For Tara, it was never complicated. She knew what it was and it's implications right away. The stab in her chest when she realised, not many minutes after seeing Willow from afar the first time, that she would fall in love with this ray of light was dull, unsurprising and familiar like a worn old coat. This was her normal state of mind, she told herself, only a little more. Only a little... But it wasn't a little. Now she loved Willow desperately, fiercely and unhealthily. Nothing else mattered any more. When she looked into those shining pools of green she thought her heart would stop.
Of course, she never even thought about the possibility of getting her. She piled her feelings for Willow on top of the other paper thin joys she had managed to hold on to, knowing that they would soon be ripped apart. Then she would be the one to break...There had never been anything in her life that didn't break. Music was the closest thing, but that would break soon. Tara knew, because she was counting the days, and they were getting fewer. She tried to tell herself that this was just a little bit of basking in the sun before she disappeared like a rather unremarkable flower that died from the first frost. She realised how bad it was when she felt like throwing up at Bloodsworth's mentioning of Willow's new boyfriend.
If she be married, My grave is like to be my wedding bed...
Juliet's paraphrased words echoed through her head as she struggled to breathe.The sense of relief when she had denied it... Her trepidation when the director started taunting them about holding hands during rehearsals. She just got so terrified that Willow wouldn't let her any more, but she did. And more... Willow had slept in her bed and made it smell like her. She had lain on Tara's chest as if it was the most comfortable pillow imaginable. Did Willow really think that she had slept through something so mind bogglingly wonderful? And she had embraced the compliant body and damned the consequences. How badly she had wanted to kiss her when Willow had said that she looked pretty in the morning...
Willow made the colours return to her world and that was dangerous, Tara knew this... But on the other hand, she had known that if would be bad for her to indulge in the music, but she had anyway. Because she was bad... She knew that as well. She had been told this many times. Knowing that the shadows were coming closer, she became brave. She wanted some pretty pieces to hold in her hand, to remember things by when she had gone. That's why she had held Willows and when she saw that she was frightened. The old Tara wouldn't have, but as the days got fewer, she felt a greater need to gather something bright and shiny to bring with her. No feeling could possibly have been brighter than holding Willow's fragile hand in hers. It had felt like singing one of her favourite arias. Like one of those impossibly floral scented texts about things that wouldn't be hers. Almost instantly she had regretted it. She had regretted allowing herself to feel like that. But now it was too late. Now she was happy. She was so happy that she thought her mind would explode from joy. This would of course make it unbearable to leave. So she tried not to think, just to feel. It had been years since she had felt the urge to fight it. It was very bad that it came back, it really was, but she was just so goddamned HAPPY. The old grey coat was still there, but sometimes she almost forgot...
She was ecstatic that Willow actually seemed to find her constant need to touch her pleasant instead of offensive. Tara had gotten what she wanted only once before in her life. Her desire to be a singer had been so strong they had been, well, caught of guard of sorts, she supposed, and actually let her go and study. She would have gone anyway, even if they hadn't let her. They had reproached her, of course, but she was way beyond that.
But the thought of getting Willow, of being hers, was just too absurd. Tara tried not to think about it. Sitting on the sofa, she tried to create a solid sense memory to keep. She inhaled the gentle scent and felt it fill her up. Willow smelt so clean and bright. She liked the way the soft velvet of the sofa felt against her neck. With Willows scent invading her senses, she could almost pretend that the velvet was her hands on her neck. Or her lips...
Her fingers gently touched the red rose's petals. So impossibly soft, like Willow's skin. She had gotten her a rose... It had been the best moment of her life when Willow brought out the rose from behind her back and it had been red and beautiful and she had given it to her like a lover would. A lover...
She had been certain that the rose was from Willow and not from Sophie to Octavian. Tara was so rarely certain about things... There were no acting skills involved when she sang Octavian's lines about never being so happy before in her life.
Willow usually dealt with her problems by obsessing about them, trying to be logical. Sometimes she made lists, which used to amuse Buffy to no end. She was rarely a woman of action. Or so she had thought until today. She walked up and sat down next to Tara, willing herself not to kiss that soft, exposed place...
"Mmmhm?" She said without opening her eyes.
"Let's be normal!"
Tara's eyes opened with a startled motion.
"I mean, let's do what normal people do after work. We should stop rehearsing and go out to dinner! Eh...I mean, if you don't have other plans or anything," she finished a little sheepishly.
"No plans... "
Tara had to work hard at stopping her grin from becoming impossibly wide. Willow wanted to spend the evening with her... Not hidden away in her hotel room, but actually to go out with her. She could be childish and pretend it was a date... She would spend the evening with the woman she was in love with, who had given her a red rose...
Willow put her arm through Tara's in the now familiar manner as they left the opera house.
"Where do you want to go?" Willow asked as they walked companionably through the Covent Garden.
"I don't really know London very well, so I have no idea."
"You're joking? Surely you have been to London for the opera and things like that?"
"Actually, I'll be singing at the Covent Garden without ever having seen anything there as a member of the audience," Tara admitted. "And frankly, I can't believe that I'm here... I can't believe that I'm the one who got to replace Diana Montague..." Tara said, her voice filled with amazement.
And I can't believe that you're here with me, her mind silently added to itself.
"You're the only one who is good enough to replace her!" Willow said heatedly and took Tara's hand between hers.
She forced herself to let go again.
"Ever been to Wagamama?"
"Wagawhat?" Tara said, puzzled.
"You're gonna love it!" Willow exclaimed.
I'd love anywhere I got to go with you, honey... Tara thought to herself, hoping for a long walk so that she would get to stay close to Willow for a little longer. In this, she was disappointed. The restaurant was just on the other side of the square. The upside was that there was a queue. A long one. In a confined area. Tara got to stand so close to Willow that it was almost a hug.
I don't give a rat's arse about what kind of food they have here, this is still my new official favourite restaurant, she thought happily to herself.
To her complete and utter joy, Willow put her hand behind her back and offered it to her. This was the second time they had held hands without the excuse of a rehearsal and she found it difficult to contain her excitement. To her surprise, a young waiter carrying something that looked like a palm pilot and Japanese flag-patterned headband hurried down the line of people waiting and took drink orders.
"Plum wine," Willow said without hesitation. "You don't mind, do you?" She asked Tara as an afterthought.
"They serve you drinks while you're waiting in line?" She asked in surprise.
"Yes. This is a very effective establishment!" Willow said contentedly.
Tara smiled fondly at the soprano's love for anything structured. She felt a little disappointed in how fast the line was moving. It soon rounded the corner to the actual restaurant and Tara's eyes widened in surprise. The extremely crowded room was filled with people sitting close together in long lines along shared tables. Along the walls were open counters where kamikaze-style cooks were whisking things into cooking vessels at a break-neck speed. Tara very tentatively lent her chin on Willows shoulder.
"This is an original concept," she whispered in her ear.
"It might look a little crazy, but the food here is great!" Willow assured her, leaning slightly backwards and letting the back of her neck rest lightly on Tara's shoulder, much to the mezzo's delight. The intimate moment passed too soon as they were handed their plum wines. The amber beverage was delicious, and, stronger than it seemed, Tara suspected. The space got even more confined as more people entered the restaurant and the mezzo found herself blissfully pressed against her colleagues back.
Willow sent a grateful thought to the person in front of her, who suddenly stepped back to let one of the waiters pass with drinks and forced her backwards and into contact with Tara's body. Tara then had to put her arm carrying the drink around Willow's waist so it wouldn't be in the way of the passing waiter. Without having to wonder how to achieve it, she found herself embracing the soprano. She silently inhaled and felt drunk from Willow's body scent before even having had more than a sip of the wine. She pretended to be crowded by the person behind her and inched just a little closer.
Oh, darling, if you just knew how you make me feel...How beautiful you look with your head on my shoulder...
Images of what the delicate woman might look like lying naked in her arms made the mezzo drift back to a private and cherished place where her mind lived most of the time.
Willow had opened the Pandora's Box of her own desire by admitting her feelings for the mezzo. The fire in her body had started when she had held Tara close on her return and had blazed ever since. Her heart pounded mercilessly in her chest when she felt the mezzo pressed against herself. She closed her eyes and tried to imagine what Tara's breasts would look like cupped in her hands instead of pressed deliciously against her back as they were now. She had never touched another woman's breasts, but she felt disproportionately aroused at the mere thought of touching Tara. She realised that she wanted all of these people to go away and leave them alone.
Hello, assume much? Why would you think she's the least bit interested in you romantically? Or physically, for that matter? Maybe she's just naturally tactile and just likes having someone to rehearse with? Maybe you're just being a big pervert for thinking about her breasts when she thinks that you're a good friend? But she held my hand and let me sleep in her bed? Well maybe that's just what she does with her friends, you don't know that, do you? Just don't drink too much and say the wrong thing or kiss her or anything and everything will be fine...
She was shaken from her inner monologue by Tara saying her name. The sound, and the feeling of the sound, moving through the mezzo's chest sent shivers down her spine. She unconsciously lent heavier into Tara and opened her eyes to see a waiter looking questioningly at her.
"Excuse me?" She said uncertainly.
"Two?" He enquired patiently, obviously repeating the question.
"Two what?" She asked confused, missing Tara's arm which withdrew from her waist.
"There are two of you? Party of two?" He said very slowly, enunciating clearly. Willow felt like an idiot.
"Yup, that's right, party of two, that's us alright. Just the two of us, on our own..."
Tara effectively silenced the babbling by gently caressing her arm. Willow had to take a swig of her plum wine to bring some saliva back to her suddenly very dry mouth.
Tara felt her spirits soar even higher as they were taken to their places. How easy it was to pretend that this was a date. Actually, she didn't have to pretend. She behaved like a lover towards Willow, and she seemed to like it. They were acting like lovers with each other... She tried not to read anything into it.
The soprano busied her self with explaining the intricacies of the Asian fusion menu to Tara.
"Ok, I give up! So the starter sometimes comes after the main course?"
"Yes, everything is served as soon as it's finished."
Tara just shook her head and smiled widely.
"You order, then. I trust you..."
"Do you want to get a bunch of different starters to share, then?"
"I'm all for sharing," Tara said, realising that it came out as flirting without her meaning it to.
"Good..." Willow said, all thoughts of food temporarily leaving her mind.
"Are you sure you want me to order your main course as well?"
"I trust you," Tara repeated.
Her mind simply could not manage interpreting a menu at the same time as the sensory overload of having been so close to Willow.
Willow moved her foot under the table so that their legs touched. Tara moved her foot closer as well so that their legs and feet were pressed closely together. In the noisy restaurant, with cooks yelling at each other in a bunch of different languages and waiters were running between the tables like their lives depended on it, Willow's last cynical doubt about her ability to fall in love again faded away as she looked at Tara's face, cheeks flushed from the difference in temperature and the fruit wine.
"A face to launch a thousand ships..." Willow quoted to herself, feeling embarrassed at her own arousal. Or sink one Willow Rosenberg, she thought ruefully, as she tried to avoid staring too adoringly at her colleague.
Tara took a pen out of her bag and scribbled something on the paper place mat. Willow leant over to read it. "Octavian was here". She smiled widely and took the pen from Tara's hand. She scribbled "Sophie was here" on hers. She didn't return the pen. She scribbled something else. Tara leant over to look at it. Willow tried to be discrete about smelling her hair, but was only partly successful in her own judgement.
Tara looked up at her after reading "Sophie + Octavian = true". Before she had the time to regret it she took the pen back from Willow.
Don't think, just don't stop to think, she held her breath in trepidation as she wrote "Tara + Willow" and drew a heart around it.
Inopportunely, this was when some of the food arrived and inconsiderately covered the declaration in steaming goodness. Willow wondered if she could trust her eyes, but she had only seen it for a short moment and she wasn't sure.
Tara was both disappointed and relieved that Willow never read her bold statement. She so desperately wanted to immerse Willow in declarations of love, but this was such a beautiful dream. She didn't want to risk waking up to face reality. Tonight was for dreaming... Like the thoughts that went through her head of running her hands slowly up those shapely legs nestled in so close to her own under the table, of moving them further up... Of sleeping so near her, hearing her heartbeat and her steady breath...
Looking at the amount of food on the table, Willow realised that she had probably panicked a bit when she ordered.
"Hungry?" Tara said and cocked an eyebrow. Again, she realised just as the words left her mouth that she had managed to make them sound very suggestive.
The response put butterflies in her stomach. How she wished that Willow hadn't been talking about food...
"Geez, down, girl! At least try to sound like you're still talking about food!" Willow silently told herself.
Her hands were unsteady as she picked up the chop sticks.
"So, where do we start?" Tara smiled at her from the other side of the numerous dishes.
How about you lying down on the table with me and letting me kiss those lush lips of yours until you don't remember your name anymore? Willow thought to herself, looking at her hungrily.
"The dumplings are great," she said, hoping that her face wasn't quite the open book she knew it usually was.
"Which ones are they?"
Tara looked questioningly at the collection of plates on the table. Willow realized they were right next to her hand. She picked one up and extended it across the table. Tara cupped her hand around Willow's holding the chop sticks and brought it to her mouth.
Why did suddenly the sight of Tara's lips closing around the food make her think of other activities those lips would be suited for? Why did Tara's sweet blue eyes suddenly seem like deep pools of sensuous promises? The mezzo made a content humming noise in the back of her throat at the taste.
I wonder if that's what she would sound like in bed? Get a grip woman! This is a meal, not a make out session! Unfortunately... Willow tore her eyes away from Tara's lips.
"These are great..." Tara said contentedly. "You're not eating. Have one?"
Tara caught one between her chop sticks and offered it to Willow, who mimicked Tara's gesture and cupped her hands around the mezzo's. When she let go she couldn't resist brushing her thumb across the silky skin of Tara's wrist. The mezzo stopped breathing.
Willow had to make a conscious effort to concentrate on the food with her senses flooded with the presence of Tara. She moved her legs so that their knees connected as well underneath the table. Tara's skin felt so warm through the fabric...
Everything was fine up until Willow noticed that they had forgotten about their green tea. When she raised the cup to her lips, her eyes met Tara's and she suddenly thought of the two lovers' tea ceremony in Madame Butterfly. Tara just looked at her, wordlessly, with an intensive gaze. A strand of hair fell in her face, but she did nothing to remove it. Willow swallowed nervously. Then she held her own cup out for Tara, who covered Willow's hands with her own and brought the cup to her mouth. When she was finished, she lifted her hands off Willow's and looked at her. Willow turned the cup and covered the mark that Tara's lips had left with her own and drank from the same place.
In that moment it dawned on Tara that possibly, just possibly, her feelings for Willow weren't entirely unrequited...