"Sam!" Willow squeaked, her eyes wide. "You're here! Why wouldn't you be here, because you're here sometimes. And it's a public place, so of course you could be here. So that's why you're here. And, and... This is Tara!" Willow looked from Samantha to Tara, silently praying that this wasn't happening. An awkward silence settled over the group before Willow continued her explanation. "Um, Tara was my uncle's friend. He, um, left me a farm and I sold it to Tara, because I mean with all the horses and everything, I just couldn't take care of a farm. But Tara loves horses. She's a horse trainer, but, uh, she was gone for the past year..." Willow trailed off, unable to keep the hurt out of her voice. She took a deep breath and turned to Tara with the intention of introducing Sam, but could not manage to produce a sound. She studied Tara, trying to read the feelings passing over the blonde's face, but failed miserably.
Tara turned her eyes towards Willow and the two women stood, gazing at each other wordlessly. In Tara's eyes, Willow saw an emotion that she couldn't place and that made her heart miss a beat, but in the next second the emotion was gone, hidden beneath the blank look that replaced it. Finally, a voice broke the deafening silence. "Hi. I'm Sam, and from my girlfriend's incessant babbling, I gather you're Tara?"
Tara winced slightly when she heard Sam articulate her worst fear. She had been clinging to a last miniscule shred of hope that this woman was not Willow's girlfriend. The fact confirmed, Tara nodded her head and tried to speak, but couldn't seem to produce any sounds. After several moments of panicking that perhaps she had gone mute, Tara's vocal cords decided to cooperate. "Y-y-yes. It's n-n-nice to m-meet y-you." Tara inwardly berated herself for letting her stutter become so pronounced. She had wanted to appear confident and collected, but the stammer made her anxiety all the more obvious.
Goddess Tara. Could you be a little more pathetic? Alright, all I have to do is tell Willow it was nice to see her and then make a quick escape.
"Would you like to sit with us?" Sam asked politely.
Guess not. Tara looked back towards Nate, pleading with her eyes for an excuse, any excuse to get them out of there. He walked to the table and put his arm around her shoulder, giving her silent support.
"Your boyfriend can sit with us too," Sam said, after seeing Nate walk up.
Tara couldn't help it. The tension she had been experiencing in Willow's presence dissipated immediately with a hearty laugh. She looked at Nate and saw him in a similar state. They locked eyes and laughed harder, tears running down both of their faces. Finally, stomach muscles stopped clenching and the two friends took gasping breaths. Tara turned towards the rest of the group and saw three very confused faces staring back at her. "Erm, sorry about that. He's definitely not my boyfriend. I, um, It was just funny, the thought of me with a guy.'" She gave the group a half smile and rubbed her stomach, trying to stop the pain permeating through her muscles. Tara glanced at Willow's face for a moment and was confused by the look she saw. Oddly enough, it looked like Willow was gleeful. But why would Willow have been happy that she was a lesbian? Before she had time to process the thought, a loud beeping sounded.
"Oh, crap," Sam said loudly. She took a beeper off of her belt and read the message on the screen. "It's an emergency. They've got about ten people coming in with severe injuries. I really have to go." She turned to Willow and gave her a small frown. Sam didn't know why, but she felt uneasy about leaving Willow with Tara. It was something in Willow's eyes, but a small uneasy feeling wasn't going to keep Sam from her job. "I'm sorry, but I have to be there. Apparently, some of them have severe neck wounds..."
"That's ok!" Willow interrupted loudly. "I mean, you should go if you have to go. And people with neck wounds, that's just bad."
Tara couldn't help but give an internal jump for joy now that Sam was leaving. Tara knew that she didn't have Willow and she would never break up a relationship, but she loved spending time with the red-head all the same, and Sam's presence had constantly reminded Tara that Willow was not hers. Sam gave everyone a wave. She smiled at Willow and gave her a small kiss on the cheek. "I'll call you tomorrow." She glanced back to Willow and Tara when she got to the door. Tara sat down next to Willow at Willow's urging. The two smiled at each other. Sam left for the hospital, choosing not to look back.
Willow couldn't stop looking at Tara. Normally this wouldn't be a problem, seeing as Tara was inarguably beautiful, but every time she looked at Tara she felt like she was cheating on Sam. Willow didn't have a reason for why she felt this way, only that she did. Using every ounce of personal strength she had, Willow ripped her eyes away from the blonde goddess before her to observe the newest member of the group. He was tall, had dark brown hair and a handsome face. She cheered internally that Tara was not with this man, or any man for that matter. Her eyes kept moving until they landed on Buffy. Her friend had an interested look on her face. Whether the interest was in this man or Willow's situation, the red-head had no clue. She gave Buffy a questioning glance but was ignored as the petite blonde rose from her chair and instead looked at Nate. She laid her hand on the man's shoulder and turned her eyes towards the dance floor. Nate smiled brightly and nodded his head, following Buffy towards the floor. And then, Tara and Willow were alone.
Tara smiled shyly at Willow and the red-head returned the smile. For several moments, neither woman spoke. The silence was comfortable and unnerving at the same time. "How have you been?" both women asked simultaneously. Tara giggled softly and Willow's smile grew. Willow nodded her head at Tara, indicating that the blonde should answer first.
"I've being doing ok. I got back last week, so it's b-been sort of hectic, getting back into the swing of things."
"Um, how was your trip?" Willow asked hesitantly. Ideally, she hoped Tara's answer would be something along the lines of her trip being horrible, and how the entire time she had thought about and yearned for Willow. Tara's actual answer was nothing like this.
"It went very well. The horse I trained actually took first place in several races." Oh, and by the way, the entire time all I could think about was you and how much I wanted to be with you. "W-what about you? I-I mean, how l-long have y-you and S-S-Sam been together?" Once again, Tara cursed her stutter for betraying her innermost feelings.
Willow did not want to talk about this with Tara, but it would have been rude to brush off the question, though there was nothing wrong with jumping off the topic quickly. "About six months now. Do you want a drink?" Willow congratulated herself on her subtlety and looked at Tara with expectant eyes. Tara shook her head yes, desperate for any way to dull the pain she was feeling. It would have been one thing for Willow to have been with someone when they first met, but knowing that they met while she was gone just made the hurt worse.
Willow vacated her chair and walked quickly to the bar. Buffy had brought her a drink earlier, but she had downed it hastily right after Sam had shown up. She ordered two drinks from the bartender and walked back to the table, admiring Tara the entire way. She sat down and handed the other drink to Tara, their fingertips brushing briefly. Willow inhaled sharply and took her hand away. She took a gulp of her drink and tried to breathe deeply to calm herself.
Willow chanced a look at Tara to see the blonde regarding her with curious eyes. Tara's eyes widened slightly as Willow stared back. She broke the gaze and considered her own drink. Tara was never one for alcohol, but as they say, desperate times called for desperate measures. She tipped her head back and downed half of the liquid in one gulp. The world seemed to spin slightly as she drank, but it soon righted itself. She continued to take smaller sips of her drink until the glass was almost empty. Her head felt warm and she could feel herself becoming more relaxed. She chuckled slightly, the alcohol having the desired effect. Tara looked over at Willow and saw that the red-head's glass was in a similar state. The two women glanced at each other and giggled. As if reading Willow's mind, Tara left the table and returned with two more drinks. There was a small nagging voice in the back of Tara's mind telling her that she shouldn't be drinking so much, but the voice seemed to lessen with each sip. Finally the voice disappeared as both Tara and Willow finished their drinks.
While drinking, both women had carried on small polite conversation. Now, with the drinks consumed, they were silent. Willow tried to look anywhere but at Tara. Those alluring blue eyes seemed to capture her heart every time she made contact with them. Willow scanned the dance floor and her gaze rested upon Nate and Buffy. They were still dancing and seemed to be carrying on a conversation. She averted her gaze as both Buffy and Nate turned to look at her. What are they talking about, Willow wondered.
Buffy and Nate had disappeared from the group as soon as Sam had left. They both had sensed the tension emanating from Willow and Tara and had decided that, being the respective best friends, it was their duty to leave and talk about it. Of course, all of this was done through the subtle communication of nods and winks. The conversation had started slowly, with both friends dancing around the subject. Buffy had asked Nate about Tara's trip, and Nate had asked Buffy about Willow's job. Finally, Nate bit the bullet. "Alright, anything we talk about stays between us, right?" Buffy nodded emphatically. She was excited that they were about to delve deep into their friends lives. Nate continued. "She likes her, doesn't she?"
Buffy smiled and nodded. "I'm not sure if Willow knows the depths of her feelings. I mean, she was heartbroken for a while, but I don't think she ever fully admitted it to herself. Of course, then she found Samantha..." Buffy said her name quickly, as if uttering it might inexplicably cause the woman to appear right in front of her. And she certainly didn't want that happening.
"Do you like her? Sam, I mean," Nate asked, hoping that his question had an answer he liked.
"I don't know. I guess she's ok. The thing is Willow barely talks about her to me. I mean, Sam is polite and all, but you'd think that if you loved someone, you would want to talk about them. Willow always wants to brush off the subject. Oddly enough, I think she's talked to me about Tara more than she ever has about Sam."
Nate couldn't hold back the question anymore. It had been trying to escape ever since the conversation had begun, and now it finally spilled out unceremoniously. "What about Tara?"
"Ah, Tara. You mean, why didn't Willow wait for Tara? Honestly, I can't tell you. The best I can guess is that Willow couldn't seem to figure out her feelings, so when she found someone who knew exactly what she wanted, she jumped at the chance. Willow doesn't like not knowing the answers. But, now that we're on the subject... how about Tara? Does she like Willow?"
"Wow, what a loaded question that is. Just remember our little disclaimer." Nate took a deep breath before explaining. "Tara loves her. She figured it out while she was away. But you should know that if Tara had figured it out before she left, she never would have gone." Buffy nodded. From the way Willow had talked about Tara, she doubted that she could ever cause Willow so much heartbreak on purpose. "Tara was heartbroken too. She told me that she was going to try and find Willow and tell her, though now I don't know what's going to happen..." He trailed off, deeply unsure of what Tara was going to do. The object of his best friend's affections was so close, yet they had never been more distant.
Buffy sighed audibly; also unsure of the path her best friend would take. She knew that Willow had felt strongly about Tara, but that was a year ago. Willow had a girlfriend now, and for all she knew, Willow was in love. Nate and Buffy looked at each other and continued to dance. As one, they turned their heads towards the subjects of the conversation and laughed at what they saw. Both women were visibly trying to look anywhere but the other's face. They laughed again when they saw Willow stop staring at them and look at Tara. They saw her quirk a small smile and her eyes glazed over slightly. Buffy whispered conspiratorially to Nate, "I keep thinking that at any moment she's going to let her tongue hang out and howl like a wolf or something."
She laughed softly again. Nate turned his head to respond. "Well, at least we know that she still likes her." They both giggled and continued to dance and chat. Nate and Buffy hoped for the best for their friends, but they could do no more. Ultimately, it was not their business whether or not Willow chose to stay with Sam, but both Nate and Buffy knew which decision they were rooting for.
"Do you want to dance? I mean, because it looks fun out there. And, dancing is fun. And, fun is good." Willow had been writing and re-writing the question in her mind for the past twenty minutes. That did not go as well as she had planned. The alcohol had definitely helped release some of her trepidation caused by being around Tara, but she couldn't help but get tongue-tied around the blonde. She gave Tara a brilliant smile, hoping that maybe the gesture would tip the scales in her favor. Little did the red-head know that at that very moment Tara was trying to nonchalantly answer instead of screaming yes at the top of her lungs. The blonde took one look at the smile Willow gave her and decided that her voice could not be trusted. She nodded her head and the two stood up and made their way over to the dance floor.
The band on stage was playing a fast song and the two women started dancing, maintaining a safe distance from one another. Willow wanted nothing more than to close the distance and feel Tara's body move against her own, but even the alcohol could not convince her that that was a friendly gesture. They moved their bodies to the music and could not help but appreciate the other's figure. The dance floor was not as crowded as it had been when Tara had first walked in, but the atmosphere was still warm. The minutes passed and soon Willow and Tara were covered in a light sheen. Willow kept sneaking glances at Tara, admiring the way her body moved rhythmically, keeping perfect time with the beat. Suddenly, the rhythm became deliberate and the women found themselves in the midst of a slow song.
Tara's heart began to beat faster even though she had stopped moving. Her eyes settled on Willow. Tara moved forward slowly, giving Willow a chance to leave the floor if she wanted. Willow could not have moved had she tried. She watched Tara edge forward and then felt the blonde's warmth slightly as she stood inches away. The music continued to play, soft musical rhythms that seemed to enchant the two women. Willow bridged the gap and placed her hands softly on either side of Tara's waist. Had she been able to achieve conscious thought, she might have realized that this was not how friends dance. But the notion forever eluded her as she rested her hands on the blonde's midsection. Tara brought her hands up to Willow's shoulders and clasped her hands behind her neck.
They swayed gently, moving as one. Willow gazed deeply into Tara's eyes; she swam in the blue oceans before her. Tara returned the gaze equally, losing herself in the deep green eyes that seemed to appear in every dream. She felt herself moving forwards slightly, until there was nothing but a slight wall of air between her and Willow. She could feel the red-head breathing, could feel the heat from their previous exertions. As one, the two women gravitated towards each other, their lips drawing closer as collectively they leaned in for a kiss. Inches away, a single thought occurred to both simultaneously.
This is wrong.
Willow pulled back, her cheeks reddening when she realized just how close she had been to kissing Tara. She released her grip on Tara's waist and brought her hands to her side. Tara did the same, unclasping her hands and stepping back, regaining the bubble of personal space that she so desperately wanted to make disappear. Without saying a word to acknowledge what had just happened, Willow and Tara left the dance floor and sat down at the table. Tara looked at her hands in her lap, wondering if they were going to talk about it.
Willow could not face what had almost happened. She chastised herself for what she was about to do, but did not change her decision. "So, how's the farm?" Very subtle, Willow. Just change the subject entirely and forget that you just tried to kiss Tara.
Although Tara was surprised that the subject had been completely avoided, she wasn't entirely displeased. She had messed up and allowed herself to get too close to Willow, and Tara would never try to break up a relationship. "The farm is going really great. I m-mean, there's so much room to train all of the animals, and Sparks is happy to b-be back at home." Tara smiled thinking of her new home and how happy she was there. An evil smirk graced her lips. "And knowing how you're so f-fond of them, you'll be pleased to know that the horses are doing just great."
Willow laughed heartily and teased Tara back. "Well, they should be doing fine, seeing as they have a hero who saves damsels in distress as their trainer. Almost like a knight in shining armor training them to be the best horses they can be."
Tara blushed at the compliment and an idea suddenly popped into her head. "Would you like t-to learn how to ride?" Realizing how that may have sounded, she amended her question. "The horses, I mean. You were so sweet, letting me buy David's house. I would j-just like to repay you for your kindness. And I know that riding horses doesn't sound like a good payment, but I p-promise if you let me teach you, safety and fun would be the top-most priorities." She finished speaking and gave Willow a trademark half-smile.
Willow's heart had jumped into her throat. She could not think of anything much better than seeing Tara again, but the idea of horses made her cringe. One look at Tara's smile gave the red-head all the courage she needed. "I can't say I'm excited at the prospect of being around horses, but I guess I should face my fears sometime. Count me in." Willow smiled dazzlingly and the two women made plans to meet that Saturday for Willow's first lesson. At that moment, Nate and Buffy finally rejoined the table and sat next to their respective best friends. Nate looked at Tara and asked if she was ready to go. Tara gazed longingly at Willow one last time and then stood up, waving slightly at the two women as she did. Without another word, Tara and Nate left the club and returned to his truck.
"So, how are you doing kid?" Nate asked softly. Tara didn't answer. She would talk to Nate later, but at the moment she was content to gaze out the window and replay the night in her head. As Nate realized now was not the time to talk, he fell silent and drove home.
"Will, you doing alright?" Buffy asked in a very similar manner to Nate. Willow shook her head slowly and regarded Buffy with large green eyes. The emotions running through Willow were too confusing and plentiful for conversation. She quietly asked Buffy if they could go home and the petite blonde obliged willingly. Buffy knew that eventually the talk would come, but right now Willow needed to think everything over. She could patiently wait until Willow was ready. They left the club and drove home silently.
Willow and Tara drifted off to sleep that night as one moment played repeatedly in their minds. Both women pressed against each other, inches of air separating their lips. The picture did not dissipate with sleep, and instead replayed in their dreams. However, unlike reality, their dreams allowed the kiss to happen.