Rating: M, language, adult situations
Summary: After a night of slaying with the newly resurrected Buffy, the gang unwinds at the Bronze where a bigot confronts Willow. Set a couple of weeks after "Bargaining." Sunnydale, 2001 or there/then-abouts.
Author's Notes: This is an adaptation of a graphic short story/comic I scripted and penciled several years ago for the DCP board as part of my Interludes series. Interludes is my collection of behind-the-scenes headcanon stories I wrote when I first started writing fanfic, exclusively Willow-Tara stories, almost ten years ago.
Warnings: Profanity, hate language, sexual suggestiveness. Hints of Dark Willow. The angst is strong with this one. Hey, it's a season six story. Can it be anything but? Honestly, I know this is not a fluffy and easy piece and that it is not for everyone, particularly Willow fans (and she is still my favorite character in the Buffyverse). If you need an antidote afterward, I humbly suggest you read any of the other Interludes (except maybe Homo Triste—stay away from that one unless you actually want to wallow some more).
I welcome feedback, especially constructive and/or honest criticism. PM or right here is fine. Thanks!
Heaven is for the living. The dead have no need for what lies beyond their departure. The concept of heaven is for those left behind, peering into the darkness after a cherished one's passing, chasing the fleeting shadow in their guilt or melancholy or anger in being the ones who must stay. Science has always said this, and humanity has always looked for a way around this difficult truth. It's hidden by religion, hidden by the yearning for a benevolent Creator, or at least for one without anger for his poor creations. Indifference is always better than malice when you are the object of a Master's wrath.
In the absence of the loving Divine is the void humans fill with calculated facts and emotionless truths. But rigid science is wrong in its clinical detachment. Always, there are anomalies that disturb the peace one looks for in the formulaic. Perhaps heaven only exists for the living, but how then to explain hell? Hell is my reality.
My death—the death of this shell—was violent, a violation, a spilling of blood and life into a demon's mouth. The illusion of heaven was lifted quickly, almost immediately. How sad, that there is no heaven, but there is a hell.
It happened in Sunnydale. It happens frequently here. At least I managed 30 years.
So heaven is really for Elias, Anthony, and Mark. My boys. Mark holds our sons' hands in each of his own, trying to still their trembling even though his hands are also unsteady, three days after he identified my body, the ME helpfully covering the marks in my neck with a small hand towel. No need to look, the wounds don't define her, he told them, though he was only partly right or right for the moment. They do define me, now. They are exactly me, now.
Mark Richman is afraid of the future, the life he and Elias and Anthony will need to have without his wife Caryn. He fears especially for Elias—Caryn was best handling the child's autism. Anthony will step up, a good brother, but their family needs Caryn. How will Mark manage without her? But that's no longer my concern. They left her here in this small box for me to awaken. Someone—one of the sons, most likely, under the direction of some filthy priest in the cult she had been raised in, had left a rosary under my palm. The stink of burning flesh as I turn makes my animal eyes widen and I can barely shove it to the side where the small cross will no longer sting. There is little room to move my arms and find the leverage to push. But the hunger begins in earnest, and I have feral strength and a growing claustrophobia. Whatever it takes to leave this tiny box…
"This is the third fledge tonight! You know, maybe we should—" Xander started.
"Shut up! Just shut up! That's what you should do." Spike had had enough and spat the words out with the cigarette butt dangling from his lips, burnt down more than half way and ash dropping down to drift lazily in the early autumn breeze. With one deliberate, protracted inhale (since he no longer needed to breathe) he finished what was left and ended it against the sole of his boot before he flicked the butt in a high arch over the tombstone of the fresh grave they were monitoring. Caryn Richman, born July 1, 1971, deceased September 7, 2001, the victim of an unknown large wild animal attack, according to the obituaries. It was late evening and Saint Michael's Roman Catholic cemetery was old, one of the few unlit ones that had never had lights retro-fitted with the advances in technology. The almost neon white filter disappeared two feet from his fingers in the barely moonlit gloom. "Between little miss birthday girl here taking her sweet time making her grand debut and me having to listen to all your mindless patter—"
"Shut up, Spike. All of you, be quiet!" Buffy stood poised, Spike at her elbow and the others a little further behind. They knew this was her show, and formed something of a tiered series of rows behind her depending on their own ability to contribute to the slayage. Beyond Spike was Willow. Beyond Willow, Xander, then Anya and Tara in the rear. The two women also monitored the group's rear for any trouble of an attack from behind. In reality, their presence wasn't necessary; Buffy was physically fit and her fighting instincts sharp as they were before her latest death. But somehow she couldn't bring herself to argue enough to win when she tried to convince them all to stay at home. Instead, here they all were, and paying Clem to watch Dawn who had huffed angrily at the thought of having a babysitter at her age at the Summers' home.
They were noisy, though, so maybe she should have tried harder. In the past, it wouldn't have been a problem, since she could easily banter with a companion, or play off them as she bantered with her prey before slaying them. It sometimes helped to pass the time. She shifted her weight and tried to listen for the disturbing of the fresh dirt of Caryn Richman's grave. The truth of the matter was graveyard patrol was 95% waiting, 5% actual slaying. But the effect of the purge that had occurred the night of her resurrection was already diminished. It was almost like a zero-sum game, with the increase in new demons rising up to take the place of the ones that had died that night. She knew better than anyone that there would always be vampires and other demons to slay. That was what life on a Hellmouth meant. At least she'd always have something to do, until it killed her for the final time, sometime when Willow wasn't around to bring her back. At last, the dirt began to shift a little.
"All I'm saying is we should be getting the Evil Undead siring all these things, instead of waiting for them to come back after the fact," Xander persisted.
"Be a little proactive, Xander?" Tara tried to support her friend against Spike, who no one really liked but tolerated for his help with the slayage, as well as before, with the whole Buffy dying thing three months earlier. They had to admit, Spike had tried his best just like the rest of them to pick up with the slaying but also with Dawn, with everything falling apart before they, led by Willow, set things right by pulling Buffy out of whatever hell dimension she'd been sent to by closing Glory's portal.
Xander smiled in gratitude at the support. "Exactly! See? Tara gets what I'm saying."
"Feh," Spike sneered. "Doesn't mean much, considering Red's bird isn't exactly one for the linear thinking."
Before either Tara or Willow could form a reply, Anya jumped in. "Are you still insulting Xander, or are you referring to Tara's lesbianism and hence, her inability to 'think straight'?"
Spike stared at her blankly.
"Hon, don't encourage Mr. Limp-Fang—"
"Do you guys not know what the meaning of 'Be Quiet' is?" Buffy chastised them all equally.
They all fell silent at Buffy's exasperated tone and waited for the bloody, scraped and soiled hand to finally burst through the dirt. Caryn's arms emerged, first one then the other, creating a small volcano of loosely packed soil, followed eventually by her head and shoulders. She was in game face, as fledges always were the first time they emerged from their graves. A vampire is always stronger in demon form, and depending on the construction and quality of their coffin and the density of the soil, demon strength was needed for the rebirth.
Still, she had not eaten, and beyond impelling the need to be freed from the grave, the Hunger also made her weak. Then there was the matter of the humans, variously armed with stakes, crosses, and axes forming a loose circle around her as she pulled her legs free from the ground as it collapsed in the sinkhole made by her exit, the dirt streaking her face, hair, arms, and funeral dress. The loose ring of heavily armed humans and... another... like her? Yes, but older. She could sense his greater power. Unexpected.
"Huh. It looks kinda scared." Willow almost laughed at the mewling sounds coming from its throat. "It's growling like a puppy. Stand back, Buff. I've been waiting for a chance to… FLAME ON!" She simultaneously gestured with a flick of her wrist, almost unnecessarily, as the power built exponentially in seconds within her and rushed through her entire body to the cowering vampire.
Caryn burst into flames from the inside out. The scream died on her lips as they turned to charcoal then fell to dust with the rest of her body.
After the long wait, it was all kind of a let down to everyone except Willow. Buffy's shoulders sagged. She re-pocketed her stake.
"Well," Xander broke the silence, "that was twenty minutes of pretty dull leading up to a big helping of kind of anti-climactic."
"This is boring!"
"Yeah, Ahn, that's what I just said."
Tara offered her girlfriend a raised eyebrow. "'Flame on?'"
"I was getting tired of 'Incendere!'" Willow grinned in reply. "Latin is so stuffy British librarian, don't you think?"
Anya frowned with disappointment. "We could have had sex twice in that twenty minutes, Xander!"
Everyone smirked but Xander, who scratched the back of his neck and sheepishly admitted, "Uh, we really couldn't, hon."
Spike sidled up to Buffy's shoulder, his face lighting up in the dim moonlit field of headstones as he brought his lighter up close to ignite the fresh cigarette dangling from his lips. "S'too bad. She was a bit of a looker, that one. Nice ridges."
"'Nice ridges'?" Buffy asked incredulously.
Buffy's disgust would have been more convincing if Spike didn't know she had caressed Angel's gameface on more than one occasion in the not so distant past. His grandsire had boasted of it when in his Angelus incarnation four years ago. But bringing the wanker up wouldn't help his point more than it would hurt him with Buffy at that moment. "What? You expect us to use the same beauty standards as you pathetic humans?"
Xander carefully monitored the exchange between the two, noting Buffy's lack of a response to Spike's jibe. He sidled up to his childhood friend. "Jeez, Wills. Leave some for the rest of us. Or at least let Buffy get hers in. We gotta get her some practice, get all the rust off."
But Willow was too pleased with the end result to be put off by Xander's chiding. "K-I-S-S, Xan. Better safe than sorry. No need for Buffy to get vamp dust all over her freshly laundered jacket when a good long-distance spell will do just fine." The power had come easily with this spell. Practice really did make perfect. She had barely exerted herself at all. She was still a little buzzed and looking forward to the next hunt.
"Well, sorry to interrupt the pointless if entertaining banter," Anya interjected, sounding more smug than sorry. She gestured toward the far end of the field. "But it looks like all the loud talking and Willow's big flaming poof alerted the rest of our soulless prey. They're making a break for it!"
They could vaguely make out several dark shapes running between the headstones and monuments and the scattering of trees dotting the landscape, fleeing in the opposite direction. The lead they had taken was too great to be overcome by the flat-footed demon fighters.
Buffy sighed as behind her, Willow huffed indignantly, "'Big flaming poof'?!"
And Tara's soft response, "I'm sure she didn't mean it that way, honey."
It was still relatively early in the night/early morning, but the hunting at Saint Michael's dried up completely after. It was their third cemetery that night, though, and exiting the cemetery in the south end led them to the outskirts of downtown Sunnydale. Naturally, the group extended their night with a drop-in at the Bronze. Xander was also parked close by at their drop-off point. A local alt–rock band was playing with no cover, and the club was well-packed with locals as well as college and high school students. Once inside, they broke off into their own sub-groups. Spike quickly ditched them to skulk in a dark corner of the balcony on his own. From the vantage point, his eyes glided over the full club, picking out the two sets of paired Scoobies, Anya and Xander on the crowded dance floor jerking their bodies and laughing to the loud music, and Willow and Tara, drinks in hand at the bar, grinning with eyes only for each other. The slayer sat by herself at a table, her fingertips idly tracing over the rim of her mostly full glass. She stared outward, but Spike couldn't discern what if anything had caught her attention.
Buffy actually had nothing in mind as she took the time alone to sit and finally be still. Since she had come back, there didn't seem to be much to do besides worry about Dawn and the bills and go out at night and slay, and wonder why the hell she was back here. A quiet moment to empty her mind was welcome.
The song ended and so did Xander and Anya's dance. Xander glanced Buffy's way briefly before he and Anya made their way to the bar and Willow and Tara. He shot Willow a look, tilting his head toward their friend. "Will," he began before Willow cut him off.
"I know, Xander, I know." This was something they had already discussed.
"I mean, look at her, Will."
"It'll just take time."
They watched Buffy a little bit longer. The girl didn't move even a little as people swirled, drinking, laughing, shouting, dancing, making out around her.
Willow bit her lip before frowning and shaking her head. "We just have to give her a little more time." Buffy had only returned from whatever hell dimension she had been trapped in over the summer two weeks ago. Of course she was going to take some time to adjust. Willow shook her head again, as if to physically shake the small dread sitting in her stomach at her friend's slow progress. She pushed it as far away from her mind as she could, instead deciding to focus on the good things that had happened that night, and the excellent, sexy company she was keeping. She reached for and found Tara's hand. "Come on, baby. It was a good patrol. Six kills, no boo-boos. We'll be back to code orange in no time. But right now, I just wanna dance." Tara tipped the rest of her drink into her throat and placed the glass next to Willow's already empty one before smiling her consent, allowing Willow to tug her to her feet to lead her toward the crowded dance floor.
The bodies around them briefly separated then swelled back to accommodate the two witches. The music loudly thumping through the loudspeakers, in their ears and through the floor, acted as another layer that seemed to cocoon them and isolate them from everything happening around them. It took little time before the alcohol and the lingering adrenaline pushed Willow to pull Tara closer than a hard rock number with jangly guitars would warrant. Her eyes swept up and down Tara's form. Tara's hair was down from its ponytail earlier that evening, the way Willow liked it. She wore a very becoming baby blue (like her eyes) long-sleeve tee under her jacket that had just the right amount of stretch across her chest matched with a long patterned skirt with her Docs. Not for the first time, Willow mentally recited a thank you prayer to whatever benevolent entity (because it had to be on the side of all that was good and right and just) had placed them on the path to each other. A flare of possessiveness rushed through her. Tara was just so damned sexy. Willow kept a firm grasp of her throughout, clasping her hands on the blond witch's waist or leaning in close to kiss her lips or to pull their bodies together, the different smells of liquor and sweat and Tara's own personal scent so heady in her nostrils. Willow was becoming excited. Soon enough she felt the familiar stirring in her lower gut but pushed the feeling away for the moment. It could also just be the alcohol, which she could take care of now so they could continue their night. The other thing, the inevitable thing, would certainly come later, so to speak.
She pulled back from the deepened kiss at the end of the song but her hands stayed on Tara's hips. Tara's head ducked, a slightly embarrassed smile on her lips. She had been getting carried away, too, and wasn't so used to the PDA as her more outgoing girlfriend. Willow grinned, knowing it without Tara having to say anything. They both regretted having to stop. "Beer—worse than coffee. I gotta go to the little witches' room."
"Hurry back," Tara smiled, confirming yes, she felt it too.
Their eyes stayed on each other as Willow headed for the restrooms and Tara slowly turned to scan the floor. Her eyes found Anya by the bar and she made her way around the press of dancing bodies toward her friend. She looked behind Anya but could not find Xander, until she turned toward Buffy's table and recognized him approaching the Slayer. It looked like he wanted a private moment so she continued to join up with Anya.
Willow wove her way, a little unsteady, having already had three drinks, toward the restrooms tucked at the back of the bar. The crowd thinned out and without speakers wasted in this out-of-the-way part of the room, the music little more than a rhythmic thumping in the background. The noise drop allowed her to barely catch the slur murmured in a male voice as she approached the door to the women's room. Three years ago, she may have ducked her head, set her jaw, and continued about her business, but then again, three years ago, she wouldn't have connected that word or the menace in it with her, or Tara. She stiffened and turned. "Excuse me?"
A man near their age, perhaps a few years older, tall and muscularly lean, leaned on the wall near the alcove housing the restrooms. From his clothing, Willow supposed in glancing that he was a Sunnydale product, rather than a student at UCS. He held a beer bottle in one hand as his arms crossed his chest. There were three other bottles, empty, on the floor next to him. He was the type to want to keep his empties in front of him, until he was finished for the occasion.
He turned his head to Willow, not bothering to straighten himself since he still towered over her even leaning against the wall. He sneered for a lazy second. "You're excused."
Willow considered it a moment, testing the anger as it stirred a little in her, weighing the pros and cons. Waiting three seconds helped her tamp it down. She turned again, a step from the women's room door.
He chuckled more clearly although he was a little pissed she didn't take the original bait. "Y'know, they don't let you pee against the wall in that one. Don't know how that'd work for you, being a fucking dyke and all." He took a large swig from his bottle, nearly emptying it.
Willow turned and approached him, the restroom break forgotten. "I see." Incredibly, her mouth stretched into a knowing smile, without teeth. Her dark eyes flashed dangerously. The drunken bigot did not seem to notice. "Jealous, huh?"
Anya's face was scrunched up, her brows knitted, as she tried to convey the seriousness of her situation to Tara. The blond witch got along so well with Willow, who was much like Xander, so perhaps Tara could offer some insight on how to best handle the contemporary male ego, odd as that jump in logic sounded. Or even a little sympathy would help. Tara was good girlfriend (just regular girlfriend, not lesbifriend) material. Quiet, but observant, which she had been told on too many occasions by her often exasperating boyfriend, was usually an indicator of Jedi-master-like wisdom from which she, still impulsive padawan to human ways and customs, could benefit. At the very least, Tara was obviously a good listener. "It's not like I bring up the e-word all the time just to irritate Xander. It's just that it was an important part of my life for so long…"
Tara was having a harder time than usual following Anya's line of thought. "Um, 'e-word'?"
"Evisceration!" Anya huffed impatiently. "But it's better than the c-word, don't you think?"
C-word? That could be a whole lot of things. Some of which Willow occasionally used, and depending on context, Tara didn't mind in the slightest.
But Anya was already on a different tangent. "Speaking of vengeance, Tara, you know it has been close to a year already. There is a statute of limitation on these things—"
Tara tried to think back a year, trying to contextualize Anya's newest topic jump to make sense of it. Before she could make any headway, however, she felt a surge of anxiety swell within her. Something was happening, with Willow, with her beloved. "Excuse me, Anya," she mumbled. She turned from Anya's curious gaze toward the restrooms.
Tara found her and approached from a wide angle just as Willow's grin stretched wider, finally showing her eyeteeth. Tara recognized that particular expression and wondered what the man standing rigid before her lover had done to piss Willow off this badly.
"You know, if you're looking for tips on picking up women, I really can't help you. Mine only work on ones with brains. And taste." Willow could sense Tara approaching, thankfully from her side where she wouldn't become the bully's target.
"Will—?" Her lover did not turn, her stance still loose, deceptively so, as Tara could see Willow was also coiled tightly.
The man's eyes flickered toward Tara and narrowed further with recognition from the earlier display on the dance floor. "You'd better get your boyfriend here outta my face, girl."
"Baby, come on, let's go," Tara tried. She laid her hand on Willow's elbow as Willow took a small step forward and the man's arm immediately shot out toward them.
Xander settled into the seat next to Buffy. "Hey, moody girl. Why so moody? What's going on? Talk to me."
Buffy's eyes lowered to her drink from the vacant stare, so there was a little improvement. "Nothing's going on, Xander. I'm fine, thanks."
"Sure, if by fine, you mean really not."
"Really, Xander, there's nothing to say," Buffy sighed.
"Come on, Buff—" Then it happened. "Whoa!" Xander shook his head, trying to clear it. Since Buffy's return, he had made Willow promise to stay out of their heads, since the TP thing she did could hurt if she didn't keep the volume down. Plus, way creepy for anything outside an X-Men movie…
But this felt different. It felt more like… Tara?
He got up shakily and looked for the right direction, Buffy also getting up. She was the one with the concerned expression, for a change.
It was just a shove, not a punch, Tara thought, trying to control her panic. She knelt on the floor next to Willow who was on her backside and grimacing. Willow grasped at her chest, just below her neck at her sternum where the asshole had touched her. Touched her! She was scrambling to get up off the sticky barroom floor and Tara wasn't sure if she should be helping.
"Do yourself a favor. Stay down 'til I get bored and walk away."
It was too much like home, like Dad and Donnie. "Is that the kind of man you are? Pushing women around?"
Willow grimaced as she kept trying to get up. She had had the wind knocked out of her. "You kinda missed it, baby. He's got a theory about that."
"You know what, 'baby'? You're not bad-looking for a lezzie, 'baby.' You ever wanna try a real man instead of one who needs a plastic dick to fuck you, let me know."
Willow got shakily on her feet, the scleras of her eyes disappearing as her pupils expanded and overtook them. Again, the man did not seem to notice. "Why? You know any?" She pushed Tara behind her.
"Hey, hey, hey! You two alright?" Xander gasped, finally reaching them. Buffy just behind him.
"W-We're fine, Xander. That… drunk jerk started picking on Willow." She leaned closer to him and whispered, "I think she's had a little too much to drink, too."
"Hey! Standing right here!" Willow stumbled in her indignation. "Or at least trying to…"
Buffy expertly maneuvered herself in front of her three friends directly in the man's path. She planted her feet firmly in a protective stance and looked up at him. He finally took a step back in surprise. "What is this? The fucking Queer Liberation Front?"
"You could say that," Buffy said without raising her voice, "but without the unnecessary profanity, please."
Tara took advantage of Buffy's distraction to pull gently on Willow's elbow. Xander was on Willow's opposite side, helping to steady her. "Come on, baby. Let's just go home. It's already late."
"No way! I wanna watch Buffy kick the dumb guy's ass!"
Xander maneuvered himself in front of Willow's line of sight even as she strained to look around him and catch the bully's eye. "Okay, I vote no. Number one, it's late, and you need to take your girlfriend home." He remembered Anya, and wondered where she was. "Come to think of it, I should be doing the same. Number two, the Slayer ass-kicking is reserved for dumb guys of the demon variety."
Tara pulled her elbow and Willow met her eyes. "Baby, let's just go. Walk me home, okay?"
Willow melted. Tara could do that to her. Only Tara. "Okay," she mumbled.
"Tara, no. Wait for us in the car. I'll find Anya and we'll wait for Buffy then we'll drop you guys off. It's late, anyway, and we're all slayed out." Xander fished in his pocket and produced his car keys, pressing them into Tara's hand.
The man sneered, his aggression bolstered by the apparent retreat. "What's this? A harem situation? Or are you a faggot too?"
Xander scowled at the ridiculousness of it all. He could see how this fool had pushed Willow's buttons. "You really have no clue how close you came tonight… I guess it doesn't hurt to ask. You wouldn't happen to have any demon blood in you, would you?"
The man frowned. It would have made no sense even if he were sober. "What's that supposed to mean?"
Finally, the little blond in front of him inserted herself into the scene once more. "We're trying to figure out if I can get to work."
The dead look in Buffy's eyes creeped him out enough for him to finally shut up and step back as the group collected itself to retreat. Xander pinned the two witches with a loaded gaze, then satisfied when Willow acknowledged his request by dropping her eyes, immediately left to find Anya.
"Come on, sweetie," Tara said again. She took Willow's hand and gently maneuvered her still slightly swaying lover away. She didn't notice Willow's final long stare at the man who had harassed her and threatened and belittled her lover, or the subtle cutting motion Willow made with her free hand, even as the one in her other tightened its grasp and they made their way to the exit.
Dawn was already asleep when they reached Buffy's house. Tara paid Clem his babysitting fee and he left with Xander and Anya to be dropped off at his own place. After tired goodnights to each other, the three remaining women went to their respective rooms to retire for the rest of the night.
Tara was at the makeup table, brushing her hair out when Willow emerged from the bathroom. The redhead climbed into her side of the bed, on top of the covers, propped against the headboard. She watched Tara pull the brush through her long blond hair, wondering if Tara's reticence was due to weariness for all that had happened tonight or something worse. It was sometimes hard to tell with her sweetheart. She was sometimes too nice, things cut to her too easy. She tried for the lighthearted approach, to figure out Tara's mood. "Some night, huh?" She chuckled.
Tara finally put the brush down. She turned to stare down her lover. "It's not funny, Willow. That guy was so drunk, he could've really hurt you without thinking twice about it."
Angry, then, Willow concluded. "Baby, the only way he could've hurt me is if he hurt you, and I'd never let that happen. I wish you'd just let me handle it."
Tara turned to her stubborn lover, exasperated. "Handle it how? By letting him toss you around until he slipped in the puddle of your blood and knocked himself out?"
"Hey," Willow frowned, "I can take care of myself. I did two vamps myself tonight, remember?"
It was all Tara could do not to throw a facepalm. She took a deep breath instead to settle herself. "All I am saying is that you take too many chances, Willow, and I wish you wouldn't. I wish you would stop and think before you get in over your head—"
"Oh, so it's my fault? Some drunk bigot starts harassing me 'cause he sees us kissing, and it's my fault?" Willow couldn't believe what she was hearing.
"No! That's not… That's not what I meant. Of course it wasn't your fault. What I mean is…" How to say it in a way Willow would understand? "You're not a superhero, Will. You're not… You're not a Slayer."
"Is that what this is about? Patrol tonight?" Willow softened, ready to argue about this. She lowered her voice, sensitive that Joyce's room, now their room, was just ten feet from Buffy's. "Look, Tara, Buffy's been back less than two weeks. I just want to keep an eye out for her until she gets her bearings. She still seems a little… off. Okay?" Willow stood and eased herself behind Tara at the vanity table, her hands falling lightly on Tara's hips. Her lover was very responsive to touch for comfort. "Anya was right, though, strange as it feels to say that. But there really is no need for you and her and Xander to go out with us anymore."
Tara looked over her shoulder, her expression surprised. "'Us'? You'll still be going? Why, Will?"
"I don't want to leave Buffy alone with Spike. Something's off about him, too," Willow admitted. "I'll stop when things have settled down, gotten back to the way they were before."
Tara hesitated. In her gut, she could feel the conversation turning, her lover entrenching. She wasn't going to get anywhere with this argument tonight. "Just… let Spike and Buffy do the dangerous stuff? Promise you'll be careful."
"Got it. No pulling a Riley. Buffy's the superhero, although… " Willow's arms tightened around Tara's waist. She lay a soft, playful kiss against Tara's covered shoulder, wishing it were skin. "You can be a hero tonight, if you want. A Dutch heroine?"
Willow's voice dropped another register so she had to speak almost directly into Tara's ear. "Stop a flood. Stick a finger in a dyke."
"I… can't believe you just said that." Tara really couldn't.
"I can't believe I'm getting away with saying it," Willow's bottom lip disappeared behind her teeth. She extended her hand which Tara took and walked them backward toward the bed, letting go only when it was the absolute last second and she had to in order to climb into her side.
"Who says you're getting away with it?" Tara shrugged off her robe, revealing her tank top and boxers, and tossed it onto the vanity chair before climbing onto the other side of the bed.
Willow rolled onto her side to face her lover. "Well, it seems to have worked. You're getting into bed with me, aren't you?" She traced lazy patterns into Tara's elbow.
"Maybe it's just to punish you."
"Ooo, am I finally gonna get spanked?"
"Are you sure Faith didn't break out of prison and get herself another body-snatcher charm?"
"Hey, now that was uncalled for… Heheh… You said 'snatcher.'"
Tara rolled her eyes, but her lips were still curled into a half smile. "Goddess, you're like a machine."
"I can't help it. I think it's that double-H thing. I didn't get it all out of me just dancing."
"Hon, I thought we straightened this all out. That's just for slayers."
"Hey, no one said anything about only slayers being able to use that excuse."
"Did I ever give you the impression you need an excuse?"
"Good point." Willow closed the distance between them. "Queer me up, baby."
"I beg your pardon?" But Tara inched forward herself.
"I wanna punk you." Her hand fell on Tara's hip, just above the waistband of her boxers. She nudged the material out of the way, higher up Tara's torso, then slipped her hand back to Tara's now exposed smooth, warm, soft skin.
"You expect me to… do things with that potty mouth?"
"Be gay with me… please?" Willow's eyes were dark and serious.
"Sweet talker." Tara whispered. She pressed her lips against Willow's, saying 'yes' to her beloved. She reached for the lamp switch before Willow reached out and intercepted her hand.
"Leave it on, Tara. I want to see your face, baby." She took Tara's hand gently in her own, pulling it back to the small space between them where it slipped underneath Willow's t-shirt instead.
At the Bronze, it was closing in on 2AM. Jason lined his empties in front of him in a row. He was still steamed about the earlier encounter with the faggots at the restroom door. Uppity dykes. It happened every September, when the university reopened and a new batch showed up with their rainbow shit and ridiculous parades and rallies and sense of entitlement. "Queers and freaks. Goddamn town is full of them…" Who did they think they were? Coming to his town, flaunting their perversions in his face?
The bartender approached him to finally bus those bottles. They had been bothering him since his shift started, but the dude had practically growled at him when he'd reached for the outermost one. "Don't know if you're new in town, but you oughtta just steer clear of those kids. Just give 'em a wide berth. Trouble tends to follow them—"
"Yeah, yeah. I know. I was there. Hey, get me another one of these…" He lifted his last bottle up.
"Sorry. You missed last call. We're closing in five."
"Great. Fucking great."
He dropped the bottle onto the bar and shakily got up. Seven beers, he'd gone through half his beer budget for the entire week tonight. He hadn't meant to, but those queers had made him so goddamn mad, he'd needed to load up to get mellow again. His bladder was more than full but at least everything was pretty nice and fuzzy.
The restroom was empty and the urinal was closest. He undid the fly of his jeans and reached inside to take himself out. His eyes widened as his fingers groped against wiry hairs and lips where his cock and balls should have been.
"Oh, God… What the FUCK?"
Tara woke with a violent start. She gasped as the scream echoed in her mind. The rush of air forced her into a sitting position. She blinked furiously. The light was still on, they had fallen asleep after their lovemaking with the lamp on.
Next to her, Willow roused sleepily. "Tara? Baby? What is it?"
"A-A nightmare. Just a nightmare," she was still panting with fright, her skin damp with sweat, the panic kind. She shivered and pulled the sheet up over her chest to cover her breasts.
Next to her, Willow sat up, too, a gentle hand on her knee to comfort. "Again? Oh baby, I'm sorry. Was it about Glory?"
Tara blinked. She hadn't had a Glory nightmare for several weeks. "Gl-Glory? N-no. That guy, at the Bronze…"
Willow relaxed a little and worked her arm around Tara's slightly shaking shoulder. "That jerk? Aw, baby, don't worry about him. It's over." Willow yawned, trying to wake herself up more, but the lovemaking had been enthusiastic, on top of a long night slaying. It was hard to wake up and focus but she had to, for Tara. "Y'know, I really gotta hunt this guy down and make him pay, if he's giving my baby nightmares," she mused.
Tara hesitated. She didn't want to say it, but that was part of the nightmare, too. "Willow, you didn't… do anything to him?"
Willow smiled. "Like what? Turn him into a frog?" When Tara said nothing, she frowned as realization hit. "What?! Like turn him into a frog?!" Her face fell. "No! Tara, I can't believe you'd even think I'd—"
Tara immediately regretted it, regretted the crushed look on Willow's face, in her eyes. "I'm sorry. No. You'd never… I'm sorry, Willow. Forgive me, sweetie? Please?"
Willow just wanted to forget it and move on. "There's nothing to forgive, baby. Everything's good. No more nightmares. Especially not about that asshole. He's not worth it. Let's just go back to bed, 'kay?"
Tara nodded, relieved Willow was willing to forget it, or at least try.
This time, Willow reached to the night stand to switch the lamp off. She snuggled into Tara's side, silently telling her lover that everything really was good, reassure her she didn't need to worry, about Willow or herself. She had the power, lots of it. Enough to protect them both. Nothing would ever harm Tara ever again. She hadn't used it tonight, because it was true, the asshole hadn't been worth it. But she could and she would, if it came down to it.
But that wasn't tonight. The piece of shit really hadn't been worth it. Tonight, it was just a glamour.
...But please stay tuned...