16 days to go.....
As the sun rose high over LA, Willow's alarm clock began its shrill and birdlike call into the dawn. She peered blearily over the covers and forced one emerald eye open. Its perpetually cheerful neon display informed her that it was 6am.
"Oh great!" she mumbled sarcastically, forcing a long, warm arm out to shut up the clock, whose tone had become increasingly more urgent. Beside her, Tara slept peacefully. Willow forced both her eyes open and a smile broke across her features before both had focused on her sleeping goddess. Willow was amazed at how Tara could sleep through absolutely anything, alarm clocks, the phone, storms and even an earthquake and yet a single kiss would wake her almost instantly. "It's like a fairy tale!" Willow sighed happily as she swung her legs over the bed, her feet accidently coming to land firmly on the sleeping form of Miss Kitty, who yowled loudly and attacked Willow's bare calf viciously. "AAAARRRGGGGHHHH!!" Willow screamed, instinctively pulling her legs away from the flurry of teeth and claws. In the action she flipped herself backwards, knocking heavily into Tara, who fell clear out the edge of the bed with a startled shriek.
As Tara recovered herself and rubbed her eyes, she turned to Willow who was nursing her calf protectively. "What the fuck?" she asked, her voice heavy with sleep and mild anger.
"I stood on Miss Kitty." Willow replied apologetically, indicating the scratch and bite marks that were bleeding softly.
"You alright baby?" Tara began as she crawled back under the covers and settled herself back down.
Willow smiled as she leant in to kiss the forehead of her barely conscious fiancée. "I'm sorry." she whispered, her arms wrapping around Tara's waist. Almost as soon as Willow's fingers had found that perfect expanse of milky skin, she could tell that Tara was asleep, her chest rising and falling in a steady rhythm.
Tiptoeing into the bathroom, Willow pulled open the medicine cabinet and retrieved a small box of antiseptic wipes which she placed next to the sink before heading into the shower. Under the hot cascade, Willow sighed sadly. The past two weeks had been wonderful, and she almost dreaded having to go back to work, preferring instead, to curl back into bed and into Tara's arms.
As she rinsed the last of the conditioner from her hair, Willow had managed to suppress her longing to stay home and make love until lunch and stepped out onto the cool tile.
After drying and fixing her hair, Willow reached for the antiseptic wipes and dabbed the scratches on her leg gingerly. On return to the bedroom, Willow glanced at Tara who had clearly returned to whatever happy dream she had been having before her little indiscretion. Miss Kitty had smartly chosen to disappear. Dressing quickly in a plain black trouser suit and white shirt, Willow pulled on her favourite black boots, grabbed her car keys and headed out to the longest working day of her life.
Tara awoke a little after 10, rubbing her eyes and moving on autopilot to the bathroom to go about her morning ablutions. Squeezing a stripe of toothpaste across the bristles of her brush, she began the vigorous task of teeth cleaning. "I'm a pink toothbrush, you're a blue toothbrush....." she sang through the foam and bristles.
A loud hammering at the front door made her jump and yell out loud, sending speckles of foam across the mirror. Rinsing quickly, she grabbed her robe and was just tying the belt as she pulled open the door.
In the morning light she barely recognised the man standing before her. He hadn't aged well at all, his once rich brown hair had diminished rapidly and was run through with white and grey. The hard brown eyes that had once terrified her so seemed lost and sad. The wrinkles and bags under his eyes took away nothing from the fear he could probably still inspire if he put his mind to it, but to Tara, he looked frail and in need of a good meal.
She regarded him, not in abject terror as she once would have, but through the eyes of a person who knew and yet could not place someone.
For the first time in his life, he stood in stunned silence. The woman before him was strong, confident and happy. Her golden tresses flowed over the large white robe she wore, her eyes shone with love and joy and even the trail of toothpaste down her chin couldn't detract from the astonishing beauty she had become.
"Tara." he said, something softer in his voice than he had ever used towards her.
"Mr. Maclay." she replied, her voice strong, her stutter gone. "What do you want?"
Behind her, the phone began its assault on the world, its ring shattering the silence that hung between father and daughter. Tara didn't move, made no effort to answer it and barely acknowledged its presence. The machine cut in and Willow's voice caressed her ears.
"Hi, this is Willow and Tara, we're too busy to answer the phone....." She said, in the background Blaze could be heard giggling as Vince piped up, "They're probably having sex!"
Tara smiled fondly, they had re-recorded the message before leaving for Sunnydale and in the rush to get going, had left the crudity of their friend on the recording. Willow had glared at him as Tara hit him with a couch cushion. Willow's voice continued. "If you need us, you can call our cells or leave a message after the tone.... it takes a while and there's three of them, so leave your message after the long, third one or we will only get half of your message or babble-age or whatever it is you called us to tell us, then we won't get."
Willow usually scripted the message for the answering machine so she wouldn't babble, but time was against them and she had to improvise this one. "Thanks for calling!" Tara's voice took over before the three long beeps sounded and whoever had called had hung up.
Donald Maclay Sr stared past Tara at the machine with a mixture of anger and horror stretched across his face. "So it's true what Cousin Beth tells me then." he stated, the familiar threatening tone reappearing in his voice. "You're living with another woman." At his side, his fists were balling and releasing, turning his knuckles white. Tara nodded, "Not only am I living with another woman, but I'm in love with her and I am going to marry her!" Tara stated, her father's reign of terror had come to a halt the second she punched Oz the Wolf. She knew that if she could face him, if she ever saw her father again then he would be a walk in the park. "YOU WILL NOT MARRY ANOTHER WOMAN!!!!" he bellowed at her.
Summoning all her inner strength and courage, Tara regarded the man with what she hoped was a nonchalant gaze. "I will do as I please." she told him simply. "Now get off my porch before I call the police." she took a step back and began pushing the door closed.
Red flashed before Donald Maclay's eyes and he pushed the door with all his might, knocking Tara off balance and landing her in a heap on the floor. He towered above her and she had to fight the instinct to crawl up into the foetal position and wait out the reign of fists and fury that would, no doubt be unleashed upon her. As the old man grabbed a fist full of her hair, he dragged her back into the living room, kicking the door closed behind him.
Tara managed to struggle from his grasp and get to her feet, her own rage now coursing through her veins. In what seemed like slow motion, Donald's fist swung towards Tara's jaw but her arm was there to block the punch, her own hand, open palmed and already in motion, connected with a loud 'SLAP' across his right cheek.
The man before her dropped his arms, too stunned to make any sort of response he gawped at his daughter, his mouth opening and closing like a fish out of water. He remained static as she grabbed his collar and marched him back towards the door, throwing him into the morning sunlight. "You have no power over me!" she told him, slamming the heavy door closed and knowing that she would never see Donald Maclay ever again.
"You have no power over me!" she whispered into the now deserted living room, a grin spreading over her face. "You have no power over me!" she stated again, this time a little louder as she crossed to the stereo, carefully selecting a song before crossing to her large paint chest at the foot of the loft stairs.
"YOU HAVE NO POWER OVER ME!!!!!!" She yelled joyously, climbing atop the chest and throwing her arms in the air.
Running across to the stereo, Tara cranked up the volume and the music began almost immediately, sending Miss Kitty, who had been watching these events unfold from the back of the couch, running.
There's nothing you can say or do for me
And I don't want a miracle
You'll never change for no one"
Tara sang for all she was worth, her lungs burning with pride and the effort of screaming so loudly followed so closely by singing. She remained unphased and continued;
To live without you
Strong enough and I quit crying
Long enough now I'm strong enough
To know you gotta go
There's no more to say
For the first time in her life, Tara felt truly strong, knowing that, no matter what happened, she could face - and more importantly, slay - her own demons.
Baby, have I got news for you
On being used, I could write a book
You don't wanna hear about it
I've been losing sleep
Now I'm strong enough to live without you
Tara collapsed onto the couch, her lungs refusing to continue to allow her to breath and dance and sing all at the same time. With her chest heaving and the biggest grin in the world plastered over her face, Tara leant back and let the rest of the song wash away the years of abuse and suffering she had endured.
You'll never see me cry
This is our last goodbye, it's true
I'm telling you
There's no more to say