A man in the corner approached me for a match
I knew right away he was not ordinary
He said, "Are you lookin' for somethin' easy to catch?"
I said, "I got no money," he said, "That ain't necessary…"
- Bob Dylan, "Isis"
Where Do You See Yourself In Five Years?
Tara's arm still hurt a bit sometimes. She'd pulled something when she buried the axe in that biker demon's back, and in all the commotion and adrenaline she didn't realize until days later. It didn't really bother her, much; she'd do it again, a hundred times, and in some ways it was nice to have a reminder that she was no longer the shy girl who would have just ducked her head and hid. Of who she'd become. Of what Willow meant to her.
* * *
The first few times Willow saw him, she didn't really think about it. Not consciously. It wasn't like they never got odd looks when they held hands in public, she'd learned to turn that into armor, into pride. But this guy who kept turning up just in the corner of her eye wasn't looking at them, he's looking at her, and she had to look back. That's what Tara eventually noticed.
"Oh, you know Sunnydale, full of weirdos." She squeezed Tara's hand back a little extra and smiled reassuringly. And well, yeah, even in daylight, this town had more than its share of goofballs. But something about this guy - tall, dark, snazzy dresser, indeterminate age, a pointy beard that should look a lot funnier than it does, piercing eyes - made it hard to dismiss him. That, and Tara's puzzled look that told her she couldn't see him.
* * *
It worried Tara that Willow hadn't had a good night's sleep in months. First there was this summer, with the grief and Willow having to carry the whole gang, having to be strong and crying herself to sleep in Tara's arms every night.
And then, now that everything should be back to normal again … the nightmares. She'd tried to talk to Willow about them, but she said she couldn't remember. How can you not remember waking up choking every night?
* * *
It was the almost-smoothness of the snake Willow couldn't get over, more than the feel of it physically forcing its way out of her gullet, through her mouth, past her teeth, every single night. The scaly texture that you'd expect to be rough, but was just sort of slightly uneven, with thousands of tiny bumps that started as a tickle somewhere in her chest, kind of like a cough that just grew. Every night she would tell herself it was out of her now. Every night it would become more real, almost normal, even as she woke up gasping for air.
She couldn't tell Tara. She'd already had to carry so much of something she'd been against from the start but gone along with anyway. This was Willow's mess to handle. If it even was a mess and not just a bad dream, regular Sunnydale-grade PTSD.
She didn't connect it with the stranger she kept seeing until one morning, when she saw a small gopher snake staring at her from the garden as she left for school, its gaze following her. It's silly, she told herself, it's just a harmless animal. Then again, this was Sunnydale. And it didn't take her long to recognise the snake's eyes - unblinking, intelligent, old - and make the connection.
* * *
Tara wished it didn't annoy her. Or scare her. The last thing she wanted was to be angry at Willow. Least of all right now, with everything... It was probably not healthy for a relationship to demand to share everything, anyway. Whatever was bothering Willow, she'd tell her in time.
But it did worry her. Willow always talked in her sleep. But she'd never talked to anyone else before.
* * *
Soon, Willow would either see him or feel watched (tiny slithering shapes in the undergrowth, glowing eyes) every time she left the house. She thought about telling Tara, or Buffy, or Xander, or even Giles, but… No. Buffy was still dealing with being back from hell, Xander never had a clue about these things and Tara… no. If this was another thing she'd summoned by bringing back Buffy, she could handle it without putting anyone else in danger. No need for anyone to know.
Giles? Well, he had said during that little midnight rant of his that there were others in the world who could do what she did, she just didn't want to meet them. Well, she darn tootin' didn't care to be stalked by them either.
So she started seeking him out. Spotting him across the street she'd square her shoulders and march right up to him, see him see her with those unblinking eyes, smile and duck behind a lamp post and then … gone. Just a simple piece of graffiti on the sidewalk where he'd been. A snake, of course.
I guess now we know who doesn't wanna meet who, she thought. Well, we'll see about that, yessireebob.
She tried any number of locating and holding spells to make sure they met on her terms. And yeah, it bugged her when they all misfired and instead one day he was suddenly just there, walking beside her. "So you are the one that summoned me."
* * *
Tara lay next to Willow, listening to her mumbling about… snakes?, her aching arm trapped under her girlfriend. No wonder she had nightmares about that night. Right now all she could do is be here and wait. Try to share whatever strength she had. Make this a safe space where Willow would feel able to open up when she was ready.
But what if she never was? What if whatever was pulling at Willow was stronger? What if she was losing her? She tried to shake that thought, but it was 3AM, hour of the wolf, when those thoughts don't go away.
There was a small shift in the bed as Miss Kitty Fantastico jumped up, meowed at Tara and curled up between them, rubbing her furry little forehead against Tara's. It wasn't exactly comfortable, but Tara appreciated the gesture. She petted the cat with her good arm, and thought of the girl who ducked her head and let things happen. "We have to help mama, kitty. Any ideas?"
Miss Kitty Fantastico just purred. She was just a cat, after all.
* * *
Willow had to look him over now that she saw him up close. The cane with its large cobra-shaped handle, the old but sharp eyes, the scars at his neck. Tried not to know who he was, because that would be ridiculous. "Summoned you? Hey, full of yourself much? I mean, I probably messed up that spell a bit, what with the broken urn and the biker demons and all, but whatever dimension I conjured you from, which was totally an accident, but - "
"No, me." He frowned, clearly not used to having to repeat himself. "You summoned me, quite specifically. And there are only so many I would respond to." Suddenly, somehow without anyone else on the street reacting, she saw him as he truly was; impossibly tall, with crook and flail and headpiece, dressed not in clothes but in linen wrapping, his dead green-tinged skin stitched together with a lover's hand… But it was the age in his eyes that really made her head spin. Vampires, demons, hellgods, vengeance masters, frickin' Dracula, that was nothing; this wasn't "You kids today with your fancy horseless carriages" old, but OLD old. Like you could fall into that chasm and keep falling for a whole life without him even noticing you existed.
"So you really…"
His voice carried the weight of someone who had seen civilizations rise and fall in the blink of an eye. "I am the son of Geb, the father of Horus. The first to till the earth, the first Pharaoh, dead and resurrected, ruler of the kingdom of the dead. I am Osiris." Then he returned to his more human appearance, lowering his voice to a normal tone with a smile. "Strange how you found my name so easy to speak when it suited you."
Willow blinked and tries to figure out a proper social protocol for this situation. "Right. Uh, Willow, pleasedtomeetcha. And sorry about that, um, your Majesty, and about invoking you and all, but I figured it was just… metaphorical, y'know?"
"I know who you a- Metaphorical?" He ignored her outheld hand. If it weren't completely paradoxical for a god to look incredulous, Osiris would have. "You thought to summon the power of a god to do your bidding and raise the dead… 'metaphorically'?"
Willow knew she should probably be in awe, but this was just too damn interesting. "When you put it that way, I guess, I'm just… But you know it's been a while for you, right? Two thousand years, give or take?"
"Time," he scoffed. "Time isn't a factor for beings like us. Are you not descended from those who served those who served me, then?" Osiris waved his hand and the Sunnydale street (weird how still, nobody around them seemed to notice anything) was suddenly overlaid with the image of people in white loincloths and headdresses working in the shadow of a pyramid.
"Those who served…?" The image before her suddenly (and somehow slightly impatiently) included a sea being split in two. "Oh. Oh. I suppose, technically, and I mean I respect the heritage and all that, but I don't even keep kosher these days and besides they, um, we did kinda choose to leave - "
"Are you not part of the cult that slew the last acolytes of my enemy, Seth?"
"I'm pretty sure I'm not - " The image shifted to one of a teenage girl with brown skin, armed with a fancy red axe, taking on a huge demon with a weird dog-like head, surrounded by actual walking mummies. "Oh. Slayers. Right. I guess I am kinda - "
His voice took on that booming quality again. "Did you not use my power to raise a warrior killed in single combat with a god?" Seeing Willow had no argument against that but an apologetic shrug, he calmed down again and held up the cobra-headed cane. "These are not the actions of a mere girl, Willow of the blooming mountains. The power you possess is but a seed at present, but it can grow. I am offering you a place at my side, a chance to grow into who you are meant to be."
"OK, what is it with powerful supernatural men wanting to carry women off to be their brides? I mean, heteronormative much? A-and speaking of metaphors, that snake isn't exactly subtle."
"You misunderstand. This isn't a matter of you serving me." He lowered his voice, looked at her, and not unkindly either. Powerful, but not threatening. "For one thing, the snake isn't my symbol, it's yours." He looked down at the cane and it came alive, a cobra raising its head, spreading its hood and looking into Willow's eyes like it knew exactly what it'd find there. She wasn't sure which one of them was speaking. "This is the snake of Isis, mother goddess, healer, raiser of the dead, more clever in the ways of magic than a million gods, sister-wife of Osiris. It, and its power, belongs to you."
Willow looked into the (her) snake's eyes and vaguely remembered being disgusted by it only this morning. How strange. "OK," she finally said. "Say, hypothetically, what would you - "
"Unimaginable power over life and death. The power to change anything. That's what I'm offering you. Offering us. All you need to do is grant me physical life again. Pull me into your world."
"My world? But aren't you already, well, here?" She looked around what had been a Sunnydale street seconds ago and realized they were in her bedroom. Oh. Right. Dreamwalking. That was a thing dead gods did. She could see herself sleeping right there, with Tara, and...
"It's a simple ritual. Not unlike the one you've already shown you can handle, in fact. All - " Osiris suddenly stopped and looked at the bed, the two women in it, one of them holding the other in a tight embrace as she slept fitfully, mumbling about ancient gods. The small black and white cat sleeping on their pillow suddenly raised its head, looked right at him, and hissed. "...Oh," he said. "I, uh, didn't realize you were, well, an acolyte of Bastet."
Bastet. Right, the cat goddess. "Um, I've never heard it called that before, but…" She looked at Tara, felt her arms around her holding her to this plane, and her heart and mind cleared. "Yes. Yes, I am."
"Oh. Oh Ra, this is embarrassing. I should have checked." The ancient god looked mortified. "I didn't mean to… I'm so sorry about this. I'll just be off."
"Off? Wait, what was that you said about me having access to power - "
"Never mind that, you have more than enough for now, and I'll find someone else. I've got time. Certainly more than I would have if I tampered in Bastet's domain. Her priestesses do not play around, as I'm sure you know, and they have nine lives." Osiris put his right hand on her shoulder and inclined his head just a tiny bit. "Farewell, Willow of the blooming mountains. Be well, and may you never have need for my services again."
* * *
Willow woke up with a deep breath, her airways free for the first time in weeks. Next to her, Tara stirred, opened one sleepy eye and smiled. "Morning."
"Morning." Willow kissed her nose. Beside them, Miss Kitty Fantastico stretched, showed them her tiny butt, and loudly demanded breakfast. Willow had a feeling she deserved a big one, but first she had to tell Tara something. Maybe not every detail, but still. "Listen, baby, guess who I just met…"
* * *
At first, Tara didn't let herself notice. Sunnydale was full of weirdos, after all, and she'd learned to find strength in some of the looks they'd get when they held hands in public. But this woman wasn't looking at them, she was looking at Tara, and she had to look back.
The woman, weaving her way through the crowd like they didn't even see her, was tall, with short gray hair despite not looking old (or young) and eyes that were somehow… cat-like? She looked right at Tara until she was sure she had her full attention, and smiled and nodded as they passed each other.
There was a small bronze cat on her necklace, Tara somehow remembered later. She liked it. She wondered where she could find one like it.
Then the woman disappeared in the crowd like she was never (or always) there, and Tara squeezed Willow's hand back.