Willow's breath came in rapid bursts, the bubbles caused by her exhalations rising in a near constant stream to the surface. She looked up at the cascading inferno caused by her own breathing, realizing that it might be a good idea to keep it under control, lest she run the risk of running out of oxygen as she had the last time she was underwater. It occurred to her that she was doing this because she was nervous not only about seeing Tara once again, but also because she wasn't sure how Buffy would react. Willow had to admit that she wasn't sure which caused her the most anxiety.
The redhead felt a gentle squeeze on her gloved hand then, and turned her head to look at Buffy, her blonde hair floating around her head like a golden picture frame. Willow was glad for her friend's comforting touch, realizing that it served a dual purpose: it made sure that they would not be separated, and every so often when Buffy would send a comforting squeeze back as she had just done, it made her feelings of nervousness dissipate.
If only for a moment.
Willow turned back to see that they were approaching the cave where Tara had taken her a mere two days ago. So much had happened to her since her reawakening, not the least of which was her developing feelings for the mysterious blonde mermaid. She was frustrated that she still could not explain those feelings in a way that she was satisfied with. Buffy had helped somewhat with dealing with her concern, even if she had not idea what it was about, but Willow knew that Tara was the only one who could provide the answers she truly sought.
It occurred to Willow that she had truly died two days ago, and the Willow that returned to the surface was a completely different individual. Tara had such a profound impact on her life. And in only two days, it had gotten to the point where she could not concentrate on anything else. What did it mean? Was she going crazy?
Well, that would have to be one of the questions that the redhead hoped Tara could answer.
Kicking her legs in order to increase her pace towards the cave entrance, Willow came to a sudden stop as she felt Buffy tugging her arm. Turning back to look at the blonde, Willow watched as she shook her head, her grip leaving Willow's as her other hand reached for her writing slate. As Willow watched, Buffy wrote something down it, and then turned it in her direction.
"What are you doing?"
Confused, Willow motioned to the slate. Buffy handed the writing tool to the redhead, who wrote something down below Buffy's words. Once she was finished, Willow gave it back to her friend.
"Going to meet my friend."
Buffy looked at the words, then up at Willow. She pointed to the cave as if to say “In there?" Willow turned to where her friend pointed, turned back around and nodded. Suddenly nervous, the blonde once again wrote something down on the writing slate. After a few moments, she turned it to Willow once more, pointing a finger at her words in order to emphasize their meaning.
"It's too dangerous, Will. I may be certified for cave diving, but you aren't. And who knows what we could encounter in there."
Willow tried not to let her disappointment at Buffy's concern show. It was obvious that the blonde was just looking out for her best interests, making sure that she didn't do anything stupid. She had done that sort of thing since high school. And it certainly didn't help that, in this instance, she was right. The last time she went into a cave alone, things almost didn't turn out so well for her. But when it came to Tara, Willow knew that, no matter what, there was no danger. She implicitly trusted Tara, and that overrode Buffy's well meaning words.
Taking the slate from Buffy's hand, Willow wrote something down on its surface. She handed it back to the blonde, a mixture of hope and sadness radiating from her eyes.
Buffy looked at the slate, upon which Willow had written two words.
Buffy blew out a breath, the bubbles from her act cascading to the surface. The problem wasn't that she didn't trust Willow. In fact, she truly believed that whatever the redhead was thinking, it was a good idea. After all, Willow wasn't the one for flights of fancy. But there was the fact that what she was proposing now was rather dangerous, and even with an experienced diver like herself nearby, Willow should know better than to do anything as risky as this. Since she wanted to support the redhead in whatever she wanted to do, however, she was left with very little choice. She nodded her head, took Willow's hand into hers once again, and entered the cave alongside her friend.
The pair traveled through the labyrinth of tunnels for several moments, and Buffy was beginning to get worried that they were lost, when they finally reached a cavern. As the pair swam towards the surface, the blonde wondered once again if they had made the right decision to come this way. If something were to happen now, there was almost no chance either of them could get back out.
Breaking through the surface of the water, Buffy removed her regulator, taking a deep breath to test the air. It didn't seem dangerous, but that didn't make her feel any better. Looking around, she realized that their destination was as far out of the way as she could imagine. It was certainly a good place for unknown parties to come out and ambush them, the only way out being the path they had just taken.
Buffy suddenly became aware that there was something else in the room. She couldn't see anything, however, and removed her mask in order to get a better view. She scanned the area, her danger senses on full alert, before finally spotting someone attempting to cower in one corner at the opposite end of the cavern.
The person was unlike anyone she had seen before. Long golden locks flowed from her head, coming to a stop near the small of her back. She was also totally naked, not a single scrap of clothing evident anywhere on her body. What drew Buffy's attention the most was the fact that, on certain areas of her body, there appeared to be small patches of green that contrasted heavily with her skin. In addition, her neck had several deep gashes that looked like she had been cut. But when Buffy saw them pulse, she realized that they were gills.
“Will, who the..." she started to say, only to see that her companion had already swam forward, approaching the rocks on which the female rested. “Will, stop! You don't know who that is!"
Willow turned around. “Yes, I do." She gestured to the person, who was looking increasingly agitated. “Buffy, this is Tara."
“She's the one I was talking about. The one who saved me from drowning."
The information was just a bit too much for Buffy to absorb. “Will, you can't mean that she..."
On the rocks now, Willow began to remove her equipment, dividing her attention between Buffy and Tara. “She did, and I couldn't be happier for it. Now can you come here, please? I really want you to meet her."
Buffy could sense the subtle, yet uncharacteristic whine in Willow's request, and left with no other option, swam over to join Willow. As the redhead watched her approach, she turned to look at Tara, green eyes ever hopeful. A connection had been easily made between her and Tara. She hoped once more that the connection could be extended to Buffy. Somehow she thought it would make Tara feel better. Kneeling down, Willow extended her hand, prompting Tara to do the same. Their hands came together, each feeling the radiant heat energy pass between them almost as if the pair shared one heart.
Looking back at her friend, who she noted with some sadness remained in the water, she said, “Tara, this is my best friend. Her name is Buffy."
Tara turned to look at the newcomer, and offered the briefest of waves. “Hi."
Her voice was that of a hushed whisper, and Willow instantly grew uncomfortable. She could clearly see how much of a problem Buffy's presence was causing Tara. Turning to look at her friend, she said, “Buffy, I think you're scaring Tara."
Buffy, who had dealt with stranger things in her life, couldn't help but agree. “To be honest Will, she's kind of scaring me, too. I think we should get out of here before..."
“Hold on." Willow insisted, turning back at Tara. “Tara, can I trust you?"
A moment passed before Tara nodded vigorously. Turning to look once more at Buffy, Willow said, “Tara, I'm going to tell you something that's deeply personal to me. Something that I've never told anyone else. But I am going to tell you this because I trust you." The redhead turned back to Tara. “Do you understand?"
Tara nodded again as Willow looked back at Buffy. “Buffy...is someone important to me. She's...helped me through some pretty tough times. Kinda like you. I...kept things from her. Things about myself that I shouldn't have kept hidden. It ate away at my insides, making me feel all icky." She turned back to Tara, piercing her blue eyes with her own. “But thanks to her, I've come to understand that there shouldn't be any secrets. Especially between the people we care about."
Tara's face held a great deal of anguish as she listened to Willow's tale. If this Buffy was someone who had harmed Willow in the way she had nearly done, she had to wonder why Willow considered the other woman her best friend. It was too confusing for her to figure out. But as Willow finished her tale, she realized that the only reason Willow may have been hurt by Buffy was because she kept things from her. And when Willow said that there should be no secrets, Tara's face brightened. Along with the fact that it made her feel slightly less afraid to tell Willow her secrets, it meant that the redhead held the other blonde in high regard if she could trust her enough to share a deeply personal secret. And if Willow believed Buffy was a good person, so could Tara.
Willow was glad to see the change in the blonde mermaid, knowing that it would make getting Buffy to accept her that much easier to accomplish. “So, does that mean that you're not afraid of Buffy anymore?"
Tara shook her head no.
Willow smiled. “Good. But now I have to contradict myself and say that I want to be alone with you for a while. Is that OK?"
Tara nodded once again, a smile on her face. Willow took it as a sign of encouragement. Had she thought about it, however, she would have noted the slight stress lines across the blonde's forehead, indicating that her happiness was tinged with a sense of doubt and a pensiveness that resulted in the smile losing some of its brightness.
Getting to her feet, Willow walked over to Buffy. “Buff, you mind?"
Buffy hesitated. What she thought was going to be a simple diving trip to meet a new friend of Willow's had quickly become something else. Not only was Willow's new friend an unknown who she didn't feel at all comfortable about, she also had a problem with leaving the redhead alone at this depth. If something bad happened, she wasn't too sure Willow could escape and make her way back to the surface. She also knew that Willow expected an answer and that she couldn't just float there and say nothing.
“Will, I have to say that I have a problem with this."
“You didn't yesterday," the redhead retorted.
“Yesterday I didn't know your friend was..." Buffy hesitated, not really knowing how to finish the sentence without either offending Tara or upsetting Willow. Letting the comment drop, she continued, “Look, Will. I'm worried, is all. There's something that isn't right here."
Willow could hear the unvoiced meaning in Buffy's words. “It's about Tara, isn't it?"
“Buffy, be honest."
Buffy sighed, the obvious discomfort she felt making the act all the harder to accomplish. “Yeah, Will. It is."
Willow, while not entirely surprised, was nonetheless taken aback. “Buffy, I know that Tara seems a bit...strange. And I know you just want to look out for me. But I feel something for her. I...I have to figure out what it is. And I kinda want to...find out with nobody else watching. I know I shouldn't keep that a secret from you, but I kinda wanted to find out for myself and figure out what it means before I tell anyone. Do you understand?"
Buffy pursed her lips, understanding all too well what Willow wanted. This was a classic character trait of hers: finding out something new, trying to learn all she could about it, then deciding whether or not anyone else deserved to know. In that respect, she was willing to allow Willow to stay. Still, she did not entirely like the idea of leaving her all alone with some strange creature, no matter how much Willow proclaimed its good intentions.
But she couldn't continue to argue with Willow when it appeared that the conversation was going to keep going around in circles. That was another character trait of Willow that, while endearing at most times, was really a pain at times such as this, when it appeared that her life could be in danger.
“Just...be careful, OK? I don't want anything to happen to you."
“Nothing will," Willow promised.
Buffy moved to replace her mask over her eyes and returned the regulator to her mouth. Then, giving one last glance at Willow and hoping that she wasn't making a mistake, she dove under the surface and headed back the way they had come.
Watching as Willow's friend returned to the ocean from whence they came, Tara couldn't help but feel conflicted about what had just happened. The happiness she had felt about hearing Willow speak had dissipated as reality once again set in. Willow had told someone about her. And what was worse, she actually brought that person here. She couldn't help but wonder what would happen now. Had she inadvertently started a chain reaction that would eventually bring about the destruction of her clan?
On the other hand, Willow had said that she had kept secrets from Buffy, and how much it pained her to do so. Tara realized that it was the same situation in which she found herself. By keeping what she had done a secret, the only person she was harming was herself. And after experiencing the pain of agonizing over whether or not to tell Willow that she nearly killed her, Tara certainly knew how much it could hurt to keep secrets from others. She also wondered what other secrets Willow had, and if Willow would be willing to share them with her.
Looking up, she saw Willow walking back towards her. Tara's gaze passed across her form. Unlike the last time they had met, in which she wore clothing over her body but kept her legs bare, Willow now wore a form fitting black garment that make little squeaking noises as she moved. There was something about those noises, along with the smell the clothing radiated, that flipped a switch in the back of Tara's mind, making Willow appear in her mind's eye as sexy as she had been when the blonde first saw her nude body.
Sitting down in front of Tara, Willow looked into the blonde's eyes. “Hi."
Tara returned the stare, hesitant as to how to proceed. “Hi. I glad you come back."
Willow smiled. “I'm glad to be back." She looked around the cave. “I love what you've done with the place."
Willow turned back at Tara, sad that her attempt at humor had failed. The feeling was replaced by the need for her to learn more about the beautiful creature in front of her, something she didn't get a chance to do the last time they were together. “Tara, I've got a lot of questions to ask you. That is, if you wanted to answer them. I mean, I'm not going to force you to answer anything you find uncomfortable or private, but maybe we can start off with some easy questions, like 'how old are you?' or..."
“Yes," Tara interrupted. “I answer questions, only..." She paused, hoping that she could frame her next words better. “I no sure you understand."
“Understand what? The answers? Well, yeah. Kinda figured that, what with you being a stranger to me. That's why I was hoping that..."
Tara reached out and touched Willow's arm, noting ever so briefly how different the touch of her hand against the clothing had been compared to the redhead's bare skin. Willow had worn a similar piece of clothing the first time they had met, and when the blonde had removed it, she felt as if she was removing a part of Willow's skin. The thought concerned her greatly, wondering if she was removing a vital part of her body. The immediate danger had made those thoughts secondary, but looking at Willow clothed from neck to ankle in something similar once more, Tara wondered how much the clothing was a part of the redhead's life. And she also wondered if Willow enjoyed the feeling of it against her skin as much as the blonde enjoyed the feeling of it against her own.
Her mind returned to the task at hand, and she answered Willow's question. “No, I mean...I no sure talk good for you understand. I think it better if I...help you learn."
Something about Tara's voice told Willow that there was something dangerous about what she was trying to say, but the curiosity she felt overrode the potential danger. “Understand? How?"
Tara moved to position herself closer to Willow, arms reaching out for the redhead's face. “Trust?"
"Trust?" Willow thought as Tara waited for her reply. "What does she mean by 'trust?' Do I trust her? That's not even a question. Of course I trust her. Except..." She had to think. Whatever it was that Tara was about to do was obviously something personal, and she had the feeling that it would alter her life. "Then again, a lot of that's been happening lately. And aside from nearly drowning, nothing bad has happened yet."
“Yes, Tara," she said aloud. “I trust you." Despite the lingering doubts in her mind as to what Tara was going to do to her, the words came straight from the heart.
“You sure?" Tara asked. “Because once I start, spell can't stop. And there potential for bad..."
Willow took Tara's hands into hers, and stared deeply into her eyes. The ocean blue of her irises held such love, but that affection was tainted by a sense of caution. Whatever it was Tara wanted to do, it was clear from the look in her eyes that she was frightened about the possibility of it causing her harm. Willow knew, however, that Tara would never knowingly go out of her way to harm her. She couldn't figure out why she knew this, but it didn't matter. On some level, conscious or not, she knew Tara would never harm her, and that was enough for her.
“I trust you." The words were a whisper, but had the strength of an anvil dropping.
Tara swallowed, then took her hands out of Willow's and placed them on her face. On reflex, Willow closed her eyes, her breath going from shallow and languid to long and deep. The hot air blew into Tara's face, making it almost impossible for her to concentrate on her spell. And she needed no distractions. This spell she was about to enact had been one she only performed on marine life, never on someone like Willow. If she didn't do it correctly, it could cause Willow brain damage or, worse yet, leave her in a permanent vegetative state.
Tara would make sure that she performed this spell correctly. She couldn't risk harming Willow.
“Amphitrite, zel kanna de nora el cucco..."
Willow had closed her eyes as soon as Tara's fingers touched her skull, her breathing slowing. She didn't know why she was doing this, but somehow she knew that whatever was going to happen would work better if she remained calm and did not give Tara undue reason to worry.
She heard Tara chanting in some mysterious language, the same type of language she had heard when she spoke the spell that had allowed her to breathe underwater. And like then, she couldn't make out the words. But there was so very few words that Tara did speak that Willow could understand. She had only been able to pick out a few key words, and was thankful enough that she could get by on just them.
Suddenly the feeling of Tara's touch on her skull changed. Where before it had been warm and gentle, there was now a slight, but intense pressure that sent a cold invasion working its way inside her mind. Willow felt herself tense up as the feeling slowly become one that felt like ten ice picks were being slowly shoved into her head. Her urge to tense up increased, but she struggled to calm herself. Willow knew that whatever reason Tara had for doing what she was doing, it would work better if she didn't do anything that might break her concentration. She had to admit, however, that it was getting more difficult by the moment.
As she continued to fight the urge to tense up, Tara's words began to change.
“sel denna dio mag...of everlasting understanding. And may she accept this gift with everlasting happiness and joy."
Willow smiled, finally understanding what it was that Tara was doing. The blonde was bestowing a gift onto her, much like giving her the ability to breathe underwater. And, like before, she was doing it to give the redhead something that she desired most.
"I will," Willow promised silently. "I will accept this gift in the spirit that it was given. Anything you give me is a gift, Tara. And I will treasure them forever and always."