Disclaimer: All characters and properties in this fiction fall under the ownership of their respective copyright and trademark holders; that includes, but is not limited to: Mutant Enemy; Joss Whedon; Fox; Warner Brothers; the estate of e. e. cummings; and various other parties not named but not excluded. Infringement of these rights is neither expressed nor implied; usage of these characters and properties is expressly without the permission of the respective holders and indicates no surrender of intellectual property. This work of fiction was created without the intent to generate profit, and is distributed solely as a free exercise. In other words: I don't own 'em, wouldn't have done things the same way anyway, so please don't sue.
Distribution: The Mystic Muse http://mysticmuse.net
Sure! Please let me know, though.
Feedback: I'm a slave to it.
Spoilers: Season 5.
Author's Notes: Thanks to my Wife (v.2.0), without whom no things are possible. To e. e. cummings, the master of modern poetry. To Susan Carr, whose feedback on my writing thus far has inspired me to write more. And thanks of course to Joss and his writing team, without whom the vast wasteland of modern television would be even more parched and desert-like.
The sun is setting across the tops of the trees and the breeze is picking up as Willow makes her way up the narrow path to the front porch of her house. She shivers, and steps a bit quicker through the door, the chill of Fall in her bones. Standing in the foyer at the foot of the stairs, she can hear Dawn's voice above her, in the bathroom, singing along to the latest trendy pop song on her MP3 player. She can hear Tara in the kitchen, and can smell the lovely, warm scent of fresh rolls and tomatoes and basil...the scent of dinner being readied by her lover. This is her family, now; Tara, and Dawn, and her. This is her house, now; with Buffy gone, this belongs to Dawn, and by default to her guardians, who are Willow, and Tara.
But this is not her home. It was Buffy's home; Buffy's and Dawn's and Joyce's home. There is no home in this house, now. And Willow is at a loss as to what to do about that.
Tara comes out to set the table, then, and sees Willow standing in the foyer, and frowns at the frown on her lover's face.
"Will, sweetie, what's wrong?"
"What? Oh, hey, baby. What did you say?"
"Oh, nothing, just thinking. You know, with the brain and all. Really ought to knock it off..."
"No, no. You think good. You just need to think happy."
"Yes, ma'am," she drawls, a grin sneaking onto her face.
"Careful, there," Tara chucks. "That almost sounds like 'Yes, mom.' And I don't want that kind of relationship with you, love."
Willow takes two steps and folds herself into Tara's arms, the embrace warm and loving, a blanket from the cold nip in the wind outside, the slight chill of the homeless house.
"I love you, you know."
"I know, sweetie. I know. I love you, too."
"Good." She leans back, her face now far enough from Tara so her eyes don't cross. "What's for dinner?"
"Veggie lasagna, fresh garlic bread, spinach salad, and bruchetta."
"Mmmm. Dawn will balk about the spinach, though."
"No, she won't; Dawn's not eating salad. She's having pepperoni and anchovy pizza."
"She gets--er, I mean, she's eating pizza?"
Tara grins at Willow's slip. "She's eating at Xander and Anya's."
Then, Tara's voice drops deep into her chest, and rumbles, a sexiness that sends shivers through Willow's spine. "It's just us for dinner, tonight."
Willow smirks, and leans in for a soft, slow kiss. "There are so many ways to interpret that statement..."
Their attention is drawn away from one another by a knock on the door, and reluctantly Willow pulls herself away to open it. On the porch, Xander stands, hands in pockets, flannel shirt untucked, shoulders hunched against the unexpectedly-chilly wind.
"Hey, Will," he says, stepping through the door without being invited. It's something they all do, now. A habit, to prove, maybe to themselves, maybe to each other, that they're still human. Still alive. "Is the Dawnster ready yet?"
Willow makes her way up the stairs, and behind her she hears Tara and Xander talking, low and quiet, and the clink of dishes being set out on the table for dinner. Tara is like that...when given the chance, she likes dinner at table with linens and silver and wine glasses. A traditional mealtime ritual, to emphasize the idea of family. To try and make this house a home again.
At the top of the stairs, she turns, and watches Dawn flit across the hall from her room to the bathroom and back. Singing along to her headphones, almost normal again, she doesn't see Willow standing there, and Willow watches her dance again.
Dancing around and listening to music and doing the kind of things normal teenagers do; this is what has been missing from their lives, from Dawn's life, for so long. Now that school is starting again, their lives are settling in again, and for the first time in years, Willow feels like life is becoming normal.
Dawn's sudden and abrupt halt to both singing and dancing is Willow's hint that she's been noticed, and she smiles as Dawn clicks off the player, abashed at her own antics.
"Don't be sorry, Dawn. Xander's here; you ready for a pizza-and-video night?"
"Yah. Spike's going to be out patrolling tonight. He'll hang out in the neighborhood, and then he'll meet me at school tomorrow and walk me home."
Willow frowns. "In the afternoon?"
"We're taking the tunnels from the basement. We'll meet up with you guys at the Magic Box, and then we can all walk home after that."
"O.K." Willow nods, and then frowns a bit deeper. "Look, Dawnie, I don't want to sound mean or...or disapproving...'cause, you know, I'm support-y gal and all...but...Spike? I mean, he isn't..."
"Willow! Ew! No, no. He's...he needs me." Dawn notices Willow's look, and shakes her head quickly. "Not like that. He...we really haven't talked about...about her death. About Buffy...dying." Dawn swallows, and goes on. "But...I think, I think he blames himself. And he's trying to make it up to her, by being here for me. And... I kinda like having him around. He's...nice. I mean, not 'bunnies and kittens and sunshine' nice, but...he cares about me. He wants to see me safe. And I think...I think I can use a little safety right now."
Willow does the only thing she can think of, in the face of Dawn's grief, which is hug her. "You'll always be safe with us, Dawn. I promise."
"Yah, I know." Dawn looks for a moment like she wants to say something more, and then changes her mind. "Look, Xander's waiting. I gotta go."
Willow squeezes tight for another moment, and then goes to kiss the crown of her head...and realizes she can't reach it. Over the summer, under her nose, Dawn has grown from little girl into woman. She's gotten tall. She ends up standing on tippy-toes to kiss Dawn's forehead, instead, and then steps out of the way to let Dawn lead down the stairs.
At the foot of the stairs, Dawn dons her leather jacket, and Xander finishes helping to light the candles on the table. Dawn sees the flatware and the crystal goblets, and grins at Willow.
"Have a good night," she says, winking salaciously at Tara, who blushes.
"I intend to," is Tara's response, and that makes Willow blush.
Xander ushers Dawn out the doorway, and closes the door behind them, and for the first time in quite a while, Willow realizes that she and Tara are alone in this big, empty, lonely house. And further, that she likes it that way, just the two of them, and the whole night ahead of them.
"Come and sit, love," Tara says, and turns and goes into the kitchen, as Willow makes her way to a seat. She slips the napkin off the plate and onto her lap, and grins to herself in anticipation of the meal.
Dinner is quiet, and casual, and slow, and delicious. Willow and Tara talk of inconsequential things, small things, normal things; class schedules, and television shows, and clothes, and the new shampoo that Willow is trying out, and whether or not Tara should dye her hair again. And every minute or two, across the table, they hold hands for a second or two.
After dinner, Willow helps with the dishes, washing and drying the plates while Tara puts the leftovers in plastic for lunches. Willow puts the last plate on the drying rack, and turns to find that Tara is holding a pair of wineglasses and a bottle of wine. One of Giles' bottles, the Chardonnay; and Tara is giving Willow that look, the look that says "I want you to be done with what you're doing and be here next to me." And she smiles, and wipes her hands on the dishtowel, and moves over, behind Tara, and slips her arms around Tara's waist, and presses herself against Tara's back, and takes a deep breath, smelling Tara's hair.
Tara smiles at the tickling of Willow's breath on the nape of her neck. "If you do that anymore," she says, "I may drop these glasses."
Willow reaches around and grabs the glasses herself, then deliberately nuzzles the hair away from Tara's neck, and softly, slowly, breathes out, just brushing the fine peach-fuzz hair above the skin. Willow's lips are so close she can feel the heat off Tara's skin, and she hears Tara's sharp intake of breath, almost a gasp. She's always been good at this sort of thing...remembering the patterns, unlocking the secrets, puzzling out the solutions to equations. And Tara is her favorite equation...so many variables, so many dynamic polynomials. Willow understands math, but that isn't her passion, not the way puzzles are; math is a shortcut...what's important are the patterns. And the pattern to Tara is a complicated, layered one. One matrix on top of another, and just when she thinks she's got the whole package of Tara solved, something like tonight happens and Willow realizes that she will never, truly, know all the solutions to Tara. But she's willing to spend the time trying.
Tara, realizing that Willow has drifted off, turns within her lover's arms, and now they are face to face, their lips inches from each other, Tara's bangs and Willow's bangs all tangled up together. "Where are you, love?"
"Willow blinks, and then frowns. "Sorry, baby, I di--"
"It's O.K. I was just wondering; you look so serious."
"I've been thinking," Willow says, and frowns again, this time deeper, and there are tears in the corners of her eyes.
"What is it, sweetie?"
"Well, it's just...we're here, and Dawn's here, but there's no here, here. There's no home to go to anymore. We have this house, but without B..." and she stumbles, but continues on, "without Buffy, there's no--there's no home anymore. And I so want to go home, Tara." The tears come, then. Soft, and warm, but sad nonetheless, and Tara merely holds her, and puts her lips to Willow's forehead, and lets the love she feels wash over both of them.
"Oh, lover. Come on. Come with me." Tara leads Willow by the hand, up the stairs and into the big bedroom, their bedroom. She pulls Willow down onto the bed, and takes the glasses from her and puts them on the bedside table with the bottle of wine, and then wraps herself around Willow again. Willow has stopped crying, but she is still down, and there isn't much Tara can do for that. Which doesn't mean there is nothing she can do.
Carefully, quietly, she sits up, uncorks the bottle, and then pours the wine into the two glasses. She takes one, and hands the other to Willow, who sits up and wipes her eyes, and takes the glass.
"Dear Willow, sweet Willow. The home that Buffy made here is gone, yes. And we can't ever get it back, ever. But, if you want, we can try to make a new home, here. With Dawn, and you, and me. Not the same home, but a new one, and maybe with some good memories for the both of us. I think that would be...a fitting tribute to Buffy, don't you?"
Willow nods, her voice too thick to speak, and then they both hold up their glasses, a silent tribute, and drink. The wine is smooth, and clear, a golden tone like sunlight in a glass, and the scent of fresh pears and soft peppermint and the finest heather honey waft through her skull, and when the wine rolls over her tongue it is like joy made liquid. She tastes it all: the laughter of little children, the opening of roses to the dawning sun, the birth of a new day...all in the wine. Magic, she thinks, and then she feels it wash through her, a soft warmth out to the tips of her fingers. She drains the glass, and notices that Tara has done the same.
Tara takes the glasses back, and then places them again on the side table, then rolls over so that she and Willow are face to face, and interlaces their fingers, two pairs of hands all tangled up in a big ball of fingers and thumbs. Then she kisses Willow, softly, slowly.
Willow kisses Tara back, and it's more urgent, more needy. More forceful, too, and Tara smiles into the long, hot kiss; after the pain, she thinks, comes the healing.
Willow untangles her hands, and runs them along Tara's arms, her fingertips light against the skin, and then she runs them across Tara's chest, her thumbs brushing against nipples, and Tara moans into her mouth, and then down go the thumbs until they're hooked into Tara's waistband, and she slips her hands underneath Tara's shirt and pulls it up, exposing Tara's beautiful, smooth, creamy stomach. Willow breaks the kiss, then, and Tara's gasp is part need for oxygen, and part just need. Willow scoots down, straddling Tara's knees, and wraps her long arms around Tara's broad, beautiful hips, and starts her kisses just at the hem of the shirt, at the little hollow at the bottom of the sternum, and works her way slowly straight down the middle of that beautiful expanse of flesh that is Tara's midriff. As she reaches the belly button, Tara begins to wiggle, and Willow smiles as Tara shucks the shirt off, then almost as quickly her bra. Willow looks up, her tongue lapping out to swirl in Tara's navel, and the sight of her lover naked to her and to the world, gazing back through the cleavage of those wondrous breasts makes Willow tingle in anticipation of what's to come.
Tara, her skin tingling, her face hot and flushed, reaches down and grabs the back of Willow's shirt, and starts tugging. With very little interruption in the kissing, Willow is soon bare-breasted too, and when she sits up and arches her back, Tara feels everything below her neck go warm and wet and fuzzy. Willow's pert nipples are hard against the cool air, and Tara cannot help but reach up and take them into her hands, feeling the hard flesh against her palms.
"You are so beautiful," they say in unison, and then both of them are giggling. And Willow leans back down, and Tara's hands move around to her back, and they kiss again, long, slow, sweet, tongues like dancers, touching, moving together, moving apart, a tango writ small in the dark ballroom of their mouths. Willow shifts, and suddenly there is a familiar weight between Tara's thighs, a pressing against her softest place, and her hips twitch against that pressure, and she can feel Willow's wetness even through the skirt against her knee. She closes her eyes in pleasure, but then quickly opens them again when she feels Willow move off of her. Willow is standing before her, in the dark of the room, the moonlight through the window and the small bedside lamp bathing her in a soft, warm glow. And there, in the cool and the dark, she drops her skirt, and crosses her wrists in front of her, and arches her back again, and she is glorious in her nudity.
"Goddess, Willow, I need you." The raw need in Tara's voice is Willow's first clue that Tara, too, could possibly need some comforting, some solace, some chance to make a new start, a new life, now that everyone was starting their own recoveries. Tara was so loving, so comforting, so much a cool balm of the soul for all of them; that didn't mean she didn't need her own comfort, her own support.
'I will be strong for you, Tara,' she thinks. 'Strong like an Amazon.' And she smiled, and reached down and hooked her fingers over the waistband of Tara's skirt, carefully grasping the panties beneath, and then carefully works them down and off of Tara. And there she is, lying there before Willow, naked except for her glory, and she is an angel, terrible in her beauty.
"You are a prize above rubies, Tara, and I would storm the gates of Heaven for you." And quickly, she lays down, her body against Tara's, hips to hips, stomach to stomach, lips to lips. A full-body kiss, and Tara grabs her and holds her and pulls as if she were trying to take Willow into her, through her skin, to love her by osmosis. The kisses are more fevered, now; cool hands and hot flesh and roaming lips and teeth and tongue, each on the other's body, the muffled words of passion, half-words, syllables and hot sharp gasps of pleasure. Tara is blatant in her need to have Willow inside her; and Willow is more than obliging...she is complicit in this need, knows, somehow, that Tara needs this to be about more than taking pleasure in each other. That tonight needs to be about want, and loss, and healing, and Tara, finally, after a long summer, taking love instead of giving it. And Willow gives freely and without stinting.
The waves of orgasm, building pleasure, rushing release, ebbing tides, then building again, lap against her consciousness more times than she can count...literally. Tara loses track after the third rush, loses herself in the pleasure and the raw, carnal need, and the love and attention from Willow. She knows that Willow gasped out Tara's name in pleasure at least once, but everything is hazy in the aftereffects of the storm of pleasure that is Hurricane Willow. She smiles, and stretches languorously, with a start realizes that she has been asleep. Willow is draped around her, one arm curled around her shoulders, the other still cupping one breast, gently squeezing it in her sleep. They are covered in a light sheet, and the smell of sex and sweat is everywhere in the coolness of the pre-dawn hours.
Gently, carefully, she extricates herself for a trip to the lavatory, to take care of the necessary urges, and then she starts the hot water for a quick shower. It is close enough to dawn to be up, and she feels renewed, ready to start the day...ready to start all the days that come after. Last night filled something within her, something that had been emptied out, caring for Willow and the others this summer. Especially in the last couple of weeks, since Mr. Giles had gone. She steps into the hot water, and feels it flow over her, and the washing is more than just the earthly necessity of scrubbing off the dead skin and dry, sticky film from last night. No, this is something deeper, more metaphorical, but more literal, too...the washing away of all that has come before, all the grime and grit of sorrow and loss. A new, fresh start. Tara smiles, then, and leans forward, submerging her face in the flow, being washed clean. As she leans back, her eyes still closed, she hears the shower door slide open, then closed again, and she knows she is no longer alone.
Willow's arms wrap around Tara's waist, left hand on right hip and vice-versa, and Tara leans back into the embrace. They shift sideways, and now they are both underneath the hot water, and now, with a bit more movement, they are face to face again, and Willow's eyes gaze into Tara, through her, and read the most secret places in her soul.
"You're welcome, Tara." They both know what for; for Willow's willingness to give, for Tara's needing to take, for the thanks given for last night.
"It was good wine, don't you think?" asks Tara, and Willow nods, and reaches for the shampoo, and massages it into Tara's hair while she thinks, silently.
"It helped us see the truth."
"That we can both give, and both take, and together we can build a home here. For you, and me, and Dawn...and everyone. And I'd like to try with you, if you're willing."
"I want nothing more, love. You, and nothing more."
They finish their ablutions, then, in silence. And Willow thinks, but does not say it aloud, that it is all the little things that Tara does that hold them both up, like making dinner, and bringing the wine, and getting the water just the right temperature. The little things, that when they add up balance out everything else in the world. An infinite length of fractions, which all adds up to one. And then Tara says something, as they are finishing dressing, hair brushed and braided and only socks and jewelry left.
"One's not half two; it's two that are halves of one."
And Willow smiles, and Tara smiles, and they hold hands down the stairs, and Willow thinks that maybe, just maybe, she's found home again.
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