"Oo!" cried an excited and enthused Willow. "Over here!"
Having already searched diligently through most of the clothing stores housed within the multi-level mall, the redhead was delighted to have finally found what she considered to be the ideal outlet. Tugging on Tara's arm, she steered her toward a rather small shop, its front window adorned with fashions that, while not overtly trendy, were interestingly unique.
"It's just a party, Will," the blonde protested. "I'm okay with just a pair of jeans and a top. We don't have to go looking everywhere."
Choosing to ignore the voiced objection, Willow almost skipped as she led Tara inside and made her way toward the closest rack, beginning to rummage happily through its display. "It's not just a party," the redhead insisted. "It's your first party since you've been back. And- And everyone will be together in a merry, celebratory manner. And while I admit that my feelings toward Buffy haven't been particularly festive as of late, it is her birthday, gosh darnit, and we're gonna party like it's ... 1999. Or some other similar yet more modern colloquialism."
Exhibiting a huge grin, the redhead looked up at Tara, obviously expecting some show of amusement at her Willowness, but the blonde was thoughtful and withdrawn, causing Willow's expression to transform into one of worry.
"O-Or if your heart's just totally set," she quickly amended, "jeans are keen. Bordering on nifty, even. 3.5 billion Levi's can't be wrong."
Tara shook her head and refocused. "Sorry," she apologized. "I was ... This is fine."
Willow lightly laid a hand on the blonde's arm. "You sure you're okay? You've been sort of ... I dunno, spacey?"
"Just tired," Tara assured. "I didn't sleep too well."
Willow's eyebrow crept upward. "Nightmares?" The blonde shrugged. It was a noncommittal gesture. Involuntarily, Willow's fingers delivered a gentle squeeze of comfort. "Is it because ... Because of ..." She shuffled nervously before continuing. "You know, how you were ... and ... and now you're not ..."
"Because I was dead?" asked Tara, her tone direct.
The redhead visibly winced at the use of the "d" word, but managed a quick nod.
Tara chuckled softly, but it was without true mirth. "Sort of. But it's okay. I'm kinda used to them."
Almost absent-mindedly, Willow moved to another rack and began to sort through the clothing in a distracted manner. "So you were back for a while then? Before this week, I mean."
Uncomfortable with the question, Tara's eyes darted around the small shop. It was obvious that the blonde really didn't want to pursue this train of conversation, but felt unable to back out in a graceful fashion.
"Yeah. I, uhm ..." she faltered uncertainly. "I had a lot to ... you know, sort of learn."
"About this evil thing?" asked Willow in the most casual manner possible as she continued to push hangers around abstractly.
Tara nodded tensely. "...Yeah."
Allowing her hand to drop, Willow turned to the blonde, revealing an expression of openness and complete understanding. "You know you can tell me, right?" she confirmed. "Anything. It doesn't matter what. Nothing changes. I still lo—"
"I know," Tara hurriedly interrupted.
Willow nodded with satisfaction. "Well okay then." She waggled her finger admonishingly. "And don't you forget it, missy."
A small smile invaded Tara's lips, but it was merely a token gesture and her heart wasn't really in it. Nonetheless, it was sufficient for the redhead and she returned her attention to the rack, ransacking the clothes with renewed vigor.
"So I was thinking," mused a hopeful Willow, "tomorrow's Saturday, we can maybe catch a movie or something? Or rent a DVD? Not that you really missed much while you were gone, but hey, can't hurt to play catch-up. I have my training with Giles at 10:30, but we could get together after, say noonish?"
Folding her arms, the blonde frowned. "Training? What kind of training?"
"Magick training," Willow responded, moving further into the store, Tara following close behind. "You know, get the ol' magick muscles in shape. Heh, got a liiiiittle too much voom in me sometimes." She turned back to the other woman and leaned close, conspiratorially. "Word of advice? If someone comes up and asks you to just punch a hole in, like, one of the world's oldest, most potent and complex spells? Consider sayin' ‘no'. And not just because'a the guaranteed headache."
Willow turned back to her examination of the clothing as Tara watched closely. "You're pretty powerful now, huh? I-I mean, you were powerful before, but now, it's ..." Tara narrowed her eyes and directed a concentrated gaze upon the redhead. "Wow, it's just ... it's everywhere."
"Hence the training," chuckled Willow, suddenly spinning toward the blonde with evident excitement. "Oh! You haven't seen my Sanctum! You'd love it, it's all ... earthy and magicky and ..." Her tone grew soft. "It reminds me a lot of you. I sort of created it how I think you would've ..." She suddenly stopped and abruptly changed course. "But now you're here! So you can give me the thumbs up, or go all ‘Trading Spaces'."
"Where you do all your magick and stuff, huh?" Tara queried. Willow nodded positively and smiled. "I'd love to see it," she confirmed.
Willow's eyes glowed and then widened as the spied what she considered to be the perfect outfit. Pulling it from the rack, she held it out toward Tara. It was an enticing but very stylish dress of midnight blue satin-backed crepe. Cut on the bias, it draped beautifully and sported a low-cut scooped neckline complete with shoestring straps.
"How ‘bout this?" suggested the redhead as she considered the superimposed image carefully. "Mm. Nice."
Tara surveyed it critically and, much to Willow's disappointment, appeared to reach a negative conclusion. The blonde subconsciously fingered the area on her chest where the mark lay concealed underneath her shirt.
She shook her head and smiled apologetically. "Not really my style."
Juggling an armful of textbooks and struggling valiantly to keep the heavy backpack situated on her shoulder, Dawn walked through the halls of Trillium High. Upon spotting Grip leaning casually against a row of lockers, the teenager's step faltered. He was talking and laughing with a group of friends and Dawn's eyes widened in abject fear that he might notice her. Quickly turning on her heel, she began to hurry away in the opposite direction, but had only gone a few yards before she brought herself up short and began to mutter.
"This is so stupid," she reprimanded under her breath. "Why can't I just ask him? I had a really nice time and he said he had a really nice time so why can't we both just have another really nice time? Why is this so scary?" She hugged the books tighter to her chest. "Oh, yeah, because every other time I've liked a guy, I've either nearly been turned into a vampire or run over by a train. Good reasons."
Shaking her head, she took another step forward and then stopped again.
"No, wait," she told herself sternly. "Bad reasons. Logical, true, but bad. Neither of those are gonna happen this time. I've seen Grip in sunlight and he didn't dust, and I made him take his jacket off at the 14th hole and I felt the same ... So this is clearly very different."
She shifted her load of books to the other arm and took a deep breath. "Okay, what would Buffy do?" The teenager pondered the self-imposed question for a moment and then shrugged. "Buffy would obsess over him until they slept together, then when he's evil, she'd kill him."
She nibbled nervously at her bottom lip.
"Okay, what would Xander do?" She chewed over this query for another moment before deciding. "Propose, break his heart and leave him at the altar, but still want to date."
Exasperated, the teenager blew out a breath of air.
"Okay, what would Willow do?" Yet another moment of contemplation provided no satisfactory answer and Dawn groaned. "I so need new role models." She inhaled deeply and steeled herself. "Okay, I can do this. Just turn around and—"
"Dawn, hey," greeted Grip from behind.
Startled, the teenager jumped and emitted a strangled squeak. Turning, she saw Grip standing before her with a mischievous grin.
"Hey!" spluttered a jittery Dawn.
"Haven't seen you around lately," Grip admitted, the grin plastered in place. "I thought maybe at first you were avoiding me, but then I remembered my totally awesome performance against the windmill obstacle and decided that there was absolutely no way you could resist."
Dawn laughed. The sound was overly high-pitched and totally skittish but Grip seemed unphased.
"No, not avoiding!" the teenager swiftly assured, then reconsidered. "Well, actually, yes, avoiding, but for bad reasons. Uh, I mean, I've been wanting to—"
The sudden ringing of the bell heralding the beginning of the next class startled Dawn again. The halls started to empty as kids surged toward classrooms and Dawn looked at Grip with more than a trace of panic crossing her features, as though afraid he would shortly be leaving her presence and yet another window would slam shut. On the other hand, Grip gave no indication that he was going anywhere in a hurry.
"Take your time," he told her as he leaned casually against the nearby locker. "I got Stevenson for Physics – believe me, I'm in no rush to initiate that pain."
Relaxing somewhat, Dawn smiled with relief.
"I've been wondering," she began hesitantly, "if you're not busy, if you'd maybe want to ... to do something. Tonight." Then, as though it were an afterthought, she added, "With me."
"Hmm, I dunno," mused Grip, scratching his head as though faced with an unsolvable dilemma. "Spend time with a beautiful girl ..." Dawn blushed fiercely at this remark "... or eat popcorn while my Mom catches up on her weekly soaps. Tough choice, but I gotta go with the less emasculating option." The smile he gave Dawn was reflected in his eyes. "You wanna catch a movie or something?"
Trapped somewhere between executing a joyous jig of victory and melting into a puddle of gooey delight, Dawn missed the suggestion for a moment. With a shake of her head, she snapped back to attention. "Uhh, actually, tonight's my sister's birthday. I was wondering if you maybe wanted to come with me to her party, at the Vortex?" Her expression dissolved into one of vague disgust and she stared at the floor. "God, that must sound so totally lame."
Grip dipped his head and smiled as he caught her eyes. "Actually I was just thinking it'd be an awesome chance to meet on neutral turf. I'm really not at my most charming under duress."
"Yeah?" she asked hopefully.
Dawn treated him to a huge smile. "This'll be so cool!" she bubbled. "There'll be balloons and streamers and presents ... Not that you have to get her a present or anything!" she hastily assured.
Grip adopted a mock crestfallen attitude. "Aw, but I had this bag of Reese's picked out all special and everything."
He grinned and Dawn grinned back, unable to disguise her pleasure.
"So," said Grip standing straight once more, "what time should I come pick you up?"
"Seven should be good," Dawn told him gleefully. "Buffy'll have already left by then – she's such a child when it comes to presents – and you avoid any pre-party unpleasantness."
"Seven it is then," confirmed Grip. With a parting smile, he turned and set off in the opposite direction, presumably heading for Physics and the pain-inflicting Stevenson. With a thankful sigh, Dawn watched him leave and then hopped into the air.
"Yes!" she declared. "And two seconds to the buzzer, Summers makes a daring play and—"
Spinning, she looked up to see a teacher standing in the doorway of a nearby classroom, leveling a very disapproving teacher-glare.
The teenager settled her books more comfortably into the crook of her elbow and tugged at the backpack that was slipping from her shoulder. She pointed vaguely down the hall.
"... I'll just be going to class now," she muttered before rushing off.
At the open-air café scheduled to open its doors for business some time during the coming week or so, Xander was carving designs into a wooden railing that lined the outside of the establishment. The proprietor had requested daisies and black-eyed Susans. It was detailed work, but the carpenter relished such intricate exercises as much as he did constructing eight-foot-tall cabinets. A major section of the railing had already been completed, although as yet remaining unvarnished and unlacquered. Working steadily, Xander was a man happy in his element. Contentedly, he whistled while he whittled and more than one person turned to admire his artistic ability as they passed by. However, one individual in particular seemed to be taking more than a fleeting interest.
With her head tilted to one side, a dark-haired woman had stopped and was taking note of the carpenter's handiwork with open engrossment. For his part, Xander was oblivious to her presence until she spoke.
"So, can I buy you?"
The carpenter jumped, unaware that he had acquired an audience.
"Huh? What?" he stammered.
"Can I buy you?" the woman repeated, as though it has been a perfectly normal question.
"Buy me?" queried an astonished Xander. "Are you window-shopping? Is this something kinky?"
The brunette chuckled, and her dark eyes held a certain indefinable twinkle. "No, nothing kinky."
"Cuz if it is," continued the carpenter with a grin, "I might possibly pay you."
The woman laughed. It was a heartfelt, genuine sound revealing white teeth that stood out against her olive skin. "You amuse me," she told him.
"Well my sense of humor's not really for sale," Xander responded with a shrug, "but you're welcome to rent it."
The woman gestured toward the railing. "I was talking about your woodwork."
"I should point out," said Xander in all mock seriousness, "that I'm resisting at least fifteen comments that would be inappropriate, considering I don't even know your name."
She smiled and extended her hand. "Serafina."
The carpenter accepted with a firm shake. "Xander." He paused for a moment before grinning again. "They still feel inappropriate, so moving on."
The woman traced a fingertip over one of the carved daisies. "This is really beautiful. I'm impressed."
"Thanks," he beamed. "I'd say that it's some transcendental manifestation of my artistic soul, but in reality? I think it's just me channelin' my desire to destroy stuff."
Serafina frowned in confusion, clearly missing the implication. "Destroy stuff?"
"Yup," affirmed the carpenter with an enthusiastic nod. "Chunks of wood flyin' everywhere, sawdust spraying in the air. Don't let those Home Depot ads fool you – it's not home improvement, it's a Bolshevik revolution. With doweling." Serafina's brow creased, confusion obviously increasing. "Don't worry," Xander assured her. "I hear they're revoking my license to speak any day now."
"Bolshevik revolution?" echoed Serafina doubtfully.
"Well it was that or ‘French'. And I don't care how many heads went rollin', anything prefaced by the word ‘French' immediately sounds wimpy. Plus, ‘Bolshevik' is just a fun word."
"Almost as much fun as ‘obfuscate'," she smirked, "which sort of sums up this conversation right about now." Her tone was mocking, but the smile on her face provided indication that she was, in actuality, thoroughly enjoying the exchange.
"Right, so, back to the purchasing of me?" inquired a curious Xander.
"Do you take requests?"
"I take many things," replied the carpenter cheerfully, "requests being just one of them."
"One of my little nephews has a birthday coming up next month," Serafina explained, "and I've got something special in mind for a gift. I think you might be able to help me out."
Xander inclined his head. "Just your luck, I happen to be a source for all things special."
Serafina smiled and Xander suddenly found her smile to be rather contagious. He returned the gesture.
"I was thinking," she continued, "of a wooden Noah's Ark. Complete with the little animals, two-by-two, you know. Could you do that?"
"Not a problem," the carpenter stated with certainty. "I already know how to make ducks and everything."
"Fantastic." She took a quick glance at her watch. "Listen, I gotta get going. Do you have a card or something?"
Eye widening, Xander looked panicked for a moment. "A card? Oh no. That would just be too professional." He grimaced and appeared somewhat distressed at his lack of business etiquette, but Serafina didn't seem to find the fact troublesome.
"Here," she suggested, thrusting her arm toward him. "Just write down your number and I'll call you later."
Anxiously, the carpenter looked around for a pen, but none materialized. Reaching into his tool belt, he extracted a black felt-tip marker and held it up hopefully. "This is permanent," he warned her.
"Good," replied Serafina emphatically. "Then barring horrific, disfiguring accident, I won't lose it."
In the heart of the memorial clearing, Buffy sat alone with her knees drawn up to her chest. Her gaze was fixed upon the sapling, although in actuality, it had really outgrown such a label as it continued to thrive. Within this area, it was always pleasantly warm regardless of the season. Cooling breezes constantly played among the branches of the trees and birds tweeted with a carefree chirp.
The blonde sensed rather than saw Kennedy enter. On the other hand, Kennedy spotted Buffy immediately and walked directly toward her. She stood to the side of the blonde for a moment and looked down at her with an expectant expression, knowing that Buffy was aware of her presence. But Buffy continued to ignore the brunette for several minutes more. Nonetheless, Kennedy knew it was only a matter of time.
"You'd wait there all day, wouldn't you?" sighed the blonde eventually.
"Wouldn't you?" Kennedy countered.
"Yeah," acknowledged Buffy, glancing up. "This sort of quiet patience ... new look for you," she remarked dryly.
Kennedy shrugged. "Feels wrong to start yelling here."
"It does, doesn't it?" replied Buffy in a quiet voice.
Without waiting for an invite, Kennedy joined Buffy on the grass. She sat Indian-style and leaned back against the tree behind them.
"So," she began conversationally. "Craziness, huh?"
Buffy continued to stare at the sapling. "You didn't come here for small talk."
"Really didn't," agreed the brunette, leaning forward and regarding Buffy with a serious expression. She decided to plunge straight in and adopt the straightforward approach. "Did you find out what it is yet?
"No," admitted Buffy reluctantly. "Giles is following up on some new theories, but at the end of the day? No clue. Less than no clue. We're in a clue deficit."
"There's an easy way to find out," said Kennedy purposefully. Buffy tore her gaze from the sapling and regarded the other Slayer with a quizzical expression. "We ask. Real nice." The cracking knuckles were a meaningful addition to the suggestion.
Buffy allowed herself a small chuckle. "Questions and answers, the Slayer way."
"What can I say?" offered Kennedy with shrug. "I'm a simple girl at heart. When something works ..."
"Believe me," returned the blonde ruefully, "so almost there. And if there's no other way, then I'll be first in line. But she just ..." Throwing her hands in the air, Buffy turned toward Kennedy. "I wish she'd do something. This waiting is making me crazy. Not to mention more than a little grumpy, and just the slightest bit paranoid."
"You should make her talk now," insisted the brunette. "You should have made her talk the second she walked in the house."
Buffy sighed heavily and returned to her study of the young tree. "Yeah. Yeah, maybe."
Kennedy peered at Buffy curiously and with some disbelief. "Don't tell me you think it's really—"
"No. An overt, forceful no." Buffy waved vigorously in dismissal of the very idea.
"Because my readily acknowledged bias aside?" she added, "I've never met a formally-dead thing that I liked." With an arched eyebrow, Buffy turned to Kennedy, who played over her words and then shrugged off-handedly. "I guess you're okay. Sometimes."
"Gee, thanks," replied the blonde in a flat tone.
"My point is," stated an undeterred Kennedy, "things generally aren't supposed to come back. Death's supposed to be, you know ... it. She says she's come to fight some big bad. Well that's great, but what is it? If it's so evil, why won't she tell us about it so we can get ready? And what the hell is Glinda the Good Witch supposed to do about it anyway? From what you guys've said, she wasn't even all that powerful when she was alive. So I'm thinking: big lie. I mean, if you're already evil, what's a little fib?"
She paused momentarily, allowing this hypothesis to sink in. Buffy's gaze drifted back to the sapling and although she provided no response, she did appear to be listening.
"We can't wait for it to make the first move," prodded Kennedy, hoping to elicit agreement. "By then, it'll be too late." She considered the blonde at her side intently, obviously desirous for some type of accord.
Nevertheless, Buffy maintained her silence, eyes remaining glued upon the sapling. Kennedy fidgeted and began to huff, becoming frustrated at the lack of definitive reaction she was seeking.
"I know this is hard for everyone," Kennedy declared, her tone rising just a little, "but we can't afford to keep waiting. Not with Willow's life on the line. If Giles can't come up with something, then I'm—"
"No," Buffy told her. She turned sharply toward Kennedy and reiterated her position on the subject. "No. It should be me. This thing, this ... It's made it personal. I'll handle it. One way or another."
"I get that," the brunette nodded her acceptance. "Okay. Whatever you need, I'm there."
Buffy's posture relaxed and she went back to studying the young tree. "I know. Thanks."
Kennedy nodded again and stood up. Glancing down at the blonde Slayer, she seemed to contemplate saying something more, but then appeared to decide against it and walked away.
Buffy didn't bother to watch her leave. She just kept staring at the sapling.
Ensconced in his office, Giles flipped through the pages of an organizer until he found the telephone number he was seeking. Marking the place with his finger, he picked up the receiver and held it to his ear by his chin before dialing a long string of digits. Slowly closing the organizer, he listened to the muted ring tone and waited.
"Yes, this is Rupert Giles," he said upon hearing a greeting at the other end. "I need—" he paused. "Fine, thank you." Listening, he paused once more. "No, not yet, though I'm expecting to hear back from the agents I sent to Sunnydale any time now."
He nodded at the response, saying, "I imagine so," before nodding again. "Actually, I was calling in- in regards to, uhm ... I know this sounds most unusual, but I need information on- on necromancy." The Watcher frowned for a moment and moved from his chair to perch on the edge of the desk. "No, not to cast. It appears as though someone who is— o-or was quite dead is suddenly ... well, not."
He picked up a pencil and twirled it around his fingers. "We were quite shocked as well," he agreed, then fell silent again as he listened. "That's the extraordinary thing, she seems to be the exact same girl she was when- when she, uhm, when she died." He tapped the tip of the pencil thoughtfully on his desk. "Almost two years ago." He tilted his head. "I've tried several so far, but all spells report back nothing particularly out of the ordinary. There are the sorts of- of ‘spikes' if you will in her energies, but they're even less remarkable than those that surrounded my Slayer upon her return."
Tossing the pencil on his desk, Giles watched it roll slowly to the floor and then began to pace within the confines of the phone's cord. "Unfortunately Willow is rather ... personally involved in the identity of the individual in question, so her participation is—" He hesitated at the interruption and then sighed. "Maclay, yes."
Listening attentively, the Watcher prodded at the pencil with the toe of his shoe. "Yes, well that was rather our concern as well." His ensuing nod was quite emphatic. "Almost exactly the same, correct. There are moments where she seems distant, but given the circumstances ..." He considered for a moment. "She appears to have perfect awareness of her death and claims she was raised and sent to battle some sort of evil force, but she seems disinclined to give any further details." His tone grew more definite. "Quite suspicious, I agree."
His eyes narrowed at the information being relayed. "As expected. Willow believes entirely that she is whom she claims. Buffy's younger sister Dawn feels the same way." He sighed before continuing. "Yes, very close." Absent-mindedly, the Watcher massaged the back of his neck and followed the trail of the pencil as it disappeared beneath his desk. "Certainly," he assured into the phone. "Not at all, I expected as much. Though I suppose I needn't point out that any expediency would be greatly appreciated ..." He nodded in satisfaction at the reply. "Excellent. I'll be awaiting your call."
Returning to his chair, Giles gently replaced the handset into its cradle and reached into the top drawer of his desk. With a heavy sigh, he retrieved a hefty set of keys and crossed to one of the cabinets located at the rear of his office. Sorting through the key ring, he selected one and slipped it into the lock. The doors creaked their objection as he pulled them open, almost as though they had been closed for quite some time. The cabinet's interior was filled with a multitude of assorted items. The Watcher's expression was grim and he appeared reluctant to remove anything sequestered within. Nonetheless, he extracted one book from the many volumes stored there. Relocking the cabinet, he tugged hard on the handles to ensure that it was indeed safe and secure.
Carrying the text to his desk, he squirreled the key ring at the back of the drawer and then turned his attention to the book in front of him. It was obviously an exceedingly ancient tome. The green leather binding had begun to crack and the brass corner decorations were dulled with age. Nevertheless, the wafer-thin sheaves, their edges embellished in gold leaf, remained intact and its title could still be easily be read: Vasharal Lexicon. Polishing his glasses, Giles took a seat and reverently opened the volume. Carefully riffling the delicate pages, he moved through chapter after chapter, finally reaching a section that bore the words: "Resurrection and Rebirth". He hesitated, but only for a heartbeat, and then turned the page.
Rotating slowly, an apple floated in mid-air. As it spun, the skin pared away in a long, thin, spiraling strip. However, when the peeling reached around the halfway point along the apple, the fruit began to twist in an odd fashion. The spasms, almost imperceptible at first, soon became increasingly violent until the apple exploded, sending chunks of decimated fruit flying. However, although the apple had indeed self-destructed, it was contained within some form of invisible magical bubble, which prevented Willow, Tara, and the contents of the Sanctum from being sprayed with juice and mangled pulp.
Sitting cross-legged on the floor, Willow was situated within close proximity of the explosion. Behind her stood Tara, fingers extended toward the bubble.
The redhead grinned sheepishly. "Applesauce, then?"
The worried frown on Tara's face did not lessen at the attempted joke. With a gesture, the blonde directed the mutilated apple-in-a-bubble toward a trashcan by the door. With a visible shimmer, the transparent globe dissipated and the pulverized fruit slopped wetly into the garbage.
"What happened?" asked Tara as she executed the act of disposal.
"Well, that's part of the whole ... you know, control thing," Willow shrugged nervously. "But I'm working on it. Really hard. A-And I'm better than I used to be – I got it half done this time! When we first started working on this exercise, I-I sort of ... detonated a whole bushel of apples. All at once. It was like a Gallagher concert! I swear I smelled like an orchard for a week."
Tara's frown deepened. "Wow. That's kinda ... That's something."
"Giles has been incredible, though," confided the redhead. "That week I got a— Oh! It's so great, you know what he does? He actually grades me on the exercises! Isn't that sweet? He promised he'd give me a final grade and everything."
She beamed as though this were simply the coolest thing ever dreamed by man, but Tara's expression remained troubled.
"Do you ever ... Lose it?" asked the blonde hesitantly. "Control, I mean. Really bad, like with the ..." She waved her hand in front of her eyes by way of explanation.
Willow dropped her head, ashamed. "Sometimes," she admitted quietly. "I mean, I'd love to say no, but sometimes I do. When I get impatient, or lose my temper. But ..." Glancing up, her eyes met Tara's. Fear was evident. "It's always there. I can feel it. Sometimes I think I can hear it, like it's actually talking to me, you know? Calling for me."
She dropped her gaze again, and as a consequence missed the worried line that appeared between Tara's eyebrows. Absorbed in her own words, Willow seemed oblivious to Tara's mounting concern. "Giles says that it's pretty much always gonna be this way. The only answer is control."
The redhead considered this for a moment, and then nodded her head firmly, confidently. "And if that's what I gotta do, then that's what I'm gonna do." Glancing upward once more, she threw Tara a look of total sincerity. "I don't ever want to be that person I was. Never again." She shook her head regretfully and then tried to lighten her tone. "So how's about you toss me that orange?" she asked cheerfully. "I got a hankerin' for something citrus-y."
Tara retrieved an orange from the brown paper bag resting on a nearby table. She tossed it into the center of the room. With intense focus, Willow captured it within her magick and steadied it in the air. She purposefully fixed her concentration and then, much like the apple, the orange began to rotate as its skin started to peel away in one long strip. For a second, Tara closely observed the revolving orange before turning her attention to Willow. She noted the fierce determination radiating from the redhead's face. Unfortunately, it seemed to do nothing to alleviate her apprehension.
With trembling fingers, the blonde rubbed her forehead as she whispered sorrowfully to herself. "It's not enough."