She almost let out a moan as she felt warm arms encircle her around her waist. Leaning back into soft comfort, she sighed, rubbing her eyes against the computer screen ache. Willow's hands reached up and began rubbing her temples as she softly whispered, "Poor baby."
Tara smiled, grabbing Willow's hands and pulling her arms around her neck, nuzzling into the cheek that fell to touch hers. "Hi sweetie."
"Hi." The answer was short, breathy. They relaxed into each other, letting the moments tick by with no concern for time or sound or anything else at all really. Tara felt her eyes grow heavy, the lids closing against her will. She was certain she would be asleep completely in just a few moments when she heard Willow's voice again. "How do you know?"
"Know what, baby?" Tara turned into the embrace, Willow dropped to her knees in front of her girlfriend, snuggling in between her legs and resting her hands against the other girl's back.
"What to write about? What to write? What words to use? I just... I can't imagine writing the way you do, putting words to paper to... create beauty. Is there some sort of method?" Willow's voice was small, mildly tamed by the realization there was something she didn't know how to do.
Tara laughed, filling the air around them with a delicious sound that made Willow's heart leap with happiness. She hummed a bit, a long drawn out note as she thought of a response that might make sense to her very inquisitive, science driven girlfriend. "I hear words in my head, usually just an opening line or two, sometimes four or five. I try to write them down as quickly as possible and let the image expand from there." Willow's face contorted immmediately into a puzzled expression. "Sweetie..." Tara trailed off, her eyes sweeping over the redhead's face. "I have a theory. I write it down. From there, I experiment with possible facts to expound on the idea."
Willow leaned forward into Tara's body, nuzzling her face into ample breasts that she had come to know and love. She had seen beautiful sights in her life, that she was sure of: sunrises, sunsets, nature in its glory, manmade wonders, a computer program that achieved its primary goal with simple ease. But the moment she had seen Tara's breasts for the first time, rays of sunlight streaming in from the window, dust particles floating about the air, and those rosy nipples cast in a heavenly glow - tears sprung to her eyes in the realization of the beauty of humanity. If one woman could be so perfect, certainly there was a Creator, a mastermind of the universe that had made a world of wonder. A God or Goddess who had seen fit to make the world splendid, to make a fit for Willow that felt like a missing piece of herself. A piece of herself that was able to take those moments of perfection and make them palatable for human consumption with words. This was the essence of Willow's question. How do you make the world perfect with words? It was a question she didn't know how to ask.
Tara smiled and ran a hand through her lover's hair. "I think of you, my love, and the words just seem to pour out." The gorgeous smile she received in response brought a flood of words to Tara's mind.
Her eyes skirted over the lines she had just written, resting her pen between her lips like a cigarette, she used her tongue to wiggle it from side to side, something she did out of habit whenever she reread her work. She rolled her head around her shoulders, feeling the tenseness of her muscles. Dropping the pen, she ran her hands over her face, and felt herself begin to shift back to the real world. On stage, a woman strummed the strings of her guitar as her voice sailed out over the low rumblings of patrons in the coffee shop and the hiss of the espresso machine. Her voice was haunting and beauitful, the lyrics a requim to some lost love. Tara ran her hand through her hair, tired of empathizing with this kind of music.
The door of the coffee shop opened, and Giles strolled in in his usual manner, carrying his briefcase in one hand and a guitar case in the other. His lips curved into an affectionate smile as soon as he saw her. "I'm not late, am I?" He asked as he reached her, dipping forward to drop a kiss on her forehead. He straightened and took a long look at her. "You are not sleeping nearly enough." He placed his case down gingerly, his suitcase followed. "You are certainly a sight for sore eyes."
"It's good to see you too, Giles." She smiled back at him, knowing he didn't expect answers from her for half of what he said.
"So, what has you so busy, my dear?" He raised his hand to gesture at the waitress before he settled his gaze back on her, pulling the glasses off of his face and beginning to clean them.
"Oh, it's nothing." She smiled shyly, thanking the waitress for taking that moment to pop up and interrupt them. Giles placed his order for tea, and she ordered another chai. "How are your kids?"
"As delightfully irritating as ever." He smiled. "How is the demon?"
Tara laughed. "She's well. She's on a date or I'm sure she would have made an appearance." The meeting between Anya and Giles had been inevitable, as they all attended Three Friends open mic nights. Tara couldn't have imagined beforehand how totally horrified both Anya and Giles had been with one another. Since then, they had formed an amicable distaste for each other, knowing they shared Tara's best interests at heart was enough of a bond for them to harbor secret good will they seldom admitted to Tara, and never to each other.
"And what are you working on?" He pointed towards her still open notebook.
"I don't know, Giles." She sighed, slumping back in her seat. "Nothing's been flowing lately, except this stupid project I started a few years ago."
He cocked an eyebrow at her. "A stupid project?" He shook his head. "I can't imagine such a thing."
"It's really embarassing. I can't imagine ever doing anything with it, it just won't leave my head."
"Can I convince you to tell me about it?"
"Not right now." She smiled at him, and the waitress brought their drinks before he could totally object. "So what are you not telling me, Giles?"
"What on Earth could you be referring to?"
She rolled her eyes. "I called you at the office three times last week, you never called back. Finally, I call you at home yesterday, and you're secretive and tell me you'll meet me here... Something is going on with you."
He nodded. "Indeed, there is." Giles' gaze drifted down towards his hands, as if they had some kind of hint for the words he should use. "I've quit the Council." He said it quietly, and yet Tara's ears felt no strain to hear the words. She drew in a heavy intake of breath, and released it slowly through her pursed lips.
He smiled kindly at her. "I believe it's time for me to end my employment with those bloody vultures." She nodded, feeling numb. Of course it's time, Giles! She knew how hard it was for him at the Council, so many rules and regulations about what was "literature" and what was not. Still, could she help but feel a little sorry for herself? The one refuge she had at that company was leaving... who would she turn to now?
"So, what do you plan on doing now?" She asked, attempting to keep her voice level.
He reached his hand across the table, covering hers with his. His voice dropped again, and he leaned forward so she could hear him. "I'm thinking of starting my own company. Portland is a perfect place to start an independent publishing house, and I think it's time I did something that is all my own. I'm hoping that I can take my favorite poet with me." He looked at her over the rim of his glasses. "And, of course, whatever 'stupid project' she's working on."
The tears nearly spilled over, despite her efforts to keep them at bay. Her heart raced as her brain fought to keep up with this new revelation. Could they really be free of the Council's constraints? No, no, she couldn't. She had a contract for another book with them, she had to fulfill it. She shook her head, pulling her hand away from him.
"Perhaps she could publish something under her own name?" Hope flooded her entire body. Of course! My contract is under my pen name!
A smile lit up her face as she looked at him. "This could work."
"Yes, yes it might." He smiled back at her. "So... tell me about your project."
Dawn held the wrapped present tightly to her chest, sharing a glance with Buffy. "C'mon, Dawnie, where's the usual birthday enthusiasm? I'm getting used to you being more excited about my present than I am." Willow flashed a grin at her, her tongue protruding through her teeth in amusement.
"I'm all with the woo and the hoo." Dawn answered distractedly.
"Oh yeah, definitely party girl." Xander laughed behind her. "Will's right, Dawn, you're a little more sedate than usual."
"No, no, I'm great." She flashed a quick smile, the butterflies in her stomach dancing about to a decidedly disco beat. Seeing the looks on her friends' faces, she relented. "I'm a little nervous about this present."
"Anything you give me will be perfect, Dawn." Willow answered, placing her hand on Dawn's arm. "I love you, and you are present enough."
Dawn smiled a real smile, and pulled Willow into a hug. "I love you too, Willow, so much." She pulled away, looking Willow in the eye. "I hope you get everything you deserve this year." Her words were punctuated, as if she were trying to make some larger point.
"You really are all with the seriousness." Xander looked on at his two best friends, slightly bewildered. He turned to Buffy, his eyebrows raised in question.
"Go ahead, Dawn." Buffy gave Xander no answer, her face etched in the same nervous expression on her sister's face. "Give her the present."
Willow grabbed the present out of Dawn's hands, grinning all the while. She shook it, turning it over in her hands. "Is it a DVD?" She giggled at herself. "Oooh, is it D.E.B.S.?"
"Oooh, yeah, is it D.E.B.S.?" Xander repeated behind her.
"You two just like hot women making out." Buffy laughed, easing some of the tension in her stomach.
"What's not to like?" Xander answered, wrapping his arms around Buffy. "If Willster would get with the girlfriend having, we could all be enjoying women making out."
"Some of us more than others, Xand." Buffy elbowed him in the stomach playfully.
"Alright, alright, enough about my non-existent love life. This is supposed to be a party." Willow poised her hands to rip the paper open, and was stopped by Dawn's hands on hers.
"Seriously..." Dawn said, catching Willow's eyes and holding them. "I'm not sure if you've seen this or not, but... well, I thought... you know what? Just open it."
Willow looked at her friends quizically, finally seeing the nervousness on the sisters' faces. "Guys, what is this?" She asked, but only received hand motions to open it in response. She pulled at the paper, laughing at Dawn's amazing ability to use a whole roll of tape on one present. Finally, she began to pull the paper off, revealing a book. "Oooo... Dawnie books!"
"More lesbian poetry?" Xander asked. "She's got a whole shelf full!"
"Shut up, Xander." Dawn smiled at him.
"'What Could Have Been'...." Willow's voice trailed off after reading the title. She flipped the book over, remembering the line from her favorite poet's last book. The name on the spine was different. Tara McClay. Pretty name, she thought. She settled into her chair, reading the back cover.
Outside of a coffee shop, on a perfect Portland night, Tanya catches sight of a woman, the most beautiful she's ever seen. Shocked by the intensity of her desire, Tanya embarks on a journey to follow this beauty to the ends of the earth. As luck would have it, they cross paths just a few months later, and so begins the trip of a lifetime. Have you ever met someone just once and wondered What Could Have Been? This lyrical work, poetic and haunting, is a look at that moment in one woman's life.
"Have you read it yet?" Dawn's voice brought Willow crashing back to reality.
"No, I haven't even seen it..." Willow answered, her thoughts racing a million miles a minute. Tara. Tara McClay. Is it possible? Is it even remotely possible? Could this be Tara? She looked up at Dawn. "Have you?"
Dawn nodded, looking down at her shoes. "Yes."
"Oh... and?" Willow's brain was barely functioning well enough to get the words out, but she forced them. Her ears felt dull, barely able to grasp sound. She breathed deeply, feeling vaguely like she was trapped underwater. Her movements were slow, her muscles hard pressed to force themselves to work.
"Willow... it could be her." The words hit Willow straight in the chest, knocking the breath out of her. She stared at the cover of the book, and then back at Dawn. "It's about Tanya, who meets a redheaded woman named Alyson outside of a coffeeshop and tracks her down..." Dawn stopped, looking up at Buffy for help. She drew in a deep breath, and finally concluded softly, "Willow, it really could be her. And if it is, she's been thinking about you, too."
"Damn." Xander breathed softly behind them.
Author's Note: What Could Have Been, Tara's novel, not this fic, is based roughly on Sylvia Brownrigg's Pages For You, which has to be one of my favorite novels of all time. I suggest you read it.