"No, really, Xander, I'm not going out with her."
There was a break for the others to respond. Willow had taken full advantage of Tara's offer, and called up her fellow friends to invite them to Christmas, only to discover that news of Tara had spread quickly. (She should have known; she might as well have called CNN; it would've had the same effect as telling Buffy) So that was how she found herself that afternoon, the day after lending Tara her book, sitting at her desk, cell phone pressed against her ear with her shoulder, typing away on her lap top while talking to her friends on speaker phone.
The next thing Anya said was so crude that Willow nearly dropped her phone. Her face flushed, and her fingers fell still. "Anya! I am not- Not funny, Xander! Control your girlfriend, or we'll have the house filled with bunnies when she gets here!"
Anya gave a little shriek. "Xander! She's mocking me. Make her stop!"
There was a brief muttering, and then Dawn was talking. "I wanna meet her, Wil. She sounds nice. Can we go, Buffy? Please?"
Willow smiled to herself. "Yeah, c'mon, Buff. You can meet Ril-ey." She sang the last word, tempting Buffy further.
"Who's Riley?" demanded Dawn, sounding piqued that she was not in the know.
Willow laughed. "Nobody, Dawnie. Umm...has anyone..." She paused, and swallowed hard. "Has anyone heard from Oz lately? Tara...she said he could come, too."
"Wow," Anya said, her voice sounded distant, "That's one generous girlfriend you've got there."
"Alright, enough, An. We're leaving. We'll be there, Will, I swear. Can't wait to meet your girlfr-Tara. Can't wait to meet your friend, Tara."
Willow beamed, even as she was indignant. "Alright, Xander. Riley and Faith'll pick you guys up from the airport; promise."
"Gonna score some alone time with your girl before we all get there?" Anya muttered.
Willow flushed, but didn't give a retort, as, judging by the sounds of a scuffle that reached her, Anya had been effectively evicted from the room.
Buffy took the line then. "Sorry, Wil, but we haven't heard from him. He'll probably be a no-show. Why do you want him, anyways? He'll just make you-and Tara- depressed. Besides, you'll have us."
Willow forgot all about Buffy's comment of making Tara depressed in her delight, and exclaimed: "You're coming?!"
From far off, she heard Dawnie cheer: "All right!"
"Sure, Wil. I wouldn't miss the chance to meet Tara when she obviously makes you so happy."
Willow's eyes twinkled. "Hoping to meet your Prince Charming in the form of Riley?"
Another insistent: "Who's Riley?" from Dawn, but Willow and Buffy both ignored her, too busy planning flight schedules. Buffy promised that both she and Dawnie, as well as Xander and Anya, would be there bright and early on the twenty-third of December. Willow glanced at the calendar, and saw, with delight and surprise, that the twenty-third was only a week away.
Finally, plans made, she bade her goodbyes, hung up, and went off in search of Tara to tell her the good news. She knocked on her door twice, called her name once, and when she didn't answer, frowned to herself, and tried the doorknob. It was unlocked, so she tentatively opened the door, and peered inside.
The room was empty. Huh. Tara must've been working with one of the horses, because Willow had been sure that both Faith and Riley had been out before placing the call, too paranoid that Faith would find a way to hear her. Willow decided her best plan was to wait, and walked in, carefully seating herself on the edge of the double bed.
Willow had never been in Tara's room. Whenever they were together, it was usually downstairs, or in Willow's room. Willow glanced around curiously, wanting to know more about the blonde who had captured her heart, who, Willow realized with a shock, she knew little about.
Tara had good taste. The walls were a dark red, to match the comforter draped neatly across the bed, and Tara had strung up lines of glistening white Christmas lights. Had they always been there, or was it just for the holidays? Willow wanted to know. Willow continued her search without actually prying. There was a lap top on the desk, and Willow was sorely tempted to try and hack on, but decided against it.
On the nightstand was her book. Willow picked it up carefully, and flipped open to the bookmark, amazed that Tara was already so far after one night. She was either a fast reader, or had stayed up late.
When she saw where Tara was, her face flushed, and she quickly snapped the book shut, returning it to its place on the nightstand. Oh, god. No wonder she hadn't seen her all night. She covered her face with her hands, flushing red with mortification.
It took her a long time to calm down. Tara still hadn't returned, so Willow poked a little further. By the bed was a bookshelf similar to her's, stuffed full, and across the bottom row was an array of photo albums. Willow, after a furtive glance over her shoulder, pulled the first one off the shelf, curious.
It took her a long time to flip through it, captivated with the pictures. Not only was Tara big on photography, like herself, but she also had the patience to put it all into a beautiful book for her to remember. The one Willow held in her lap, she assumed, had been done by her mother, considering it consisted solely of pictures of Tara as a baby, then a toddler.
Even then she was gorgeous, Willow mused to herself, pleased to see that Tara took after her mother in looks. Tara hadn't mentioned her often- just once, to say she had passed away when Tara needed her the most, and that she missed her a lot.
Finally, she slipped the album back on the shelf, and then yanked the last one, the most recent one, she was hoping, off, opening it and settling it in her lap.
She flipped through a few pages, and was shocked- and pleased- to find they were all of her...her and Tara, Faith, and Riley, but mostly of her. Tara had dedicated a lot of time to it; each cut was perfect, each page decorated fully with little ornaments, and there were pages of just Tara's neat, loopy handwriting. Journals, maybe? Willow frowned, and, even though she knew she shouldn't, bent closer to read the first page...
And then slammed it shut when a quiet voice made her jump, fumble with the album, and nearly drop it.
Willow's face, neck, and ears went red when she saw Tara standing in the doorway, her whole face pink, clad only in a towel wrapped around her, which she automatically gripped closer when she saw Willow.
"Oh, my god, Tara, I am so sorry! I was just waiting for you to come back to tell you that..." Willow briefly lost her train of thought at the sight of Tara standing there, dripping, and looking so vulnerable...
No. Willow gave herself a mental shake. Now was not the time. "S-sorry, I'll just..." She started to slip past Tara, but when her shoulder brushed Tara's- flesh rippling at the contact- and she winced, she stopped automatically to apologize, and then gasped in horror at what she saw.
"Tara, oh, god, what happened?" She forgot all about Tara being almost-naked next to her, that train of thought interrupted by the sight of the large, purple bruise that dominated the smooth expanse of Tara's right shoulder blade, marring the creamy- Willow, don't get sidetracked!- skin. "Oh, god," She repeated softly when she saw the ugly red scratches covering the entire bruise.
Tara's shoulders hunched, almost as if Willow had physically jabbed her in the back. "I-it's nothing, W-W-Wil. J-just an a-accident."
"Just an accident?!" Willow repeated in disbelief, staring at her incredulously, though Tara still hadn't turned around to meet her gaze. "Tara, it's awful!"
She hunched further, as if trying to hide from Willow's words. "I-it's j-just..." She didn't finish her sentence, instead turning to face Willow, taking a deep breath. "It's nothing. It was just an accident; I fell off Noel, okay? Nothing big. It's not broken."
"A-are you sure?" Willow, of course, was distracted as soon as Tara turned around, but managed to keep her mind on the right course, biting her lower lip in her distress. "It looks..."
"W-w-way worse, I know. B-but it's nothing, o-okay?"
"If you say so." Willow was not convinced, but her brain was getting too hazy from the sight of Tara, and she knew it wasn't long before she turned into a babbling imbecile. "D-do you want anything?"
Tara paused a moment to consider. "U-um...an herbal tea would be nice. And W-Wil?"
Willow, already turning to rush down the stairs to make the tea, paused, and looked over her shoulder. "Yeah?"
"P-please don't say anything...to Faith or R-Riley...okay? I don't w-want them to w-w-worry." Her face was chagrined; obviously Willow wasn't supposed to find out, either.
"Of course," Willow said with a warm smile, and then scurried down the stairs, still in a trance, and still half in shock at the sight of the horrible bruise. She barely avoided Faith, seated on the bottom step with a beer in hand- Faith had a weird love for sitting on stairs- and the leg that was placed purposefully in her path. Normally, she would have tripped, but she dodged around it automatically, making a bee-line for the kitchen.
Faith was silent for a long moment, watching her put the old-fashioned kettle on the stove to boil while dashing around the kitchen, grabbing a mug, and a package of herbal tea.
"What's your beef?" She finally asked, bewildered by the strange frenzy Willow was in.
Willow didn't answer until she had dumped the herbal tea powder into the cup. "Nothing," She answered unconvincingly as she drummed her fingers on the counter impatiently, waiting for the water to boil.
"Uh...huh. What's got you all freaked, Red?" Faith took a long pull from her beer, studying Willow silently for a moment before it finally dawned on her, and she stood up abruptly. "What happened?"
"Huh? I don't know what you're talking about. I'm just making tea, uh huh, that's all..." Willow had never been good with lying, a fact that was emphasized at that moment. She kept her back to Faith, and prayed she wouldn't notice.
But Faith knew a liar when she saw one. She strode over to Willow, dropping her beer in the sink- it shattered upon contact- and grabbed her arm, spinning her around. "What happened to Tara?! If you did anything, Willow, I swear-!"
"Nothing happened!" Willow yanked her arm away. "And, considering I am your boss, you are in no position to be making threats."
Faith was silent again, studying Willow's expression. "Screw you," She spat, then spun on her heel, and made a break for the stairs- no doubt straight for Tara.
"Crap," Willow whimpered as soon as she was out of sight. The kettle whistled sharply, and, a half a minute later, Willow was following Faith's path- at a much slower pace- up the stairs, and towards Tara's room. The door was open only a crack, and she could hear angry voices coming from it. Hesitating only a minute, Willow knocked, and then pushed the door open.
"Tara? I brought your-"
Her whole body froze, and her eyes went wide. Even as she flushed with mortification, Willow couldn't bring herself to move from where she was, rooted to the spot, in the doorway, her eyes locked with Tara's.
"Eeep!" She squeaked; it was all she could manage to get out as an apology.
Tara was just as mortified, considering she was standing in front of the woman of her dreams in with only a bra to cover her top half, having removed her shirt on Faith's insistence to see her bruise.
There was a long moment of strained silence as Willow struggled to tear her eyes away. It was only when Faith stepped in front of her, blocking her line of view, grabbed the mug, and barked: "Oy, Red! Stop ogling at my best friend's chest, and get out!"
Willow blushed a deeper red- if that was possible- and turned quickly.
"God, Tara, I'm-"
"Out!" Faith repeated fiercely, giving her a shove, and then slamming the door in her face. As much as Willow hated the way she was being treated by her employee, she was also grateful. If Faith hadn't been there...Willow was afraid to even think about what she would have done.
She scrambled to her feet, still mortified, and darted down the hall until she was in the safety of her own room, the door slammed shut and locked behind her. She fell to her knees next to the bed, still hyperventilating.
Oh, god. Oh, god, oh god, oh god. I just saw Tara half naked. I just saw her...and she didn't cover up! She must've thought I was such a freak! Oh, god, oh god, oh god...
It took a few solid minutes of hyperventilating before she managed to calm down enough to think coherently and banish the embarrassing moment to the back of her mind. Right. The first thing she needed to do was apologize to Tara, then promise to never speak to her again because she didn't deserve it, and she was sure Tara wouldn't want to, either. Not after two embarrassing encounters where Tara happened to be half-naked in both.
Way to woo a girl, Wil, She thought bitterly, and then the whole predicament resurfaced, and she flushed beet red.
Scratch her earlier thought. The first thing she needed to do was take a cold, cold shower.