AN: This fic assumes that Tara went to high school with the other Scoobies and became close friends with Willow as they practiced magic together. It is just a quick oneshot, so all the details of how this came to be are not necessary. Everything else remains as close to canon as possible.
Also, just so you all know, I have not abandoned Earthquakes and should have an update for that story very soon!
Tara awkwardly tugged at a string hanging off of her sleeve. She felt so out of place now that she was the only one in her friend group who was not seeing someone. Yes, there was no doubt she was the fifth wheel at that moment, what with Buffy casually shoving her hands into the pockets of Angel's overly large leather jacket as she gawked openly across the room to where he stood at the bar and Xander and Cordelia hardly able to keep from publically groping each other.
Sighing, Tara wished she hadn't come at all. She would much rather be holed away in her bedroom lost in Jane Austen or the like. The only reason she had come at all had been at the insistence of a certain someone she could deny nothing. No matter how much it may torture her, as was evidenced in her current, lonely predicament.
"Oz! Oz! Over here, man." Xander waved his arm obnoxiously in an attempt to catch the werewolf's attention.
Tara was impressed Xander had even noticed his entrance, given his apparent fascination with sucking on Cordy's tongue. Focusing in the direction that Xander was waving, she easily spotted Oz but was unable to locate a flash of red hair at his side.
Standing slightly on her toes, she tried to use her rather tall height to look over the crowd at the club, but as Oz approached it became obvious that Willow was not with him.
"Oz!" Xander patted him heartily on the back. "My mortal male companion is here!"
Oz lifted his hand in a little wave. Cordelia said nothing and Buffy did not even seem to notice his presence, her attention still focused on what Tara suspected to be Angel's ass.
"Hey Oz. W-where's Willow?" Tara asked, stumbling over her words as she felt a flood of betrayal. How could Willow not be here after begging Tara to come the night before? The whole night seemed to be imprinted permanently in Tara's mind.
"Oh drat! Oh drat!" Willow exclaimed repeatedly, as the girls furiously stomped on the small flames coming from the carpet.
Tara hid her smile at Willow's idea of swearing. "I think we got it out," she offered.
Willow's hand flailed out wildly. "Yes, but now the carpet is completely scorched! Ugh, do you smell that?"
Tara wrinkled her nose at the smell of the burnt carpet fibers and moved to open the window. "I guess no flame spells in the house. We probably should have seen this coming."
A grin spread over Willow's face. "Yeah, but it totally worked. I think it could take out a vamp no problem, maybe even two! Well, as long as we are together. I could never get that kind of power alone. No siree, my carpet would hardly be tinged if I had tried that one alone."
Tara smiled back. "You have lot of power, Will. You'll be able to do much more than this on your own in time."
"Maybe, but I sure like having you as my partner!" Willow suddenly launched herself into Tara's arms in an impulsive hug that nearly caused them both to topple to the ground.
Tara caught the thin girl, understanding her exuberant emotion. She felt the same way, desperately happy about the day she had walked into an empty classroom to find the junior floating a pencil. It had made her senior year the most pleasant academic experience of her life as she finally had someone to practice magic with, as well as her first ever friend group. Not to mention her immediate and ever-growing infatuation with the enthusiastic redhead, but that was a subject she like to avoid, even in the privacy of her mind.
"You know, if we just move that blue rug a little no one would ever notice," Tara suggested.
Willow agreed and they tugged it in place together.
Tara glanced out the window regretfully to see the now fully dark street. "I'd better get going."
Willow shook her head violently. "I don't think so. Just spend the night; it's way too dark and scary out there."
"I'll be fine, Willow. I live close and I'll call the minute I get in the door," Tara assured her.
A far too adorable pout crept across Willow's face. "But my parents are gone and this house is so big. You're going to leave me here alone in the dark when we could be all snuggly-wuggly together?"
Tara felt her face flush and she hoped Willow wouldn't notice. The fact that she desperately wanted to snuggle up in that inviting bed with the most beautiful girl was why was consistently rejected Willow's sleepover invitations, though it was getting harder to say no. However, Tara knew it would just give her a taste of something that she could never have, a fact which she felt inclined to remind herself of when she said, "I'm sure if you called, O-oz would come over."
Willow's eyes widened in fear. "Oh no! Our relationship is so not at that point. No! No way! No Oz snuggles tonight, just quality Tara time, while at the same time ensuring that you are not mauled by some creature of the night on your walk home. Please, Tara?"
Shifting her feet nervously, Tara knew she was about to give in. Her father would never notice she was gone, and Willow was right about the dangers of walking home alone at night. Of course, Tara felt those dangers paled in comparison to placing herself in a bed with the girl of her dreams, who had no inkling of Tara's sexuality nor that fact that Tara was in love with her.
Apparently the lack of response was considered an affirmative for Willow, who was now pawing through her drawers. "Here!" Willow held out a pair of pajamas for Tara covered in pictures of tiny kittens chasing pieces of string. "Yay sleepover!"
"Oh alright," Tara finally agreed, unable to resist the cuteness. She couldn't bear the thought of disappointing Willow when she seemed so excited about the prospect of Tara spending the night. And it was a big house. Tara wouldn't want to sleep alone there either.
They turned their backs on each other to change, but Tara turned around a moment too soon and glimpsed Willow's long, bare back before her rubber ducky top slid down all the way. The sight of the creamy, intoxicating skin caused her cheeks and other parts of her body to feel incredibly hot.
After they both took their turn in the bathroom, they climbed in on opposite sides of Willow's bed. Tara quickly realized that Willow had been completely serious about her desire to be all "snuggly-wuggly." As soon as Tara had settled in, her arms were filled with a squirmy body as she inhaled a mouthful of red hair.
"Is this ok?" Willowed asked once she stopped moving about. "Buffy doesn't let me snuggle her, she likes space when she sleeps I guess."
Tara couldn't breathe for a moment. It was so very much okay to have Willow nestled tight against her. Every moment she had spent imagining it couldn't live up to the reality and she marveled at how well they seemed to fit together. But she's not yours. She never will be, an annoying voice in her head had to remind her.
Choosing to ignore it for the moment, she wrapped her arms around Willow. "Y-yeah. It's ok. I li-like it." Tara couldn't stop herself from lowering her face to smell Willow's hair. She willed herself to stay awake all night and enjoy every moment that she held this girl in her arms.
Willow yawned loudly. "Are you coming to the Bronze tomorrow, Tar?"
"Um, probably not," she responded honestly.
"What?" Her previously sleepy companion shifted abruptly, and Tara grunted when Willow elbowed her in the face in the dark.
"Whoops, are you ok?" Willow's hands were all over her face checking for injury. "Your cheeks are hot, do you feel alright?"
Tara knew they were growing ever hotter now that Willow's hands were cradling them gently. "I'm fine."
Willow settled back into her arms. "Look at me – I beg you to spend the night and then nearly give you a black eye. But really, why aren't you bronzing it up with us? Please, please. Oz's band is playing and I'm going to be all alone now that Xander has lost his mind. Was he not a founding member of the I hate…"
Tara snickered at Willow's ability to talk and cut her off. "It's just weird for me, being the only single one."
"It's weird for me too!" Willow agreed. "I mean, I know I'm not, but it feels that way when Oz is on the stage. Please come, Tara." Ever in the dark Tara could tell she was pouting.
"Ok, I'll come," Tara finally consented. "Just promise you'll keep me company."
"Promise!" Willow moved to lay down again more cautiously this time and mindful of Tara's position. When their bodies were flush against each other Tara had to stop herself from trembling.
"Goodnight," Willow yawned, her body rapidly growing limp.
"Night, Willow," Tara whispered.
Tara was brought back to the present by the sound of Oz's voice. "She went home," he stated simply.
"Just now?" Tara put aside her shy nature for a second and pestered Oz with questions. "It's dark by now, isn't it? You let her leave alone?"
Oz shifted a bit uncomfortably. "We had a bit of a disagreement."
Tara felt like shaking him to get more words out of the stoic man. She grabbed her jacket off the table, intent on finding someone who would never give such short responses.
"She can't be alone out t-there!" Tara exclaimed.
"What now?" Buffy tuned back into the conversation as it entered into territory that encompassed her job description.
"Willow and Oz broke up, so he left her and her vulnerable neck alone to get home," Cordelia offered helpfully.
Everyone looked sharply at Oz who still said nothing.
Frustrated, Tara yanked on her jacket. "I'll go."
"No, Tara…" Buffy started.
"Don't worry, I've got it," Tara assured her, revealing the stake and holy water carefully tucked into her jacket. "Plus I know a couple spells that will work. You stay here and have fun with Angel."
Buffy nodded slowly. "You are an accomplished witch. Just keep her safe."
Tara nodded. If Buffy only understood how much Tara loved the little redhead she would never have to say that. Tara would always do everything in her power to keep Willow out of harm's way.
Pushing through the crowd, Tara broke into a light jog and nearly ran right past where Willow tucked in a doorway just outside of the entrance.
"Hey you," Tara greeted her softly and sat down, refraining from mentioning how incredibly stupid it was for her to be hanging out in that alley alone.
"Tara," Willow whimpered, looking up for long enough for Tara to see her red-rimmed eyes.
Tara put a friendly arm around her back. "Everyone is worried about you," she stated simply, not pressing Willow to explain.
As Willow burrowed into her shoulder and let out a sob, Tara kept careful eye on their surroundings. While they were near enough to the Bronze that it was still well lit, she had seen far too many vampires in this alley to let down her guard.
"Will you take me home?" Willow asked quietly after a few minutes of crying.
"Yes," Tara answered, relived to leave the area.
They walked at a brisk pace through the dark city without talking, for once fortunate enough to make it back without confrontation. Tara kept a diligent watch as Willow unlocked the door until they were both safely over the threshold of the dark house.
Without turning on the lights, Willow took Tara by the hand and expertly guided her through the dark house until they reached her bedroom. Willow immediately curled up on the bed with her stuffed dog and Tara flicked on the light so they weren't sitting in the dark.
With a dramatic sniffle, Willow finally started talking. "Tara, it was just awful! I didn't mean to react like that, but I did and then before I realized what was happening we broke up."
Tara sat down on the edge of the bed and rubbed Willow's back in a comforting motion. "What happened, sweetie?"
"I thought I liked him, Tara. I mean, I do like him. I guess just not in that liking liking kinda way. I don't know, all not liking him like I should if we're dating," Willow rambled.
Still extremely confused, Tara tried to get some clarification without being overly nosey. "What made you realized that, Will?"
Willow became very concerned with petting her dog's head as she spoke. "Well, you know we haven't kissed, not really at least. I mean, we have, but it's all been very short and dry and not like, you know, that thing people do with their tongues and stuff?" Willow glanced up at her desperately.
"Yes, I know what you mean," Tara assured her.
"Well, but then, right before we came in, he tried to kiss me like that," Willow continued, and Tara had to try not to flinch at the thought of it. "But I didn't let him! And then all of a sudden I couldn't stop talking, and I told him how I didn't think I had ever felt like that about him. I think I just wanted a boyfriend in a band and to fit in. But it's not him I'm attracted to, it's never been him." Fresh tears fell down her cheeks and Tara tried to pull her into a comforting embrace, but to her surprise, Willow ducked away and curled into the pillows.
"Xander?" Tara asked softly.
Willow shook her head and buried her face in the dog, mumbling something that Tara couldn't understand.
"I can't hear you, sweetie," Tara told her gently.
Willow pulled her red face up. "It's not Xander," she repeated, and then hid in the stuffed animal once again.
"Ok," Tara answered simply, not pressing the issue. Willow would always come out and tell her these things with a little time, babbling in a somewhat alarming manner while she did so.
After a couple minutes, Willow sat up and looked at Tara intently. "Tara? If I do something, do you promise we can still be friends? No matter what?"
"Willow, I'll always be your friend."
Then before Tara realized what was happening, Willow had crossed the distance between them and the lips that touched Tara's were softer than she ever imagined. It was quick and chaste and Tara barely had time to kiss her back before it was over.
Tara still had her eyes closed and was reliving the moment when Willow started talking. "I'm sorry, so sorry. Please don't hate me. Oh and I was all gross and snotty." Tara opened her eyes to see Willow furiously wiping at her eyes and nose.
"I could never hate you," Tara whispered.
Willow reached for a tissue and mopped the still falling tears from her eyes and blew her nose loudly. "I'll never do it again, please, can everything just go back to normal?"
Tara mind was reeling and she knew she needed to respond appropriately and fast before her dreams slipped away. "Willow, Willow. I d-d-don't…" Tossing aside words for the moment, Tara pulled Willow close and kissed her softly, hoping that she would get the message.
When she pulled away, she was met with Willow's wide-eyed stare. "Wait, you aren't mad? Or grossed out?"
"Far from it." Tara could feel goose bumps rise on her arms at the memory.
"Even with the snot?" Willow pressed.
Tara finally managed a smile. "I didn't even notice." And it was true; the moment had been so beautiful a sniffling Willow could do nothing to diminish it.
"Can we do it again?" Willow asked rather eagerly.
Tara felt a wide, dopey grin spread across her face. "Always, Wi-…" Her response was swallowed as Willow leaned across again to give her a longer kiss that lingered intimately in a way that made Tara want to toss Willow onto the bed and do things to her that would be widely inappropriate after only sharing a couple sweet kisses.
"Wow," Willow breathed. "I think I would like doing that tongue thing with you."
Tara laughed and squeezed Willow tightly against her. "You're adorable."
Willow spoke from where she was nuzzling into Tara's shoulder. "Will you spend the night with me again?"
Tara nodded, keeping Willow close as a single tear dripped down her nose and onto silky red hair. This was still incredibly new and there was much conversation left to be had, but Tara knew that tonight she would not be cuddling up with an impossible dream. Instead it was a possibility for the future. The best future she ever could have hoped for.