Dawn clapped her phone shut, exhaling a long, steady stream of breath, and laid it on the coffee table absently. She nodded her head as if reaffirming something to herself. Finally, she looked up at Buffy and Xander. "Okay. She's ready. It's time."
"Now? She's ready now? Why now?" Xander asked, starting to look nervous.
"She didn't say. She just said it was time." Dawn answered, glancing at Buffy. "Are you okay?" She reached out a hand and caught a tear that was rolling down her sister's face.
"Yeah, I'm okay. It's just... it feels so sudden." Buffy answered, looking decidedly weepy.
"Shouldn't this be more of a woo hoo moment?" Dawn asked, wondering why she herself felt a slight sense of dread.
"It is a woo hoo moment. We just don't want her to get hurt." Buffy responded, seemingly explaining the emotion all three of them were feeling. The room fell to silence as the three of them worried about Willow.
"What's going on?" Willow's voice rang through the house as she moved into the living room, her eyes taking in the solemn forms of her friends. She didn't notice that her sudden appearance caused them all to jump. "Jeez, who died?" She asked, her face contorting in surprise as they all turned to her with grim expressions. "Oh God, who died?"
"No one died. Everything's fine, Will." Buffy answered quickly, wiping the tears back from her eyes.
"Everyone's all with the solemn. What's going on guys?" Willow dropped herself into the chair across from the couch they were all seated on. She eyed each one of them in turn. "Alright, now I'm feeling weird. What's going on?"
They each exchanged looks, willing the others to explain. Finally, Buffy took a deep breath and began. "Willow. We love you, very, very much."
"It's me, isn't it? This is some kind of intervention." She asked, her eyes growing wide. "Oh God, are you guys kicking me out?"
"No!" Buffy supplied forcefully. "Never in a million years, Will." She flashed a kind smile at Willow, hoping to nip that idea in the bud immediately.
"Seriously, the cryptic is starting to get tedious, here, folks. What's going on?" Willow demanded, feeling her temper rise. This was her family, why couldn't they just say what they had to say?
Seeing things were going downhill fast, Dawn decided to simply spit it out as quickly as possible. Most of the words came out in hyperspeed. "I went to college in Portland to look for Tara and I found her and I want you to come to Portland with all of us to meet her and give you guys a shot at love because we know how sad you are and we know how much you want this, but we're all scared for you. I'm scared for both of you actually, but we're scared that things won't work out and it won't be what you want, and it would crush us."
Silence filled the room for a long moment, Dawn exchanging nervous glances with Buffy and Xander as Willow sat dead silent, unblinking. Usually they could see the wheels in Willow's head turning, but it seemed like she wasn't even breathing. For Willow, the words had gone by so fast it took her brain long moments to process. What did she just say? That was quite the babble, we're spending way too much time together. Wait, what? What did she say? She went to college in Portland to look for Tara. Who is Tara? MY TARA? Her brain screamed. She went to college in Portland to look for Tara and she found her. She found her? My Tara? She found my Tara at college in Portland? The wheels grinded slowly, achingly slowly, each thought forced through her mind. She processed each word, looking for some alternative meaning in case she was missing the point. Dawn went to college in Portland. She went to Portland to look for Tara. She found her. They know where she is. They want me to go there. They want me to meet her. They're scared. They're scared?!? Are they kidding? They're not kidding. They'd never kid about this. Would they? "Are you in any way joking?"
"No, Wills, we're not." Xander supplied, and the three of them went back to staring at her intently.
Her mouth remained open. The cogs continued to turn. They're not joking. They know where she is. How long have they known where she is? Where is she? Can I be there? "Can you explain this slowly and from the beginning?" She finally asked.
"We were worried about you, Will. It's been a long time, and all you think about is us and Tara. And that's fine, it's your choice... but, well, we wanted to help." Xander began.
Buffy picked up where Xander left off. "None of us really knew if you were actively looking for her, so we got together as a group and discussed it."
"I knew you were running that computer program, but it seemed like there were so many possibilities and not a ton of answers." Xander supplied.
"And I knew you were offered that job in Portland, but you didn't take it to stay with us." Buffy added.
"We wanted to help, but we weren't sure how, until I realized that I had a golden opportunity. College." Dawn filled in.
"That's why you went to Portland?" Willow asked, her voice was sure, but there was a hollowness to it that suggested she was still attempting to process.
"Well that, and you've been talking about it for years. All of those conversations we've had about what a cool city it was? And, it's got a lot of colleges..." Dawn crossed towards Willow, kneeling beside her, and rested a hand on her arm. "We wanted to do something for you, something to help pay you back for all that you've done for us."
"And you found her, just like that?" Willow asked, her voice still edged with something they couldn't identify.
"Well, no... I didn't even know where to look." Dawn sighed. "Honestly? I didn't think I'd find her, but I just kept hoping that I would stumble across her. I thought that if it was supposed to be, it would just happen."
"And?" Willow asked.
"It did." Dawn answered.
"How? Where?" Willow demanded.
Dawn shrank away a little from Willow's gaze, which was filled with something akin to overwhelming dread and a slight bit of hope. "In a coffeeshop my friend Rona works at. She's a poet, she was there to give a reading. Actually, she goes there a lot, as it turns out."
"When?" Willow's eyes sought out Dawn's.
"May?" She nearly shrieked.
"Willow... when we figured out that she was the Tara you'd been looking for, when I told her I knew you, she passed out. Right there in front of me, she just... collapsed. It was really scary. When she came to, she demanded to know everything I could tell her about you. She was... actually, a lot like you are right now."
"Really?" Willow's eyes sought out Xander and Buffy. She could tell by the looks on their faces they were slightly afraid of the way she'd been reacting, but she wasn't sure what she was supposed to be doing. All she felt was a mind numbing shock. She could barely process what was being said, but she understood, unequivocally, that what they were saying was true. Tara. The girl I kissed. The girl I've been dreaming about. They know where she is! The colors in the room began to swirl, and she tried to focus but found she couldn't. She heard her friend's voices calling her, but she couldn't respond. The last thing she heard as her whole world faded to black was Dawn's voice saying, "She's been thinking about you too."
As Willow passed out, Dawn turned towards Buffy and Xander with a slight smile. "Well, that went as well as could be expected."
Sunnydale, California/Portland Oregon
Dawn stood on the back porch, casting wary eyes through the windows into the house. Willow, Xander and Buffy were playing gleefully in the kitchen, laughing and making fun of each other in the traditional Scooby way. She sighed, her eyes running over Willow's face and the smile that hadn't dropped away for hours. "I hate lying to her," she whispered into her cell phone.
Tara sighed on the other end of the line, watching Anya flip through pages of a magazine on the couch. She ignored the looks Anya was shooting at her, and continued pacing the length of her apartment. "You're not lying to her... exactly."
"Tara..." The tone of Dawn's voice held a warning.
"I'm just not ready yet." Tara's voice was soft in reply, tinged with hurt and insecurity.
"I still think you would have been the better birthday present." Dawn giggled at her own joke, watching Willow through popcorn at Xander. Their goofy antics made her smile.
"Dawn, I need you to be serious." Tara responded. She didn't miss Anya's roll of her eyes.
"Tara, I get that you need time to... well, stop fainting when you think about meeting her. But I'm a really, really bad liar. Especially to my family."
"Buffy knows, doesn't she?" Anya pointedly rolled her eyes at the name "Buffy", mouthing to herself "what kind of name is Buffy". Tara shot her a look that spelled death.
"Yes, Buffy knows, but she's worse at lying than I am."
"You just need to direct her enough so that she makes the leap on her own. That's the only way I'm comfortable with this." Tara responded.
"Fine. But you owe me big." Dawn sighed. Xander came to the back door, gesturing for her to come inside. "Look, I have to go, they're going to get suspicious."
"Okay, we'll have lunch when you get back." Tara smiled. "Thanks, Dawn. I know it's hard."
"I just can't wait for the two of you to be together." Dawn replied. She motioned to Xander that she'd be in in a minute. "I'll talk to you soon."
"Okay, bye." Tara hung up her phone and flung herself down on the couch next to Anya, who promptly handed her her forgotten glass of wine.
"You sure are drinking a lot since you met Dawn." Anya remarked. "What kind of names do these people have? Dawn! That's a time of day, not a name. Buffy! Did California fry their mother's brain? And don't even get me started on Willow..."
"What's wrong with Willow?" Tara asked defensively.
Anya snorted. "It's a kind of tree, for god's sake."
"And Anya is incredibly normal." Tara rolled her eyes at her friend.
"It's not, but at least it has some pizzaz, don't you think?" Anya's face crinkled into a grin.
"Sure, Anya, it's got tons of pizzaz." She sighed, taking a deep gulp of her wine. She rested her head against the couch and rubbed the bridge of her nose.
"Tara?" Anya's voice seemed more serious suddenly.
"What is it, An?" Tara didn't bother to open her eyes.
"I don't get it."
"What don't you get?"
"Why you're not in California having multiple orgasms on top of multiple orgasms." Anya answered, her voice still entirely serious.
Tara sighed deeply, and drank from her wine glass again before turning her body on the couch to face her friend. "Because this isn't just about sex, An."
"I know that." Anya's face contorted to hurt. "I know." She repeated. "It's just... you love her. You've always loved her. You kissed the girl once and you knew from that moment on. And you've been waiting eight years, never knowing how she felt, never knowing if she remembered you. You found out almost four months ago that she feels the exact same way about you - which is just insane, by the way. Still, here you are! Encouraging the one person who could literally bring you two together not to tell her you exist! Why? I don't understand. I don't understand why you don't just go to her and start living happily ever after already."
Silence filled the room as Anya stared at her friend, and Tara stared back, her blue eyes searching Anya's face for the hint of sarcasm that she was used to seeing. Finding nothing but her friend's concern, the quiet broke with a sob. Anya leaned forward and pulled Tara's body into her own, stroking her hair and letting her cry. Finally, Tara quieted down and relaxed into laying across Anya's lap.
"She's a dream."
Anya's face registered her confusion. "We're actually positive she's real now." She used her best reassuring voice.
Tara let out a laugh through her tears. "We weren't sure before?"
"Well..." Anya started. "No."
"Faith saw her too."
"Mass hallucination caused by MDMA?"
Tara shook her head. "She's not a real person, not in my head. Not after eight years. Not after writing a book about a relationship with her that never happened!" Tara turned her face away from Anya's gaze. "I just... I would fall apart, An."
"What do you mean?"
"I would fall apart if she didn't want me."
"The little brat seems pretty sure she wants you." Anya answered.
"Yes, but I can't be anything more than a dream to her too! Imagine the pedestals that we have each other on! What happens when she's a real person? Worse - what happens when I'm a real person, with faults and insecurities and I'm not perfect the way I am in her head?" Tara sighed, biting the bottom of her lip to avoid crying again.
"Tara..." Anya, for the first time Tara had ever known her, seemed speechless. Quickly, she recovered. "You are perfect."
Tara laughed. "I'm not remotely close to perfect."
"Well, no, you have annoying qualities. You're nice all the time, to everyone. Until they suck, and even then you're completely corteous and polite! You're a good roommate. A little shy, for sure, you never get laid, and you've turned down every offer I've made for you to induct me into the world of lesbian sex."
Tara quirked an eyebrow at her. "These are my faults?"
Anya ignored her. "But you're probably the best person I've ever met. You're my best friend, actually - you're pretty much my only friend, unless you count Faith and Giles. I don't, but they won't go away, so there's not much we can do about that. You put up with me, and I know that's not easy." Her lips held the glimmer of a smile. "I'm not an easy person to live with, I know that. I'm brutally honest, I say whatever's on my mind, regardless of whether or not it's offensive, and I like sex. Vocally." The smile formed. "But, Tara Maclay, if this Willow person meets you, there's no way she won't want you. It's just not possible. Because you're simply the most loyal, dedicated, talented, brilliant, sexy person that exists in this world."
Tara's mouth dropped open, but no sound came forth. She stared up at Anya, unsure of what to say. Tears sprung to her eyes again, and leaked out. She didn't notice. Anya continued. "It's actually a shame I'm not a lesbian, or I would have married you by now."
"Anya..." Tara started, picking her words very carefully. "I think that's absolutely the nicest thing that anyone has ever said to me."
"You're welcome." There was a slight pause as they smiled at each other. "Also, I think the shy thing really is just a cover for a totally insatiable sexual appetite and I think you'd be killer in bed."