The trip home had been uneventful, but it had given Willow time to think about what had happened. As she took her car down the highway, she thought about how much her life had changed in the past twenty-four hours. She had started the day by taking a relaxing dip in the ocean and hoping to be home long before her roommate and now looked to finish it heading home after an encounter that had left her simultaneously feeling confused and at peace.
And she realized that it never would have happened that way if she had been careless. She was usually more careful during her underwater escapades, planning her adventure down to the smallest detail. But this time things had gone a bit too far, and she knew it. Never before had Willow had to deal with the possibility of drowning. And it wasn't much of an exaggeration to think that she would have died down in that cave had it not been for...
Willow's thoughts drifted, as they had done many times during her trip home, back to the mysterious beauty that had saved her. There were so many unanswered questions she had about Tara. For example, why was she beginning to feel so strongly towards her? She assumed that it was because of her striking beauty. Being used to seeing the naked female form underwater, there was nothing about Tara that Willow hadn't seen before. But that didn't begin to describe her burgeoning feelings. Willow strongly felt that it had something to do with her natural attraction to all things aquatic. There was no other way to explain it.
Willow brought the car around the street corner to the apartment complex where she and Buffy had moved to following high school. It was a modest ten-story apartment situated near the Santa Monica Beach, which made it an easy commute for Buffy, who worked as a lifeguard at the beach during the summer and the nearby indoor pool the rest of the year. Willow worked part time at a number of odd jobs during much of the year, often joining Buffy during the summer as a volunteer lifeguard.
The two had shared a passion for the water ever since high school, but in different ways. Willow preferred the quiet contemplation that came from silently gliding through the water while Buffy had been a competitive swimmer in high school and a member of school's swim team. Willow had been certified for only three years while Buffy had been a certified diver since she was fifteen. Despite their differences, their mutual interest, along with their friendship, had led to their deciding to live together following graduation and to choose their home near the ocean.
Bringing the car into the underground parking lot, Willow shut down the engine, pausing for a moment before opening the door and stepping out. Kicking the door closed behind her, she moved to the trunk, and opened it, taking out the large bundle that comprised her equipment. She left the tank, since it was damaged, she would have to find time to take it to the dive shop and get it serviced.
Walking up to the door, Willow fumbled to take her key card from the pocket of her jeans, withdrawing the small plastic rectangle and swiping it across the reader after a moment. Opening the door and stepping inside the apartment lobby, she walked up to the elevator and pressed the up button. As she waited for the elevator to arrive, she thought of how wonderful it felt to swim in the ocean as freely as she had been able to when Tara had done...whatever it was that she had done. To swim without needing a tank on her back or being dependent on canned oxygen produced feelings in Willow that she couldn't begin to describe. It felt like...magic.
Willow scoffed at the thought. She had a hard time believing that what had happened was because of some magical means. Then again, she also had a hard time believing that there were mermaids in the world, and there was no way she could deny that anymore.
The elevator doors opened with a ding, and she walked inside, pushing the third floor button. As the elevator doors closed, her thoughts drifted back to ocean, and the beautiful being she had encountered there. Her love of the ocean had meant that she had seen a great many strange and exotic underwater creatures in her life, but Tara was one of a kind.
This brought her conflicted feelings for Tara to the surface once again. On the one hand, Tara had saved her life, and that was something for which she would be eternally grateful for. But that couldn't explain what she was feeling. She wouldn't feel the way she did for just anyone who rescued her. Perhaps it was the fact that she was physically attractive. Willow had found other women attractive for quite a long time, but for Tara, her feelings were more...obvious. It could be her exoticness. Thanks to her online escapades, she was used to seeing the naked female form in a variety of environments and situations. But with Tara, it felt as if she was discovering the pleasure of seeing it for the first time.
The elevator came to a stop and the doors opened. She blew out a breath, hefted her gear over her shoulders and stepped off, heading for the apartment door. She set the gear down and reached for the door knob, only to find it turning on its own. She caught her breath as the door opened and the unmistakable shape of her roommate's body emerged from it.
Buffy was apparently as surprised to see Willow as Willow was to see Buffy, as she did a double take. “Will!"
Willow smiled sheepishly. “Hi, Buff. I didn't think you would be home so soon."
“Neither did I," Buffy admitted, running her fingers through her honey colored hair. “But Riley said I could take the rest of the day off since the beach wasn't as crowded as it's been the past couple of days. And a lifeguard doesn't get as many opportunities to take half a day off as some other people do, so I..." It was then that she noticed Willow's baggage and cocked an eyebrow in surprise. “Will?"
Willow felt her face turn the same shade of color as her hair. “Well, I thought that you would be out all day, so I decided to go. You know, I thought that you would be back by the time I was finished, so I didn't really see..."
“That's no excuse, Will," Buffy interrupted. “I know you're not as experienced as I am when it comes to diving, but even that doesn't excuse the fact that you should know better than to dive alone. You should always have someone with you, just in case something happens that you couldn't anticipate."
Willow kept quiet as her best friend admonished her. She was right, of course. And what made the situation worse for her was that she couldn't tell Buffy why she had gone alone in the first place. She was certain that she would freak out, or at least not believe her.
“I know, Buff," she said. “I was...stupid."
Buffy's face softened somewhat, her lips slightly turning in a small smile. “Don't say that, Will. You're one of the smartest people I know. You just need to be careful and have someone with you. You never know what could happen."
"Actually, I have a pretty good idea," Willow thought to herself, an image of Tara once again forming in her mind's eye.
Buffy reached for one of the bags containing Willow's gear. “Come on, let me help you get that stuff inside."
Several minutes later, Willow was sitting on the couch, a cup of hot chocolate in hand. Her thoughts continued to drift back to her encounter with Tara. No matter how hard she tried, the image of that perfect female form continued to coalesce in her brain.
She sighed, wishing that Buffy had stayed to talk to her, but she had decided to go down to the pool to work on her breath holding exercises. She had said that she wanted to improve her technique so that she didn't suddenly run out of air whenever she was in the ocean for long periods of time rescuing drowning victims. Of course, Buffy invited her to come too, thinking that she would enjoy herself. But Willow had decided to stay, saying that she had enough water fun for one day.
She wondered why she felt so afraid that she had been caught with her dive gear, because she knew it had nothing to do with her love of the water. After all, she made no real effort to keep it a secret from Buffy. But there were facets of her fascination she thought she could never share. Of course, as one of many lifeguards at the nearby beach, Buffy was as comfortable and at ease in the water as she was. But Willow couldn't bring herself to talk to anyone about what she felt when she was in the water. Not even her best friend.
"I wonder, though," she thought. "I mean, Buffy's a big water fan. Maybe she...I don't know. Maybe I should find out. But how could I ask her that? 'Hello, Buffy? Ever play with yourself in the ocean?' Bet she'd give me one of her patented 'what the hell' stares and toss me out on my rear."
Willow sighed again and placed the cup down on the table, shifting her weight as she moved her feet to rest beside it. As she settled into her new position, her thoughts once again turned to Tara. What was it that made even the most fleeting thought Willow had about her something to look forward to as others looked forward to the morning sunlight or a fresh cup of coffee?
She figured the only way to find out was to fall back on an old habit: good old fashioned research.
Willow sat up and moved to the nearby computer. As she turned it on and waited for it boot up, she thought about what made Tara different than the mermaids she was used to seeing. "Well, for starters, she has legs," she thought. "And what a set of legs. Wow. They just went on forever and....The frilly heck?! Where did that come from?!"
As the login screen appeared on the monitor, Willow typed in her name and password, thankful that Buffy had agreed to put separate accounts on it when they bought it. It made keeping things she didn't want her roommate to find out about easier than having to delete the contents of the cookies and history folders every time she used it.
The desktop appeared and Willow dragged the mouse over to the Internet icon. Double clicking on it, she watched as the web page loaded up. Moving the mouse over to the Favorites tab, she dragged the icon down to the folder containing the aquaphilia-related websites she had discovered over the years. One of them, the first she had found shortly after her pool experience and had checked nearly every day following, was devoted to mermaids. She had found other websites since that broadened and expanded her horizons, but she kept that one bookmarked.
Until now, she couldn't figure out why. But she figured that now was the time to pay it a long overdue visit.
Clicking the link, Willow watched as the page appeared on the monitor. The dominant picture of the website featured a mermaid with long flowing red hair and an ample chest laying on a series of rocks, her scaled tail slightly upraised and swinging in the breeze. On her face was a smile that could melt the heart of anyone who looked at her. It had certainly melted Willow's the moment she laid eyes on it. In fact, with the red hair and killer smile, she often had wondered if that she was that mermaid in a previous life and had captured her image for all the world to see. The site also had a section devoted to the history of mermaids, which she moved the mouse icon to and clicked.
Willow absorbed the information contained within with interest, which included a rather interesting piece of information. The first mermaid myths had been born out of an old legend where an ancient goddess that had taken on the attributes of a fish after killing a mortal whom she had fallen in love. That particular passage made Willow pause, as it was somewhat similar to the situation that she had found herself in. She had been near death, but was saved by Tara. It made Willow wonder even more about her strengthening emotional connection to her rescuer.
In addition, the site also mentioned the role that the mermaid had played in popular culture. The most obvious one was, of course, "The Little Mermaid". Willow smiled as she recalled the many Saturday afternoons that she had spent watching Ariel swim through the ocean in search of her one true love. She let out a sigh. Ever since she had discovered her dual nature of being a lover of the water and the female form, she had often pretended that she could be like Ariel, swimming through the ocean and looking for someone to love. Getting certified as a diver was the closest she could get to feeling that, and the fact that she did it without her parent's knowledge or acceptance made her feel isolated. Being friends with Buffy had blunted that somewhat, but the fact that she never explained to her just what it was about the water that made her feel the way that it did meant that she was never as comfortable about herself and her hobby as she would have liked.
Willow knew that their love of the water was mutual. What set them apart was how specific their love went. While Buffy was drawn to the water out of a desire for exploration and to save lives, Willow was more sexually charged about all of its aspects. To her, there was nothing more exciting than swimming in a lake or ocean on a quiet Saturday morning or sitting at the bottom of a swimming pool and bringing herself to climax the likes of which she had never felt before. And to her, there was no difference between the two.
Willow thoughts turned ever so briefly from Tara to one of the times that she and Buffy had decided to go diving together. It had been two years ago when Buffy had first gotten the lifeguard job and had decided to celebrate by joining some of the other lifeguards on an open water dive the following weekend. After much cajoling, Willow had decided to go with her, mostly because of her desire not to bring Buffy down from the emotional high she was on about getting the job.
She remembered how excited Buffy had been that day. The prospect of spending the day in the water was clearly something that she had been looking forward too. Willow knew from high school how much Buffy enjoyed the water, but that had been the first time that she had known how personal she felt about it. Buffy had told Willow afterward how much of a thrill it had been to be in the water with others who shared their passion and love for the aquatic life. Willow couldn't help but agree with her, even though she knew that they were on two completely different tracks.
Shutting down the computer and moving to close the window, Willow stepped to the table and picked up the glass of hot chocolate, finishing off the last of it in one sip. As the liquid traveled down her throat, she felt the warmth pass through her body, revitalizing her after her ordeal. As much as it stimulated her senses, it was nothing compared to whatever magical spell Tara had done to bring her back to the land of the living.
Willow's brow creased in thought, wondering why her thoughts continued to drift back to Tara when thinking about even the most inconsequential things. It made her think about her sanity. People who spent time obsessing about a single thing were never considered to be of sound mental health. Then again, there were things that one could focus on that could be of a positive nature to one's emotional well being. And Willow quickly realized that Tara would end up becoming something that would make her feel a whole lot better. Not only about what had happened, but also about herself and her secrets. Willow didn't know how she knew, but she felt like she could open up to Tara about her life in ways that she couldn't to anyone else.
After washing the cup and placing it back in the cupboard, Willow moved to her bedroom, lying down on the queen sized mattress and stretching her arms and legs out as far as they would go. Bending her wrists and ankles and flexing her toes and fingers, she realized that knowing how good it felt to move her extremities helped a great deal to alleviate her dread at having almost died.
As Willow closed her eyes, her thoughts suddenly shifted from Tara to what she had done earlier today. She had read a lot of stories on the Internet that tended to glamorize sexual experiences like hers. But reading about something and experiencing it yourself were two completely different things. And she knew that, despite having the most powerful underwater orgasm she ever had, it also nearly led to her death.
Willow felt conflicted about the situation. It was unlike anything she had experienced before, and she most definitely wanted to experience it again. But not when it meant nearly killing herself. Perhaps, with Tara...
The thought snapped Willow's eyes open. She wasn't seriously thinking about this, was she? Making love to someone like Tara? Someone who, despite her burgeoning feelings and curiosity, was as much an alien to her as she was to Tara? Besides, she didn't even know if Tara felt the same way. She had seemed so upset when she said that she had to leave, but that could have meant anything.
Willow let out a yawn, and realized that these mysteries would have to wait. She was too tired right now to think about anything. She sat up and took off her tank top, exposing her chest to the chilled air around her. She followed this by unbuttoning her jeans and slipping her legs through them, gathering them up and placing them down on the floor beside the bed.
As Willow moved to get under the sheets, she took a moment to glance down at her body, clad in a matching cotton bra and panty set. She normally kept them on when she went to sleep in addition to an undershirt on the odd night that she figured she would engage in what Buffy so eloquently dubbed “fridge bingeing". Sleeping in the nude was usually the last thing she had on her mind. But after a day full of risky actions on her part and surprising discoveries, what was the harm of doing one more potentially silly thing?
After all, she figured, it wasn't like it would kill her or anything.
Willow stood up and reached behind her back, her fingers working on the clasp holding the cotton bra she wore in place. After several seconds, she had the undergarment unhooked. Pulling the straps down and working her arms through them, she placed it on the floor near her nightstand. Her fingers then drifted to the waistband of her panties. Slowly tugging them down her legs and over her feet, she dropped them on the floor near the nightstand as well.
Willow sat down on the bed as exposed as the day God made her, the cool air breezing through the nearby window running across her body sending a spasm through her spine and nervous system. She couldn't help but admit that it was quite an arousing feeling. Slipping between the sheets, she shifted her weight in order to get comfortable. All the while, she fought the building urge to close her eyes and drift to sleep. She wanted to be comfortable when she fell asleep, otherwise she would wake up more cranky than she usually did.
Her efforts were interrupted when an image formed in the darkness of her mind. Willow was not overly surprised to find that it was the gloriously nude form of Tara, lying on the rocks of the cavern where she had been brought back to consciousness. Her arms were tucked behind her head, the scales on which highlighted the crystal blue of her eyes. Both sparkled with an intensity and passion that rivaled the stars themselves.
What drew her the most, however, was the smile on Tara's lips. That crooked almost half smile caused Willow's stomach to do flip-flops, zigzags, barrel rolls and every other type of movement possible. Just one look at that quirky smile made her weak enough to lower her defenses and have the need to sleep overpower her desire to remain awake.
With a final yawn, Willow closed her eyes and allowed herself to be sent off on her nightly journey to an euphoric state of bliss.