"This stuff is so cool!" Matt exclaimed, his eyes roved over the Magic Box and its merchandise, his fingers twitched involuntarily and it was clear he longed to reach out and touch everything. He knelt down to examine a jar he found particularly interesting and his smile broadened, "Werewolves bollocks? Excellent! How on earth do you get something like that?"
His hand reached out to wrap itself around the jar. Behind him, Giles was having an apoplectic fit at the sight of Matt's teenage hand reaching out to pick up the merchandise. He knew for a fact that teenage hands were undoubtedly covered in all manner of filth, not to mention the almost certain likelihood that the jar would be dropped. In a single bound he strode across to the table and swooped down upon the jar, whisking it away to safety in his own much more capable, hygienic hands.
"Werewolves bollocks happen to be very expensive and difficult to come by due to the...ahhh....reluctance of the werewolves to part with them....for good reason," Giles held the jar up so that he could inspect the integrity of its contents.
The audience found Giles' concern for the pickled testicles terribly funny. Willow openly snickered and even Tara had a broad smile on her face. Nat, who didn't even know Giles, guffawed loudly and craned for a better look at the jar. An indignant Giles glared at each of them in turn until his gaze came to rest on Tara, whom he least expected to find his actions funny given that she owned half the store and knew exactly what they were worth.
"I'm sorry Giles," Tara had resorted to giggling, she covered her mouth with her hand and tried to restrain herself, "But if you could only see how silly you are!
The doorbell tinkled its welcoming little chime and everyone looked to the door to see the next team to arrive back with their precious cargo. Buffy strode in first, escorting a pretty but sour-faced teenage girl with a decidedly firm grip on the girl's elbow. Behind her, Faith sauntered in nonchalantly, twirling a set of keys around her index finger, and slammed the door shut behind her with her foot. Willow kept a suspicious eye on the brunette who was looking quite pleased with herself for some reason. As the three of them walked forward to greet the others, Giles quickly replaced the jar he held on the table. He gave Matt a very sharp look which caused the teenager to stuff his hands into his pockets.
"Everyone, this is my sister Dawn," Buffy made the introduction with little enthusiasm.
Dawn sighed dramatically, "Who are these freaks?"
Even as Buffy was about to cuff Dawn over the back of her head, Tara stepped forward and diffused the sibling tension. She extended her hand to Dawn with a warm smile on her face.
"I'm Tara, along with Mr Giles here, I own this store," she swivelled slightly and inclined her head to Ashley who was standing next to Willow, "This is my daughter Ashley and this is Matt Murphy and his sister Nat."
"Nice to s-see...I mean meet you!" Matt stammered with an awkward wave of his hand, his face was beet red in the presence of the pretty young woman.
Dawn politely managed a tight-lipped smile as Tara finished up her introductions.
"And I think you might know Willow?"
"Yeah, hi Willow," she replied quite civilly, evidently Willow was not on her blacklist.
"Nice to see you again Dawn," Willow smiled, although she didn't take her eyes of Faith.
Behind the trio of women who had just entered the door opened and a tall man strode in. He let out a loud cough in order to draw attention to himself. Everyone in the room turned to look at him, even Willow who had managed to drag her eyes away from glaring at Faith. He beamed, pleased at being the centre of attention and waited for Buffy to introduce him. Buffy groaned loudly, as though she had managed to forget that he was actually there.
"Spike, Dawn's guardian," she stated it so rapidly that more than a few people were left wondering what she had said.
"Nice of you to shut the door in my face," he drawled in Faith's direction.
Faith shrugged and was unapologetic, "Forgot."
Spike threw up his hands in exasperation and resorted to introducing himself, "Name's Spike in case you didn't catch that babble. Pleased to meet everyone."
There was a murmur of reply from the group. It was subdued however, as they didn't quite know what to make of the peroxided newcomer. Spike smiled and appeared to be at ease in the role of outsider. Once the pleasantries were over, Willow resumed glaring at Faith. The Slayer finally noticed that she was the focus of Willow's attention and immediately realised what it was all about. She tossed the car keys in Willow's direction,
"Not a scratch on it Red...you can check it if you want?" Faith said with a wink.
"I will," Willow muttered, with a hastily murmured 'excuse me,' Willow slipped out the front door to go and check on her car.
Faith shrugged and turned to Tara, "Honestly T, if she loves you half as much as she loves that car then you guys are gonna be just fine!"
"Has anyone heard from Xander and Anya yet?" Tara quickly deflected the conversation away from her relationship with Willow, "They should be arriving back any moment now."
Faith smirked, "Probably stopped to have a little quickie along the way!"
"Faith!" Giles snapped angrily, wondering if it was his lot in life to be surrounded by children and adults who acted like children, "Despite their...eccentricities, Xander and Anya are were aware of the nature of their assignment and the urgency of retrieving their seal. I guarantee that they have not stopped for a ...quickie, as you so charmingly put it!"
"Whatever, that's your prerogative," Faith shrugged.
Giles threw up his hands in despair and decided that it was high time everyone had a cup of tea to diffuse the tension. While he was taking orders for drinks and snacks, Tara took the opportunity to get everyone settled around the round table to begin discussions about how to proceed. While they had retrieved the seals safely, they had not planned any further ahead. Careful planning would ultimately would be one of the things that kept them all alive...that and sheer dumb luck.
Giles and Tara disappeared to the flat upstairs to prepare food for everyone. Ashley followed close behind, thoroughly annoyed at her hunger having been ignored in all the excitement around the arrival of the seals. Meanwhile, Willow strode back into the Magic Box, slamming the door behind her with such a force that the little bell was almost jarred from its hinges. She marched straight up to Faith with a look of pure fury on her face. Halting right in front of Faith, she jabbed the Slayer in the chest with her index finger.
"My car reeks of cigarette smoke!" Willow spluttered, "And the ashtray is full of cigarette butts!"
"It is an ashtray," Faith replied dryly.
"It was stuffed to the brim and overflowing!" Willow continued, "How could you have smoked that many, the drive can't have been more than forty-five minutes!"
Faith shrugged and replied in a sarcastic voice, "Cos it looks cool to drive and smoke at the same time."
Willow held up the keys, "Well, you're not getting these again!"
To make her point she jammed them in her pocket. Angrily she stomped over to where Nat was sitting at the table flicking through books and sat down with her. At least books didn't have an attitude. She glanced up at Spike to find him staring at her with a sardonic grin.
"What are you looking at Billy Idol?"
"You're a real piece of work aren't you?"
"She's not normally this bad," Buffy spoke up from just beside Spike, highly amused by the whole situation, "She's been all uptight ever since she found out she can do magic tricks like setting vampires on fire without a word...and then she shacked up with Tara who was avoiding her for-like-ever. So basically, she's just a big nutcase at the moment."
Willow looked up from her book to stare at Buffy with a mixture of surprise and horror written on her face. She had been under the impression that, even though the rest of the world was out to get her, she could at least count on Buffy and Tara to back her up. One ally down...she looked around frantically for Tara who was still upstairs preparing food and drink.
A lazy grin rolled across Spike's face. Matt was grinning broadly as well as he had moved to stand next to Spike. Clearly he viewed the older man as a co-conspirator in the long tradition of males of all ages believing that lesbians were mysterious and excellent food for thought.
Matt jabbed Spike in a friendly manner with his elbow and said simply, "Hot lesbians," as though the two words needed no further explanation.
Spike narrowed his eyes and looked down at the teenager with a superior expression on his angular face. Matt glanced up at him and his grin slowly faded when he saw Spike didn't share in his excitement. In fact, the look on the blond man's face was positively hostile. Matt began inching away from him without a further word. He had moved at least a foot away before Spike brought his steel toed boots down in an almighty stomp that reverberated on the wooden floor. The stomp was accompanied by an even more primeval shout in Matt's direction,
"Raaahhhh!" Spike growled gutturally and suddenly.
"Gah!" Matt squeaked and ran back to his sister's side, cowering behind her.
Spike glared in a satisfied manner at the upstart young man, "Bleeding little blighter! Do I look like a friendly chap!"
Just as the situation was about to deteriorate with Spike at odds with Matt and Willow at odds with just about everyone, Giles, Tara and Ashley trooped downstairs carrying plates of sandwiches and cookies. Ashley had her mouth full to the brim, evidentially having already helped herself to one of the cookies on her plate.
The tension diffused, Willow and Nat cleared away Giles' books from the Round Table. Willow reasoned that even though the books belonged to Giles, books were still books and should not be left anywhere near food. The group gathered around and listened intently as Tara pointed out which sandwiches were turkey, and which were egg and so on. Matt helped himself to a stack of peanut butter and jelly ones and settled atop the counter, far away from Spike who was lounging by a stack of merchandise. He had somehow managed to salvage his cell from Nat and was discreetly taking photos of Spike. No doubt to send to his friends so that they too might lay eyes on the monster that was Spike.
Just as everyone was settled with their sandwiches of choice and Ashley had been berated for having nothing but cookies on her plate, the door swung open and two very harassed looking figures practically flew in. All eyes looked up to see Xander and Anya make an impressive entrance. Both looked furtively out the window into the street outside to see if they had been followed.
"Are they out there?" Anya asked her husband in a worried voice.
Xander shook his head, "No, I think we lost them outside the city limits."
He set his rather hefty battle-axe down, leaning it up against the wall as though it might be needed for future service very soon. With a tender touch he reached out and stroked his wife's arm reassuringly. Anya calmed momentarily, realising she was out of danger. However, she quickly turned away from Xander and thundered down the steps, Giles firmly in her sights.
"You!" she pointed her finger in an accusatory manner at the Englishman, "You sent us to go and pick up that kid and we were very nearly flambéed alive! I used to do that to my victims for fun when I was a vengeance demon! You almost got us killed!"
"What's a vengeance demon?" Matt asked with wide eyes.
"Matt, go watch over the kid."
Nat gave her brother a gentle shove in the direction of the back of the store where Ashley was playing with her Lego quite capably and not needing any supervision at all. Obviously vengeance demons were old news to her.
"No way, I'm not five!" Matt huffed.
"Dawn, away you go too," Buffy made a shooing motion with her hand.
"I wouldn't want to listen in on what you morons are discussing anyways, boring!" Dawn gave a petulant huff, slammed down her uneaten sandwich and went to join Ashley, pushing past Matt on her way.
Matt watched her go with wide eyes, he looked quickly back to his sister, "Um...yeah, I'll go watch over the kid!"
Xander had joined Anya and managed to steer her into Dawn's recently vacated seat. He poured her a steaming cup of black coffee before helping himself to a large stack of turkey sandwiches. Obviously his brush with death had not damaged his healthy appetite. With Anya much too annoyed, the task of recounting their tale fell on him, which he did between great mouthfuls of sandwich.
"The whole thing was over before we even showed up at the address," he managed between bites, pausing as he wolfed down another, "We didn't actually see much before we got out of there as fast as possible...just guys in those robes like Willow and Buffy described...guys with knives. I thought it better that we didn't stick around."
As Xander was polishing off the last of his first sandwich, Giles nodded in agreement, "You did the right thing, there was most likely nothing you could have done."
"Nice of you to say," Anya replied in a snarky tone, glancing up from her coffee, "Xander, stop masticating with your mouth open...it's disgusting."
"Sorry," Xander mumbled guiltily.
The young man was appearing decidedly uncomfortable, no doubt reminiscing on his narrow shave with their foes. While Anya had openly voiced her discomfort, she was also physically manifesting it. Her chair was pushed as close to Xander's as possible, one slender arm wrapped around her husband's bulky upper arm.
"So there's another seal gone," Giles commented as though he were mentally ticking off seals in his mind.
"And another child dead," Tara whispered sadly, thinking of the young boy who was no doubt dead.
The blonde witch lifted her head and her gaze lingered apprehensively over her daughter's small form at the back of the store. Oblivious to the adult's discussions, Ashley sat between Dawn and Matt with a rather noticeable scowl on her face. The teenage boy had appropriated her beloved Lego as he demonstrated the most effective construction techniques in a vain effort to impress Dawn. It was obvious that Dawn wasn't the slightest bit interested and instead sat punching buttons on her cell phone. Tara would have smirked at the rather comical situation had she not been so worried.
"I hate to hurry everything along but..." Nat spoke up, gripping her coffee mug tightly
Tara managed to drag her gaze away from Ashley, despite the scowl on her face, her daughter appeared to be quite safe.
Nat continued, "While we're sitting here they could be honing in on our position...and now we've so kindly bundled all the seals up together for them..."
"All save one," Willow commented, referencing the as yet unknown seventh seal.
"Well, two of the remaining three at any rate...and I am not about to sit around talking while my brother is in jeopardy."
"I think we'll go to my lake house," Giles decided on the spot, "It's quiet, secluded, and you can see every route in and out...we'll be safe there until I can think of a more permanent solution for the young people."
"There's an awful lot of 'I's in there Giles," Willow muttered darkly, "Planning on letting anyone else have a say?"
"Have you got a better idea Willow?" although it was very much Giles' question to ask, it was Faith who actually spoke the words.
Willow stared definitely at Faith for a moment before allowing her face to relax slightly. If it had been Giles who spoke, she would have felt compelled to ask another pointless, spiteful question simply for the sake of irritating Giles. As it was, if Faith believed it was a good idea for their safety then she would trust the Slayer's judgement. While Faith's judgement was undoubtedly questionable when it came to morals and fashion sense, Willow had no qualms about taking her word when it came to life and death matters.
"I've been to the lake house," Faith continued, now speaking to the group as a whole in an authoritative voice that demanded attention, "I reckon Giles is right...we just need to slip out of town real quiet like and hope like heck that we aren't noticed. If we can get out unseen, I'd give us a good few weeks before they even look like tracking us down."
"Well, glossing over the fact that they managed to find the seals rather quickly, I'm not going to argue about a holiday house," Buffy was thinking of it like a holiday, "Willow and I still have jobs of course though..."
"C'mon Buff, this is case work!" Willow said in her best impression of enthusiasm, "Although you can be the one to tell Diebel."
Buffy scowled but reached inside her jacket for her cell. With a mumbled excuse, she moved into the training room for a spot of privacy. Willow watched her go with a medium of surprise, not expecting Buffy to give in so easily.
"And I guess we'll have to close up the store..." Tara admitted reluctantly.
"So we're all in?" Giles looked around to gage the assent on everyone's faces. Most were appearing less than pleased but there was no argument.
"If we all up and leave at once, won't they know something is up?" Xander asked quietly, fearing he would be pounced upon for asking such a stupid question.
"That's a good point Xander..." Giles began.
Faith interrupted Giles with a curt nod, as though she felt she ought to be in charge of matters concerning security, "I agree, but I think we all know that when it comes to these guys there is no option, we can run and we can hide but sooner or later we will have to come face to face with them...otherwise they will continue hunting the Seals until they are all wiped out."
"Like rats in a barrel," Spike muttered darkly from behind them all.
With casual indifference he tapped a cigarette into his fingers and lit it up, paying absolutely no heed whatsoever to the horrified looks on Giles and Tara's faces.
Before leaving town that evening, Giles quietly slipped away to do some research at his home away from home, the town archives. The archivist greeted him with a familiar smile as he entered. He offered no assistance, as Giles knew the archives like he worked there. He proceeded immediately to the birth records. It was a large, comprehensive archive and as far as he knew it remained intact since the towns founding, making it valuable beyond measure.
Before starting out on his quest, he paused to wipe his glasses. Although he knew exactly what he was looking for, it would no doubt take time, lots of time. It would be tedious, time-consuming trawling through paper. They were trials which historians accepted as their lot in life.
He removed a fresh pair of white gloves from the stock on offer and slipped them on. With a quick glance at the clock on the wall behind him, Giles opened the earliest leather-bound, crumbling volume in which he knew he would find his starting point. His gloved finger gently traced the names, pausing to turn the pages as necessary.
He drew in a breath when he finally found the name he was looking for...Mary Wroth He only hoped he would be able follow her trail all the way to the Seventh Seal.
Willow hated to even think it, but Giles had been right when he described his lake house as the perfect place for them to hide out...at least for the time being. She fervently hoped that it would be a relatively short time, just being under the same roof as Giles for one night had tested her patience to the limit.
It was late, Willow did not know the exact time but she figured it ought to be around one in the morning. By the time they had arrived at the house, night had already settled. Tara had set magickal protections around the house and its surroundings. She weaved her strange wards and alarms, all designed to both give them warning and a small measure of defence. Covering such a large area had taken its toll on the young witch and she had retired much earlier that evening.
The sleeping arrangements were sorted with some minor arguments as to who would take a room and who would be bunking down in the living room. Giles had claimed 'his' room which the women secretly thought was very unchivalrous of him. Anya and Xander were in another of the rooms, although everyone was quite relieved by this as it was apparent they still planned to have sex despite the rather gloomy situation they were in. Tara and Ashley shared the tiny room off the kitchen which contained just a single bed. Willow had seen the momentary twinge of disappointment flick across Tara's face when she knew that Willow would not be sharing a room with her. An arrangement Willow was somewhat relieved about. This early into her relationship with Tara, she felt decidedly uncomfortable expressing her feelings around Ashley. Buffy, Dawn, Nat and Faith were crammed into the bunks in the attic despite Dawn's protest that she would rather sleep outside than in the same room as her sister. Willow presumed she would share with them, but oddly enough, she had no desire to find out just what sort of relationship Faith and Buffy had. The single guys were bunking down in the living room. Matt seemed oddly worried about this until Spike grudgingly told him he meant no harm. Matt took this to mean that Spike wanted to be best buddies and stuck like glue to the older man.
Willow was in no hurry to renew her summer camp experiences of sharing a room with other people. As she was an only child, sharing a room with any number of others was rather difficult. She settled for the balcony and the cool, refreshing air rising from the lake below.
The view was one of the most spectacular she could imagine. Although she disliked Giles intensely, the man could definitely choose his vacation spot. It was a view that Willow was only too happy to escape into, away from the others inside.
She paced up and down the length of the balcony for a few minutes, her feet sounded only softly on the wooden deck. Eventually she settled her elbows on the railing and leaned her weight against it. She allowed the night to was over her as she gazed out over the thickly bunched trees which surrounded the lake and the house. Every so often she swore she caught a brief glimpse of Faith through the trees, although the Slayer moved like a shadow herself. She tried not to entertain the thought that it might not be Faith at all...although it was a definite possibility. Every so often a chill would run up her spine and her fingers clenched involuntarily around the wooden railing.
The slightest footstep behind her caused Willow's heart to leap out of her throat. She whirled around to find Tara standing in a pair of cotton pyjamas, her bare feet pale white in the moonlight.
"I-I was on my way to get Ashley a glass of water and I saw you out here...are you going to get any sleep? You look as though you need it."
It was then that Willow realised her arm was raised as though she were about to throw something. There was a tiny flicker of light dancing across her fingertips. She felt the heat on her cheek. Terrified, Willow snapped her hand shut and the flames disappeared. She had unconsciously been about to throw a fireball at her girlfriend. The thought of what could have happened made her sick to the stomach.
Tara swept forward in one graceful movement. She snatched up Willows hand in her own and brought it up to her chest.
"Don't even start to apologise, Willow," Tara breathed as she gently prised Willow's fiercely clenched fingers apart.
Willow felt a momentary twinge of panic to see the flames flare up almost instantly and she tried to snap her palm shut once more. Tara had one hand tightly around her wrist, and the other holding her fingers in an open position. With a worried gaze, Willow looked up into Tara's eyes...questioning. As she met the twin pools of sapphire blue, she felt oddly reassured even without words. Despite her racing heart, she relaxed and joined Tara in staring at the flames which were now dancing steadily across her palm as well as her fingers.
"Don't be scared of them," Tara released her grip on Willow's hand, "You created them, and you're controlling them not the other way around."
"But it's fire...it's...hot," Willow said rather lamely, feeling momentously stupid after the words had left her mouth.
"Yes it is," Tara agreed, as though Willow's words had been incredibly wise. Ever so gently she reached out and scooped the fire from Willow's palm. The fire flickered merrily on, not faltering for an instant as it was transferred to Tara, "And at the same time it isn't.'
Willow's eyes goggled slightly at the sight of the flames now securely in Tara's hand. She may have been seeing things but she imagined them to be burning a little brighter.
"I thought you said it was my fire," Willow whispered quietly, thoroughly entranced by the fire's shadows playing across the angles and surfaces of Tara's face, "But I see it's gone all extra-flamey for you"
Tara's lips curled upwards into a vibrant but subdued smile and she spoke just as quietly as Willow, "You let me have it...oh, not consciously, but...in a way, you gave it to me."
"I 'gave' it to those vampires," images of exploding bodies flashed across Willow's mind and she winced, "Was it because I gave it in anger?"
Tara nodded, "Mostly yes. If you really wanted to, you could do that to me as well..."
Willow looked horrified, "Tara, never in a million years would I ever have reason to...and besides, I wouldn't be able to do that to you would I, I mean, no one would be able to do that to you, you're a witch, you have defences against people setting you on fire...don't you?"
Tara was touched by the genuine concern in Willow's voice and she replied simply, "Yes Willow, I have defences." But not against you I think...
Before Willow could ask any further questions, Tara changed the subject and brought them back to their impromptu magic lesson.
"Take it back," she held out her flamey hand to Willow.
The redhead viewed the fire with suspicion as though it would burn her, even though she knew better. Somewhat hesitantly, she retrieved the fire from Tara's hand and it was back burning in her own as though it had never made the transition. She watched and studied it carefully but she could not bridge the gap between the innocent little flames on her palm and the deadly fireballs that she knew full well she could conjure.
Experimentally, Willow let loose with a quick flick of her wrist in the direction of a stately Yucca plant in an ornamental pot. Predictably, the flames leapt from her palm straight at the plant. In a matter of seconds, the Yucca was ablaze.
Tara reacted quickly, "Fluentum!"
Thick, misty water enveloped the fire and almost instantly extinguished it. The Yucca now stood blackened and scarred, beyond saving. Tara glared at Willow who was looking rather sheepish.
"You knew full well that would happen didn't you?" she snapped as though she were talking to Ashley.
"Errr...yes and no," Willow replied, reaching out to touch one of the long, spiky leaves, it disintegrated at her touch, "I thought maybe..."
Tara growled low in her throat and continued in her mother-voice, "You thought maybe it would be cool to set something on fire."
Willow's reply was barely audible but it sounded like a 'yes.'
"Willow, magic is never, even 'cool.' Although some people use it as a tool, it is not. It is a way of life and a part of who you are...hopefully, in time, you will come to understand that."
"With your help?" Willow asked hopefully.
Tara nodded firmly, "With every bit of help I have to offer and perhaps I can save a few innocent Yuccas along the way."
Willow regarded the once stately plant with a narrow gaze, "They're not really worth saving, they're kinda ugly...but before you go telling me off, I was joking!"
With a playful glare, Tara allowed Willow to enfold her with her arms as way of an apology. Willow responded with an equally playful little smile and buried her face in Tara's chest. Tara giggled as Willow's cold little nose burrowed between the top buttons of her pyjama shirt to find the bare flesh beneath. Willow quickly became impatient when the top button barred further progress. Before Tara could realise what was happened, she had deftly popped it open with one hand. The same hand then parted the shirt from the skin, allowing her unrestricted access to Tara's breasts. She lifted her gaze to Tara's and found the blonde with a look of mock outrage on her face. Nevertheless, she nodded her assent and Willow grinned a little too eagerly in reply. The thought of Tara's breasts was already making her mouth water and she dove in for her prize.
"Hey!" a voice called from the ground below.
Willow hastily withdrew her face from the haven of warmth that was Tara's chest, a mere hairsbreadth from her goal. Then both she and Tara looked down over the balcony to see Faith standing there with her arms folded across her chest. The Slayer looked immensely threatening.
"Are you two trying your very best to draw attention to us?" she asked angrily, "Because, between setting stuff on fire and ripping your clothes off in public, you're doing a pretty good job."
"We're sorry Faith," Tara replied to the rather pissed off Slayer, "We're off to bed now anyway."
"Yeah right," Faith muttered and disappeared into the darkness once more.
She disappeared just as the thought of throwing something at her entered Willow's head. Faith had completely ruined the moment. She sighed disappointedly when she saw Tara doing up her top button. Obliviously to Willow's disappointment, Tara snickered.
"What's so funny?" Willow asked, failing to see how the situation could be anything but a diaster.
"Faith...telling us not to draw attention to ourselves!" she laughed a little louder this time, "Talk about the pot calling the kettle black!"
Willow joined in Tara's laugh, "I think you'd be hard pressed to find a blacker pot!"
A voice sounded out of the darkness, it was Faith calling in a very pissed off sounding voice, "I can hear you two you know!"
Tara saw Willow roll her eyes in the most adorable fashion. With the childish gesture, the detective seemed no more than a young girl. Her impish grin lit up her face even in the darkness. Tara instinctively reached out and traced Willow's jawline with a gentle finger.
"Are you coming to bed?" Tara whispered, tickling the underside of Willow's chin.
"Coming to bed?" Willow asked with raised eyebrows, "Tara, you're sleeping in a single bed with your daughter."
"Going to bed then," Tara sighed reluctantly, " Although I'm sure there's room..."
"And scar Ashley for life?" Willow wrapped her arms around Tara's waist and gently drew her close.
Willow buried her face in Tara's neck and breathed in deeply of her scent. She snorted it hungrily, delving even deeper until she was completely smothered. After nuzzling with the tip of her nose, she laid a trail of kisses down the side of Tara's neck.
"I think it would take a lot to scar that little hellion," Tara remarked truthfully, her eyes half-lidded as Willow's lips moved against her skin, "Okay, if you won't be persuaded then I'll have to respect your wishes...but you should really get some sleep. You never know what tomorrow's is going to bring."
Willow deposited a last kiss below Tara's ear and finally stood back slightly, regarding the beautiful woman that stood before her.
"No," Willow replied finally, turning her face so that she was staring out into the darkness, "I thought I'd sit up and keep watch. You know, with those freaky monks running around..."
"Faith will be more than enough to keep watch sweetie."
Willow ducked her head, "I know, I just wouldn't be able to sleep if I knew something might be out there."
Unless Tara was mistaken, she saw Willow stand up a little straighter and puff out her chest as though she were assuming the role of protector. Her attitude did not even venture into comic, it was natural.
"I for one will sleep easier then," Tara stepped forward and laid a single kiss on Willow's lips, "We've probably still got an audience so that's all you're getting."
"Night Tara. Sleep well."
"You too...well, if you ever get some sleep. Promise you will?"
With one last blown kiss, Tara disappeared indoors and Willow was once again left alone to her musings. She decided that it had been wise of Tara to put a stop to their little spot of fooling around. No doubt Faith would have been out there watching had things gone any further. The thought of the Slayer intruding on what was supposed to be a private moment made her more than a little uneasy. Her loins however were still growling in protest, so much so that Willow thought about a quick dip in the lake. No doubt it would be like ice and completely remove all traces of unsated desire...and it was undeniably more romantic than a cold shower. Willow sighed...Faith was still out there. A cold shower would have to do.
Tara hummed absently along with the nonsensical children's theme song that came from the small television in the next room. She lifted her head from the toast she was buttering and craned her neck to see both Willow and Ashley sitting cross-legged in front of an energetic cartoon. For a brief moment she was struck by the similarities between the two of them. Both sat with their shoulders slouched, a habit Tara had tried hard to break Ashley out of but to no avail. Every so often, at different times, they would tuck hair behind their ears, shaken loose with laughter. Even their laughs were similar, quiet but just as intense as a loud belly laugh.
Another of Ashley's bad habits was leaving half empty glasses sitting on the carpet and as a result, accidents were frequent. Tara watched as Willow discreetly plucked Ashley's latest beverage from the floor beside her and set it up out of harm's way. A smile spread across Tara's face as she knew it was not Giles' pristine carpet that Willow cared about.
Tara resumed buttering the toast, a slight anxiety creeping into her mood as her thoughts dwelt on both her loved ones. Everyone she cared about stood squarely in danger...especially her daughter. She ladled a healthy portion of strawberry jam onto her toast, smooshing it around half-heartedly. Tara was right to wonder whether she should have found somewhere else for Ashley to go, somewhere safe and away from all of this. It was nothing to do with her little girl, that she was sure of. She lifted the toast to her mouth and absently ripped a chunk off, chewing as though it were tasteless.
Your mama's sorry Ash, Tara thought watching her little girl, But where on earth would you be safe?
"Tara," Giles' soft words interrupted her musings, "I was wondering if I might have a word in private?"
Tara paused with a piece of toast sticking out of her mouth and swallowed quickly, placing the uneaten portion back on her plate. Clearly whatever Giles had to tell her could not wait until she had finished breakfast.
She followed Giles out onto the balcony, the same one that she and Willow had shared the previous evening. Her gaze travelled to the blackened Yucca and she fervently hoped that Giles would not notice it. However, when she met his gaze, she saw there the seriousness that he reserved for only the gravest of situations. He had her full attention even as he fiddled with his glasses, seemingly distracted.
"Giles, has something happened...have you found something?" Tara asked, knowing Giles as well as she did she suspected it to be the latter.
"Um...Tara...it would seem that..." Giles paused, mulling over the right choice of words.
Tara only just realised that she was tapping her foot impatiently. She had since realised that whatever he had to say, concerned her in some way and she wished he would just spit it out! Forcing her foot to be still, she instead folded her arms across her chest.
"Tara..." for some reason Giles could not meet her gaze.
Tara wanted to grab him by the shoulders and shake it out of him, she forced her voice to remain calm and level, "Giles, just tell me."
Giles lifted his face and she met his cool eyes. Eyes which were strangely veiled and unreadable.
He drew in a deep breath as though fortifying himself, "Tara...it would seem that Ashley is the Seventh Seal..."