Author: Vernon Bruce
Summary: Ignorance breeds fear, fear breeds hate. I do this here for the list but more for my people on this holy day. This is a free ticket to one version of a traditional Pagan ritual for Imbolc, one of the grain/ fertility festivals of the Pagan year. The details vary from group to group but the essence remains the same. Rupert and Willow see themselves in others and learn some important truths. (Sorry it's late. Blame it on a skiing accident.)
Disclaimer: The characters are the property of Joss Whendon Mutant Enemy, Kuzui Productions 18 Century Fox, WB Network, etc. The situation is mine, and I don't mean to infringe upon any copyrights.
Special Note: There are elements in this story that might, with some justification, annoy some persons on this list I like and respect. (You can probably guess who you are.) I do not know what it is to be a member of a visible minority or what it is to be Bisexual. If I have done anything offensive in the story elements dealing with these issues it was not intentional.
Notes: Obviously the ritual elements have been abridged to aid the dramatic line. Also I have not touched at all on what goes on inside people's heads to perform this rite. In other words, if you know enough to fill in the gaps you could have written it and probably safely use it. If you have to guess, don't even try. My social conscious is now clear.
Dedication. To my beta readers Meri E. McCombs and Nikki who did a bang up job. Also to Joan Hoffman. If you see this, I listen to your tape and it gives hope when darkness beckons. Anhk em Maat from an old friend.
"You got home quite late last night and I didn't have the heart to wake you this morning to ask. Is everything all right?" Rupert called from the kitchen as he set the dishes to dry.
"I was helping Nancy with the Alliance's legal data base." Willow came through the door and set her laptop on the coffee table.
"Oh..." Rupert's voice put volumes of disapproval into that one word.
"You're not going to start that again, are you?" demanded Willow.
"Start what? Honestly, Willow, all I said was 'Oh'."
"It's how you said it there mister." Willow half threw herself onto the couch.
"What do you expect from me? You spend half the night with one of your old..." Giles visibly braced himself to say it. "Girlfriends and I'm not suppose to be curious?"
"That's silly. You should trust me."
"I do, it's just... Oh never mind."
"No, go on. It's just what. Bisexuals are all sluts!"
"I never said that!"
"Well you act like it. I can spend all night with Xander or Peter or Stan and you don't make a peep. I work on an important project that will help lots of people and because it's with Nancy you act like I can't be trusted. You got a problem there mister!"
"Really, Willow, how would you feel if I was to stay out until all hours with Olivia."
"It's not the same thing. You and Olivia were... um... err... well, close. Nancy and I only went out twice and it never got past second."
Rupert cringed at the image that swam unbidden before him. "I could have gladly foregone knowing that."
"Oh really! Maybe I should give you a blow by blow of Tara's and my second month anniversary."
"What, you don't get all nervous when I mention things about Oz or Henry."
The door bell rang.
"That will be Peter. I told him we'd give him a ride to circle," explained Rupert.
"Fine, if you don't think I'll rape him in the back seat. Oh sorry, he's male, I can be expected to control myself."
The bell rang again.
"Later, assuming I even want to talk to someone who doesn't trust me."
Willow wandered aimlessly across the backyard of Stan's and Carla's home. She'd raced from the car as soon as Rupert parked it and hadn't spoken a word to him since. She nervously twirled the engagement ring he'd given her. Sometimes tugging it off only to push it back on again.
"Get a hold of yourself you great bloody fool. Gods, if she'd even try to listen, but no. I married the bitch queen from hell. Oh, Stan, don't be such an ass. You're the one with a problem, not her. It's just..."
Willow followed the voice to a clump of hedges that formed a kind of private alcove at the back of the property. After a couple of turns she reached its centre where there was a bench. Through the evening's shadows she could just make out the lodge's high priest sitting on it.
"Stan, are you alright? I thought you'd be preparing for circle." Willow moved to stand beside the muscular middle aged man. The darkness hid the silver at his temples and his robe made light of the few extra pounds he carried. In the night he could have been one of her classmates.
"Willow. I'm sorry. I thought I was alone."
"Where's Rupert? You two are normally joined at the hip."
"He's some place!"
"I... This may be the last circle I come to."
"What! Why?" Stan sat up straight on the bench.
"I'm thinking of ending it with Rupert and it would be just too hard."
"Wow. Sit down sweety."
"I don't want to talk about it."
"Ok, then listen. I have no idea of what's going on but I've seen the two of you together. What you have is pretty rare. Don't throw it away if it can be fixed. Trust me on this, I see it all the time in my practice. People who throw away love because they think it's supposed to be easy. Nothing worth having is easy. Nothing truly precious comes cheep. What I've seen between you and Rupert though... You two have something. It's only a sapling right now, but if you care for it, it will grow into an oak that will stand up to any wind."
"Yeah maybe. So what's the what with you? Did you and Carla have a fight or something?"
"Or something. Imbolc is part of the grain cycle and Denice and Frank have decided to try and have a baby again. They've asked that the lodge do some work for them. They've not had much in the way of luck."
"Ok." Willow took a seat on the bench beside Stan. "And this is a problem because?"
"Carla follows Isis, like you."
"I'm a son of Ra. Imbolc is part of the Isis Osiris saga. She's working with Bertram tonight. He's playing the Osiris to her Isis."
"Oh. I thought you and Carla were monogamous."
"We are, anything done in circle is just play acting. We agreed before we were hand fasted that there was an intimacy that occurs in a monogamist relationship that we don't think we could have in any other form. Plus we're both Alphas, it would be pretty unhealthy for anyone getting in the way.
It was kinda funny, Carla bought a cucumber for tonight's rit. Bert laughed and said he was flattered by the comparison." A smile flashed across Stan's face."
"If you don't like this Bertram guy why have him in the lodge?"
"That's just it. Bert is one of the finest people I know. He's also the best priest for the grain aspect of Osiris I ever met. He's great."
"So what's the problem."
"So. I hear lots of stupid things. Sometimes from where I don't expect them!" Willow let a little anger leak into her voice.
"It's... Oh... Maybe talking would help. Bert and Carla, well back in collage, before she met me, they were... um... well... they... They were lovers."
"Oh, you're worried that she might go back to him?"
"No... Yes... I... That's not all of it. You see, he's black."
"Stan! You should be ashamed of yourself, that doesn't make any difference. It..."
"It does though. Not because he's black but because of Carla."
"Carla has a thing for black men. She practically drools at the guy who plays the captain on Deep Space Nine. Before me she dated mostly black guys. It's... If I fall down as a Caucasian man I can fix that. I can learn to do things I don't do, or stop doing something if it bothers her. I can compete, but I can't be black. I can't give her what she wants. What can I do, I can't change the number of melanocytes in my skin. It makes me crazy whenever she works with him.
"That's what I don't get there mister. All this competing stuff. It's not a competition." Willow looked at him with heat in her eyes.
Stan shook his head and stared at the ground. "Willow, for men, from the moment we're born to the moment we die, everything's a competition. Displays of skill, wealth, power to attract and keep a mate. Securing our position in the world through promotions. Out bluffing each other, so we climb in the pecking order. We've civilized it, but we're still just bull apes. It's how we're hard wired."
"Why not just work with Carla yourself then?"
"Because I am a son of Ra. The grain cycle is Isis and Osiris and like I said, Bert is the best Osiris priest I ever met. Denice and Frank deserve the best shot of this spell working. It's also what's best for the lodge. Maybe I am something more than a bull ape, those things are more important to me than my own foolish jealousies. I just..."
"Willow stared him, her mind working, wondering as a dim glimmer of understand glowed through the murk of her hurt.
"You just?" she asked.
"I love Carla. Fifteen years and I still see the girl I proposed to. Part of me can't believe she's actually put up with me so long. If I have a greatest fear it's losing her."
"Stan, Carla chose you. You won that race. I've seen you two together. She loves you, you don't have any worries."
"I know she loves me. It's just..."
"Bert can't be white for her you know, can't be you either."
"She picked you. Maybe she decided that who you are inside is more important than how dark you tan. Give her some credit. You have to have more of what she wants than anyone else or she never would have chosen you in the first place."
"You're probably right. The woman I fell in love with is no dummy."
"Are you going to go to the ritual?" Willow stood and held out her hand to him.
"With such a beautiful young woman to escort me, how could I refuse. Thanks for listening."
Willow smiled and gently stroked her engagement ring. "Thanks for talking."
Rupert dragged himself into the spare room, he needed some time alone. He sat on the bed and felt icy tendrils wrap around his heart. He sat staring at the wall then heard the door slam.
"Jackass!" exploded Carla voice.
Rupert whipped around to look at her.
"Oh, Rupert. I'm sorry, I wasn't referring to you." Spoke the dark haired fortyish high priestess.
"I am rather pleased by that. Whatever is the matter?"
"Oh nothing, except my husband is a jerk!" She shouted the last.
"I see. Could I be of some help?"
"I don't want to talk about it." Carla started pacing back and forth beside the bed.
"Oh- - -."
She cut him off. "Every time I work with Bert. Oh what are you doing for the rit, Carla. Isn't that in bad taste, Carla. You're back late, Carla. So did you and Burt have a good time, Carla. You'd think I hadn't earned a little trust. It isn't as if I haven't had offers in the last fifteen years. But no. Every time it involves Bert. I mean, sure we had a thing in collage, so what, that is so ancient history."
"Um," Rupert blushed to hear the tirade.
"I mean, like, sure Bert is a handsome man, but the ego on him. And it's not like I haven't told Stan he's better in bed. It's just he's so threatened by him. I mean, men! It's like the littlest thing and you fall apart. Your egos are so fragile. I mean, so I like the look of black men. I like looking at Sean Connery too and he doesn't worry about that."
"Speaking in defence of my gender, perhaps Stan is concerned that he will be unable to give you the things you desire. He is undeniably Caucasian."
"You see, you can understand him. It's a mystery to me... Where's Willow? You two are usually joined at the hip."
"We had a disagreement. I... I fear.... This may be the last circle I attend. I love her with all my heart but I fear I may not be what she needs to be happy. I fear for my own preservation I must step away from her before I am so entangled it is impossible to do so. For her own good, allow her to seek out someone who can give her the things she needs. If that occurs it would be too difficult to see her in circle."
"You sir, are an ass!" Carla stomped over and stood in front of Rupert with her hands on her hips.
"Carla, there are things regarding Willow you don't know."
"What? That she use to lick the lolly! If you let that get in the way you are an incredible ass, Rupert Giles. So she experimented, Nuns nuts, it doesn't mean anything! Maybe it's better that she got it out of her system so she isn't curious. That girl loves you and you love her."
"How can I be what she wants. I do not know if I could deal with sharing her, if she decides she wishes a woman as well. I... Against another man I am confident in my ability to compete but how do I fight this battle?"
"It isn't a battle! Listen to me you great buffoon, she's where she wants to be. You don't go charging in on your white horse kill the dragon and take the princess. The princess chooses to be with you or she doesn't.
When I first saw you two making it romantic I thought you were both crazy. The age difference is a lot to swallow."
"I know, it is just another reason..."
"Don't interrupt your high priestess, unless you like the taste of flies.
"I was wrong. It doesn't happen often but I was. You two have something, something very rare and precious and if you throw it away because you won't hear what she's telling you then you are a complete idiot."
"I simply wish she... She tells me she loves me and is satisfied but knowing her history and with her spending so much time with an old... 'acquaintance' I have fears. If I give much more of myself over into the relationship then she decides to leave, I do not believe I could survive."
"Rupert, don't let fear make your decisions for you. And give her some credit for knowing what she wants. She's with you, she's there for a reason. If you throw what you two have away you are a fool!"
"I fear much the same can be said for you, Carla."
"Don't you hear what Stan is saying with his fears. Why does he fear losing you? What could possibly drive him to be such an abysmal ass?"
Carla looked at Rupert incredulity in her face slowly became comprehension. "I guess a little jealousy can be a good thing after fifteen years."
"A little, but not so much that the medicine becomes a poison. If you will excuse me, I have an apology to make before circle."
"Better hurry, we're starting in five."
"I hope he hasn't left." Willow stood beside Stan in the line waiting to enter the circle. They were in the house's basement, all the furniture had been pushed against the walls to make room for the nine foot round circle of carpet that marked the ritual space. An alter stood in the east of the circle and Carla stood beside a tall muscular man of African heritage. A slender woman, with long red hair, stood to one side holding several pages of computer paper bound together. Four of the coven members stood at the quarters holding the elemental tools.
"Willow, I have been searching for you," said Rupert as he moved to her side.
"I think I'll just slip in between Jenny and Magy. Keep polarity for the rite whenever possible," Stan excused himself.
"I'm sorry." Willow and Rupert spoke in unison. They smiled. "I love you." Again they spoke at the same moment.
Rupert pulled her close and kissed her.
"We still need to talk. Really talk, not shout, ok?" said Willow.
"Exactly what I was thinking, Beloved."
The Anubis priest, wearing a jackal mask, moved to the head of the line and banged the staff he carried on the floor three times.
"Stand ready to enter the sacred realm between the worlds. Come forward freely and of your own accord, ready to share in the god's presence and share your strength that two of our own might know the blessing of children."
The Priest and Priestess moved to greet the parishioners as they entered through the circle's eastern quarter.
The priest bowed to the first woman who entered the circle. Her sash was a pink coral hue. "Greetings daughter of Hathor." He dipped his finger into a bowl of oil and traced a pattern on her brow.
Stan entered the circle and stood before Carla. "Greetings son of Ra. Beloved." She spoke and she kissed him.
As Willow watched a tension left the Ra priest and he cupped his wife's cheek with his hand before taking her hand in one of his and grasping the Osiris priest's hand in the other. He brought their hands together.
"Aset to Assure, Isis to Osiris, as we there children serve them."
Carla smiled as he released her and moved along the circle's edge.
When the parishioners were in place the Priest picked up the crook and flail and paced the circle's edge, sealing it against all malignancies. He then returned to the alter.
"The circle is set, now is the time, welcome the elements my brothers and sisters." The Osiris priest spoke in a voice so deep it seemed to almost vibrate in Willow's chest. She felt Rupert's hand squeeze hers and she smiled. 'I can't believe I was ready to throw it away,' she thought.
A young man wearing a gold sash standing in the circle's east held up the Sistrum and shook it. The tiny bells chattered, drawing all eyes to him. He made a circle in the air with the sistrum than walked around the circle's edge saying.
"Hear me Oh spirits of Fire, citizens of Duamutef's domain.
"By the Sistrum of Bast I do invoke thee to this our temple and charge thee to hold it proof against all malignant influences and to aid us in our rights this night.
By the Sistrum of Bast and the Will of Duamutef.
So mote this be."
He returned to his place in the circle's east and stood holding the Ankh shaped Sistrum facing the circle's middle.
A Pretty blond woman wearing a green sash stood in the circle's south. She faced out from the ring of people and lifting the chalice she made a circle in the air before pacing the circle's edge. As she did this she dipped her fingers in the chalice and sprinkled water saying.
"Hear me oh spirits of Water, citizens of Imseti's domain.
"By the Chalice of Nephthys I do invoke thee to this our temple and charge thee to hold it proof against all malignant influences and to aid us in our rites tonight.
"By the chalice of Nephthys and the love of Imseti.
"So mote it be."
The woman returned to her place in the circle.
Rupert looked at Willow her hand resting securely in his. 'I can't believe I was ready to throw this away. What a fool I am. If it is for but a moment so be it. It is a moment of life in the bleakness of existence,' he thought and smiled.
The elemental charges for air and earth followed with the last quarter called Carla bowed to the alter.
"All stand ready to invite great Isis." She lifted her arms and closed her eyes taking a deep steadying breath before she spoke.
"I invoke thee Isis, Aset, Goddess of all sorceries, wife of Osiris, mother of Horus and Bast. Daughter of Nut and Geb. Teacher, healer, goddess of marriage, Protector of children, she who gathered the scattered parts of her husband and breathed new life into them."
Willow watched as a blue glow built around the priestess. The few extra pounds she carried seemed to vanish as another presence gently slipped in to share her mortal shell.
"I invoke thee Aset and offer myself as vessel unto thee. Come be with us on this night. Hail and welcome."
Carla finished the charge and Willow had a sense that the being before the alter, while of the same nature as the priestess, was infinitely older and more powerful.
The group echoed "Hail and welcome."
Bert knelt before the Priestess of Isis and bowed his head. "Hail and welcome."
Carla smiled and it was like the sun emerging from behind a cloud. "Rise son of my husband and call him hither."
The priest stood and taking the crook and flail off the alter held them crossed against his chest as he spoke the charge.
"I invoke thee lord Osiris. Fallen and risen, cycle eternal. Green god, growing god, fallen god, dead god, resurrected by Isis' hand. I call thee son of Nuit, son of Geb, husband of Isis, father of Horus, Bast and Anubis.
"I invoke thee lord of the green and growing grain. He who grants plenty to thy children. Teacher of mankind, lord of the green life. I do invoke thee to this our circle, he who all of us will stand before. Lord of the west, Pharo of those gone before, I invoke thee and offer myself as vessel unto thee. Be with us this night. Hail and welcome.
Everyone in the room echoed "Hail and welcome."
The Osiris priest rose and stared into Carla's eyes. The intensity of the gaze was enough to melt glaciers.
Rupert glanced at Stan. He seemed unmoved but the muscles in his jaw twitched with the strain of his gritted teeth.'Can't blame you old boy. It's little wonder you're jealous. How can I conquer that. How can I set aside the fear.' He was startled from his thoughts by a soft hand touching his cheek. Carla/Isis had moved to stand before him.
"As I did when my sister dear did use my beloved to fill her womb. It is trust, son of Thoth. Trust and love, not of another but of one self. Trust that you can love her and give her that which she needs, in heart, mind and body. Love yourself enough to see your own worth. Your father was a fool, heed not his whispers. Your mother was no mother to thee, give her not the victory of causing you further pain. They are shadows, she beside you is light, turn not back towards the night."
Carla/Isis moved further along the circle pausing to speak to a couple then briefly to Stan before returning to the alter.
Willow listened to the words then turned to look at Rupert. Something glistened at the corner of his eye. She released his hand and put her arm about his waist. His arm slipped over her shoulders. In the contact was everything either of them ever needed to know.
The Osiris Priest stood before the alter and the low rumble of his voice embraced the circle drawing everyone's attention.
"It began as Ra grew aged and withdrew from the world of men. Lawlessness, cruelty, cannibalism. The principles of Maat were forgotten and chaos reigned. The strong preyed on the weak and justice was lost in the wilds."
Carla picked up the narrative.
"Then the Isisens were born of the union of Nut and Geb. Osiris, Isis, The red god, Nephthys, Horus the elder. And Osiris rose to take the throne of his father with his beloved Isis at his side."
Bert/Osiris continues "Seeing the suffering of the world Osiris and Isis went forth to teach mankind, showing them the arts of civilization, teaching them the laws of Maat."
Carla/Isis took her turn. "And all flourished in the Nile valley but Osiris felt for those of other lands and thus he went traveling far and near teaching his arts."
A man dressed in a red tabard stepped forward from the congregation and continued the narrative. "So foolish was Osiris, so unfit to rule, so trusting that he journeyed far. But one who knew how to be the iron fist sought the throne. Set, the red god, did seek to take the throne of Geb from his unworthy brother."
Bertram/Osiris. "And so Osiris returned from his wanderings and was invited to a banquet by his brother, the red god. In good faith he went only to find himself tricked into a chest and sealed in, then thrown upon the Nile that its current might carry him away."
Carla/Isis "And so did begin the quest of Isis. From land to land she went until she found her beloved's lifeless body. This she returned to the swamps of Egypt her magics for to weld. For Isis swore that Osiris would rise again!"
The man in the red tabard returned to his place in the circle as Bert lay on the floor saying, "Osiris is fallen. The grain has been reaped. The harvest is taken and death shrouds the land." He then lay still.
The priestess fell to her knees beside the still form.
"Osiris beloved what now of life. The grain is gathered but the seed sits lifeless. What barren thing is this. New life must come from the old. New hope from the darkness." Carla kissed the Osiris priest lightly on the lips then pulled a black cloth out from under the alter and draped him with it. "The seed must be sown in the darkness of Geb's rich earth."
Standing Carla moved to the alter. "Oh tears of Ra, who is my father through many fathers, aid me. Lend they powers to my spells that new life might blossom from deaths dark shroud."
Lifting a large cucumber from the alter she intoned an incantation and anointed it with oil from a bowl on the alter.
"Grain reaped, grain sown, new life now grown.
"Grain reaped, grain sown, new life now grown."
The congregation joined the chant allowing their energies to fill the circle.
Carla began pacing the circle while maintaining the chant. Her brow creased with concentration. Finally she stopped before the alter and lifted the cucumber towards the ceiling.
"This is not a cucumber I hold, but the vital life giving organ of Osiris. Blessed be the green and growing god."
"Blessed be the green and growing god." echoed from the congregation.
Carla smiled as a shudder seemed to run through her then she turned to the circle's middle. "And so it was that Isis drew her power and did cause the spark of new life to rise in her dead husband."
Carla stalked to the draped figure. "Call with me oh tears of Ra. Rise Osiris the spark be given. Life from death and death be shriven."
Again the congregation chanted as Carla lifted the shroud and climbed beneath it. The shroud completely obscured them both but it moved suggestively.
Willow looked across the circle at Stan. He barely moved but his hand was clenched into a fist. 'Is that what it's like for Rupert when I help Nancy. He knows nothing is happening but he just can't stop the fear. No wonder he gets so upset. Poor Stan... Poor Rupert, maybe we can find a way."
Carla cried out under the shroud then pushed it off and stood. The chant ended.
"Life's spark has been planted. The seed has been sown. The first grains sprouting in the dark earth. Now life shall rise again but still my love lies in the west. I need gather herbs that I may return him fully to the world of the Manjet barge."
Carla moved away from the Osiris priest searching the circle's edge.
The man in the red tabard stepped forwards. "I, the red god, do take my pleasure in the hunt. The slaughter of living things is joy to me, for are they not mine, for am I not the lord of the twin lands? Who could stand against..." He rushes to the side of the fallen Osiris. "No. My brother. Who has brought you here. No matter you shall not know life again."
Standing the red robed man pulled a knife from under his tabard and made slashing motions at Bert.
"And so it was the red god cut Osiris into fourteen parts and threw them into the Nile. Then secure in his victory he returned to his castle to resume his iron fisted rule."
Carla returned to the place where Osiris lay. "The seed has been sown but where is Osiris?"
Rupert watched Stan across the circle. His hands had unclenched and his eyes near devoured the priestess. Rupert looked at Willow nestled into the crook of his arm. 'I have to learn to let it go. Helping them set up this database is important to her. That means it should be important to me. I only wish I was part of it. It must have been the same for Stan when they were under the blanket. The unknown is the most terrifying part of it all.' he thought.
Stepping forward the Anubis priest took Carla's hands. "My step father has been here. He has done great harm. He did winnow my father and spread him as the grain. I will help you search him out and we will restore him to the world."
Carla stood before the alter. "And after many trials Osiris was restored, all save the organ of generation that was eaten by a fish. Thus it was just as well that Isis had taken her husband's seed and conceived Horus. Rise Osiris."
Bert stood and moved to stand in front of the alter. "This night we have a better use for my member than fish food."
A snicker ran though the congregation. Willow watched a smirk cross Stan's face. 'Like I'd pay to know what he's thinking right now."
"Two of our number wish a child, thus to all we will pass the fertile member. Give to it thy power that Denice and Frank might receive the blessing of a child born of love and raised in love."
Bert held the cucumber his brow wrinkling in concentration then he passed it to a woman standing in the south east of the circle.
"Join the chant in giving thy energies to the spell," called Carla, she then began "Grain reaped, grain sown, new life now grown." and the congregation joined in.
Willow accepted the cucumber. She could feel Rupert's eyes on her and a playful smile touched her lips. Slowly, languidly she allowed her hands to play over the green shaft. Stroking it, caressing it, all the while letting her power flow into the fruit. She brought it to her mouth and allowed her tongue to trail along its length, then she kissed its head. A gasp escaped the throat of the men who stood to either side of her. She stroked the shaft once more, then kissed it and passed it to Rupert, an innocent expression on her face.
"Minx," he whispered as he took the fruit.
"I like long hard things," She whispered into his ear.
Rupert closed his eyes and held the cucumber channeling the energies Willow's show had risen in him into the spell.
Carla accepted the Cucumber from the last man in the ring and carried it to Denice and Frank. "Here in is the fertile power of Osiris. Take it into yourselves, make it your own, knowing the seed sown will sprout and grow. SO MOTE IT BE."
"SO MOTE IT BE." echoed the congregation.
With a single motion Carla snapped the cucumber in half and passed the pieces to Denice and Frank who ate them, imbibing the energies of the ritual.
Rupert grunted when the fruit snapped.
"Problems," whispered Willow.
"It was very... Suggestive," replied Rupert.
"I promise not to break you. I intend to need you for a long time yet there mister."
Dismissing the gods and the elements and closing the circle took only minutes.
The final act of the ritual done, Bert took Carla's hand and led her to Stan.
"To the husband his wife, To the wife her husband. In service to the greatest power, Love." The black man took Stan's hand and placed Carla's within it. He smiled as he moved back to the alter alone then led the congregation from the room.
Minutes later Rupert and Willow sat in the secluded nook in the backyard where Willow and Stan had spoken.
"So can you understand my fears?" asked Rupert. Her hands rested in his and they sat facing each other on the bench.
"A little, I guess. Rupert, I'd pretty much given up dating girls before we ever got together. I... Ok, like sure, it was kinda fun and different but... There was always something missing. I just couldn't connect deep down. I don't think Tara and I would have lasted as long as it did if it wasn't for you."
"You. You were there giving me the things she wouldn't or couldn't. You filled in the holes and I didn't notice that there were holes because whenever I needed something she didn't have to give emotionally, there you were making it right. I ended it when I realised just how little of what I really wanted was coming from her and how much from other people, especially you."
"I... I don't know what to say to that."
"I'll stop working on the database if you want me to. We're more important."
Rupert stared into her eyes, the night stole their color but he could imagine their earnest green. "No, beloved. It's important to you and you're right, it could help a lot of people. I just... I wish there was a way I could be involved."
"Rupert! You silly. Didn't you hear me all the times I told you we need more people to search the rulings that haven't been put on computer."
"I didn't think I'd be welcome. When you introduced me to that Catalan woman, she was rather hostile."
"Forget Catalan, she's an extremist hate man type. Most of the group aren't like that. Besides if they want my help they just have to accept the MAN I love! They can just come to grips with it that I would rather be with you than anyone else. They can also get used to the idea that I like men while they're at it."
Rupert smiled and drew her close. Their lips met and it was perfect.
"Let's go home." Willow took his hand and led him from the hidden alcove.
Rupert glanced at the far corner of the yard. Barely discernible through the gloom two figures moved. Voices whispered and he knew another love, older, perhaps more staid, but still rich and alive was also being renewed from the trials it had faced. He pulled Willow close and kissed her before, arm in arm, they moved towards their car and the life that lay ahead of them.
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