AN: This idea got stuck in my head over the last couple days until I finally had to sit down and write it. I always wondered about what the summer after Buffy's death was like for the Scoobies and this is just a glimpse into one night. I hope you enjoy and as always I appreciate any feedback.
Tara hovered at the edge of the living room for a moment, studying her lover before making her presence known. From her angle all she could see was a head of red hair, the computer hooked into the back of the Buffy Bot, and slim fingers flying across the keyboard. However she could hear Willow muttering under her breath and Tara knew from experience that the face blocked from view would host an expression of intense concentration.
"Hi, Willow," she said eventually.
Willow looked up from the code she had been editing to grace Tara with a brief smile and a "Hey you," before returning to her program.
"How'd the Bot do on patrol?" Tara inquired after a few more minutes of watching the hacker.
Groaning, Willow typed another line before setting the computer aside to give Tara her full attention. "Not so good. At first everything was all fine and dandy. She even staked her first vamp."
Tara sat down on the arm of the couch. "That doesn't sound so bad."
"Right, I'm getting there. So then, Spike shows up, and the minute she sees him, she drops the stake and runs over there to ask him to….um, play checkers," she self-edited as Dawn wandered into the room.
Dawn rolled her eyes. "I'm not stupid you know," she mumbled as she flopped down onto the couch near Tara.
Willow watched as Tara automatically starting stroking Dawn's long hair. Tara was so wonderful with Dawn; there was no way that Willow could have gotten through this past week without Tara's ability to navigate the choppy waters of teenage grief.
"I thought you got all that deleted," Tara commented after a brief silence.
"Yes, well, apparently not entirely with the deletage." Leaning back against the couch, Willow cracked her stiff knuckles and flexed her fingers as she spoke. "The program is far more complicated than what I imagined of Warren's capabilities. I mean, you can't capture or create a true personality in a robot, but he certainly tried. Her, ah, interest in Spike is integrated into all these places I never would have thought to look, so basically I'm now reading every line of code and fixing anything I find to be completely Slayer."
"My little genius." Tara lips curled into a smile that could have classified as flirty if not for the grief that seemed to constantly lay behind her eyes. She did her best to hide it from everyone, but Willow noticed every time.
The lingering look that Willow and Tara shared was broken by Dawn quietly asking, "So you're going to make her just like…" Her voice trailed off and her chin quivered.
"D-Dawnie…" Tara choked and looked desperately at Willow for help.
"The Bot is just a talking computer with a pretty face, Dawn," Willow stated in a matter-of-fact tone that she hoped still carried compassion. "It will never replace Buffy."
Dawn gave a tight nod and her eyes filled with unshed tears. "Yeah, I know that. I'm just gonna go to bed." She stood from the couch and was stopped by a tight hug from Tara before she disappeared up the stairs.
Willow watched the teenager go, and then turned to Tara anxiously. "Should I go after her? I didn't mean to make her so upset."
Tara crossed her arms tightly across her chest as she responded, "No, give her space. You didn't do anything wrong, Willow. You didn't tell her anything that she didn't already know." She felt the acute pain of her own grief as she had searched endlessly for a miracle cure for her mother as the woman slipped away before her eyes.
The air between them was oddly tense, filled with the burdens of grief, unexpected responsibility, and unspoken words. As a momentary distraction, Willow closed her computer and unhooked the Buffy Bot. The Bot's eyes opened and focused on Willow's face.
"Thank you for servicing me, Willow. You are my best friend," said the image of the recently departed hero. Given the circumstances, it sounded like a sinister statement.
"I going to take a bath," Tara announced abruptly.
Immediately, Willow latched onto the idea, desperate for anything that could help her reconnect with Tara. With her world turned upside down, Willow didn't think she could make it much longer if she couldn't even talk to the woman who slept in her arms each night.
"Yeah!" Willow exclaimed. "That'd be great, baby; we've never had a bath together! Ohhh, I think I have some lavender bath salts. Candles! We have to have…" She caught the expression on Tara's face and stopped mid-babble as she realized she had misunderstood.
Tara had tried to keep the expression of surprised confusion off of her face, but Willow had truly taken her off-guard. She realized she had been caught when Willow stopped talking, and felt guilt wash over her. The look on Willow's face broke her heart, especially as the little redhead kept talking in a falsely chipper tone that only served to drive a stake into the crack.
"…of course you meant alone and it's a small tub anyway," Willow was saying. "I'll just plug in the Bot for the night and look up some spells to help with patrol. We have to keep up with that. It's up to us to keep the people of Sunnydale from dying." Suddenly a stricken look crossed Willow's face as her brain caught up to what her mouth had been saying.
An instant later Tara had Willow pulled into her arms and was stroking her hair reassuringly, just as she had done with Dawn. "Shh, love, shh," she murmured automatically, despite the fact that Willow was not actually crying. "Why don't you take care of the Bot and find those salts? I'll get candles and run the water."
Willow lifted her head from Tara's shoulder to reveal red-rimmed eyes, but dry cheeks that indicated a stubborn refusal to shed tears. "Really?" she asked in a quiet, broken voice.
"Yes." Tara punctuated the affirmation with a soft kiss.
Still uncertain, Willow took half a step back so she could wring her hands nervously. "I don't want to intrude." Maybe Tara, like Dawn, needed time alone to think. So much had changed and there was a lot of processing to be done.
"You never could," Tara whispered.
Several minutes later, Tara found herself in the bathroom lighting candles as Willow sat naked on the edge of the tub, her hand checking the temperature of the flowing water as she mumbled something about water displacement. Smiling at the brain that never took a rest, Tara allowed her eyes linger over the trim form that she had not really seen since a desperate lovemaking session after their return from insanity and hell god fighting. The muscles in Willow's legs were flexed to keep her balance and her left breast was in perfect silhouette as a Willowhand reached out to turn off the faucet.
"Ready?" Willow asked, turning to face Tara with a smile that turned into a stare as she took in the very welcome sight of naked Tara standing by the sink.
Nodding, Tara flipped the light switch down, bathing the room in soft candlelight. The natural highlights Willow's curls took on a coppery hue and the golden light danced across the expanse of her bare skin in a way the reminded Tara of a beautiful night from the past.
Willow was thinking along the same lines. "It's like a little army of extra-flamey candles."
"Indeed," Tara replied as they climbed into the tub together.
It was certainly small and it took some maneuvering to find a position that accommodated them both. Eventually, they settled with Willow between Tara's legs, lounging with her feet propped up on a corner of the tub. Tara wrapped an arm around Willow's abdomen to hold her tight, welcoming the feel of the warm weight on her chest despite the fact that she could no longer draw a full breath. The contact was comforting rather than sexual, and Tara revealed in the feeling of the slightly uncomfortably hot water lapping against her sides and arms at the perfect height, undoubtedly determined by a precise mass-displacement calculation. She buried her face in her girl's neck where she could smell sweat from a night running around in a cemetery but also that wonderfully indescribable smell that was distinctly Willow.
Willow broke the calm silence first. "How was your night with Dawn?"
Rubbing the back of her hand lightly up and down Willow's arm, Tara replied, "It went well. We saw one of those teen romance movies that you pretend to hate." Tara giggled a little at the noise of protest that Willow made. "Then milk shakes and we talked a bit. She's doing better."
Picking up a strand of blonde hair that floated on top of the water, Willow rolled it between her fingers, focusing on how the color darkened as her wet fingers saturated it.
"How are you doing?"
Tara's quiet question caught Willow off guard, and she shrugged, creating a small wave in the lavender scented water. The necessary tasks of planning and executing a funeral, managing patrol, and maintaining the Buffy Bot had kept Willow far too busy to allow time to reflect. If she was honest with herself, she didn't want to find the time.
"Willow, this is me. You can tell me anything," Tara assured her. It always hurt when Willow wouldn't let her in.
"I know I can." Willow felt tears prickling and threatening to fall. "It's just now that she's gone I'm realizing all the responsibility she had. I don't know how she did it. And I don't know if I can handle it. Patrols maybe, but what about little Dawnie?"
Tara wrapped both of her arms around Willow and squeezed the girl close. "Dawn's strong, like Buffy. And like you, my Amazon. She's going to be okay."
Finally, Willow allowed her tears to escape and her voice bordered on hysterical. "But Dawnie was the most important thing to Buffy, and she was my best friend and I have to do what she would have wanted. I don't want to mess it up. I know Dawn wants to stay with us, but do you think it's best for her? Can we do this?"
A loud sob escaped Willow and Tara tighten her grip, rocking them gently and murmuring into her ear, "I have you, love. Go ahead and cry. I won't let you go."
Once the sobs had lessened in frequency and intensity, Tara finally answered Willow's question. "We can do this, Willow. We love Dawn, and that's what she needs most right now. We'll love her and be there for her. Everything else will work out."
Willow splashed some of the bath water onto her face to wash away the salty streaks. Tara was right. Together, they could take care of Dawn. From early on in their relationship Willow had always imagined Tara as a mother, and that idea was more real now than ever before. The responsibility of Dawn had fallen into their hands, but they would mold a new kind of family. Together.
"I don't know how I could do this without you, Tara."
"You won't have to find out. I'm here for you," Tara soothed, using both hands to rub Willow's flat tummy lightly in attempt to calm what was certainly an acidy, upset stomach.
"But I almost did find out," Willow whispered. "You were so lost." The memories of Tara crying out from nightmares and whimpering through her waking hours would surely haunt her for years to come.
Tara shut her eyes in pain as she imagined what Willow must have gone through. All the fights and stress and despair while managing a mental health patient. "I'm so sorry, Willow. I know I made it hard for you."
What? She's sorry? The time she had spent soothing Tara, forcing her to take pills, feeding her, bathing her, and otherwise caring for the woman as she would a small child had been heartbreaking to be sure, but never anything that merited an apology. Willow would do it again without thought. She would still be doing it if she had not succeeded in taking back what Glory had stolen. When it came to Tara, some things went without question. Taking care of her girl was one of those things.
Tara was startled when Willow suddenly rolled over without warning, sloshing water over the side of the tub. The new position was even more uncomfortable, but the sight of candlelight dancing in beautiful green eyes made it worth it, even if those eyes were filled with stress and sadness.
"You are not allowed to be sorry, baby," Willow stated firmly. "It was in no way your fault. It was that hell-bitch. And me." Willow's face crumpled with grief. "Tara, I'm so sorry I couldn't save you. I should have been there, but we had that stupid fight. I left you, I never should have left you."
Willow started to cry again, and attempted to hide her face in Tara's shoulder. In an effort to maintain the eye contact they had established, Tara caught her face in gentle hands, wiping away tears with both thumbs.
"It was not your fault, Willow," Tara said, quite forcefully to convey her seriousness. "Never think that."
"It was though." Willow looked down to where the water line was tickling Tara's chest instead of into those blue eyes that were always filled with a love that felt overwhelming in that moment. "If I had been there with you, maybe I could have stopped her. Kept you safe."
"Or maybe gotten your mind sucked too," Tara reminded her with a gentle caress to a damp cheek. "She was a god, Will."
"Still," Willow sniffed. "I'm so sorry I ran off like that."
Tara pulled Willow into a hug, bringing their bodies into delightful front-to-front contact. "And I'm sorry I said those things to you. I've never doubted how much you love me. There's no need for you to prove that you're gay or a lesbian or any other label. Just be Willow and I will always love you."
Willow's response was slightly muffled from her spot on Tara's shoulder. "I want this to be forever, baby."
Not for the first time of late, Tara felt she was about to cry. She choked it back in order to say, "I want that too," before the traitorous tears leaked out.
Propping herself awkwardly up, Willow watched the tears roll down Tara's lovely face. What a pair they made, both of them barely keeping it together yet trying so hard to prove to the other that they were okay. Maybe the time to cry to each others' arms was all they needed to fix this. But there was one more question that Willow had to ask before she could drop this exhausting conversation.
"Do I still frighten you?"
Tara let out another flood of tears when Willow's question reached her ears. She never should have said that, even if it contained an element of truth. Now more than ever they would need Willow's power, and surely the goddesses would understand the use of magic in the fight to keep the delicate balance of good and evil tipping towards the side of the good.
"Willow, if you weren't so powerful we would have lost and I still would be stuck in Glory's mind-trap. You saved me." She knew the answer was evasive, but hoped that that would escape Willow's notice.
"You mean we didn't lose?" Willow asked bitterly. "Cause it sure feels like we lost that one."
Tara gave her a sad smile. "I know. But we stopped Glory and saved Dawnie. You know that's all Buffy wanted."
"The price was too high," Willow murmured.
Tara remained silent, knowing that there was nothing she could say to fix it. Buffy was gone. Dawnie was devastated. Willow was falling apart. Instead she just pulled Willow back into her arms and whispered her love into silky red hair.
Willow nestled into Tara's chest, soothed by words of love and a body that kept her feeling quite warm despite the fact that the water in the tub was approaching the cold side of lukewarm. But the feeling of a hard nipple under her cheek indicated to Willow that Tara might not be as warm in their embrace.
"You cold, baby? I can add some hot water."
"Hmm?" Tara responded, distracted by her heavy thoughts and the warm weight of her lover's body. "No, I'm not cold."
"Really? Cause this to me says cold." Willow moved her head so she could lightly kiss the indicated body part. A shiver ran through Tara's body. "Ha! You are cold."
"That had nothing to do with being cold," Tara informed her in a husky voice.
Their eyes met and the mood of the room seemed immediately transformed. Willow repeated the action and continued with a trail of kisses up Tara's chest, keeping her gaze locked on those blue eyes until she reached lips and her eyes closed of their own volition. She could feel Tara trailing hands down her spine and over the curve of her bottom and responded by pressing forward with her tongue until it found it's way into Tara's mouth. Willow tried to take Tara's breasts into her hands but the action caused her to fall heavily onto Tara's chest as she lost the braced hold she had been maintained on the edges of the tub.
"Are you ok?" Willow squeaked in horror, but the only response she got were the strong hands that lifted her head up to meet Tara's mouth once again.
The brief sensation of Willow crushing her chest had done nothing to dissuade Tara's passion and she continued to press kisses to the redhead's mouth, sucking on and nipping at those lips. She inhaled sharply as Willow found a way to balance with one hand so the other was free to explore her body. Tara arched her back as Willow teased the soft skin of her lower belly, and shifted her grip to her girl's hips to grind their lower halves together.
Willow pulled her mouth from Tara's, only to leave a trail of opened-mouth kisses across the line of her jaw and down her neck. Circling up to Tara's ear, she caught the lob gently between her teeth and tugged before dropping it to whisper, "How about we move this into the bedroom?"
Tara arched up once again, and gasped, "I'm good right here."
"You are good," Willow teased, finally lowering her hand to where she knew it was most wanted. There she found a wetness that had nothing to do with the water that Tara was sending in a cascade over the side of the tub each time she moved her hips. "But what I want to do to you would require some serious acrobatics in this tub. Plus, you know, drowning risk. For me and that rug." She smirked as she nodded to the floor rug next to the tub which had gotten a severe soaking from their movements.
"Well, we can't risk that. You are far too precious."
Tara's voice carried a seriousness that Willow wished to temporarily banish, so with another skilled flick of her fingers that caused Tara to moan she withdrew her hand and hopped out of the tub. She giggled at Tara's confused gape even as she held out her hands to help her out of the tub and wrapped towels around both of their bodies.
Pausing only to blow out the candles, the girls scampered down the hall to the bedroom where Willow pushed Tara onto the bed and pealed away the blue towel as her own dropped to the floor. Hovering over the blonde on her forearms and knees, Willow dropped kisses down Tara's damp skin on a quest to find the part of that body she knew would be soaked.
"Don't be a tease, Will," Tara moaned, pushing on her shoulders to try and force her lower. She was still worked up from the bathtub and didn't think she could take it if Willow insisted on the extended version of this little game. Mischievous green eyes twinkled up at her as a long tongue dipped into her navel. She let out a low gasp that seemed to satisfy Willow and was rewarded by a straight line of kisses that promised to bring Willow's mouth exactly where it was needed.
Just as Willow reached her delicious goal a terrified scream came from down the hall. She sat up in shock and Tara continued to lay there slightly dazed until it was followed by another shriek.
"Dawn," they said at once and jumped out of the bed. Willow tossed Tara's robe at her as she slipped her arms into her own, tying it as they ran into the hallway.
Willow slammed open the door to Dawn's room and turned on the light. She located the teenager in her bed and quickly scanned the room for other dangers. Everything appeared to be in order and she struggled to figure out what the problem was with her slightly hazy brain.
"Nightmare," Tara murmured to a clearly confused Willow, moving past her girlfriend to sit next to Dawn on the bed.
"Want to talk about it, sweetie?" Tara asked the shaken girl.
Dawn shook her head and wrapped her arms around her knees, letting her head fall forward so her long hair completely hid her face. Tara pushed that hair back behind Dawn's ear to reveal a tear-stained face.
"Ok, there has been too much crying in this house tonight," Willow stated, ignoring the sharp look that statement earned her from Tara. She had a plan to cheer them all up. Well at least cheer up Dawn. Certainly she and Tara could find something better to do in their room, alone, but that had to be put aside for the moment. "We're having a slumber party. Whatdaya say, Dawnie? Any movie you want, and of course popcorn and ice cream."
"You mean I can stay up that late?" Dawn asked doubtfully. "And have ice cream twice in one day?" she continued, referring to the milkshake she had shared with Tara earlier that night.
"Sure you can," Willow assured her. "It's not a school night and it's…" She glanced at Dawn's digital clock. "12:17 so technically you had ice cream two days in a row, not twice in one day."
"Any movie I want?" Dawn confirmed, finally with a bit of a smile on her face.
"Anything. Bring on the teenage cheese."
"She secretly loves those movies," Tara mock-whispered to Dawn, making the girl giggle.
"Ok!" Willow clapped her hands together. "Bring down your pillow and blanket and go pick the movie. We'll go put on our best slumber party jammies and meet you downstairs."
Back in their room, Willow dropped her robe as soon as Tara had the door shut and walked to her dresser naked. Tara had managed to forget about her deprived state while comforting Dawn, but the sight of Willow's figure brought it roaring back. Their uncommon abstinence of the past week was not helping matters and Tara crossed the room in three steps, pressing Willow hard into the chest of drawers.
"I need you." Tara's low voice met her ears and Willow felt tingles up and down her body at Tara's unrestrained passion.
"Baby, we don't have time," she responded desperately, trying to ignore the warm wetness that Tara was dragging up and down the back of her thigh.
"I'll come in a second if you touch me," Tara moaned and it was too much for Willow. She spun them around so they were face to face with Tara pressed against the dresser.
Knowing that this was no time to tease, Willow's hand found its way between Tara's legs as she whispered, "You have to be very fast and very quiet." By the way Tara was responding and the wetness dripping onto her hand, Willow quickly realized that fast was not going to be an issue. Quiet, on the other hand, kind of an issue. She covered Tara's mouth in a passionate kiss to absorb the noises coming from deep in her throat.
In two minutes Tara's weight was collapsed onto Willow's body and Willow held her tight as she recovered.
"All that teasing," Tara murmured. "Driving me crazy."
With a chuckle, Willow kissed the top of her head. "You'll have to show me another time. For now, slumber party!"
She wiped her hand on Tara's robe and smirked at the indigent "Hey!" that she earned, before reaching into the dresser to find them both pajamas. They changed quickly and grabbed what they needed off the bed, knowing that Dawn was waiting.
Willow dumped her armful of blankets in the living room and left Tara and Dawn to the sleeping arrangements while she put a bag of popcorn in the microwave and located a gallon of cookie dough ice cream and three spoons.
"No bowls. Tonight we are rebels," she announced as she walked into the living room with the ice cream and a steaming bowl of popcorn.
"Wow," Dawn sighed as she popped the lid off the ice cream and dug in with her spoon. "You guys are the best."
Tara cringed a little at the unsanitary practice, which didn't go unnoticed by Willow who handed her a spoon with a smirk.
"Dig in," Willow encouraged. "I know I didn't get my dose of cream today." She winked lewdly and Tara felt her cheeks flush at the sass.
Dawn remained oblivious to the undertones of Willow's comment and clicked the play button for the movie as she took another huge bite of ice cream. Willow took a spoonful nearly as large and Tara watched as some dribbled off the spoon.
"You got some cream of your face, Will," she teased.
Shocked by Tara's comment, Willow blinked and stared at her for a moment before wiping at her face. "A necessary hazard," she retorted once she had gained the ability to speak.
Tara chuckled before settling with her back against the couch to watch Dawn's movie.
Hours later the living room was quiet and lit only by glow of the blue screen that had filled the screen after the sappy conclusion of the movie. Willow was debating whether it was worth it to sit up to reach the remote. It seemed like far too much effort, plus the light allowed her to watch the other two as they slept. Dawn had claimed her spot in the middle and was on her back snoring lightly. Tara lay close to Dawn on her stomach, one hand reaching out protectively towards the girl.
The situation would be peaceful if the circumstances were different and Willow would be able to close her eyes and drift off to sleep, close to her loved ones. However, it felt so wrong being in this house without Buffy, without Joyce. They should be the ones to look after Dawnie, to watch silly movies, and eat ice cream right out of the carton. Willow felt like an imposter in someone else's life. But she would have to get used to it. There was no changing the past. Death was the end. Death was the end?
Suddenly sitting up seemed like no effort at all and Willow bolted to an upright position as her mind moved at a million miles a minute. Resurrection spells may not work on natural deaths, but a mystical one such as Buffy's was an entirely different situation. Willow knew it could be done, if she could just find the right spell and gather the ingredients. Tricky to be sure; this was bringing back the dead. It wasn't meant to be easy. But the payoff…
Willow looked again at the peaceful faces of her sleeping companions. She would give anything to have them always so content, not just during their sleeping hours. And bringing Buffy back could do that.
"I can fix this," Willow whispered into the silent room. She could figure this out for Dawnie and for Tara. Basking in her new revelation, Willow laid awake the rest of the night, sifting through the details in her mind. When the new day dawned she was exhausted, but happier than she had been all week because she was once again filled with hope.