Tara didn't remember much of the bumpy drive towards the hospital, first in the truck, and then later in the ambulance. She spent the ride in the truck in the back seat, her head cushioned on a warm lap- Willow, maybe? Someone was holding her good hand too tightly-Faith?- and the other had been hastily bandaged in gauze, and was being gently cradled by someone else. Her vision was blurry, her head hazy with pain, but she felt almost...safe. Cared for. She liked the feeling, despite the pain in her head, hand, and shoulder. And when someone kissed her forehead softly, she let herself slip into her own little fantasy where the lips on her forehead was Willow, and she was...happy.
Until, later, in the ambulance, a man garbled at her, dragging her back into a distant reality of pain and a damaged vision, but her head was so fuzzy, she couldn't make sense of the words. Was he asking her her name, her birth place? About her hand? She couldn't be sure. Willow stayed with her in the ambulance, clutching her good hand, and speaking urgently to the man when Tara didn't answer.
Vague recollections of warm hands patting her forehead, her cheek, her arm, among colder ones that gently examined her injured hand. Murmurs of condolence, her name in fearful whispers. She tried her best, she really did, but she just couldn't hold on any longer. She let herself drift.
But she always knew when Willow took her hand. The warm fingers twined with her's were impossible to mistake for someone else's, and, once again, she was happy.
And so she drifted.
Willow had forgotten how much she truly hated hospitals.
For the first hour and a half, she paced across the waiting room until a glare from the couple a few seats down urged Buffy to pull her back into her seat, and keep her there. She spent the next forty-five minutes curled awkwardly in her hard plastic chair, head resting on her arm, until the cramps of her protesting muscles forced her back onto her feet. She paced her way across the waiting room for ten minutes, then walked to the vending machine down the hall, not because she particularly wanted anything, but because the man sitting two seats down from Buffy, about four times her size, was looking non-too-pleased, and Willow really wasn't in the mood to pick a fight. She stared absently at the machine, not really seeing the choices, until an impatient young boy and his harried mother cleared their throats behind them. Willow turned, saw the little blonde boy with his wide, innocent blue eyes, and half-smiled. Cute kid. He'd obviously hounded his mother until she had relented and let him have a treat.
Willow mussed his hair on her way back to her seat, though she wasn't really sure why.
When she'd been sitting for two minutes, and was about to get up once more, she suddenly realized her aimless wandering was achieving nothing. It wasn't speeding up the clock, and she wouldn't be any help to Tara if she was a shaking, aching, exhausted mess by the time they were let in to see her.
If they were let in to see her. Willow sighed to herself, and slumped back into her seat, covering her face with her hands.
Dawnie cried a lot more than the rest of them.
Willow couldn't be sure if it was because she was worried about Tara, or if the whole accident had just shaken her up something awful. Buffy had to pull Dawn into a comforting hug when the doctor callously mentioned as he was leaving that they weren't sure if Tara would ever regain full use of her hand again, and Faith put her head in her hands and cussed under her breath.
Xander took Willow's hand in his own, and gave it a comforting squeeze. But she still didn't cry. She was too numb.
"God, I hate hospitals," Faith muttered, her voice muffled by her hands.
Anya, who had-wisely- chosen to stay silent, finally spoke up. "It's like communism."
Buffy's hand, which had been wrapped around Willow's in a silent reassurance, tightened, and kept her from getting anywhere near the other blonde, who was hurriedly being ushered over to the vending machine down the hall by Xander.
Willow used the heel of her free hand to rub furiously at her temples, trying to ease the beginning of a long and torturous headache. Buffy squeezed her hand again, but it gave her no comfort.
Dawn leaned past Buffy to look at her soberly. "Willow, I'm really, really sorry."
"Dawnie, just because you were with her, it doesn't mean it's your fault."
She was close to tears again. "But it is. I...I told her that you liked her, and then she got all quiet, and her hands curled up, and then she..." Dawn couldn't finish her sentence.
Willow couldn't speak either. She rubbed her eyes as an excuse to look away, though she was blushing. Then Faith's mumbled: "You gonna be Tara's bitch now? Gonna make all that pain in her hand go away?" brought her back down to earth and to the situation at hand, and she let out a small whimper.
Buffy's thumb rubbed soothing circles on the back of her hand as she levelled a dark glare at Faith. Finally, Willow had to pull her hand away; it was too much.
Willow spent the next hour or so staring blankly at the clock, watching the seconds tick slowly by as if eternity itself had come upon them until a different doctor finally came over to them.
"Tara's hand is looking better," He told them when Willow and Faith jumped to their feet to confront him, "She had to had quite a few stitches, and the wound was deep, but we think she'll regain full use in time. She'll just have to be careful, and take it slow. Rest a lot."
"Make T rest?" Faith murmured hopelessly, "What universe does he live in?"
Willow managed a bleak smile before she turned back to the doctor. "Can we see her?"
He gave her a warm smile that made her feel a little better. "Of course. Ask one of the nurses; they'll show you the way. Oh, and about her shoulder?"
Willow, already on her way towards the front desk, paused, and turned to stare at him. "Her shoulder?"
Faith shifted her weight from foot to foot, looking genuinely worried. "What about it?"
"Whoever placed the call mentioned that she'd injured her shoulder, and might have had a concussion. We checked it out, and it's only a severe muscle bruise, so it will heal, but, until it does, she might be in a great deal of pain. She had some scarring in that area, and-"
"Scarring?" Willow interrupted him, her face paling as she turned to look accusingly at Faith. "Faith, what-"
"Old accident," Faith spat, her tone short and clipped; she wasn't going to reveal anything anytime soon, and Willow could see that. She gave her a strange look as she processed that, and a part of her couldn't help wondering-and worrying- about what could have happened to make Faith so closed off about it.
"-so much that she might have to take painkillers. She mentioned that it had been bothering her since she hurt it; she should have had it checked right away."
"She didn't say anything," Willow whispered, feeling the worst she had in her life for not making Tara get a check-up. Feeling like a total selfish bitch. "Oh, I should have-!"
"It's alright; her shoulder will heal." The doctor cut her off with another understanding smile. "And on the matter of the concussion, I advise waking her up every two to three hours to check up on her at night."
Willow was in motion as soon as his sentence was finished. She startled the nurse working at the front desk by slamming her hands down on the counter, and leaning forward. "Maclay. Tara Maclay. What room?"
"Uh-um..well..." The elderly nurse fumbled with her glasses as she typed one-handed on the computer furiously. "314, but visiting hours were-"
But she was talking to thin air; Willow and Faith were already on their way down the hallway before she had a time to protest.
"I-I'm sorry, I mean, about before...?"
Faith didn't look at her. "It's fine. We need to find Tara."
"Don't go all knife-happy on me." Faith finally looked over at her, her face screwed up in a weird expression Willow could only link to concern mingled with reluctance.
"I'm not. Why would you say that?"
"Because knives are not my favourite thing in the world right now."
Willow's throat went tight. "Ha ha. You're hilarious."
"Keeping it real, I know."
A pause in their conversation, a few steps down the hall.
"Y...you really think she's going to be okay? I mean, really okay? To ride and stuff?"
Faith didn't look at her again, just put out a hand to stop Willow when they reached the room with "Maclay" labelled clearly on the whiteboard next to the door. They both took a moment to stare at the name of the woman they both loved-though in different ways- written outside a hospital room, and shivered.
Faith just shook her head. "She has to be."
She sounded so surprised. Faith smirked, but Willow was confused.
"Of course we came!" She hurried to Tara's bedside, kneeling so she could be level with her face. "God, Tara, I'm sorry about-"
"My hand? It d-doesn't hurt." Her favourite lopsided smile. "Really, I've had worse."
"So I've heard."
Tara shared a heavy glance with Faith, her ocean eyes full of questions, but Faith just shook her head. Tara seemed to relax a little after that. Willow watched their exchange silently, but decided not to say anything. Instead, she pressed forward with their conversation.
"I actually wanted to apologize for your shoulder. Why didn't you say it hurt?"
Faith, now on the other side of Tara, shot her a 'how-stupid-are-you' look, but Willow ignored her, concentrating on reading Tara's expression, which had gone uncomfortable.
"I-I didn't wanna...you know, w-w-worry you...?"
Willow took Tara's good hand in her own, and, for the first time, noticed the raised ridge across it. She frowned as she ran her thumb lightly over it- Tara stiffened, and sucked in a deep breath while Faith watched on bitterly- then flipped Tara's hand so she could examine it. The angry puckered line tugged at her heart for some reason; why was she in so much agony over the scar? It was probably a stupid childhood accident. But the thought of Tara in any pain, whether it be a paper cut or a knife wound, tore at her.
"Your hand...?" She looked up to meet Tara's eyes, surprised to see them panicked. "Tara?"
"Uh...um...Wire. Barbed wire. Trapped horse. That's it." Her smile was a little too relieved.
Willow's mouth pulled down at the corners and her eyes were sad. "You're an awful liar, Tara." She released Tara's hand. "If you don't want to tell me, just say it."
"I-I" -Tara's tongue felt thick and clumsy, and she scrambled for her usually perfect charade. Why was it slipping? She never slipped up, not ever- "I w-w-want to...b-but I...I-"
"She can't tell you, okay?" Faith finally broke in, her voice hard and angry. "So just piss off."
Willow backed up a little, startled to hear Faith so...well, angry wasn't really the word, because Faith was always angry, but...protective. Faith was being protective over...Tara?
"I-I'm sorry..." Willow's throat was tight again, and tears burned at the corner of her eyes. "I-I didn't mean to..."
She trailed off. She couldn't finish her sentence.
Tara's eyebrows pulled down; she was unhappy, but there wasn't a hell of a lot Willow could do about it. "W-Willow, I-I-"
"It's okay, Tara, I understand." A ghost of a smile passed over Willow's lips. "I'll just..." She started to get to her feet.
"N-no! Don't...don't go, W-Wil, please. Just don't..." She was almost begging, and she cursed herself for it. Her good hand lifted from where it was resting, curled into a first, on her blanket, reaching...
Willow paused, half-standing, and studied Tara's pleading expression. She slowly eased herself back down, and took the hand Tara offered. "I...okay, I'll stay, if you really want me to." She perked up at the thought.
Tara managed a half-smile for her. "Yes, I would," She said softly, so softly Willow didn't seem to hear, but that didn't seem to matter; Willow was too busy staring into her eyes to notice, and she was, unbelievably, gazing back like the love-struck fool she was. The electrical charge that had been running through them was back, but even stronger, and neither could tear their eyes from the other.
"Right." Faith got to her feet, and rolled her eyes. "I'll leave you two to kiss and make out." She rolled her eyes again when she didn't get an answer. "Okay, Tara? So, I'll just make a quiet exit while you let Willow rip off your clothes and have her way with you. Alright?"
Still no response. Faith let out a gusty sigh, but there was still nothing.
Finally, she shrugged in defeat, and headed for the door, muttering: "Love. Pfft."