Author: MissKittys Ball O Yarn
The children huddled close together, their delighted screams serving to further enhance the drama of the story being told. Willow felt the hard log she sat on through the material of her pants, the night to her back was cold, but her front was warmed by the fire that danced it's light around the circle. The group was made mostly of women and children, very few men gathered with interest around the dancing shadow Tara's body cast against the backdrop of flickering flames. Tara had her back turned to Willow, as she faced a group of children on the other side of the circle. The children looked to be fairly young, 8 or 9 Willow guessed. They sat pressed against each other, their small bodies touching without notice, they listened intently to Tara's voice as it grew serious and daunting.
"Into the night the Gammbot howls, its claws spreading along the ground. The dew drops on the ground seeking refuge between the pads of its well worn feet."
Willow felt the child next to her reach for her hand to grip it tightly in his excitement. To her surprise, she didn't feel the need to pull away; instead she brought her eyes back to Tara. The woman had begun to stalk around the fire-pit, her fingers clutched into claws in imitation of the deadly subject of her tale.
"It sniffs the air for any scent, no matter how faint, of the woman hunters that track it. But the women are smart. They have masked their natural scent with the scent of the mussox. They close in on the Gammbot cornering him against the rocky wall at the base of the mountain. His teeth bared, he flashes the women a sickening grin, warning them; 'come no closer'."
"Do they go nearer Tara? Do they?" The boy holding Willow's hand asked excitedly, his complete focus on the blonde. Willow stretched her legs toward the heated glow of the fire, not wanting to admit to herself that she too was curious to know what the women hunters were going to do.
Willow had heard many a tale about the fierce and deadly Gammbot, mostly from the hotshot marksmen bent on impressing the local gentry with tales of wilderness savvy. Willow didn't believe for one instant that any of those men had ever seen a living Gammbot, much less faced one head to head in battle. But still, she guessed that it must be a fierce creature if so many felt the need to tell stories about it.
Willow watched as Tara paused...The blonde touched her finger to her lips as if studiously thinking on the boy's question then gave the boy a sly wink and continued on with the story.
"The shinty women are fearless, they have tracked this Gammbot for nearly ten miles and must bring back the meat to feed their wee ones..."
The group of people still lingered around the fire, talking quietly among themselves. Willow could hear bits and pieces of conversation, most were still talking about that night’s entertainment. Willow had to admit to herself that even she had thoroughly enjoyed herself. "Where did you learn to turn a tale like that?" Willow asked taking a sip of the drink Tara offered her. Its taste was rich and nutty, it coated Willow's tongue and the inside of her mouth before sliding thickly down her throat.
"My Lana...She used to tell me those s-same stories when I was a very small child." Tara took a sip of her own drink, her mind drawn in remembrance of Lana's earlier warning. Tara had never been a drinker, but some time ago, after an exceptionally powerful woman ritual, she and Anya had celebrated with an extra amount of drink. Tara remembered feeling dizzy and silly...and finally sick afterward. It had been a strange feeling to be retching and laughing at the same time. Tara hadn't drunk more than a single serving since then, not really wanting a replay of that night. Tara put the drink down next to her on the log, she found herself suddenly mesmerized by the crackling of the fire, as little flecks of burning light popped now and then from the mass of flames to dance in front of her vision.
Willow assumed that this Lana person Tara spoke of was her mother. She momentarily became lost in thought as she pictured what this blonde woman must have been like as a child. For some reason, she couldn't entertain the thought that Tara had been very shy, because the way she had told that story with the utmost confidence this evening spoke of anything by shyness, but on the other hand, Willow had not failed to picked up on the way Tara occasionally tripped over her words. Deciding that Tara was far more complex then she'd first assumed, Willow was able to leave it at that for the time being. "Ahhh but the question is...did she act them out for you with the same intensity as you showed this night?" Willow was shocked at the teasingly light tone she heard in her own voice.
"No..." Tara thought again of Lana, knowing that she was alone right now; keeping watch over a death that was forever creeping nearer. Melancholy mixed itself with the drink in her stomach, intensifying its effect. Tara traced her fingers across the embroidery stitched across her long white skirt.
Noticing a change in the blonde's demeanor, Willow wondered if she'd done something.... or said something to upset the woman. She had the intense need to apologize for something, though what for, she had no idea. Without too much thought on her part, Willow's hand left the safety of her drink behind. Reaching out slowly, she covered Tara's hand with her own.
Tara froze, her gaze stilling on the slim fingers that covered her own under their pressure. She hadn't expected that and she didn't know what to do. Tara felt heat slowly building in her chest until it traveled upward and came to rest on her cheeks.
The sight of the slowly developing red tinge marking Tara’s fair skin took Willow aback. Had she really made this woman blush? Or was it the heat of the flames that reddened the blonde's fair skin? Willow took another long, healthy sip of her drink, she could already feel the alcohol softening her senses, though only faintly. "Are you alright...?"
Tara nodded, but she felt overcome by her emotions. First by the previous thoughts of Lana and then by the delicate touch of this woman next to her, it was all too much for Tara. Her eyes stung and her throat contracted painfully. Tara swallowed back all but one tear, which ran like a traitor down her cheek.
There had been no hesitation in Willow's next action. For a moment in time every single thought of revenge and of her mission disappeared at the sight of this woman so vulnerable before her. "Isn't it funny how... take for instance, a smile, to any person in the world means happiness, no matter where you go or what people you see...and a tear..." Willow cupped Tara's face in her palm, wiping away the tear that flowed between her fingers. "A tear means sadness to every person in every land."
"It's amazing the many small things that bring us together as a people" Tara whispered against Willow's cupped palm. The wetness in her eyes drying instantly.
"Or serves to keep us separate." Willow tried not to sound bitter. She removed her hand from Tara's face, and stood up, walking away from the lure of the blonde's blue eyes. "Thank you for the meal....." Willow spoke softly.
"It's late...won't you stay the night?" Tara asked. For once she openly hoped that Willow would not say no.
"And chance missing a meeting with the deadly Gammbot?" Willow raised her eyebrows. She couldn't stay...she had to get away. She had to think about the new feelings that were surging within her and effectively replacing the old ones that seemed to still clinging to her in desperation.
"Don't joke about such things, Gammbots are out there---"
"Stalking in the night....I remember. " When Tara was silent next to her Willow spoke again. "You don't have to worry about me.... I'm tou-" She started to remind the blonde of her earlier statement but was cut off at the pass.
"Tough. I remember. " Tara said, a small smile playing at the corners of her mouth.
Willow looked away, in order to purposefully miss the smile she knew was gracing the blonde's lips. She'd never been weak in her life, soft maybe...at some point, but never weak. Then what was it about this blonde that made her insides melt together, until she couldn't figure out where her heart started and her mind ended? She'd never felt so powerless and out of control in her entire life.
Tara sat as she watched Willow walk away, not for once missing the confidence in her swagger. Tara's palm went lightly to the place where Willow's hand had cupped her only moments before. Tara's cheek felt warm to the touch, so much so that she worried that she had come down with a sudden fever. But by the way her heart hammered in her chest, she knew deep down that it was no fever that had affected her so. It was probably for the best that she would never see the mysterious stranger again. Tara didn't have room in her life for that kind of complexity, she reminded herself.
Tara forced herself to think on other subjects as she prepared for sleep. A small candle burned on the floor adding enough light so that Tara could navigate the small room without watching too closely where she stepped. Tara lay down on the pallet, pulling the itchy, but warm blanket over her body. As she wiggled her toes against it's roughness, her thoughts were drawn back to how soft, in contrast, Willow’s hand had felt when she'd touched Tara.