3.
Recompense


I lie in Tara's arms, and she in mine, wrapped in a not-so neat little bundle of us. We're too sticky to pass for neat. Not the icky kind of sticky; the warm, snuggly, sated kind.

Everything's perfect. Essences of lilac and sandalwood tinge the air, but mostly what I smell is her. Moonbeams paint her room in murky hues of deepest blues and ghostly whites. A breeze brings the curtains to life. I tense to stifle a shiver when it ruffles the hair on my arm.

It just figures that on top of all of this goodness, I'm a nervous wreck. I mean, things are wonderful, so why wouldn't a party pooper like me turn into an angsty lump of senseless contradictions? Not quite terrified. Not the 'the scary monster looming in the shadows' kind, anyway. That's too intense.

But it isn't. It isn't at all. I can't go through that again. I'll just die. I'll shrivel up into a tight little ball and never, ever move again.

I'll die.

I'm so exhausted, but sleep is out of the question.

My chest feels tight. I can't catch my breath, so I hold it. That seems insane, even for me. I don't want to, but I know the truth. I'm not smothering. I know I'm not. I'm just freaking out for the billionth time this month. You'd think I'd get over it. Instead, I've learned to cope.

Several moments pass before I let out a slow, careful breath, then I draw one in just the same. My heart pounds staccato in my chest, but I try to think happy thoughts.

Tara's exactly how I imagined: spirit, mind and body, soft and sensitive, but deceptively strong. I could fall for her. Like really, really let go. Tumble head-over-heels, giddy as the schoolgirl I am.

If I don't wake up alone.

If she doesn't spend the next month doing everything in her power to be anywhere I'm not.

Happy thoughts never last long around me. My brain is preset for sabotage. It pulls a switcheroo and I end up right back in the same old—

Tears leak from the corners of my eyes. The ones that aren't on the side of my head that's smooshed against the pillow collect in the hollow of my eye. The pool eventually brims over. It tickles as the fluid trickles over the bridge of my nose. My face is stuck to my pillow. A drop hangs. I don't wipe it away. I don't want to disturb Tara. As it is, she's probably none the wiser. I'm sure she thought my Nervous Nellyness tonight was because this was my first time—the first time I was with a woman—that she was my first—with the specialness and the—

Drip.

I'm such a liar. Deceptive in my silence. I just couldn't. I couldn't. The truth was too horrible to—

A hiccupping, fretty breath makes me shudder. I freeze. Tense. Hold it in. If I don't, I'll wake her. Then I'll be forced to explain. She'll want to know why I'm crying. And I can't. I don't know how. How can I tell her that I took advantage of my best friend? Tara would never look at me the same again.

How could she?

I need to stop. I clamp my eyes shut so hard my ears rumble. As I let up and the pressure eases, I know beyond a doubt that my behavior is irrational. Tara isn't going to leave me. She wouldn't do that. She isn't one of those people. She's so shy—so much like me—like I was—maybe more-so than I ever was—and that's impressive.

Us—those of us who are introverted—all we want more than anything is for people to like us. That's all I ever wanted. I don't see how other people can be so confident and actually give a hoot what anyone else thinks. The two ideas just don't mix. People are too mean. How could someone be confident and stay confident and actually continue to care through all the random and not-so random callousness and outright contempt?

Maybe that's too cynical. Too much like Cordy. She actually is that way. Maybe this is like everything else. There are extremes and in-betweens. Buffy isn't like that. Yes, she's confident, but it wasn't that she didn't care. She just didn't remember.

The weeks leading up to that revelation were the purest of hells. Thinking back, she wasn't really mean. It sure felt like it at the time, but she was just being her usual self-absorbed self. That's how Buffy is. She's got a lot, way more than her share, and sometimes that makes her selfish. At least that's what I try to tell myself. Sometimes I even believe it.

We still did Scooby stuff and I saw her in class. She was just so distant. She slipped away the moment the obligation was met. It seemed like she remembered that night and she couldn't deal with it. That's how I took it. She didn't want to be around me any more than she had to.

It wasn't until I told her about Tara that I really figured it out. I don't know why I even bothered, but I did. I thought she'd go, 'sure, Will, whatever,' but she acted like it came as some huge shock. She was rattled, so rattled that I suspected later that what I shared might've niggled at the gaps in her memory.

Maybe?

I don't know, but she sure did overreact…

I guess it all worked out. She has Riley now. He's so much more her cup of tea. A great big beefcakey cup of tea. Beef stock. I don't see it. I'm not even sure how that works. He's so huge. It seems like she'd get lost. Little bitty Buffy buried beneath a mountain of muscle-bound—

A flash fire burns through my cheeks as I remember something I've been trying to forget. This is just one of those moments that I'll probably never shake. Buffy was on top of me, inside of me. I was struggling to stay in my skin. I opened my eyes. Her expression was the very essence of intensity. She leaned in. Her hair glistened in the moonlight as it framed our faces. She kissed me. The way she touched me wasn't really savage or hard like I expected. It was, but it wasn't. She was entirely consumed by me…and I her, so intensely focused that we were the only thing in each other's worlds. In the moment, she wanted me as much as I ever wanted her.

That was bad. Very, very, very bad. I know exactly how she is. Or I know how she was with me. Really, really, profoundly, assertively aggressive. She wouldn't allow herself to be buried.

I fell in love with her that night. I would've sacrificed anything to be with her one more time. It was so beautiful.

And I was so sore the next day. That was a beautiful reminder of everything I'd lost. All the disbelief, the denial, the guilt and eventually, as the truth sunk in, the pain.

I'm such a hypocrite, lying here in Tara's bed. What else would a treacherous imp like me do besides have naughty, highly erotic thoughts about my best friend? Wondering if some small part of her still views me that way—as an object of desire—is probably a new all time low. I've officially hit rock bottom.

Between my tears and the sticky swelter of skin-on-skin, this 'us'ness has started to get a little on the unpleasant side. Slowly and carefully, so as not to be upsetting, I roll onto my back. I'm icky and sweaty. Tara's so sleepy. So sweet. She snuggles up to my side.

I don't deserve her.

I don't deserve either of them. I can't be faithful. I can't be trusted. I never once regretted the act. I regretted everything else, but being with Buffy never once made the list.

I should've just left her alone. That was obviously what she wanted. But I got the harebrained idea that things might go back to the way they were if I could just find the right thing to say or do. Maybe I could make it up to her. Maybe I might have a chance with her.

That was one of the more moronic things I've done. Ever. Life isn't exactly full of certainties. One of thing I know to be true. Things never go back to the way they were.

I don't know what I expected.

I guess I expected her to treat me better than Parker treated her, but she didn't. And on top of that there was the great big, karmic gut buster that was Veruca.

I wanted to die. But I didn't. I just lost everything.


Prompts: #306 Redemption tamingthemuse; #083 Break-Up from Table B (modified) lover100; #18 Tight from Table 1 kinda_gay.

Beta: Howard Russell.