Tomorrow, I'll tell Willow everything, Tara had decided resolutely... about one week ago.
She didn't know why exactly... The opportunity had never been right. Last Thursday, Tara had tried to tell Willow, but almost succumbed to a panic attack. On friday, Tara had calmed herself enough to try again, but Willow had gotten a phonecall from her mother and was upset all day. Saturday, Sunday and Monday, she, Willow, Buffy, Xander, Dawn and newcomers Faith and Anya had held a three-day camping trip, and Tara preferred to tell Willow in a familiar environment and in private. Tuesday, Willow's beloved and first angelfish Angie was found floating belly-up in her fishtank and she'd been heartbroken for two days. Aside from being busy comforting Willow, Tara didn't want to add to her grief. Thursday, Willow was recovering, but just as she had mentally prepared herself and was about to sit her down to tell her her secret, Xander and Dawn dropped by with a number of graphic horror DVD's and Tara spent the next six hours watching The Thing, In The Mouth of Madness, Wishmaster and Hellraiser, all the while feeling too frustrated to enjoy the films and, more to the point, the company.
Today would have been different. Though they had to prepare for Joyce's birthday party today, there was plenty of time and nobody was expected to drop by. Tara had been nervous the entire previous evening and had a hard time getting to sleep. Unfortunately, Willow had noticed that and had apparently decided to let her sleep late. When Tara finally woke up, it was already 10 o'clock and Willow was nowhere to be found.
She quickly got dressed, tried to call Willow on her cellphone, which was switched off, and trekked their favorite haunts in Sunnydale in hopes of running into her. No such luck.
Maybe, just maybe she was making excuses... Well, making excuses, combined with poor luck. She desperately wished she could talk to someone about this. Faith's advice was simply to go for it and see what happens, but Tara knew Faith would soon found herself in a similar situation soon enough.
Casa de Summers was ahead. Maybe Willow was here. She rung the doorbell, and was surprised to see Faith's head pop out of the open living room window.
"Hey, T," Faith greeted. "Door's open."
"Faith?" Tara asked while entering the house and found Faith lounging around on the Summers' couch, reading one of Dawn's teen-girl magazines.
"Hey, don't be so surprised to find me here, T," Faith grinned. "I'm Faith, the perfect daughter-in-law."
Tara heard Dawn coughing from the kitchen. "Hey, Tara!" Dawn greeted soon afterwards when she came into the living room with a sandwich.
"Hey, Dawnie. Is W-willow here?" Tara asked. "I've been l-looking all over town for her."
"Sorry, you missed her, T," Faith replied, "Came by to borrow some clothes, so I lent her one of my leather pants. Hm, pink lip gloss is teh hawt this month."
"It's not you, Faith," Dawn shook her head. Faith tossed the magazine to the table and strolled over to the staircase, calling up to Buffy. Buffy, still in the shower, called down that she'd be a few more minutes.
Tara noticed two things about this odd gathering in the living room. First of all, Dawn was looking rather tired. Second, Faith was wearing what she called her 'cleavagy slut-bomb'-outfit. Faith wore a red pair of very low-cut slacks, together with a tight-fitting sleeve-less black sports bra. Her clothes also showed off Faith's tattoos nicely. Tara knew that Faith loved tattoos and she currently had five: A tribal on her upper left arm, and a second, much larger tribal on her tailbone, almost totally uncovered by her low-cut slacks.
After earning her title of Harvester, she had a large tattoo of the Grim Reaper applied to her left shoulderblade. She had two more smaller tattoos, one was the mayan symbol of Death and Rebirth, tattooed above and to the left of her belly-button. Her last, small tattoo was that of the name Beowulf written in Elder Futhark runescript, celebrating her Danish ancestry. Tara never did have the heart to tell her that Beowulf was actually a Swede, though.
All-in-all, Faith was a gorgeous woman and Tara was reminded why she had had a major crush on her just after they had met. In the end, she preferred her friendship with Faith over any romantic relationship, though. Romantically, Tara just wouldn't have been the right woman for her. And it just might be that a short blonde girl with a spunky attitude would be able to tame Faith, Queen of the one-night stands.
Faith apparently noticed Tara was giving her odd looks and smirked. "Well, B. asked me to help out with her self-defense classes, so I figured I'd give her something nice to look at. Things between us are going so well. I," Faith looked away and grinned rather goofily. An rare sight on her face. "Yesterday, I told B. I loved her... and I meant it."
"Yeah, I know," Dawn sighed. "I heard the aftermath... half the night."
"Oh, dear," Tara giggled.
"Sorry about that, Brat," Faith chuckled. "Hell, I don't know who was more embarrassed this morning. Buffy for being caught or Joyce having to ask us to have sex a little less loudly next time. We're talking double lobster-girls here, T. Of course, it didn't help that Dawn and I were rolling over the floor giggling."
"The look on Buffy's face when mom asked that question was worth being up half the night for," Dawn giggled again.
"Hey, we've moved Buffy's bed to the other side of her room, and we'll keep quiet... quieter next time, Brat."
Dawn crossed her arms and narrowed her eyes at Faith a little. "I want a new nickname."
"What? Brat? Come on, it's a term of endearment."
"Okay, Skank," Dawn replied.
"Come on, it's a term of endearment."
"Okay, the point is made..."
At that moment, Buffy hurried down, greeted Tara and wrapped her lips around Faith's after whispering an appreciative 'Wow, you're hot!' to her. Faith winked to Tara when Buffy possessively wrapped an arm around her waist and led her outside.
"So," Tara started while she and Dawn waved at them and watched them leave. "Faith's going to help out Buffy with her self-defense?"
"Faith has no idea about the Puffy Suit, does she?"
"You haven't told her about the Puffy Suit?"
"Nope," Dawn smirked. "Serves her right for keeping me waiting outside the bathroom for twenty minutes."
"Faith likes long showers," Tara shrugged, somewhat enjoying the mental image of Puffy Faith being assaulted by girls with sticks.
Dawn led Tara back inside, offering to make her a sandwich. Tara politely refused, since she wasn't hungry... and not in the mood for one of Dawn's 'creatively mixed' foods. Instead, Tara sat down at the kitchen table while Dawn nibbled on hers. Bread, peanutbutter, cheese, jam and ham. The cornerstones of a healthy breakfast all rolled into a single sandwich.
"Dawn," Tara started. "M-maybe I ask you a q-q-question?"
"Sure," Dawn shrugged. "Shoot."
"Imagine a h-hypothetical s-situation involving two..." Tara thought for a moment. "Two c-characters in a story. Now these two c-characters are deeply in love and g-grow closer every d-day. B-but one of them is carrying a big secret... and... that c-character is afraid to tell the other. A-afraid that it might e-end all they h-have together if she d-does."
Dawn's eyes positively lit up. "Oh, you know about my latest story? Did Xander tell you? I sorta floated this idea to him for a story about a vampire huntress who falls in love with a mysterious guy, and the guy falls in love with her, but he's afraid to tell her he is, in fact, a vampire. Heh, leave it Xander to get the facts wrong, Tara. The hunter is the she and the vampire is the he, not the other way around."
"O-oh, of course," Tara replied. Finally a lucky break, Maclay.
"So, what do you think of the basic plot?" Dawn smiled.
"Good set-up for... t-t-t-tragedy," Tara kept her eyes downcast.
"Oh, it doesn't have to be," Dawn continued, chipper as she always was. "It depends on the nature of the secret, I suppose, but if the vampire-character treated the hunter character with nothing but love and kindness, and the hunter-character truly loves the vampire-character, then I don't see an unhappy ending."
"You don't?" Tara asked.
"Nah," Dawn shook her head. "I do foresee a couple of angsty chapters, though."
"Oh," Tara spoke, crestfallen.
"Hey, what do you expect?" Dawn smirked. "A vampire and a huntress and everything just being fine and perfect and dandy? But, in the end, true love always wins out. These characters are meant to be together, you know? Besides, it helps that the vampire-character never tried to eat the huntress."
Tara regarded Dawn for a moment and felt a smile starting to form. "Thanks, Dawnie."
Dawn took another bite from her sandwich and chewed. "For what?" she asked after swallowing. "You're helping me becoming a better writer. I should be thanking you."
"I should be going now," Tara smiled. "Willow'll be coming home soon."
"Cool," Dawn replied. "Oh, don't forget, the costume party starts at six tonight."
"Uh, n-no, I haven't forgotten," Tara said. Crap! I've been so worked up about this, I forgot all about Joyce's birthday party! What in Death's name am I going to wear tonight?
The doorbell rang and Dawn went to answer it. Dawn returned to the kitchen with her friends Cassie and Carlos in tow. "We're gonna hang at the mall. Sure you don't wanna come?" Dawn asked.
"No, thank you," Tara said, frowning at the Grim Reaper pendant the goth girl Cassie was wearing around her neck.
"What," Cassie replied. "Do you fear death? Rich, poor, gay, white, black... We're all the same when we're rotting in our caskets. Yeah, you sit around in your white-picket fenced house, slaving away for the boss. Death is coming for us all, and its not gonna care who you are or what you do. We'll all be together in the great void of nothingness that comes after a meaningless life of wanting menial, transitional things."
"Cassie," Dawn started.
Tara suppressed a giggle. What do you think you know about Death, Cassie?
"Don't worry about her, Tara," Carlos smirked. "It's friday."
Tara said her goodbyes to Dawnie and her friends and strolled back onto the street. Talking to Dawnie had eased Tara's mind considerably. Willow would understand, she knew that on some level. But she'd have to be very gentle and diplomatic about it. But she had rehearsed this conversation in her mind a million times, and she knew she was ready to finally tell Willow everything.
"Tara?" Willow called when she entered the front door of their apartment, but there was no answer.
"Baby?" she tried again. "Well," she spoke in an exaggeratedly pitched voice. "No one's here. Nope, completely alone. So I might as well get completely naked and slip into the bath, seeing I'm all alone anyway, so there's no one here to spy on me. Nope, I'll just be there, completely in the buff, never suspecting a thing... Wow, I sure hopes nobody sidles over to the tub to try and kiss me on the lips while I'm in there all nude-y and soap-y."
"You're really not here are you, baby?" Willow pouted a little. Oh, well... it would give her some time to try out her new costume. With the pants borrowed from Faith and the clothes she had bought just now, she was going to make one hell of an impression. She took the bags and walked upstairs, to the dresser. There, Willow undressed and slipped into Faith's black leather pants. She and Faith were roughly the same size, so the pants were long enough, even though she'd need to wear a belt.
Said belt was attached to a life-sized, though plastic replica of a 17th century rapier in the scabbard, after which Willow donned a striped shirt that was two sizes too small. A cloth wrapped around her head and a small black eye-patch finished the picture and turned Willow into a very saucy lady-pirate.
Though... a bit too saucy to her liking. The knot in the front of her shirt revealed a little more of her belly than she would like, so she quickly untied it and smoothed out the wrinkles.
She modelled in front of the mirror and liked the result. Secretly, she hoped Tara would wear a costume that would fit the time-period... a little role-playing tonight might not be out of the question, Willow smirked. Hm, pirates didn't wear tennis-shoes... Hm, didn't Tara have a pair of black boots?
Willow went down the stairs again to a storage closet where they kept, among other things they couldn't find a place for and a lot of their winter wear. Willow took out the larger things, like their vacuum cleaner, and went to search among the boxes for the elusive pair of boots.
"Ah-hah," Willow grinned when she saw the nose of one of the boots she was looking for, but as she bent down to reach for it, she supported herself by pressing her hand against the inside of the storage closet... and almost knocked herself out when a loose board gave way.
What the frilly heck? wondered when she inspected the loose board and found something hidden inside the wall. Something long. Some sort of staff?
Willow slowly pulled it out of the wall and brought it out, into the light of day. She was holding... a scythe?! Willow rolled it around in her hands. The curved handle was light, made from expensive fiberglass. The blade, folded in at the moment, was shiny and razor-sharp, feeling slightly warm to the touch.
Ouch, Willow withdrew her hand quickly. A small trickle of blood ran across the edge of the blade. Very sharp...
Was this thing left here by the previous owner? Willow shrugged and put it down against the wall. It was the boots she was after, not a scythe. Again, she dug into the closet reached for the boot. That was one of two, but next to it, she found... Tara's duffle-bag? What's that doing here?
She picked it up and zipped it open. Oh, my god, what a beautiful costume! Willow thought when she pulled out a silky soft black robe. It looked very expensive, with yellow runes stitched lovingly on the edge of the hood. To Willow, this didn't look like a cheap rent-a-costume, but a unique hand-made and personalized item that was lovingly taken care of.
Tara's going to the party as the Grim Reaper, Willow thought. So original! That scythe makes a lot more sense now. Oh, my, she blushed, thinking of a roleplaying scenario in which Death would come to claim a certain saucy pirate, and the saucy pirate needed to 'convince' Death to spare her life.
But she just couldn't resist. She took the scythe and the cloak and ran upstairs. She stood in front of the mirror and wrapped the cloak tightly around her body. Hm, nice and fluffy.
She clicked open the scythe and took on a striking pose. "I am Death come for thee," Willow said in a menacing tone. "In the end, all things living must feel my touch, mwuahahaha!"
And then, Willow put down the scythe and pulled the hood over her head with both hands.
Instant sensory overload.
Willow felt a terrible blinding pain through-out her entire body. Though it only lasted a millisecond, it might as well have been an eternity. When the pain subsided, Willow dared to open her eyes.
The formerly familiar surroundings of her home were bathed in a blue hue, fraying at the edges of the mind, seemingly swimming in front of her eyes. Willow screamed, but even the sound of her own voice sounded alien and frightening to her. Her head started to pound, while her lungs felt as if they were on fire. She looked at her own hands, but it was as if she was watching through somebody else's eyes.
The pain in her head became steadily worse, so she grabbed for the railing on the loft to try to support herself. To her horror, her hands passed through it... and to her ever greater horror, she fell through the floor.
The floor of the living room was approaching fast and she held out her arms in a vain attempt to shield herself. She slammed into it, feeling all the wind being knocked out of her. She lay on her stomach, clenching her eyes shut, afraid that if she'd move even an inch, she'd fall through this floor too.
Need to get this cloak off. Get it off! GET IT OFF! Willow thought as it was getting harder and harder to breathe. She tugged on the hood, but it would not budge at all. She yanked and yanked and yanked... No result.
Willow screamed again when she saw her legs were halfway in the wall and desperately tried to yank herself free. She reached for a support pillar and was relieved to be able to grasp it, finally starting to pull herself out of the wall.
Tara wondered why the door was unlocked when Willow was nowhere to be seen.
"Willow?" she called. No answer.
"Sweetie, are you in the tub?" she smirked and peeked into the bathroom. But Willow wasn't there. Tara shrugged and put her shopping bags on the couch. One of them contained groceries, the other a costume... well, actually, it was an old fur coat she'd picked up at the salvation army. Together with a broomstick and some work, it'd make a nice Eskimo-girl costume. It was just the best she could do on such short notice.
Tara felt the familiar tingling sensation she always felt when someone in an ethereal state was near her. There was a Reaper in the room with her.
"Faith, is that you?" Tara called, immediately knowing better. Faith'd never sneak up on her like that and, besides, she was probably smooching with Buffy behind the gym.
"Dad?" Tara called. "Dad, come out, this isn't funny."
"Donny, I swear, if this is you, I'll... W-willow?" Tara gasped when Willow appeared out of nowhere. She took a gasp for air and rolled out of a black piece of cloth and crawled away from it, pressing herself against the wall and shivering wildly across her entire body.
Oh, goddess... Tara realized what was going on. Willow had found her cloak. Oh, no... she... she wore it?! Without proper training and acclimatization?! Oh, Willow, no... I'm so sorry...
Tara rushed over to the girl she loved, but felt pain stab in her heart when Willow actually shied away from her.
"No!" Willow shouted through her tears. "Stay away!"
"W-w-willow," Tara started.
"What are you?" Willow shivered, then got to her feet. Tara was ready to hold her Willow, comfort her, make her feel better...
There were no words to describe Tara's pain when Willow brushed past her and bolted for the door.
She sank to her knees, tears running over her cheeks. What Tara feared so much had happened.
Too late. She was too late. It was all over now.
Willow sat on a bench on campus, resting her tired legs. She didn't know how long she had been running, or even how she got here. Everything in her mind was a blur. This morning, she'd kissed her sleeping lover on the cheek, made a quick breakfast and left the house... when she came back, her entire world had been turned upside down.
To say that she had thousands of questions was an understatement.
She'd experienced a panic attack and remembered only snippets of what had happened. She tried hard to remember exactly what had happened, but the shards of memories she was trying to piece together was like a trying to do puzzle without knowing how many pieces there were. The first thing she remembered when she thought back to what had happened, was feeling as if she walls were closing in on her, and experiencing the overwhelming urge for open air. And then... then there was the cloak.
Everything was different when she had put on that strange cloak. The entire world shifted somehow... No, no, the world remained the same. Is was she that had shifted somehow. But shifted into what?!
And Tara... How does Tara fit into all of this? I mean, the cloak was in her duffle-bag. That weird cloak must have been hers. Does... does it has something to do with her stepping out all the time?
Willow took a deep breath as more memories came flowing back. Oh, god, Tara. Tara was there, and tried to help me and... I ran away from her. A flash of Tara's lovely face twisted in a mask of hurt and pain made the crushing guilt come to the surface.
Oh, god, I ran out on her, Willow took a few breaths and sank against the back of the bench. Poor Tara, what must she think of me? I should go to her to make sure she's okay and tell her that I'm okay... And then I'll ask her about the cloak.
"Oh, Tara, I'm so sorry. I shouldn't have run out... God, Willow, you're so stupid. You're Cletus the Slack-jawed yokel. She probably thinks you hate her now and... wow, you're talking to yourself now too, Willow. Never a good sign. So, come on, Willow, pick yourself up, so we can see the woman we love and tell her we're alright."
"Tara?" Willow asked as she stepped into the living room. "Tara, baby?" she asked again. "I'm okay. Are... are you home?"
"Tara?" Willow asked again.
It was then that Willow saw her old beloved teddybear Bobby sitting on the table, an envelope sitting in his lap. On it, the name 'Willow' was written.
With trembling hands, Willow opened the envelope and took out a letter, written in Tara's delicate calligraphy.
Words cannot express how deeply sorry I am. I've hidden things from you. I've been deluding myself by saying that it was necessary, that it was for the best, but the truth of the matter is that I was afraid. I was afraid that you wouldn't understand. But, most of all, I was afraid that you would come to fear and despise me. And because I was so afraid, I never told you who I really am and what I represent. You gave me your everything, and even though I wanted to give you my everything in return, I hid things from you. And because of that, I have not only hurt you, but endangered your life today.
I have come to the conclusion that I do not deserve your love. And that I why I have left. I have only taken a few clothes, some personal items and two pictures. You may keep everything else, if you like. I've also paid two months rent in advance so you can find another place in the meantime. I so would have enjoyed living here with you, Willow. I so would have enjoying sharing my life with you. I'm so sorry things went the way they went, but please, Willow, believe me when I say I never, ever wanted to do anything to hurt you.
Please, tell the others I'm sorry, especially Dawnie. I think I love her like the little sister I never had and I'm sorry I won't be able to help improve her writing anymore.
I hope that, when you think back of the time we shared together, you'll remember the good things we shared fondly. I know I always will, now that the memories are all I have left of you. I wish you all the love and all the happiness that you deserve. And that is why I must leave you. I only hope you can one day forgive me and won't think too harshly of me.
I will never stop loving you, my sweetie. For always and forever yours,
Willow sat with her back against the wall, crying softly, her tears mixing with those of Tara on the paper note. Willow just couldn't understand what had happened. Things were going so well between them... they were going to be living together... deeply in love... romantic stuff... How could things change so quickly?
"Tara," Willow cried to an empty room. "Baby, I want you to hold me. Come out, baby. Just say it was all a joke. Everybody laugh at the funny joke. It worked. Hah. Hah. Hah... Prank over. Come out now, baby. Please? Please... Tell me your secret and I'll listen... Please? I... I need you, baby. I'm sorry I ran out... Please. I don't wanna be alone..."
But there was no answer.
"Oh, Tara... I love you... but did ever know you?"
And the irony of it all, was that Willow still had no idea what it was that Tara's secret was supposed to be.
Joyce's birthday party was in full swing. Buffy, or rather, Cleopatra, was busy serving drinkings to her mother's friends and colleagues that were gathered at their house, while Dawn, or rather, SuperGirl was playing D.J. Xander, or rather, Hercules, was flexing to impress Anya, or rather, The Statue of Liberty. Faith passed by, walking slightly hunched in a brown raincoat while waving around an unlit cigar.
"Buffy!" Joyce called over the music. "Willow's on the phone."
Buffy strolled over to the phone and took it. "Wills? Hey, why aren't you here yet. You and Tara been smooching in the tub again? ... Whoa, Wills, calm down, what are you saying? You can't find Tara? Looked everywhere? No... No, she isn't here yet. Why... Wills? Will? Will, are you still on the phone? Hello?"
"B," Faith said. "What was that about Tara?"
"Wills can't find her," Buffy said, her voice brimming with concern. "I wonder what's going on, she sounded very confused."
"I... I have to go," Faith said. "If Tara... I might be able to find her."
"Yeah, I know," Buffy nodded. "Will's out there walking the streets looking for Tara. I think we should try to find out friends."