That afternoon, Willow felt really tired. All the tension and its subsequent release were catching up with her. She was really looking forward to spending the night with just Buffy and Sandro at their old favourite pub. They tried to go there and catch up at least once a month. She and Buffy hadn't talked properly for days. Frankly, she was a little worried that they were drifting apart, and she would just hate for that to happen. Buffy's friendship and support had played a huge role in getting her to where she was today and she wouldn't want to be without her for anything. The three of them always had such a great time when they were together on their own.
Tara's soft voice called out to her as she was leaving the rehearsal room.
Tara seemed slightly uncomfortable somehow. She fidgeted nervously as she continued.
"If you don't have any plans tonight, do you want to, erm, you know, go grab some food or something?"
Willow noticed how hopeful she looked and she felt really bad about turning her down like this. But it was always just the three of them at these gatherings. Besides, she told herself, it was silly to feel such an obligation to Tara. They had only just met, hadn't they?
"Eh, actually, I do have plans, and I would offer you to come, I really would, but it's kind of a regular thing with old friends, and we'd just go on about old times, so you might be really bored you know..?"
Tara just nodded, looking embarrassed. Her arms folded defensively over her chest.
"Right, that's totally ok, no problem. I'll just see you tomorrow then"
She hurried off down the corridor with a downcast head.
Willow's heart started to ache for no apparent reason. She wanted to call Tara back, but stopped herself. She hadn't done anything wrong, had she? She had been perfectly polite. Then why did she feel like a bitch?
As she got ready to leave, Anja came and stood next to her with bright smile.
"So Sandro said he's going to take me to the pub near the Royal Collage of Music where you used to go. I think he said that you were coming too?"
"Coming? I'm not coming! I was the one who was going in the first place. You're the other one!"
Anja looked at her with a puzzled expression. Willow didn't bother to clarify. She was just going to be grumpy for the rest of the evening, she decided. It was supposed to be just the three of them. If Sandro was going to bring Anja of all people, she could have brought Tara. Although she wasn't so sure she wanted to share Tara with them...
'Share Tara? What kind of thinking is that? She might know no-one in London, and I decide I don't want to "share" her? Yeah, that's charitable!' She scolded herself.
Sandro came walking out of his dressing room.
"Why did you have to ask Anja to come? I thought it was going to be just us tonight," she whispered to him as they walked toward the entrance.
"She asked to come," he whispered back.
"Well, actually it was more like a declaration than a question, come to think of it..."
"Anyway, what was I supposed to do? Say no? That would have been rude..."
He avoided looking her in the eyes.
'I think he's thinking with another body part than his brain again,' she grouched to herself.
"So where's Buffy then?" She asked.
"She and Riley are joining us there."
"Riley? Buffy's taking Riley? Again I'd like to point out that it was supposed to be just us tonight."
"I'm really looking forward to seeing your old haunt and meeting your friends," Anja said cheerfully and put her arm possessively through Sandro's.
In the corner of her eye, Willow noticed that that the door to Tara's dressing room was open. She was still in there, getting her things. She closed the door and quickly walked towards the exit. Willow caught a glimpse of her face in the reflecting glass doors. She looked sad and hurt. She had obviously heard Anja's comment...
'Great, now she thinks she's uninvited exclusively,' Willow thought bitterly to herself.
This evening hadn't even begun and it already sucked in a major way... Her stomach received yet another visit from the tiny acid demon with the fork of guilty conscience.
The evening went from poor to worse. Anja held an incomprehensible monologue about the differences between Finnish and Swedish saunas while Sandro kept grinning manically, undoubtedly thinking of large numbers of female breasts covered in steam. Or without steam, as was obviously the case in one of the instances, since only one type of sauna actually had steam it would appear. Willow was still huge with not caring, sticking to her earlier decision to be grumpy. Time went by, and no Buffy. Willow started to worry that Tara spent her nights sitting in her hotel room all alone and miserable. Why hadn't she even bothered to check if the other singer knew anyone else than her in London? What if she didn't have a single friend down here?
Finally, at a quarter to ten Buffy rolled in. Unfortunately, so did Riley and a cluster of his banker friends. Buffy added to the grief of being two hours late by declaring that she had to leave almost immediately to join Riley at some dull corporate affair that required his presence.
'Boy, is Buffy trying too hard at this whole "being ordinary"-thing,' Willow thought to herself, rolling her eyes. Soon Anja and Sandro followed suit and left. Willow decided to walk part of the way home. Strolling glumly down the street she thought about how things hadn't been the same with Buffy lately.
Suddenly, she stopped dead in her tracks. She should go and see Tara. She knew what hotel she was in. It was late, but not ridiculously so. She had to make Tara understand that she would have loved to spend the evening with her. Make her understand...Well, what exactly? Willow wasn't sure... She realized that it bordered on weird to just show up at her hotel room, but she was damn well going to do it anyway. She hailed a taxi.
At the hotel, however, her resolve started to wear thin by a flat refusal to let her in by the tidy, uptight woman at the front desk.
"We have to guarantee our guests at least a modicum of privacy, ma'am. We can't just give out room numbers to unidentified individuals," she said condescendingly in her clipped voice.
"I am NOT unidentified! I mean I know her and I can show ID, in the name of... the deity of your choice," Willow said in exasperation.
"OH MY GOD, it's Willow Rosenberg!"
"See? Willow said triumphantly, I am not unidentified!"
It turned out that the voice belonged to the camp door man, who did an extremely poor job in keeping his excitement hidden. He gushingly told her that he was a big opera aficionado and knew everything that went on at the Covent Garden. Apparently, he was also a big fan of Willow's. She hadn't quite gotten used to the combined treat and punishment of having fans yet, so she enthusiastically signed her autograph and tried not to blush at the man's extravagant compliments.
"Look here... Eh, George, she read off his name badge, I'm here to see Tara Maclay. She's in the production with me, and I think I might have hurt her feelings today during rehearsal and I just don't think I can sleep if I don't get to straighten things out with her, you know?"
"Oh, my god, I didn't realise she's the one who's replacing Montague! And she's living in my little hotel," he understated, considering the hugeness of the building.
"Is she any good?"
"No, she's not, George." The doorman let out a disappointed little noise.
"She's not good, she's the best," Willow said, a proud smile on her face.
"I'll get you a ticket if you want to come and see us," she said, pretty convinced that she wouldn't get no for an answer.
George catcalled and hugged her. The receptionist frowned, clearly not happy with Georges out-going personality.
"Miss Rosenberg, this is just bigger than life," the doorman said.
"No, it isn't. This is AS BIG AS life. Opera is the only thing that's as big as life," Willow said, convinced she was right.
"Hear, hear!" George said.
"Now, can I please go talk to Tara?" Willow said wearing her best sad puppy face.
"You go, girlfriend."
Willow strode purposefully towards the lifts. Then she surprised herself by turning to the door man again.
"Take good care of her for me?"
He didn't seem to find the request weird. He just bowed and swung his hat with a flourish.
"I'll take care of your mezzo, ma'am."
As she stood alone in the mirror walled lift on her way to Tara's room, she nervously put some lip gloss on and ran a comb through her hair. Suddenly, she felt intensely silly.
'It's a visit to a friend, not a beauty pageant. It doesn't matter what I look like.'
To her own surprise she found that she did care. She started to regret coming here, but it was too late for second thoughts as the lift's motion smoothly drew to a halt.She walked hesitantly towards room nr 99. Feeling like a prize idiot, she drew a deep breath and knocked on the door. Tara opened the door with a questioning look on her face. Willow panicked a little when she saw that she was in her sleeping gear.
"Eh, hi, you must think that I'm a total weirdo for just showing up like this, especially after saying I had other plans and all, and with you obviously ready for bed and I guess it is kinda late, I don't always think about time, since I'm sort of a night owl myself, which can obviously happen in our line of work, ya know? But it obviously hasn't happened to you and I just turn up and ruin your quality time in bed, eh, sleeping related quality time obviously, I'm going to stop talking and then go away..."
"C-Come in. I'll put the kettle on." Tara opened the door with a huge smile on her face.
"This is what I usually wear in the evening when I'm not going out. I wasn't really on my way to bed," she said reassuringly as Willow ran her eyes over her flannel pajama bottoms and tank top.
'Stop staring, weirdo!' Willow scolded herself.
"Did you have a nice evening with the others?" Tara asked neutrally as she made them tea and poured it in the pretentiously elegant cups provided by the hotel.
"No, not particularly..."
Willow noticed that her colleague was listening to the direct broadcast of The Faerie Queen from the English national opera.
"I love this piece..."
Willow closed her eyes and felt the music enter her mind.
"So do I." The mezzo said and handed her the hot cup.
She sat down next to Willow with her back to the bed's headboard.
"It kind of makes me think of you..." she confessed a little awkwardly and looked down on the duvet cover.
"Me...?" Willow said, bewildered.
"You're how I always imagined the Fairy Queen would look like, had she existed. Totally ridiculous, since there's no such thing and so on..."
Tara went quiet and sipped her hot tea.
"It's not ridiculous..." Willow said softly. "It's very flattering... It's one of the nicest things anyone's ever said to me, I think..."
Willow stared wide eyed at Tara's downcast head and marveled at the fact that someone would think she was like the Fairy Queen. Suddenly she felt emotionally unstable, like she was going to cry.
"Now, if I were a man I would probably have been a bit suspicious about being called both a fairy and a queen," she joked clumsily to cover up her reaction.
Tara giggled graciously at the bad joke. It relieved the tension and made Willow able to swallow the lump in her throat.
"So, does William Bloodsworth always eat totally disgusting things for lunch?" Tara asked companionably.
"Totally!" Willow answered with feeling.'
"Yesterday it was liver and bacon and today blood sausage sandwich. And can I just add a big "EW" to that sentence?" She said, rolling her eyes.
They sat like that for hours, talking about everything between heaven and earth. Willow found herself hanging on to every word that Tara said and filed them in the newly opened "Tara-file" in her head. More things were added every moment;
The way her hair shimmered in the lamp light as she leant down to pour more tea in her cup. They way she smoothed it back behind her ear on one side of her face, but usually left it down on the other side. Her proud roman profile as she turned to look out the window; Willow spent several minutes secretly studying the beautiful arch from her nose to her pale eyebrows. The way you could see her pulse rapidly flickering at the side of her neck as she leant her head back onto the head board; That the skin on her bare feet was almost transparent. The way she laughed with perfectly pitched, like she was unable to do something unmusical. The way her scent lingered in the room when she went to the bathroom. The unknown meaning of the tiny toy leopard sitting on her night stand. And of the photograph which lay face down next to it.
As the mezzo talked animatedly about her passions and peeves, Willow wondered why she had ever thought that this woman was shy...
As the hours wondered by and the moon started to shine its light through yonder window, Willow knew she ought to be getting home. They had rehearsals tomorrow and she had burst in uninvited after all.
"I suppose we should go to bed. Eh, I should be getting home, I mean," she quickly corrected herself.
"Stay? This is closer to the opera house than your flat... and you can sleep in one of my shirts. This is a huge bed, and there are extra towels and even a toothbrush and everything..."
Tara looked down and hid part of her face behind a curtain of hair, but her voice was steady and calm. No stutter now.
"I would love to," Willow said simply.
Tara looked at her as strong emotions drifted across her features. Willow didn't know her well enough to know what they were, but she promised herself to find out.
Tara leant Willow a Scottish Opera T-shirt and a pair of flannel boxer shorts which were mysteriously decorated with Paddington Bear. It wasn't that she wouldn't feel a little weird sleeping in the same bed as Tara, but if the simple truth was to be told, she wouldn't have missed it for the world. Tara made her feel liked, appreciated and all warm inside. It was all the things that she had missed about being with Oz, but at the same time totally different.
'Well obviously, since she's not my boyfriend...'
Tara looked younger when she had washed her make-up of. Willow thought she was absolutely beautiful in the moonlight with her cheeks rosy from the cool water. As she got in to bed next to her, the soprano could feel how the mezzo's body practically radiated heat.
"Are you cold?" Tara asked, since Willow was so deep down under the covers that only her face was showing.
"Me? Always," she answered resignedly.
"I've been cold all my life."
Tara took her hands from under the duvet and rubbed them with her own.
Willow made a contented sound as she felt the blood starting to flow faster through them. She loved Tara's hands...She yawned widely.
"Right. No more talking. Sleepy time," Tara decided and ran the back of her warm hand along Willows cheek. The gesture took Willow by surprise, but she managed not to flinch away from it. Tara put the light out and rolled over on her back.
Even though she was tired, Willow couldn't sleep. Tara's breaths were slow and even, but Willow couldn't decide if she was sleeping or not. She wanted more. She wanted to be kept warm all over. She wanted to be closer to Tara.
She decided to play it dirty. She made some pretend contented sleeping noises and turned over onto her side, facing Tara. The other girl didn't move. After a few minutes had passed, she pretended to move in her sleep and inched closer, with butterflies in her stomach. Tara still breathed peacefully, so Willow decided she might get away with it. She had the whole advantage, since the mezzo had no clue that Willow usually slept completely still in the same position all night. For all she knew, this could be the standard Willow Rosenberg sleeping behaviour. She inched even closer, and not daring to breathe, put her head close to Tara's on her pillow and very gingerly a hand on her stomach. She faked a few half-snores in case Tara would wake up.
'Mmm, that's better...'
She inhaled the scent of the mezzo's skin next to her nose. It was wonderful; gentle but rich. It made Willow feel comfortable and disturbed at the same time. Slightly guiltily she moved a little closer. She was so close that she could feel the other woman's body heat all along her front. She started to drift off to sleep after getting used to Tara's warm skin against her own and daring to breathe again.
Suddenly, she was wide awake when the mezzo moved underneath her. Would she wake up and wonder why the hell Willow was using her as a human pillow without asking for permission? Her heart stopped racing in her chest when Tara snuggled closer and put her own arm on top of Willow's on her stomach. The soprano couldn't suppress a sleepy smile on top of her new friend's shoulder as she drifted off, warm and safe.