Summary: "Ever since Tara could remember, she'd had the scar in the palm of her left hand “ a tiny pale pinwheel of raised tissue that sat between her head and heart lines, right next to fate." A BtVS novel,ūset mid-season 6, featuring palm reading, timelines, mysterious Initiative files, vampires, Funny Fun balls, and cool special effects.
Disclaimer: All hail Joss from whom all these characters flow
Ever since Tara could remember, she'd had the scar in the palm of her left hand « a tiny pale pinwheel of raised tissue that sat between her head and heart lines, right next to fate. Willow had asked her about it, in happier times, those long lazy afternoons spent spooning and talking, drifting in and out of kisses, missing classes.
"How'd you get this?"
"I don't know. I've had it forever. Happened when I was a baby."
"Really? Must have been a bad burn if you still have it. Didn't you ever ask about it?"
"Well, Daddy said it was the mark of the demon, but you think it's a burn scar? I always thought it was from a cut." She'd never really thought about it. There was no feeling of wrongness about the scar, no anxiety associated with it.
"Looks almost like somebody branded you," Willow whispered, then uttered a little cry and drew Tara into a fierce protective hug, no doubt imagining all sorts of childhood abuses. Willow would save her. Willow would make it better. She didn't really need saving, not then, and not from that. But it felt wonderful to know that someone loved her enough to try.
That was when they'd first started seriously discussing techniques and methods for healing through magic. Tara knew a lot of the basics, but Willow had all kinds of theories, elaborations of stuff she'd read, from Gurdjieff and Crowley to Timothy Leary and Starhawk. She envisioned clinics devoted to healing rituals using psychotropic herbs and focusing crystals so that the person could travel back « metaphysically, spiritually, to seek out the root cause in the past and either fix it or remove it. Sometimes a person might have to go to the source of a problem back through several previous lives. By addressing the psychological and karmic causes for the soul's injury, then, in theory, the need for a physical manifestation of a scar, or a cancer say, would be rendered null and void. There could be past life regressions and guided meditations and spirit channeling and it would be so incredibly cool!
It was hardly a new theory, but some of their research had uncovered means and ways that, as Willow had said, "blows Louise Hay out of the pond, baby!" Still, a very complicated philosophical problem. Karma was one thing to some people, and quite another to others. There was the whole samsara deal to consider, laws of cause and effect, and mustn't forget the wiccan rede. Could the cure cause more harm spiritually than the disease? Would the sick person get to decide the course of treatment or should the healer, what if the person didn't want to pursue the cure? What if the cure left a big hole in the space-time continuum? There were lots of questions, questions Willow had been quick to sidestep or gloss over.
An it harm none, do what thou wilt. But Willow was, even then, very much a "do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law" person. Oh, she was kind, and generous, and always believed she had everyone's best interests in mind when she ... did what she wilt. But the best interests of others became more and more filtered through her assumption of what was best. Witness the infamous ball of sunshine/troll fiasco. Anya was right. They totally should have paid for the ingredients. Tara knew that, because certain magic was about like for like, equal measures, balance of energy. You couldn't "borrow" the ingredients lest the results be returned to the lender and you end up with zilch. But she'd let it slide, mostly because she was an outsider, but also because she was in love.
Thinking back, all the signs of Willow's predilection had been there when Tara read her palm at the Magic Box « god, not even two years ago. Maybe if she'd said something then, instead of pretending it was nothing, Willow might have realized the path she was on and stepped off that road before
No. She wouldn't have. Because she was Willow and that's part of what Tara had seen.
The electric kettle whistled and she got up, poured water over the tea bag and listlessly watched the cheap orange pekoe cloud the cup. She'd left a message inviting Dawn to come over after school. She thought maybe they'd go to a matinee, eat some pizza. But she hadn't heard back yet. It was starting to look like the connections she thought she'd made with Willow's friends only existed because she'd been caught in Willow's gravitational pull.
She flexed her hand and looked at the scar again. She still had some of the notes they'd made. Somewhere.
Tea forgotten, she went to the closet and started pulling out the boxes she hadn't bothered to unpack yet because too much Willow was inside them.
The lecture hall in the science building was packed. Willow looked around. No seats left. Looked like she'd be one of those blocking the fire exits.
Aaron Gossett was proving to be the biggest draw for the entire lecture series. There were tons of girls here tonight, and she suspected only a very few were actually interested in the possibility of "global causality violation in time travel."
If his photo on the back of his book were any indication (and not, as she also suspected, from twenty years ago,) Professor Gossett was definitely the super-hotty centerfold of scientific journals everywhere « in a forty year old guy kind of way. She flipped through the book, idly « Time Travel for Pedestrians, a guide to the highways and byways of temporal theory « then shoved it back in her bag. Another one of those "physics for the lay person" books that crowded the science shelves these days. Personally she thought it was a little on the cutesy side, a bit snide and condescending, what she'd read of it anyway. But, hey, she already had the ticket. Tara had bought tickets for the entire lecture series at the beginning of the fall semester, even though she wasn't much for science. It was yet another example of why Tara was good and kind and wise and sweet and thoughtful, and why Willow didn't deserve her and should be buried up to her eyeballs in ... eyeballs. Still, when she'd discovered the tickets in a dresser drawer this morning, it seemed a shame to waste them. She'd wasted enough of her life in the past few weeks already. So here she was, donning the old collegiate tankini and diving into academia again. Yes, a refreshing dip in the academic pool was just the thing. She hoped.
But the press of people was already making her jittery « teeth grinding, arms locked hard over her chest, nails digging into the soft tissue under her arms kind of jittery. She wanted every breathless giggling girl to shut the hell up, and knew that she could make them shut up and they'd never even know it. She wanted to sit in the front of the auditorium and knew that she could make someone give her a seat and that someone would be pleased as punch to do it. She knew that it was wrong and bad, but still, she felt it. She could barely pay attention to the introductions, and was about to beat a retreat when Aaron Gossett took the podium. Suddenly, her attention narrowed, focused in, and then honed itself to a razor sharp edge. He had presence, she'd give him that much.
He was an attractive man, not tall but not short, thin but not gaunt, with the suggestion of nicely defined, manly muscles everywhere. He wore a simple but elegant white shirt, black jeans, and a black suit jacket of a fashion forward European cut. Thick black hair, artfully disarrayed. Thick black brows, artfully sculpted. His cheekbones were sharp, chiseled things, but she suspected the neat goatee was there merely to hide a weak chin. The dark-rimmed glasses however, those looked to be more for effect than necessity. She could see that his eyes were very blue, even from this distance. He reminded her of someone, though she couldn't think who at the moment.
While the audience quieted down, Professor Gossett milked the anticipatory silence by pouring a glass of water from the pitcher provided and taking a few long gulps. He fiddled with the notes in front of him a moment then looked out over the hall and smiled.
"'There is no difference between Time and any of the three dimensions of space, except that ourconsciousness moves along it.'" He removed his glasses. "H.G Wells wrote that in his ground breaking fiction The Time Machine ten years before Einstein published his special theory of relativity and posited Time as the fourth dimension. The logical snag in Wells' story, of course, is that one shouldn't be able to travel back in time to before the time machine was built. How could that be? Paradox is always the snag, isn't it? And yet, every human being on the planet, every man, woman, and child who ever was, is, or will be «everyone of us in this room « is right now traveling through time in our quaint pedestrian fashion. All Time is Now, my friends."
Willow grinned. There was nothing like the plummy tones of an Englishman at the lectern.
I shouldn't be doing this alone, Tara thought, then breathed into the thought and through and past it. She wasn't creating a cone of power here after all, but a bubble, or a cockpit to protect her when the arrow of her concentration aimed and shot towards the source of the scar. Once there, she'd only take a quick look at the situation, examine the whys and wherefores and karmic implications, then return to her body and decide if she wanted to change anything.
She'd made a different sort of tea instead, and was feeling the effects now. Naked, sitting yogi fashion, spirit at the center of the elements. Candle, salt, incense, bowl of water. Fundamental elemental. She giggled, rolling the words around in her mouth like marbles. Relaxed backwards onto the floor, straightening her legs, spreading them wide, and her arms wide, like the spokes of a wheel with her womb at the center, pulling the power up from three floors down. She was the arrow and the bow. She was her own intention notched into the intention of the universe.
"From the mark in my flesh to the mark in my flesh, goddess guide me, my aim is true."
One, two, three « Go!
"No, you're right, you're absolutely right, I think. It's what Price said. The whole notion that the past is not influenced by the future is an anthropocentric illusion, a projection of our own temporal asymmetry. The reason why the things we do in the present don't seem to have altered the past is because the past has already taken account of whatever we're doing that's different."
"That's what I meant. Exactly, yes," Willow said. She was smiling with such intellectual joy her dimples hurt. Sitting in bar discussing temporal physics with a professor! Churning the ice at the bottom of her glass with her straw like the milkmaid on a box of margarine!
"Would you like another?" Aaron asked, and he'd already turned to wave down the waitress before she could answer. She would like another actually, even though she had a sneaking suspicion he was trying to get into her pants by plying her with liquor. Who cared? This was the first truly stimulating conversation she'd had since « no, don't think about that. Her.
After the lecture and the Q&A, Willow did something she'd never done before. She stood in line with about twenty other people (mostly female people) so he could autograph her copy of his book. While he was signing it, she mentioned that certain branches of the occult believed that the concept of all time existing at the I>same time was what allowed practitioners to move through it in any direction, even sideways. He'd stopped, beautiful pen poised mid scrawl and looked at her. "Yes, I'd heard that," he replied, then asked if she'd wait until he was done there, so they could discuss it further.
Cocktail lounge at the Ramada Inn and two Arnold Palmers later
"Yes," she said, to the offer of another and to what he was saying. "I mean, if we decide to do something different, the past already knows and has made the necessary adjustments."
"In a manner of speaking. Which doesn't really negate the concept free will though, you understand."
"Well, it might, for the people it affects that don't happen to be you."
He laughed. More drinks were set before them. The conversation wove in and out of Zen Buddhism, dancing wu li masters, holographic minds creating holographic universes, practical magic and magical practices, a few of the successful spells she'd done with Tara, her studies, the university itself, what she'd chosen as her major.
"Good lord!" he laughed. "History of Consciousness. How shall you ever find employment?"
"I know, I know. But, I'll end up teaching anyway, so I might as well pursue what interests me."
"You remind me of a friend of mine. She was a professor here for a number of years. Maggie Walsh."
"Oh! Oh, you knew her."
"We were at Berkeley together for a time."
"Together? As in together, together?"
"What? Oh no, no. Just colleagues, friends. Our interests diverged and we lost touch. She was brilliant you know, so many interests, so many fields of expertise. She'd even developed some very interesting theories on practical time travel, the idea of vehicular memories. I mention it in the book. But it was only a fancy to her. I was deeply sorry to hear of her passing."
"Yeah ... I mean, yes, that was a-a difficult time in all our lives."
He leaned forward, a classic invitation to gossip. "Do you know that none of her research was ever recovered. Years and years worth of studies and experiments, and my God, she was so meticulous, you'd think she would have had copies twice over of everything, all safely locked away somewhere. But it was all lost. Bleedin' tragic. The scientific community mourned that loss more than they mourned her death, I'll tell you that much."
"Huh, really. That is tragic." Oh my god, oh my god.
"If I were the suspicious type, I'd think it was a government cover-up."
"Heh, yeah. That darned government, always pulling the covers over something."
Encrypted disks, file folders, bits of hardware « she had a box full of Maggie Walsh and the Initiative stuff in the basement of Buffy's house. That was supposing it had survived the burst water pipes. She'd always meant to go through it, but things kept coming up. Jeez Louise!
She rose quickly, a little unsteady on her pins. "Well, you know, this has been great, Professor Gossett, but I really should be going now. Classes, pointless degrees to pursue."
"Oh, really? You can't stay for another? Well, all right then. It was lovely to meet you, Miss Rosenberg, and « wait just a moment" He drew a card out of his jacket's inside pocket. "That's my mobile, if you feel like furthering our discussion. I'll be in Sunnydale for a few more days. Colleagues to dine with. Business to attend. I've taken a room at a bed and breakfast in town. Can't abide these hotel sheets, I'm such a nancy, sometimes. Perhaps we'll run into each other before I leave."
"Perhaps. Thanks again. For the drinks and ... everything."
"It's been a pleasure. You're sure you're all right to drive? Well, do be careful then. Goodnight."
As Willow made her way to her car, fumbled the key in the ignition, and drove away well over the legal limit, another car pulled out of the parking lot and then sat idling at the curb. After a ten minutes, Aaron Gossett came out of the bar. He opened the door and slid in next to the driver. "Hello darling. I see that you're angry with me."
The vampire in the driver's seat turned flashing gold eyes on him and bared her fangs. "I could pull your spine out through your throat and samba on it, you brujo bastard. You make me wait and wait like a servant."
He only laughed and said, "But wait until I tell you what I've found, my love. If you still want to samba on my spine I'll pull it out for you myself and tie a bow in it." Her features remained locked in vampire mode and she growled softly. He walked his fingers up her thigh, past the opaque silky tops of her stockings, to the cool bare skin above, and tried sing song his way back into her good graces. "I'll let you have my brain for breakfast. I'll remove my liver with the top of a rusty tin can and sautĽ it in my own blood. I'll let you eat my cock like a raspberry ice."
"Let me, ha!" she scoffed. "You'll beg, like the simpering veado you are."
"I will." He leaned into the sphere of her dangerous sharp teeth. Fingers buried in the mass of smoky back hair now, he pulled her to his mouth and kissed and kissed.
She pulled away from him. "First, you will buy me dinner."
"We'll pick up something on the way."
Well, apparently Tara wasn't in Stevenson Hall like Dawn thought. Or Hurst. Suffice it to say there was a lot of student housing at UC Sunnydale, and most of it not real close together.
Dawn had hung out at the quad for a couple of hours, bought a mocha and a really expensive cookie from a kiosk, hoping she'd spot Tara going to a class or getting out of one. But by five it was already darkish and she was jittery from caffeine and all the waiting. She went to the library and wandered around, sure she was going to see Tara in the stacks, or sitting at one of the big tables. Maybe at the computers. But people were looking at her like she was a lost little kid, and it made her feel lost and like a kid, so she got out of there.
She walked real fast over to Lowell House, because she'd visited there once, when Riley lived there, and none of these college people could look at her like she was lost if she knew where she was going. But somehow she ended up on Greek Row, surrounded by Kappa Delta's and Sigma Phi's and Delta Phi Epsilon's, and what was it with the whole Greek thing in colleges anyway? It was just stupid. Everything about this stupid campus was stupid. And now she had no money for the bus or a phone call.
It was so unfair! Even if Buffy couldn't afford a cell phone for herself she should at least make sure that Dawn - who, by the way, had no superpowers whatsoever « at least had a freaking cell phone. Everyone at school had one, and not just because they were spoiled little rich kids either. There were legitimate emergencies that did not involve food court rendezvous, or what skank-ho mini skirt Phoebe Winokur wore that one day last week when Dawn ditched homeroom. Like, in case a person was stranded somewhere, and all shaky from too much sugar and caffeine, they could call a grown-up who would come get them with no questions asked.
Obviously Buffy was not in that picture.
Fine then. I'll just have to hitch a ride with a stranger. Serve 'em right if said stranger has a gun rack in his pick-up truck from Hell, no handle on the inside passenger's door, and sings Country Western songs while strangling his victims with pantyhose.
Of course, Dawn thought, as she walked along the shoulder of the road towards town, here in Sunnydale, she was more likely to get eaten by a vampire, and not even irony could save that from being the lamest death ever. Oh it looked all sexy on television but ...
Anyway, not like anyone would notice. She heard a car coming, and stuck out her thumb.
Continue to Chapter Three