Chapters 8-10 - End
"So… all I have to do is pray really hard, say a few words, light some candles and want it a whole lot. Do I have it right?"
Anita smirked. The way the witch in front of her managed to simplify everything was adorable in a little girl type of way. In most people that would annoy the hell out of her. In Willow it was just what it was supposed to be - cute.
"Yep. Lots of wishing and praying."
The red head laughed, the sound echoing through her small living room.
"That seems almost too easy. Why didn't I think of that?"
"Because, like me, you were probably looking for something a lot more complicated." Anita grinned.
Willow nodded. "Hard to believe something that caused that much pain can be done away with a little hoping and wishing."
"Don't forget the praying." Nathaniel chuckled. His left hand rubbed idly at Willow's back, more for his own peace of mind than her own. A sense of excitement radiated from her the more she talked with Anita about what needed to be done. She had said that she would never forgive herself for what she had done, but just seeing her here, like this, he couldn't help but believe she'd get over it, at least a little.
"Wow." Willow muttered, bowing her head into her hands. It was too much all at once. To be told that the answer to her greatest mistake was only a short ritual away. Hopefully. Anita had been very clear on the fact that this was a not a sure thing. In fact, it was a one time shot from what she understood. Either it worked now or she went on with her life as she had been in the first place, regretting every minute of her actions and wishing with all her might to be able to make things better.
But wouldn't it be nice to know that she had made things right? Even if she still regretted it for the rest of her life? Wouldn't it be nice to know that she had done everything in her power and given them back what they, truthfully, didn't deserve in the first place? It would make her just a little better in karma, after all.
Wasn't atonement grand?
Anita watched the emotions pass over Willow's face, hiding a smile. It was almost as though the witch had convinced herself somehow, somewhere, that she deserved to be miserable for the rest of her life because of what she had done. Now that she had a way out of that misery it was too much for her. What would it be like to wake up in the morning and not have to put on that shroud of guilt that she had worn every single day for so long? Anita couldn't begin to imagine what it was like, the only thing that came close was the guilt she felt over how she had reacted to Richard changing. And even that was something she only dealt with when she saw him. She didn't carry it around and force herself to deal with it every waking moment.
"So - do you want to try?" The Executioner asked quietly. She quickly added, "If you want to think it over, do it. Because this could be a one time shot. You need to make sure you are ready to put your everything into it when the time comes."
Willow nodded thoughtfully. "I want to try it, definitely. But not tonight. Not right now. I need some time to prepare myself mentally for it. No sense rushing in and spoiling the one chance I might have."
"Good idea." Anita smiled. She glanced at the clock on the DVD player, knowing fully well what time it was. "I have to get going now, guys. Work calls. Burt'll be pissed if I miss my first appointment."
The red head snickered. "Doesn't take much to upset him, does it?"
Anita shook her head. "Was nice meeting you again." She turned her attention to Nathaniel. "Micah is expecting the two of you later tonight. I'll see you when I get home."
Willow waited patiently for Anita, shutting the door behind the dark haired woman, to leave before pouncing on Nathaniel with the question.
"Why are we going to see Micah?"
Nathaniel blushed, bending his head down so that his hair fell in front of his face, hiding the pink tint to his skin. "Uh - he wants to talk with us. You, mainly."
A crease appeared in the center of her forehead, between her eyebrows. "Why?"
"It's nothing, really." He stammered. "Something that's done whenever a member of a pard, or pack, is dating a human."
Willow could tell by how flustered her was that she wasn't going to like the topic of conversation, though for the life of her she couldn't figure out what it would be.
"Is this going to be the part where they warn me that if I ever hurt you they'll kill me painfully?" She joked. "Because, if so, there's no need. I won't ever hurt you."
He shook his head, managing to smile despite the situation he had found himself in so rapidly. "No. Nothing like that. Something far different."
She sighed. "C'mon, Nathaniel. Just spit it out. I'm not going to be mad at you."
That brought Willow up short.
"Run that by me again? This time with an explanation?"
The wereleopard turned his violet eyes to his girlfriend. "He's going to give us the lecture about the dangers of sex with a shifter and how to be careful. They don't want to see you get hurt."
"He's going to - " She blushed, her face heating up as though she had just been put under a thousand watt heat bulb. This is what she had to look forward to later tonight? Her day had just gone from good to embarrassing. She had never even met Micah before, had only heard about him in idle conversation from Nathaniel; and now she was supposed to listen to a talk on sex from him? Despite the fact that she had recently taken up going to strip clubs, Willow was still very much of a prude when it came to certain things.
And this was one of them.
Willow sat down hesitantly across from Micah, trying not to blush under the weight of his gaze alone. The air was thick with tension, and she was a hundred percent sure that it was all hers. Nathaniel certainly looked calm. As did Micah. The other members of the pard were, thankfully, no where to be seen; though she doubted they were very far away. They were a family and family stayed close together.
'Probably in one of the back bedrooms.' She acknowledged.
"So - you're probably wondering why I called you here." Micah began, meeting Willow's eyes. The aura of her power vibrated around her, pulsing in time with her heart. She was nervous, anxious.
"No." Willow said, blushing. "I know why I'm here. I just want to get it over with as quickly as possible if you don't mind. This isn't the type of thing I like discussing with strangers."
That brought Micah up short. From what he understood, Nathaniel had met Willow in a strip club. He had assumed, simply by the fact that she was dating the auburn haired wereleopard, that her own tastes were just as varied and exotic as Nathaniel's. Yet, here she was, trembling with embarrassment over one little
conversation? Maybe he had overestimated her entirely.
"I'm sorry." He said simply. "But this really is for your own safety. As well as Nathaniel's."
"And that's the only reason I'm here. So can we please get on with it?" Her patience was becoming strained. Too much time had passed in her life since she had ever been under such intense, embarrassing scrutiny.
"Yes, please, Nimir-raj." Nathaniel murmured, his own eyes pleading with Micah to make this as easy as possible on the easily embarrassed red head.
"Of course." The alpha male nodded. He took a deep breath and began.
"I'm not going to lecture you on the birds and the bees, Willow. I'll assume that you know that much about life, right?"
"I'm not a child." She laughed.
"No, you're not. And that's good. I would never trust a child to have a relationship with a shifter. So, since you're not a child - I think you'll be mature enough to be able to handle all of the responsibility being with Nathaniel entails."
"Firstly, on the matter of him being a shifter; wereleopards are not nearly as contagious in our animal forms as werewolves are. If you get scratched or bitten, it doesn't mean you're going to be infected. This isn't a reason to be lax when it comes to safety when you and Nathaniel are - "
"I get the point!" She exclaimed softly, holding up a hand. "I need to be careful when we're intimate. Right. Got that."
"Okay then. The next thing is the act itself. You need to be very careful when the two of you are - physical. He has more strength than you can imagine and could hurt you without realizing it."
"That's where the handcuffing me to the bed will come in handy." Nathaniel murmured in her ear, grinning when she shivered.
"Handcuffs won't hold." Micah argued.
"Magic." The red head mumbled. "Magically enhanced handcuffs."
The Nimir-Raj blinked in surprise. This girl really was full of all sorts of surprises. That one comment gave him hope that the next part of the conversation would go well, too.
"Okay. So - we've got the first parts covered." He grinned. "Now for the last. Nathaniel has told you about his past? About Gabriel and Raina?"
The red head nodded slowly. She remembered those names from what he had said. They were the sick bastards who had shaped Nathaniel into what he was now. A submissive that was too broken to know when to stop. She hoped that one day he would be 'better', and that was her ultimate goal.
"So you're aware of what his needs are?"
Again she found herself blushing. "I -do- have access to the internet, Micah. I've read up on the type of stuff that Nathaniel was into. Can't say I'll be able to help him with the pain part. I hate causing pain. But - I think I can assist him with the other needs."
By the time she had finished speaking her face had turned a startling shade of bright pink. She was so hot that she felt like she might faint at any time. Thankfully, it appeared that her inquisition was over. She almost keeled over in relief when Micah spoke his next words.
"Good." He reached out, patting her hand. "I know this is hard for you - but this is what life is like in a pard. There are no secrets. If you're going to be with Nathaniel, you're going to have to get used to pard life."
"I don't mind. You guys are like one big family to each other. I'm glad that Nathaniel has that kind of support."
There was something in her eyes that told Micah she had been too long without that kind of support for herself. It was a bitter lack of sparkle and a sadness to her tone that gave him the insight that maybe she had been alone too long; and made him wonder if she had ever really had a 'family' before that time.
"You're always welcome in this family, Willow." Micah smiled gently. "If you ever want to join us for real -" He let the invitation trail off, unsure how she would react to him basically inviting her to get infected. He didn't even know why he had made the offer; it was certainly unlike him. Maybe it was that soft sense of sadness that he saw in her eyes. It was a lot like what he had seen in his own pack member's eyes at different points; the need to be loved and be part of a group was strong, not just in shifters, but in humans as well.
"Thanks." Willow smiled. "One day I might even take you up on that."
Nathaniel looked from Micah to Willow and then back to his Nimir-Raj again, knowing that something important was taking place. Micah had accepted her as a member of their family, their pard, without making her a member of the pard. Yet, he had also given her an open invitation to join the pard. He smiled, knowing that a major step towards fixing Willow once and for all had just been taken.
She was going to be alright, after all.
And if that was the case for her, he had a good feeling it would be the same for him, as well.
Hey bestest bud of mine. Was great to get that letter in the mail from you the other day. I agree, we really should keep in contact more often than we have been. I miss you; miss those good old days back in Sunnydale. No - I don't miss Sunnydale itself. Just those days we used to have. Back when we were still young and innocent, you know?
Anya says for me to say 'Hello' and to see if you need any vengeance worked. She took up a job as a vengeance demon again, I don't think I told you that yet. It all came about in a really whacked out way and I'll have to tell you about it sometime. In person. Face to face.
Can we come visit?
I meant what I said, I miss you, Wills. We should never have lost contact the way we have. So - just let me know if An and I can come over and visit. I hear that St.Louis is an interesting place to live. Okay - so I'm making that up. I really don't know anything about St.Louis other than the fact that the Master of the City is dating the Executioner. That's an odd pairing, don't you think?
Speaking of pairings, odd or not. Way to go, Wills. Nice to see that you've finally found someone that makes you happy. He *does* make you happy, right? Otherwise, like I said, Anya's available for all things vengeance-y. She could probably find a really neat way to make sure he was a -bald- leopard next time he shifts. You're being careful with him, right? I don't mind you turning furry one day, but the idea of him accidentally killing is a lot to swallow. Be safe for me, k?
I heard from Her the other day. Not sure where she got my number, but there she was, on the other end of the line when I said 'hello'. She wanted to know if you'd done anything recently to reverse what you did so long ago. Says she has started feeling things again, things she thought she'd never be able to feel again. I told her I didn't know and that if the curse had worn off Anya would be happy to redo it. She hung up real quick-like. If you uncursed them, way to go on the path to redemption. They don't deserve it, of course, but you don't deserve a life time of guilt, either.
Anyway. Call me. You know the number. I want to get together sometime. Me, you, An and your boy toy.
Willow put down the letter, smiling at the piece of paper with Xander's oh-so-familiar scrawl all over it in black pen. The letter was short, as were most of the correspondences she had received from him over the years, but this one was very much welcomed and heartfelt. It had the words she needed to hear written all over it. He was happy for her.
And he had heard from Buffy. The ritual had worked. The gods had heard her plea and had decided to answer. At least in Buffy's case. There was no reason for her to assume it hadn't worked for Tara, also, though.
"What's with the smiles?"
She looked up, her smile widening at the sight of Nathaniel, still clad only in an over-sized t-shirt despite the fact that it was after one in the afternoon, a time when most people saw fit to seek clothing. He was gorgeous and he was all hers. The thought made her feel good, possessive.
Nathaniel smiled seductively down at her, brushing a lock of hair from her face.
"You have that look in your eyes."
"What look is that?" She questioned, trying to look as innocent as possible.
"The look that says those handcuffs that are still wrapped around the bedposts might be put to further use."
Willow shivered as his breath tickled her ear, his lips trailing down her neck as he finished speaking.
"Up all night and still want more?" She murmured. "You really are insatiable, you know that, right?"
He shrugged and gave her a wicked leer. At one point he would have apologized for wanting so much or being so 'insatiable', as she had said. He would have said his 'sorries' and gone off to sulk until his master or mistress called for him again. Those times seemed so far in the past now. He still enjoyed a little bit of roughness, as evidenced by those very same handcuffs he had only just mentioned, but it wasn't what he needed anymore. Not after a full month with Willow by his side and in his bed. He had even made the move from Anita's house to Willow's. Even with his new found assertiveness he had no desire to live on his own, that just wasn't the way of the pard.
"Or maybe you're just so good that I can't get enough."
Now that was a thought Willow could live with. A man not being able to get enough of her. It was definitely a first in her life. She stood up, grabbing his hand and tugging him through her apartment, towards the bedroom. A wrong movement brought a hiss of pain to her lips, the scratch on her side stretching more than was comfortable. It was a side effect of the choice she had made only a few days before.
To join the pard.
Once and for all.
The scratch had been made by Micah, with Anita supervising to make sure nothing got out of hand. Though there was no guarantee that she would be joining them on the full moon, it still made her feel one step closer to having that family she wanted so much in her heart of hearts.
"You okay?" Nathaniel asked, eyeing the wound carefully. It had already healed more than a normal human's skin would have within the two days since it had been made. That boded well for her chances of shifting in a week, with the full moon. But that didn't mean that it wasn't still painful to her. If there had been any other way to infect her with his form of lycanthropy he would have chosen it rather than see her go through any form of pain. But that was it - a scratch or a bite. And biting was out of the question. Knowing that they wouldn't have to be careful much longer only served to bring out his lust further.
"I'm fine." She grinned, pushing him back lightly on the bed. A growl rose from his chest, but it wasn't anything to be worried about. A sign of passion, not of hunger or anger. She could see his beast lurking beneath his eyes and felt something in her own body answer it, ever so slightly. It felt good, and scary at the same time. Big changes were coming up in her near future. But not right now. Not in this bed on this day, of that she was sure.
"You have the early shift at the club tonight, right?"
Nathaniel nodded, feeling the magically enhanced handcuffs snap into place. He tested the strength of them, nodding that they were secure.
"Gotta be there by five." He agreed.
Willow glanced at the clock. One thirty. That still gave them plenty of time.
Plenty of time, indeed.