Return to Latter Days/Lonely Nights Chapter Thirty-Nine

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.

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Day 9 -Friday, November 16, 1984)

The last class of the day seemed to take forever. Willow had stopped paying attention and was doodling in her notebook. She eventually opened to the last few pages and found her new Tara log. She added Tara's recent collision with the pole to her now growing list documenting her potential condition. She absentmindedly started filling in the spaces in the vowels on the page, first the "o"s, then the "a"s and "e"s were colored in. Then she started working through the rounded consonants. Willow's eyes lost their focus for a moment.

Willow shook her head trying to stay awake. It didn't make any sense yet, but she was sure if she kept up with her observations she would begin to see if there was something to explain Tara's affection for her. In the back of her mind though, she was also considering the possibility that there really was no other explanation for Tara's apparent fondness of her. And the thought that Tara was simply falling for her petrified Willow.

She wrote their names: Willow Rosenberg & Tara Maclay. She looked at it. Tara sure has a lot of "a"s in her name. Willow ran her fingers over the writing as she studied it. I think there was a Goddess, Tara. She is a goddess, I mean look at her. She has such classic features. Her nose is so perfect and those big doe eyes. I could get lost in them. Willow blinked. She looked back down at the notebook. Clay that's earthy and Tara, well a different spelling would be earth. Hmmm, that's interesting. I'm a tree and she's earth. Willow blushed when she let her mind explore that analogy. I wonder what her middle name is.

Willow looked up at the clock: ten until nine. A yawn escaped. She tried to catch it with clinched teeth. The late nights were starting to take their toll, and Willow wondered if Tara was feeling the effects of reduced sleep as well. She even felt sluggish in her own thought processes. Willow added "sleep" to her paper and put a question mark next to it. Willow started making little hearts above the "i"s and filling them in.

I need to find out Tara's previous sleep habits to compare and contrast. How can I risk talking to Tara about sleep without raising questions though? She would probably think I was asking something else. Willow let out a frustrated breath. How can I find a way to work that into a general conversation with the others? That might be less obvious, but bringing it up might open a whole other can of worms. Willow chuckled. Speaking of worms, Sister Smith had all but volunteered to help. What did she mean? Willow considered starting another log on Smith. Maybe one of the other Sisters.... Willow jiggled her head as she shuttered. No.

Sister Smith nudged her, "Dozo," she whispered. Willow's eyebrows lifted when she realized she had no idea where they were in the exercise; and it was her turn. She blushed a fiery shade of red. This just has to stop.

Across the hall, Tara was trying to listen to the Elders as they recited their sentences for the instructor but she was finding it hard to focus. She was starting to feel like Japanese was just too difficult. All the studying was exhausting; Tara's mind wandered. I do spend a lot of time with Willow, but it isn't scheduled study time, it is scripture time really. She tried to get back on track willing her mind to concentrate.

This particular sentence structure was frustrating; they were learning "koto." How can one word change the entire structure of a sentence? Like questions, there's no telltale inflection to indicate a question was coming, just a "ka" at the end. A sigh escaped. Sister Conley looked over and a forced smile emerged. Tara made a mental note: Conley looked tired too. In her distraction, she did not notice the elders had stopped speaking.

Tara continued with her thoughts: And what if you miss a word or something?

"...koto ga dekiru. ii desu ka?" Tara's reverie was suddenly interrupted. Her teacher was standing in front of her looking expectantly. Tara, No! Don't think that. Never ever think something like that. Tara berated herself for the jinxing. And if you miss the whole section in front of it, you're really screwed. Tara rolled her eyes and chastised herself for thinking the word "screwed."

"Gomen nasai, nani desu ka?" [Excuse me, what?] "Mo ichido kudasai masu ka?" [One more time please?] Tara felt the wave of red moving up her neck to her chin. She fought back the urge to hide behind her hair.

"Makure Shimai, yorokobu beki inoru koto no watashi tachi o michibiku de shiyo u ka?" [Sister Maclay, could you lead us in praying.]

Oh, no, don't panic. Sometimes missing a word or the whole thing makes no difference. Tara struggled to decipher the content of the teacher's request as she replayed in her mind what she remembered from the sentence. I, no we, oh no... okay I can do this. And it's a question... She's looking at me.

Tara's teacher was standing patiently waiting for Tara, but she could tell Tara was distracted and a little unnerved. "Mo ichido" She spoke slowly for her, "Sore ha inori no guruupu o michibiku koto ga dekire ba yoi. [It would be good if you could lead the group in prayer.]

Group... Inori - got it. "Hai, deki masu." [yes, I can.]

Just as she breathed a sigh of relief, another wave of trepidation filled her as she realized she was going to have to lead the prayer. In her frame of mind, she wasn't sure she could find the words and using the "koto," they would expect that now.

Tara stood and folded her arms across her chest and whispered a silent bequest for clarity. Okay, I can do this.

Both districts let out a little early. Tara wondered if it was because the instructors had dates.

The groups headed into the hall for an evening song before they would retire for the night. They could hear another group around the corner singing in German and the tune was familiar. Everyone looked around at each other to see who would make the decision which song to sing. Tara decided right then, that tonight, Friday night, would be for singing. She knew singing was the only thing that really cleared her head. She just needed the buy in from one vocally apprehensive redhead. A smile began to emerge. With a gleam in her eye, she glanced across the room and caught familiar green orbs shining back at her. Tara bit her bottom lip and covered it with the other one.

Willow didn't mean to stare, but the look on Tara's face warmed her heart. A grin erupted without warning and Willow's tongue snuck out between her teeth and lips in her unfettered glee. Tara was looking at her!

Someone said a number, but Willow wasn't paying attention and in moments, the group had started singing. She was already behind and there was little hope of catching up. This song was too fast for her to read the hiragana anyway. She opened up her songbook and glanced over at Smith's book for the page number. When she returned her gaze across the room, she saw Tara had actually opened her book as well, but under a cover of blond hair, Willow saw Tara still focusing on her.

Willow thought she might fall. Her legs felt weak and rubbery. She felt a rush of heat and a pink flush colored her cheeks. She closed her eyes in concentration. Don't do it! Not in front of everyone! She chastised herself for her blunder. She didn't want to look around, but she felt as though a pair of eyes were boring a hole through her from the direction of her companions. Sister Smith was eyeing her. That can't be good.

Tara breathed a sigh of relief when she got out of her day clothes. She took off her badge and looked at it before placing it on the desk. Just for a moment, she didn't want to think about Japanese or anything; but the foreign looking writing on the black and white nametag was just there and it seemed to ridicule her. In frustration, she grabbed her songbook and glanced around the room. Her companions were still in the bathroom finishing their nightly routine. It seemed so empty without anyone there. She closed her eyes and enjoyed the silence. She hugged the book, the texture of it was comforting, not quite cloth, but kind of soft for a hard cover.

Tara heard the noise from the door handle and was sad that her time alone was over, but when she opened her eyes, a tired but happy looking girl stood quietly just a few feet away. She had positioned herself in front of the door and leaned against it. Tara closed the gap between them. Her eyes were searching for the reason behind Willow's surreptitious entrance.

Willow blinked slowly and said softly, "I missed you." The words had come out before Willow had a chance to sensor them.

Tara nearly repeated the comment, but stopped herself. What am I thinking; this is not the best time for this. She knew she needed to say something; she couldn't leave the sentiment hanging out there. That would just hurt Willow. She knew what she really wanted to do, but the others might be back any moment. She just couldn't take another embarrassing event today. She looked down at her book. "I was thinking, I needed some help," Tara got a gleam in her eye when she realized she was about to say something in a Willowish style, "in a duet-y way."

Tara realized immediately that she was still holding the book to her chest when Willow's eyes landed there.

"Oh, I see." Willow's mouth went dry. She contemplated for a moment before she continued. "So, you want a little duo action?"

The look in Willow's eyes took Tara's breath away. She hadn't anticipated that response from Willow. She looked simply hungry, no starving. "Yes, with singing, but no dancing because that would be off the plan." Tara smiled shyly as she tried to dig herself out of the innuendo hole she knew she was falling into - again!

Willow giggled, "And then, maybe if we're not too tired, we could do some Chance and Community Chest?" She studied Tara's expression before continuing, " our game. We don't have to do very many, but if we do a little every night, by the time all the pieces are in place, we should be able to play on p-day next week." Willow looked absolutely hopeful. She had guessed correctly that Tara meant a duet in music not duet in the touchy feely sense.

Tara considered for a moment what Willow had just done for her, and she was actually grateful. She sucked in a breath. "Okay," was all that Tara managed to say. Everything else she was thinking would just lead them in the wrong direction and she really needed study time - productive meaningful study time.

"You want to come with me?" Willow asked sincerely.

"Oh, sure, I'll come." Tara looked back at her desk to make sure there wasn't anything else she might need before she realized how the sentence sounded. "Out..." she added, then shook her head, "with you..." She turned back to see if Willow had taken the mental gymnastics journey with her. She was glad that Willow appeared to let her comment go. She completed the sentence in a near whisper, "to the hall..." Tara didn't realize Willow was internally choking on the phrasing of her own sentence and hadn't really caught on to what she'd said in response.

Tara moved forward toward the door, but Willow appeared to be lost in her own world. When she was almost upon her, Tara took a measured breath. Willow was still blocking the door. After another slowed step, she finally said quietly, "Right now?" Tara resisted the urge to nudge Willow.

"What? ... Huh? ... Oh... yeah." Willow was still leaning with her back against the door. She put her hand on the doorknob and quickly realized she couldn't open it without moving forward into Tara's space. "Except, well..." Willow took a half step forward, "I kinda boxed us in."

"So, the 'right now' is really 'in a minute' now?" Tara asked with a twinkle in her eye. Tara moved the book from where it was nestled against her chest and dropped her hand and book to her side. "Willow, I um, really shouldn't do this...." She let her eyes wander the course of Willow's body and returned to her eyes. "But if I'm off course already..." Tara recalled the words from Kitchen just a few hours earlier. "You need to be careful who you trust to set your path." Tara took another decisive step colliding gently with Willow and forcing her back against the door. I'm setting my own path. "But I can think of nothing else I'd rather do before we do duets."

As Willow's eyebrows went up in surprise, she felt Tara come firmly against her pinning her against the wooden barrier. Tara's right hand gently caressed her waist and moved up along her side. Willow's eyelids fluttered and her mouth fell slightly open in guilty pleasure. Willow took a quivered breath.

"You want to do what before we do, do duets?" Willow managed to squeak out.

"Just this," Tara gazed deeply into Willow's eyes for any hint she was unwilling. Tara moved back a little, looked down at her hand as she moved it up slowly across Willow's ribcage. She changed the touch to just three fingers, and moved her hand around in front of Willow's armpit and placed her palm on Willow's shoulder. Tara closed her eyes and gently kissed Willow on the forehead. She breathed in deeply capturing Willow's scent.

"Tara? I'm gonna fall," Willow was losing control with the simple delicate touch and the seductive gesture.

"Uh huh. Then we should go," Tara stepped back and took a cleansing breath, "to the lounge."

"Where it's safe," Willow completed thought for them both. I think I need a cold shower.

Tara reached across Willow and their hands met at the doorknob.

Willow felt a shiver of energy flow through her; she looked down to where she could feel a warm spot on her skin. Tara's breast was so close to her arm, just a centimeter away if she just moved a little she could ....

"Let's go," Tara pulled the door open and she was out of reach. Willow fell in step behind her. No sooner had they exited the room and turned the corner, they nearly collided with Conley and Colson. After a few excuse-me's and "gomen asai" were exchanged, Tara and Willow made their way down the hall toward the safety of the lounge.

"That was pretty close," Willow was able to get out after she flopped on the couch. "After the day I had, that would have just made the blush on my cheeks permanent."

"You too, huh?" Tara looked toward the clock, and then to her book. "I've been embarrassed so many times today." She ran her hand over the cover, "There's just nothing like running into a pole to set the tone for the night."

"Oh, I have you beat," Willow lowered her voice, "Someone got me so flustered this morning, that I missed an entire conversation and had to be brought back to earth by Kitchen Shimai. Smith Shimai was staring at me."

"She saw me hit the pole too. And you know what Kitchen Shimai said to me?" Tara raised her eyebrows requesting the obligatory "what" from Willow.

"What?" Willow complied after catching her cue.

"She said, and I quote, be careful who you trust to set your path." Tara looked hard into Willow's eyes. "I don't think you are setting my path. And I think Smith Shimai actually offered me her help."

"Yeah. What's that about?" Willow was baffled.

"I don't even want to think about it." Tara shook her head. "What I really need to do is learn my hiragana better and some vocabulary. I'm feeling like such a dweeb. Today I had to lead the night prayer and we're doing that "koto" thing."

"Yeah, us too." Willow volunteered. She was stuck on how cute Tara looked when she called herself a dweeb. Willow scooted closer to Tara and placed her hand on her thigh innocently. "It's okay you know, when we're done with our missions, chances of us remembering how silly we sounded as of this date, very slim..." Willow added hopefully. "Oh, and the pole thing - that will be a minor memory, the more lasting memories will be Pizza-Art Smith and Twisted Sister, Willow."

Tara giggled, "Twisted Sister....That's an image you don't forget - either you or the band. I think Smith has that one guy's hair." She fluffed her hair way up to look like the rock star. She shook her head to get the look just right. Willow let out a bark of laughter.

"As long as you don't think I'm one of them, I'm okay." Willow chewed on her lower lip for a minute, "You don't do you." She looked a little nervous.

Tara saw the face Willow made and laughed, "no, silly." Tara seemed to be considering a thought, "But I do think a couple of songs they sing could be theme songs for you."

Willow looked puzzled, "Really?" Heavy metal was not her thing, but maybe it was Tara's; one never knew in this type of environment.

"Sure, 'we're not gonna take it' or 'I'm me,' either one of those." Tara was enjoying the image of Willow playing air guitar and shouting out the lyrics.

Willow wanted to jot down a note in her Tara log, but now was not the time. Instead, she thought it best to redirect the conversation to a more appropriate lounge activity. "So, you wanna do this thing?"

Tara and Willow sat closely together on the couch. With the songbook between them, they were both looking quite studious. They had decided on the children's song as a good place to start. After a quick consensus on the sounds behind the symbols, Tara changed the images from the text into letter format to her notepad. When she finished, they translated the words to English. That had been Willow's contribution to the exercise. She assumed since they knew the song, it would be easier to learn the Japanese translations.

In addition, Tara guessed Willow just needed a little time before she would be ready to sing again in front of her, so she wasn't going to push. She also assumed Willow wanted to reduce the possibility of an audience when she sang. Tara thought it was cute when Willow told her she called her singing the Willow Warble.

Tara's mission was actually two fold, but she wasn't letting on.

"It's interesting how when things like songs get translated they have different meanings...." Tara began after they both sat staring at the translated text.

"I know. Look at that."

"It's the same with poems too. I heard somewhere that one German poem was translated into Japanese and back to German again. When they were done, there wasn't one word in the two German versions that were the same."

"Really. Willow reflected. "Huh."

Tara continued, "I used to think it was because they have to make sure to hold true to the melody and beat of the song. But that example kinda defeated that notion."

"No, I think to some extent that might be valid, but we really aren't in a position to make that leap right yet." Willow smirked, "Give us a year and a half and then maybe we'll know enough to try and translate our own music." She winked at Tara.

Tara eyed Willow, "You have a song?" The blush from Willow confirmed her assumption. "Will you sing it for me?" Tara didn't realize that Willow's song was about her.

"Maybe in a couple years."

"Oh, I have to wait that long? I'm crushed." Tara raised her hand to her forehead in mock despair.

Willow giggled again, "You have just got to stop doing that."

"What did I do?" Tara let her lip show a huge fake pout.

Willow licked her lips. She was staring at Tara's bottom lip. Her heart skipped a beat. "That," She said with a sigh. She felt the now familiar feeling run through her. She closed her eyes. She tried to count her breaths, but it was no use.

Tara was honestly puzzled. This time, her face showed sincerity. "What?"

Willow swallowed hard. She took a deep breath and wanted to count to ten. "You said I was hot." Willow was searching Tara's eyes for answers, but she found nothing there to indicate Tara regretted the statement. "Why?"

Tara had known that statement this morning would reverberate with Willow. Like a timeless echo, it would haunt her until she understood why. Tara honestly had no response for her; she only knew what she felt about the redhead. "I can't really answer that..." she let the sentence linger for a moment. "I know you need answers, but I don't think I have any that you'd readily accept." Tara pursed her lips, "But there is something I want to show you."

Willow wondered if this were a vending machine show, or an empty dorm room show. "Uh, okay."

"Do you trust me?" Tara asked simply.

It didn't take Willow any time to respond to Tara's inquiry, "Of course I trust you."

"Then lay down." Tara moved off the couch leaving a very amused and puzzled girl staring back at her. "Trust me."

Willow lay down on her back and she instantly felt vulnerable and insecure. She wrapped her arms around herself.

"Trust me." Tara repeated in a gentle whisper as she came closer and knelt next to Willow. She gently moved Willow's arms. She placed her left palm on her stomach under Willow's ribs. "Just breathe."

Willow tried to relax, but feeling Tara's hand on her body sent shivers through her. Tara applied a gentle pressure against Willow's diaphragm.

"Keep breathing." Tara's voice was soothing, but she continued to apply slight pressure against the rise of each of Willow's breaths. "Singing is about control. This is where you control your tone." Tara raised her right hand. "Close your eyes." Willow speedily complied.

Tara placed a finger on Willow's ear, traced it, and then cupped her hand over it, "This is where you find pitch. You find resonance inside with what is outside." Then she caressed Willow's cheek, ran her thumb across her lips and then moved her hand down across Willow's throat and stopped. She couldn't help taking some time to feel her skin there.

Tara was looking at a thing of beauty. Willow's eyes were closed in complete trust. Tara was feeling her breathe, caressing her skin, and she was enraptured. "Put your hands over your head and keep breathing. Feel the pressure of my hand. Keep breathing into my hand."

She continued with her lesson. "Singing is not just noise you send out from your throat." Tara continued to caress Willow's neck. "It's an expression, but it's also about controlling an instrument which has to be fine tuned with each breath, each note, from here." Tara patted Willow's stomach.

"Now just concentrate and match my voice. Pretend like you're gonna impersonate me to Conley or Colson." Tara stopped caressing Willow's neck. "You can open your eyes, but you need to focus on listening to your voice and mine together." Tara started humming - just one note.

When Willow was able to match Tara's pitch and hold it, she patted her stomach again to signal she could stop for a moment. "Good, now I'm going to change my notes, but I want you to stay on the same note we start on."

Willow simply nodded. She wanted to perform well for Tara and she really was concentrating on the task. She decided Tara was a good teacher, very hands on. That thought made her chuckle. When Tara started humming again, Willow furrowed her brow in concentration.

After Willow successfully remained on her note while Tara went through her intervals, Tara smiled. "Good!" Tara beamed with pride. "Tomorrow you are learning how to harmonize. You'll like that; it's math-y."

"Wait, what? Tomorrow? I was enjoying the touchy-singy duet-y-ness. I'm all laid out with my arms up here."

Tara's sideways grin appeared, "I see that." Tara looked around the lounge area and then down at her left hand still resting softly against Willow. She moved her palm slowly across Willow's stomach as if she were painting a canvas with her touch. Tara reached out with her right hand and matched the caress on the other side. She felt Willow tremble under her touch.

"I just wasn't sure if you were up for a real duet. Your breathing seems a little ... labored."

Willow nodded in agreement. "Want more, now." Tara smiled at the thought that she'd reduced Willow to single syllables.

Continue to Latter Days/Lonely Nights Chapter Forty-One

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