The blood drained from Tara's face as soon as the words had left Giles' lips. As her world spun around her, she searched Giles's expression for some hint that he might be lying or playing a cruel joke on her. It was merely out of desperation however, as the coherent part of her brain already knew that Giles would not joke about something this serious involving her daughter. At that moment, Giles' face was revealed nothing but concern. Following her realisation and subsequent acceptance, Tara felt as though she might fall. She turned and placed both hands on the balcony railing in front of her. As she gripped the railing with white-knuckled fingers she stared out over the lake. The early morning sun was struggling to shine through a thick layer of clouds. She drew her gaze away from the breathtaking view which for now merely served as a reminder that life was short and unfair. Her head fell forward and her hair slipped forward to conceal her face. It was a few minutes before she spoke from behind the curtain of blonde.
"All the seals so far and their Guardians, they've all been local people. Giles, my family isn't from around here,"
Tara's point was exactly the one Giles expected her to raise.
"Are you questioning my research skills?" Giles asked gently, "I've traced Mary Wroth's line of descent, all the way down to your mother, Diana Weaver, who was born here..."
"My Mom was born here? That means my grandmother..." Tara lifted her head in surprise, "Grandmother always maintained that she was born and raised back home, said she would die there too...which she did...Giles, she lied to me," Tara struggled with the fact that her loving and all-knowing grandmother had told her such a blatant and glaring lie, "I never pried...never questioned her but I could have found out with next to no effort...and yet for some reason I never felt the need."
"Why would you? You trusted her...no doubt she had a good reason for concealing your family's origins, a reason which is I think you already know," Giles studied her face and nodded slightly as he saw comprehension spread across Tara's face.
"She knew...everything, all of this. She wanted to keep my child and I safe," Tara said in a monotone, "And yet when I ran, I was drawn straight here, straight into the one place on earth that I was in danger."
"You'd be in danger wherever you went Tara, I hope you realise that. It's not your fault you ended up here."
Giles watched as Tara lifted her head, proud chin emerging from beneath her hair as she lifted her gaze to face him. He read the palpable sadness in her sapphire gaze, but beneath it he sensed what was a gathering sense of acceptance. It too was made obvious a few moments later when she let out a deep breath and upon closing her lips, set her jaw firmly. Her eyes burned with the fierce, determined love that only a mother could possess. He had absolutely no doubt that she would protect Ashley with every single second of her life. Giles reached out and tapped her cheek lightly with a reassuring hand. This woman never ceased to amaze him with her silent strength. Despite the menacing peril looming over the lives of their small group, and probably the world, Giles felt immeasurably secure in Tara's strength. Not in terms of her magicks, although she was not to be trifled with in that regard, but in terms of the strength which radiated from her core being.
"I know, Giles...but that doesn't mean I have to like it, or accept it."
"There's more," Giles added.
"I'm Ashley's Guardian," Tara responded before Giles could say another word.
Giles nodded reluctantly, "I think we can safely assume that much."
Tara frowned for a moment before she continued, "Wouldn't I know? I mean, I would protect her with my life because I'm her mother but from what we've learnt from the other Guardians, it seems that they received a sort of a calling and were bestowed with their magicks. That's not the case with me because I've always had mine, I was born with power."
"Perhaps you are an exception?" Giles replied, although it was merely wild speculation, "I really don't know Tara, all we know is that Ashley is the Seventh Seal...and until we know otherwise, you are her Guardian."
Tara nodded just once but very firmly, "It doesn't matter anyway, I would protect her with my life regardless."
As Tara looked on, Giles reached into the pocket of his worn jacket and withdrew something carefully. He held out his hand towards her and Tara looked down to see a small scrap of paper, yellowed with age.
"Actually...it does matter, for I have reason to think that the Guardian of the Seventh Seal has a very important part to play in all of this, it's written here...you're the first to see it, apart from Ashley of course."
Tara took the note in shaking fingers although she was far more concerned about the mention of Ashley's name than its content, "Ashley? Why has Ashley seen this note?"
"Ashley discovered the note in the Veneficus..." Giles began.
Tara's eyes flashed dangerously and she interrupted Giles before he could explain.
"You let Ashley touch that book?" Tara fumed, thinking of her daughter touching such evil.
Giles reached out and laid a soothing hand on her forearm, in her distress she was becoming irrational. He explained the relatively harmless mode of discovery carefully. That Ashley had simply knocked the book to the ground and the note had fallen from its pages, despite the fact no one else had ever spied it despite extensive use of the book. Also that Ashley had merely seen the note and not the actual content. Tara seemed satisfied with this explanation and she turned her attention to reading it herself.
She read through the note soundlessly as Giles looked on. However her lips moved, imperceptibly forming some of the words. Once done, she looked up at Giles with a worried frown on her face for a few moments and then her attention returned to the note as though she thought the words may change with a second reading. Giles waited and watched her face continue to drain of colour. Finished for the second time, she repeated a phrase aloud. They were words that chilled her to the bone.
"Kill the unnamed power wielding the Contorqueo Gladius?" each word sounded as though it had been dragged from her throat, once finished, she quickly offered the paper back to Giles as though the very feel of the thing were making her ill.
"Sword of Power," Giles translated the words quietly.
Tara glared at his observation, she knew the Latin and it had already scared her enough without Giles repeating the words aloud, "Giles, it's saying I have to kill something using a fucking sword!"
"It would appear so."
"I can't even use a kitchen knife without carving up my own fingers let alone a sword...Giles, what are we going to do?" Tara felt the weight of the situation they faced falling squarely upon her shoulders, "We're doomed if I'm supposed to kill this thing!"
"Don't write yourself off so quickly Tara," Giles replied gently, although it was clear those pithy words were the extent of the encouragement that he could give her.
Tara just bit her lip as she met Giles' worried gaze, eventually she decided that standing on the porch slowly sinking under the weight of impending doom was not helping matters at all. She turned to move back inside, determined to at least finish her breakfast,
"I suppose I had better watch The Lord of the Rings a couple more times," she muttered as they moved back into the kitchen.
"Good lord," Giles followed her, "We are doomed."
As Willow placed her coffee mug on the table and took her chair next to Tara, she felt as though this situation was becoming all too familiar. Seated around a table with the now usual suspects, Giles, Faith, Buffy and Tara at her side. Although their was something decidedly unfamiliar this time, an air of dread that could not be disguised, even though Faith and Buffy were trying their best with a rather obvious game of footsies beneath the table. Everyone seated at the table glanced up as Xander and Anya entered the room to take their places at the table, wet hair plastered to their foreheads. Xander immediately sank low down in his chair, a rosy flush to his cheeks.
"Did we interrupt something?" Faith paused her game with Buffy to ask in a playful drawl.
"No," Xander muttered tersely in reply, trying to hide behind the wet strands of his hair but failing miserably due to the fact that his hair was not long enough.
Anya however sat up, straight-backed and as brazen as ever, "As a matter of fact, we were taking advantage of actually having some hot water to have sex in the shower."
"Anya! The rest of us all have to use that shower as well!" Giles growled.
The blonde merely smiled, "Rude interruptions aside, we managed to have several orgasms!"
Both Willow and Tara felt their cheeks grow hot upon hearing Anya's declaration, although they were not aware of their mutual reaction until they discretely turned to face one another. Given the fact that their relationship had developed at the most inopportune moment, the prospect of sex did not seem to fit, or match with the rest of their respective agendas.
Although as the scarlet of Willow's cheeks deepened when her eyes met Tara's, she knew full well that physical intimacy with Tara was never far from her thoughts, despite the events surrounding them that threatened both their lives.
Tara on the other hand, could not isolate any other thought from the fact that Ashley was in mortal danger and she herself was quite possibly the only one who had the power to save her life...not helped by the fact that she had no idea what kind of power she was supposed to wield. So while wishing no of this had ever happened, she also knew that for this crisis, she would have never met the beautiful young woman sitting beside her. More than a little torn, Tara reached discretely beneath the table and folded Willow's hand in her own. Willow, still meeting Tara's gaze, responded with a firm squeeze. They both then turned their attention to Giles, who had cleared his throat rather loudly and was glaring pointedly at Anya.
"Thank you very much for that piece of highly irrelevant and disturbing information!" Giles reached up to remove his glasses for a thorough cleaning when he paused and remembered that he had no actually seen any of the aforementioned orgasms, "Are we allowed to get down to business now?"
"By all means yes...but where's Nat?" Xander noticed the pretty young woman was absent from their company, "Shouldn't she be in on this, what ever it is?"
Anya turned to glare at Xander and snapped, "You would notice that she was missing wouldn't you?"
"Huh?" Xander lifted his hands as though to prove his innocence, "What did I say?"
"Upstairs!" the tone of Tara's interruption was on the verge of irritation, she was impatient to begin their all too important discussion. She again looked across to Willow, saw the concern on her face and immediately bit her lip in order to regroup and start afresh, "She's volunteered to sit upstairs and watch over the children, Giles will fill her in on our discussion later
"Or you could not fill her in at all," Spike spoke up unexpectedly, "I don't trust that filly."
Once again the peroxided Englishman sat apart from the group, perched on the kitchen counter. He was angry that Giles had forbade him to smoke inside and his facial muscles were twitching involuntarily to give him the appearance of someone with a bad tic. The whole group turned to regard him and he responded with a lazy smile that hardly added credibility to his accusation.
"Yes, well, not all of us trust you," Willow replied through gritted teeth, meeting his gaze with a challenging stare of her own, "Just because she's a beautiful woman who turned down each of your sleazy advances, doesn't make her untrustworthy."
His grin widened, "Pot calling the kettle black...I've seen you looking too, Red."
"A girl's allowed to look," Tara growled in response, staunchly defending Willow, even though the red in her cheeks indicated that Spike's statement hurt to a degree.
Giles coughed once more, "I would be heartily grateful if you could all put your personal lives on hold and concentrate on the matter at hand...the one that could very well get us all killed in nasty ways."
"Sorry, Giles," both Willow and Tara chorused, Willow retained her fierce grip on Tara's hand especially give the turn of conversation.
"Whatever," Spike drawled, "Hurry up will you, I'm dying to go out for a fag."
"So sorry to detain you," Giles responded, hardly concerned by Spike's nicotine craving, "Well, I might as well cut straight to the chase...we have found the Seventh Seal, who was right under our noses all along and therefore, luckily for us, has so far remained safe."
There was a chorus of exclamations from around the table, everyone bar Tara responded to Giles' statement. The blonde sat with her chin held defiantly high, but unbeknownst to everyone else, her eyes were burning fiercely with unshed tears. Gradually, she fought them back. Tara was all too conscious of the need to remain strong and keep from surrendering to her emotions at all costs.
"The Seventh seal is Ashley, our Ashley," Giles finished.
In contrast to the previous chorus of exclamations, Giles' announcement was greeted with a wall of stony silence. Willow immediately turned to search out Tara's face but this time around the blonde would not meet her gaze.
"And it would seem by default that Tara is the Guardian of the Seventh Seal...a position that would seem to differ from that of the other Guardians," Giles withdrew a handwritten copy of the note from his pocket and proceeded to read it to the group.
Tara sat in silence, barely listening to what Giles was saying as he read the note. She already knew every word of it by heart. Instead she watched Willow's face from the corner of her eye. Gone was any trace of the rather playful red cheeks that had been present earlier, instead, there was a distinct tightening of Willow's facial muscles. Her jaw was set as though she was grinding her teeth and a slight frown furrowed her beautiful brow. Tara longed to lean over and smooth it out. As the last words died from Giles' lips, every pair of eyes in the room turned to regard Tara. She looked at each in turn through her fallen bangs. Spike's expression was one of amusement, as though he found it rather entertaining that someone as blatantly lacking in athleticism had been chosen to be the Seventh Guardian. Everyone else save Willow was looking at Tara with pity written all over their faces, and she was sure each would have taken the burden from her shoulders. Last of all was Willow...and Willow was angry. She still held Tara's hand in her own and although she could not read her thoughts, Tara knew almost exactly what was running through the redhead's mind. Anger that Tara had been chosen, anger at the unfairness of it all...that just when they had found each other something this huge had come along to threaten to tear them apart. Tara fervently wished that Willow would pity her, or even chuckle at her like Spike...anything but get angry.
The group eventually realised they were only serving to make Tara uncomfortable and each person looked away, save Willow. No one spoke because no one could think of anything to say.
"One thing is apparently clear," Giles interrupted the stunned silence that had killed the conversation, "Although this location has served us well, we have lingered here long enough. We're moving out within the next few days, as soon as I can organise transport, money and safe destinations for each group."
"Whaddya mean 'each group'?" Xander asked anxiously, "We're splitting up?"
"It is necessary, while there is strength and security in our numbers, we cannot run the risk of all the seals being caught together in one place...it would be folly," Giles replied to Xander, his voice quite neutral as he spoke to the young man, "As such, I have decided that you and Anya will accompany Nat and Matt, I was hoping Anya would have some ideas regarding a safe place...something from your demon days..."
Anya grunted, "I was more interested in hunting down the people in those so-called 'safe places' than actually hiding in them...but yes, I have a few destinations in mind that could shelter us...but do we have to look after that blonde? I'd rather not have Xander pining over her in my presence! Can't we take Dawn?"
"Dawn will be looked after by Buffy and Willow...as well as Spike of course, hopefully utilising something the police can put in place for us. I'm well aware of the previous disastrous meeting between them and our foes, but there are very few options open to us."
Buffy shrugged, "Willow and I are both in hot water over this whole affair, but we'll see what we can do."
Giles nodded and continued, "Faith, Tara and I will take Ashley to England, where I will use the Watcher's council Library to ascertain the whereabouts of the Sword, once I've done so, Faith and Tara will hunt down the Sword..."
Just as Tara was looking quite crushed, there was a violent scrape of wood against wood, as Willow slid back her chair on the polished wood floorboards and stood to interrupt Giles. She raised a shaking fist at the Watcher as she leant over the table towards him.
"Giles you bastard, you did this on purpose!" Willow spat angrily, her temper flaring, "You want to keep Tara and I apart because you think I'm nothing but a liability, a danger!"
"Willow," Giles replied all too calmly, "That is quite simply not the case, and it's a numbers game. We're divided evenly to each seal and their Guardian. Do you think yourself so powerful that you could take Faith's place and find the Sword of Power?"
Giles' extremely serene tone served only to infuriate Willow further. She perceived it as though he were enjoying her pain and the resulting fact that she would be separated from Tara, most likely by thousands of miles. Not to mention the almost sarcastic manner in which he had questioned her, as though her untrained powers were not worth a damn. Willow lowered her head, staring down at the table in an effort to collect her sizzling emotions and restore some sense of control. However, the resulting effect was quite the opposite. She could sense Tara sitting beside her, sense the blonde's palpable pain and it consequently hurt and angered her.
"I just might be Giles," Willow ground the words out through gritted teeth, "You never know."
Her fists clenched on the table as countless unbidden thoughts flew through her mind,
I could protect them all...I know I'm that powerful...and I'd die to protect Tara, unlike Mr Nancy boy over there who would run for the hills at the first sign of trouble! I am powerful! I feel it!
Suddenly, as though Willow had smashed her fists downwards, every book on the table leapt a foot into the air before crashing back down in an unruly mess. Several clattered to the floor and other onto people's laps, papers floated slowly to earth. Once everything had settled, no one made a sound save for Willow's heavy breathing. She had not once actually moved her fists...
"Will..." Tara reached out a shaking hand and laid it hesitantly on Willow's sleeve.
Willow felt Tara's hand tremble, and knew she had frightened her. It hurt her further that someone whom she would never harm, was frightened of her.
"I've fucking had enough of this fucking nonsense," Willow lifted her gaze and directed it squarely at Giles, "And I've had more than enough of you!"
Even someone as stalwart as Giles merely gulped in reply, any response he could have mustered was rendered completely ineffective when faced with the coal blacks depths of Willow Rosenberg's eyes. A shiver ran down his spine.
The entire room grew ominously darker, even though it was merely the already weak sunlight being obscured by clouds. There was no explaining, however, the unnatural chill that accompanied the darkness. The group sat in the silent cold, all eyes directed towards the standing red head. Their gazes were unanimously confused, as though they no longer recognised the woman they had come to know over the past days or weeks.
Willow blinked and her eyes were restored to their usual hue. She stood still for a few seconds, her face growing progressively whiter before she turned and made a hasty exit from the room. A few seconds later came the sound of the main entrance door opening and closing. All in the room could not help but notice the immediate rise in temperature.
"Whew," Anya let out a low whistle, "Since when did Willow become a nut job?"
"Anya," Faith growled, seeing the devastated expression on Tara's face.
"What?" Anya pleaded innocence, "Everyone's thinking it, I'm just saying it!"
Giles had removed his glasses and was giving them a vigorous cleaning, as though that would wipe away the image of Willow's eyes that had been burnt into his own. When he returned his attention he was noticeably ruffled,
"I think...I think it might be best Faith, if you fetched Willow...I don't think it's safe for anyone to wander outside alone."
Faith nodded, as she rose and moved towards the door she rested her hand lightly on Tara's shoulder for a second. Once the Slayer had left the room, Tara too chose to leave. She made her way towards the stairs with the obvious intention of joining Ashley upstairs in the attic.
Faith began walking towards the lake in her search for Willow, she couldn't say why she chose that direction. However, she had gone no more than fifty metres from the house when it became apparent that she had chosen correctly. Willow's location was rather obvious. She moved towards the lake at a sedate pace, keeping her eyes warily on the lone figure standing at the water's edge.
Willow stood commandingly on a protruding rock. Both feet planted firmly, hands arms hanging at her sides with her fists clenched. Her gaze was directly out into the lake, where not ten metres in front of her rose a plume of water that defied gravity. The slender waterspout rose vertically for at least five metres until it folded within itself and tumbled back to the lake's surface, creating the effect of a rod of water.
Faith announced her presence loudly, fearing that Willow would unknowingly blast her into oblivion in her present state.
"Willow?" she called, continuing to move down towards her, "Willow can you hear me?"
There was no reply until she bounded lightly up on the stone to stand beside Willow, she stood a few feet away with her arms lightly folded. She watched the waterspout for a few moments, although she was actually watching Willow from the corner of her eye. The redhead's face was calm and impassive with no trace of the blackness that had obscured her vision earlier. Nor did she offer up any conversation or explanation for many minutes.
"Willow?" Faith asked once more.
"I don't understand what's happening, Faith," Willow replied, her voice quiet but confused, "What I'm doing isn't evil is it...magic I mean?"
"I'm sure creating a fountain isn't evil Willow," Faith was a little out of her depth, she was used to being a woman of action, not of words.
"I know...it's just water, I mean, I'm not really doing anything except lifting the water up out of the lake," there was now a slight tremor in her voice, "but this isn't a reflection of how I feel...you have no idea how much of a struggle it is to keep it from changing."
"You'll have to enlighten me, Willow, I'm not up to play with the whole world of magic. I'm just a Slayer."
"But you have power," Willow turned to look Faith directly in the eye, the waterspout continued to rise and fall, "Surely you feel the need to unleash the power you hold...let all the safety's off as such."
"Not to the point of hurting those I care about...sure, in the presence of my enemies, I'll give my all to kick their arses...and it feels pretty fucking amazing. But I've been a Slayer for almost ten years, I understand my strengths, weakness and limits. I don't know anything about magicks, but I'm thinking that you don't know a whole lot about what's going on inside your head, about what you're capable of...am I right?"
"I'm beginning to understand," Willow whispered in reply, turning her attention back towards the water.
Faith did too, and before her eyes she saw a bright light at the heart of the liquid. The light separated and began curling upwards, encircling the water in fine tendrils. It glowed as it began to slowly engulf the liquid. It wasn't until it glowed red that Faith realised it was fire. Within mere seconds, the fire completely consumed the water. What remained was a plume of pure fire rising up from the water, terminating abruptly high above their heads.
"Well I believe you're being self-indulgent," Faith commented brusquely, ignoring the fact that Willow was still obviously angry.
She earned a sharp look and a terse reply from Willow, "What do you mean?"
"This!" Faith indicated the plume of fire with a stab of her finger, "Broadcasting our whereabouts much? If those goons were anywhere near the area they would know we are here. All because little Willow is feeling a bit pissed off that she can't go traipsing across the world with her girlfriend, even though the arrangements Giles has made are clearly the best for everyone!"
With no sound whatsoever, the plume of fire extinguished itself, the water that had previously been at its base continued to boil for a few moments before melding seamlessly into the lake's surface once more.
"I love Tara," Willow growled, as though her temper was one thread away from snapping completely.
Faith was as good as hacking away at that thread with a sharp knife, although the brunette's expression indicated that she didn't care one bit.
"Well start realising how your actions are affecting her then...learn how to control yourself at any cost, and fast...before we all run out of time."
Faith's words wafted over Willow as though they were air.
"I'm going to go after him myself."
"Who?" Faith demanded, "That guy that kicked your arse back at Chelsea Gibson's house? Given the arse-kicking, that's not a course of action that I'd recommend...unless you have a burning desire to truly break Tara's heart."
Willow turned to face Faith down. She was marginally taller than the brunette but somehow she felt smaller. Giving Faith a fierce shove with both hands served to make her feel somewhat better. Faith stumbled backwards a step, thrown off guard by the unexpected contact.
"What the fuck, Willow?"
"Don't try to stop me Faith...I might get angry," Willow cautioned in a low, supposedly menacing voice.
"What? Angry like the petulant, childish little tantrum that you're throwing right now?"
Willow growled and threw herself at Faith. The Slayer moved much too fast, she swept Willow up in a powerful grip. She grabbed her by the scruff of her jacket and threw her several metres out into the lake. Faith turned to watch the rather satisfying splash Willow made as she hit the water butt first. A split second later Willow's head burst through to the surface, hair plastered to her face in wet strands. Faith breathed a barely noticeable sigh of relief as part of her had expected Willow to burst forth and flay her alive. Clearly she was still just an angry young woman...albeit a very angry one.
Hampered by her clothing, Willow paddled to shore. Faith hunkered down on the rock and watched her rather comical movements...clearly swimming was not one of her strengths.
"Are you going to help me out?" Willow reached up to take a hold of the rock.
"Only if you say that you won't even consider the ridiculous notion of going after the pale face guy by yourself...and agree to stop tearing Giles to pieces every time he comes up with a plan designed to save all our hides."
Willow glared up at Faith as though she were seriously considering saying no. However, she eventually lifted her arms towards the Slayer. With a seemingly effortless heave, Faith hefted her up out of the water and deposited her in a rather sodden heap on the rock.
Willow coughed before she spoke in a subdued voice, "I'm sorry...I don't know what's come over me recently...I mean, I've always had a bit of a temper but it's always been limited to scolding people who don't fill up the paper in the photocopier at work...or take papers from my desk without asking. This is something else...something uncontrollable..."
Faith reached down and helped a shattered Willow to her feet, "Mr Giles and Tara will help you, I'm sure of it."
Willow stood on shaky legs and gazed out over the lake, "They can't help me...we're out of time, no one can help me..."
"Come inside," Faith tugged Willow's elbow, "The fire's going, we'll get you warmed up."
Willow shrugged away from the grip, "No...I just want to sit out here for a while."
"You'll freeze!" Faith protested.
"I'm not cold," Willow mumbled.
Faith's eyes widened suddenly, whereas a second ago Willow had been soaking wet, she was now bone dry. She backed off a few paces as Willow settled cross-legged on the rock. The redhead said nothing as she continued to move away until there was a good distance between the two. Faith took up a perch on a fallen log and set to watching over the woman as she stared with a lost expression out over the lake. God knew that there would be very little time for reflection up ahead, she would give her this time...although Faith knew as well as Willow that it would not be enough.
Faith's lips barely parted to utter a whisper to herself, "We have a major problem..."
The seer glanced upwards, returned from his trance-like state. His insight into the raw, crackling power had given him goosebumps and he still felt the air hum all around him. His eyes searched out and found his Master looking down upon him with an impatient expression on his shock white face. Although he knew his Master as intimately as it was possible to know the twisted and powerful warlock, each time he looked into his wizened features he felt sick.
"Well?" he demanded of his seer in a dry voice.
"Things are moving faster than we expected," the seer replied quickly, eager to please, "The Guardian of the Seventh Seal will not stand a chance...she will fall."
"We're just waiting on their location?"
"Yes, yes," the seer dared not climb to his feet in the presence of his Master, despite the fact that he had been kneeling and his knees ached, "We are waiting for the call my Lord and Master."
Suddenly the pale figure that loomed above him rose up and seemed larger, his mouth opened and teeth bared in a vicious snarl. The seer cringed beneath his glare and grovelled on the floor.
The warlock eventually let loose a low growl and spoke, "How many times have I told you to stop calling me that you worm! There is only one Lord and Master and he still slumbers in his dark prison as he waits for his servants to release him!"
"Sorry, my...my..." the seer stumbled over the use of another honorific title.
The warlock smiled down upon the quivering man and replied simply, "Call me Bob."