Return to The Art of Burning Bridges Chapter Seven

The Art of Burning Bridges

Author: MissKittys Ball O Yarn
Rating: PG-13
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Disclaimer: I own nothing but the clothes on my back...

"Are you going to tell me who this mystery woman is, or am I going to have to keep getting my information from the children?" Lana broke the ice as the two of them squatted just along the edge of the water-pit. They were taking advantage of the early morning sunlight to wash a few key pieces of wardrobe. "I heard that you were seen parading around against the black of night, with a lithe little nymph of some kind or another." Lana teased her daughter, tugging gently on Tara's thick, blonde braid. She didn't really know what to make of the children's tales, but she did suspect that there was some modicum of truth to their chatter.

Tara kneaded the pants that she had taken from Willow this morning while the redhead slept. Tara crunched the material in her hands, before pressing it against the washing-stone. Sloshing the pants back and forth in the water, Tara wrung them again and again in her hands until she could feel the water reddening her skin . It stung, but in a good way. At least she was thinking about Willow less and less the more her hands ached. Tara didn't know if she wanted to talk about Willow just yet. It wasn't that she was trying to keep anything from her mother, she just.... didn't know what to say on the subject...mostly because most of everything concerning Willow was still a mystery to her. "I have never known you to listen to idle gossip, Lana," Tara said, dodging a curious glance from her mother. Tara offered a smile to make up for the evasion.

"Only when my daughter is concerned," Lana said as she took another shirt from the pile of clothes on the ground. "The beating of the Hammock trees has come to an end." Lana spoke nonchalantly, deciding to leave the subject of Tara's night travels for another occasion. It was her philosophy that things had a tendency to work themselves out before too long. She was in no hurry to extract information from her daughter if the time wasn't right to do so. Besides, there was another subject that Lana intended to discuss.

"I hadn't noticed." Tara pretended to be uninterested in talk of the upcoming Woman Ritual. She had already decided not to participate, so she saw no reason for her to agree to it now. Even Lana couldn't change her mind this time, Tara was certain. Still, there was something in her mother's voice that made her to keep her tongue on the subject.

"Have you chosen a partner for the ritual?" Lana asked, eyeing Tara curiously.

"No." Tara stated simply, hoping that Lana would leave it at that, even though Tara knew better.

"What about Anya?" Lana suggested. Tara had performed the Woman Ritual many times with Anya. They had been best friends since childhood and had always chosen each other when time for the ritual rolled around; she didn't see a reason why it should be any different this time. Even so, Lana knew more than she was letting on. She knew Tara had been pulling away from the group, becoming introverted in a way that she had never seen before. Lana chalked it up to knowing her daughter too well, because there were no outward signs of this behavior in Tara's conduct. Tara had always been a quiet child, one to keep to herself on occasion, but Lana had never sensed this feeling of isolation that she felt from Tara now. It worried Lana.

"Maybe. You know how busy she has been lately." Tara sounded nonchalant, even to her own ears.

"Yes, this is true." Lana flattened a newly cleaned shirt onto one of the many drying stones that surrounded them. "She came to see your mother earlier this morning." Lana tried to sound chipper, but she couldn't help the small fleck of pain that entered her voice at the mention of her the woman she loved.

Tara paused in her work. "D-did something h-happen?" She gripped Willow's pants so tightly in her fingers that she could see the whites of her knuckles through the redness of her skin. She waited for Lana to speak.

"No, Sweetness." Lana touched Tara's cheek and chuckled. "I have a mind to go in and rescue Soma at times though. You know how Anya can be. " Lana took another shirt form the pile, but the smile on her face felt worn and inadequate.

"Yes." Tara smiled at her friend's reputation before setting back to the task at hand. Tara kneaded Willow's pants against the rock again. "Actually, I haven't decided if I'm going to participate in the ritual this cycle." Tara sighed, knowing that she had to come right out and say what was in her heart.

"Oh?" Lana couldn't say that she was surprised, she had known for some time that Tara had been feeling disillusioned. Lana blamed herself for not bringing up the subject sooner, but with Soma ill there really had not been time left over for that much needed conversation to occur. Still Lana blamed herself.

"Forgive me, Lana. I mean no disrespect to the elders or to you, but, I've found myself in quite a state with regards to the woman ritual." Tara bit her bottom lip.

"Tara, do you think I want you to participate in the ritual, because I think it holds some mystic power in and of itself?" Lana stopped what she was doing to look seriously into Tara's eyes. "You must truly believe that I had lived the beginning of my life in a cave, cut off from the outside world." Lana let out a ragged breath.

"I don't think that, Lana..." Tara adjusted herself on the stone so that she was facing her mother. "You and Mama always told me from the time I was this high" - Tara held her hand out in front of her indicating the height of a small child - "to think for myself and not to simply believe everything people say to me." Tara took both of Lana's warm hands between her own. "Everyone believes that the Woman Ritual has mystical power to protect us against the Marauders but I don't believe that."

"Tara, I don't want you to participate in the rituals because I think it's some kind of magical cure. I want you to participate so that you can feel as a part of the group again. Do you think I haven't been witness to the way you have been receding?"

Tara looked down at her hands.

"What is wrong, Sweetness? Is this about Soma? Is it because you will be looked to for guidance, once the time comes?" Lana asked; understanding graced the corners of her eyes. She desperately wanted her daughter to confide in her, but she could tell that pushing Tara would do no good. Lana squeezed Tara's hands in her own before withdrawing.

Tara didn't answer. Her greatest fear in life was that she would disappoint her parents and she was afraid now that she might say something that would make them see her differently.

Lana spoke softly "Tara, I can't force you to do anything you don't want to do. Soma and I have always wanted you to think for yourself and to be your own person, but that doesn't mean that you should cut yourself off from the people that love you."

Willow woke up alone. She reached for her pants, feeling suddenly very vulnerable. Daylight streamed in around the curtain. Her groping hand came up empty and a visual scan of the room provided no better results. Her pants were apparently missing. They were gone, vanished, lost, mislaid, AWOL and any other word that meant the same. Willow felt suddenly very vulnerable, and she knew it wasn't just because of the disappearance of her pants. She was feeling vulnerable because she had allowed her guard to weaken and now she was feeling helpless. Willow sighed, she was finding it hard to find anger, there was something was something almost comedic in her predicament.

Willow was still wondering on the disappearance of her pants when the curtain parted and Tara stood silhouetted against the bright light of morning. "I knew they were dirty...but...I hadn't expected them to sprout legs and make a break for it in the middle of the's a shame too, we have been through so much together..." Willow sat back on her hands, and was aware that the heavy wool of the blanket barely covered her, but she felt no shyness in the knowledge, which seemed fairly strange to her after the hard time she'd had taking them off the previous night.

Tara swallowed the lump that had arisen in her throat at the sight of the redhead barely clad, and was confused for a moment before she realized what Willow must have been talking about. "Oh your pants!" Tara covered her mouth with her hand. "I washed them for you. I had hoped to be back before you woke up. You were sleeping so soundly, I thought I would have plenty of time." Tara kept her hand over her mouth, while the other palm cradled the lightweight stone slab in her hand.

"Where are they then?" Willow lifted her brow when Tara made no move to hand over the missing clothing.

"Drying on a stone down by the water pit. I could keep you company while you wait for them," Tara offered; she hoped that Willow would agree to this given the current state of her undress.

"I should think so, after all it's you who has done away with my pants in the first place." A small smile turned the corners of Willow's lips upward the slightest amount.

"I brought you some food...just in case you were awake." Tara stretched the slab she had been holding out for Willow to take, her hand trembled in the process. The cooked Pontoo eggs stuck to the rough textured stone and Tara was grateful for that; had it been any other surface, the food surly would have taken a tumble. Tara disappeared back through the curtain, but returned momentarily with the Pragmartin milk. "It's not much..." Tara apologized, handing the drink to Willow.

"Thank you." Willow said, taking the drink from Tara. Their fingers met along the cylinder of metal, housing the milk. Willow moved her fingers so abruptly that she nearly lost the drink all together. She caught the drink rather awkwardly just before it slipped completely out of her grasp. There was a moment as their gazed locked, but Willow looked away, and the moment passed.

Continue to The Art of Burning Bridges Chapter Nine

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