"Libby?" someone was shaking her gently, "Libby!"
The tiny, frail woman named Libby opened her hazel eyes to find herself staring into the eyes of one of the other Coven members. She moved her head slowly to see each and every one of them was staring at her as though they expected her to drop dead at any second. For their benefit she managed a weak nod before turning her gaze back to the woman kneeling in front of her. She was a slender women with her greying hair swept back into an elegant knot. Her still beautiful features twisted in concern as she gently reached out for Libby's shoulders to help support her.
"Thank the goddess, I was just about to slap you," the other women said with a hint of humour in her voice.
"I'm alright Aggie," Libby could barely manage a whisper.
Libby managed to pry her fingers away from the small crystal she held, it was hung on a fine chain around her neck. It seemed to be glowing faintly, giving off an aura of its own. She sagged against Aggie as she helped her from the hard floor to her feet. Her hip was playing up again but despite that she gripped her friend's shoulders... she had to tell her.
"Aggie," she said weakly but with a note of urgency in her voice.
Aggie met her gaze evenly, the furrow in her brow deepening at the look on Libby's face, "What's wrong, what did you see?"
Libby looked at the members of the Coven, six where there were once many more. As of a few moments ago they had been seven... but now...
"Aurelia," Libby whispered in a pained voice.
She met Aggie's eyes which had widened at the mention of that name, "Aggie, I'm so sorry... she's dead," Libby sagged into Aggie's arms, feeling as though all her strength had deserted her... which was not at all far from the truth.
Aggie helped the exhausted woman into an over stuffed armchair before she too collapsed wearily into a nearby couch, still keeping a gentle hand on Libby's knee. Through glazed eyes she stared at the five other women in the room. To the casual observer they merely appeared to be a group of ladies meeting for a knitting circle or some equally stereotypical activity favoured by grandmothers.
As she looked at her friends... family really, Aggie saw something entirely different. She saw six very powerful women... brave women who had spent the majority of their lives fighting against an evil that few knew even existed. Events were all heading much too swiftly to climax... their careful plans were being fought against every step of the way... and now one of their number was dead...
In another lifetime they had been lovers. Aggie remembered the strong young girl she had fallen in love with at college. Any happiness they might had found with one another was thwarted by the time in which they lived... They had both acquiesced to their parents wishes, making good marriages... having children... but always staying in contact with one another for the sake of the Coven. No matter how painful it was to be constantly reminded of their unrequited love they had a vital role to play that was greater than any of them. There were innocents they had to protect... just as those who had lived and died before them had done.
"What happened?" Aggie asked in a shaky voice.
"They got to Aurie's girl first... she died casting a protection spell over her."
"Tara?" Aggie asked in a quiet but urgent voice, "Is she alright?"
"She's pregnant," Libby said and a quiet dread settled over everyone in the room.
"Goddess!" another woman exclaimed.
"That wasn't supposed to happen," a voice belonging to a gentle-looking black woman spoke up from the doorway.
"Damn that bastard Maclay!" Aggie spat angrily, "I knew he would fall prey to them... I bet he succumbed as soon as Diana was gone, I knew it!"
"I couldn't see any of that, I just know Tara is running... I could feel her... she's terrified but she's coming this way, she'll find us."
"We'll make sure she does," the black woman spoke up again.
"You'll take care of it Rose?" Aggie asked her.
"Of course," Rose nodded as she replied in a confident voice.
A tall, angular woman with a pinched face and her hair pulled back into a stern bun came to stand in the centre of the room. She looked more like a retired schoolmistress than a powerful witch.
"Aurelia was Tara's guardian," she spoke in a clipped, accented voice, "Has a guardian been assigned to the child?"
"You know one would have Gerda, as soon as it was conceived," Aggie replied wearily, feeling much older than her actual age all of a sudden.
"This child is going to be in more danger than any of the others... we must make every effort..."
"Yes, every effort," a previously silent woman spoke up in quiet tones.
"We can give whoever it is power... magicks," Gerda spoke up.
"Can we do that?" Rose asked disbelievingly.
"Yes we can! We must!" Gerda insisted.
"We can but that doesn't mean we should!" Aggie found her fire returning, Aurelia wouldn't want grief to reduce her to inactivity, not when she was needed the most, "There is a good reason magick is usually hereditary... it take years of instruction to learn how to control it properly... just imagine giving untold amounts of power to someone completely unaware of its potential for diaster and destruction!"
"One of us can instruct them!" Gerda wasn't about to give up the fight so easily, "They will be drawn to the child anyway... we'll find them."
"She's strong," Libby whispered, she sat upright in her chair, her eyes closed as she gripped the small crystal once more.
"Libby!" Aggie gripped her knee fiercely and the seer's eyes opened slowly, "You'll kill yourself if you keep this up!"
Libby smiled weakly, "You know me Agatha, always trying to push the limits. Anyway... she's strong, the guardian... I think we should do it... I have a feeling she's going to need every bit of what we can give her."
She made to stand, waving Aggie's help away with a quick flick of her hand. The other five women all came to meet her in the centre of the room. Standing in a ragged sort of circle like a group of school children at lunchtime.
"It's a woman then?" Gerda asked, "The guardian?"
Libby nodded and a small smile creased her face, "A girl... her name's Willow," Libby chuckled, "Like the tree... and I get the distinct impression that she's connected to Tara."
"But she's the child's guardian right?" Rose asked with a frown.
"Yes she is," Libby nodded, "But she's also Tara's soul mate... they'll find each other..."
"Only to discover that they're caught in the middle of an evil that has been brewing for centuries... and they are the ones who are going to have to face it!" Rose added insistently.
Aggie nodded, the signs were clear... after half a dozen centuries it was very nearly upon them, "With our help," she added firmly.
With a flick of her wrist she closed the heavy curtains in the room, plunging the room into semi darkness before she lit a few candles with another flick. They were all bathed in a soft golden glow as they came together. Hands were linked as they eased stiff joints into sitting positions. Libby wincing faintly as her hip protested as she settled cross legged on the floor.
"Who was the idiot that decided we have to sit cross-legged?" she asked, "Will we still be able to do this in our wheelchairs?"
Aggie looked at the brave attempt at a smile on her dear friend's face and she gripped her hand a little tighter.
"Lib, I am not sure you should be in this circle," her friend was still looking pale and withdrawn from her exertion earlier.
Libby smiled at her as they linked hands, "This requires all of us... and I'm certainly not going to let you girls do it without me... besides, who else is going to focus the spell on the guardian?"
The elderly woman closed her eyes, drawing energy from the circle linked with her and using the crystal at her throat to reach out once more. Her thoughts and energies quested outwards, further east towards the young woman who at this point in time was completely unaware of her destiny. She found her easily enough, forming a picture of her in her mind and sending it out to the other Coven members. A small, red headed girl sitting at her desk, head bowed over a book. They saw her so clearly they could see the way a small, pink piece of tongue peeked from the corner of her mouth as she concentrated.
Libby felt the Coven's energy pouring into her, so much of it she thought she would burst from the effort required to focus it all. She knew each woman there was giving as much as she possibly could. Ever so gently she sent it outwards so as not to frighten the young woman on the receiving end. Indeed, she did not even notice anything as she continued her studies.
Suddenly she felt another presence besides those of her fellow Coven members and the teenage girl... something foul and oily trying to slip through their shields. Someone else in the circle whimpered in fear. Libby could see the darkness now, merging with their magickal energies. Sweat beaded on her forehead as she tried to keep it away.
"We must stop it," Aggie was saying through clenched teeth, "Someone's corrupting our empowering spell!"
Together the Coven worked to force the intruder back but even as they were slowly succeeding, Gerda let out a blood-curdling scream. Libby opened her eyes to see an awful, shadowy beast at the centre of their circle. It did not appear to be real... and yet Gerda lay with her throat slit, blood staining the rug beneath her.
At that moment, the Coven lost their hold on the spell. The power found it's target, sending the young woman into unconsciousness and yet the power that found her was not just that which the Coven had given. The intruding darkness had probably corrupted it completely, turning what was magic given in love to something altogether evil... a power that few could possibly control.
Aggie watched in panic as the remaining Coven members tried to defend themselves. The thing that hung in the air was seemingly without form, resistant to every effort. She had to watch her friends die... until she was the last one left...
The link to the girl was closing fast, yet Aggie knew what she had to do. The magic they had ended up giving her was undoubtedly powerful... and yet she knew few could resist the corruption... it would overwhelm her. She had to bind it... even though she had very little time left. Even as she formed the first words, Aggie felt something chilling close around her chest. She squeezed her eyes shut as it began to tear into her body. Through her pain, Aggie tried desperately to concentrate on the words for the binding spell. She had very little time left... she was so very tired.
"That which we gave... bind now
Aggie winced in pain as she felt it's talon dig into her flesh, her strength was waning all too fast as her consciousness began to fade, her vision grew black and the spell was incomplete... unfinished, but it would have to do as she had nothing left to give.
"Die witch!" a horrible voice hissed inside her mind.
Even as it ripped apart the fragile flesh of her body, Aggie had a smile on her face. She was going to be with the woman who in another lifetime she had been separated from. Her task was done... it was up to the next generation to avert what was coming...
Willow Rosenberg woke on the floor of her room, her clothes were soaked in sweat. As she dragged herself up into a sitting position she could not recall how she had got there nor what she had being doing. Her brain pounded inside her skull, as though something were frantically trying to get out. She clamped her hands to her temples in a vain effort to lessen the pain.
Even a gentle knock at the door made her wince.
"Willow?" it was her mother, "Willow honey... are you alright? I heard a crash."
"Um... yeah," Willow replied weakly, "Just knocked some stuff over..."
"It's past midnight? Are you still studying?"
"I'm going to bed now," just the thought of looking at her books again made her head pound ferociously.
"Good night then."
Feeling drained and exhausted, Willow crawled on all fours until she reached her bed. She pulled herself up and collapsed atop the covers, asleep before her head hit the pillow and oblivious to the power that now lay inside her.
Willow already felt as though she had been standing outside the Magic box for at least an hour when she finally found the courage to reach out for the door handle. Her hand was shaking as her fingers closed around it, pausing before expending the last amount of effort it would require to actually turn it.
Tara's behind this door... the woman that for all intensive purposes thinks I'm a complete and absolute jerk... oh god, I can't do this! Willow felt her heart start to beat wildly, threatening to burst from her chest. She jerked her hand away from the door handle and bent over, resting her hands on her knees to calm herself before she did something incredibly stupid like fainting.
Willow straightened after giving herself a moment, steeling herself further with some deep breathing. Her hand stretched towards the door handle ever so slowly. Just as she was inhaling deeply for the last time, the door swung inwards and Willow almost fell face forward right into Faith. The brunette did not even bat an eye when she saw Willow standing there with a shell-shocked look on her face. Faith's eyes narrowed and she drew the door shut at precisely the same moment her hand shot out and grabbed Willow by the scruff of her neck.
Willow gasped as she was yanked upwards until only her tiptoes were still in contact with the ground. Although she found herself above Faith's eye level, she felt as though she were being looked down upon.
"Well?" Faith demanded in a deadly serious voice.
"Well what?" Willow squeaked.
"What do you want? What are your intentions towards her?"
"My intentions? I... came to apologise, that's all... I just want to say I'm sorry..."
"You think she wants to hear that from you?" Faith cocked her head to one side as she studied Willow
"I don't know!" Willow struggled in a vain effort to try and ground her feet, the feeling of being held off them by this remarkably strong young woman was unsettling to say the least, "I just wanted to say it... I acted like a moron..."
"You got that right Red," Faith said without a trace of doubt in her voice, "I supposed I have better let you go, I might get done for obstructing the work of justice."
Faith smirked as she let go and Willow stumbled slightly before she regained her footing. She straightened out her shirt collar indignantly, waiting for the other woman to leave her alone so she could get back to the slow but important task of opening the door.
Faith however, did it for her, ushering her inside with a firm shove in the small of her back. Before she knew it, Willow was inside and completely lacking in the dignity and composure she needed to be able to pull this apology off. She found herself straightening up again for the second time in less than a minute. However when her gaze met those blue eyes once more, her mind went completely blank.
Tara was standing at the table nearest the door, she had been carefully unloading a new shipment of candles. Willow fell through the door just as she went to place the last one and in her shock she set it down on the edge of the table without realising it. All her attention was focused on Willow even after the candle hit the floor and went rolling down the stairs.
Willow watched the candle until it stopped rolling, and even then she could not bring herself to look at Tara despite wanting to more than anything in the world. She tipped her head up slowly, watching Tara from beneath her eyelashes. Captivated by every curve of her pale face.
How on earth could I have been so stupid as to ruin things with her? Willow asked herself, Say something winning... something smooth!
She is so cute! Tara let out a slow, long breath, hoping Willow wouldn't see it and know just how nervous she was, Stop it Tara... how can you say she's cute after what happened... after what you did to her... but I didn't do anything...
Tara's brow furrowed for a split second, it was hard to believe the lithe redhead standing in front of her had anything but laughter inside her. She knew full well she should ask Willow to leave and never come back. That was the very last thing she wanted... she wanted Willow to stay.
"I'm sorry!" Tara blurted out at precisely the same moment as Willow.
Tara ducked her head and Willow suddenly found the essence of slug candles Tara had been unpacking very interesting indeed before she looked up again.
"No, I'm sorry!" they both said again.
Willow raised her hands in a silent surrender, trying to keep a serious face even though she felt the urge to start laughing at the pair of them stumbling over each other to apologise, "Please Tara... aren't you supposed to be mad at me?"
"For what?" Tara grinned.
Willow couldn't quite bring herself to return the smile, "Tara... I acted like a complete moron... a horny moron! You can't possibly have forgotten!"
"No I haven't and... y-yes you did," Tara replied with a degree of solemnity.
Willow sighed, "I don't know how to convey just how sorry I am Tara... if only you would believe me when I say I am not normally like that... I mean I have class and finesse and control over my emotions and..." Willow was just about to launch into a long and detailed list of her usually winning qualities.
"Willow, slow down. I do believe you!" Tara interrupted smoothly, glad her stutter had decided to take a holiday, "I'm thinking... I-I should g-g-give," Stupid stutter! Stop it Maclay! "I should give you a second chance to show me the real Willow Rosenberg... if you want to accept it?"
"Hell yes!" Willow blurted out before composing herself and replying in a tremulous voice, "Um, yeah... I'd like that."
"Good," Tara's cheeks went red and she ducked her head in what Willow had begun to understand was a trademark gesture, "Because I would very much like that as well."
Willow really wished she wouldn't do it around her, she did not like to see her beautiful blue eyes disappear as they stared at the floor. Tara should never have to bow her head to anyone. However, just as Willow was about to reach out and tilt Tara's chin back up the tiny bell above the door jingled to single the arrival of a new customer. Tara jerked her head up just as Willow quickly tucked her hand back at it side.
"I'll just be a few minutes," Tara excused herself and went to serve the customer who was obviously in need of assistance.
Willow browsed the shelves of ancient looking tomes distractedly as she waited for Tara to finish serving her customer. Her eyes fell across a book entitled Greaves' Dictionary of Magical Terms and she wondered for a moment. Glancing over her shoulder to check that Tara was still engrossed in her customer, Willow picked up the massive book and began to flick through it. She was searching for some clue as to why her eyes might had turned black. Willow did not even know why she had instinctively thought it must have something to do with magic. Although to her mind it seemed the most obvious culprit. There was no rational or logical explanation for it so therefore it must have been something mystical.
Great Rosenberg... since when did you even believe in magic? she asked herself wryly as she flicked through the pages of the massive tome, all the while keeping Tara in view from the corner of her eye, Well... considering it's either magic... or me going crazy and I'm not willing to consider the latter yet!
Willow found nothing under 'black eyes', she didn't expect to be able to get such a literal answer anyway. Under 'eyes' she merely found the various types of eyes which went well in potions and spells... newt, salamander... frogs... sheep... Willow wrinkled her nose.
What else could I look under?
She glanced back to Tara who was laughing freely as she helped her customer. She wished fervently she could ask the blonde what it might mean.
What would I say? Umm, Tara, listen, I was looking in my bathroom mirror last night and my eyes turned completely black. Am I crazy or am I turning into some sort of evil... dark thing? Willow sighed, either way it didn't sound promising, Dark!
Willow flicked through the pages until she reached the 'D's, her eyes coming to rest on 'Dark Magicks.' The entry was particularly long, well over a few pages in length and most of it was like gibberish to Willow as it talked about energies and corruption of the soul. She skimmed quickly, looking for anything to do with a person's eyes turning black...
"Did you find anything interesting?" Tara's gentle voice said behind her.
Willow squeaked in fright and slammed the dictionary shut as Tara came to stand in front of her. She grinned apologetically at the blonde as she jammed the book back into it's spot on the shelf.
Willow stuffed her hands in her jacket pockets, "Um, no, just browsing, reading y'know because I love books! Books are fantastic and I just can't get enough of them," Willow couldn't put a halt to the word salad that kept pouring out of her mouth.
Tara arched an eyebrow, a small smile gracing her face, "Really? What are your favourites?"
"Anything with hot lesbian loving," Willow replied promptly before she had time to stop herself.
She blushed bright red beneath Tara's scrutiny, beginning to believe that her foot lived permanently in her mouth whenever she was around the beautiful blonde woman. It took her completely by surprise when Tara burst into musical laughter.
Willow nodded enthusiastically, "I had to replace my copy of Tipping the Velvet because I read it so often it fell to pieces... but I actually don't get to read a lot of fiction. Mostly I'm stuck reading scholarly work-type stuff - scientific reports, criminology texts... Maxim..."
"I was under the impression Maxim was a men's magazine not a scholarly text?" Tara asked in a serious voice.
Willow grinned and replied in a noticeably softer voice, "It can be hard work looking at a gorgeous woman..." she squeaked in fright, "I mean, gorgeous women, plural, not woman because that would imply I was talking about you..."
It was Tara's turn to blush bright red and she ducked her head yet again.
"What about Harry Potter?" Tara changed the subject despite the fact she wanted to tell Willow she was just as gorgeous.
Willow bounced on the balls of her feet with barely restrained energy, "Yeah, Buffy dragged me along to the first movie..."
"Buffy?" Tara asked dubiously.
"Oh! My best friend and partner - not in the sense of partner as in smoochie partner but detective, work-type partner. She's nothing like her name suggests..." Willow frowned and thought for a moment, "Well, actually she is blonde and gorgeous... much like a short Barbie doll... although without the oversize boobies," Willow gulped, "Um, you might have seen her at the Bronze?"
Tara shook her head, she only had eyes for a beautiful red head wearing black boots.
"Well, you'll met her one day," Willow said confidently, as though it was a given that she and Tara would be friends at least, "I'm sure you'll like her."
"I'm sure I will too... if she can put up with you then I'm bound to like her."
"Hey!" Willow spluttered playfully, "We barely know each other and already you feel you can make fun of me!"
"Isn't that a good thing?" Tara asked quietly.
"Yeah... I guess so..." Willow replied.
"Um, back to Harry Potter!" Tara said quickly as things became awkward once more.
"Oh right, yeah, Buffy dragged me along to the first movie and now I'm very much converted. I can't get enough of the books or the movies!"
Tara smiled warmly, "For someone who doesn't believe in magic you don't have a problem reading about it?"
Willow blinked, "I never said I didn't believe in magic!"
"Yes you did," Tara replied with a grin, "You do now?"
"Well... maybe... just in terms of our case that's all," Willow admitted guiltily, and I'm not crazy! "It's just unusual things have been happening and I guess I'm opening up to the idea that there might be mystical forces out there beyond my understanding... and oh! This is why I came here today..." Willow fumbled in her pocket for the small packet of substance she had found in the dead infant's room, "Besides the fact that I needed to apologise..." she handed it to Tara, "Can you tell me what it is?"
Tara held it up for just a moment before nodding quickly, "Of course, it's hellebore."
"Hellebore?" Willow asked, "What does that do?"
"Well, it's very powerful... it has many uses... which circle was it in?"
"The infant's," Willow replied promptly, her face saddened, "There was a small child..."
"Goddess," Tara whispered, her eyes watering slightly, "Though I meant which type of circle... assuming that the symbols were the same as last time?"
"They were," Willow nodded, thinking for just a moment before continuing, "The upside down banishment symbol... that's the one."
"Curiouser," Tara replied still looking at the bag, "Not only was the symbol upside down but hellebore is not used in banishment symbols... it seems almost as though... hmmmm... ."
"Hmmmm?" Willow asked at Tara's pensive expression.
"Um, I'm not quite sure... I-I'm going to ask a few people what they think. Can I get back to you?" she asked, handing the bag back to Willow.
"Sure, you can keep that if you want," Willow indicated the hellebore.
Tara shook her head, "We sell it here."
Willow's eyes widened as she had a realisation after hearing Tara's words, "Tara, can you get me a list of all the people who have purchased it... say, in the last month?"
"Willow, those records are c-confidential..."
"Tara, this is a criminal investigation..." Willow began, ready to bat her eyelashes and flaunt cleavage if it came to that.
Tara however did not require such incentives, "I-I know... and I want to help anyway I can... especially in light of... well, it's a-a-awful... I-I'll e mail them to you as soon as I can okay? Do you really think whoever it is would walk into the local magic store to make a purchase though?"
Willow shrugged, "It's worth a try."
She drew out a card from her jacket pocket, her e mail address was on it. She handed it to Tara, also knowing full well that it listed both her work and her cell numbers as well. Tara took it with a nod.
"So you're beginning to think magic might have a role in this case..."
"Perhaps... still seems a little hokey to me though."
"You never know... you might have a talent for it?" Tara suggested with a small smile although the emotions that swirled beneath that smile were anything but flippant.
Willow laughed awkwardly, "I don't have any special talents... well, I can recite the entire periodic table but that's not really special... or even interesting for that matter... I have a photographic memory. Ummm, I do make fantastic Chicken Tikka Masala!"
"I love Indian food, I might have to put that boast to the test," Tara smiled shyly.
Willow rocked on the balls of her feet again, "Just as good as any restaurant, I guarantee it! And I'm a really good kisser!" Willow stopped talking and blinked a few times, then her jaw dropped when she finally realised what she'd just said, "Um, did I just say what I thought I said?"
"What did you think you said?" Tara replied and Willow completely failed to pick up on the trace of amusement in her voice.
Willow's face was by now as red as her hair, "Um, that I'm a good kisser."
"No," Tara shook her head and Willow began to breathe a sigh of relief, "You said you're a really good kisser!"
"Are you mocking me Miss Maclay?"
Willow wanted to stand in the store talking to the young woman all day long, it was as though their fight from Saturday night had been completely erased from their memories. However, she still had a job to do.
"Friday!" Willow blurted out suddenly.
"Friday?" Tara asked in a confused voice.
"Yes, great day of the week, my favourite in fact because work is over and there's a whole weekend to look forward to... and what I was really meaning to ask instead of getting carried away extolling Friday's virtues was, if you're not doing anything this Friday...will you go out with me?" Willow finally managed to get it out, she kept her eyes fixed on her toes for the most part but kept sneaking little glances up to check the expression on Tara's face.
"I'd really like that."
"Great! Great!" Willow beamed, "Um, what's a good time for you? Seven o'clock?" Tara nodded and Willow's smile broadened, "Great! I'll swing by here at seven and we can do a drink and a movie? Er, unless you don't do drinks or movies?"
"Willow, that would be lovely," Tara couldn't wait until Friday.
"Okay! So I'll see you then!"
"I'll e mail you as soon as I can," Tara nodded.
Willow bounced again and turned to leave, almost knocking over a table laden with crystals as she did so. One was knocked right off and it was only her quick reflexes which prevented it from falling to the ground and smashing. She set it back down carefully with yet another apologetic smile.
"I should just get going before I break anything," Willow turned and made a beeline for the door.
"Um Willow..." Tara's voice stopped her just as she was about to open the door.
"Yeah?" Willow turned.
"I-I... really hope you catch the people that are doing these terrible things," Tara said sincerely.
"Me too," Willow answered as she opened the door.
Willow closed the door of the Magic Box behind her and fumbled in her pocket for her car keys. A voice from behind her made her jump.
"Did you make her cry Red?" Faith asked in a dry voice.
Willow spun to see the strange brunette sitting on a bench outside the store, smoking a cigarette.
"N-no, of course not!" Willow replied quickly, having absolutely no desire to be picked up off her feet again, "We're going out on Friday."
Faith raised her eyebrows in surprise, "That's just as bad," she said tersely.
Willow squeaked a hasty goodbye and almost ran to her car before Faith could pound her into a pulp. That was one very, very weird woman... and Willow knew she was going to tread extremely carefully around Tara on Friday for fear of ending up in a body bag somewhere.
Tara woke to the sound of a gentle but insistent rap on her door. Shrugging off the last vestiges of sleep she flicked on her bedside lamp and glanced at the clock to see it was almost two in the morning.
The door swung inwards to reveal Ashley standing there clutching Bryson to her chest.
"Mom, there's a monster under my bed."
Tara gasped slightly and threw back the covers in a flash. She quickly moved to shield Ashley as she peered down the corridor at the door to Ashley's room. The words formed on her lips for a fireball casting spell. Ashley peered up at her with a bemused smile on her face.
"Mom..." she said, tugging at Tara's sleeve, "Mom!"
"Shhhh... .stay here," Tara placed a gentle hand on her daughter's shoulder.
"Mom, I was lying," Ashley admitted in a small voice, "There's nothing under my bed... I-I just wanted to sleep in your bed."
Tara looked down at Ashley who was staring up at her with a sheepish look on her face. She frowned lightly in rebuke before making a grab for the girl.
"Come here you little rascal!"
Ashley giggled and evaded her mother's grasp easily as she made a dash for the bed. She leapt up into it and was safely ensconced in the covers by the time her mother reached her. Tara pulled the covers away from her head and kissed her soundly on the cheek.
"Mom!" Ashley made a face of disgust as she tried to wriggle away.
Tara wrapped her arms around the squirming little girl and tucked her in close to her body as she drew the covers up over the both of them. It did not take long for Ashley to drift off into the deep and peaceful slumber of a little girl who knew she was completely safe in her mother's arms.
It took Tara much longer for sleep refused to come while her mind was so busy with thoughts. She could not deny the fact that she was completely smitten by Willow Rosenberg. Every part of her body ached to feel the red head's lithe body pressed against her own. Willow looked strong for her size as well... and she was probably exceptionally good in bed. Tara felt her cheeks flame in the darkness at her thoughts...
The darkness... the darkness that lay within Willow scared her... not for her own sake, but Ashley's. If she were thinking straight she would have told Willow to get lost in no uncertain terms and never ever come back. However, the very thought of never seeing her again was enough to make Tara feel decidedly miserable.
Ashley shifted slightly in her arms and she gently kissed the top of the girls forehead, keeping her tucked in close.
"Don't worry sweetie, your Mama hasn't lost all her sense... yet," Tara whispered.