rosenberg...you're a puzzle to me and I have spent my life solving puzzles, to come across one I cannot solve, well, you could imagine how that makes me feel."
"I'm not a puzzle, Giles," Willow responded bluntly, with more than a hint of anger in her voice. She drew in a deep breath, Remember you're not here to start a fight, "Look, I know you don't like me very much..."
"It's not at all that I don't like you Willow..." Giles began.
Okay, not my problem if you want to lie, Willow's lip tightened briefly before she continued, "Well, at the very least you're worried that I'm going to go supernova with my untrained magicks and kill everyone you love, especially Tara and Ashley."
"I wouldn't have used those words exactly...but yes," Giles said quietly.
Score one point for being honest, Willow thought, carefully searching the Watcher's face. She found it impassive and unreadable. Again...she felt tired and her hand searched for the doorknob even as she turned to say one last thing to Giles.
"Giles...I lo-," Willow choked as though the word wouldn't quite emerge, she continued in a quiet voice, "I care for Tara a great deal, Ashley too...and I would die before I let anything happen to either of them."
The door opened to a blast of cold air, it sent Willow's red hair swirling about her face as she stepped outside. Colder weather was on its way.
"Well...it may very well come to that Willow," was all Giles said in reply.
The door had closed behind Willow, his words lost on the wind.
Willow felt drained as she sat at the round table at the back of the Magic Box, it's surface still covered with books of all description. She was feeling less like one of the Knights of the Round Table and more like a tired cop who was severely out of her depth. Both she and Buffy continued to be under an incredible amount of pressure at the precinct and each day Diebel threatened to take them off the case. Willow was beginning to think that was the best solution...although she had never been taken off a case in her life. The very thought of it was making her skin crawl and her ears twitch.
It was late Friday afternoon and everyone was there, what Willow had come to regard as the 'gang.' Giles was giving her a chill every time he looked at her from where he stood on the bottom step of the stairs leading up to the shop's mezzanine. Willow glared and was content to imagine him slipping off the step and cracking his head against its edge, Like he really needs to make himself taller! Talk about 'boss of us' complex! She was grateful that Tara sat at her side, a calming influence if ever there was one. The blonde's thigh was pressed tightly against Willow's jean-clad leg. Each time Tara shifted lightly, the small movement sent a far more pleasant shiver down her spine. She wished fervently that she was able to place her hand on the aforementioned thigh without the others wondering what on earth she was doing with her hand.
Xander and Anya were playfully bickering across the other side of the table. Anya resorted to cuffing Xander over the back of his head when he wouldn't give into her. Buffy and Faith were both perched on the Magic boxes counter, having decided that they were much too cool to sit with the rest of the lemmings at the table. Willow for the life of her could not figure out what was going on there...and she wasn't entirely sure that she wanted to. She noted dismally that she had spent very little quality time with Buffy over the past few weeks. Even little Ashley was present, although she was playing at the back of the store, seemingly oblivious to the grown-ups. Tara kept looking up every now and then to check she was safe.
Giles eventually cleared his throat to get everyone's attention.
"Over the past few days we've done some thorough research," Giles began and Anya coughed loudly to remind him that he had forgotten something, "And yes, thank you very much to Anya and Xander for all their hard work."
Anya beamed, satisfied that her long hours of toil had been at least mentioned even if she couldn't be paid for them.
Giles nodded and looked at the list in front of him which contained several vital and precious names, "Tara, could you?"
Tara nodded, she rose from her seat with a grace Willow had become accustomed to but would never tire of. Her head bowed slightly, she whispered words no one else could make out. Her hands rose in an encircling gesture and Willow thought she saw a fine mist rise up and envelope them all.
"It is imperative that unfriendly ears are not able to listen to what I have to share now. We have managed to trace the lines of nearly all of the seals. Firstly, we have traced the line of John Suckling, his descendant Harland Baker was the first to die - one seal down. Then we have the baby, Hugh Appleby who was a descendant of Margaret Cavendish - the second seal to be destroyed. Elizabeth Beaumont..."
Willow looked up sadly, the most recent victim weighed heavily on her mind. If only they had been an hour earlier. She had only seen the young girl after she had made sure Buffy was okay, she had been left lying on the floor in the upstairs room. Her blood stained the Gibson's expensive woollen carpet. Her parents had been out at a society event, a dinner, while a babysitter had been watching their daughter. The sitter, who had later been identified as a student from Sunnydale University, had been killed in the same room. Even in death she held tightly onto a wicked looking sword...Chelsea's Guardian.
"Chelsea Gibson," Willow whispered.
Giles nodded in agreement and continued, "The third seal destroyed..."
"Giles," Tara whispered quietly, looking up with a watery mist across her eyes, "Please don't say 'destroyed,' it makes them sound like they are things. They were people."
"I'm sorry Tara, I thought it would be easier...the third seal...killed," Giles swallowed, he moved his finger to the next name on his list, "We come to the seals who have yet to be found. It is imperative that we reach them first. Dorothy Jansen, whom we have traced directly to the Jansens who live in here today, the youngest of their line being a nine year old son...Samuel."
"Nine," Tara whispered, looking to the back of the store where Ashley was sitting on the floor, her head bent in concentration over the Lego bricks she was building up.
"Richard Hobbes tracked to a Matthew Murphy, a student at Sunnydale Junior High...and Francis Massinger's descendant..." Giles looked directly at Buffy who frowned at the attention, "Dawn Summers."
Buffy gasped, "Hang on old timer, you have so got it wrong there!"
"I'm afraid not, your younger sister is one of the seals," Giles tactfully ignored Buffy's use of the word 'old'.
"Isn't that only six?" Xander was counting the names on his fingers while Buffy was spluttering in the background.
Anya patted his shoulder, "Well spotted honey, you impress us all with your knowledge of Kindergarten math."
Giles continued, despite the muttering which was steadily rising around him, "I have so far been unable to trace the line of the remaining seal, Mary Wroth...there were key records which were missing from public archives...I will keep looking. However, in the meantime we must find the remaining seals and their Guardians."
"And do what with them?" Anya asked dubiously, "Because I am not hosting them at my house, I've just had the carpets cleaned!"
"We will get them all into hiding," Giles assured them all, "In the meantime, the important thing is to locate and bring them in without whoever is hunting them finding out...this must be done swiftly and with a minimum fuss. Xander and Anya, here is the address for the Solomon's, I want you to go and pick up Samuel."
Giles handed Xander a small piece of paper and Xander nodded resolutely despite his wife's vice-like grip on his arm. Anya was clearly not too thrilled at the prospect of setting out to rescue people who were in mortal danger from men with large knives.
"We can let the precinct know," Willow spoke up quickly, "Should we?".
"Yes," Buffy replied through gritted teeth, obviously still unsettled by the mention of her younger sisters name, "And maybe we can invite Captain Diebel over to the Magic Box for one of our meetings."
Giles cleared his throat, "I would prefer not to put this information out to people we cannot trust, I trust everyone in this room implicitly...I'm afraid the police may have been corrupted."
Willow and Buffy just shrugged, Giles did have a point. All too often they had seen colleagues thrown off the force for their involvement in shady dealings. Some cops just weren't honest or strong enough to not give into the temptation of bribes or drugs. Now that both cops knew what really went on in their city, they were even less surprised. It was part and parcel of working in a city where monsters walked.
"Willow and Tara," Giles handed an address to Tara, "You will go to the Murphy's and retrieve young Matthew. And lastly, Buffy and Faith..."
"I think I know exactly where my sister is," Buffy muttered darkly, "Mum packed her off to boarding school after she was arrested for stealing...turns out she is quite the klepto."
Buffy was clearly in a grump, she viewed her little sister as a disappointment and a blot on her otherwise excellent reputation as a detective. The two of them did not get along at all. However, she was conflicted by the fact that Dawn was in mortal danger. She did not wish such a fate even on her pain in the arse sister.
"What I am doing?" Ashley had decided that playing with Lego wasn't half an interesting as listening in on the adult conversation.
Giles put his arm around Ashley and pulled her in close to him, "You my dear one, are staying right here to watch over me."
Ashley snorted, "Giles, you don't need watching over!"
"Of course I don't...but the cookies we're going to make will," Giles replied in a consolatory tone, Ashley beamed and was well pleased with that suggestion, "And everyone else should get moving, I'll expect you all back here within the next two hours."
"And if we're not back...don't send out a search party because we'll probably be dead," Anya groaned exaggeratedly as she watched Xander return from the training room with a particularly nasty looking axe, "Honey...you're not going to show up in front of the little tyke with that now are you?"
"I'll put it in the trunk," Xander assured her.
Tara grabbed a set of keys that were lying on the Magic boxes counter, "Giles, we're taking your car," Giles began to splutter a refusal but was silenced with a glare from Tara, "Faith and Buffy will need Willow's car...there's no way they're picking up anyone on Faith's bike!"
Willow fished in her pocket for her keys and held them out to Buffy. Before the blonde could take them Faith sauntered over and snatched them away with a teasing wink. Willow gaped for a moment before her indignation registered.
"There is no way she's driving my car!" Willow protested as Faith and Buffy walked towards the front door, "She is not driving my car! Buffy! Tara, Giles, someone stop her...I love that car!"
Her cries fell on deaf ears as the door closed behind the two, Tara patted Willow on the shoulder, "Don't worry sweetie...you can drive Giles' car...it's shiny and red and goes pretty fast."
"And is shaped like a penis no doubt," Willow added grumpily, although not loud enough for Giles to hear.
Willow's mood brightened when the fact that Tara had called her 'sweetie' finally registered. Her scowl was replaced by a rather sickening expression that had Anya rolling her eyes. The ex-vengeance demon grabbed her husband's hand and dragged him out of the shop. Tara first stopped to give Ashley a fierce hug before she and Willow followed out the door, a stupid look still attached to Willow's face.
When the door closed behind her mother, Ashley signed. A mission to rescue people sounded like a lot of fun and she hated to be missing out on it. She resolved to not get left behind for anything when she was older.
"When I grow up I'm going to be just like Officer Willow!" Ashley declared, hands planted firmly on her hips, she reasoned that Willow wouldn't stay behind for anything.
Giles had already seated himself at the table and was peering over the Veneficus, he looked up at Ashley for a moment.
"Don't you want to be like your Mom?" he asked.
Ashley wrinkled up her little nose, wondering if it was terribly bad of her to tell the truth in this case, she decided to stick with it, "No...I love Mom but Willow wears cooler clothes and she gets to carry a badge around."
Giles sighed at the ten year olds logic, "Well, we'll see what happens."
"Can we make cookies now?" Ashley asked, coming to rest her chin on the table opposite Giles, a puppy dog look on her face.
"Um...I just want to read a few things first...run off and play for a bit longer," he didn't even look up from his book.
Ashley moved back to her Lego bricks and plonked herself down on the floor, she whispered grumpily to a little plastic pirate, 'We are so not going to get make any cookies!'