"It is only a dream, you know," Tara said gently. "She cannot speak to you from the dead."
"I know," Willow replied, just as soft. "I just miss her, is all. I don't know how you know what you do, but she meant everything to me. And now that she's gone, everything is just..."
Tara's lips moved in concert with Willow's, knowing exactly what she was going to say, but not saying it aloud, letting Willow say it, even though the admission would hurt, because truth always hurts.
(Will I ever be freed? Everything is...)
Tara wished she could take Willow's hand, to comfort her in this strange place. She would not. Despite all her reactions since the woman first walked into the poppy den, Tara needed to remember that Willow was just a client, and Tara would use her as she needed to.
"Give me an hour," Tara said, getting to her feet with as much grace as she could muster under Willow's questioning and bonemelting gaze. Tara knew that if Willow ever looked on her with desire, her knees wouldn't work at all. Was there a tall man with icy eyes in her life?
(how damned do you want to be, Tara?)
"Please, feel free to read whatever you wish while you wait," Tara continued, waving her arm at the entire array of books. A genuine smile lit up Willow's face and Tara's chest thudded as if she'd been punched. Tara could barely walk away, wondering if Willow was watching her walk away, the grey silk that rustled over her hips, her blonde hair that shone like spun gold in the creamy lights, or if Willow was already looking at the books with a desire never shown to any woman at all.
Tara could not help herself; after she had exited through the curtain she parted it slightly to look at her newest client. Willow had gotten up with a surprising amount of grace, drained the last drop of tea in her cup, then strode over to the bookshelves, her fingers questing over the titles, her lower lip caught adorably in her white teeth.
How much hair colour would Tara lose to make this dream?
Tara was exhausted when she parted the curtain an hour and forty minutes later. She knew Willow had not been looking at her watch, not like some other clients who felt intimidated by her books. She again whisked through the divider with the smallest of sounds and then stood still, frozen in place by the sight in front of her.
Willow was lost in a book; her immaculately clad legs were swung over the arm of the squashy chair, her long red hair poured in a waterfall over the other arm where she had pillowed her head. She lounged facing the curtain that separated the living quarters, no doubt to notice when Tara would return. Her eyes were dappled meadows of oak trees, leaves embossed by sunlight and kissed by a zephyr wind.
Willow was engrossed by the heavy tome in her hands, and Tara smiled at her choice. Willow was reading 'The Chronicles of Narnia', a handsome and extraordinarily valuable first edition, bound with leather and signed by the late C.S. Lewis. Tara remembered the day that Clive Staples Lewis had come to her den, bearing this book as payment for his dream. She had given him only two dreams, and then he had passed away. Tara was delighted to see that Willow didn't wet her finger as she turned the pages; she handled the book with a practiced reverence, delicate fingers above a delicate wrist.
She didn't make her money in the stock markets, not alone, not with her open face and her insecurity. Not with those fingers that caressed the book, those fingers that had never caressed a lover in a similar manner. Where did you make your million, Willow?
(And will you ever touch me like you touch that book?
Remember, Tara. She's not for you. No one is. You paid the price already.)
Only as Tara drew closer did Willow realize that she had entered the room, and she swung her legs back, blushing. The book rested in her lap like a babe. Then she must have really looked at Tara's face, Tara's changed hair, because her eyes crinkled in vast concern. "Are you all right?" she actually asked.
(How many people ask, Tara? Out of the thousands of your clients, the hundreds of your years, who has asked?)
Tara wanted to taste her, badly. There, just underneath that emerald pendant. What would she taste like? Could she lick Willow's wrist and then puff air on it?
Tara had to sit, her knees were buckling. She handed the picture back to Willow, who awkwardly put it back in her clutch. Willow was a new client; she looked at Tara's empty hands for the dream. Had no one told her?
Tara sat in the chair, more heavily than she would have wished, the silk flirting with her shapely calves. She lifted a spangled hand and picked out a strand of hair by her ear. The brown extended nearly six inches before fading back into her platinum blonde. It had taken a lot out of her to prepare this dream for Willow. Did she want to impress her, or just draw her back? Either way, Tara was walking on dangerous ground.
Tara decided to evaluate her welter of emotions later on, when Willow wasn't around to confuse her. Her hair would revert during the night, as it always did. During the nightmare.
(I give what I never have for myself.)
Willow was looking at her with genuine concern. Then she did something that taught Tara more about her true nature than any other thing, more than her cultured clothes, her demeanor, her cracker jack ring. Willow placed the book carefully on the little table, lifted herself from the comfortable chair, then knelt on the rug at Tara's feet. Eyes wide, Tara watched, stunned.
Willow took one of Tara's hands, ran her delicate unpolished fingers over the back of it, then around, pressing into her palm. Tara's fingers brushed against the skin of Willow's wrist, paper thin, spidery veins like ink, her last will and testament writ there by Tara's duplicity. No devil could be more seductive.
(You are a fool.)
Tara nearly unraveled there, under Willow's gaze, Willow's warm hand nestled inside her own.
"Tara, are you all right?" Willow asked softly. For the first time Tara was close enough to feel the puff of air as Willow spoke; she smelled a faint whiff of spearmint gum masking the floral jasmine.
She's a client, Tara. Ignoring the question, not without a certain knowledge that it would only make Willow more concerned and reveling in it, Tara answered, "Your dream is ready."
Once again Willow looked down at Tara's empty hands, and she actually turned over the palm that she held in her hand. There was nothing there, obviously. Willow didn't know how this part happened, because no one told her. Tara was tired, and feeling thick and clumsy. The dream was heavy behind her eyes, and she wanted to give it away.
It was one of the most heavenly things she had ever created. As a consequence, Tara doubted she would sleep at all this night.
(But I'll scream.)
She had never told any of her clients the side effect of their business. The nightmare tonight would be terrifying, but Tara believed that Willow was worth it.
Willow was still looking at her, her face deceptively open, her eyes concerned but still wary. "I-I give it with a kiss," Tara stammered, cursing herself. She hadn't stuttered in decades. What was going on?
Get Willow out.
Willow's finger was definitely touching her wrist, and at those words Willow blinked. On her knees in front of Tara, Willow was uncertain. Tara could see the war waging in her mind. Tara could see it so clear in Willow's eyes; the hesitation, the longing. Willow had never been kissed by a woman, Tara was sure of it.
(The forehead, Tara. Kiss her on the forehead just like everyone else. Do it before you do something you'll regret.)
Tara tried to look at Willow's forehead, to send the unspoken message that had worked thousands of times before today. It's just the forehead, it's no problem, no intimidation.
But Willow's pert mouth drew her, held her. If the woman before her wore lipstick at all it was subtle and expensive. Those lips, they were a whirlpool, and Tara was being sucked in. Was Willow a siren then, to so captivate her and draw her into watery depths?
(She will ruin me.)
Tara could count on one hand the number of times she'd kissed on the mouth, and none of them had been with a client.
(My price to pay.)
Goosebumps swept Tara's body. She was suddenly sure that this woman would be her undoing. Willow would kill her.
So be it.
Tara wanted Willow to know how it felt, the perfection of a woman's lips, so different from a man's. So knowledgeable, giving, and quiet. Tara wanted it to be her lips that would so educate her. Tara wanted Willow to think only of Tara every time she kissed someone else, and all those other kisses to be shallow mockeries of the truth Tara would teach her in this moment.
Jealousy flamed her stomach. Tara didn't want Willow to kiss anyone else ever again, and she could not quite comprehend where these feelings were coming from. What about Willow had so captivated her from the moment she walked into the poppy den, so that Tara would watch the vid screen, and review those moments that captured the redhead on camera?
Willow dropped Tara's hand, but she still looked Tara in the eyes. They were close now, oak trees dripping in sunlight, hiding small and deep pools of memory, the warm greenery of summer days, all in Willow's eyes. Tara lifted her hands, and she knew that they were soft, they were luscious, and she grasped Willow just behind her neck.
Willow's shoulders were surprisingly tight and hard, and the neck cords underneath her skin like sinew. Tara faltered again, confused. Willow worked out, or something.
(how did you make your millions, Willow?)
Willow's hair was silken and delicious to Tara's greedy touch. Tara could barely get over the contradictions of this woman.
(Still time to get out, Tara. The forehead. Kiss her on the forehead.)
The dream was heavy; Buffy was waiting to go to the fair. She and Willow would have the time of their lives, the music, the laughter, the heady attention of boys, youth and verve and innocence all in one, with the ferris wheel and the cotton candy and the ice cold root beer. From a cracker jack box would spill a plastic ring, and the promise of becoming as close to blood relations as is possible between best friends.
This young Buffy would not know that blood was her design, and the dream-girl would frolic with Willow at her side, not caring that the world had teeth and would swallow her whole without blinking in remorse.
(Was the killing blow meant for Buffy, or for Willow?)
And later on, they would both get to fly.
Starlight would bathe Willow's skin, her garments would be spun of the clouds, and the world would rotate beneath them. From those great heights they would look down on the world, spread out with the twinkling glory of Christmas lights.
Willow would remember this dream forever.
Looking at her client, Tara could see the empty bedroom in Willow's eyes, the king size bed with two sets of pillows but only one was ever used. Would Willow undress tonight in the bathroom, put on unflattering flannel pajamas and sneak to her unwelcome bower in the dark of night? Would her puppy curl up with her, or be relegated to sleeping on a dog bed? Upon waking, would one hand still be flung out, aching to caress skin or sky instead of cloth? And when she dreamed of Buffy, would she wrap the sheets around her hands in her guilt, or would she lie oh so quiet oh so still, tears wetting the pillow as she smiled in adolescent bliss?
Willow had already woken once to a Buffy dead and gone. Would this dream shatter her again?
(Can I live with the guilt?)
After all, guilt is only pain. Pain is only temporary. A kiss is forever.
And Willow's face softened, as if she had lost the war; the wary hurt vanished from her eyes, replaced with trust and acceptance. Tara could see expectation hovering there, and the rationale behind her decision. If Willow liked the kiss, it was forced, she hadn't asked for it, it had just been given, no choice, no choice at all.
There was no way Tara was going to force it. She knew the signs, as instinctively as any woman.
There may be a tall man with icy eyes in Willow's life, but at this moment that man didn't exist. Her eyes were responding to Tara, and she pursed her lips, ever so slightly. Those eyes, those green grass and sunshine eyes, they weren't looking at Tara's eyes any more. They were looking at Tara's lips, and there was fascination in them. She never would have crossed this line by herself, Tara knew it. But here, with Tara, in silence, in discomfort, the smell of white tea with jasmine and leather books, Willow was fulfilling a fantasy she never knew she had.
Tara wondered if Willow would ever be the same again.
If Tara would ever be the same again.