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Disclaimer: Joss / ME / etc. owns these characters. This story is just for fun and not for profit.
Since we now know Tara is not, in fact, Willow's imaginary friend, the title of this fic is sort of misleading. Ah, well. Like all in the thread, this is neither planned in advance nor betaed. And, as always, feel free to post your own bedtime stories!
Me: "Got any sevens?"
Me: "Go Fish."
Mel: Uno is a better game
Me: "Darn it," Willow grumbled. She reached for the pile.
Me: "Hm...do you have any nines?" Tara asked.
Me: "Nope! It's the fishes for you."
Me: Tara extended her hand, but paused short of the stack of cards. Willow looked at her quizzically. She had spent the first part of the game trying to wrap her head around the whole 'different reality' thing, and how it pertained to, say, playing cards. Would other people see only Willow drawing cards? Would the cards be sitting motionless on the ground?
Me: Eventually, she'd given her brain a break, but she was certain it would resume its analysis at a later time.
Me: Tara pulled her hand back to her lap. "I'm bored," she said.
Mel: I know that feeling
Me: "Yeah. Me, too," Willow admitted. "We could watch something? A DVD?"
Me: "Honestly, I'm kind of, uh...getting antsy. Like, cabin fever?" Tara looked at the window. "Could we do something, you know, not in the house?"
Me: "Mm. Like...going for a walk or something?"
Me: Tara nodded. "That would do."
Me: Willow thought about it. "Hey, we could walk up to the market; there are some good restaurants there, if you're hungry."
Me: Tara fidgeted. "Um, Will..."
Mel: Lol, silly Willow
Me: "Oh...right. I guess that's like the bath thing, huh? You don't eat?"
Me: "Well...I mean, I can eat. It's not like I'll starve if I don't, or anything. But, I mean...what about all the people?"
Me: "They will just see me eating, right?"
Me: "Uh huh. And...and talking to an empty chair."
Me: Willow recalled how Xander had reacted, the first time he'd seen Willow interacting with Tara...or thin air, as far as he could tell.
Me: She crossed her arms in front of her chest and harrumphed. "Well, that's stupid," she declared. "Lousy coding. Er, planning. Something. If you all can craft alternate realities for everybody, how come they couldn't just have people see me sitting quietly when I'm talking with you?"
Me: Tara frowned. "Honestly, I'm not sure...the thing is, um...well, usually angels aren't...longer term companions."
Me: Willow studied her. "No?"
Me: "Right. Usually we're only around for brief spans of time, with very specific instructions for what we're supposed to do. So it hasn't really been a problem before."
Me: "Oh. You mean, like, the first time I saw you?"
Me: "Uh huh. That was about four hours, which is actually a longer run than usual, based on what I've heard."
Me: Willow considered this. "So what were your instructions, then?"
Me: "I'll tell you," Tara offered, standing, "if we can walk around, outside."
Me: "Deal." Willow lead the way through the house, stopping only to let Aunt Millie know she was going for a walk. They exited through the front door, and Tara took up Willow's hand in her own after a few paces.
Me: "So I was supposed to help you with your social anxiety," Tara explained. "You were struggling with the new environment because you didn't know anyone, and you were scared of how people would treat you, so you avoided making any friends."
Me: "So you were appointed to be my friend," Willow determined.
Me: "I chose to go to you, though," Tara reminded her. "They didn't tell me what I was supposed to do until afterward. It seemed fitting enough; I had a hard time with that, too, when I was...you know. When I lived here."
Me: "Making friends?"
Me: Tara nodded. "Meeting people, in general. I never knew what to say, and when I did speak, I tended to stumble over my own words. It was pretty awkward."
Me: "But you seem so calm and collected."
Me: "Heh. I guess dying kind of...it kind of gives you a new perspective on things."
Me: "We would talk a lot," she went on. "The other angels, I mean. Actually, it was kind of funny; at first, I acted the same way around them that I had around people, but they wouldn't have any of that." She smiled, and Willow knew she must be pulling up happy memories. "They made everything as comfortable as possible. Eventually, conversations would turn to our memories of our lives. Although we never got too hung up on it, you'd be surprised how often you'd hear somebody say they wished that they'd done something differently."
Me: "Enough conversations like that, plus...having gone through the shift from life to what came after it...it really pushes you to change your way of thinking. No more regrets, right? Everything seems less scary."
Me: "That sounds wonderful," Willow admitted.
Me: "Um...Will?" Tara asked, looking up at the sign of the Thai restaurant. "I thought we weren't going to, uh..."
Mel: Lol, Willow is a tricky one
Me: Willow smiled. She had purposefully lead them toward the market, after all, once she had begun listening to Tara's words. "I'd like to have a nice dinner here. With you," she stated. "If people think I'm some crazy girl, talking to an empty chair, then so be it. No regrets."
Me: Tara was speechless, but let Willow lead the way into the building.
Me: "Table for two, please," she said when the greeter motioned her forward.
Me: They followed him to their table, then sat across from each other. The table was near one of the walls in the main dining area, and although it was not as visible as the center tables, it was certainly noticeable from many nearby tables.
Me: "Would you like something to drink while you wait?" their waiter asked.
Me: "Um, two glasses of water, for now? And could we--could I get another menu?"
Me: The waiter hurried off to fetch them. Tara smirked at Willow. "This is going to be entertaining," she said.
Mel: Lol, I have to agree with Tara here
Me: "So," Willow said, resisting the urge to remain silent, since a family had just been seated at a table close by. "Uh...so you said your...assignments, or whatever...you said they were usually short. Is that by design, or choice, or what? I mean, how is it that you've been able to spend the last few days here?"
Me: "Well, we get instructions...what it is we're supposed to affect. The others say that new things pop up that have to be addressed pretty often; it kind of comes with the calling, I guess. Angels are generally a genuinely caring bunch, as you can imagine...so sometimes extra TLC is needed. But yeah, once we've done our bit, we're supposed to head back."
Me: "Which you did, uh...when I was in middle school...um..." Willow was very aware of the sidelong glances the adults at the next table were casting in her direction. "Uh...what was I saying?"
Me: "Yes, I went back," Tara said, nodding. "With Xander there, eager to break the ice, you were going to be all right."
Me: "And...well, I was, I guess. The whole thinking I was going insane because my brain had generated an imaginary friend so vivid as you took some getting used to--you guys should have some kind of system in place for that, by the way--but otherwise...yeah. Xander was a huge help."
Me: Their conversation was interrupted by the waiter's return. "Here you are," he said, placing the glasses and menus down on the table. "Can I get you anything else, at the moment?"
Me: Willow nodded. "Could we get one of your appetizer samplers?"
Me: "Oh, you'd like that now?"
Me: "Yes, please."
Me: "All right." After checking that nothing else was needed, for now, he disappeared into the kitchen.
Me: "So what about this time?" Willow asked, once he was out of earshot. The couple at the next table were whispering to each other. About me, no doubt.
Me: "Hm?" Tara swirled the ice cubes around in her glass. "Oh, you mean this visit?"
Me: "Yeah. What are you supposed to...you know, do?"
Me: "This wasn't really an assignment. More like an extension of the original one. See, once I'd visited you that first time, it was easy to kind of...keep emotional tabs on you. That probably sounds more creepy than I intended."
Me: Willow shook her head. "Naw. Go on?"
Me: "I guess you could say I've always been tied to you, emotionally, and...well, this last week...as you can imagine, it set off some pretty loud sirens."
Me: "They sent you back?"
Me: "I just...came back. Sending wasn't really needed."
Me: "So you can come and go as you please?"
Me: "It's...it's so hard to explain, because...well, because there's not really the language for it, I guess. I'll try. This isn't a job, where somebody gives you a checklist of duties, and you go down the list, then close up the shop at five. It's...it's a chance to do something good for people, to affect some kind of positive change in the world, I guess. So we go where we're needed, and to some degree, there are others who help guide us to the right places. But we can act on our own will."
Me: She set her menu down on the table. "When I first came to you, I didn't really know what I was doing. I saw somebody who needed a friend, who needed a push toward self-confidence, and I knew I could help. After that, I was always busy...there's so much to do; personal visits are just a small fraction of it. But you were in my mind all the time, and like I said, I...I was watching out for you, always. And last week...you were in so much pain, and...and it didn't matter what else I was doing, anymore."
Mel: ^^ Tara is so sweet
Me: "Does that mean I'm keeping you from...doing other things? Important, helpful things?"
Me: "Willow," Tara said, shaking her head, "don't think like that. I'm here because I chose to be. Well, I'm here because you are a tricky, sneaky girl." She held her hands open, indicating the room they were in. "But my visit, my decision to stick around...it's not an obligation. I wanted to."
Me: Willow nodded slowly. She looked down at her menu for a moment, then set it aside. "Why?"
Me: "Why?" Tara echoed.
Mel: Yes Tara, please inform us
Me: "Why would you stay here, if there are ways that you could be...doing good, elsewhere?"
Me: "There are a lot of answers to that question," Tara admitted. "For one, I needed a break. I had a lot to learn when I got my calling, and I really threw myself into it tirelessly. Or so I thought. It turns out that it is tiring. Two, I care about you deeply. If my presence helps you at all, I'd rather be here than anywhere else. Three, I...I miss this place. It's glorious in its never-ending flux, it's unpredictability, its hope, and its imperfection. I think this will always feel like home, to me."
Me: She picked up the smaller menu from the center of the table and flipped it to the first page. There, a mouthwatering picture of a brownie heaped with chocolate and caramel dominated the space. "Four," Tara added, turning the menu so Willow could see it. "Four speaks for itself."
Me: When the waiter returned to the table, Willow ordered two Megablondie Brownies with all the toppings. He gave the empty chair a once-over when Willow motioned toward it, but did not question her.
Mel: Will all this food be wasted if Tara isn't "technically" eating it
Me: "Mm," said Willow around a mouthful of chocolately perfection. "Part of a healthy, balanced diet."
Me: Tara giggled before attacking her own.
Me: Soon, the desserts were all gone. "Oof," Tara said, leaning back and patting her tummy.
Me: Willow stifled a laugh, for a chocolately smear covered part of Tara's chin.
Me: Giggles from the next table over drew her attention, and when she looked, Willow realized that the young boy who had been fidgeting in his seat since the family first arrived was shaking with laughter and pointing directly at Tara.
Me: Huh, thought Willow.