She idly picked at her knitting, pulling a few stitches through out of habit rather than anything else. She needed to keep her hands busy. She discovered early on that if she had something tiny and focused to do, her brain would quiet itself down for a few menial hours.
A sigh escaped her lips.
Tara hated knitting. She mindlessly completed a row of the burgundy and cream scarf she had been knitting for what seemed like forever.
Too long, she thought.
1, 823, 069 stitches and she had come no closer to easing her aching heart than she had at stitch number 1.
1,823, 070. Enough for now.
Tara placed the long train of fabric beside her on the bed, flexed her aching fingers, and sat up. Feeling the pressure in her bladder, she swung her legs to the side and put her bunny slippers on. Before she could stop it, as she stood mid-step to the bathroom, a memory swept her, powerful in its grasp.
"See?" Willow urged happily, her hands busy fidgeting with an apparently fascinating tissue. "They're bunnies! For my snuggle bunny."
Tara's grin stretched across her face, slowly and with a hint of flush in her cheeks.
Rising to her feet, she took a few steps to meet Willow by the bureau. "Will, they're lovely," she said, gathering Willows hands in her own. "And they'll keep these frigid feet of mine toasty warm for you."
"Oooh, all ready for bedtime snuggles?" Willow bounced excitedly.
Chuckling, Tara replied, "Yes, Willow. All ready for bedtime snuggles."
A devilish glint in her eyes, Willow's mouth turned up at the corner. "Good. 'Cause you know, there's nothing I like better than making sure you're all warm and toasty. Especially during bedtime snuggles".
"Oh really? And how were you planning on doing this exactly?"
"Well, I had kinda planned to throw you down on that bed and have my way with you, if that's alright," Willow said in a mischievous, light hearted voice.
Tara gasped, thrusting her right arm suddenly on the doorway in order to balance herself. Assaulted by her memories, Tara didn't even notice the crying. It felt like a horse had kicked her in the chest, leaving Tara reeling, shell-shocked, and heart broken for at least the tenth time that day.
Steeling herself, Tara made her way to the bathroom determined to prepare for bed without further disaster. Several minutes later, after brushing her teeth, relieving her bladder, flossing, and washing her face, Tara flicked the switch, bathing the bathroom in darkness. Placing her knitting on the bedside table, she pulled a corner of the blanket down and settled herself under the covers.
She picked up a framed photo of the Scoobies and lovingly cradled it in her hands. She paused, staring at the figures that haunt her. Tracing her fingers along Willow's face, she hesitated before taking a deep, shuddering breath. She put the picture back on the table.
Before turning off the lamp, Tara turned on the radio, the alarm of humanity, like she did every night since, and waited with bated breath.
Not even the hiss of static or the rambling of car commercials could be heard. An abyss of sound pervaded the room, and Tara sighed. Again.
The room, now silent and dark, howled its emptiness back at Tara as she clutched the sheets to her chest and laid her head on her pillow, quietly succumbing to another night of restless sleep and broken nightmares.
Willow jerked awake, head jumping up from its resting place on the inside of her arm, elbow crooked beneath her head on the table. Willow's eyes were unfocused and panicky, her chest rose and fell rapidly as she panted, still hearing echoing screams from the chasms of her dreams.
Sliding into the chair next to her at a table and room not unlike the research area at the Magic Box, Ms. Hartness slowly began rubbing Willow's back. She had gotten used to waking Willow with a soft hand. But no matter how gently she was woken, Willow would always wake with a start. There would be several flustered moments before awareness would settle and Willow would realize where she was.
"Willow, you've been asleep for hours. Aren't you the least bit sore on that table, dear?" Ms. Hartness posed quietly in a sweet British tongue, her arm making tender circles on the middle of Willow's back.
Taking several slow deep breaths to settle herself, Willow blinked and turned her head.
"Why do you keep doing that?" she asked softly, a slight frown on her face and a crinkle between her brows.
"Do what, dear. It's nothing that I haven't done dozens of times now."
Sure in her convictions, Willow knew more than anything the kindness this woman was showing her was wrong. A murderer like her didn't deserve being woken tenderly. A torturer like her wasn't entitled to warm biscuits and jam in the morning. Malicious and destructive villains like her don't warrant clemency. The Big Bad doesn't get a break. It went against every Scooby bone in Willow's body. And she knew it.
"I don't deserve this. Any of this."
Before she would let herself soften and melt in tears of Tara and sobs of 'sorries', Willow pushed her chair back and stood. Looking to the floor, she hid her eyes. Taking a few small steps, she turned and let out a quiet "Please excuse me," before closing the door to her room behind her.
Ms. Hartness sighed and turned to look as the latch to the door slid quietly into place with a small click.
"No, Willow, " she said sadly, shaking her head. "You don't."