Thanks to bogwitch and sexymermaid for the betas.

Chapter 17

Ka-thump, Ka-thump, Ka-thump.

"Willow, I had the strangest dream." Tara giggled, wrapping her lover's arm in her own.

"Oh, tell." Willow's nose squiggled up the way it always did when she smiled.

Tara blushed, and avoided Willow's eyes. "Well, Spike was here…"

Willow pulled herself up. "Here. As in our bedroom here?"

"Yep. I was lying in bed, and you and Spike were…naked. Ummm…me, too. You were standing right there, side by side, showing me your tushes. Like they were pears." Tara made squeezing motions as though testing for firmness. "So I could compare them." She snorted at Willow's expression, a jaw-hanging, eyes-wide, get-out-of-here face.

"And my butt was far superior. Right?" Willow said, shaking her head 'yes'.

"Oh, of course. Absolutely. Though for a man's butt, Spike has a very nice one. Not that I've seen many men's…any men's butts. You know, just pictures." Tara cleared her throat. "But his butt…"

"But his butt. That's funny." Willow gurgled. "Go on."

"Here's the really strange thing. I just wanted to bite into it. His butt. Just sink my fangs right in." Tara laughed at the notion.

"You should have done it then. Spike likes that."

Tara jerked, gaping at Willow. But Willow was gone, their bedroom was gone, and Tara was standing in a forest, so shaded that White Queen Drusilla wouldn't have had to worry about sunlight, even if this were the real world.

Staring into Tara's eyes, Drusilla ran her fingers along Tara's arm. "You've such dull teeth, but Spike wouldn't mind at all. We could share."

Drusilla's rouged lips filled Tara's vision--soft, pink tongue, porcelain teeth. Her body felt drenched in honey, sleepy and heavy; even as her mind fizzed, crackling like a Fourth of July sparkler. Drusilla's aura curled and shifted around Tara, a kiss of black smoke.

In Tara's hypnotic haze, image was reality, and she formed an image: herself in Drusilla's grasp, arms caught tight. Tara yanked her arms free.

The image altered: ghostly fangs snapped, a cobra swallowing a small bird headfirst. The bird's wings fluttered.

The image altered: a fist shattered the fangs, then smashed the cobra's skull. Blood and bone splattered.

Tara was free, shaking from the violence of her own imagery.

Drusilla stared, her face that of a two-year old, slapped for taking food from someone else's plate. Tara found herself wanting to kiss and make it better. Drusilla's mind held no malice, only the amoral cunning of a cat, and the playfulness of a child. Most frightening of all, she would have devoured Tara, torn her throat away, sucked up every last drop of her blood, and done so with joy. After, she would have genuinely mourned Tara's death without feeling a shred of guilt.

With that realization, Tara understood with perfect clarity why Spike had loved this woman. She understood, as well, why the sun in Wonderland had no power over her. A force of nature might be deadly, but it was beautiful.

Seeming to read her mind, Drusilla's eyes grew sly, and she leered in a manner meant to enchant in another way, entirely. Tara shuddered but she was attracted.

Drusilla crooned, "I promise I won't be jealous of either you or Spike. The First has promised to change everything, everything that is and was and will be. We'll be a family, and have such lovely parties." Drusilla stared at Tara with terrible longing. "I'll hold the little babies, and give them their tea. They'll call me Auntie." A hint of shy pride crept into her expression. "My own dollies call me ma-ma, but you may call me Dru. I'll show you the games that Darla and I used to play. We made our boys hop!"

Tara shook her head. "I'm afraid I would be jealous. And then we couldn't be friends."

"Would you scratch out my eyes?" Dru made slicing motions in the air. "And then kiss them, and make them better?" She placed a hand against Tara's heart. "Such a pretty song it sings. Ka-thump, Ka-thump, Ka-thump."

Tara tried to ignore the cold imprint of Drusilla's hand. She swallowed, clearing her throat. Dru lived backwards in time. She would know things. "Am I dead, now?"

Dru nodded 'yes'. Her hand slithered further down.

Tara sucked in a trembly breath, and stopped the questing hand. Dru smiled and whispered, "I'm very good at comforting, you know. I can tweak and twist until you scream with pleasure, and even dying is better than the pain. And you wouldn't have to worry about that nasty magic. I'll protect you from The Jabberwock."

"Will you help Spike find The Vorpal Blade?"

"If he's a good boy, I might try. But why won't you help? He runs away from me." Dru blew the head from a dandelion. "Just like that."

Tara blinked. "If I'm dead, I won't be able to."

Dru looked at her with surprise. "Have you already died before?"

"I'm…" Tara shook her head. "You said I was dead."

Dru nodded her head vigorously in agreement. "I'm very certain you are sooner or later."

Tara took a deep breath. "I didn't ask the question correctly, did I?"

"Obviously not." Dru arched her eyebrow in a look that questioned Tara's intelligence. "I can't understand what you're on about."

"Was I killed in the explosion?"

Dru's eyes lit up. "Was there an explosion? Tell me all about it." She plumped herself down, and patted the ground beside herself, inviting Tara to sit. "Were there fireworks? And showers of blood? Was the sky full of fingers, and little bits of bodies?"

Tara rethought her earlier attraction to Dru, and everything she'd ever believed about Spike and impatience.

"No flying fingers." Tara held up her hands and wiggled hers. "All there. Can you tell me anything about the Vorpal Blade? What it is?"

Dru gave her the incredulous look again. "It's a sword."

"Yes. But what makes it special? Why do we need to find it?"

"Because you're on a quest?" Dru pulled at one of the healthy flowers, one of the few not choked by weeds, and she added it to her bouquet. She gave the bouquet to Tara, and crowed, "Because you need the Amulet. Am I right? Do I get another guess?"

Tara whirled to look around. This was the meadow where she'd met Spike when they were children. And the moon was shining.

"Dreams are like children. They wander if you don't take care." Dru wagged a finger sternly. "You must remember where you are, and what you are, and who decides what is really real."

"Amulet. You said there was an amulet." Tara struggled to focus. "Why is it important?"

"It's the part of you that you need." Dru sighed. "I'm tired of questions. Would you like to hear a story?"

Dru's answers hadn't made much sense, so Tara said a story would be nice, and hoped that it would be.

"This is a story the pixies told me. Once upon a time, The First was wicked. It was sent to bed without Its supper. So It made gingerbread out of dreams and magic, then waited for Willow to be a bad girl. It named the gingerbread boy Spike and gave him a liquorice heart, and named the gingerbread girl Willow and gave her a peppermint heart. Then It put them in the oven ready to bake."

Dru's face darkened with menace, fingers twisted into claws. She circled Tara, her eyes shining with glee. "So It could eat them all up.

"Wait," Tara said, "Willow?"

Dru frowned. "You've ruined the story, now."

Tara assumed an attitude of penitence, pressing her lips tight.

After a punishing moment, Dru continued. "But It thought you were Willow, and snatched you up, and baked you along with Spike. And you made such pretty gingerbread dollies, so warm and tasty. The First smacked his lips and tried to take a bite, but you both jumped up and ran away. Now everyone chases after you, begging you to stop so they can take a bite."

Tara stared at her hands, and felt sick. Dru's story didn't make much sense, but it made enough.

"But that's not the best part." Drusilla twirled, stopping in front of Tara. "The First made the gingerbread wrong. It can only taste your dreams."

"Do you mean we're just dreaming all this?" Tara couldn't believe the answer was that simple.

"Of course, the answer isn't that simple. The First made the gingerbread from dreams and magic, after all." Dru peered at Tara from beneath her lids.

"Stop." Tara flung her hands up, and made a noise of exasperation. "You're playing with me now. You might fool Spike, and Angel, and … and most people. But you aren't half as crazy as you're making out to be."

Drusilla froze. And smiled. A real smile, shy and unaffected. "I like you, Tara MacClay. You can see the pixies, too." She ran a hand around Tara's head, playing with wisps of her hair. "We'd have such fun if we were sisters. That wouldn't be so bad would it? If we were sisters?"

"No, it wouldn't be so bad."

The sun was rising, painting the sky in pastel pinks and blue. Tara realized she was lying on the ground, her head in Drusilla's lap, and wondered how she got there. She looked up into Dru's face. "Will you tell me where the Vorpal Blade is?"

"Didn't I tell you? Follow your heart and not your head. That's the key to the Vorpal Blade."

"You did say that. But I don't understand."

"Can't you hear it? Ka-thump, Ka-thump, Ka-thump." Dru kissed Tara's forehead.

"I don't understand." Tara felt like crying.

"Shhh," Dru said. "You will. But now, it's time to wake up. It's a glorious morning."

Tara opened her eyes.

TBC…