The Kitten, the Witches and the Bad Wardrobe - Willow & Tara Forever

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 Post subject: The Lamb - Chapter 52 - Completed Oct. 29
PostPosted: Mon Oct 01, 2007 9:57 am 
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6. Sassy Eggs
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Joined: Fri Sep 21, 2007 12:51 pm
Posts: 416
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Location: Edmonton, Alberta
Hello Kittens,

I'm pleased to bring you my first Buffy fic, a Willow and Tara epic titled, 'The Lamb'. It is an AU fic, set just after the events in 'Chosen', but it doesn't violate any DCP forum rules, no black haired veiny Willow, no K (ah, don't say the word!), just plenty of angst and Willow/Tara loving. And yes, I promise to keep our kittens alive during our story, though it may not look like it at times.

I will be posting new chapters of 'The Lamb' every Monday and Friday, though I will be posting two today (just to get you hooked!)

Introduction:
Tara Maclay had been accepted to UC Sunnydale, but chose to go to nursing school in San Francisco instead. After graduation, she found a position at a hospice in Los Osos, California. As a nurse she finds tremendous opportunities to use her healing magics (AU, remember?) to help those in pain. One day she receives a new charge: Willow Rosenberg, the only survivor of the freakish Sunnydale implosion, who was wounded to the brink of death. Upon a visitation from the goddess Aranaea, Tara discovers that Willow has yet to save the world, but Tara is the only one who can save Willow.

As this is my first fic, and as I am an incredibly new fan of Buffy (only started watching May of this year), please let me know what you think.

W/T forever!
Tara the Phoenix


Last edited by Tara the Phoenix on Thu Oct 30, 2008 6:00 pm, edited 41 times in total.

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 Post subject: Chapter One: Fallen Leaves
PostPosted: Mon Oct 01, 2007 10:26 am 
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6. Sassy Eggs
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Joined: Fri Sep 21, 2007 12:51 pm
Posts: 416
Topics: 1
Location: Edmonton, Alberta
The Lamb
Chapter One: Fallen Leaves


Rating by chapter: PG
Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and all its characters are the property of Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy. I’m just sneaking Willow and Tara out for a night-time stroll… Neither the author nor this site receives compensation for this work.
Spoilers: This is an Alternate Universe fic, but it does contain some spoilers for ‘Chosen’ of season seven.
Feedback: Yes, please. This is my first Buffy fanfic. Reply on the forum or send email to tara_the_phoenix@yahoo.ca
Summary: Tara is a hospice nurse in Los Osos, California about to get a new patient: Willow Rosenberg, the sole survivor of the Sunnydale implosion.

Tara Maclay, RN, awoke to a pearly, fog-encrusted slat of early morning sunshine directly over her eyes. The sun confused her for a moment – she was diligent about drawing the heavy drapes in her bedroom before slipping off to bed. She blinked several times; the opalescent glow wasn’t quite powerful enough to sting her eyes, but it was enough to wake her from a slender and painful sleep. It took only this slim moment for her to recognise the antiseptic smell of the hospice, the faint tang of industrial laundry detergent right under her nose, and the slightly hissing sound emanating from the bank of dials and machines surrounding the bed. She slowly raised her chocolate brown head from her bony pillow, her neck muscles aching, realizing that she had fallen asleep on Mr. Whitney’s frail abdomen and arm. Instinctively she studied the beeping monitors and then relaxed slightly. All was well.

Tara tucked wayward wisps of hair back behind her ears and slowly got to her feet. Two hard fists of pain contracted her lower back and she absently rubbed them, feeling the pin pricking of new blood flowing to oxygen deprived limbs. The window was only a single step away – back when Mr. Whitney had been conscious he enjoyed his view of the garden courtyard studded with oak trees dripping holly, framing a giggling waterfall. The morning fog hadn’t burned away yet, suffusing Tara’s little world with an ethereal glow, and Tara near-reluctantly pulled the blinds so the radiance wasn’t shining directly on poor Mr. Whitney’s face.

Tara returned to the bed and took Mr. Whitney’s wrist. With a practised hand she felt for his pulse and began counting. She could sense the slow shushing of blood through his tired veins. Standing thus she could still feel the insistent pull on her lower back and a dull needle of pain began to surge through the back of her head. She hadn’t meant to stay last night, but she really had nothing better to do at home, especially since the recent death of her beloved cat. So she had smiled wistfully at John, the night nurse, when he chastised her for staying. Besides, she had only a couple dozen pages of ‘Runaway Jury’ to read to the unconscious Mr. Whitney. So when his body began to spasm in the middle of the night she sank into him almost eagerly to take his pain.

And now his blood whispered to her, a tiny voice almost hidden among the constant medical noise of machines and monitors and dials. Tara gave a small sigh, yearning for a hot bath and a soft bed, then with fingers that fumbled a little from tiredness she untucked his blanket, untied two flimsy strings that held his hospital robe together and laid bare Mr. Whitney’s chest. Here she could see a mirage of his former self, as a young father who played hoops in the driveway with his sons, beating back the belly that so many of his fellow accountants had developed. All before a multiplication of cells had exploded in his pancreas. In the hard months between then and now, Mr. Whitney’s body had shrivelled, his hair had fallen and regrown, and his spirit began to shine with the patient whiteness of death Tara recognised so well. She wondered how much time he had left. There was one certain way of finding out.

Tara shuffled very close to the bed and sat carefully on the edge of it, then splayed her long, lithe fingers wide and placed them delicately on the thin, bare skin of Mr. Whitney’s chest. She took a long, deep breath with her eyes open, then allowed her eyes to close. Still muddled and bemused with lack of sleep her eyelids felt heavy and thick. A cramp lit up her lower back and she clenched her jaw, ignoring it. Breathing softly, slowly, deeply, she formed in the whiteness of her mind a single, majestic oak tree. The tree was in its prime, green leaves glowing with health and vitality, lit by the radiant sun of Tara’s soul. With exquisite care she sent this tree ghosting through her veins. As it hit the barrier of Mr. Whitney’s chest she gave it a small mental push, until it diffused in its entirety on the other side, appearing in the vast blankness of Mr. Whitney’s mind.

In the space of seconds this glorious, tremendous tree had withered in the blasting winter of Mr. Whitney’s diseased body, leaves yellowing and falling in a golden fountain until only three leaves remained.

Ah.

Tara hadn’t realised that Mr. Whitney’s death was so close. Just last week when she sent in the tree there had still been an entire branch of yellowing leaves. For a moment Tara debated with herself, wondering if she would have time to find and talk to Mr. Whitney here before having to go out and prepare his body for his final, deathbed visit with his family. She mentally shook her head. He wouldn’t be hard to find. In the long months they shared together she had traversed the wilderness of his mind dozens of times. In some ways she knew him more intimately than his wife. As the cancer progressed, stretching metastatic fingers of maliciousness into every crack and crevice of his besieged body, Tara had begun teaching him how to retreat to a place of peace in his mind. Last week, when he finally fell completely into the long unconsciousness, she had found him in the place she helped him create. She knew where it was, and she knew that he was there now.

She closed her mind’s eye and reached, feeling for the beaten path to the garden of his soul. When she opened her eyes again she saw the near-dead tree she had brought with her as a reminder of what she still had to do on the other side. She grimaced. She hated bringing this dying tree into his garden of delight. She looked down at herself, curious to see what she looked like. When her mother had first started teaching her to

(mindsurf)

enter other people’s minds, she had imparted an interesting piece of information. Tara remembered the day clearly – she had been thirteen or fourteen, wearing impish pigtails and sitting on the edge of her bed. Her mother was sitting cross-legged at her feet so Tara could easily place her clumsy and juvenile hands on her mother’s silken head. Just before ‘going in’ for the first time, Tara’s mother had admonished, “There is only truth here, Tara. In the open vessel of the host mind, the host determines your physical form, and you will appear exactly as the host mind sees you. Only truth. The deepest truth.”

And when Tara had finally, laboriously, clambered into her mother’s mind that day she was surprised to find herself as a little girl in a sunflower dress and pigtails. Later, her adolescent pride crushed, she demanded to know why. The answer was a typical one. “Because you’ll always be my little girl.”

Tara’s aspect hadn’t changed much in her many forays into Mr. Whitney’s mind. She always looked exactly as she had on the day he was admitted – wearing scrubs with dancing teddy bears, a stethoscope around her neck, and her favourite bright red converse sneakers on her feet. A nurse. His nurse.

“I wondered if you would come.”

Tara turned at the sound of his voice. He was puttering in his garden, which he had named the Elfin Forest, shamelessly plagiarising the name of the natural reserve just outside town. She supposed no one was going to come in here and sue him for it. The plants had flourished in his steady care this past week, and she smiled to see the blooming holly and jack-in-the-pulpit.

“It’s almost time, but I couldn’t leave without saying goodbye,” Tara replied, sorry again that she had to bring his dying tree into this perfect garden. She looked and found delight after delight – the woolly lamb’s ear contrasting with the smooth green and gold of english ivy, the multicoloured columbines swaying above masses of fragrant thyme.

Peter Whitney stood, and she was glad to see his strong, young body, his smooth skin and dark hair. He brushed dirt from his hands, then purposefully walked among his plants, plucking daisies and honeysuckle and lilies into a fresh bouquet, ducking his head a little as he handed the fresh bundle to her. Tara lifted her mouth in her insolent half-smile as she sniffed the blossoms.

“Thanks for everything, Tara,” Mr. Whitney said softly. “I couldn’t imagine how difficult this whole ordeal would have been without you.”

Tara’s face flushed a little, and she opened her mouth to stammer some nonsensical reply, but Mr. Whitney continued. “No, let me finish. I may not have understood how you did what you did, how you took pain away like it was never there, but that doesn’t make me any less grateful.”

Tara smiled and nodded. “It was my pleasure to help you, Peter.”

Mr. Whitney smiled, then turned serious as they both saw another leaf fall from his death-tree. “Any chance I could get a romantic deathbed conversation with my wife?” he asked softly.

Tara placed the flowers on the ground, took his hands and gently shook her head. “I’m sorry, Peter. It’s far too late. I can’t bring you out now.” She took one last envious look at the paradise of his mind, then clasped his hands tighter in hers. “I have to go.”

He shocked her then, by lifting her hands up to his lips and kissing them like a courtly gentleman of yore. “I’ll never forget you, Tara Maclay.”

“Nor I you, Peter Whitney.”

He gave her a full grin, and she smiled back, picked up the flowers, and began to pull herself away. “Tell my wife I love her, and that I’m proud of my kids,” he called to her, as she continued to retreat, and she gave him a last knowing nod before disappearing.

She awoke on the other side, her fingers warm and tingling on his chest. She was almost surprised to see his real appearance and she frowned for the beauty the cancer stole away. With considerable effort she stood up and felt again the mean gremlin bite of pain in her lower back. She had no time to waste, but she stood and looked at him anyway, the translucent light of morning reflecting off the glow his soul made that only she could see. She smoothed the skin of his cheek, and then touched the hair of his head and whispered, “Goodbye, Peter.”

Pulling herself away was harder than she thought. She felt rubbery, like an elastic band that would snap and pull her back to him. They were always so sweet before death. She could practically drink the sweetness in, bathe in the glow of soulfire, and when the light came to them they would walk into it and she would watch, and yearn, and wish it could be her. Maybe then her farce of a life could have some meaning, because isn’t there always meaning in the end?

Not even the poet knows the end from the beginning.

One of her mother’s sayings, which she used to illustrate the vagaries of life. It made little sense to Tara back then when it was first said, when Tara lay weeping on her mother’s chest, suffering the injustice of it all. When the clods of dirt landed on her mother’s coffin she understood even less. All she knew was that, once her mother died, life had little joy for her. She was stuck in a home she detested, with a father she feared, a brother she dreaded, a fictitious wish in her heart.

But you’re out now.

Yes, but like an elastic band, she feared the inevitable snap and pull back into that hellish dimension of life. Anything was better than that. Even this, this emptiness, this abyss of love. Her dead cat and empty house in Los Osos was better than her dead mother and fiendish family.

No time to waste, Tara.

Tara tucked errant brown hair back behind her ears and walked to the door of Mr. Whitney’s private room, dreading the sound of squeaking coming from her sneakers. Closing the door carefully behind her (why, Tara, Peter is unconscious, you know) she went down the hall to the nurse’s station. It was almost seven in the morning and Penny was there, looking perky and chipper and every other early-morning person adjective. There was a coffeepot making comforting gurgling noises behind her and Tara longed for a cup.

No time.

“Penny, we need to phone Mr. Whitney’s family. It’s time,” she said to the older nurse. Penny lifted her head from the forms she was reading and mock-glared at Tara.

“Were you here again all night, honey?” she asked, looking Tara over. Her practised eye (near thirty years of nursing service, thank you very much) could see what Tara was trying very much to hide: exhaustion, headache, and backache. “You really need to get a life outside these walls,” she continued in her soft southern drawl, softening the bite of her words with a smile.

“Just c-call them, please,” Tara replied, turning her head away, knowing Penny could see the truth and hating it.

“I don’t know how you always know, honey,” Penny said in a placating tone, “but you’re nivver wrong. I’ll call ‘em. You get Mr. Whitney ready.”

As Tara returned to the

(deathspace)

sanctity of Mr. Whitney’s room, she could hear Penny flipping through his file to find the phone numbers of his family. They lived in Santa Maria, which meant that, with the blessing of rush-hour traffic, she would have about an hour to get him ready to receive them.

Within that hour Tara managed to give him a sponge bath, had combed what remained of his hair and shaved his face, then dressed him in fresh hospital robes and tucked him back into his narrow bed. Then, all that remained was the wait. She propped a chair by the foot of his bed and put her hand on one of his blanketed feet. She wasn’t sure if that reassurance was for him at all; he couldn’t feel her, or hear her. He was far away, puttering in his garden, watching the fallen leaves and thinking of his wife.

And she was here, yet again. Half a dozen times Tara had been the one to sit and patiently wait while the souls of her patients were cleansed through pain and heaven-fire. She was the one to watch as their bodies

(husks)

were thinned, until their souls shone through them, lighting them aglow, embossing them like the sun behind soft petals. Their light would always wound her, for she carried her own darkness within. Her charges, they were the hallowed ones and she was struck by remorse. How often will she come here, a black and malevolent spirit always desiring the end her patients received? Tara realised that she was their partner, the other side of their coin, they the light, she the dark one that always hides a little to the left, deep in the shade. Would there ever be anyone to bring her to the light? Or must she always glut herself on someone else’s pain?

Tara heard the door scrape open, and she looked over to see the drawn face of the soon-to-be Widow Whitney. She had been a frequent visitor while Mr. Whitney was conscious. Once he lapsed into that deeper state, Tara had pled with her, knowing that the filter in his mind was so thick that Peter could barely see through it to the waking world. He would never know she was here. Tara promised to stay near, and she fulfilled that promise.

Mrs. Whitney came right up to Tara, and Tara could see her whole frame quaking. She warmly took the smaller woman in her arms and held her close. Tara couldn’t do much good without touching bare skin, but she sent what waves of compassion she could through her fingers and into the woman’s clothes, not knowing if it was a futile gesture or not. Like holding Mr. Whitney’s blanketed feet, maybe that gesture was more for her.

“I can’t thank you enough for being here with him,” the woman whispered, finally pulling out of Tara’s arms, thin streaks of moisture marking her face.

“He l-loves you very much,” Tara stammered, blinking and hating herself for it. “He’s proud of his family.” She clasped Mrs. Whitney’s cool, clammy hands in her own for a moment longer, then let go. Their two sons crowded the space, the younger one (did he just turn fifteen?) staring at her and blushing. Tara tried not to blush in turn, but failed, remembering a conversation with Mr. Whitney in which he revealed his youngest had a crush on her. She wanted to tell him how futile it was (I’m gay, Mr. Whitney), but she never did. There was no point. That part of her life was intensely private, and the bounds of the nurse/patient relationship shielded her.

So she merely tugged the curtain closed and said, “I’ll be here if you need me.”

Tara couldn’t leave the room. Not now. Not when it was so sweet. The early morning fog had been vanquished and deflected sunlight streamed fiercely into the room, painting the silhouettes of Peter Whitney’s family on the thin curtain. She sat on an available stool and watched, and waited, scarcely listening to the murmuring of his sons, only listening for the steady beeping of his heart monitor to finally lapse and fail.

And the veil felt thin.

She could practically see them, the hosts of angels on the other side. They would be lining the avenues, getting ready to pop the champagne and throw the confetti the moment Peter Whitney appeared on the other side, congratulating him on the win. A life without vice, a family that loved him, a battle with cancer well fought.

And her heart quailed with fear. What would her death be like? Who would line the avenues for her, who would applaud her years of abuse and despair, who would understand her love of women, who would forgive her death wish?

So she sat, and the pain in her back paled next to the pain in her heart.

To be continued…


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 Post subject: Chapter Two: Dreamer
PostPosted: Mon Oct 01, 2007 10:56 am 
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6. Sassy Eggs
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Joined: Fri Sep 21, 2007 12:51 pm
Posts: 416
Topics: 1
Location: Edmonton, Alberta
The Lamb
Chapter Two: Dreamer


Rating by chapter: PG-13
Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and all its characters are the property of Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy. I’m just sneaking Willow and Tara out for a night-time stroll… Neither the author nor this site receives compensation for this work.
Spoilers: This is an Alternate Universe fic, but it does contain some spoilers for ‘Chosen’ of season seven.
Feedback: Yes, please. This is my first Buffy fanfic. Reply on the forum or send email to tara_the_phoenix@yahoo.ca
Summary: Tara is a hospice nurse in Los Osos, California about to get a new patient: Willow Rosenberg, the sole survivor of the Sunnydale implosion.

Oh so quiet, and oh so still, Tara waited for Peter Whitney to die. In her most precious heart she recalled the moments of happiness he had given her in the past year, the wisdom and advice he had shared with her. Feeling utterly wretched at wanting his death, yet anxious for his great pains to finally be finished, she listened carefully to the sounds coming from beyond the curtain. Finally the blessed monitor flatlined, and Tara rushed to the bed. Whipping her stethoscope to her ears, she barely noticed the resigned faces of his family as she closed her eyes and listened.

Blessed silence.

“It’s over,” Tara said, hoping to convey with her voice the gladness that he had died without pain and yet the sorrow that his passing was to her. As Widow Whitney nodded, Tara thought she understood.

The door opened; Tara knew it would be her supervisor, Ethan Daniels. The nurse’s station would have been notified the minute the monitor flatlined, and Ethan was here to take the rest of the burden from her. With a wave of his hand, he sent her to the staff room as he began to explain the papers and procedures Mrs. Whitney would have to follow.

Half an hour later, Ethan found Tara in the staff room, sitting in her favourite bright yellow easy chair, nursing a cup of coffee and staring out the window. He sat down across from her, pushing his tousled hair out of his eyes, and said, “You did good work, Tara.”

“He was a g-good man,” Tara replied, looking over at him. Her eyes were soft, tenderised by pain and much remorse.

“Well, you’ve got the mandatory week off,” Ethan said, stretching out his legs, hoping to hide his look of concern. The policy had been in place at Los Osos Hospice for years, as a way to make sure the overworked nurses had time to rest before taking on a new charge. He knew enough about Tara, though, to know that the mandatory week off would be a burden to her, not a blessing. She had no family she cared to speak of, and her house still echoed with the remembered frolics of her dead cat.

Tara didn’t say anything, just turned her head and looked out the window. After a few long, uncomfortable moments, Ethan got up, grasped her shoulder and said, “Get some rest,” and then left.

Tara felt glued to the chair. The cup of coffee was now cold and near empty in her hands. With a great effort she lifted herself from her chair, poured the coffee down the sink, and pulled on her light jacket. It was early summer in central California, and Tara knew the cool tang of the air.

Once in the parking lot, Tara took a deep breath of the salty air of the sea. The hospice was a little removed from the town proper, halfway up a hill, and Tara could see the protruding mass of the Morro Rock in the distance. The estuary was filled with boats as the summer tourist season began to heat up. She walked to her car, a sensible little Honda, and started her drive home.

Her house was ancient, on a street with old oak trees, and it was blessedly cool and dark, as she had remembered to draw all the blinds before she left for work yesterday morning. She debated opening them, flooding the kitchen with light and fixing herself some breakfast, but decided against it. She was too exhausted. Setting her keys on a counter, she gasped as another large gnarl of pain broke out on her lower back. She shuffled to the medicine cabinet and dry-swallowed a couple aspirin, noticing that she had a message on her answering machine. Tara pressed the button and heard the familiar dreaded voice of her older brother, Donny.

“Tara? It’s Donny. It’s been a month. I’m coming up tomorrow, whether you’re working or not, and you will take this stinking animal, whether you like it or not. Call me if you want to, but nothing you say will make me stop coming by tomorrow.” Tara cringed at the implied threat in his voice. Why did he always have to be this way? She hadn’t refused an animal in years. Besides, she needed an animal, badly, and Donny knew it. The machine blurted out the date in its dry, disinterested woman’s voice, and Tara realised that he called yesterday. Which meant he was coming today.

Thank goodness her house was clean. Donny could report that to their father.

Deciding against the bath (no time to waste, Tara), she merely took off her shoes and climbed right into bed, scrubs and all. The room was pleasantly dark and cool, and she fell asleep quickly, despite the pain in her back.

And dreamt.

Tara was wearing her favourite burgundy dress with the wide floral sash, her brown hair was invitingly up, and her eyelids glittered in modest gold; she felt young and pretty. She was strolling arm in arm with the mother of her youth, the Anna of the golden hair and wide dimpled smile. The campus of UC Sunnydale opened invitingly before them, raw in its youthful exuberance, pulsing with the collective heartbeats of a thousand students. Tara could feel a palpable weight lift from her body, as the chains of restraint her father forged for her were undone.

“It would have been so different,” Anna murmured, and a sliver of sleeping Tara reflected on her decision not to come to UC Sunnydale, even though she had been accepted, choosing to go to San Francisco for nursing school instead.

And in the distance, a goddess made flesh walked unerringly towards them. Towards her.

The goddess was the embodiment of youth and beauty. She was clad in a shimmering white gown spun of fiery starlight and her face radiated a power deeper than Tara had ever felt. It was a magical power, a mystical power, one that dwarfed the considerable power of the woman on Tara’s arm, and Tara heard her mother gasp with the knowledge of it. Every step the goddess took toward her, Tara felt she was drawing nearer to the reason for her own existence. Suddenly everything began to make sense to her; the horror of her father’s abuse, the pain of her mother’s death, the emptiness of her current existence, it all led faithfully to this one divine moment. The hardened bud of her embittered life began to unfurl, her vessel began to open, and the future, always a desolate and fearsome place, began to bloom like the lilies of Mr. Whitney’s garden. Tara trembled, knowing that the sole purpose of her whole being must surely be this single encounter with a being composed entirely of love.

The goddess floated closer, until Tara realised that she was scarcely more than a girl. Who, despite the ageless wisdom glimmering from the depths of her eyes, could be no older than Tara herself.

So Tara slid into love, no more able to stop it than to stop the tides.

Tara felt a deep pull of desire, a near-painful exquisite ache that radiated from deep within her. It was a single emotion more powerful than any she had ever felt in her life; surely her last girlfriend

(sad sad sue)

had never affected her like this. She felt that a part of her that had always been missing was suddenly found, and she rejoiced in the discovery. Tara longed to touch the pristine unnaturally white hair that fell like snow over the woman’s shoulders, to run her fingers through it, to smell the sandalwood and rose infusion of it. She ached to place her hot fingers on the back of the woman’s neck, to tilt the woman’s lovely head, to place searing kisses of surpassing tenderness on the woman’s delicious lips, to feel the woman’s breath on her cheek.

And she wept with the longing, with the heart-breaking ache that rent her soul.

The mindless students endlessly milling through this sunny campus plaza didn’t seem to notice the approach of the goddess/woman, yet they still gave her wide berth. Tara knew she was the sole intention of this woman, that no force on earth or in the nether-realms could halt this woman’s steady advance toward her, and her heart wept in gratitude. Finally the woman stopped directly before Tara and Anna. The woman lifted strong, lithe hands and displayed them to Tara, palms up. A mysterious weapon winked into existence in her waiting hands. It was an axe, or a scythe, a deep burnished red with a gleaming silver edge and Tara looked at it in surprise. The goddess gripped it in both of her hands like the fate of the universe rested upon her; her eyes suddenly brimming with unshed tears.

The woman gazed upon Tara with a softness and vulnerability that shocked Tara to the core. No one had ever trusted her that fully and Tara drowned in the depths of those sea green eyes. “What part will you play?” the goddess asked Tara softly.

And some part of Tara knew it, even though she had never seen the script or read the ending. Her part in these events would be a natural extension of her own soul; it would fulfil the end of her very creation. She would be the tool, the bridge,

(the lamb)

Enchanted and beginning to feel lost and dizzy, Tara dared, oh yes, she dared! to lift her ungainly hands and take the wicked gleaming weapon from the goddess. Tara concentrated on the weapon and employed her strongest, finest offensive. Tara sharply inhaled, and the weapon dissolved into so much colourful dust. Then Tara was lifting her trembling fingers to the woman’s perfect face. She wiped away the offending tears, caressed the woman’s cheek and felt suffused with love. Tara then held the woman’s chin and said, without a ghost of a stutter, “I am the lamb.”

The woman’s face lifted in hope, and Tara was filled with desire. A part of her knew she was dreaming, and ached for a single kiss before she woke. Her eyes fluttered shut as their lips drew closer and Tara knew this was the moment she had been waiting a lifetime for.

But she was violently pulled away by her mother, and the goddess’ face crumpled in despair, and she reached imploringly for Tara. Tara stared at her mother in astonishment, wondering why would Anna stop her, Anna knew, she knew the truth about her, her little private war and the surrender to the only thing that felt right to her, and that was a woman’s lips, it was a woman’s touch, a woman’s desire. Tara shuddered as Anna cried in a voice of doom, “For you, dearest daughter, the truth.”

The sky darkened as night swept over the campus. The students fled, screaming. The ground rumbled underneath Tara’s feet; she stumbled back as the ground underneath the goddess erupted in a massive profusion of bloated bodies. The goddess lurched upon that mound of crumpled limbs, and Tara knew with startling clarity, the clarity only found in dreams, that they were her dead friends, and out of the well of the worlds names came to her: Buffy, Dawn, Xander, Giles, and Anya. Their blood began to seep into the hem of her immaculate gown. And underneath the surface of the streets of Sunnydale was a twisted warren of evil

(I am the first)

that Tara could feel, could feel the inky reek of wickedness slide along her bones and into her mouth, tasting of sharp copper and bile. It was a fanged, malevolent presence that lurked beneath every crypt, every manhole cover, and called out to its minions.

And in the night that had completely swallowed Tara, Anna, and the woman, the minions answered. Waves of them emerged from their lairs, scenting fear and despair and feeding on it like wild dogs, yapping and snarling, encapsulating the three of them, fencing them in, surrounding them.

The woman cried out, tossing her head, her white hair shimmering like sheets of rain, and Tara turned to see the crumpled bodies of the woman’s dead friends grabbing at her, pulling her down into the ground to be with them, and Tara also somehow knew that a part of this woman desired it. Tara wanted to shout out to her, but her mouth was stopped agape as she watched a swollen purpleness bloom on the woman’s abdomen, staining the gown with liquid terror and desolation, spreading like a cancer over her entire body, until she stood dripping with anguish. Above and beyond them all Tara could hear a deep maniacal laughter

(I AM THE FIRST)

and she cringed to hear it.

“Can you save me?” the woman cried.

“I will,” Tara promised. “For I am your lamb.”

And her brave heart never faltering, her purpose shining clear, Tara strode confidently up to the woman. And as she advanced she faced down the hordes of her own private despairs, the twisting fingers of her father, the bloodied fists of her brother, the dirtied coffin of her mother. They rose up like armies before her, but her determined resolve shone through them. And the sweet sweet light of Peter Whitney sustained her; his tunnel was her tunnel, and tasting exaltation on her tongue Tara advanced.

For this was her purpose. This was her being. This made sense of it all.

Tara finally reached the waning goddess. Tara extended her eager hands and she took the woman in her arms, tucked the woman’s head protectively in the little hollow by her shoulder and embraced her with fierce compassion. The deep, yawning pit of desire in her stomach lurched as the woman’s hands clung to her with an ardent intensity. A delicious pain constricted her throat and for a moment she could scarcely breathe, drowning in a vast ocean of need.

And with every ounce of love in her body, she used every teaching her mother had ever imparted her, splaying her fingers wide and pressing them firmly on the woman’s bare back. She closed her eyes and just wallowed in the luxurious feeling of a warm womanly body against hers, she could feel the woman’s tears in the hollow of her neck, the woman’s fingers clutching so desperately on her back, and the glory of the woman’s breasts pressed so firmly against her own. Tara sharply inhaled. The stain began to retreat from the woman’s body as Tara’s fingers greedily sucked it in, transferring it to Tara’s own body, until Tara choked on it as it formed clot-like throughout her very soul.

And this time the tunnel, and the light, was for her.

As Tara kept taking the stain, the darkness, the evil,

(the first)

the goddess began again to shine brighter and brighter, until the hordes of cackling vampires and demons began to disintegrate before them. Shocking rays of sunlight streamed from their entwined bodies and Tara wished she could stay thus forever, stay part of this joyous union that made her whole worthless existence suddenly worthwhile.

But no, there was

(the tunnel, the purple)

the light, and she tasted the foul purple stain on her tongue, and she felt it hardening like cement in the veins of her body. Satiated to the point of death, she finally tore herself away from the woman, whose brightness now exceeded the very sun in the firmament, whose face now rose to look upon Tara with endless gratitude and love. It was payment enough for Tara, to see her beloved once again at peace, even though she herself was inundated with the dreaded purple stain, and could verily feel the weakening beats of her steadfast heart. The two women clasped hands, and still Tara could feel her fingers thrilling at the other woman’s touch, and her desperation for a single kiss overwhelmed her.

“For the love of this woman, you will surely die,” Tara heard her mother prophesy. It hurt to look away from the goddess, but Tara did so, hearing a twinge of pain in her mother’s voice. Still holding hands with the goddess, Tara watched in shock as her mother’s body wilted, corn-silk hair shucked from her scalp, body withering under chemotherapy, skin drying to paper thinness. Tara now beheld the mother who had died in her arms six years earlier.

“You took too much, Tara,” her mother said. “You took it, and you can’t give it away.”

A gust of wind, and her mother’s frame crumbled into dust and was borne away, leaving Tara alone with the unknown goddess who shone with a piercing liquid light. The goddess stared at her cleansed body, at their conjoined hands, then looked at Tara with awe and wonder on her face. Even in the midst of her euphoria, her desperate love, Tara could feel the purple stain that she had taken from the goddess, could feel the inky blackness burrow deep in her bones, poisoning her to the point of death.

“Why, oh why?” the goddess whispered, endless sorrow in her green eyes, clutching at Tara’s hands, starting to pull Tara again to her, frantic to reverse the spell, to take it all back, because it wasn’t supposed to end like this, no, not like this.

And the god-light beckoned to Tara, and she could see the gossamer threads of heaven’s highway extending towards her, and the sweetness flooded her soiled mouth, tasting like sunshine and Peter Whitney’s lilies. It didn’t matter now that she had taken it all; she had saved her. The woman would live.

“Because I am your lamb,” Tara whispered, finally at peace.

And Tara felt her consciousness begin to lift, just as the woman wrapped her arms about Tara, vainly trying to hold her in, but it was too late.

Tara exploded with a great burst of light.

And woke.


to be continued... on Friday, Oct. 5


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 Post subject: Re: The Lamb - new fic introduction
PostPosted: Mon Oct 01, 2007 11:51 am 
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This is a magical story, thus far; with absolutely beautiful imagery and metaphors of biblical proportions. For some reason, I felt William Blake in the room!

I have always thought Tara would be a wonderful nurse. She is just so giving.

There is so much to process: Goddess Willow surviving, Tara as the keeper of the scythe and the new keeper of the evil stain, Anna's dispair and prophesy, the First seemingly winning!

I eagerly anticipate Friday the 5th... and perchance a meeting of the gals.

P.S. Thank you for the touching description of Mr. Whitney's death. It made me both sad and comforted simultaneously.

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Last edited by masterjendu on Thu Oct 11, 2007 6:16 am, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: The Lamb - new fic
PostPosted: Mon Oct 01, 2007 7:04 pm 
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18. Breast Gal
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Wow, and again I say wow.

This story is achingly beautiful and I'm intrigued beyond words to see where you take us with it next. I love the scenario as Tara helps her patients as they lay dying. It's terribly sweet and painful at the same time, and you paint it with such skill, that I'm frankly a little awed by it. The little things that make it so believable, especially the image of Tara in her teddy bear scrubs, are very well done. Like you mentioned to me earlier, I'm completely drawn into Tara's world, including her thoughts and her dreams, and that level of depth is simply a joy to read.

Please, keep up the great work. I, too, am eagerly awaiting Friday. Thank you and congratulations on a wonderful start.

Diane

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 Post subject: Re: The Lamb - new fic
PostPosted: Tue Oct 02, 2007 4:18 am 
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wow, i liked this a lot.

very poetic and beautiful. i like how you eased us into Tara and her world with another patient so we could aquaint ourselves before realy starting the story.

i found it a little hard to follow sometimes just becuase there were a lot of abstract concepts floating around sometimes, but that just means i have to read it closer again :)

i am very very excited to see what happens next.

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 Post subject: Re: The Lamb - new fic
PostPosted: Tue Oct 02, 2007 7:53 am 
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9. Gay Now
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I'm just going to have to jump in here and compliment you on a beautifully fantastic beginning. Your writing style is gorgeous, to be perfectly honest. The words flow into each other, creating a fully formed image with each and every sentence. Your description of Mr. Whitney's death, as Jen said, was both heartbreaking and comforting to me. You made death seem like more of a natural progression, instead of the harsh yank from the world it can be. Tara seems so caring and loving to her patients, almost as if she's caring for her best friends instead of perfect strangers.

Then, of course, her dream. I've always been slightly critical of dream sequences, seeing as how mine never make sense. Somehow, you've managed to capture the disarray of dreams, but at the same time, make perfect sense. It was poetic in a way, her thoughts intermingling with the narration, the names coming unbidden into her mind, the Goddess' appearance. Absolutely beautiful, to say the least.

I agree with Diane when I say that I'm awed by your writing. Your descriptions are complete without seeming tedious, and your story has already captured my interest. I'll be counting the seconds until Friday.

~Sara

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 Post subject: Re: The Lamb - new fic
PostPosted: Tue Oct 02, 2007 9:06 am 
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Hi. I just wanted to tell you that I agree with the other kittens - you're writing is beautiful and very descriptive. This is a cool story so far. You totally have me hooked.


Wimpy

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 Post subject: Re: The Lamb - new fic
PostPosted: Tue Oct 02, 2007 11:18 am 
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Hello!

I just wanted to say that this is indeed a very, very good story! ;-)
The first part was beautiful, the way Tara was able to help Mr Whitney through his death. I particularly liked the concept of "mindsurf" and how you described that "place of peace" in his mind.

The sequence with the dream was full of informations and details. I wonder if Tara could interprete all the meanings of this dream (or at least, the ones that WE can see)! I'm also a little bit worried about this whole role of lamb, Tara seems to me too eager to give her life for the one of the goddess...

I really want to see where you are going with all this... Waiting for Friday with all the other kittens! :kitty

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 Post subject: Re: The Lamb - new fic
PostPosted: Tue Oct 02, 2007 1:39 pm 
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Dearest Kittens,

I am overwhelmed by your response to my little story. When the idea first came to me, I wasn't sure if I could do it justice, but maybe I'm getting close so far. As I told Diane when I first started, this story has far more meaning for me than it will for anyone else, and I'm writing it because it has something to say about my own spirit and soul. I'm not even sure yet what that something is. You, friends, at least understand my obsession with these two women, as I try to bring their love and joy from the TV screen into my little world.

Now, to respond:
masterjendu
I shamefully admit to never having read William Blake. I know enough about him to realise that you just paid me a big compliment. I also have to thank you for this comment:
Quote:
There is so much to process: Goddess Willow surviving, Tara as the keeper of the scythe and the new keeper of the evil stain, Anna's dispair and prophesy, the First seemingly winning!

because you gave me an idea! (I'm not sharing, though, you'll read it in chapter five)

dlline
Thank you thank you thank you for giving me my first injection of hope on this board. I can only hope to write as well as you.
Quote:
The little things that make it so believable, especially the image of Tara in her teddy bear scrubs, are very well done.

It's true! Thank you! Hopefully I'll remember to continue doing this.

zooeys bridge
Quote:
i found it a little hard to follow sometimes just becuase there were a lot of abstract concepts floating around sometimes, but that just means i have to read it closer again

That is my biggest fear, that this is too cerebral. I'm trying to keep it real, but there are a lot of big concepts to introduce in a short amount of time. Do let me know if it really is too much, though, and I'll try wordsmithing another way. Also, very soon it will be all reality, you know, massages, walks down pathways, kisses.... the usual.

tazraven
Quote:
Your description of Mr. Whitney's death, as Jen said, was both heartbreaking and comforting to me. You made death seem like more of a natural progression, instead of the harsh yank from the world it can be.

I quite deliberately put in the section of Tara caring for another patient before Willow, just to get my readers used to Tara's unique abilities and to a different concept of death in general. This is my own personal belief coming through, that there is a heaven, and I hope I don't offend anyone by professing it.

wimpy
Quote:
This is a cool story so far. You totally have me hooked.

Thank you! I have actually written up to Chapter Six and it's killing me to wait to post. My fear is that I'll post everything and then you'll have to wait longer periods for updates. At least this way I can promise a new chapter or two twice a week. Besides, I'm a substitute teacher, so I never know when I have time off!

halo
Thanks for reading!
Quote:
I'm also a little bit worried about this whole role of lamb, Tara seems to me too eager to give her life for the one of the goddess...

Chapter Five will put that all in perspective.


Thank you everyone for your support. I must admit I'm very tempted to post the next chapter before Friday. I guess we'll see.

Tara the Phoenix


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 Post subject: Chapter Three: Donny and the Rabbit
PostPosted: Wed Oct 03, 2007 9:46 am 
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6. Sassy Eggs
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Hi, Kittens

Guess I couldn't wait after all. Enjoy!

The Lamb
Chapter Three: Donny and the Rabbit


Rating by chapter: PG-13
Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and all its characters are the property of Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy. I’m just sneaking Willow and Tara out for a night-time stroll… Neither the author nor this site receives compensation for this work.
Spoilers: This is an Alternate Universe fic, but it does contain some spoilers for ‘Chosen’ of season seven.
Feedback: Yes, please. This is my first Buffy fanfic. Reply on the forum or send email to tara_the_phoenix@yahoo.ca
Summary: Tara wakes after her dream and finds a visitor in her home, bearing a strange gift.

Tara struggled in her sheets, as if about to embrace the woman in her dream, and vainly tried to recapture the sleep. The dream was still so sweet upon her, like honey in her veins, and she didn’t want to let it go. So she calmed herself, and closed her eyes and breathed deeply, willing herself back to sleep. Yet the dream vanished like mist in her mind, until all she could remember were dim flashes: the goddess immaculate, the goddess upon a broken mound of bodies, the goddess in her arms, vainly trying to hold Tara together. The emotion however – Tara could still feel the deep ache of desire nestle deep within her bones, and she was torn; should she reflect on it again and again, on fictitious sweetness and drive herself mad, or give up the dream altogether?

Tara sighed, and looked at her watch. She hoped she hadn’t slept the day through – she’d be up all night. She grimaced; it was just past seven in the evening. Her stomach growled, and Tara realised she had nothing to eat since yesterday evening in the hospice cafeteria. She got up and compulsively made her bed.

Combing the tangles of sleep from her brown hair, Tara headed down the stairs, stifling a large yawn, then yelped as she saw a large shape in her living room. Thin rays of sunlight peeked through the edges of her drapes, and she relaxed as she focused on the form of her older brother. “Finally, you’re up,” Donny said, in a tone both joking and deadly serious. He got up and moved to the edge of the large front room window, sharply tugging the cord to open the curtains. Tara reeled back a little as dusty evening sunshine streamed into her face.

“Hi, Donny,” she said quietly. In that moment she hated her brother with a fierce intensity. He stood there in dusty coveralls, a thin red beard covering his lower chin, his deceptive baby-face that could show an amazing amount of animosity. He represented everything she hated about herself and her beginnings, the life she had tried so hard to leave behind her but never could. And yet he could never quite understand how she felt, because he didn’t care to. All he knew was she was obstinate, and vain, and ignored her family obligations for reasons he couldn’t understand.

“When I knocked and nobody answered, I let myself in,” he explained, sitting down heavily on the couch once again and idly flipping through books she had left on the little coffee table. Thank goodness she had not left her most recent book of witchcraft on the table; he hated those little reminders of talent she had and he didn’t. He continued, “I’m hungry, Tara.”

Of course.

Without another word, Tara turned into her kitchen. She had leftover soup that would do for her, but Donny would want a steak and potatoes and sautéed mushrooms. Seething with anger she would never express, she got a steak from the freezer and threw it into the microwave. In the fifteen minutes it took her to cook his steak (medium rare, like always) and potatoes she had recovered her temper. And, like the lump he was, he stayed in her living room, casually flipping channels on her television until she called out, “It’s ready, Donny.”

She could hear his heavy grunt as he got up from the couch, then he came into the kitchen. They sat down to their respective meals, and Donny quickly asked, “Do you have any beer?”

She sighed. “No, Donny. I can get you some iced tea, if you like.”

He grunted. She supposed that meant yes.

Tara hurriedly brought the iced tea from the fridge and poured them both a glass. For long minutes the silence reigned in an icy fashion as they ate, she pecking disconsolately at her food (her earlier famishment quite gone), he devouring everything in sight.

As he was mopping up the last of the bloody gravy with a piece of buttered bread, Tara finally asked, “How are things at home?”

“As well as can be,” Donny replied, his mouth full. He sat expansively back and sipped his iced tea. “I don’t know why you can’t keep a beer in your fridge for your older brother,” he complained.

“I don’t drink much, Donny, you k-know that,” Tara responded, blinking.

“I just think you could get your head out of your butt once in a while to realise that I’m here every month. Just once a month you could have the common courtesy to stock your fridge with a Molson.”

Tara ducked her head, the surest way she knew of appeasing her brother. “You’re right, I’m sorry,” she said softly.

Donny merely nodded, then asked, “So when are you coming home?” He watched her splutter for a moment before continuing, “I know you can now. I stopped by the hospice on my way here. They told me that Mr. Whitney died this morning. You’ve got your mandatory week off. We could sure use you at home for a while.”

Use you. Again Tara inwardly seethed at the words, and a slight flash of her anger came out as she replied, “W-well, they might need me for something.”

“Do you honestly hate us that much?” Donny demanded, raising his voice.

And for a moment Tara wished she could answer honestly, and say yes, yes, I hate you, I never want to see you again, neither of you! But the dutiful daughter won out, like it always had to in her childhood house of thunder, and she said, “You know I don’t h-hate you. It’s just hard.” She felt constricted and young, like she was fifteen again and being berated by father and brother, her motherly saviour exiled to the room upstairs, hidden away because of the false demon in her. Just one reason for Tara to hate both father and brother, one reason among millions.

Tense moments passed, then Donny sighed. “Whatever,” he said, dismissing her. “I just wish you would remember once in a while that we’re your family. Not these people you work for. Us. It won’t kill you to come home once in a while.”

And a deep, scared little girl’s voice in Tara’s head thought, oh yes, it will.

But Tara stayed silent, hunched up in her chair, twirling her spoon through her half-eaten bowl of soup. She could never tell Donny the base of her fear; to admit the things her father had done to her, half-afraid that Donny already knew, and thought it was okay. When she was little, she had sometimes thought that her brother should be her protector, her sword arm, and her shield against the big bad world. But it hadn’t turned out that way. Her father had produced a little menace, much like himself, and Donny turned tormentor. With her mother alive Tara found a little solace, a little space of peace up high in the farmhouse. But with clods of dirt on a coffin Tara found freedom, and she ran away to university, then taken this job at the hospice as far from her family as she could possibly get.

She wanted nothing to do with them. And Donny knew it.

A shameful little part of her knew she would be dead without Donny, without him bringing the animal every month. For years she had tried to have the courage to do it without him, to make that final step into adulthood. But her older brother knew her better than she supposed, and once saved her life. It was when she was in nursing school, and she had taken the pain again and again, and her professors marvelled at her talents even as she began to die. A vain little part of her wished death, an end to her dreary existence. So when her brother found her on the brink of death

(but Donny it’s such a little thing)

he quickly drove her to a farmer’s field and forced her down by a solitary cow. He forced her hands open and watched as she used the animal the way she must and hated her for weeping afterward.

“You may not think so, Tara, but I do love you,” he had yelled at her, the corpse of the cow at their feet. “How many sisters do you think I have?”

So they had made a truce. Tara would stop trying to kill herself by taking too much, and Donny would bring her an animal, once a month. And usually it was enough.

Donny pushed roughly away from the table and stomped to the front door. On the ground was a covered cage, and Tara’s heart beat in both gladness and misery to see it. Donny lifted the cover and Tara could see a bedraggled black rabbit. She never knew where Donny got the animals, and part of her never wanted to know. She didn’t want to think of them deflected from loving homes, where little girls would pet them and brush them and coo to them. She didn’t want them to know that when they looked into her solemn blue eyes they were looking at the angel of death.

The phone rang, sending a jangle of shock and surprise through Tara’s spine. She got up from the table, frowning. She had been in Los Osos for over a year, but she had few friends outside work. No one called, except for Donny and the hospice. She picked up the phone in the old-fashioned phone nook by the kitchen and said, “H-hello.”

“Tara, it’s Ethan. Listen, I’m sorry, but we need you to come down right away.”

Tara’s heart froze. Had she done something wrong? Was there a problem with Mr. Whitney at autopsy? Ethan correctly interpreted her silence and added, “There’s nothing wrong, Tara. I have just received an intriguing file and I need your opinion. Can you come by?”

“Of course, Ethan, I’ll be there r-right away,” Tara answered, then hung up the phone.

Donny still loomed by the doorway.

“I’ve got to go to work, Donny,” Tara said, grabbing her car keys.

He didn’t move.

“Donny, I’m sorry, but I have to go,” she said, her voice quaking with remembered fear.

“You are not leaving this house until you deal with this rabbit,” Donny demanded, squaring himself in the doorway. “It’s been a month, and I know you need it.”

Tara wanted to say no, she didn’t need it, but the mean little gremlin in her lower back protested, and the little stab of pain in her head agreed with the gremlin.

(All magic has consequence, Tara)

Her mother had pounded that in to her often enough when she learned that Tara had inherited the family ability. “If you’re going to take it, you’re going to give it away,” Anna had said, time and again. “Otherwise, you’ll die.”

Tara looked at Donny, at the constant anger that had prematurely lined his face, and she felt a little of his frustration. He, too, was caught in a life he didn’t want, but at least he wasn’t cowardly enough to end it by taking his own life.

“You think I don’t get it,” he was saying to her. She blinked at him. “You think I’m stupid.” Tara made to say no, but he continued. “You’ve been wanting a legitimate way to kill yourself for years. You don’t think I know why you chose a hospice? For the diseased and dying? For the seriously ill? You’re just hoping to rack up the blood debt, and that someday you’ll be called to pay up.”

Shocked, Tara opened and closed her mouth again.

“You know, I shouldn’t even care any more. You’re twenty-three years old; you should be able to handle your own affairs. But I know you, Tara,” he accused, then wrenched open the cage and drew out the squirming black bundle of fur. “Would you take it if I didn’t make you?”

Tara stared at Donny, at the rabbit. She couldn’t say a word, because it was all true. A part of her mind marvelled at his reasoning, she didn’t realise he was that astute.

“Now you’re taking this rabbit. Right now.”

Still silenced by his words, Tara merely nodded, dropped her keys and walked up to him. She took the black rabbit in her arms and immediately began sending calming rays through it. It settled somewhat, and she sat down in her favourite overstuffed paisley easy chair, which was scored with claw marks dealt by an over-enthusiastic kitten well over two years ago.

(Dead kitten. All dead.)

She stroked the rabbit and felt Donny’s eyes on her. She began to sorrow for the rabbit, for the life she was about to take. Was her ability a blessing or a curse? A remembered whiff of lilies and Peter Whitney’s voice came back to her, thanking her. Yes, for him a blessing. But what of the rabbit?

Tara allowed her eyes to close. She splayed her fingers over the short thick black fur of the rabbit and began to breathe slowly, deeply. She formed the tree in her mind, but for her it was an apple tree, all ripe and rosy. With a little push, she sent it deeper within herself and watched as whole branches of leaves blackened and decayed, fruit began to soften and bruise, and the entire tree seemed to wilt.

She had taken more than she realised, in Mr. Whitney’s last hurrah.

Tara sharply inhaled, and the blackness, the pain, the purple began to stream from the leaves, long thin streams of tar that she funnelled through her fingers and into the body of the rabbit. She could feel the little body shuddering under her fingers.

You didn’t deserve this, she thought.

But she still siphoned, and she could feel the pain of her lower back first ease, and then disappear altogether. Her tree began to radiate once again, except for one last high branch. She mentally reached for it, then gasped.

The rabbit was dead.

And there was still a whole branch left, dripping with vileness, drooping in Peter Whitney's cancer pain.

(Don’t tell him, he’ll make me take another)

Tara pulled out and abruptly awoke from her trance-like state. And she curled her body around the rabbit, hugged it close to her chest, and wept, like she always did.

“Thank you,” she whispered to it.

Feeling energised and awake

(alive!)

she got up from the chair, still tenderly holding the dead rabbit. She finally gave it to Donny, who still stood impassively in the doorway, watching her careful murder. Without another word she gathered her keys, purse, and jacket and left her house, closing the door carefully behind her. She wouldn’t look at Donny as she left. He would take the rabbit, bury it, and come back in a month with another. That’s just how it worked, how it had to work.

And as Tara drove back to the hospice in the glimmering, dying sunlight, her heart was bleak within her body buzzing of vitality. Was this all she lived for? To spend her days among the diseased and dying, her nights alone in that creaking, empty house, and never a person to wonder why? Never a person to light up her life, and give her just one reason to keep on living? She thought of the woman in her dream

(for the love of this woman, you will surely die)

and her soul crumbled with despair.

That’s right, Tara. It was only a dream.

This is your life.

Wake up.



To be continued on October 5 with Chapter Four: A New Charge. Tara finds out she’s been specially requested to care for a new patient: Willow Rosenberg, the sole survivor of the Sunnydale implosion.


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 Post subject: Re: The Lamb - new fic
PostPosted: Thu Oct 04, 2007 12:08 am 
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18. Breast Gal
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Hey!

Thanks for not waiting. This story is so very compelling and well-written that it’s a delight to read.

Quote:
She got up and compulsively made her bed.

I just love little touches like this one that help to paint a complete picture of a character.
Quote:
Combing the tangles of sleep from her brown hair…

Yay! Thank you for that.
Quote:
He continued, “I’m hungry, Tara.”

Of course.

Again, you used seven words to tell us a great deal about Donnie, and I pretty much dislike him already.
Quote:
…but the mean little gremlin in her lower back protested…

I know we’ve discussed this, so I had to bring it up. The gremlin is back and I suspect not for the last time. Lovely little image to tie things together.

And more. The rabbit. An image that I find painful and beautiful at the same time. What a wonderful and terrible gift she has. I fear that this is going to be a painful trip that we’ll be taking with you, but I’ll be here to see how it turns out.

Thanks for another wonderful update,
Diane

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 Post subject: Re: The Lamb - new fic
PostPosted: Thu Oct 04, 2007 9:19 am 
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Location: Alberta
Another beautiful update filled with vivid images that serve to set the tone for all of the suffering in this story and especially in this chapter: Tara is suffering, Donny is suffering, and the poor wee rabbit suffers. Donny’s medium-rare steak did something visceral to me and I even felt myself shudder at the visual of him mopping up the bloody gravy!

I don’t quite know what to make of Donny. I am with Diane in that I don’t like him at all, but that certainly doesn’t make him uninteresting. He is obviously having a pretty crappy life himself. Why exactly does he bring an animal to his sister every month? Is it to have something to lord over her, to show her that he witnesses that there is something wrong with her, to exact control over her? Or does he actually care for her in some fecked-up,-yell it at you across a cow corpse-way? He does seem to know her motivations and he does seem to be concerned with keeping her alive. Interesting… and very well written.

You’ve said that this story will have far more meaning for you than for anyone else. Obviously that is true because it is your story, but the beauty of the first chapter has stayed with me. The nurse looking after my mom was named Tara, and although she didn’t have any actual magic, I think good nurses work magic in their own way every day. And don’t worry at all about offending people here with your system of beliefs (the kittens seem pretty easy-going). And whether they actually believe or not, I think everyone wants to believe in some sort of Heaven! I know I want to.

I am also glad you didn’t wait until Friday! And I can’t believe I inspired something creative! Can’t wait for chapter 5!!! Of course, I am also looking forward to Chapter 4 when the gals meet (and I don’t think I’m the only one who would be a-okay with you continuing to forego your strict schedule and posting willy nilly!!!).

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 Post subject: Re: The Lamb - new fic
PostPosted: Thu Oct 04, 2007 10:49 am 
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Wow, you're really moving right along here, and I love it. Gives us a little more insight into Tara's powers, and what happens to her when she uses them. This story makes me so sad thinking of how Tara thinks so little of herself that she wishes she could die. Can't she see how much good she does with her gift and her job. Well, maybe her new patient will change that.

I'm kind of torn on my feelings about Donny. He's definitely an asshole (always hated that "I'm the man, you're the woman, bring me my food" mentality...GRR). But he's also doing good here and taking care of Tara. Oh well, just have to wait and see what else you have in store for us regarding him before I make up my mind I guess.

Once again, you're writing is amazing. Can't wait to see what's next.


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 Post subject: Chapter Four: A New Charge
PostPosted: Thu Oct 04, 2007 8:36 pm 
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The Lamb
Chapter Four: A New Charge


Rating by chapter: PG
Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and all its characters are the property of Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy. I’m just sneaking Willow and Tara out for a night-time stroll… Neither the author nor this site receives compensation for this work.
Spoilers: This is an Alternate Universe fic, but it does contain some spoilers for ‘Chosen’ of season seven.
Feedback: Yes, please. This is my first Buffy fanfic. Reply on the forum or send email to tara_the_phoenix@yahoo.ca
Summary: Tara finds out she’s been specially requested to care for a new patient: Willow Rosenberg, the sole survivor of the Sunnydale implosion.

As she made her way through the quiet streets of Los Osos, Tara’s mind was reeling from one flash of memory to another. It seemed impossible that so much had happened in just one day. First the death of Peter Whitney, then the exquisite dream of the goddess, and the surprising revelations from her brother, each had wrought such a change in her consciousness that the day felt years old. But now, in the tranquillity of the evanescent evening, it was the dream she chose to think of, and she once again tried to recapture the moments of sweetness from that dream. She longed to toss herself into the honeyed depths of the memories, and she focused especially on the moment of contact with the goddess, the feel of her devoted arms around Tara, the faint smell of sandalwood and rose in her hair, the feeling of coming home, at long last.

That pleasant fiction, which had started so welcome as she started her drive, quickly turned to poison in her mind. For with every moment she remembered the joy, she then remembered the ache of loneliness, the long desperate years she had been alone. Sue had been such a very long time ago, just a blip, really, on the course of Tara’s life. Every night in the years since then she had spent alone. Tara felt like she was screaming, always screaming, just needing someone to take notice of her, but the crowds of people in her life kept milling around her, ignoring her agonised cries.

Swiftly, a ghost of her mother’s voice came back to her. “It would have been so different.”

Tara shook her head and concentrated on the dream again. She had been in Sunnydale. In the past week she had more pressing reasons to be glad she had not made Sunnydale her home, as the whole world rocked to the news of its sudden demise. The entire city had been lost in a terrific implosion, a single catastrophic event that no scientist could quite explain. Neither could they explain why the city was mysteriously empty, except within the remains of the brand new high school, where the bodies of dozens of young girls had been discovered. News stations had had a field day, ripe in speculations of sword wounds and bites. Why would she dream of that terrible place?

Hush, Tara.

So Tara reflected on the face of the woman, and her heart yearned in the remembrance, the feel of the woman’s chin in her hand, the white hair she longed to entangle in her fingers, and the full lips that practically begged to be kissed.

And with her eyes wide open Tara could see the glowing green eyes of the goddess, the eyes that spoke of a longing that would survive forever, of a desire that would surpass any distance, of a love that would be celebrated eternally. In those sea green eyes Tara would finally find a safe harbour, a place to rest, sheltered from her sea of torments. Maybe in those eyes she could finally see a reflection of herself that wasn’t skewed by generations of hate and abuse. Maybe the person behind those eyes could finally spur her into becoming the woman she’d always dreamed of becoming, the type of woman with dirt under her fingernails, wind in her hair, and patience in her soul, not an enigmatic mystery woman, but present and real.

And yes, Tara knew it was all for nothing, that this was the most exquisite torture imaginable, but her love-stricken mind didn’t care. She had to feel love, any kind of love, even if it wasn’t real.

Because even that little something was better than nothing at all.

I’m in love, and I don’t even know her name.

Thus she entertained (tormented!) herself on the short drive to the hospice, through the sleepy streets, around playgrounds and parks, and finally into the parking lot. The sun was beginning to set over the bank of trees surrounding the hospice, and she could see a slim sliver of Pacific Ocean on the horizon, smouldering in the afterglow of the day’s affair with the sun.

Once inside the cool, dim corridors, Tara made her way to the West Wing nurse’s station, where she figured she would find Ethan. Indeed he was there, looking tired and overworked. His sandy brown hair was tucked recklessly behind his ears and his white shirt looked rumpled. She looked at her watch, which confirmed the fact that he had been there for more than twelve hours. He looked up to see her approach and she gave him a lopsided smile.

“Good, you’re here,” he said, putting down the papers he was staring at and rubbing his eyes.

“Goodness, Ethan, you’re turning into me,” Tara gently teased. She enjoyed teasing Ethan; he was easy to get along with. Probably because he was a perpetual bachelor, who enjoyed the flirting and the dating but not the commitment. When she had first arrived he had put the moves on her, which only served to make her laugh. Sue

(sad sad Sue)

was long gone by then, but Tara wasted no time in letting him know, gently of course, that he was barking up the wrong tree. Ever since then he had become a sort of protector for her, and after today’s disastrous meeting with her brother she now wistfully wished that Donny could be more like Ethan and less like their father. Ethan was someone she could turn to, but the open sea of their friendship had yet to encounter a storm. Would he still stand by her if he knew the truth? She didn’t know, and she wasn’t about to risk it. He knew precious little about her abilities, but he had discovered some time ago that she gave the best shoulder rubs in the state, and it was that plea that came to her now.

“What a long day,” Ethan said. “Could you…?” he asked her with a look of hope on his face.

Tara’s dimples magically appeared as she smiled hugely and she pointed to one of the chairs behind the nurse’s station. Ethan gratefully sat down, settling as comfortably as he could in the chair. John, one of the wing’s night nurses, looked over at them for a moment, then returned to distributing pills in the little containers for their patients. Tara closed her eyes for only a moment, still sizzling with the energy of the rabbit, focusing herself and her powers, then opened them again. She placed her lithe and slender fingers on top of Ethan’s shoulders and began to massage. She had taken massage therapy courses, it certainly helped in the hospice for the overworked massage therapy specialists, and she had done so deliberately. Massaging a patient dealt with bare skin, and bare skin was Tara’s speciality. So now and then she would stop rubbing for a moment to place her hot fingers on Ethan’s neck and suck out the pain of his head and shoulders before returning to the general massage over his clothes. Soon she could feel the telltale numbness in her fingers that testified of the successful transfer, and the heaviness of Ethan’s pain settled somewhere behind her heart. Tara rubbed as long as she could stand, siphoning off the worst of his pain, knowing that if he knew the truth, he would never have asked.

The truth was dangerous. If any of her co-workers actually knew what she could do, that she could actually take, really truly physically take the pain of her patients upon herself, so that she would feel it instead, they would either be concerned for her safety or burn her as a witch. Too great a part of her needed their pain, she needed being able to do something that no one else could do. She needed the darkness, the purple stain, and under the care of her talented fingers she knew that bones would mend and cuts would heal. So what if she felt what they did, and now it was Ethan’s headache that settled deep in her mind, and Ethan’s shoulder and neck muscles that burned her with his day’s labour?

(I never listen to Donny, do I?)

Donny understood, curse him. She should have told him that the poor rabbit wasn’t enough. If she weren’t careful this month, he would need to bring a dog next time. And the larger and more intelligent the animal, the more she hated herself.

Wow, Ethan had had a hard day.

“Thank you,” Ethan breathed, getting up easily out of the chair, his face suddenly glowing with energy. Inwardly she rejoiced. She did that.

“That feels so much better. You’ve got magic fingers, Tara.”

“What?” she gasped. Her whole face flushed and she hated it. “No, no magic, just m-massage. That’s all.”

Ethan cocked a single, adorable eyebrow at her overreaction, but then gently grabbed her elbow to guide her down the hallway the short way to his office. As supervisor of the West Wing (the hospice was quite large, with a whole wing for imaging and other tests, another wing for rehabilitation, and two patient wings), he was entitled to an actual office and it was there he led her, seating her on a plain wooden chair before sitting behind his desk overflowing with paperwork.

“What’s going on?” Tara asked.

“Oh, I want a smoke,” Ethan moaned, ruffling his hair and Tara suppressed a smirk. “Well, down to business,” he said, opening a slim folder on his desk. He rifled through a few pages, then sighed.

“Are you ready for a new patient, Tara? Because we’ve got a pretty special circumstance here.”

And all Tara could feel was relief. She wouldn’t have to lie to her father about not wanting to come home. Now she could have a legitimate reason to stay. But then she lifted an eyebrow. This was very unusual; the hospice was usually quite rigid on its rule of down time – there were other nurses who were available. Even if Ethan wanted to give her the responsibility of a new patient, a split-shift nurse would usually take over for the first week, giving her the mandatory week off. Why would Ethan risk that ruling?

She didn’t need to ask the question; at her cocked eyebrow, Ethan continued, “Actually, you’ve been specially requested.”

Tara’s head, which had been hanging somewhat

(Oh, Ethan, you had a terrible headache, didn’t you…)

shot upwards. “What?” she asked.

“Let me tell you what we know of this patient,” Ethan said, pulling a cigarette out of a battered case he kept in his desk drawer. He took it in his fingers and rolled it in his hands. Tara knew he must be upset; he would never light it, but he usually didn’t need to hold one anymore.

“The patient’s name is Willow Rosenberg.” He looked at her as if he expected the name to mean something to her. It didn’t. Ethan continued, “She’s 23 years old and the sole survivor of the Sunnydale incident that occurred a week ago.”

No, not possible.

Tara’s eyes widened, and a faint prickling of remembered terror/bliss ran through her. Was this for real? She knew that sometimes her dreams were prophetic, and now her heart began beating in earnest remembrance of the woman

(her lips)

and the singular stirring within her gut. Tara felt like she was falling into an abyss, with white noise whirring in her ears, so she could barely hear Ethan continue.

Not possible, not for her.

“I vaguely remember the news reports,” Ethan said. “In her file it says that this girl was found in a smashed-up school bus just inside the crater. From all accounts it looks like people were trying to flee the implosion, but they just couldn’t make it out in time. There were five or six people in the bus, mostly young girls, teenagers, but they were all dead by the time rescuers came. Only Ms. Rosenberg survived."

“What sort of condition is she in?” Tara asked, her voice weak.

Ethan heavily ran through the list, “She was nearly disembowelled with a deep cut across her abdomen. She also has various puncture wounds, including a through and through with a sword, it is believed.”

“A sword,” Tara echoed in near-disbelief.

Ethan ignored her to continue, “She has a vicious bite on her neck that no one can identify. Both legs were trapped in the bus wreckage and mangled severely, though not broken. One lung is collapsed, as something heavy struck her in the chest, leaving terrible lacerations. But the most severe is head trauma. She has a broken skull. She is in a coma, but has stabilised this past week and is ready for transfer from the overworked Los Angeles hospital.”

“And she’s coming here? How can she afford it?” Tara asked, incredulous. She knew that the Los Osos Hospice was one of the best in the country, and therefore the most expensive. Mr. Whitney’s wealth had bought him a place here, to die in a level of peace and comfort most people simply could not afford.

Ethan sat back, dropping the file and drank from a cup of coffee that looked too cool to be pleasant. “Well, that’s something else that’s interesting. She hasn’t had any relatives come to see her.”

“Wait. No relatives? None?” Tara’s heart, already melted into a soft pile of luscious goo, descended into further depths of compassion. Was there no one who cared about this girl? About her survival?

Could she be so much like me?

Ethan frowned and shook his head before continuing. “The only way they identified her was through dental records. On those records her emergency contacts are listed as her parents: Ira and Sheila Rosenberg, but their address is also in Sunnydale. It is possible that they also died in the accident.”

Tortured to death and orphaned. Not a good day for Ms. Rosenberg.

Ethan couldn’t understand the emotions constantly flickering through Tara’s face. Part bewildered, part concerned, all he could do was continue, “But, apparently, an anonymous donor has come forward with a trust fund for her. Not knowing how long Ms. Rosenberg would need care I did the unthinkable and asked how much was in said fund.” Ethan paused, not above a sense of dramatics.

“And?” Tara asked, leaning forward in her chair, her heart beating uncomfortably hard.

“Strange fellow. A Brit, I think,” Ethan replied, grimacing at the taste of coffee in his mouth. He noticed Tara staring sharply at him and continued, “Several million dollars. Enough to keep her in care here for a very long time.”

“So who requested me?” Tara asked, starting to feel a little dizzy.

“Same British fellow. Wouldn’t leave his name. But he was adamant about you. Said they wouldn’t place her here if you couldn’t be her care-giver.”

Ah, Tara thought. Finally, he gets to the point.

Ethan also seemed to realise this was the important moment, and he clasped his hands benevolently and looked softly at her, suddenly noticing how tired and drawn she looked. Had she looked like that when she first arrived? No, she had seemed rested, vivacious… what had happened? He shook his head. “We need the business, Tara,” he said softly. “I know it’s too soon after Mr. Whitney, but can you take her?”

Tara gave Ethan a low smile, then pulled the file towards her. She flipped to the first page, then gasped as all the colour ran from her face. Enough was enough. It simply wasn’t possible. No. Dreams do not come true, not in real life. Not for her. If they did, wouldn’t her mother still be alive?

At least now I know her name.

“What?” Ethan asked, dropping his cigarette in surprise.

“This is her?” Tara asked, pointing to the picture paper-clipped to the front page in the files. Ethan was flummoxed at Tara’s reaction and looked at the picture again. Tara had seen plenty of patients before, some in worse shape than this. So why was she suddenly ashen-faced and trembling? Granted, the girl in the picture was striking, but mostly in a my-god-she’s-beat-up kind of way. Well, that and the white white hair.

“Yes, that’s her,” he equivocated. “Is there something wrong, Tara?”

(the lamb, I am the lamb)

Tara could only stare at the picture, remembered ecstasy crackling through her veins, making her break out in goosebumps. It was undeniably the woman from her dream, the woman who had captured her soul and led it away a prisoner, a woman she had never met.

And there was fear, and the soiled taste of death and madness in her mouth.

(you took too much, Tara)

“I am the lamb,” Tara whispered.

“What?” Ethan asked again, and the small note of panic in his voice finally alerted Tara. She looked up at him, then visibly shook herself.

“I’m sorry,” she gasped, blinking. “Yes, yes, of course I’ll take her. When does she arrive?”

“Late tomorrow morning,” Ethan answered, still confused. “She’s coming by ambulance from Los Angeles.” Tara didn’t answer, for she had turned all her considerable attention once more to the photograph.

“Tara?” Ethan asked, “do you know this girl?”

And Tara looked up and blinked yet again. Ethan sat back in surprise. Over the past year he had come to know Tara, probably more than she realised, and knew that she only blinked and ducked her head when she was seriously confused or nervous. And never like this.

“No,” Tara breathed. “I’ve never seen her before.”

(Liar!)

Tara knew he couldn’t understand. He may be a tremendous doctor, brilliant administrator and an outrageous flirt, but he had no comprehension of the filters between the realities of this universe. How could he believe that she was a prophetess, among other things? A seer, a fortune-teller, a dreamer, and a witch? Such things died out with the Knights of the Round Table. Certainly every couple hundred years a powerful wizard/prophet came to the notice of the world at large, the most notable contemporary being Rasputin, but Tara regarded herself as only a drifting mite in the vast sea of modern wizardry. Easily missed among the mighty Krakens who trolled the depths of the magics, seeking answers to impossible riddles and solutions to impossible problems. What influence does a mite have in such a fathomless sea?

But there was this girl now, and Tara had dreamt of her, and now Tara shuddered to think of the impending cataclysm, for is love anything but disaster? Would she be swallowed whole, used up and vomited forth as her mother so dreadfully predicted? Or would she find in this new charge the reason for her entire jaded existence? Would this woman’s lips, hands, heart and soul be worth the dreaded purple stain?

(for the love of this woman, you will surely die)

From this moment on, nothing would be the same.



To be continued...
Chapter Five: God-Touched. Tara settles Willow into her new room and mindsurfs, only to discover something extraordinary.

Author’s Note: I really hope I don’t sound immodest or puffed-up or anything silly like that, but these next two chapters are some of the finest things I’ve ever written. Ever. I hope you enjoy them.


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 Post subject: Re: The Lamb - new fic
PostPosted: Thu Oct 04, 2007 10:23 pm 
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Ahhh Ms. Phoenix!

Achingly beautiful again. Tara’s suffering is palpable. You have taken the already forlorn Tara we met in Hush and transformed her into the embodiment of loneliness. We can compare with the show how for this Tara, a life without (Willow’s) love coupled with the horrific gift she continues to use has certainly taken its toll on her soul. “I lived my life in shadow”, indeed!

I love the picture you paint of the balance of joy and loss as she torments herself with the dream. Can you actually enjoy something if you know it is going to end? Does happiness actually make up in height what it lacks in length?

And although this line “is love anything but disaster?” might indicate otherwise (and seems to set the tone for the whole story), I am choosing to believe that Tara now has some hope.

And crikey, if the next two chapters are to be the best thing you have even written (given what we’ve already seen), I am considering cancelling my trip this weekend in the hopes that you’ll post them early!!!

P.S. Why is Sue always sad sad?

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Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. ~Helen Keller


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 Post subject: Re: The Lamb - new fic
PostPosted: Thu Oct 04, 2007 10:41 pm 
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Wow again.

It's the middle of the night and I should be in bed, but alas, I am not. So I decided to read your update. The late hour prevents me from breaking it all down, but there's just so much wonderful stuff here that I hardly know where to begin.

So, I'll just say, again, that this story is so painful (which I usually don't like), but so well done and well written (which I definitely do like) that I just wanted to take a couple of minutes and let you know.

Thanks for another great chapter. Can't wait for more.

Diane

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 Post subject: Re: The Lamb - new fic
PostPosted: Fri Oct 05, 2007 10:07 am 
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Once again, simply beautiful writing. And now Tara knows about her new patient/dream goddess. I'm really worried and hoping Tara's dream won't come true -- that she won't take too much. Willow's injuries are overwhelming, so I'm hoping in her desire to help her, she will also want to live and do what she has to do to keep herself around for her. Keep those bunnines coming, Donny.

Great job again!


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 Post subject: Chapter Five: God-Touched
PostPosted: Fri Oct 05, 2007 3:42 pm 
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all willy-nilly...

Happy Canadian Thanksgiving!
Phoenix

The Lamb
Chapter Five: God-Touched


Rating by chapter: PG
Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and all its characters are the property of Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy. I’m just sneaking Willow and Tara out for a night-time stroll… Neither the author nor this site receives compensation for this work.
Spoilers: This is an Alternate Universe fic, but it does contain some spoilers for ‘Chosen’ of season seven.
Feedback: Yes, please. This is my first Buffy fanfic. Reply on the forum or send email to tara_the_phoenix@yahoo.ca
Summary: Tara settles Willow into her new room and mindsurfs, only to discover something extraordinary.

Tara Maclay, RN, prophet-dreamer, truth seeker, and chocolate lover sat on a plain plastic chair next to the occupied hospital bed in what was so recently

(deathspace)

Peter Whitney’s room. When Ethan asked her where she would like to place her new client, Tara immediately chose late Mr. Whitney’s room. On the outside she said it was because of the singularly spectacular view of the waterfall in the garden courtyard (which her comatose patient may never see), but on the inside she knew much better. Mother Earth had a way of absorbing energies from her inhabitants, and Tara knew this was sacred ground, hallowed by her diligent love and devotion and the sweet passing of innocent Mr. Whitney. If she closed her eyes, she could almost sense the peaceful threads of eternity right here, for it was in this very spot that the heavenly host came to escort him to an eternal home strikingly free of pain and heartache. The passage of the gods through the filters of the worlds left a distinctive mark, like a delicious scent or a ghostly footprint, to be sensed by anyone with purity of soul. The air practically shimmered with it, as even the dust motes sensed the glory of the gods and for a brief moment became one in purpose and intention with them. What better space for a healer’s work?

Even the sun seemed to enter this room with a kind of peaceful deference. Soft rays of early afternoon illuminated the room and bathed the unconscious woman in the hospital bed in a halo of light, teasing Tara with remembered images of the goddess in her dream. It didn’t shock Tara to see Willow’s eyes open; all patients in comas would still spontaneously open or close their eyes, an interesting fact never portrayed in Hallmark movie-of-the-week deathbed romances. Besides, it was obvious to anyone with a brain that, though her sea green eyes may be open, there was essentially nothing behind them. The soul was in hiding, all run away with the shock of the bus accident.

(the first)

Tara had held Willow’s immobile hand as the paramedics wheeled her into her new home, watched steadily as they transferred her to her new bed, and eagerly closed the door behind them. Now she was finally alone with Willow, and her trained eyes examined all the machines dedicated to keeping this woman alive.

Reaching for the clipboard always resident at the foot of the bed, Tara read through some columns, then signed her name. Reaching for the blood pressure cuff, Tara tenderly placed it around the woman’s upper arm, clucking at the profusion of cuts and bruises. In moments she had taken Willow’s blood pressure and temperature and dutifully recorded them.

Seeing everything in order, Tara looked over to the door to confirm that it was still closed and took a deep breath. Time to start the physical examination. Tara took Willow’s left hand in one of her own, feeling her clammy skin, and with her other hand very gently stroked Willow’s forehead, her fingers straying to the dishevelled white mangled hair. Tara wondered if the trauma had caused her hair to whiten. It was extremely rare, but it did sometimes happen. It simply didn’t look natural on her, made her seem pale and insignificant, a far cry from the dynamic woman who had so fully enchanted her in her dream.

Tara looked into those deadened green eyes and said, “Honey, my name is Tara Maclay. I’m your nurse.” Her thumb made comforting little circles on Willow’s hand. “I’m your protector now, I’m the one who is going to take care of you. I know you’ve been through some scary things, and maybe the place you’ve gone to in your mind is a haven for you. I just want you to know that you are safe here with me, that the world is safe again for you, that I’m going to protect you and care for you.”

There was no answer, no flicker of movement in Willow’s fingers, but Tara didn’t expect any. She released Willow’s hand, laid it gently on the coverlet and stared searchingly at her face. Tara rose to stand by the bed and began to take an inventory of Willow’s injuries.

Her new charge was very small and soft and vulnerable, with a light dusting of freckles across the bridge of her nose and cheeks. There was a gaping bald spot on Willow’s head where a long gash had been stitched, short black bristles of thread contrasting painfully with her white hair. Another long and ragged laceration across her temple to her jawbone was sprouting black bristles and Tara desperately hoped she could heal it without any scarring. It would be a travesty to mar such a perfect face. Willow’s lips looked a little dry and chapped with a slowly healing gash by the corner of her mouth. There was a healing scrape on her forehead, and her vacant eyes looked devastating surrounded as they were by dark circles of exhaustion and malaise.

Tara tenderly untied the strings holding Willow’s robe closed and folded the coverlet across. Murmuring words of endearment, Tara lifted the robe to expose Willow’s chest. Not that she could see very much skin at all; Willow’s torso was almost completely covered with crusted bandages, desperately needing a change. Tara got up and strode to the sink. Pouring water into a stainless steel bowl, Tara got a cloth and returned to the bed. Ethan had said there was a bite on Willow’s neck, so her fingers strayed first to that large bandage directly over her collarbone. Carefully tugging and using the water to soften and remove the bandage, Tara gasped as she first beheld the terrible bite on Willow’s neck. To her horror, the first image that came to her mind was from the movie 'Sleepy Hollow’ when the Hessian first showed his fanged and malicious smile, each tooth filed to razor sharpness. Something similar had bitten Willow, something almost human, and Tara wondered if all the rumours she had ever heard about Sunnydale were true. The Demon Hunter slash Witch Doctor that Tara had grudgingly accepted as her informant had once told her that Sunnydale was a haven for vampires. She had never quite believed it, and found that scepticism within herself to be highly unusual. After all, she herself was a witch

(a drifting mite)

of no small power. Highly hypocritical of her to accept her own gifts yet deny the existence of others. So. Willow was bitten by a vampire. Maybe the story of a sword wound would now make sense.

She cast her apologetic eyes down Willow’s bare chest. Here she could see the deep purplish yellow bruising of a broken rib and collapsed lung. There was a large and crusty bandage just above Willow’s right breast and Tara started to work it off. Underneath was a horrific scrape, all scabbed over and leaking pus. A long bandage on Willow’s lower abdomen, once soaked off, revealed bristly stitches and swollen infection around her near-fatal gut wound. Someone (something!) had tried to eviscerate this woman, and nearly succeeded. Tara found anger boiling within her, and she had to take several calming breaths to restore her nerves.

Still breathing deeply, Tara saw that there was a smaller bandage on Willow’s right side, which Tara painstakingly removed to reveal the once-dubious sword wound. The cut was unmistakable, and Tara carefully lifted Willow to work off the bandage for the exit wound on Willow’s lower back. So. Willow was skewered like a pig in a slaughterhouse. Tara felt that deep flush of anger return to creep along her bones. “Sweetheart, who did this to you?” Tara asked.

Conscious of the sleeping woman’s privacy, Tara deftly covered Willow’s top as she continued her examination. Willow was shockingly thin, whether naturally or because of a steady diet of IV fluid. More bandages came off of Willow’s battered arms, and Tara’s heart melted to see the scrapes on Willow’s knuckles, realising that Willow had tried to fight back the horrors coming straight for her. Carefully positioning Willow on her side, Tara steadily worked to clean various cuts and scrapes on Willow’s shoulders and back. Then repositioning Willow on her back, Tara came at last to Willow’s legs. Tara meticulously removed the old bandages to take stock of the injuries. It was obvious her legs had been trapped under something heavy; they were riddled with deep cuts and scrapes and Tara marvelled at the amount of blood Willow had to have lost while waiting for rescue. How did she possibly survive? And no broken bones?

Tara was a realist. A few years ago she may have been furious that the gods would allow such horrible things to happen to good people. It was a victim’s attitude, a prevalent attitude that would have such people curse the gods and die. But now, even in the face of such evidence against overwhelming evil, Tara could only believe that some good would yet come of it all. After all

(god is in the why)

what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.

(Liar!)

Tara knew that Willow’s cuts and scrapes needed oxygen, so she carefully laid Willow’s cool hands by her sides, taking care of Willow’s right hand laced with her IV, and laid light linen over Willow’s privates, leaving the rest of her injuries to the air. Tara glanced once more around her to make sure the door was closed and then she drew the curtain around Willow’s bed. She felt an intense sort of protectiveness for Willow, and she didn’t want anyone else to see her all exposed like this.

As Tara got up to take the bloodied bowl of water to the sink, she examined that feeling of possessiveness. It was true that she often felt deeply for her patients, and that her professors and teachers had often warned her against it, trying to scare her with tales of burnout and emotional exhaustion. But for Tara there was simply no other way. Charity and love were essential ingredients for her healing magic to work, and the more animosity she felt to a person the harder it was to heal them, as she lamentably discovered when her father had once broken his wrist. He had not been so impressed with her gifts that day.

Tara dumped the bloodied water and deftly washed her hands, looking over at the curtain separating her from her new charge. Was it really so wrong to feel this way for a patient? Could true hurt come from her selfless love? Willow Rosenberg was just another girl, wasn’t she? She felt this strongly for anyone, didn’t she?

(Liar!)

And she tried to harden her heart, to pretend that this girl, this Willow, was no different from the rest. No matter that the physical attraction she felt for the woman was as a terrific magnet. No good could come of it. Tara could work her healing magic without being in love. She had taken Mr. Whitney’s pain, didn’t she? Willow was a patient, Tara was her nurse. The bounds of their relationship protected her. So be hard, Tara, be hard.

As she returned to Willow’s bedside she looked outside, at the birds gaily chirping in the cradled embrace of the blossoming trees, the fairy sparkles of sunlight glinting from the waterfall, the soft green filter of leaves embossed with delicate veins. The world could be such a place of beauty.

And as Tara stood thus, her gentle heart wrenched within her for the horrors that this poor girl must have seen and experienced. There, in the lustrous sunlight of a summer afternoon, Tara felt a wall within her dissolve, like a coin turning, like a shadow exposed to light,

(be hard, Tara!)

and she finally let herself feel for this woman. The waves of emotion she finally allowed to pour from her caused her to choke back a sob, and she clutched her arms around her middle. Her soft brown hair fell in front of her face, obscuring the sunlight, but to Tara that suddenly didn’t matter anymore.

She had a new sun.

Her soul shifted, and as Tara closed her eyes, she could feel the woman on the bed behind her. The woman pulsed with a light more glorious than sunlight, moonlight, and starlight combined, and Tara’s hungry soul eagerly turned away from those conventional lights to face the

(Willow light)

new light, the love light, her new north star.

Could she save her?

Desperate to stop the tide of tears, yet constantly feeling the smouldering soulfire of Willow Rosenberg, the ache that rose within her could not be extinguished, and Tara began to weep, her breath pouring forth in hitching sobs. Her throat constricted and her eyes throbbed as lines of tears furrowed down her face. Latent pain ebbed and flowed so fiercely through her body that Tara could do naught but cry. She wept for Peter Whitney, she wept for the poor black rabbit, she wept for the broken thing lying

(dying!)

on the hospital bed behind her.

And finally, Tara wept for herself, for the childhood she would never celebrate, for the family she would never have, for the stark emptiness of a future devoid of love.

So Tara battled, there in the delicate peace of Willow’s hospital room, a battle all the more titanic for its silence. So she wept, so she struggled.

So she lived.

Tara finally opened her eyes and raised her tear-stricken face to the heavens. It took a few minutes to calm herself, for the hitching breath to finally ease, and as she waited an iron resolve formed within her soul. No hardness. Not anymore. Only love. She clenched her jaw, tucked her brown hair behind her ears and turned to face Willow once more.

The previous examination was the easy part. Now for the really informative assessment, the one that only Tara could do. Tara pulled the hospital bed gently away from the wall until there was enough space behind Willow’s head for her to sit on her stool. She composed herself for a moment, suddenly afraid of what she might find in there,

(not even the poet knows the end from the beginning)

in the comatose mind of vampire-bitten, knife-sliced, sword-clenched Willow. Tara took a deep and calming breath, then deftly placed her sensuous fingers on Willow’s head, taking great care not to disturb the broken skull within but desperately needing the close physical proximity of her patient’s mind. She allowed her eyes to close

(approach the barrier, don’t push it)

and focused on the calm, even breathing of the broken girl before her.

“Dearest heart, let me in,” she breathed.

For Willow, Tara had prepared a special tree. It was a tree from her youth, enormous yet graceful, with showering curtains of green leaves, a weeping willow. She remembered hiding behind that glowing curtain in the heat of a summer afternoon, when she could smell an approaching thunderstorm in the wind-strewn dust of the family farm. It was safe under the weeping willow, an organic womb to shelter her from the big bad world, a place to daydream and create fantasy futures of delight and enchantment. There she would not be merely tolerated, or even merely loved, but beloved. Essential.

With exacting care Tara fashioned this tree and sent it to the barrier of Willow’s beleaguered mind. A little push, and the tree materialised on the other side.

Ah.

(so this is how she’s still alive)

The very moment Tara’s gentle mind touched the mind of Willow Rosenberg, the world as she knew it shattered. The hospice room she sat in with Willow may have been God-touched, but Willow’s mind was God-ravaged. The fine silken heaven-threads that Tara felt within the room

(Mr. Whitney’s last hurrah)

paled next to the insistent white presence in Willow’s mind. Tara began to lose her composure. This pale and seemingly insignificant woman had been a genuine avatar, and had surrendered her will completely, like a little child, to the limitless power of the gods.

Tara shrank from the enormity of the task that Willow must have faced. The power within Willow was deeper and greater than Tara thought could exist within a human, and threatened to pull Tara in with the sucking force of a maelstrom. Recognising that her mind could be snuffed here with the ease of blowing out a birthday candle, Tara shrank away from that infinite depth, and took a mental step away from the brink.

Among these revelations, and within this holy and transcendent place that still pulsed with the touch of the goddess, Tara looked for the weeping willow tree that she had brought into Willow’s mind. She watched it blacken and shrivel until it was an abomination of it’s former self. And she grieved to see it arrayed thus, a far too potent sign of Willow’s impending death. Tara knew her wounds were grievous, but Willow was on the mend, wasn’t she? Her body was healing; she was no longer critical. Why then was her death so close?

And then her own mind, nestled as it was in the protective folds of Willow’s God-ravaged mind, sensed that she was not alone here.

Tara whirled around, looking for Willow, and found someone else.

To Tara’s everlasting astonishment, she looked through the blackened curtain of Willow’s tree to behold a girl-child calmly sitting cross-legged on the winter-blasted ground. She was wearing a simple immaculate white linen shift and there were grass-stains on her feet, surely some remnant of another, happier, greener place. The child’s head was endowed with a living crown of daisies, perched solemnly atop golden curls. Part of Tara’s mind wished to believe that this was some incarnation of Willow as a child, but she truly knew it wasn’t. It was a lie to protect her from the insistent white god-curtain that burst from this child with a pulsing force. The presence was concentrated here, and Tara reeled back from the child, shading her eyes as if beholding a solar eclipse.

The girl beckoned to Tara, and before her bemused mind could give the command to move forward Tara felt an insistent pull behind her navel button, as if this child were calmly fishing her from the sea. She automatically moved forward, then sat down across from the child. In the

(deathspace)

empty ground between them, Tara watched as a low table flickered into existence. But Tara’s eyes were drawn away from the table, inexorably pulled to the solemn blue eyes of the child.

“I’ve been waiting for you, Tara.”


To be continued with…
Chapter Six: Chalice
Tara discovers that she must save Willow so Willow can save the world. But who is this preacher come to destroy them both?


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 Post subject: Re: The Lamb - new fic
PostPosted: Fri Oct 05, 2007 9:27 pm 
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2. Floating Rose
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Posts: 40
Location: Portland, Oregon
This is an amazingly beautiful story. I just read it through in one sitting and was captivated from part 1. The gorgeous detail you gave from the very beginning--the parallels between Mr. Whitney's suffering and Tara's own physical pain, for example. Her red converse sneakers. The slant of daylight.

And I love the mindsurfing--universe bending aspects of this story as well. There's something lyrical about it. Life inside Tara is very interesting, indeed.

Your story's premise is beautiful and lyrical. Kind of a heightened surrealism that's grounded by the gritty details of everyday life.

I look forward to more.

June


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 Post subject: Re: The Lamb - new fic
PostPosted: Sat Oct 06, 2007 2:10 am 
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7. Teeny Tinkerbell Light
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wow this story is so wonderful and magical! i really love it!! great idea you have there! please go on!! :party


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 Post subject: Re: The Lamb - new fic
PostPosted: Sat Oct 06, 2007 4:19 am 
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32. Kisses and Gay Love
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Location: Kitopia
Hello :)

I really like your story, it is really beautiful. The way you write it. Tara's visions... Really beautiful, even if kinda sad.

I wish she would take another animal before to start with Willow and then when she would start with Willow, that she would take an animal more regurlarly.. Because there is a lot to take.

Thanks for sharing your fic with us.

Friendly,

Julia

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Broken Dolls |The Stadium's Goddesses | Seeds Of Beauty

"Joie est mon caractère, C'est la faute à Voltaire; Misère est mon trousseau, C'est la faute à Rousseau." Gavroche. Victor Hugo, Les Misérables (chap. XV)


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 Post subject: Re: The Lamb - new fic
PostPosted: Sat Oct 06, 2007 7:09 pm 
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i don't have time for a full-scale response, but I will say that I am enjoying this more and more.

you've done a wonderful job explaining the extent of her injuries which of course brings up so many questions.

who is that girl under the tree? how much more will tara need to take? where has willow gone? what will happen? gah. so good.

i'm veritably hooked. it might be a problem :P

thanks so much, this is delightful. you have such a way with words, it adds wonders to your narration.

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 Post subject: Chapter Six: Chalice
PostPosted: Sat Oct 06, 2007 8:25 pm 
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6. Sassy Eggs
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The Lamb
Chapter Six: Chalice


Rating by chapter: PG
Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and all its characters are the property of Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy. I’m just sneaking Willow and Tara out for a night-time stroll… Neither the author nor this site receives compensation for this work.
Spoilers: This is an Alternate Universe fic, but it does contain some spoilers for ‘Chosen’ of season seven.
Feedback: Yes, please. This is my first Buffy fanfic. Reply on the forum or send email to tara_the_phoenix@yahoo.ca
Summary: Tara discovers that she must save Willow, so Willow can save the world. But who is this preacher come to destroy them both?


“I’ve been waiting for you, Tara,” the girl said, her palms resting comfortably on her knees.

“Y-You’ve been waiting for me?” Tara replied, cursing herself for her hugeness, her clumsiness, and her stupidity. “B-but who are you?”

“I am the goddess Aranaea,” the child simply replied.

Something within Tara’s mind clicked with certainty, and though her rational mind would have her disbelieve the child’s words, she knew the truth. After all, she could see the heaven-threads right here, right now. “What are you doing here?” Tara asked.

“Saving the world.” The child-goddess said the words so offhand that Tara could barely understand them.

“Saving the world?” Tara whispered, then she looked around her at the blackened womb of Willow’s hell-blasted tree. “Who is this girl?” Tara asked, desperate to know why, oh why was Willow so special?

In response, the child

(goddess)

waved her hand at the table and there appeared a magnificent chalice made of the finest crystal, glinting off the soulfire of the goddess. The goblet was deep and pure and Tara thought she’d never seen anything quite so beautiful ever before. Aranaea’s eyes looked steadily into Tara’s, and she said, “Willow Rosenberg is the last best hope of this world.” The goddess paused, then said, “Tara, you have no comprehension of the sacrifices this precious woman has made for the inhabitants of not only this world, but countless others.”

But anguished Tara could recall the desperate Willow-wounds, from the cuts and bites to the most horrible shattering of her skull, and she thought that maybe she could comprehend it. Tara sat back in that quiet reflection, her eyes going back and forth from the chalice to the devastated ground until Aranaea made a curious gesture, gently forcing Tara’s eyes to meet her own.

“For the past year, the First evil has been waging war on the world, centering its offensive in Sunnydale, the home of the Slayer. But it was the power of this lone woman that decided the outcome.” Aranaea stopped long enough to concentrate her gaze to the withered ground next to the table, Tara’s eyes helplessly following. The weapon

(scythe)

winked into existence, and Tara recognised it’s ferocity, it’s gleaming edge, it’s waves of power. And Tara could almost see the link between scythe and soul, that Willow had consumed the power of this weapon entirely in her dire need. In a quiet voice, for to speak of such things in irreverence would be catastrophic, Aranaea said, “Willow Rosenberg is the single most powerful witch alive on the earth, and her insistent call brought me out of hiding. I merged my will with hers, and together we used the mystical power of the scythe to turn every Potential Slayer into a true Slayer, with all the powers that came with the calling.”

Tara should have been confused with this welter of words and concepts outside her natural ken, but the link of her mind with Willow and the goddess revealed flashes of images that testified of the tale. She could almost see them, as if through a thin grey filter.

“But the powers of the gods are limited to the power of the vessel,” Aranaea sadly continued. “And Willow was attacked before we could complete our work to eradicate the First, to repair the rift they made to come to our plane of existence. If only,” and Aranaea stopped and looked away from Tara with tears in her eyes, and Tara was mystified at the sheer magnitude of this tiny goddess’s love for Willow.

Finally the child-goddess returned her reddened gaze to Tara’s eyes, smiled wistfully and snapped her fingers.

The crystal chalice shattered into a thousand pieces, and finally Tara understood. She reached over to take a shard in her fingers, to delicately touch the gleaming edge, as the crystal ever shone in the glow of the goddess.

“The powers of the gods are limited to the power of the vessel,” Tara repeated. “And the vessel broke.”

Aranaea nodded. “There was nothing I could do, except sustain her physical body as best as I could. I chose to stay, and every wound she received I felt as if in my own flesh.” Aranaea gasped, crying in the remembrance of it, and again Tara could see the ghostly images of the vampires surrounding Willow, their knives slicing her abdomen, their swords piercing her, until she was borne down into the dust, her cherished head dashed to the floor.

“Faith saved her,” the child-goddess continued, and for a moment Tara was confused, wondering if the goddess was speaking metaphorically, until she saw the mirage, an image of a Slayer picking up Willow’s broken body and taking her to the bus. “But they weren’t fast enough.” Tara saw as the bus tumbled back down the newly formed canyon, tossing the girls inside it like dolls. “And rescue took far too long,” Aranaea wept. “How I wished to save them all, these brave and precious women who gave their lives so freely so the world could live in peace. But dearest Willow was my last hope, and needed every ounce of my protection, so I had to, I had to let them go, I had to sacrifice them in order to save her.” Aranaea was crying freely now, and Tara’s benevolent heart wrenched within her at the terrible choice, her own eyes now gleaming with tears.

Aranaea finally looked at Tara, and there was something in her gaze, some deep knowledge that actually frightened her. “I kept her alive, Tara, but it is up to you to save her.”

“Me?” Tara spluttered. “B-but you’re...”

Tara was going to say, “You’re a goddess, why don’t you do it?” but Aranaea interrupted, saying once again, “The powers of the gods are limited to the power of the vessel. I have no power here. You do.”

Tara was held spellbound by the fierce determination in the child’s eyes. Aranaea looked at Tara with a hint of wonder and then Tara felt the god-curtain wash over her, as Aranaea’s presence surrounded her, and pierced her. And within Tara’s mind were many doors, each of them latched tightly and warded against entry, imprisoning the fearsome beasts inside, her malicious memories that had to be just so contained or she would lose her humanity. And the god-curtain swept under the doors, and through the keyholes, and blessed the rooms within, and sanctified them, and celebrated the glorious win.

Tara sat as doors opened, and there was no more horror, only love. And the precious child-goddess whispered, “You have no idea, do you?”

And as Tara sat cross-legged on the blighted ground, she could feel the edges of her consciousness blur with sensory overload. The whirling storm of magical energy surrounding her, the insistent showers of god-presence emanating from the child like a nuclear reactor, the disquieting dimness of the blackened leaf-curtain; a part of her wanted to curl up into a little ball and gibber in madness.

But once again the insistent sapphire eyes of the child-goddess held her, grounded her, and for a few moments Tara was allowed to calm herself, to quiet her breathing, to shut out the madness around her. Only then did she remember what the child had just asked.

“No idea of what, exactly?” Tara asked, regaining her composure and a little of her trademark cheekiness.

“Who you are!” Aranaea replied in near-exasperation. “Humans! How is it possible that you can’t feel your own destiny? Do you really think so little of yourself?”

Tara hung her head and thought

(a drifting mite)

that yes, she thought little of herself.

And the goddess tweaked that little memory from her, and reached forth her small and delicate child’s hands across the shards of crystal on the low table to take Tara’s huge and clumsy ones. She gripped them tightly, and then growled, “Tara. You are the Kraken.”

(trolling the depths of the magics)

No, impossible.


Between their conjoined hands a massive vessel emerged, another chalice, larger and somehow more ornate than Willow’s. Aranaea tightly squeezed Tara’s hands again and said, “This, my dearest Tara, child of my heart, is you.” She finally released Tara’s hands to sit back down on her heels.

Tara could only stare at the goblet in front of her. Didn’t Aranaea just say that Willow was the most powerful witch on the earth? Correctly interpreting her silence, Aranaea said, “There are few women like you on earth right now. There are warlocks and witches in plenty, and Willow is the greatest of them all, but true healers are very rare. I think there is a healer in India, and another in Romania. But you are the most powerful healer on earth. I should know, I was the one who created you.”

Tara looked at the goddess with stark astonishment in her eyes, her mouth forming a question, but the insistence of the goddess in making her statement could not be stopped, and the child continued, saying, “And, in order for Willow to save the world, I need you to change this,” and she waved at the crystal shards on the table, “into this.”

With another snap of her fingers, Willow’s chalice reformed as it had been, with no mark to tell the shattering tale. The goddess put her hands over the goblet and closed her eyes. Pure white liquid light poured from her palms to fill the chalice to overflowing, and Tara felt her heart ease in the pureness of the goddess’ love. Aranaea opened her eyes once again; her piercing sapphire eyes that somehow saw everything of her, that swept the dark corners of her mind clean. “Save Willow, Tara,” Aranaea whispered. “So Willow can save the world.”

A heroine. A paladin of souls, a champion for good, the saviour of the world. Every childhood dream come true, and in the downcast humility of her pure heart, Tara balked one last time. “But goddess, who am I?”

Aranaea smiled a sweet sweet smile, and Tara drowned in it, thinking that if she were to smile like that at a woman that no one would ever tell her no. The child reached over the table, leaning to her and caressed her cheek with her little fingers, then kissed her lightly on the forehead. Tara could feel a searing heat at her forehead as if she had just been branded. But when the goddess turned to look at Tara again, holding Tara’s cheeks in her hot little hands, Tara could see an unfathomable depth of sorrow in her eyes. A single tear coursed down Aranaea’s cheek as her voice choked, “My dearest and most precious child, this time you will be the rabbit,”

(long thin streams of tar)

“you are my sacrifice to save the world. You are the lamb.”

Of course. To Tara's oft-bewildered mind, and even amidst the fury of magical energy surrounding her, this simple statement made the most perfect sense. No wonder she felt such love and devotion for this woman, this Willow. She must, in order to lay her life down for her.

And Tara looked inside her soul, at the dark rooms swept clean, and decided that yes, she would die for her new

(Willow-light)

friend. She would die willingly, and a thousand times over, if it would keep this most precious woman alive. This final task, her last hurrah, would make sense of it all.

Suddenly Aranaea’s head shot up, and she cocked her head as if she were listening to something. Tara turned her own head around, but could see nothing beyond the black curtain. But was the world here in Willow’s mind getting dimmer? “I’m running out of time,” Aranaea said, and Tara was shocked and frightened to hear a glimmer of fear in the child’s voice. “There was so much more to tell you, why I did what I did to you and your family, but I’m afraid there is no more time.”

My family? Wait.

Tara put up a hand, imploringly; anything to get the goddess to stay and interpret her last cryptic sentence, but Aranaea was already standing up and brushing off invisible dirt from her dress.

“Goddess, please!” Tara cried, stumbling up from the ground, knocking over the table that suddenly whisked out of existence. Aranaea picked up the scythe from the ground and held it towards Tara. It didn’t seem right that such a little girl could have the strength to handle such a weapon.

“Take it, Tara, it’s the only way to defeat him,” the goddess said, thrusting the scythe at her.

“Him who?” Tara asked, senses reeling, holding out her hands to physically take the scythe, and finally reacting to the obvious fear roiling off the tiny goddess.

“Not like that!” Aranaea cried, almost sobbing with terror. Tara could see the world around them continue to darken, until an unhappy and uncertain twilight lay over the landscape of Willow’s mind. Tara nodded, finally understanding, even through her fright. She put her fingers on the scythe

(so much colourful dust)

and sharply inhaled. The scythe disintegrated, and her head snapped back as unfamiliar and primal power surged through her veins. She could feel her spine crackling with it, and wondered that it didn’t burst from her eyes like lightning. It took a few moments for her to become adjusted to the new power within her, and by the time she recovered, the child-goddess was gone. And more than gone, for every ounce of peace and light in Willow’s mind was vanished, leaving Tara in a dim and unknown world.

“Well now, missy, just who are you?”

Tara whirled around to behold a man walking toward her. She watched in horror as his booted feet burned the dead grass under his feet, leaving charred footprints. There was a cloud around him; a noxious miasma that was felt more than seen, like the odour of blood but not the stain. He was dressed as a preacher in dark clothes, the single white spot at his collar glowing, not with the god-light of Aranaea, but rather with the same putrid luminescence found on moulds and lichens in the dark of night. On the surface he seemed rather presentable, but Tara could feel the thin filter, the layer of scum on top, that would dirty his every move.

“This ain’t the time for visiting, little lady,” the preacher was saying, and Tara couldn’t move a single muscle, couldn’t claw her way back into her own body even though she was desperately seeking retreat. She closed her eyes and concentrated, visualising her body back in the hospice room, the feel of the afternoon sun on her face, Willow’s hair underneath her hands. She ached to reverse, to withdraw, but some force held her, fished her from the mystical sea. In desperation

(trapped!)

Tara opened her eyes. This had never happened before. She’d never been caught in someone’s mind and unable to return. Had her mother ever told her this was possible? The darkness emanating from the preacher had her trapped in a dome of misery, and she felt horribly exposed, like the preacher could see every dark part of her, every little malice, every little lie, every little secret.

And every dark and malignant room that the child-goddess blessed was now multiplied in its ruination, its lies and secrets magnified in a damning legion of darkness, and even as Tara’s well-trained mind raced to contain them all, to make little prisons again, she could feel the insidious clouds of hate and despair waft through her mind, poisoning everything they touched.

The preacher lifted a hand and casually waved it; whole branches of Willow’s tree were suddenly obliterated, carving him a path directly to where she stood, trembling, trying to run, feeling a weird cementing of her feet. As she looked down in panic, she noticed that the earth had indeed swallowed her feet and began to slowly chew on her legs. Her throat constricted as she begged to scream, but another gesture from the preacher bricked up her mouth. So Tara flayed her arms, scratching desperately at the dead earth, until they too were

(chains of restraint)

bound to her with invisible cords, leaving her neatly trussed like a hunting trophy. Tara could only moan behind her closed mouth as the earth slowly advanced up her legs. She closed her eyes again and tried to calm her breathing, seeking any way out of Willow’s mind, because this wasn’t real, none of this was real! But even with her eyes closed she could see two red pinpricks of hatred glowing from the preacher’s eyes and she decided that if she was going to fight, she had better see her opponent.

So she opened her weary eyes, and she watched the terrible advance of the man,

(the long preacher, the dark hand, the silent might)

the flickers of fire curling the dead tendrils of grass under his booted feet, the fog that surrounded and sustained him, and she knew true terror.

“So, thought you’d come a-calling in miss Willow’s mind, didja?” the preacher asked amiably, looming over her sinking body. With another shot of genuine fright, Tara noticed that his eyes were completely black. “By rights, you don’t belong here,” he continued.

He stood up and walked away, and with another careless wave of his hand another huge branch of Willow’s tree was devastated into dust. “I’m starting to get a mite ornery,” he continued, “seeing all these people coming into Willow’s brain, and I’m the only one that belongs.”

The preacher then returned swiftly to Tara and hunkered down on his knees before her. “Time for you to understand something, little girl. Willow belongs to me. I am the First, and I will rain devastation and misery on her until she has paid what she owes. I will visit her with every mental torture, every destruction, every rack and ruin my immense mind can conjure up, until she is nothing but a wasteland. And this will I do because the others got away, in death they escaped, but Willow is alive, and I will feed on her.”

And with another wave of his vile hand, he opened a window into Willow’s mind, and showed her a scene of devastation so raw, so rank and gory that Tara wanted to gag on it. She could see Willow there, but Willow didn’t have white hair, her hair was red, and she was endlessly stumbling through darkened streets, blood pouring from her wounds, reeling from one broken and beloved body to another, one Xander, one Buffy, one Giles, weeping and crashing and falling, her body landing in their ripe bloated balloon skins that would pop like a bubble, her hands and limbs covered with their putrid rotting organs, until the stench was forever in her nose and the giggling hordes of madness danced behind her eyes. This was what Willow was seeing, every moment of every day she lay comatose, and Tara could have screamed at the dreadfulness of it all.

The preacher saw the genuine horror in Tara’s eyes and laughed at the pleasure of it. With another gesture he closed that window into Willow’s mind, but it wasn’t soon enough for Tara, for the images burned their way into her memory, creating more little rooms of misery, and part of her knew she would have nightmares about them for the rest of her life. “She will pay, little missy,” he said, and he reached forth his terrible smooth hand and patted Tara lightly on the cheek. Under his touch Tara could feel her cheek burning and she wanted to scream through her bricked mouth. With a genuine smile of maliciousness, he added, “And there’s nothing you can do about it. You think that you have power, but you’re wrong. Dead wrong.”

Tara’s mind whirled in despair. There was no way out. No way to save herself, let alone Willow, and a part of her addled mind cursed the goddess for not warning her of the dangers here.

Tara felt a pinprick in her arm. She looked down to see that the earth had swallowed her up to her waist, but there was nothing on her arm. A whooshing sound filled her ears, and a strange sensation flooded through her veins. The preacher didn’t seem to miss anything, and his face was contorted with hate as he saw her consciousness withdraw.

As Tara melted away, she could hear his voice, and it was all the more terrible for its quiet intensity. Locking his black eyes on hers, watching her escape, he merely stated, “It is said that even the powerful die.”

Grabbing her nearly insubstantial face as it faded from him, he added, “And the meek shall inherit the earth.”



To be continued with Chapter Seven: Ethan and the Witch

I have a few days off so hopefully I'll be able to continue this mad posting frenzy!


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 Post subject: Re: The Lamb - new fic
PostPosted: Sat Oct 06, 2007 8:49 pm 
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Wow!

Mad posting frenzy is right! But please, don't stop. I love it.

And I love your story. There are lots of images, both light and dark in this last update. Again, the elements are visceral, made animate with the skill of your writing, and I'm hanging on every word.

Sorry for the short feedback, but the hour is late and my thoughts aren't terribly clear at the moment. So I'll say again, well done. Keep up the great work.

Diane

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 Post subject: Re: The Lamb - new fic
PostPosted: Sun Oct 07, 2007 12:33 pm 
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Wowzers! Yeah, exactly what Diane just said.

Can't wait to see what's next.

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Restlessness ~ Quickies - The Lovers, The Dreamers & Me

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 Post subject: Re: The Lamb - new fic
PostPosted: Sun Oct 07, 2007 7:19 pm 
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i think this gets better and better with every post.

the confusion i felt in the first update has vanished and instead i am a little fly trapped in this web of a tale. delightful.

not to mention a hearty thanks for the frequent posts.

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 Post subject: Re: The Lamb - new fic
PostPosted: Mon Oct 08, 2007 11:58 am 
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Hi there and welcome to the Kitten Board. You certainly bring a presence and tremendous amount of writing skill to our midst. I've missed out on individual update feedback for the most part so I'll be brief. First, your story is amazingly passionate and expansive. I love the way you wind together images of nature with images of pain and suffering or healing. It's truly remarkable and effective. Second, I have to give Donnie props. He's an ass, yes, as he usually is in fan fic. But he brings Tara the animal every month and forces her to use it. Without his efforts, she couldn't do her magic and her patients would not ever get the benefits. He's like her support staff but without the emotional maturity to be a nice guy too. Or he's as abused and damaged as she seems to be.

And finally, and I don't know quite how to describe this. You have a very impressive ability in your writing to combine very tactile, logical, and precise descriptions with an almost dreamlike quality. It's quite effective.

Well, I have to go to the store in a few minutes but I wanted to say that you have another reader quite hanging on the end of my seat.

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 Post subject: Chapter Seven: Ethan
PostPosted: Tue Oct 09, 2007 6:38 am 
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Rating by chapter: PG
Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and all its characters are the property of Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy. I’m just sneaking Willow and Tara out for a night-time stroll… Neither the author nor this site receives compensation for this work.
Spoilers: This is an Alternate Universe fic, but it does contain some spoilers for ‘Chosen’ of season seven.
Feedback: Yes, please. This is my first Buffy fanfic. Reply on the forum or send email to tara_the_phoenix@yahoo.ca
Chapter Seven
Ethan


Dr. Ethan Daniels was proud. He stood at the West Wing nurse’s station and looked down the gleaming hallways under his care. As he watched his nurses at their work, he reflected on the changes taking place within the hospice. Ten years ago it was simply a facility to aid in the gentle and comforting death of loved ones. But a younger board of directors had decided that it would make more sense, financially speaking, to also start a wing dedicated to long-term or rehab care. Not many people knew about it yet, they didn’t have to advertise; word of mouth brought them the twelve patients they could install in the new wing. How did that Brit know about us, and why on earth did he ask for Tara?

Dr. Ethan Daniels was disturbed. He stood at the West Wing nurse’s station and idly listened to Penny prattle on while steadily observing the closed door down the hallway. He had surreptitiously checked in on Tara several times throughout the course of the morning as she prepared the room for her new charge, rearranging the soft brown furniture, exchanging prints of sailboats that Mr. Whitney had loved for generic nature ones. She had plumped pillows umpteen number of times and endlessly scoured the already gleaming surfaces.

He received a sharp poke and turned to face Penny, rubbing his shoulder. “What?” he asked.

“You haven’t heard a single word I said,” she accused, waggling her finger at him.

“Guilty as charged,” Ethan admitted, looking down the hallway.

“Are you worried about Tara?” Penny asked, following his gaze.

“A little. She didn’t get any time off, and she’s acting kinda funny,” Ethan admitted.

Penny nodded. “She’s got a soft heart, that one,” Penny said. “I only hope she can keep her objectivity.” Then she cleared her throat and continued, “I need you to authorize my patients requisition form, Ethan.”

Ethan took the forms and retreated to his office, looking once more at the closed door down the hallway. It had been a little more than an hour since the ambulance with Willow Rosenberg had arrived, and Ethan had watched as Tara tenderly held the hand of her new patient as the paramedics wheeled her into her new room. He had seen that tender care, and was disturbed. Ethan could vividly remember last night’s conversation with Tara, the confusion and amazement that had reigned on her face when she first saw the photo of Willow Rosenberg. Tara was obviously hiding something. But what?

Ethan couldn’t admit that he knew very much about Tara. She was remarkably introverted for being such a competent nurse; many nurses were outgoing and vivacious, which accounted for their chosen profession. They also regularly vented about their job and its difficulties, one of the few ways to keep sane in a house of the diseased and dying. But never Tara. She was quiet, resourceful, and incredibly talented. It was obvious to him and everybody else that her every move was golden.

He could remember when he first interviewed her for a position at the hospice. He had been about to summarily reject her because of her age and lack of experience, but there were incredible reports in her nursing portfolio. Hospice work was difficult work, it bonded patients and nurses in unconventional ways and the rate of burnout was high. But Ethan had been so intrigued by her file, by the sheer number of ‘miraculous recoveries’ she had been a party to, and he vowed that he would have her, no matter how young, how inexperienced.

In the year since she had come to Los Osos, she had three patients, and every one of them had subsequently died from their illness. He distinctly remembered the first time she had announced that her patient, an eight-year-old boy, had been on the brink of death. Ethan hadn’t really believed her, but decided to humour her, just in case. Her prediction was remarkable, the family was alerted just in time, and Chris had died in the arms of his mother and father. Ethan was ready to dismiss it as a fluke, but it happened again and again. Penny told him yesterday that she had predicted Mr. Whitney’s death within hours once again. How did she do it?

Yes, she had been in Los Osos a year, but she still remained an enigma to most of the staff. He had pushed to get to know her, for a part of him had immediately fallen in love with her; a heady kind of excitement that he cherished every time it happened. He was far too experienced a bachelor to fall completely for her, and his careful overtures to her had been just as carefully rebuffed. And now he frowned to remember the night that she had finally taken him aside and told him, gently, as she did everything, that he was ‘barking up the wrong tree’, and he’d finally understood.

Was she in love with her new patient already? Would she cross the line? Would he have to fire her?

The very moment that Ethan took the new file in his hands, the Brit’s demand for Tara dashing inside his skull, and looked at the photo, Ethan knew there could be trouble. Tara was soft; she loved her patients, and this poor Willow Rosenberg was about as beat up as a person could get and still be alive. She could also be Tara’s first patient to actually recover in the hospice, provided they could bring her out of her coma. Willow was also Tara’s first patient that was her own age, and Ethan’s heart clenched in fear. Could anything keep Tara from falling for Willow? Oh, yes, Ethan knew the risks, and as much as they needed the business he almost told that saucy Brit to shove off. No person was worth having to fire Tara.

Would he regret his decision to bring her here?

Ethan took a moment to focus on the paperwork and in fifteen minutes brought it out to Penny who was monitoring the nurse’s station. Willow should have been Penny’s this week, while Tara took her week off, and Ethan knew Penny was curious why it was Tara in Willow’s room. Because of the sizeable contribution that Brit promised to make. Thankfully, as supervisor, he really didn’t have to defend his decisions to the other staff, and Penny was far too experienced a nurse to challenge him.

As he handed her the file he looked down the hall and noticed that the door was still closed. Making up his mind, Ethan strode down the hallway and silently opened the door to Willow’s room. The room was awash in sunlight, deflected by the curtain pulled around Willow’s bed. He blessed his soft shoes that didn’t make any squeaking noise on the clean linoleum and snuck up to the curtain.

And there he stood, stock still, his heart double-wrenched in pity. Willow was lying on the bed with a clean linen shift lightly covering her privates and the sheer number of cuts and scrapes on her battered body amazed Ethan. Tara had done an admirable job of cleaning them, and made a good decision in letting them air out for a while. And Tara herself was standing silently by the window, her brown hair hanging over her face, her arms clenched tightly around her middle and she was sobbing as if her heart were breaking. Part of him wanted to rush to her, to embrace her, but a greater and wiser part knew that sometimes you just needed to be alone. So he just as silently retreated from the quiet room, closing the door carefully behind him, wondering, ever wondering if he had done the right thing.

“How is she?” Penny asked, taking note of Ethan’s careworn expression.

“Tara or Ms. Rosenberg?” Ethan replied.

“Both.”

“Well, Ms. Rosenberg looks like she’d been run over by a combine. I’ve never seen that many cuts and scrapes on a body before. Tara’s doing fine by her.” Ethan took advantage of the pause in conversation to grab a fresh cup of coffee and retreat back to his office, grimacing at the pile of paperwork he had yet to finish before the end of the day.

An hour later Ethan did his rounds, stopping by each patient’s room to have a word with patient and nurse. He knocked on Willow’s door this time and softly called, “Tara?” When there was no answer he opened the door and confidently strode to the bed. Tara had pulled it out and was sitting behind Willow’s head, her eyes closed and her fingers on Willow’s skull. Among the beeping of machines Ethan could hear them both breathing, and he smiled.

Ethan was aware of what Tara did with her new patients, though he didn’t understand it at all. She had invited him to be present when she introduced herself to Mr. Whitney. They had chatted about this and that, and then Tara asked if she could try a trust exercise with him. Peter had looked rather intrigued by the proposition, and had willingly closed his eyes and deepened his breathing. For a long half hour Ethan watched as neither of them moved, Tara’s eyes closed and fingers on Peter’s head, but there was a deepening expression of wonder on both their faces. He could only watch as they enjoyed some sort of joining or communion.

And he was envious of that communion.

So Ethan remembered, and he could now see that same expression of unearthly delight on Tara’s face, though the comatose face of Willow Rosenberg showed nothing. He left Tara to her most important work, and continued on his rounds.

Immured in his office once again, Ethan only realised that hours and hours had passed when the light in his room began to grow dim. He looked at his watch and noted that it was almost seven in the evening, and he was surprised that Tara hadn’t peeked into his office to tease him about his mountains of paperwork. Concerned, Ethan got up and went right out to the nurse’s station.

“Has Tara come out?” he asked Penny.

“Nope,” Penny replied shortly, counting pills into the little containers.

Ethan went swiftly to Willow’s room, leaving the door open in his haste. And there Tara still sat, her fingers spread spider-like over Willow’s skull, and Ethan’s heart caught in his throat. Her face showed an indescribable expression of peace and devotion, and it almost seemed as if rays of some godly light poured from her, though his practical mind attributed such luminescence to the evening light coming in through the window. He was spellbound; he stood and watched Tara for long minutes, as her face continued to show a sort of gloriousness he had never experienced before.

But wait.

What in frilly heck was going on here?

Under his concerned gaze Ethan witnessed the impossible. Tara’s felt melted, and reformed in a contortion of pure terror. Her mouth opened in a silent ‘O’ of surprise and shock, and her body went rigid.

But even more astonishing was what was happening to Willow Rosenberg. In a flush that started from the roots, her hair darkened to a bloody red, a wave of colour that slowly cascaded from root to tip, and Ethan’s jaw gaped. Impossible.

Unmistakeable. Willow’s white hair was now red.

I’ve got to stop this.

Ethan rushed to Tara’s contorted body and roughly grabbed her shoulders. “Tara, time to wake up,” he said, shaking her rather roughly, but her fingers seemed to be glued to Willow’s blood red hair. “Tara,” he said again, louder and more urgently, and vainly pulled at her fingers. Instead of waking and letting go of Willow’s head, Tara simply lifted her own head and with her eyes still glued shut, she screamed.

And Willow went into cardiac arrest.

Although Ethan knew that the nurse’s station would be immediately alerted of the heart failure, he still shouted, “Penny, get in here!” He ripped aside the curtain and put his ear against Willow’s defiled chest. Nothing. He could hear the commotion in the hallway as the nurse alerted others and came rushing in. From a cupboard in the room Penny grabbed the defibrillator and pushed it over to Ethan. He swiftly calibrated the machine as Penny spread the gel on the pads, then thrust them at him. April, another nurse, was already preparing an injection of epinephrine to put in Willow’s IV.

And throughout it all, Tara’s hands remained glued to Willow’s head, and her face was streaming in tears, and her breath came in short shocking gasps.

“Clear!” Ethan shouted, placing the pads over Willow’s chest.

“Clear,” affirmed Penny, and Ethan shocked Willow, looking at her heart monitor for any response. There was none. The monitor was still buzzing its deathsong, it’s flat final note.

“Again! Clear!” Ethan said, and shocked Willow again. This time the device did it’s work, and Willow’s battered heart began beating again. “IV push,” he demanded, taking the syringe April had prepared and slowly injecting it into Willow’s IV, watching the monitors the entire time. When the syringe was empty, he returned it to April’s hands, and strode quickly to the defib cart. Fingers fluttering quickly through vials, he finally found what he was looking for and prepared another syringe.

But instead of going to Willow, Ethan went to the trembling and semi-conscious Tara, swabbed disinfectant on her arm, and quickly jabbed her with the needle. “Wake up, Tara,” he muttered, slowly depressing the plunger. Around him he could hear the two other nurses attaching the life support systems to Willow. At this moment, Ethan didn’t really care about Willow. What he cared about was Tara.

He had only moments to wait before her eyelids fluttered, the adrenaline coursing through her veins. Tara shuddered awake with a mighty gasp; her eyes flying open in darkened terror, she ripped her hands away from Willow’s head as if they were burning. She rose from the stool, stumbling, and lifted a hand to her mouth as she gasped, “Oh, God, Willow!” Then Tara tripped on the stool and landed heavily on her hands, her arms trembling, and she vomited on the floor.

“Is Willow stable?” Ethan asked as he bent down to pick Tara up off the floor.

“Yes, sir,” Penny answered, her voice crisp and businesslike.

Tara was trembling violently in his arms, and he gently held her by the shoulders. “April, take Tara to the staff room and stay with her,” he said, passing her to the other nurse. April drew her arm comfortingly over Tara’s shoulders and half-supported her as she lurched her way to the door. Ethan looked over his shoulder and could see Tara look back at Willow, agony written plainly on her face. Then she finally retreated, and he bent back to his work, a million questions running through his mind.

“What on earth was all that about?” Penny whispered over Willow’s suffering body.

“I really don’t know,” was his only reply.

It was almost an hour later before Ethan finally left Willow’s room. The young woman had stabilised once more, but he wanted to make sure that no repeat arrests would happen. John had come on shift and had taken over Ethan’s vigil, so Ethan went to find Tara.

He found his brown-haired nurse hunched over in her favourite yellow chair in the staff room, holding a steaming cup of tea, April seated on the chair next to her. Tara looked up as Ethan approached and he was relieved to see her eyes clear and attentive, free of the dread and terror that had painted them so terribly. April got up and turned to leave as he approached, and he squeezed her hand as she left. “Are you all right, Tara?”

And he could practically see the wall form behind her eyes, as she put on a somewhat happy face. “I’m fine, Ethan,” she assured, not knowing he could plainly see the lie. “Really, we don’t need all this fuss.”

Right.

“No fuss?” he said quietly, though he deliberately injected a thin stream of menace in his voice. “Tara, your patient went into cardiac arrest and you were… stuck somewhere in never never land!”

Her face fell, but the wall behind her eyes remained, though they brimmed with ready tears. She opened her mouth to say something, but Ethan interrupted her. “Tara,” he said softly. “I was far more worried about you than the girl. You’ve never been gone that long, or in that deep. You and I need to have a long chat.”

He could see her eyes flit about the room, filled with worry and exhaustion. “Not here,” she whispered.

“No, not here,” Ethan agreed. “After that shot I gave you, you’re in no position to drive home. I’ll drive you. And we’ll talk. Now just give me a few minutes to make some arrangements and I’ll take you home. You sit tight.”

He got up, and he could feel her eyes on him as he left the room. As he left, he permitted flashes of memory to come forth, and he dwelt on them: on Tara and Mr. Whitney, Tara crying in Willow’s room, Tara filled with peace, and then Tara filled with terror. He thought

(miraculous recoveries)

that he was finally going to discover the truth about Tara.

In 24 hours, he would never be the same man again.



to be continued with Chapter Eight: Healer at Work


Last edited by Tara the Phoenix on Tue Oct 09, 2007 9:37 am, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: The Lamb - new fic
PostPosted: Tue Oct 09, 2007 7:44 am 
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I love this story. I really do.

I had an actual moment in the middle somewhat akin to watching an episode of "ER." I felt a small wash of adrenaline myself as poor locked-in-perpetual-nightmare-hell Willow coded and flatlined. It was very well done, and I know it can be hard to make that transition when you write. The sudden outburst of nerve-jangling excitement is a challenge to write, basically since you don't have any tension with which to set it up, so it's kinda like you have to find the right words to drag the reader in immediately, and you did it really well.

Also, I kind of love Ethan. I think he's just a really good guy and really cares about Tara, but she seems to have that effect on everyone. Well, everyone except herself. Interesting. And very well done.

Congrats on another great update.

Diane

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