Author: Chris Cook
"Wha?" said Willow, in lieu of being able to form a coherent thought. Surprise overcame anxiety, and she looked up. Tara's face was calm, peaceful. She was smiling faintly.
"But-" started Willow. 'Damn, there goes the prepared speech.' "How? When?"
"When we became unity," said Tara. "Until then I supposed you were a unique program, like me. When we merged I felt something different about you, something... more than a program. I can't describe exactly what it was. I realised later that you could only be a user. It explained everything you could do that seemed impossible. And given what you told me, you had to be my user. Willow." Tara smiled again, lifting Willow's spirits even as she remained as confused as ever.
"I... don't know what to say now," she admitted.
"Why do you have to say anything?" asked Tara. Willow shook her head, trying to clear her thoughts.
"There's so much I don't understand," she said at last, "but there are things I need you to know. I'm so confused, though... Tara, I love you, I-" she caught sight of Tara's confused expression. "It's a user word," she explained, "it means... unity, I suppose. To be part of a unity with someone else. To be made complete."
"Love," said Tara, trying out the word. She smiled and nodded. Willow knew she hadn't even begun to explain it properly, but she saw understanding in Tara's eyes.
"I love you," she said again, "I didn't want to hurt you. When I remembered what you said, about being complete with me, a-and... I didn't want you to think it wasn't true. That it was just because I'm your user."
"But of course it is," said Tara calmly. "I didn't understand why I felt it then, but now I do."
"No!" insisted Willow. She could feel herself getting too agitated, but she couldn't help it. "No, that's just what I was afraid- Tara, what you told me, what I told you, as a... as one program to another, that was true! All of it, everything... I don't want you to think that you were made to feel this way, that, that I made you love me, or... you deserve so much more than that." Now it was Tara's turn to look confused.
"You didn't program me to feel this?" she asked, then without waiting for an answer: "These feelings are... are what I have become?" Willow wasn't sure she understood what Tara meant.
"Tara," she said, "you're more than what I programmed you to be... when you love it's not because you were programmed to. When I love you, it's not because I made you to be loved. I don't know how to say it, but I need you to believe that! Please, if there's nothing else I can tell you, please believe that who you are, the person, the program you have made yourself, deserves love... unity..." Willow stared at Tara, her eyes pleading for her to believe. Tara was silent for a long while.
"Willow," she said at last, haltingly, as if a lot of thoughts were moving very fast behind her words, "if you feel... love, for me..." she trailed off, catching Willow's look.
"I believe you," she started again, "I believe you love me. If I'm wrong... if I'm wrong, I could question everything I calculate is true. You love me. You love me," she repeated, and let out a short laugh, as if she couldn't contain it. She smiled widely and stared up at the sky.
"No, wait," she said, reining herself in, "you love me, and I love you, yet... I was not made to love you. Willow, I don't understand."
"What?" asked Willow gently. Tara seemed so confused.
"Why didn't you create me to love you? It happened anyway, so... why not?"
"Because it's..." Willow started quickly, and then realised she had to think about the explanation. "Love isn't something that can be manufactured, or programmed."
"But users create paired programs," said Tara. "They share unity, they... love each other."
"I know, I think," said Willow, hoping she did understand. "But you and I, I think the unity we have is different. We're not incomplete halves of something, we're... I don't know how to explain it properly, I think we, you and I, are both whole beings, and our unity is something more than just us finding a missing part of ourselves. I love you because... when I feel complete with you, I'm more than myself, a-and I hope... you are too."
"I understand," said Tara slowly. "I remember when I was first initialised... Everything was simple and... and linear. What I am now, I became over time..." She was staring off into the distance, as if experimenting with the idea, trying to see if it worked. "You created the... potential for me. What I have become... I created?"
"Yes," said Willow, "and I love you."
"Willow..." Tara said, eyes fixed on the horizon. Willow saw moisture glisten in her eyes and begin to fall over her cheeks. "I don't deserve this, I don't, I can't... I can't be what you say I am-"
Willow wanted to try to explain it rationally, but at the sight of Tara crying she lost her battle with the urge to kiss her. As she held Tara in her arms and brought their lips together, she desperately tried to open herself to Tara, to create a link that would let Tara see inside her code, her mind, her soul, let her see the truth that she couldn't find words for. She felt part of Tara pass through her, but then she also felt the familiar sensation of her own energy reaching out, trying to merge with Tara, and she pulled back. Tara took a deep, shuddering breath, and held Willow close to her, lying half on top of her, locking her arms around Willow's waist when she tried to move back further.
"Oh Willow," she breathed, "I saw... I saw love, I... felt it." She blinked and focused on Willow properly. "Why did you stop? Are... you're afraid?"
"I don't want to hurt you," said Willow, "I can't- after what I did in the maze, I was afraid that when we merged, I might accidentally hurt you, or change you... I can't do that. I won't."
"But... we already merged," said Tara.
"I didn't realise," said Willow, ashamed, "I didn't know what I was doing. It was only after... I realised what could have happened."
"But... Willow, I don't understand, you're a user."
"Yes?" said Willow, equally as confused as Tara seemed to be.
"You're a user," repeated Tara, "everything you do is according to a plan. How could you not have known?"
"What?" said Willow. "What plan?"
"The actions of users are predetermined by their internal instructions," Tara explained patiently, "so you must have known whether or not you would change me. I can understand why you can't reveal the nature of the actions you have yet to perform," she went on, seemingly oblivious to Willow's bafflement, "if future events were to be known by programs they might be altered by pre-knowledge, and that would lead to a paradox collapse, but..." she trailed off, seeing Willow's bewilderment.
"Um," said Willow, not sure where to begin.
"Your actions... haven't been defined by a plan?" asked Tara.
"No," admitted Willow, wondering what sort of monumental can of worms had just been opened.
"Did the process of being incorporated into the system somehow separate you from your instruction set, or..." Tara stopped, seeing Willow's helpless expression.
"Um, we don't have instructions," said Willow. 'Oh goddess, now what?'
"So... how do you decide what to do?" asked Tara.
"Well... we just do what seems best at the time."
"Yes, that's how it is for programs," said Tara, "but for users it's... just... the same?" Willow nodded. "Oh my user," said Tara to herself. "Sorry," she amended, seeing Willow's reaction to the phrase.
"You didn't know what was going to happen," Tara said, as if trying to make herself believe it. "You didn't know you were going to survive the Game Grid. You didn't know you could heal me. You didn't... you didn't know how I would react when you told me the truth?"
"No," said Willow, hoping Tara could cope with the notion. She seemed to be fairly shocked, but nonetheless thinking it through.
"I could have... you didn't know... you were afraid I might not have understood, or... or been like other programs, worshipped you... you didn't know?"
"I didn't know," confirmed Willow.
"I might have," said Tara, to herself. "I might have refused to believe that, that you hadn't made me to complete you... I might have just... decided it was my duty to please you, if that's what you wanted?"
"I was afraid," admitted Willow. "You deserve better than to believe that."
"And," continued Tara, "everything you felt for me... the love I saw... you might have lost it... you risked it to tell me the truth?"
"I couldn't go on lying to you," said Willow, "and I couldn't risk hurting you. I had to tell you, I had no choice."
"You risked losing me," said Tara slowly, "for me? For my sake?"
"Because I love you," said Willow, unable to hold back the tears that had been forming in her eyes. Tara lifted her hands to Willow's back and pulled her close, and without thinking Willow leaned into her kiss. Tara's lips opened instantly under hers, and Tara's hands pressed against her, urging her on. Willow felt the link between them forming again, and didn't resist when the loop between them completed, allowing her access to Tara, as well as Tara to her. But still, when her hands began to warm with energy, she hesitated. Tara sensed it, and pulled back just enough to speak - the link, amazingly, remained unbroken.
"Willow," she said, her breath hot on Willow's cheek, "do it... you won't hurt me, I'll guide you... I want it, Willow, I want- I want you to have all of me. Not because you made me, not for duty or devotion, just because... one program to another, Willow, I am yours... now..." she leant back just a fraction more, to stare into Willow's eyes. Too close to focus properly, but Willow could see the unfiltered need in Tara's gaze, hunger that was unbearably erotic, and burned away all of Willow's doubts in an instant.
"Do it now," groaned Tara, her voice low and husky, even as Willow began to release her power, and feel herself merge with Tara. She forgot all about the system and programs - all that existed was her and Tara, two bodies pressed against each other, two minds flowing through each other. She saw again the galaxy of Tara's soul, and from the part of her within Tara she saw her own. Pleasure flowed between and around them, pure, primal and beautiful. It was only then that Willow realised she had held back, without knowing it, before, that the doubts she had suppressed had nonetheless weighed her down. Now she was free, and she let herself and Tara coalesce completely.
She felt the sensation of the energy flow, almost lost amid the orgasmic pleasure, spread from her hands, along her arms, across her chest, down past her centre and through her legs. At the same instant Tara threw her head back and screamed at the top of her voice - if not for the bond between them Willow would have panicked completely, but she could feel everything Tara felt, and knew there was no danger. She opened her eyes, staring at Tara's beautiful, yearning face, and just for a moment she saw her and Tara's traceries, completely meshed, flowing over them and between them. Then the connection caught, reflected, and Willow screamed too, closing her eyes as Tara's energy glowed so brightly it half-blinded her. The final, complete merging travelled between them, through them, gaining momentum like a shooting star. Their lips met in a last, fierce kiss as the unity exploded within them, with such force that Willow could have sworn she felt herself and Tara lift off the deck of the Sailer.
When it passed, Willow found herself half-draped over Tara, breathing in her heavenly scent as she nestled in the hollow of her neck. Tara's chest was rising and falling, lifting Willow's embracing arm with it. Both of them were breathing like they'd just run a marathon.
"Oh!" exclaimed Tara, more a release of pent-up sensation than a word. "Oh," she repeated, "Willow... oh Willow..."
"Tara," whispered Willow. She couldn't form a proper thought, not yet, she just needed to say something, anything, to acknowledge what had happened. Tara let her head fall sideways, so that she could look at Willow. Her smile was more radiant to Willow than the blinding flash of energy had been. For a moment she just looked at Willow, as if perfectly content, then her gaze shifted, and she frowned.
"Oh my..." she trailed off. Willow lifted herself, with some difficulty, and looked. The deck beneath them was patterned with tiny, hard-edged ripples, like breaking waves, as if it had been water just for a second, and frozen over as a blast went off. Willow's eyes followed the warping away from her and Tara, seeing it in the hull around them, in the pedestal of the control console, and running several metres along the narrow walkway on top of the Sailer's long neck. Then she looked back, as Tara slowly rolled over and pushed herself up onto her elbows. As she had half-suspected, the epicentre of the distortions in the deck was right beneath where they had been at their moment of perfect unity.
"Well," said Tara, murmuring as if she had just woken up, "the Sailer doesn't seem to be damaged..." she trailed off, shrugged, then leaned close and kissed Willow again.
"Wow," said Willow muzzily. She focused on Tara. "Are you okay? Um, functioning alright?" Tara smiled.
"Yes," she said, "I'm 'okay'. Mmm!" she exclaimed, shuddering as if a chill ran through her body. "I'm perfect," she finished, ducking beneath Willow's arm and pulling Willow down to lie on top of her.
"You certainly are," said Willow, grinning.