The flatbed truck had virtually no suspension and Willow shifted for the tenth time in the past minute trying to ease the pain in her rear. She wriggled, jostling Tara who she held in her arms in front of her. Tara looked back over her shoulder at Willow with a rather annoyed expression on her face.
"Are you going to stop fidgeting? I'm getting chucked around enough by this truck let alone having you wriggle around beneath me like you've got ants in your pants," Tara snapped playfully.
"Well, lets just say this hasn't been the most comfortable ride across country ever," Willow sat forward, moving Tara with her.
The blonde eased herself up from her position lying against Willow and sat up as well. She swung her legs over the side of the truck, letting them jostle as the truck bounced along the road.
The two of them, along with Cherry who was miraculously sleeping on a pile of blankets, and Faith, were riding on the flatbed of a rather dilapidated truck. They were all heading west from New York, the truck loaded heavily with supplies for survivors they encountered along the way. The four of them were perched unceremoniously amongst sacks of flour, crates of canned food and tins of tea, coffee, sugar and other essentials which were all roped down tightly beneath canvas.
Willow glanced to the rear of the truck where Faith was perched, eyes staring out over the horizon. The once talkative brunette had barely said a word since they began their journey over a month earlier. Although she had been the first off the truck, helping to unload supplies and assist survivors they found in any way she could. She had worked with such ferocity that Willow and Tara thought that she would burn out quickly. A month later however, and she was still burning with the same intensity. When either of them had attempted to speak to her about Tad, she very quickly brushed them off, refusing to divulge any of her feelings.
Willow and Tara had a hidden agenda within their work with the relief effort, they were heading for Tara's family farm. No doubt it had long fallen into disrepair but Tara was ready to deal with her ghosts and start from scratch once more. Cherry was of course was coming with them...and Mrs Chippy too.
The sun was high in the sky of the farmland around them when they stopped for a much needed break. Here and there scorched earth testified that there had once been a war here, but otherwise it was peaceful.
Willow swung herself down from the truck, wincing slightly as her shoulder gave a twinge of protest. The nasty wound would continue to give her trouble for some time yet. She turned and helped Tara down with her good arm. The blonde was still on the thin and pale side but there was colour returning to her cheeks and strength as she pitched in to help survivors rebuild.
The truck stopping had woken Cherry from his slumber and he scrambled down from the truck. With a grin, he set Mrs Chippy down and went charging off towards a grassy field dotted with trees.
"Don't go too far you little rascal!" Willow scolded as Cherry's feet went flying over the grass, Mrs Chippy bounding along just behind him.
Tara laughed loudly and Willow rounded on the blond, retaining the stern expression on her face.
"What?" Willow placed her hands on her hips for added effect.
"You...you sound like a mother already."
"A mother?" the stern look melted away to be replaced by one of confusion, "Tara...I'm not a mother, I never will be..."
"Well, you could've fooled me. And Cherry...he certainly seems to think you've got the makings of a good one."
"This really is a changed world isn't it?" Willow remarked ruefully.
"Who would've thought," Faith had joined them, showing plenty of her tanned skin beneath the light vest she wore, "You guys are going to make one cosy little family up there in Oregon."
"You know, you're more than welcome to stay there with us," Tara offered honestly.
"I know," Faith replied quietly, her eyes becoming veiled for a few moments, "but there's a lot to be done out there before I settle down anywhere. I might take you up on that offer one day though."
"You'd better," Willow growled, the thought of losing touch with the other remaining member of her flying group made her feel sick to the stomach.
"Yeah well, I'll just wait until you guys have done all the hard yards. Besides, I thought Giles was coming to visit as well?"
"Yeah, he can't wait to get off that frozen rock...although Oregon in winter isn't much better," Tara smiled, she couldn't wait to see the scientist.
As Faith moved off to have a few moments of rest beneath a roadside tree, Tara scanned their surroundings and saw a playful river winding its way along through the countryside. She turned to Willow and wrinkled her nose.
"What?" the redhead asked, seeing the look on Tara's face.
"You're beginning to smell a bit ripe," Tara grinned.
Before an indignant Willow could clobber her, she began running towards the river. Willow quickly gave chase. The whole affair was like watching two snails have a race, neither could move very fast. Tara stripped off her jumper before easing herself into the cool water. Willow followed a few seconds later, pausing to strip down to her underwear. Both women were mindful of the fact that they were not particularly alone.
"Brrrr, it's chilly!" Willow protested as she waded in and sank up to her neck.
"Chicken!" Tara splashed a little water in Willow's direction.
Willow winced and moved a little way away from Tara whom she thought was feeling a little too mischievous for her own good. She kicked off from the rocky bottom and floated onto her back.
Silence reigned as her ears sank beneath the water. Her hair floated out in a halo surrounding her head. As she floated Willow gazed up at the sky to see it filled with puffy white clouds. In the days since the war had ended and the Juthungi had been wiped out, Willow had not given much thought to it. Now, it all came back to her. She remembered the sense of freedom and peace that she had felt when at the controls of an aircraft, the agility of her Draken and the fierce speed of her Guardian.
Willow slowly shut her eyes and found herself back in the cockpit. It was a simple Tiger Moth with an open cockpit where the air rushed past her goggled face. She kicked it into a steep turn and a lazy grin spread across her face.
"What are you grinning about?" Tara asked quietly in her ear, the blonde had floated over to her.
"I'm flying," Willow replied simply.
"Willow, you're floating in a river," Tara replied dryly.
An even broader grin spread across Willow's face, "I know."
She opened her eyes once more which brought her back down to earth. Out the corner of her eye she studied her beautiful blonde girlfriend and a thought came unbidden into her mind. When she dwelt on it, she realised that her new idea made complete sense.
"Tara...will you marry me?" Willow thoroughly enjoyed the sound of those words leaving her lips.
She let her feet touch the bottom once more and stood up, her eyes searching Tara's face for a hint of an answer. For an awful moment she thought that perhaps it had been an entirely inappropriate question and she had made a couple fool of herself.
"With all my heart yes," Tara could scarcely utter the words as she stared at Willow.
The redhead's face was slightly pinched and withdrawn with all the hardships they had been through. The wound on her shoulder was ragged and torn but her green eyes sparkled warmly in response.
"C'mere you devil you!" Tara laughed, stretching out her arms.
Willow went willingly to Tara, letting herself be enfolded in both her arms and drawn close. She gently bumped her nose against Tara's, rubbing it with her own teasingly.
"Do you think there ever was a war?" Willow asked quietly.
Tara looked back up the road at the military truck loaded high with supplies, then to the wound in Willow's shoulder and her own pale reflection in the waters surface, as well as the ghosts concealed by her gaze. All of them were signs that answered Willow's question.
"I think there was...a lifetime ago," Tara replied quietly.
"And our friends...the Slayers, the Devils, Alex, Tad and Buffy...they're really dead?"
"Will, we won't ever forget them..." Tara began quietly.
"I know," Willow whispered, moving forward to deposit a lavish kiss on Tara's lips, hungrily tasting her as though it were their last kiss.
"Are you getting saucy on me Mrs Maclay?" Tara teased, trying to banish all morbid thoughts from Willow's mind for that moment of togetherness.
Willow didn't take the bait, her pale brow wrinkled with concern, "Tara, will we be able to adjust to living peacefully, I mean, we've spent so much of our time together in the middle of a war...I'm worried that the intensity will be missing...what if I make a boring housewife?"
Tara growled, genuinely angry, she wrapped her arms fiercely around her lover as though reassuring her that the passion they had felt for one another was still very much present.
"Will, stop worrying about how you're going to live and just live!"
At that point in time Willow realised just how whiney she came across and smiled apologetically, "I'm a bit of a dunce aren't I?" she mumbled.
"The worst...and who said anything about being a housewife? You're going to be out on a horse rounding up all those cattle that are bound to be running wild!" Tara said it with glee but Willow's face fell instantly.
"Horses? We are going to ride horses? Tara...no, I hate horses..." Willow spluttered.
The truck's horn blared insistently and both Willow and Tara looked up to see Cherry waving at them. It was already time to get back on the road. With Tara at her heels Willow waded reluctantly out of the river and gathered up the clothes she had strewn about the place. Tara picked up her hand and gripped it tightly as they began the walk back to the road.
"You can ride with me...at least until you get the hang of it and then you'll be on your own," Tara reassured her, "Just in case you were in doubt about how much I love you."
"Great," Willow muttered, although her voice was playful, "I guess I love you too...meanie."
They walked back to the truck hand in hand to continue the journey which was going to herald the start of their new life together. In the shadow of a ruined world and the wake of so much death and destruction, Willow and Tara were starting their new life together.
Captain Red had finally got her girl, and she'd already proved that they could walk through the fires of hell...now horses were a different matter altogether...