Tara was perched on the ladder leading up to Ashley's bunk, she watched in silence as Ashley slowly drank her water. She would take a mouthful and then lower the glass, swallowing carefully in what was a cunning but obvious ploy to be able to sit with her mother just for a moment longer.
Even as she sat by her daughter, Tara felt her eyes burning painfully with unshed tears. Willow's heated anger... the door slamming so loudly it was still ringing painfully in her ears.
With a last, loud slurp Ashley finished off her water and reluctantly handed the glass back to her mother. She did not snuggle back down into the covers immediately and instead sat staring, a small frown crossing her face when she thought she saw a tear fall from her mother's eye. It was dashed away before she could be certain.
"I'm sorry we haven't spent any time together today kiddo," Tara whispered as she took the empty glass from Ashley, she lifted up the covers as an indication for her to crawl beneath them.
"You've been busy in the shop," Ashley replied with a sigh, burrowing back down.
Tara tucked the blankets up around her chin, "I know, there have been all these out of state orders and our suppliers can't keep up with the demand... sorry, too much shop talk..."
"You're always working Mommy... except for tonight..."
"Ash," Tara said in a cautionary voice, feeling her eyes burn even more fiercely.
"I like Willow!" Ashley said propping herself up with her elbows, mouth forming into a defiant pout, "You like her too!"
"You're only seven..." Tara began in soft tones.
"I don't understand," Ashley finished in an imitation of her mother's voice, "I do too understand a lot of stuff..."
Tara sighed and stroked Ashley's hair back out of her face, "I know you do honey."
Ashley had still not finished convincing her mother of her level of understanding, "I liked Jo as well... she was nice and you thought she was nice too because she gave you really good back massages...well, at least that's what I think she was doing to make you moan..."
"Ashley Diana Maclay!" Tara snapped, her eyes going wide with shock, "H-how... I mean, you shouldn't have been listening... And you've been spending far too much time with..."
"Faith," Ashley finished again, "I like spending time with Faith, she's not busy all the time like you. Does that mean you're going to make her go away as well?"
"No, unfortunately we're stuck with Faith," Tara replied more for her own sake than Ashley's, "You should spend more time with Giles so he can teach you how to be more like him."
"Ah," Ashley nodded, "So I can learn to be British."
"So you can learn some manners. Now lie back down... here's Bryson," Tara handed Ashley her stuffed dog and kissed her on the forehead, "Sweet dreams honey."
Tara climbed down the ladder, flicking the night light on before she moved to turn off the main light.
"Mommy, are you going to see Willow again?" Ashley asked quietly.
"I don't think so honey, now go to sleep," Tara started closing the door.
"Well I think you should see Willow again, she makes you laugh and Faith said you should see her again because you need to get laid... what does 'laid' mean?"
"Um... a... b-back massage," Tara mumbled and then immediately regretted it.
Ashley frowned, "Why don't you just get laid with Faith then?"
"Um... we'll talk about this tomorrow honey okay? Now good night."
"Yes?" Tara had almost closed the door.
"Why are you crying? Was it because Willow yelled at you?" she asked in a small but curious voice.
Tara had to choke back a sudden sob, "Good night Ashley," she said firmly.
Tara closed the door and started making her way back down the hallway but before she had gone more than a few steps she was racked by sudden sobs. She lent her forehead against the wall as she cried, tears falling faster than she could wipe them away. She didn't even understand why she was crying... well, it was obvious that Willow's words had hurt her badly and yet she was just as much to blame for being so cold without apparent reason.
But I do have every reason to distance myself from Willow... there's something within her... but it doesn't feel like darkness... and at the same time, it does...
Tara turned over and lent her back against the cool wall, she pressed her fists to her eyes to stem the flow. She did not understand what had gone wrong. If it had worked, Willow should never have been able to find her in the first place. Yet she had and as a consequence everything was going to hell...
Her cheeks feeling somewhat dry, she wandered absently back into the lounge where she found Faith lying on the sofa watching TV with a box of donuts propped on her stomach. The Slayer was watching reruns of Xena: Warrior Princess, crumbs all over her chest as well as on the floor. Looking not so much a mystical chosen warrior but rather a couch potato with the table manners of an infant.
"Who'dya think would win..." she asked with a mouthful of food, "Me or the Warrior chick? I reckon I could so kick her arse... as long as she doesn't take me out with that Frisbee thing of hers."
"You're in big trouble," Tara growled at the brunette, folding her arms as only a mother could.
"What'd I do?" Faith propped herself up on her elbows and tried her best to look like the innocent she was not.
"You open your mouth that's what you do" Tara said in exasperation before remembering to keep her voice down in case Ashley could hear her, "Can you please be careful what you say around Ashley. She picks up on everything she hears and..."
Faith grinned, not looking chastised at all, "Sooner or later you're going to have to talk to her about sex T, why not do it as soon as possible before she finds out from television..."
"Or you?" Tara raised her eyebrows and glared.
"You want me to talk to her for you?"
"Goddess no!" Tara said hurriedly, crossing to make herself another cup of coffee, "Where'd you go tonight?"
"Well, I came back and saw you grinding pelvis' with a particularly fine looking red head... a red head that, unless I'm very much mistaken, you said you weren't interested in... what's up with that T?" Faith winked and guffawed heartily, "Hey, my mission was accomplished, I didn't need to sick around and play matchmaker for you and Red... although speaking of Red, I see that's she's not here... which I get because you'd never put out on the first date... how did things go?"
"I am not interested in that horrible, foul-mouthed..." Tara stopped, since when had she ever been one to sink to that sort of talk?
Faith blinked and stopped chewing, "Whoa, I take it things didn't go as well as I thought?"
Tara related the whole story of her disastrous evening spent with Willow in a bland voice, right down to the slamming of the door. Although she did omit the way Willow's body lying atop hers had made her feel.
When Tara had finished Faith just sat there looking at her with her best sympathetic expression.
"Well, when are you going to call Willow and apologise?"
Tara blinked, "Why the hell should I apologise to... to her!
"Okay, you are fully aware of just who you're talking to here T?" Faith raised her eyebrows, "If anyone is qualified to say that you were into Red then it would be me... and you were into her! And it sounds as though someone put the Ashley excuse to full use yet again... and after I told you to stop bloody doing it!"
"I don't think so Faith," Tara replied sadly.
"Why the hell not? Swallow your pride!"
Has she seen through everything? "Because I can't... not with her, who she is... is it too much to ask for a nice girl?"
"In this day and age, yes!" Faith replied tersely, "Besides, I'm not nice and you let me take care of Ash."
"Something I'm beginning to regret," Tara remarked miserably, "This was a bad idea all around... I'm beginning to I think I'm socially retarded."
Faith set the donuts on the floor, "You just need to be able to balance the things in your life that matter to you... C'mere gorgeous," she patted the spot on the sofa next to her with a warm smile.
With a sigh, Tara flopped onto the sofa next to Faith and let the Slayer draw her close. Faith brushed her hair out of her face as she held Tara, the blonde's head resting on her shoulder.
"I don't think Willow's going to be back."
"What gave you that impression? The fact that you told her to leave or that she slammed the door on you?" Faith chuckled, "Damn I like that girl, you know, if you really don't want her, do you think she'll go for me?"
Tara didn't reply to that and nor did Faith expect her to. Instead what she did say made Faith raise her eyebrows.
Tara knew she had to tell Faith and as a result it would come before Giles as well and there really would be hell to pay. For both the fact that she had done it and that no one else knew what she had done.
"I'm scared Faith," Tara admitted in a small voice.
Faith swivelled until she held Tara gently by both her shoulders. There was a small frown on her face... even after six years she still did not know who Tara was. Indeed, neither Giles nor Faith had ever pried into Tara's past and nor would they until the blonde wanted them to.
"Why are you scared Tara?" Faith asked quietly, "Of Willow... of course," she sighed resignedly, "I'm sorry for being such an arsehole with my nagging. I shouldn't have teased you about seeing her again..."
Tara's eyes misted slightly, "No, no... not of Willow..." her voice lowered to the barest whisper, "And yes... I'm terrified of her. Yet, I know this doesn't make sense, for some reason I know she would never hurt me..."
"Have you forgotten what just happened? The whole yelling and the door slamming?" Faith demanded, "It's okay to admit that freaked you out."
"Of course I haven't but Willow's not the one to blame. It's my fault," Tara replied quietly, hanging her head until her hair fell forward over her face.
Faith's frown was steadily increasing as she completely lost the gist of what Tara was trying to say, "Granted you are partially to blame... but Red obviously has one mean temper on her... and now that I think about it I really don't want to leave you alone with her... ever. Although..." Faith tried to lighten the mood, "I'd like to be left alone with her and her temper..."
"I don't think she has a temper," Tara replied in a mere whisper.
"She doesn't? Tara?" Faith was well and truly befuddled by the blonde, "You're being very weird... okay, how do you know Red doesn't have a temper even though you've seen it in action and would you please tell me what way is all of this your fault?"
"It's what I did..."
"Tara... what did you do?" Faith asked in a low voice
Tara slowly raised her head and the blue eyes were liquid with unshod tears, her lower lip trembled as she fought not to cry, "A spell..."
Buffy had spent most of Sunday trying to reach Willow at home but all she had managed to reach was Willow's answering machine. She now found herself at the door of the red head's apartment, knocking once before entering as she always did. Willow's usually immaculate apartment was a mess. The dishes were piled high around the sink even though Buffy knew she had a dishwasher. Clothes were strewn in a trail from the living room to the adjoining bedroom.
There was a sudden scramble on the couch as someone moved to switch the TV off as it played something that sounded suspiciously like...
"You were watching the Sound of Music!" Buffy accused in an incredulous voice.
A rather pathetic looking Willow peeked up from where she was buried in a swath of blankets on the couch. Her nose was red, her eyes puffy as though she had been crying for quite some time. A well used box of tissues sitting on the coffee further attested to the fact.
Buffy moved closer to see a half eaten twinkie lying alone in a box where many more had once been. The blonde's jaw dropped and she stopped dead in her tracks at the state of her best friend.
"Okay, who are you and what have you done with Willow?" Buffy demanded, waving her finger in Willow's direction.
Willow pulled her blankets up over her head in a vain effort to make Buffy go away. Buffy was last person she wanted to see her like this... well, maybe not the last... There was another blonde that she would be quite happy to never see again... and yet she was the only person Willow wanted to see again. She suddenly found the blanket stripped away from her head and found Buffy kneeling in front of her, a concerned but confused looked on her face.
"Will, what on earth is up with you?" she asked softly.
"Nothing Buff," Willow replied in a strained voice, as though she were about to burst into tears, "I mean not nothing... I might be coming down with the flu..."
Buffy spied the remote lying on the floor and she quickly picked it up before Willow could stop her. She turned the TV on and predictably found the Sound of Music playing, the Von Trapp children singing their hearts out. Buffy turned back to face Willow with raised eyebrows.
Willow flushed bright red and reached for the glass on the coffee table. Buffy's arm shot out and intercepted her wrist before she could pick it up.
"I don't think you should be drinking alcohol in your state," she said cautiously, inspecting the bubbly brown beverage.
"It's just Dr Pepper," Willow protested plaintively.
"That's just as bad," Buffy replied tersely, "I'm going to make you a strong cup of coffee."
Buffy returned with two steaming mugs of coffee after having had to wash the mugs herself and find the coffee maker beneath mountains of dishes and empty take out cartons. She handed one to Willow and wriggled a spot for herself on the couch beside her.
"So, are you going to explain the junk food and schmaltzy musical fest?"
"No," Willow whispered, taking a scalding gulp of coffee.
"I don't understand Will... when I left you last night you were well on your way to scoring the girl of your dreams and now you look like death warmed up... what's the worst that could have happened?"
"She's making me go insane Buffy," Willow held the cup in two shaking hands.
Buffy looked around at the state of Willow's apartment, "Yes, you are insane... but how... and more importantly why? I haven't seen you this upset since you were given an A minus for one of our Academy papers."
"I can't explain it Buffy... its as though I'm being torn apart. Every inch of my being is crying out to just be able to see her and yet every time I do see her... everything falls to pieces. It's as though I can't think straight when I'm around her... I can't carry on a simple conversation and I can't keep my hands off her as though I'm some sort of horny... guy!" Willow angrily dashed away tears that had begun to fall.
"Did something happen last night?" Buffy asked softly, "Will... you wouldn't... hurt someone in any way would you..."
Willow choked back a sob, "God no Buffy! How could you even think that?"
Willow sniffed, "I yelled at her though... she hadn't done anything to deserve it... well, maybe she did. I mean, for a few moments I could tell she wanted me as badly as I wanted her and then all of a sudden she turned cold... just when Ashley walked in..."
"Who's Ashley? Her girlfriend?"
Willow shook her head, "Her little girl... she's so cute."
"Maybe she's just scared?" Buffy asked.
"Scared... paranoid... and completely irrational!" Willow blew her nose noisily on a tissue, "I hate her!" Buffy raised her eyebrows even as the vehement look on Willow's face melted as quickly as it had appeared, replaced by a look of complete confusion, "Hate... how can I hate someone I... someone I l-love so much?"
Buffy set her coffee cup down on the table before she dropped it altogether, "Willow," she said in a low voice, "Do you know what you just said?"
Willow blinked, staring at Buffy blankly for a few moments, "What?"
"You just said you love her... I've never heard you say that about any of your conquests before..."
"I so did not say that..."
"Yes you did, I just heard you."
"I don't love her..." Willow couldn't even sound convincing to her own ears.
At that moment Buffy's cell rang and she picked it up to carry on a brief conversation that consisted mostly of 'yes' and 'we'll be right there.' She ended the conversation and looked to Willow, wondering if her partner was up to doing anything besides feeling sorry for herself.
"What is it?" Willow looked up from her cocoon of blankets.
"We've got another one," Buffy said in a urgent voice.