The following evening, on their way to the seedy bar where they had their clandestine karaoke evenings, Willow tried to explain the concept to Tara.
"I used to have this terrible stage fright, when I had just started Music College. Buffy and Sandro and I were supposed to sing an excerpt from Julius Caesar once and I actually ran off the stage and left them... It was a disaster. So, Buffy dragged me off to karaoke, saying that if I could survive singing Madonna badly in front of total strangers, doing Händel well wouldn't seem so scary... And she was right! I nearly died the first few times, but then again, so did my stage fright... Anyway, that's how it started. Then we discovered that we well, liked it. It's great. No-one knows who we are here and nobody cares if we sing badly...Have I mentioned that I'm really awful at karaoke? There are no critics in the audience here. Well, actually, the Hells Angels guys can get a little snippy if no-one does Black Sabbath, but still. If someone here asks Buffy who she is, she usually says that she's a hairdresser and uses a really bad Essex accent. Sandro usually says that he's an ice cream vendor"
Tara stopped suddenly.
"Willow? Please tell me that you don't expect me to... sing anything?"
"Oh, yes I do! You're not getting away! Everybody has to sing on karaoke night."
Tara's face had terror painted on it as she was dragged into the indeed very seedy Sir William's Place. The terror factor was already considerable without the horror of the singing added to it.
Meeting Willow's friends. Properly. In a social situation. What if she said something totally stupid and made a fool of herself? She desperately wanted Buffy and Sandro to like her, since they were such a huge part of Willow's life and seemed to co-exist with her almost symbiotically. She was also a little jealous of how they knew Willow so well. Tara would always be years behind them....
But there are things they don't know of... The sounds she makes when I kiss the soft spot behind her ear... What she looks like when she sleeps on my arm... She smiled to herself.
Willow's friends came walking through the door one by one, surrounding Tara so that she got stuck right in the middle of the table, with no chance to hide.
"What are you having?"
Willow looked questioningly at her, moving towards the bar.
"G-Gin & Tonic" she answered feebly, feeling the need for something strong to cope with all this.
"Don't leave me!" is what she really wanted to say. She felt really out of place. So much had happened to her in such a short time. Her days had turned into a constant bombardment of new impressions. She didn't feel at all herself anymore. That was largely a good thing, she was sure of it. But still, it was frightening. It was frightening to need someone the way she needed Willow. And all these lovely shiny friends she had. Sometimes Tara felt lacklustre in comparison. But she had looked herself in the mirror yesterday and seen something different. Like she was the one that sparkled. Damn, it had felt good!
But now she had to be socially competent with Willow's friends... Act normal she told herself sternly.
Tara was pretty sure that Willow knew what it was like to feel alone in a crowd, like the mezzo felt now. Willow always knew what Tara was talking about.
She cast a loving look at the tiny woman over by the bar. Second only to touching Willow, Tara's favourite thing in the world was watching her. Sometimes, before she and Willow had become lovers, she had felt like a stalker, constantly resting her eyes on the soprano, drinking her in. Now she had paid for the right to unabashedly stare at her, using her hands, lips and body, so she figured that she was entitled to it.
Willow was never quite still, there was always some slight movement rippling under her skin. Tara watched her fingers move impatiently on the chipped wood on the bar, as she waited to place her order of drinks. She was always so surprised to see how small and delicate Willow's hands were. When the soprano touched her and when she was inside of her, Tara felt like Willow found and filled every secret place that she had. Those hands could be very commanding as well... She was starting to feel a little flushed as her screaming hormones told her where they wanted those hands, how they missed that agile body moving on top of hers...
Slowly, she started to resurface from her reveries, feeling vaguely aware of someone standing close to her. She looked up and found Buffy Summers looking at her expectantly. Tara realised that the tiny soprano had probably already said something and that she must look like an idiot, just sitting there staring.
"So it's you who's been keeping Will so occupied lately, huh? Being at it that much isn't really healthy, you know!"
For a brief moment Tara thought that Willow had already told Buffy about them and that Willow's best friend was actually commenting on their sex life. A nano-second later she realized with great relief that Buffy was talking about their extensive voluntary rehearsal hours. This had become more or less identical with their sex life, granted, but still...
"Eh, hi..." She attempted another smile.
Hi.... You meet the great Buffy Summers, wunderkind extraordinaire, who happens to be Willow's best friend and all you can think of to say is "hi"? Great job, Tara...
She had already met Anja, of course, and Sandro briefly, since they were in a scene together in Butterfly, but she hadn't spoken to either of them much. Tara felt a sour taste in her mouth at the thought of singing pop music in front of this crowd. She desperately tried to think of something to say to them. Willow winked at her and she made a brave attempt at a smile, suspecting it came out a grimace.
She took a large swig from the gin & tonic that Willow had just brought her, wishing she had ordered neat whisky... I really should talk to someone... But she was rescued.
"We met some robbers yesterday", Anja said matter-of-factly.
"My god! Are you alright? And Buffy wasn't even with you, working her martial arts mojo!"
"Black belt." Willow whispered in the way of explanation to Tara.
"I think we did pretty well, actually", Anja said.
"What did they take?"
"Oh, they didn't get anything."
"What happened then?"
"Well, Sandro got down on his knees and begged for his life, but I showed them the knife and made them apologise. Then I told them to go away and they did", Anja said levelly.
"The knife...?" Tara queried quietly.
"Yes!" Anja beamed a pleased smile at her and pulled a huge knife with a fur-covered handle out of her hand bag.
"I learned in the girl scouts that one should always have one in case something happens and now I know that they were right!" She said contentedly, waving the knife around.
"Anja, you don't suppose that they meant that you should always bring it with you when you go into the wilderness? I believe that the term for that in the big city is "carrying a concealed weapon"..." Buffy said with a worried look on her face.
"Possibly, but hey! It's a jungle out there!" Anja responded cheerfully.
"Anja, it's no wonder that the slain heroes would follow you to Valhalla when they die. They're probably wetting their pants with fear that you will think of something worse than dying", Willow said in an exasperated voice.
"Thank you!" Anja beamed proudly at everyone.
She looked at a red faced and embarrassed Sandro trying to hide behind a velvet curtain.
"Oh, don't feel bad, Sweetie, You're still my little biscotti face! I'll let you be dominant the next time we have sex", she whispered a little too loudly for everyone to miss.
A mortified Sandro immediately started to tell a long winded anecdote seemingly without point to divert their attention.
Willow went back to the bar to get Buffy and Riley something to drink.
Tara listened intently to Sandro's story with a strong feeling that it reminded her of something. Suddenly she knew what it was:
"Right! It's just like that story about Wagner's dog! That was so sad..."
She lost herself in thought for a moment. The she looked up, noticing everybody's eyes on her and blank expressions on their faces.
"Well there was this one time, when Wagner was in London...and..." Her voice trailed off.
"Smooth, you IDIOT!" she scolded herself as she took in the looks of complete lack of comprehension on the faces surrounding her.
Willow came walking up to the table with their drinks.
"Oh, are you talking about that thing that happened with Wagner's dog? That was really sad..."
Willow and Tara smiled at each other in mutual empathy for Wagner's dog.
Who could blame her for falling in love with this woman? Willow thought, looking into her eyes. What a wondrous mind she had...
"I didn't think there would be another one..." Anja whispered in Sandro's ear.
"Another one as crazy as Willow!"
"Ahn, we've talked about this... Willow's not crazy, she's just ...Willow."
"You're pretty eccentric yourself, Ahn..."
"Nonsense! I'm totally ordinary. Ok, better, but still."
Sandro choose the path of least resistance.
"Of course, honey, you're right..."
"Anyone want to be humiliatingly defeated in a game of pool?" he stood up and looked expectantly at the people around the table.
Tara nodded gratefully. Playing pool well was the only good thing that no-good brother of hers had ever taught her...
Fifteen minutes later, she was bent over the pool table purposefully aiming her cue. The mezzo was wearing a top that wasn't the least bit revealing. When she stood up straight, that is... Willow was sure that Tara didn't realise what bending over did for the visibility of the creamy goodness of her cleavage. Well, she was sure as hell not going to tell her, since this view was the best thing that had happened to her all day... They had had separate rehearsals. Generally speaking, it had been a day with not nearly enough Tara-time or Tara-touching and Willow didn't like it one bit.
Tara felt the prickling sensation of someone watching her. She glanced up to see Willow's eyes focusing on somewhere other than her face. Tara realised that her shirt must be more revealing than she thought. She decided not to correct the problem. She felt flushed and very sensual as Willow's eyes travelled with predatory intensity over her body. She sighed in disappointment as the soprano walked away.
But looking up into the mirror, she realised that the soprano's eyes had simply targeted another part of her anatomy. She felt so desired when she looked at Willow's red cheeks and slightly open mouth as she stared at her from behind. It took a physical effort from Tara not to turn around and grab her.
Willow went around the table and stood behind Tara as she made her next shot. The top had slid up a little, exposing her lower back. Willow loved that place. The little dip along her spine looked like a road leading up to her shoulders. A very inviting road... Willow suddenly had the image of a tiny, fairy size version of herself, tiptoeing lightly up along that path. She imagined her tiny self happily lying down to sleep, warm and loved in the recess of Tara's warm back. How wonderful to live in country where everything consisted of Tara! But soon her thoughts went back to actual size...
There was a touch of enjoying forbidden fruit involved when she looked at her. Tara was soft where her men had been hard, so very exciting and new. The luxury of having free access to those lips... It was like offering unlimited sweets to a child...The best thing there was, and in abundance...
She remembered how desperately she had longed for them during her secret night time dreams of her new colleague, and how she had had to tell herself in the morning, with cheeks burning crimson from embarrassment, that they were just dreams, not a reflection of her real feelings...And she hadn't told anyone yet how she and Tara spent their nights, moving against each other, eating and drinking each other... Willow was very seldom naughty... Or at least that used to be true.
Willow wished intently that everyone would go away, for just a short moment, so that she could taste that fruit right now. She looked at the beating pulse on Tara's neck and lost her self in the memory of how that place felt against her tongue. She kept staring at the mezzo's backside, wishing that she could have pressed her body against it, put a hand under her top and run it up her stomach to cup one of the beautiful breasts that she was so obsessed with. Willow imagined herself ripping that top off, laboured breathing reverberating in the empty bar, doors locked... She wanted to put one of her legs between Tara's and gently nudge them apart so that she could press her thigh against her warm centre...
"Earth to Willow? You gonna make your shot?"
"Will? What are you staring at?"
Willow snapped her head up as Buffy stood beside her, looking in the same direction with a questioning frown.
"Nothing! Nothing at all, just having a good staring into thin air, here... Certainly not looking at anything in particular...
Willow played very badly. This was turning into a bad evening. At the opera house, she could make up constant excuses to touch Tara, to drop by her dressing room and be taken into those tender arms. She hated this, having to pretend they were just friends, not being able to reach out for her. She felt truly annoyed to see Anja sitting on Sandro's lap, the Italian obviously managing to put his embarrassment behind him.
"Have some sense of propriety, why don't you?" she muttered to herself, knowing full well that she really wanted to do the same, wanted to lean on Tara the way Buffy affectionately leant on Riley. She was even jealous of the two pierced people wearing motorcycle gear, who sat at the bar, fingers tenderly intertwined. She also realised that the solution was obvious: she had to tell Buffy and the others that she was in love with Tara.
When the mezzo took a break to go to the bathroom, Willow followed closely behind, with no other thought in her head than a caveman-like "Want to touch flesh now".
She encircled Tara's waist with her arms and sighed with contentment. Tara put her hands on top of Willow's and caressed her lightly, leaning back into her. They stood like that, silently for a few moments.
"I suppose I should go back to the game..." Tara said wistfully. Willow was already out (at least in that respect), so no-one would miss her. She made an attempt to release herself from the soprano's embrace.
"I just want to go and get some cool water. I'm a little hot." she continued, smiling as Willow stubbornly refused to let her go.
Willow looked at Tara's glass standing there empty, bar the ice cubes. She picked it up, and put one of them into her mouth, letting it cool her down. Tara was right, the pub was very hot... And so was Tara... She slowly turned the mezzo round and leant closer as if to kiss her, and passed the ice cube over to Tara with her mouth, lips against lips. The mezzo drank greedily from the melting ice before leaning into Willow's lips again, eyes gleaming dark sapphire in the harsh lights. Her hand landed with a firm grip on Willow's waist as she transferred it back to the soprano's thirsty mouth.
Soon there was no more ice cube, just lips and tongues and hands...
"Will, where are you? Have you drowned?"
Buffy opened the door and walked in.
"Oh, Tara, hi, you're here too? Sandro wondered what happened to you, it seems to be your shot."
Seemingly oblivious of the sudden jumping apart of her two colleagues and the occurrence of blushing cheeks, she smiled at the other women.
"I b-better go and finish the game..." Tara mumbled and hurriedly went back into the bar.
Willow gave Buffy a bemused look.
"Will, we need to talk", Buffy poignantly.
"I agree Buffy... We should talk. "
Willow quickly rehearsed a coming out speech in her head and braced for impact. And impact she got.
"I think Riley's going to ask me to marry him!!" Buffy threw her arms around Willow and lifted her a few inches off the ground.
"I'm so excited!!" She beamed at Willow.
"Erhm.. What? I mean WHAT!?"
As Willow's speech fled from her head, the information divulged by Buffy started to sink in.
"I mean, why do you say that?"
"Gee, thanks, Will" the blonde said sarcastically and pouted at her friend.
"I'm sorry Buff, I didn't mean for it to sound like that. Has he proposed to you?"
"No, but he wanted to go with me to Berlin for my concert this weekend and he doesn't usually want to go to my concerts, and he said we had something important we needed to discuss and it was really special, so he wanted to take me out to dinner and talk about it, and I don't have time before Berlin, so he said he'd come! 'An offer you won't be able to resist', he said!"
"That's great, Buffy." Willow hugged her best friend back, thinking that just possibly, it wasn't so great, really...
"I can't wait until we get home and we can have one of our girlie evenings and make hot chocolate and talk half the night. I'll tell you exactly what he said and you can tell me what you think it means. I've missed hanging out with you Will..."
"Sure Buffy, that sounds great."
They left the bathroom arm in arm, Buffy smiling widely. Willow felt guilty from her disappointment that she would have to spend the night away from Tara. She loved Buffy, but a night without Tara was just plainly a bad night.
"Right, who's first?" Buffy looked encouragingly at the group of people around the pool table, who showed no impulse to rally.
"Hello, karaoke night, remember?"
Tara's hands suddenly felt cold and clammy around the pool cue.
"OK, I'll go..." Sandro entered the tiny stage and bowed extravagantly to the scattered applause.
"Same as usual?" The drag queen in charge of the karaoke machine asked with a bored look on her face.
"Hit it Belinda!"
"Sandro likes Backstreet Boys. We try not to talk about it..." Willow whispered to Tara across the table when she saw the puzzled look on the mezzo's face.
Some woman with big hair and a tiny, shiny skirt whistled appreciatively when Sandro turned his back to the audience and soulfully crooned a falsetto "I want it that way" accompanied by a peculiar dance routine.
Tara could have sworn that she heard some sort of growl from Anja sitting next to her.
Next, Buffy strode onto the stage, commanding the tiny space as if she was the valkyrie Brünnhilde come to summon the dead warriors to Valhalla.
The door was thrown open violently and William Bloodsworth walked in to the pub with a sullen face, still in his stained Sex Pistols shirt. Without a word, he pulled up a chair and sat down in front of the stage.
"What are you doing here? No-one invited you, Killjoy", Buffy snapped acerbically.
"Just getting a pint, love. Got same right as everyone else to visit this fine establishment", he smirked at Buffy.
"Heard they had a smashing show here", he continued, sarcastically raising his glass in a toast, spilling some on the man in the suit next to him in the progress.
Tara saw the man's jaw tighten, but he didn't say anything.
Buffy pretended to ignore Bloodsworth and told Belinda her choice of song with a long suffering expression on her face. Her rendition of "Hit me baby one more time" was done with the same fierce precision as her Wagner performances. Only a wrinkle on her forehead indicated her awareness of Bloodsworth and his sarcastic applause. At the end she expertly aimed the rest of her Bacardi and coke on the front of Bloodsworth's Sex Pistol's T-shirt and hit him square in the chest with a small splash.
"WILL YOU LEAVE OFF MY SHIRT WOMAN!!! IT'S SODDING VINTAGE!!" He roared as he jumped up from his chair and kicked it aside.
"Hey Bloodsworth! Why don't you do some Jerry Garcia? It'd suit you, since I'd be really grateful if you were dead!" Sandro spat after him as Bloodsworth was striding to the little boys room with furious steps.
"Ok, I think this is my cue." Willow said, eager to create a diversion from the fighting.
She was a little wary of her choice of song, fearing she would say too much, or that Tara would think it was cheesy, speaking your love in the language of Bond... At the start of the tinny piano tune, she tried not to be too obvious and look straight at the mezzo.
"Soave, Willow! Think Sean Connery!" she encouraged herself, but all the effect of that was an intense temptation to do an exaggerated Scottish accent.
Why didn't anybody tell me that when you really fall in love, all the schmaltzy love songs suddenly seem to be about you? she thought pensively, as she earnestly sang the first lines of the song, fearing that her heart was already prominently displayed on her sleeve.
Nobody does it better, makes me feel sad for the rest
How true, she thought to herself while she sang the lines, her busy brain having no problem multi-tasking. She felt truly sad for everyone who never got to kiss those lips, feel her soft arms encircle them in sleep or to be loved and driven crazy by those nimble fingers...
She's completely awful... Tara thought adoringly as she listened to Willow's flat, tuneless singing. Going up, the soprano found the way back to her schooled register, sounding a little like Maria Callas interprets Bond themes. Tara felt her tenderness for Willow nearing a state where it was almost painful. Willow was obviously the kind of singer who, when trained classically, lost every ability to produce sound another way. Well, at least with dignity...
When the soprano turned to look her in the eyes, all her thoughts melted away. Tara's nervousness and anxiety was gone.
Willow felt a bit of a coward, hiding behind the irony of karaoke to say things she really meant, but she figured that there were worse things in the world.
I wasn't looking, but somehow you found me, I tried to hide from your looove...
When Willow smiled her ten thousand watt smile, which had caused Tara's stomach to turn over like she was riding a roller coaster the first time she had seen it from a distance, the rest of the world became nothing. There was just the two of them, together. Tara cherished every badly sung word from Willow, feeling like this was as close to the l-word as you would come in such a new relationship.
So, when exactly did I turn into a walking cliché, Tara thought sarcastically as she felt all these sugary thoughts fill her head.
When Willow stopped singing, Tara shook her head, trying to exit her Willow-induced trance and look less like a puppy begging for affection.
In the corner of her eyes, she saw the affectionate smiles on Buffy's and Sandro's lips when Willow stopped to talk to them on the way back to her place and suddenly knew that she would grow to love these people very much. It felt like she already did. She saw the love for Willow on their faces and that was a sentiment that Tara Maclay was well familiar with. She felt she could learn to communicate with any person who loved Willow. For they had a language in common.
Willow caressed her hand gently under the table as she sat down. Tara realised there were a few things that perhaps she too could say in the language of Bond.
She was no longer nervous, for she was a woman with a mission and unexpected license to be hideously cheesy and sentimental.
"Music is great bloody invention!" Tara thought to herself.
For your eyes only...I never need to hide...
No fair... She's actually good at this! Willow complained internally, but couldn't stop a proud smile from spreading across her face.
Yup, that's my gal! Couldn't make an ugly sound even if she tried! Not even a mouth full of Willow makes her intonation go off, she thought wickedly to herself
As she listened to the lyrics and looked up at the woman on the stage, she started to think that just maybe it was time to tell Tara she loved her. Those were big words to say, not just in a song but in real life, but if Tara didn't deserve the big words, then who the hell did?
Now it was Willow's turn to be self-conscious about the love sick puppy-factor.
When Tara had finished, Sandro called out to her:
"Hey Tara! You got the karaoke thing all wrong! You're not supposed to actually be good at it!
Tara smiled a little shyly but gratefully at him for his praise.
In the mean time, Willow swiftly turned to Buffy before Tara was back in her seat.
"How soon in a new relationship can you say 'I love you' without being scary?"
Buffy looked surprised, but thought seriously about it.
"Two months, maybe? Something like that?"
"TWO MONTHS?" Willow tried to whisper, but without success.
"Why? Why do you ask?"
"Oh, no reason..."
Buffy totally didn't buy it, but Willow was saved by Sandro returning to the stage for another boy band extravaganza.
"Off with the clothes, sweetheart! Come on, give us a show!"
The trashy woman in the short skirt made her voice heard again.
Willow looked at Anja's face and concluded that if Anja had been a super villain, this woman would be heading straight for the death ray right this minute.
Oh, Mandy... Sandro crooned sadly, oblivious of the drama going on below.
As everyone was looking either at Sandro or at Anja, Willow took the opportunity to hold Tara's hand under the table. She sighed with relief as her addicted body hungrily absorbed the sensation it ached for. Her thumb caressed the velvety soft skin on the side of Tara's wrist. Tara pressed her thigh against Willow's. The soprano realised that they were sitting practically in each other's laps, but she just couldn't help her self. When Tara began to caress Willow's palm with the fingers of her other hand, Willow had to concentrate to stay still in her seat.
When Sandro was finished, Anja bounced out of her seat with a poisonous look at the big haired woman, who had patted the Italian on the behind as he walked back to their table.
"What I'll it be, love?" The bored transvestite asked Anja as she strode up onto the stage.
"Eviscerate" she said holding the big haired woman in a steady gaze.
"What, the song by Vengeance? Been a while since anyone asked for that, but I think we still have it here somewhere"
"Don't worry sister, I don't really need the text" Anja said coolly.
As aggressively howling guitar's filled the room, the rest of the group sat in amazement and listened to the unknown brilliance of Anja Jonsson's heavy metal voice, as she proved that she truly didn't need the text. Her fearsome stage presence made everyone in the room turn to look at her.
"Again, you're not supposed to be really good at this, you know... It's not fair when you can do this and Wagner, Buffy whispered to Willow discontentedly, as the group of men in Hells Angels jackets rose from their seats and cat called and whistled.
"It's you!! You're sodding her! Oh, wait, don't tell me...Eh...wait, wait...ANYANKA! You're Anyanka!"
"Yup... That's very observant of you!" Anja smiled magnanimously at William Bloodsworth, who came sauntering over from his lonely sulking at the bar, completely forgetting to feign boredom in his excitement.
"Eh, explanation, please?" Sandro's face was the picture of confusion as Bloodsworth was uncharacteristically showing enthusiasm for something other than cigarettes and alcohol.
"Brilliant!" Bloodsworth had a big smile on his face as he sat down next to Anja, or Anyanka as she suddenly seemed to be called.
"I used to be the singer in a heavy metal band before I started to do opera seriously".
"Really?" Everybody looked at Anja in amazement.
"Yes. The band was called Vengeance. The drummer was D'Hoffryn, he's in a death metal band now. Then we had Halfrek on lead guitar and Drusilla on bass. She was a total nutcase. Did a whole bunch of drugs... I've heard she's in South America somewhere..."
"Bloody brilliant, you lot were!" 'Demon Bitch' was your biggest hit, right? Not to mention "Eviscerate" which is of course one of the great songs in that genre... Made number 1 on the American Billboard, didn't it?" Bloodsworth looked almost happy reminiscing.
"Very good!" Anja said appreciatively.
"How come you quit?" Bloodsworth asked and leant in to hear the answer.
"Well, I sort of got arrested and in prison I discovered opera and anyway,"
"You were in p-prison?" Tara looked at Anja with wide eyes.
"Well, yes, but only for eighteen months or something like that, and anyway the prison chaplain discovered that I had studied song and made me lead the prison choir. I was very disciplined and the other inmates were really scared of me, so they worked hard and we won some awards and the warden's sister introduced me to Birgit Nilsson and I started to study with..."
"Whoa! Mille Diavolo, let's back up a few steps here! You were in PRISON?"
Anja nodded slowly.
"What were you arrested for? And the other inmates were afraid of you. The other INMATES were AFRAID of you? They were afraid of YOU?"
Sandro's brain obviously needed a few extra moments to process all the additional information.
"Brilliant...Respect!" Bloodsworth offered his hand to be slapped by the ex-con.
"Respect!" Anja beamed proudly at him.
"Was it anything like Prisoner: Cell block H?" Bloodsworth leant closer with a delighted grin as he asked.
"Oh, yuck! We had so much better hair than that! And I really looked quite cute in those overalls. They're kind of body hugging..."
"Hey, HEY! Still wanting to display shock and surprise! I'm DATING a criminal!?"
Sandro looked at Anja all aghast.
"We're... We're dating?" A huge smile spread on Anja's face.
"Ok, sorry, I should have hit the CRIMINAL-part, not the DATING-part!"
"Well, he can't say I didn't warn him about that woman" Willow muttered, giving Anja a morose look.
Embarrassing silence fell on the gathered like a wet woollen blanket.
"Well, there's only one solution to smooth things over: More singing. I think we should do something together, since that's kind of our thing? Dolly and Kenny?
"Absolutely." Tara was in complete agreement, still keeping a wary eye on the ex-con with the large furry knife in her hand bag. Bloodsworth kept immersing himself in happy metal memories and Anja seemed to be completely oblivious to Sandro's reaction.
"I guess I should be Kenny, since you're usually the man... When we sing I mean", Willow added quickly, to avoid misunderstandings.
"Aah, honey, you'd let me be Dolly?" Tara gazed adoringly into Willow's green eyes, thinking it must be love...
Belinda threw them a "get on with it" kind of look.
"Islands in the stream, Maestro!" Willow declared confidently.
Baby, when I met you there was peace on earth...
The cliché of the world fading away around her became true. Tara meant every single one of Dolly's words, just like she had meant Octavian's earlier. Fun. She was actually having fun, in this seedy bar, surrounded by all these people who had made her so terrified just a few hours earlier. In that moment, happily singing slightly out of tune, she decided she loved them all. Even Bloodsworth was enclosed in her huge mental hug of Willow's friends.
Willow felt flushed and hot from the way Tara looked at her. The knowledge that she would not be able to share her bed tonight really grated on her, but you couldn't just forget all old loyalties to be held in a pair of loving arms. Could you?
She reached out to take Tara's hand, not caring if anyone thought it was strange. When they had finished, they just stood still, looking at each other.
"Gee, Will, I didn't know you were that into Dolly Parton?" Sandro said looking up at Willow's enraptured face and shining eyes.
"Hey, Tara, you didn't do it properly! We've already pointed out that you're not supposed to actually be good at singing karaoke", Buffy joked with an exaggerated pout on her face.
Tara snapped out of her reveries and turned around and bestowed an uncharacteristically bright smile on her audience as they walked off the stage, still holding hands. This was turning into a good night...
"Tara's not bad looking, actually," Sandro whispered to Riley, getting shoved in the ribs, hard, by Anja in response.
After a particularly energetic rendition of "Sabbath, bloody Sabbath" by William Bloodsworth, who was suitably drunk by then to forget his dignity, the evening continued in amicable chatter about nothing. Tara felt almost talkative.
Unlike Sandro, who was still shell shocked by the news of Anja's past. Atypically, he now sat quiet and sullen.
And then they were under siege.
"WILLIE-POOH!! You said we couldn't meet because you had rehearsals!!! And here you are with these... these... PEOPLE! I should never have gotten into this tragedy of a relationship!!
Bloodsworth made a sound like a wounded animal as Harmonia Biondi walked up to their table.
"We don't have a sodding relationship, Harm! I keep telling you!!" Bloodsworth was clearly uncomfortable with this washing of his dirty, or rather embarrassing laudry in public, but tried desperately to seem unaffected.
"You told me you loved me!!" Harmonia stamped her Prada clad heel impetuously.
"Well, a bloke's got to do what a bloke's got to do to get into a girl's designer bleedin' panties, doesn't he" he smirked and took a swig from his pint.
Silent for once, Harmonia walked up to one of the dart players and ripped the darts from his hands. Bloodsworth was caught completely unawares as the coloratura started bombarding him as if he were the bulls eye.
"Oi!!! Watch the coat, it's..."
"VINTAGE!??" Harmonia bellowed as she tried to step on his foot at the same time, ending up in pain as her thin leather sole was no match for Bloodsworths steel caps.
"From now on, WILLIE POOH, you never get to tell me what to say or what to wear again!" she declared confidently as she turned around and aimed for a great exit.
"Well, actually, I do, since you're in my production of..." He muttered.
"OW!!!" He bellowed as Harmonia finally hit something.
During this, Willow was busy patting Buffy supportively on the back. The blonde was experiencing considerable breathing difficulties from laughing too hard.
"This evening just keeps getting better..." She managed to choke out, glancing over at a moist, smelly and very slightly injured William Bloodsworth.
Buffy, Willow and Tara were the only one's left who were in a good mood by this time. A sulking Sandro had refused to say a word to Anja since her prison story. She and Bloodsworth sat morosely by the bar, already with a row of empty shot glasses, that used to contain Swedish schnapps, in front of them.
Anja and William downed the alcohol in perfect synchronicity. They looked contentedly at the bottom of their empty glasses and smiled to themselves.
"Those two are making the girlie-beast with two backs, aren't they?" Bloodsworth asked disinterestedly and glanced at Willow and Tara, totally caught up in each other.
"Oh, yeah. Definitely". Anja looked at them and then cast a troubled glance at the bottom of her glass.
"Definitely". Bloodsworth put his glass forward to be refilled.
"Last orders!!" The bartender bellowed loudly.
"Right, Will! Time to go home?" Buffy got up and looked expectantly at her room mate.
Willow gazed helplessly at the creamy goodness that was Tara.
Neither the honey nor the honey bee will be mine tonight she quoted wistfully to herself as she got up to leave.
"Baby, Buffy needs some girl talk time and well, you know, she's my best friend and I can't really say no...? You know? So I'll have to see you tomorrow, ok?"
Tara felt almost sick from disappointment, but she managed a cheerful and false smile and a nod. She chastised herself severely for being so childish. Buffy was Willow's friend and she needed to talk. The lived together for god's sake! What had she expected? To get to go home with Willow and Buffy? You're the big secret, remember? she thought sadly to herself as they left the pub.
Willow desperately wanted to kiss Tara goodbye. Really kiss her, to show her how much she would miss her tonight, but she couldn't, with Buffy waiting impatiently for her.
"I'll dream about you..." she whispered in the mezzo ear as she hugged her rib crackingly tight saying goodbye.
Tara just nodded and squeezed her back.
Stop being pathetic, Tara! You'll see her tomorrow...
It didn't help, though. When the two friends left, the mezzo just stood there on the pavement, shoulders slumped and feeling like crying. What if Willow never told her friends about them? As she looked around, she swore silently to herself as she realised that she didn't even know where the hell she was. She and Willow had taken a taxi from the restaurant, where they had grabbed a quick meal after rehearsals, so Tara had no idea where they had come from. But she sure did know where she was heading. Too bloody far away from the woman she loved...
Willow listened distractedly to Buffy's excited talk about a prospective proposal from Riley. Buffy made the rich and fattening cocoa they both were into and Willow tried to enjoy the talk, she really did. But her mind was far away and her body missed the proximity of Tara.
What's she doing right now? Is she thinking about me? This isn't good... She should be here, with us, having hot chocolate so I can steal kisses from her when Buffy goes into the kitchen. I totally need to tell her... she thought as her friend returned with more fatty goodness.
"You are the foundation that holds up my house, you know that Will?" Buffy smiled and patted her hand, laying on the headrest of the sofa.
"You'll always be the same old Will, come rain or shine. What would I do with out you?" Buffy toasted her in hot cocoa.
Yes, and that's the problem, Willow thought to herself.
She wanted to be the same old Will that Buffy relied on. But she wasn't the same anymore. These days had changed her and she needed to tell her best friend in the world about it. She was someone new now. Tara had made her new...
"Buff?" Willow cleared her throat and looked up at her friend.
"What's up, Will?"
There eyes met and Willow looked away.
Buffy shrugged and took another sip, too caught up in her own affairs to sense Willow's discomfort.
Tara shivered as she made her way into the well lit hotel lobby. The night had turned unpleasantly cold. When she reached her room, she stopped in the door way and sighed as she noticed the emptiness of her boring hotel room. Last night, this room had seemed like paradise. She got an annoyed frown on her forehead as she noticed that the maid had changed the sheets where she and Willow had been so passionate last night.
She's a maid, dummy, that's what she does...
Leaning out of the window, she noticed a steel grey sky and an absence of the yellow moon that used to grace their nights.
"Soon, Willow...Please tell them soon..." Tara made a secret wish on the non-existent moon before going to bed, restlessly flicking between the TV-channels.
She fell asleep very late and slept poorly, already addicted to Willow's presence in her bed.
"Soon, Willow... Please... Before I need to go..." she thought as she turned fitfully in the tangled sheets.