TITLE: Pink Linen and White Paper
EMAIL: seraphcelene@yahoo.com
SPOILERS: through The Gift
ARCHIVING: Essential-Imperfect, Buffy Fiction Archive. All others please ask.
SUMMARY: Willow's spell to restore Tara doesn't work as well as she thought it would.
NOTES: Alternate Universe. post-The Gift
FEEDBACK: Is like air and highly addictive. In other words, yes please!
DISCLAIMER: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and all related characters belong to Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, Warner Brothers Company, UPN, et al. I'm just taking them out for a little exercise.

"She dreams a champagne dream. Strawberry surprise,
pink linen and white paper. Lavender and cream. Fields
of butterflies, reality escapes her. "
-- Fuel, Shimmer

Pink Linen and White Paper

Tara bakes pies and makes pancakes, funny shapes and rounds.

"It's easier to do with the pancakes," she says, but somehow manages with the apple crumb as well. "It shouldn't be so easy."

"It's not, baby," Willow sighs, brushing the fine, blonde hair away from the sweat clinging to Tara's forehead. "I'm still missing part of the spell and the books at The Magick Shop are coming up empty."

Tara stirs a mixture of flour and eggs. "It feels like forever," she says, adding a pinch of salt. "This was my mom's favorite recipe. I remember it from Before." No one asks her before what and if they did she isn't sure she could answer. Before now? Before Willow? Before darkness and before the end. But what end? When was the end?

At some point, she knows, there was an end.

"Ends are relative," Tara whispers. "Before and beginning make more sense." Carefully she tips milk into the batter, mixing slowly but steadily. Raising her head, she looks at Willow. "I remember my beginning."

She remembers fairy lights and velvet, kitty-cat purrs deep in her belly and the brush of kisses down her spine. Miss Kitty Fantastico - she is sure of the name - curled in the middle of a double bed wreathed with candles. The memory is vaguely lush and sweet, the unreal milk and honey taste of strawberries.

"Sweetie," Willow sighs and leans over to kiss Tara softly.

Tara turns, her lips catching Willow's mouth fully; she wants to feel her - teeth, tongue. Real. Solid softness that reminds her and binds her to the Earth. Slick and warm. Here and now. She grabs the tail of the present and it unravels into darkness. Tara bites down and Willow pulls back with a cry.

Tara frowns, focusing painfully on the bloody swell of Willow's lip. "You taste," she pauses and the thought hangs brilliantly, as though it will lead her home. "You taste like tragedy," she says finally.

The glimmer of thought, the promise of a path, spins away. "Is Xander coming," she asks, smiling brightly. "I'm making pancakes."

"Xander is picking up Dawn," Willow answers quietly, gently dabbing at the wound on her lip. Her eyes shine as she delicately licks the blood away. "He has to take her to school. Maybe they'll come on Saturday."

"I'll add chocolate chips," Tara says, stirring the batter firmly.

"Tara, would you like to see Dawn?" Willow brushes a hand across Tara's forehead.

Tara pauses, holding the spoon tightly. She stares into the bowl and does not blink. "How can you see it if it isn't really there? I can't see it if it isn't there. It's like listening to the wrong channel."

She begins to stir again.

"Baby." Willow frowns slightly. "It won't be much longer. I promise."

"Is the stove on? Last time it wasn't hot enough and the pie took forever." Tara reaches for the book on the table she shares with Willow. Flour is scattered across the pages and makes a neat pile beside the sage. "Is the stove on," she asks again, tossing the book to the sticky kitchen floor.

"Oh, Tara." Willow rescues the book before it hits the ground and places it on the other end of the table. She tucks another stray lock of Tara's hair back and returns to the leather bound volume on her lap.

"Eggs. Eggs. I need them separated." Tara pushes aside a bowl of apples, her hand sliding searchingly along the table. Her seeking fingers collide with a tray of butter and press deep into the soft, yellow surface.

She hums, squeezing the butter until it oozes between her flour-covered fingers and this is real. The slick between her fingers feels like the beginning edge of reality, oily and soft and too smooth. But the context - she can hear the thought - flashes in the corner of her eyes, a reminder of the order of the universe and that she has gotten it wrong.

"This isn't right. I missed it. I'm sure." Tara's voice rises slightly. Her eyes are softly focused on her fingers buried deep into the half-melted butter. "This is wrong."

Tara pushes the bowl of peeled and quartered apples off the table. The ceramic bowl breaks beautifully in two. The bag of flour follows it and the milk. The clatter and fall of each item is punctuated by Tara's exclamation: Wrong.

Willow grabs her wrists and Tara twists against the hold. She is stronger than she looks. "Bitch," Tara spits out. The hair on her arms stand on end as she struggles against Willow. Tara feels power that she cannot name and it is the sweet tang of summer fruit.

She watches Willow's mouth move from a long way off. There is no sound but her world is illuminated. "It's like watching Dawn," she says, growing still in Willow's arms. She can feel the wet of tears on her face and see their glitter reflected in Willow's eyes. For a moment she is real. Solid and whole.

Tara leans her cheek against Willow's shoulder, her hand going slack around the knife she did not know she was holding.

"Willow," Tara says. Her throat aches with the words she wishes to say. There is a truth that she would like to whisper to her beautiful lover, but the world is already dimming.

Before and After are a tangle in her head. Light and dark make a pattern that flickers like a movie reel playing too fast. She cannot see the images and it bothers her. Tara is sure that if the movie played slower she would understand the shape of the universe and why apples look better on the floor.

Tara tilts her head and watches the motion of Willow's mouth. She knows that Willow is speaking, but Tara cannot hear the words. Slowly Willow releases her arms and pats her gently on the cheek. Tara rubs her chin against Willow's fingers gently tracing the edge of her jaw.

The world wavers and the sound of Willow's voice washes over her. "It's gonna be okay. I'll take care of you."

Willow kisses Tara gently on the temple before bending to pick up the broken pieces of the apple bowl.

Tara turns back to the table and pulls the butter closer. For a moment her gaze clears. "I'm making a pie, not pancakes." Tara dumps the butter into the bowl in front of her, scraping her fingers on the edge before beginning to mix again.