Willow's evening so far had progressed as though it had been drawn straight from every little girls' dreams. Getting to play dress up in the most beautiful gown, being swirled around in the arms of prince charming while the eyes of the entire room were on her. Any other little girl would have been on cloud nine.
For Willow however, it was a dream come true without the magic. It was meaningless posturing on the part of people who wanted to map her life out for her. Her mother seeking to show that she had raised the perfect potential society wife... her father, wanting to cement his business relations with a relationship of a more personal nature using his own daughter as currency.
"You're looking tired Miss Rosenberg, a bit peckish perhaps... would you care to sit down for a while?" Hugh lead Willow from the dance floor, his clammy hand still holding hers possessively.
Willow's whole evening had revolved around Hugh Carrington and his insufferable chatter. Being a very bright young man, Hugh was full of knowledge, witty one lined jokes... and himself.
Faced with his winning smile as he waited expectantly for her to tell him what she wanted Willow's lips curled up into a little one of her own at the prospect of making good her escape.
"You know what... Hugh, I really need to pay a visit to..." Willow dropped her voice to a modest whisper, "the ladies room."
His smile became somewhat forced at that point, "Yes of course, I'll get us glasses of punch."
Willow nodded and turned away with a smile, any gentleman with experience at this sort of party knew full well that a visit to the ladies room also involved powdering ones nose and gossiping with friends about the evening. As Willow fought her way out of the ballroom she didn't intend to do any of those things. She had only one person on her mind... a person who was probably at this very moment trying to avoid shrimp pastries.
With a little difficulty Willow managed to find the kitchen, mainly by following the trail of waitresses with empty trays. They gave her strange looks for which Willow wasn't surprised at all. She looked completely out of place in her gown, clearly intruding in what was obviously not her space. She stopped one of the young waitresses with a gentle tap on the shoulder.
"Excuse me, have you seen Tara Maclay? About this high... blonde, blue eyes..." Willow began her description, careful not to gush too glowingly about her girlfriend.
"Tara's in the kitchen," the girl replied abruptly. In cutting Willow's description short it was as though she was saying 'everyone knows Tara.'
"Thank you," Willow lifted her dress from the floor and hurried her pace a little.
If she had been out of place amongst the waitresses, it was even more pronounced in the kitchen. As though on cue every head in the room turned to look at her when she entered and Willow felt incredibly conspicuous. No matter how busy and bustling each person was, they all managed to look away from what they were doing and just stare at her. Willow smiled weakly, her cheeks flushing red beneath the combined scrutiny of the entire room.
Tara saw Willow almost as soon as she entered the kitchen. There was no way she could have missed her in that gown... or any outfit for that matter. Her heart gave a funny little flutter, as it always did whenever she laid eyes on Willow. Her first instinct was to run out the back door and escape any embarrassment... Well, that was actually her second, her first was really to leap the distance between them with her imaginary superpowers and seek out Willow's lips with her own. If only she were that brave...
She carefully laid down the tea towel she had been using to dry dishes and then made her way through the kitchen. People stepped aside to let her pass with looks of curiosity on their faces. Neither Tara nor Willow noticed however, they kept their eyes on one another. Entirely different thoughts were running though their minds, while Willow could only be pleased to see her girlfriend for the first time that evening, the thoughts running through Tara's mind were of a more sobering nature in the wake of seeing Willow with Hugh Carrington.
"W-Willow," Tara came to stand before her after what seemed like the longest walk ever, now she had to duck her head when she remembered Willow in the arms of the handsome young man.
"Hello stranger... can we talk somewhere?" Willow asked, the quiet tone of her voice doing little to hide her enthusiasm, "Only if you're able I mean...oh gosh, I should have thought to ask if you are allowed breaks... and I should have done so before we got to this point... and I should really shut up now."
"Tara," someone touched her on the shoulder when she had been about to put a gentle stop to the Willow-babble, Tara spun around to see the head cook, "You haven't had a break all night, go and talk to your... friend."
Tara nodded and allowed Willow to lead her out of the kitchen. Willow's hand brushed hers as they walked... intentionally? She cast a glance sideways to try and read Willow's expression but the redhead just wore a simple, unreadable smile.
They continued walking until they found a large, comfortable sitting room where guests could escape the noise of the party. Armchairs and sofas were placed throughout the room with only a few were occupied by quietly chatting couples or small groups. Though they stopped near a sofa tucked away in one corner, both Tara and Willow continued to stand. Tara was acutely aware of her black and white uniform, it was hard not to be when she was standing opposite Willow wearing organza covered silk. Tara folded her arms across her chest and tried to prepare herself for whatever it was Willow had to say. She had a horrible feeling that Hugh Carrington was involved somehow.
"I'm sorry I couldn't get away earlier but when my mother is conspiring against me... well, you have no idea how tough those odds are to beat. She's waging a full campaign and I wouldn't be surprised if she had absolutely every person in the room enlisted in her army," Willow continued to grin, although she was wondering at Tara's stance and her guarded expression, she probed gently, "I came to find you..."
"And?" Tara asked.
Willow lifted her eyebrows as though she thought her reasons to be plainly obvious, "And I missed you... all night I've been thinking about seeing you... wishing that I could be dancing with you instead of Hugh."
"B-but you should be dancing with him, I-I mean, it's good that you are... He certainly is a very handsome young man and..." Tara couldn't seem to force the words out without her stutter returning full force, "Y-you... y-you l-look great... t-together."
"We do not!" Willow protested indignantly, surprised to hear that coming from Tara as it sounded more like something her mother would say, "Why would you say that?"
"You're engaged!" Tara blurted out, a little annoyed that Willow couldn't just come out and say it without beating around the bush.
"What?" Willow's eyes bulged in horror, "How can I be engaged without my knowing about it?"
Tara saw the honest look of shock in Willow's eyes and her own mouth parted slightly when she recognised that expression. She knew that Willow was just as surprised to hear this news as she had been a few hours ago. She breathed a very relieved sigh as she felt her heart rate slow back to normal.
"So you're not engaged?"
"No!" Willow replied vehemently, taking the risk of reaching out and picking up Tara's hand, "But I wouldn't be surprised if Hugh asked my mother on my behalf... the two of them seemed to have managed my life behind my back quite nicely."
"Some of the girls said... and I just thought after seeing you and H-Hugh dancing..." Tara just needed to hear Willow refute the statement once more.
"I'm not engaged Tara."
When she saw the relieved look on Tara's face, Willow realised how her actions had impacted on Tara without her even realising. Her heart crumpled when she realised the thoughts that had obviously been running through the blonde's head for the past few hours. Willow sank into the overstuffed sofa behind her, not caring that the creases she had just put in her gown would probably take someone a lot of work to get out. She put her head in her hands and couldn't believe how stupid and self-centred she had been.
Tara frowned, she saw the look that passed across Willow's face and didn't quite understand. It was one of self-loathing, an expression she didn't think the redhead should ever have to wear. Not caring about the other people scattered about the room, Tara sat down close to Willow, taking reassurance from the fact that Willow didn't shy away from their thighs touching lightly.
Willow was the first to speak, her words reluctant, drenched with anger at herself, "Tara, I don't know how I was expecting this night to turn out... I guess I deluded myself into expecting it to be something out of a fairytale. I'd show up all dolled up in my silk gown, knock the princess off her feet and everything would work out wonderfully."
Tara couldn't help but grin at Willow's words and allow herself a small, light-hearted comment, "I'm a princess?"
She quickly wiped the grin off her face when she saw the confusion on Willow's features. Willow was in the middle of beating herself up, she obviously didn't feel that it wasn't the time for laughs.
Tara sighed in partial exasperation and cut Willow off before she could say anything, "Willow... tonight I was staring at you dancing and you were the most beautiful woman in the room... no, on the face of the planet... you knocked me so far into the sky that I don't think I'll ever be able to come back down."
"But I brought you crashing back to earth with the sight of me in the arms of Hugh Carrington looking all snugly-wuggly... I should have realised Tara..."
"Should have realised what Willow?" Tara's voice raised an octave for a few moments, peoples heads turned and she lowered it again but her tone was no less firm, "That you are the most gorgeous, eligible young lady in all of New York... check. That I'd be jealous if I saw you being touched by someone other than me... check. That you and I are from completely different worlds... check."
"Tara no, I just..."
Willow was again interrupted by Tara, intent on removing any traces of the guilt that Willow was feeling, "I may be from the wrong side of the tracks but I'm not stupid."
"You're not..." a vehement protest was cut short as well.
"Do you think I didn't know that in coming here tonight I'd be walking straight into the lions den? Coming here tonight, working at a party where the woman I love is one of the guests... knowing I would never be able to dance with her, or maybe even talk to her... no matter how beautiful she looks. Straight into my worst nightmare and my wildest dream at the same time."
"And I couldn't see that," Willow admitted, "I just can't seem to put myself in your shoes no matter how much I try."
"I don't need you to Willow," Tara placed her hand lightly on Willow's bare shoulder, caressing discreetly with her thumb, "You think I would pass up a chance to see you all dolled up like you are? You have no idea how much I enjoy just looking at you."
"If it's half as much as I enjoy looking at you... then I don't know how you can stand it because I hate every minute that I don't get to look at you."
Tara smiled shyly before looking a little more serious, "I just wasn't quite prepared for Hugh Carrington..."
"I wouldn't worry about him... trust me," Willow finally found her smile, trying to hide it at first before letting it spread and light up her eyes.
"You know what," Tara said stretching out her legs, "I think my feet are a little bigger than yours."
"They are not!" Willow looked down at her feet, trying to measure them against Tara's.
The girls shared a giggle before falling into complete silence. Willow was acutely aware of the hand on her shoulder, the feel of Tara's skin against hers. No matter how tiny the actual area of contact, it set them both on fire. Willow let out a breath, reaching one hand up to lay it over Tara's. Ever so gently she ran her fingers between Tara's knuckles, tracing a small path.
As Willow's fingers moved back and forth on her hand, Tara lifted her head so she could meet her gaze. Green eyes sparkled back at her, conveying both a sense of longing and still a hint of apology. When Tara looked into Willow's eyes she knew that she had forgiven her before Willow herself had even realised what she was doing.
So close to her beautiful redhead, Tara found she could barely restrain herself from seeking out those gorgeous lips with her own. She was acutely aware of her rapidly rising heart rate. She felt the organ thumping madly in her chest so loudly she was sure Willow could hear it. A shadow fell over them for a just few moments as a couple walked past but it was enough for Tara to re-realise where they were. Heat rose in her cheeks but she didn't turn away... she found herself unable to tear her eyes away from Willow's.
Tara moved her head slowly, lips coming closer to Willow's skin and yet to anyone walking past it would appear as though she were whispering in her ear. For both Willow and Tara however, it was something far more.
"I need you Willow," Tara whispered, "I just wish..."
Willow felt Tara's hot breath fall on her ear as she whispered and realised that it was pointless to try and stop what they both wanted to happen. They just had to find some place a little more private. Trying to keep her movements careful and graceful, and almost succeeding, she stood. Willow pulled Tara up with her, hand clasped tightly in her own.
"Willow, I'm supposed to be working!" Tara protested as Willow pulled her to her feet and started walking out of the room. It was very much a half-hearted protest.
Willow winked and Tara grinned, knowing full well that nothing would get her to go back to work now.
They moved away from the music and other sounds of the party, further into the house. Finding what she had been searching for, a cheeky Willow opened the door to one of the many broom closets. She pulled a surprised Tara inside and locked the door behind them. Only a thin trickle of light managed to sneak under the door, barely enough for Willow and Tara to see each other's faces.
"You're a bad influence Willow Rosenberg," Tara whispered in a sultry voice as Willow pressed her up against a stack of towels with her body.
"Me?" Willow asked with innocence dripping from her tone.
Their breathing was amplified in the confined space of the broom closet. It never failed to amaze Tara how just the sound of Willow's breathing could drive her crazy. Willow face was mere fingerbreadth from her own, she could feel the redhead's hot, fast breathing falling on her skin. Willow placed her hands on either side of Tara's head, smoothing back her hair.
Willow held her breath at the sight of the beautiful young woman in the dim light. Tara's eyes twin pools of blackness and yet still speaking volumes as to how much she loved Willow. It was when Willow saw this in Tara's eyes that her heart never failed to swell to bursting.
"Heaven help me," she whispering, nuzzling Tara's nose with her own as she spoke, "I'm so much in love with you I'm not sure I know how to cope, I feel as though my body wants to fly into a million pieces all at once."
Tara shushed Willow with a soft sound and just two words, "My Willow..."
She saw the flash of Willow's white teeth in the darkness as she smiled briefly. Then, without any further ado, Willow found Tara's lips with her own and smothered them fiercely. Sensitive flesh met, almost hard enough to bruise and yet neither wanted to pull back even a fraction.
The fierce kiss softened after a few minutes but it was no less passionate. Willow flicked her tongue over Tara's lips before nibbling playfully. Tara nipped at Willow's nose before claiming those soft rosebud lips once more, searching every dip and contour. A small sigh escaped her throat just before Willow's tongue entered her mouth. She responded by reaching out with her own, running it along the length of Willow's tenderly.
In the middle of one world, one where their love didn't belong, Willow and Tara created their own. At the same time that they returned home, they lost themselves in one another. There was no turning back for either of them... not for parents... friends... anyone
Willow sat between her mother and father during the ride home late that night. Her mother still appearing to be satisfied with her night's match-making efforts between Willow and Hugh. She cast little knowing glances at Willow every so often. Willow pretended not to notice as she didn't want to be drawn into a conversation about Hugh.
Ira Rosenberg noticed nothing of the tension between his wife and daughter. He smelt strongly of cigars and brandy and appeared to be drifting off to sleep right in the car. Every few moments he would twitch himself awake and try to appear sober before his eyelids lowered once more. He was snoring before they were half way home.
Sheila however was very awake and very much interested in how Willow's night had progressed. Especially considering she hadn't been able to find Willow for a good hour near the end of the night.
"I ran into Hugh after supper and he said he had lost you. You went to freshen up and did not come back?" Sheila probed gently.
Willow shrugged in what she hoped was a nonchalant manner, "Ah, I wasn't feeling quite well, I went for a rest."
"Yes... one of my friends said she saw you sitting talking with a young waitress for quite some time in one of the sitting rooms."
Willow raised her eyebrows and wondered why her mother had to ask where she was when she already knew?
"Tara," Willow said in what she hoped was a light-hearted voice, "It was my friend Tara whom I introduced you to the other week. She was kind enough to sit and talk with me."
"Tara, yes, lovely young girl. I find it so touching that you have made such an effort to be her friend and spend time with her."
Willow could not fail to miss the implications in her mothers tone and words. She wanted to angrily refute the image of Tara that her mother had in her mind but she knew that no amount of angry words could do such a thing... only time could do that.
Willow sank further back into the seat, feeling the heat rise in her face when she remembered Tara's body pressed against her own in the closet. She looked past her sleeping father and out at the lights that they drove past. If she didn't think about her parents... or Buffy or even the world she lived in, Willow was floating on a cloud.
It was only when she forced herself to remember that life was not a fairytale that it all came crashing back to her and she realised she had to do something about it.