Willow was underwater, wearing neither diving equipment nor clothing. She was also drowning, thrown overboard by some mysterious assailants for no obvious reason other than to gain some sort of sick pleasure in watching her struggle and drown. She tried to free her wrists, which were chained together and to the ship's anchor, but had no luck in loosening their death grip. Her lungs burned as she struggled to hold her breath. She knew that she couldn't hold on forever, and that she was going to die.
And suddenly, from the murky depths of the sea, a figure emerged.
Continuing to struggle to hold her breath, Willow saw the shape move towards her, transforming into a gloriously beautiful woman with long blonde hair and ocean blue eyes that, even now, tinged with fear.
It was Tara.
Thankful that someone was coming to her rescue, Willow began to moan and jerk her head, attempting to tell Tara of her predicament and to release her. The act caused Willow to involuntarily blow a burst of air directly into Tara's face. This startled her rescuer for a moment, but then she moved to one side and proceeded to work on the chains, trying to force them open.
As Tara did this, Willow could feel the energy slowly seep out of her body, knowing that her struggling had expended her a great deal. She could no longer fight the urge to breathe, and so she did. The act caused her to convulse as a large amount of water traveled down her throat. She spasmed, closed her eyes and began to gag...
And felt a pressure on her lips, one that caused the pain in her chest to ease. She opened her eyes...
And found Tara's face in front of her again, delivering a deep, thorough and emotional kiss.
Willow was surprised by this, as she had thought that Tara would be freeing her. What she was even more surprised to discover was that her drowning spasms began to cease, the pressure on her chest and lungs easing and her mind growing clearer.
Willow took a breath, and was surprised to find her lungs filling with oxygen. She looked at Tara, who was floating in front of her, as if waiting for something.
She gave the only response she could think of. "Thank you," she mouthed.
Tara smiled, then raised one scale covered finger to point at her right eye, then brought her arms up to her chest. She finished her movements by pointing at Willow, then swimming back to finish untying Willow from her prison.
Willow had understood at once what it was that Tara had told her.
"I love you, too..."
Through the sheets, Willow could feel the early morning sunrise wash over her with the cleansing action of the midmorning tide. Still, she was not completely ready to wake up from her state of unconsciousness; the images that had been playing across her mind's eye too temping to let slip away without a challenge.
But, as she opened her eyes, they did.
Sitting up, Willow turned to look out the window. The sun was rising in the sky, but with the ocean so close by, it was not as humid as she thought it would be. The street was relatively clear now, but by midday, they would most likely be filled with tourists.
"Well," she thought. "Time to get up and join the real world."
Untangling herself from the wadded sheets, she got up and headed for the shower, taking the time to wrap a robe around herself and tie the sash. With the possibility of being spotted by Buffy, the time for casual nudity was, rather sadly, over.
Ten minutes later, Willow emerged from the bathroom, still wearing the robe, though she now wore a fresh pair of underwear underneath it. After she had something to eat, she would get dressed. Heading into the kitchen, she prepared to make some breakfast and paused as she noticed a note taped to the fridge door.
I've gone to work. Drop by if you're not too busy.
Willow sighed as she took out the milk and put the container on the counter. Should she take Buffy up on her offer? It wasn't like she had a great deal to do, she figured. And perhaps it would help to clear her head in regards to Tara to be around others, especially at the ocean. It was too public a place to get away with thinking...
Willow paused, as she couldn't quite explain what exactly it was she was thinking about. Ever since she discovered this side of herself, she often had erotic dreams of that nature. She always figured that it was a means of playing out her private fantasies in a way that neither endangered her life nor let her secret out, but this was the first time it had affected her as deeply as it had. It combined the two things about the previous day that were of vital importance: nearly drowning to death and meeting Tara.
As she took the cereal out of the cupboards, Willow couldn't help but think a lot about how the two were related somehow and briefly about, despite how absurd the notion was, she couldn't help but think how much it made sense. It certainly didn't help that Tara was the only one to be near her when she began her panic attack.
She slouched back into the chair, lost in her own thoughts. She quickly became aware of the fact that she was no longer as hungry as she thought she was, and moved to clean up.
Ten minutes later, after a trip to the dive shop to get her tank fixed, Willow was walking down the street towards the beach, the late morning temperature allowing her to wear a tank top, shorts and flip flops. She carried a folding chair in one hand and had her laptop case slung over her shoulder. Her body may have been on land, but her mind was far away, deep in the ocean depths, searching for the mysterious blonde to whom she owed her life.
Willow was beginning to wonder about her sanity. Even though what had happened was traumatic, she knew that, after such a time, most people would eventually look past what happened and continue with their lives. The fact that Tara was beginning to dominate her thoughts every waking moment, and even her non-waking moments, told her that she was beginning to obsess about her situation. Her mother would no doubt say that it was because of some "deep rooted desire to prove one's limits" or some other psychological technobabble.
She suddenly felt her feet go from slapping unforgiving concrete to shifting sand, and grimaced as the finely grained particles invaded the openness of her shoes. Slipping out of them and reaching down to pick them up, she walked over to the nearby lifeguard station, where she could easily spot the figure of her friend leaning against the wooden railing.
Willow couldn't help but smile. Buffy wasn't one that others would consider to be the "bubbly blonde" type, at least not in private where Willow was the only one to see her as she truly was. But when it came to her duties as part of Los Angeles' lifeguards, she completely radiated the image of the "All-American Girl", the red one piece lifeguard swimsuit and blonde hair evoking the well known image of Pamela Anderson from "Baywatch".
"At least Buffy doesn't have large...floatation devices," Willow thought, slightly blushing.
She also became aware of the fact that there was a second person with her friend, this one also clad in the one piece red swimsuit that signified her status as a lifeguard. But aside from that, she was the complete opposite of her best friend. Whereas Buffy was blonde, this person was a brunette. Whereas Buffy's eyes were unassuming and kind, the brunette's eyes were dark and mysterious. And while Buffy held herself in a position of quiet reservation, ready to spring into action at a moment's notice, this other person seemed more laid back and casual.
There was something about her that Willow didn't like.
The brunette whispered something to Buffy, who turned her head to look at Willow. "Hey, Will."
Willow waved back. "Hey." She glanced at the brunette. "Who's the newbie?"
Buffy turned back to the brunette. "Faith, this is Willow. Willow, Faith."
Faith's face broke out into a smile that, as far as Willow could tell, looked as forced as one could imagine. "Hey."
Willow did the polite thing and smiled back.
Buffy turned to look at Faith. "Mind keeping an eye on things for a bit?"
Faith shook her head. "No problem, B."
Buffy nodded and walked down the ramp, coming to stand beside Willow, who had put her laptop case down and was setting up the folding chair. "How you doing, Will?"
"Fine," Willow replied absently, sitting down and shifting her position in an attempt to get comfortable. "Looks like you've got someone new."
Buffy looked up to see Faith looking out into the ocean with a pair of binoculars. "Faith? Yeah, she's new. She just transferred here from Hermosa. She said she was looking to go where the action is, though if you ask me, she might want to be looking for another kind of action."
Willow creased her brow. "You mean..."
"If she's gay?" Buffy finished. "I don't know, Will. Why? You think she's cute?"
Willow wished her hair was longer than it was, as she could easily hide behind it. She was a rather secretive person, and didn't let other people know too much about her. But since she and Buffy were such good friends, being secretive wasn't much of an option. So she had decided, as their senior year was coming to an end, that she was sexually tilted in favor of the opposite sex.
Buffy was understandably shocked about this, but it passed rather quickly. Even more, she insisted on escorting Willow to both the prom and after-grad party. People had looked, and even more snickered, but Buffy didn't care. She was not prepared to let anyone ruin Willow's special night.
It pained Willow to think about it. Not only because she thought it made Buffy, (who was rather popular despite her tendency to hang around the social outcasts) the object of undeserved ridicule, but also because she had kept the fact that her aquaphilia fetish played a major role in the swerve her sexual slant had taken a secret. It made her friendship with Buffy one that was based on hiding her true self from the one person Willow believed could understand her the most, something that had broken her heart.
It was then that she became aware of the fact that Buffy was talking again, her gaze looking out at the ocean and the large waves that were beginning to form. "Looks pretty nasty out there today."
Willow shifted in the chair, her gaze fully locked on the sand below. "Yeah."
"Could see some killer surfing action," Buffy added, raising her hand to shield her eyes from the sun.
Willow absently nodded as she once again shifted uncomfortably. "Yeah."
Buffy turned to look at her best friend, hands firmly planted on hips and noting the lack of enthusiasm in Willow's voice. "And my suit's riding up my backside something fierce."
Willow nodded. "I guess."
Jerking her head up rather suddenly, and silently thanking herself for not suffering whiplash, she looked up into Buffy's face, her eyes slightly glazed over. "Yeah?"
Buffy decided that she had to choose her next words carefully. From how her best friend acted, she seemed rather hurt. No doubt this was due to her well meaning, though rather harsh, words of advice the previous day. The last thing she wanted was to upset Willow any further. "You're...not upset with me, are you? About last night, I mean."
Willow smiled softly. "No, Buff. I'm just..."
Buffy smirked. "Living life at ludicrous speed?"
"You know me," Willow quipped. "I'm as comfortable in space as I am under water."
Buffy chuckled, moving to sit down beside Willow as she looked out into the ocean with a sigh. "I couldn't be like that. Give me the cool relaxing ocean over the stress of life any day."
Willow's ears perked up at this, as it gave her some hope that she could talk to Buffy about her love of water. She tried to open her mouth to form the words, but couldn't bring herself to say anything. Aside from the fact that it would sound crazy, she wanted to keep what happened yesterday, especially Tara, a secret. She wasn't entirely sure why, though. All she knew was that she wanted Tara for herself, which in and of itself was surprising.
And yet, it made sense, after a fashion.
Looking up, she saw Faith talking into a walkie-talkie. The look on her face was grim, and it made Willow's stomach tense up.
Switching off the walkie-talkie, she shouted, "Hey, B! Riley wants to talk to you. He says it's important."
Buffy got up, thumbs moving to straighten out the bottom of her swimsuit. "Sorry, Will. Riley wouldn't call me in unless it was important. I can't stay and talk some more."
"It's OK, Buff," Willow sighed, hoping that the act didn't make her disappointment that obvious. "You've got your responsibilities. Can't have little old Willow drag down your day."
Buffy looked down at Willow, bringing her hand down to reach for Willow's chin, slowly raising it until her friend's eyes met hers. Once she was sure she had Willow's attention, she said, "Look, Will. I'll talk to Riley. I'll see if I can get him to get Faith to cover the rest of my shift so I can get off early. And tonight, we'll head out somewhere, just the two of us. We'll go do anything you want. And I'll pay for everything."
Willow looked confused. "Buff, don't do this just because you feel guilty about..."
"But that's not the reason," Buffy insisted. At Willow's glare, she muttered, "OK, it is. But can you blame me? I mean, we've been friends since high school. We've done everything you can imagine together. I'd kinda hate to let something like what happened last night drive a wedge between us."
Willow could see Buffy's point. Even in high school, the blonde had acted like a mother figure, standing up for those who couldn't stand up for themselves. That, along with her love of water, had made Willow think that her friend's career choice was not as surprising as some others made it out to be. And one of her enduring qualities was that whenever she thought she had done one of her friends wrong, she would go to whatever lengths were necessary in order to make that friend happy again.
Buffy was obviously feeling upset about what she had said last night, or if not that, then at least the manner in which she had sent it. It was something that she felt trapped under, and just wouldn't feel better until she found a way to make it up to them.
That left Willow with only one option. "Sure, Buff. Tonight it will be just us girls."
Buffy gave Willow her patented smile. "Great." She turned to head off down the beach. "I'll be back in a bit."
Willow watched her go for a moment before turning her gaze back out into the ocean, the waves cresting onto the beach with a thunderous roar before settling into a gentle trill. Her thoughts turned once again of Tara and how much she had enjoyed swimming in the ocean freely. It was a wonderful feeling. And there was something about doing it with Tara made it all the more special.
Reaching down to pick up her laptop case, Willow opened it and pulled out the machine. She figured she could get in some more research before Buffy came back. It would help to keep her mind off the stunning mermaid.
Though for how long, she couldn't quite tell.
Inside her private cave, Tara floated above the water, her fingers and toes flexing as she stretched out to her full length. She had been here ever since she had first awakened. That had been almost six hours ago. It didn't matter. Even if she had to wait six hours or six years, she would come here everyday and wait until she saw Willow again. She would find a way to explain everything to her.
Even if it meant telling her how much her rescuer was also responsible for nearly causing her to die.
Tara had been wondering how Willow would react to that information. From what she had told her, Willow had held herself responsible for what had happened, though she didn't indicate how exactly she had managed to do that. Tara didn't press about it, as she was too involved in keeping herself from blurting out her role in the act. As a human, Willow wasn't used to being in the ocean, and it pained Tara to know that she had been responsible for nearly killing her.
What Baji had said made it clear that in order for there to be an understanding between them, she would need to feel comfortable enough to tell Willow this. The irony of the situation was that Tara wanted very much for there to be an understanding between them, perhaps even more. And what better way was there to build an understanding between them than to build on their mutual passion: the ocean. It made perfect sense when she thought about it: Willow, a human who longed for the pleasuring touch and caress that only the ocean could bring, and herself, a child of the ocean whose heart was pure as the water itself. There had also been the slightest of hints of a mutual, if unspoken, attraction between the two, as evident by Willow's very passionate kiss. As she looked back on it now, Tara realized how much that kiss had forged the beginnings of a chain between them that would carry the pair through every danger the ocean could throw at them.
But if Tara told Willow about what happened, she would no doubt look at her in a different light. She had agonized over that thought many times in the previous day. Would Willow see Tara as some sort of siren, who lured humans with the promise of riches and love only to kill them when they dropped their guard? And what would happen if she thought that to be true? Would she try to gain some measure of revenge by harming her?
Tara realized the sad irony in that question, for any situation in which Willow was hurt would be more than enough to cause her emotional damage more harmful than if a harpoon had directly impacted against her heart.
Turning over onto her chest, she dove under the surface and attempting to clear her head by swimming laps along the bottom of the cave. After several minutes, however, she realized how futile the act was, gave up and surfaced once again, paddling over to nearby the rocks to sit down.
"Willow," she said, then spoke an incantation that she hoped would serve her well.
"Goddess, please give me the strength to find the courage I need to bare my soul to the one who deserves it most. God, please impart unto me the desire to do that which I know I must."
Then, to her surprise, she began to sing.
I was so alone
"Willow," she finished, her eyes closed and her voice a hushed whisper.
On the beach, Willow had been absently surfing the net when she suddenly found herself distracted. She looked up from the monitor of her laptop out into the ocean once again, noting that, unlike the last time she had done so, there was an unmistakable urge for her to put the machine in her lap down and head down into the waves in a rush. It took all of her willpower to keep herself rooted to the chair, but she was surprised by how badly she wanted to be in the water at that very moment.
"Tara," she whispered, shutting down the laptop and placing it back in its case. She then closed her eyes and took the beautiful blonde's lusciously nude body in her mind's eye once again.
That was all it took to make up her mind. She had to see Tara again. As soon as possible. There was no question about it. But how could she? Her tank was in the shop, and from what the shop clerk had said, it would take a week, perhaps more, for him to fix it.
Willow sighed, realizing that she would need to ask Buffy to borrow her tank. And that doing so would bring up the whole "not-diving-alone" talk that she wanted to avoid. Aside from the fact that she would have to explain her deepest secret, she wasn't sure how much her best friend would react to a clearly alien creature.
Opening her eyes, Willow decided that she would have to take the risk. She needed to see Tara again, and Buffy was her only means to accomplish that.