Willow saw the briefest flash of terror in Tara's eyes just before she spoke. It was as though she had very nearly stopped herself from letting the words leave her lips at all. As she finally choked them out, Willow couldn't help but feel a sharp twisting of her gut when she heard the pain in the blonde's voice. As soon as those first few words were out, Tara bit her lip and ducked her head... a mannerism Willow hadn't seen emerge since their first few meetings. Willow wanted desperately to reach out and tilt Tara's chin up to meet her gaze. She sighed inaudibly as she knew she had to be able to give Tara all the time in the world.
As she sat staring at her tightly folded hands in her lap, Tara wished she had given into instinct and planned out what she would say in her head. Now she was sitting in front of Willow, the redhead waiting patiently but expectantly, and she had nothing to say. There were no words she could find.
Why is this even so hard... it's Willow, she loves you... I love...
Love... was precisely why Tara was having such a difficult time letting her story leave her lips. A part of her had never been worried that Willow would not be able to accept what she had done. Instead...
She finally managed to bring her gaze back to bear on those wonderful green pools of light. They were shining brightly now, boring deep into Tara's with an intensity that was not threatening but comforting. Tara let out a breath she had been consciously holding. Their love was almost tangible in the air around them, crackling with an energy that made the hairs on the backs of their arms stand up. When Willow gently ran her hand along Tara's forearm, her touch was electric.
No... she had never feared Willow's rejection. She feared how Willow would choose to act upon the news. Tara knew the redhead would do anything at all for her. What scared her the most was that she might be tempted to let her. She loved Willow dearly, but if she wasn't able to stand on her on two feet now... when would she ever be able to?
"I love you," Willow's lips moved, forming each word clearly and purposefully but barely a sound emerged from them.
Tara smiled briefly but as nervous as she was, it didn't quite reach her eyes. Too many thoughts were running through her head, taking up so much space she couldn't quite keep them straight. Where to start? She drew in a breath... the beginning... everything...
"I came from a good home... my father worked hard, there was never a lot of money but we had enough of everything to never really be wanting. I never saw much of him I guess, he was always at work so my mother was my entire world and my family. My brother, Donny, and I never got along well, he was always in trouble... he never listened to my mother, he even yelled at her once and made her cry. I hated him for that because she was such a good person," Tara paused and Willow could almost see the memories passing before her now distant eyes.
Willow imagined an older version of Tara and then infused her with the strength and compassion that she must have passed on to her daughter. She had never been so grateful to someone she would never meet.
Tara continued, light shining in her eyes for only a few moments before it was hidden by a dark shadow, "I had my mother, she believed in me and everything was good. Then she died... and everything changed. My father withdrew into a world of hate, his sole pleasure it seemed was to torment me and make my life miserable. His words were cutting... his glances like I wasn't even there, but most of all I was made to feel unwanted. My brother was out of control, a law unto himself. It was then that I realised how much they were alike, Donny and my father. I was rudely awakened from my comfortable little world when I realised for the first time what my mother had to put up with in dealing with them both. I wondered how she had managed to be so cheerful in that house. I couldn't do it... it was as though they had me in a stranglehold from which there was no escape. The trip to Paris with Giles was the only thing for myself I ever dared ask him for... I wanted to go so badly that I forgot how scared I was of him for just a moment. He said no so very quickly. I was so upset, the one thing I had asked him for, wanted more than anything and he said no just like that. He knew he was crushing my dreams and I had the sickening feeling that he enjoyed it."
Tara glanced away from Willow's now tear filled gaze and off into space. She blinked away her own stinging tears. Gulping in a few huge breaths, she managed to meet Willow's gaze again. Tears were rolling unchecked down her girlfriend's face. Tara had never thought anyone would ever cry for her. Nor did she think she deserved tears... but Willow's were so sincere. Tara knew what she was saying though them, your pain is my pain.
"I don't know how I did it... but... I left... I packed a bag and I left without a word to my father, to anyone. I lied to Giles, he would had never let me come if he knew my father had refused his permission. I can't ever go back Willow, I don't have a family anymore..."
For a few seconds Willow was speechless as she tried to digest the information in manageable chunks. Tara had left home... couldn't go back... she had no family...
"Yes you do... you have me! And I'm sure Mr Giles counts as well. I can't speak on his behalf but I'd bet you my entire Frank Sinatra record collection that he loves you like his own daughter," Willow held Tara's hand, stroking it with her own, "As for me... if you want love, absolutely every single little bit I have... it's all yours. It has been since the moment you pulled me out of that fountain."
"To tell the truth, I've never felt so loved in all my life as I feel when I'm with you," Tara admitted truthfully, smiling slightly at the memory of helping a soaking wet little kitten from the fountain at la Concorde.
"I can't believe your father... I mean, my parents hardly acknowledge my existence but at least they do their best to make that existence comfortable. I mean, I've never lacked for anything at all..."
Willow realised with a pang that their situations were both similar and different all at the same time. Neither of them really had parents in traditional sense... but who did?
"I always used to imagine falling in love with a dashing young man who would take me away... anywhere. In that place would be parties, chocolate truffles... and a lot of dancing. So much dancing that I would need a new pair of shoes every week," Willow realised how very immature that fantasy was despite the fact that it could very well have been her reality if she had accepted the offers of any of half a dozen handsome young suitors.
"I used to dream about my mother getting better... but after she died, I never dreamt anything for myself... I couldn't really..."
"Because of what they did to you?" Willow asked tightly.
"I-I... don't really know, I guess I just felt..."
"I don't understand how anyone could do that to someone, especially someone they were supposed to be caring for, I mean... Tara, how could you put up with it?" Willow felt a touch of anger creep into her voice, despite her best efforts, she couldn't restrain it.
"Willow, I didn't have anywhere else to go... whatever he did, he was always my father..." Tara felt Willow's anger and was saddened by it...
"And he had no right to do that to you!" Willow burst out angrily, her anger not directed at Tara but at Tara's father, a man she had never met... nor ever wanted to save to punch him on Tara's behalf. Willow looked down at her tiny hand, a fat lot of good that would do... maybe she could stomp on his foot or something.
As she balled her hand to make a small, but furious fist, her knuckles whitened with the tension. The thought of Tara suffering like that made her so uncharacteristically angry. Just as she felt she were about to launch into another furious tirade, cool skin came into contact with hers, soothing with gentle touches. Tara's hand closed over hers, fingers tracing the white knuckles, drifting over the back of her hand, running back and forth in circular motions. With some difficulty, Tara then prised Willow's tightly clenched fingers apart and slipped her own fingers inside her grip. Thumb rubbing across the back of Willow's hand gently. Willow sighed, feeling a little of her anger and tension ease beneath her girlfriend's touch. She leant her forehead against Tara's shoulder, nuzzling lightly.
"It's the past... and it's not going to do anything to try and get back at him for who he is. Besides, I haven't the slightest desire to even try," Tara knew she would not be upset if she never saw him or Donny again.
"What are you going to do?" Willow asked, her voice choking with tears, despite what she really wanted to say, What are we going to do?
"Well..." Tara began carefully, not really having the least clue as to what she was going to do. The last thing she wanted to do however, was make Willow even more upset than what she already was. It was all out of concern for her of course, Tara was touched but felt Willow didn't need to worry so much on her behalf. If there was nothing else she had proven to herself over the past year, she at least knew that she was a survivor, "Hopefully I still have my job after I tell Giles... and there are places I can board... I've heard there are some nice boarding houses... for young women. I'm sure that with my job and..."
"I'll help!" Willow burst in quickly, "I can tell my parents I need money for... art lessons... or something..."
"Don't Willow," Tara pulled back, causing Willow to lift her head.
Tara tilted Willow's head up so she could look into her eyes. Willow knew that Tara would never accept money from her and she sighed, "I love you, I just wish there was something I could do."
"You love me... you've already done more than enough."
Willow lent backwards against Tara as the blonde's arm snaked around her shoulders, resting their comfortably. She closed her eyes, trying to enjoy the moment but the unwanted image of her boarding a plane and waving goodbye to Tara crept into her mind. Tara and Mr Giles were returning to New York barely two weeks later of course but for Willow those two weeks would feel like an eternity. Two weeks stuck in New York at first didn't seem like such chore, it was what she had been doing every day for her entire life. Now however, she had something in her life which was worth more than any infinite number of cocktail parties or dashing young suitors... she had Tara. Being with Tara... in New York... her parents... friends... Buffy... Willow frowned, how was Buffy going to take the news? There were so many thoughts running through her head... she wrinkled her nose, it hurt so.
"Penny for your thoughts."
"That would be overcharging," Willow remarked ruefully before opening her eyes, she turned her head to look sideways at Tara, "I don't know... I'm worried I guess... about you... about everything."
Tara smoothed a hand over Willow's forehead, brushing her bangs from her eyes with a tender movement.
"Well then... you worry too much because I will be fine... and so will we," Tara remarked confidently.
"I hope so... I guess it's just that I'm so used to having everything handed to me. I know this is going to be difficult, I have no idea how difficult it will be. I guess I'm scared that I won't be able to solve it like a math problem or ask Daddy to buy me a new pair of shoes to make me feel better," Willow hated sounding so much like a little rich girl, "And yet at the same time I have hope, because no matter how difficult it gets, I know you'll always love me... as I will you."
Tara kissed the top of Willow's head lightly and steered the conversation away from the future and back to the present, "Are you all packed?"
Willow relaxed slightly and a small grin crossed her face, "I now have twice as much luggage as what I did when I arrived in Paris. Although I never did find a French guy for Buffy who would fit in my suitcase..."
"I'm not so sure she'd want one that small," Tara remarked in a mock serious voice, "I can't believe you're going to be back in New York tomorrow."
Tara knew that when she returned to New York, her whole world would be different. She was both terrified and curious at the same time.
"Don't remind me! I wish tomorrow would never come," Willow burrowed backwards, snuggling as deeply as she could into Tara's warm embrace.
"Tomorrow..." Tara exhaled close to Willow's ear, tightening her arms around her as though she too wanted to keep tomorrow at bay.
The last thing she wanted was to remain in Paris without her, she knew her own last two weeks in the city just wouldn't be the same without the bubbly redhead. She suspected fearfully that they were going to feel incredibly empty. Of course, Giles had realised this and had thoughtfully promised to keep her buried beneath a mountain of work so she wouldn't have time to miss Willow. She wasn't sure whether to thank him or not.
Tomorrow... managing to see things from a slightly more rational point of view than one inflicted with that deadly sickness called love, Tara realised that tomorrow would always arrive whether it was wanted or not. It was all they could do to embrace it. Tara smiled and whispered in Willow's ear,
"What about the tomorrow after that... and the one after that... then they'll never come and we'll never get to see what they hold for us," Tara stroked the bare skin on Willow's forearm, continuing, "You know what I love about tomorrow?"
"What?" Willow nuzzled her cheek against Tara's.
"I love the fact that there's an infinite amount of promise in the word 'tomorrow.' Before I met you I could never see it... now I can and I find myself looking forward to tomorrow because it's all part of a future with you."
Willow listened to Tara talk... the most beautiful sound in the world. She watched the stars appear in the new night sky, knowing with certainty that as many stars as there were out there... she loved Tara more.
But would it be enough?