DISCLAIMER: The characters are owned by Joss Whedon, et al. I care not. The poems used in this fic are not mine, either. All other material is copyright to me. Please do not do the Infringe.
TIMEFRAME: This is set in the present, season severed, so spoilers maybe inherent.
DISTRIBUTION: If you like, you may have, but please ask me first.
FEEDBACK: Love some!
WARNING: High angst here; this story is about grief and dealing with grief. Tara gets a little of her own back in this one.
NOTE: This is the first W/T fic I've written, and it comes from a place I'm not really sure about, so feel free to slap me around a little. It's just something I had to get out of my system
Arrears of Moonlight
By Twisted Minstrel
Do you know how much pain is left
In the world? One tiny bit of pain is left,
Braised on one cell like a toothmark.
And how many sorrows there still are? Three sorrows:
The last, the next to the last and this one.
And there is one promise left, feeling
Its way through the poison, and one house
And one gun and one shout of agony
That wanders in the lost cities and the lost mountains
And so this morning, suffering the third sorrow
From the last, feeling pain in my last gene,
Cracks in the struts, bubbles in the nitro,
This morning for someone I'm not even sure exists
I waste tears. I count down by fractions
Through the ash. I howl. I use up everything.
- C.K. Williams (American poet, b. 1936)
Grief is not an open book. It does not reveal itself with words or pictures. You cannot speak of it, think of it or hold it closely and examine it. You cannot read it from cover to cover, and expect an answer at the end. Grief cannot be known, only experienced, and within the experience of grief lies a question. Without the answer, the question becomes intolerable, persistent, maddening. This question can leave you senseless, aching through every fiber, each chromosome and every interconnected cell of your being; wanting, desperate and forever unfulfilled. Grief will not be translated and written down. Grief will only be.
Dawn scraped mindlessly at the drying glue on the tips of her fingers. She surveyed her handiwork with dry eyes, some fundamental part of her being too tired, too numb to give into feeling. She wanted nothing more than to let go of herself, stop being so rigid, so uptight. She wanted to be a real teenager and have all the little joys and irritations an adolescent should have. Not that she resented her birthright, no, she was thankful someone had the bright idea of making her an actual person, of giving her a family and friends and a name.
They gave her memories, too, even if they never really happened. Memories that gave her a sense of self, of a place in the world; they gave her balance and protection. She felt loved, even when she didn't want to be, even when her older sister was borrowing her clothes or whenever Willow would look at her sometimes, not really seeing her there. She would wave a hand in front of her friend (ex-friend? Surrogate mom? What?), and nothing would register. And then she'd be back. Not really Willow after all, since Willow had always been so present, so aware, and so Willow. The memory of Willow, maybe, that's what it was. The memory of Willow made her tired and numb.
And to remember Willow, then, was to remember Tara.
She had no intention of asking him for anything. She wasn't there to bargain or make deals. She wanted to help Anya, and she reminded herself of this again and again, as he stood there before her, so calm and poised, almost elegant, such a powerful demon. His compliments were horrifying, though. She didn't want to be commended for her murderous ingenuity. She didn't want to know how she was the talk in hell; the next 'big thing.' Being the subject of demon gossip can never be of the good.
No, it was her fault; you can't just go around summoning things like that and expect to stay in control of the situation. She knew what she was doing and why, but why couldn't he stick to the subject? She didn't think it would be so easy to convince him to let Anya go, that he would just nod his horned head, shrug his shoulders and say, "Sure. Fine, okay."
"But how can I help you, Willow?'
Of course she would never make a wish. Not to D'Hoffryn, the patriarch of vengeance demons, no, no, no. She couldn't be tempted, wouldn't be. She was stronger now, she knew herself, even if she didn't approve of what she had become. Darker, wiser and just barely there; she had lost something fundamental, something unique and beautiful, something better off gone, maybe. She felt a million shades of unworthiness and lonely. It didn't matter. Tara was in a better place now. She was safe and young and beautiful forever. It didn't matter. So I'm the talk of hell. I wish I could care.
"Yes, she is better off, I imagine. Evil types so rarely do well in the love business."
She had tumbled out of her reverie, struck that he had read her so easily. She glanced about the mess she had made in the bathroom and the wild incongruity of the beast in front of her. Yeah, this is normal. Just another day in the Normal no strange stuff here. Move along, little doggie. Get lost you furry midget. Scram!
"It's the pain of it all, isn't it?"
Was he being sympathetic? She crossed her arms and frowned a little; she'd done her bit, she just wanted to be alone now.
The ancient demon regarded her with a slight tilt of his head. His red eyes were unblinking and full of patience or something else.
"The pain, Miss Rosenberg. You understand the pain, don't you? It's part of you now, like the magicks. You have become the pain. It's not so unfriendly though, is it?"
He was almost smiling now and she felt as if her heart would climb out her throat, wave a leaky valve and catch the first train to Kansas City. Sayonara, sweetheart. Thanks for nothing.
"We're done, D'Hoffryn. This is me thanking you very much and wishing nothing whatsoever. I'm cleaning up now and saying goodbye."
D'Hoffryn was not of an order that liked being 'dismissed'. It was something he actively discouraged in his minions and anyone who asked anything from him. He made it a policy (which he revised every century or so, just to stay current), to never be taken advantage of or used in any way that did not keep with the spirit of vengeance. Willow Rosenberg, powerful though she maybe (and good thing she doesn't realize just how, he thought, with relief), was still a child and, therefore, owed him a little respect. He wasn't going anywhere. Yet.
His tone held a smidgeon of menace; he didn't want to frighten the girl, who knows how that might end up, but he did want her full attention.
Willow had bent on her haunches, wiping at the debris of her summoning spell, but stopped when she realized he had not left. She stared up at him with empty green eyes and she knew he could see right through her, knew that he understood somehow, he knew everything.
"You have not been honest Miss Rosenberg and you have been disloyal. I would have you as one of my own, of course, in a shot, but you won't belong to me. I understand. You belong to someone else. Belong in every sense. And to belong to someone is to owe them. Do you know what I'm talking about? Miss Rosenberg?"
She was transfixed. She wanted to run away, teleport off the planet, dig a hole and stick her head in it, anything, but what was he talking about? Why won't he leave? She felt panic, and the panic made her tense, and she could feel the rush of darkness under her skin, itching and burning. He moved closer to her, staring her down, his lips red and wet and his eyes, unmoved, cold.
"You owe her."
His voice was low and strangely soothing. She wanted to reach out and touch his face, reach into his eyes and take it all back; but he touched her, first.
"Contrary to popular belief, I am not evil, Willow. I believe in justice. I am justice. If the balance of things is uneven, I will do all I can to set it right. Wouldn't you?"
She had no time to think, no time to react; his hand touched her face and everything went dark and silent. Like her heart, waving from the train to Kansas City.
Arrears of Moonlight
My heart lies wrapped in red under your
My body wanders banished among the stars;
On one terrestrial pretext or another
You still withhold the extravagant arrears
Of moonlight that you owe me,
Though the owl whoops from a far olive
His brief, monotonous, night-long reminder.
- Robert Graves
The golden chime from the grandfather clock struck midnight, forcing the pale redhead to stir, her knuckles rubbing at her eyes as she adjusted her sight to the darkness. The grandfather clock tolled on and each chime pulled her further and further from her foggy half-awareness. She sat up carefully, shifting awkwardly with the soft cushion beneath her.
This is not my bed.
As her eyes focused, she realized she was not in her room, nor any room she recognized. She was not in a hospital, certainly, and she had no idea how she came to be there. She noticed, too, that she was wearing dark blue pajamas, a pair she had never owned. They were comfortable, however, and oddly enough, she felt no anxiety about her new situation.
The room was small, but generous for a bedroom, maybe a college dorm. The bed was plush and covered with impossibly soft down blankets. The walls were covered in silken tapestries, and ancient-looking maps or star charts. A string of small orange lights ring the ceiling and a long desk lay just opposite the bed, covered in heavy, leather volumes. A glance to the floor revealed hand-painted wooden toys and large, satin pillows strewn about. The overall effect, to Willow was as if she were in a scene from the Nutcracker, if it had been set in 19th century India, via the Secret Garden. The grandfather clock sat in a corner, now silent, yet ever-vigilant. Willow could make out a large owl carved just above the clock face, its wings spread wide, as if about to swoop down and gather up its prey.
Where am I?
She reclined a little, too comfortable to stand just yet, and looked up; overhead was a canopy of stars, the night sky held in suspension, enchanted, perhaps; the moon, a white marble, was nearing its zenith. The final chime of midnight was echoed with the striking of a match; Willow glanced in the direction of the sound, sitting bolt upright.
A candle had been lit and a pair of pursed lips blew out the match. The candle flame flickered for a moment then grew strong and full, illuminating the face beside it. A face she knew better than her own. Willow felt all the air leave her body in one breath.
I am moved by fancies that are curled
Around these images, and cling:
The notion of some infinitely gentle
Infinitely suffering thing.
- T.S. Eliot, from Preludes, IV
If she had been capable of thought, at that moment, if she had been capable of something other than rage, she might have known. She might have seen the look on her face, the lopsided smile she cherished. She might have known it was painless, really, so quick, so merciful. She was forever changed: not the girl she was, too eager, too involved. She was something else now; the dark tide had turned her toward another shore, another world and only by her own will, her own need, could she ever find her way back again.
So where was she?
Why was Tara there, so young-looking, so beautiful? Preternaturally poised and patient, as always; as she had been, once, a lifetime ago.
Willow could only stare, the ability to speak had gone, and, somewhere in her mind she laughed, remembering, this is how we met. The candle licked at the shadows around Tara's face, her blue-gray eyes unyielding to Willow as she stood, wearing only a silken bed gown, decorated with odd symbols Willow could barely see. She felt like she was sinking, drowning under a shadow's weight. Her skin vibrated with expectancy, maybe fear, or joy. She could not move, she wouldn't; every heartbeat was precious, her mind raced: this might end at any moment, I can't move, I can't breathe, don't go away, please, don't go away, stay, stay, stay, don't move, don't go, please, please, stay.
If ache or anguish could be translated, made flesh, it might choose to look like Willow, now, so alone in her body, in this room that cannot be real. In this moment that cannot last. A disobedient hand rose up from her side and covered her mouth, forcing the air back, forcing the inhuman cry welling inside her to stay down, stay silent. But the translation would be lost; anguish cannot live in the reflex of love, and no demon-sent dream could stop her from leaning forward, across the wide sea bedding, and crawl to the only thing it had ever craved. Tara.
Laying her candle down on the floor, Tara lifted the hem of her dress carefully as she sat on the end of the bed, observing, without emotion, as her lover moved toward her, her face a twisted knot of hope and horror. Willow could not stretch any further; her face had fallen to the sheets as her forehead connected with a covered thigh. She lifted her head slightly and forward to lie within Tara's silken lap.
Six months, a lifetime of emptiness spilled out of her lungs. A low, coarse moan erupted as she furrowed deeper into Tara's belly, to that space between her legs, her fists clutching at the bedding, angry at being denied its most essential need for so long. She had lost her senses, completely, she knew it. I'm insane; I never want to be anything else.
Tara's expression never gave; she remained still as Willow's head thrashed in her lap, begging, craving, unbelieving. She brushed a delicate hand through the wild red tendrils against her belly, calming, comforting, and Willow's shaking slowed and ceased.
Willow's face turned up toward her, pale as ivory, her eyes tinged with red and tears that wouldn't come. A heartbeat was all the calm could take and Willow sat upright, clutching at Tara's hands, covering them in wild kisses. She pulled Tara to her, her arms as tight as steel wires, and dipped her head to the girl's loosely covered chest, the creamy paleness of her flesh suddenly flushed with Willow's breath, as her lips dragged passionately around her breasts, her collar, the swanlike curve of her neck
-only to be broken by Tara's hand, pushing her away, a sting slapping her cheeks, snapping her senses backward. Tara rose away from her, off the bed, bending only for a moment to lift her candle again. Willow stared helplessly as Tara turned toward her, her face blazing with a furious righteousness.
"No. I can't let you do this again, Will. I'm not here for you anymore. This is for me, just for me."
Willow crawled off the bed, still shaking, longing to take Tara up again, hold her until they both exploded, or melted away, into each other; but she held fast and remained still. Tara turned away from a moment and laid the candle on the desk. When she turned back, the lace from her gown had fallen loose, exposing the very center of her, from her neck to her ankles: the high swell of her full breasts nearly concealed and her soft belly and the fair down of her sex all open and revealed.
Willow had fallen in love with Tara, she knew, she had loved the girl's gentle mind and heart, her patience and wisdom, she had fallen for the young woman without having ever kissed her, or even wanting to. It had been something beyond magic, beyond the physical. Yet, once the physical barrier had been breached, the body of Tara Maclay had become a temple of endless worship and devotion. She felt shamed now, that her desire should overwhelm her, at this moment, as Tara, here, yes, she is here, stood before her, angry, defiant, and so cold.
"Tara, baby, I've missed you so much, I just want to hold you, can I? Please? I just want to know you're here. I don't know what's happened! I just need to hold you."
Willow stepped forward slowly, inching her way, cautiously, anxious in case the dream should suddenly end, that Tara would vanish again, forever.
"Get away from me."
The quiet hatred in her voice startled Willow into stillness, again. She shivered for a moment then made up her mind. I can't.
Willow closed the gap between them, her arms reaching around Tara's waist, beneath her gown, touching bare flesh. She flinched and dropped to her knees when Tara struck her, hard, and stepped away.
"You left me, Will. You used me and you left me. You wanted power, you wanted me, you wanted mine and you took it, Will. You took all of it. Do you think I'd let you do that again?"
Willow stared up in confusion, lost at Tara's bitter words, and struggled to her feet. She found her voice again, hoarse and thick with anguish.
"I never left you, Tara. I never, I swear I didn't. I tried to bring you back, I didn't mean to hurt anyone; I really didn't. Please, baby, I love you so much, I just want to hold you, please tell me what's happening!"
Tara's expression softened a little at Willow's distress. She continued to back away, clutching her gown tightly to her skin, until she reached the bed again and sat down.
"I loved you. I remember that. I came back because I loved you."
The witch's voice was controlled, without feeling. She was stating facts, no more. Willow felt the ties of her soul give way at last, and she knew it must be drifting now, lost, forever incomplete.
"I could never imagine loving someone so much, losing myself like that, the way my mother did. Do you know what my father did to her?"
Willow could no longer feel her extremities; she was in hell now, she knew it. D'Hoffryn had sent her here, surely. This was justice. She had hurt Tara, she had wronged her and now the balance would be restored. Her sanity was shredded, threadbare, like a moth-eaten coat that could no longer protect her from the elements.
"He was so gentle with her. So loving, I thought. He would tell her that he would protect her, never let her go. I'd watch him sometimes, whispering to her, I could hear everything. She knew there wasn't a demon. She knew he lied to her. She knew everything. I watched her die. She would have told me, I know she would have. We just ran out of time."
Tara's eyes turned toward the clock. Willow followed her gaze in askance.
"We have time, though, Willow. And I'm going to tell you everything. Everything."
I'll sing you a song like a river
give you the sea that grieves in me
like broken things forgotten.
I would stir the earth for you
Like a great wind blowing.
But I am going where the moon
When she has finished sewing up
And sits and eats stars
On the other side.
from Words to Her Lover
Hesitation is a pause; reticence is reflection. Both are of thought and clarification, yet they are different. Reticence is polite and kind, a generous affectation of the considerate and compassionate. Hesitation is the worry, the self-doubt and dread of being wrong. To hesitate is to never know, to never experience the pleasure of uncertainty, the deliciousness of not needing.
Tara had always been hesitant. Her entire life was an exercise in thoughtfulness, her unwillingness to rush head first into anything. She wanted to be sure, to know she was right and not merely assume it was so.
For Tara, to pause, especially as a child, meant to be stepped on. If she hesitated for a moment to clean, cook, or do the laundry, if she paused to consider the way her father looked at her, if she hesitated before going to bed, or before giving her father an answer to his harsh questions, immediate punishment would follow.
Escape meant nothing, she still hesitated at the thresholds of her life; on the train to Sunnydale, she paused, at the admissions office at UC she paused; she nearly cancelled her first class. Her first step toward her first real desire had been a running stumble, through the campus, chased by...those things. And still she hesitated, but only for a moment, when she took Willow's hand for the first time and felt the shock that never really left her. Ever.
Until Willow. Her life could be summed up within its two phases: Before Willow and After Willow. Willow, who took charge and made the big decisions, whispering and guiding, like her father. Willow, who knew best, knew everything. How she could not need Willow? Even Buffy did, sometimes, and Xander. Even people who didn't know her needed her and there was Willow, always, ready for them, there for them. Willow, who put them first and needed no one. Not really, anyway.
Shattered by Tara's rejection and loathing, Willow's brain began to downshift, nodding to the steepness of the climb she was about to make. She watched as Tara tied an elegant knot about her waist and went to the tall window beside the bed, staring out at the permanent midnight. Had the clock even moved? The hands had not. Midnight wasn't going anywhere.
Willow let her eyes wander to the desk, to the volumes piled upon it: the Narnia Chronicles, which she knew Tara loved; Alice in Wonderland. Tara could recite most of it by heart. She said Willow could be the White Rabbit, so fussy, so punctual, so concerned about his gloves. The White Rabbit hurried on his way, without really pausing for anyone, no consideration; he was a rude thing and Willow didn't really care for the comparison, though she had never told Tara. Instead, she bought a pocket watch one day and had their initials engraved into it. She couldn't remember the last time she had seen it. Like so many things, now lost to time.
A single volume, quite thick but without a title, sat idly to one side, gathering Willow's interest and she reached for it.
Tara's quiet voice drifted across the room.
"That's not for you yet. I mean, it-it is yours, of course. But it's not for you."
Willow's hand fell away from the table.
"What is it?"
She could almost feel something like hope when Tara smiled at her.
"Just a book b-but it's not finished yet."
Tara seemed contrite now, calm, even. She made no further indication that she would speak, but continued to stare out the window.
"Could you at least tell me where we are?"
Tara stood and smiled again as she leaned against the wall.
"This is m-my place. You've been here, Willow."
Willow shook her head.
"I don't remember if I have. I mean, I think I would have noticed that ceiling."
Tara followed her gaze up to the sky-filled dome.
"Oh. That's new. I've been working on it for some time. Do you like it?"
If she was confused, Willow would not admit it; she didn't want to be anywhere else, even if she had gone mad and was living now inside some opium-delusion/nightmare with her dead girlfriend who didn't love her anymore.
Girlfriend? No. Everything.
"I can see them all now, from bed. I can watch the stars whenever I like."
Almost childlike, Tara laid down on her bed, the hem of her night dress falling haphazardly about her legs, revealing a soft expanse of flesh she made no attempt to hide.
Willow wanted nothing more than to join her, but she felt restrained and admonished, forced to only observe what she could never have again. In the very center of her chest she felt the little hesitations, the minute contractions of something she considered long gone, gone to Kansas City or maybe Sao Paolo. She wanted to reach down inside and squeeze it, make it shut up, make it stop.
"I've missed you. I can't really say anything else. You don't want anything from me and this is just, I mean, there's something, I think there's something, and I just want to say it, and, it's not happening. I'm just making things up right now, Tara. I just want you to look at me, or wake up or something. We shouldn't be like this. I'm sorry for everything I've done. I am so sorry. I just can't stop talking. And I'm so sorry."
Tara did not move, her face turned upward to the sky, her eyes connecting the shining dots above. Maybe they spelt a name, or a face or an answer.
"When I was little, my father used to take me with him to go fishing. Donnie was just too wild to go out, he wouldn't sit still. They'd never catch anything. But I did. I always sat still. Daddy had a little pole for me and he'd show me how to bait the hook, how to cast, how to take up the slack. We'd spend a whole weekend out at the lake, just the two of us. I caught a little trout once. He had to reel it in for me because I didn't know how; my hands weren't used to it. We took it home and showed it to mom and she was so proud of me and it was so nice, because they smiled at me and I did something right."
Willow's eyes fell to the floor; Tara had never spoken of her childhood, only in the vaguest of references, only in code. Tara, who had been so strong, so unyielding to the past, only wanting to move forward, never look back.
"I hated them for it. I hate him. He made me love him when he did that. It didn't matter that he never had anything nice to say the rest of the week. When he'd poke his finger in my chest over and over because, obviously, I didn't get the point without it when he'd stand over me with his hand raised; I never got over that. For so long, if anyone ever came up to me, if there hand was out, I'd flinch. I was always expecting something else. To be hit, so hard, so hard I just fell down. I'd crawl away."
It was true. How many times had Willow approached her, after they first met? How many times did Tara duck her head, hiding behind her yellow locks? How many times before she'd finally relax, let go?
"Donnie knew it, too. He loved to watch me cry. He'd stand there, in the doorway, and watch. He'd come up with all these things, all these stories to tell daddy about me. We didn't watch TV, you know?"
Tara turned her head from the ceiling and smiled. Her eyes had an unhealthy spark to them, unblinking and angry.
"Daddy didn't want us getting any ideas. I used to go to school wearing these clothes my mother had made. She used to grow hemp in her garden. Donnie loved that, I can tell you. But she knew what to do with it. She knew how to make things with it. My favorite dress, it was this light green, and pale yellow, she made for me. But the kids just laughed all the time. We weren't poor, but they treated us like we were white trash or something. Maybe we were, I don't know. I don't know why they hated me. I could do things, you know? I wasn't stupid. I was good at school. I don't know why she didn't like me. I was just teasing. I didn't mean to hurt her."
Tara's expression melted far away.
"Jackie. This girl. We were kind of friends."
Willow made a tenuous step forward, her eyes locked on the supine figure on the bed.
If time had not stopped, as it first seemed, Willow might have worried over how long it took her to respond.
"She died. I made her sick and she died."
Willow brought her hands up to her face, slowly rubbing her cheeks.
"How did you make her sick?"
Tara did not answer; instead, she sat up from the bed and to her feet in one smooth motion. She almost skipped over to Willow, standing directly before her, so close, and looped both her arms around Willow's neck. Willow could not look away or move to respond in kind. The air had thinned, become more rarified. Tara's eyes were like gleaming steel.
"I'm bored. Show me how much you've missed me."
Tara applied pressure to Willow's shoulders, forcing her down, to her knees. Not sure if she should give in or not, Willow acquiesced, but made no other move, her hands clutching at one another, her eyes averted to the floor. Tara's voice was like a razorblade slicing through her nerves.
"What's wrong, Will? What are you waiting for? A speeding bullet?"
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