Another end to another Confidential!Verse story. But not to fear, their story isn't quite over yet. Stay tuned for the concluding piece, coming next month.
Thanks so much to everybody who read this and has stuck with me and especially Boris Yeltsin, Katherynne the Great, ImSoCooliPissIceCubes, bluexaphyre, and bluepaintbox who took the time to leave feedback! You don't know how much it is appreciated!
Eight Years Later
Tara held the car door open for Willow, who smiled softly.
"You know that it does that itself when it feels me moving off the seat?"
"Technology can't replace chivalry," Tara replied softly and offered her hand.
Willow took it and lifted herself out of the car.
She took a deep breath of the fresh air.
"You okay?" Tara asked gently.
Willow took a look ahead where there was an open grave surrounded by lots of bright green grass.
"No," she replied and squeezed Tara's hand, "But I'll survive. Talked to Jenny this morning. I'm just taking each moment as it comes."
"That's my girl," Tara whispered and pressed a kiss to Willow's cheek.
Behind them, more cars pulled up on the curb. In the first, JJ got out and came around to open Cleo's door for her. Tara smiled.
Cleo put her hand on JJ's chest, said something as she patted there gently, and leaned up on her tiptoes to kiss him.
Behind that, Kayden and Dylan got out of their car and both closed the button on their jackets. They joined hands as Lily and Emmett got out from the back. He put his arm around her shoulders and squeezed it.
Finally, on three scooters, a man and a woman flanked Robyn as they rode their way into the scooter rack and parked up.
Willow's eyes skirted toward them all, then back at Tara.
"What do we say to…?"
Tara put her hand on Willow's shoulder.
"Have you considered speaking to them as you do any of our children's partners?"
"But can I make jokes?"
"Robyn would probably prefer you didn't," Tara replied gently, "Sweetheart don't look so uncomfortable."
"I'm not uncomfortable," Willow defended, then off Tara's look, continued, "I'm not! I may not get having two partners but I'm not uncomfortable. If Robbie is happy and the partners are happy…"
Tara rubbed Willow's shoulder.
"I think of it this way," she said through a soft breath, "Robyn needs two people to handle her."
Willow turned to Tara, one eyebrow gently arched.
"Now that I get."
Tara bit her lip to refrain from adding 'so do you' but didn't think it was the time to bring up any comparison to her wife's therapy situation.
Emmett also raised an eyebrow as he saw Robyn approaching.
"How does she have two boos when we can't even find one between us?" he asked dubiously, "And we even shared!"
"That was one time!" Lily hissed, flinging the back of her hand against Emmett's chest, "Besides, I will be drowning in dick when I debut on Off-Broadway."
Emmett arched an eyebrow.
"Okay, Off-Off-Broadway," Lily amended with a roll of her eyes, "But you're supposed to be my agent, so who's fault is that?"
"You gots to pay that alimony, hun," Emmett replied, matter-of-fact, "That's what you get for having a quickie Vegas wedding."
Lily crossed her arms over her chest.
"That's what I get for letting Delilah ply me with cheap caipirinhas. And please don't talk about my first ex-husband when I'm still trying to find the second," she replied with a dramatic, far-off stare, "At least KT likes my songs. The daughter I'll never have to have."
Emmett nodded agreeably.
"She loves that one where you make fun of your Momma."
Lily held the back of her hand against her forehead dramatically.
"A top made all of fuzzy fur/Sometimes it's hard to believe I come from her/She jokes as though she thinks she's funny…" her head tilted back and she glanced sideways, "Oh honey."
Emmett smiled, then reined it in.
"This whole conversation is so wildly inappropriate."
"And completely in earshot," Willow's voice called from mere feet away.
Lily and Emmett both squirmed awkwardly.
"Sorry Momma," Lily said, stuffing her hands into her pockets, "You didn't hear that thing about the d—"
"Lily, not today," Tara cut her off softly.
She and Willow hugged the kids and they all walked over to the end of the cemetery where Emily was already waiting. There were more hugs and Willow glanced around.
"Adam is bringing her," Emily explained, checking the time quickly, "He'll be here any second. It's his weekend with her."
"I'm sure he'd understand if you wanted her with you this weekend," Willow replied with a questioning brow raise.
Emily smiled and nodded.
"He does, we're taking her home after this."
Emily turned around and was met with a pre-teen boy taller than she was but still young in his face.
Toby shuffled awkwardly.
"Should I be with everyone else?"
"Of course you should, Toby," Tara cut in and leaned over to hug him, "You're family."
"Hi Audrey," Willow raised her hand to greet the woman when she saw her approach across the grass.
Audrey opened her arms to hug Willow.
"Willow, I'm so sorry," she said softly and pulled back with a sincere look, "We'll hold the fort at the store for as long as you need."
Willow patted Audrey's arm. Truly, Audrey and Emily ran the store seamlessly together by themselves and Willow had scaled down how much she went in because of it, but she still enjoyed poking around and having the kind of involvement she'd wanted from the start: all of the fun and none of the cranky customers.
"Thank you," she replied in the same sincere tone, "You take care of your wife and my grandkids, that's all I need."
Audrey wrapped her arm around Emily's shoulder and squeezed.
"For me too," she said and briefly kissed Emily's cheek, then nodded to something on the other side of the cemetery, "I see Peter and Andrew. I'll go settle everyone into seats."
"Thank you, baby," Emily replied, briefly caressing Audrey's fingertips before they parted.
She had been 19 and Audrey had been 21 (her birthday, in fact) when they'd shared their first kiss. It had been a surprise to them both.
It had also been a surprise to Willow, who promptly chopped her finger off when Emily had chosen to share the news whilst they had been preparing lunch.
There had been a lot of obstacles between their respective children, some crises of sexuality, navigating the relationships with their children's fathers before they even got to the fact that Emily started out as Audrey's boss but they had stuck with it and worked it out and now things couldn't be better.
Except for this day, of course.
Today was not a 'better' day.
It was expected.
But that didn't make it any less painful.
As Audrey was crossing the grass to begin to welcome guests, suddenly a bright flash of energy jumped in front of her.
"Mom, Dad doesn't know if he should stay or not!"
With a bushy beard and anxious eyes, a man came up behind her. Audrey kissed his cheek.
"Of course you're welcome, Adam," she said and patted KT on the back, "KT, go stand with your Mama and your brother. I'll be over in a minute."
KT skipped off.
She understood what was happening but trying to force her to be still and solemn would only end up in a much more disrespectful scene than some skipping. KT took after her Auntie Lily that way and this fact alone endeared them greatly to each other. She was the first person KT skipped over to.
Audrey gestured Peter and Andrew over and kissed them both on the cheek.
"Thank you so much for coming. I hoped to see you both sooner since you went off to run the Manhattan store but I wish it wasn't in these circumstances."
"Us too. But for Willow and Emily?" Andrew asked, holding a limp hand to his heart, "We owe them everything. Our livelihoods, our lives, our relationship. Everything."
"I'm truly sorry it's for such a sad occasion," Peter added, his big and shiny blue eyes full of sorrow. Andrew leaned his forehead on Peter's shoulder and kissed an exposed piece of skin there.
Audrey nodded sadly.
Where the family was gathering, JJ suddenly looked above them all as a hearse rode up slowly.
Willow and Tara looked over their shoulders and nodded at each other. They went ahead to help Michelle out of the car behind the hearse. She let them link her to help her out, then she used a zimmer frame to steady herself on the flat.
"Thank you," she said weakly, and slightly out of breath.
Willow and Tara shared a sad look.
"We'll help you to your seat," Tara said and they very, very slowly started to make their way up the grass to the graveside.
They put Michelle right in the middle of the closest row and sat either side to make sure she was okay.
The rest of the guests arrived from the chapel over the next few minutes and took their seats or stood respectfully on the sidelines. KT and Toby sat next to Tara while the kids' partners all sat in the row behind. Emmett sat there too, as he was a platonic partner of sorts and in fact, he and Lily often referred to each other as soulmates.
Across the grave sat Buffy and Angel with Liam home from college, Alice and Jesse with Ella on holo from her work as a microbiologist in London, Xander, and Anya with both Alex and Ella home from their respective jobs in the FBI in Albany and surgical residency in Baltimore and Becky sitting amongst them all with a tissue in her hand, getting support from the whole clan.
JJ, Kayden, Robyn, and Brian waited at the hearse to be the pallbearers and when they all had the coffin on their shoulders, everybody stood for the procession to the grave. Willow and Tara held Michelle's arm to keep her steady.
Everyone was silent except for the occasional sound of sniffling.
Slowly, the coffin was brought to the mourners and left by the graveside. The rabbi stood over the scene with a solemn bow of his head.
"Today we return our brother Ira Abiyram Yosef Rosenberg to the earth."
He began to lead the mourners in prayer and the Jewish amongst the crowd followed while the rest stayed quiet or whispered their own personal prayers.
The rabbi stepped aside when he was finished and JJ, Kayden, Robyn, and Brian came back over to lift the straps under the casket so they could lower it into the grave.
Michelle broke at this point and Willow and Tara helped to lower her back into her seat. KT burst into tears and from the row behind and Adam plucked her up and brought her into his lap. From the seat beside, Audrey stroked her hair. Emily looked over and knowing her daughter was safe, allowed herself to crumble into Lily, who was openly and silently crying.
Tara sat with Toby and held his hand, then moved it up to wrap around his shoulders.
"It's okay, Nana," he whispered and put his head on her shoulder, "He told me he'd be there every time I read a book to go on to the story adventure with me."
Tara's eyes filled. Reaching across Michelle's back, she squeezed Willow's shoulder. Willow looked over and smiled sadly.
When the casket was safe in its final resting place, Willow walked over, taking a copy of the Torah. She bowed her head and started to recite.
"Yitgadal v'yitkadash sh'mei raba…"
Where appropriate, people answered the prayer. From the number of people who had come from Ira's synagogue, he was clearly a well-loved man.
It was easy for his family to believe that.
When Willow finished, she took a nearby shovel and turned it so she was using the back of it. She thrust it into the pile of dirt dug up from the grave and tossed it on top.
"Good night Daddy."
She closed her eyes and swallowed, then nodded once and passed the shovel back to JJ, who went through the same routine.
"See ya later, Gramps."
"I love you, Pops," Kayden said when it was his turn.
"Farewell, Ganpy," Robyn spoke solemnly, "I'll miss you old man."
Lily and Emily held the shovel together and allowed the dirt to fall off.
Tara brought Toby up with her to do her part and upon KT seeing that, she hurried up behind them. Audrey stood to grab her but Emily held a hand up and stayed close to grab her if need be.
KT held the bottom of the shovel handle as the three of them tossed the dirt in, then KT dropped to her knees and shouted into the grave.
"I'll miss yoooouuuu! I love yoooouuuu!"
This prompted fresh tears amongst many in the crowd. Tara silently encouraged KT back to her seat while Willow tried to help Michelle up but she insisted on doing it herself. Putting her hand in her pocket, she shakily brought out a vial full of dirt.
Ira had specifically sourced it during their last trip to Israel and entrusted its safekeeping to Michelle.
She loosened it as much as she could and allowed it to cover the last piece of wood peeking out.
"Goodbye, my love. Not forever, but for now. He always told me that we didn't need two heartbeats to be together, we only ever needed one," she paused, teary-eyed, and placed her hand over her heart, "So that's where we'll stay my love. In here, forever."
Michelle did accept help back, this time from JJ and Kayden. Willow and Tara both moved down a space to accommodate them.
The rabbi led them in one last prayer before concluding the ceremony.
Everyone was silent, processing the ending.
It was a new beginning of sorts, though not the kind of new beginning they'd all celebrated with joy in the past.
Though there was joy to be had in celebrating the life of Ira, and Willow decided at that moment that that is how she would see this grief through.
People started to move and congregants from Ira's synagogue came over to express their sympathies with Michelle. Some of the 'big' kids went off for a quick walk or to be comforted by their partners and Tara stayed with the little kids to talk them through this event.
Willow found herself at the foot of the grave, staring in silently.
A hand came onto her shoulder.
"You okay, Momma?"
Willow turned back and put her hand over Robyn's hand, squeezing it.
"I'm okay, bean," she said sadly but with as much of a smile as she could muster, "Hope it wasn't too weird for you going back to the ole Jewish roots."
She glanced over to the man and woman had arrived with, who were talking with Emmett and Lily.
"Or for your…"
Robyn followed her eye line and looked back at Willow.
"Coda was raised Jewish-Pagan and Jonas had a great-grandfather who escaped Bergen-Belsen so it's not completely left-field…"
"Wow," Willow replied softly.
"Yeah," Robyn nodded.
Willow turned to take a good look at her daughter. She still didn't like the nose ring, but she'd gotten used to it.
"It's nice to see you, kid," she said finally, sincerely, "Come home from Portland a little more often, hey?"
Robyn awkwardly fiddled with one of her gauges.
"I wasn't sure if I was welcome."
"Always," Willow didn't hesitate to answer, "No matter what. You are always welcome."
She looked deeply into Robyn's eyes to impart her sincerity, then smiled softly.
"When you're not too busy," she added and patted her palms above Robyn's collarbone, "I knew those kicks you gave me in-utero were enough to change the world."
Robyn rolled her eyes.
"I don't do all that."
Willow dutifully put on her mothering voice.
"You're only a year out of law school and you're already helping girls—"
"Anyone womxn-identified," Robyn interjected.
"—areas access welfare—"
"—and better housing," Willow finished fluidly, "And I know you have big dreams of starting your own non-profit. And guess what? I know you're going to do it. I see everything you've made of your life…and I couldn't be more proud."
She paused, some emotion catching in her throat.
"And your grandfather was every bit as proud as I was."
Robyn's eyes filled with tears, which she blinked away.
"I'm going to tell C & J to head back to the house. I'll ride with you guys."
"Do you only call them by their initials to save the time you need to have two partners?" Willow teased, then quickly cleared her throat, "It was a joke."
Robyn laughed, really laughed. Possibly inappropriately.
"I know, Momma," she said and pulled Willow into a big bear hug, "And I love you for it."
The graveside gradually cleared of people until it was just Michelle, Willow, Tara, and their children.
"Hey, can everybody gather around?" JJ called out quietly, respectful to other mourners in the cemetery.
Everyone formed a circle around the graveside and held hands.
"I have to tell everybody something," JJ said as he looked around, "I have Cleo's permission. And I asked Gramps too."
He took a deep breath.
"I told him when I saw him at the hospital. He asked it be shared right here, like this. He said when everyone was at their saddest, he wanted them to be able to feel the biggest joy."
He looked down at the casket and up with a slow smile.
"I actually recorded him."
He pressed a button on the watch on his wrist and a holo of Ira's head popped up.
He was smiling.
"Jacob and Cleo are to have a new little baby," his voice came, weak but clear as day.
Everyone gasped and expressed surprise and delight on their faces.
Willow and Tara looked at each other and leaned in to rest their foreheads together.
"It's a boy," JJ grinned, tears filling his eyes, "One of the games Gramps used to play with us was anagrams. Robyn was always better but I tried."
He bumped Robyn's shoulder, who bumped back.
"Anyway, I was teasing him once about his old-fashionedness and that even his name was old fashioned. He agreed and told me it was no name for a young boy and that even as an old man he wasn't sure he had grown into it yet," he paused to clear his throat, "So I want to announce here that my son's name will be Jackson."
Before anyone could congratulate of complement the name, Lily pulled a face.
"You're naming your kid after a basketball player?"
"Hush, huh?" JJ pulled a face back at her, "His name will be Jackson…Ray. Spelled 'Rai'."
There was a moment of silence.
"Which for the slower amongst us is an anagram of 'Ira'," Robyn supplied and suddenly people's faces clicked into place.
"Oh, Jacob," Tara said but before she could stand to hug her son, Michelle stood on weak legs and kissed him on the cheek.
"He will be loved on heaven and earth."
She placed her hand on his cheek and leaned on him. When she needed to sit, JJ carefully helped her down, then went to hug Willow and Tara.
"I hope you're ready to be grandmothers again because we're going to need a lot of help."
"Ready and waiting," Tara replied with a definitive nod of her head, "Come down to see us any time."
"Great," JJ said with some relief, "Plus Cleo's Mom's always wanted to visit Niagara Falls and ask if it was the one that inspired TLC so she might come to stay closer to the border to be on hand too."
Willow's brow furrowed.
"She wants to…ask the waterfall?"
"I didn't know she was so attuned with nature," Tara said graciously.
"She isn't," JJ shook his head, "She wants to ask the troll that lives beneath it."
"That's bridges," Willow said with an even deeper furrow in her brow.
"Yeah, she always gets those two mixed up."
Kayden came up to congratulate JJ and Willow turned to Tara, shaking her head.
"How is that woman a math professor?" she whispered incredulously, "And a good one too! She stumped me with a question on multi-variable calculus at their wedding! I still haven't figured it out! And I Googled it!"
Tara took Willow's hand and squeezed softly.
"We should go and see what mischief KT and Miss Kitty are getting up to at our house."
Willow smiled tenderly.
"And get some ultrasound pictures from Cleo."
Tara's eyes turned bright.
"I'm so happy. Oh, I hate saying that today."
"No," Willow shook her head, "You heard him yourself. This is what he wanted."
"And this is what else he wanted," Michelle said as he walked toward the curb with JJ and Kayden on either side.
Willow looked confused.
"What do you mean?"
Then she heard the soft clip-clop of what sounded like horse hooves. She looked up the street and spotted a horse with a carriage attached coming toward them.
"This is to bring you and Tara home," Michelle explained with a sad smile, "Before you go to sit Shiva, he wanted this to happen. It was in his end-of-life plan."
Willow was only more confused.
Michelle unfolded a piece of paper from her pocket.
"He said to say, 'I hope this finally makes up for the bad birthday party pony thing when you were four'."
Willow looked to Tara and her eyes filled with fresh tears. Tara squeezed her hand.
"And Robyn, he sourced an ethical company," Michelle adding, eliciting a chuckle all-around.
"I know," Robyn replied, dropping her gaze to the ground and back up again, "He asked me to help."
Willow reached out and cupped Robyn's cheek.
She went around and hugged each of her children and Michelle with Tara following behind doing the same thing. They then helped each other up into the carriage and sat in with a blanket over their laps.
"He didn't account for my old legs when he planned this," Willow joked but the sadness was clear in her eye, "That old man never stopped surprising me. And without you, I would never have gotten him back."
She leaned her head on Tara's shoulder and they took off.
The rhythmic bounce of the carriage had quite a calming effect. As they turned out of the cemetery, Willow looked back thoughtfully.
"Let's go visit your Mom and Rose next weekend," she suggested, smiling a final goodbye, "And visit your shelter."
"It's not my shelter," Tara replied softly.
"You donated the house," Willow countered, always ready to defend her love, even from herself, "You were so brave to turn that house into something so positive for the community."
Tara exhaled softly.
"I had good memories there too. With…him gone, there was no reason to hang onto the bad ones."
Willow kissed Tara's cheek.
"Those LGBTQ youth thank you."
Tara shook her head.
"I don't need their thanks. I just need them to feel safe."
"And they do," Willow replied emphatically, "Thanks to you."
Tara turned her head and they kissed softly, just for a moment.
Willow pulled back and put her palm on Tara's cheek.
"You're looking a little grey around the edges lately, my love."
She let her sewn-together finger draw a circle on Tara's skin.
"You know my franken-pinky can detect these things now."
"I can't pull off the color?" Tara arched an eyebrow and smiled crookedly.
"You can pull anything off," Willow replied, running her thumb over Tara's lips, "Including my clothes later."
It was said with a smile but Tara saw the flurry of emotion in her wife's eyes.
"I might make an appointment for a check-up. Maybe I need a vitamin boost."
Willow smiled a little easier.
She linked her arm with Tara's and entwined their fingers. She closed her eyes and rested her head back on Tara's shoulder.
"You know, I don't know where my dad is right now."
She lifted their hands to kiss Tara's hand.
She looked at Tara and saw everything and everyone and past and present and future and all of her life's meaning in one gaze.
She saw love.
She kissed her wife to feel all that she saw and settled back to enjoy the ride.
Isn't that all one could ask of life?
This was a new beginning and a tough one.
But with Tara?
"This is heaven."