"Okay, Jo, what? What do you want to know?"
"It's very simple Tara." The blonde waited expectantly as Jo paused for dramatic effect. "What are you going to do now?"
"What?" Tara was confused. She had expected an interrogation. She had expected Jo to grill her about what happened before the impromptu trip to the hospital. She had expected Jo to ask if she had gotten Willow's phone number or e-mail address or something. She had not expected such an open-ended question. "What?"
"She's here, you're here, you're going to see her tomorrow."
"It's not that simple." Tara sighed. "It's... she's... Faith."
"What Tara? What about Faith?" Jo prodded.
"Th-They're together, and I think F-Faith was cheating on her."
Willow could still feel the weight of Tara's body on top of her own. Her wrist and hip still tingled from when the blonde had half-carried her. When she closed her eyes, her mind was filled with images.
Tara smiling down at her. What a smile...
Tara's body moving towards her as she reached for Willow's bag. What a body...
Tara holding her hand to help her up. God, her skin...
Tara kneeling beside her, unwrapping her ankle, her concern evident in her blue eyes. So gentle... and those eyes...
Tara talking quietly with Dawn. Perceptive, kind... And she got Dawn to promise to eat something green of the vegetable variety. I bet she'd make a great mom.
Tara giving her a small hug and whispering into her ear. "I'll see you tomorrow Willow."
Tara tossed and turned most of the night, or what was left of it after Jo had pleaded, cajoled, argued, devil's-advocated, and lectured her about Willow and Faith. Now here she stood staring down the long hallway of a hospital, unwilling to take another step forward and unable to take a step back. She had been leaning against the pillar watching the oblivious redhead and brunette goofing off at the other end of the hall. The minute Tara stepped out of the elevator she saw them, and she would have stood frozen in place in front of the elevator doors had she not been jostled out by the gaggle of medical students trying to get out behind her.
Tara couldn't help but think about the roller coaster of the day before, seeing Willow at the concert, chasing after Willow, laying on top of Willow, holding Willow in her arms, watching Willow eat that pie... But with those images came the image of the redhead in Faith's arms, sobbing. That's one image I could do without... Tara had promised herself she would not interfere. No matter what was broken in the relationship between Faith and Willow, no matter how I feel about her, how much I'm attracted to her, I can't be that person.
She sighed watching the two girls laughing and playing a game Tara hadn't played since she was fourteen, and that one time was only because she was really, really bored. The brunette pulled her hands away, too fast for the redhead to be able to slap them. She couldn't help but smile at the redhead's pout as the shorter girl placed her palms facedown on top of Willow's once more. Again Willow tried to slap the younger girl's hands and missed.
"They're so good together." A voice behind her caused Tara to jump. Tara turned to the tired but smiling Buffy.
"H-hey Buffy. H-how's your m-mom?"
"She's doing okay, she woke up for a bit a little while ago. The doctor said she could come home by next weekend."
Buffy smiled as she turned to face Tara.
"Listen, Tara. I just wanted to thank you, for yesterday."
"O-oh, it was no b-big deal." Though Tara felt remarkably comfortable around the redhead, she still felt unsure about Willow's friends. Judging from their reactions when they were introduced the night before, the redhead had in fact remembered Tara and told her friends about her. Though what exactly Willow had said Tara was still not sure of.
"No big? Are you kidding me? You don't even know us, you barely know Willow, and you helped her, helped all of us. You got Willow and Faith here, and they're, they're my family."
Tara could only smile and she ducked, letting her long hair fall around her face.
"And I saw what you did for Dawn... when Riley was here." Buffy added, more quietly this time. She went back to watching Willow and Dawn, who were still playing the hand-slapping game, only this time with their roles reversed. "She, she really liked him. I still haven't told her the whole reason we broke up... that I, I caught him..." Buffy stopped when she felt a soft touch on her shoulder. She turned and found herself looking into kind blue eyes.
"I-it's okay Buffy."
Buffy bit her bottom lip, and after a few moments of silence, she smiled weakly at Tara.
"And you brought pie! I can see why Willow likes you so much."
"W-what?" But before Tara could say anything else Buffy's attention had already been diverted.
Willow was anxious. She needed some kind of distraction or she knew she would go crazy. Buffy's mom had woken up, briefly, and the doctor reassured them that she would be fine. Now here she was waiting, for Tara.
She and Faith had spent the remainder of the evening winding down after the long day, and both girls were in bed not long after they had arrived at Willow's parents house. They were in Italy and had gladly agreed to Willow and Faith staying while they were gone, so they wouldn't have to ask the neighbor to check the mail and water the plants.
Her parents were the last things on Willow's mind when she went to bed. In fact the only thing, the only person she could think of was Tara. Willow's fatigue had gotten the better of her, and she had fallen asleep fairly quickly, only to dream of clear blue eyes, long blonde hair, soft skin, and gentle hands.
When Faith finally got out of bed she found Willow sitting in the living room cradling a cup of coffee. The girls were quiet over breakfast, both still lost in their own thoughts. They dressed quickly, eager to return to the hospital.
As they drove to the Summers home to pick up a fresh change of clothing for Buffy and Dawn, Faith finally broke the silence.
"So Red, what are you gonna do about the girl?"
"Blondie, what are you gonna do about her?"
Willow sighed and shook her head.
"I don't know Faith."
"You like her don't you?" Faith glanced at her friend.
"But?" Faith prodded.
"But... But I don't know, I mean, what do I do? Ask her out? 'Hey Tara, you wanna go out sometime, for coffee, food, kisses, and gay love? Oh and by the way I'm going back to New York in a few weeks?' Uh-unh Faith, no way."
"Faith...I can't, I'm not like that."
"Like what Red? Like me?" Faith's eyes narrowed as she focused on the road.
"No! God no! I just, I can't, I don't want to push. I like her, but do you really think we'd get close enough for her to want to do the long distance thing in just a couple of weeks?" Faith let out a long breath.
"She digs you Red. There's no way in hell she'd have done that yesterday if she didn't."
"I guess... I just, I don't know." Willow trailed off.
"What's to know?" Faith asked. Willow sighed and shook her head again.
"California's a long way from New York."
The girls spent the rest of ride in quiet companionship, and when they arrived at the little house on Revello they made quick work of gathering the items needed by the Summers girls.
Willow stared out the window as they passed the shops on Sunnydale's main street. A display in a store window caught her eye and she let out a yelp, causing Faith to veer briefly into the left lane.
"Geezus Red, what the hell was that? Are you trying to get us killed?"
"Sorry." The redhead said sheepishly. "We have to go back."
"Turn around Faith, there's something I want to get."
The pain on her fingers brought Willow out of the flashback. Her thoughts had made her reflexes slow, and Dawn had managed to slap her hands before she could pull them away. Geez that hurt, why did I agree to play this silly game anyway? Oh yeah, a distraction. Willow glanced briefly at the wrapped package poking out of her bag and when she looked up she saw Buffy and Tara standing at the end of the hallway talking.
"Willow! Come on you're not even trying." Dawn's eager voice forced Willow to return her attention to the decidedly sadomasochistic game, which I am definitely going to stop calling it that because hello, playing with a teenager here.
After a couple more attempts at escaping Dawn's remarkably fast hands, Willow noticed Faith standing at the doorway behind the teenager. She caught Willow's eye and winked, holding a finger to her lips. At Willow's slight nod, Faith crept up behind Dawn, wiggling her fingers out. Faith nodded three and instead of pulling her hands away Willow gripped Dawns wrists just as Faith pounced on the younger brunette. Dawn squealed, trying to wiggle away from Faith's tickle torture attack, but Willow held fast.
"Alright what's going on here? You girls causing trouble?" The three laughing friends froze at the sound of a stern voice next to them. As one three heads turned to face find Buffy, who was standing next to them with her hands on her hips in what Dawn had dubbed Buffy's school teacher pose. The smile on her face and the glint in her eye however was enough to show the girls that Buffy was kidding. And before Dawn could get away she found herself victim now to three pairs of hands tickling her.
"Mercy! Mercy! MERCY!" The youngest girl finally pleaded through her giggles. The older girls stepped back, fully relaxing for the first time since learning Joyce was hospitalized.
"I hate to break this party up, but as Fun as it is to give you a hard time squirt, your mom's awake again. She's asking for you, and you B."
Buffy took Dawn's hand and the sisters entered the hospital room, shutting the door slightly behind them. Faith saw Tara standing nearby and gave Willow a wink and a slight nod in the blonde's direction.
"I'm goin' for a smoke Red. Think you can find something to amuse yourself while I'm gone?"
Willow glared at Faith, who simply smirked. She rolled her eyes and shook her head. "You're impossible you know that?"
Faith shrugged and winked again before making her way to the elevator.
Tara still wasn't sure what to do, so she followed Buffy partway down the hall, stopping a short distance away to watch Willow, Buffy, and Faith torture Dawn. Tara couldn't help but smile and relax a little at the sight. Had this been her first time to see the four girls interacting, it wasn't hard to see how close they all were to each other.
But when Buffy and Dawn disappeared into the hospital room, Tara's nervousness began to return. She was alone, in the hall, with Willow, and Faith. And the redhead looked slightly cross at the girl standing next to her.
Tara couldn't blame the redhead, not after what she had heard the night before. And as a grinning Faith walked by her, Tara had to fight to keep from glaring at the brunette. She turned to Willow, who gave her a wave as she moved to sit back on the bench behind her.
Tara smiled in return and moved closer to Willow.
"Hi." She said as she took a seat on the bench.
"Hey." Brilliant Willow. You have the IQ of a genius, the SATs were no match for your vocabulary, you're a notorious babbler, and all you can come up with is 'hey'?
Both girls stared at their hands for a few minutes before Tara spoke up again. "B-Buffy says her mom is doing b-better?"
"Yeah, she's woken up a couple of times. Buffy and Dawn just went in to talk to her."
Willow and Tara fell silent again, each girl nervous and oblivious to her companion's nervousness. Willow picked at the hem of her shirt, occasionally eyeing the package in her bag. Tara bit her lower lip and played with the cuffs of her hoodie.
Both girls spoke at once. When Tara gave Willow that crooked little grin, Willow couldn't resist relaxing just a bit. She returned the smile and glanced down at her shirt.
"Sorry. What were you going to say?" she asked.
"No, no, it's okay, g-go ahead." Tara offered.
"Okay." Willow smiled at the blonde and took a deep breath.