Running. That's what Spike always liked. It gave him a real charge. Caleb was right there with him. They both stood planted in place, impassively, as the dark-haired woman ran. Spike raised his gun and shot her. She crumpled to the ground and lay still. So animated and alive one moment and so still and dead the next.
There were a few workaday people milling about the street. It was midday, and life went on around them, pretending that two detectives had not, in fact, just gunned down a neighbor. Truth be told, they didn't want to know about it. So callous and scared they'd become since Crystal Nacht, when neighbors turned against neighbors, the hatred of Jews and anyone else who fouled the gene pool bubbling up to the hideous surface. Since then the Good Germans preferred to have agents of the government do their dirty work, and so people like Spike and Caleb had jobs.
Caleb was standing over the woman now, tentatively testing her with the toe of his boot. His gun was still drawn, as if she might rise from the dead and plant fangs in his throat. Nope. That one was going nowhere. Spike turned his attention to the man. 50-ish, hair graying at the temples. Bookish glasses broken on the pavement. A dark pool of blood spreading across the tweed coat and collecting under him. He looked like a dead librarian.
The detectives had stopped the pair. The woman fit the description of their fugitive Jenny. Dark hair, smart, defiant eyes. Caleb had asked to see the couple's I.D. The pair of them fumbled in their clothes a moment mumbling unconvincingly. Then the man yelled at the woman to run. Spike had shot him dead on the spot. And then, for a bit of fun, they let the woman run, though not too far. The sound of the shot reverberated among the tall buildings, bouncing off the stone at odd angles, distorting like multi-toned chimes or brittle glass. And then the silence. There was always silence that followed.
Spike found that his own heart was beating faster as Caleb approached with something in his hand from the dead woman's coat pocket. Each step closer curiously filled Spike with hope and dread. Caleb just shook his head. "It's not her." He tossed Spike the papers he'd fished from the woman's coat. "But good news is we put a bullet in another fucking Jew. So, all in all, not a bad morning, if I do say. What about him, there?"
Spike realized that the papers Caleb had handed him were a travel visa, and by the handiwork, he knew it to be one of his own special forgeries. His guts went cold. That meant that Buffy had given the woman these papers. His head snapped to the man lying dead at his feet. He bent down and rolled the body over onto its side and reached inside the coat pockets. Presently he withdrew the man's identification. He flipped it open.
"A Rupert Giles," Spike spoke as if announcing the man for dinner. His voice trailed off: "University professor...and a British expat." Spike wiped sweat from his own brow and felt the dread seep into his bones. Buffy was a student at the university. Damn her! Now their worlds were beginning to collide. He'd told her to be careful. He'd warned her about this.
Caleb kicked the dead man. "A good Brit's a dead Brit." He lit a cigarette. "Come on, William," he bade Spike. "No one will miss this bastard."
Spike rose to his feet and chuckled. "Well, except maybe a few students. I wonder how long they'll wait in class for him this afternoon?" The words were Spike's, but somehow to his own ears they didn't seem very funny.
Caleb led the way down the street and Spike followed. They'd have a crew from the office come out to pick up the bodies. Caleb let out a long stream of smoke that colored the winter air bluish white. "We should check out the university. If the former Mr. Giles is a Jewish sympathizer then we just may hit a little jackpot.
Spike frowned. He knew how much Caleb liked hitting little jackpots.
The apartment was dark again. Jenny had watched it slip from light to black every night now for almost two weeks. This day had been no different. Rupert had a fine collection of books here, and she'd whiled away the hours reading and staying quiet as a church-mouse, lest the neighbors hear her and know that he had someone living with him.
Living. What kind of word was that for what she was doing? She couldn't live with Rupert. Only stay a for a bit. Until her travel visa came through and then she'd head for England, where he'd shortly join her. All of these days while she stay put, she knew it was just a matter of time until the authorities found her. They always caught up to people. She'd seen too many of her friends and family disappear to doubt it. It was just a game of timing now. Would she win?
Today Giles had gone to pick up her visa. It was too dangerous for her to be out and about, but he could do it, and it was the sort of thing he did for his students and friends all the time. But as the shadows grew and it became later and later she wondered why he hadn't returned yet, and she worried. It was too dark to read. And she couldn't smoke. And they'd consumed all the wine in the house. All she could do was sit as patiently as possible and wait for him.
And wait. And wait. It was growing later than it ever had and still no Giles. She trained her ears for footsteps on the stairs. One by one, the neighbors had all come home from work. But still no Giles. The barest tendrils of fear began to rise like weeds around her heart. She thought she might be sick, except she hadn't eaten anything since this morning.
The blackness drew in around her, tight like a blanket, and claustrophobic. Jenny sat still, concentrating just on breathing.
Then there was the sound of footsteps on the stairs. She strained her hearing. The sound of keys jangling and then in the lock. Jenny held her breath, every muscle flexing, imagining this could go one of two ways: good or bad, and that was about it. The key turned in the lock and then the door swung open slowly. And in the silhouette of the hall light, she could see it was not Giles.
"Jenny?" the voice was a strangled whisper. It was Buffy. Jenny rose to her feet and walked to the door silently. If nothing in these past two weeks she'd learned the art of silence. Buffy startled when she saw Jenny emerge from the blackness. Jenny waited.
"Are you alone?" Buffy asked.
"Are you?" Jenny replied.
Jenny pulled Buffy by the arm into the apartment and closed the door. The two of them were enveloped in darkness. They stood still, Buffy catching her breath from running up the stairs.
"Jenny," she said. "I- I have bad news..."
Jenny nodded, though of course Buffy couldn't see her. This was all harder without body language.
"Jenny, it's Giles."
Buffy didn't really need to say any more. The details were irrelevant at this point. She felt fear and anger rise up in her like a bubbling cauldron. Jenny kept nodding into the darkness. And nodding. "I know," she said softly. "I could feel it." And as soon as she said them she knew the words were true. She pulled Buffy into her arms and gave her comfort, much in the way Giles might have if one of his favorite students were faced with the same terrible news. And Rupert had loved Buffy above all others. She was like a daughter to him--someone brave and just and focused on the greater good, just as he was. He had been a great teacher. Buffy was no star pupil. But she belonged to him just as much as his soul. Of course it would be Buffy who came to give her he news.
Buffy dug her hands into Jenny's shirt, burying her face in Jenny's shoulder, and allowed herself to bitterly cry. Lost. They were all becoming so lost right now. Their lives like icebergs separating into the open ocean. Everything was changing, and time was against them. Dizzy, disorienting. They clutched each other in a search for some steadiness.
A racket outside the apartment drew their attention. It sounded like people stomping up the stairs. Buffy stiffened in Jenny's arms. "Shit!" the girl hissed. "We've got to go."
Jenny knew it, too. If Giles were dead at the hands of the police, then all roads would lead back here, to his apartment. And to Jenny. Buffy knew that, she had just banked on having enough time to get here and get Jenny out. Jenny knew what to do. She'd had two weeks to work out her escape plan.
"This way," she whispered, taking Buffy's hand and leading her as a blind person would, around the furniture-shaped hazards around he apartment, toward the kitchen, where a small window opened out onto the roof. With a shove she lifted he sash, sending in a burst of cold air. The stomping in the hall grew closer. It sounded like they had dogs with them. Buffy and Jenny wiped the dishes off the counter in their haste to escape. They clashed to the floor and shattered. The dogs barked and whined at the apartment door, excited that their cornered prey were so close. Jenny pushed Buffy up and through the small window. The girl turned and clasped Jenny's hand and pulled her after.
They both fell to the rooftop below, rolling heavily together. Above them they could hear the splintering of wood and shouted voices. Jenny climbed to her feet and pointed to the far side of the rooftop, where the iron ladder of an old fire escape beckoned. Jenny's body felt funny and disconnected from her brain as they ran. It felt like it took a lifetime for them to traverse the rooftop to the ladder, the angry voices drifting out over them on the wind. She pushed Buffy. "Go!" she said. "You first."
Buffy whirled around on her. "No. You're the one they're after. Get going."
Jenny laughed. "Come on, Buffy. You have your whole life ahead of you. And I'm a dead woman."
"I can't believe we're arguing about this," Buffy growled, giving Jenny a shove. The girl was deceptively strong. Jenny clutched the cold iron rails and swung herself over the edge. The ladder led to another rooftop, this one lower. From there they could slide down a drain spout the storey and a half to the ground.
"When we get down, I want you to go," Jenny hissed as they reached the far side of the second rooftop.
"No way. We stick together."
"Please. Spare me."
"I'm serious," Buffy shouted.
Jenny sighed heavily. "I mean spare my fucking life. You can do stupid shit and get yourself arrested, or you can let me go and give me a chance to get free."
Buffy thought about it. "No. Your chances are better with me."
Jenny's laugh was bitter. "What. Like Rupert's chances were better because of you?" As soon as she said it, she wished she hadn't.
Spike lit a match against a lightpole and watched as Caleb and his wrecking crew blew into the dead Brit's building like they were hot for blood. His eyes were burning and his face felt flushed with the same anger and fear he'd felt all day, following the little bread-crumb trail Buffy had left for him-and all because he'd given Buffy the bread in the first place: those damn travel visas. Her friends were going to be seriously dead because of that. And Buffy, too. And probably Spike himself as soon as the trail wound back around his way. He was a detective. He worked for the police. He knew how the game was played. Hell, that's why he'd offered to help Buffy in the first place a couple of years ago. Now it was all blowing to hell. Upstairs in that apartment, they'd find the Gyspsy (for they'd discovered that Jenny was Romani when they'd questioned kids at the school) and arrest her-best-case scenario, of course. And, because he'd spotted Buffy entering the building as he and the rest of the police were arriving, he knew that chances were good they'd find Buffy there, too.
He dropped his cigarette and ground it out with the heel of his boot.
"Caleb," he shouted. His partner turned and glared impatiently. That made Spike smile, making Caleb wait to enjoy the mayhem a moment longer.
"What?" Caleb asked.
Spike nodded his head toward the building. "You know old Mr. Giles has probably had a mess of students over here already to scare the bitch off. Stupid university types all think with one brain. We're here way too late. She probably slipped out an hour ago or more."
Caleb's face turned red. "Well, then, Mr. Blood, we'll see. But if you're right about that, where do you think we should be looking next?"
Spike squinted up at the black sky. For effect, of course, since it was dark out. In a flash, he knew exactly where Buffy would take her-or, rather, where he would take her if he were Buffy. He looked Caleb level in the eyes. "The cemetery."
Caleb smiled slyly and shrugged. "Either way, she's a dead woman."
Tara heard the sound of soft footsteps in the hall. She'd become expert at recognizing Willow's approach as she came home from work. Ever since moving in, or coming to stay, since Willow's suitcase of possessions hardly qualified as "moving in," the girl had risen early and worked late. Though a bit remote, or at least preoccupied, Willow was perfectly polite and sweet. Her smile was enough to illuminate the entire apartment, and Tara liked to think she reserved that smile only for her. Tara sought out what moments she could with Willow, staying up late and intercepting her with some leftovers from dinner, or a drink, or both. In the morning she rose early to make coffee, or what passed for coffee, since rations were limited. She asked Willow about the news from the Front, or the latest from the Fuhrer, since Willow's work at the newspaper gave her information that Tara's neighbors generally didn't get until the evening radio shows came on or the evening paper arrived, if they got it at all. She, of course, assumed that Willow's working late was because she was inclined to fervently support the war effort. It made Tara feel somewhat connected to her brother and Riley out on the eastern Front to know that Willow would know first if there was news of a victory. Letters from the Front had become more sparse as of late. She hadn't heard from her brother in nearly three weeks, and Riley...well, he hadn't written at all yet. But most of all, she just looked forward for Willow herself to come home and draw her away from the monotony of waiting, for Willow to take away the pang of loneliness and replace it with warmth and breath and light.
So it was with a thumping chest that Tara received Willow each night at the front door, ushering her inside, asking about her day. And each night Willow welcomed Tara with eyes bright and warm, and perhaps with something small--a hard candy, or an apple or a bit of chocolate, a small bottle of brandy, even, once. They were sweet little gestures. She had no idea how Willow came by some of these things. She halfway suspected the girl was a shoplifter, or perhaps her position at the newspaper gave her access to special things. Or perhaps she was a spy or insurrectionist. Or maybe all of the above. Willow was mischievously tight-lipped about it, and Tara enjoyed the romance of not knowing.
This particular night, Willow came through the door with her usual shy smile and produced a rose. Tara accepted it dumbly, wondering where in the world that could have come from at the heart of wartime winter. It was small and lovely. It made her heart ache.
"Ah, th- there's someone here to see you," Tara said, breaking their ritual moment of greeting. The girl's eyes grew wide with fear. Tara could swear she took a step back toward the door as if to run.
Xander climbed to his feet from where he'd been sitting on the couch in the parlour. His eyes were sad. He'd been crying. "Willow..." he said softly, as if trying not to frighten her away.
"Xander?" She stood rooted in place a moment, and then practically ran to him. "What are you doing here? I mean, I thought we agreed, you know..." Her voice was a scared whisper.
"It's Giles," he softly replied. "He died. Earlier today." His eyes darted to Tara, and then he whispered. "I- I don't know the details."
Her back was turned, but Tara could tell from the slump of her shoulders that the girl was devastated. Xander took her by the arms and pulled her into a tight hug that surely was the only reason she didn't sink to the floor. They swayed silently together, disappearing into their own turmoil, until Tara felt like she should leave them alone. She went to the kitchen to put on some more water for tea.
She set the kettle to boiling, her mouth rolling over a strange name on her tongue, trying out the shape of it: Willow. Xander had called her Willow. A nice name, delicate and strong. A nickname, a small endearment?
Xander had shown up about an hour ago, eyes red-rimmed and so sad. She had instinctively wanted to reach out and pull him into her arms. But his voice was steady and distant as he asked after Wilma. Tara let him in and he'd waited silently in the parlour until his friend came home. He'd said practically nothing, except that someone who had been like a father to them had died and that Willma was going to take it hard. Tara could tell that Xander was taking it hard, too.
The teakettle whistled, and Tara turned off the gas, leaving the water to cool. She took a seat at the kitchen table and left her grieving friends to themselves for a while. There was nothing Tara could do right now, but later, after Xander left and went home, Tara could lend Wilma--or Willow--her friendship. Perhaps little consolation in comparison to losing home and family and friends, but it was all Tara had to give. She put the rose in a small vase and set it on the windowsill. And waited.
"Crap!" Jenny spat with disgust.
Buffy and Jenny were in the dark again. But now instead of climbing rooftops, they were traversing the subterrain of the Berlin sewer system.
Buffy swung around. "Another rat?" she whispered, hoping it wasn't anything worse.
"No. It's ok. I mean. It's not. I just-I just can't. I can't believe we're doing this. Where are we going?"
Buffy shrugged. "I don't know yet."
They were crouched beneath a manhole cover, the silver light of the moonlit night sifting down through the small holes in the iron grating. The smell was rotten, but at least it was a bit warmer down here than up above in the wind. There hadn't been time to grab Jenny's coat. Buffy tried not to dwell on the fact that Jenny now officially had only the clothes on her back, and that wasn't even really enough. Buffy tried not to dwell on the fact that if the police knew about Jenny, then they'd surely be looking for Willow, too. She was glad that she had no idea where Xander had hidden her.
She and Xander had made an arrangement to minimize exposure along their chain. He wouldn't know where she hid Jenny, and she wouldn't know where Willow was. That way if either of them were interrogated, they could honestly say they didn't know. It was a small measure of protection against the seemingly all-knowing Gestapo, and on some level neither of them liked it. She missed Willow. It had been two weeks since her mother had asked Willow to leave. Xander had taken her then, and Buffy had no idea now when she'd see her again--or even if ever.
Buffy certainly hoped Xander had Willow some place better than a sewer.
"You're not moving in here. I'm just buying time to think," Buffy said to Jenny. She had no idea where she could take Jenny that she'd be safe. The visas were long gone by now, in the hands of the authorities. She hoped that didn't come back to bite Spike.
"I give up." Jenny's voice was small. Buffy almost could pretend she hadn't heard the words.
"Won't help at this point," Buffy said, unable to overcome her practicality. "They'll just keep working their way through each of us. Turning yourself in won't stop this."
"It won't stop them," Jenny agreed. "But it will stop this."
Willow hadn't wanted to talk after Xander finally left. It was late. She accepted a cup of tea with hands that seemed not to notice they were now occupied. She carried the cup and saucer with her down the hall, wordlessly, into her room and closed the door without even turning the light on.
That was over an hour ago, and Tara found herself unable to fall asleep. Willow was hurting. Tara didn't know what was the right thing to do. She just knew she couldn't do nothing. She rose helplessly--or was it helpfully--to her feet, pulling her robe on against the chill of the apartment and padded down the hall to Willow's door, which was half-open. She could only make out the barest shapes of the furniture. If Willow was awake, she didn't say anything. But then Tara wasn't looking for an invitation. She wasn't looking for anything. She simply walked in and slipped into bed behind Willow and wrapped her arms protectively around her. At first the girl's body was stiff and unyielding. Tara didn't retreat. She rubbed her cheek against Willow's neck and planted a small kiss there.
"I'm with you," Tara whispered. It seemed like a completely inadequate thing to say in a situation like this. What do you say to comfort someone who has lost everything and practically everyone? Or is this one of those times where words are useless, anyway? Tara decided to let her arms do the talking. She wrapped Willow tightly to her. After a long moment, Willow relaxed into the embrace with a small, choked cry. Then the cry became crying, and Tara held her, absorbing every sob with her body, lending the strength and warmth she could give. She curled her legs up against Willow's, closing whatever space remained between them, from head to toe. She nuzzled soft hair and pressed her lips once more, this time against Willow's bare shoulder, then settled herself in for good.
Some time later Tara woke when Willow reached down to pull the covers up over them both. Tara gave Willow one more squeeze of reassurance, and then smiled as Willow relaxed again into her embrace with a sigh. Tara knew she hadn't made things perfect, but she hoped somehow she'd made them just enough.
Spike sat in his favorite armchair. He took a drag on his cigarette and gazed thoughtfully at Buffy. The girl was limp like an old flower and smelled something awful. The perfume told him he'd guessed right earlier. She'd taken her friend Jenny to the sewers. He felt smug satisfaction that he'd directed Caleb to the cemetery. The police, along with Caleb and Spike, had been there almost until daybreak, searching every crypt and cranny. They hadn't scared up a soul.
"What's wrong, love?" he cooed softly. She'd simply appeared without sound and had been sitting on his couch for a long while now, giving the place the thousand-yard stare. Spike glanced through the curtains to the gathering day. He'd have to be back at work soon enough, and Buffy had to be getting to school sometime. Or home. Wouldn't mom and sis be worried?
"The police. They killed one of my professors today," she said, finally, all zombie-like, a huge, wet teardrop clinging to her lashes. He noticed she wasn't saying anything about the Gypsy or her friend "Red." She shot an angry glare across the room, the first emotion she'd shown. "This is just the beginning, isn't it?"
A cryptic question, deserving of a cryptic answer. "The police have a lot of people on the list for questioning. Gets longer every day."
"They're going to go after the university professors. And the student activists," she said. "Like me."
Ah, yes. This topic was bound to come up sometime. He sighed. "You know I can't tell you anything. You know what I am, that I'm SS, that I have a job and you have a job and every here and there we help each other a bit."
"Spike," she pleaded. "I just want to know. When is it all going down?"
"I can't tell you," he said. In his mind's eye he saw visions of bloodiness, guns, marching boots and lots of screaming kids. The universities were hotbeds for political opposition. Buffy wasn't really a rabble-rouser in the way a lot of them were. Her style was more subtle. She and her friends worked on their own, and he knew it was less about politics than protecting a few innocents from evil. And here was Spike. Employed by the big evil. Buffy and her chums weren't going to stop the war or sew seeds of dissent. They were just trying to get people they loved the hell out of harm's way. He loved her, wanted to protect her a bit. She was small fry.
"What I can tell you," he said, carefully choosing his words, "is that I will give you a high sign, and you'd better be ready to clear out when I say." He jabbed his finger at her for emphasis. "You're right. It's going to get big and messy. And maybe that's better for you and your friends. You can slip to the margins and out of sight."
It was clear she didn't like what she heard.
He tread a bit closer to the truth. "There are going to be examples made."
Willow woke to find Tara wrapped around her, a hand resting squarely on the middle of Willow's belly and a leg entwined with her own, as if they were lovers, well, except they weren't. Were they? That would presume some level of nakedness. Willow ventured a small peek, discovering that she was still wearing her slip. Her relief was offset, however, by the sight of Tara's body stretched out along her own, a creamy thigh, blond hair splayed across Willow's chest, warm breath sighing across the hollow of her throat. A strange energy emanated outward through Willow's body from where Tara's hand lay to points beyond, infusing her with heat and kick-starting a pulse deep in her belly. She recognized it as: Want.
Where did that come from? She'd slept countless nights curled against Buffy or Dawn or Jenny and never woke to this feeling. It had a heaviness and an urgency to it. She felt the flutter again, teasing and tickling inside her, begging her to do something. Tara was beautiful, sensual, soft. Tara made Willow's heart pound whenever she was near, which was frightening enough, and yet Willow needed her to be near. She craved it more than coffee or chocolate, food, warmth, safety. And safety was what was at stake here: If she crossed a certain, undefined line, she would be out of a place to stay. Where was the line between friend and more-than-friend? And wasn't there perhaps another line between more-than-friend and lover? Could she cross one line and not get her ass kicked out of the house? What was this want that made her body hum, and, well, what did it want?
She lay a while longer, trying not to succumb, trying to relax and pretend this was Buffy. But this wasn't Buffy. This was Tara. She tried to intellectualize it away. Left column, the pluses. Right column, the minuses. But her brain went all fuzzy and refused to be linear, as if kicked offline by this insistent pulsing want. And it was definitely a pulse. The longer Tara's hand lay against the flat of Willow's stomach, against the pulse-point there, rising and falling heavily with each breath Willow took, the stronger its beat became. That hand: the weight of it she could feel against the pumping of blood. Tara was oblivious, of course, to the gathering of energy, of electrical charge, of magnetic surge that was setting something in motion inside Willow. And with each breath and pump and pulse, fear and inhibitions ebbed, replaced by something more urgent than want: Need.
Willow couldn't be still. She needed to roll the sleeping woman over, and wrap herself around her, lay heavily upon her, to anchor her and be anchored.
So she did. Carefully, so as not to wake her, Willow edged up slightly and turned Tara over without breaking their embrace. Tara didn't wake. Her face was absolutely serene and beautiful as her head settled into the pillow, and Willow slid slowly upon her, resting her forehead on Tara's shoulder, and drawing her hand in heavy, slow circles across the woman's stomach. The satin of Tara's nightgown felt heavenly against Willow's palm. She especially liked the sensation of soft skin beneath it. She drew in a breath, acclimating to a level of arousal she'd never felt before--this realization that she very much wanted to push up the fabric and draw slow circles skin-to-skin. Her body absorbed the new sensations of being on top: of Tara's legs tangled in hers, of the rise and fall of Tara's breathing that carried Willow upon her breast, the warmth emanating up through her skin and infusing Willow with a dangerous chill. The only word that sprang to mind was: "mine." That's what she wanted to make Tara. She scarcely knew what that meant, or certainly what it entailed, sexually speaking, but she knew in this moment there was no way she could possibly get close enough to Tara; she had only this deep insistence that she be inside. She wanted to sink in and be swallowed whole, consumed, obliterated, reborn.
She knew it was pointless. They had so much standing between them: the fiancé, the Jewish thing, being on the lamb from the Gestapo. But right now, in this moment, held firm under Willow's weight, Tara was hers. She could at least pretend for a while.
And then Tara stirred. With a small shock, Willow stilled her hand.
"Don't," Tara sighed. "That feels good."
She's not awake yet, Willow told herself. She doesn't know what she's saying. She lifted her head to find those ocean-blue eyes gazing back at her with a mixture of amusement and wonder.
"Well, hello," Tara said.
Tara ran warm hands up along Willow's sides and down her back, leaving a trail of electricity in their wake. Depth charges went off inside Willow as she realized that perhaps Tara did know what she was saying. Oh, god. Stop looking at me that way. I'm going to start moving. I'm going to start moving. I want to move. I want- I want...
"Uh...?" Willow was rendered completely incoherent.
But apparently Tara was fluent in incoherence, because her eyes said she understood. And with a sweet smile, she shifted, drawing Willow on top of her completely. Willow found herself meeting Tara's blue gaze that, though surprised, was unflinching. Oh, god. Please stop looking at me that way. I'm going to start moving. If you even breathe I'm going to start moving. Oh, god, I want to move. I want- I...
"I-" Willow said and then her voice was stifled as Tara took a deep breath, and Willow's entire being suffused with the knowledge of every contour of Tara, conveyed from flesh to flesh. Willow reached for Tara's hands and clasped them, and Tara's eyes darkened. Her expression changed from one of affection and maybe a little teasing to one of need. And then the worst possible thing happened, from a self-control standpoint, anyway: Tara began moving, her hips shifting at first just once, twice, and then an actual rhythm took over, so small, so slight, barely perceptible at all, but Willow's senses were on fire, from her thighs and belly and twining out to her fingertips, which clutched Tara's hands with such desperate certainty, outstretched and pressed into the sheets. Tara was moving at a modulation for which Willow's body was a finely calibrated receiver.
"Oh, god..." Willow uttered, a guttural sound, a plea, an invitation, a warning that a line was crossing, and along with it, self-control. "Tara?" Her eyes were locked on Tara's. Where's the line? Where's the line? Here? Tell me. Is it here? Now? Now?
Tara said nothing, but her eyes darkened even further as her lips parted and her breathing intensified, taking pace with the slow and steady rocking of her hips. That's when Willow realized that she, too, had begun to move. She closed her eyes against the impulse to let go completely, luxuriating and holding back in equal turns.
"Please," Tara breathed softly. "Look at me."
Willow kept her eyes closed, letting the conflicting forces pull against her in this delicious yes-no, yes-no, yes-no rhythm they were setting together. Huh. Together.
"Look at me," Tara repeated. "Please. Willow."
At the sound of her name on Tara's tongue, unfamiliarly, Willow's eyes opened.
"Willow," Tara said again, a musical sound, barely more than a sigh, but still a command. Willow met that gaze with the certainty that in fact she did want Tara to know this girl, the real girl. Willow. The light in Tara's eyes said it was Willow she welcomed.
So Willow bent down, giving Tara's lips the softest contact, just a small tug at the fullness of Tara's lower lip, which she caught delicately between her own. Tara tilted her chin, capturing Willow's mouth in a tender and insistent kiss. Willow felt another electrical jolt course through her body, sapping the strength in her arms, as Tara's lips parted and accepted Willow inside. Willow melted, feeling her muscles liquefy. Tara's hands were free again, and she ran them up Willow's back, pulling the thin slip up over her back, stroking the bare skin Tara found just beneath. More skin. Now. More. Willow shifted, letting Tara pull the garment over her shoulders. They broke their kiss as Tara drew the slip over Willow's shoulders and head and discarded it. Their eyes locked once more, transformed by the gravity of need. Then their mouths met again, and Willow gently explored the depths there to see if she'd possibly found a route to that place inside Tara she craved to dissolve into. And Tara drew her in deeply. God. Inside. Inside. Deeper. Must. Let me. Deeper.
Instead, Tara took her higher. Willow felt the soft strength of Tara's thigh rising under her, between her legs, meeting the gentle rhythm of Willow's hips and giving it a bodily counterbalance. Willow was surprised at her own carnality as she broke the kiss with a growl and rolled her hips against Tara's smooth skin, spreading her legs and reigniting her rhythm with a new muscularity. Tara tangled a hand in Willow's hair, dragging their eyes back to each other.
"Please. Look at me," Tara commanded quietly, her voice low. Her gaze was tinged with wonder and desire. She kept her fingers twined in Willow's hair, and arched her body, to give Willow every bit of contact she could create. Willow understood, then, Tara's need, and she shifted ever so slightly, so that each thrust of her hips brought her into contact with the soft wetness between Tara's legs. The opposing twin sensations of sliding and resistance were intoxicating. Willow ran her hand up Tara's belly, dragging the nightgown with it. Their rhythm paused, deliciously, for another brief moment as Willow drew the satin material over Tara's shoulders and liberated her from it.
When their bodies resumed contact this time, it was skin-on-skin, and all higher brain function was gone. Willow threw herself into Tara with a thirst that would have been frightening if Tara hadn't met it with equal ferocity. But she did. Her eyes flashed want and urgency, and it lifted Willow higher, if that were possible, realizing she was responsible for Tara's need. No one had ever looked at her with such complete, vulnerable wanting. She had never seen so deeply inside someone else, seen something so achingly, so all-consumingly, real.
"Oh," she growled, a sound that escaped her mouth with a gasp. Followed by another, pleading this time: "Oh." And then again, in time with the thumping of her heart, "Oh," as her hips struck a rhythm that not even a freight train could stop now. She could feel it then, a dark cliff approaching and beyond it, she knew, lay oblivion. She was drawn steadily toward it. "Oh," she gasped, this time with a lightness, and her eyes closed.
Then Tara's hand was there, sweetly, stroking her cheek, cupping her chin, demanding that Willow meet her eyes once more. It took everything Willow had not to let the sweet darkness fall, but to stay here, open and present, with Tara. She fought to keep her orgasm at bay, trying to relax, wanting to prolong this. But the relaxing only made it want to come faster. Tara's eyes told her she knew Willow was struggling, and Tara let out a low moan.
"Oh, god, Tara. I-, I'm-" Willow couldn't believe she was still even capable of words, but she wanted Tara to know everything, to be here with her, to be inside her, feeling everything, inside, from inside. She wanted to feel Tara's hand, Tara's anything, all of Tara, inside her, but she couldn't break from the course her hips were currently on. So close, so close.
"I'm so--," she groaned, her eyes pleading, apologetic almost.
"Wait," Tara breathed, her eyes conveying raw lust. And something Willow hadn't seen there before: possessiveness.
"Wait," Tara said again, more urgently, and Willow could swear it was the most erotic word, the one command she knew she would never obey. She gasped.
And then her orgasm pulled her under. And she fell into it with a long, drawn cry that exploded from within her.
Tara's eyes were wide, accepting, registering want and tenderness, her body absorbing the energy and light rolling from Willow in great waves. She kept their rhythm going, carrying Willow on the rise and fall of her hips. Willow's cry settled into a low growl, a sound that came from deep in her belly and centered her there. Moving. Still moving. Move. Oh, god, moving. Now Tara's body kicked into low gear, heat rising up through her skin, her breathing infused with a moan that set Willow's blood on fire again.
Tara took Willow's hand and gently pulled it down, lower and lower, until it met the place of her need. Willow nearly came again at the sensations there: an amazing softness, all tender flesh, swelling and wet, so, so wet. Tara's hand guided her, her fingertips running the smooth channel there as Tara moved. Willow knew that entrance lay just the slightest pull away, and she wanted in. She flexed her hand almost imperceptibly, wanting to know Tara wanted her there, and Tara's cry of arousal gave Willow her answer. Tara's hips slowed a moment as she plunged Willow's hand inside herself. Inside, wetly, securely, deliciously. Deeply. Willow groaned in amazement as Tara's hips kept their slow, steady pulsing against the solid resistance of Willow's hand. Willow explored the depths there, soft, fleshly and yielding. Slickened with Tara's arousal. Warm. Willow flexed her fingers, pulling them upward, curling back, to see what effect the pressure had. Tara's muscles squeezed in response.
Tara gasped in surprise a half-moment later. Willow gleamed with new knowledge. On the next upstroke of Tara's hips, Willow pulled again. Another muscular flutter met Willow's fingertips. Tara cried, this time higher, the sound of her breathing rising. "Oh, god-"
The rhythm of Tara's hips slowed and became more of an insistent thrusting. Her legs spread farther apart to allow as much of Willow in as possible. Willow's hand found its way deeper inside. Deeper, wetter, if that were even possible. It was Willow's turn to moan. Tara thrust her hips again and held still, waiting for Willow's tug in response. "Oh, god," Willow whispered. "I- I want-, I want to-"
Tara's eyes were desperate, her voice raw. "Please. Willow."
Oh, god, she wants me to fuck her. Willow's own body throbbed with this knowledge and with the abject conviction to do so. Thoroughly.
"Deeper," Tara pleaded. She reached back for the headboard and twined her fingers there, opening herself completely to Willow, and thrust her hips again, the muscles of her arms and stomach flexing. "Deeper," Tara repeated, this time a command. Willow bent herself to the task, pushing and then pulling, alternating with the movement of Tara's every stroke, which Tara punctuated with a throaty, "Oh." "Oh." "Oh."
It was the most provocative song that had ever been sung for her, and she was drawing it out with her hands, pulling it excruciatingly from deep inside Tara. There was nothing separating them now. Every stroke Willow felt inside herself. Every command Tara gave was a vocalization of exactly what Willow also needed in that moment.
"Faster," Tara gasped, and Willow instinctually picked up the pace of her own hips in time with the movements of her hand in Tara. She wanted to never stop and felt the tightening in her own belly as she saw the same threat of climax begin to cloud Tara's eyes and her cheeks flush pink. Willow slid up Tara's body so that her mouth was at Tara's ear.
"Stop," she whispered.
To her amazement, Tara obeyed with a labored gasp, and the two of them lay motionless, staring hungrily into each other's eyes, as their bodies struggled with the concept of stillness. Willow felt the fluttering inside Tara as well as the clenching within herself.
"Ah," Willow groaned. "God, you're beautiful. I want you so bad I-"
And then Tara came. She came mightily, with an unexpected growl and a tightening as muscles clasped Willow's fingers, pulling and releasing in turns. It was amazing. In reply, Willow resumed the pumping of her own hips, as Tara's began their rocking again, wringing every ounce of release from her orgasm. In between gasps, Willow managed a feeble: "I want--, I need-I-"
And then Willow came, too, this time in sympathy with the pressure and release she'd ignited within Tara. She cried out, her voice joining and mingling with Tara's, loud at first, and then gentler, until their release gradually equilibrated to a baseline low rumbling. They continued to move together for a while, drinking in the sensation of each other's skin, muscle, scent, taste, breath, absorbing this knowledge carnally. Tara finally let go of the headboard, wrapped her arms around Willow and rolled them over so she was on top.
Willow felt the flutter again and knew they were far from done, that the entire day--or even entire days--could be spent in this manner, and it would never be enough. She gazed up at Tara in wonder, with understanding of an entirely new language, a whole new knowledge of human relations, a whole new meaning of the word desire. How wonderful and terrible to be sated and starved at the same time.
Tara's voice was shy, but her eyes were not. "Ca- can I touch you?" she asked softly.
Willow sighed, stretching her arms back until she now gripped the headboard as Tara had before. "I think I'll die if you don't," she whispered, a challenge.
Tara's eyes flashed possessiveness and delight. She ran a soft fingertip from Willow's lips, tracing a line down her chin, along her throat, over her breast, where she lingered a bit, then down her stomach, lingering a moment there, too, to tease Willow's navel, before slipping her hand between Willow's legs, caressing the soft wetness there and leaving her throbbing for more. Willow amended, in voice high and breathy: "Or- Or maybe I'll die if you do."
Tara chuckled, a low, throaty sound that made Willow certain that she was definitely in trouble. In a good way. Tara slowed her stroking and edged a finger inside, lightly, teasingly, eliciting a groan from Willow, who arched for more. Tara accepted the invitation, slipping her fingers deep and stilling them there. She held her breath, watching Willow's face intently.
Willow felt her arousal build steadily into a surge: "Oh..," one kick low in the belly. "My..," another, even deeper. "God," she whispered, and then she was helpless to keep from moving her hips, starting a driving rhythm that surprised them both as she bore herself down on the delicious resistance of Tara's hand. So this is fucking. Huh. I like. Must. Have. More.
"Is this?" she gasped, "Is this what it was like for you? Is this what it felt like? Uh--like this? This?"
Tara's eyes widened as her breath quickened and she nodded with some certainty.
"Oh, god. I want-, Want you. Want you. Please. Tara. I want you. Oh, god. Like that. Inside. Inside me. Deeper. Deeper. Tara. Please..."
Tara shifted her hand, sending Willow incoherent for a stroke, two, three.
Tara's eyes glittered as if she were surprised and aroused by the knowledge she could make Willow want this so much. Willow wanted there to be no doubt.
"Oh, god. Tara. I need. I need you. I need you to fuck me. Please. Fuck me. Yes. Like--, Like that. Uh-" Willow had never spoken the word aloud, but now it embodied everything she needed, and she wanted to know the shape of it on her tongue and to see what the word did to Tara when she heard it, what it did to Tara when she understood the power Willow wanted her to wield.
"Tara. I want--. Don't stop. Like that. Fuck me. Please." Willow could hear the cadence of her voice rise with the tightness gathering within her. She wanted impossibly more. As in: I want you inside me. I want to hold you there. I want to melt into you and become nothing. I want you to take me. Do anything to me. Do everything. Make me yours. Make me yours.
Not all of the words made it to her mouth.
"Yours," Willow whispered.
Tara's answering kiss told Willow that maybe Tara understood all the words that lay in a jumble behind that one.
But Willow needed air. She broke the kiss with a cry and Tara answered with one of her own. Tara's body echoed the pace demanded by Willow's. Their hips synchronized, their breathing aligned. The tightness gathered inside, drawn there by Tara's insistent rocking and the power of that beautiful hand, which Willow had thought she'd mapped before, but now with great certainty knew she had not. Tara literally held her now in the palm of her hand, stroking firmly inside, plunging deep, then retreating almost completely before plunging in again, each stroke now eliciting a flutter and a cry from Willow.
Willow struggled to speak. "You want?" she asked. She wanted Tara's words.
Tara gasped with the effort to form them. "I want to fuck you. God. I want to fuck you speechless."
Under different circumstances, Willow would have laughed at that.
"I've-Nobody's ever done this," Willow panted. "I- I need you to."
"I want to fuck you. God, I love fucking you."
That question surprised Tara: "Why?"
"Why. Tell me." Willow's eyes were locked on Tara's.
"I've- I've wanted this," Tara gasped. "To feel you, to fuck you. I've thought about it. About how good it would feel."
"God, I want to come. I- I'm trying so hard not to. I don't want to. I want to feel you. Feel this. I want to feel."
Tara took this as a challenge. She pushed deeper, reducing Willow once more to speechlessness. Willow changed her breathing, trying to relax, to stave off the rush at the cliff Tara was driving her toward. She danced along the edge of the chasm. But the lightness in her belly was coming again. Willow felt herself lifted almost against her will.
"Tara. Please." She breathed the words as spots appeared at the periphery of her vision. She was slipping. "Don't stop, please, I- I'm going to--."
Tara whispered in her ear one simple word: "Come."
And Willow did, with a shout this time, arching into Tara's body, Tara's hand, wrapping her arms tightly around Tara and savoring every pulsation, releasing, only to feel the tightness gathering again. Willow felt her muscles squeeze Tara's hand inside her.
"Please, baby, come for me, too. I need you," Willow pulled at Tara's hips, setting them rocking again against her thigh, which was slick with Tara's wanting. Willow's body spasmed, still riding the high of her orgasm, and Tara rode it with her, clicking back into rhythm, thrusting once, twice. "Willow, I-"
"Come, baby," Willow whispered, her body bucking with another aftershock. But the tightness continued to gather in her belly, and she realized she was climbing higher instead of drifting down, buoyed by the knowledge that Tara was so close.
"Tara, I've never been with anybody like this before. I- I have no idea what I'm doing. B- but it's like I'm on fire. I have this animal need. This absolute arousal when I'm with you. I didn't know it could be like this. You're so beautiful. I want you so much. I want to give you everything I have. I want to never let you go. Your hand--it belongs to me. And-And my hand..." Willow looked at her own hand as if seeing it for the first time. She drew her fingers into her own mouth, sucking them a moment, gazing directly into Tara's eyes before moving her wet hand down between Tara's legs and slipping it inside, giving Tara one more piece of her to writhe against. "My hand belongs to you."
Tara's eyes grew serious; her brow creased. "Willow-" she gasped. And then she came. Willow accepted Tara's collapsing weight and the sound of her own name and the way Tara's muscles encircled her fingers and held them tightly as if she'd never let them go.
"Oh, god. Oh, god. What's happening to me?" Willow breathed excitedly. "I want you. I want it all."
Eventually, as the shocks subsided, and Willow drew Tara into her arms, stroking the woman's blond hair, enjoying the tickle of it across her chest. Tara clung to Willow, catching her breath.
"I'm sorry," Willow was saying, gazing up at the ceiling, which gazed back at her whitely, except for the light fixture, which was white porcelain with little painted roses. "I talk too much. I don't know when to stop."
Tara gave her a mischievous half-smile. "I'm fairly sure that was the first time someone actually talked me into coming."
"I did that?" Willow grinned, as if amazed by her own power. "Wow."
"You know I'm not anywhere near done here," Tara said, tangling her hand in Willow's hair and drawing her in for a kiss.
"I think I'd die if you said you were," Willow smiled, but the words felt absolutely true.
"Please don't die, " Tara smiled. "Except in a sexual, metaphoric way."
Willow gazed up at the ceiling again. "We're good. I have at least two lives left," she murmured, a little of the real world seeping into the room at last.
"What are you, a cat?" Tara purred into her chest.
"Something like that. Except the world's gone to the dogs."
'Well, I'm pretty sure I'm a cat, too," Tara chuckled. "I mean, if you are, then I must be."
Willow turned in Tara's arms and nuzzled the hollow of her neck. "Well one thing's for sure, at least: You're a cat person."
It was Willow's day off from the newspaper, so after breakfast and dishes and some laundry, Tara wanted to something special, make a special outing, go for a walk, buy a cup of coffee somewhere, go to the park. She wanted to see Willow in daylight, outdoors, to do something extraordinarily mundane together. The sun was coming out from between white clouds. That meant no chance of rain. And for a January day, it felt unusually warm--a premonition of spring in the air. Hopeful. Clean. Suggesting life.
But Willow stiffened when Tara suggested it. Just an offhand remark: "Let's go outside for a walk."
Tara watched now-familiar emotions passing like clouds across Willow's face, a face she already knew she could never grow tired of--would always see something new in.
Willow frowned. "I don't know. I want to go, but then I feel all panicky."
Tara nodding, believing she understood. "Right. It's pretty traumatic having your apartment blow up and lose everything. It's natural that you'd want to stay somewhere safe and comforting. A bit gun-shy?"
"Well, yeah, there's that. We could, um, you know, uh...There are whole rooms here we haven't made love in yet." Those wide eyes so bashful and pleading. They pulled Tara inexorably in. Just that one sentence and Willow's expression set off a whole series of images in Tara's mind. And sensations.
But Tara snapped herself out of it, with a smile. "I promise you, Willow. We will wreck every surface in this place. I will fuck you in ways you haven't imagined yet, and you'll do things to me that you never knew you were capable of." For someone usually so quiet and reserved, Tara was emboldened with Willow. And she savored the effect her promises had on her. Damn. She wanted Willow again. Right here. Now.
A tentative smile in reply. "Just a warning...I, uh, have a pretty good imagination."
Tara chuckled. "Come out with me. We- we could call Xander and invite him along, if that makes you feel safer. Or-what was your other friend's name? Buffy? We could meet them somewhere."
Willow pondered this a bit, growing serious. "I'd really like to see them. Especially Buffy. She's got to have taken Giles's death pretty hard. He was practically her dad."
"She w-was a student of his?"
"We all were. Years ago, that is. But then things changed. I was in this place where I pretty much needed to find work. Xander, too, for different reasons. Buffy's still at university. And Giles is still her mentor. Was her mentor. We used to hang out at his apartment a lot. It was like Giles's Home for Wayward Youth. It was the place we'd meet up at the end of every day. We went and did things together, like the daytrip we took once out to the lake, and another we took out to the country. He had a lot of great books--all of these really rare volumes on history and folklore. I wonder what will happen to them…"
In the space of a few sentences Tara had learned more things about Willow than she had revealed in nearly two weeks of living together. Earlier this morning, Tara had caught a glimpse into Willow's soul and found it achingly beautiful. Now she wanted to also know her mind. And, damn it, she also wanted to see her in the sunshine.
Xander had met Buffy at the pre-agreed trolley stop. He was wearing his heavy wool coat, but the day was actually quite warm. The city smelled fresh and new, if that were even possible for Berlin. There were a lot of people on the streets today, probably most of them compelled outside by the beautiful weather. He'd been surprised to get Willow's phone call. But then again not surprised at all, after yesterday's news about Giles. Willow had been so far outside the circle lately. She'd pretty much been dumped with Tara--lovely though Tara is--and would certainly be hungering by now for contact with her best friends. He'd arranged things so that he wouldn't reveal to Buffy where Willow was staying, and, of course, none of them would ask Buffy where Jenny was.
Buffy looked radiant and confident, as always. For such a small person, she packed considerable presence. She walked up to him with a tense smile on her face. "Beautiful day," she remarked.
"As days go, I'd have to say this is indeed lovely. And the lovelier because I get to spend it with the two women I love best." He pulled her into a hug. "I'm really sorry about Giles." He was stoic about it now. He'd cried his eyes out last night, probably spooking Tara and Willow. Man, Tara had only ever seen him at his absolute least manly.
Buffy hugged him back, with her own tired and stoic: "I'm dealing."
They linked hands and strolled down the street toward the park where Willow had suggested they meet.
"Is Willow--Is she in a good place?" Buffy asked, delicately, wanting reassurance but not too much information.
"She's staying with a woman named Tara. I think you'll get to meet her today. Tara doesn't know anything about Willow's background. To her, she's Wilma Hermann, that goofy, lovable gentile."
"And brilliant girl reporter. Don't forget that part," Buffy added. "My mom looks for her by-line in the newspaper every day."
"Right! Me, too!" Xander enthused. "God, I love how she does the Reich proud. Still, I don't know what kind of backstory Will's cooked up for Tara, so we'll have to follow her lead, conversationally speaking."
"Gotcha," Buffy chuckled. "Which won't be difficult, since it is Willow we're talking about here. All we have to do is make sure she has some caffeine, and she'll provide all the conversation a few chums could need."
"I did make sure that coffee was on the agenda," Xander grinned.
A few blocks further, they reached the park. It wasn't hard to spot Willow. The sun glinted off her red hair like mad. Buffy squinted into the light and cursed. "Conspicuous much?" she muttered, removing the hat from her own head and walking toward where Willow was animatedly chatting with a lovely blond woman Buffy assumed must be Tara.
As Buffy drew Willow into a hug, she pulled the hat down snugly on the girl's head. "Couldn't miss you," she smirked. Willow's eyes grew wide, understanding. She left the hat where Buffy had placed it. "God, Buffy, I've missed you."
"A lot's happened," Buffy said, simply. "We need each other."
The two of them locked into a comfortable embrace, wordlessly sharing the weight of the death of Giles, while reaffirming their love and devotion to each other. It was like drawing electricity to ground, and after a while they both visibly relaxed.
"Tha- That's why I suggested to Wil- Wilma that she call you. She's be- been spending too much time working," Tara said, her nervous stutter reappearing, as usual when confronted with a new social situation. She wanted to avoid mentioning Professor Giles. She didn't need to.
Buffy rubbed Willow's shoulders, affectionately. "That's my Will, always throwing yourself into whatever you do."
"I always was an extra-credit kind of gal. Oh, hey, Buffy, I'd like you to meet Tara. She's my new roommate. Xander introduced us after my apartment, you know, went kablooey."
Buffy took Tara's hand in greeting, liking the warmth of the woman's eyes and the steadiness of her hand. Xander was right: Tara was lovely. She had a simple honesty about her. A Good German. "Nice to meet you, Tara."
Then she turned to Xander. "And you met Tara how?"
He chuckled. "Well, let's just say bombs dropping from the sky tend to bring some people together. Maybe it's all of that scared-huddled-masses kind of thing. Which I would totally be more than happy to never experience again in my life. No offense, Tara."
There was a cafe on the edge of the park that the foursome retreated to for some friendly chatter. Buffy maneuvered their party to a table in a corner, off and away from the sightlines of most of the other patrons. And she ushered Willow into the chair of least visibility. Only then did Willow take off Buffy's hat.
"So tell me a little about yourself, Tara," Buffy gamely suggested.
Tara blushed shyly. "Well, I'm 28. I grew up on a farm outside the city. My cousin Beth still lives there. My brother and I share an apartment here. Only he's off fighting on the eastern Front. I haven't seen him in a while. I look after his three boys. His-his wife passed away. But- but I sent them to the countryside to live with my cousin Beth, since things have been so crazy here lately."
"And the ring?" Buffy asked. She never missed a thing.
Tara blushed more deeply, nervously turning the thing on her hand as she shot a sideways glance at Willow, whose face remained remarkably impassive. "I, uh, my fiancé is also out on the eastern Front. He just left two weeks ago. When- when Wil- Wilma came to stay."
Xander piped up. "So Riley gave you a ring, eh? I guess congratulations are in order." Xander's grin was just a bit too happy. Buffy had his number: He always liked the pretty girls.
But while Xander enthused, Tara looked down awkwardly, as if she hadn't thought of it that way. "Yes, I suppose so," she replied.
"We should throw a party, maybe." It was Willow who said this with a yay-voice Buffy could tell was even faker than Xander's. All eyes turned to her, but none with more astonishment than Tara.
It was Willow's turn to blush. "Uh, maybe not an engagement party, because, like, Riley should really be here for something like that, right? I mean, otherwise it would really be just a party. Though I'm thinking that these days a just-a-party kind of party would be kind of...nice." She redeemed herself at the end with one of the sweetest Willow-smiles Buffy had seen in ages.
Willow sighed inwardly. She hadn't forgotten about Riley. She simply preferred to think of Tara and Riley as a couple headed for disaster. Of course Tara wanted to be a missus. And probably to have a bunch of blond, blue-eyed kids, too. Of course Tara was lonely. She had days upon days now with nothing to do. No Riley, no brother, no brother's kids to look after. She must be bored silly. What's there for her to look forward to, except more long, empty days until the war is over?
She put herself in Tara's shoes some more: Willow knew now that Tara was sexually experienced. And talented. And forward. And here was Willow--someone available and interested and non-threatening. She imagined that, to Tara, Willow was someone who could help occupy her evenings and weekends. She could satisfy Tara's appetites for sex and conversation. She could be her friend, lover, whatever, until Tara's conscience catches up with her. Or Riley does. Until then, this was all a dream she could conveniently wake up from.
Or maybe this morning had been an aberration. After all, it was Willow who pressed the matter, whose hormones had led one thing to another. She was certain Tara had only climbed into her bed last night thinking of providing comfort. Tara was used to taking care of people. It had been almost certainly a motherly--or sisterly-thing to do, right? And Willow, in her desire for sexual knowledge of Tara, had pushed things. And Tara probably responded in wartime fashion: Everybody does what they need to to get by until it's all over and then it would be back to life as usual. This world was a fantasyland. Granted, a very sick, disturbing and dangerous fantasyland. But it definitely had the heightened realism of a really bad dream.
And Willow didn't even know what she was doing, as a lover. She'd never been a lover before. Wouldn't Tara always be comparing her to Riley, or whoever else came before him? Willow lacked experience--and some equipment--that Tara's other lovers probably had. Thinking this way made her realize just how indulgent Tara had been earlier. Willow's entire being right now was enflamed with wanting her. And Tara had wanted to go to the park.
Willow looked across the table at the beautiful girl with whom she'd just shared some of the most personal moments of her life. She felt a bit in awe, a bit in fear, a bit in love. Whatever came of this, it was more than she'd dared to hope for. She didn't dare to hope for more.
The rest of the afternoon was golden. Tara thoroughly enjoyed the company of Willow and her friends. It was clear they adored one another. They had a siblings' way of teasing, of finishing each other's sentences, of speaking in their own shorthanded way. Xander was the same warm, chivalrous and real person who held her hand in the basement during the air raid. There was no pretending to be more than he was, unlike so many uniformed men--like Riley, for instance--who needed special clothing and rank to define them and how they should be. She could see in the space of a few meetings with Xander that he was always absolutely himself.
Buffy was a bit more hard-edged. She had a gravity about her. It was clear she was a bit of the ringleader: the pretty, self-possessed girl who'd caught up Xander and Willow in her orbit--willingly, of course. Tara could tell that if you needed something done, or a plan made, that Buffy was the one to do it. Had she been a man, she definitely would be an officer, like Riley and her brother. As a woman, she carried herself with a different kind of command. Tara could see what Willow and Xander loved about her. Buffy was someone who would be fiercely loyal.
And Willow. Where to even begin? Tara watched her with new knowledge dawning moment by moment. There was the way the light glinted off every surface of her. She looked deceptively innocent and amazingly happy, perfectly content in the moment, surrounded by people who were her people. She glowed. Tara wanted to think that perhaps she had something to do with the glowing, but she suspected that this was just Willow's normal comportment. Smart, funny, sweet, devoted, lovely.
After a bit of walking, the park lay behind them, the grass turning to pavement, the sun slanting low in the sky, picking up the fire of Willow's hair and illuminating the tangled strands of Buffy's as it blew hat-free in the wind. Willow held Buffy's hand as they walked and they shared a few private moments talking just between the two of them.
Tara fell back into step with Xander, the two of them admiring the gathering evening. She thought it was interesting how at first she might have assumed it would be Xander she would connect with. From their first meeting, had she had it all to play again, she would have sworn he would have been the one she fell into bed with. But now, as she watched Willow moving along the street ahead of her, her heart was filled with a sense that there was absolutely no other way it could have gone. And that same heart quickened knowing they were headed home. Her mind filled with images from this morning of those beautiful green eyes staring into hers so sweetly, so intently, so certainly, holding her whole. The fact that she was engaged and the fact that Willow was, well, a woman made the situation complicated. Maybe even a huge mess. But she only wanted more.
They came upon their trolley stop, and Willow let go of Buffy's hand, turning to Tara with bright eyes and extending the same hand to her, a lovely and loving gesture. Tara accepted it, lacing their fingers together. The touch sent shivers through her. She turned to Xander and wanted to thank him for bringing her the gift of this homeless orphan who'd come to mean so much in so little time. But she just couldn't form the proper words. Instead she leaned up and kissed his cheek. "Thank you for sharing your friends with me." He looked at her in surprise and then smiled warmly. "Thank you for taking care of her. She means the world to me."
Spike stubbed out his cigarette and felt totally ashamed of himself. He'd endured the chummy tableau before him for the better part of the afternoon, since he'd decided to tail Buffy for the day. This morning he told himself he was doing it in part to protect her. If he understood her movements and the people she interacted with, he could possibly deflect attention from her if the time came for that--provided he had the power to do so. But here today, he'd hit a veritable jackpot, and not in a good way. Here was "Red." The fugitive Willow. Caleb would give his left nut right now to have her in his sights. But somehow the sight of her just made Spike sad. She was cute as a button. The photo didn't do her justice by a long-shot. And Harris--that lackey from the very SS office Spike worked for--what was he doing wrapped up in all of this? Who knew the little bastard was so sneaky? The other blond, the one holding Willow's hand now, he didn't know her. Looked a little too old to be part of the university activist crowd Buffy ran with. Didn't look Jewish. Probably a sympathizer. He'd follow her and see what he could learn about her. Professional curiosity, of course.