Chapter two of my story of Willow and the giant snake. Rating 18. Chapter One is here.
And now Nehushtan does smile, her tongue flickering out around her lips.
"Of course. There is always wisdom to be gained from what people choose not to reveal. In the things we do not tell." The goddess leans forward, touches a cool hand to Willow's forehead.
"In the things we hide."
And All My Secrets Laid Bare, Chapter 2
"What the hell is going on here?"
Willow's head whips round in shock as the extremely angry and extremely familiar voice intrudes into the scene. Goddess, no! She can't be here. But she is, and the look on her face forcefully reminds Willow just how dangerous a pissed off Slayer can be.
"So this is the big secret? Or is this just your idea of fun?"
"Ken, no, it's not what it looks like..."
"Don't treat me like I'm an idiot. I can smell the sex on you. And don't pretend you didn't enjoy it, either. You're all.. tousled, and flushed, and..." Her anger is threatening to turn into something else, as the suspicion of a tear glints at the edge of her eye, "And I trusted you, I died for you, because I wanted to help you. And while I did, you've just been helping yourself. Who is she, Willow? Just some demon skank you decided to mess around with, or is this the big bad bitch in person?"
Willow cringes at that, but Nehushtan shows no flicker of anger. The goddess's opaque eyes watch the scene impassively; she makes no sound or gesture. How can Willow explain? How can she make Kennedy understand? The words bubble up inside her and twist her guts into knots, but they all seem so useless. I only did it to learn stuff. I didn't want to hurt you. This is really important. I didn't even lie, I just... didn't tell you everything. It doesn't change how I feel about you. Can't we just forget about this?
...Forget about this....
It would be so simple. She feels the familiar thrill of seeing the solution, the easy way out that nobody but her ever seemed to notice, when it was always so obvious to her. Kennedy would never have to know. She was so powerful now, she wouldn't even need the Lethe's Bramble. She could do it, easily...
Her head spins, and she suddenly feels sick to her stomach. She isn't that girl anymore. She's learned her lesson, hasn't she? Hasn't she? The traitorous voice inside her head whispers otherwise. It would be so easy, and Kennedy would thank her for it really. Everyone would be happy, and Willow would never have to face her own guilt reflected in her girlfriend's eyes... She shudders, turns her face away in shame. No magic, not again. She'll have to think of some way to explain herself...
"It d-doesn't matter if you lie w-with magic or with words, Will. It's still lying."
Her entire body goes cold as ice, her head whirling. Please, no.
Not her too. Not here. Not like this.
"I thought you'd know that now. After everything that h-happened. Why did you do it?"
There is such a weight of disappointment in her tone. Willow can't face it, can't face her. She's dreamed endlessly about this moment for two years, and now it's here she can't look up; thinking child-like that if she couldn't see, she couldn't be seen.
"Sweetie, how could you?"
She chokes, flushed with shame, but stammers out a reply as best she can. "I only wanted to do good. To get power so I could help people. I didn't mean to-- "
"Please don't lie. You always--" But whatever she was about to say goes unheard as Kennedy suddenly thrusts herself into the conversation, her own anger with Willow cast aside as she leaps to loyal defence of her partner.
"You do not get to accuse her of that. Back off!"
Willow does look up now. Kennedy stands in front of her, hands on hips, practically vibrating with righteous anger: and past her...
Tara smiles her shy, self-effacing smile, and ducks her head, shielding herself behind her hair from the Slayer's wrath. It's such an achingly familiar gesture, Willow's heart seems to clench up like a fist, and...
This is all wrong. Tara doesn't do that, not anymore. (Nor anything, not anymore.) She wouldn't back down from a confrontation, not since she found her strength, and...
The entire world seems to flicker.
And Tara is standing there with her arms folded, serene defiance in her eyes as she stands up to Kennedy, giving as good as she gets. Willow glances round at Nehushtan in suspicion, but the goddess's eyes are as blank as ever. She merely observes, keeping her own counsel.
"... Anyway, s-seems to me you should be just as angry. It's you she's lying to. This time."
"That's between me and her, I don't need some stranger interfering between me and my Willow!"
"'Your' Willow? Huh. S-so you're who she moved on to? Aren't you kinda young for her?"
"Who the hell do you think you are?"
Tara doesn't reply to that, just quirks an eyebrow; and after a moment Kennedy gets it. She looks thunderstruck, taken aback for possibly the first time in her life. Then shoots a look back towards Willow, filled with fear and defiance and resignation. Her shoulders slump, and all the life seems to drain out of her.
"I'll just go."
Her own plea goes unspoken, but Tara's word pulls them both up short in shock. She shakes her head firmly. "That's not the way it works. It's up to W-Willow."
"But I--" She breaks off in shock, whipping round to face Nehushtan again. "You want me to choose? Is that it? Is that the secret you want from me? You want me to choose between them?
The goddess remains inscrutable, but something wakes inside Willow. Something deep and slow-moving and primal. She doesn't get angry, as a rule. She gets grouchy, or snappish, or cranky. She lets things fester then gets mad at herself instead. Not like this. She feels it stretching and growing inside herself, filling her with its power. It's not the other anger either, not the wild vengeful world-destroying rage. There's no taint of blackness here. It's more like a fire.
"Tell me! Do you expect me to choose?"
"I can bring one of them back for you, if you wish."
The fire becomes an inferno.
"You're playing with me. Tara's death was irreversible. Nobody has the power to bring her back."
The snake demon grows huge in Willow's eyes as she looms up in front of her, cruel fangs bared as she hisses angrily. "I am Mistress of Life and Death! Your foolish little witchcraft and petty dealings with godlings are as nothing before my power! Speak, and one of them will return to life and the other be cast back into nothingness. Choose now! Or do you wish to hear them begging for their lives first?"
Willow laughs in the goddess's face. "You really have no idea, do you? Beg for their lives? Watch and learn." She turns towards Tara and Kennedy, who are now standing side by side watching the exchange.
"Ken, do you want me to choose you?"
The dark-haired girl swallows, bites her lip, but then looks up bravely and shakes her head. "No. I - I know how much Tara meant to you, how much she will always mean to you. If you have a chance to get her back, I'm not going to stand in your way. I just want you to be happy."
Willow smiles at her gratefully, then turns to Tara. "Sweetie?"
"You already k-know what I'm going to say."
"I think I do. But saying it's not for my benefit."
"Life goes on, Will. We live, we die and our spirits go back into the circle of life. I know I'll always be a part of your heart, but I'm glad you've found happiness with somebody new. It would be selfish and wrong of me to want you back all for myself. A-and it's wrong for you too. You can't always look backwards. You have to grow. Learn to trust yourself."
"Trust myself? I thought...?"
Tara smiles gently. "Sure. You hide things because you're scared you won't be able to handle it when they come out. I know you; you panic. But I also know you're strong. You just have to believe it yourself. And you'll have help. I'm sure, um... I'm sorry, what's your name again?"
Kennedy tells her.
"Nice name. Not what I would have expected... Anyway, I'm sure Kennedy will be only too happy to, um, kick your ass if you ever get too self-doubting. She looks like she's good at that. The kicking. Really trim legs."
Willow blinks in surprise. "Tara, are you coming on to my girlfriend? Um, other girlfriend?"
Tara giggles, and Kennedy gives a cocky grin. "Your other girlfriend clearly has excellent taste. Which is obvious since she likes you!" She turns to Tara, a mischievous look on her face. "Hey, since we've got this opportunity, maybe we can compare notes. When she was with you, did she still leave her wet face flannels in the sink...?"
Willow groans theatrically. "This is like my worst nightmare!" But she's smiling fondly as she says it, and as she turns back to Nehushtan the grin is still playing around her lips.
But her eyes are fire and ice.
"You see? That's what being in love means. Proper human love, not the demon-y kind. Each of them wants me to choose the other."
"But the choice is yours, not theirs.
"Which do you choose?"
On to Chapter Three