Willow looked across the room, her gaze boring into Morgan's back.
'Hi, I'm Morgan and I'm an artist.' the redhead internally mocked as she watched the brunette talk to friends from across the room. 'Hi, I'm Tara and I'm an artist, too. Willow grumbled, turning her attention to the blonde standing at Morgan's side, the redhead's aggravated pout softening immediately at the sight of the girl she loved. This is Willow.' Not her roommate. Not her friend. Just Willow. The redhead sighed and turned her attention back to the brunette, her eyes narrowing as she slightly scowled. 'Oh, how cute, a straight girl'. Straight... Willow grumbled, turning her attention back to the conversation before her. Twenty minutes had passed since Michelle had asked her to chaperone and so far she had been introduced to three artists, six P.R. reps and absolutely nobody that she was even halfway interested in talking to.
She glanced back over at Morgan and Tara and sighed again. They looked happy. Her stomach twisted at the thought and she looked back to the people in front of her. They were laughing about some reality show and Willow subtly rolled her eyes, casting a quick, incredulous look at a tittering Michelle. Hadn't pegged her as the reality TV type... The redhead sighed and looked at her phone. 9:43. The party would be over soon enough, and she'd have Tara back to herself, for a whole week, she thought with a slight smile as she stared at the clock on her phone, the digital number changing to :44. She looked up, trying yet again to get back into the conversation, a polite, vapid smile on her face.
I can't see her... Tara thought tensely, her back to the part of the house where she knew Willow to be. It had been twenty-five minutes since Michelle had dragged the redhead away to 'chaperone' her meeting with her ex, and Tara was dying to know how her roommate was doing.
I hope she's having fun, the blonde thought, trying to figure out how she could subtly move to the other side of the group she was standing in so she could see the girl she adored. She's probably fine, Tara thought. Probably busy with her phone... she added with a grumble.
The blonde immediately internally frowned, her external visage giving the people talking around her the appearance of passing interest. That's petty Tara, you're not mad because she was on her phone, you're mad because she was talking to Xander. The girl sighed, because she knew it was true. If Willow had replied, 'yeah, it's Buffy, she's trying to get me to send the other coat,' or even if the redhead had said 'Bryan,' Tara knew she would have smiled and let it go. Instead she had gotten upset, pulled away. The girl shook her head a bit, dismayed.
She wasn't surprised Willow was hooked into her phone; she had been the same way at the kitten club. It seemed like it was some sort of security blanket, that the redhead felt better having it in hand, but... why tonight? Why couldn't she just enjoy Tara's friends, Tara herself without resorting to calling him.
Tara tucked her hair behind her ear, and cast a quick look over her shoulder, her eyes furiously scanning the crowd for red. Impossible in this place, she thought, frustrated that Willow's fiery hair would be obscured by the room's decorations, the costumed party goers. I'm sure she's having fun, Tara thought, turning back to the crowd around her with a false smile. If she wasn't she'd come back, maybe say she wanted to leave...
The blonde watched with interest as Marissa left her place across from her and storm away, heading in the direction of Michelle and Willow. Tara took the opportunity to move into the gallery owner's vacated space, and immediately spotted her roommate across the room. The redhead tried to not look surprised as Marissa walked up to Michelle and practically dragged her to the side, the pair immediately starting in on each other with whispered, angry words. Tara watched with interest as Willow looked away from the couple, then back, then away again, her big eyes wide with concern and probably embarrassment. I should go rescue her, Tara thought, her tentative step forward halted when the woman next to Willow said something that made the redhead smile. Another woman next to her, a slim girl with braids, said something and the redhead nodded, the three seemingly falling into an involved conversation. Tara's protective posture deflated a bit, and she thought, she's a big girl, she doesn't need you 'helping' her.
The blonde turned when she felt a hand briefly touch the middle of her exposed back, and she smiled politely when she saw Morgan holding a drink for her. She took the drink, explained in as fewest words as possible where Marissa went and then relaxed as a chatty woman to her right engaged Morgan in some small talk about the paintings on the wall. Nothing, Tara thought, replaying the brunette's brief touch. No sparks, no flutters, nothing. The blonde sighed, watching as Willow smiled at the women next to her and then look down at her phone, her beautiful face looking troubled for a moment before she looked up with a grin. There's nothing you can do about that, Tara told herself, knowing that 'that' meant a lot of things. Willow texting Xander. Willow loving Xander. Xander hurting Willow. The blonde sighed, took a healthy sip of her drink and turned her attention back to the brunette on her left. Morgan. Right. Having fun with Morgan. Tara took another sip of her beverage and let her eyes wander until they once again fell on the redhead, the conversation around her fading into a slight din amongst the music.
Thirty minutes after Michelle initially dragged her away from Tara's side, Willow was still trapped with the reality TV people. The redhead tried to ignore Marissa and Michelle arguing nearby, but it was difficult. "You are being so ridiculous I don't even want to be around you!" Michelle said, her resentful voice just carrying over the thumping bass.
Willow watched the once happy pair bicker for a moment and then sighed heavily, turning with a plastered smile to the nearest person she was allegedly conversing with. "I'm gonna, go to the bathroom," she said to the woman in the braids, excusing herself and walking out of the large room and down the narrow hallway past the kitchen. She looked down at her phone and dialed, relieved that the dark hall outside of the bathroom was relatively empty, the red lights above turning the space into a lush, decadent passageway. The redhead walked to the end next to a shut door, probably Morgan's bedroom, and waited as the phone rang.
"Hey, it's me," Willow said, watching the swarm of people move around the room beyond the hall, Usher's 'Yeah' vibrating through the house.
"Hey," Xander said. "Wow, that music, it's... are you at a strip club?"
"No," Willow replied. "I'm still at-hey, how would you know what a stripclub-"
The dark haired man interrupted by clearing his throat and saying affably, "I think the more important question is how are you hanging in there, Willster, huh?"
Willow sighed. "I'm not," she replied in a low tone, frowning. "My face hurts from all the fake smiling."
"Xander, I, I don't fit in."
"Is that true..." Xander led, "or are you just being Willowmistic."
"True," the redhead grumbled, thinking how she had felt earlier when Morgan had 'grilled' her about her work and education, how she had felt like the sore thumb amongst Michelle's friends. "I don't speak artistese," Willow said glumly. "Or P.R.ese... I speak, nerd."
"You don't speak nerd Willow," Xander said patiently. "Well you do, but not all the time."
"Thanks," Willow deadpanned, gloomily, her one word answer leading to a moment of silence on the line.
"Well," Xander said with faux enthusiasm. "Sounds like a real carnival of fun ya got going there, Will."
"More like a tilt-a-whirl of pain," Willow muttered, sighing heavily, the party in full swing without her. "Ferris wheel of loneliness."
"And, corn dogs of nausea." Xander said. "Actually that's true for real carnivals too." The dark haired man paused. "Are you trying to fit in, at all?"
"Yes," Willow said defensively in her least convincing voice.
"Willow Danielle Rosen-"
"Alright, no, but-" She sighed heavily. "You wouldn't understand..."
"Right," he said sarcastically, "cause what do I, the only townie in our group, know about being the odd man out at parties."
"But that's different," Willow said plaintively. "Nobody cared that you weren't in college and, and you always got along fine."
"I got along because I tried to get along," Xander countered, ignoring the redhead's naive glossing over of his college-years suffering. "It's a little known party going skill I picked up from watching Sesame Street. Apparently, people enjoy other people who smile and engage in pleasant conversation. At least, that's what Maria told Oscar the Grouch this one time. You should try it out."
"See," Willow complained, her eyes following Marissa and Michelle as they exited out the french doors on the back wall. "You're making jokes."
"I'm sorry," the dark haired man said sincerely. "I do understand what you're saying though, it's just," the man paused. "Are you wigged cause you don't know anyone?"
"Partially," Willow said with a sullen pout.
"Then that's nothing," Xander said happily. "Strangers are just people you haven't met yet."
Willow's forehead knit. "Are you watching Sesame Street right now?"
"Talk to people," the dark haired man said, ignoring his best friend's dig. "They'll talk back and you won't be alone anymore."
"Right," the redhead said, pushing off the wall she was leaning against to pace in the small hallway. "You can do that because have a naturally outgoing personality."
"And so do you," Xander said, Willow sighing on the other end of the line. "You went to that one party alone in college, remember?"
"You mean the one where Percy called me a nerd and they had to evacuate the building because someone freaked out and thought they saw a dead body upstairs?" Willow replied in a skeptical, even voice.
"Okay, bad example," the man admitted. "But the point is you went, you saw, you left slightly scarred for life and that's not working..." Xander trailed off, pausing as he thought. "Oh! How bout the Bronze, you used to go there solo all the time not knowin' what ya'd find."
"Yeah, but you or Buffy or Oz would usually show up, and if you didn't, I mean, it was the Bronze," Willow whined. "I knew the Bronze. Here..."
"You know what Will?" Xander said. "I think you're not having a good time because you don't want to have a good time. As soon as you found out Morgan was there, you decided that you were going to be miserable. It's a self-Willfilling prophecy."
"That's, so, not even true," Willow replied, her face flushing red, her body reacting guiltily to the accusation.
"Uh huh," Xander said, knowing he was right. "Well you weren't sending me 'boo hoo' text messages before you found out you were at Casa de Morgan."
"That's just because..." Willow racked her brain for an explanation. "Shut up."
"Alright, alright," Willow sighed, leaning back into the wall next to the door at the end of the hallway. "Maybe, I haven't been... as open... as I could be to the fun."
"You're probably not even giving anyone a chance," the dark haired man pointed out.
"Well, all they can talk about is, art, or these P.R parties," the redhead bemoaned. "And sometimes, reality TV."
"Do you want me to give you some reality tv pointers?" The man asked. "I'm all caught up on both seasons of the Surreal Life and I'm pretty sure I know what's going on on Survivor. I saw one a couple of years ago; I figure they're pretty much all the same."
Willow rolled her eyes and sighed, bumping her head against the wall slightly as she leaned more fully into the flat surface, the pout on her lip there for the not-noticing world to see. "Tara ditched me."
"She left?" Xander asked, confused.
"Feels like it..." the redhead grumbled, her voice low.
"Still off with Morgan huh."
Willow pushed herself up so that just her rear rested against the wall. "Why did she even bring me if she was going to treat me like I was invisible?"
"I doubt she's treating you like you're invisible-"
"I haven't talked to her in almost an hour," the redhead countered, offering the statement as proof of her invisibility.
"And..." Xander said, apparently not making the connection.
"And," Willow replied. "She's been with Morgan the whole time."
"And...?" He again led.
"She should be with me," Willow said vulnerably, her voice dropping a bit as someone entered the hall and ducked into the bathroom.
"Don't you think you're being a little unfair to Tara?" Xander asked. "What, she's supposed to say 'oh I'm sorry super hot fellow lesbian, I can't talk to you because I need to go engage in exclusive one-on-one conversations with my straight roommate for the rest of the night'?"
"She didn't have to just abandon me-"
"She didn't abandon you Will, it's a party, that's just what happens. It's called mingling, socializing."
"Well... why can't she mingle with me?" Willow asked defiantly, watching as the bathroom's occupant exited and returned to the party.
"If you want to be around her so badly, go be around her."
"I can't." Willow said with a frown, seeing Marissa re-enter the room, crossing to the kitchen.
"Because she's busy. With Morgan."
Willow's frown turned into a pout and she leaned back more fully into the wall. "That's kinda harsh..." she groused.
"Well what do you want me to say?" Xander said, a touch of exasperation creeping into his voice. "'I bet she's just as miserable as you, standing across the room dying inside cause she's not spending every single second with you'? Come on. She's probably having fun, and you should be trying to have fun, too."
"I just," Willow started, shaking her head slightly, her voice honest and confused. "Why did she bring me if she wasn't going to spend any time with me?"
"Maybe she thought you'd have fun with her friends," Xander replied matter-of-factly. "Or... you know."
"I know what?" Willow said, pushing herself off the wall, a spark of anxiety flashing in her chest.
"Nothing, just, you know, maybe she thought you'd be lonely at home," the man said. "Buffy's gone-"
"Pity?" Willow said, her face contorting. "You think she brought me out of pity?"
"I think 'pity' is a pretty strong word," Xander cautioned evenly, "and Tara doesn't seem like that kind of girl. I'm thinking more along the lines of 'looking out for ya'."
"I don't want her to look out for me," Willow said, slightly panicked at the thought of Tara feeling sorry for her. "I mean, I do, I just. I don't want-"
"I'm sure she brought you because she thought you'd have fun," Xander said calmly. "So have fun."
"It's not that easy-" The redhead complained, slipping her right foot out of her clog and then back in.
"Sure it is," the dark haired man countered positively. "Willow, you're a great girl. You know more about music than anyone I know, you're well-versed in all things booky and you've seen just about every DVD Netflix has to offer. Does anyone at that party know that?"
"Everyone keeps asking about work," Willow innocently griped.
"Okay," Xander said patiently. "The standard opening salvo of party chatter. What's wrong with that?"
"I feel like a nerd every time I say what I do," the redhead admitted sheepishly.
"Willow, you're brilliant. I'm sure everyone there is impressed with what you do."
"I guess-" Willow reluctantly allowed. "Just, makes me stick out more it seems. In this crowd-"
"I'm sure it doesn't," Xander assured. "Look, do you think I feel weird when I tell your friends or Buffy's friends that I work construction? No, because that's not who I am, it's what I do, and if anyone with half a brain talks to me for more than five minutes they'll find out I'm more than just some guy who hangs sheet rock."
"Besides, your job's cool." Willow chuckled slightly at that. "Now," the man said, as if he had just crossed something off his to-do list. "What else. You said the stranger thing was 'partially' the problem, I'm guessing the being uptight about your big brain was another. Anything else?"
"Tara and Morgan," the redhead said, her stomach tightening.
"Okay, what about Tara and Morgan."
"I just, I feel all jealous and weird," Willow said, pacing a bit. "Like, I look over and see Tara with Morgan and all I want to do is-"
"Go large with the butch?"
"Well, yeah." Willow sighed. "Why isn't she spending time with me Xander?"
"I don't know..." Xander replied. "I wouldn't read anything into it. This girl, Morgan is her friend, she's the hostess... maybe Tara feels like she has to put in time with her to be nice."
"I don't like it..." Willow said with a deep frown. After a slight pause she continued. "Morgan keeps touching her."
"Xander," Willow said with a tired snarl.
"I'm sorry..." the man said, although Willow doubted the sincerity of the apology. "Look, if them hanging out together bothers you, don't look."
"Again, not that easy," Willow said, frowning.
"Sure it is," he rebutted. "You just turn your eyes in another direction. Find something else to stare at obsessively. Is there a cheese ball-?"
"Willow, watching Tara with this girl is making you miserable. So, the way I see it, you have two choices. Stop looking, or be miserable." When Willow didn't reply, Xander continued. "Go have fun. Put your back to Tara and just..."
"Okay." Willow paused for a moment. "I just-"
"Will," the man interrupted hesitantly. "I know this whole thing is killing you, but..."
"What?" Willow asked innocently as he trailed off.
"You want to be Tara's friend, right?"
"You know I do," the redhead answered, confused.
"Okay, well, part of that is being happy for her, even if it might suck for you." Willow swallowed hard, but didn't speak. "I mean, sometimes being a friend means tucking aside your own feelings and just, sticking by her, supporting her, being happy for her even when she breaks your heart with some gel-abusing, brooding older guy." Xander paused. "Wait, sorry, that was my unrequited love story..."
"Xander..." Willow said softly, sympathetically, remembering how hurt he had been in high school when Buffy had rejected his advances, had started up with Angel.
"Just, you don't have any control over what happens between Morgan and Tara," he continued. "Not yet anyway, and really, the only way that could possibly change tonight is if you drag Tara into a corner and simultaneously come out and declare your undying love for her. Are you going to do that?"
"No," Willow said, a mixture of regret, resolve and contrition.
"Then I think you just have to suck it up and be happy that Tara's happy and having fun with her friend. Even if it sucks for you." He paused. "That's what friends do." Willow nodded, and silence settled between them, the thudding music from the other room cushioning them. "You know I can't see you right?" Xander asked. "So if you just nodded, or shrugged-"
"Sorry, yes, okay," Willow apologized. "I know, I should be happy for her. Will, be happy for her."
"Alright," Xander said, sounding relieved that he had gotten through that relatively unscathed. "Now, one more thing before you head out there and knock 'em dead with your sparkling personality, cause I'm dying to know. How'd you get close enough to take Morgan's picture?"
She liked the shirt, Tara thought, trying to figure out if Willow was still in the bathroom, had made her way to the kitchen and found a conversation, or was just obscured by the large group standing next to the stereo between rooms. The blonde quirked her eyebrows and amended, at least I think she did.
Willow was so confusing. On the one hand, there was the staring (?), and the nervous finger twisting (?)... I mean, I know there was finger twisting, and I think there was staring, maybe because of the shirt, the touch, Tara thought. But then, then there was Xander...
He better not be hurting her, the blonde thought protectively, thinking back to the look on the emotional redhead's face when she was texting. Playing with her heart, the stupid, insensitive-
"Hey," Marissa said, returning to Tara's side with a sigh.
"Hey, sweetie, how are you holding up?" The blonde asked as she squeezed the gallery owner's arm, shifting gears into concern for her friend, and noticing with a little alarm that the frizzy haired woman had a pretty healthy drink in her hand.
"How do you think," Marissa moped, taking a sip of her beverage and making a face as the gin burned her throat. "God that's strong." The blonde arched an eyebrow and then smiled sympathetically when the gallery owner met her gaze. "Do you think I'm being insane?" The woman asked, her brow deeply furrowed.
"No," Tara replied honestly.
Marissa nodded. "It's just, I don't know why she would *want* to say hello to her, she treated her like crap, Tara-"
"I know," the blonde said, "and from the sound of it she wasn't too nice to you either."
The gallery owner shook her head, lost. "I just thought I was past this, you know, but I hear that name, see her and my skin crawls." Tara nodded. She knew what it was like to be betrayed, and could completely understand the gallery owner's possessive reaction to Michelle's cavalier behavior.
"You told her how you felt," the blonde said. "It's up to her to either respect that or ignore it." The woman nodded and rolled her shoulders.
"I think I need go for a walk." The woman rested her drink on the table, turned, and embraced Tara. "Thanks."
"Do you need company?" Tara asked sincerely, letting the older woman go.
"No, I think it's best if I just, go clear my head."
"Okay," Tara replied, watching as the woman nodded her head resolutely and then walked out the front door, her arms wrapped around her middle. I should have reminded her to get a jacket... Tara was pulled out of her thoughts with a hand on her hip. The blonde knew it wasn't Willow, the pressure was wrong and she wasn't tingling. She turned her head and saw a smiling Morgan. The girl leaned in and whispered in her ear.
"You were texting me while they were talking to you? Jesus- Willow!"
"What?" The redhead said defensively, confused by Xander's outburst. "I did it all subtle-like."
"Even if you did it all super duper sneaky-like- Willow, even the 'can you hear me now' guy knows when to put the phone away."
Willow paced in the hallway, her mind spinning. I didn't- "I only sent five messages. And only four when I was over with them-"
"One is too many," Xander said incredulously. "I mean, I know you yourself are practically bluetooth compatible at this point but whipping out the phone and texting during a conversation? Completely rude. 'Hi, keep talking I'm just gonna ignore you while I type out a message on my itty bitty keyboard.'"
"I was listening-"
"And I'm sure it looked that way when you were hunched over your phone."
Willow's jaw hung open. Tara, Tara- "You think that she thinks I'm all rude?"
"Well I think you're all rude. I mean, I know I'd avoid you if you spent all of your time with me talking to someone else on the phone."
Willow's stomach fell to her feet. "Oh my god," she said, alarmed, her face twisted with concern. "Why didn't you say something when we were texting?!" She snapped.
"Because I thought you were sitting in a corner behind a ficus," he replied testily, "not standing six inches away from the girl you're supposed to be getting to know."
"What do I do?" Willow said, panic seizing her.
"Apologize," Xander said. "And possibly invite her to a ritual sacrifice of the phone on the sidewalk out front."
"I have to go find her-"
"Noooo," Xander said, halting Willow mid-way down the hall. "No, bad idea."
"What?" Willow said confused, pacing back to the far end of the hall. "You just said apologize-"
"If it seems like it bothered her. You don't just go barreling over and apologizing for something if she didn't notice."
"You're dealing with women now Will, gotta think like a guy," Xander instructed. "Never admit you've done something wrong unless you suspect the other person knows, then you preemptively apologize so you look like a kind, sensitive Oprah-type."
"That's stupid," Willow said.
"Perhaps, but I can't tell you how many times I've gotten away with stuff around you and Buffy because I didn't... and I'm just going to shut up now."
Willow sighed, letting Xander's accidental admission slide as she leaned into the wall. "I just, I freaked, Morgan was there, talking to me, flirting with Tara and then it's all the sudden her house-"
"Look, I'm sure it's fine, she probably doesn't even care."
"Really?" Willow asked vulnerably.
"Sure," Xander said, and Willow looked around wildly, not reassured a bit. "And if she was bothered, just use your big Willow eyes on her. She'll forgive you in no time."
"Really." Willow nodded, and stood up, starting to walk down the hall. "Now just get out there, talk, smile, and try and ignore Morgan."
"What." Willow said, stopping just before she re-entered the big room.
"Thanks." Willow hung up the phone, turned it off and headed back out into the large back room, her stomach fluttering.
Tara nodded as Morgan pulled away from her ear, smiling. "Just, let me go check on Willow first?" The brunette smiled wider and Tara smiled in return. Morgan squeezed her hand, and Tara squeezed it back, walking away from the brunette and into the throng in front of her. She found the redhead surprisingly easily, her back to the room, looking at something on a table near the back french doors. Tara smiled, a familiar warmth returning to her bones. She couldn't help her body's reaction to the sight of those jeans, and she licked her lips as she crossed the room to the redhead. The blonde came up to Willow from behind, and placed her right hand on Willow's left hip, a gentle squeeze announcing her presence before she said, "hey."
Willow felt the hand before she heard the voice and she knew it was Tara. The redhead turned with a bright smile and brought her hand up, wrapping her fingers around the blonde's hand on her hip. "Hey."
Tara was surprised by Willow's return touch, and when she pulled her hand away from the redhead's hip, she found herself holding Willow's hand. "H-Having a g-good time?" Tara stammered out. S-Smooth, Tara...
A flood of emotions fought for Willow's attention at the question, yet the redhead couldn't help but respond to the expectant, hopeful look on the blonde's face. Don't hurt her feelings... "Yes," Willow replied, internally tacking on, now that you're here.
"Good, I'm- I'm glad," Tara said sincerely with a squeeze of her hand. Willow's hand was soft, but strong, her thin fingers curled enticingly around her own. See, she's having fun... and holding your hand... oh god...
"And you're having a good time?" Willow asked hopefully, taking a small step toward the blonde.
"Yeah, it's been good so far," Tara replied. She's still holding my hand... "You know, except for Marissa and Michelle."
"Right, that's, badness," Willow said. Let go of her hand, she commanded, her body not responding. "Michelle seemed pretty upset." Let go! The redhead loosened her grip and released the blonde's hand, bringing the tingling digits to her hip, rubbing her hand across the denim of her jeans.
Tara internally sighed, missing the embrace, and she said, "M-Marissa too." There was a slight moment between them, The Roots 'Break You Off' playing in the background.
Willow looked at Tara, and guilt washed over her for her earlier behavior. At the time, the action had seemed innocuous enough, but now, 20/20... If I listen to Xander, I won't say... "I'm sorry."
Tara looked up at that, noticing the conflicted, guilty look on the redhead's face. "What for?" The blonde asked, honestly unsure of what it was the girl was apologizing for.
"Xander," Willow said, Tara's brow quirking. "I mean, not Xander, I'm not apologizing for him, he's fine, well, stupid sometimes but- texting him. I'm, I'm sorry I was texting him while we-you, me, Morgan... while we were talking. That was rude, and I apologize."
"Oh," Tara said surprised, but relieved and grateful that the redhead wasn't completely oblivious. Did I seem upset? Could she tell I was sort of annoyed? Is that why she feels like she has to apologize "It's n-not a big deal."
"Really?" Willow asked, silently holding her breath awaiting the answer.
"Really," Tara said with a nod of the head, a slight half smile on her face.
"Good," Willow said, her entire frame relaxing in relief. "I just felt so bad, I mean, I know I'm technology girl and everything but- Rude is rude and I was well, you know."
"It's really no big deal, I just," Tara stopped herself, ducking her head and then looking back up. "I was worried, because you seemed a little upset."
Oh crap, Willow thought. She could tell, she could tell I was mad, uncomfortable about Morgan, no, cover- "Xander," she blurted, Tara's eyebrows raising. "He was being, stupid."
"Are you okay?" Tara asked, her face painted with concern. Willow smiled warmly, pleased with Tara's interest.
"You ready?" Willow turned her head to see Morgan coming up behind Tara, placing a hand on her hip as she came to a stop at the blonde's side. Willow looked down at the touch and then back up, slightly stunned at the interruption.
"Ready?" Willow asked, looking between the two women. "For what?"
"We're going to go get some air," Morgan replied, smiling at Tara.
"Oh," Willow said, taking a slight step back, wrapping her arms around herself. Tara frowned slightly, wondering at the girl's body posture. "That sounds good," Willow said with a tight, bright smile on her face. "Cause, air's, good."
"I have a roof garden," Morgan said pleasantly, "thought we'd go take a look at the stars."
Willow's stomach clenched. "How romantic," she replied, looking at Tara and then back at Morgan. Too romantic.
"Not really," Tara assured. "Just l-liked the idea of getting away from the music for a bit," the blonde said, wishing Morgan would drop her hand from her side. Willow looks uncomfortable, she probably feels like I've forgotten that I invited her, I haven't, just... circumstances... "It's no big-"
-deal if we don't go, Tara finished internally with a frown as she turned to take in a nervous Michelle. "Have you guys seen Marissa?"
"She went for a walk," Tara replied coolly, raising a disapproving eyebrow at the gallery owner's wife. Michelle sighed dramatically.
"I'm not the bad guy."
"I didn't say you were," the blonde answered calmly.
Michelle shook her head and looked at each of the girls around her, realizing she might have interrupted. "So what's going on?"
"We're gonna go up on the roof, get some air," Morgan replied.
"All of you?" Michelle asked, looking around the group. Willow looked at Morgan and Tara, neither speaking, and then turned to the gallery owner's wife.
"Not me," the redhead said, willing herself to not look at the blonde. Please don't go, she thought, wishing with all her might that the blonde would say 'I'm not going either'.
I don't have to go... Tara thought, looking at Willow for a sign that she wanted her to stay, to leave the party altogether... The redhead just looked at Michelle, and the blonde sighed. Guess she doesn't need me around...
"We'll catch up with you later?" Morgan said to the two girls opposite her, pushing a bit on Tara's hip to guide her away.
"Yeah, sure," Michelle said. Willow watched as Tara and Morgan walked to a door near the hallway, the brunette holding it open and guiding Tara through the arch with a touch on the girl's exposed back. The girls disappeared, the white door closing behind them and Willow felt cold. "I'm going to go get a drink..." Michelle grumbled, heading toward the kitchen. The redhead swallowed hard, and then quickly rushed into the hallway, her phone powering on and dialing before she reached the passageway's end.
"Okay, Tara just went for 'air' with Morgan on the roof," Willow said anxiously into the phone, her heart racing. Why did she go? Why didn't I say no, stay with me?
"Willow," Xander groaned. "You have to stop this."
"I don't think you heard me," Willow sputtered frowning. "She went-"
"For air, not hot monkey sex," the dark haired man replied exasperated. "Willow, what are you doing?"
"What do you mean what am I doing-"
"You're supposed to be her friend-"
"No, you're possessive jealous non-girlfriend," Xander said with finality. Willow stopped her pacing, her face falling as the statement hit. Non-girlfriend.
"I- I can't help it," she stammered.
"Well you're going to have to, Willow, she's not your girlfriend, you're not in a relationship. This, what you're doing is unfair to her, and it's unfair to you."
"Unfair-" Willow asked surprised, confused.
"You're acting like this is some sort of competition between you and Morgan, when in reality there is no competition-"
"Thanks-" Willow replied with bite, her heart shooting to her throat at the thought of Xander endorsing Morgan over her.
"That's not what I meant," the man sighed, trying to figure out how to say what needed to be said. "It's just, Tara doesn't even know there's a race. She sees Morgan, the favorite and that's it. She doesn't know that there's a dark horse named Willow coming up on the back stretch."
"Why are you sports metaphor man lately-" Willow condescended, still furious at Morgan for taking the blonde away, Tara for going, Xander- Wait, I'm not mad at Tara, I'm just... confused.
"You need to chill out." Willow's head snapped up at Xander's words, her thoughts back on the conversation at hand. "If Tara's going to hook up with Morgan, there's nothing you can do about it."
"But... I don't want her too," Willow said with desperation.
"I know you don't," Xander replied. "And despite every ounce of testosterone in me telling me otherwise, I don't either. Just, you have to let this everything-Tara-means-romance thing go until you're out. You can't do anything about Tara, romantically, until you are, and it isn't fair for you to expect her to be waiting for you when she doesn't know there's something to wait for." Willow exhaled sharply at that. "Be her friend," Xander instructed strongly. "If she hooks up with Morgan... it'll be tough, but maybe once you come out she'll see things differently."
"I don't think I could handle it if they hooked up," Willow warned, pacing again.
"You said Tara said they weren't dating, that they were just friends-"
"Willow," he said forcefully. "You have no control over this. They might be up on the roof making small talk about paint brushes or they could be making out-" Willow's face contorted at the image. "But all you're doing right now is imagining things, and hanging around and obsessively waiting for them to come back is just you making yourself sick. Go home. Go home and-"
"I can't leave her with-"
"Yes, you can, because she's not yours; Willow." Xander sighed heavily. "Look, take it from someone who's been there, okay... being her friend, being there for her when she's happy even though it might tear you up inside... it's the best thing you can do until you come out, until you give yourself a shot with her. Right now, I think the friend thing to do is to get the hell out of there so you don't fall apart when they come back inside. That would just freak her out and unless you're willing to come out tonight-"
"Xander..." Willow said, taking a deep breath, her eyes on the door. "I really don't think I could handle it if they got together."
"Of course you could," Xander said confidently. "Your heart might break, but you're strong... You'll be fine. Will," the man paused. "This is one night. One moment at a party, and it's not even a level playing field yet. No matter what happens for the rest of the night, just remember that you can't feel bad about this. Tara didn't choose Morgan over you, okay, she didn't choose at all because she doesn't know there is a choice. Okay?" When there was no reply, he repeated, "okay?"
"Okay," the redhead choked out.
"Okay," the man said softly. "Now go home."
Twenty minutes later Willow was a wreck. The party was going on around her, the music loud, voices hollering and all she could see was the door leading to the roof. She couldn't even remember the last time she looked away; not at her phone, not at Michelle when the girl had briefly come over to chat before Marissa showed and they moved to a corner to talk. Please, please come back, please-
Her breath caught as the door opened and Morgan exited, Tara right behind her. The redhead instantly inspected Tara's profile, the blonde was relaxed, smiling at the brunette. Morgan stepped into the empty hallway and Tara turned to face her. Willow's heart sunk.
Tara's bows. They were different. Tears rushed to Willow's eyes as she noticed that the ties holding together the blonde's top were no longer inexpertly looped. Two, perfect double bows. The redhead watched as Morgan quickly touched up her lipstick and then leaned to the side to look at the bows, giving Tara a warm hug and a brief kiss on the cheek after the inspection.
No, Willow thought, her chest constricting almost painfully, her heart beating erratically, her breath shallow. She quickly turned to Marissa, who was standing with a few friends at a nearby table. "Where are the jackets?" the redhead breathlessly demanded.
"I think Michelle said front room, by the doo-"
Willow was already dialing, the phone pressed to her ear as she ran off, Marissa looking after her with confusion.
Well, Tara thought, a bit dazed. That had been, interesting... She looked around the room, searching for Willow, failing to find her roommate in the crowd. She spotted Marissa standing across the room, and the blonde moved to her side.
"Hey," Tara said, brushing her hand over the gallery owner's arm.
"Hey," the woman replied.
"Where's Michelle?" Tara asked, looking side to side.
"Out back. Having a cigarette," Marissa replied tensely.
"I thought she qui- oh." Tara said, catching the unhappy look on the gallery owner's face. Okay, so all is still not well in the Marissa-Michelle household... "Do you um, do you know if she's with Willow?" The blonde asked.
"No," Marissa said, her forehead knitting. "Willow left. You didn't know?"
What?! Tara thought, stunned. "What, w-what do you mean, Willow left." She left, she-
"She took her jacket and went out the front door," Marissa said, noticing how the blonde blanched. "She looked upset."
Tara nodded, backing up. "I have to-"
"Yeah, go," Marissa said, nodding with concern. "She only just left, you might be able to catch her." Tara nodded, swallowing hard and crossed to the front door quickly.
"Believe me, I understand-" Xander said strongly.
"No, you don't-" an almost hysterical Willow said into the phone as she paced on the sidewalk halfway up the block from Morgan's house, the tears rolling down her cheeks.
"Unrequited Buffy crush ring a-"
"That's- This isn't some high school crush Xander," Willow snapped. "This is, love, real, true love and and I can't just pretend that I don't feel it, it's not going to just go away just because you're sick of hearing about it-"
"That's not fair-"
"Fair?" She yelled, "I just want you to understand how much this hurts, see what this is doing to me... I just, I," the sob came from deep within. "I can't stand feeling this way."
Tara came down the stairs, and looked side to side, seeing Willow pacing about fifteen feet away. The blonde swallowed hard again and walked toward her, wishing she had grabbed her jacket before she had come out of the house, the cold night air assaulting her bare back mercilessly.
"That's- This isn't some high school crush Xander." Tara froze as she heard Willow's angry voice shout into the phone. Oh no... Tara thought, her heart breaking in sympathy as the redhead continued. "This is, love, real, true love and and I can't just pretend that I don't feel it, it's not going to just go away just because you're sick of hearing about it-"
No, Willow... Tara didn't know what to do. 'Run in the other direction, give the girl some privacy', was her first thought but the pain in the redhead's voice... it nailed her to her spot. "Fair?" The emotional redhead yelled. "I just want you to understand how much this hurts, see what this is doing to me... I just, I," the sob came from deep within. "I can't stand feeling this way."
I shouldn't be listening to this... Tara thought sadly as she turned and headed back to the stairs.
Willow turned slightly as Xander yelled at her through the phone, and caught a quickly retreating Tara. "Tara." The blonde stopped about five feet away from the redhead, a guilty look on her face as she turned to face her roommate. Willow panicked. "How long have you been standing there?" She accused, her voice harsher than she had intended.
"What did you hear?" The redhead half demanded, half pleaded. Please say nothing, I don't want it to come out this way-
"N-Nothing," Tara lied, the only thought on her mind being protecting Willow's pride, her dignity. "I swear, I just, Marissa said you left, and I was-"
"I'll call you back," Willow said into the phone, hanging up abruptly and tucking the device into her pant's pocket, wiping the tears from her cheeks roughly with the back of her hand. The phone rang almost immediately and Willow and Tara stood still opposite each other, the ringing just louder than the dull thump of the party's music feet away.
"Are you going to..." Willow reached into her pocket and powered off her phone without checking the screen or looking away from the blonde. Tara nodded. She's embarrassed, probably feels humiliated to be caught pleading... "Are you okay?" Willow's face contorted and Tara quickly added, "I didn't hear- y-you just, y-you seem upset." The redhead swallowed hard, hugging herself tightly and she shook her head. "Okay," the blonde said softly. "Do you, do you want to go back inside?"
Willow shook her head. "I want to go home."
"O-Okay." Tara said nodding. "Are you sure, because-"
"I don't want to go hang out with a bunch of strangers, no," Willow blurted, her frustration adding an edge to her voice. "I'm sorry-"
"No, i-it's okay," Tara replied. Great, Xander probably stomped all over her heart, and then add to that her feeling like I ignored her all night; 'I didn't come here to be forgotten'... stupid, Tara. "I'm the one t-that should b-be sorry. I thought the n-night would be different."
Willow nodded silently, hugging herself more closely. "I'll see you at home," she said quietly, starting to walk past Tara down the hill toward Columbus Street to catch a cab.
"Wait," Tara said, reaching out and stopping Willow with an outstretched hand. "Let me get my jacket."
Willow frowned. "Tara, you don't-"
"We came together, we leave together," Tara said strongly. "Just, let me get my coat, say goodbye."
Willow swallowed hard and nodded, and Tara slowly pulled her hand away, turning and walking up the red-light stairs. The redhead ducked her head and took a shaky breath.
The ride home had been quiet. Tara didn't dare ask again if Willow was okay, and the redhead was afraid if she spoke she'd sob. "...don't fall apart when they come back inside. That would just freak her out and unless you're willing to come out tonight..." God, she was such a coward. Willow turned her head into the cab's window and she pressed her brow against the cool glass, watching as the city sped by. She was so close... but she felt hopeless.
They barely got into the house before Willow broke into a quick walk, and then finally a run as she took the stairs two at a time, closing the door of her room behind her and immediately turning on music to try and hide the sobs she could no longer keep inside.
Tara stood numb just inside the door, the aggressive music pounding at her senses from upstairs. She crossed the room slowly and walked quietly up the stairs. She could hear the redhead's wheezing sobs amongst the music and it broke her heart. Her chin trembled and she realized that she had felt this way before. When Buffy had told her of finding a crying Willow in a lonely bathroom stall years before. Tara took a deep breath to hold in her own tears as she turned down the hallway and entered her room, closing her door behind her silently.
Xander. Tara's blood boiled. She had never felt this much animosity for someone on someone else's behalf in her life. She hated him. Forget intense dislike, she hated him and she wanted to pick up something heavy, drive down to Sunnydale and beat him to death for hurting Willow. The girl sat on the edge of her bed and looked around her room, trying to figure out what would make the best murder weapon. Her eyes settled on an item on the floor and she nodded resolutely.
She would beat Xander to death with Mrs. Gordo, her cast iron pig that doubled as a door stop. The blonde sighed, the music switching to an equally aggressive, driving song and she contemplated going to Willow. Scooping the thin girl into her arms and holding her until she tired of crying and fell asleep. A tear slipped down Tara's cheek and she absently wiped it away. After a long moment's quiet contemplation, she stood, opened her door and walked down the hallway, her heart again wrenching at the muffled sound of Willow's sobs. The blonde stepped forward, and knocked softly on the redhead's door.
"Willow," the blonde said, not sure if her soft tones could be heard over the music. "Will-"
The music abruptly cut out and Tara took a step back from the door, hearing movement on the other side. After an agonizingly long moment, the door opened a crack, and Willow's red face appeared. "Is the music too loud?" She asked in a shaky, child-like tone and Tara shook her head, her love for the girl seizing her vocal cords momentarily.
"I'm sorry, for tonight," the girl said, dropping her head. "I ruined your night, I'm so sorry-"
"You didn't-" Tara replied, attempting to catch Willow's darting, downcast gaze. The redhead just nodded, swallowing hard and biting her lip. She looked up and then away quickly.
"I better get to sleep," she said apologetically. "I told Roger I'd meet him at 8:30 for breakfast."
"O-Okay," Tara said, certain that the redhead would start sobbing again as soon as the door closed. "I'm just down the hall if you need me," she said. "I'll be up for a while..."
"Thanks," Willow said, her voice tight. Tara nodded, and the redhead closed the door on her retreating form. Willow took a shuddering breath and pushed off the hard wood, walking to the other side of her bed, sinking down until she sat on the floor, her back heavily resting against the mattress. Her chin trembled and the tears rushed down her face. She had messed up. She had alienated Tara by texting Xander, she had practically melted down when the girl had come back from the roof... She swallowed hard at that, her mind flashing an image of the perfect bows through her mind. The girl couldn't take it. Her heart was too tight, her head throbbed. She pulled the phone from her pocket, powered it on and dialed. "Xander..." she said as the ringing stopped, her voice quiet and broken.
"I know Will," he said softly. "I know."