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Wilderness

Chapter Text

Little Cages 

set in S4, after NMR

 

The house stood in front them, large and pleasant. Suburban. From the outside it was a thing of wood, nails, and glass, but on the inside, reminiscences of past emotions and events filled in the foundation. Houses are collectors of memories.

Willow slipped her hand from Tara’s, retrieving her keys from her pants pocket and opening the front door. The interior was silent but for the steady tick of a grandfather clock and an infrequent click-whoosh when the air conditioner readjusted to the temperature. The walls were functional, all wood and plaster and slightly off-white, decorated with folk art pieces collected from her parents’ international travels. There was no one home, Willow had known that; her parents were three weeks into a twelve week ‘working vacation’, a term Willow found both perplexing and manipulative before deciding it wasn’t worth getting upset over. She shrugged to herself, If it makes them feel better… .

Willow turned to see Tara, having entered behind her, taking everything in, her wide blue eyes scanning the room carefully, her lips tipping up into a small wondrous smile. Willow followed Tara’s gaze with a curious frown to see what was making Tara smile, what she was missing. Nothing. Everything was as it usually was: tidy, modern, museum-like. Tara slipped forward, moving further into the large room, looked closely at every inch of space, studied it, wanting to catch every detail.  Somehow, Willow spotted the frame photo, placed at a meticulous angle on the mantle, before Tara did. It was the only picture of them as a family in the main room, taken when Willow was ten, and in her mind, impossibly awkward.

Tara stumbled slightly as she surged forward, pulled by Willow’s sudden grasp, her wondering eyes never faltering while Willow led her up the stairs, hurrying them past the two photographs hung in the upstairs hallway, wishing she had thought about those before asking Tara to come with her that day.

 

They had been officially together for a month and a half, although they had both agreed that there had always been something between them. During long talks, interrupted by stolen kisses, they had admitted their immediate attraction to one another, although that it was a romantic attraction was much clearer to Tara early on. Willow had frowned then, blaming herself for being so clueless that things took as long they did until the frown was kissed away, Tara softly reassuring that they were going just the pace they were meant to be.

After the  night of the “Extra-Flamey Candle”, as they’d named it, any uncertainty of their feelings for one another had been extinguished, carried away in wisps of smoke. They had declared their love in the darkness, freeing the energy to settle into the walls, part of the structure now.

When Willow had asked Tara to come with her to her childhood home, she had just wanted to be with her. She hadn’t thought about what being here would unveil, but now, dread swept through her as she approached the last barrier to her destination. 

She had changed since she lived in that room. Tara knew the new, better, witchier, version of Willow. Stepping into the time capsule on the other side of the door seemed like walking into a graveyard where ghosts still haunted her. If she opened that door, would these ghosts announce themselves? Reveal bits of Willow she had buried in holes that wouldn’t stay covered. She wanted to share herself with Tara, just maybe not now, not so soon after they had found each other. Not when Willow was so smitten with this beautiful girl. But they were here now and she couldn’t ask Tara not to come in, not without hurting her.

 “Ready?,” Willow placed her free hand on the knob, swallowing hard/ Tara stepped beside her, nodding eagerly and bouncing forward on her toes, lifting herself up a bit. And when she smiled she beamed with such delight that Willow couldn’t help being swept up, wanting so much to let herself trust and hope, to close the lid over her worries. She opened the door, her hand ushering Tara inside. The benign embarrassment of tacky posters and childish sheets still lingering, Willow blushed and shrugged, “It’s just my old bedroom.”

“I know,” Tara examined the room, taking in every piece like it was a precious artifact, stored and protected at a national museum, “but it’s like a piece of you from before, I get a glimpse of what littler Willow was like.” Her beaming smile was paired with a look of pure adoration shining from cornflower blue eyes.

 For a perfect moment, forest green eyes accepted and returned the adoring stare, until Willow spied her open closet door, a familiar gingham monstrosity peaking through. Moving hastily, and Willow hoped sneakily, she swung the closet door shut, wondering why she hadn’t burned those old relics years ago.

“Believe me that stone is definitely best left unturned,” Willow said with an exaggerated puff of air and goofy grin which, Tara noted, wasn’t reflected in her eyes. Tara watched carefully, reading Willow’s body language, as Willow moved about her room, getting the box pellet food as she talked to her rat.

“Poor Amy , you’ve got to be hungry,” Willow soothed, taking the empty food tray from Amy’s cage,  “If  we were any later you’d probably start gnawing off her own paws.”

“W-well that’s your fault, you know?” Tara flirted, knowing that she could often bring Willow out of ‘overthinking brain’ when she did. Not that she didn’t mean it. Willow often made her feel flirtatious, even though Tara would swear she didn’t know how to flirt. But, here,  watching Willow’s slender body move, the low waist of her jeans hugging a subtly curved hip, the perfect ass in full view as Willow bent, Tara was feeling very very flirtatious.  She couldn’t help but blush when Willow glanced back at her, eyebrows raised. Tara ducked her head shyly before lifting her gaze under hooded eyes, smiling coyly “I’m-um- not the one who made us late.”

“Sorry ‘bout that,” Willow blushed, turning back to her chore, and then, she felt the slow graze of Tara’s hands around her,  the press of Tara’s body against her. Tara’s low giggle sent ripples down her back and Willow stopped all motion

 “I, um, really didn’t mind,” Tara spoke softly, her low voice both tentative and husky. The warmth spread across Willow’s collarbone as Tara leaned into her. Willow stiffened slightly, pushing her body forward. 

“Good,” she replied, the sound underlined by the tiny sounds of scratching as Amy paced the floor of her cage, “I mean, I wouldn’t want you to really be upset,” Willow continued, focused intently on pouring food into the bowl, “‘Cause, why would you be upset? You aren’t the hungry one. I mean, the one I let go hungry. Not that… I, mean you could be hungry, we haven’t eaten since lunch, but that’s not, I mean, you don’t… um, well-“ A soft hand on her hip stooped the babbling.

“Willow, are you ok?” 

Willow stood quickly, “Yeah, just um, worried about Amy.”  Tara stepped back, giving Willow her space, relaxing when Willow placed a quick peck on her cheek. Willow resumed caring for Amy, moving items around the cage so she could tidy it, but she kept a side eye on Tara who was now looking more closely at the room.

Tara felt Willow’s watchful glances as she peered at the large poster hung over Willow’s desk. It showed the Periodic Table, and Tara wondered if the color coding was the influence for Willow’s habit of using different colored pens. It was organized , she conceded.

There was a framed picture of a middle aged man, sitting in honor on Willow’s bookcase. Tara quirked a half smile as she moved toward it, curious. Quickly, Willow was next to her, hands wringing and a look on her face that said she was ready to explain. Wide eyes met wondering brows.

“Who’s this hunk?” Tara joked, trying to ease the obvious nerves rolling off Willow. It seemed to at least throw Willow off because all fidgeting stopped and Willow’s mouth dropped open.

“Hunk?” Willow asked disbelievingly.

“Well, he h-has to be right? I mean, why else would he be framed?” Tara turned red even as she smirked.

“That’s Neil deGrasse Tyson,” Willow said sheepishly, almost mumbled, in her embarrassment

“The, um, the physicist?” Tara asked watching Willow press her arms down rigidly, her hands squeezed before her. Willow was closing in on herself.

“Um yeah.”  

“Sweetie?” Tara brushed her fingers down Willow’s arm softly, “Are- are you uncomfortable with me in your room?”

“What? No,” Willow protested, breaking easily under Tara’s concerned look. She sighed and crossed to her bed, picking at a loose thread on her coverlet, thick pastel stripes shifting slightly with the movement. “Well, being here kinda makes me feel like I’m still in high school, or worse junior highschool- more like junior hellschool,” Willow grumbled, feeling Tara slip behind her and wrapped her around the middle, “I wasn’t exactly Miss Popularity. I wasn’t even in the same county or state- or possibly even continent- as the popular kids.”

Tara rested her chin on Willow’s shoulder, a sweet smile crossing her lips when Willow laid their temples together “I think I was on another planet,” Tara shared, “but I never wanted to be like them.” Willow tilted her head back and Tara giggled when her hair tickled Willow’s face.

“No me neither really,” Willow agreed with an unsettled sigh, “besides it’s in the past right? I have a brand spankin' new livin' the college life- life and….,” Willow placed a feather light kiss on Tara’s cheek, “a gorgeous girl to spend it with.”

Tara couldn’t speak past the flush that heated her cheeks or the warm breath that caught and remained in her chest. A ridiculous smile wanted to stretch across Tara’s face and live there forever. She closed her eyes and nuzzled against Willow’s lips, “So your parents are out of town?”  

“Generally always,” Willow returned with a knowing smile, “I need to change Amy’s water.” She kissed Tara chastely on the mouth and moved back to the cage, unhooking the water dispenser that hung from its side. “I’m not even sure how great they are at feeding her when they are here.”

Tara followed and crouched beside Willow reaching out her index finger to smooth over Amy’s back, “Why didn’t you just bring Amy to the dorms? That way you wouldn’t have to worry.”

“Because I’m not a sneaky rule breaker like you,” Willow teased, bumping their shoulders together.

“I only break the dumb rules,” Tara said with a sheepish smile.

“Well now that we have Miss Kitty,” a blush swept up Willow’s collarbone to the backs of her ears. It’s that word ‘we’. It made Willow giddy and shy at the same time. It made lumps form in her throat, “I am not sure if it’s a good idea to bring her there, I don’t want to give poor Amy a heart attack.”

The blush seemed to leap from Willow to Tara, two flushed faces gazing just inches apart. “Miss Kitty is a huntress,” The low sensual tone in Tara’s voice said ten thousand lovely things. Amy scratched in her cage and Tara blushed again, feeling too bold and oddly public. She reached her finger through the now closed cage and tickled at Amy’s fur again, “She’s cute.”

“I hope you don’t still think so if I ever figure out how to turn her back.”

“Depends on if she still has these whiskers or not.”

“Tara!” Sometimes Tara was wonderfully strange.

Squirming, Tara shook her head trying to erase the words, “I’m not really into whiskers!”

“I wasn’t really worried.” Willow giggled.

“Good.” Tara stood, desperate to change the subject and wanting to relish in the place where her love spent many years growing up, “I-is it okay if I look around?”

“I mean, there’s not much to see besides my geek infested roots,” Willow said with a shrug and a strained chuckle.

Tara stepped forward and stood before Willow, she ran her fingers through red hair and Willow leaned into the caress, “I love all your roots.”

 A small giggle erupted from Willow, and she nuzzled into the smooth pale skin of Tara’s neck “I thought you were going to say infested roots turned you on.” Tara pulled back in mock horror, “Ew.” There was a moment when neither spoke, a moment where each wondered if they had said something wrong. Then eyes met and both women burst into laughter, squeezing together as one.

“Let’s go back to the dorms, baby,” Willow said, giving her best puppy eyes, “I’ll buy you a mocha on the way home.”

“Sure love,” Tara replied then bent down beside the cage again, sticking her fingers through the gaps and wiggling them at the rat, “Bye Amy, I’m sure I’ll see you again, maybe next time,” her voice dropped to a stage whisper, “Willow will even let me explore.”

“Maybe,” Willow retorted, stretching her hand out and helping Tara stand, “Come on now, those mochas aren’t going to drink themselves.”

“Well, they might,” Tara giggled, shutting the door behind her, “It is the Hellmouth.”