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Wilderness

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Tara chewed at the ends of her fingernails watching the clock tick into another moment of the nauseating guilt and worry that had plagued her since Willow’s abrupt departure yesterday. The inability to act upset her more, because Tara knew she could make this right. She could and should call Willow, leave a message if necessary, tell her the truth, offer to do the spell again with promises of fidelity. But the terror stayed her hands.

Willow had come to Tara for help, had needed her help to find and stop a monster and Tara had done a terrible thing. She lied to Willow, purposefully, when she sabotaged the locator spell. And now the monster- No Tara demanded of herself, Name it. It was a demon, like she was a demon, because what other than a demon would have been so full of deceit and selfishness.  The demon had murdered a child and it could still be loose, could be killing more children and she was so afraid of its likeness that she had essentially set it free.  She had its blood on her hands. She couldn’t cry, she was wound too tight for tears, but an internal wail of self-loathing tore at her as she waited for Willow’s return.

Sabotaging the spell had been a desperate reaction, Tara didn’t think she would ever plan such a selfish move, but did that make it better? What if the demon inside her was what had reacted in haste? She always thought things through, but this time she acted impulsively, on instinct- and she had chosen to deceive. And if the demon controlled her instincts, she was already gone. The thought sickened her and she pushed back. She had panicked and made a rash and poor decision but it was a human mistake. Right?

Things had been going so well with Willow. They had become impossibly close, forming a fast and intimate friendship unlike Tara had ever experienced. There was something powerful between them that, now that it had been found, felt essential. Willow was as necessary as food and water and everything else Maslow placed at the bottom of his triangle. Magically they had a connection that was rare and intense but it didn’t compare to the bond they had formed as friends. Tara adored Willow completely, in a way that went swept up their friendship and kept diving deeper. And sometimes, when Tara was feeling very brave, she might even admit that she thought Willow adored her too. Willow was her instinct, Tara recognized that now, and the love she felt for Willow could not be sourced from any demon. Terror of losing a piece of her life force had caused Tara to hide, to be deceitful. She couldn’t bear any possibility of losing Willow when just thinking it tore her heart apart. It didn’t make her actions any better.

As she sat with eyes closed, Tara called out to her Goddess, asking for a path to self-forgiveness, if only for a respite from the paralyzing shame so she could fix things. Breathing in the earthy scent of the sandalwood incense burning on the window sill, she felt the warm honey touch of the Goddess. In the benevolence of that touch, Tara forgave herself a little with a fervent vow to never deceive Willow like that again, not when others’ lives were on the line. Tears fell in parallel tracks as she thought about what that meant. If the demon hadn’t been found, she would have to try the spell again and if she was exposed she would lose everything. Please don’t let it come to that, she pleaded, implored, and then with a broken sigh relinquished her fate to the Universe. Thanking her Goddesses, she opened her eyes and checked the time again.

It was Wednesday and she and Willow had an informal standing study date after Willow’s last class - which should have ended twenty minutes ago. Shaking away the urge to bite her nails again, Tara stood and smoothed out her long deep red skirt, trailing embroidered spirals with the now jagged nails. She stood on the precipice between hope and sorrow. But she could do nothing right now but wait and the surrender grounded her. Turning slowly, she looked at her room with keen blue eyes, taking in every detail in a panoramic view. It was the here and now. It was the moment before.

A steady knock startled Tara and she placed her fingers on her heart soothing the quick pace as she opened the door. On the other side of the threshold was Willow, shifting her weight from heel to toe in a giddy bounce and Tara couldn’t help but smile at the kinetic wiggling of Willow’s clasped fingers. Tara’s heart fluttered then pounded heavily, trying to assimilate to the rapidity of discordant emotions cycling through her. And then Willows face was alight with joy; she was smiling widely and her eyes danced as green met blue, “Hey.” Tara’s heart stilled, and then it sang.

“Hey Willow,” cheeks flushed with pink, Tara ducked her head shyly and opened the door wider to allow Willow entrance. Tara flicked her eyes up to Willow’s happy face, “Any, um luck, f-finding the demon?” This was the question she had been dreading because the answer meant everything. But Willow seemed joyful, and she was looking at Tara that way again- the way Willow had looked at her often since the night of the Doll’s eye crystal, the look that made Tara believe. And right now Tara felt what she always felt around Willow- safe.

Dropping her bag to the floor and moving to the bed, Willow’s happy face fell into a confused frown, “Well, yes and no. Turns out it wasn’t a demon… er, well, not only a demon- I mean parts were demon. I mean, not that I saw parts! No, no parts for me,” Willow’s hands were flapping in the air until she lowered them with a smile that was somehow both sheepish and flirty. Tara bit her lower lip crookedly to prevent sighing with desire.  “Let me start over,” Willow continued with a pleased tiny grin having noticed Tara’s reaction. Willow noticed everything about Tara, unable to do anything but drink in every sight, smell, touch of the beautiful woman before her, and still Willow wanted more, which meant babbling as her nervous system turned inside out, “Turns out Professor Walsh was playing Frankenstein and made herself her very own pet demon-slash-human-slash-cyborg monster that is now on the loose. It’s what killed Walsh and what killed that little boy.  Don’t people ever read the classics? I mean hello, do any creatures made from hodgepodge parts in a secret lab ever turn out not a big lumbering force of death and dismemberment?”

Tara blinked and opened then closed her mouth. She furrowed her brow trying to pick through the jumble that came out of Willow’s mouth. The important bits were: demon still out there.  Even behind the curtain of hair that now fell over her face, Tara couldn’t hide the guilt that was turning slowly into a sorrowful regret, “S-so, the spell would h-have helped?”

The room narrowed to only Tara in her shame and Willow almost shuddered from the sudden pressure in her chest. She moved her hands into Tara’s, squeezed them once and waited for Tara to meet her gaze. When blue eyes rose, Willow held them in green, letting the moment communicate the trust and love they had not yet spoken of. Willow tugged gently until Tara sat next to her on the mattress. Neither woman let go of their clasped hands.  Evened voice, Willow continued still watching Tara carefully, protectively, “It’s unclear. But Buffy found the monster-robot-guy thingy earlier. She’s knows what she’s looking for now.”

“Oh, good,” Tara’s relief was audible.

“So the spell going wrong doesn’t matter,” Squeezing Tara’s hands again, Willow shook them playfully up and down, the action conveying that all was okay and earning a wide smile and a small giggle from Tara. Eyes met again. Okay? asked green. Okay, answered blue. And fingers relaxed and played delicately together. “But, this thing is strong and really dangerous,” Willow’s voice was hushed, its cadence dancing with the caresses of their hands, “I mean, it’s always dangerous, and a little scary, but this is bigger… like Danger Will Robinson dangerous.”

Unstoppable laughter burst through Tara’s smile – wide and delirious. And Willow had to laugh with her, Tara’s mirth undeniable, “What?”

“Oh- it’s just so close to your own name, you know,” in mock seriousness, Tara was all pinched brow and pursed lips, her voice deep and dramatic, “Danger Will Rosenberg.” And god, she is the cutest, Willow thought as she looked with unsheltered veneration at this girl who was the most precious thing on earth. Tara swallowed thickly awash in their connection.

Silence sat heavy and meaningful until it became too much. With a final squeeze of their joined fingers, Willow pulled her hand back and cleared her throat, “So, I just wanted to let you know- it’s all with the good now.”

“Oh, th-thank you. Do you um, have to go? I mean, help with the-” Tara trailed off unsure how to describe what the Scoobies were dealing with and unwilling to finish the question that might mean Willow not staying. Besides, Tara didn’t want Willow in danger- ever if possible.

“No!... I mean, um, no,” Willow blushed at her own exuberance but didn’t regret the feeling; she wanted to stay with Tara, exuberantly. Forever if possible. “I’m free. I mean, if you are- um, free? We could hang out?” This was how it had been with them for the past few weeks, a constant swinging pendulum between deep comfort and uncertain anticipation. This powerful thing between them was in an awkward adolescence, nervous and a bit naïve but growing into its full identity with both impatience and anxiousness of what came next.  

Squirming happily where she sat, Tara nodded, her wild grin returning. The demon had been found and Willow was here. And then…

“So, why do think the spell didn’t work?” Willow rolled onto stomach, lying diagonally on Tara’s bed, settling in as she had done almost every night these past few weeks. And Tara was back to being torn by her emotions, the ease with which Willow fit in her space made her soar, but she didn’t want to talk about the spell, afraid of the promise she had made to be honest.

“Oh, um,” Tara shrugged, her gaze fixed on the floor, “S-sometimes they just don’t.” This was honesty-lite and Tara knew it, but the fear seized her again and she hoped it was honest enough.

“But there has to be a reason,” from anyone else, it might have seemed like an inquisition, but Willow was just being Willow- insatiable in her curiosity and relentless in her hunt for answers, “You were kind of worried about Thespia, do you think it really was over our heads?” Willow frowned adorably and muttered to herself before shaking her head, “’Over our heads’ is a weird phrase.”

“Well, um, maybe,” Tara hedged, this was a different truth and it felt important too, “I mean, I usually try to, you know, create a re-relationship with a goddess before I call her.”

“What do you mean?” And Willow’s question was why this truth was important. They had learned their magic so differently, Willow and Tara. Through her mother, Tara learned history and folklore, practiced and honed her craft meticulously. She had power, more than even she allowed herself to believe, but it was tempered by respect and fear. The respect was wise, magic was a living force that abhorred entrapment and misuse; but the fear was borne out of her father’s harsh words and lessons. Magic didn’t feel evil to Tara but it carried with it the threat of repercussions from a man, and his son, who believed it was. This was another story Tara hadn’t shared, the lessons and the demon. The lessons for the demon.

Willow’s power was deep and natural and raw, but unschooled. She had learned from necessity and a need for defense. But together, they grew. Tara teaching Willow prudence and lore and Willow gifting Tara with permission to play and explore, to know her own power. And so, Tara shared, laying on her side and facing Willow, “Well, it’s like- you need a favor- you could ask a complete stranger and they might agree but you are much more likely to get a yes, and be able to trust that yes, from someone you know better- have a relationship with.”

“Huh, I guess I always thought the gods just did god things, like bring on a famine or create a rainstorm- I didn’t think they cared much about us lowly humans except for liking to watch us get on our knees for them.” A sensual smile shifted across Tara’s full lips as her head swam with images of sinking to her own knees, ready to worship Willow’s body. Familiar nerves pulsed, and Tara squeezed her legs together as her face flushed hotly. Having studied beautiful blonde for weeks, Willow recognized the smile, well, the smile plus the flush, and knew Tara would stutter and fidget for a few minutes afterwards. In these moments, there was always a warm tremble in the air. Heat excited energy and Willow so fervently hoped that Tara was feeling the same heat that Willow felt move into her core. Every day, she was convinced a little more.

Nervous fingers pulled at a thread in the bedspread beneath them as Tara spoke breathily, “I-I  think, I m-m-mean I’m n-not an expert.” Pleased with her observational skills, and very turned on, Willow placed her own fingers over Tara’s fidgeting ones, waiting for Tara to still and meet Willow’s gaze before nodding to go on. “They n-need us too in a way because we are part of the creation, part of the worlds? And we can act as their, um…”

“Foot-soldiers?”

“You’ve been hanging out with Riley too much,” Tara laughed, knowing that the Scoobies had been on recent lock-down because of Riley and the Initiative. It had been meant as a joke- a rib that said ‘Look how well I know you’ but Willow frowned and Tara lost her smile, “What is it?”

Hand still on Tara’s, Willow linked their fingers together. They were always doing that these days, “Oh, just Riley’s kind of um, out of it, the Initiative has been feeding him some kind of government-special uber-steroid- and he’s in withdrawal. Plus he pushed me.”

Untangling her fingers without thought, Tara’s hand cupped Willow’s cheek, concern etched in her eyes, “He pushed you?” The room became a sanctuary and Willow was willing to be pushed down by very large strung out soldiers every day if it meant Tara would touch her like this. Her cheek warmed as she leaned into Tara’s soft hand, “Yeah, but hey, seasoned monster fighter here. I’m good.” The room was hushed now, the atmosphere palpable and sacred.

Tara’s thumb ran smoothly along Willow’s cheekbone, “You sure?” Wordlessly, Willow nodded, something was happening between them. Right now. The moment lingered, both women terrified to let go, terrified of how much they wanted to. Willow filled the charged moment with words because this was how Willow worked- she babbled to fill voids, uncomfortable in the absence of action, afraid the absence would become permanent. She was unaware of the why, but the compulsion still drove her, “Do you have a goddess?” As she spoke, she realized the moment wasn’t broken, the air still hummed with the promise of them. Because it wasn’t just a moment, it was a movement.

Tara blinked and smiled mischievously, feeling free and bold in this sanctuary of their making,  “Well, not like in a pet way or anything,” she lowered her hand reluctantly but didn’t pull it away, instead resting it over Willow’s arm.

Grasping Tara’s hand again, Willow rolled her eyes playfully in response, “I mean one that you have a relationship with?” Collapsing her bent arm, Willow laid her head down. Tara mirrored the pose, fingers still playing together.

“There are a few, my mother worked with Brigit a lot, and she would ask for Caireen to look over me- when I had nightmares and stuff.” Tara’s features shadowed. It was only a flicker, but Willow noticed and squeezed their fingers together once again. A wave of protectiveness washed into every detail of Willow’s being. She absorbed the wave and it became a part of her. A bright glow replaced Tara’s shadow. Willow mirrored her smile.

“Wow, that’s so cool. I mean not the nightmare ‘cause those are never fun but the goddess thing. I’m not familiar with Caireen.”

 “She’s a protector of children, kind of a mother goddess.”

“So those are you’re…,” nose crinkling cutely, Willow searched for the right words, “Um, your closest goddesses?”

Adorable, Tara thought as she inched closer to the other woman without thought. But adorable was just the tip of the Willow iceberg. Beautiful and brilliant, kind, funny, sweet, sexy, powerful… I adore everything about her. Noticing their proximity, Tara almost shifted back, but Willow’s eyes were shining with an intense joy, curiosity and contentment and longing written in the soul looking through green eyes. Tara’s relationship with her personal goddess was something she had only shared with her mother, treasured as something of her own and unwilling to invite in other’s opinions or interpretation of what she knew was divine. But Tara wanted Willow to know her, because Willow was also divine- in her own human way. Fingers played again as Tara shared, voice soft in the narrow space between them, “I have always felt close to Branwen- do you know her?”

“Welsh goddess of love and beauty?” Perfect, Willow thought dreamily, perfectly Tara.  Their words were barely above a whisper now.

Tara smiled shyly, of course Willow knew, “Right. She had a hard life you know, but she remained full of love and light- she helps when you are in a hard situation, especially at h-home.”  Teetering on a topic she didn’t want follow, Tara focused on other aspects of Branwen, “But mostly, she helps empathic souls. I‘ve, I mean I don’t mean this in a bragging way, but I have always kind of felt really empathic- it can get overwhelming. Branwen helps with that.” This wasn’t dishonesty, not this time, Tara did want Willow to know her, but the air was electric and the little world they had created together was too precious to be broken by sad childhood memories.

“Wow, again. You are empathic- I mean, you radiate empathy… and love, and sweetness, and all that,” elfin lips curved into a self-conscious smile, “But I guess I can see how that could be overwhelming- Buffy one time got poisoned by a demon and could hear people’s thoughts- I don’t think she felt what they were feeling but she could hear it and it definitely overwhelmed her.”

Tara’s face softened as she listened, “Oh, poor Buffy.”

“You know you are the first person who didn’t reply with ‘that’s so cool- I wanna read others’ minds.”

Shifting up slightly in surprise, Tara spoke with passion, “No! N-never. Our minds are the one true place where we should be safe. No matter what else happens, if we have our own minds we are still free- still ourselves.” Tara seemed startled by her own words and she picked at Willow’s fingers, “Sorry.”

“For what?”

“That was cheesy.”

“It was profound,” Willow said, the simple, earnest words strengthening Tara like resin. And Willow’s adoring look that made Tara blush and dip her head, fingers dancing again. This, Willow thought overjoyed by Tara’s reaction, overjoyed that she, Willow Rosenberg, could make this wonderful, amazing girl feel proud and bashful all at once. This is what I want to be doing for the rest of life. Nudging their hands playfully, Willow flirted, “So, what goddess do you think would be for me?” This was one of Tara’s brave moments, she nudged back.

“Mmm…” hooded eyes fluttered, the blue darkened like twilight, “Maybe Athena, but …”

“But what?” Heat excites energy. The air grew warm and thick and Willow thought she might pass out as she tried to find breath. It was a beautiful thing.

“But… I can’t think of a single goddess that incorporates all of you- I m-mean you might have to find a few.”

Willow’s heart flipped and danced, this was the inexorable movement of them, and Willow wanted more, “Well if Branwen is love and beauty, she is definitely the right fit for you.”

They were flirting, brazenly, and Tara was standing in a lighting storm. She bit her lower lip demurely and Willow swallowed audibly, “Really it’s more the empathic part.”

Heart pounding wildly and nervously licking her lips, Willow spoke slowly and so softly, “So, can you feel me?”  She shifted just an inch closer to Tara’s warming body. Heat excites energy. “I mean, how I’m feeling?”

Tara matched Willow’s move and she could feel Willow’s breath, warm and sweet on her lips. Her eyes blinked heavily and Tara wondered if she might faint, “I’m scared to trust it.” And then Willow’s hand cupped her cheek and their eyes met, deep forest green and twilight blue incandescent in the storm.

“Trust it.”

Lightning struck as their lips met, each slow brush an exaltation. The rain steadied, and it bathed them anew.