Title: Beer Very Bad
Author: Golden Waffles
Rating: T. For… I don't even know anymore.
Disclaimer: Of course I don't own the characters or settings of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Just the situations I put them in here.
A/N: You know why I'm just the worst? This thing was written up about three weeks ago, and I've just been putting off the final read-through and last-minute edits until yesterday. Granted, my writing stylings have been taken up by NaNo for the month, but still. Sorry about dropping the ball. Like I said, though, I'm in this fic for the long haul. I'm finishing what I started. This fic will not be abandoned. And the next chapter is one I've wanted to do forever, so we're on our way. I just have to decide on an opening scene and we're golden.
A/N2: This chapter wasn't originally going to exist, but I think jumping all the way to Superstar would give everyone feelings-whiplash, so here we are. Some fluff.


Chapter 19:
Bonding

With Buffy back in her own body and the Faith issue at least set aside, if not resolved, the Scooby-age of the day was finally over, which Willow was grateful for as she leapt up Kresge's stairs two at a time. The fight at the church had taken too long. In the past half-hour, the prickling under her skin had changed from an increasingly uncomfortable tickling to a painful pins-and-needles sensation, and everything inside her was twisting in knots, crying to be near Tara again.

She finally alighted on the second floor landing, pausing to catch her breath under the flickering fluorescent light. Giles had dropped Buffy and her off near Lowell House, and she had been sprinting across campus for several minutes. Deciding that the few seconds of rest were not worth the delay, she jogged the rest of the way down the hall, finally stumbling to a complete stop in front of Tara's door, still panting from the exertion.

Before she could even raise her hand to knock, Tara threw the door open, and Willow instinctively fell forward. Something soft broke her fall almost immediately, and she felt Tara's arms close around her. She sighed gratefully, burying her face in the crook of the blonde's neck. As the reassuring warmth sank into her bones, the painful prickling feeling began to dissolve, replaced by a euphoric sensation, like her blood was effervescing.

Neither of them moved until the last of the discomfort had receded. Willow just stood very still, breathing in the faintly floral smell of Tara's shampoo and listening to her heartbeat slow from an agitated presto to a more relaxed adagio. After several hundred heartbeats, the redhead reluctantly pulled back. She examined Tara's expression for any lingering signs of pain, tracing her face with her fingertips. Any lingering sense of awkwardness had, for the moment at least, been pulverized by the relentless pull of the bond.

"Are you alright?" she asked, dropping her hands to grip the blonde's arms. Tara was wearing a heavy cream-colored sweater that blocked the highly desired skin-on-skin contact, but it was enough to ease the separation anxiety that still lingered in the back of her mind. Tara nodded in response.

"Better now." She leaned her head forward again to reestablish a connection. Their foreheads touched, and she wearily closed her eyes. "You?"

"Yeah," Willow breathed, leaning into the contact as her skin tingled pleasantly. "I'm good."

They stood in silence for several breaths, letting the spell connection loosen its grip on them.

"I didn't realize it would be that strong," Tara murmured.

"Me neither." Willow shuddered at the memory. "I never would have left you here if I had known it would feel like that." Guilt gnawed at her stomach. I could have just brought her. I could have just introduced her to Buffy and Giles and we wouldn't have had to go through all that. Stupid, stupid, stupid. She felt Tara's fingers trace their way down her arms and gently grip her hands.

"I would have gone looking for you, but I didn't know where you were." Clear blue eyes opened and blinked into her own. The guilt doubled.

"There was a vampire attack at a church. We had to go help," Willow explained. She squeezed Tara's hands, appreciating their delicate but solid feel in her own. They grounded her.

"Is everyone okay? Buffy?" Tara asked. Willow could feel her companion's eyebrows scrunching in concern. She didn't resist as the redhead pulled her back into a secure hug.

"Yeah. Everyone's safe. And back in the right body. Faith was already at the church, slaying the vampires."

"Why? Was that part of her plan?" Tara's voice intoned some confusion.

"I don't think so. I guess I don't really know what happened in there. Buffy seemed kinda spooked after." For about a nanosecond, she wondered if she should go looking for her best friend, but the threat of separation had her dismissing the idea instantly. Besides, she was probably having an incredibly uncomfortable conversation with Riley by now. "I'll ask her later." She sighed to herself as she reluctantly pulled away again. "She wanted to thank you, by the way. We couldn't have done it without you. Really."

"I'm just glad I could help. And that no one got hurt." She blushed at the flattery and took a step back, testing the waters. Willow kept a loose grip on her hands, but the pain didn't return. "What happened to Faith?"

"She ran away, I guess." She grimaced at the thought. I wonder where she's going… "Are you sure you're okay? I mean, I thought my skin was trying to crawl away. It was the same for you, right?"

"Yeah. It… felt pretty bad. I'm okay, though." She offered a weak smile. "Maybe we should stick together for the rest of today, though. Just in case."

Willow felt her shoulders slump in relief.

"That sounds good." Her statement was punctuated by an annoyed growl from her stomach. She blushed. "Sorry. I didn't want to stop and eat."

"Me neither. I was w-worried that if I left, I wouldn't be here when you got back." She gave a nervous half-smile that betrayed some underlying hurt.

"Well, we could go to the cafeteria," Willow suggested. Tara wrinkled her nose subtly.

"I guess."

"You aren't hungry?"

"Oh, sure. But… if we go now, we'll have to keep our distance a little. Too many eyes."

Willow's heart sank at the idea, but she brightened as another thought crossed her mind.

"You could come back to my room. We always have food lying around. I think we have leftover Chinese. And canned soup. And crackers. And I have a candy stash." She caught herself, frowning. "Don't tell Buffy about that, though." She advised sternly. Tara giggled, then adopted a faux-serious face.

"You have my word. Your secret stash is safe with me." She dropped the facade, the crooked smile breaking out. "But what if Buffy's there?"

Willow rolled her eyes, grinning at Tara's improved mood and tugging her towards the door. Tara lifted a bag from her door handle and slung it over her shoulder, following her lead.

"Then you'll finally get to meet her. This is getting ridiculous, you know. She has to put up with me talking about you nonstop and she still doesn't even know what you look like." Willow maintained what she hoped was a casual grip on Tara's hand and they began their trek to Stevenson. Tara raised an eyebrow at the comment, glancing down at herself. She shook her head and gave a halfhearted shrug.

"She's not missing much."

Willow shoved her shoulder with her own, shooting her a lightly scolding look.

"You know, I'd fight someone to the death for talking like that about you. You think you're an exception?"

Tara ducked her head, her ears tingeing pink. She glanced up after a second, smirking self-consciously.

"You'd fight someone to the death?" Her tone was teasing, but she still looked embarrassed.

"To defend your honor? Always." Willow led her down the stairwell. She knew they were teasing, but she hoped that Tara could read the serious undertones. Anyone who tried to hurt Tara in any way, physically or emotionally, would suffer the considerable fury of a Willow scorned.

"I'm not much of a fighter," Tara admitted.

"That's okay. We have enough fighting in Sunnydale. We could use more of the other stuff." She squeezed Tara's hand tighter and quickened their pace.

When they reached the dorm room, Willow rapped on the door sharply with her knuckles. There was no answer. She unlocked the door and pushed it open, revealing an empty, immaculately neat room.

"Guess Buffy's out with Riley." She shrugged, the fleeting disappointment giving way to pleasure at the thought of privacy. "That's okay. Room's all ours, then."

"Nice room," Tara commented, cautiously following her in. Everything was matched and bright, and a few campus flyers were taped to the wall. Willow shrugged again, looking around.

"We're barely in it these days." She smiled, somewhat abashed. To her, the room just looked bare and empty. "Besides, it's practically a hospital room or a prison cell compared to your room. We didn't decorate much."

"It's fine. It's a lot brighter than my room. It feels a lot different."

"Yeah. I still like yours better."

Tara offered a warm smile, relinking their hands.

"I'm glad."

"So, reheated takeout or canned chicken soup?"

"Either. Whatever you want."

"Takeout it is."

Ten minutes later, after Willow had thoroughly embarrassed herself attempting to use chopsticks and they had both finished off a little folding box of noodles and rice, they sat on the bed, Tara leaning back against the headboard while Willow fiddled with her laptop. It was being disobedient.

The room was stuffy from disuse, and Willow noticed Tara fidgeting with her no doubt overly warm sweater, but opening the window would have let in too much of the outside chill and noise. After pulling restlessly at her sleeves for a few minutes, the blonde finally released a huff of air and pushed the whole thing off, depositing it on the floor with a muffled whump and leaving only a tank top underneath. At the sound of her barely audible sigh of relief, Willow glanced back at her and sucked in a quick breath of surprise. It wasn't often that Tara abandoned her conservative coverings, and it was easy to forget the very, very nice figure they concealed. After allowing herself a few seconds to stare admiringly, she forced her eyes back to her computer, where she continued her attempts to coax it into playing a movie. Finally, she gave a cry of success as the stubborn machine gave into her demands.

"There. It always listens in the end." She shot Tara an impish smile.

"You're like the computer whisperer," Tara teased. Willow grinned proudly. It had been awhile since anyone was really impressed by her computer skills– Xander, Buffy, and even Giles were long since used to her technological miracles. Tara's fresh pride gave her a happy feeling. "So what are we watching?"

"I don't actually remember what the title translates to."

Tara's brow furrowed semi-playfully.

"Okay, now I'm worried."

"Don't be. It's a good movie. Promise." Willow reached back and squeezed her knee. The blue eyes softened.

"Alright. I trust you." Tara covered Willow's hand with her own as the title screen danced across the computer display. Overly enthusiastic sitar music blasted from the small speakers. Tara tugged on Willow's hand, pulling her back. Willow hesitated for a second, checking the blonde's face for permission, but more than happily scooted back to lean against her. The pleasant effervescent feeling stirred in her again at the contact, and she settled back comfortably, enjoying it. "You know I don't speak Hindi, right?"

"Neither do I. Bollywood's like watching silent movies, though. Everyone overacts so much, you don't really need to hear the dialogue to know what's going on." She giggled. "And even if you get it wrong, a lot of time the story in your head is better than the real one anyway."

"Bollywood?" Tara asked faintly.

"It's a genre of over-the-top Indian films. My parents used to buy them for me when I was a kid. I think they thought it would widen my cultural experience."

"Your parents sound… odd," Tara admitted, still watching the screen with some confusion.

"I think most parents are." Especially mine. Especially these days. She frowned to herself and snuggled slightly against Tara. "I don't want to talk about them today."

"Okay," Tara murmured immediately. Willow felt a set of fingers slowly comb through her hair, brushing it away from her face. The sensation almost had her eyes rolling up in her head. "Tell me about your friends, then."

Willow fought to regain control of her breathing enough to speak. Even her toes were tingling from the sensation on her scalp. Every touch felt magnified by the residual bonding, making for an almost too-pleasant sensation.

"Sure. Um… well, there's Xander. I've known him since we were in kindergarten. We've been friends kind of on and off our whole lives. We've been closer since high school, though." A sad, somewhat guilty pang reminded her how long it had been since she had really talked with her best guy friend. "I don't see him that much now that we're in college and he's out job-hunting. It's weird. We used to see each other for hours and hours every day. Giles, too. I guess because we were all crammed in the same building for so long. Now we almost never see each other, unless something bad's going on."

"You miss them."

"Yeah." Willow's hands found Tara's unoccupied one and began absently playing with the fingers, carefully tracing them and curling and uncurling them, trying to memorize every line. "They're like my family. My goofy big brother and my well-meaning-but-stuffy-and-out-of-touch dad. We're just in different worlds these days. Things have changed so much."

"Change isn't always a bad thing," Tara commented, watching Willow's thorough investigation of her hand. The redhead smiled wryly.

"That's what Buffy said." She squeezed Tara's hand and felt her hair stir again as Tara resumed her ministrations. "I guess if we were all still in high school, I never would have met you." Even the imaginary sense of loss was enough to make her heart ache. Tara wrinkled her nose slightly.

"I would hate to go back to high school." Her voice was sour with distaste. Willow looked up curiously. Tara was always pretty silent when it came to her life before Sunnydale. This was the first time she had offered up any information.

"How come?"

She saw the hollow of Tara's throat constrict, as though she realized she had said too much. The blonde gave a flustered shrug.

"It just… w-wasn't a lot of fun. For me." Her head turned away, like she was shielding herself from Willow's gaze. Willow almost flinched as the nervous stutter made an appearance. She sandwiched Tara's hand reassuringly between both of her own. The curious part of her wanted to press the issue, but the rational part of her didn't want to make Tara any more uncomfortable. She might ask her to move. Or put her sweater back on. Neither of those were acceptable options.

"Parts of it weren't for me either. I got picked on a lot. And there was some pretty scary monster-related stuff that happened to us, too. Things got better, though, once Buffy showed up. Death counts went down. People made fun of me a little less. We met Giles. It was a lot better."

"Well, to its credit, I guess my high school didn't have much of a death count."

"It's one of Sunnydale's unique charms."

"It must have been hard growing up here with the…" she tried to remember the word. "Hellmouth."

"We didn't know any better, I guess. We just got used to it. The death. You always knew that it was a possibility, that one day your friend might disappear or go crazy and attack you." She shook her head, trying to dispel the memory of countless acquaintances and a handful of friends who had been lost to the Hellmouth over the years. Poor Jesse…

"Why does everyone stay here?"

Willow shrugged.

"It's home."

Tara nodded understandably, a sorrowful look shading her eyes. It looked like she had something to add, but a sudden tightness in her jaw held the words at bay.

"Have Buffy and Giles lived here their whole lives, too?" she asked finally. Willow felt a fleeting disappointment that she still couldn't open up about her pre-Sunnydale existence, but let her lead the conversation where she wanted.

"Nope. Buffy grew up in LA. And Giles is British. Really British. I think even his sweaters have an accent. They both showed up at the beginning of sophomore year. Xander and I kinda caught Buff in the Slaying thing."

"And you decided to help?" She could hear the wordless 'why' in Tara's voice, but couldn't quite answer it. It had just seemed like the thing to do at the time. Buffy had been nice to her and Jesse had fallen victim to Sunnydale Fever and she and Xander had just wanted to do something about it. Anything.

"As much as we could. I couldn't do magic yet, so I mostly helped with computer stuff. We haven't needed that nearly as much lately. More supernatural monsters than enterprising techie criminals these days. I'm not sure why."

"And Xander?"

"He's… I mean, he's not a warlock or anything. He's pretty strong, though, and brave. He goofs things up sometimes, but he's mostly up for anything and he always means well. He's kind of our moral compass-slash-comic relief."

"He sounds nice."

"He is." She smiled, imagining how Xander and Tara would interact. Hopefully, his humor would help put her at ease and fend off Tara's innate self-consciousness. "You'll meet him someday. Soon. He'll like you. Actually, if he didn't have a vengeance demon girlfriend, he'd probably try to hit on you. Relentlessly."

"Vengeance demon?"

"Well, ex-vengeance demon. Anya, formerly Anyanka. She's… well, you'll see when you meet her."

Tara froze, and Willow noticed the hair on her arm stand on end. The redhead frowned at the change and gently rubbed her arm, as though smoothing it down again would undo the damage.

"An ex-demon? You mean... she's human now? That's possible?"

"I guess so. In her case at least. You wouldn't know it to talk to her, though. She doesn't talk about anything but sex and evisceration."

It took almost a full minute for Tara to relax again, and Willow wondered what she had said that made her react like that. So many secrets… She dismissed the thought– and all other thoughts– as Tara gathered her closer and stroked her hair behind her ears, tracing their outline with a single fingertip.

"So Xander's dating a… an ex-vengeance demon, you dated a werewolf guy, and Buffy dated a vampire. Is Giles married to a gargoyle or a wendigo or something?"

Willow giggled at the thought.

"No, nothing like that. He did date a techno-pagan gypsy witch for awhile, but Buffy's de-souled vampire boyfriend Angel killed her."

Tara's hand paused in her hair.

"You people live strange and complicated lives." It resumed, gently massaging her scalp. Willow smiled widely against her.

"True. But don't forget, you're here, too."

"Yeah. I'm here, too."

They both sat curled together, enjoying the closeness and mostly ignoring the movie, Willow occasionally filling her in on the finer points of the mystifying plot. It was fun, watching Tara's face as the movie progressed, oscillating between confused and content. She happily snuggled closer, pleased that her girl seemed so much more at ease now than usual.

"We should hang out like this more often," she murmured, squeezing Tara's hand and pulling her bare arm more securely around her torso.

"Like what?" Tara asked, tightening her hold amenably.

"This." Willow waved her hand vaguely. "Without the freaking out and awkward stuff. Just us, like this."

"Yeah," Tara agreed. Willow could hear the warm smile in her voice, and it renewed the tingly feeling under her skin. "That'd be nice."

"Alright then. It's a date."

"I guess it is."