Someone was speaking but Willow ignored the unwanted interruption, letting it wash over her. Instead she concentrated on the lake in front of her, knowing that it was probably Faith urging her indoors. Her eyes closed slowly and she welcomed the darkness as it enveloped her senses. Again the voice, it was small and insistent. Willow frowned angrily, wishing Faith would let her dwell in her own misery.
A growl erupted from her throat and she opened her eyes with every intention of turning to confront the Slayer for disturbing her peace. However, the scene which met her gaze was not the crystal clear lake, nor was she even outdoors. Instead she was seated cross-legged on the couch in front of the television in the living room of Giles's lake house. She blinked once and the scene did not change. She now realised that the voice had been Ashley. The little girl was sitting on the floor holding something towards Willow in her outstretched hand.
"I'm sorry, I was just wondering if you wanted a pop tart, it's the last strawberry one?"
Willow focused on the plate and saw it did indeed contain a single strawberry pop tart. She looked back up to Ashley's face and saw all too clearly the confusion that had settled there. The breakfast pastry brought her back to her sense and she peeled herself out from the hollow her body had made on the couch. Her limbs protested achingly as though she had been sitting for some time. She joined Ashley on the floor and gently too the offered plate holding the pop tart.
"How about we halve it?" Willow asked, attempting what she hoped was a smile.
Willow's attempted smile must have passed with flying colours as Ashley beamed broadly and nodded enthusiastically in reply. Breaking the pastry in half, Willow handed the larger portion to Ashley and nibbled on the corner of her own. The small bite was flat and tasteless in her mouth but she swallowed it gamely anyway. Ashley, on the other hand, devoured her half with gusto and went as far to thumb up the crumbs on the plate.
As she ate, Willow wondered where everyone else was, no doubt having a meeting somewhere to talk about her and the fact that she had completely lost her marbles. The pop tart was made even more tasteless when she turned to see the curtains leading to the balcony were drawn. Through a crack in the fabric she saw nothing but darkness. Night had fallen while she had not noticed the passing of the day.
"Ash, how long have I been sitting on the couch?" she asked, slowly rising to her feet.
She looked down at the girl and saw her frowning slightly, as though her request had been odd. Willow supposed it was. She jammed the rest of the pop tart in her mouth and chewed unenthusiastically.
"Um, you came in with Faith and she told me to put a DVD on for us both, you said you liked X-Men...we watched the movie, it finished about an hour ago I suppose," Ashley's brow furrowed a little deeper, "I've been watching cartoons ever since...although the reception's pretty lame...you're not going to tell on me are you?"
"Why would I tell on you Ash?" Willow asked as though on autopilot, Ashley's answer still didn't explain what she had done with half of her day.
"I'm not supposed to watch TV for so long...but no one seemed to be around except you, and I figured you would have told me off if I really wasn't supposed to be watching," she looked expectantly towards Willow, almost as though she were hoping she would receive a scolding.
Willow shook her head to clear it and smiled once more, she responded in the brightest voice she could muster, "As if! Do I look like I could tell anyone off?"
Ashley frowned once again, "Well yes, you do...you're Officer Willow, I should imagine you're very good at telling people off. Aren't you?"
Willow managed a smile, Ashley had her on that one, "Only bad people Ash...and I wouldn't think you were one of the bad people for watching too much TV."
Her response led to Ashley beaming again. Willow slightly doubted her good parenting skills but it cheered her somewhat to make someone smile. However, she realised that Ashley's smile was a little painful to view due to its similarity to Tara's...she was made aware of just how much she was longing to see that smile.
"You don't know where your Mom is do you?" Willow tried to peer into the kitchen but the only person she saw was Anya stirring a couple of coffee cups.
Ashley shook her head a few times to indicate that she didn't. Once her blonde tresses had settled in place once more, she regarded Willow with a curiously adult gaze and asked quietly, "Why is she being so weird?"
"Huh?" Willow was busy trying to spot Tara in any other nook or cranny she could spy from her vantage point on the floor.
"Mom...weird," Ashley emphasised the two words that she obviously thought were the most important.
Willow turned back to Ashley and frowned, she had thought of herself as the only weird one in the lake house...apart from Spike...and that control freak Rupert Giles. If anyone in the house were not weird, it would be Tara. The blonde had managed to remain as sane as it was possible for anyone under such trying circumstances, especially with the recent revelation regarding Ashley's precarious status and the implications of being her Guardian. Of course, Ashley was acutely sensitive to her mother's worries and would have picked up any change in her manner, no matter how trivial.
Willow was unused to explaining things to children and she pondered whether she should tell Ashley anything at all, especially given that the sum total of her parental experience so far in her life was a big, fat zero. However, faced with Ashley's trusting little face looking up at her, willow felt oddly reassured that someone at least was showing confidence in her.
"Things are kinda a little stressful at the moment Ash, for everyone, but for your mom especially," Willow began carefully.
"Why?" Ashley used the word favoured by all inquisitive children.
"Because she's not just looking at for herself, she's looking out for you too..."
"But...!" Ashley tried to interrupt, obviously indignant at the idea of needing to be looked after, even by her own mother.
Ashley quickly bit her lip. Although she was clearly brimming with the need to refute Willow's statement, her mother had schooled her too well to interrupt an adult.
"I know," Willow soothed Ashley with a gentle nod, "But I need you to take care of her...I'm not going to be around soon, so I need to be sure that I've got someone on the job."
"Where are you going? Can I come with you instead?" Ashley asked hopefully.
Willow shook her head, "We've all got our places that we need to be, and you'll be safest with your Mom. Can I trust you to do a good job looking after her?"
While she still appeared a little angry at the thought of leaving Willow's company, Ashley lifted her fingers to her forehead and saluted smartly, "You can count on me, Officer Willow."
Willow managed a tired but warm smile in response to the girl's enthusiasm, "I know I can, Ash. I'm going to take in some fresh air outside, are you alright? How about you go in the kitchen and ask Anya to fix you something for tea?"
"But I've just had a pop tart!" Ashley held up the empty plate, although she reflected on this for a few moments before deciding that she was still in fact hungry, "Hmmm, I should really eat something better than a pop tart."
"Okay, scoot missy...I'll come find you later and we'll play a board game or something, kay?"
"Sure!" Ashley beamed, rising to her feet she made her way into the kitchen.
Willow watched for a few moments as Anya smiled indulgently at the girl and disappeared in the direction of the refrigerator. She hoped that Anya would at least find something green for Ashley to eat, although given the disposition of the strange blonde woman, Willow somehow doubted that. She then made her way to the door. Before exiting she glanced down to see she was still wearing her sneakers. Upon opening the door she found it to be slightly colder than she had expected and selected a light jacket from the rack by the door.
She elected to walk in the direction of the lake once again. She was strangely drawn to its comforting depths despite the incident that morning that she would rather have forgotten. There was a small hope nestled at the back of her mind that she might find Tara there. An eternity seemed to have passed since the morning where they had sat holding hands and blushing like schoolgirls.
As her feet made barely a sound on the soft earth, Willow spied a movement off to her right, just behind the house. The figure wasn't moving and instantly Willow suspected that they were being watched. She froze with terror, about to sound an alarm when the shape took a step and moved through a patch of moonlight. Willow immediately relaxed when the light revealed the figure to be none other than Nat, she was talking on her cellphone and had not seen Willow watching her from beside the house. Willow recalled that Giles had told them not to use their mobile phones and she momentarily thought about reminding the young woman. Several words carried within Willow's earshot when Nat raised her voice, she picked up ‘Mom' and a rather angry ‘stop worrying.'
Talking to her Mom and Dad, Willow reasoned, They'd be worried sick about her and Matt...still, better off with us than dead on their own.
Not wishing to eavesdrop on the family conversation any longer, Willow moved off in the direction of the lake. As she stuffed her hands in the pockets of the jacket for warmth, she fervently wished she had thought to grab a woollen hat as well. Willow didn't return for one, she had a positive feeling that Tara was out here somewhere and that made the cold completely redundant.
The pale moonlight fell over the lake like a ghostly blanket. Without even the smallest trace of a breeze, the water's surface served as a calming influence over the young woman gazing out across its depths. Another figure joined her, although she barely glanced at the beautiful scene before her eyes.
"Willow's looking for you," Faith interrupted Tara's musings in a quiet voice.
Tara closed her eyes for a few seconds and then opened once more as though she were blinking in slow motion. Her arms were folded tightly across her chest and Faith watched her fingers drum against her jacket covered arms. The small movement was Tara's only sign of agitation.
"I know," was Tara's reply, "My heart started beating faster a few moments ago..."
Faith stared at Tara as though she had sprouted whiskers, "That's just whack, T. You want me to head her off?"
A small smile crossed Tara's face, "No, I don't want you to head her off...you can do something for me though."
Faith bounced on her heels as though she were eager to please, "Name it and it's done."
"Keep watch for us," Tara named her favour.
Even after Tara had voiced it, Faith still had no idea what she was being asked to do. She studied Tara's face and although the smile had faded from her face, there was something else in her eyes. Faith narrowed her eyes, she knew the face of someone who was up to something. Tara turned and saw the confusion on Faith's face, she let out a small sigh in response.
"Faith, I want to be with Willow tonight...alone. When we leave this place, separately, I don't know when we'll see each other again...if ever again..."
As comprehension dawned on her, Faith was quick to reply, "T, we're all coming through this!"
Tara wasn't having a bar of Faith's optimism as she shook her head. She glanced over her shoulder, obviously continuing to sense Willow's presence nearby.
"Just...keep watch for us, please."
"I'll be keeping watch over you," Faith emphasised her point, "T, I don't know what's up with Willow...but I'm not sure if you should be alone..."
Tara lifted her hand to cut Faith off, "I need to be alone with her, Faith. Will you do it?"
Faith let out a heavy sigh, her shoulders sagging to indicate her reluctance, "Fine...I'll give you an hour, then I want you to back inside with the rest of the smurfs so I can concentrate on my job!"
"Thank you, Faith," Tara started to move away from the lake and back towards the house, she felt Faith's eyes boring into her back as she did.
"I won't look," Faith called with a slight teasing element to her tone.
"I trust you won't," Tara replied, not really caring one way or the other, she just had to be with Willow.
Dark shadows fell over her and she moved beneath the canopy of trees that lay between the lake and the house. On any other night it would have made her uneasy, but not tonight. She stopped walking and her the soft crunch of footsteps on the forest floor, a twig snapped up ahead. Gradually another figure emerged, just a blur at first and then taking on a more defined shape. Tara knew it was Willow before she could see her pale face or hair pulled back into a ponytail.
The strange thing was that neither woman seemed surprised to meet the other out in the midst of trees and shadows. Willow stopped a few meters from Tara, her hands jammed in her pockets and her face mostly hidden by shadow. They stood in silence for a few moments, as though trying to decide whether the other was real. Eventually Tara moved closer to Willow, so close that she could reach out and take her by the hand. Wordlessly, she plucked Willow's rather frozen extremity from within her jacket pocket and enfolded it in her own.
Willow's eyes opened in surprise when she found Tara's hands to be warm, as though she had been sitting in front of a fire. She then allowed herself to be lead wherever Tara wanted her to be, for some reason she did not feel that words were necessary. They moved away from the lights of the lake house, further up into the forest where previously only Faith had dared to venture at night.
When they were a good distance away from the house, but not so far as to escape good sense, Tara stopped and turned to face Willow. Without a word she stepped forward into Willow's space so that there was absolutely nothing between them. Her proximity almost pushed Willow backwards but before the surprised redhead could build up any momentum to fall, Tara embraced her with a pair of strong determined arms encircling her back.
Willow felt Tara's fingers digging into her flesh through the layers of clothing she wore. Her grip surprised Willow with its ferocity and insistence. It was as though Tara had prepared herself for the probability of Willow trying to pull away from the embrace. A course of action, as Willow reflected, which would have adhered to all tenets of good sense given the state of their relationship, their situation and the world in general. However, as Tara moved the last few inches forward to claim Willow's lips in a kiss equally intense as her embrace, any thoughts regarding good sense were indiscriminately banished to a distant corner of her brain. Her knees went weak at that point and she would have keeled over if not for the strong arms embracing her. She lost herself in the kiss, Tara's breath fusing heatedly with her own and their bodies moving urgently against one another, becoming almost indistinguishable as two separate entities.
Time passed, neither could tell just how much. They were both immune to the cold which flowed around the cocoon of heat they created like water around rock. Without warning, Tara pressed Willow backwards. The redhead seemed not to care, if she even noticed at all. Willow would have fallen to the forest floor if not for a thick tree behind her. Her jacket snagged on the bark and it dug into her back as Tara's weight held her firmly against the tree.
Without breaking the kiss, which had by now deepened into an even more intimate exploration, Tara withdrew both her arms from where they had been sandwiched between Willow's back and the tree. Her fingers went to the band of Willow's upper layers and crept upwards to find smooth, warm skin. They pawed and explored Willow's stomach and hips before Tara once again encircled Willow's body, although this time with the intention of undoing the clasp on her bra. Once achieved, Tara urgently felt out Willows perfectly formed breasts with her right hand, while the left hand held her securely at the hip. Willow broke the kiss just long enough to emit a strangled cry as Tara's fingers found her erect nipple and teased it mercilessly.
Tara wanted more of the redhead. The removal of hand from breast met with an angry growl of protest even as Tara moved to unzip Willow's jacket. With the jacket only just clinging to Willow's shoulders, Tara felt for the bottom of her sweater and dragged it roughly upwards, exposing pale skin. In any other circumstances, the situation would have been awkward as Tara had to fight her way through Willow's clothing before her mouth found Willow's breasts. However, in that moment, the way and manner in which everything happened was absolutely perfect.
Tara hungrily devoured first one breast, and then the other. If she had looked above her, she would have seen the tilt of Willow's chin indicate that her head was thrown back, pressed against the tree. Still lavishing attention on Willow's breasts, Tara's hands went to the buttons of Willow's jeans and tore them apart hastily. With both hands hooked into the waistband, she forced both the jeans and her underwear downwards. Eventually she had to break contact with Willow's breasts in order to continue removing the clothing nuisance. The jeans snagged on Willow's shoes so Tara tugged both shoes and jeans completely off and threw them to one side. If Willow felt the cold on her bare legs, or the pain of the bark scraping against her arse, she said nothing.
Tara stood, her hands moving up Willow's body as she did so before coming to rest on either side of her hips. She searched Willow's eyes, seeking to reassure herself that they both wanted what was about to happen. Willow clearly understood the question and her answer was to grab the back of Tara's neck with one hand and pull her close for another fierce kiss. As their lips locked, Tara kept one hand firmly around Willow's hips while the other moved lingeringly across her thigh and eventually to gently cup her sex. Willow responded to Tara's rather gentle touch with an urgent and insistence thrusting of her hips against the contact, her physical impatience telling Tara she could move faster. A grunt of surprised escaped Tara's lips as she slipped one finger between Willow's folds to find her already soaking wet, although as she felt the rising damp between her own legs she began to understand the acute desire and need Willow felt. They had spent time holding each other at arms length for any number of reasons until both realised that they could not hold back the inevitable any longer. Both had recognised something in the other right from their initial awkward conversation about frogs legs...and it had very little to do with their mutual interest in the green amphibians. Tara moved one hand to kneed Willow's arse, at the feel of the silky flesh move beneath the palm of her hand a thrill enveloped her entire body. Her other hand moved against Willow's wet sex, not paying any particular attention to any one spot until the redhead broke their kiss to clamp down savagely on her ear as her finger brushed ever so lightly against her engorged clit. In response, Tara thrust her entire body against Willow's to shove her back against the tree. Her fingers then raked the tiny organ in rapid pulses, lavishing attention on that one spot. Willow's hips bucked in response, her mound moving against the palm of Tara's hand.
Tara kissed Willow's lips in a bruising movement before burying her face in the redhead's neck, attacking the soft skin she found there. Willow‘s head was twisted so that her mouth was pressed against Tara's ear. Her laboured breathing blocked out all other sound for the blonde but it was music to her ears to hear Willow's need expressed so primitively, no words, only sounds. The breathing was punctured by small grunts and gasps as Tara moved against her, her hands driving Willow to the point of insanity, a point from which she did not ever want to come down.
Without warning, but with a measure of tenderness, Tara slipped two fingers past Willow's clit and thrust them upwards into her cunt. Willow was of course, wet and more than ready for Tara's entry. She cried out with the new movement and bucked her hips forward to urge Tara as deep within her as possible. Tara followed the first thrust with an increasing number more, firmer than the first as Willow urged her on with the movement of her hips.
As Tara moved within her, Willow's head was thrown back. It ground against the rough bark behind her but she didn't care. Her eyes were open as she stared the few stars showing through the canopy above their heads. It was only when he vision blurred that she realised she was crying and her cheeks were damp with tears even as she felt the release gaining momentum in her gut.
The straining in her gut gradually grew until it encompassed her entire body, right to the tips of her fingers which were now digging into Tara's back, and her toes. She still had her socks on, although they were not doubt ruined as she held her legs in a position which spread them as wide as possible, the soles of her feet planted firmly in the earth. Even as her toes were further buried, Tara heaved her right leg upwards and off the ground. Willow obligingly hooked it behind Tara's back and her left followed. With both legs encircling Tara's waist, she was held up only by Tara's hand beneath her arse and the weight of her body pressing her back against the tree. Her mind was racing, her sense reeling at the new pressures the position offered.
Willow was not capable of realising and appreciating the almost inhuman strength Tara was expending to maintain the position. Despite the cold of the night, sweat beaded on the blonde's forehead and she could feel it gluing her clothes to her body as she strained to the absolute limit of her strength. Although as she grunted in anguish and her heart threatened to burst from her chest she could care about nothing except the woman in her arms and bringing her to release.
She was about to unceremoniously drop Willow due to sheer exhaustion after less than a minute of supporting her weight, when the redhead suddenly arched her back and threatened to pierce Tara's skin through the layers of her clothes. Tara felt her freely flowing juices pooling in the palm of her hand and running down her forearm. Her increasingly urgent cries were deafening in Tara's ears but she did not pause to consider for a second whether they would carry back to the house, instead Tara concentrated everything she had on Willow and moments later she felt the tender and engorged flesh of her sex spasm uncontrollably as she climaxed, more juices continuing to coat Tara's hand and Willow's thighs. Tara thrust her fingers deep for a few last, firm strokes, feeling Willow's cunt contract around her.
As Willow's cries died down, Tara's knees gave way as Willow's exhausted weight pushed her downwards and she was physically unable to support her any longer. Her feet slipped backwards and she sank to her knees, bringing Willow down with her in a decidedly uncoordinated heap of sweaty limbs and pieces of clothing askew all over the place. Willow ended up seated on Tara's lap, her head leaning on Tara's shoulder.
They held each other in trembling arms for a few moments before Tara disengaged herself enough to pull back and lift Willow's chin with gentle fingertips. As Willow gazed into Tara's liquid sapphire eyes, she couldn't recall the blonde ever looking more beautiful. This was despite sweat plastering her hair to her forehead and her mouth slightly parted as she continued to breathe heavily.
Willow's mouth also parted, although when she tried to form words, she found no sound would come about. She mouthed them instead, although small croaks did emit from her throat.
The words she was trying to say were unmistakable, "I love you."
Tara pressed her forehead to Willow's, depositing a kiss on Willow's cheek that seemed positively chaste after their earlier interaction but no less meaningful. Her own voice came out in a breathless gasp,
"It's about time."
Willow choked, half laughing, half-crying into Tara's hair. Neither had any more words to express the intensity of the moment, it was all conveyed through their breathing and their touch. Neither spoke for several minutes until it became apparent that it was not going to get warmer and their limbs were beginning to cramp in the awkward positions, Tara's especially.
"Ah, Will...I can't feel my legs, would it be possible for you to get up?" Willow nodded in reply, although Tara spotted see slight twinkle in her eye and she frowned, "What?"
"You might wanna reclaim your fingers," Willow whispered, glancing downwards where Tara's hand was nestled against her sex with two of her fingers still inside.
Tara grinned, "Or then again I might not."
Willow let out a groan as Tara flexed the fingers, which by now felt as though they were a part of Willow. Even as pleasurable sensations began to shaft along her limbs once again, they had to complete with the goosebumps and other sensations prickling at her skin. She was especially uncomfortably aware of her arse, which felt as though it had been scraped raw against the bark of the tree.
"As much as I could do this all night..." she began.
"It's fucking freezing?" Tara finished.
"Yeah, that and I think you left half my skin on the tree," Willow groaned as she shifted slightly.
Tara gently extracted her fingers and flopped backwards from Willow's lap, which was about the only movement that she could manage. Once released from Tara's weight, Willow awkwardly stood, picking up her jeans as she did.
Tara saw her wince as she straightened and caught sight of a rather nasty graze on her arse which has obviously been sustained at some point during their frantic coupling.
Willow noticed Tara looking and she smiled, "I may be a mess, but it was a good cause."
"Am I just a good cause to you, Willow Rosenberg?" Tara asked with a wink, although there was a barely hidden undercurrent to the question.
Willow was in the act of tugging on her jeans and underwear when she glanced up at Tara and met her gaze squarely. She continued to hold it until she was fully dressed at which point she offered both her hands out to help Tara to her feet. With dwindling strength reserves, she drew Tara up and close to her body. Tenderly she reached out and stroked Tara's cheek, staring into her eyes as though all the answers were held within their depths. Willow's own eyes betrayed the extent of her love for Tara.
"I'm scared, Willow," Tara said quietly, "I don't want to be separated you."
Willow breathed in deeply, not liking what she had to say in response, "That's the last thing I want...oh god, Tara, I want nothing more than to be able to make love to you all night long, to actually see you naked...a sight which I have no trouble imagining to be fucking fantastic...but I think Giles is right on this one."
Tara frowned, "You're the last person I would have expected to agree with Giles."
Willow nodded emphatically, "Due to the fact that he is a gutless retard...but I think you need to go to London, you and Ashley will both be as safe as you can possibly be with both the Council and Faith to protect you. I should stay with Buffy, it's my place."
"Your place is with me Willow, if want actually meant what you said after we made love," Tara's brow furrowed yet again, "Although, you didn't actually manage to say it..."
Willow smiled tenderly, "What? That I love you? With everything I could possibly have to give and more? Despite the fact that I'm a moronic cop who started out making fun of you and now has powers she doesn't know how to control? I meant it...but I'm still sending you to London with Giles."
"You're sending me? I think Giles is under the impression that he's the one doing the sending," Tara replied, thoroughly enjoying the possessive implications in Willow's words.
Willow shook her head, "Not anymore, not where you or Ashley are concerned...he's sending you there because I'm letting him, because you're mine to send."
Tara glowed hot with pleasure and warmth at the loving tone behind Willow's forceful words and she moved in for another kiss.
Their lips caressed together lovingly for a few moments before there was a rude wolf-whistle from the forest. Tara immediately sprang back but her face betrayed her to Willow as being angry rather than scared, as though she knew exactly who it was. Before Willow could ask a question, Faith stepped from the shadows. The Slayer moved like a shadow herself, especially dressed from head to toe in the dark clothes she favoured. Willow's jaw dropped as she wondered just how long the other woman had been in the general area. She turned to Tara whose expression had changed from anger to acceptance.
"I hope you were looking after us too closely," Tara scolded the brunette who had a rather sly smirk fixed to her face.
"No way, T" Faith continued to smile, "But I think you two had better be heading back inside the fort...I'm getting all antsy about the two of you being out here, not to mention worried for the mental health of the wildlife."
Willow's jaw dropped further and her eyes bulged as she understood exactly what the other two women were discussing.
"Faith...was watching us?" she spluttered with more than a hint of disgust in her voice.
"Hey, I'm not a pervert, I got plenty of my own action going on!" Faith protested, "T asked me to keep watch for the two of you to do you little thing...and that's what I did, but now I'd really like it if you were to get back inside so I can stop worrying about you."
Tara nodded, "We're on our way, Faith."
Tara took Willow's hand in her own for the walk back to the lake house. Willow smiled, her horror forgotten until Faith leant over and whispered in her ear as she passed close,
"Nice tits, Red."
The landscape lay stretched out as though it were ancient and timeless, a view into a familiar but alien world that could have existed somewhere else entirely. A range of snow-capped mountains lay beneath long white clouds. One individual mountain stood apart, proud and majestic whereas the others were merely there.
The wind whipped up the side of the particular mountain, buffeting the lone, redheaded figure that clung to a ledge like a limpet to a rock. Willow forced fingers numb with cold to grasp a protruding wedge of rock. The reality of this became clear a few moments later as she realised both her hands and feet were bare in the snow. She marvelled that she could still feel them at all, not to mention the rest of her body, clad as it was in her red Snoopy pyjamas. She viewed this as a good sign, hoping that it indicated all of this snow and rock was merely a dream and she was actually safely tucked up in her bunk in Giles's lake house. She remembered that just hours earlier she had Tara had sex in the forest. She smiled as she recalled her legs wrapped around Tara's waist while she fucked her, straining to hold her weight. She was still grinning when moments later she slipped on a patch of ice and went sliding towards the edge of the ledge on which she stood.
Willow scrambled to grab a hold of anything at all but merely succeeded in scraping her hand on a sharp protrusion of rock. She yelped rather pathetically as she flopped over the edge and was about to follow it up with a blood curdling scream when she landed on her stomach in an explosion of soft snow.
Her mouth full of snow, Willow looked up to find herself surrounded by six rather old women. Even after she managed to paw at the snow until she had dragged herself into something of a sitting position, they were still there. Two stood a little closer than the others, a tiny, frail woman with an elegant knot of hair atop her head and a taller, robust woman with a small smile on her face, as though she were seeing a granddaughter for the first time.
"Hello Willow, I'm Agatha," the frail one spoke, her voice was as tremulous as her appearance, "And this is my good friend Libby, Elizabeth Goldstein."
Willow frowned as the woman named Agatha continued to talk, she recognised that name from somewhere but she couldn't quite place it...it had just been a brief mention by someone...She blinked and forced herself to listen once more, already she had missed the names of two of the members and just caught a smiling black woman introduced as Rose. Agatha was about to introduce the last, a tall, angular woman with a pinched face when Willow was instantly reminded of her seventh grade science teacher. A woman she swore hated her guts until her retirement confession that Willow was the most gifted student she ever had the pleasure of teaching.
"Miss Schmidt?" Willow asked disbelievingly, "Is that you?"
The woman nodded severely, although there was a hint of a smile playing at the corner of her lips, "At least some of me anyway...it would be nice to see you under different circumstances, Willow."
"I know, I'm fucking freezing," Willow muttered angrily, finally dragging herself upright and standing rather awkwardly knee-deep in snow, "And what the hell is a knitting circle doing half-way up a mountain...what the hell am I doing half way up a mountain? Even for a dream this is pretty fucked up."
The ladies exchanged disapproving glances and Willow wondered if it was her bad language or the cold, which by now was beginning to seep through her pyjamas.
"You're technically not dreaming," Miss Schmidt refuted Willow's assumption.
"Gerda's right," Libby Goldstein nodded in agreement, "Although of course you're not all here either...otherwise you'd be colder than you are now."
"Nice to know," Willow felt her teeth begin to chatter, "Where's here?"
"Where you need to go," Agatha replied cryptically.
"That doesn't answer my question," Willow replied, she felt her pyjama bottoms beginning to grow damp, "Where is this place and why do I need to come here?"
"We're sorry we didn't survive long enough to tell you all of this...the other Guardians were much better prepared than you," Agatha changed tact, continuing not to answer Willow's questions, "Even though you need to be prepared the most...our failure may lead you and your friends to your deaths, not to mention chaos for the rest of the world."
Willow struggled to digest this latest block of information from the cryptic old woman. It contained a great deal of surprises, the least of which being that she was on track to wind up quite dead. Gradually her mind fumbled for the linkages and tied everything into a somewhat coherent picture of the way things stood from her perspective. She eyed the old ladies shrewdly.
"I'm the Guardian of the Seventh Seal...Ashley Maclay...and you were, or are, a...whatchamacallit, a group of witches, a coven designed to instruct me, teach me how to use my magicks...but something went wrong and you were unable to even meet me let alone start instructing me," Willow paused and looked to her ex-teacher, "Except for Miss Schmidt of course who I must have known before I became Guardian when Ashley was born...you've all been watching me for a long time haven't you?"
"I told you she's brilliant," Gerda nodded rather satisfactorily, "Pity that all she became was a cop."
"Hey!" Rose growled, "My husband was a cop, nothing wrong in that at all!"
Agatha raised her hands to silence everyone, "We don't have time for this ladies, and we failed Willow once already."
"You all died," Willow continued in a soft voice, each of the women nodded solemnly as her gaze travelled from face to face, "That night...the monster in my room...it killed all of you."
"Dirty big bugger it was too," Rose snapped angrily, as though she were annoyed with herself for failing to defeat it.
Willow turned to look at robust Libby Goldstein, suddenly remembering the batty old lady she and Buffy had met with an aphid problem.
"And you, Mrs Gibbs spoke of you."
Libby nodded, "An old dear friend...if a little obsessed with cats."
Willow looked around her and saw behind the women was a cave etched out of the rock face, icicles almost obscured its entrance completely. Beyond the entrance it was pitch black, black as death. She could hear the wind howling like a scream.
"The sword," Willow deduced in a whisper, "The sword is in there?"
All six of the women nodded in response, their eyes lighting up with pride at the young woman who stood barefoot in the snow wearing only her Snoopy pyjamas. Willow immediately started for the entrance to the cave, ploughing awkwardly through the snow to reach the entrance. Once there, she stepped inside, her feet sinking into the icy mud that pooled at her feet. She turned back to face the coven.
"It would really help if I knew where this is...is it a real place?"
"If you mean is it on earth, the answer is yes," Agatha replied, "Travel to the highest mountain at the edge of the world, in a land almost unknown when the dark power was originally sealed and yet not unreachable. Once there, you'll know your way."
Willow blinked, thoroughly unimpressed, "And that bit of nonsense is supposed to help me how? Can't you just tell me where the bloody thing is?"
As soon as Willow finished speaking there was an awful howling that swept up from the depths of the tunnel and chilled her to the bone. Carried on the breeze were the promises of a thousand evils, more than enough to encourage Willow to back away from the entrance with her terror plainly written on her face.
"Be careful Willow," Agatha spoke again, her voice sounded as though it were fading.
When Willow turned and looked over her shoulder, all six women were gone as though they had never been there. Willow was left on her own standing in front of the entrance to what seemed like hell itself...if hell were surround by ice and snow. She was terrified. Closing her eyes she fervently wished herself to be back in her bunk listening to Buffy snore. The howls grew louder and she found herself saying her prayer aloud with increasing intensity, until the words were a mere blur on her lips.
Suddenly something smashed into her face and she yelped in fright.
"Willow, shut the fuck up!"
Willow's eyes opened to find Buffy's head hanging down from the bunk above her, her eyes glaring at her in the lamplight. There was no sympathy there.
"I've been trying to get to sleep but its impossible with you thrashing away down there! Then you start moaning about wanting to go home...seriously Willow, how old are you?" Buffy growled, "I'm turning the light out and then I want absolute silence...okay?"
Willow nodded, dumbfounded, although she knew how jealously Buffy regarded her sleep. The lamp above Buffy's head winked out and the room was left in darkness save for a little moonlight drifting through the curtain. Willow was about to snuggle back into her sleeping bag as she was freezing cold, when she realised her right hand was smarting painfully. She brushed it with the thumb of her left and it stung as though it were grazed. Willow remembered trying to grab a rock as she slid in her dream. She remembered what Agatha had said to her,
'You're not all here'...but a part of me was...
Willow knew she should tell everyone what she had discovered, but somehow she doubted her ability to explain it coherently in her present state. She should at least have told Tara, that much she could have managed, except that a part of her was reluctant to tell Tara that her little girl's life was in her rather unreliable and unstable hands.
"Heaven help us all..." Willow whispered in the darkness.
She half expected Buffy to tell her to shut up once more but all she received in reply was a rip-roaring snore than should have originated from a three hundred pound wrestler instead of the slight blonde cop that slept above her. She decided that she would tell them first thing in the morning.