The door slammed, waking Willow from a thin and uncertain sleep. She knew she had been dreaming, and the dream was lush beyond all imagining, but all unconscious delight left her as she heard Buffy call out, "Willow!"
The urgency in Buffy's voice snapped Willow out of her lethargy, and she looked down in consternation. She had fallen asleep on her books again, and she could feel a crease down the side of her face. She rolled from the bed, looking instinctively at her watch. The room was too dark for only seven pm, and again Buffy's strident voice sounded, "Willow! There's a storm coming!"
Willow rubbed her eyes and swung to the side of the bed even as Buffy opened her bedroom door. "We have to hurry if we're going to catch this one," Buffy warned as she watched Willow struggle to the closet, tripping over the quilt and half a dozen books.
"Buffy, grab the extra rods from the closet, wouldja?" Willow breathlessly asked, pulling on a pair of blue jeans and a sweater. Buffy left the room quickly, and Willow could hear her stomping back down the stairs of their apartment.
She knew she didn't have time, but Willow quickly used the bathroom, and then looked at herself in the mirror. After six years of waiting, was tonight to be the night? She looked all right for just having woken from sleep; she ran wet fingers through her short curly red hair and wiped her face. Brilliant green eyes stared back at her and they sparkled in anticipation.
"Willow! Come on!" Buffy shrieked from the living room. Willow ran to her dresser and pulled out a strange and large ring, stuffing it into her pocket. Willow pounded down the steps and both girls grabbed their rain jackets and umbrellas. Buffy's arms were already full with lightning rods, so Willow opened the front door.
The sky was threatening, and Willow wanted to crow in delight. "Is it the right kind of storm, Buffy?" Willow asked breathlessly, not wanting to be disappointed yet again. She would need the most perfect meteorological conditions to pull this off.
"Dry thunderstorm, Will!" Buffy said excitedly, waiting while Willow opened the back of her SUV, then she laid the lightning rods on the packs with sleeping bags, tent, and the emergency kit. "How could you have fallen asleep? I thought you'd be tracking the storm on your computer."
Willow grimaced even as she drove smartly down the streets of Sunnydale, heading for the desert. "I was just reading the text one more time, Buffy. I've never tried anything like this before."
Buffy chuckled at her. "That's for sure, Willow. And until you looked up all that stuff in your books I thought you were a nutcase. Strange things like Tara don't happen in Sunnydale."
Both Buffy and Willow chuckled. They met when Buffy transferred to Sunnydale High School eight years ago at the start of freshman year. For some reason that eluded Willow for years, Buffy, a popular girl who was Homecoming Queen at her previous school, sought Willow out and they quickly became friends. Their lives were ordinary yet sublime, going to school, falling in love (Buffy), obsessing about grades (Willow). That all changed six years ago, and Willow's skin tingled as she thought of what she was about to do.
As Willow drove, Buffy turned on the radio, and the girls heard, "Now for your Fox 3 weather update for Sunnydale, California. We have a severe thunderstorm warning for Sunnydale city and county. We've just heard from our affiliates that this is a very unusual storm; it is a dry thunderstorm, with wind gusts and lightning but very little rain."
"This is it, Willow," Buffy said, looking over to the redhead. Willow put out her hand and Buffy warmly clasped it with hers for a moment before letting go so Willow could drive. "We're going to get her this time."
Her. Tara. After six long years.
Six years previously...
Willow sat, alone, on a boulder in the middle of the desert, cycling her disastrous conversation with her parents over and over in her mind. She was a senior, for crying out loud, she wasn't a child anymore! She had a right to make her own decisions, and she had put off the conversation long enough. The first point, that she had chosen UC Sunnydale as her college of choice, didn't go over very well. Not when she was accepted to Oxford, Harvard, and Yale. Her parents simply didn't understand how important Buffy and Xander were. Her two best friends were her life, and she wouldn't leave them, not now or ever. But it was the second point that worried her.
"I'm gay," Willow whispered to the uncaring air.
It had taken her a long time to acknowledge that fact. At first she had been afraid of telling Buffy and Xander, terrified that they would abandon her. She should have known better. As long as you're happy, Willow, Xander and Buffy said, and Willow believed them. She and Xander had even begun haunting the Bronze together, cruising for chicks.
They finally convinced her to speak to her parents. It was something she generally avoided, talking to her parents about anything. They never really listened, anyway. But graduation was coming, and Buffy and Xander told her it was the right thing to do. So a few hours ago she had stood in her kitchen and endured her mother's wary acceptance, her conviction that it was just a phase Willow was going through, a statement, if you will. Her father didn't say a word. How typical.
And now Willow was frozen. Her well-intentioned, distracted parents didn't really care about her. They only cared about their image in the academic community and Willow was sure that her mother was already devising some way to use Willow's news to her advantage. Probably a paper of some sort. Buffy and Xander were great friends, but they didn't really understand the great abyss she was facing. Never in her life had she known love. She looked for it, first in Oz, then in Amy, but it eluded her. It always did. She just wished for something from the story books, a tale of romance and love, where she would be pursued, admired, and adored. Not only loved, but beloved.
So she had come out to the desert to meditate, and disconsolately throw rocks at the uncaring sand. And when the storm arose, a dark purple blot on the horizon, she maddeningly decided to sit it out. An eerie calm came over her as the clouds marched steadily towards her, the wind gusting, sending stinging sand into her eyes. The rumbling of the thunder became a constant noise as bolts of lightning ranged closer and closer to her. Curiously, there was as yet no rain, just the incredible cracks of lightning followed by concatenations of thunder. She could feel the thunder in her chest, vibrating along her bones, and it thrilled her.
Ever after she could not say what confluence of events brought Tara to her. Maybe it was the wish in her heart, maybe she said a certain word, maybe it was nothing more than mere coincidence. Fear had arisen in her heart, for the storm was too close, and Willow closed her eyes as a fork of lightning struck the empty desert floor not fifty feet away. She fell off her boulder with the clap of thunder so loud she thought her ears would burst, and she cowered in a little ball, smelling the tint of ozone in the air.
And when she opened them, she doubted what her lightning-blasted eyes saw.
There was a form sprawled on the ground in the exact place where the lightning had struck. Willow rubbed her eyes, and got to her knees. It wasn't just a form, it was a woman. Ever feeling the deep rumblings of thunder in her body, seeing the landscape brilliantly lit with jags of lightning, Willow stumbled over to the prone womanly form.
"Are you all right?" Willow asked, and her breath caught in her throat as she turned the body over.
It was a young woman, about Willow's own age. She had long brown hair that cascaded like silk over her shoulders. She was wearing a thin grey blouse and skirt, almost savage in its simplicity. And her eyes; her eyes were the deep cold blue of a winter afternoon, joyful and beautiful. As Willow looked at her, the woman seemed to realize just where she was, and she bolted upright.
"I'm out?" she whispered frantically, and Willow was lost in confusion. "Wh-where am I?" the girl stuttered.
"Um, the desert outside Sunnydale, California," Willow replied. She crouched next to the girl, and her mind was shrieking at her. This woman was the most beautiful thing Willow had ever seen, and next to her she felt gauche and awkward and clumsy.
"You are human?" the woman asked, and she reached forth her hand, and stroked Willow's cheek, and Willow felt the touch like fire in her veins.
"Um, usually," Willow replied, filled with confusion. "You mean you aren't?" Great, just her luck. Meet a gorgeous woman in a thunderstorm and she's a raving lunatic. You really can pick 'em, Rosenberg.
The woman didn't reply immediately, she just looked at Willow with overwhelming amounts of confusion in her eyes. "You called me?" the woman finally asked, and her voice was the soothing caress of silk on skin, and Willow shivered in delight.
And as much as Willow wanted to say Yes, I called you, now we can go make incredible gay love together, her tongue tied, and her mind went over every little awful occurrence she had in her doomed relationships. What would this woman have with her, little Willow Rosenberg, biggest nerd in California?
"No," she replied honestly. The woman was looking around her, at the lightning blasted landscape, the sand that went screeching every which way with the terrific gusts of wind.
"I don't have much time," the woman said, looking at the clouds. Then she looked at Willow again, and saw deep into the core of her, and Willow knew she would never be the same again. "So much hurt," the woman said, her voice deepening with sorrow. "You have so much pain. Why?"
Because everyone leaves me in the end, Willow thought, hanging her head. Because I'm only good for one thing: being reliable. There is no true love for me.
"You did call me," the woman said, struggling to stand up. Willow helped her to her feet, and they stood hand in hand, staring at each other as the sand whipped along their legs, the lightning flashed, and the thunder boomed about them.
"Where did you come from?" Willow asked. Willow was a sane person, really, and knew that the woman had to have come from somewhere. She must have snuck up on Willow, and decided to on the sandy ground in the middle of a thunderstorm. Brilliant reasoning, Rosenberg. You're Oxford material for sure.
But this time it was the woman who looked on her as if she was insane. "From up there," the woman replied.
Willow looked up along with the woman, seeing nothing but the raging lightning and boiling purple-black clouds. "An airplane?" she ventured, knowing it sounded stupid, but really not getting it.
"Silly," the woman chided. "I'm lightning."
"Your name is Lightning?" Willow repeated inanely.
The woman chuckled. "No, my name is Tara."
"Are you learning impaired?" the woman accused, laughing again, and the sound warmed Willow's vastly confused heart. "You are a human," and the woman leered lightly at her, perusing her slight frame up and down, and Willow could have sworn the woman stared at her chest. "I am a bolt of lightning."
Uh-huh. A crazy person. Just her luck.
"You didn't happen to take a buncha drugs now, did you?" Willow softly accused.
"I don't need drugs," the woman (lightning) responded lightly. "Perhaps you do. Maybe some co enzyme Q10 will help you with mental acuity."
"Hey!" Willow responded, taken aback. "You're the one professing to be a bolt of lightning."
The woman squeezed Willow's hands, and Willow smiled in spite of herself. "You shall see soon enough," the woman murmured. "Once my storm leaves this area, I will be gone with it."
"Uh huh," Willow agreed, not letting go of Tara's hands. "You don't mind if I stick around to test that theory, do you?"
"Not at all," Tara replied gaily. "See, you're feeling better already, aren't you?"
Willow was brought up short. Hmm, she had been brooding rather incessantly until this crazy woman showed up, proving that Willow's life really wasn't too horrible. She could be in this poor woman's shoes, walking around deserts in dry thunderstorms and thinking she was a bolt of lightning.
"Yes," Willow replied honestly. "I am feeling better."
"Good," Tara said. "Now, what shall we do to pass the time?"
This time Willow was certain the woman was leering at her. Ah, what the heck? It's a crazy person. "I could think of a few things," Willow responded coyly, pitching her voice low and trying to keep from laughing.
"Do tell, um, whatever your name is," Tara replied.
Tara's face creased once again into her ever-ready smile. "Your parents named you after a tree?" she laughed.
"It's also a shrub," Willow protested. "Besides, it's better than..." and Willow stopped. She couldn't say 'Tara' because she honestly thought Tara was one of the most beautiful names she'd ever heard. "Xander," she pouted.
"A point for you, Willow," Tara said. "Willow is a better name than Xander." The woman sat herself on the boulder, ignoring the stinging of the sand of the booming of the thunder around them, then patted the vast expanse of stone next to her. Willow gingerly sat next to her, her skin tingling and her heart beating way too fast.
"Now, do tell me what things we could be doing to pass the time," Tara said, shifting her body so she was mostly facing Willow.
Willow gulped. The way Tara was sitting pulled the fabric tightly across her breasts, and she could see the hardness of her nipples. Willow was beginning to feel her heart beat down in her core, a warm flush suffusing her muscles. She was undeniably attracted to this woman, this enigmatic crazy woman, and in spite of the conversation she just had with her parents, or maybe because of it, she decided to play along.
Willow shuffled closer to the warm body, then raised her hand and trailed it along the woman's arm. "Do you play games?" Willow asked, lifting Tara's palm and tracing the lines inside it.
Tara had to clear her throat, and Willow could see a rising blush in her cheeks, then Willow watched, amazed, as a wave of goosebumps shuddered along Tara's body. "Are you cold?" Willow asked solicitously, knowing that the woman probably wasn't cold, but was shivering in the same anticipation that cascaded down her own spine.
"Freezing," the woman murmured.
Willow drew off her outer jacket slowly, then leaned in to drape the jacket over Tara's thinly covered shoulders. So close, so maddeningly close... Willow took the biggest risk of her life and gently pressed her lips to Tara's.
The jacket lay forgotten as Tara responded to the kiss, wrapping her arms around Willow, moving her mouth slowly, deliciously, against hers. Willow lost all sense of reason as she kissed those wonderfully full and succulent lips, running her tongue against Tara's mouth, moaning softly as Tara opened her mouth to let her in. She felt Tara's hands on her back, then one hand lifted to stroke her hair and the other traveled down, down. As Tara's hand cupped Willow's backside, Willow was transported into realms of ecstasy never before experienced by womankind. Their mouths plundered each other, almost savage in their need, and Willow felt the gloriousness of Tara's breasts so tight against hers.
The storm raged.
Willow's eager mouth left the battleground of Tara's lips and went exploring down Tara's jaw, as she laved hot, dry kisses again and again down her neck and throat. Tara's head tilted upward and she clutched at Willow, moaning her name.
Who is Willow the nerd now?
Lost in rapturous delight, assaulted by feelings she'd never experienced before, Willow continued her careful barrage of this woman's body, only stopping when she heard Tara cry out.
Sitting bolt upright, Willow asked, "What's the matter? Did I hurt you?"
She was shocked to see tears in Tara's eyes. "No, dearest," Tara replied, raising her hands to touch Willow's face. "It's just... my time is over."
Willow looked around her. It was true, the dry thunderstorm was sweeping off to the ocean, and the sky was clearing. "Where do you live? I'll take you home," Willow promised, her heart breaking. Just like her, to fall in love with a crazy woman. Crazy or no, Tara was incredible, and Willow knew she couldn't be parted from her, not yet.
"Little Salix lucida," Tara chuckled. "You don't believe me even yet." Her face fell a little, and she caressed Willow's cheek. "I wonder if I will ever see you again," she said, mostly to herself.
"Of course you will," Willow scoffed, but her heart was racing in anguish. "I'll... I'll come looking for you every time there's a storm."
Tara's face brightened. "Dry thunderstorms," she clarified. "I can't come down when it's wet."
"Okay," Willow promised, thinking to herself that she would just take this woman to whatever asylum she escaped from and pretend to be her sister or something. Wait, sister, that wouldn't work. Girlfriend? Would they let her visit a girlfriend?
Tara drew her in for another quick kiss, and Willow melted into her. She wanted to memorize her, the silkiness of her hair, the fairness of her skin, her intoxicating lips... Her lover drew back just far enough to whisper, "Goodbye," and then she vanished without a trace.
Willow believed her then, and didn't see her again for three years.
Buffy looked over at her best friend, knowing that Willow was reliving her first experience with Tara. She barely believed it when Willow had come to her six years ago with her incredible tale. It was impossible for down-to-earth Buffy to believe. You might as well ask her to believe in vampires or demons or fairy tales! But as Willow began to track storm movements, to chase thunderstorm after thunderstorm, to spend her nights pining for a woman/lightning bolt, Buffy began to believe.
Then, three years ago, Buffy had been with Willow when they found Tara again. That shut her right up.
She had to leave. The moment was too exquisite, and the love they showed each other was monumental, making her reevaluate her own doomed relationships. They had shyly ducked into a tent that Willow and Buffy had put up before the storm, and Buffy was kinda glad she couldn't hear what was going on inside.
Ever since then she had helped Willow with the research, they had visited strange haunts, and read impossible books, and finally had an encounter with a witch (yeah, right) who handed them a strange and heavy ring for the inconceivable price of $600 and three kittens. Buffy shuddered to think of what the kittens were for. Willow almost backed down at the kitten point, but Buffy urged her on.
The SUV bounced its way into the desert as they headed off-road to the solitary massive boulder that would be the nexus of their desperate attempt. This would be the fourth time since their last encounter with Tara that they would try calling Tara to them, dry thunderstorms being rare and all. Willow brought the car to a screeching halt and the two girls hurried out. Filling her arms with lightning rods, Buffy ran to the expanse of sand near the boulder. Dumping them on the ground, she fished in her pocket for the diagram the witch had given her and began thrusting the rods in the ground to create a symbol.
Buffy glanced to Willow while she worked, her red haired friend double-checking the alignment of the rods, laying out certain coloured stones into the pattern. Buffy then looked skyward, a little afraid by the solid wall of storm that was heading straight for them. She grit her teeth and worked on. She'd do anything for Willow.
They had barely finished when the wind first gusted at them, shrieking in their ears. "Do you want to wait in the car?" Buffy asked her, yelling over the wind.
Willow shook her head, but reminded, "Don't forget to ground the car." Buffy departed after giving her a quick hug and Willow heard the car door slam, then the faint clashes of music over the wind and the thunder. She shook her head in friendly exasperation and waited.
The lightning was getting closer. Her heart pounded in trepidation and exhilaration.
Would Tara accept her gift?
It was black, yet the frequent flashes of lightning were enough to light the landscape, and she could see the echo in her retinas. Willow waited, feeling strong, powerful, alive! The lightning was getting closer, ever closer.
"Tara!" Willow screamed, raising her fists to the sky.
A terrific blinding white jag of light rocked her skull, and thunder clapped inside her chest, and she fell to the ground. When she opened her eyes, and could see past the searing flash, Willow could see a beloved form curled up on the ground inside the protective circle she and Buffy had formed with their lightning rods.
"Tara!" she cried, rushing to the prone woman on the ground.
Willow stumbled to the ground as she approached, and Tara laughed through her tears. "Thank God, Willow," Tara intoned, crawling over to her, wrapping her in her arms. Willow lifted her face and was deluged with Tara's kisses, swooning in delight. "It's been so long," Tara whispered, embracing Willow tightly.
The two of them sat on the wind-blasted ground, rocking each other, kissing each other again and again. "How much time do we have?" Tara finally asked, looking up at the sky, then looking around the area for their tent.
Willow bubbled with delight, with her secret. "How does forever sound?" she asked, pulling out the large and heavy ring.
Tara's eyes widened with disbelief. "Willow, how did you get this?" She took the ring in her fingers, turning it again and again in her grasp. Was it real? Could this be?
"Well, it involved a shady deal and three kittens, but it's well worth it," Willow said, helping Tara off the ground. "Do you... do you want it?" Her heart was suddenly chill. What if she was making more of this than Tara was? What if it was only a passing fling with a mortal, some enjoyable lips during a storm and nothing more?
Tara looked at her, her eyes shining. "Willow, I've thought of nothing but you for the past six years. I live for our brief moments together. Now you, you..." and she dissolved into tears, and Willow took her, and rocked her, and held her tight. Finally Tara lifted her face again, her mouth creasing into a full-blown smile that warmed Willow's desolate heart. Deliberately she took the ring and put it on her index finger.
"Can we go someplace warmer?" Tara asked, grinning.
Tara had not often walked on the earth. She had observed it from the heavens for a millenia, but she had never been able to stride slowly down sidewalks in the sunshine, tasting ice cream, holding hands. She had never had a bubble bath, she had never eaten Chinese food.
She had never been in love.
That night, that most amazing night. Willow had shyly driven her home, and Buffy bowed out of their shared apartment, claiming some excuse or another. Tara barely noticed. She had eyes only for Willow. Willow, who drew her up the stairs to her bedroom. Willow, who deliciously divulged her of her clothing. Willow, who entered her with such passion and need it made Tara's whole existence worthwhile. She could still hear her own ecstatic cries as Willow relentlessly thrust into her, could feel the earth-shattering waves of her orgasm, riding a tidal wave of unimaginable lust. She could remember Willow's own response, as Tara's shy fingers pushed into her core, the way Willow clutched her breasts so tight, the little nips Willow's teeth left on her skin. Willow, her love.
She would often touch the ring on her finger, and marvel at the love Willow must have for her. Willow found the only magic that existed to trap a bolt of lightning. Willow had indeed ensnared her, and each new day, Tara woke next to the woman she loved and waited in breathless anticipation for what mortal marvels Willow would share next.
Like chocolate fondue. And sundogs. And massage oil.
ps. Salix lucida is the latin horticultural term for Shining Willow