Willara4ever – Becky's good for as ass kicking, that's for sure! Glad you enjoyed it! :) :)
gimpy72 – Hey, like she said, nobody messes with Tara's girl
StephenPG – 39: I know, it pained me to write me. That's why I had the other one up faster, I had to just keep writing to get them in a better place, I couldn't take it.
40: It was hard, but I'm glad they got through it. I second your yays! And that's a good idea, but she'll sabotage herself first!
Dirty Tube Socks – You're the second person who said they wanted to slap her :P Man, poor Willow, I never portray her in the best of lights, do I? I dunno about that, I'd prefer drama happening to me than to Willow and Tara to be honest, I can't handle too much of their heartbreak!
SonyaG – You're very kind, thank you :) Punk-ass is being kind, I think, she's all kinds of horrible. Hold up for the next chapter, she'll get some comeuppance. And I agree, Mr. Maclay is lucky he gets so many years of freedom before they meet again.
NOTE: I had less time to piece together the whole next chapter, which has some delicate points, so I humbly offer you this interlude instead.
~Later That Evening~
Tara wasn't sure what time it was when she woke, but the sun had set and the room only had the glow of Willow's laptop beside her.
She blinked a few times to let her eyes adjust, but quickly noticed how eerily-still Willow was; knees up and staring intently at the screen. Tara sat up, but Willow made no effort to move or acknowledge her.
Tara looked at the screen and saw just a maroon background at first, but it didn't take her long to notice a particular name and some other details on a grid along with class names there too.
"What's that?" she asked softly.
Willow was still unmoving, but was twitching slightly.
Tara nodded; that was what she suspected.
"What did you change?"
Willow shook her head but her eyes stayed on the screen.
"Nothing. I promised I wouldn't."
Tara sat up fully and put a hand on Willow's arm.
"How come you…whatever it's called when you…break into websites."
Willow suddenly slammed her computer closed.
"Because I wanted to feel like I was doing something!" she replied in a miserable tone.
Tara gave Willow's shoulder a squeeze.
Willow dropped her head to her knees.
"I didn't and I won't, but I can't say I don't want to. I just won't break my promise."
Tara was glad Willow wasn't going to go down that route, but felt slightly troubled by the reasoning.
"Honey, I don't want you to feel like I'm holding our relationship over you if you don't do exactly as I say."
Willow's head lifted.
"Why can't I just mess her around a little? She deserves it."
Tara touched Willow's hair affectionately.
"Let's leave out whether it's right or wrong or she deserves it or doesn't; you'll get caught out and you'll get in serious trouble. I'm only concerned about you."
Willow scowled then sighed; she was sure she knew her way around a computer, but she was surer that Tara had her best interests at heart, misguided as she thought they were.
"Don't be mad," Tara said, leaving a kiss on Willow's cheek.
Willow gently nuzzled against Tara's lips.
"I'm not mad," she replied, feeling a little calmer, "I'm not. There's been enough anger today. And hurt."
She glanced to Tara, and took her hand, drawing circles in her girlfriend's palm to distract herself from her real source of anger; herself.
"I really scared you a couple of times, didn't I? I mean…you know, of the threaten-y kind."
Tara played with Willow's foot under the blanket since her hand was occupied.
"It's not your fault I have a few bad memories."
"No, but it is my fault if I act in a way that reminds you," Willow replied, swallowing a lump in her throat.
Tara leaned over and kissed Willow's cheek again, repeatedly pressing her lips against her girlfriend's soft skin.
"Well, then it's fair that it's my fault when I don't listen and make you feel like you're worthy enough to have a voice," she said, finding Willow's eyes, "Those are your bad memories, aren't they?"
Willow looked away, but Tara kept her gaze.
"You don't talk about it much."
"It's nothing like what you went through," Willow was quick to establish.
"It's not a competition," Tara replied, moving her hand up to touch Willow's cheek.
Willow let herself take the comfort but didn't linger.
"Yeah, it hurt growing up, but it's over."
"Even when it's over, sometimes it still comes up," Tara replied, putting her hand around Willow's waist and lying them both down right by each other, "I get that more than anyone."
Neither said a word for a few minutes, until Willow's voice cracked through the silence.
"Mom…Mom. Ha. She wasn't 'Mom', she was 'mother'. A role, nothing more. Dad was 'Dad' at least when 'mother' wasn't around. Then he had to be 'father'. There were some nice times with him, but it's hard to remember the good among all the…'bad' is probably too strong a word, but…maybe apathy. They didn't care about Willow, they cared about 'daughter'."
"I care about Willow," Tara replied softly, linking their fingers, "My Willow, who had a traumatic day and at the end of it is only worried about me."
Willow sighed softly.
"It's...not. You're nothing like my parents…actually, maybe you get it. It's not that I'm expecting you to act like my parents, but all I know is that they did. So it was either them, or me. And I can't explain why they acted like they did, but give me enough time and I'll come with a thousand reasons why I caused it."
Tara rubbed her thumb over Willow's skin.
"You don't have to live by a rule where you're trying to convince me you're worthy. I love you 'cause you're you; I love you because you're passionate and fiery even though it comes with a temper; I love how much you love, even though it can cloud your clarity sometimes; I love that even after…after how horrible an experience it must have been to be told those things in such a crude manner…that even if it took a little probing, that you came back to talk," she said, meeting Willow's eyes with a smile, "Hey, I knew what I getting involved with when I started dating a redhead."
Willow finally cracked a smile and lifted their joined hands up to kiss the back of Tara's. She squeezed their palms together and leaned over to gently press their lips together.
"'Promises mean something to me'. You told me that on our first date. I won't make a promise lightly and I won't ever break one I make to you. That's something I don't even have to think about. I promised I won't use my hacker skills on Mia, I'd actually just like to forget all about her if that's at all possible, but I promised and I'm committed to that promise, just like I'm committed to you and hey do you want to get a pet?"
Tara stared at Willow silently for a few seconds.
"Do I want to get a pet?"
Willow seemed just as surprised as Tara.
"Yep. Those were the words that came out of my mouth."
"Like a dog?" Tara asked, eyes narrowing in thought.
Willow wasn't entirely sure where her question had even come from, but considered the response.
"Well, I don't think we could sneak a dog into the dorms. There'd be barking and whatnot, a cat probably too. We'd have to train it and it could ruin the floor or scratch up all the furniture and we'd be responsible."
"So… a fish?" Tara asked, wondering if she was following the train of thought correctly.
"Yeah, like a fish!" Willow replied eager, but then held her free hand up in a 'stop' motion, "Tara I have exactly zero idea why I brought this up. I was just thinking about really wanting you to know I'm committed to you after everything that happened and kablamo, just came out. We can forget about it."
Tara was smiling.
"No, I like it. Let's get a fish."
"Really? Awesome!" Willow replied, enthused by her own out-of-the-blue idea, "I bet there's a pet store nearby, I can look it up in the morning. We could go before class."
Tara let out a soft exhale.
Willow immediately shook her head, smile still lighting up her face.
"No, shush, we're thinking about happy things, like our fish."
The thought was niggling at the back of Tara's mind still, but the look on Willow's face made up for everything.
"What kind of fish should we get?"
"I don't know, what do you think?" Willow asked excitedly, "Maybe I should look it up now…"
Willow marched up to the counter at the pet store and threw down a $50 bill.
"I want one of your finest fish, please!"
The man behind the counter looked amused, but like he was trying to conceal it.
"Do you know what type you're looking for?"
"Uh, no," Willow admitted sheepishly, while Tara stood at the large tank at the other side of the store, "I researched but there were a lot of options."
"Do you have a tank or any fish already?" the clerk asked.
"Nope," Willow replied, "First time fish owners here."
"Do you plan on more?" he asked and Willow shook her head, "How much space are you looking at?"
Willow made a spherical shape with her hands.
"Um, well, I was thinking, you know, a bowl."
"Limited space?" the clerk asked and Willow nodded.
"Yes. Dorm room small."
The clerk brought Willow over to the tank, quite close to where Tara was already standing.
"These are Siamese Fighting fish. They're pretty good if you only have a small space."
Willow put her palms flat against the glass.
"Whoa, check out those colours!"
Tara sidled up next to Willow.
"They're very pretty."
"They like heated water, and don't need much maintenance," the clerk explained to them, "They live for up to four years, but don't get on very well with other fish."
A vibrant fish swam up near Willow's hands.
"Hey look, it likes me!"
"It's blue and green, kinda like us," Tara pointed out.
Willow's eyes lit up like a child on Christmas.
"We'll take it!" she announced, before turning to Tara, "I mean, um, will we take it?"
Tara nodded, so Willow turned giddily to the clerk.
"What stuff do we need?"
He took them around the store to get bowl, suggested some live plants to have in with it, a small heater, the food pellets and a water conditioner to keep it healthy. He then got them their fish in a half-filled plastic bag, which Tara held and watched their new addition swim around.
Willow carried the accessories back to their dorm, and followed the instructions to a T when getting it set up.
"Careful, careful, careful," she said as Tara gently placed the bag in their new fish bowl.
Tara waited until the fish was swimming around before removing the baggie again. Willow clapped excitedly and bent down on her knees to watch it swim.
"So not mega on the adorable scale, but who needs to see a kitten yawn? Besides, this is relaxing and no sharp claws," she said, quite taken with the fish's striking colours, "We need to give her a name. What's a good fish name? Mrs. Bubbles? Princess Atlantis?"
"Ms. Fishy Fantastico?" Tara suggested, sitting on the desk chair to watch too.
"I like it. Hello Ms. Fishy Fantasico."
They watched their fishy swim around its new home, until Tara noticed Willow's eyes were glassy.
"Hey, what's wrong?"
Willow shook her head, rolling her eyes at herself.
"It's silly," she said, but a smile broke through, "I feel like a family."
As nice as their fish was, Tara knew the gesture meant a lot more than just it having a new home for it to swim in. It was a symbol of how their relationship went through the bad and came out shining as brightly as Ms. Fishy Fantastico on the other side.
She took Willow's arm and gently pulled her up. Willow thought she was being pulled up for a hug, but was instead tugged onto Tara's lap and embraced that way. Tara held Willow by the waist, arms circling tight around her.
Note: Miss Kitty lovers, please don't hate me. If I introduced her here, some tragedy would have to befall her to explain why she's gone by the start of Hacker, so I went down the less ominous route!