Review @ Katherine-Magnolia
CHAPTER 7 : FIRST KISS
Tara tilted her head to one side as Willow babbled, because that was what the red-head was doing. It was as adorable as ever, but there was something more to it this time. A genuine desire to get across what she was trying to say. And when she finished Tara nearly melted right into the bed. "I just wanted something that's, you know, mine," Willow said, her eyes shimmering with something Tara hadn't seen before. "And I usually don't use this many words to say something so little, but do you get it at all?"
"I do," Tara said honestly, warmth suffusing her body. Her mind raced to put into words what she was feeling before this warm, oddly perfect moment passed.
"I better check in with Giles," Willow said quickly, standing and starting away. "Get a situation update."
When Willow was at the door, Tara found her voice. "I am, you know," she said, surprised at just how steady her voice was.
Tara turned to look at Willow, her blue eyes shimmering in the light. "Yours." And she knew, in that precise moment, that all she was ever going to be in the years to come was Willow's. The warm, happy smile that came to Willow's face let her know that the red-head felt the same way more than words ever could have.
"Ugh, I'm so glad that's over with!" Willow exclaimed as she threw herself down on Tara's bed, burying her face in the sweetly-scented pillow. "I don't think I've used that much energy up in my life, or if I could do it again." The bed creaked a little as Tara settled in beside Willow, her knee brushing against the red-head's side. Despite her self-proclaimed exhaustion, Willow couldn't keep a shiver from running through her body. The spell that they had done the previous night kept running through her head and she was honestly afraid of the emotions that had been unleashed by it. Even with Oz, and once again there was no twinge or sense of remorse at thinking his name, things hadn't been like this without so much as a kiss.
"Y-you'll be able to again," Tara assured her, a smile in her voice. "More than that, even. Y-you'll be better than me."
Willow sat up, blinking rapidly to keep from gasping when she found her face not an inch from Tara's. For a moment she forgot what it had been she wanted to say, Tara had a way of doing that to her. "Ummm... oh! You don't have to say that to make me feel better, I'm just happy to be able to do spells with you." Tara's crooked smile made her heart flutter, her fingers practically itched with need to at least brushed those lips. "Have I thanked you yet for noticing that Buffy wasn't herself?" No! Willow berated herself, breaking eye-contact with Tara. That's not the right thing to say at all. Stupid, stupid, stupid-
"N-no problem." Soft, warm fingers slipped under Willow's chin and lifted until Willow was gazing at Tara's dark blue eyes again, caught like a moth drawn to the flame. "I'll a-always be here to help y-you."
Now or never, Willow told herself, feeling like she was awash in the sweet scent that was Tara as she leaned forward and tilted her head a little. "You'd better be," she whispered just before she pressed her lips against Tara's.
Pure electricity seemed to ripple from where her lips were pressed to Tara's, shooting through her entire body. She tried to think of what it felt like, but her thoughts were too jumbled, too focused on Tara. Her fingers had somehow become tangled in the heavy silk that was Tara's hair and she could feel warm fingers caressing her neck in all the right places. A whimper escaped from her lips when Tara pulled back, but it was soon replaced by a gasp of realization. What if she had read all the signs wrong? What if Tara hadn't wanted to kiss her? Tears were swimming in her emerald orbs when she looked at Tara and whispered, "I'm sorry."
Tara shook her head, pressing a slender finger against Willow's mouth. "No," she said, her voice shaking but clear. "Don't be sorry, Willow, I've wanted that since I meant you." Warmth suffused Willow's body once more and a smile spread across her face in reply to Tara's crooked grin. It was then that Willow realized Tara's other hand was still resting against her neck, caressing the tender skin there gently. She couldn't stop from leaning into that a little, her eyes drifting shut as something akin to a purr drifted from her mouth. "It's just that you're exhausted, I can see it in your eyes, and you need your rest. I don't want you to overexert yourself, we do have classes tomorrow."
Willow's eyes snapped open, an incredulous look on her face. "You have got to be kidding," she said, untangling her hands so that she could cup Tara's face in her hands. "I finally work up the nerve to kiss you and you're worried about me being too tired? Sometimes I wonder if you're all here." She pulled Tara's face closer and kissed her again, harder this time, as though to prove to the other woman that she wasn't too tired at all.
But Tara pulled away again, despite Willow's growl of protest, and fixed her with one of those serious looks. "Will, I'm not going anywhere, I'll still be here in the morning," she promised, still stroking Willow's neck. "Let's get some sleep and we can pick up where we left up tomorrow."
Knowing that once Tara had her mind set it wasn't easily changed, even when Willow was the one trying, the red-head sighed. "Alright," she agreed grudgingly, sliding herself under the covers with a pout on her face. "But only because I know you're as exhausted as I am."
Tara smiled and kissed her on the forehead before flicking the light off and slipping under the covers behind her, wrapping her arms around Willow and drawing her close. "Mmmm, Willow-hair," Tara murmured, nuzzling Willow's head gently.
Willow smiled in the dark and twined her arms around Tara's, still amazed by her own boldness in finally kissing her. "Mmmm, Tara-arms," she replied, her voice heavy with sleep despite her earlier protests. Soon, the sound of Tara's breathing lulling her, she was fast asleep.
CHAPTER 8 : ROUGH & TUMBLE
When Tara began to wake up she kept her eyes closed, not wanting to be in the world where she didn't know if Willow felt the same about her as she did her. She had had the most wonderful dream. In it, Willow had actually kissed her and might have kept on going if Tara hadn't stopped her. Wait, she thought, mind still clouded from sleep. Her arms were wrapped around a warm body and she could smell the mix of warm ginger and cinnamon that always came from Willow. Tara opened her eyes slowly, her heart nearly beating right out of her chest when she found herself looking at Willow's sleeping face. It wasn't a dream! she realized in a rush. Slowly, as though she were afraid that she might wake up and find herself alone, Tara brushed a lock of Willow's hair behind her ear and kissed her forehead tenderly.
"Mmmm," Willow murmured, burrowing her face into Tara's neck. "Yep, you're still here after all."
"Told you I would be," Tara replied, pulling back and smiling. "Up for some breakfast?"
"Under one condition," Willow said, the corners of her mouth tugging upwards in a small smile. She leaned her forehead against Tara's. "Kiss me, and I'll have breakfast with you."
Tara obliged with a small, sweet kiss. "Morning breath," she said, pointing to herself and making a face. Willow pouted at her but she didn't give in, rolling out of bed instead. "I have class in an hour, Will."
"If nothing else comes up tonight after the Bronze, I am so claiming time with you," Willow informed her. "Deal?"
"Deal." Tara replied, tossing a pillow at Willow's head. "Now get up and get dressed or I'll go to breakfast without you."
"You would not," Willow said, tossing the pillow back. "I'm too cute and irresistible."
Tara couldn't argue with that, but she could and did do something to make sure that Willow was fully awake. She sat back on the edge of the bed and leaned in, the hopeful look on Willow's face clearly showing what she thought was coming. "Yes you are," Tara agreed, grinning as she started to tickle the red-head until she jumped out of the bed, letting out little squeaks of indignation. "Now come on."
Willow waved at Buffy when she came in through the door with her free hand, clutching tightly to Tara's with the other. "Everyone's here now," she said cheerfully, settling back into her chair and turning a radiant smile on Tara. "Soon as she gets over do you wanna dance with me? I swear that I'm not bad at it."
Tara smiled crookedly. "Of course, I-I don't t-think you could do anyt-thing bad t-though." Of course her stammer was showing through a little, Willow realized, she had never been around Anya and Xander before. But she'll be okay, everyone will love her.
"Hey Will," Buffy said as she slid into a chair at the table. Willow noticed that Riley hesitated a moment before taking the seat beside her. So things are still like that... "I see that you managed to get Tara to come to the Bronze with us. Tell me, is for the Scoobies or just because Andrew's the one performing?"
"Who wouldn't c-come for Andrew?" Tara asked as she stood up. "But you are all a v-very good bonus." For a moment Willow was afraid that everyone had taken Tara seriously, but then Xander started to laugh and it created a chain reaction. The only one who didn't join in was Riley, but that didn't bother Willow at all. He had never really felt like a part of the gang to her.
Smiling in relief, of course everyone liked Tara, Willow nodded towards the dance floor. "I promised this talented young witch a dance, so if you'll excuse us." Not waiting for an answer, though the only one she probably would have gotten would have come from Xander, Willow grabbed Tara's hand and pulled her into the midst of the dancing. "Well that's better," she whispered, grinning as she started to dance. The music was absolutely perfect and, somehow, Tara seemed to know exactly how she was going to move next and went right along with it. "You're a better dancer than Oz," Willow informed her a little later, her hands having somehow found their way to the blonde's waist. As though the music knew what she had in mind, it slowed down. All the surrounding people coupled up, hardly enough space between any of their bodies to slide a penny.
Tara tilted her head a little, as though asking for permission to dance that close. Willow's reply was to slide her hands to the small of Tara's back and pulled the other young woman up against her, smiling at the small gasp that it got her. "I have to do something with Buffy after this," she informed Tara as they started to sway together. "And I fully expect to get a pretty good dance if I don't get to see you tonight."
"No problem," Tara whispered, surprising Willow by leaning in and pressing her lips against her own. For a moment Willow was afraid that Buffy, or Xander or one of the hundred other people would see her, but that moment passed quicker than it had come and she just let herself enjoy the kiss and the feel of Tara's arms around her. Somehow, Tara's mouth was warmer and smoother than the rest of her body, the feel of it sending shivers down Willow's back that she doubted would ever stop. Or maybe that was just because Tara was just holding her up with one arm now, her other hand having found its way back to all those tender little places on Willow's neck. The red-head didn't think that she had ever had a kiss this good.
"It's a good thing you were holding me up," Willow giggled when Tara pulled back at last, a crooked grin on her face. "Otherwise I probably would have fallen down!"
"Are you saying I'm a good kisser?" Tara asked.
"No," Willow replied, taking Tara's hand and starting back for the table. "I'm saying that you, little miss witch, are a fantastic kisser."
"Why thank you, you're not so bad yourself," Tara said, lifting Willow's hand up to kiss it softly before the crowd parted and gave them a clear view of the Scoobies.
"How was the dancing?" Anya asked when the two sat back down, one eyebrow raised suspiciously.
"Wonderful," Willow replied, still grinning like an idiot. Who cared if Anya had seen, or even just guessed at what had happened? It didn't matter. All that mattered right then was Tara. Willow placed her chin in her hands and smiled at the blonde, not noticing as Xander and Anya began to smile, nor that Buffy and Riley had gotten up to dance. Else wise she might have wondered why Buffy was keeping up the act of actually caring for him. But no, right then she was practically floating on cloud nine, and just because of a kiss...
"Oh my god, he's going to do something off the new album," Tara said suddenly, jarring Willow out of her dreamy state. She turned in the direction Tara was facing and a different sort of grin slid on her face. Sure enough, it looked like Jonathon was about to start performing.
Walking home Willow felt more than a little crest-fallen, though she did her best to keep it hidden. She had half-hoped that Buffy would forget that she had promised to help patrol, so that she could go with Tara, but after what had happened it didn't look very likely. Tara was the one who said it, though. "So I guess you have to go fight this thing, huh?"
"All the weapons are at Giles', it won't take long-"
"No go," Buffy said suddenly, interrupting Willow's explanation.
"Did you just go no go?" she asked, more than a little confused.
Buffy shook her head. "Jonathan did. Said it's some kind of brainless beastie. He's gonna take care of it himself."
"Oh," Willow said, shrugging. "Cool. So does that mean I-"
"I guess. It was a little... I don't know," Buffy said, interrupting Willow again. "For a second I thought he looked... like... scared."
"Um, Buffy, this is Jonathan. You know he doesn't get scared. You talked about it when you gave him the Class Protector Award at the Prom." Willow shook her head and rolled her eyes at Tara. Sometimes Buffy could be a little forgetful when it came to things that didn't deal directly with Slaying.
Willow tried to ignore the fork in the path they had just come to, thinking that if she didn't acknowledge it then Tara wouldn't say she had to turn down it. "Um- my exit," Tara said with a little wave, shattering Willow's illusion. "Willow, I'll see you tomorrow."
"Okay," Willow replied, returning Tara's smile. She reached out and placed her hand on the blonde's shoulder as she started away, letting it drift down as Tara continued to walk, squeezing her hand warmly when they connected. "Bye," she whispered, standing and watching until Tara made it a little farther up the path. Then she turned and started walking with Buffy, her mind filled with the vanilla and herb scent that was Tara. Not a minute later she started to babble to Buffy about the Bronze that night, dancing, classes... each and everything last thing that popped into her mind spilled out her mouth. Willow got that way when she was feeling good.
"W-w-w-willow?" Tara asked, her voice trembling as hard as she was. She was holding the phone to her ear, but just barely, having been put in her bed by the janitor who had found her in his closet not even five minutes ago.
"Tara?" Willow asked, her voice sleepy but obviously concerned. "What's wrong? Are you okay? What happened?"
"C-c-can y-you c-come o-over?" Tara asked, fighting to keep her stammer away but failing miserably. Not that it mattered right then. All that she cared about was getting Willow there and telling her what had happened, and then Buffy, because Jonathon hadn't taken care of it after all. She was bloody, bruised, and terrified because that thing had attacked her. If she hadn't been so scared, then Tara would have gone looking for Jonathon, no matter how wonderful he was.
"I'll be there as soon as I can," Willow promised. "Just... stay there. I'll be there soon. Okay, Tara, okay?"
"Okay," Tara replied, waiting to hang up until she heard the click on the other end. She sat on the edge of her bed, arms wrapped tightly around herself as she waited for Willow to arrive.
She didn't have to wait long. Before another five minutes had passed the door opened and Willow flew in, all of the blood draining out of her face when she saw Tara. "Oh goddess!" she cried, shutting and locking the door before running to kneel in front of Tara, grasping her hands as she examined everything she could see. "Tara, oh my Tara, what did this to you?" she asked, her voice practically throbbing with concern.
If she hadn't been so scared and hurt, then Tara would have smiled at how much Willow obviously cared. But that would have to come later. She explained, her stammer slowly vanishing, what had happened after she had parted ways with Willow and Buffy. "Then the janitor found me, brought me here, a-and I called you."
Willow stood up and kissed Tara on top of the head. "Lie down," she instructed, her voice trembling. "I'm going to get you cleaned up, I'm going to call Buffy, and we're going to figure out what happened to you. And then we're going to make sure that it never does it again. No one messes with my girl." From the way her green eyes flashed, Tara knew that she meant every word of what she said.
"Your girl?" Tara asked as she laid on her side, curling up a little because, despite everything, she was still scared.
Willow nodded firmly as she rummaged through the drawer. "That's right, my girl," she said, finding what she needed to clean Tara's wounds. "Do you have a problem with that, miss rough and tumble?"
Tara shook her head, giving herself over to Willow's gentle administrations. "Not at all."
Tara stirred from the restless sleep she had fallen into while Willow tended to her cuts when she heard a pounding on the door. "No!" she cried, starting to back away. "Don't let it-"
"Shhhh, Tara," Willow said reassuringly, her eyes filled with concern as she grasped Tara's wrists to keep her from sliding off the bed. "It's okay, really, I'm here and I won't let anything happen to you. It's just Buffy, okay?" Tara hesitated, but she knew that Willow would never lie to her, so she nodded and lay back down, trembling even worse.
"Willow, what's going on?" she heard Buffy ask. "I got here as soon as I could." Judging by the silence that came, followed by an exclamation, Buffy had caught sight of her. Then they were standing beside the bed, looking down at her. Well, Willow had knelt beside her again, continuing to clean out the wounds and bandage them up.
"She's going to be okay," Willow told Buffy, her voice trembling almost as much as Tara was, though her hands kept steady. "But she's terrified." Tara wanted to reach over and stroke Willow's hair, tell her not to worry so much, but she couldn't.
"What happened, what did this?" Buffy asked.
But Willow continued on like she hadn't heard her, "Someone found her in the janitor's closet about an hour ago. I think she was there all night. All alone." Tara opened her eyes and was surprised when she saw tears forming in Willow's pretty green eyes.
"Don't cry," she whispered, reaching out with one trembling hand to brush against Willow's cheek. Willow reached up and took Tara's hand in her own, kissing the top of it fiercely before consenting to just cradle it against her chest.
"Tara, what did this?" Buffy asked, not seeming to see just how upset Willow was by all of this.
"Big. Lumpy. And it had a thing on its head. Like a Greek letter, only not," Tara said, telling Buffy all that she could remember. The fact that Buffy hadn't noticed the tear that had leaked from Willow's eye annoyed her a little, but she grudgingly conceded that the monster might be a bigger problem for the Slayer.
"This?" Buffy asked, holding up a piece of paper with the same insignia as the one on the monster's forehead on it. "Was it this?" Tara nodded, wondering how Buffy had known what it looked like.
"Buffy," Willow said, her voice still strained. "Jonathon said we were safe! Jonathon said it." if she hadn't still felt as weak, then Tara would have cradled the red-head, because she was obviously just as frightened as Tara. Except there was obvious anger mixed in with it, and the desire to get revenge.
"I guess... I guess he made a mistake," Buffy said, sounding completely unconvinced.
"He doesn't make mistakes. Remember the SATs? He got a perfect score and then he recreated the original proof of Fermat's last theorem in the margins around the answer bubbles!" Willow babbled, squeezing Tara's hand tightly.
"You're right," Buffy admitted, a confused look on her face. "He doesn't make mistakes."
Right then, Tara honestly didn't care about Jonathon. All she wanted to do was go to sleep and rest so that she would be strong enough to prove to Willow that she was alright, so that the red-head wouldn't be so miserable about her. "I feel so vulnerable," she whispered in Willow's ear, not wanting Buffy to hear. "But that doesn't mean you have to worry."
Willow turned, an incredulous look on her face. "Didn't you hear me earlier?" she demanded, her voice just as quiet as Tara's had been. "You are my girl, and I can worry about you whenever I think that it's necessary. And, right now, I think it's necessary. Okay? Okay."
Willow settled down next to Tara as all of the Scoobies gathered around a tree, smiling at the blonde witch. Tara returned the smile, grateful that everything was back to normal at last. Sure, she was still a little bruised from her encounter, but other than that everything was okay. Even better was how she was actually starting to feel comfortable with Buffy, Anya, and Xander. Riley was a completely different story, but she couldn't quite put her finger on why she didn't think that the young man fit. Maybe it was because Willow had told her that Buffy didn't really like him.
"I am glad that you made a full recovery, Tara," Anya said from her place beside Xander.
"Yeah," Xander added in, lying down with his head in Anya's lap. "Now you know what it's like to be one of us. Consider it an admissions test of sorts. Next time you just have to come running to me so that I can rescue you with all of my manly muscles." He lifted one arm to flex and prove that he could be considered manly. Anya was the only one who looked genuinely impressed, though Riley tried.
"Stop it, Xander," Buffy said, tossing a twig at him.
Tara smiled at all of them, then turned to face Willow when the red-head placed a hand on her knee. "Stopped worrying?" Tara asked.
"Pretty much," Willow replied. "Until the next time something happens, of course."
CHAPTER 9 : REALLY , REALLY BIG PONIES
Willow tried very hard to keep a straight face when she asked, "How many kids?" Xander was telling them about what he had done earlier with Anya, or almost done, in the ice cream truck. He needs to do things like this when, say, I'm having a bad day. It'd definitely cheer me up.
"I dunno," Xander replied, looking extremely sheepish. "A whole herd of them, and some parents to boot. It was kind of embarrassing, which, welcome to life with Anya."
"So you don't even know if she's coming tonight," Tara said, twirling a small quartz crystal between her fingers. She was focused on the crystal, but Willow could see the small smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. The blonde witch was definitely as amused as Willow by Xander's story.
Xander held his hands up in an infamous 'I don't know' gesture. "I'm thinking no. She was... pretty upset. Which makes me wonder, is it me? Am I the crazy one?" Willow looked over to Tara and they both shrugged, having no good reply. Well, that and Willow knew that if she opened her mouth she'd probably start to laugh. And Xander looked miserable enough as it was without being laughed at by one of his best friends.
"Uh-huh," Buffy said distractedly, staring down at her new wallet. "Absolutely." She pulled a small square of what looked like photo paper out a little ways, a half-smile on her face.
Deciding to take full advantage of Buffy's not-paying-attention state, Willow said, "Hey, Buffy, this might be a good time to mention that someone, so not me, spilled something purply on your new peasant top which I would never borrow without asking. Still love me?" She was a little curious about what the Slayer was looking at, but this was too good of a chance to pass up. That, and she had a bit of an idea that it might have been a picture of Faith. She did not want to open that mess of trouble up when she was in such a good mood.
"Uh-huh," Buffy replied.
Willow looked over at Tara again and this time, both of them started to giggle. A Buffy who didn't care about one of her items of clothing was even more amusing than a Xander who'd nearly had sex with Anya in front of a bunch of kids.
Buffy looked between Willow and Tara, looking as though she might have actually heard the question, and asked, "What about my peasant top?"
"Nothin'," Willow said, stifling her giggles.
"Xander was just talking about Anya," Tara added in to lead the conversation away from the top. Willow gave her a grateful smile before turning her attention back to the other Scoobies, wishing that she had sat closer to the Wiccan so that she could have leaned up against her. But still, it looked like it was going to be a good day.
Tara settled onto the stairs next to Willow, far more comfortable than she had been standing with all those people trying to talk to her. She had come because Willow wanted her to, and because it had sounded like fun, but she still didn't have to like being surrounded by people she didn't even know. "You should come horseback riding with me sometime," she said suddenly, realizing that she had no idea if Willow even knew how to ride a horse.
"Horses," Willow said, her green eyes huge, "like big, tall, teeth that can take your arm off horses?" She held her arm out and mimed losing it.
"Well, sure. I learned to ride when I was a kid, it's fun." Tara smiled at the memories, some of the best ones she had from her childhood, of her mother teaching her. Her very first pony, and it had been just hers since Donny hated riding, had been named Chubby. Not very inventive, but she had only been six at the time. "And, by the way, most horses don't like the arm very much."
Willow shifted. "I had a bad birthday party pony thing when I was four. I, I look at horses and I see really big ponies." She looked nervous, almost uncomfortable, and Tara tilted her head a little.
"You should ride with me sometime," she said, deciding to try for getting Willow over her fear rather than just giving up. And... it would be kind of like a date. I'd like to go on a horseback riding date with her. Just us. A slightly dreamy look entered her eyes. "I guarantee safety and fun."
She got the reaction that she had been hoping for when Willow smiled. "Well... if you promise you'll look after me."
Tara returned the smile. "I'll always look after you, Willow, you know that."
Willow giggled. "Yeah I do." The red-head reached over and placed her hand on Tara's knee, rubbing softly. "That's why I'll risk the really, really big ponies for you."
Tara wanted to smile back, but she was suddenly overcome with a feeling of absolute disgust and revulsion. She jumped back. "Don't touch me!" The frown on Willow's face made her want to say sorry, but she couldn't shake the feeling of disgust, so she stood up and brushed at her knee. "That's... just disgusting." No! her mind screamed at her as Willow stood, looking even more confused. It's not disgusting, it's wonderful! Willow's starting to touch me for no real reason at all! We were flirting! There's nothing wrong with this! But her body just wasn't agreeing, and her mouth seemed more connected to her body than her mind.
"Tara... what's the matter?" Willow asked, concern and worry mixing between her face and eyes.
"I don't, I d-don't know," Tara panted, starting to feel as though she had just run for a really long time.
"I'm sorry, I-I didn't mean to ... are-are you feeling okay?" Willow asked, a stammer in her voice just like the one that Tara had had around her at first.
"I'm f-fine, I just wanna ...," Tara said, pointing up the stairs "go to the bathroom ..." And then she ran up them, leaving an extremely confused Willow behind.
When she reached the bathroom she closed the door and leaned back against it, a sheen of sweat coating her face. "What is wrong with me?" she asked the empty room, the feeling of disgust having faded away. "I like Willow, a lot! I should be excited about this, that she practically agreed to go on a date with me!" She crossed her arms in front of her chest as a sudden chill filled the room. There's something weird going on here, she thought as she heard the sound of water dripping coming from the tub. Guess I get to play Scooby and figure out what it is...
"I'm a little jealous," Willow admitted the next afternoon. She and Tara were settled underneath a large oak near the middle of campus to enjoy the beautiful day while finishing up their homework.
"Of Buffy?" Tara asked, pulling out her sketchpad. She was personally relieved that they had all gotten out of it with nothing more than emotional damage, which was nothing new for any of them. If anything, the weekend had been a little on the calm side. Except for the part where Willow had sort of agreed to go on a sort of date with her, and then that really weird part where she had jumped away from the red-head because it had felt wrong... but now Willow was resting her head on Tara's shoulder and nothing in the world had felt more right.
"Kinda, sorta... yeah. Not of who she was with!" She added hastily, seeing Tara's eyebrow go up. "I mean, if she hadn't of been influenced by the house then I'm sure that she never would have slept with Riley. Especially not for that long. But you have to admit that it would be... interesting to be that..." She made a motion with her hands and Tara couldn't help but laugh.
"You'd want to have a non-stop sex-fest?" Tara asked, using the phrase that Anya had before the two left the Scooby meeting. The look on Willow's face was completely worth it despite the blush that tinged Tara's cheeks.
"Maybe someday," Willow said a couple of minutes later, her cheeks still a little pink. "But that's not... what... okay, maybe it is what I meant, but that's not the point!"
"Oh no?" Tara asked, twining a lock of Willow's short hair around her finger. "Then what was the point, Willow?" She was delighted at having gotten such a good reaction out of the red-head, but she had a feeling that she might be able to get even more if she tried just a little harder.
"This," Willow replied, leaning forward to brush her lips against Tara's. She pulled back, a wicked smile on her lips, before nuzzling into Tara's neck again. "Mmmm, Tara neck."
It took a couple of seconds, but then Tara was able to remember how to talk. "Mmmm, Willow hair," she murmured, breathing in the scent that was uniquely Willow. She reveled in the scent of the red-head before turning back to her drawing.
CHAPTER 10 : SKETCH
Willow's heart sped up a little when she saw a very familiar woman sitting with her back against a tree, pencil speeding over the large white pad on her lap. She stopped where she was, maybe twenty yards away, and just looked at her. She hadn't had the chance to just watch Tara for over a month, and she was realizing that she missed that.
"Heya Wil!" Xander called, waving with the arm that wasn't slung around Anya's shoulders. Apparently the little tiff that they had had the previous week had blown over.
Too bad, Willow thought as she smiled in reply. "Hey Xander," she said, resettling her backpack on her shoulders. "What're you guys up to?"
"Not much, just heading over to, ah... I meant..." Xander turned slightly pink as he searched for the right words, causing Willow's smile to grow.
"We were going to have sex," Anya chipped in. "What are you doing?"
"Uhhh..." Willow stammered for a reply, stumped as always by Anya's very blunt way of saying things. She waved her hand over in the direction of the tree Tara was sitting against. "Tara. I was, I was going to, uh, hang out with Tara."
"Looked to me like you were just standing there," Xander said quickly, glad that attention was no longer being called to what he and Anya had been on their way to do. "Why don't you head on over. And don't forget, she's coming to our next meeting!" With that, he reslung his arm over Anya's shoulder, pointed his finger at her like a gun, and turned away.
When Willow turned she saw that Tara had spotted her and was waving her over, that familiar half-smile setting off butterflies in her stomach. "It looks like you were enjoying yourself," Tara said once Willow reached her, smiling up at her for a moment before she returned her attention to the sketchpad on her lap.
"Oh yeah, you know me and Anya," Willow said, plopping down on her stomach. "All happy with the buddy-buddy bonding..." When Tara snickered she continued, "Really, how can anyone be like that? Sure she's an ex-demon and like, a thousand years old, but can't she be more, well, normal?"
"Willow, nothing about these people is normal," Tara said absently, reaching over with her left hand to play with a lock of Willow's hair. "N-not in a bad way, but you know, you go ar-round slaying demons and chatting with v-vampires. Not your everyday college student activity."
"Point," Willow conceeded, propping herself up on her elbows to try peering at whatever it was Tara was drawing. "Whatcha working on?" She reached out, intending on pulling the pad away, and was surprised when Tara shut it with surprising speed.
"Nope," Tara said, her hands holding the sketchpad firmly. "That's a surprise, and you'd ruin it if you saw."
Willow pouted at her, lower lip trembling adoringly and was surprised yet again when Tara resisted. "Awww, come on, Tara," she pleaded, tugging at the blonde's shirtsleeve. "Just one little peek? I'll even close one eye, so that it's a smaller than normal peek."
But still Tara resisted, though a smile was beginning to tug at the corner of her mouth again. So Willow persisted, finally deciding that physical force would be necessary in order to get what she wanted.
"No tickling!" Tara shrieked when Willow's hands found their way to the blonde's sensitive sides, tickling her mercilessly. The sketchpad slid several feet away on the grass, but it was forgotten as Willow sat on Tara's legs to keep her from standing, ducking her flying hands as she continued her attack.
Soon enough Tara managed to slip her hands past Willow's to counter the tickling. "Oh no, none of that!" Willow declared, taking Tara's wrists in her own and pinning them onto the ground, her nose almost brushing Tara's as she forced the blonde onto her back, still giggling. "I declare myself queen of the tickling!"
"So am I your prisoner?" Tara asked, arching an eyebrow. She was still laughing, a little breathless from all of it.
"Yes, you are my prisoner." Willow touched her nose against Tara's, rubbing lightly. "Eskimo..." her voice trailed off when she saw the look in Tara's deep blue eyes, the mood suddenly changing from playful to electric.
"I-I've been that since I first tou-uched your hand," Tara whispered, no longer straining to break free of Willow's hold. "You never needed to h-hold me..."
Willow swallowed hard, a lump suddenly taking up residence in her throat, making it impossible for her to say anything. How lucky am I? she thought suddenly, looking down into Tara's face and seeing something there that was more intense and so different than anything she had ever seen in Oz's that it scared her even as it exhilirated her. "Tara..." she managed to say, even as she leaned down to brush her lips against Tara's, her eyes closed to keep her hidden from that look that threatened to burn her up on the spot.
But even that look wasn't as intense as feeling the softness of Tara's lips, the rough warmth of her tongue as it played over her lips, begging the entrance that Willow granted without hesitation. Nor could it burn as fiercely, leave as dark a mark, as the velvety heat of Tara's mouth when Willow finally built up the courage to twine her tongue around and then past Tara's. She wasn't sure how much longer she could last with this kiss without burning up, but it was such a wonderful feeling that she didn't want it to stop...
At last, when Willow was starting to think that maybe she would lose herself to the exquisite agony, Tara pulled away, her gentle hands cupping Willow's face. There was such a longing in her eyes that it jolted Willow, causing her to be struck suddenly with the knowledge of why this kiss had touched her so deeply. Her entire body was practically screaming for the touch of those gentle hands, she wanted to see blue fire dancing in those eyes and, more than anything else, she wanted to watch as waves of ectasy danced across Tara's body and face.
"Tara, I - Buffy!" Willow yelped in surprise when she saw a familiar pair of shoes approaching. She scrambled to her feet instantly, face going scarlet as she brushed at her clothes to get bits of grass off of it. How long had Buffy been standing there? How much had she seen? I'm not ready for this! Willow thought frantically, trying to come up with a reason for why she had been laying on top of Tara, looking at her like she had been. I'm not ready to tell all of them about me and Tara, about what I think that I am... I haven't thought it out, come up with the reasons, put words to what I feel for her, for how different it is from Oz, how different she is... how wonderful she is.
"Hey Wil, Tara," Buffy said cheerfully, flipping her hair back over her shoulder. "I didn't expect to see you guys here. What're you up to?"
"We're just hanging out," Willow said quickly, "you know, talking, watching people go by, trying to decide what to wear to our next slaying party with the spirts of repressed children walking around or making our friends have non stop sex-"
Buffy cut her off with a laugh, echoed by Tara. "You're babbling," Tara said fondly. "W-we were just sit-ting, Buffy. Taking a break."
"Well I'm just passing by, so I'll catch you guys later. Wil, try to tone it down on the caffeine before it puts you right up through the roof." Buffy gave a little wave before walking off.
"I don't think she saw us," Willow gushed, relieved. "I mean, you don't think she did, do you? Because I don't, she would have talked different or stood different or said something. You think she would've said something if she'd seen us kissing, don't you? I'm not sure-"
"You're babbling again," Tara said, placing her hand on Willow's knee. That contact somehow calmed Willow more than anything. "She didn't s-see us."
Something in Tara's voice, and the way she wouldn't look right at her, told Willow that something was wrong. "Tara?" she said, reaching out to touch the blonde's hand lightly. "Is something wrong? Did I say something?"
"W-will you ever tell them?" Tara asked quietly. "Will there ev-ver be anything to t-tell?"
"Yes," Willow said firmly. "I mean, I'm not ready now, obviously, but I will be. I'm going to think of how best to say it, who to say it too first, all of that. I just, uh, don't know how or when yet." Tara still wasn't looking at her, so she placed her fingers under the blonde's chin and lifted until she was looking into those pretty blue eyes. "There will be something to tell, Tara. You... I..." She sighed, frustrated that she couldn't find the words to express how wonderful Tara made her feel. "You make me feel special, and there's more, but the words won't come out of my mouth like they are in my head, you know?"
Tara smiled then, a full, beautiful smile that always made Willow feel like she had turned to melting wax. She tugged at Willow's arm until she was sitting down again, resting her head on her chest with a tiny sigh of contentment. "I know," was all she said, and all that she needed to.
They sat there together, content to not say a word, until the sun went down.
CHAPTER 11 : STEAL MY WORLD
Tara wasn't sure what was more exciting; the fact that she had actually been invited to a Scoobie meeting or the fact that she was, in essence, being accepted into Willow's group of friends. Not that she had much time to dwell on it, she was walking to Giles' with Willow and the red-head had just knocked on her door.
"Ready?" Willow asked, bouncing in place.
"Ready," Tara agreed, stepping out and locking her door. She smiled as she took in Willow's green skirt, she had been the one to buy it for her, and they started off in silence.
I should probably ask if she's allergic to cats, Tara thought, remembering the kitten she had seen in the pet store. She had always wanted one and she was willing to risk keeping it her room. She just wasn't willing to get one if Willow happened to be allergic. Or worse, just didn't like them. "Do you like cats?" she asked suddenly, breaking the silence.
"More of a dog person myself," Willow replied, causing Tara's smile to fade a little. "Oh, but I'm not like "death to all cats!" or anything. They can be very much with the cuteness. Why?"
"'Cause I was thinking about getting one," Tara said.
"Can you have one in the dorms?"
"Well... no, not exactly. But this would be a sneaky cat."
"That would be cool!" Willow exclaimed, a smile lighting her face. "You mean it'd sort of be like a familiar?"
"Actually, I was thinking it would be more a pet. You know... we could name her Miss Kitty Fantastico, or something less strange."
"And we could make kitty go bonkers with string and catnip and stuff?" Willow practically bounced at the last bit. For someone who liked dogs more, she sure seemed excited about the idea of a cat.
"Absolutely, you can do whatever you want." Like I could say no to that face.
"Fun. I'm in."
"So - you're not a-allergic, or anything?" Tara asked, wanting to make sure. She didn't want Willow getting all watery-eyed or sneezy every time she came into Tara's room.
Willow shook her head. "Nope."
"Good," Tara said, her voice softening as she tilted her head. "'Cause I want my room to be Willow friendly."
"Me too." Willow brushed her hand against Tara's and she took it gladly, feeling as though she were about to burst. Here she was, in the middle of a park full of people on her way to a Scoobie meeting, holding hands with the girl she had fallen hard for the first time they had talked.
"What do you think would be a good name?" Tara asked, trying to distract herself from the feelings of warmth welling up inside. Kissing Willow now probably wouldn't be the best of ideas, not with Buffy and Riley visible up ahead.
"I dunno." Willow shrugged and side-stepped so that she could rest her head on Tara's shoulder, looking up at her with adorably wide green eyes. "I like Miss. Kitty Fantastico, but you really can't decide until you get her. What if she doesn't look like a Miss? It'd be horrible to go around all the time with people calling you by a name that just doesn't fit."
"Good point." Tara quickly kissed the top of Willow's head before adding, "So I'm excited about the Scoobie meeting. It's like, I being accepted in with all of your friends for real, officially. I think. What's it about?"
"Oh, I'm not sure," Willow replied, lifting her head up with a sigh, but tightening her grip on Tara's hand. "Probably just your garden-variety disaster. If you haven't noticed, we have a lot of those."
"Nah, I thought spirits and vampires and monsters were all a part of the college package. Except they need to make the print bigger for the warning."
Willow gave Tara a shove, smiling fondly. "You fit right in."
At that, Tara couldn't keep a small bounce from entering her steps.
He wasn't very tall, didn't have any remarkable features and his voice was hardly loud enough to reach the back of the room when it was silent. In fact, had Tara seen him anywhere else with any other group of people then she would have looked right over him without a second thought. But the room had gone deathly silent and, more importantly, all of the blood had drained out of Willow's face. Why would she look like that just because some guy had walked into the room? Was he super evil or dangerous? Or was he-
"Oz..." Willow breathed.
The realization came crashing down on Tara, roaring in her ears. "Oz," she repeated, trying not to let the wave of dizziness that had swept over her show as she glanced at Willow, bit her lip, and looked down at her feet. Oz was the guy Tara had seen Willow with in class, the one she had been dating, the one who had broken up with her after cheating on her and left... but he was here, standing right there, and Willow didn't look angry. She just looked confused. "No," Tara whimpered, nails digging into her palms as she clenched her fists. This couldn't be happening, this wasn't right. Everything had been going so perfectly for once! And now...
"When... when did you get back?" Willow asked, the hesitation in her voice making Tara want to crawl away.
"Pretty much now," the man, Oz, replied. It was silent then, and Tara was afraid that everyone would be able to hear her heartbeat pulsing or the way she was desperately trying to keep her breathing normal. Everything was spinning and nothing was making sense except for one thing: this was Oz, Willow had loved him before she had head of Tara Maclay.
"Oz, man, hate to sound grandma, but you don't call, don't write," Xander said, breaking the silence and a little more of Tara's hard won self-confidence. Oz was welcomed back so easily by this group, he had been a real part of it all for longer than she had been in Sunnydale. What chance did she stand against him?
"Yeah, sorry 'bout that," Oz replied. Tara glanced up briefly, a bit of a glare evident amidst all of the pain and confusion she was trying to hide. Why didn't he talk more? Grovel or, or something! He should be made to feel awful for all that he had, and hadn't, done!
"So are you here here, or just passing through?" Buffy asked, more than a hint of anger and sarcasm in her voice. For that alone, Tara could have hugged her... if she hadn't felt as though she were about to be sick.
Then Giles ruined it and Oz stepped closer, towards Willow. No, Tara thought, her head reeling when she saw the look in his eyes. I can't watch this, can't listen to this.
"I... uh... just remembered," Tara said suddenly, standing up."I'm late f-for a s-study group." She looked at Willow, briefly, but the confusion in those emerald eyes made her look away again. "Sorry."
"Tara, wait," Willow pleaded, stepping towards her.
"It's okay," Tara said, not looking up for fear that she would lose it and start crying. "Y-you should be with your friends, and I... I should go."
She ran right into Oz, who stumbled back into the coffee table and let out a yelp. "Watch where you're going, alright?" he said when Tara looked at him, no hint of anger in his voice. But the way he looked right back at Willow made Tara want, more than anything, to curse him and be done with it. But she couldn't do that, not to someone Willow obviously cared about. She shot one more look at Willow before bolting for the door, shutting it too hard behind her. Then she ran, as hard as she could, not wanting to be any closer to that short man who was going to steal her world away from her.
She ran out of breath before she reached her dorm and collapsed against a nearby tree, sobs torn out of her chest. Why had he come back now of all times? Why? That's all she wanted to know... and if Willow was going to take him back. She thought that the red-head might just do that.
Oz was back.
The one thing Willow had wished so desperately for so many nights had happened, and what did she want to do? Call Tara up and beg her to come over so that she could make sure the blonde wasn't angry with her. That she didn't think Willow was just going to forget about her, dump her on the side like a toy that had gotten old just because Oz had come back.
Not that she knew what she was supposed to do. Oz wanted to be with her again, that was obvious. But did she still want that?
The answer there was a painfully obvious no; backed by a beautiful smile and blue eyes that saw straight to her heart. How could she be so fickle, though? She had proclaimed over and over that she loved Oz, and she had meant it! How could that just change, how could she feel what she for Tara more strongly than she ever had for him? Did it make her a terrible person?
She didn't know the answer, or what to say when she opened the door and found Oz standing there, looking just he always had. Only now there was no stir of excitement, no giddiness that overwhelmed her. That happened with Tara, all Oz did was bring back memories and a bit of pain. Because he had left her, because she didn't love him the same way as she had anymore. But how could she tell him that?
Willow stepped out of her room, deciding that maybe the answer would come if she talked with Oz for awhile, and hoping that, if it did, she'd find a tactful way to say it. She didn't want to hurt anybody.
CHAPTER 12 : HOPE & DESPAIR
"I have to do this," Tara told herself firmly, taking a very deep, though shaky, breath as she raised her hand to knock on Willow's door. It was a simple enough action, something she had done plenty of times before without even thinking about it, but this time was different. Willow had spent the previous night with Oz, her ex-boyfriend, and what if he had stayed? Tara didn't want to know if he had, she didn't want to see... but she did need to talk to Willow, to know what was happening. She hadn't been able to sleep at all for wondering what was going to happen. And all of it, the life that had been looking so bright and beautiful and new, was perched on a ledge that could crumble away if Willow said the wrong words.
Shaking her head to clear away the conflict that was there, Tara knocked on the door. It opened quickly and her heart fell into her stomach so fast it left her head spinning.
Oz was standing in the door.
"Oh..." Tara said, the lump in her throat threatening to erupt into full-bodied sobs right there on the spot. "S-sorry. I'll come... come back later." She lowered her head and turned away before he could see the tears that were already starting to form. It looked like Willow had made her choice after all.
"Hold up," Oz said in a voice that was far too kind. His touch on her shoulder was gentle, but firm enough to keep her from leaving. "She's just down in the bathroom, I'm sure she'll be right back if you need her."
Tara shook her head, eyes locked on the floor. "N-no," she stammered. "That's ok-kay."
"I saw you at Giles' yesterday," Oz added. "You a new member of the gang?"
"Not exa-actly. Willow just takes me to the Sc-coobies sometimes. I-I'm new." Why was she still talking to him? A hot tear had escaped from behind her eyelashes to trickle down her cheek, burning out a trail for the rest and she couldn't hold back a small sob.
"Hey, you okay?" His voice was suddenly concerned, his hand back on her shoulder. It felt like a lead weight.
"I've got to go," Tara said, her voice choked. She looked up for a moment, the tears in her eyes glistening, to see that this short young man even looked concerned. He shouldn't do that, be concerned for her, he didn't even know her! And she wanted so badly to have a reason to hate him... why wouldn't he give her one?
She shook her head and turned quickly, only to find herself face-to-face with a surprised looking Willow. "Tara!" she exclaimed. Then, no doubt taking in the tears that were starting to flow freely, her hands were on Tara's shoulders, her green eyes concerned. "What's wrong? Are you okay?" Her hands were comforting, warm, familiar and all Tara wanted to do was collapse against her, begging for her to not be with Oz. But she couldn't do that. "Sweetie, did something happen?"
Yes, Tara wanted to say. Oz came back to you, and you're going to go back to him. All that you've said, all the you've done, all that's been happening... it means nothing at all because he came back. And I can't even dislike him for it! But instead she shook her head, tried a smile, and managed to say, "Y-you two have a lot of c-c-catching up to do," before she all but ran for the door.
Anyone who saw Tara on her way back to her room would have thought that she had just been told that her mother had died. Buffy, seeing her run, even called out for her, but Tara couldn't stop. Her heart was starting to shatter into a million pieces and the last thing she needed was for Buffy to see and ask why.
She wanted Willow, but it was starting to look like she couldn't have her after all.
Oz scratched his head, a confused look on his face that he didn't even try to hide. That blonde girl, Tara, had been crying and Willow had been about to comfort her. The smell that had been coming off of the two of them... it was one of the most confusing mixes that he had ever come across. Tara had smelled like a wounded animal and Willow had been some mix of concerned, worried and he wasn't sure.
"She gonna be alright?" he asked, seeing that Willow hadn't moved from where Tara had almost run her over. "Seemed kinda flustered."
Willow shook herself and squeezed her eyes shut. What must Tara have thought, seeing Oz in her room so early in the morning? Especially when she knew that they had seen each other the night before. I wish I would've had the time to call her...
"Will?" Oz repeated, touching her hand. He couldn't imagine what was going through her head and, if he had been able to, then he wouldn't have been near as calm as he was. But he couldn't, all he could see was a distressed Willow, and he wanted to make it better. "Do you want to go eat now? Maybe it'll help."
"Sure," Willow said quietly, opening her eyes and forcing a smile. The smile that lit his face in reply, one that she had missed terribly for so long, only made the awful churning of her stomach worse.
Oz couldn't believe his luck; Willow was still available and willing to spend time with him. He wouldn't press her, of course, but he couldn't help but start to imagine what it would be like to be back in Sunnydale with everyone. But mostly with Willow.
How could she even begin to think of a way to tell him that Tara, the girl he dismissed as nothing more than an important friend, meant the world to her?
The canvas was an absolute mess, paint splattered all over the main subject in a way that would have seemed like absolute chaos to almost everyone who saw it.
Except the artist. To her eyes it was one of her best works ever, full of meaning and charged with emotion. It was raw, painful emotion, but still.
It was a painting of a short man with spiky brown hair, his arm around the shoulder of a grinning red-headed girl with emerald green eyes that sparkled. But the happy picture was marred by dark red splotches, spots where the colors seemed to blur and bleed together, and swirls of gray, black and even more red.
The only thing untouched were the emerald eyes. Reflected in their depths was another face, the face of the artist. In the left eye she was weeping and in the right she was screaming.
Tara wiped a bit of green paint off of her face, but it only smeared because of the tears trailing down her cheeks. She had finished that painting in record time and it truly was her most moving yet, but no one would ever see it. Especially not Willow. Willow would never know just how much this was hurting her. The next time she saw Willow, with or without Oz, she would smile and be one of her best friends.
But never anything more.
Buffy did not want to come back to her room to find Willow cuddled up with Oz, reminding her forcefully of the time in high school when the entire gang had been with someone, been happy. Willow had had Oz, Xander had had Cordelia and she had had Faith. Now everything was different and Faith, at least, was gone forever. That was yet another tally to be made on the list of things Buffy had done wrong since coming to Sunnydale. A big, bolded one. Not the loving Faith part, the letting her go part.
Luckily when she walked into her room she found Willow in her bed, very much alone. Unluckily, her best friend had a look on her face that said something wasn't right. "Willow?" she asked carefully, letting her purse slip off of her shoulder. "Is everything okay?"
Willow shrugged, clutching her giant pillow close. The redness around her eyes that Buffy hadn't seen from the door made it obvious that she had been crying. Always a sure sign that she was upset.
"Did you hang out with Oz?" Buffy asked carefully, settling down onto the bed. If he hadn't shown then that would be a really good reason for crying. And an even better one for her to go werewolf hunting.
Willow nodded, squeezing the pillow tighter. "We were together all night," she replied, her voice a little muffled.
"All night?" Buffy repeated. "That's - wait..." Her eyes widened. "Last night was a wolf moon. Either you're going to tell me something full of kink or..."
"No," Willow said quickly, loosening her grip on her pillow in order to wave her hands. "No, no. No kink. He didn't change, Buffy. He stayed Oz the entire time. He found the cure in Tibet that he had always been looking for. I don't know if it's all whee never going to change again thing, but... he stays Oz."
"Oh my god," Buffy said, the words escaping before it had even fully sank in. Then it sank in all the way, her thoughts of Faith completed vanquished by this news. "Again, oh my god, Willow! I can't believe that this is happening!" She grinned, excited, only to find that Willow still had that bland, yet confused, look on her face. "Okay, I just noticed that I'm all with the woo! here, and you're not. This isn't quite right."
"Oh no," Willow said, though she didn't sound all that reassuring. "There's woo and hoo... but there's also uh-oh and why now? And... it's complicated." She hugged her pillow even tighter, burrowing her face into it until only her eyes were showing. And the last time that Buffy had seen those green eyes look like that had been a few days after Oz had left. But she couldn't understand why on earth Willow should look like that. Surely she wouldn't if Faith ever came back... without the intent of gutting her.
"Why complicated?" she asked, tilting her head a little. "You got your boyfriend back, and he can control his transformation! I can't think of anything that would possible make you happier. You should be dancing and throwing off little sparks of glee... or something like that."
Willow didn't answer, just looked at her with that look on her face. What's going on with her? Buffy asked herself silently and, finding no answer, she voiced aloud, "What?"
Willow took a very deep breath and her voice was shaky when she at last said, "It's complicated - because of Tara."
Nothing could have confused Buffy more than that simple statement. "How could Tara make it complicated? Does she have a sudden, mad crush on Oz or something like..." But the look on Willow's face spoke volumes, as did the tone that Buffy had completely missed. Her eyes widened and it was all she could do to not let her hands fly to her mouth. "Oh... Ohh." Was there a prescribed way to react to this? Sure, she had a thing for Faith, a major one, but she had never thought for more than the briefest of moments that her best friend would turn out to like girls too! "Well, that's... great too, isn't it? I mean, Tara's a great girl, Will, she really is. At least, from the little that I've managed to glimpse of her in these past few months she seems to be like cool or something, Will."
"She is." And, for a moment, a light infused Willow's face and the small smile that flitted across her lips was more genuine than any of her smiles had been for a long time. "And there's something between us.. I wasn't looking for it, you know." I hadn't been looking for it with Faith, either Buffy thought to herself. "It's just totally powerful. And totally different than what Oz and I had."
"Well, there you go then," Buffy said, standing up and pacing a few steps. This all sounded very similar to what had gone through her own head when she had realized how hard she was falling for her fellow Slayer several years back. "You have to follow your heart, Will. I mean that's what's important, Will." If only she could hear all of the gears grinding inside of my head then she would call me such a hypocrite!
The pillow lowered away from Willow's body and she leaned forward, a concerned and slightly ill look on her face. "Why do you keep saying my name like that?"
"Like what, Will?" Buffy asked, only just hearing the edge of false happiness and excitement that had slipped in without her knowledge. Probably to cover all of the confusion inside her own head.
"Are you freaked?" And just the way she said it, the hurt look in her green eyes, made Buffy want to crawl under the bed. She would never be unsupportive of her friends, or let them think that she was, just because her relationships were always messed up. Willow deserved to be happy. And Tara had the potential to make that happen... if the red head did indeed decide to go with her.
"No," Buffy said firmly, sitting back onto the bed and reaching out to take Willow's hands in her own. "Absolutely no to that question. I'm very glad, and flattered, that you decided to tell me." She paused for a moment, a new thought penetrating the rest. "What did you say to Oz? Because I saw the look in his eyes, and I'm pretty sure that he had more than friendship on his mind when he came back here. He still wants to be with you."
Willow shook her head and looked down at the bed. "I was going to tell him, I really was! But then we started talking... and I just couldn't. I don't know how, or even what to say. 'Oh, sorry Oz, you're a little too late. I've gone all lezzie and have a huge crush on the girl who I've been learning magic with.' That doesn't sound right... and I don't want to hurt anyone."
"Does Tara know that you..." Buffy paused, waving one hand a little as she tried to find the right words. "That you like her?"
"She does," Willow responded, biting her lip. "That's part of what makes all of this so hard. Did you see her face yesterday when Oz walked in?"
Buffy thought back, trying to clear away her own reaction and Willow's enough to remember what the quiet blonde girl had looked like. "She... she wouldn't look at anyone, and she bailed pretty fast. Almost like she had seen a ghost... oh."
Willow nodded, a wry smile twisting her lips for a moment before a more melancholy one settled again. "Then she stopped by this morning and Oz was here and I just know what she thought. She's probably in her room, trying to come up with some way to tell me that all that's happened... between us..." Here the slightest hint of a blush crossed Willow's cheeks, causing Buffy to briefly wonder what had happened. "Wasn't really anything. Or that she wants me to be with him because she thinks it's what I want. That's how she is, all with the sacrificing." She tried to laugh but a tear slipped down her cheek. "I don't want to hurt anyone, Buffy, but I can't bear the thought of breaking her heart."
Buffy reached out and took Willow into her arms, cradling her best friend as she had so many times in the past. "Someone's going to be hurt, Will," she said gently, knowing that Willow needed to hear it no matter how much she didn't want to. "But you have to be true to whatever it is that you want the most. Otherwise more than one person is going to get hurt, and it'll be even worse when the truth comes crashing down." She had been there and she didn't think that Willow needed to go through that.
"I know..." Willow whimpered, the sound of her quiet sobs breaking Buffy's heart.
CHAPTER 13 : LEARNING TO BREATHE
When Tara opened her door the first thought that flew across Willow's mind was that her dark blue eyes were even more beautiful when she had been crying. Her first impulse was to hug Tara to her, kissing away any tears that might still be waiting to fall. But all she did was say, "Hi."
"H-hi," Tara murmured, looking at Willow's neck instead of meeting her eyes. She stepped back and opened the door in invitation. But there was no air of delight like there usually was when Willow stepped in.
"I can't stay for long," Willow said, taking several steps before turning to face Tara and the closed door. The way Tara was looking anywhere but at her was strangely painful. Luckily a song had just come on the radio, filling up the tense silence. "I have class."
'Hello good morning how you do? What makes you rise-'
"Me e-either. I mean, I have cla-as too."
'This is the way that I say I need you.'
Willow glanced at the radio, surprised. It was such a fitting song for everything right now. "Good song."
Tara looked up at her quickly, the ghost of a smile flashing across her face. "It's a mix CD I made earlier."
"Oh..." There was no good reply to that.
'I'm learning to breathe, I'm learning to crawl'
She had to tell Tara what she had come here for, and soon, or Tara would go to class without knowing. "I just wanted to let you know, what you saw this morning, it wasn't-"
"It's okay," Tara interrupted. "I always knew that if he came back..."
There she went, doing exactly what Willow had known she would, and that couldn't go on. "We just talked, nothing happened."
'Hello good morning how you been, yesterday left my head kicked in'
Willow winced, looking away and wishing that the song would stop playing.
'I never never thought that I would fall like that
Never knew that I could hurt this bad.'
Tara seemed to shrink a little, but she did look up at Willow for more than five seconds, the slightest spark of hope lighting her eyes. "Oh... really?"
Willow nodded, wringing her hands together. How could she say everything right? But then she realized something. She didn't have to worry, this was Tara. Tara understood her when she had problems understanding herself.
'I'm finding that you and you alone can break my fall
I'm living again, awake and alive'
"I mean, it was intense. Kinda feel like my head is gonna explode."
Tara took a step forward, concern etched all over her face. "Your head is always too busy..."
'I'm dying to breathe in these abundant skies.'
That was when Willow saw the canvas. It didn't even take a moment for her to take in and understand the whole thing, except for her own eyes.
"Don't..." Tara said feebly when Willow stepped closer.
'This is the way that I say I need you'
Willow touched the dry paint, awed at the beautiful pain that was everywhere in it, in every splash of extra paint, in every line... "Willow, y-you weren't supposed to see..." That was Tara reflected in her painted eyes, and she was so hurt...
'This is the way that I say I love you.'
"Tara... I..." Willow stammered when she turned, amazed. She had known that Tara felt strongly for her, but something as moving as this painting belayed a deeper emotion. She moved closer to the blonde, raw emotion clogging her throat. "I don't know what to do."
'This is the way that I say I'm yours.'
Tara took a deep breath and reached out to push a lock of hair behind Willow's ear, caressing her cheek gently. "D-do what makes you h-h-happy."
And the pained sincerity behind those words made Willow's tears start to fall. She moved forward into Tara's arms, clinging to the blonde who had come to mean so much to her. The one who had made her see that life really was still worth living.
'I'm finding that you and you alone can break my fall.'
"It'll be okay," Tara whispered, kissing Willow's forehead. "Shhhh... I'm here." She continued kissing Willow's head, rubbing her back gently as the red-head cried. "I'll, I'll always be here."
"I know," Willow managed to say, pulling back enough to see Tara's face. She wasn't surprised to find tears sparkling in those blue eyes. Here she was, in the arms of someone who was almost positive that she was going to get the raw end of the deal, being comforted and soothed. What more could any woman ever want? Willow reached up to catch a tear that had escaped from Tara's eye, then leaned in to muffle a sob by pressing her lips against the blonde's.
It wasn't a kiss; Tara pulled away before it could become one. "Willow... you, you don't-" Willow silenced her with a kiss, her fears and doubts fading with the feel of those lips pressed to hers. But Tara pulled back again, her eyes desperate for an answer that her mouth would never give voice to.
"Please Tara," Willow whispered, leaning her forehead to Tara's, all of the longing and desire she had held back spilling out. It may not have been the best time, but, well, Willow had a history for never doing anything at the right time. "Please."
The half-smile that had always made Willow's heart flutter appeared before Tara leaned in for a kiss that left Willow breathless and dizzy. She didn't have time to catch her breath because Tara kissed her again, and again. Willow tangled her fingers in Tara's silken hair, stepping back until she bumped against the bed. She didn't even think before sinking back onto it, pulling Tara down on top of her.
Their bodies all but melded together as they had every time before. But there was a difference now, an electric current that seemed to jump between them every time they so much as shifted.
The way that Tara took control would have left Willow breathless if her kisses hadn't already done that. It was like when they did a spell. All doubt and uncertainty fled to be replaced with absolute confidence. From the kisses she trailed along Willow's neck to the way her hands were sliding up Willow's bare stomach - where did my shirt go? - Tara seemed to know what every whimper and hitch of breath meant. Yet, when her fingers brushed over Willow's bra, she pulled back as though burned when Willow arched up and cried out.
"I'm sorry," Tara whispered. "I-I-I shouldn't..."
"Oh yes, yes you should," Willow gasped, sliding Tara's hands back to where they had been.
Tara's eyes darkened with something that Willow could only call passion. She bent her head down and sucked lightly on Willow's earlobe when her hands gave a gentle squeeze. Willow's mind was reeling, but none of the thoughts had anything to do with the unpleasant situation she was in outside of this room. They were all focused on feeling... and there was a lot to feel.
The buzzer of Tara's alarm, sounding that it was time for class, was not welcomed warmly. Tara let out a disappointed moan and hit the buzzer hard. "Attendance required," she said, her fingers trailing up and down Willow's sides. "Otherwise you couldn't bribe me away from here."
Willow shifted to lie on her side, nuzzling Tara's neck for a moment before murmuring, "I think I found one of the very few things I would skip class for."
"You'd sk-kip class for me?" Tara asked, her voice sounding very small.
"I would. So long as there wasn't a test or paper due or attendance required or a guest speaker..." Willow nipped Tara's neck, smirking when the blonde moaned. She could easily get used to this. "Sadly, you have to go... so I'll go too. No reason to stay here wthout a Tara!" Even if the world was waiting outside with all of its problems and all of its... Oz.
"C-can I see you later?"
"Hmm... let me think about that." Willow tapped her lips as though lost in thought, trying not to grin. But when Tara bit her lip and looked away, the set of her shoulders saying that she believed Willow really had to consider, the fun of it faded away. She didn't want Tara to doubt anything, most especially her own worth. "Hey," she said, tilting Tara's head up and kissing her quickly. "I will most definitely see you later." Only when Tara returned her smile did Willow pull her shirt back on. She held the gray sweater she had been wearing for a moment before sliding it onto Tara's arms, kissing her shoulder when she was done.
"Mmmm... Willow-scent," Tara murmured.
"Exactly. It's my favorite sweater. I want it to smell like you." Willow blushed right to the root of her hair and looked away, adding quietly, "Wear it for awhile?"
"Anything for you."
It wasn't until they parted ways with a kiss that Willow really realized what she still had to do. A bit of the warmth and happiness that had filled her faded to be replaced with a resigned gloominess. But there was still a tiny corner that resonated warmth, because not even breaking Oz's heart could take away all of what Tara gave.
Despite herself Tara could not keep a happy smile off of her face as she walked across campus. She was much more confident now that Willow would come to her. But even if she didn't... Tara would be devastated, she couldn't even hope to deny that, but she always would have something special with Willow that nothing could take away. Not even Oz.
That was when she heard someone call for Willow, a voice she knew only because she had endured it twice. A slight lump raised up in her throat as she turned to find Oz walking towards her, looking slightly confused. "Hey," he said. "I thought I sme-heard Willow."
He smelled her on me! "Hey," Tara replied, her voice falsely happy. Then her eyes traveled down, as they always did, and her heart clenched painfully. Oz was holding a portfolio that all incoming students for UC Sunnydale received."You're, uh, coming back to school here, huh?" Her voice was far too mellow. If Oz came back to school then everything would change... the confidence that she at least had a chance with Willow popped like a bubble.
"Pretty much, feeling oddly motivated." Oz smiled slightly, but had an odd look on his face. It was almost like he was looking for someone. Of course he was - Tara had Willow's sweater on and that was covered in the other woman's scent!
"That's uh, that's great," Tara said, her voice going back to the falsely happy one she had adopted earlier. Her heart had dropped past her stomach, heading straight for her feet. "I mean, that's gr-great for you and Willow, right?" My Willow! an angry, but quiet, voice inside of her proclaimed. She was going to be mine!
"I hope so," Oz replied, an even stranger look on his face as he realized that Willow wasn't anywhere nearby.
"Good." Tara didn't mean that, not at all. It wasn't even close to good, it was terrible! She should tell him; a very small part of her decided that he needed to hear something and she added, "Because uh-"
"Is that her sweater?" Oz interrupted, seeming to notice what Tara was wearing for the first time.
Now that he had noticed, Tara decided that she didn't need to tell him anything. She just needed to say things that would relay to Willow her desire to be a good friend no matter what choice was made. "I just... I just hope you two will be very, uh.. happy." She couldn't keep her disappointment out of the last word.
Oz made no indication that he had heard any of what Tara had said. "You smell like her," he declared, taking a step forward and trying to catch Tara's eye. When Tara started to look up, her heart definitely in her feet now, he continued, "She's all over you, do you know that?" His voice was strangely calm and level, but then, everyone had always remarked on how together Oz was, how tight a grip he kept on his emotions.
"I can't," Tara declared, her eyes widening in shock. "I c-can't, I can't talk about that." It wasn't for her to decide what Oz knew about her relationship with Willow. She surely wasn't going to reveal anything to him, no matter what that tiny voice wanted to do. Willow would be angry if she knew that Tara had told... Tara started away, hoping that Oz would just let it lie or go looking for Willow.
"But there's something to talk about?" Oz asked, his voice insistent as he gripped Tara's arm lightly. It didn't hurt, the pressure was just enough to keep her from walking away, and once he was sure that she would stay he let go.
Tara drew her breath in quickly, a stricken look on her face. Oz's reaction was what she had expected, though dreaded, all along. A light dawned on his face as though he had just realized... "Are you two involved?" His calm was breaking, Tara could see it crumbling away and she wished more than anything that she had taken a different route to class.
"I have to... I have to go," Tara said insistently, wanting nothing more than to get away from this short man. She didn't know him, she didn't have any right, or desire, to hurt and anger someone she didn't know.
"'Cause she never said anything to me like that and we talked all night," Oz said, talking fast as though saying it would make it all true. "And she never said-" Tara turned and started away, but he jumped after her, all pretenses of calm scattered to the wind as he grabbed hold of her arms. "No, stop!" he shouted, giving her a shake. "Is she in love with you?" His entire body trembled, his fear shining clearly in his eyes as he shook Tara again when she didn't answer. "Tell me! Is she-"
He stopped, and it didn't take a second for Tara to realize why. His eyes weren't darkening in anger, the pupils were actually expanding. The grip on her arms was becoming painful because his hands were changing, growing hairy with long nails sprouting out... "Changing," she whispered, terrified as she looked at him and saw that his teeth had grown as well. He was changing into a werewolf while it was light outside.
Oz looked at her as his eyes went completely black, but Tara saw a flash of the real color there, and said one word, "Run."
That was the moment when Tara decided that Oz wasn't bad after all, not if in the moment before he could have torn her to shreds, he instead told her to get out. If she lived through this and he stayed and got together with Willow, then maybe she would be able to tolerate him as more than an accessory of Willow. She wouldn't be happy, at all, but she wouldn't hate him.
But right now none of that mattered, because she had to run for her life.
Willow opened the door to the familiar van, one she would once have given the world to see, and climbed in with a heavy feeling in her heart. Even after all that had happened that night she knew what had to be done. She had to tell Oz, even though she thought that he might already know, that she was happy with Tara.
Oz didn't look at her, but kept his eyes straight ahead. I don't want to talk to you right now, he thought, knowing that it would only cause more turmoil he would have to work even harder to keep under control. It was hard enough right now to keep it beaten back. He kept replaying the conversation he had had with that Tara girl in the hallway before he changed, when he had realized that Willow was involved with her. "Not much to say," he grunted finally, hoping that he sounded gruff instead of confused and hurt.
"When did you decide to leave?" Willow asked, not bothering to disguise the pain in her voice.
"Pretty much now," Oz replied, glad for the simple subject matter. "I think it'd be for the best, safer for everyone that way."
"But you're doing so much better!" Willow exclaimed, leaning forward a little.
"No," Oz replied, squeezing his eyes shut. "It turns out that the one thing I tried to repress it for is the one thing that brings it out in me." He couldn't keep the bitterness out of his voice. "That falls under the heading of ironic in my book." If only he could get angry, or anything, without the wolf inside of him surfacing.
"But you held it back," Willow said. "I... I saw it, back there. You kept the wolf from coming out."
"Not always," Oz remarked, remembering vividly the moment of knowing he was changing because of what had happened with Tara. The silence stretched between them, becoming palpable. "I guess I was stupid to think that you'd still be waiting after all this time, with nothing to wait for."
"It was hard," Willow admitted. "And then... I stopped, and everything changed."
Oz's hands tightened on the steering wheel. "Are you happy?" he asked, needing to know that she was no matter how much it would hurt him.
A small smile flitted across Willow's face. "I am," she replied, and she sounded it. "I can't explain it, but-"
"Maybe it's better for both of us if you don't," Oz said painfully. Willow was happy, and that was all that mattered. His reason for staying in Sunnydale was gone. Now he could go back to the world and make something of himself apart from the Scoobies, maybe help other werewolves to control it...
Willow, hearing the pain in his voice, leaned over and hugged him hard. But only like Buffy would have hugged him, not like she would have once. So he hugged her back like they were just friends... because that was all they were now.
It hurt, but Oz knew that he would be able to accept it soon enough. That was just the way things had turned out.
The power had been out for hours, but Tara had not bothered to light any of her multitude of candles. She had them, she just didn't have the desire to light up the room. There was that painting still sitting in the corner that revealed a scene she was starting to think might come true all too soon. All she wanted to see was Willow, but she didn't know if that was going to happen anymore.
Someone knocked on her door. Her heart jumped into her throat, maybe it was Willow!, but fell just as quickly. It might just be her RA making rounds to make sure that everyone was alright despite the lack of electricity. Surely that girl down the hall couldn't survive without her laptop... Sighing, she unfolded herself from her sullen view of the moon and walked over to open the door, surprised beyond all belief to find Willow standing there. A thousand things to say piled up in her mind, from loving comments to scathing ones, but she didn't say anything at all.
"No candles?" Willow asked, the candle in her hands flickering and causing shadows to dance over her face. "Well, I brought one. It's extra flamey."
When Tara said nothing, the lump in her throat from earlier had swelled to twice its original size, Willow stepped forward, forcing her back, and closed the door. Tara, who had thought a lot about what she would say when Willow said that she wanted to go back to Oz despite it all, remained silent, but she took the candle. It was slightly soothing to stare at the flame.
"Tara, I-" Willow started.
Tara cut her off, unable to bear it. She didn't want Willow to have to suffer through telling her what she already knew. "I-it's alright," she stammered. "I understand. You have to be with the one you l-love." That word came the hardest. Because she loved Willow.
Willow drew in a deep breath and looked at her, a smile curving her lips. "I am," she declared.
Tara's eyes widened as she looked up, hardly daring to dream. "You mean...?" she asked, her heart in her voice.
"I mean," Willow replied, her voice shaky. "Okay?"
"Oh yes," Tara replied, her face glowing with more than the light of the candle.
"I know what I've put you through," Willow added, stepping even closer. "And I'm going to make it up to you." Her smile turned a little devious, though it was still sweet. "Starting right now."
"Right now?" Tara asked and, when Willow nodded, she blew the candle out.
Neither one of them needed light to find the bed. They didn't do anything, they had plenty of time after all, except for cuddle up to each other and kiss. Nothing new, but Tara felt like a whole new world had been revealed to her. Willow loved her, Willow had chosen her... could there be anything better in the world?
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