Grade ten. The year of Buffy's arrival. When the blonde bombshell first arrived at Sunnydale High, it seemed that everyone was interested in befriending her. From a distance Willow watched Buffy with nothing but naked envy. Cordelia, the snake, was quick to wrap herself around Buffy and try to insinuate the new girl into the Cordettes.
That Buffy turned Cordelia down shocked her. And when she sat next to her on a gritty stone bench, Willow was positive Buffy was only enacting some cruel joke.
It was no joke.
Xander fell for her, of course. Buffy was quietly uninterested. Under the sunlight of Buffy's seemingly unnatural affection, Willow blossomed. It was with Buffy that Willow shared her sunshiny dreams of love and happiness; such simple truths to build a future upon.
Together, she and Buffy had dreamed of Venice.
Venice was more than this ancient city of Sicily. Indeed it was built on the pillared bones of the ancients, blessed by the youthful embrace of sun and sea. The city itself seemed to shelter young lovers with especial care, with its profusion of leaf-choked fountains, sunny promenades, and gondolas that lapped upon the waves. In Venice pigeons would alight upon the cobblestones to gobble golden crumbs of biscotta and young lovers would be hand in hand.
Not quite fifteen, both Willow and Buffy had dreamed of finding love in Venice in the summer, a love to be celebrated in the haunting notes of operatic arias and under the spray of the Milky Way at night. Venice became more than a city. It became the embodiment of an idea; a truth as old as time itself.
Venice was love.
In the summer of their grade eleven year, Buffy's mother took she and Dawn to Sicily, ostensibly to acquire more pieces of art for the museum, though Buffy whispered of Joyce's new romantic interest. Willow, dressed in castoffs and cuffs, tried to hide her disappointment. Not in a million years could Willow's family afford to visit such a place. Academic mothers who gnaw regularly on their own livers have little space for such fancies. All Willow had to look forward to was postcards from Buffy, the occasional letter from her grandparents.
So Venice, and true love, waited.
Finally high school was over, and she and Buffy were initiated into an exciting and challenging line of work. As Willow began to learn the ways of the sword as well as every other weapon imaginable, her dreams of Venice began to change. It was no longer the frenzied summer-love of Venice that drew her now; it was the hint of Venice in the autumn, a more mature and steadfast devotion. The leaves that fell would be the same shade of her hair, choking the fountains as they fell to the insistent whim of winter. Willow ached to be filled with contentment and happiness, filling her every corner as if a Christmas feast.
Venice was still a dream, and it continued to wait.
And then there was Persia.
Winter in Venice was bitter and cold. By Xander's sundered eye and the canyon on Giles' cheek, Willow buried even the hope of Venice-love, the love that Buffy had found with Riley, but Willow could never find for herself. She found other things in Persia, dangerous and life-altering things, and they were the things the crickets sang to that night of marzipan and jenniver, the night of cool jazz and Buffy-blood.
There could be no Venice, not when Buffy was dead, not when winter was acid rain that washed away every good memory.
A winter crueller than expected.
Venice did not wait anymore. Venice did not even exist.There was no hope for love. From this winter there could be no spring.
It had been a girl in Buffy's belly. Buffy was going to name her Dawn, after her lost sister.
How did Joyce Summers sleep at night?
When Willow had walked into the Apothecary's den that first day, she had wanted one last dream of beauty, one last dream to remember Buffy by. It seemed all she had was time; Xander had to stay in Persia, Willow had to come home, and all they could do was wait. Her misery had eaten her alive; Willow had never understood her own mother more.
Her kiss with Tara had ended winter, had hinted of spring.
This past week Willow was shocked to find she had no stock in misery like the lost woman in the den up the urine-stinking stairs. That woman had the market cornered on it. The truth that the sorrows and agonies of Willow's life were mere shadows to the abject slavery of Tara was disheartening and unthinkable.
She and the Rumanian boy.
No gift but this. Touch, and taste.
There was very little sound. Tara's breathing had turned ragged as Willow said those last words.
(Every part of you wants me, Tara. Your fingers, your breath, your skin, your heart. I know you want me as much as I want you.)
Tara's skin was under her hand, and she could feel the steady lubbing of Tara's heart, keeping track of every moment of Tara's afflictions. How did that heartbeat of incessant pain not drive her mad, reminding her of every lost moment?
Willow was looking into Tara's eyes, for Tara had turned her neck to look at her. Despite the rage of pain in Willow's chest, she gloried in the sensation of holding Tara close. She gloried in the sensation of Tara's heartbeat, the slow rhythm of Tara's breathing.
The Apothecary's eyes had been so hurt, so despairing. Willow never wanted to see such abject misery ever again in Tara's face.
Willow had made her choice.
But what would Tara choose?
Tara blinked, a slow and luscious lowering of her golden lashes, and a hammer of hunger rang Willow's chest. The woman was not wearing any makeup; her face was scrubbed clean, lined only by tears. Willow could feel Tara's hands still clutching at Willow's clothes, tightening those fists in a reflexive motion with every breath.
Then Tara opened her eyes again, and this time Willow fell inside them, for they were Venetian waters, warm and calm waters that would soothe the tremendous ache in Willow's heart, healing waters that somehow still had compassion to spare for a red-haired girl whose lackeys would never take advantage of her playing poker, cerulean blue water to crack the blood-seals caked over the bandages on Willow's soul.
After Buffy, Willow had considered herself damaged goods. Would anyone ever want them?
Willow's breath caught in her throat as Tara unleashed those eyes on her, and suddenly Xander's words came back to her...
(write your happy ending, Willow)
"And will you accept a white flag, Willow?" Tara was asking, her voice broken and soft. "I believe I'm ready to surrender."
Even though butterflies cluttered her heart, the dream of Venice heavy and thick behind her eyes, a dream to transfer to the apothecary this time, a true dream to take away the stench of mere existence, Willow managed to reply, "Dearest heart, I will never accept a white flag. You will never surrender anything to me. Around me you will always be free."
There was a wild and painful exultation in Tara's eyes, and the woman gently swallowed. Tara uncurled her fists; she opened her hands to press them completely on Willow's thighs, and the warm pressure of her hands sent a flood of warmth through Willow's body, accompanied by another whiplash of desire.
"I have not been free for five hundred years, Willow. I'm not sure I remember what it looks like."
Willow choked on those words and could not speak; her hand on Tara's breast trembled.
"Can you teach me freedom, Willow?"
"We can learn together," Willow replied.
To be so close to Tara was maddening. Willow knew that the slender drag of opium would never again pass through her lips; Tara herself was more addictive than any narcotic. For the past seven days Tara had been the only thing on Willow's mind; she craved Tara in the narrow block of nighttime, imagined Tara's body lying next to hers, Tara's hair a golden rainfall on Willow's breast, Tara's creamy thigh hard against her own. She had kissed Tara dozens of times, each one more glorious than the last, each one torture.
Willow could feel the beating of Tara's heart, and her need for Tara frightened her. That steady pulse was a livewire connecting Willow's entire body to her fingers, nerves crackling with want. The magnetic surge, the pull of desire, the eyes Willow smote herself upon were no longer calm oceans. A volcano was brewing beneath the depths of those waters, and that volcanic heat was pouring from the Apothecary in vast waves.
(she is my Venice)
Tara lifted her hand away from Willow's thigh, but before Willow could even think of protesting, she felt the warmth of Tara's hand upon her cheek. Tara's fingers wrapped around Willow's head and pulled.
Their lips brushed against each other. As they pulled lightly away, a vortex was created, and Willow found herself pulled in once more, into the boiling maelstrom of Tara. Tara's fingers were insistent upon Willow's neck, and as their lips collided once more, Willow found herself kissing Tara, again and again. Tara's neck was a smooth and creamy line of skin; Willow ran her fingers up that luscious neck as they kissed.
And Tara turned, the fabric sliding underneath Willow's desperate hand, turning to face Willow on her own, as equals. Their lips parted slightly as Tara turned; Willow felt a wild and ferocious joy welling inside her as Tara came back to her. The glory of Tara's breasts against hers, the melding of her lower core with hers, Tara's hand still upon her neck, and the other hand taut around Willow's waist.
The faintest pause, and then harder, and Tara used her tongue to flick open Willow's mouth; she tilted as she dipped inside, and it was golden biscotta on the flagstones of courtyards, music drawn only from the beating of their hearts and the syncopation of their breaths. Willow felt she simply could not hold Tara tight enough, that even with all her strength she could not simply become one with her; there was a sharp jag of loneliness knifing through her chest.
The beauty of the moment was almost unbearable.
(God, if any moment could last forever, please let it be this one)
For all that Willow had traveled the world, beholding sights too beautiful and terrible to be imagined, the universe of Willow's love was tiny and narrow. So few kisses shared, so little joy to balance the scales of heartache. This Tara, this skin and lips and hardening breasts, this was undiscovered territory, to be savoured and appreciated as freely as she embraced the physical world.
Tara could not know the depth of this gift.
Drowning in this flood of Tara, Willow felt her heart expand to fill every part of her broken chest; that tight ball in her abdomen not fading, not relenting, a vast and enormous animal feasting on Tara's gift, these lips now so soft, now so hard, and the only sound in the room that of stolen breaths between kiss after kiss.
And Willow felt Tara's lips move, and she kissed the corner of Willow's mouth, and then the crest of Willow's jaw, traveling deeper, further, and Willow lifted her neck in a spasm of raw ecstasy, her fingers pressing against Tara's shoulders, Tara's waist. Tara ducked her head to place a kiss on Willow's neck; Willow's breathing was ragged again, delirious with need.
Yet Tara stopped before reaching the hollow of Willow's throat; she lifted her head to look Willow in the eyes. Her cheeks were flushed pink, and she was as fresh and tantalizing as early daffodils, as mysterious and enigmatic as fog over the rice paddies of Siam, as enchanting and exotic as marzipan on the tongue.
She stood uneasily, favouring the slashed leg.
"You're right, Willow," Tara said. "I want you. I don't remember how you came to me in the first place, but I want you to know that you've been the only thing on my mind since the moment I kissed you. But a small part of me is still terrified that you'll leave me once you understand what it is I do, what exactly my slavery entails."
Tara still didn't understand that Venice was enduring. Venice knew how to wait. There was no apocalypse that could destroy it.
Venice was eternal.
Willow's heart anything but contented, for she desired more Tara, infinitely more Tara, more lips, more warm fingers and hands and skin. She desired nothing more than to be sheltered in Tara's everlasting heart, burrowing deep, building a foundation that could never be destroyed.
Tara's eyes were hooded and waiting, believing that only hammerstrokes could fall. Fear was evident.
"Then tell me about it, Tara."
"I think I'd rather show you. Can you take me home, Willow?"