Willow is sitting on the dark red couch and staring at her boots. The room reminds of her of the day with the computer long ago, the day when the puzzles in her mind had locked into something useful. The day she had joined the people of the Base and done something for them, the day she found her place.
For the past day and night she has been tested by Tobias and Alide in the magic rooms. They have given her books to translate, spells to interpret, puzzles to solve. She has scratched out answers with inky fingers; fought the tired haze of her mind to recall long lost translations; spent hours identifying and attempting to channel with unknown crystals. All the time she could feel the touch of their minds with hers, the slight push at the edge of her consciousness that hinted at their presence.
And now, what she thought was her place is gone, her stability lost. She couldn't fathom the tests, couldn't see what she was supposed to find or do. For the first time, she has left puzzles unsolved, unrecognised even. Her mind feels terribly cramped, any trace of magic gone, any trace of understanding vanished.
Willow feels young, she feels tiny. The great doubt she had forgotten when Virid befriended her has crept back into her chest, the hazy panic of childhood has returned with sharp edges. Her face pales in the dark as she begins to remember....
Looking up, Willow sees Tara, sees the brightness of her hair in the dark room and hears the softness returned to her voice. She smiles as the taller woman moves towards the couch and her own thoughts halt their dangerous reminiscence.
'Do they want me to go through again?' Willow asks.
'N...No.' Tara's voice is low and tired, tense.
'Do you know when...?' Willow's question trails out as Tara shakes her head.
Willow's eyes shine green in the gloom despite the negative answer, her trust falling into Tara. She waits for an explanation, but none arrives. Eventually, she returns to staring at her boots as the shadows in the room grow deeper. While the darkness spreads, a heavy silence grows between the two women.
'Sorry,' Tara's apology is infinitely quiet but squeezes a whole spectrum of meaning into a little word.
It is enough for Willow, more than enough. The kindness of Tara's voice wriggles into her heart, pushes into her tired confusion and releases the tight grip of her worry. Before she realises, her eyes are full of tears, her voice caught halting somewhere in her chest.
'I, I don't understand... I didn't understand those tests, I... I couldn't do them, and I didn't meant to fail, I... I just couldn't do them, I...'
Tara's heart clenches at the sight of the smaller girl so sad, so confused. The energy she feels from the redhead is wildly disturbed, tinged dark with memory and unhappiness.
'Willow', she says the name again, the word rolling soft from her mouth.
Tara draws closer to the redhead, kneels in front of her by the couch. She is lost in Willow's eyes, their troubled green drawing her in, and before she realises her movement, her hands are resting on Willow's slim shoulders.
'Willow, please,' Tara's voice is low and calm, determined to help. 'It's ok, really, it's alright. You don't need to worry about those tests, they were fine, you were fine. I p...promise'.
Tara feels fear through the thin material of Willow's tunic, feels the tight bones of worry under her hands. She presses down without thinking, focusing energy towards the redhead in front of her, longing to shift the fear and darkness from Willow's eyes.
Without warning Willow feels it, they both feel it. A sudden catch of energy, grasping and holding between them, twined, twisted, linked. Willow is falling again, pushed under and held up by Tara's hands on her shoulders, the bubbles in her chest returning to fizz and swirl. She feels something inside her burning through her skin, pushing her blood fast, loosening her breath. Her hands move without thinking, she is grasping Tara's arms at the elbows, then pulling back to cover Tara's hands with her own. The contact jolts her heart, yanks the fall into a spin, and Willow knows she is lost.