The Kitten, the Witches and the Bad Wardrobe - Willow & Tara Forever

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 Post subject: Re: Lotus ((Updated October 11, 2010))
PostPosted: Mon Oct 11, 2010 2:50 pm 
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Ms. Moderator Fantastico
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AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

Dibs.

Back later with something better than a guttural scream.

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 Post subject: Re: Lotus ((Updated October 11, 2010))
PostPosted: Mon Oct 11, 2010 7:42 pm 
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Wow...just...wow. This is haunting and beautiful. I'm glad to see you return to it.

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 Post subject: Re: Lotus ((Updated October 11, 2010))
PostPosted: Mon Oct 11, 2010 8:03 pm 
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Promised Feedback! Thanks so much everyone. This goes back over a year, so I hope it isn't too lame.

Jasmydae: Glad you got dibs! Hope you've read it by now! :P

Zampsa1975: Thanks, me too. You'll eventually see that communication isn't so easy…

mixxie: yay! another one!

magicdanw: Me too, glad to see its back, even if for a little while.

masterjendu: Ah, Jen. I love your words. Your feedback has always inspired me to try harder at the writing game (as its gotten tougher), and feel good at what this story has already accomplished. I'm glad the character vignettes are speaking to you, just hope they continue to do so. Belated Board congrats on the wedding!!

nimloth: Again, your feedback is always very heartfelt and impactful. I read it several times to best understand what you mean to say, and do my best to think of it while I work. Plus, as a big fan of 'art' (and all it encompasses) I'm truly touched by your compliments. I only hope Lotus continues to hold up as time wears on. Thanks, friend.

ophelia11: No worries! I am not only woefully negligent on FB, but on updating as well. Guilty of two follies, hope you can forgive me. I'm glad you like the 'pairing' nature of the story, dunno how/why I started doing that, but its stuck ever since.
I love that our characters are so deeply flawed. And in their flaws, lies many of their greatest strengths. Its such a double-edged sword, especially for Willow - it lands her into all sorts of trouble, how good intentions lead to ill-intended outcomes, and how out-of-control it can all get. I'm glad Giles apologized, too.
And, as a huge fan of your writing as well, I'm deeply flattered by your praises. Thanks ever so much, hope you enjoy the update!

spells42: Thanks! Senior year was great, (it was college/university) and now that I'm back at home, surprisingly little time is found for writing. But its often on my mind, and I thought to share a little more. Thanks for coming back :)

AmberGoddess: Thank you! I promise not to give up, even though updates may be a year apart. I must apologize on behalf of the state of my writing speed- it regrets to produce more.

cammy: yes! here's one right now! :P

Foomatic: Dear dear Foo. I can't believe you stayed up and reread this whole darn thing after putting the baby to sleep. A weaker woman would have succumbed to utterly crashing. While I love love love all the wonderful things you've said about Lotus (and really, they are wonderful- you spurred a writing burst back in March!) it strikes me as funny that two words to describe Lotus couldn't be farther from describing me - mature and succinct. Aah, made me smile. (Secret? I also love that scene with Willow in the wardrobe. I think its the best one I've written - that and the tea. Dunno where either came from, but damn am I glad it came out somewhere)
And I think, as a BDF(big damn fan), I owe you a great apology for keeping the answers from you. But, I can promise that by the time Mattie goes to college, this thing better damn well be done. Thanks for the gentle reminder, I'll never forget. Congrats on the dibs, you deserve it!

sapphoselene: Thank you! My favorite fics on Pens tend to be ones that keep my heart pounding, so glad I could make your imagination race!

LonelyTara: Thank you! Haunting is a word I like a lot, and one that resonates powerfully with me when I read other post S6 fics (Terra Firma and Tempus Fugit are the biggies for me). Thanks for saying so, I'm tickled. While I never quite leave Lotus, it does get harder and harder for me to find my way back. Thanks for reading, its good to know there are still some readers out there :)

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 Post subject: Re: Lotus ((Updated October 11, 2010))
PostPosted: Tue Oct 12, 2010 2:11 am 
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Yay for great update-y goodness... I hope Spike tells Buffy about Tara so they can tell Willow and start planning to get her back...

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 Post subject: Re: Lotus ((Updated October 11, 2010))
PostPosted: Wed Oct 13, 2010 11:52 am 
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Amazing. Of course, I found this with your most recent update. So many things are very striking.

Willow as a widow in a very deep grieving pattern and feeling guilty for leaving Tara when she went after Warren.

Giles' apology.

The description of the shadows under Dawn's eyes that Buffy can't ignore, and her own decision to be as helpful as she can with the random though of her own action figure.

Anya trying to wrap her mind around what has happened and the frailty of the human condition and still feeling left out of the grief felt by the group. Oddly wishing Willow would come home and things could go back to the way they were.

Xander feeling so lost without the Scoobies and something dangerous to run headlong into.

Buffy finally feeling real emotion and her resolve to make things better.

The striking image of Tara wandering around a deserted Sunnydale leaving food in empty houses simply for something to do, and the random appearance of Spike and her fight simply to keep the company of someone, even him.

Spike slowly losing himself to his humanity.

Your imagery is beautiful and heart wrenching. You're adding a depth to the holes left behind by the show, that were always left to our (the viewers) imagination and doing it so very well. Not only is your story angst-y but the overwhelming sense of guilt felt by everyone that almost overshadows their grief is real.

What will the hole in the wall of the school bring for both Tara and Spike? My only hope is that the next update comes more quickly.

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 Post subject: Re: Lotus ((Updated October 11, 2010))
PostPosted: Tue Oct 19, 2010 10:04 pm 
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This was a short chapter, but it still carries with it that characteristic Rachel punch! I love the shift here, where before memories of Tara brought Willow so much pain, but in this scene, the memories are what stops the onslaught of Willow's vision of the Hellmouth. And they weren't the big moments of their relationship. It was the simple things, the little, seemingly mundane aspects of life with a lover that are so personal . . . great stuff. Like Huey Lewis said, that's the power of love baby.

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 Post subject: Re: Lotus ((Updated October 11, 2010))
PostPosted: Sat Nov 20, 2010 9:36 pm 
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[Let's pretend I posted this over a month ago when I started writing it, yes? Ta]

Yes! A Lotus update now that I'm actually registered. I'm taking this opportunity to let you know that I probably won't be able to function properly until this story is completed because the fact that a work as beautiful as this exists unfinished would haunt me constantly. So please keep that in mind :)

In terms of overall feedback, one of my favourite things about this story is the way that you're utilising perfectly all the possibilities of a s7 fic. There was so much guilt and pain accumulated over their six years spent fighting on the hellmouth that the show, and s7 specifically, just completely failed to address. Nowhere is that more evident than in the words you have written here, which create a space where these things become almost inescapable. The Scoobies, as ravaged and messy as they are, exist far more tangibly here than they ever did during s7 (or most of s6 really), a fact that is also evidence of your great love for these characters. It is this that allows me to have complete faith in the fact that what is ravaged and messy and painful to read now will become something oh so wonderful over the course of words to come.

There's a wonderful balance of light and darkness that exists in everything as well. Whether it be physical darkness, the kind of shadows and sundown, the darkness of magic and guilt or the way that the reader is kept in the dark about exactly where it is that Tara is existing, it's all over dark, like Frank Miller's Batman multiplied by film noir dark, and I love it. Like I say though, there's balance and light. It's the light of friendship and love and, most of all, the Willow and Tara light that exists in moments like this, as a most recent example of many moments in this fic that made my heart go all spastic,

Quote:
Willow recalled the way Tara used to sigh into her pillow in the mornings. And how she used to close her eyes when she heard a birdsong. The warm way she'd hug the laundry when it came out of the dryer. Her face after a shower. The color of her lips.


which, despite only being present so far in tiny places of memory, like the past-breaths between the now-words, it never, ever leaves completely. Balance.

I could go on forever, prattling incoherently, because apparently that's the only way I know how to express the kind of awed appreciation stories like yours reduce me to. Instead I'll just beg you to keep working away at this and promise that I'll always be reading, no matter the pace of your progress (see above re: ability to function). Also, Buffy's 'duck' moment? Totally been there. Poor B.

Thanks times infinity for writing and sharing.

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 Post subject: Re: Lotus ((Updated February 11, 2012))
PostPosted: Fri Feb 10, 2012 9:27 pm 
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Well, ladies and gentlemen, I certainly didn't expect to be doing this tonight, but looking through old drafts, I found something I'd worked on. Decided it's good enough to post. After two years, no more tweaking. (Though be forewarned, this is all I've got right now.)

Forgive me for having stopped writing this fic, inspiration just shriveled up. Though know it still means a lot to me and I think about it every so often, and I hope to one day keep Lotus going.

Without further ado:

Title: Lotus
Author: Zooeys_Bridge(Rachel)
Email: rsietz@gmail.com
Rating: PG(for now)
Disclaimer: Joss and ME own their characters. I’m just adding a little bit of spice. And not making a profit.
Spoilers: This is heavily steeped in canon, so be wary of all of it.
Feedback: Yes, please! This is my first story, so please feel free to scribble away with red pen. It’s highly encouraged.

Note 1: The previous chapter and the following take place in Lessons, Episode 1 of Season 7. They're sort of like scenes inbetween what we, the viewers, saw. Think about them logistically and place them chronologically. Any questions, please feel free to ask!


.::Lotus::.


A large pile of bricks had taken up residence on Tara’s chest. The pressure of Spike’s words were immense and sudden. They stole her breath and stabbed her heart.

Buffy?

His hand dropped to his side and eyes that had been so tender and full, looked away and caved in with fear and confusion. He turned away, and raised his arm to his head, and paced backwards.

Tara pushed past the shock that threatened to topple her. There wasn’t time for that right now. This was time for blind Scoobying.

As she rushed forward to stand before him, a calm came forth and settled like a balm. You can to do this. You're an Amazon, remember? “Spike. What do you mean? You said Buffy. Is she here? Do you see her?”

Spike continued pacing. Nothing in his demeanor suggested he'd even heard Tara's questions. Instead, he muttered to himself while the leather coat billowed behind him as his steps became more forceful. He was like a frightened animal and pawed away from her questions and cringed.

Her heartbeat thundered furiously in her ears, but Tara managed to focus on Spike's words. After all, they had brought her here. Who knows where they could take her. You have to do this.

"No visitors today, terribly busy."

All Tara knows is that she has to keep him talking. Keep him going. The last thing she can stand is silence again. But trying to guide him through whatever is happening seems impossible as half of what he says in nonsense.

“Nobody comes in here, it's just the three of us.”

Despite everything, her voice is level and strong, like an Amazon. “Is Buffy here, Spike? What is she doing? Can you talk to her? Is she hurt? Can you tell her I’m here? Can you tell her where I am?”

He finally snaps, “Don’t you think I’m trying! I’m not fast, not a quick study. This is kind of new territory for me. Slayer’s going on and on about some bloody zombies who keep yelling at her and attacking and what the hell is she doing here? Christ, what the hell am I doing here?"

Tara's mind whirled. "Zombies? No, Spike, zombies don't speak. They must be manifest spirits raised to seek vengeance. Tell her there m-might be a talisman or something."

"Not ghosts," he says. The events of the past several hours coalesce under Spike's shoes and tongue as Tara watched his crazy antics. That's it. Tara gritted her teeth. I need him, even if he can't do it himself. "Spike! Tell her-" she grabbed his coat and forced him to look at her. "This is important, goddamn it. I don't know what's going on, but I need you to tell her what I said. Ok?"

The steely blue of Spike's eyes bore into Tara's and in an instant she knew the Poet. She knew the man behind the yellow eyes. And somehow, just for a second, she knew everything could be okay.

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 Post subject: Re: Lotus ((Updated February 11, 2012))
PostPosted: Fri Feb 10, 2012 9:48 pm 
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Dibs!!!!!!

:banana :banana :banana :eatme :eatme :bounce :bounce :bounce :bigwave :bigwave :dance :dance :dance

Needless to say I think you can see I'm happy to see an update to this story. I enjoy its possibilities, and the eeevil little way you leave them to wander around unanswered.

I know you also said not to expect anything anytime soon, but I'm hoping that maybe with enough kitten love we can coax more from you on such a wonderful story. *bats eyelashes and give you the big Margaret Keane eyes... err maybe not they're kind of creepy - but you get the point*.

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 Post subject: Re: Lotus ((Updated February 11, 2012))
PostPosted: Wed Feb 15, 2012 1:01 pm 
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Hello ZooeysBridge,
i just found this story and i'm really thrilled that you will continue.
This story ist just more than great! i really love it!
And Vampyregurl is right - so a lot of kittenlove from me ,too :flower :love :love


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 Post subject: Re: Lotus ((Updated February 11, 2012))
PostPosted: Tue Aug 20, 2013 3:34 pm 
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Hi gang! Author, here.

I just thought you'd like to know I starting writing a little bit more of this story yesterday. I don't know how long the creative burst will last, but I sincerely hope to get more out of it. I've been planning and notetaking and falling in love with these two all over again and it gets even better over time.

Thanks to you last few posters, I'm sorry to have neglected your comments but they still mean the world to me. Not sure how many readers there are left (Foo, besides you, of course) but whoever you are thanks for sticking around!

Cheers, kittens!

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 Post subject: Re: Lotus ((New note August 20, 2013))
PostPosted: Sat Aug 24, 2013 4:48 pm 
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Proof

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 Post subject: Re: Lotus ((New note August 24, 2013))
PostPosted: Mon Mar 10, 2014 5:53 pm 
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why are all the good fics the unfinished ones?
If you're still around, please continue, this is awesome.


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 Post subject: Re: Lotus ((New note August 24, 2013))
PostPosted: Mon Mar 10, 2014 7:30 pm 
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Don't worry! Despite current appearances, I'm actually still working on this. I've been taken on a detour since Thanksgiving because of Frozen, but before that, I had written about 7k new words! So don't expect anything any time soon, but I will never give up on Lotus.

It makes me so happy to have somehow snagged a new reader, thank you so much :) :)

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 Post subject: Re: Lotus ((New note August 24, 2013))
PostPosted: Wed Feb 07, 2018 8:47 am 
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I'm working on this again, guys.

This little train is desperately trying to climb back onto the tracks

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 Post subject: Re: Lotus ((New note August 24, 2013))
PostPosted: Wed Feb 07, 2018 7:54 pm 
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Yay!!!! It's so well done! can't wait for more

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 Post subject: Re: Lotus ((New note August 24, 2013))
PostPosted: Mon Feb 12, 2018 5:29 am 
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I am in!!!!

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 Post subject: Re: Lotus ((New note Feb. 2018))
PostPosted: Tue Feb 13, 2018 8:12 pm 
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Zooeys_Bridge wrote:
I'm working on this again, guys.

This little train is desperately trying to climb back onto the tracks
I have been hoping for something since your last livejournal post (OMG lj! Remember those days?)


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 Post subject: Re: Lotus ((New note Feb. 2018))
PostPosted: Tue Feb 13, 2018 8:38 pm 
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thespian_phryne wrote:
Zooeys_Bridge wrote:
I'm working on this again, guys.

This little train is desperately trying to climb back onto the tracks
I have been hoping for something since your last livejournal post (OMG lj! Remember those days?)


Oh my god, you found my livejournal?! How'd you trace that desert of a blog?

(I had to check, last post was in 2013 (and I barely even posted there to begin with). its been five years, I'm sorry I'm such an asshole lol)

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 Post subject: Re: Lotus ((New note Feb. 2018))
PostPosted: Tue Feb 13, 2018 8:48 pm 
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Zooeys_Bridge wrote:
thespian_phryne wrote:
Zooeys_Bridge wrote:
I'm working on this again, guys.

This little train is desperately trying to climb back onto the tracks
I have been hoping for something since your last livejournal post (OMG lj! Remember those days?)


Oh my god, you found my livejournal?! How'd you trace that desert of a blog?

(I had to check, last post was in 2013 (and I barely even posted there to begin with). its been five years, I'm sorry I'm such an asshole lol)
Trace it? I was lurking it back in the day.


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 Post subject: Re: Lotus ((New note Feb. 2018))
PostPosted: Mon Mar 12, 2018 6:34 am 
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Alright, Kittens, I've officially got more unpublished Lotus than posted (plus another 8k). There's hope at the end of this here tunnel!

Considering how I've reworked old stuff and had it actually edited by someone who a) isn't me and b) has a better grasp of the English language, I'm thinking about reposting the fic into an entirely new post thread. What are the KB rules/thoughts on that? Or would it be preferable to just cut/paste edited chapters into their original spaces here to keep it all together?

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 Post subject: Re: Lotus ((New note Feb. 2018))
PostPosted: Sat Mar 17, 2018 1:04 pm 
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I vote whatever is easiest for you!

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 Post subject: Re: Lotus ((New note Feb. 2018))
PostPosted: Sat Mar 17, 2018 11:38 pm 
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I look forward to seeing it, on this thread, or another.

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 Post subject: Re: Lotus ((Complete re-edited fic re-posted))
PostPosted: Sun Feb 10, 2019 9:27 am 
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Hello dear Kittens! Thanks to thespian_phryne who actually knows what she's doing grammatically as a writer, I've got an entirely re-written and edited Lotus ready to post! It's a project over a decade in the making, and I'm thrilled to finally share it with you.

Rating: PG
Pairing(s): Willow/Tara, Genfic
Summary: Three months after ‘Grave’. We encounter our heroes who stumble brokenly, desperate to find a new path and heal.
Also posted on Ao3

"Let us alone. What is it that will last?
All things are taken from us, and become
Portions and parcels of the dreadful Past. "
:Alfred, Lord Tennyson:


Tara waited.

She idly picked at her knitting, pulling a few stitches through out of habit rather than anything else. She needed to keep her hands busy. She discovered early on that if she had something tiny and focused to do, her brain would quiet itself down for a few menial hours.

A sigh escaped her lips.

Tara hated knitting. She mindlessly completed a row of the burgundy and cream scarf she had been knitting for what seemed like forever.

Too long, she thought.

1, 823, 069 stitches and she had come no closer to easing her aching heart than she had at stitch number 1.

1,823, 070. Enough for now.

Tara placed the long train of fabric beside her on the bed, flexed her aching fingers, and sat up. Feeling the pressure in her bladder, she swung her legs to the side and put her bunny slippers on. Before she could stop it, as she stood mid-step to the bathroom, a memory swept her, powerful in its grasp.

"See?" Willow urged happily, her hands busy fidgeting with an apparently fascinating tissue. "They're bunnies! For my snuggle bunny."

Tara's grin stretched across her face, slowly and with a hint of flush in her cheeks.

Rising to her feet, she took a few steps to meet Willow by the bureau. "Will, they're lovely," she said, gathering Willows hands in her own. "And they'll keep these frigid feet of mine toasty warm for you."

"Oooh, all ready for bedtime snuggles?" Willow bounced excitedly.

Chuckling, Tara replied, "Yes, Willow. All ready for bedtime snuggles."

A devilish glint in her eyes, Willow's mouth turned up at the corner. "Good. 'Cause you know, there's nothing I like better than making sure you're all warm and toasty. Especially during bedtime snuggles".

"Oh really? And how were you planning on doing this exactly?"

"Well, I had kinda planned to throw you down on that bed and have my way with you, if that's alright," Willow said in a mischievous, light hearted voice.


Tara gasped, thrusting her right arm suddenly at the doorway in order to balance herself. Assaulted by her memories, Tara didn't even notice the crying. It felt like a horse had kicked her in the chest, leaving Tara reeling, shell-shocked, and heartbroken for at least the tenth time that day.

Steeling herself, Tara made her way to the bathroom determined to prepare for bed without further disaster. Several minutes later, after brushing her teeth, relieving her bladder, flossing, and washing her face, Tara flicked the switch, submerging the bathroom in darkness. Placing her knitting on the bedside table, she pulled a corner of the blanket down and settled herself under the covers.

She picked up a framed photo of the Scoobies and lovingly cradled it in her hands. She paused, staring at the figures that haunted her. Tracing her fingers along Willow's face, she hesitated before taking a deep, shuddering breath. She put the picture back on the table.

Before turning off the lamp, Tara turned on the radio, the alarm of humanity, like she did every night since, and waited with bated breath.

…..Nothing.

Not even the hiss of static or the rambling of car commercials could be heard. An abyss of sound pervaded the room, and Tara sighed. Again.

The room, now silent and dark, howled its emptiness back at Tara as she clutched the sheets to her chest and laid her head on her pillow, quietly succumbing to another night of restless sleep and broken nightmares.

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 Post subject: Re: Lotus ((Complete re-edited fic re-posted Feb 2019))
PostPosted: Mon Feb 11, 2019 4:59 pm 
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Rating: PG
Pairing(s): Willow/Tara, Genfic
Summary: Three months after ‘Grave’. We encounter our heroes who stumble brokenly, desperate to find a new path and heal.
Also posted on Ao3

"Willow.”

Willow jerked awake, head jumping up from its resting place on the inside of her arm, elbow crooked beneath her head on the table. Willow’s eyes were unfocused and panicky, her chest rose and fell rapidly as she panted, still hearing echoing screams from the chasms of her dreams.

Sliding into the chair next to her at a table and room not unlike the research area at the Magic Box, Ms. Hartness slowly began rubbing Willow’s back. She had gotten used to waking Willow with a soft hand. But no matter how gently she was woken, Willow always woke with a start. There would be several flustered moments before awareness would settle and Willow would realize where she was.

"Willow, you've been asleep for hours. Aren't you the least bit sore on that table, dear?" Ms. Hartness posed quietly in a sweet Welsh tongue, her arm making tender circles on the middle of Willow's back.

Taking several slow deep breaths to settle herself, Willow blinked and turned her head.

"Why do you keep doing that?" she asked softly, a slight frown on her face and a crinkle between her brows.

"Do what, dear. It's nothing that I haven't done dozens of times now."

Sure in her convictions, Willow knew, more than anything, the kindness this woman was showing her was wrong. A murderer like her didn't deserve being woken tenderly. A torturer like her wasn't entitled to warm biscuits and jam in the morning. Malicious and destructive villains like her don't warrant clemency. The Big Bad doesn't get a break. It went against every Scooby bone in Willow's body. And she knew it.

"I don't deserve this. Any of this."

Before she let herself soften and melt in tears of Tara and sobs of 'sorries', Willow pushed her chair back and stood. Looking to the floor, she hid her eyes. Taking a few small steps, she turned and let out a quiet "Please excuse me," before closing the door to her room behind her.

Ms. Hartness sighed and turned to look as the latch to the door slid quietly into place with a small click.

"No, Willow," she said sadly, shaking her head. "You don't."

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 Post subject: Re: Lotus ((3/?- February 12, 2019))
PostPosted: Tue Feb 12, 2019 6:59 pm 
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Joined: Mon Dec 04, 2006 7:36 am
Posts: 1150
Topics: 4
Location: somewhere inbetween here and there
Rating: PG
Pairing(s): Willow/Tara, Genfic
Summary: Three months after ‘Grave’. We encounter our heroes who stumble brokenly, desperate to find a new path and heal.
Also posted on Ao3

"Don't."

Buffy's eyes hardened and she squinted at her foe. Circling slowly with every muscle tense, she quickly checked the exits to make sure the being in front of her couldn't escape.

"Make me."

Appalled, Buffy screwed her face up and spat, "Dawn, if you think for one second I'm gonna let you get away with this, you've got another thing coming to you."

Not relinquishing her hold on the box of Oreos, Dawn slid slyly closer to the doorway. "Oh yeah? What are you gonna do, slay me? Sure makes the whole jumping off a tower thing kind of redundant, don't you think?"

"That cookie is mine and you know it. It's my post-slayage treat. A Scooby snack for the Scooby! And...and…I even put a post-it on the box, see?" Buffy stammered desperately.

Dawn turned the box over- 'Last cookie dibs' and a little stake were drawn on a sticky note. She rolled her eyes. "Fine,” she relented. “But you know this means I get the whole next box to myself?"

Happy that the standoff was over, Buffy yanked the coveted treat and shoved it in her mouth. "What, so you can mix it with Tabasco sauce and marshmallow fluff and call it icing? I think not."

"Ugh, fine. Ignore fine, creative dining. Whatever." Dawn rolled her eyes. "I'm going upstairs, you coming?"

"Yes ma'am. Just give me two shakes of a lamb's tail. I'm going to do another sweep."

Dawn pondered the conundrum as she began climbing the stairs. "Huh. Why do they say that anyway? Lambs don't shake their tails twice. Do lambs even shake their tails once?" Turning around to see if Buffy had an answer, Dawn was puzzled to see her sister nowhere in sight.

"Buffy?"

Shrugging, she turned and continued up to her room.

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 Post subject: Re: Lotus ((4/?-February 12, 2019))
PostPosted: Wed Feb 13, 2019 7:04 pm 
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Joined: Mon Dec 04, 2006 7:36 am
Posts: 1150
Topics: 4
Location: somewhere inbetween here and there
Rating: PG
Pairing(s): Willow/Tara, Genfic
Summary: Three months after ‘Grave’. We encounter our heroes who stumble brokenly, desperate to find a new path and heal.
Also posted on Ao3

The night was still, heavy with a hint of humidity, thick like a blanket. The rain from the day before soaked into the streets and shimmered underneath the streetlamps. Buffy circled the Summers house for the third time that night. Part guilt and part determination, Buffy continued to stubbornly patrol long after any threat had reared its bumpy face.

Buffy had promised that nothing would ever happen to Dawn as long as she lived. But she had failed. Hadn't she learned? Hadn't she seen what damage a selfish Slayer could do?

And I thought I was different than Faith.

The saintly and superior attitude she had clung to when she had come back had blinded her irreparably. And so she had failed in so many ways. She failed to protect Tara, darling Tara, who made pancakes and juice in the morning. She failed to safeguard her family who had suffered enough that year. Useless and aloof, Buffy was unable to save and defend the people who had selflessly upheld a vigil of support for her and her duty, adopting it as their own.

Thus wrapped up in her thoughts, she sheathed Mr. Pointy. Satisfied with her sweep of the house, Buffy walked back up the front porch. Letting her eyes scan the front yard once more, she reached one hand to the doorknob and hesitated. Twisting around, she stared at the moon for a long moment.

Round and full, the moon shone foggy, caught behind a light mist of clouds. The moon had meant so much before. Cycles of cages, wolves, and magic had occupied the past. Now the only thing that seemed to orbit the Summers house was pain, blood, and death.

Turning her back on the heavens, Buffy entered the house and shut the door on the moon.

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 Post subject: Re: Lotus ((4/?-February 13, 2019))
PostPosted: Thu Feb 14, 2019 6:23 pm 
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Joined: Mon Dec 04, 2006 7:36 am
Posts: 1150
Topics: 4
Location: somewhere inbetween here and there
Rating: PG
Pairing(s): Willow/Tara, Genfic
Summary: Three months after ‘Grave’. We encounter our heroes who stumble brokenly, desperate to find a new path and heal.
Posted on Ao3 and The Kittenboard.


"The stars burn. You can't quite touch 'em, can you? They burn, burn, burn. Tiny little holes right through Spikey."

The vampire made his way through the alleyway. Drunkenly stumbling around trash cans toppled like boxes, Spike muttered to himself; his own crazy voice more soothing than the reviling buzz of victims tearing through his head.

"Time, time, running out of time. Have to get back home. Quick like a bird."

He paused, sensing something wrong. Subtle, like changing a recipe by adding extra salt. The air reeked of dark changes. Unnatural and erratic. Alarmed, Spike braced himself for danger.

"I hear you, you know. Your skittering little legs. Didn't think I could, did you?"

There— in the corner behind the dumpster— a buzzing.

At first a low hum, Spike's eyes narrowed and he grabbed a nearby bent golf club, sticking out of a soggy cardboard box like a spider leg, and slowly stalked towards the noise. The humming grew louder like a cacophonous swarm of bees.

Swatting the air around him, Spike crouched ready, club swung behind him like a baseball bat. Slow steps brought him closer to the dumpster. As the buzzing grew, so did his nervousness.

Swallowing loudly, he whispered "Bring it on, luv."

As the last word left his lips, the buzz exploded in a brilliant nebula. Spike lifted his arm to try and shield his eyes as a thousand luminous shards pierced his flesh.

The light was the last thing he saw before blacking out.
_________________________________________________________________________________________________

"Tara!"

Like a bolt of lightning, Willow shot up in her bed drenched in the warm sticky sweat of nightmares clinging to her flesh.

Pupils dilated, it took her a moment to realize where she was.

England. I'm in England.

But, I felt her, her brow crinkled in confusion. Here, but…not here.

Trying to shake the cocoon of Tara that encased her every time she woke, Willow tried to relax her tense body by following the now mustily familiar landscape of her room at the coven.

A small hum echoed in the back of her sleep-fogged mind, and Willow blinked.

"Willow, this is your room. You'll be expected to arrive at all meals, but otherwise you are free to stay and wander as you wish. Elyse will come and check on you every hour to see if there's anything you require. All right?"

Willow slowly nodded, if only to get Mrs. Hartness to stop talking and leave.

"Good! Then we'll see you shortly for some supper." With a kind smile, Ms. Hartness turned and walked away, her short heels skittering on the wooden floor like beetles.

Left standing on the threshold of her room, Willow forced herself to open the door. She stared emptily at the living quarters in front of her.

Dust particles shimmered in the light that poured in from the large windows opposite the bed. She trailed her fingers lightly over old lacy pillows and a thick, frilly beige blanket before resting on her small suitcase.

Willow pulled a single picture frame from beneath a thin layer of clothes, and sat down on the edge of the bed, staring longingly at the photo in front of her.

Taken the Thanksgiving before Joyce's death, Xander had snapped a picture of Tara and Willow snuggled up together on the couch. Willow had seen him out of the corner of her eye and was about to tell him off, but Tara...darling Tara hadn't even noticed. Staring adoringly at Willow above her, a smug smile of contentment and happiness shone on Tara's face.

Willow traced Tara's grin in a shaky hand before placing the frame next to a small vase of flowers and continued to unpack. Refolding everything before she placed them into the dresser, Willow mindlessly organized her life into five drawers.

A large wardrobe in the corner of the room caught her eye. She stood standing in front of it for a long moment. Abruptly, as if having just mustered up the courage to do so, she opened the doors wide with both arms.

Taking off both her shoes before stepping boldly into the closet, Willow closed the doors firmly behind her, steeped her breathing, and concentrated. Drenched in darkness, brows furrowed, lips tight and hands clenched, Willow faced the back wall and lifted one arm warily. Sifting through several old coats, she held her breath and reached out shakily.

It seemed like forever that her hand crept forward. On and on she moved — slowly, so slowly — until suddenly, her fingers touched the back of the wardrobe. The rough and gritty grains of the wood mocked her light touch.

…But there was no magic. Not for a witch in a wardrobe in England, not anywhere. The world was just as it had always been: dry, scabbed, and cruel.

Willow had somehow forgotten this, having had buried a tiny part of herself deep. Long before Buffy had come along and whisked her off her feet with danger and purpose, before Cordelia and her cronies had taunted and belittled her into spackled wallpaper, Willow had protected herself.

Submerged in the companionship of two young boys, a tiny Willow had hidden the white and shining beauty of her innocent heart away. She knew she would need to keep it safe. In order to lose oneself in books and neglect, one had to take the necessary precautions. The lessons of C.S. Lewis, Roald Dahl, E.B. White, and Tolkien among others had taught her that. She had learned well.

And there it had stayed, shrink-wrapped and refrigerated for the time the Slayer would come with her friendship and bumps in the night.

At the cold, hard touch of the back of the wardrobe, this part of Willow exploded and let loose every moment of pain and anguish in her young life simultaneously. In flashes, her life decomposed.

…a constant key under the doormat

…a skinned knee and sneering faces on the blacktop

…crinkled toilet paper and used wrappers in her locker

…a twenty-dollar bill and a ten-word note taped to the fridge

…two helpless puncture marks in the side of Jesse's neck

…the dark, dismal realization of Moloch's deception

…dead fish on a string in the solitude of her bedroom

…the cold steel of betrayal twisting deep at the sight of two naked bodies tangled together underground

…the bitter frustration of Buffy's blind obliviousness and preoccupation when she needed her most

…a warm bench and a blank, blue-eyed gaze at the fair ten seconds too late

…Buffy's serene body atop rubble and dust

…screams in the night

…the slinking fear of argument

…brittle herbs

…delicate words

…red sheets

…red shirts

…splotches of red

…red

…red

All Willow could see was warm, sticky red. And in that, something broke.

Sinking to the floor of the wardrobe, a lifetime of empty wasted endless days stared Willow in the face. For the first time since the funeral, Willow cried. Giving in to the abyss that claimed her, a low cry began deep in her bowels. Scratching its way through her lungs and throat, its claws erupted with a terrible and mighty ferocity.

It was terrible and colossal. The floods of Noah were nothing compared to the torrential downpour that ravaged Willow.

Shaking, wailing, and hacking sobs on the floor of the wardrobe, somewhere Willow wondered how the tears could feel so hot when her chest felt so cold. Her pulse pounded in her ears as fire poured forth from her eyes and trailed down her face but hissed and evaporated when it ran blindly into the collapsing icy caverns of her breast.

And that was how Ms. Hartness found her charge hours later, throat raw, eyes vacant and unfocused, mouth trembling, with a never-ending barrage of tears streaming down her face.

After Willow’s lack of appearance at dinner, Ms. Hartness knocked on her door and saw the wardrobe ajar. She scooped Willow up and rocked her slowly on the floor, whispering chants of 'hush' and crooning old English songs from her childhood.

Hair being stroked softly, Willow brokenly succumbed to sleep with the murmuring of gentle words in her ear.


With a flourish of bed sheets, Willow got up before she could easily persuade herself not to. After throwing some clothes on and washing up, she emerged from her room to be welcomed by a plate of still steaming biscuits, berries, cheese, and juice left on the table. Despite her best intents, a tiny smile graced her lips, cheeks stretching unused to the action. The smile did not reach her eyes as another useless day loomed ahead of her: tedious and barren.

All right, then. First, breakfast; then Giles.

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 Post subject: Re: Lotus ((6/?-February 13, 2019))
PostPosted: Mon Feb 18, 2019 7:56 pm 
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10. Troll Hammer
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Joined: Mon Dec 04, 2006 7:36 am
Posts: 1150
Topics: 4
Location: somewhere inbetween here and there
Rating: PG
Pairing(s): Willow/Tara, Genfic
Summary: Three months after ‘Grave’. We encounter our heroes who stumble brokenly, desperate to find a new path and heal.
Posted on Ao3 and The Kittenboard.


Tired and weary of browsing through volumes of dry texts, Giles removed his glasses and massaged his eyes with the backs of his hands. Even after the dull, weary itch had faded, he continued to rub as if he could scrub it all away.

Before he could dwell on his unhappiness, a rapid knock on the door drew him forth from his thoughts.

"Yes? Oh, Ms. Hartness. Please, do come in."

Closing the door behind her, Ms. Hartness surveyed the cluttered desk and let out a soft chuckle. "Research, Mr. Giles? I wasn't aware you alone were in charge of the advancing apocalypse.”

His eyes crinkling, Giles smiled. She always knew how to barge into a room like an irritatingly welcome friend and make him smile amidst danger, worry, and responsibility.

"Yes, well. It can never hurt to try. Though truth be told, I feel as if I might as well be doing nothing anyway, there’s so little to go on. And quite frankly I don't know what to do, Marissa."

Word of the first two murders had spread quickly. The Council, per their form, was predictably slow to consensus and action. But it didn’t stop others from having their own ideas. Regardless of any theory, something was coming. And no one having any idea what it was made people very, very nervous.

Recognizing the slow sticky dread of helplessness in Giles' eyes, Ms. Hartness gently nudged Giles' chin to meet her gaze. She beckoned him to stand, wrapped her arms around as far as she could reach, and held him tight.

They swayed silently for a few moments, two little buoys adrift in a wide, dark, and tumbling sea.

Breaking the comfortable silence, Ms. Hartness pulled back to look at Giles. "Rupert. She's not making any improvement."

Meeting her gaze, Giles sighed. "Yes, I know."

"Good. Then I think you realize we've done all we can for her here."

Seeing him opening his mouth, preparing to interrupt, she placed a finger over his mouth and continued. "Rupert. It's been months. She came to us broken. She's still in pieces, but…she's stubbornly resigned herself to live. And I doubt she's even realized it, but she has. In fact, she'd probably deny her own will, but I daresay she's stronger than she gives herself credit for."

Shaking his head, Giles agreed. "Oh, I have no doubts that Willow gotten remarkably better. But it's only been a few months, do you really think she's ready to go back to Sunnydale?"

"My dear Giles. She’ll never truly be ready, but she is needed. For whatever is coming. There will be a great battle fought on the Hellmouth soon, as you well know, and your Slayer will need all the help she can get. Willow must go back. It won't be easy, but there's nothing more we can do to help her here. The rest is up to her. And her friends. And you," she finishes, looking up at him with a smile in her eyes.

Giles smiles back. "She thinks you're afraid of her, you know."

Chuckling softly, Ms. Hartness replied "Oh, don't be ridiculous. I couldn't be less afraid of her than Tupperware. Now, come. Let's go to her, shall we?"
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Pain.

That's all that he could remember. There was no room in his brain for anything else, all possible thoughts scattered like ants by new waves of torment.

Blinding, flashing pain besieged him and tore through his flesh. His mouth opened and closed like a fish gasping for air, but no sound escaped. He was trapped in a bubble of anguish.

It seemed endless, stretching on into infinity, pulling him to the far corners of wherever he was.

He thought it was pain at first, what else could it have been? But for a moment—a miracle moment—his back stopped spasming. Primal body functions kicked in and, relishing the respite from agony, his spine relaxed into a gentle, natural arc.

It seemed that the moment his back relaxed, the rest of his body followed, each muscle softening slowly like butter. It seemed to take forever, but the agony and sound eventually melted until he was just Spike, with elated tears of thanksgiving leaking from his eyes.

Limbs sprawled out, he lay panting heavily on the ground, praising whatever Gods above and below for the solid terrain he could grasp.

Grateful for his newfound freedom, he was nonetheless aware of his vulnerable state. Desperate for survival, now more than ever, he forced himself to his knees and scrutinized his surroundings. Bracing his aching arms on his thighs, he opened his eyes and froze.

Trash cans littered the damp alley. A dumpster lay dormant against the far wall. And a bent golf club stuck out like a spider leg from a dank cardboard box.

It was the exact same alleyway he had come from.

Except it was daylight.

Spike ever so slowly raised his gaze towards the sky.

And didn't burn.
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________

"Hello?" Xander asked as they walked. "Earth, to Buffster. You there?"

Realizing that someone was talking to her, a sudden "Huh?" blurted out of her mouth.

"Well, that was enigmatic. Maybe a little overacted, but with just a bit more 'oomph', I think you've got some definite Oscar material there."

"Sorry, Xander,” she apologized, “I guess I zonked out again?"

"Yeah, sure. Either that or excitement is just pouring out your ears in all new fun ways. Everything alright in there?"

They turned the corner at the tail end of town and started up the long sloping hill. Kids blurred by on roller blades and bicycles as they walked, the sunshine warming their backs like a slow, cozy winter fire.

Picking at the loud, crinkling, plastic wrapping in her hands, Buffy shuffled on, noticing the grass peeking through the cracks in the sidewalk, Stubborn little weeds. "Yeah, I was just out a little later than usual last night, checking things out. You know, no biggie."

Xander recognized that tinge of the sluggish self-hatred Buffy carried. He knew it because he was just as stuck in the quicksand of regret as she was.

There was nothing that haunted him more in his life—not seeing his best friend ashen and unconscious laying bruised and battered on a hospital bed, not staring at the pavement alone and benumbed on Christmas eves, and not even the stricken realization of betrayal in Anya's brimming eyes as she stood emptily on the altar—than the moment Xander Harris, champion of Scooby blind-daring and action, stood motionless in that sunny backyard on the worst day of his life.

But what could he possibly say? No words would make his sticky feet move those months ago, and nothing he could say now would dispel the hanging cloud that smoldered above them. It was a deeply ingrained Scooby habit to save the heavy emotional drain for apocalypses and demons rather than on communication and conversation. It took precious resources to keep up fighting the forces of darkness, let alone the effort of trying to live in the light.

Squinting against the sun, he swept the unspoken conversation away with a silent agreement, "Yeah, no big."

Buffy was grateful for Xander's willingness to sacrifice the topic. She just didn't feel like getting into it. Not today.

They kept walking, stuck in a comfortable silence, each wrapped in their own tiny pockets of grief. The sign for the cemetery snuck up on them as it always did, taciturn and massive.

Buffy hated the sunlight that day. It mocked her relentlessly as her friend lay cold in the ground. Buffy hunted the dark and the evil, but she could do nothing to chase away the shadows that hung under Dawn's eyes or the scars that lingered on Xander's face — more potent and obvious in the sunshine than they had been the night before.

Buffy squeezed her sister closer to her.

She glanced over at Willow, who had mutely insisted she dress herself that morning, as she sat in the only chair with her hands clasped tight, knuckles shining whitely and trembling in her lap. A constant stream of tears trickled down Willow's face as she looked ahead blankly, lost and irretrievable. Buffy wondered if she'd ever see her best friend again.

It wasn't often a fallen or dearly departed Scooby member had a remnant of them left in Sunnydale. Most drifted away like dust to Angel in L.A. or were possessed in the dark by demons. It was almost a morbid rare treat to be able to visit a grave.

Buffy was slightly startled when they stopped walking, having arrived at their destination, and Xander spoke softly. "You know, I didn't think it would be this hard."

Nodding solemnly, she said, "I know. Me either."

Xander reached to pick up the old bouquet of brilliantly mixed zinnias—petals browning slightly at the tips like burnt paper edges—that rested against the tombstone. "She still doesn't talk to me, but I know her like the back of my hand. These are hers."

"Anya?"

He bowed his head in affirmation, and with a forced chuckle said, "She probably did research on appropriate graveside manner."

Buffy gestured down at the mixture of flowers in her hand, "Well, these aren't exactly a dime a dozen at the grocery store, either."

He shrugged. "Well, what's a few extra bucks? We made a promise, Buff, and an elephant never forgets. Or shirks his duty. Or, you know…isn't an elephant."

Xander faithfully went to the floral shop in town every Friday to tenderly collect a mixture of ferns, phlox, irises, and orange blossoms. It had been the only thing Willow asked of him before she left. Somewhere he knew, best-friend deep, that Willow didn't think she would ever be coming back.

He upheld her wish, but always added a single dark crimson rose just for her. It just felt right to him.

Cradling the old zinnias in his arms, Xander replaced them with the fresh bouquet as he sat down in the grass, cross-legged beside Buffy.

She stared at him for a long moment.

Then, taking a deep breath, Buffy began.

"Hey, Tara. . ."
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Accidentally knocking the pots to the floor with a clatter, Tara cursed loudly as she burnt her fingers on the stove and shoved the throbbing digits between her legs, clamping her thighs together.

The morning light shone through the window over the sink in the Summers kitchen, soft like a lullaby, as Tara tried to prepare breakfast.

Ella Fitzgerald kept Tara company every morning, rain or shine, happy or sad, empty or full, pancakes or cereal, ready or not. It chased the silence away, if only for a little while, and jazz was something Tara clung to. Like the last remnants of a tube of toothpaste, Tara squeezed up the few inheritances she had, burrowed deep in her heart.

Mornings at home with Mom had been such a rare delight, and Tara treasured them more than anything. Her father and Donnie always left early to work the farm, so Tara was left alone with her mother for a few precious hours. The house would sing with happiness, smug and full of cookies and magic.

Her mother would hoist her on a stool and hold her protectively from behind like a mama bear at the kitchen counter. She would sing with the radio, under her breath, tickling the backs of Tara's ears. Lady Ella serenaded them warmly and flowers danced on the windowsill as they wove recipes into blankets of solace that Tara would wrap around herself during the long dark nights under lock and key.

Flour, jazz, honeysuckle, and daffodils would stick to the underside of Tara's heart when Father worked a dark magic all his own. Try as he might, however, nothing was more powerful than those happy mornings bathed in light and love.

Trying to shake the burning that licked the tips of her fingers and heart, Tara shook her head and went to the sink to run her hand under cold water.

"Morning, you,” Tara felt in her ear as a soft body molded into hers from behind. "Funny shapes today?"

Tara smiled, feeling Willow's grin ripen in the crook of her neck.


The glass she was filling slipped from a lax grip and shattered into tiny fragments along with Tara's carefully conceived morning procedure.

Jerked out of her thoughts, as her back echoed a phantom Willow-warmth, Tara realized it just wasn't enough this morning. She had grown too comfortable with the routine. Her brain had relaxed in habit and her heart was beginning to think.

It was too much.

Barely remembering to turn off the stove, Tara left the kitchen in a flurry, crunching over the broken glass, and hurried to the front door.

She needed to get out. The house was oppressive and caved in on her slowly with faulty routines, patterns, and habits designed to keep her calm. Tara barely had time to realize she was panicking; it struck dart fast, unseen until it hit. Her breathing labored and spots danced behind her eyes as she leaned heavily against the banister.

She just needed to get to the door.

With a last burst of desperate strength, Tara leapt towards the door and grabbed the doorknob as she fell.

Fresh air flew in as the door swung open. It blew the crazy and the panic out of Tara like sifting sand in the wind as she lay collapsed in the doorway with one arm hanging off the threshold.

The hysteria fled after a few moments as a lazy breeze gently blew Tara's sweaty hair into the draft. Her mind cleared slowly, defogging like a mirror after a steaming shower, and her breathing returned to normal as she listened to her heart calming.

Thump-thump. Thump- thump. Thump – thump.

Taraheart, she thought, her eyes brimming with a fresh wave of tears, her throat thickening. She forced them down with a deep swallow.

She knew no one was watching, but Tara felt self-conscious sprawled out like a lunatic in the doorway of the house. Stranger things had happened in the Summers home, she knew, but not in this place.

Tara stood and brushed her hands off on her pants, staring forlornly at the long expanse of the lawn in front of her.

I need more eggs.

She needed to collect herself before going out again. Too unnerved to do it now, Tara hugged her arms, rubbing her shoulders in cold comfort, and turned to go back inside.

The door shut firmly behind her.

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 Post subject: Re: Lotus ((12/?-February 18, 2019))
PostPosted: Tue Feb 19, 2019 4:51 pm 
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Joined: Mon Dec 04, 2006 7:36 am
Posts: 1150
Topics: 4
Location: somewhere inbetween here and there
Rating: PG
Pairing(s): Willow/Tara, Genfic
Summary: Three months after ‘Grave’. We encounter our heroes who stumble brokenly, desperate to find a new path and heal.
Posted on Ao3 and The Kittenboard.



After staring blankly into the sun for a moment (when was the last time he’d done that?), Spike had blinked and scrambled into the shade out of dark habit. Safe behind a veil of shadow, he then tentatively thrust his hand into the sun and snapped it back. Satisfied that his hand didn't sizzle and pop like frying bacon, Spike let out the breath he didn't realize he had been holding.

Experiment completed. It was time to go exploring.

Nothing had been worse than those first few hours, down in Africa.

Was this a nightmare? Spike didn't even know. He thought he had just gone crazier, if it were possible. It had been months since he had retained any sense of lucidity for longer than a few minutes, so how could he tell? The hissing voices of his past victims surrounded his every thought and stirred up a dust cloud of raucous torment that led to constant headaches.

But, no. That wasn't even the worst of it, was it, Spikey boy?

His heart. Oh, how his heart had ached. It rotted inside him with a dull throb, blackness and evil oozing from ventricles and arteries like sewage. He could feel it poisoning him slowly. It seeped into his soul, laying waste to whatever was left of virtue and goodness lay within.

That was why he had tried to cut it out. That was why it burned. After all his hard work, his soul was being ravaged, and there was nothing he could do to stop it.

But here… Here it had all stopped. The discordant buzz in his brain hadn't reared its nasty head. A giant mute button had encapsulated Spike's mind. It confused him at first, but then sunk to a deep dread. Could it have gone? If the voices had fled, had his soul gone with them? It was just so quiet.

Which begged the question: Where was he really? Spike wasn't even sure anymore.

It looked like Sunnydale, but didn't sound like Sunnydale. For there were no human fingerprints to be found. No screeching traffic of cars, no indistinct smattering of voices, no music parading from a restaurant window, and no patterns of life in the air.

It felt like Sunnydale, but didn't smell like Sunnydale. It couldn't have been.

There wasn't a scent of warm blood anywhere.

Something was wrong. Deadly wrong. Determined that the simmering stew of anxiety wouldn't get the best of him, with a snarl Spike headed to the only place he ever expected to find answers.

“Slayer.”
_________________________________________________________________________________
With a whoosh, automatic doors opened and blasted an air-conditioned gust onto sweaty skin, creating the pleasant cooling sticky sensation that only summer can bring.

Rubbing her arms in a vain attempt to chase the growing goose bumps from her flesh, Dawn grabbed a shopping cart and started meandering towards the school supplies.

Anya accompanied her, looking skeptically at the products in front of her, as if suspecting they were all sub-par. "So," she said, "Have you given any more thought to my spectacularly-prepared suggestions?"

Dawn rolled her eyes, "Anya, you've cut out every single coupon from the newspapers and magazines for the last month and flagged the best deals with hi-lighters and post-its." Scrunching up her face, she added as an afterthought, "And it's still August."

Seeming quite pleased with herself, Anya started parading down the aisles, admiring the colorfully-labeled rollback prices along the way.

"Well, you can never be too prepared. Careful and well-researched purchasing is the cornerstone of American capitalism. You don't want to jump in all willy-nilly into the market, do you?"

Despite knowing it was best to ignore any discussion about free enterprise with Anya, Dawn stubbornly refused to give in to her quips. "I'm not jumping into anything. It's just back-to-school sales. They're the same every year. Chill."

"Everyone keeps telling me that, but I don't understand,” said Anya in a suddenly less-than-cheerful mood.

Slightly confused, Dawn asked, "What, back-to-school sales?"

Anya waved Dawn's question away with a flick of her wrist and continued, "Chill. You use the word so casually but do you have any idea what it's like trying to pretend everything is perfectly normal all the time? I can't chill."

Awareness crept upon Dawn as she recognized the simmering anger behind Anya's voice. It was a bitter frustration that pressed upon the chest like a slowly turning vise. The hurt it left behind in its destructive grip left nothing sacred. She knew because it had ensnared them all.

"Things just keep getting worse for you humans, how can you stand it? I'm…riddled with these unpleasant feelings and memories and I can't do anything about it! I visit Tara twice a week, and I don't understand why it still doesn't feel any better."

It kept spilling out, unbidden and unending, and it was all Dawn could do to stand and watch helplessly with somber understanding.

"This ache isn't going away and none of you will talk about it! I mean, my god, don't you ever tire of bottling everything up?"

The tension was palpable. It wore thin on restraint and stoicism by testing even the furthest limits of Scooby suppression. It cracked them slowly. Differently. They were each caught in the deepest muck and drowning slowly. This time, no one was coming to rescue them.

How did we get so lost?

Willow was gone, nursing and rehabilitating in England with Giles, and Dawn didn't know if she was ever coming back. Even if she made it back to Sunnydale, Willow would never really come back. Not without Tara.

Buffy, on the other hand, was so laden with guilt, it was a miracle she was still standing. Dawn could see it press on Buffy's shoulders in the morning when she didn't think Dawn was watching. How could she have missed it before? Blinded by admiration and sisterly jealousy, Dawn had mistaken the sad and lonely burden of the Slayer for glory and celebrity. She was glad, now, to have escaped that fate. She could grow and be loved and have a life all her own, safe from destiny and circumstance.

Anya and Xander… Well, they danced so finely around each other, Dawn wasn't sure where they stood. Hell, Anya and Xander weren't even sure. Tangled in the past, they simply couldn't figure out how to unravel and just forgive themselves. And each other.

And Tara…Tara was dead. There would be no more milkshakes and movies, no more morning couch-cuddles or pancakes. A great warmth was gone and Dawn had never felt so utterly alone, motherless once more.

"Anya. I get it," Dawn spoke, sounding very small.

Anya made a face and shrugged, as if embarrassed, and gently put an arm around Dawn's shoulders. Abandoning the shopping cart, they exited the store, fading into the summer wash of customers and cars.
_________________________________________________________________________________

_________________
Lotus


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