Author: TazRaven (Sara)
We took the side streets, walking the three miles to the train station in total silence. She didn't say a word. Whether it was for fear of being heard by anyone or her total disgust with me, I wasn't sure. Either way, I didn't break the quiet, scared that she would want an explanation from me that much sooner.
I knew what I was going to say, but that didn't make it any easier. The reason was simple. I'd needed a job, and pretending to be a man had been the simplest way to obtain one. But that was where the easy answers ended. Why did I kiss her? Did I love her? What did that mean? I knew those would be asked sooner or later and, considering the choice, I chose later.
Union station, although empty and desolate at three in the morning, was still beautiful. The marble floors and the stone columns were stunning, and the windows that filled the ceiling let in the moonlight, illuminating Tara in an almost angelic way. I pushed thoughts of her beauty aside almost as soon as they entered. Thinking about her in that way wouldn't help the awkwardness between us.
We passed through the main room, stopping when we reached the ticket station. Wooden benches lined the left wall, while several ticket booths lined the other. I motioned for Tara to sit while I bought the tickets. She nodded her head and sat down on one of the benches, her fingers interlaced on her lap. I continued toward the booth, stopping a foot from the glass wall that separated me from the sleeping attendant. Knocking on the glass, I waited for the young man to wake up, politely looking at the ceiling as he wiped the sleep from his eyes and the drool from the counter.
"Sorry about that," he mumbled, straightening the papers that he'd slept on. "Where ya headed?"
I smiled and told him I needed two tickets to Benson.
"Alright. One way or both?"
"Just one, thanks," I said.
"What time?" he asked, as he pulled out a folder.
"As soon as possible," I answered as nonchalantly as I could, then added, "Small family emergency."
He nodded and I handed him the money. "Alright, next train leaves in twenty minutes. Here's your tickets."
I thanked him and walked back to where Tara was sitting. She looked up as I approached, and for a moment I thought she was going to smile at me. She didn't. "Got the tickets," I told her as I sat down in the bench facing her.
"I'm going to go call Judith." Her clipped tone didn't elude me, but I said nothing, and held out a dime for her to make a call. She grabbed the coin, her fingers lightly touching mine, and walked to the pay phone.
I watched her make the call, knowing that even though it was late, we needed someone to pick us up from the train station once we got there. Five minutes later, Tara was walking back toward the bench. "You get her?" I asked.
"Yeah. She'll be there at around six," Tara answered, sitting back down on the bench.
I looked around the room, trying to rest my eyes anywhere but her face. I could feel her staring at me, her gaze burning my skin. "Tell me, Will. Tell me now."
I sighed when I heard Tara speak, and moved my eyes back to hers. She met my gaze, the confusion and tears I'd seen earlier no longer clouding the blue. "What do you want to know?"
"Just..." She breathed deeply. "Just tell me why you did it."
"I did it because I was homeless and starving and needed a job," I answered, my gaze leaving hers as I looked down at the tickets in my hand. "I would have died, if I'd stayed the way I... Looking like this was the only way I survived." My eyes moved back up to hers.
For a moment, I wasn't sure how she'd react, but then she nodded. Just a small nod, but it was something. Something that told me that maybe she understood, if only slightly. The train pulled into the station accompanied by the screech of brakes, and I stood up and turned away from Tara, still clutching the tickets in my hand. Before I could move from the benches, I felt a warm hand touch my shoulder.
"Turn around, Will."
I turned, my eyes locking with hers once more, the deep blue calming me beyond words. "I'm still angry, and confused, and very hurt" she said. "But, even though I don't like it, I get it. Thank you for telling me, and thank you for doing this."
She leaned forward, her perfume filling my nose as I breathed her in, and I felt her lips brush against my cheek. My heart started to beat wildly in my chest, and I fought to contain myself. "Thank you," she said again, before brushing past me and walking toward the train.
For several moments, I stood rooted to the spot in stunned silence. She'd kissed me. Me. Not Will, but me. The memory of her lips on my skin filled my chest with warmth, and I lifted my hand to my cheek, imagining that I could still feel her mouth there. The train whistled loudly, breaking through my reverie, and I remembered I still had the tickets, and that there were dangerous men with guns chasing us. I jogged to the train, following Tara into the car.
In almost no time at all, she was asleep, leaving me awake, looking out into the darkness of the very early morning as the train sped out of the city. After the night we'd had, we both could have used a nap, but I couldn't sleep. My mind raced with the events of the past few hours. Alright, truthfully all I could think about was Tara, and everything that had happened between us. And even though I didn't know what would happen between us now that she knew my secret, I couldn't help but smile. My mind went back again and again to the most surprising part of the evening. Not having Tara show up at my door, or Malone's men taking me, or even getting shot at. Tara had kissed me, as Willow. Not Will. My heart beat increased just thinking about it. It had been so brief, but something I would undoubtedly remember for the rest of my life.
Tara stirred slightly as the train shook, her head falling from its resting position against the seat to my shoulder. To my eyes she looked as beautiful as ever, her hair tangled with sleep, softly snoring against me. I felt the train grind to a halt as I breathed deeply, taking in the moment, before unwillingly deciding to wake her.
I leant my head down, my mouth right next to her ear, and whispered, "Tara." The action only elicited a grumble. I tried again, speaking a little louder. "Tara," I said. "We're here."
This time her eyes opened slightly, blinking away the nap. "Wassat?" she asked, her voice heavy with sleep. She lifted her head from its resting place.
"We're here, in Benson." My shoulder suddenly felt cold, and I longed to feel her head on me again. "Time to get up."
"Oh," she said, a pout crossing her lips. I tried not to smile. "What time is it?" she asked in a voice that sounded much more awake.
"About five-thirty, I think."
Tara nodded her head and stretched her arms above her head. The shirt she was wearing tightened against her, outlining her chest. I quickly moved my eyes to the floor. "We should get out there," I heard her say, a yawn lacing her voice. "Judith will be here soon."
I nodded, and stood up from the seat, then sat back down as a sudden thought occurred to me. "Tara, what did you tell Judith?"
"I told her that I needed somewhere to stay and that I'd tell her the rest of the details when I saw her." She paused, standing up from the seat. "Oh, and that I was traveling with a girl friend of mine."
"You told her I was a girl?" I asked, my voice dropping to a whisper as I pulled my eyes up to her face.
"Well, yes, Will. We needed somewhere to stay and to be honest, my cousin's a little old-fashioned. She would never have allowed a man to sleep in her house with me there."
I took a shaky breath and dropped my head into my hands, realizing it was the only way, but still nervous beyond belief. It had been half a year since I'd become Will Rosenberg, and the thought of becoming Willow again was nerve-wracking. Not only because I'd gotten so used to being treated like a man, but because if I was to be Willow again, I'd have to dress like her. "Tara," I said, my voice trembling slightly as lifted my eyes to hers again, "Are you sure there's no way I can still be Will?"
She shook her head, and for a moment I saw an undecipherable emotion pass over her face. But then it was gone, replaced by a small smile. "Sorry, Will, but Judith is still living in the 19th century." She paused and looked at me for a moment. "Will," she repeated. "Is that your name?"
I shook my head and sighed. "It's Willow, though you can still call me Will if you want."
She scrutinized me for a moment longer. "Willow," she almost whispered, and suddenly I was back in the club where we'd first met, her eyes locked on mine, and her voice making it seem as if we were the only ones there. I shivered involuntarily as my name passed her lips, then blinked away the memory. It was time to leave.
We left the car and stepped off the train, then continued to the exit. The station was much smaller than the one in Chicago, and not nearly as elegant. The building was made of wood, not marble, and the ceiling was just a ceiling, not a beautiful skylight. Dawn was beginning to show through the windows, signaling the end of the longest night of my life.
Exiting the station, Tara sat down on a bench while I paced the edge of the road. It wasn't long before a red pick-up arrived. I waited silently and nervously, picking at my fingernails, while Tara stood from the bench and walked toward the truck. An older woman who looked to be around her early forties stepped out of the vehicle and walked over to Tara with her arms spread wide. She wore a black dress and a white blouse, of which only the top I could see, as it was covered by a thick looking black jacket. Her dark brown hair was tied up in a tight bun, giving her pinched nose and small eyes an even more severe look. I silently thanked god that she didn't resemble Tara in the slightest.
"Tara?" Judith asked, "My goodness. Is that you?" Her voice was interesting, somewhere between a southern drawl and a Chicago accent.
Tara smiled brightly, and my heart skipped a beat. "It's me, Jude." The two embraced for a few moments, then pulled apart.
"My goodness, my goodness. A wonder what eight years'll do to a girl." Judith smiled and winked. "I mean woman, now." I smiled slightly as Tara blushed. "And who is this?" she asked, looking in my direction. "That girl you told me about? Doesn't look much like a girl to me," Judith said, making no audible effort to lower her voice, as she released Tara.
I smiled tightly and walked toward her. "Hello, I'm Willow," I said, holding my hand out. She lightly gripped mine and we shook amiably. "Sorry about the outfit," I gestured at myself, "I just came from a, um," I saw Tara's eyes grow wide as I struggled for an answer, "costume party," I finished.
She raised one eyebrow and regarded me with a critical eye. "Costume party?" she repeated, and I nodded my head. "You kids and your parties. Tara, I hope you weren't at this party," Judith said, spitting the last word as she turned her attention back to Tara.
"No ma'am," Tara said, her voice taking on a similar twinge to her cousin's.
"Well, good then. You always did have a smart head on your shoulders. No luggage?" Tara and I both shook out heads. "Well, let's get going then. I'm sure you two are bone tired and freezing. What's wrong with you two, not wearing jackets?" She didn't wait for an answer as she walked back to the driver's side. I opened the passenger door for Tara, waited for her to step in, and then turned toward the back.
"Willow," Tara said, and I turned around, wondering if my name had ever sounded so beautiful, "The drive is at least a half hour, and it's cold. Sit up here."
I nodded and opened the door, before slipping in beside her. The cab was warm, and I breathed a silent sigh of relief at not having to freeze in the back.
"Alright then, girls," Judith said as she started the engine and shifted gears, "let's get you home."