"Are you alright!?" George the doorman called out as Tara hurried past him, covering the lower part of her face with her hands to stop the blood.
She didn't stop; all that was on her mind was getting to her room and being alone. She slammed the bathroom door behind her and started to wash her face with freezing cold water, to bring some sense of reality back into her life.
"This is not happening" she said through gritted teeth to her mirror image as she held a wet towel painfully tight against her nose.
"A pity you're not a soprano, you could have done Traviata instead" she added scathingly and made a face at herself.
Then she couldn't hold back anymore. Wretched sobs shook her body as she leant against the wall. It was rare for Tara to let herself wallow in self-pity like this. But then again, she had nothing to lose before. And now she had everything... She rocked back and forth slowly and waited for the moment when she would run out of tears.When that finally happened, she looked at her mess of a face and sighed; red nose, bloodshot eyes, hair a mess.
"Crybaby." she said sternly to herself as she set out on her task to look at least reasonably normal before meeting Willow at the Wigmore Hall. She cursed as she looked at the bathroom clock. She was going to be late...
Willow waved excitedly as she spotted Tara approaching. When she saw the pale, strained face of the mezzo, she stopped. Her love looked absolutely wretched.
"Hey baby. Something wrong?" she soothingly caressed Tara's back and tried to look her in the eyes to gauge a reaction.
"N-no. Why do you say t-that?" Tara avoided her probing gaze. Her voice sounded brittle and forced.
"You look a bit sad, that's all. You sure nothing's wrong?"
"I said no, didn't I? Let's go find our seats" Tara tried to sound breezy and casual.
Willow flinched at the brush-off. Guilt embraced the mezzo like a pair of clammy, restraining arms.
Poor Willow, she's an innocent in this and you can't even behave decently toward her...
As they waited in line for the wardrobe, Tara took Willow's hand and squeezed it encouragingly. When she regained control she would make it up to her for being so snippy. She just needed to get her focus back...
She hadn't spared a single thought for the music on her way there, concentrating too hard on bringing her wildly beating heart back to normal pace; forcing herself not to cry. When Anja walked out onto the stage, she felt almost surprised that there was going to be singing, having been so wrapped up in her own problems. The soprano looked fabulous in a huge crimson dress, with a sky of blond hair surrounding her head. She was singing an all Nordic program and started out with Carl Nielsen. Tara closed her eyes and let herself drift away, trying to make music the healer it usually was. She loved these songs...
Willow was uncharacteristically unable to concentrate. She glanced sideways at Tara, who seemed enraptured by the music, but there was no denying the frown on her usually smooth forehead. And besides, Willow was pretty sure that she had been crying. Why would Tara be crying? Had something happened during the day and she had missed it? And why didn't she want to talk about it? She decided that she was going to try again when they got home. No Buffy, so there would be plenty of opportunity to talk on their own, if privacy was what Tara wanted. But it still gnawed at her how Tara had dismissed her, like an annoying child.
She made her best effort to concentrate on Anya's glorious singing, but to no avail; she couldn't tear her gaze away from the mezzo's profile. Her love for Tara borderlined on obsession. She was going to find out what bothered her and fix it, she decided as her features slowly morphed into her Resolve Face. She drifted back to her conversation with Buffy. Was her friend right? Should she dare to tell Tara how she felt about her, even though their relationship was so new?
Tara's eyes were open now, focused like sapphire laser beams on Anja, relieved to have something else to fill her aching head with. Her concentration was too intense to notice Willow's scrutiny and the pensive look on her face.
The answer was becoming clear to Willow. Sure, 'love' was a big word, one of the biggest. But as she studied the woman by her side, close enough to the stage to be bathed in warm lime light, she knew that if Tara didn't deserve the big words, no-one did.
Anja was singing Grieg now. It was a song that Willow herself had sung from time to time and she knew it well. The text was included in the program...
Hesitating for several minutes, she finally lifted Tara's hand from her lap and put in her own. Trembling, she then folded all the fingers, bar the index finger, took a deep and shaky breath and used Tara's own digit to underline the words Anja was singing:
I love you like nothing on this earth
Then she put Tara's hand over her heart, praying that she wouldn't feel just how frantically it was beating, as she forced herself to look the mezzo in the eyes.
As Willow's meaning sank in, Tara froze. She looked back at the soprano with wild eyes.
Love? Are you trying to say you love me? You, Willow?
She hoped that Willow couldn't feel how unsteady her hands were as she imitated Willow's motions and let the soprano's slender finger slide along another phrase of the song.
I love you for all time and eternity
Only her body was insecure. Her heart and her mind steadfastly meant every letter.
Willow hadn't appreciated how nervous she was about Tara's response to her bold manoeuvre until she answered. Willow's head filled with starbursts. Her palms felt sweaty and her breath uneven as she squeezed Tara's hand back, hard. Probably too hard, but she couldn't help herself. She sat still for the rest of the concert only moving her thumb slowly on the side of Tara's hand, caressing it. She relished the opportunity to recover her equilibrium.
When Anya had finished the Grieg songs, Willow cat-called and whistled loudly, never having felt more magnanimous toward her annoying colleague. Her heart was filled up to the brim, flowing over, making her love sugar coat everything around her. Tonight, on this night of miracles, not even Anja could do wrong.
Tara thought she would explode. There was too much going on inside her head; swirling thoughts in gold and lead fought for dominance as she tried to get her mind around Willow having chosen this night, of all nights, to talk about love. How funny it was, and how sad, that this day had given her life a new foundation to stand on, one of inconceivable happiness and relief, while taking an axe and smashing the pillars holding the roof up with its other hand.
None of them quite knew what to say as they left the Concert Hall. They walked close together, joined by the unspoken words. Willow had kept on holding Tara's hand and she couldn't have cared less if anyone saw it. Her need to be close to her love seemed only to increase exponentially every minute they were together.
Still, something nagged her. It was as if Tara was sending out some unknown signal that Willow couldn't read, or there was some third party present, like a shadow. She tried to shake the sensation and concentrate on the happiness flowing through her, headed for the waterfall of Tara's consciousness. So what if there was still a long way to the ocean? She promised herself that she would study Tara even more closely. Figure her out, be a translator of her language, so that she would one day be able to read the score of Tara's soul harmonics as easily as there were played out.
Tara tried to make the thoughts hopping around in her head like mad monkeys calm down, so she could summarize and make sense of everything that had happened. But at least she knew for sure that she needed to hold Willow's hand in a firm grip and that it was important to keep touching Willow's shoulder with her own.
"So, I guess we should find a taxi, then...?"
Willow's voice sounded hesitant and small.
Tara realised that she hadn't make a single reference to the event during the concert. Declaration-wise, the ball was in her court. Willow couldn't be blamed for the madness of her day...
"It was beautiful, Willow."
"What?" She needed confirmation. sayitsayit
"What you didn't say back there."
Willow giggled a little, feeling a little foolish for doing so.
Then a thought struck her.
"You didn't have to, you know, just because I...?"
"No, it wasn't like that, not at all. I-I m-mean it."
"Really? I mean, no pressure or anything, no strings attached, you know..."
Tara held her arms out and Willow stepped into her embrace, just as a taxi drove up to the sidewalk.
Tara was surprised at how soon Willow and Buffy's home had started to feel like her home as well. When she threw her coat on a chair and turned to look at Willow, her smile was genuine. The threatening horrors already seemed more remote.
"I wouldn't mind something to drink, actually..."
"There's a nice bottle of wine if you'd like to open it..."
"To be frank, I wouldn't mind something a bit stronger. It's been kind of, you know, a stressful day..."
"Giles got me some single malt thing for Christmas, it's in the cupboard above the fridge."
"Some single malt thing"? Tara teased.
"Well excuse me; miss Scottish Person, if I'm not Big Knowledge Woman with the beverages indigenous to your country!" Willow pouted theatrically.
Tara smiled and reached out to touch her cheek.
"Would you help yourself? I really need to powder my nose"
Tara poured herself a large whisky and committed the sacrilege of pouring it straight down her throat. She almost moaned with pleasure as the drink scratched her vocal cords and made a warm, hot puddle in the pit of her nervous stomach. She poured herself another one and added a few drops of water, shook it and watched as its peaks made lovely rivulets down the side of the glass, showing it due reverence.
She sat down in a comfortable chair, feeling like she was on her way back to herself.
In the bathroom, Willow looked at herself in the mirror. Maybe this distance she had been sensing was because of what had happened this morning. Looking back, it really wasn't very considerate of her to make Tara participate in a televised interview without asking her opinion. She probably needed to learn to be more sensitive. Yeah, that was probably it. She smiled a pleased smile at herself in the mirror.
She walked out of the bathroom and found a considerably more relaxed-looking Tara sitting tenderly nursing a large glass of dark amber whisky.
"Look, I'm sorry about this morning. I should have remembered to tell you that the TV-people were coming. And I shouldn't have gotten you involved without asking. It was inconsiderate."
Tara gave Willow a confused look. That wasn't what she had expected at all. Suddenly it dawned on her that Willow must have interpreted her earlier snippy as an expression of displeasure with the events of this morning.
"Willow, don't. It's one of the things that I... (she tentatively shaped the unfamiliar word with her lips and lustfully rolled her tongue around the virginal syllables) love about you, your enthusiasm, the way you challenge people. The way you challenge me."
"So you're not mad?"
A big smile spread slowly over Willow's face, thawing her anxious features. A slight portion of her brain recognized that this might not be a good thing. This meant that she still didn't know why Tara had seemed so upset earlier. But she would think about that later. Tara looked so beautiful and enticing in the soft light. From Willow's angle, you could see down the mezzo's dress quite well, thank you... Willow felt herself almost salivating as she felt the omnipresent longing for Tara's body get back into the conversation.
"No, Willow. I'm sorry. I'm sorry for being rude to you and for being late. There was really no reason for it."
Tara carefully put the whisky down before pulling the soprano down onto her lap and kissing her in one fluent motion.
She tasted like fire and peat from the whisky, mixed with the irresistible musk that was Tara. To Willow's surprise, she kept whispering I'm sorry into her neck and her lips and behind her ears. She didn't know why Tara thought she needed to apologize so profusely but if this was her way of saying she was sorry, she wouldn't complain.
"I'm sorry (for being who I am), I'm sorry (for bringing you into this mess) I'm sorry (for what I will have to do) She kept supplementing the whispered apologies in her head as her hands kept moving over Willow's skin, increasingly firm and demanding. She smiled as she felt the diffident body comply.
The mezzo undressed her lover swiftly and deftly, touching her intimately all the way, being left with a naked Willow on her still fully clothed lap. She could see that Willow was very aroused by the way the chest and face flushed red and how she kept inching closer to her hand and lips all the time.
When she took a dainty nipple in her mouth, she pushed Willow's hips against her and heard the soprano gasp at the soft caress of Tara's silk clad thigh against her sensitive flesh. The mezzo ran her warm hands everywhere, following the spine down from the nape, cupping her lover's shapely rear end.
She was in no hurry to get undressed. She loved seeing Willow like this: naked, sweating and exposed, oblivious to everything but the hands controlling her responses. It made Tara feel strong and powerful to know that she had this effect on the woman she loved.
The soprano was already breathing heavily when Tara slid her hand through the auburn curls and into her soft heat. She sighed contentedly and pulled Tara closer fiercely. When she was entered, she threw her hand back and gasped. The mezzo took her time, not caring if her hands got tired. Slowly, patiently she moved inside of Willow, exploring her soft moist walls and letting fingers slow dance over her sweet places. She felt clearly how the soprano's climax built inside of her, increasing the tension until Willow was wound tight as a coil; only then did she change pace and method. Her love crashed over the edge, crying out and cresting intensely before collapsing in a sweaty exhausted pile in Tara's arms.
"I've made a mess of your dress. I'm sorry..." Willow's deliciously sated voice sounded slightly worried as she looked down at the stains that her passion had left on Tara's raspberry red lap.
"It doesn't matter" Tara reassured her as she tenderly held her close and nuzzled her neck.
"But it was a really nice dress..."
"It's just clothes, Willow".
Tara felt much better. Reborn.
"I guess I'll just have to not wear it if it's ruined, then."
Willow stood up on shaky legs as Tara shrugged out of the dress and continued with her underwear, leaving them in a pile on the floor.
"Sex makes me really hungry. You want a snack?"
Willow watched Tara move toward the refrigerator with her mouth open, salivating. Her lover's uninhibited way of walking around naked simply drove her crazy.
The mezzo sighed as the cold from the fridge hit her skin and made goose bumps in its wake.
"Do you mind if I finish this?"
Willow shook her head and watched wide eyed as Tara shared her graces between left-over chocolate mousse and fresh pineapple. Nakedness was one of Tara's favourite luxuries. Saying that it had been a no-no when she was a child was an understatement, so she took every opportunity to make up for it as an adult.
Willow just sat there watching Tara eat for several minutes. When the mezzo was finished, her girlfriend crossed the distance between them and pressed Tara to the fridge. On impulse, she licked Tara's neck from clavicle to the soft spot behind her ear, enjoying the salty and sweet flavour of human skin.
"Yes. Sex makes me hungry too" she mumbled as she dropped to her knees and rubbed her cheek against Tara's stomach, slowly, eyes closed. She breathed in her scent deeply and moved down to let her cheek be caressed by the soft pubic hair. Swiftly, she crouched lower and buried her lips and tongue in Tara's sex, tasting her hungrily, licking up her essence and mapping out the rosy folds.
Tara hadn't realised how turned on by Willow's actions she was until her tongue, that unbelievably agile tongue, entered her surprisingly; deeply. Instinctively, she reached for the wall as her legs became unsteady. She could hear her own rasping breaths reverberate through the kitchen. All the tension drained out of her body as she responded to the urging motions.
"Yes?" the soprano mumbled half audibly, only removing her face from Tara's sweet spots for a brief moment before resuming.
"Standing up-issues." Tara gasped.
Willow pulled her toward the soft rug under the coffee table and lovingly placed a pillow under her head before continuing her relentless attack on Tara's senses.
Overheated and flushed, with no will left of her own, Tara threw her head back and nearly screamed, as her climax removed the last of the reserved tension from her body.
She turned and embraced Willow's equally slick body.
"We really need to have sex every day. I mean, really. Not having sex with you makes my head go all strange and fill up with naughty thoughts instead of scores. I almost had to attack you right there in make-up. That outfit is seriously hot on you, have I told you that?"
"Thank you. I sort of gathered that you liked it from the way you looked at my boobs instead of my face during the duet..."
Willow playfully pinched Tara in retribution.
"You looked absolutely gorgeous and I readily confess that I too looked at other parts of you than your face. And as for sex every day? I am very much in favour. Preferably several times."
"Erhm.. What I was trying to say at the Wigmore, wasn't just that I, you know, am in love with you, even though that hardly a 'just', nooo, not at all, but I also meant that I want us to... or rather I wonder if you... Oh to hell with this! I want us to be together, Tara. Properly, in it for the long haul. I guess I'm trying to ask if that's what you want too?"
"There's nothing I would want more than to be in it for the long haul with you, Willow."
At least that statement was completely true. Tara embraced Willow and buried her face in the crook of her neck. Her stomach was suddenly back to its earlier state of unrest. There was a bad taste in the back of her mouth.
"I'm sorry to be a romance killer, but I kind of need to use the bathroom."
Smiling, not looking Willow in the eyes, she extricated herself from the tight embrace and walked away on unsteady feet.
Washing her face and cleaning the last of Willow's essence off her hands, she looked down and saw the clear water change colour, as crimson droplets of blood fell from her face. She bent forward and let her salty tears follow them, making a potion of shame and sorrow.
She loves me. She loves me, this sensational woman. This woman I will have to hurt and deceive...