Return to Latter Days/Lonely Nights Chapter Thirty-Two

Latter Days/Lonely Nights

Author: Willownut
Disclaimer: Blah, blah, blah. Many characters are Joss Whedon's. Yada, yada, yada. No harm intended with the use of these revered characters. Peas and carrots, peas and carrots.
Italics are thoughts. For those who could excommunicate me or send me unwanted literature, I wish you no ill will. My thanks to LVK for the use of her song lyrics, you have my deep respect, and I would have asked first if I knew where you were.

Day 8 -Thursday, November 15, 1984)

Willow sat quietly in the lounge area waiting for Tara to finish getting ready for their study "date." She could tell at dinner that something was bothering Tara, but she wasn't able to talk to her then. It was so easy for Willow get lost in her own thoughts. She didn't want to think up too many scenarios but her mind had a will of its own. It would only take one thought to spark the internal Willow babble. She had to concentrate. No babble. She scolded herself.

If I get all panicky, I won't be able to help Tara when she comes over. I can't work myself into a frenzy that would be bad.

She took a deep cleansing breath and tried to run through her lessons while she recopied her notes. Today had been directions, some verb forms and if/then... She wasn't sure what color if/then should be. As she glanced over her color scheme, arranged in progressive order yellow through blue, she finally settled on a color. Okay, let's see, sentences with If/then. If Tara's still upset, then what?

When Tara arrived, she smiled. Willow looked like a little girl sitting at the coffee table. She was concentrating on something and tapping her orange pencil. Her tongue was out just a little as she studied the text. Tara flashed for a moment they'd been sitting together with Willow absorbed by her "art." The rudimentary little picture certainly served its purpose. She wouldn't have remembered her own rules so clearly without them. The last time she'd sat in the same place, she too was making art, this time for Willow, an expression of love for her. Tara closed her eyes for a moment. This might be hard. She had to make sure Willow didn't feel betrayed.

When she felt strong enough she opened her eyes. Willow was wearing her flannel pajama top and a pair of sweat pants. Safety first; good job Willow. She admired Willow for sticking to the plan. Tara was also wearing a pair of sweat pants and her jersey shirt. The temperature in the lounge was always cool enough that her sweats were a better choice than her actual sleep wear. She felt a slight chill and wished she'd brought her zip up sweatshirt along just in case.

The flannel top reminded Tara of the prior evening. The events of pizza night seemed clearer in her mind today. Some days moments with Willow seemed more real. She recalled leaning to look at Willow's topping list and she realized just how strong the attraction must be for Willow. Willow's quiet gasp of breath, the look, and the intensity she felt from the girl. It was so much to absorb. She remembered holding her own breath and trying to remain steady so she didn't' let on to the others that there was something bubbling between them. She wondered if that was guilt or fear.

Willow looked up and saw Tara watching her. A gentle smile appeared and she blinked slowly taking in the vision before her. Except for a wayward hair or two captured by a single bobby pin, Tara's hair was down. Her hair rested loosely around her shoulders. It looked soft and recently brushed. It framed her face and in the muted illumination of the evening dorm light, gave her a radiant glow. How does she do that? Every time I look at her, she takes my breath away. Willow unconsciously covered her heart with an open hand. She stood up to welcome the girl.

Tara saw the gesture and tried to minimize the significance of the gentle movement but she was finding it hard. Willow had pulled her hair back in a ponytail, her features accentuated by a few loose hairs that fell forward across her brow and the contours of red hair and sun freckled skin. Even in the yellowed light of the lounge area, Tara could see the sparkle of love and hope in Willow's eyes. Tara wanted to rush and close the distance between them, but that wouldn't be a wise course of action if she wanted to remain true to her goal. Instead, she smiled warmly and returned the token of affection.

Tara took a breath and bit softly on her lower lip. She'd never really done that before, but Willow did it so often when she was around her, it seemed like her own mannerism. The pressure registered how sensitive her lips felt and she sucked on them for a moment. She puffed out her cheeks and let go of her lips in a small flourish. Just seeing Willow caused so many new sensations for her, sensitive lips not withstanding.

Willow stood watching Tara run through some sort of lip calisthenics and she chuckled. Willow's dimples appeared first and a closed mouth smirk emerged shortly there after. The expression was interrupted by Willow's question, "You just gonna stand there, or you gonna get your butt over here to study?" The transformation was instantaneous as Willow's face erupted with cheerful enthusiasm. Willow's tongue poked out between her teeth in jest. A wide grin replaced the closed mouth smile.

Without a word or moments hesitation, Tara walked over to the couch, set her things down and turned to face Willow. There was so much she wanted to say. She didn't know where to start.

"Kon ban wa." [Good evening] she said after a brief silence. She dropped her hands to her sides and bowed slightly from the waist. She lowered her head and closed her eyes in reverence. After a few seconds, she returned her gaze to the gleaming green eyes fixed upon her.

Willow responded in kind, "Kon ban wa," and returned the obeisance. She remained downcast a bit longer than Tara had. Truth be told, she was taking a moment to think what to do. Was Tara setting a tone, or was she simply practicing her skills? So many questions. So many angles to consider. She was unnerved.

Before she had completely lifted her gaze, Willow said mostly to herself, "Wish I was psychic."

Tara, still looking at the top of Willow's head, registered the softly spoken words. She sat down on the couch and glanced down at the hem on her Jersey sleeve. She noticed a spot on her sweat pants too and decided to study that later if needed. She considered the comment and decided to respond, "That's probably not such a good idea."

The answer startled Willow a little. She shook her head as if to clear the inner cobwebs. She realized she really needed to listen and Willow babble was not an option. Willow remained standing for a moment and then slowly took a seat. Her heart was aching and she didn't know what to say. She blinked a few times and started carefully. "If I say anything, then I might ramble. And I don't want to drown you in my prattle, so I'm going to try to be quiet."

Tara's eyes felt heavy, but she also was a little amused, "Just how many synonyms are there for babble?"

"Oh, it depends on whether you're including adjective form or just nouns or verbs, although some of the verbs I don't think should count and I'd have to disagree on some of the words they use as synonyms. If you're going strictly by word count in a book or something, I think there were about 20 or so under each category and there is some duplication across lines of speech so I wouldn't count those anyway. And some of the connotations of the so-called synonyms don't actually capture what it is that I do, so Willow babble may need to be patented and redefined by more modern lexicographical works. I usually stick with three to four so I have proper variety in conversations but not more so I don't appear stuffy, because you know if you use lots of different words for the same thing, sometimes people just think you're showing off or too smart for them. Of course, the fact that I actually looked it up, probably means something anyway, so maybe that's not good." Willow furrowed her brow as she considered the implication. She looked up to see a gleaming-eyed Tara with a crooked smile staring back at her. "You did that on purpose didn't you?"

"Now why would you say that?" Tara feigned innocence.

Willow frowned. "You knew I was trying not to babble so I could listen to you and you just went right ahead and revved it up. It's like it's easy for you or something." She stopped for a moment and continued when Tara didn't respond right away. "I wanted to find out about your day, you seemed upset earlier and I was worried. That's why I wanted psychic powers, or at least a little empathy, so I'd know, you know?"

Tara's answer was short but full of kindness, "What do you want to know?"

Willow put on her best resolve face. Tara could tell Willow was going to be trying not to speak more than was needed. "Everything, but specifically...what happened today?" Willow sucked in her lips as if she was attempting to hold her words from escaping.

Tara was torn. She didn't feel ready to have the conversation with Willow. She was afraid she would upset her. Willow's reaction was important, so she needed to be careful that she didn't push Willow in the wrong direction. She took a small breath and really looked at the girl. Willow's eyes were beseeching, and loving, and showed concern that she'd never felt from anyone else, not even her family. Willow wanted inside. That's what she had meant by wanting to be psychic. "It would be easier without words." Tara said quietly to herself.

"What would be easier without words?" Willow wanted Tara to come back from whatever place she had gone.

"I had a meeting today." Tara began but faltered. Where was that spot? Tara looked down at her sweat pants. She secretly hoped Willow would latch on and be lost to the internal babble so she'd have more time. She was disappointed.

"And?" Willow dipped her head low enough to catch Tara's eye as she looked for the invisible spot on her pants. She looked up at Tara from below and begged her silently to continue. She motioned with her fingers to her lips that she was locking them and put the imaginary key in the pocket of her flannel top. She patted the pocket, but when she felt the sensation, she blushed a little realizing she was touching herself in front of Tara. She repeated the question, "And?"

"I had a meeting today with President Shepherd..." Tara watched Willow's face as she processed the information before she continued. Willow appeared to be in shock, so she waiting until she could tell Willow would hear her. After Willow made a quiet grunting noise, Tara knew she was ok to proceed. "I just thought I should talk some things over that I was concerned about."

Willow's voice was barely audible and she began looking for invisible lint on her sweats. "What kind of things?"

Tara could tell Willow was struggling to make sense of her declaration. "Well, initially I thought I should talk to him about my feelings," Tara paused again and dropped her voice, "for you."

Willow was flabbergasted. She closed her eyes and waited for the other shoe to fall. Okay Willow this is so "not about you" right now. You have to be strong for Tara. Time to put on the supporto girl hat. Suck it up. Willow opened her eyes, but didn't look up. She had so many questions she wanted to ask, but she was afraid of the answers. All she could squeak out was, "oh."

Tara searched Willow's countenance for some way to talk this through so it wouldn't upset her. She started straightway, "Initially." She reached out and touched one of Willow's fingers, " in motion, you know?" She rubbed her thumb across Willow's knuckle. "Like the pepper." Willow's stare turned to watch the gentle fingers touching her hand. She was thankful for the contact; it was a necessary distraction for her.

"I've always been taught there are two ways to deal with things: active and reactive." Tara continued, "Some people are reactive and by then it's too late to change the course of certain events. You may get into situations you're not prepared to handle. If you are active, you can plan and consider consequences before you're in a position where you have to react. That's why our rules are so important.

"So when I sent the note to meet with President Shepherd, my thought was that he could offer me some direction in how to work through this challenge." Tara moved her hand a little to capture a second finger. "...our challenge." Tara claimed another finger. "I didn't expect...." Tara wavered in her resolve.

Willow, still concentrating on both the touch and the words, realized that Tara seemed anxious. She felt unusually calm, so she was glad for that. She looked up to see Tara had let her hair fall in front of her face. With her free hand, she tucked the hair back behind Tara's ear. She wondered if Tara wished she had not worn the bobby pin so the blond curtain would have hidden her completely. "You didn't expect what?" She whispered.

Several moments passed before Tara began again. "When I was sitting there, I looked around the room, ya know." Tara had found a distraction of her own. "His name is Howard."

"Whose name is Howard?" Willow was a little confused, "President Shepherd?"

"Yeah." Tara waited a bit and then resumed her current train of thought. "I kept looking at his name while he was discussion my "problem." I was rearranging the letters and stuff, like a game."

"Oh, like spoonerisms?" Willow offered. She sensed the need to break as well.

"What?" Tara finally looked up.

"Spoonerisms, you know, Howard Shepherd would be Showard Hepherd. Showered. Hah." Willow had amused herself.

"Well, no, but that was kind of funny considering how much trouble I've had with showers since I met you." Tara was embarrassed at her admission and quickly moved on. "Actually, I was thinking: "How hard?"..."Shep hard," like it was a commercial for luggage or something. Then I was thinking about the irony that he was like a sheepherder, which is fine and biblical and stuff, but I know a thing or two about sheep. They are smart, but they are followers - they are reactive." Tara let the comment sit for a minute. "And we are supposed to be sheep?"

Willow was torn, the study girl wanted to find all the references for Tara so she could put her mind at ease, but she resisted the urge. She searched through her mental database. Sheep better than goats, beware of wolves in sheep's clothing, scripture chase reference that there are other sheep, feed my sheep as a missionary it is a directive, I am the good shepherd. "Yes, I believe within the context of the gospel that as a metaphor, sheep are good."

"Huh, as a metaphor, okay." Tara filed the thought and continued. "When I was sitting in the lounge waiting, I kept wondered what I would talk about. When I made the request, I hadn't read the letter from Donny. I thought what I was thinking was wrong, that I was just being weak and this was just a distraction from the work."

Willow frowned at Tara's last comment.

"No, not about you. Well, not you exactly." Tara wanted to clarify, "I thought I was just being weak, and breaking rules, and then trying to justify it." Tara looked down again as if just to pause, "I couldn't even go a few hours after we made our rules..."

"Tara, we've done really well. That was the only time, you know, since that first time." Willow defended Tara.

"But that day I made the request because I didn't want to stop." Tara added.

"But you did stop. You walked away, and it was just a little, it wasn't bad." Willow took another breath but before she could continue, Tara cut her off.

"I didn't stop." She looked right into Willow's eyes and grabbed the last finger taking possession of Willow's whole hand, "In my heart I never stop." The last sentence came out as a whisper.

"Oh," It took a minute for Tara's comment to register. "OH!" The second oh came out much louder and the look of shock was apparent on Willow's face. Willow felt the blush radiate from her cheeks, down her neck and beyond.

"So I thought I should talk about the content of my heart." The phrase was not lost on Willow. "I guess I just didn't expect all the questions, all the assumptions from him." Tara trailed off as if remembering the conversation.

"What did he say?" Willow placed her other hand over Tara's, which was still holding hers.

"He said God judges the thoughts and intents of the heart, and that this is a test, and if I remain on this path regardless of my actions, that I could face challenges with my temple membership. And if I act on these feelings I could be sent home and excommunicated. At least that's what I got from it." Tara held tightly to Willow's hand. She felt like Willow was her anchor.

Willow repeated the words Tara had said several times in her mind. "What did you say?" Willow managed to squeak out.

"Well after I heard "regardless of my actions" I was kind of speechless." Tara placed her second hand along with her first so they were joined together. "But when he said that what I feel isn't real, that only real love is between a man and a woman, well, I kind of lost it."

"He said that?" Willow was stunned. "I can't believe he said that." Willow tried to process what President Shepherd had told Tara, "Oh Tara, I'm so sorry. What happened next?"

"He wants to see me again next week. And I know he's going to ask all those questions again." Tara looked down, "I know the answers he wants to hear."

Willow was afraid to ask what the questions were, let alone the answers, so she remained silent for a few moments.

"Tara," Willow tried her best to be strong as she said the rest of her thought, but her intent was clear, "Whatever you need me to do for you I will."

Tara was finally able to tell Willow, "I'm not supposed to see you." She let the words sit between them and watched Willow closely as she processed the words.

After what seemed like several minutes, Willow still hadn't responded. Tara wondered if Willow was lost in babble and needed a rescue. "Are you okay?"

Willow jutted out her bottom jaw and then stated without much conviction, "Well, currently I'm busy being trying-not-to-whimper Willow." She took a shaky breath. She knew what she had promised, but she didn't expect that she wouldn't be able to see Tara. She wasn't prepared for that.

"Come on." Tara removed her hands and patted Willow's leg. Then she stood up. Willow assumed their study date was over so she started to get her things. "No leave those, we'll be back." She firmly gripped Willow's nearest hand and helped her up. Willow was surprised when she didn't let go and led her slowly around the table and out of the lounge area.

Instead of going down the hall toward Tara's room, they went the shorter distance toward Willow's door at the opposite end of the hall. Tara turned the corner and took Willow on the other side of the dorms. "Donny always says you should take different routes to places. I never understood why though. I think he would have been a good explorer - well if there was anything new left to find."

Willow was committed, so she didn't object, but she was puzzled by the conversation and the adventure. "Well there are always new things to see in places you've never been." That was the only thing she could think to say.

"That's right." Tara suddenly turned at a door and opened it. "You've never been here before."

Willow's eyes went impossibly wide when Tara opened what appeared to be an occupied dorm room. "Tara!" Willow yelled in whisper. As Tara pulled her just inside the room, Willow whispered again, "What are you...?" Tara released Willow's hand and Willow gasped when Tara closed the door behind them.

The room was dark and there were no sounds in the room. Willow waited a moment trying to adjust to the light. Tara walked to the center desk and turned on a small desk lamp. It barely illuminated the desk area let alone the room. She turned back to face Willow and quickly closed the distance between them. They were actually alone.

"I'm not supposed to see you." Tara repeated the comment she'd said earlier as she stepped closer to Willow. She dropped her tone. "And I really want to..." Tara moved closer to Willow and dropped her tone again as she focused her eyes on Willow's lips. "Regardless...." Tara's voice was breathy.

"Tara?" Willow was trying to focus on Tara, but she was edging closer to her. "Oh Tara...wait... wait." Willow put her hands up and they landed on Tara's waist.

"I've seen the way you look at me. You feel it too."

"Of course I feel it. That's not even a question. But this is your life now, not just a moment." The words came out with much stronger conviction than Willow felt. Her resolve was wavering. The texture of Tara's jersey shirt on her fingers warmed by Tara's rising temperature was becoming an unbearable temptation.

Tara's one word response captured the essence of her feeling, "Regardless."

"So is this 'carpe diem' for tomorrow you're going home?" Willow wasn't sure what had changed for Tara. Her attitude had seemed so different just a little while earlier.

"Nope," Tara took another step toward Willow. "But we are taking a moment if you want to." Tara looked deeply into Willow's eyes to see if there was any resistance. "If there is no difference between my thoughts and my actions, then I want you to know..."

"But Tara I do know. There's nothing for you to prove." Willow was so afraid that if Tara did this, then she would regret it.

Tara reached up and touched Willow's cheek. "I know the consequences," Tara whispered, "I have a week to figure this out, but I know one thing..." Tara reached around and freed Willow's hair from its ponytail. "This is more real than anything I ever imaged. And if he's wrong about that..." Tara carefully dropped the ponytail holder in Willow's front shirt pocket, "then maybe you're right."

"What about the rules?" Willow tried one more tactic just in case Tara was unsure. When Tara started stroking her hair, she knew the battle was lost. Her eyes closed in submission to her touch.

Tara leaned in close to Willow's ear and whispered softly, "no regrets." Willow felt Tara breathe in her scent before she continued, "I have to follow my heart." Tara used her cheek to caress Willow's face. Her skin was so smooth where they touched. Tara switched sides feeling Willow's right cheek against hers. Tara continued to feel Willow's neck and hair and face with her right hand. Her mouth fell open as she relaxed into the feel of their faces touching. She gently moved her lips to Willow's ear, "And no rules."

Willow thought she was going to lose her ability to stand up. There were tremors racing through every fiber of her being. Tara's sensuous caress was driving her mad with desire. She hadn't even kissed her. She never wanted the moment to end. She didn't know what the new rules were... or what if there really weren't any? What did she want?

Willow pressed her face back into Tara's cheek. She felt the soft silky skin so gentle against her own. She repeated the movement Tara had earlier and switched sides. She was careful not to get too close to Tara's lips on the way past. Instead of moving further back toward Tara's ear as she had done, Willow pulled forward so she was touching Tara's jaw with her cheek. She let her mouth fall open and turned her head to feel Tara's face with her lips.

Tara was in heaven. When Willow started responding by matching the pressure against her skin, Tara stopped having to repeat "regardless" in her head. She was lost to the sensation of Willow. Her mouth still hung open, her breaths were uneven, and her neck felt like rubber. Wherever Willow moved, Tara followed. When Willow pulled away, Tara nearly cried out.

Willow closed the distance between them and for a moment held her lips just of out reach. She raised her head closing the gap just a little, but never connecting to Tara's lips. The heat was rising between them and the pull was too great to resist. Willow captured her lips in a tender kiss. Even though she thought her heart would beat out of her chest, this moment wasn't about unbridled passion; this was an exploration of the love between them. Willow knew Tara understood that.

Willow still had one hand at Tara's waist. The cotton jersey felt soft and she was playing with the material. She pulled away from Tara for just a moment long enough to ask the question, "No rules?"

Tara responded by reaching up with both hands and threading her fingers through Willow's hair by her ears. She moved her right hand in an arc feeling her hair and circling back around her ear, across her neck and up under her chin. She moved her fingertips across Willow's still parted lips, "No rules."

Willow closed the gap between then again. She took Tara into her arms and turned them so that Tara had her back against the door. Her next kiss was hungrier; it betrayed her inner most desires. She greedily sucked on Tara's lips and teased her with her tongue. She broke away, moved to Tara's ear and nibbled lovingly on the lobe. Willow kissed Tara's neck carefully so she wouldn't leave any marks. When she found Tara's lips again, she also touched Tara's garments on her stomach. Willow felt Tara's stomach quiver.

Tara didn't remember Willow un-tucking her shirt, but she was elated with the feel of the warm palm against her belly. Willow slowly moved her hand around to Tara's back and pulled them closer to together. Although Tara liked the feeling of Willow pressing her against the door, she didn't mind the shift. It felt to Tara like Willow was everywhere.

When Willow's hands reached her back, Tara felt the soft scrape of short cut nails combined with a gentle kneading. She wondered how anything could feel any better than that. The thought made her swoon and it nearly brought the both of them down. She tried to move them both toward the bunks, but Willow stopped them.

Willow knew it was one thing to give in to temptation of smoochies and quite another to get too comfortable and lose themselves to passion and desire. Willow removed her hand and brought it to Tara's face. "I'm not ready." Willow said simply. She kissed her gently and then continued. "I don't want to do..." Willow motioned with her eyes toward the empty bunk, "...that, if I think it's because I'm only going to get one "moment" with you."

Tara considered Willow's hesitation. It was Tara's turn to widen her eyes. She hadn't realized that she was moving toward that level of intimacy with Willow. The idea hadn't even crossed her mind. She was just enjoying the closeness and feel of Willow. "Oh, no, I'm not ready either." Tara thought for a moment, "But if I was ready, then I'd want to be ready with you."

The comment earned a chuckle from Willow. "I guess we just made a new rule." Willow took another deep breath, more to cool herself down than anything, "And tomorrow we can find out if the moment was, well you know, just a moment or a beginning."

Continue to Latter Days/Lonely Nights Chapter Thirty-Four

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