Tara recuperated at home for a few days before they boarded the plane for California. Each day that passed, she was doubting her impulsive decision to go back to the place she grew up. She hadn't been back since she left because there was nothing to go back to. Would anyone recognize her? Would anyone acknowledge her?
They stayed at the Rosenbergs'. Willow emailed her parents and was relieved to learn that they were away. Not that she didn't want to see them, she wanted Tara to settle in before "la grande réunion de famille." She knew her mother would have questions on their relationship. After Tara left Sunnydale she fell into a deep depression and refused to talk to anyone, but she had the feeling that everyone knew something was going on between them. She hadn't come out then, but not even her mother seemed surprised when she finally did.
Taking time off work proved more difficult than Willow expected. She had more than enough days accrued, but Patrick was reluctant and it wasn't just because she would have to postpone her London trip. She knew his back was against the proverbial wall, they had targets to meet and she sensed he was on the wrong side of an upstairs political battle.
There was a time when even thinking about not being on the desk would be inconceivable. Four weeks away from the trading desk was tantamount to career suicide. Her top spot on the board would be under threat and her accounts would defect to another trader in the blink of a cursor. She wasn't sure she would have a job to go back to. Oddly enough, she felt fine about it. Worst case scenario, she would move to a hedge fund or Equity Research. Less well paid, less intellectually challenging, but less cut-throat. It didn't bother her at all.
"Sorry I'm late, baby. Xander and I got talking," Willow apologized as she crawled into bed with Tara. Her childhood bed. One that they had shared many times as teenagers. She sent a silent thanks to her mother for the double bed. This was not a sleepover, unless sleepovers involved getting into bed naked with one's lover. Willow sighed as she spooned Tara protectively, pressing her breasts into Tara's back, their legs and feet slipping into a familiar interlocking tangle.
Tara scooted back so she was fully cocooned in Willow's embrace. "That's alright, I thought I'd wait for you in bed. I've been thinking about you all night."
"How are you feeling? No dizziness?" Willow asked tenderly.
Tara shook her head. "No, nothing like that. I took a nap earlier." She took Willow's hand and cupped it over her breast. Then she pushed back and made a gap between her legs, urging Willow to slip one leg between hers. She was sure Willow could feel her wetness.
"It's been ten days."
"Your hand is still in a cast."
"I don't want to hurt you."
Tara half-turned toward Willow. "You never hurt me," she said.
Willow, becoming undeniably aroused with the feel of Tara's full breast in her hand and a distinctive wetness on the skin of her trapped leg, knew she was on the verge of caving in on her desires. Their desires. She could never refuse Tara. One last protest. "But, your bruises."
"You'll kiss them better, like you do every night."
"That I will."
"Do you know how hot you make me when you do that? And then you stop. I'm not taking that torture one more night."
Willow traced a reverent circle with her fingers and kissed one of the bruises, on Tara's shoulder. "So, torture eh? Should I start the torture now? And may be torture you some more afterwards?"
Tara's response was to rock her legs back and forth, bearing down on Willow's thigh, feeling herself becoming harder. "You can do whatever you like, whenever you like, baby." Willow had involuntarily bent her knee so it provided the friction that Tara needed. "This feels so good."
Willow's resolve dissolved as she felt Tara's wet center mark a trail over her skin. She hooked one leg over Tara's hip and ground against the back of her lover's thigh. They found their rhythm easily and soon the sensation of sliding and brushing was enough to make their softest, most sensitive parts pulse wildly.
It was a culmination of pent-up sexual frustration, the tumultuous events of the past two weeks and their profound love for each other. The wild pulse melted into pure liquid pleasure as their tempo increased and as quickly as they started they were crying out in a joint climax.
They rode the crest together, and came down from the peak so conjoined they wanted to crawl inside each other and start again. Whispering words of devotion only meant for themselves, they soon drifted into restful sleep.
"When did you learn to cook so well? Or was it the sex?" Tara asked, peering over the morning paper to watch Willow busy herself around the kitchen. Willow broke two eggs into a bowl using one hand, whisked and poured the mixture into a skillet deftly. She quickly seasoned and threw in the fillings before swirling the mixture around expertly.
The twinkle in Willow's eyes and the way she was dancing around the kitchen was a sign that she was enjoying herself immensely. "You expect me to answer that?"
"I was just complimenting you on your cooking skills," Tara deadpanned.
"Baby, I'm only making breakfast," Willow stuck her tongue out at Tara. "But if you really want to know, I did a semester of semi-professional cookery training in my junior year. The one summer I didn't take a million courses."
"I'm so glad you did," Tara leaned over, carefully balancing herself on the breakfast stool, to give Willow a quick kiss. "What were you saying about Xander last night?"
"Oh, we were catching up. He and Anya invited us to dinner."
"He remembers me?"
The omelet was ready and Willow served it to Tara with a flourish, earning her another kiss. "Hmm, kisses for food, this is good. Of course he remembers you. He can't believe we've only been together for five months, when I told him I'm here with you he assumed we got together when I went to New York and he was giving me a hard time for not telling him earlier. Do you want juice?"
"I'll get it myself, you don't have to wait on me hand and foot," Tara bit into the omelet and had to stifle a groan, she was biased but it was one of the best she'd ever tasted. "And he took over his uncle's car dealership?"
"Yeah, though I think Anya is the one running the show behind the scenes. They're very happy. He's done well for himself. Oh, I said I'll ask you first, about dinner." Willow was now making the second omelet with the same effectiveness.
"Dinner'll be nice. I'd like to see them again. I don't have much memory of people here," Tara looked down. "If I bumped into Anya on the street, I may not recognize her."
"You had no intention of coming back?"
She was still not sure why she dragged Willow back. Perhaps it was to do with needing closure after getting struck on the head. And to get complete closure there were things she would have to do, people she would have to face. She wasn't sure if she was brave enough.
"Wow. Tara. Wow," Xander couldn't stop gaping at her.
"Will you quit leering at my girlfriend," Willow smacked Xander on the arm. Harder than she intended.
"Ow! I'm not leering! I'm just admiring how great she looks," Xander snatched his arm away and pretended to nurse it. "You look wonderful, Tara."
Tara blushed at the attention. "Thanks, Xander."
They were at Xander and Anya's house, which was conveniently located behind the car dealership that Xander inherited from his uncle. No commuting, he said. Tara thought she saw the possessive glint in Anya's eyes, having Xander nearby meant she could keep an eye on him 24/7.
Not that Xander was straying. As Willow said, they were happy. Tara didn't remember Anya, but Willow told her that they'd been together since prom night. Tara wistfully tried to imagine how she and Willow would look like if they too had gotten together on that fateful night. Probably as happy as Xander and Anya. If only they weren't so pig-headed. If only life was less complicated. If only life weren't so full of if-only's.
"I should feel threatened by Xander's attention on Tara, but I'm not. I must be losing my edge," Anya said.
Xander immediately leapt to Anya's defense and knew the right words to say to placate his wife. "You're as sharp as ever, An. I still remember the tax man's face when he left. Pure terror."
Anya perked up immediately. "Well, I wasn't gonna let him get away with it. The nerve! Asking me to pay taxes," she snorted.
Willow caught Tara's eye with a wicked grin. "May be we should ask hire Anya as our accountant, honey."
Anya launched into a tale of how she was always on the lookout for loopholes and how her life's purpose was to exact vengeance on the IRS. It seemed that her family had bad blood with either the IRS, or an IRS employee, Tara wasn't sure. But Anya's sense of vengeance was strong. Xander sat back and listened to his wife indulgently, Tara was sure he had listened to the stories so many times he could recite them, but he acted as if it was his first time. She filed it away as one of the secrets for a good relationship.
Later, Xander and Willow sat on the deck, reminiscing about their childhood. Tara was content to sit close to Willow and let the conversation drift around her. Anya served coffee and dessert. The hot coffee was very welcome on this spring night that still lingered with traces of chill.
Anya chose to sit next to Tara rather than Xander. "Xander likes it when his friends come back to visit. Makes him feel less like he missed out on his life's great adventure."
"But look at him now. Young Businessperson of the Year. That must have been an honor, to both of you," Tara said.
"He'll never admit it, but part of him sometimes wonders why he was the one left behind. Jesse, Buffy, Willow, you -- all went on to bigger things. And he's still here, a big fish in a small pond."
Tara glanced at her lover and Anya's husband, still engaged in animated conversation. "Not all pastures are greener on the other side," she said kindly.
"On one level he knows that, but he gets whimsical occasionally."
"How about you? Do you get wanderlust?" Tara asked.
Xander interrupted before Anya could answer. "Tara, we're talking about how we miss our families. Do you keep in touch with your aunt?"
Tara stiffened. She knew she had to face this sooner or later, otherwise she would never have closure. "No. Not really," she said.
"I saw Donny at the bank for a while, but I never see your aunt around town," Xander said.
Tara said nothing. Willow, sensing Tara's quiet distress, diverted the topic to Buffy's adventures. Their friend applied for West Point, in order to follow Riley's career in the army. Her relationship with Riley didn't last, partly due to his ego not able to handle her outshining him in many aspects of the training. In a twist that would make any mystery novelist proud, an internship assignment later she was recruited to join the FBI and was currently undergoing training at Quantico.
Tara's disquietude continued during their drive home, and when they got ready for bed.
"I'm sorry Xander brought up the topic of your aunt," Willow took Tara in her arms when they crawled under the covers.
"It's not his fault. I know I need to go see her. I think at the back of my mind I still harbor resentment toward her. Unfair because she did the best she could, but it was never my home. There was also the nagging feeling that I owe her money; my dad stopped sending her money a few months before I ran away." Tara sighed.
"You don't owe her anything. If I recall, she encouraged her son to practically molest you."
Tara closed her eyes. "I should just go look them up. Get it over with. Face my demons."
"Want me to come with you?"
"You know I will. But tonight, I'm going to make love to you so you forget your aunt and your demons for a while."