The Buffyverse and its inhabitants are the property of Joss Whedon and a bunch of suits. I'm adjusting their realities for fun, not profit, as I own nothing and have the credit report to prove it.
Willow sighed and drummed her fingers on the table. She was early, and nervous, and trying not to think that Tara would bail. They had agreed to meet here after Tara's last class, way after lunch but too early for dinner, because it was someplace the gang didn't normally go. And the pie was good. And neutral territory was good, too. Maybe, just maybe, they could talk to each other without the conversation sliding into something that ended with both of them silent and hurt, Willow with guilt and broken promises, Tara choking on history.
Willow tried to order her thoughts. It was harder than usual. There were the regular things, school and homework and the other homework, dishes and laundry and Dawn duty. And magic. It hummed beneath her skin with the firing of every synapse. And Tara. Rather the absence of Tara, physically and emotionally. They hadn't talked since Tara threw her things into boxes and fled into the night. As much as Willow wanted to see her, she was careful to avoid places that she knew Tara would be. Tara wouldn't answer Willow's phone messages, but sometimes answered her e-mails.
She hadn't answered the message asking for this meeting until last night, five days after Willow sent it. Willow had hesitated before opening Tara's reply, sure that she would tell her again, no. But she hadn't. And now Willow waited, fidgeting and trying not to stare at the door.
Tara slowed as she got closer to the diner. She thought about turning back, and pushed that panic down. They would be in public, and Dawn and Buffy and Xander and Anya told her that Willow was different. She sounded different, in the phone messages and e-mails, but Tara had heard so many false assurances of change from people who were supposed to love her that she was wary of words.
She felt Willow as soon as she walked through the door. When she turned toward her, Tara saw the relief on Willow's face, followed by a tentative smile. Tara didn't return the smile as she crossed the diner and slid into the booth across from Willow.
The waitress was there with the coffee pot and a cup for Tara. She filled the new mug, topped off Willow's, then left them alone.
"Thanks for coming," Willow started. "How are you?"
Tara shrugged. "Okay."
"You look good."
"I didn't mean, I wasn't," Willow stopped herself. "I was worried about you, Tara."
"Y-you don't have to worry about me."
"I know that. I want to. And I want to apologize. I screwed up and screwed up and screwed up again, and I'm sorry, Tara. I was stupid and I hurt you and I know saying I'm sorry doesn't change anything, but I am."
"Why are you s-s-sorry?"
Willow frowned for a second, wondering what Tara was moving toward. "I hurt you, after I swore I wouldn't. I lied to you and manipulated you. I broke every promise I ever made to you." As hard as it was, Willow forced herself to hold Tara's gaze. "I did everything your family did except hit you. I'm so, so sorry."
"I accept your apology," Tara told her, then looked down, let her hair fall forward.
"Tara," Willow paused, hoping the blonde would look at her again. "I know I haven't shown it, but I'm still your friend."
When Tara didn't answer, Willow dug in her pocket, pulled out some money. She fished out a five, placed it on the table beside her coffee cup and started to slide out of the booth.
"Wh-where are you going?"
"Um, nowhere." Willow returned to her seat and waited for Tara to say anything.
"This is hard."
"Yeah." Willow rolled a paper napkin into a tube and unrolled it.
"Talk to me, W-will."
"It feels like walking through a minefield. I'm afraid to say something that will make you leave again. I don't want to do that. I want to know how to make it better, and I'm afraid it'll never be like that again."
"I don't think it c-c-can."
Willow watched her hands manipulate the napkin. 'I won't cry,' she told herself. "Yeah, I know." She sighed.
"W-we just need to work out how it's going to be now. "
"I think that's kinda up to you."
"Up to us, you mean."
"It's going to take a lot for me to trust you again, W-will."
"If I were you, I don't know that I'd bother."
"I-I'm not going to lie and s-s-say it's going to be easy. B-but I wa-want us to try."
"Thank you." Willow twisted the napkin again.
"Tell me," Tara demanded, "what you've been d-doing with m-m-magic."
"I haven't done any magic. Not for," Willow smiled wryly, "four months and two days." Seventeen hours and a few minutes, she added silently.
"That's not good, W-willow."
"I don't trust myself." She snorted. "Guess that makes us kinda equal, huh? You don't trust me, and I don't trust me. Oooh, we can get the gang together and have a big 'nobody trusts Willow' party." Willow waved her thought off. "I know, sarcasm bad. I, um it, oh, shit, Tara, I'd grovel if it would help. To you, to Dawnie, to everybody." Willow looked up, found Tara watching her. "I keep thinking I deserve this. I deserve to be alone, I deserve that my friends hate me. I did it to myself. I'm sorry, and I'm tired of saying that, too, but I'm sorry, and I need to go now."
She slid out of the booth and fled out the door before Tara could say anything. Tara caught her breath, and followed Willow.
Tara caught up to her three blocks later. She said, "Willow," but the redhead didn't hear, so she put her hand on Willow's shoulder.
Willow whirled around and caught Tara in the ribs with a fist. Tara doubled over, and Willow realized who it was before she swung again. "Oh, gods, Tara, I'm sorry. I didn't know it was you. Are you all right?"
Tara straightened up, nodded. "Been working out?" she teased.
Willow didn't answer. She was thinking of what she'd said about Tara's family and feeling the vibration of her fist's impact with Tara's ribs.
They stood looking at each other for 30 seconds that felt like hours, then both started talking at the same time.
"I couldn't let you leave like that," Tara started.
"It'll be dark soon, you should go," Willow said, hearing Tara. "You first."
"I couldn't let you l-leave like that," Tara repeated. "You don't deserve anything b-bad, Willow. B-but you ca-can't ask us to like you or trust you or f-forgive you until you do those things yourself."
"It's getting late, Tara, you need to go where you'll be safe."
"Don't do this, please. If you do this n-now, we'll never get where we need to be."
"I threw away everything I need," Willow said sadly. "Just be safe, okay?" She turned to leave.
Tara grabbed her arm. "No, not okay. It's not okay, I'm not okay, you're not okay."
Willow looked from Tara's hand on her arm to her face, but didn't say anything.
"W-we need to make a decision. To face up to everything or close the book. If you go now, Will, there's no coming back. Ever. I won't let you break my heart again."
"Tara," Willow pleaded.
"No." Tara's voice was firm. "Is it that hard for you to choose?"
"You know I'll always choose you."
"And I'll always f-find you. You're lost now, w-we both are. But I'm looking for you. Are you looking for me?"
Willow looked again from Tara's hand, still wrapped around her forearm, to her steady blue gaze. "Yes."
Tara nodded, released Willow's arm, but not her eyes. "I have a study group. I'll call you."
"All right." Willow watched until Tara turned a corner, then turned toward her home. It was her turn to cook dinner, and she had to help Dawn with her homework and there were a thousand other things to do, and they all would be a little easier because Tara wasn't afraid of her, afraid to touch her.
Dawn went up to her bedroom, and Buffy left to patrol, and Willow pulled the chair up to her desk and opened her laptop. She opened her jukebox and started the most recent playlist she had compiled. She started on her own homework, but as each song started, she thought of Tara, and finally gave up on homework.
She pulled a blank CD from one of the drawers, and while the CD burned, she started a letter to Tara.
"I know you said you'll call, and I know you will. I was trying to work, and listening to these songs, and they all remind me of you somehow, so I wasn't getting anything done. Nothing relating to school anyway. Dawn's in her room and Buffy's probably in Restfield about now. And you're probably working on homework.
"I wish I was better with words. As many as I use, you think I'd get something out, but it's hard. Like seeing you was hard. I worried that you would change your mind, but then you came through the door, so beautiful, and not mine anymore. I wanted to say more than I did. Or say what I did, better.
"I'm not trying to be all stalkerish or anything, and I don't even know how to get this to you except to give it to Dawn because she said that you're going to the movies tomorrow night. But I hope you'll hear what I'm trying to say when you listen to the music.
"I'm looking, Tara. It's hard and it's scary and it's so dark without you. But I'm looking."
She printed and signed the letter, and then copied the playlist to a text document so she could edit it to fit on the back of the CD envelope.
Change Your Mind - Sister Hazel
F.N.T. - Semisonic
Fumbling Towards Ecstasy - Sarah McLachlan
American Tune - Paul Simon
Don't Know Why - Norah Jones
Sister Christian - Night Ranger
After the Gold Rush - Neil Young
You Used To Love To Dance - Melissa Etheridge
What a Wonderful World - Louis Armstrong
Court and Spark - Joni Mitchell
These Dreams - Jim Croce
Superman (It's Not Easy) [live] - Five for Fighting
Fields Of Gold - Eva Cassidy
You're My Home - Billy Joel
Crazy For This Girl - Evan And Jaron
Landslide - Fleetwood Mac
I'll Have to Say I Love You In A Song - Jim Croce
She printed on the back of the bright blue envelope and put the CD in it when the machine ejected it. Then she rummaged in the drawer until she found a 5x7 envelope and put both the CD and the letter into it. She carefully wrote Tara's name across it, got up and headed for Dawn's room before she changed her mind.
Willow knocked, and Dawn asked "What?"
"Can I come in?"
She heard Dawn sigh, then "Okay."
Dawn didn't answer.
"Um, can I ask a favor?"
"Will you please give this to Tara tomorrow?" Willow offered the envelope.
Dawn looked at it suspiciously.
"It's just a CD. And a note." When Dawn didn't say anything, Willow offered, "We met this afternoon, and I didn't say everything I should have."
"Just a CD?"
"And a note," Willow repeated.
"If this hurts her, I'll, I'll think of something really bad to do to you," Dawn told her seriously.
"If it hurts her, you should," Willow answered, just as seriously, still holding out the envelope.
Dawn took it.
Willow fled before either of them could say something they didn't want to mean.
Dawn met Tara in front of the movie theatre. They bought their tickets, then went inside, and Dawn bought a huge soda and popcorn and Sno-Caps. Tara bought a small soda. When they got settled in their seats, Dawn pulled Willow's envelope from her bag and gave it to Tara. "It's from Willow. If it's something bad, I'm gonna rip her a new one."
"Dawn!" Tara reproved. "Language." She accepted the envelope and added "Thanks," quietly.
"Aren't you going to open it?"
"Tara, are you guys gonna get back together?"
"I don't know, Dawnie. I l-love her, but it's hard, you know?"
"She's been really good."
"I'm still mad at her though."
"You can be mad. Just not forever, and not because of me."
"No, I'm mad because she's stupid. And she hurt everybody. And she," Dawn stopped, trying to find the right words. "She, she."
"I want things to be like they were. I want everybody to be happy."
"That's a tall order."
"But we were happy. You were happy. When Buffy was gone. Not because she was gone," she rushed, "but you guys made it better. And now it's all a big mess. I want my family back together."
"I know it's hard, sweetie."
The lights dimmed, and they focused on the screen.
After the movie, they went for ice cream. Tara walked Dawn home, and walked back to the dorm. Once she settled herself, she opened Willow's envelope. She read the note, put the CD in the player, and read the note again. She traced Willow's signature and listened to what Willow was trying to tell her. Some of the songs were special to them, and some to her, and a couple were new to her.
The CD played and replayed while she sat and thought about Willow. She loved the redhead, still. And wanted to forgive her, and trust her. But. Tara didn't want there to be any hesitation in her feelings or actions. There was much to repair between them, and their meeting had started the process. Willow's offering moved it forward, but Tara was still hesitant. She recalled all too clearly the moment that Xander had broken the spell. The second spell. If it was the second spell. She shook her head to clear it. They would fix it. Without magic. Somehow.
On Monday, three days after Tara took Dawn to the movies, she called for Willow. Xander answered, and told her that Willow had gone to the library. He didn't end the conversation until Tara agreed to meet he and Anya for dinner two nights later.
Tara debated going to the library. She knew exactly where Willow would be, and decided to go.
Willow looked up from her notes when Tara came through the doorway. Tara saw her, and came directly to her. She pulled out the chair next to Willow and sat down.
"Hey," she said softly.
"Hey," Willow answered.
"Xander told me you were here."
"Got a couple papers due next week."
Tara nodded. "Dawn gave me your envelope." She smiled. "She threatened you when she did."
"She threatened me when I asked her to give it to you. Is she gonna have to do something really bad to me? Cause I should prepare myself."
"Then can I give you another one? And save both of us the trauma of me being threatened by Dawn?"
"Sure." Tara smiled and watched Willow dig through her bag. She pulled out a bright yellow envelope this time and handed it to Tara.
Tara took a few moments to glance through the song titles.
Warm Ways - Fleetwood Mac
Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me - Gladys Knight & The Pips
Least Complicated - Indigo Girls
Something In The Way She Moves - James Taylor
Survive - Jimmy Buffett
Help Me - Joni Mitchell
Hanging by a Moment (Acoustic) - Lifehouse
Someday, Some Way - Marshall Crenshaw
The Way That You Love Me - Naked Blue
Because The Night - Patti Smith Group
Something So Right - Paul Simon
You're Still the One - Shania Twain
Love Has No Pride - Bonnie Raitt
When You Say Nothing At All - Alison Krauss
In My Life - Beatles
True Colors - Cyndi Lauper
For Once in My Life - Stevie Wonder
I Shall Believe - Sheryl Crow
"Thanks." She looked up at Willow, watched the apprehension fall from her face. "I know it's hard to talk. You Sc-scoobies are all action types."
"Not me. I'm the official babysitter." A little bitterness came through. "Buffy won't let me help with patrol."
"Knowing Dawn is safe with you helps a lot."
Tara shrugged. "That's what she told me. B-Buffy."
"She doesn't tell me anything anymore."
"She said the same thing about you."
Tara shrugged again. "Th-that's between you and Buffy. I came to talk about us."
"You told Dawn you didn't get to say everything."
"No, I was too busy running away."
"Tell me now, Willow."
Willow squeezed her eyes shut, drew a deep breath, opened them. Tara was watching her intently. "I can't. Not here. Not now."
"Why? There's no one here but us." Tara leaned closer. "You can tell me anything, Will."
"I always wake up on your side of the bed," Willow blurted after 20 long seconds.
"Uh huh." Tara acknowledged, and Willow took off.
"I don't start out there, but I'm always there when the alarm goes off. And I'm always confused for a second, not a whole second, just long enough to think, my Tara must be in the shower, and then I wake up and I know you're not in the shower, not our shower. Not here. And then I remember. I remember everything. And I make myself get up. Every single second after that first one is hard. It's always here and I always want to use it. I know what it will cost, and I want to anyway." She looked at Tara's hand, resting on the table. "It will make me brittle and shatter me and I want to let it."
"But you don't."
"I want to. Right now. With you looking at me like you know me."
"But you don't," Tara repeated. "You don't do it."
"Not yet." Willow shuffled her papers into a pile and started closing books.
"Will, don't run off ag-gain."
"No running. This is me not running." She put things into her book bag.
Tara watched her. Willow's movements were jerky and unsure. "Willow."
She froze. Tara watched her eyes slowly close and reopen, but there was no answer.
"Willow," Tara repeated.
Willow turned to her.
"You're doing good."
"How can you be nice to me?" Willow's uneven movements resumed.
"I love you, Willow."
She froze again, then turned her face toward Tara. Before she could answer, Tara continued, "I'm proud of you for working so hard at everything. For not running."
"I'm tired," Willow said in a small voice.
"I know." Baby, Tara added to herself. She wanted to pull Willow to her. They were close enough to have touched long ago, except both of them were careful not to.
They were still, until Willow twitched away, pulling up a sleeve away from her watch. It was small and shiny and did all the things her old watch did and it had been a gift from Tara. She made herself swallow, pushed out, "Buffy will be here soon. Can we walk you home? Or I can wait here while Buffy takes you."
"It's okay, Will. F-f-for you to know where I stay." Tara's smile was amused.
Willow smiled back. She finished putting things in her bag. "I usually wait for her downstairs."
"Okay." Tara followed Willow from the room, down the wide staircase. Buffy came in the door as they began to cross the lobby.
"Hey, Will." Buffy's smile got bigger when she saw Tara behind the redhead. "Hi, Tara."
"Buffy, I told Tara we'd walk her home, ok?"
"Sure, no problem. Door to door, even."
They made small talk as they crossed the campus. Tara let them all into her dorm with the door swipe, and Buffy and Willow followed her up to the second floor. Tara's room was on the corner, and Willow thought of the extra windows and better light for Tara to work by.
It was hard not to feel awkward at the door. Buffy and Tara hugged, and Buffy made Tara promise to come for dinner Friday. Willow and Tara looked at each other. "Good night," they said at the same time, and Tara slid behind the door.
Buffy started before they left the building. "This was good, right?"
"Did you talk?"
"A little. It's hard, y'know?"
"I know." Buffy nudged Willow with her elbow. "You're gonna be home for dinner Friday, right?"
"I dunno, Buffy."
"It wasn't really a question, Willow."
"If Tara wants to see me, she'll say so."
"Uh huh. And if she doesn't want to see you, why is she coming to dinner at your house?" Buffy teased.
"Not because of me."
"But you'll be there."
"Will, I want you there."
"Buffy," Willow whined. "That's not fair."
Buffy shrugged. "We never have dinner. I hardly see you. It's just dinner. A bottle of wine, a little conversation."
"Okay, okay, I'll come."
"Good." Buffy nudged Willow again. "Don't forget flowers." She laughed and took off at a trot, laughed again when she heard Willow give chase.
Willow remembered to get flowers, and a salad, and ice cream. She set the table and went up to take her shower. When she returned to her room to dress, she was startled to see Tara sitting on the bed. She tucked the towel further in. "Hi."
"Hi." Tara started to smile.
Willow crossed to the dresser, opened a drawer, pulled out underwear and a bra. She closed the drawer and thought for a second before turning to face Tara again. "Um, I feel kinda stupid cause you've seen me naked and everything, but could you just wait in the hall a minute?"
"What if I say no?" Tara teased.
Willow flushed, but Tara moved toward the door before she could answer.
Willow opened the door less than two minutes later. She was barefoot and had a brush in her hand, and she hadn't tucked her shirt into her pants. She left the door open after Tara passed through. Willow walked to the dresser again, started working the brush through her hair. Tara stopped her at the first snag, took the brush.
Willow let Tara brush her hair. She didn't say anything as she watched Tara in the mirror. Tara concentrated on what she was doing, and long after Willow would have put the brush aside, Tara's hand followed the brush on its final stroke. Tara left her hand at Willow's shoulder blade, met her eyes in the mirror.
"Thank you," Willow said.
"You're welcome." Tara reached past Willow to put the brush on the dresser. "I didn't want to wait to see you."
Willow closed her eyes and inhaled slowly. She opened them and smiled a little and told Tara, "You look nice."
"I thought you might want to go to the Bronze later."
"Yeah, with me." Tara smiled.
"Are you asking me out?"
"Yes. Will you c-come to the Bronze with me later tonight?"
"I'd love to."
Buffy met them at the Bronze after patrol. She leaned against the bar and watched her friends dance. They talked occasionally, and Buffy was glad to see smiles between them and that they held hands as they left the dance floor.
The three of them sat on a couch, talking sporadically. Buffy left twice to dance, and another time the three of them danced together.
When they left, they walked arm in arm in arm to Tara's dorm. It was nearly a repeat of the last time they were there. Buffy and Tara hugged. Tara and Willow squeezed fingers and said goodnight just before Tara slid behind the door.
"Smoochies?" Buffy asked as soon as the dorm's main door closed behind them.
"Oh, I dunno."
"Nothing to tell."
"You think you guys will get back together?"
They walked a block in silence.
"When did things change so much?"
"I don't know."
They finished the walk in silence.
Willow went to her room. She wasn't ready to sleep, and checked her e-mail. She was surprised to see a message from Tara.
"Hi. I'm still a little buzzed from being with you. I hope you had as much fun as I did. Can we do it again tonight? It doesn't have to be the Bronze. Maybe pizza and a movie?
"Did I tell you how beautiful you are? Or how right your hand feels in mine?
"I miss you every second."
Willow didn't stop to think. She pressed reply and began to type. "It was a wonderful evening. Thank you. We can do whatever, whenever. As long as I'm with you.
"You used to look at me sometimes and I wondered at the look on your face. I want to be that woman again, the one you look at with a dreamy smile.
The phone rang early in the afternoon. Willow, the only one home, answered. "Hello."
"Not so much."
"Want to c-catch an early movie?"
"I'd love to. Meet you at the theatre downtown in half an hour."
None of the movies interested them, so they spent the afternoon wandering around and talking.
When the sun started to fall, they were at the edge of campus.
"It's getting dark. I better get going."
"We haven't had dinner yet." Tara frowned. "Come up to my room and we'll order something."
"Okay," Willow agreed.
Willow stood near the door after Tara let her in. Tara's new room was unlike her old one. This one had lots of windows. There was an easel and a chair, the desk and chair and bed. A dresser and the mirror behind it. Two small bookcases overflowing. No fairy lights. Bare walls. A stack of boxes in one corner.
"Have a taste for anything?"
While Tara called in their order, Willow memorized Tara's room. Tara hung up the phone and saw Willow still standing by the door. "C'mon and sit down, Willow."
"Um, let me check in with Buffy first." She moved toward the phone. Tara dialed the number and handed Willow the receiver.
It was obviously the machine, and Willow tried not to ramble. "Hey, guys, it's about 7 and I didn't want you to worry. Everything's good. I'll see you later." She returned the receiver to Tara, then sat, hesitantly, on the foot of Tara's bed.
By the time the food arrived, they were relaxed, talking again. They ate and cleaned up and continued to talk. It was a little after midnight when a knock on the door startled them.
Tara opened the door cautiously, then stepped aside to let Buffy enter. "Hi."
"Hi. I just finished patrol, and I thought I'd check whether Will needed an escort home."
"Assuming a lot, aren't you?" Tara teased.
Buffy grinned at her, then greeted her best friend. "Hey, Wills, you ready to head home?"
Willow looked at Tara while she answered. "Not really, but I guess I should."
Tara smiled while she watched Willow stand and stretch. Abruptly, she turned and went to her closet. She pulled out a jacket, came and held it open for Willow. "You'll need this," she said softly.
"Thanks." Willow got into the jacket and let Tara turn her so they were face to face. Their eyes stayed locked while Tara fastened the closures.
She started at the bottom. When the top one was closed, her hand slid up Willow's neck to her cheek. "Be careful," whispered, and kissed the cheek she wasn't touching.
Willow inhaled deeply, pulling in as much of Tara's scent as she could. "We will," she choked out as Tara pulled away.
Buffy smiled at the interaction between her friends. She could see how charged the air was between them, and wondered whether they would work through their feelings this time without an external impetus.
Willow's thoughts were whirling faster than she could catch them all as she and Buffy walked across campus. Buffy let them walk in silence, and raised her hand to wave at Tara, watching them from her window, just before they left her sight.
Willow couldn't sleep. She and Tara had talked for hours. Normally haptic, they had done nothing more than hold hands as they tried to undo the knotted tangle of their relationship. It had been harder than Willow expected to adhere to the ground rules Tara laid out. Especially when Tara had pushed Willow to understand what underlay her actions.
Being honest had been difficult. Willow wasn't used to examining her motivations, or the consequences of her actions. Tara kept asking, "Why? What caused you to make that choice?"
Willow had surprised herself with some of the answers. Tara hadn't reacted much of the time, other than to continue pressing Willow. Occasionally, Willow was able to read her reactions. Only once had Tara looked surprised. The rest of the time, her only reaction had been to nod, as Willow confirmed her beliefs.
There had been no tears from either of them, only Tara's slight nods as another piece fell into place. In some ways, it felt like the beginning of their relationship, when each new discovery about each other fueled the desire to know more.
Willow sighed and flipped her pillow. She looked at the clock. She had only been home for an hour. She reached for the phone, then drew her hand back as she debated with herself. Finally, she picked up the phone and punched Tara's number into the keypad.
Tara answered on the first ring. She didn't bother with hello. Certain Willow was on the other end, she said, "I can't sleep, either."
"I miss you," Willow said.
"I miss you, too," Tara answered.
"Please come home," Willow blurted, and immediately started backpedaling. "I know I shouldn't ask, Tara, I'm sorry. I"
"I want to," Tara interrupted. "I want to come home, Willow."
"But." Willow left the word hanging between them.
"I don't want there to be any buts or maybes or I wishes."
"Me, either. "
"I can't do that yet, Will."
"Okay," Willow said finally. "Just, you don't have to ask, okay. When you're ready, when you're sure you can, I'll be waiting."
"I know," Tara answered soberly. "Go to sleep, sweetheart. I'll see you soon."
"Good night, Willow."
Willow waited to hear the click from the other end before hanging up the phone. She lay on her back and looked at the little piece of sky visible above the windows. A few stars were there – Bobo, named by Tara because the configuration reminded her of the tattered bear featured in an episode of The Simpsons – and Willow sighed. She closed her eyes and began conjugating verbs in Latin.
- 30 -