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Wilderness

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The Bronze was teeming, twenty-something-ish bodies crushed together as they maneuvered within the space. Willow and Amy pushed through, trying to reach the stairs to the second floor. After third strange elbow jabbed Willow in the shoulder, and with a puff of frustration, she flung her hands in an outward motion, flicking them in opposite directions. The crowded divided, leaving a clear pathway ahead of two the women, both grinning broadly like satisfied cats. With a spring in her step, Willow moved toward the unblocked stairway, “Let’s go.”

“You couldn’t have thought of that at the bar?” Amy teased, pushing up the arms of her deep burgundy shirt, her index finger momentarily caught in the slashes that ran down the sleeve.  Her brown skirt and oversized brown belt had been purchased with her father’s money just hours before.

“I was too busy showing the bartender our brand spankin’ new I.D.’s, years of aging at no charge.” Willow delighted, tongue peeking out between her teeth.

“Since when does the Bronze card, anyway?”

“New management,” Willow shrugged blithely, and then steadied her dirty martini before emerging into the open room. She was showing, as Amy put it, “more skin than you were even aware of in high school.” Her tight olive jeans rode low beneath an equally olive flowing tank with embroidered gold flowers and V-cut that revealed her slim stomach. High school Willow would have crumbled under panic and embarrassment, this Willow wore the outfit with ease.

The upper level was a study in red, dotted with tables, chairs, and a spattering of booths all bearing low glowing candles behind red- tinged votives. While it was less crowded, there were still no seats available. Willow huffed in disappointment before sipping at her drink, “Guess we stand.”  

“Nah.” Fixing a mischievous gaze on a couple against the back wall, Amy uttered unfamiliar words through a self-satisfied grin. The couple rose from their seats and left the area, wearing confused expressions as they passed the girls. “Look, two seats, just opened up.” Willow smiled; this was the fun of magic.

“How was seeing your dad?” She inquired as they claimed their liberated land.

“Weird,” Amy plopped into a cushioned seat, “He thought I ran away. Or that I was dead.”

Choosing a more sedate ease into her chair, Willow winced in sympathy, “He didn’t believe the rat thing?”

“It’s kinda hard to wrap your head around. And Sunnydale, missing teen capital of everywhere, so...”

“Wow, I had no idea.”

“Yeah, he said he tried to find out more, but no one ever said anything to him again.” Amy’s words held no anger, but carried a distinct sense of regret.

“I’m sorry, Amy. I mean, I guess I took for granted that he accepted what had happened, since your mom was a witch an’ all.” Willow stared down at her drink where she ran her thumb back and forth over the edge of the protruding olive spear, “Guess we should have kept him updated.”

“Well, I’m sure you were busy,” a thin bitter thread was laced in the otherwise banal statement. It tickled at Willow’s senses and she was unsure what to make of it.

 “It’s been pretty much non-stop crazy. World-endy crazy. But, I am sorry.”

Visibly shifting moods, Amy waved the topic away, “It’s in the past, right?” Pushing her hair back, Amy leaned her elbows on the table and propped her chin on clasped hands, “So…. You date girls now?”

Willow took a slow drink before she answered, her voice throaty and quiet, “Well, one girl, there’s just been the one.”

Amy leaned forward in interest, “What happened?”

Willow blinked in surprise and a small weight seemed to lift from her shoulders- there was no blame or foregone conclusions there. Amy was an impartial, maybe even sympathetic, ear. Still, there was a tremble in her voice when she spoke, “We, um, she was upset with me- for using magic.”

 “Did she not know you?” Amy pulled back slightly, eyes rolling incredulously, “I mean not everyone understands witchcraft but-“

“No, she does. Tara is a witch too.”

“Then what’s with the judgment?”

“She said I was using too much.” Aiming for an air of composure, Willow attempted an easy shrug but it came off stiff and twitchy.

Obviously unimpressed, Amy huffed, “Wow, controlling much?”

“No!” Willow protested, “Tara’s not like that. She just- she grew up practicing, and she has all these rules and restrictions that she really believes in. And I think she didn’t trust me enough to know what I was doing, what I had to do.”

“And what did she think was so offensive?”

Willow told Amy about the last year. Glory. The horror of seeing the god’s hands stealing Tara away, watching Tara struggle, each day more frantic and frightened and helpless. Buffy’s psychotic break, then death. Taking the mantle of leadership over the summer, because she was expected to. Because she could. Fighting every day to keep everyone safe. Bringing Buffy back.

“The magic saved us, my magic saved us. And yeah,” Willow continued, a little too earnestly, “I used it to make party decorations, or to close the curtains sometimes, but that’s like, super simple magic, it's easy- peasy for me now. I use magic to save lives, shouldn’t I be able to use it to make life easier too? I think it’s more than a fair trade.”

“Your ex sounds like a bore, Willow, move on.”

“Don’t.” Willow’s eyes narrowed dangerously, alit by a ferocious flame. Staring widely with alarm, Amy moved as far back as her chair would allow.  “Don’t talk about her like that.” With a blink, Willow softened and tears gathered and sat in tiny pools, “She is the most amazing person I have ever met. We just didn’t see eye to eye on this.” Closing her eyes, Willow appeared lost in reverie.

Tilting her head, Amy observed Willow, flickers of scrutiny barely discernible behind an impassive visage, “Ok, Wills. Subject dropped,” Amy stood, grabbing Willow by the hand, “What you need is some distraction”. With a slight tug, she pulled the reluctant redhead to the railing where they could view the crowd below. “Come on, let’s have some fun.”

Amy searched the couples on the dance floor and at the bar. With a look of satisfaction she turned to Willow, “Found just your style.” A thin line of red mist streamed from Amy’s outstretched fingers, making its way through the people and finding its target. Willow followed the trail to where the mist disappeared into the chest of an attractive young woman with long brown hair; an attractive young woman who until now had been dancing intimately with a taller blonde. The woman stopped her dance, looking directly up and into Willow’s eyes. Her smile promised that no seduction was necessary as she pushed out of the bewildered blonde’s arms and started walking toward the stairs, her gaze never leaving Willow’s face.

“Amy, no, no! I’m not –“ Willow frantically shook her head.

“Ok.” Amy shrugged, and with a flick of her hand, the spellbound dancer stopped cold, a look of pure confusion on her face. Amy turned to see tears return to flood Willow’s eyes. She was shaking and Amy was sure there was a breakdown in sight. Amy knew Willow was trying to have a good time tonight and frankly, did not want her first night back filled with anything but a celebration of walking on two legs again.

Willow looked to Amy just as the other woman pressed two fingers to Willow’s forehead. A heady rush swept through Willow’s small frame, and she grinned as her thoughts melted away.

“Isn’t that better?” Amy asked with a bright smile.

“So much,” Willow practically swooned.