"Look at you, you're shaking."
"I'm okay. You're here, I'll be fine."
Willow wrapped her arms around the fragile form who unexpectedly arrived at her doorstep looking ragged and emotionally spent. She led them to her couch and pulled a fleece blanket tight around both of them. No words were needed. Tara snaked her arms around her waist as she stroked Tara's hair gently until the blonde had stopped trembling. It didn't matter what it was that freaked Tara out, it was more important that Tara felt safe.
There wasn't time to dissect or analyze feelings, but it was clear that Tara needed more than the understanding and support of a friend. She needed the security and the healing power of love, and tonight, Willow was ready to give it to her.
The warmth of each other's bodies and Willow's soothing stroking motion soon lulled them both to sleep. Tara burrowed deeper inside Willow's grasp and Willow instinctively stretched out so they spooned against the length of the couch.
A painful numbness in her shoulder woke Willow. She didn't need to turn her head to know that Tara had trapped her arm against the couch at an awkward angle. The blonde looked so relaxed in her sleep that Willow didn't want to disturb her, but the stiffness was getting worse. Moving very slowly she tried to shift her arm to a less painful position, but Tara's grip was firm. She tried to roll her shoulder but that resulted in a burning jolt and she reacted with a sharp intake of breath. She held her breath, afraid that Tara would wake up.
The slumbering body she was holding moved a little, and that was enough to release her trapped arm. Her eyes grew heavy again listening to Tara's deep, rhythmic breathing and she was asleep soon after.
The next time Willow woke, Tara was quietly sobbing in her arms. Willow was torn between not wanting to disturb her and telling her that things would be okay.
"I'm sorry, I woke you," Tara stuttered.
"It's alright, baby." Willow kissed the top of Tara's head. Tara took hold of her free hand and clutched it against her heart.
Willow scooted even closer and rested her chin on Tara's back. Tara was wearing a thick sweater and the wool was prickly under her sensitive skin. Willow decided to focus on feeling the ups and downs of Tara's irregular breath against her.
One minute passed, then another. All the while she was thinking and yet trying not to think.
"One of the girls was found dead today," Tara's low rasp was thick with sadness.
"Shit, I'm sorry. Were you close?" Willow mentally kicked herself for blurting out the obvious, but what else could she have said?
"Not more than others. She came to me for advice a few weeks ago, I keep wondering if I should have been more helpful."
"No, don't think that. You can't blame yourself." Willow leaned down to kiss Tara's neck. It was meant to be for reassurance, but there was no mistaken Tara's involuntary shiver, of sensitive skin reacting to being touched intimately.
"There was a note, they think she OD'ed. Oh god, how come no one saw the signs?"
"Shhh, it's not your fault."
Tara was crying again. Willow felt helpless; aside from holding her and whispering clichéd comforting words, she was at a loss at what to do.
"There are so many like her. No family, no money, no future. Brought up to think she's worthless and no matter how far she runs away, it never leaves her. What happened to Katrina, could so easily have been me," Tara had curled up in a fetal position and it was all Willow could do to hold her close.
"No, you're stronger than that. And you're not worthless. You mean a lot, to many people," Willow paused and a small whimper escaped. "To me."
"What do you see in me? You have the whole world at your beck and call. Why me?"
For all her lack of articulation tonight, this was a question Willow didn't hesitate to answer. "It's always been you, Tara. You know that, don't you?"
Tara turned so they were face to face, finally. Her eyes were swollen and her brows furrowed in a deep frown. Her lips trembled from an onslaught of emotions that threatened to push her into hysterics at one more provocation. But Willow had never seen her more beautiful. "I was afraid it wasn't."
"Wasn't it obvious?"
"Yes, oh yes. But I was too caught up in myself. I knew what I felt, I wasn't sure I knew how to. Feel. Or at least I ... didn't." Tara's voice trailed off as she tried to convey thoughts that were floating just out of her reach.
But Willow knew. "And now? Do you know now?" she whispered.
Their eyes locked. Sadness gave way to tenderness and followed by a tiny nod of assent that spoke volumes. Willow slowly reached out to stroke Tara's cheek, gently with the back of her fingers, and was rewarded when Tara turned into her touch and smiled for the first time that night. She took Willow's fingers and pressed them against her lips, closing her eyes as if to savor them.
She snuggled even closer and wordlessly invited Willow to plant small kisses over her face, neck and lips. Willow took her time and care, enjoying the feel of the soft flesh as she ran her lips over every inch of exposed skin. She could hear Tara's breath hitching whenever she found a sensitive spot; and she could feel Tara's vulnerabilities melt away when she reached her lips and their tongues met in a slow sensuous embrace.
Tara's hand had slipped underneath Willow's t-shirt and was burning its way up her back, stoking a desire so tantalizing that she could feel it spreading inside her. Tara's other hand was doing the same to the underside of her breasts.
Willow's kissing journey had reached the hollow of Tara's throat and her clumsy fingers were trying to push the buttons of Tara's sweater through frustratingly tiny buttonholes. "Stupid clothes," she growled.
Tara giggled, and extracted her hands to help. Soon four hands were fighting awkwardly to loosen buttons, pushing layers of clothing off willing bodies and flinging the garments to all corners of the living room. The first contact of bare skin on bare skin was everything, and more, that they had imagined.
Soft. Soft. So soft.
Willow lay down fully on Tara, her mouth sucking on one firm and pebbled nipple after another. Everything about Tara was soft. Willow felt the soft skin of Tara's body on hers, the soft calls from deep within Tara, and the soft rhythm they built as she moved her hands lower. Soft skin gave way to even softer, smoother, warmer folds and her fingers finally tasted Tara's sweetness.
This was their first time, yet it seemed so practiced, so effortlessly intimate. Tara dug into Willow's back and screamed out as Willow surrounded herself with Tara's softness. Screams of abandon, of joy, of surrender.
Willow saw Tara glow from within, and smiled.
Willow's fingers traced a damp trail over Tara's stomach as the blonde lay asleep, spent with their passion. Tara wanted to return the favor, to treat Willow to the same pleasure she had experienced; but Willow knew she was near exhaustion and kissed Tara till she was powerless to protest, then rocked her till she fell asleep.
She needed to remember this moment. Her fingertips stored up the feeling of Tara's softness and wetness and tightness. The sense memory that had been dormant ever since that first kiss was finally awaken and it stirred all sorts of tingling and pleasant emotions in Willow, even without release. She wanted to remember Tara, to etch every detail of Tara into her mind, her blood, and her soul.
She woke to the sound of someone stubbing their toes on a hard surface. Opening one eye she was greeted by the sight of Tara, tears streaming down her face and trying hard not to cry out in pain.
"I do that all the time," she said, momentarily taken aback at Tara's sharp look at the sound of her voice. Like she would rather I were still asleep. "The island doesn't like my toes. You're all dressed."
"Yeah. I need to go, tons to take care of today," Tara said vaguely, going back to pouring cream into a cup of instant coffee.
Willow sat up fully on the couch, trying to decipher Tara's dismissive posture. Gone was the confident, sexy performer she met at the club; gone too was the empathetic friend mourning a tragic death; and the fragile beauty she brought to ecstasy last night. This Tara was distracted and aloof, eyes darting between the clock and the door, as if ready to bolt.
She fumbled for her shirt, eventually finding it draped over a leather armchair and quickly slipped it on. "Do we need to talk?"
It was unsettling that Tara wasn't even interested in her nakedness as she hurriedly sipped her coffee, making a face as it scalded her. "What do you want to talk about?"
"Us. What happened last night. I need to know--" Willow started.
"Nothing happened," Tara said flatly.
"Nothing happened? What the frilly heck?" Willow snapped. Incredible. She wanted to go to Tara, to throttle her or to kiss her so she was reminded of what exactly did not happen, but wisely opted to lean on the side of the armchair. She was, she idly noted, right between the kitchen and the front door, effectively blocking any escape path.
Tara shrugged. "Okay, nothing important; do we need to talk about it now?"
"Right. I see. Nothing important," Willow echoed. "Why do I feel like we've had this conversation before?"
"I used you," Tara said quietly.
"I don't remember you forcing yourself on me. In fact, I thought it was very enjoyable and I had the impression you liked it too," Willow retorted. "There was no mutual usage, not as far as I'm concerned."
Tara placed the now empty coffee cup on the counter but kept her head down, avoiding Willow's direct gaze. "I don't know if I can give you what you want, what you deserve."
"We're not sixteen anymore. Give me some credit, I think I can make decisions for myself."
"I'm so afraid I'm going to hurt you again," Tara said, her voice hardly audible.
Definitely déjà vu.
"You should start trusting yourself for a change. And letting me in. Don't you get it by now, that I'm sticking around no matter how much you push me away? What are you afraid of, Tara?"
Tara's brittle façade cracked, and she slumped into one of the high stools next to the island. This was the prompt Willow needed. She jumped from her perch on the arm chair, and in a few steps pulled Tara into a possessive embrace. Tara's whole body sagged, but she held her firm.
"I'm sorry," Tara sobbed. "I woke up and panicked. Everything ... it's too much."
"I know. I don't know about you, but I want to make this work."
"Work? You have to want it, Tara."
Tara closed her eyes tight, and tried to imagine a world without Willow. And all she saw was a world full of her Willow. When she opened her eyes again, the ragged desolation was already fading. "Yes," she whispered.
"I'll be here for you, no matter what. I want to."
For a moment Wiillow thought Tara would stiffen and bring up her defences again.
A long moment.
"I-- I'll try not to have too many of these moments, okay?" Tara finally relaxed and allowed Willow to hold her.
"You really are a dummy," Willow whispered into Tara's hair.
"But my dummy."
Crisis averted temporarily. But the day had only just begun.