What a night.
Buffy had been lying diagonally across her bed for the last hour, simply staring at the ceiling. She thought over the last few hours spent with Tara - recalling and reliving the pain and angst of the last year had been emotionally draining, to say the least. But, she felt oddly invigorated by the experience. It was as if a burden had been lifted. She'd lived that year vicariously through Willow...and Tara...and, of course, Dawn. But the pain she felt...that was no figment of her imagination; it was real. The number of nights that she had cried herself to sleep - after staying on the phone with Willow while the redhead cried herself to sleep - were innumerable. But now...now she could feel the healing begin. Her mind and heart felt somehow cleansed.
There was still a niggling in the back of Buffy's mind - one tiny, minute fleck of annoyance that just wouldn't leave her in peace. Regret. Oh, she would soon get over it, but right now, there was regret. The sooner she could get past the regret, the sooner she would be rid of the niggling. The sooner the better. What she had told Tara was the "capital T" Truth. There were no falsehoods, no hyperboles, no tall-tales, no little white lies. Buffy had laid it all on the line - she held nothing back. And, because of that, there was the niggling. While she felt like she had known Tara for years, she really hadn't. Anything she truly knew of Tara came through Willow. Yes, they had communicated over the years through email. Sure, they had considered each other friends. But always, always through and because of Willow. It was as it should be - to each of them, Willow was the most important variable in the equation. The depth of the love they each had for Willow was equal - or nearly so - it was simply the motive that was different. But everything still came down to Willow.
Now, in the quiet of her room, without Tara before her - heartbroken and sobbing - she began to second guess her actions.
Maybe I shouldn't have said anything, Buffy thought, biting her lower lip and furrowing her brow in concentration. She got up and paced about the room. I mean, isn't it Willow's job to tell Tara what happened? What gives me that right, really? Buffy stopped her meandering and set her jaw firmly.
"I'm her damned best friend...THAT'S what gives me the right," Buffy said aloud as she met her own determined gaze in the mirror. Her confidence began to falter, however, when she remembered that she wasn't Tara's best friend. More niggling. Honestly, this niggling was being a pain in the ass.
I was too hard on her - I had to have been too hard on her. God, the look in her eyes. It probably would have hurt her less if I'd slapped her.
Buffy remembered the expressions that passed over Tara's face as the two talked. If an emotional roller coaster could be made manifest in human form, it would have looked remarkably like Tara that night. Buffy hadn't seen that kind of pain since...well, since Willow. It looked remarkably similar, and yet, completely different. "I don't know what to think anymore," Buffy sighed as she began to shed her clothes. The process was a slow one - the removal of each piece of clothing hampered by the whirling of thoughts through her mind. She'd plopped down onto the edge of the bed to remove her socks, but got delayed as she replayed a portion of the conversation with Tara.
'I would have stayed.' I'm sure that was full of all kinds of accusatory sentiments. Must have really made Tara feel better by saying that, she chided herself, but then shook her head as if to slough off the offending thoughts. "No," she whispered, rather unconvincingly, "that conversation was not about making Tara feel better. It was about making Tara understand. She needed to hear that." Buffy caught her reflection in the mirror as she stood to put her clothes in the hamper. Again, she stumbled over what she thought was conviction.
"Yes, she did, dammit," Buffy said, her voice firm. No matter how much it hurt to tell, and now matter how much it hurt Tara to hear it, Buffy needed to say the words. It had to be her who told Tara what happened. Willow would never tell everything - she'd leave out the details. Buffy was sure that the redhead would gloss over the parts that might hurt Tara even more. But that's not how it works, my friend, Buffy directed her thoughts toward Willow, deeply asleep in the room down the hall. All of the pain needs to be out there - not just yours. For as much as Buffy was intent on protecting Willow, she was just as adamant about not protecting Tara. It was time that everything was on the table - and Willow had put her heart out there for everyone to see a year earlier. There had only been glimpses of Tara's...and it was time for show and tell.
Her eyes moved to the picture that was stuck in the frame of the mirror - high school graduation day. We were so happy that day. Buffy smiled as she remembered the difference between the Willow from her first day at Sunnydale High and the Willow from her last day at Sunnydale High. The change over those two years was...wonderful. Not that there was anything wrong with Willow when I first met her, Buffy assured herself, she was just...lonely. She and Willow were inseparable during those two years - they filled a void for each other. They were friends, best friends, confidantes, sisters.
"No, I was right," Buffy said firmly, lifting her chin in defiance and standing up straight - as if daring her reflection to argue with her. "I told Tara what she needed to hear. For Willow's sake." A knowing smirk formed on her lips. "For both their sakes." With a renewed bounce in her step, Buffy tossed her clothes in the hamper, grabbed her robe and made her way to the bathroom - confident in her actions.
Thirty minutes and a hot shower later, Buffy was finishing her morning routine and slipping on her shoes, ready to head out for the day. She checked herself in the mirror one last time, ensuring that her make-up sufficiently disguised the darkening circles under her eyes. That's as good as it's going to get, I suppose, she thought, I definitely need to get some sleep tonight. She sucked in her cheeks and lifted her chin, turning to examine her profile in the mirror. Her cheeks puffed out and her shoulders slumped as she let out a quick breath. "I'll be 25 before I know it - so much for my youth," she groaned and headed out her bedroom door.
The house was quiet as she walked down the hallway. After the previous hours with Tara, the silence seemed out of place. Whenever she thought about that month with Willow, she relived the total experience in her own head. Every time Willow had cried. Every time she had cried with Willow. They were all there, played out in the Dolby Surround Sound of her own mind. So now, the quiet was odd.
I'm sure Tara's mind is blaring at the moment, too...especially after all I dumped on her.
Buffy stopped outside the door to the guestroom Tara was using, debating whether to look in on her friend or not. For all of her big show of being hard on her blonde friend - in the name of her redheaded friend, of course - when it came right down to it, Buffy was really a highly sensitive soul. And she knew it. The potential for Tara to "cut and run" based on what had been discussed the night before was high...if it were anyone else but Tara, that is, Buffy thought, hopefully. She knew Tara would have reason to run, to yank herself out of the situation and never look back.
And Buffy also knew that if that were to happen, she would be the catalyst for Tara's departure. Well, then Tara simply wouldn't be the person we thought she was...good riddance, the confidant, defiant part of her mind proclaimed. But, ultimately, the loving, sensitive side won out...it always did. And if Tara disappeared again, Willow would completely break - and so would I if I had to watch that happen to her...again. Shaking off the thoughts that were threatening to take her down another road of pain and depression, Buffy gently tapped on the door in front of her.
"Tara?" she called out softly, not wanting to wake the blonde should she be sleeping.
The door gave way from the gentle pressure of Buffy's hand and creaked softly. She placed her hand flat on the door and pushed slowly inward. The bedside lamp was still on in the room, affording Buffy the opportunity to view the room clearly.
Stepping fully into the room, Buffy immediately noted that she was alone. Apart from the opened suitcase and the walkman tossed on the bed, everything was the same as she had left it earlier. Except when she had left it earlier, Tara was still there. Well, her things are still here, so she didn't leave...I hope. Buffy looked around the room, briefly searching for clues to Tara's whereabouts. Seeing none, she shrugged and headed back out to the hallway.
Across the hall, Willow's door was open - not fully, but enough to allow a person to slip through. I wonder... Buffy crossed the hall and slowly poked her head into the room. The quickly approaching daylight was replacing the moonbeams through the window, allowing Buffy to clearly see the scene before her.
After the night - the year - that Buffy had just experienced, she thought for sure there were no tears left in her body. But, for the first time in a very long time, Buffy welcomed the tears that sprang to her eyes now.
Two highly familiar forms cuddled together in the middle of the bed: Tara was tightly pressed against Willow's back, wrapping herself snuggly around the redhead's slightly smaller frame. For her part, Willow had Tara's hand held firmly, still pinned between her cheek and the pillow - her arm kept Tara's pinned against her torso, as if she was holding the blonde prisoner. That's the happiest prisoner I've ever seen, Buffy thought, a knowing smirk coming to her face. Tara couldn't get any closer to Willow short of actually becoming Willow - the arm that wasn't being held hostage by her sleeping companion was curled up between herself and Willow's back, her hand tangled in soft, red hair; her head was buried between Willow's shoulder blades; and her lips seemed locked in a permanent smile.
While the smile on Willow's face was not identical, it held just as much emotion -- she was calm, peaceful, content. It was...amazing. Willow was happy every day that she received a letter or email from Tara. Willow was ecstatic when she learned that Tara was going to come visit her for two weeks. But nothing compared to the sense of pure bliss radiating from the redhead - even in her sleep. Buffy couldn't see their legs under the blankets, but based on the outlined shape, she was sure they were equally tangled together.
Any tension that was in the air when Buffy and Tara were talking had been sucked away, leaving only serenity. Oh, Buffy was sure the tension would be back...there was still so much to talk about, to hash out. There would be more yelling, there would be more confessions, there would be more confrontations, there would be more tears.
But for now...for this moment in time...there was perfection.
"Way to go, girls," Buffy whispered with a smile. "Way to go." The niggling that had been lingering in her mind began to fade away. As she turned from the beautiful scene before her and made her way out of the room, Buffy heard Tara murmur Willow's name in her sleep. Her smile broadened and she skipped down the stairs and out of the house - the niggling was gone. My job here is done.
She was warm. But it wasn't uncomfortable. There wasn't the need to throw off the blankets or remove clothing in order to cool off. No. It was definitely comfortable. More comfortable than she had felt in ages - perhaps ever. Her skin never felt more alive. It tingled. It felt good. It felt more than good...it felt right. More right than she had felt in ages - perhaps ever. She felt surrounded and surrounding at the same time. She felt safe. She felt protective. She murmured in her sleep and snuggled closer to the tingling warmth, content to remain in her dream. It wasn't often these days that her dreams were pleasant, and she didn't want to wake from this one - not after the last year; not after everything that was said and done. She simply wished to remain safely cocooned in the land of dreams. She wanted to take it in. She wanted to take it all in. It was time - time to feel good again; time to heal. But right now, she just basked in the glow around her. In the love around her. That penetrated the deepest - it had been so long since she'd felt that kind of love permeating every part of her being.
The voice brought her to a sense of awareness. A voice? Mmmm, don't wanna wake up. Willow kept her eyes closed as she wiggled closer to the softness behind her. She pulled the warmth more tightly around her, a subconscious physical vow to not lose this comfort. The feeling of fingers gently tangling themselves in her hair and brushing against the back of her neck made staying asleep impossible. Rather than being jolted into consciousness - in shock or surprise or fear - Willow drifted softly from the comfort of her dreams to the comfort of reality. Real. Finally, this is real. She turned her head slightly to kiss the soft hand that she cradled under her cheek and smiled at the realization that she had not let that hand go since the moment Tara had offered it. She stayed. I asked her to stay and she stayed.
Nor had she moved since Tara had joined her. And she was okay with that. Rather than feeling tense from remaining in one position for so long, Willow was more relaxed than she could ever remember feeling. She took a quick inventory of body parts, subtly tensing and relaxing her muscles - just to make sure she wasn't imagining this near euphoric state. In doing so, she put forth a determined effort to concentrate on Tara's body parts too. Nearly every part of their bodies was in contact. Tara was pressed firmly to Willow's back - her fingers tangled in red hair; her lips nestled at the base of Willow's neck; her arm wrapped tightly around Willow's body; her lower body curved to fit perfectly against Willow's; her calves and feet tangled comfortably with Willow's. Heaven, Willow thought as she sighed and, simply unable to restrain herself, placed another kiss on Tara's hand - not that she ever wanted to restrain herself.
Willow lay contentedly, listening to the gentle sounds of Tara breathing. It was a soothing balm for her bruised soul. Tara's breath on the back of her neck made Willow shiver and she continued to snuggle impossibly closer to the soft body behind her. Even in her sleep, Tara was aware of Willow's presence and tightened her hold on the redhead, once again murmuring Willow's name.
Oh, I could definitely learn to live with this...I think I already have.
Wrapped in Tara's embrace, Willow closed her eyes and let her mind revisit the previous day... the anticipation and anxiety she felt while waiting for Tara; the elation at hearing Tara's voice; the supreme joy of seeing Tara's face. God, she's so beautiful...more beautiful than I ever pictured in my mind. With that thought, Willow's eyes popped open and her brow creased in thought. "Now," Willow whispered to the quiet room. "Right now."
Moving slowly, and with great care, Willow disengaged herself from Tara's hold. Not completely; but just enough so that she could move. Her plan was to turn around, to face Tara. I need to see her. I need to see that she's here and she's real. And I need it right now. Willow was determined to watch the beautiful blonde sleep...she just needed to get turned around without waking her. Figuring that she had waited 8 years, another few minutes wouldn't kill her, Willow continued to ease her way out of the cocoon Tara had her wrapped in. She could feel the slightest twitch from Tara, and when she did, she quickly closed her eyes and held her breath, waiting to see if Tara would wake.
It took Willow nearly 10 minutes to complete her move -- pausing every time Tara threatened to awake -- but she finally did so without incident. Tara remained asleep, her arm still wrapped around Willow. However, this time, rather than being held against Willow's cheek, Tara's hand was around Willow's waist, her fingers lightly resting against Willow's lower back. Willow could feel those fingers moving against her skin through the t-shirt she wore. Okay, her hand isn't moving against my back, my back is moving against her hand. Yay for needing to breathe! With her eyes still closed, Willow basked in the feel of Tara's arms around her, and her own arms around Tara. It was definitely a feeling she did not want to relinquish any time soon...or even in this lifetime. A lifetime, Willow thought wistfully. She knew in the deepest part of her heart that a lifetime wouldn't be long enough. For her, anyway. Does Tara feel the same way? Willow closed her eyes and drew a deep breath. Realization flooded through her body. I'll take whatever she can -- or wants -- to give me. She opened her eyes and looked at Tara's peaceful face. Just as long as she's in my life...somehow. A tear slid sideways down Willow's face as she reached out to gently smooth an errant lock of Tara's hair.
Tara murmured incoherently and snuggled closer to Willow's touch, irresistibly drawn to the warmth. She pulled herself closer to Willow's body, cushioning her head on a willingly given shoulder and tightening her arm around a slim waist.
Willow smiled through her tears as she rolled with Tara's movements, bringing the blonde deeper into the cradle of her arms. She wrapped one arm around Tara's shoulders, letting her hand come to rest in the curve of Tara's waist. Willow's other hand came to rest on the softness of the arm Tara was using to hold her. She rested her temple on the crown of Tara's head and just...was.
Nothing had ever felt so perfect. Nothing. Ever.
This is what I've always wanted, isn't it? Willow mused as she gently stroked the fine hairs on Tara's arm. Even before she left, when we were kids, I wanted this. She blushed deeply. Okay, maybe I didn't have the sexy thoughts when we were kids...didn't know what sexy thoughts were. But, yeah, I always wanted to be with Tara. To have Tara want to be with me. I've always wanted to hold Tara like this...and have her hold me. Warm. Safe. Loved. I never, ever pictured my life without Tara in it, did I? Willow's eyes grew wide as she continued her gentle touch over Tara's skin. I took her for granted all these years! I just assumed that she was mine and that she would always want what I want and need what I need...that she would always put me first in her life, ahead of anything or anyone else, like I did with her. And I nearly lost her because of that. Unconsciously, Willow tightened her hold on the blonde and wrapped both arms firmly around the sleeping body. Tears flowed freely.
The body next to her started to shift and she pulled one hand away from the warm flesh to wipe at her eyes. Willow felt the arm around her tighten and lips softly kiss the skin where it peeked out from the collar of her t-shirt. Then she looked down into sleepy blue eyes peering up at her. Her lips automatically curved into a smile at the beautiful site.
"Why are you crying, Willow?" Tara's voice was husky with sleep.
"I'm sorry, Tare...I didn't mean to wake you," she whispered.
Tara leaned up onto one elbow to look into Willow's eyes. Her arm remained wrapped around the redhead. "Willow, why are you crying?" she persisted.
"I don't know," Willow lied.
Clearly, she didn't lie convincingly.
"You." She said it so softly, Tara almost didn't hear her. Almost.
"Me?" Tara's eyes widened as much as her sleepiness would allow. Just as quickly, they softened and peered into the green eyes, moist with tears. "I'm so sorry, love."
Love?! Willow's heart skipped at least four beats.
"No, Tara, you have nothing to be sorry for," Willow assured the blonde with a kiss on the forehead. "I'm the one who's sorry."
"For what, Will?"
"For expecting you to love me."
"What?" Tara asked incredulously, moving out of Willow's arms and sitting up fully next to her forlorn friend. She was fully awake. "What do you mean? You know I love you."
Willow sat up as well, crossing her legs and resting her elbows on her knees. Her hands played mindlessly with the blanket. She kept her eyes lowered.
"Yes, Tare, I know you love me. You always have, ever since we were kids. You were - are - the best friend I've ever had...or ever will have, I'm sure." At this, she looked at Tara and smirked. "Don't tell Buffy though, she might get jealous."
Her attempt to lighten the conversation and ease some of the tension was unsuccessful. Tara simply looked at her, confused.
"I don't understand, Will," Tara said, reaching out to lay her hand on Willow's arm. She squeezed it briefly. "If you know I love you, then why are you sorry?"
"Why do you love me, Tare?" The blonde's body tensed and her quick intake of breath told Willow that her question caught Tara off guard. She quickly placed her hand over Tara's and removed it from her own arm. "Wait." Taking both of Tara's hands in her own, she looked deeply into her eyes. "Just tell me. First thought that comes to your head. Why do you love me?"
Tara's brow furrowed as she looked at their entwined hands. She looked back up and answered, "I just do. I always have. It's who I am."
Willow let loose a quiet sob as the tears again fell. Of course. She took a breath and leaned forward, softly brushing her lips against Tara's. Oh that tingles! "Exactly. You just do."
"I still don't understand, sweetie."
Willow laughed quietly and leaned forward to place a kiss on Tara's cheek. "I love it when you call me 'sweetie', by the way." She thrilled at the blush that caused Tara's ears to turn a bright pink. "And I love that color on you." The bright pink became positively fluorescent.
"Will, c'mon." Tara fought down the rising color and the heat. "Talk to me."
The smile on Willow's face remained, but its tone saddened. "You just love me...that's it." Tara nodded. "Then why couldn't I have just taken that and run with it, Tare?"
"Run? I don't-"
"No you don't. And that's the difference between you and me, baby. You love me and you know I love you...and that's enough. But I expected you to love me...fully...unconditionally."
"And I do."
"But don't you see, Tara? I have absolutely no right to expect it from you. I have no right to expect that from anybody. I have no right to be that demanding. I am not the only person in this world, in your life. You were right...I don't understand what it means to have others in my life. I was selfish...you were right about that too." Willow closed her eyes and whispered, "You were right about everything. I didn't accept your love...I expected it. You didn't - don't - deserve that." Willow stared into bottomless blue eyes, trying desperately to convey the sincerity of what she was saying. "And for that, I am so sorry." Eyes that, over the last year, she had known would look at her in anger and hatred held only love and compassion. Willow went willingly into Tara's outstretched arms and held to her tightly.
Willow remained in Tara's embrace for seconds...or minutes...or hours. She didn't know. She only knew that she felt safer and more loved than she ever had in her life.
"Thank you, Willow."
Willow felt forgiven.
"Will?" Willow felt Tara's finger hook under her chin and lift her head to look into Tara's eyes once again.
"I love it when you call me 'baby'."