Willow awoke the next morning fearful about the day's planned activities. It wasn't that she wasn't excited about meeting Tara again, of course. That had been the goal she had been working towards. There had been one unfortunate complication, and it was one that she had brought into the equation.
She wondered for a moment if she was moving too fast by asking Buffy to come meet Tara. She had been thinking about that ever since she had brought it up, and the night's rest hadn't made her feel any better about it. What stung the redhead the most was how much her possessiveness for Tara and the need to keep her a secret from others played into that invitation. She wanted to share something with the two people who were important in her life, but wasn't quite sure if she wanted to share them with each other.
Willow's forehead creased as she thought of what exactly it was she wanted to share with Tara. The question of what she wanted to share was easy as far as Buffy was concerned. Having spent the majority of their friendship hiding something that was special to her, it was a relief, after their discussion last night, to know that she could be more open with her friend. But with Tara, it was different. There was an abundance of things that she wanted to share with the beautiful blonde mermaid, but Willow found herself asking if she really wanted to include her best friend. And something about what had happened between the two of them that told Willow that it might be a good idea to keep human contact with Tara limited. But at the same time, she knew that it would not be possible for her to keep something like this from Buffy. Best to get it out of the way now before something worse happened.
Getting out of bed, Willow moved to put on her bathrobe as she made her way to the bathroom. She was not entirely surprised to find Buffy already there brushing her hair, clad in sweatpants and a loose fitting tank top. The blonde turned as Willow opened the door, gently knocking on it as she did so.
"Hey, Will. Feel better?"
"Excited about today?"
Willow pursed her lips as she thought about how to reply. She certainly was, but the thought of having Buffy there was enough to give her doubts. "Kinda."
Buffy gave Willow a curious look. "What do you mean 'kinda?' You were all excito-gal last night."
"I was...I mean, I am...but..."
Buffy looked into the mirror as she put the hairbrush down and reached for the red toothbrush lying in the cup near the faucet. "Will, are you having second thoughts about me coming along with you?"
Willow had to admit that she was, but it was hard for her to describe why. And as she brushed her teeth, Buffy was also taking the time to figure out what exactly was going on inside the redhead's mind. Willow's decision to invite her to go to meet this new person in her life was obviously one she jumped to prematurely. It was a situation that the blonde could easily sympathize with. Last night, Willow had said something that had been deeply personal, and obviously felt guilty enough about it to overcompensate by putting out the idea that they should go together.
"I wonder what would have happened if I went into psychology," Buffy thought. "Willow's certainly given me enough practice at dealing with the emotional problems of other people."
"I understand, Will," she said aloud, noticing that Willow instantly looked relieved at that. "I'll tell you what. I'll come with you just to meet your friend, and then I'll head back to the boat and give you two some time alone. Does that sound OK?"
Willow couldn't believe it. Buffy was, once again, going out of her way to be extremely nice to her. And she couldn't really decide whether or not she liked it. Still, if it meant that she could deal with Tara without undue complications, she was more than willing to take advantage of her generosity.
"Thanks," she said as Buffy walked past her to head back to her room.
"No problem, Will," the blonde said in reply. "Now get a move on. If what you've said is true, something tells me we want to get out there before the tourists do."
Faith pulled up to the beach on her scooter, the one possession that she had managed to save throughout her long journey to California. The machine was as close to her as any lover, allowed her the freedom to go anywhere she wanted, and meant she didn't have to take any shit from anybody.
She reflected for a moment on her long and strange journey to the west coast. Having grown up in Boston as the only daughter of a single mother who spent more time on the couch than she did on the employment line, she knew from an early age that the only person she could depend on was herself. She wasn't what one would consider to be the educated type, though she knew enough to get by.
The only thing that made her feel good was the water. There was something about it that she couldn't describe, but the first time she swam in the local pool, she felt like she was cleansing herself of all the neglect, heartbreak and disillusionment she felt towards the world.
Plus, it didn't hurt that she looked pretty damn fine in a bikini.
Leaving home when she was sixteen, the only things Faith took with her were the scooter and two hundred dollars that she had swiped from her mother's wallet. The money had been spent more quickly than she would have wanted, and in order to scrounge up enough cash, she started taking small jobs in whatever city she found herself in, making enough to be able to get to her next destination. While it would have been easier for her to steal the money, she didn't want to have the stigma of being a criminal attached to her. It was something that made her think of her mother, and she knew that she could be better than that.
Four years passed before two things happened that would change her life forever. Having suffered through the horror of having to resort to prostitution in order to get the money she needed to survive, Faith knew she had hit a low point in her life. Returning to the homeless shelter that had become her home ever since she arrived in California, she met someone who was able to look at her for who she was and not where she had come from. And who, after learning about her love of swimming, recommended that she get into the lifeguard business as a means to help others.
Faith had to admit that the job certainly made her feel better about herself. Knowing that she was going to be responsible for the lives of other people made her work harder at this than she ever had at anything else. It had taken some time, and a lot of hard work, but she had made it.
She was sent to join the forces at Hermosa. And up until two weeks ago, she never realized that there might be anyone else in the world quite like her. Then she had heard some of her fellow lifeguards talking about Buffy "The Savior" Summers of Santa Monica, and from the way they talked, it sounded as if she was someone Faith would really like to meet. She had then requested, and was granted, a transfer to Santa Monica Beach, where she came under Buffy's wing.
That had been nearly a week ago, and things between them had been great. Buffy had even told her about her best friend Willow, who Faith thought would be someone else to get along with, if what the blonde had said about her was any indication. After yesterday, however, she had to wonder. The redhead had seemed to be put off by her, and Faith could see why, knowing that her appearance was one that made others think that she was some sort of predator. Faith knew that it must have made Willow upset to find her best friend with someone else. She hoped that Buffy could convince Willow that she wasn't that bad.
Stepping off the scooter and taking out the key, Faith walked up to the lifeguard tower. It was rather early, but with Buffy taking the weekend off, she wanted to make sure that nothing went wrong. Stepping up the ramp, she opened the door and stepped inside, securing it behind her.
Once she was sure it was private, she took off her shoes and socks, stuffing the socks inside the shoes and setting them off to the side. She then removed her shirt, tossing it on top of the shoes. She finished her strip by unbuttoning her jeans and letting them slide down her legs, which she then slipped out of and kicked to the side.
Moving from the pile of clothes on the floor to the mirror on the opposite side of the room, Faith gave herself a quick once over. She admired how well the one piece swimsuit hugged her body, amply displaying her curves and generously accentuating her ass. She enjoyed the stares she always seemed to get from the boys and men who populated the beach, though she never let it interfere with her work.
After several moments, Faith turned and opened the door, walking out of the tower and leaning on the wooden railing. She thought once again about the way that Willow had looked at her. She would have to talk to Buffy about the best way to change that. If Buffy was friends with Willow, Faith wanted to be as well.
But for now, she had a long day of work ahead of her. Moving to withdraw a folding chair and a pair of binoculars from inside the tower, she moved to sit down and begin her scan of the area. As her gaze drifted across the sands, she said a silent prayer for Buffy, hoping that she and Willow enjoyed their day together.
Willow sat on the side of the rented boat, clad in a one piece black wetsuit that covered her entire body and checked Buffy's tank for what seemed like the hundredth time. She knew that she had no reason to be worried about it. As a professional, Buffy always kept her equipment in perfect working order and the reason for her obsessive compulsiveness was simply her transference of the nervousness she felt about her best friend and her new friend meeting face to face.
It was certainly a troublesome situation, and it was only through trial and error that she would find out how it would play out. Zipping up the wetsuit, she turned to look at Buffy, who was also clad in a black full body wetsuit. Willow couldn't help but notice how well her friend's body fit into it, the black rubber highlighting the ampleness of her chest quite nicely and, blushing as her eyes caught sight of it, magnifying the already shapely curve of Buffy's ass.
"Buffy's certainly got a flair for exhibition," she thought absently. "Even when she's fully clothed, she's got a way of making it all stand out."
Buffy moved to put on her buoyancy compensator, the back of which rested a tank rented from the dive shop. When the pair had stopped there on the way to the docks, Willow had vehemently insisted that she be the one to wear the rented equipment, but Buffy would have none of it, insisting that, since her equipment was top of the line, Willow would feel safer if she used it.
Strapping the heavy equipment onto her back, Buffy took a few test breaths from the regulator. Satisfied that everything was OK, she turned to Willow. "You ready, Will?"
Putting on her mask, Willow turned to look Buffy in the eye. "Yeah." Then, as Buffy moved to put on her own mask, added, "Thanks."
"For...accepting me as I am." It was a simple phrase, and yet there was so much behind it. For the longest time, she had kept to herself, never letting anyone get to know the real person that was Willow Rosenberg. Even when she had told Buffy that she was gay, she still kept her most private secrets, especially her status as an aquaphile, close to her heart. But in the past forty eight hours, a lot had happened to change her outlook on life. And she was happy that the two people who mattered most in that life played a vital part in it.
Buffy took Willow's gloved hand into her own and gently squeezed. "I wouldn't want you to be anyone other than who you really are, Will. And I want you to be happy. Now let's go meet your friend."
Willow nodded, put on her fins and placed the regulator into her mouth. Buffy followed suit, also attaching a writing slate to her weight belt that would allow them to communicate underwater. The two then each placed a hand on their faces to keep both their air supply and their masks on, then dove as one into the ocean.
Tara awoke and looked around, finding some comfort in the familiar surroundings. The uneasiness that she had felt the previous day had passed, and she felt more clearheaded and able to think.
Swimming to the surface, she allowed herself to float gracefully on the water's edge, looking up at the ceiling of rock above her head and wondering if Willow would come to visit today. She found it curious that she was now expecting an event that she had been dreading before.
Thinking about it, Tara realized now that, no matter what happened between them, she would always have the brief contact that they had shared when Willow had first awoken. Thinking back on that moment, Tara thought about the things Willow had said. She knew of mermaids, citing one named Ariel. The most curious thing she had said about this Ariel was that she had a tail.
She looked down at her feet, waggling her toes as a small smile formed on her face. Knowing now why she looked the way she did, Tara was sad that she would never be able to have the enhanced mobility that a tail offered. Her legs had given her a strong swimming ability, but she couldn't help but wonder what could have been.
It was a surprise that they were able to communicate as well as they did. Tara wondered how much of the conversation Willow had understood. While her manner of speech was such that she could communicate with others of her kind rather well, it made verbal communication rather difficult. She knew that Willow had been able to pick out the general idea of what she was saying. She also knew a spell that would give the redhead the ability to understand her better. If she came back, Tara would ask if she could perform it on her.
The thought sent a double wave of depression over her. She was accepting two very important things as fact by thinking that: that her ability to perform the spell on Willow was something she could justify enough to say that it wasn't a further violation of her clan's tenets, and that the redhead would indeed return to her.
Tara sighed. She knew it was rather sudden to assume that after only two days, but a cloud continually hung over her. Willow's experience may have been enough to convince her never to return to the water, regardless of the reason.
Suddenly Tara felt uneasy. Her danger sense had been awakened, and was now telling her that an imminent danger was approaching. It was impossible that any of her fellow mermaids were coming to find her. Only Baji knew of her secret hideaway, and she would never have come to her so abruptly. It could only mean that humans were near.
Taking a deep breath, she stretched her senses out into the ocean, trying to pick up something in the approaching presences. She immediately felt two distinct forces. One was strange to her, but an air of curiosity and a sense of honor and purpose identified it as one that was pure of heart. The other felt familiar, yet carried a sense of apprehension. Whoever this second person was clearly worried that whatever it was doing was for the good, yet could not fully convince itself.
Tara's blood grew as cold as the water around her. The familiar presence must have been Willow. But what was she doing? Did she bring someone here to capture her? Had she told someone else about her experience and was now sending others to investigate?
"Willow?" Tara said to the air. "What have I done?"
She had to hide, but knew that she could not escape without being spotted. And there weren't any adequate hiding places in the cave. The irony that the cave itself was meant to be a hiding place was not lost on her.
As she scrambled to the rocky surface, Tara quietly accepted the inevitability of what was going to happen, knowing full well that she had brought it down upon herself, and that whatever was about to happen was either a reward or punishment for her actions.