On impulse, Willow bought a red rose Tuesday morning from one of the flower sellers in the Covent Garden square, so that the Chevalier of the Rose would have something to actually deliver when they rehearsed. She felt silly almost right away for doing it and hid the flower in her dressing room.
She stood outside in the bright sunlight at lunchtime waiting for Tara, feeling oddly nervous. She paced restlessly to and fro until she plucked up the courage to ask Giles, who assured her that her flight was delayed and Tara had called ahead to warn them that she would be very late for rehearsals. Willow felt weak in the knees with relief.
"Is there something the matter with Tara, since you were worried?" Giles scanned her face with a frown.
"No, nothing, as far as I know," Willow said honestly, since she had literally no idea why she had been worried.
Later that afternoon, Willow was on stage rehearsing the love duet from the first act of Butterfly. She briefly glanced out into the auditorium and saw Tara standing behind a pillar. The contrast between the blood red velvet curtain in the background, the white of the pillar and the colours of Tara made her look unreal. She was standing just beneath one of the auditoriums mock old fashioned light sources. A golden beam of light falling on half of her face made the texture of her skin and the elegance of her bone structure hurt Willow's eyes with their beauty. A strand of honey coloured hair contrasted with the bright sapphire gleam of her gaze directed at Willow. The soprano felt a wave of something indefinable wash over her. A sudden emptiness, a craving, an urge. Her eyes needed to rest on Tara because they had missed her so... She could make out the crooked grin on the mezzo's face
'She's getting back at me for eavesdropping on her...'
She gave her a little wave, but her stalker didn't come out from the shadows. She found it hard to concentrate. As soon as they took a break, she left the stage and sought her out.
"Hey..." Willow said softly and smoothly walked straight into an embrace.
"So I guess I'm not as stealthy as you then," Tara murmured against the fabric of Willows top as she was leaning her head on her shoulder.
"Nope, I'm a regular Miss Stealthy Pants when it comes to stalking people," Willow mumbled contentedly, inhaling scent of Tara perfume from the mezzo's hair.
"Willow, we need to run through the duet again! Where did you go?" Giles called out impatiently from the stage.
Willow felt annoyed with him. 'Why did he have to interrupt her all the time? Could he see that they were... Well, doing what exactly?' Willow asked herself, but found no answer. Wasn't she just saying hi to a friend? But she didn't want to let go; she had been hungry and now she was feeding.
"See you in two hours for a Rosenkavalier rehearsal?"
Tara nodded against her shoulder and Willow gave her a quick kiss on the cheek before she could regret it and walked back towards the stage. When she looked back she could see that Tara moved her fingers across her cheek in the place where Willow had just kissed her.
'I hope she didn't mind it and that she's not just wiping off my saliva,' Willow's eternally worried mind said to itself.
As the rehearsal went on, the soprano never noticed how the other woman snuck back into auditorium and sat in the shadows next to the wall. Her whole posture signalled concentration as she listened with her body and soul, eyes never leaving Willow's face.
Two hours later, it was finally time for the Chevalier of the Rose to make "his" entry with the silvery rose. The red rose was still hidden away in Willow's dressing room. The soprano was early as was her wont. She paced the room restlessly.
The mezzo came through the door on silent feet.
"How was the concert?" Willow asked.
"It was fine," Tara answered neutrally.
"Just fine? That's' code for 'it didn't go very well', right?"
"You're right, it wasn't 'fine'. It was good, actually. Cherubino always feels like coming home".
"So I guess that's Taraspeak for I was awesome and just totally ruled?" Willow said teasingly.
Tara sighed in mock indignation and shook her head.
"So, you ready to get cracking? I think I've got most bits in place, but hey, who knows? Have you had enough time to rehearse it?" Willow realised she was heading for babble mode.
"Don't need to. I did it just a couple of months ago in Edinburgh with another soprano, so it's still in place".
"Tara, you cheat! You have other Sophies in your life than me? And I thought I was the only one!" Willow feigned a mock outrage and pretended to swoon onto the grand piano. Still, she felt a stitch of disappointment. Had Tara chosen this particular piece out of convenience rather than because she thought that they do it so very well together? Rather than because their voices just fit perfectly? Rather than because of the ...well, chemistry between them, for lack of a better word?
"Aww, honey, I promise you'll be the only Sophie in my life from now on..."
Tara suddenly turned around and started to unnecessarily rearrange her sheet music.
'She called me honey...'
"I would if I could choose, you know..." Her back was still turned to Willows.
"Sing only with you..." Tara looked at her over her shoulder.
Willow felt a smile spread across her face.
"We sound great together don't we?"
Tara just nodded and looked into her eyes. Willow felt very confused all of a sudden. There was a feeling in her body akin to pain. A sense of weakness... She had to look away.
She tried to stick to the tangible reality of the music and get her focus back.
Willow was well rehearsed for a person who had just learned the piece, but Tara... Octavian seemed like second nature to her. The part could have been written for her voice specifically. Perfection was the only word for the way the music flew over her lips and filled to whole room with passion. Willow went totally week in the knees at the sound. When she neared the more difficult places in Sophie's part, again, there was Tara's soft and strong hand in hers, making her feel safe and near the breaking point at the same time.
'I'm not going to need the reassurance this time, but a great advantage here is that it will look totally natural when we hold hands while singing this. Octavian and Sophie will be lovers, after all, and lovers hold hands...'
When they had tried the piece together for the first time, they looked at each other in wondrous amazement and smiled. This was going to be very special.
They started from the beginning to try and correct some of the small flaws in the first part.
"To me is fallen the honour of presenting to the highborn bride..."
As Willow was supposed to respond by accepting the rose and say it smelled like a rose from heaven, Tara caught her completely off guard by handing her a banana with a totally straight face. Willow burst out laughing and completely ruined her line.
"You're evil!" She exclaimed in a mock outrage.
She usually took her music very seriously, but she just wasn't able to be upset with Tara.
"Wait here!" She said and ran away to her dressing room to fetch the forgotten red rose.
She would use it as a counter strike if any more fruit turned up. When she returned, the offending snack was nowhere to be seen. She kept one hand behind her back to keep the rose hidden from Tara. She was going to turn the tables on the Rosenkavalier.
"Now be serious," Willow said sternly with an exaggerated frown on her face.
A smile still played in the right corner of Tara's mouth right before she started over on her first line. When it was time for Octavian to hand Sophie the rose, Tara obediently kept her hands idle. When Sophie sang about the scent of the flower, Willow pulled the wonderful rose out and smelled it gently. She gave the mezzo a teasing look.
She put the flower in Tara's hand and closed the mezzo's fingers on top of it. Then she stepped back with a bow and a flourish, changing the roles around. Tara looked at her with her impossibly deep blue eyes. The little lakes were suddenly very shiny. She remained still and expressionless for a few moments. Then she very slowly moved closer and brushed her lips across Willows cheek. The soprano closed her eyes and she could hear the sound of her own blood roaring through her ears.
When she opened them again, she realised disappointedly that that Tara had moved away from her.
"Thank you," she said softly.
"Do you want to do it again?" Willow asked. For her own part, she wanted to do this duet over, and over and over for the rest of her natural life.
"Always..." Tara answered, still holding the rose to her chest.
The music flew through the room effortlessly, repeating the same phrases again and again. It was as if it had always lived there and they had been singing for ever, holding hands.
More than an hour later, Tara lent her head on the back of the coach along the rehearsal room wall, closed her eyes and sighed.
"Hmm, I'm tired," she said in a happy voice.
Willow didn't answer. She followed the line of Tara's bared, slender neck down to her exposed collarbone as if mesmerized. She suddenly realised what word should be used to replace "pretty" to describe Tara.
The words were 'Strikingly beautiful'. Or more prosaically: 'Hot. Needing-a-cold-shower-type hot...'
'Though those were of course several words,' she thought unnecessarily to herself.
The weird, dull ache in her body intensified.
'You want to kiss her,' her mind stated matter-of-factly.
'You want to kiss her right there, in that nameless place where her chin meets her neck and then her lips. You hunger for the taste of her and you feel like you're starving because you can't do anything about it. You have crossed your arms over your chest to stop yourself from running your hands through her hair while you kiss that soft, soft skin on her neck. And her lips...'
'When did this happen?' She asked herself, honestly curious.
'You've wanted to since you saw her up on that stage, or probably since before that, since when you heard the voice. You just didn't want to believe it, so you tried to push it to the back of your head. But you've always called things by their right name, so you couldn't hide it for long. After all, you've been singing with Buffy hundreds of times and never needed to hold her hand. You wouldn't have held hands with Montague, would you? You're in love, not to mention deaf and blind with desire. So she's a woman, but that doesn't change the facts. It is what it is and there's nothing you can do.'
'But there'll be nothing left of me when she leaves. This is a "Without Tara there is no nightingale"-type deal! I don't think I'll be able to cope.'
'Who said that you get to be able to cope? That's not how this works.'
'But I don't want this. It's going to eat me up. What if it breaks my heart, like when he left? I just want to be in the music. I never want to be in love again.'
'To late for that isn't it? You are totally without free will here. All you can hope for is that she doesn't ask you to jump from the top of a tall building, since you know you would if she asked you. So just pray that she doesn't ask...'
That's when panic struck. Willow realised that from this day on, nothing would ever be ok if she couldn't have Tara. Have her in every sense of the word. Butterfly wouldn't be ok, her life wouldn't be ok. Nothing was FINE. She had brought Tara the red rose because she loved her.
WHAT THE HELL AM I GOING TO DO ABOUT THIS? She yelled mutely to herself.