The walls of the narrow passage way seemed to be moving inwards, shrinking with each step she took. Willow knew she was looking for a door, but a door to what she did not know. The one thing she did know was that the barriers she had only just put in place in her mind were already breaking down and it would be unleashed once again. That terrible darkness that was lurking somewhere just behind her eyes was already prodding at the bonds which held it, seeking to find a way out. Just keeping focused required an immense amount of concentration...but try as she might Willow still felt as though she was drunk, stoned and criminally insane...wherever the door was, she had to get there fast.
Willow was dimly aware of a small presence just behind her and she thought she heard the presence say something but she passed it off as a figment of her tortured mind. She came to the door she knew she needed to go through and paused in front of it for a moment.
Reaching out with a shaking hand, Willow slid back the bolt on the door with a loud clang. As she forced open the door she could not for the life of her remember why she was even entering the room in the first place. Something moved out of the corner of her eye but Willow's mind was so addled by her internal struggle she did not make any attempt to deflect whatever it was. A split second later an iron hard fist crashed into the side of her face and she went sprawling, only dimly conscious as her body fell to the ground, the voices that followed sounded like mumbles, she could not pick out the words. Her hand was empty; she no longer held the sword.
Faith stood over the body of the person she had just struck, staring down at the now limp form.
"Holy fuck, it's Willow," Spike moved to stand at Faith's side.
"Yeah, I thought it would be one of those goons," Faith breathed in deeply as she stood over Willow's body with her eyes wide, it was as though she could not quite believe she had single-handedly and just with brute force managed to overwhelm the Lord of Darkness herself. She reached out and prodded Willow's cheek with the tip of her finger, there was no retaliation.
Giles left Tara's side to join the other two, he frowned, "She's powerful beyond our imaginations and yet you managed to hit her? It doesn't make any sense..."
Tara appeared not to have noticed any of what had just transpired in the room, even though Willow was lying scant metres from where she huddled against the wall, she did not blink.
"I don't give a fuck," Faith grunted, she had spied the fallen sword lying beside Willow and she now moved to claim it, "As soon as she comes around she's going to kill us all...I'm sure as hell not waiting."
Even as Faith was about to thrust the sword downwards into Willow's heart, a much smaller body with blonde hair practically fell through the door and onto the motionless body as though to shield it. Faith instantly stopped the downward movement of the sword and drew it back behind her, away from a very much alive Ashley.
"Faith, no!" Ashley held out one hand towards the Slayer to keep her at bay.
"Ashley?" Faith whispered, blinking rapidly as though that would somehow make the apparition of the little girl disappear.
"Willow came to me before you got here...she explained everything," Ashley began, her words tumbling over each other as she struggled to blurt them out, "Faith, please don't hurt her...
Faith reached out and laid one hand on Ashley's upper arm, grasping her firmly to discover that she was very much there in the flesh, and not a lifeless corpse on the ground. The fact that Ashley was alive did not change her opinion of the thing Ashley was now trying to protect. As far as Faith was concerned, Willow had to be eliminated.
"Ash, get away from that thing now!" Faith growled, trying to pry Ashley's arms apart with one hand while she held the knife with the other, "Giles, can you grab her...I need to finish this now before she comes around."
"No!" Ashley cried as Giles started towards her, "You can't kill Willow...Mom, help!"
Even with Ashley calling her, Tara did not respond. The same expression of incomprehension was frozen on her features, as though she did not believe anything of what was taking place before her eyes.
All of the adults in the room were still trying to deal with the fact that Ashley was breathing and talking in their midst, to ask them to take in what she was saying was still beyond them. While Ashley knew the truth of what had taken place earlier that day, the others could not see past a psychotic Willow appearing to have murdered her. Ashley could not find the words to explain herself despite the fact that the scene played very clearly in her mind...
The floor and walls of her tiny cell were as cold as ice but Ashley sought the security of sitting in the farthest corner with her back to the wall, legs tucked up to her chest, arms wrapped tightly around them. However small a measure of protection this offered, it was all stripped away with the rattling of bolts and the sinister presence that swept through the open door. Ashley cringed away from her but she seemed to fill every nook and cranny of the cell with the power that radiated outwards from her physical form. Although she did not want to stare at the woman who had killed her friends, she felt drawn to do so. For some reason she could not bring herself to shield her eyes as she desperately longed to do.
Willow had removed the full length coat she wore on the day she murdered Dawn and Matt but she was still clad from head to toe in black. Her legs were sheathed in high black boots and tight black leather pants, clearly revealing how much weight she had lost. She wore a shirt of the same dark hue which barely touched the top of her pants and was only held together with one button over her breasts. The shirt parted as Willow moved forward slightly, Ashley saw her ribs protruding obscenely from her skin beneath. Her face was still the same awful visage, although even paler, with more of the pulsing veins threading beneath her skin. One appeared to have burst, spreading out beneath the skin of her forehead like a dark stain. The skin surrounding her obsidian eyes was a bloody red. Her hair hung in even starker contrast to her skin, lank strands of midnight falling down around her face.
As she was forced to look at Willow, Ashley watched the bizarre play of emotions on the woman's face. There was none of the stony cold impassiveness she displayed when killing Dawn and Matt, instead she appeared to be struggling to keep herself under control. One moment a smile would be playing at the corners of her mouth and then a second later she could grimace as though in pain. Her fists were clenching and unclenching rapidly, just one of numerous body twitches she appeared to have difficulty controlling.
"What are you going to do with me?" Ashley ventured tremulously, growing somewhat bolder when Willow appeared not to be paying any attention to her at all and was staring at a spot above her on the wall, "Where is my mother...if she was here, everything would be alright...and you wouldn't be all veiny and...horrible!"
Willow pressed a hand to her forehead as though she had an intense headache, squeezing her eyes shut. She continued to ignore Ashley.
"You killed Matt...and Dawn!" Ashley whispered in an accusatory tone as she hesitantly rose from her sitting position, her back still pressed against the wall as she rose to her feet, "How could you do that..."
At that point Willow snapped, her eyes jerked open and they were focused directly on Ashley, boring a hole through her mind. Her lips were pressed in a tight line as though she were furious, Ashley immediately ceased talking.
"Just shut the fuck up!" Willow hissed, "It's hard enough trying to maintain control without your incessant yabbering!"
Ashley froze, trying to force herself through the wall behind her but it remained unyielding. Willow now had both hands pressed to her head, cradling it as though she were trying to stop it from exploding and throwing pieces of her brain in all directions. She collapsed to her knees, still clutching her head and rocking back and forth. Her bloodless lips parted with a slight whimper which gradually became louder under they were sharp cries of pain. While Ashley was still terrified of the person that knelt in front of her, she could feel her pain through the cries and she felt pity as well as terror. She felt sorry for the woman who had killed her friends...
"W-Willow?" she ventured quietly, her back leaving the wall behind her as she took a hesitant step forward, closer to Willow, "A-are you okay?"
There was no response; Willow remained in the same position, her rocking motions increasing in intensity with each cry. Ashley took another step forward and another until she was close enough to reach out and lay her hand on Willow's shoulder. She did not do it at once; she was still fighting the urge to make a dash through the open door that lay behind Willow, to escape from her presence. Eventually she extended her arm ever so slowly until she was poised to touch her. No sooner had her fingers lightly brushed the silk of Willow's shirt, she found herself swept up and thrown back against the wall.
In one swift movement Willow had gone from crying and rocking to standing and striding forward with her fingers wrapped around the girl's throat. She had to bend slightly to come face to face with Ashley, to stare directly into her eyes. Ashley's fearful breaths were coming hard and fast while Willow appeared not to breathe at all.
Just when Ashley thought Willow was going to snap her neck with a simple movement of her hand, she withdrew her fingers and stepped back, straightening to her full height.
"I'm sorry, Ash," she whispered in a truly remorseful tone, "Like I said...it's hard to maintain control."
She ducked her head and closed her eyes, arms hanging loosely by her side as she tried to bring everything into focus and keep the evil that flowed within her veins at bay. Willow knew she was failing and there was not much time left at all.
Ashley remained against the wall, "You're scaring me, Willow, what is happening to you?"
Willow did not open her eyes, maintaining her seemingly relaxed posture as she replied, "I'm sorry I scared you...but I'm going to have to get a whole lot scarier before this is over."
Ashley frowned, still not trusting Willow's latest change of personality, "I don't think you could get scarier than what you are now."
Willow then opened her eyes, a small smile crossing her face as she looked up at Ashley, "Oh, I believe I can...and will."
For a moment it appeared to Ashley that this prospect pleased Willow immensely, her eyes danced with a terrible excitement...and as soon as it appeared it was gone once more, her eyes growing cold, her expression tortured.
"Matt and Dawn are alive okay, and you'll see them soon but first I have to ask you to do something for me, something which will help us all get out of this alive and mean the end of those scary men..." Willow said gently, her voice shaking slightly with effort.
"And then you'll be back to normal again?" Ashley asked hopefully, further revived by the news about her friends.
Willow managed a nod, more a spasmodic jerk of her head, "I hope so..."
This was all the convincing Ashley needed, "What do I need to do?"
Willow knelt once more, this time reaching out to place both her hands on Ashley's shoulders as though the girl might try and run away but in reality it was to give her a focal point with which to anchor and steady herself.
Ashley felt her skin crawling at Willow's touch, as though she were unclean and somehow transferring it through her touch. However, for a few moments Ashley thought she saw a flicker of green in those deathly black eyes...the tiniest flicker of the old Willow. It gave her hope to think that Officer Willow was still in there somewhere.
"I'm going to put an end to all of this...those mean scary men that are trying to hurt us, Ash," Willow promised.
Ashley made a face, her small nose wrinkling, "I hate them."
"I know...but I need to do something that will make them trust me beyond all doubt...I need to remove the last seal," Willow swallowed as Ashley tried to make sense of this, "Ash, I need to make it look like I've killed you...real enough for everyone to believe I've done it...and I'm going to do it in front of Tara...in front of your Mom."
"Will it hurt?" was all Ashley asked.
Willow shook her head very firmly, "No Ash, you won't feel a thing...but I need you to look like you're scared and you can't say anything to your Mom."
"That won't be hard," Ashley replied honestly, she took a deep breath and squared her small shoulders. "Okay...when will this happen?"
Willow wished fervently she could give Ashley a reassuring smile but all she could manage was a slight grimace; she could not stop thinking about what she had to do "When your Mom gets here, which will be very soon I think. Ashley, I don't have much time, a few more hours...that's all...and then the old Willow you know won't be able to come back...ever."
Ashley shrugged, "It's just like a makeover...I can handle you with black hair...although you might want to eat something and get some sun..."
Willow shook her head sadly, "No...it's not just like a makeover...Willow Rosenberg, the woman who loves your Mom, she will be gone forever..."
"Oh," was all Ashley managed in response.
After a quick glance up at Faith to make sure the Slayer wasn't about to plunge the stolen sword into Willow as soon as she moved away from her, Ashley scrambled the short distance to her mother's side. She knelt in front of her and stared directly into her unseeing gaze. The blue eyes that she loved were not sparkling as usual but were dull and lifeless. Ashley placed a single hand on her mother's cheek and stroked the soft skin with her thumb.
"Mom...it's me," Ashley whispered, "I'm here, Willow's here...everything is going to be fine."
"Ash, I saw you die..." Tara stated as if she still believed it were so, "I saw Willow kill you."
"It was all a trick that Willow planned...and now she needs your help," Ashley lifted the tone of her voice slightly, it was firm and confident, betraying the strength the small girl possessed, her mother's strength. She clearly needed to draw on every ounce of it now to bring her mother out of the waking trance she had slipped into. "Will you help her?"
"I-I don't want to help her," Tara whispered.
"She needs you Mom; Willow needs you!" Ashley shook her mother fiercely by the shoulders, "She needs you to bring her back!"
When Ashley stopped shaking Tara's shoulders her breath came in short gasps, indicating just how worked up she was. Tara finally blinked once, the single, simple movement seeming to wipe the film away that had built up in front of her eyes. When the lids lifted again, her eyes were no longer dull and lifeless but moist and full of emotion...sadness, terror...and more than anything, relief. Without further words she threw both her arms around her daughter's kneeling form, drawing her warm body firmly into her embrace. She shook with the release of all the pent up emotions she had suppressed. They were now coursing through her body as they were finally released in the form of tears and quiet sobs into her daughter's hair.
Tara could not let Ashley go, after the witnessing the most horrific sight a mother could see she did not even dare to dream that it might all have been part of someone's plan. She pressed her wet cheek against Ashley's hair, smelling that familiar smell she could never forget, feeling Ashley's heart beating strongly against her own chest.
"Mom, I'm real glad to see you too...but I think we're running out of time to help Willow," Ashley whispered in her Mom's ear.
"What am I supposed to do?" Tara asked as she slowly drew back from Ashley, finally bringing herself to stare at the spot where Willow lay motionless on her back, eyes still closed. Tara could not look away fast enough.
"I don't know, Mom, I just know that she was scared you would be too late to help her," Ashley said urgently, sensing her mother's reluctance to approach the fallen woman she stood and picked up her hand to help her to her feet.
To say that Tara was reluctant to approach Willow was something of an understatement. While Faith, Giles and Spike looked on, her daughter led her to Willow's side. Faith maintained her aggressive posture over Willow's body, the sword ready in her hands, a stony expression on her face as she stared from Tara to Willow. Once she was close enough to reach out and touch her, Tara bade Ashley stand back but not before giving her a reassuring squeeze.
Tara's entire body was trembling as she knelt at Willow's side, while previously she could not bring herself to look at her lover; she now was unable to draw her eyes away. The powerful and aggressive Willow-thing that had tormented her earlier...the one that had tried to rape her and had then so casually murdered her daughter, was nowhere to be seen. All she saw was a frail looking young woman who didn't look strong enough to stand. With her fingers continuing to tremble. Tara reached out and cupped Willow's cheek, almost jerking away at the feel of her clammy, ice-cold skin. Her entire body jumped when, without warning, Willow's hand shot out and ensnared her wrist in its icy grasp. Seconds later Willow's eyes opened and Tara found herself once again staring directly into those black depths.
In response to Willow's movement, Faith moved in one fluid motion and brought the sword forward into a downward position, ready to thrust in a split second.
"No," Tara lifted her free hand as a warning for Faith to stop, sensing no threat coming from Willow. "I'm here Will...tell me how to help you."
Willow's cracked lips parted, they moved soundlessly for a few moments before she spoke in a harsh gravely whisper, "First...I need to show you..."
"Show me what..."
Tara had no sooner spoken than Willow, the cell and everyone else in it seemed to deconstruct before her eyes, reduced into millions of tiny swirling particles. Then just as suddenly as it tore apart, it reformed into a reality that was altogether different. Different in the people she saw standing before her, different in her surroundings. Gone was the tiny cell, replaced by a much larger room with a high ceiling. In a sweeping glance of the room Tara took in the antique furnishings of solid polished wood all glowing dimly in the faint light of a lantern. It was at that point that she realised the furniture was not antique, it was she who was in another time, hundreds of years earlier than her own...and she was not alone. Standing next to the massive four-poster bed were two young women, Tara did a double take as she thought she were staring into a mirror. Tara blinked and realised that while the young woman standing opposite her was almost her identical twin, there were noticeable differences. Her view was blocked a moment later when the second woman stepped between her and her look alike, Tara stepped around both of them until she could see their faces. Her look alike was gently cupping the cheek of a young woman who looked very much like her own Willow, complete with a head of black hair. However, her face was smooth, unblemished and healthy with a rosy twinge to both her cheeks. Neither woman acknowledged Tara's presence...it was as though she were not there at all.
"Do not deny me, Mary," the black-haired woman whispered to her companion, leaning in to her touch, "If you feel half the love for me that I do for you then you must understand how unbearable it is to maintain any sort of distance between us."
"I did not come here tonight to deny you," Mary leaned in to deposit a tender kiss on her companion's lips, "I am here with you Amelia because despite what people are saying..."
Tara saw Amelia's green eyes narrow and she asked defiantly, "What are people saying?"
Mary wiped away her frown with another kiss, this time on her forehead, "You know full well what people are saying, their words haunt your every step...they warn me to keep my distance from you, most are afraid of what you will become."
"And you, Mary?" Amelia asked, her eyes demanding an answer, "Are you afraid of me?"
She shook her head in response, "I am not afraid of you...I believe that I can help you overcome the darkness inside of you."
Mary's expression softened at the catch in Amelia's voice, as though she were on the edge of tears. She took one step forward to bring their bodies into contact, drawing Amelia even closer with a gentle pressure on her hip. When their bodies met, dress silks crushed between them, the temperature in the room instantly went up several degrees. There were no more tender kisses; instead their lips met fiercely, as two people who had desired each other for too long and could hold out no longer.
Tara felt an awkward wrench in her gut, not just because she was intruding in on a private moment but because it was as though she were an observer of her own love, forced to watch knowing that she may never experience the same act of love again.
Reality shifted again, reforming into another place, one that was cold and dark...one that reminded her of the house which Willow had lured her to. The same two young women stood before her, although she was struck by the change that had been brought about in Amelia. The Amelia that now stood before Mary was transformed into the same creature Willow had become, her skin, eyes...everything had changed as the Darkness had corrupted her in the same way it had corrupted Willow. Tara looked between them, saw the anguished expression on Mary's face and knew that she had not be able to help her love in the way that she had promised.
"Do not fret dear, Mary," Amelia wore a small smile as she circled the other woman, "It is better this way...I can protect us, all those who spoke ill of me, whoever wished me harm, I am strong enough to defeat them all...in fact, I feel strong enough to do just about anything I want."
Tara watched Mary's furtive movements away from Amelia, it was as though she were waiting for something, biding her time. With each step Mary took, Amelia followed her as though she were a huntress stalking her prey.
"You know that's not r-right," Mary stuttered, glancing awkwardly over her shoulder.
"Right?" Amelia laughed, "Of course it's not right, nothing truly worthwhile is ever right!"
"I don't believe that."
"You wouldn't would you, Mary," Amelia hissed, angered by Mary's stoic tone, "Look at you, perfect little Mary Wroth...always thinking she's right...only ever using her powers for good like the saint she is!"
"I am no saint, you know that," Mary closed her eyes as Amelia took one more step toward her.
"You weren't last night, not with your legs spread for me, hungrily wanting more!" Amelia's voice rose until she was shouting, her arms spread wide as though she were waiting for Mary to return to her embrace, "You knew you'd failed after all these months of trying and yet you came to me...you're mine Mary, you always will be!"
Mary's eyes suddenly opened and she straightened her back, no longer cowed by Amelia's tone, "You don't own me!"
The room was suddenly filled with six more people, surprised, Tara backed away into a corner as the newcomers moved to encircle Amelia, whispered words on each of their lips. Tara instantly recognised the spell for what it was, a binding spell. As she ran her eyes over each of the cloaked figures standing around Mary and Amelia she also knew that these were the original seals. Their names came unbidden into her mind as she looked at each of their faces, John Suckling, Margaret Cavendish, Elizabeth Beaumont, Dorothy Jansen, Richard Hobbes and Francis Massinger. Each bore the intense expression of one who had absolute faith in what they were doing, that they were sincere in their convictions...all except Mary. While she had moved to join their circle around Amelia, her face was broken, tears fell down her cheeks.
Amelia just laughed once more, "Are you all fools? I cannot be contained by a simple binding spell!"
"Look where you are standing demon!" Richard Hobbes was a large man, and he spoke in a commanding tone.
It was only then that Amelia took notice of where her feet lay, where Mary had been leading her. She swirled on the spot, in the centre of an elaborate chalk circle and her smile instantly disappeared, replaced by a sneer of hatred as she whirled on Mary. She pointed a trembling finger in the direction of her lover,
"You planned this, all along..."
Mary shook her head, "Not all along...only when it became apparent you were beyond help!"
Francis silenced Mary with a curt grunt, "She was always beyond help!"
"This is not the time, Francis!" John Suckling interrupted, "We must work as one to bind her or we will not be able to hold her."
Seven voices were raised as one and gradually the chalk circle at Amelia's feet began to glow, dimly at first until it became an intense white light. The circle of light left the ground on which it had originally been drawn, rising up over Amelia's feet and continuing to rise until it encircled her waist. Trapped, she threw back her head and screamed with primal rage, her dark eyes flashing with an awesome power as she fought to break free of the binding spell.
Sweat broke out on the faces of each of the encircling coven members as they struggled to maintain the spell. Their voices became more urgent, blending into one chant that soared around them, filling the room with a power that shook the very foundations on which they stood.
A furious Amelia was swept off her feet and rendered horizontal, the coven formed up on either side with Mary taking up the rear, just behind Amelia's head.
The chanting continued as they moved Amelia's rigid body through a door that opened of its own accord. When they did stop, Amelia was hovering above a dark stone coffin, bound securely in the white light that had once been the chalk circle. The coffin arranged themselves around the coffin, each of the seven lifted their arms. They then brought their arms down in unison, as they did Amelia's body descended into the coffin.
The binding spell had weakened slightly to the point where the bound woman could move slightly, it was clear however that her tiny movements were disproportionate to the effort expended given the intense expression on her face, full of fear and rage. She was unable to look away from the seven faces above her, all bearing down on her with their blank stares...judgemental each and every one of them. Who were they to bind a power such as her? Amelia tilted her chin slightly as she tried to wrestle herself free, she managed to see the face standing directly above her head, the one face that was not solemn in duty but rather was streaked with great, wet tears as she watched her lover bound and helpless, being buried alive in the dark coffin.
Time shifted around Tara, she sensed she had moved forward mere hours from the last scene she had witnessed. She was now outside in the night air, instantly recognised the façade of the house in which the Society had them all trapped, although it appeared new and splendid as opposed to the rundown state in which she had first seen it. Mary Wroth was huddled on the steps, John Suckling standing on the landing just behind her with an expression of finality on his face.
"Do not think of what you did as betraying Amelia, Mary," John said, his voice firm as though he were convinced of the worthiness of his statement, "The Amelia you knew and loved died a long time ago...grieve for her...not the thing we buried tonight."
Mary let out a deep breath that she had obviously been holding for some time. She did not look up at John, instead continuing to stare out into the darkness.
"She was never a thing, John," Mary said quietly, "And I love her still."
"Well, it is of no consequence," he said awkwardly, "The darkness within her is bound as securely as anyone could manage...we're as safe as we could ever be...the world is a safer place."
"It's bound yes," Mary stood, turning to meet John's challenging gaze, "However we won't be around to bind it forever."
John frowned, "The responsibility will shift to our descendants, you know that as well as I...Mary, do you doubt what we have done?"
Mary shook her head, "No I do not, I just think we could have done more and I plan to."
John's hand shot out and grabbed Mary by the shoulder, his fingers digging into her flesh so hard she winced before he relaxed, "What are you planning?"
Mary jerked herself free and with her head held high she started down the steps into the darkness that surrounded the house. John watched her leave with a mixture of disbelief and anger on his face.
"Mary!" he called, "Where on earth are you going?"
She did not look back but said simply, "To the ends of the earth."
When the scene changed once more, Tara immediately felt cold, chilled to the bone in the few layers of clothing she wore. She found herself in a cave lit by a few orbs of white light; in front of her was a single slab of stone serving as a stone table. Tara turned and saw Mary Wroth approaching, walking towards her along what appeared to be a tunnel of sorts; although where it began she could not see. The blonde woman wore a scarlet dyed cape settled on her shoulders, drawn closed to combat against the cold. She held in both hands a sword, the very same one that Faith had taken from Willow when she entered their cell, the same one she had apparently used to kill Ashley.
Mary's solemn procession ended next to the table, where she laid the sword tenderly on the stone and knelt in front of it, her cape settling around her. She reached beneath her cloak and took out a small object which hung from a chain on her neck, she lifted the chain over her head and held it in front of her. She tenderly opened the two halves of the locket and Tara moved closer so she could confirm what it was lay inside. It was as she had suspected, a tiny portrait of Amelia.
"It is a given that the seals will fail," Mary whispered.
Tara took a step back, it seemed as though the kneeling woman were addressing someone as she spoke, although she could not see or sense another person in the cave.
"They're false; the seals have nothing to do with binding that darkness...although you know that already don't you, Tara."
When Mary Wroth turned and looked directly at her, Tara stumbled backwards, almost falling over with shock as she found herself staring directly into her own eyes. Throughout each of the episodes she had presumed herself to be an invisible witness to the events unfolding before her eyes. With the manner in which Mary was staring directly into her eyes, she knew this was no longer the case.
"The other seals didn't need to die," Tara whispered, shaking her head at the thought of the children who had been murdered by the Society.
Kneeling in front of her, Mary too shook her head sadly, "In war...there are always sacrifices, it was necessary in order to conceal the truth from those who would seek to harness and use that power for vile means."
"If that is their name in your time...then yes," Mary nodded, she managed a small smile as she reminisced about something in her mind, "I was the one who drew the circle to bind Amelia, I'm only speaking the truth when I say the others did not possess half my talent, they could not recognise it for what it was. I tried, but it became apparent to me that Amelia was not strong enough to defeat that darkness that had begun to corrupt her, once its seed was planted...there was no turning back for her. I needed to find someone else who was stronger."
"And your spell searched through time and found Willow," Tara added.
Mary nodded in affirmation once again, "It was only fitting, she was destined to be the Guardian of the Seventh Seal, everything would still fit the prophecy and maintain the appearance of truth to convince the Society...I'm sorry that it has impacted on your life and cost you so dearly Tara Maclay, but I think you will understand."
Tara's face reflected all the fear and sadness that had settled on her shoulders these past months, she nodded, feeling the kinship that she and Mary Wroth shared. She was staring at the other woman when she noticed that tears were beginning to flow, welling at the corner of her eyes before falling in rivulets down her cheeks, dropping on the scarlet rode she wore.
"And I am so dreadfully sorry," Mary croaked in the midst of a choked sob.
Tara frowned, slightly unnerved by Mary's heart-wrenching sobs racking her frame as she knelt against the stone table, "Why, you only did what was necessary..."
Mary shook her head rapidly, dashing away her tears only to find more falling, "I wanted to save her so badly I did not consider that what I was doing was wrong...Tara, I came to realise that there is no way to stop it once it has entered you, little by little, piece by piece, it will eat you alive until there is nothing left of the human being you once were...and no one can stop it, it can only be bound...and it is too late for even that now..."
Tara was floored by Mary's final revelation, especially after she had begun to foster the slightest amount of hope that her Willow could come back from this. She knew the creature that she had seen Willow become was vile indeed, only the very basest of creatures would hurt those they claimed to love in such a way...Tara remembered with shivers of revulsion the way she had felt when Willow attacked her, trying to take so brutally what could only be given in love. Then Tara relived the sick expression of pleasure that Willow had on her face when she murdered Ashley.
Yet Ashley was not dead...and the Willow that she was kneeling beside in her own time was so frail and helpless. Tara shook her head stubbornly, Mary Wroth could admit defeat...but she was not Mary Wroth, she was Tara Maclay...and more than anything she could not bring herself to believe that all she and her friends had done was in vain.
"I think you're wrong," Tara whispered.
"Just go," Mary whispered even as she turned her attention back to the locket and sword in front of her. "Perhaps together you may have a chance...but when you fail she will destroy everything."
Tara felt the hot sting of tears in her eyes at the thought of Mary Wroth dying alone in that freezing cave but even as she did she also felt as though she were being jerked forward by an invisible presence in the darkness. The cold was gone and she was back in the cell with the rest of the gang, staring not into her own eyes but into the dark black pools that had replaced Willow's once beautiful eyes. In staring into those emotionless orbs, the certainly of conviction that Tara had felt in refuting Mary Wroth's prediction was unravelled and she began to doubt.
However, the fear that gripped her was arrested when she noticed that something was happening to Willow's eyes. The black was now shot through with small slivers of emerald green that sparkled with light. Tara reached out one trembling hand and touched Willow's face, her thumb brushing the papery white skin of her cheek. Willow responded by leaning into the touch and lifting her hand to lay it atop Tara's.
Tara jumped slightly at the contact; Willow's hand was like ice.
"I'm sorry," Willow whispered when she saw Tara's reaction.
Tara shifted her grip and enfolded Willow's hand in hers, squeezing it tightly to restore some warmth with the small contact, "I-It's alright..."
The two of them knelt without speaking for some moments, Tara simply holding Willow's hand and watching the play of green on black in her eyes, as though Willow was waging a war within her body. Without warning, any last residues of tension that were working to hold them apart vanished and Willow threw herself forward into Tara's arms with a groan of relief. Tara let out a small sob and returned the embrace, crushing Willow against her chest until she had to relax for fear of breaking the smaller woman.
"I love you, Willow Rosenberg!" Tara whispered fiercely into Willow's dark hair, "You have to promise you won't leave me."
Willow felt the absolutely sincerity of Tara's words, the words she needed to hear and she heard her own voice whisper in return, "I promise." A measure of clarity return to her thoughts, a clarity she had not felt for some time. Finally she could see the forked path laid out before her and knew exactly which branch she had to take at any cost. She lingered in Tara's warm embrace, just the feel and smell of her lover worked to restore her mind and senses, bringing them to a point where she felt strong enough to face these last obstacles she knew she had to overcome.
It was with reluctance then that she drew away from Tara, knowing full well that she had little time left. As she pulled back, she noticed the strange expression on Tara's face. The blonde then reached out and ran her fingers through her hair, drawing a handful of it towards her. Willow glanced down and saw the hair that Tara held in her hand was as red as she ever remembered her hair being. Willow stared at the locks for a few moments, just as enraptured as Tara, until without warning she jerked backwards.
As the hair fell from her hand Tara watched it almost instantly become black once more. She tried to reach out to Willow again but she responded by rising to her feet. Tara followed suit, a concerned expression on her face as she watched Willow become strangely distant once more.
"Will..." she began; needing to reach out to her again to reassure herself that the redhead could be transformed back into her old self with just a touch, the green had already disappeared from her eyes.
"Please don't, Tara," Willow took another step backwards as she knew exactly what Tara wanted, "This is hard enough already...if I don't finish this now it's all over...you all have to leave, take the kids and leave. Matt and Dawn are safe, you'll find them holed up in a cave not far from here...I couldn't use more power to send them further away or he would have felt it and my hand would have been revealed, that is your task...I have mine."
"Willow Rosenberg," Tara felt like stamping her foot, "If you think for one minute that I am leaving you while you go off and try to end this on your own you have got another thing coming!"
Willow almost smiled, "I know why Willow loves you so much."
Tara felt as though she had suddenly been wrenched in two, Willow's voice was that same distant tone she had used earlier that day. Whatever tender moment had just passed, it would not be repeated until everything was over, Willow was struggling...but time was running out.
"I'm coming with you!" Tara repeated insistently.
"How?" Willow asked angrily, dark eyes flashing, "What can you do? You would only hasten my demise!"
"I need to stand at your side, Will!" Tara pleaded desperately.
"And I need to leave," Willow ignored Tara's plea, she made a gesture with her hand and the sword left Faith's hands despite the Slayer's firm grip. "You may all feel a little weird; I have a little illusion to work before I send you to join the children..."
Bob was immensely pleased with what he had managed to achieve in just a short month, granted, he was understandably piqued at having been fooled into thinking the destruction of all seven seals was necessary to gain the release of his Lord but in the wider scheme of things it did not matter. After all, killing babies and other innocents was what evil did best.
What did matter was that his Lord was back in the flesh, her restoration proven when she ran the little brat through in front of her lover and friends. Bob's thin lips curved into an approximation of a smile just thinking about it...it had indeed been a delicious moment, one to savour for all time. He was provided with a further pleasant sight when he walked into the cell that had held the last of the rebellious wretches. He found his Lord, bloody sword in hand, surveying the carnage she had obviously just created.
Her four friends were splayed across the floor of the cell, each one had been brutally slashed apart, their life's blood probably completely drained before they even hit the ground. The walls were covered in great sprays of blood, rivers of it running out the door and pooling at his feet. Bob glanced down at the body closest to his Lord's feet and saw the sightless eyes of her former lover staring up at him, he responded with a smirk.
His Lord turned and graced him with a small smile of her own, "I should have made it a public spectacle but I couldn't help myself."
"No, no, it is your privilege my lord...I will send men to clean up the mess and dispose of their bodies at once," Bob dipped his head forward.
"No need," she flicked her wrist and the bodies and blood instantly disappeared, leaving the cell empty, "I am done here...walk with me."
Willow left the cell, as she moved down the passage Bob fell in behind her like the lackey he was, trotting along like a little puppy.
"You showed no remorse at the sight of your daughter lying dead in front of you," Willow mused, "Was she truly so worthless to you?"
"You know she was my daughter?" Bob asked before remembering just who he was talking to, "Of course you do...you know all. At one stage she was of great value to me, I married her mother knowing full well she was the current seal, upon her mother's death I thought she would fall easily into my schemes but her confounded grandmother ruined everything by bringing her powers to the surface."
As Bob talked Willow allowed him to drift ahead of her, she hung back slightly. A lone Society member came toward them in the passage; he stopped and bowed deeply at the sight of Willow and Bob together. While Bob did not spare the man a second glance and continued talking, Willow brought the bloody sword in her hand up in one sharp movement. It plunged into the man's gut and he fell to the ground. Bob continued walking, oblivious to the man twitching in a pool of blood behind him.
"So you needed a seal you could manipulate, one that would be easier to control and eventually sacrifice when the time was right," Willow commented smoothly, referring to Ashley who had never possessed magical powers like her mother.
"Yes!" Bob hissed, even as Willow cut down a second man they passed, slicing his throat open with one quick swing of her blade, "But Aurelia got to her first, casting that damned Heart's Fire spell...she was lost to me for years...I am ashamed to speak of these failures in front of you my Lord...I hope you do not think less of me."
Willow smirked as she followed him up a flight of stairs to the level above, "Oh, I don't think that's possible."
A goon was bowed low as she emerged on the landing just behind Bob; she seized him by the back of the neck and sent him flying face first down the stairs, hearing the satisfying crack of his neck as he hit the floor at the bottom. Bob did not turn around, still immersed in a world of his own making.
"We must make plans my Lord," he announced, slamming his fist into his palm decisively, "While I know you possess immense powers...I think we should start slowly, world domination takes time. I have drawn up a list of key people to win over; I should think very little persuasion will be needed once they have seen a demonstration of your power...Bush, little persuasion needed there, simple minds are easy to corrupt..."
As Bob continued to drone on, he did not notice that Willow was no longer following him. She had stepped into an adjoining room where several Society henchmen were immediately surprised to find themselves in the presence of their Lord. They were further surprised when she began cutting them down, her blade flashing amongst them to sever arteries and limbs. In was over in a matter of seconds and Willow only need to increase her pace briefly to catch up with Bob. He was still talking; she casually wiped her blade on a curtain as she passed. She watched the back of Bob's head move as he talked with great animation, her eyes narrowing with disgust at the thought of what he had down to his own daughter. He had made Tara's life hell...and before she ended all of this, she was going to make him pay.
"You know what Bob," Willow emphasised the ordinariness of the name, "I really don't like you."
Bob stopped walking and turned to face his Lord with a perplexed expression on his face at her sudden statement. He found her with a wide smirk on her face, "My Lord?"
"And I'm really tired of this whole Lord of Darkness deal, it's ruining my love life...and that's something I just can't live with."
Bob was still struggling to process this, "You mean..."
Willow watched an arc of crackling blue light dance across her now outstretched palm and fingers, "I'm afraid so... and I would play nice and give you time for a head start...but I really...really don't like you..."
Tara hit the ground hard but managed to retain her tight hold on the weight in her arms. Still holding her daughter protectively, she glanced around to see that Willow had managed to send all four of them safely from the mansion and into a non-descript cave just as she had said she would. Faith was already on her feet, Spike had landed awkwardly on a rock and was swearing like a sailor and Giles was on his back groaning rather theatrically.
Even as she managed to stand and help Ashley to her feet as well, Tara buckled under the weight of two fast moving shapes wrapping themselves around her. She glanced down to see Matt and Dawn. After a minute of enthusiastic embracing the two teenagers pulled back and Tara saw that, although they were rather dirty, both were relatively unscathed.
"Willow said you'd be here soon," Dawn said in a grateful voice, "Which is just as well because there's only so much of his company I can take."
She turned and looked pointedly at Matt who simply shrugged, "I didn't do anything."
"I'm just glad to see that you two are safe," Tara added.
"Well, it was pretty freaky there for a while with Willow going all psycho, vaporising Matt right in front of me, it was kinda traumatic," Dawn said as she accepted a hug from Ashley.
"You were traumatised?" Matt scoffed, "At least she actually told you what the hell she was doing!"
Giles had finally stopped groaning and had hauled himself to his feet with the aid of a nearby rock, he removed his glasses and found one lense cracked.
"I'm not sure of our course of action from here," Giles admitted, "I think I know what Willow was planning but whether or not she can carry it out alone..."
"She won't be alone," Tara immediately state, "I'm going right back down there."
Faith snorted indignantly, "You're seriously tripping, T, if you think for one minute I'm letting you go down there alone..."
Tara rounded on Faith, eyes blazing, "Faith, I'm fucking serious, whatever happens you, Spike and Giles have to stay here with the kids, I'm going alone!"
Giles removed his glasses and gave a small cough to indicate that he too held some weight of authority. However as he was about to open his mouth to add his opinion, no doubt in support of Faith, Tara turned towards him and silence him with a single glare. Tara's glare clearly said that she meant business and that Giles would come off far worse if he did try and press matters. He shrugged at Faith as though he had done his best.
"Giles! Grow a god damn backbone!" Faith stamped her foot in the Englishman's direction and pointed an accusatory finger in Tara's direction, "Less than an hour ago she was a traumatised, paralytic wreck huddled in a corner, you can't let her go!"
"This traumatised wreck is one exceptionally powerful witch," Tara responded, "So unless you can pull some hidden magical powers out of your arse I would suggest shutting up!"
"Whatever," Faith muttered with a shrug, clearly a little put off by Tara's sudden outburst.
Tara turned her attention away from her best friend and focused on the small blonde girl standing quietly, the apple of her eye and the most wonderful daughter a woman could hope for. She knelt at Ashley's height and tried to keep any sign of sadness from creeping into her expression.
"Ash..." Tara began as she folded her daughter into one last embrace.
"I know how much you love me, Mom," Ashley sighed, returning the hug, "You don't need to say it...just go help Officer Willow."
Tara stepped back and straightened, a small nod was all the promise that she could make. As she made her way out of the cave she knew full well that Faith would follow, it was a given. She made a gesture with her hand and mumbled a simple spell that none save she could hear. Behind her, the entrance to the cave was sealed with an invisible barrier of air and Faith was left to beat her fists against it in a futile rage as she watched Tara walk back towards the mansion alone.
Before Bob could even think about making the first move, Willow sprang into action, picking him up by the scruff of his robe and sending him flying into the wall, his body slammed into the surface, tearing it apart in a shower of wood and plaster. He barely paused in extracting himself, directing the fallen rubble in Willow's direction with a thrust of his hands. She waved it aside with a flick of her wrist and surged forward, grappling him to the floor.
They fought, Bob throwing everything in his arsenal of tricks against Willow but she was one step ahead of him at every move. There was nothing he could do to slow her fury. Around them the already dilapidated passages and rooms of the mansion were destroyed, plaster ceilings falling down on their heads, entire walls ripped apart and windows shattering in showers of shards. Any Society henchmen who were foolish enough to intrude on their duel were ripped apart with absolutely no thought whatsoever. Any who were smart enough, fled the scene.
"Okay, I'm getting really bored," Willow eventually announced as she brushed off the last of Bob's feeble spells, "I think I know just the place to put you."
Bob huddled back against the wall behind him, watching as Willow slammed her fist into the floor beneath them. With one awesome crack it gave way and they both fell downwards. Willow landing on her feet and Bob falling in a crumpled heap. When he was able to look around he realised that she had opened the floor up directly above Amelia's tomb, he was lying in front of the gaping dark entrance, a horrible moaning sound emerging from within. He looked back to the woman who was advancing on him but all he could do was raise his hands above his head as though to ward off a simple blow.
Willow threw the sword to one side and picked up his body as though he weighed virtually nothing, lifting it over her head as though she were going to crack him open like an egg.
Tara knew exactly where in the mansion Willow was, she just had to follow the trail of destruction, the dead Society members, the torn walls and finally the missing floor that once lay directly above the tomb. She could see Willow holding the Bob above her head, the Society leader appearing frail and stick like and not at all the powerful force he had once been. Tara threw herself into the hole to join Willow, cushioning her fall with a pocket of air. She landed softly and saw Willow's face twitch slightly when she saw her, as though there were some part that was relieved to see her.
Willow threw Bob to the floor where he lay motionless before rounding on the woman who had been her lover in another life, her hand jerked out and she grabbed Tara by the neck, throwing her back against the wall.
Tara almost sobbed when she saw the further changes that had manifested in Willow's appearance, to the point of rendering her inhuman. Her obsidian eyes were blood rimmed, almost as though she had been weeping blood, several bloody streaks were dried on her cheeks. Her skin was dry and cracked, the black veins hideously distended beneath the skin. The lips that moved as she spoke were black and crusted.
"I told you there was nothing you could do," Willow's voice was terrifying in that it was completely bland and toneless. "Yet you saw fit to come to my aid?"
"I needed to be here!" Tara gasped, trying futilely to pry Willow's vice-like fingers from around her neck.
"Why? Your Willow isn't here anymore," Willow replied, "Your sacrifice is meaningless."
Even as her gaze was transfixed on the creature pinning her to the wall, Tara saw movement just over her shoulder. She realised it was Bob, struggling to his feet. She saw the crazed expression in his eyes as his fumbling fingers grasped the hilt of Willow's sword. Despite his condition, he moved fast, so fast that Tara had only time to utter a choked warning when Bob brought the sword thrusting forward, directing all his malice and wrath into one last desperate act.
As the sword plunged into Willow's body, Tara was immediately dropped and she fell hard to the floor. She lifted her head to see Willow stumble against the wall, trying to steady herself as she reached around to remove the sword embedded in her body. Even as Tara watched Bob's lips move to form a spell, she was on her feet, throwing him backwards with a single curt word. His stick like body flew through the air, straight towards the open door of the tomb. He arrested his movement with his limbs catching on either side of the tomb's doorway and hung there, Tara's spell driving him backwards with only his frail strength keeping him from being forced into the tomb.
As he laughed a bubble of blood burst forth from his lips, "You would raise your magic against your own father?"
The angry denunciation of that statement never left Tara's lips as almost instantly she knew him to be speaking the truth. Throughout their struggle against the Society she had not realised, it was only now when they all stood on the brink that she recognised the man who had once been Robert Maclay. In that moment of recognition also came the realisation that he was responsible for all the suffering she had experienced throughout her life.
"You ordered Roy Epstein to rape me when I was seventeen, what kind of sick bastard does that to his own daughter?" she spat, a lifetime's worth of rage boiling inside her body.
"The kind that has a higher purpose!" Robert Maclay replied manically, his frame sagging beneath the forces pressing against him, "You could have been a part of all of this, instead you chose to run...now look where you've ended up, your crazed girlfriend is about to destroy the known world...must feel awful to know you made the wrong decision!"
"I haven't made a wrong decision my entire life," Tara said, she found herself calming as she moved towards her father. She watched impassively as his fingers began slipping, he was on the brink of falling backward into the tomb. "I'm about to make another right one now."
She raised her leg and planted her foot as hard as she could in the middle of Bob's sagging chest. He immediately lost his grip and fell backwards, his body crashing into the stone coffin. Tara made a sweeping gesture with her hands and the heavy door crashed into place, sealing her father inside. She knew he was too weak to move it and so turned her attention to Willow. She found her standing, having watched the entire exchange from a short distance, the bloody sword now held loosely in the palm of her hand.
"A-are y-you alright?" Tara asked, hesitantly taking a few steps forward.
Willow looked from Tara to the sword, running a thumb along the edge of the blade, "It's not good enough."
"What's not good enough, Will?"
Her head jerked upwards and she threw the sword to the floor, "It can't destroy me...I need something more powerful."
Tara felt a sudden gust of wind whip her hair over her face; it grew stronger to the point where she was having trouble staying on her feet. She was blown backwards against the wall and to the floor. The only way she could try and approach Willow once more was crawling on her hands and knees. Willow remained standing as though she could not feel the wind whipping around her body.
"Willow, what are you doing?" Tara yelled, barely able to hear herself over the roar of the wind.
"Fire consumes," Willow replied as she raised her hands so they were level with her shoulders as though she were summoning something.
"It's over!" Tara screamed, still vainly trying to struggle against the wind to reach her lover, "Will, it's over, we've won."
Willow turned her head slightly so she could look at Tara, still keeping the awesome powers at her fingertips under control. When she spoke it was inside Tara's head, coming through clearly despite the noise.
"It won't be over until the darkness is destroyed forever."
Tara found herself gripped with the same unsettling sensation that Willow had used to send her to the cave not an hour earlier, without warning she found herself soaring, away from Willow and the house altogether with Willow's last words to her ringing in her head, "I'm sorry."
Willow knew she should feel loss or something resembling remotely resembling an emotion as she had just seen Tara for the last time. The small part of ‘Willow' that was still left knew that what she was doing would save not only her lover, but lives everywhere, in not only the present but the future as well.
That last small parcel of humanity drained from Willow as though something had drawn it from with a syringe, all that remained was her single-minded intention to end the chaos. She could feel the darkness inside of her trying to tear her body apart, atom by atom, it had an awareness outside of her own and it knew she was determined to destroy it along with herself.
Willow could feel Bob's power inside the tomb, hammering against the stone as he fought for a way out. There would be no way out for him. Willow threw out her arms wide, head tilted back towards the sky above, her body was buffeted by the forces swirling around her but she kept her footing. She summoned heat, the wind growing hotter and hotter with each second until flames appeared, licking at the walls of the house. Willow remained untouched at the centre of what fast became a raging inferno, swirling around herself and the tomb like a tornado of fire.
It was immense, burning so hot it began to reduce the tomb in front of her to molten rock, everything else had already been destroyed. Willow could feel the dark force within her protesting at the heat even though she herself could not feel it, it was in pain, leeching through every pore of her body in an attempt to escape the heat and tearing her apart in the process.
"It's over," Willow whispered, a split second later her physical form exploded in a searing white light but not before she was aware that every fraction of the Darkness had been completely and utterly destroyed in the maelstrom of fire.
It took some time for Tara to pick herself up from the ground where Willow had thrown her. Even as she cleared her head, she was already taking awkward, lurching steps back towards the mansion. Despite Willow's warning, she had every intention of remaining at her side no matter what happened, the possibility that she would die alongside her lingered at the back of her mind but she could only concentrate on the immediate moment and not the awful prospect of leaving Ashley without a mother.
Without warning, Tara's reality seemed to shift again, although this time it was nothing like the almost peaceful transitions she had experienced earlier. Instead, an explosion of light and flames blinded her, the air was sucked from her lungs and she found herself hurled backwards for the second time in less than a minute. She hit the ground with a sickening thud and was unable to rise as a wave of heat poured over her, Tara was forced to shield her head and face with her arms as flying pieces of debris struck her body, some ripping through her clothing and into skin.
The chaos continued to rain down on Tara's prone form even as realisation dawned as to what had happened. Her fears were confirmed as soon as she managed to struggle into a sitting position to gaze on the scene in front of her. Tara's lips parted with utter disbelief.
The entire mansion had been consumed in one colossal explosion, it hadn't just been reduced to a fiercely burning shell...it was simply no more than a blackened crater. With no matter left to feed on, most of the fire had died already.
Tara scrambled to her feet and crossed the short distance to the crater in desperation. She glanced down and found the black debris was little more than a crystalline powder that was already cooling. Everything within the house had been almost vaporised...no one could have possibly survived.
"How dare you make yourself into a martyr, Willow Rosenberg!" Tara hissed, clenching her fists and refusing to capitulate to grief.
She stepped out into the crater, hearing the crystals crunch beneath her shoes with each step. Tara could only think about being as close to Willow as possible, close to whatever part of her still remained.
Something stood out sharply against the black debris, something that caused Tara to draw in a breath so quickly she choked on it. Tara was still choking as she lurched forward again. As she drew closer, she allowed herself to accept the fact that what she was seeing was not an illusion.
It was Willow.
Willow was lying on her back in a shallow depression, eyes closed, arms tucked neatly at her side. She was as naked as the day she had been born and her own bright red hair fanned out around her head. There was no trace of the black veins and paper pale skin from the last time Tara had seen her, her skin bore a healthy pink glow.
"Willow...oh goddess, Will, can you hear me?" Tara threw herself into the rubble at Willow's side, her hands immediately reaching out to touch her body to confirm what her eyes were seeing.
She breathed a deep sigh of relief when she found Willow's body warm and indeed unblemished as it appeared to her eyes. Her gaze was transfixed on the steady rise and fall of Willow's chest which indicated that she was very much alive. The red lips parted and a soft moan emerged.
"I'm not dead," a small voice croaked, "Although I think I know what it feels like..."
Willow's eyes remained closed, although she squeezed them a little tighter as she attempted to move her limbs. She managed a slight jerk of all four limbs to confirm they were still attached. Next she tried to pry open her eyelids, they refused to budge at first before they slowly opened to reveal the most beautiful sight she had ever seen.
Tara was kneeling in the rubble beside her, leaning over her with one hand on either side of her shoulders. Firelight from somewhere nearby illuminated her golden hair and face, given the illusion of a halo surrounding her head. Willow smiled, it was a fitting image.
"Am I still all veiny?" was the question which weighed most heavily on her mind.
Tara couldn't help herself and she smirked in response, fingers reaching out to brush Willow's smooth cheek, "No Will, you're not all veiny...you're back to your old self...as perfect as you ever were."
"Oh god," Willow whispered, her smile disappeared and she squeezed her eyes shut once more as though she was in immense pain.
"What is it, sweetie?" Tara's voice was heavy with concern as she gently swept her hands down over Willow's red locks.
"I just realised I don't have any clothes on," Willow mumbled as a hot red flush crept into her cheeks.