Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer belongs to Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, 20th Century Fox and minions. This was created for entertainment purposes only, without remuneration. The story and all original material belong to me. To quote the fabulous Missy Elliot "copywritten so...don't copy me."
Distribution: The Mystic Muse http://mysticmuse.net
Feedback: Yes, please
Author's Note: Season 4, slight AU. Post Hush, pre-NMR. Mad props to all the Kittens and much love to my beta/muse Melissa witchpunk.
Summary: Willow attempts to deal with her growing feelings for Tara and a strange machine that Buffy essentially drops into her lap.
Willow sat reading Bleak House in the student center looking up nervously every few seconds. She knew Tara's Art History class was over at two and that the blonde frequently passed through the Student Center before returning to her dorm. Unless she went to the library, but on Thursdays Art History was her last class of the day so she should definitely come here for a snack and not to the library.
And then it occurred to her that it might be a bit strange that she had memorized her friend's schedules and habits so quickly. They had only been friends for a couple of weeks.
What's up with that? You don't even know where Xander works but you've calculated the statistical probability of Tara's appearance in the Student Center at 2:00 on a Thursday?
Which made her feel uncomfortable sitting there waiting so she tried to even harder to look nonchalant which just made her more nervous.
Oh my god. You are so stalking her.
And that begged the obvious question: Why?
Because she's a powerful witch! It's a witchy bonding thing. Well, that and the fact that she's cute and shy and has those incredible lips… and okay, so not ready to go there yet…
With a loud sigh Willow looked at her watch for the fifteenth time. 2:11. Tara was late. According to all of her careful calculations the blonde should have walked by already.
Maybe she ran into someone? Or maybe she's not coming. Or maybe I missed her.
Willow looked up from her book with mounting panic and peered nervously through the crowd. Still no sign of the blonde witch. She sighed again heavily and went back through the possible alternatives. She could try to 'bump into' Tara at the library or just happen to be in the dining center when Tara normally went, which would be sometime between 5:25 and 6:05.
She stuffed the unread Dickens into her book bag and mumbled irritably to herself, "Give it up, she's not coming."
"Who's not coming?" Willow jumped at the sound of the familiar voice behind her. Tara. Who was now smiling and ducking her head in that devastatingly cute way. "S-sorry. I didn't mean to scare you Willow."
The redhead felt a ridiculous smile spread across her face. "It's okay, it's just…I thought…don't you have Art History in Gates on Thursday?"
The blonde looked confused. "Yeah, but it was cancelled."
"Oh!" Which meant that her calculations had been correct.
"So, who's not coming?" Tara asked again.
Willow stood up abruptly to face her, fumbling awkwardly for a response.
"Um, uh, I was supposed to meet Professor Blalock, but I guess she's tied up or something. I mean, not, like, in a kidnapped for ransom way or anything…sorry. Willow babble."
"I like Willow babble," Tara smiled again and looked around nervously as if she was embarrassed by her admission. "So, um, do you want to get a c-coffee or something?"
"Yeah!" Okay, that was a little too big with the yeah! But Tara was beaming happily. As they made their way through the tables and chairs toward the coffeemakers, Willow began to feel guilty about lying. But it wasn't a big lie. It was a tiny little white lie. Yeah, but it's still a lie and this is the Hellmouth and you know about that old road to hell….
As the internal moral struggle raged, Willow felt Tara's hand rest lightly on her arm and looked up to find the blonde's face full of concern.
"Willow are you okay?"
I can't lie to her. Besides the whole Hellmouth issue there's the what-if-professor-Blalock-actually-shows-up thing.
"Um, yeah, I just…" she sighed dramatically and looked down at the ground. "It's just that I wasn't really here to meet Professor Blalock, I was here to…um, well you always walk through here around two on Tuesdays and Thursdays so I always try to be here then, but you weren't here so I thought…." She trailed off and continued to study the scuffed marble tiles, afraid to meet Tara's eyes. Great. Now she's gonna think you're a complete weirdo. "Sorry. It's really not as I'm-stalking-you as it sounds."
There were several moments of awkward silence before Tara spoke. "S- so you were here to s-see me?"
Willow felt her stomach turn over. "Um, yeah. Is that okay? 'Cause if it isn't I can totally not be here, y'know if that's what you want." After several more moments of terrible silence she looked up to find the blonde blushing. The heat exploded in her own face at the sight.
"That's why I'm here too. C-cause you're always here after my Art History class…or usually…and I was hoping we could get c-coffee maybe…" Tara admitted.
Willow knew she should say something. Tara was staring at her expectantly
"Oh." Which obviously was not the response Tara needed because she was staring at the ground again, her hair falling into her face.
"Sorry. I guess that sounds a little weird…" Tara trailed off wistfully, her forehead furrowing deeply.
And then it just seemed ridiculous. Both of them arranging to be here on the same day hoping to run into each other. Ridiculous, but not odd considering the obvious connection they both shared.
"No! I mean, it doesn't sound weird… well, maybe a little, but I mean it's kinda cool. You know, both of us sneaking around to see each other here on the same day. Like we were both thinking the same thing at the same time—synchronicity and all…." And then she stopped abruptly. "Sorry, I'm rambling again."
Tara was thoughtful for a moment, a small smile playing over her lips. "Yeah it's cool, but you know, I've heard there's this nifty new invention called a phone that you can use to actually arrange to meet someone at a certain place in time."
Willow laughed, "I'll have to try that…some other time when I'm not being all sneaky. Smartypants."
They sat down to drink their coffees and Willow found it harder and harder to concentrate on the conversation. Her thoughts kept wandering along with her eyes to the witch's lips, her blonde hair, her deep blue eyes. What's wrong with you?
There was a long awkward silence as the two of them smiled shyly down at their coffees. Willow stirred slowly and wondered if it had been long enough. Could she ask now? Would it seem rehearsed?
"Hey, um, I thought maybe we could get together later. Do some spells or whatever. I'll bring the pizza!"
She glanced up cautiously from her coffee expecting the blonde's shy smile and a quick 'yes'. But Tara was bent over her coffee, biting her lip, her forehead lined as she studied the contents of the cup.
Willow backtracked immediately, "But I mean, we don't have to…'cause you probably have better things to do on a Friday night and we can do it some other time if you don't want to…"
"No. I want to, it's just…" the blonde interrupted her and then trailed off looking down at her hands uncomfortably.
Willow tried to suppress the panic that threatened to overwhelm her. She had counted on a quick 'yes.' Tara had always made time for her before. At all hours.
"It's okay. Really. I shouldn't have assumed…"
"No. I mean, yes, you should have. It's just…I have a, um, a d-date."
"Oh." Willow felt as if she had been physically struck. The wind knocked out of her in one terrifying blow. But that wasn't right. Tara was her friend. She should be happy for her. Right? "Oh. Really? That's, that's great! That's so cool Tara." Willow managed to put some degree of sincerity in her voice to put the blonde at ease. She touched the blonde's soft hand and then pulled back as the strong electric shock arced between them.
Tara gasped at the contact, her eyes locking with the redhead's for what seemed like hours and then she forced her eyes away, a deep frown on her face. "No, it's n-not. A friend of mine set it up. I d-don't even want to g-go. It's g-going to be awful." Willow felt herself melt at the sight of the other girl's discomfort. Her stutter just made her more endearing. Tara was so special. She deserved to be happy. More than anyone.
Willow's voice, when she finally found it was gentle and certain,
"No it's not gonna be awful." She took the blonde's hand gently in her own, ignoring the powerful surge that ran through her. "You are going to have an amazing time. Who knows. Maybe he'll turn out to be the man of your dreams!"
Tara gave her a sad smile and squeezed Willow's hand before withdrawing her own.
"Wow! Who died?"
Willow looked up to find her best friend standing over her. The room was dark and she hadn't even heard Buffy come in. When Willow didn't respond right away, Buffy's mind began to race to the obvious Sunnydale conclusion. "Oh, wait. God. Did someone die?"
"No!" Willow managed. "No dying here. Or elsewhere. Sorry."
"Can I turn on a light or will that break the depressing mood you were going for here?"
"Sure. Sorry. Guess I didn't notice."
Buffy turned on the overhead light and Willow squinted painfully as the Slayer made her way over to sit next to the redhead on the bed.
Willow nodded and gave her friend a brave smile.
"Yeah. Sorry. I don't know what's wrong with me…" All she could think about was Tara. Tara on her date. Where were they? What were they doing? And that brought a series of disturbing images: the blonde making out with someone, the blonde in some state of semi-naked…. She felt herself heat up at the thought and nervously searched for a distraction. "But I'm okay. How's Riley?"
Yes, Buffy's Riley chatter she had discovered recently was the exact equivalent of a cold shower. Especially when paired with the image of her best friend.
Buffy gave her a suspicious look before letting out a long sigh.
"The usual. Busy with Initiative stuff." She got up abruptly and stood facing the hunched form of the hacker. "You know what? I think it's time for us to have a girl's night. You, me and lots of coffee. Which leads to lots of talking about what's going on in Willow World."
Willow gave her another sheepish grin. "Thanks Buffy, but it's okay. I'm sure Riley'll be by soon."
Buffy studied her with a worried look and then grabbed her arm, dragging the slim witch up to face her.
"He can wait. It's been too long since we had a best friend night."
"Really? Well, I'm good with the coffees, but I'm not so sure about the whole talking thing. It's just… I don't even know what's wrong you know?"
"Well, then it's time for Buffy research mode to get to the bottom of this mystery… minus the stuffy British guy and with lots of chocolate."
Willow had already cheered up measurably by the time they entered the crowded coffeehouse. It had been so long since she and Buffy had spent time together. She hadn't realized how much she missed her best friend until they slipped back into the comfortable banter.
So that's what all of that weirdness with Tara was all about. You're just lonely. You needed a friend. That's why you feel all jealous and with the warm and tingly, and… okay so maybe not exactly the same as Buffy. 'Cause, well, just 'ew'!
As they made their way through the tables toward the bar, Buffy chattered excitedly about recent Slayage while Willow laughed in all the right places at her friend's adventures.
"…you should have been there Will, it was just like that time in the morgue when…" but Willow didn't hear another word, her world frozen around a single point in the room. Tara. She was sitting at a table talking to another girl, a shy smile on her face. Which meant that she wasn't on a date, which meant that she had lied about her plans for the night. Why? She could have just said she didn't want to hang out with me. That she'd rather hang out with her hipper-than-me friends.
Buffy had finally realized that she was talking to herself and returned to find her friend frozen with a look of shock on her face. She followed her line of sight to find Tara sitting at a table near the back.
"Hey, isn't that Tara? Cool! She has a table." She said happily and walked toward the blonde witch.
"No. Wait Buffy." But it was too late. The Slayer had already made her way to the blonde's table. Willow briefly considered sneaking out while Buffy's back was turned, but that would only make things more awkward in the long run. She willed herself to follow the Slayer.
"Hey Tara, do you mind if we sit with you guys? There's like a serious table imbalance happening tonight."
Tara looked absolutely terrified and Willow watched in horror as the blonde looked from her face to Buffy's to the anonymous girl.
"Um, h-hey B-Buffy." Tara's face was crimson with embarrassment, but Buffy seemed oblivious. "I-Is that okay with you R-Rachel?"
"Cool! Then I'll go get the coffees." Which left Willow standing beside the table wishing she could crawl under the floorboards.
Tara was still blushing furiously and Rachel was smiling, but obviously irritated by the intrusion.
Rachel. She knew this girl. They had English Comp together. She was a Junior, pretty with short-cropped black hair and a hip leather jacket. Willow suddenly felt awkward and foolish in her silly pink hello kitty t-shirt and cargo pants. So this was one of Tara's real friends. And she was cool. Not some hacker geek in a stupid fuzzy sweater. No wonder she kept Willow separated from her other friends. I'm not cool enough.
"Hi Rachel," Willow finally managed. The other girl smiled back.
"Hey. Willow right?"
"Yeah. Um, look, I'm sorry Tara. Buffy's just…." But she couldn't think of anything to say. "We've got to go anyway. You know, the whole patrol thing. I mean…" she groaned in embarrassment. "Whatever. I'll see you later." She turned abruptly and walked toward the counter muttering to herself, but was stopped by a hand on her arm.
It was Tara. Willow looked down at the girl's graceful hand on her arm. She couldn't bear to look into those blue eyes.
"Oh, hey Tara."
"Y-you don't have to go. You can sit with us. Really." Tara released her arm and Willow looked down at the floor. Still unable to meet her friend's gaze.
"No. We're good, really. We're all with the slayage tonight. Well, I mean, Buffy's with the slayage, I'm more with the 'go Buffy's," she raised her arms in a mock cheer, "and, well, more the staying-out-of-the-wayage."
The blonde's smile was pained.
"Hey, it's okay. Really…" but then suddenly she was frustrated and embarrassed and almost angry. Which was strange because she had never felt anything like anger around the blonde. So, maybe it was more like hurt. Yes, definitely hurt. "But I just… I thought you were going on a date. I mean, if you wanted to hang out with your cool other friends you could have told me…"
Tara looked at her for a few moments in confusion as if she was trying to decide what to do. Or what to say. Willow watched with mounting panic as the blonde blinked slowly and took a deep breath.
"I-I am on a d-date Willow. With Rachel." she finally managed, her hand reaching out to gently clasp the redhead's arm once more.
Willow turned the statement over and over in her mind trying to make sense of it. Everything around her slowing to a stop until with an excruciating click it all fell into place.
"Oh!" she backed up abruptly pulling her arm away from Tara without meaning to. "Oh." And that was all that she could seem to say. Her brain locked in an infinite loop on Tara's last statement. She's on a date. With a girl. Date. Girl. She dates girls. Tara dates girls. Like a complicated equation she had been working on subconsciously for weeks and maybe months and well, probably years that had suddenly arrived at one simple solution. "Oh."
Stop saying that!
Tara looked as if she was going to burst into tears.
"I'm sorry Willow, I was g-going to tell you, but it never seemed like the right t-time what with all the d-demons and everything and…"
"Hey guys, got the mochas!" Buffy appeared beside her with the two drinks. At least they're in to-go cups. This is definitely a to-go moment if ever a to-go moment there was.
"Um, hey Buff, maybe we should make with the patrol," Willow danced nervously between the two women unable to look at the blonde. "You know, kind of a best friends night to go. I mean seeing as how it's kinda late and all."
The Slayer gave her a suspicious but amused glance, "M'okay Will. Whatever you want, Best Friend." She ended with a broad smile for the redheaded witch and then turned to Tara. "Guess we'll see you later then Tara."
The blonde witch managed a shy, painful smile as the Slayer turned to walk out.
But Willow couldn't bear to hear it. Whatever Tara had to say. It was all too much. She felt embarrassed enough as it was. And she wasn't even sure why.
"Hey, um, I'm sorry if we ruined your, uh, date or whatever. 'Cause, um, she seems nice and everything and cool, I mean much cooler than…" me, she thought and somehow managed not to say out loud. "Sorry again for the babble. Um, I'll see you… later. I guess." And then she turned to leave because she couldn't bear another second of this. But she heard it as she walked away, her name softly like a whisper, like a dream. "Be safe Willow."
Their mochas were cold. Her feet were cold. The tombstone she sat on was cold, which made her butt cold. Everything was cold. They had been sitting in the graveyard for over an hour and no action, no sign of anything strange or even interesting. And Buffy was getting edgy, pacing impatiently and rambling about Riley while Willow's own thoughts wandered.
Okay, so she was on a date. With a girl. With Rachel. I wonder if Rachel's a witch. Maybe they do spells together. Oh god, what if they do spells together? Powerful spells? Willow blushed furiously at the memory of casting with the blonde witch. The intensity of it, the strength of the connection. What if they're doing a spell right now? Tara doing a spell without me. With someone else.
"…and Riley was all with the 'I'm gonna give birth to a three-headed demon baby…'"
"Uh-huh," came the redhead's distracted reply.
But they're on a date so they're probably not doing spells. Which was some consolation for a few moments.
Yeah, they're probably not doing spells at all. They're probably doing something date-like. Something smoochie or… and she felt the world catch fire at the thought of Tara kissing another girl. Tara kissing anyone with those lips-
"Huh?" The hacker pulled herself back from Tara-land to find the Slayer standing over her, hands on hips. "Oh, sorry, Buffy."
The Slayer sat down with a long sigh beside her best friend on the tombstone. Willow felt guilty immediately. They had spent so little time together in recent months and now that Buffy had finally made time for her, she was too distracted to enjoy it.
"It's okay, all this Riley babble is boring even me." She put her arm around the redhead. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah, I just…I don't know." She sighed heavily and looked down at her hands. How could she explain what she didn't even understand.
"Is it Oz?"
"What? Oh. No." Which was strange. Willow realized that she hadn't thought about him in weeks. Since she had begun to hang out with Tara. In fact she hadn't really thought about anything at all. Except Tara. And she had been happier than she had ever felt in her life. Just thought of the blonde's shy smile made her feel warmer despite the chill.
"Well, that's good. So what's going on in Willow World?"
Yeah, what is up Rosenberg? What's wrong with you? You see Tara on a date with some other girl and you go all wiggy?
"Hey Buffy, sorry I'm late. Oh, hey Willow." Willow was surprised to find that she wasn't annoyed by Riley's intrusion. For the first time ever she felt relieved.
"Oh, hey Riley!" She averted her eyes as the Slayer greeted him with a passionate kiss and then took advantage of the moment to hop off the tombstone and pick up her bag. "I think I'm gonna head back to the room if that's okay."
"Oh, yeah. Do you want us to walk you back?"
"No. I'm okay. Really."
Buffy freed herself from her boyfriend's grip and walked over to the redhead.
"Are you sure you're okay?"
"Yep. Fine. Really. You two have Slayage and smoochies and you know, the good stuff in life."
The redhead gave her a reassuring squeeze and then turned to leave, immediately dropping back into her reverie. A walk would be good. She needed time to think.
Okay, time for research girl. What's the problem here? Well number one would be why do I care so much that Tara was on a date with a girl? Hmmm. Well maybe it's that you're homophobic? Willow's forehead furrowed at her own internal suggestion. She liked to think she was open-minded. After all, her best friend had dated a vampire who tried to kill them all and her own doppelganger had been pretty, well, polysexual at least and that hadn't wigged her out. Well, not that much anyway except for the licking her neck part and that only because of the confusing mix of arousal and disgust it elicited. So, we can rule out homophobic. Well, maybe it's just that girl. Yeah, she seemed so haughty and all with the cooler-than-thou attitude and…. Okay Rosenberg you don't even know Rachel. She could be totally perfect for Tara. No, that's not possible because I'm perfect for Tara and there can't be two people who are perfect for….
Willow froze in the middle of the quad. Her mind was overwhelmed by a sudden electrical storm of activity—a huge, earth-shattering epiphany—all of the resources of her powerful psyche focusing on one overwhelming realization: I'm in love with her. That's what this is. I'm in love with that girl. That perfect shy, quiet, sweet beautiful girl. Tara.
And without a conscious thought she was running. She wasn't even sure where she was running until she arrived out of breath at Tara's dorm. It wasn't until she was standing outside of Tara's room, breathless and sweating that she began to have doubts. What if Rachel's there? What if they're…. And that brought images of the blonde witch kissing… kissing Willow. Tara's soft lips moving over her own. Hands on her hips. And that turned the hallway into a furnace. Whoa, down girl. You don't want to scare her to death. Just because you're in love with her and she likes girls does not mean she'd be in love with a geek like you. But then her thoughts drifted back to the curve of the blonde's breast under the tight blue shirt she was wearing earlier. Oh my god! Stop! Stop with the naughtiness already!
How did I not notice this before? God! Denial much?
Willow forced herself to take a series of cleansing breaths and tried to relax. What if she's in there with Rachel? What if she doesn't like me that way? Maybe I should just call her tomorrow. The redhead took a few steps away from Tara's door and then clenched her fists.
"No! you're gonna do this right now." Cause you're never gonna be able to sleep again if you don't.
Another deep breath and she took a step toward the door. Okay carpe diem …without all of the vampire nastiness this time.
She knocked but there was no response. Maybe she's not back yet. Or maybe she's at Rachel's… She felt her entire body slump at the thought. She had just decided to go back to her room and map the entire confrontation out with charts and graphs when the door opened slightly.
She felt a warm rush at the sound of her name on the other girl's lips. The soft way she said it, like a love song. And then she realized that she had not responded.
"Hi Tara. Sorry I came by so late I just…" The door opened slightly and she looked at the floor in embarrassment. And then it hit her. That maybe Rachel was there. Why else would Tara not let her in immediately? She always had before. "…I can…I'm sorry. You're probably busy with post-date whatever…. And, uh, I'll just talk to you tomorrow." She waved weakly and began to walk away.
And she heard it then and knew before she even turned around. The break in Tara's soft voice. She had been crying. Willow turned in one quick movement. The thought of Tara in pain made her desperate. Panicked.
"Tara are you okay? What happened? Are you hurt?"
The door was now open and Willow could see the blonde's red-rimmed, swollen eyes.
"No, I'm okay Willow." Tara looked around the hall uncomfortably and then moved aside. "Do you want to come in?"
Willow put down a sudden fear that she would find Rachel in the room and walked past Tara. The room was dark, lit only by a few candles. And Rachel wasn't there. But there was still the fact that Tara was crying. She put her hand on the blonde's arm gently.
"Tara what's wrong?"
But the blonde wouldn't speak. Wouldn't look at her.
"Did somebody hurt you?" A weak nod. Willow felt anger boiling up inside of her at the thought of someone, anyone hurting the vulnerable, perfect girl.
"You." And that seemed to pull all of the air out of the room. Tara moved away from her grip and walked across the room to sit down on the bed. "At the c-coffeehouse. The way you looked at me…like I was s-some kind of f-freak, or m-monster or something. I just…I thought you…" the blonde trailed off and Willow found that she didn't have the strength to face her. Just stood there studying the door, her back to Tara trying to decide how to explain this.
I hurt her.
"I'm sorry Tara. I didn't… I mean…." She exhaled slowly and turned to face the blonde. "I know I acted weird, I mean, okay stupid would probably be a better word, but it's not what you think. I mean, it's not cause I think you're a freak or a monster. I could never think that."
"Then what was it?" the blonde sniffed weakly.
Willow paused unsure of what to say. This had to be just right. Perfect. And this was so not the moment.
"Um, I can't tell you right now."
"Why? Is it some top secret Scooby thing?" It was so tempting to just say 'yes' but she knew she couldn't lie to Tara. Not about this.
"No." She took a few more steps toward Tara and knelt at her feet by the bed. "I can't tell you 'cause I don't know how to say it yet. But I will in a few minutes so if you can wait I promise I'll tell you as soon as the processor in the back of my brain finally works it out. Is that okay?"
Tara actually managed a smile and nodded but stayed silent. After what seemed like an impossibly long time Willow broke the silence.
"So, uh, how was your date?"
"You can talk while you process?" The blonde gave her a teasing smile and Willow found herself beaming in response.
"Yes, smartie. It's an in-the-background kinda thing. So how was it?" Tara's smile faded and she looked down.
"It w-was fine."
"Just fine? Come on she was pretty cute." Tara's head snapped up in surprise at Willow's remark. "And she seemed like she was into you, but then who wouldn't be." And now she was bright red hiding behind her hair in that way that melted Willow's heart.
"Um, I-I d-don't know…"
"Do you…like her?"
Tara's face contorted in an uncharacteristic frown.
"Willow this is w-weird. Can't w-we t-talk about something else?"
"No. You want me to be cool with it and I am. Isn't this what friends are supposed to do? I mean, all with the girl talk…so to speak."
"Yeah, I g-guess."
"So? Do you like the girl or not?"
"Yeah …" Tara replied weakly and Willow's heart sank. "I mean, I used to l-like her…but I'm not sure anymore. Aren't you, uh, done p-processing yet?"
"Not quite," she admonished playfully, "and stop trying to change the subject. So you don't like her."
"N-no. I mean I used to have this giant crush on her, but now I'm k-kinda in love with someone else."
And this was something she hadn't really considered. Whether Tara was in love with her. It hadn't been important at the time of her I'm-in-love-with-Tara epiphany, but now it was. But how would I know? I mean she blushes around me all the time and she goes to the student center just to bump into me. But that doesn't prove anything.
Please let it be me…
Tara crossed her arms and frowned. "I d-don't think I want to talk about this anymore."
"Why? I'm not gonna tell anyone."
"It's just. Why do you want to know all of a sudden? I mean, you never asked before. We usually just talk about magic or demons or Scooby stuff and now s-suddenly…"
"Yeah, but maybe we should talk about other stuff sometimes. You know, friends stuff or whatever."
"W-willow you don't have to prove to me that you're okay with the whole g-gay thing. It's okay if it freaks you out."
"It doesn't. I mean, okay, maybe it did for like a nanosecond, but it doesn't," she reached to tuck a strand of the blonde's hair behind one ear. "So not freaked now. Really. And that's not why I'm asking anyway."
"Then w-w-why?" The blonde asked quietly and closed in on herself. But Willow found she couldn't focus any longer, she found that she was mesmerized by Tara's lips.
"Because," she managed to mumble.
"Willow that's n-not an answer."
But Willow couldn't focus, lost in a world of possible soft kisses.
And then suddenly the lips were gone and Tara was up and moving away from her, her arms crossed defensively across her chest.
"I think m-m-maybe I just w-want to be alone right now...." And something else, something terrible and gut-wrenching. Tara was crying. Again. Oh great! I made her cry again. Great going Rosenberg!
"No, wait! I'm sorry! I did it again didn't I?" Willow closed the distance between them placing her hands on the other girls arms. Tara flinched and shrank from the contact and Willow felt her panic mounting.
"I j-just…w-why are you acting so…. I mean why is e-everything d-different all of a sudden?" Willow watched in horror as a lone tear rolled slowly down Tara's cheek. "I mean, I-I'm not any different. I'm the same person y'know …"
"I know!" Willow groaned in frustration, "and that's kinda the point, because you're a really cool and smart and beautiful person…and did I mention beautiful?" Tara nodded slightly so Willow continued, "Cause that's an important one. Beautiful. And you're sweet and thoughtful and well, I just didn't know this one thing about you. You know, the gay thing so it is a little different, but in a totally good and maybe even better way?" Willow took a deep breath and tried to regain her original line of thought.
"So, I am different… to you," Tara said softly with a look of utter defeat.
"Well yeah! I mean, hello, gay being not what I assumed you are, not that I would assume you were anything because that would make an ass…okay, I'm not saying this right because see it's more that you're different and I'm different because… and it's so cool 'cause maybe we're different in the same way…well, see." Willow took a breath and checked the blonde's reaction to find that she was near tears again. What are you saying you idiot! You're making it worse and… for once in your life just say it! " Okay! I'm in love with her!" Willow yelled at herself and then realized that somehow the words had made the quantum leap from the utter turmoil of her brain the air between them. "With you I mean," she added weakly with a thin smile and then looked quickly down at the ground. This wasn't working out the way she had hoped. She should have gathered more evidence, mapped out a plan. But it was too late now. And what if she doesn't like me? Can we even be friends after something like that? That was, in the words of her grandfather, quite a matzoh ball hanging between them. "And if you'd let me finish processing that would have come out a lot better without the matzoh ball and probably with more appropriate timing and maybe even flowers or something…"
"What?" the blonde managed finally.
"I'm in love with you?" she repeated carefully, worried that she would upset her friend again.
"No. No you're not," Tara said and shook her head emphatically.
"What?" Willow was stunned by the response. She was expecting either happiness or horror. Or maybe even disgust, but not this whole bzzz wrong answer thing. "Yes I am!"
"N-No, you're not. You're Willow. You have a b-boyfriend you're still in love with, a best friend who's a Slayer and you're not. In love with me!"
Willow stood in shock before the blonde. Tara had never raised her voice to Willow. Oh god this is bad. Now what do I do? And is she saying that because she doesn't want it to be true? Or because she does? Okay, way too many variables here, I told you you should have planned this out. Carpe diem my…foot!
The redhead took a deep breath and prepared to claw her way out of the giant hole she had somehow managed to dig between herself and Tara. Okay, stay calm, use your debate team skills and don't scare her. "Yes. I am Willow. I had a boyfriend. I'm not still in love with him. My best friend is the Slayer and I just realized that I'm in love with this gorgeous witch named Tara, but apparently she's not in love with me and I now feel like a total idiot and I don't know why I thought…."
"It's not possible, it's not possible, this isn't happening…" Willow could barely make out the blonde's sobbing litany.
Tara was staring at the floor now shaking her head and Willow felt the entire world grow heavier pulling all of her internal organs toward the floor. As the atmosphere crushed down around her slim frame, breathing became an issue, her lungs working in excruciating gasps to supply her body and more importantly, her brain with much-needed oxygen. Willow was sure she was going to pass out. It was all too much. The epiphany, the run over to Tara's room, the panic. And now Tara wouldn't even look at her. She had managed to ruin everything in a matter of minutes.
"Oh god, I'm sorry Tara…" the redhead squeaked and then realized that there simply wasn't enough oxygen in the room to continue speaking so she did the only thing left, the one thing every Scooby was trained to do in a no-win situation—she backed out of the room carefully and ran.
Willow managed to hold back the hurricane of tears until she got back to the dorm room, but as soon as the door closed behind her it all came pouring out of her in huge racking sobs. For the first time in weeks she was grateful that her roommate was still out with Riley. How could she possibly explain this? Oh, yeah, no big Buffy. I just realized that I'm not just kinda gay I'm in love with Tara, but, hey, small problem, she's totally not in love with me! Which really shouldn't be such a surprise.... since, hello, I can't even make things work with the boys and girls are so much smarter...
"Hey Will, I'm so glad you're here!" Oh perfect! Willow raged internally while trying with Kleenex and shirt sleeves to return her face to something resembling normal. At least the light was dim. "Ohmygod, are you okay?" Damn slayer senses! "Did something hurt you? 'Cause we got jumped by these three…"
"No! No jumped here, just having a bad night," Willow weakly reassured her best friend.
"Oz?" the Slayer asked with a look of serious concern as she stroked the redhead's back in a comforting gesture.
"Uh, yeah," Willow lied. Coward! "So you got jumped?" she asked weakly hoping to change the subject.
"Oh yeah! These three vamps and a demon which is no big really, but they had this," Buffy pulled a small wooden box out of her coat pocket and set it on the bed between them. "It's got some kind of funky little metal thingy inside. Riley and I had like the biggest fight over it. He wanted to take it to the Initiative for testing, but it totally gave me the wiggins so I thought we should take a look at it first before they make with the experimenting…"
Willow nudged it absently with her foot. This was the last thing she wanted to do tonight. She just wanted to listen to sad CDs and cry and hopefully think of some way to salvage whatever she could of her friendship with Tara. "I thought maybe you and Tara could take a look at it before we show it to Giles at the Scooby meeting tomorrow," the Slayer asked expectantly. Okay, this is the second to last thing I wanted to do tonight, first being the shame and humiliation of facing Tara again.
"Um, I think Tara's kinda busy right now, but I'll take a look at it if you want," Willow offered half-heartedly.
"Great!" Buffy jumped up from the bed and began to collect her things.
"Going out?" Willow asked hopefully.
"Yeah, unless you need to talk, 'cause I can put off making up with Riley 'til tomorrow if you need the best friend thing." Willow thought about how much she wanted to talk to her best friend, needed to talk to her best friend. But she couldn't. Buffy would definitely freak over this one and she wasn't even sure that there was something to freak about.
Willow shook her head and forced a smile. "No, it's okay. You should go have makeup smoochies. I'll just work on the wiggins box. Who knows? Maybe it'll take my mind off of… things."
Buffy stood in the open doorway staring at her best friend with a distracted, but concerned expression.
"Okay, but we will talk tomorrow right? I want full disclosure, like, a three mocha disclosure.."
"Yes sir," Willow saluted as Buffy rolled her eyes and closed the door behind her.
Finally! Willow thought and eyed the box with mounting irritation. Stupid box. I just want to be alone with my self-pity and I should be darn it. I've earned it! She nudged the box again with a sneakered foot and rose with a sigh. Okay, shower then continue with the crying. Or maybe cry in the shower? 'Cause that would be a much more efficient use of time. Willow rambled internally as she collected her towel and shower kit and trudged toward the hall.
When she finally returned from a long shower she was feeling much better. The warm water and relative solitude of the stall made it easier for her to relax, allowing her to let out her emotions without fear of interruption for almost an hour. But as she made her way back down the carpeted hallway to her room it all began to boil to the surface again. It started when two girls passed her in the hall holding hands nervously. As she fumbled for her keys in front of her door she could smell jasmine and almonds, a combination that immediately equaled Tara in her mind. For a moment, she allowed herself a small hope that Tara had come to her room to talk, but there was no sign of the blonde witch. Just those two girls talking intimately outside a door down the hall.
One of them must use the same shampoo as Tara, Willow thought dejected and then made her way into her empty dorm room.
But it wasn't empty. A discarded cup from the Espresso Pump sat on Buffy's desk reminding her immediately of the night's events and humiliations. The redhead turned to find a photo strip of herself and Tara lying on her nightstand. She smiled as she remembered the afternoon in the mall. She had practically dragged Tara into the booth and the blonde was so camera shy she had hidden her face in Willow's hair in all but one of the frames. Tears began to well up in her eyes again. If she had just…
"No. Not gonna go there right now." Willow's features set in her trademark resolve face as she made her way to the bed. Well, at least there's the wiggins box. That should distract me for a while.
She looked at her watch, which read 11:13. Okay, well, that's only two more hours 'til I can actually fall asleep, so let's go mr. Wiggins. The redhead carefully opened the box to find a beautifully crafted metal object nested in black velvet. A series of small stars was etched into its otherwise seamless surface, but their arrangement seemed random. Not a constellation, or at least not one I recognize, which brought the redhead painfully back to the blonde witch and her strange universe of unique constellations. Well, if you close one eye it could be the Big Pineapple. With a deep inhale she forced her thoughts back to the task at hand, carefully withdrawing the delicate-looking item from the box to turn it over. Again, there was no seam, nothing that hinted at the object's use. She sighed again and began to return the starry object to the box when she felt it, a rough spot under the sensitive pad of her index finger. Closer inspection revealed nearly microscopic writing etched into the unnaturally smooth surface of the metal. Willow searched for a magnifying glass in the nightstand and turned it to the silvery surface to read, spelling out one letter at a time.
"T-E-M-P…oh! Tempus fugit?"
As soon as the words were spoken Willow threw a hand up to cover her mouth, but it was too late, the spell was cast. She could feel the charge building in the room like a storm. The first thing she felt was a strange stretching sensation as if her body and everything in the universe was being flattened and expanded simultaneously. For a terrifying nanosecond she was sure she would be torn apart by the powerful force of the spell and then the sensation changed. She was cold, unbelievably cold and the universe seemed to be rolling her up into a smaller and smaller space the size of a point. A one dimensional object.
…and then water. Very warm water pouring over her…naked skin? And her face was wet with something else. Tears? What the…?
Willow opened her eyes carefully, terrified that she would find herself in some nightmarish demon shower scene replete with her own Vamp self and definitely some kind of Faith-in-dominatrix-leather vision. But as her eyes slowly adjusted she could tell that she was surrounded by white tile. Oh god, maybe I'm in some kind of doctor hell with speculums and…oh, or I teleported into one of the Initiative's scary demon-experimentation places.
She looked around panicked until her eyes finally rested on the familiar shape and color of…her shampoo bottle and shower kit? As she allowed herself to take in the rest of her surroundings she let out a long sigh of relief. I'm in the shower. The shower down the hall. But her relief quickly vanished. What am I doing in the shower? I just got out of the shower.
As her mind cycled rapidly through the strange events of the past few minutes, Willow's eyes fell on her trusty wristwatch. The big, black, clunky, dependable plastic one that Buffy made fun of daily, but Willow insisted on wearing everywhere including the shower because she always needed to know the time. Not that she was obsessive-compulsive about checking the time or anything it was just that she was proud of that watch. It had survived four apocalypses and two demon encounters without a scratch. How could she ever abandon that watch? By all rights it was a Scooby too. 10:27. She stared at the glowing digital display until the cute little blocks on the display rearranged to show that it was now 10:28. What are you doing standing here staring at your watch? You're wasting time Willow. Time…time... And that meant something somehow…
"Time flies!" Willow yelped and winced as her words echoed off the hard tiles around her. "Oh my god, it's a time machine," she muttered softly and began to hastily collect her things barely remembering to throw her robe around herself. As she hurried down the hall her mind raced through all of the potential magical and physical implications. Well, if I was a one-dimensional point then string theory definitely has-
She froze mid-stride as she turned the corner to her dorm room. Tara stood in front of the doorway to their room with her shoulders hunched as if she was carrying a terrible weight.
Willow pressed herself against the wall and ran through possible options: a)go back to the shower and hide b) run away, which wasn't really an option given her current wardrobe—well, there was that one guy who walked around in his pajamas all the time…or c)walk over to the blonde… but then what? What would they talk about?
And why is Tara here? The answer swept over the redhead like an icy chill. Oh my God, she wants to talk. She wants to talk about the I-love-you explosion in her room. And we're gonna have that conversation…that "I'm sorry I just don't feel that way about you" speech and I just can't take it right now. Not after Oz…not to mention Xander and Jessie and…
And then she remembered the box. The time machine. I'm not in the right time. This isn't me. And what if there's another me in the room? Or what if I'm stuck here, like, forever? Oh God, I'm definitely gonna need Tara to help me figure this out so no running. No hiding. Just drastic verbal evasive maneuvers.
With a deep breath, Willow pulled the robe tightly around her body and put on her best resolve face—for herself. She was the one who needed resolve tonight.
"Hey, Tara" The blonde turned in one graceful movement, her lips twisting into a cautious smile as she faced the redhead. Willow willed her legs to propel her forward. Nothing happened. Nothing's changed. The blonde's eyes were still red-rimmed and swollen, but Willow forced herself to look past them, around them, anywhere but directly into the blue.
"Willow…I, I w-wanted to ex-p-p-lain—" Tara began, stuttering badly and Willow's heart nearly broke. She knew that Tara's stutter grew worse when she was under stress and I caused it. I'm the cause of Tara-stress.
But she loved Tara-stutter. It forced her to stop her internal rambling for whole seconds at a time. A welcome reminder that she didn't need to fill every moment with defensive chatter. And more importantly, it gave her an excuse to study the blonde's features and expressions. And she's so cute when she stutters. The way she looks up every few seconds to make sure I'm listening and… I'm not listening. Okay, focus. Tara talking, me listening…
Willow forced herself back to the blonde's halting words,"…s-such good f-friends and I d-d-don't w-want to r-ruin…" It felt like the time machine all over again, like an enormous force was compressing her into a smaller and smaller point, but she knew it wasn't the spell. Oh God, she said the f-word! Friends. She wants to be all friendly with the platonic non-smoochiness and… this is not happening, this can't be happening…
"Friends!" Willow blurted out finally stopping Tara. "Yep, that's what we are…good friends." Nodding emphatically she finally risked a glance at Tara's face and found what she most dreaded—a frown—deep lines forming between the blonde's perfectly sculpted eyebrows. To her horror her eyes began to involuntarily drift lower, to the low-cut shirt Tara had worn on her date. Stop! She's telling you she just wants to be friends and you're checking her out!
Willow guiltily glanced away clutching at her robe to pull it closed where her own chest was exposed. "And I'm sorry about…" Willow paused to roll her eyes at her sudden inability to find anything to say. "…you know…earlier and everything with the babble and…friends right? 'Cause…that's better and…" she trailed off with a heavy sigh and looked at the floor.
Tara winced once and seemed to sink into herself. "Okay," she offered simply with a slight nod and let her hair fall in front of her eyes.
They stood that way for long moments, both with their arms wrapped tightly around themselves as they faced each other under the fluorescent hall lights and let the moment slip away. Everything in Willow's mind and body wanted to scream Tara's name. To explain with kisses and perfect poetry that Tara was the everything and the all. Yeah, and that would make this so much easier for her. The girl is already totally traumatized so just let it go and keep your mouth shut for once! Tara sniffed quietly and Willow checked her watch automatically to find that it was 11:09. Okay, I'm off schedule. I usually check my watch every ten minutes and…
Her train of thought was interrupted by the appearance of two girls rounding the corner, their hands clasped tightly between them. The same two girls. Willow's stomach turned over at the sight and then her other senses finally caught up with her. She could smell jasmine and sandalwood and…Tara. The hand-holdy girls, that smell…
"You were here before!" Willow's head snapped to the blonde to find that she was staring at the two girls with a pained expression on her face.
"No, I j-just got here."
"No, I mean the first time this happened I came back from the shower a lot later and I could smell you, but I thought it was their shampoo or something but it was you," she realized that it might sound strange that she knew what the blonde smelled like. But she needed Tara to understand.
"Something's wrong," Willow turned and opened the door to their room. "See, Buffy gave me this box with a metal thingy in it that she got off this demon and…" she placed her shower kit back and turned to the bed to find the box empty. "It's gone!"
"What?" Tara asked. "Willow what's wrong?" And Willow saw in Tara's expression that the blonde had moved beyond their awkward conversation to her usual concern, ready to assist no matter what the danger.
How did I get so lucky…even if she just wants to be friends and I can handle that…really. Handling it…back to business Rosenberg. You have bigger things to worry about.
"Tara this isn't right. I'm in the wrong time."
Back to business…bigger things to worry about.
"Wrong t-time?" Tara asked gently, confusion clouding her features.
"Tara I'm stuck in…" but the words were lost as the universe began to stretch again. She watched in horror as Tara's beautiful features blurred and shifted.
"—some kind of time loop!"
The bright sunlight of a late California afternoon lit the world around her, which couldn't be right because it was night and…the time machine. Her eyes, she discovered, were scanning a group of dangerously perfect sorority girls and she was walking. Walking in the quad and talking. Or at least she had been until she had interrupted herself.
So I must be walking with someone. Walking and talking…only I'm doing most of the talking. Willow slowly became aware of a warm arm and shoulder gently bumping against her own as they walked. She knew without looking that it was Tara. Each moment of contact made her shiver, made the air around them hum. What is going on? If it's a time machine shouldn't I be going back in time as myself or something. I mean, I should be standing here in my robe with wet hair and…this seems really familiar.
She slowed to a halt.
Wow. Does she know what my name sounds like on her lips? What her mouth does to those two syllables? Rolling them on her tongue like…
Willow closed her eyes and swallowed as she turned to face Tara, opening her eyes to an amused smile on the blonde's face. Tara's eyes were bright blue and there were no tears.
"Um…what was I saying?" Willow finally managed.
Tara smiled and dipped her head, looking up through her hair with a glint in her eyes that could only be described as mischievous.
"Well, it started out as a d-diatribe against SUVs and g-greenhouse emissions and then I think it veered into something about f-frogs and the fragility of the food chain…" she bumped Willow's arm with her own playfully, "and then s-suddenly we were on to time loops."
"So, your basic, generic Willow babble."
SUVs and frogs, we're in the quad… and is she flirting with me?
Tara ducked her head and laughed and Willow felt as if the world was made of helium. As if every molecule in her body had suddenly decided to spontaneously change states from a solid to a gas. Everything in Willow wanted to float away with that laugh.
"Oh, uh, I don't think anything about you is generic," the shy blonde said finally without a stutter, holding green eyes for several moments.
Okay, shake it off…this is Tara. She doesn't flirt. And especially not with you. We have firmly established that you would never be the flirt-ee where Tara is concerned.
She studied Tara's clothes for some clue as to where or when they were. Grey cargo pants and a baseball shirt with those cute orange Pumas. Okay, that's no help. Oh, oh! Watch! She checked the date and went back through her mental rolodex for some kind of reference, but came up blank. The fourteenth. The fourteenth. That's almost a month ago, which means…
Someone in a dorm to her left chose that moment to blast a Dingo's song at top volume and it all fell into place. The quad, the fourteenth. She could now picture the page in her filofax, which was currently adding about fifty pounds of weight to her thousand pound backpack: 'twenty pages of Tess' written in green because England was all with the green bucolic scenes; 'ChemLab' in gold because of the traditional ties to alchemy of course; and 'spells with Tara' written in big purple letters outlined in pink.
So that means…oh, that's right! I hear the Dingo's song and go all weepy and we go back to Tara's dorm room and she makes me tea…oh God, and I go on and on and on about Oz for, like, a week. No wonder she's not interested in me.
She returned her attention to her surroundings and listened intently to the broken strains of the familiar song…and nothing. She felt nothing.
It's not even a very good song…
"Are you o-okay?"
But I'm back in time so if I change anything it could lead to an apocalypse, or someone could die or the Republicans could take the White House. So I have to do everything exactly the same. But how am I gonna do that? I've already done things differently.
She sucked in an enormous breath and steeled herself for an Oscar-worthy performance.
Okay, time to get with the crying. I am all about the crying and weeping…starting now…
She waited for the tears, but there was nothing. Finally, she brought a picture of Oz to her mind: that night he had rejected her followed closely by and image of Oz and Veruca naked together. It was painful and she felt her face flush with humiliation, but there were still no tears. The overwhelming grief she had harbored for so long seemed to have evaporated. Her eyes were completely dry and seemed to have a mind of their own as they drifted to Tara's soft features, her lovely smile that was rapidly fading. Those perfect lips curved in a soft line….
Was it always like this…with the heat…down there… and the…oh my! Willow winced at her own lascivious thoughts and disturbing involuntary physical response. Tara's smile faded a bit more.
"It's a Dingo's song," she offered quickly and then tried to frown with sadness.
The blonde reached out automatically, placing her hand on the bare skin of Willow's arm.
"I'm sorry. Are you okay?"
"Mmm-hmmm," came Willow's distracted reply. Cry already! The future of the planet rests on your shoulders. Okay, maybe you're overestimating your importance in the grand scheme of things here…
"D-do you want to g-g-go to m-my r-r-r…" Tara stopped abruptly and closed her eyes, frustrated by her inability to speak clearly.
"I'd love to go to your room Tara," Willow said gently and placed her hand over Tara's. The blonde's face turned bright red and she looked around nervously before removing her hand from Willow's.
They walked through Tara's dorm in silence. The hallways were identical to those in her own dorm. Not the warmth of wood or stone just non-descript plaster and concrete. Modern design—the curse of a California upbringing.
Willow noticed that Tara glanced her way often, smiling brightly when Willow's eyes met hers.
Even under the horrible fluorescent lighting she was luminous. Yes, that's it…Tara glows.
They stopped in front Tara's door and she began nervously fishing for her keys.
Deja-vu. Well, of course déjà vu. You really have been here before. And you need to get with the program. Everything has to be the same. So far, you're not crying, you're busy checking her out and getting all hot and bothered…oh god, the world is so doomed.
As the blonde fumbled through her bag, Willow noticed the note on the door. She didn't dare look directly at it, but she could see a large heart and the name Aly written in red felt tip.
Jeez how may girls are after her? Not that they shouldn't be, but…no they shouldn't be!
Tara gave her a weak smile as she carefully took the note down and placed it in her bag without even glancing at it.
Okay, enough with the sidetracking, you need to figure out how to get out of here…or get out of now and back to the real now…where Tara can barely look at you.
Willow sighed audibly and the blonde turned to her again, her face full of concern as she opened the door to the room.
"Are you okay?"
"Yep. Peachy," the redhead said without conviction and then walked past Tara into her room. The smell of it was overwhelming. It was everything about Tara, and more. Tea, incense, and flowers. Every smell that signaled comfort and beauty. Just like the blonde.
"Hey," she felt Tara nudge her arm gently. "You're awfully s-smiley."
Tara sure is touching me a lot. Not, like, big touches, just little things. Did she always do that?
"Yeah?" Willow asked absently and then realized that she was smiling. Far too much. "Oh, I just…I love… you know, your room. It makes me forget…everything."
Okay, the crying…think sad thoughts. Like the way Tara looked at you in the hallway before…
She felt the muscles in her forehead tighten at the thought of the terrible confrontation in the hall. And in Tara's room.
"Do you want some t-tea?"
"Yes. Please." Willow managed finally and watched as the blonde took off her backpack and began her careful preparations. Well, at least that was right. Tea. Maybe she could get this whole timeline back on track before too much damage was done.
What am I doing? Oh yeah, Oz talk. Lots and lots of Oz talk.
As she lowered herself to sit cross-legged on the floor, her eyes wandered to the blonde's slender hands as they carefully arranged cups and tea bags. There was something so graceful about the way Tara did the most normal things. Touching each item reverently as if she was grounding them or making a ritual blessing out of everyday tasks and events. Tasks that Willow had always considered distractions from the important things.
What are the important things? Hello, back in time here! The important thing is getting back and getting this time back on track which means Oz talk. With crying. Alrighty then, get with the talking and the crying…but what do I say?
"D-do you want to talk about it?" Tara asked as she sat on the floor facing willow, placing the cups of tea between them.
It took the redhead a moment to understand Tara's question.
"Oh, um, yeah…" she trailed off and accepted a steaming cup of tea from Tara's hands. "Thanks."
There were several moments of strained silence as they both sipped at their too-hot cups. Willow knew she was expected to say something, a lot of something about Oz. A lot of something about Oz. How much do I talk about him anyway?
"Um, Tara, do I talk about Oz a lot…I mean, when I'm with you?"
The question obviously surprised the blonde, but she recovered quickly and looked thoughtful, her head tilting slightly to the left.
She is sooooo cute. F-word! Remember the f-word you pervert! She's a cute friend…and Oz thoughts! Oz!
"Um, define a l-lot."
Willow sank into herself in embarrassment, staring down into the cup of pale green. I am so annoying…no wonder she doesn't like me. Who would like a geeky girl who won't shut up about her ex-boyfriend?
"I do, don't I?" she shook her red head angrily. "God, I am such a jerk…I'm sorry, I promise I'll stop…"
Her angry rant was interrupted by the warm pressure of Tara's hand on her arm. Raising her head to meet blue eyes she felt the room begin to spin around them.
"It's okay Willow. Really." Tara smiled and squeezed her arm gently before withdrawing. "Your friends are b-busy and I know you need to…you know…talk a-about it so…"
"No it's not okay! 'Cause that's their job I mean, if you knew how many times I've had to listen to 'it's so horrible my boyfriend's a vampire with a soul' and…" she finally noticed the look of astonished amusement on the blonde's face. "But, um, that's another story and that's not what I want to talk about anyway…friends or the lack thereof or whatever. Because I want it to be different with you. I don't want to be your friend…" Willow's breath caught in her throat at her slip. "In that way!" she covered hastily with far too much volume. "That annoying, whiny way of being a friend."
Willow felt utterly defeated as she took another sip of the scalding hot tea. Her overactive mouth was normally a terror for her, but when she got around the blonde she seemed to lose all control over the part of her brain that managed speech. And more importantly the switch that told her when to stop speaking. She sighed heavily and stole a glance at the blonde expecting that look of confused disappointment or derision that she had faced so many times in her life, but the look on Tara's face was something brand new. Her lips were turned up slightly in a look of soft amusement and there were lines between her eyebrows, as if she was studying the redhead carefully, thoughtfully. As if she were looking for something.
"Okay, s-so what do you want to talk about?" Tara asked, her smile widening and Willow knew without a doubt what she wanted to talk about, what she had been avoiding with the defensive chatter for so many weeks.
Oz! You're supposed to be talking about Oz.
"You." Willow said simply and watched in growing panic as the blonde closed in on herself, lowering her head to hide behind her hair.
"Oh, um, like w-what?"
"Well, anything 'cause you know thanks to all my Oz whining, I'm realizing I don't know that much about you."
The blonde bit her lip and clutched at her tea cup with white knuckles. "Um, well, what d-do you w-want to know?"
"Well, okay, I've spent hours and hours talking about my ex-boyfriend," Oh my god! Don't do it! That little voice screamed at her. "And I don't know anything about your, you know, love life or whatever." You are so going to hell. Tara's face turned bright red and Willow's stomach flipped in response, but she couldn't seem to stop. "So did you have a boyfriend or a, um, significant other or whatever…in high school?"
The redhead took another sip of tea in a vain attempt to calm herself and waited. Her foot, she noticed was fidgeting wildly so she adjusted her position to sit on the unruly appendage.
"N-no…I didn't have a b-boyfriend," Tara offered quietly without looking up. Willow waited patiently hoping for more, but there was just silence. The redhead could feel the renegade foot begin to fidget underneath her and cursed at it silently.
Finally, Tara raised her face slowly finally meeting Willow's eyes in an intense stare.
"I, um, had a g-girlfriend…s-sort of," she said holding green eyes for several heartbeats before looking down.
The redhead took a long deep breath and wiped her palms on her jeans. She felt dizzy, drained. And worse, she felt like she was lying to Tara even though she wasn't. Technically.
"Oh, what was her name?" she somehow managed to ask without screaming.
"Aly." The blonde offered with a shrug and then took a sip of tea and Willow's entire body began to shake. The note. The heart in red felt tip. "She's in your Chem Lab I th-think."
"She's here?" the redhead squeaked and then struggled to regain her composure. "Is that weird for you?"
The blonde shook her head and rose to refill their teacups. Willow began furiously cataloging the faces in her Chem Lab, searching for this Aly girl who probably still had designs on shy, perfect, beautiful, defenseless Tara.
"No, w-we're friends."
"Oh. That's cool," she replied absently and then checked her watch. She had a sudden urge to run back to their dorm room to check the Freshman Register for this Aly girl before the Scooby meeting.
"You're not f-freaked…about the gay thing?" the blonde asked carefully as she returned to her seat on the floor facing Willow.
"No." So not freaked about the gay thing. Wish I could tell you how much I'm not freaked about the gay thing 'cause then you'd know that we both like girls or at least I like one girl and, hey, we're both girls and…it wouldn't matter because you don't like this particular girl anyway. But you liked some girl name Aly who writes in big loopy letters and I can't even remember her face!
There was another long, awkward silence as the two studied the contents of their cups again. Willow was still struggling with the image of this ex-girlfriend. She could remember every desk and cabinet in the room. But this girl was somehow eluding her.
This is so not important! You need to get to the Scooby meeting and talk to Buffy and Giles. They'll help you figure this out before you do any more damage.
"Um, it's almost six thirty. We could order a p-pizza and s-study if you want?" the blonde asked hopefully.
And she wanted to more than anything, but there was the meeting. Not to mention the fact that this was all wrong. She had already done enough damage to this timeline. It was time for research.
"I, um…" but she couldn't bring herself to say it. To say no. Because she absolutely, positively wanted to stay here with Tara forever.
If she'd let me…
And then she remembered the terrible events that lead her to this place, this wrong time and blushed.
"I-It's okay Willow…" Tara said shaking her head, her face turning down.
"No. It's just that I have this Scooby meeting at seven and…I can't, you know, duty calls," she finished, her face hardening into a frown.
Tara just nodded and Willow realized suddenly that Tara hadn't touched her since the gay thing came up. And now the blonde was sitting farther away, all of the smile disappearing from her eyes.
I did it again, didn't I? Maybe she thinks I'm going to hit on her? Or that I think she's going to hit on me?
I wish…But we're just friends.
The alarm on her watch went off suddenly startling them both. Twenty minutes to get to Giles. But Tara.
Later. You can't change anything. The important thing is getting back.
"O-Okay. Maybe t-tomorrow?" the blonde managed, but Willow could see the pain written there in hard lines.
Before you do any more damage…
And the world stretched out again, expanding the space between them exponentially with each heartbeat.
But the word was lost as time pooled around her and the world receded.
The first thing she became aware of was the unmistakable sound of Tara's laughter. Beautiful and musical and unrestrained as it rolled through the room.
Then Tara's room lit by the soft glow of the lamps the blonde preferred to the harsh overhead lights. It was warm in the room and the window was open, a small fan pulling a slight breeze into the room. And Tara was still laughing
I made her laugh. Yay me! I wonder what I said?
"Um, I said something funny?" the redhead asked tentatively and was surprised when Tara laughed harder. Willow felt a grin creep across her face at the sight of the blonde's obvious pleasure. As Tara tried fought to control herself, the redhead realized that her field of focus was widening to find that she and Tara were sitting on Tara's bed dressed only in tanks and boxers. Books and papers covered the comforter and they were both sitting in a sort of reclining 'Hanged Man' pose mirroring each other, their bare feet dangerously close to each other.
"You are s-so amazing!" the blonde finally exclaimed through an earth-shattering smile.
And that was familiar. It had to be a couple of weeks ago during the heat wave. Because…amazing…she said I was amazing.
Oh! I know when this is! I'm studying for my History exam and we just did that firefly spell and…oh my god I spend the night. We sleep together…in the same bed with the heat and the tank top with all the…skin and the…oh God, she's not wearing a bra.
The redhead swallowed hard and found her eyes running over Tara's perfectly sculpted legs.
How did I do this before? How did I sit here and study with her so close and with the heat…maybe I should take a shower.
Okay, focus. You've shifted time and space twice. You need to get a handle on this. You could be making things worse.
Willow looked quickly down at her notes to avoid the blonde's eyes, certain that her guilt was written all over her face.
"Sorry," the blonde whispered loudly. "S-studying now." The redhead smiled into her notes, but didn't look up afraid of what she would see. "But if you start talking to Galileo again about radio telescopes…" the blonde mumbled stifling a laugh.
And she remembered what Tara was laughing at—Willow's habit since childhood of talking to her books while she read. Well, it wasn't like she had anyone else to talk with over the years.
"Well, I happen to think that the man who invented the optical telescope would like to know about radio telescopes. I mean, is that so wrong?"
"No." the blonde said stifling a laugh. "Makes perfect sense, in a Willow sense k-kind of way. Really."
Willow didn't bother with a comeback, just returned to her books with an enormous smile.
Okay, mind off the girl. Time to get to work. Full research mode.
She turned a new page in her notebook and began to make a list of everything she knew:
1. It was definitely the machine that activated the time shift. But why am I not staying in place? Is it malfunctioning?
2. I shift in both space and time, but only backward and only into my past self. Never into the future as I know it.
3. So far it seems random.
4. The device, when I checked was gone. Still in the present?
5. The past is the same one I experienced so it's not an alternate reality. Or if it is, it closely parallels the one I know.
Willow sat tapping her pen on the page. Usually, this process helped her to clarify the facts but so far nothing was clicking into place. But there was that familiar feeling of something working its way out of her subconscious.
6. The stars on the device. Maybe they have to be in the right alignment?
Great. That could mean I'm stuck in this time loop for a thousand years. Well, at least I seem to be looping around Tara.
Suddenly, without any warning, she had a crystal clear image of a striking brunette in goggles and a lab coat.
"Oh! Aly's the girl with the armband tattoo of the waves…" but she stopped abruptly at the look of utter astonishment on the blonde's face.
"Yeah. Your ex-girlfriend…" she cut herself off abruptly as the blonde's face transitioned instantly to embarrassed hurt. Any trace of humor and laughter that was left in the room evaporated immediately.
"Sh-sh-she t-told you?"
"I-I can't b-believe she…" the blonde mumbled and pulled her leg in to sit in a cross-legged pose. "I mean, I told her I w-wanted to…"
"No she didn't." Willow said a little too loudly in an attempt to stop the downward spiral she had somehow triggered with her outburst. "You did. Remember?"
The blonde was now shaking her head at the comforter, her hair falling in a golden wall in front of her face. "I-I think I w-would remember that conversation Willow."
The redhead sat in confused silence for several moments watching Tara's body language change rapidly from confident pleasure to absolute devastation.
"Yeah. You would…" she mumbled under her breath and then leaned down write a quick note on the pad.
7. Changes I made in the last time jump don't seem to have affected this time.
She stared at her notes for long moments trying to see some pattern, but there was nothing. It didn't seem consistent with quantum mechanics or relativity. Okay, have to find a different system, a new way of looking at this because I'm getting nowhere. And I have to find that device and research what it is and how it works.
The redhead felt herself yawn suddenly and finally noticed that she was exhausted. Her body was barely awake. She checked her watch to find that it was three o'clock in the morning and looked up to find Tara almost in tears.
Oh God I hurt her again! What is this, some kind of torture device? I get to go back and hurt Tara's feelings in every conceivable past?
"Willow wh-what's going on?" Willow's mind raced through the possible excuses, the near-lies and half-truths she could give to Tara. But then she raised her eyes to finally meet deep blue and knew she couldn't lie.
"This is gonna sound crazy, but, um, see a month from now, Buffy's gonna bring me this cute little metal thingy with stars on it that she got off some demon. And I'm all out of it because of some stuff that happened that's not really important right now so I accidentally set it off and it's a time machine." She looked up from her monologue to find the blonde studying her. "So, um, I'm kinda stuck. I keep shifting around to these different times and I don't know how to get back. 'Cause the metal thingy is gone…"
Tara bit her lip and looked to her right, "So, you're you from the f-future? You're sh-shifting into your old b-body? Without the…thingy?"
"Yeah, that's the weird part…or one of the weird parts. Well, that and the fact that you don't remember the things I changed in the last jump so maybe these are, like, little independent time bubbles…"
The blonde's eyes went wide. "You changed things?"
"I know, I know." Willow jumped in excited, "I tried not to, but I didn't do a very good job because, you know, I just couldn't cry to you about Oz again. So, I sorta started a different conversation and you told me about Aly, which, by the way, I didn't know a month from now so I'm starting to think you think I'm some kind of jerk 'cause you obviously didn't think you could tell me."
"I d-don't think you're a j-jerk. It's j-just hard, I didn't w-want to…" Tara trailed off and raised her eyes to meet the redhead's. "S-so you're not freaked?"
"Nope. No freak here," Willow said with a yawn and a smile.
"Why are you smiling?" The blonde asked, a slight smile forming in response.
"'Cause you ask me that every time," the redhead responded with a chuckle. Her eyes began to droop as she studied the blonde, finally falling on to the page of notes in front of her and her mind made the leap back to her predicament. "So, I guess the plan is I need to get that time machine and find some way to turn it back," she mumbled through a fog of sleepiness.
She heard a soft chuckle from the blonde and then the unmistakable sounds of papers and books being cleared to the floor.
"I think the plan is, you go to sleep now and figure it out in the morning," the blonde said softly pulling back the comforter.
"But I could be gone by then," the redhead whined, but moved to lie down in the bed.
"Wil, you've been yawning and nodding off f-for two hours…" the blonde began, her voice thick with amusement.
Willow snuggled into a pillow that smelled like jasmine and almonds and…Tara. She sighed quietly. "That's just silly. Why didn't I just go to sleep? I'm such a dummy sometimes," she finished sleepily and heard Tara chuckle as she climbed into bed next to her.
"Yes, y-you are the first genius dummy in r-recorded history."
"Idiot savant," Willow mumbled absently.
"Minus the idiot part," Tara corrected sweetly. "Good night Willow."
The redhead managed to mumble something that faintly resembled good night as a cool sheet settled over her. Her mind drifted through different sensations as she drifted toward sleep. The comforting smells of Tara's room, the soft strains of music that were barely audible through the open window. And the heat. Body heat, from Tara. Who was lying inches away with barely any clothes on. Under the same sheet. And the unmistakable ache that was beginning between her own legs, her body reacting to the blonde's presence.
Willow's eyes were wide open in a nanosecond, her body taught with arousal and terror.
Oh God! What if I roll over in my sleep and touch her? If my bare skin touches her bare skin I will certainly die a wonderfully horrible flamey death on the spot. Yep spontaneous human combustion. That will be me all with the flames and the… no wonder the other me didn't want to go to bed.
"Willow? Are you asleep?"
Oh no she can tell. She can sense it with that Tara witchiness or, oh god, maybe she can smell me and…
"Um, no," she offered weakly. Tara turned onto her side facing Willow, propping herself onto one elbow.
"I was th-thinking about your t-time problem…" she began softly and Willow held her breath. The blonde was so close. So close I can see down the front of her…
"Oh?" the redhead squeaked and then winced at the sound of her own voice.
"Wh-what if it's a spell," the blonde began and then looked down at the sheet between them. "Not a t-time machine."
And that turned on the rational part of her brain. Not a time machine? Willow raised herself up onto her elbow mirroring Tara's position, her brow lined as her mind ran through the implications of the blonde's simple statement.
"What do you mean?"
"Well, how did you s-set it off?"
"There were these two words in Latin on the back and when I said them out loud…everything shifted for the first time…" she said and looked down at the sheet. "So, duh, Rosenberg, of course it's a spell!" she admonished herself harshly. She had known that all along on some level, but had been so caught up in the physical implications of time travel and the Scoobies' typical 'research and remove' methods that she had overlooked the obvious.
She looked up to meet Tara's eyes, "But I still need the thingy to get back, right?"
The blonde bit her lip in concentration and Willow found that she was mesmerized once again by the perfect shape of those lips.
"Well, a spell has a p-purpose, you know…maybe the th-thingy just activates the s-spell like h-herbs or an a-athame."
Willow's brain had finally caught up with the blonde. "So I have to figure out the purpose of the spell and I'll be back. Without the thingy!" she smiled happy with her conclusion. And then frowned, "Maybe. But what if the point is to end the world or change something in the past so Buffy gets killed?"
Tara placed a hand on Willow's shoulder. "I'm s-sure you'll figure it out. Remember? You know…" she squeezed the redhead's shoulder. "S-special," and smiled.
"I'm not that special." The redhead whispered and reached without thinking to cup the blonde's cheek. "You, on the other hand…I mean, every time I think I've seen the end of how special you are, you surprise me with a whole new world of…um, specialness."
Tara blushed and automatically began to duck her head in embarrassment, inadvertently bringing her lips into contact with Willow's fingers. Both girls froze.
Willow could feel Tara's breath on her fingers, the impossible soft swell of her bottom lip. And she could see the look of open astonishment on the blonde's face as their eyes locked.
Don't move. Don't….
But she couldn't help herself, her index finger slowly beginning to trace the outline she had studied a million times with her eyes. She felt as much as heard Tara's quiet sigh, against her fingers. The blonde's eyes studied her carefully and Willow searched the blue for some sign of disgust or disapproval, but all she saw was a question. And light blue growing dark.
What was the question?
Willow blinked once slowly at the sound of her own name. The way Tara said it with so much meaning. The blonde put everything into that one word, a novel of soft syllables and sighs.
But she doesn't want you. You know that already.
The f-word. It's a spell remember. This is just a distraction.
What's the point of the spell?
Tara's features began to blur and stretch again and Willow reached out toward the blonde with both hands.
And she felt it, on her fingertips then like a sigh—a kiss. Bigger than any spell, any word spoken.
"…think we're ready." Tara again. Her voice bringing Willow slowly back to reality, to this now. But she was still holding onto that other now with the blonde's lips on her fingertips and…
She kissed me…sort of. Right? I mean, on my hand, but it was all with the heat and the both sheets under and…
Willow brought shaking fingertips to her lips and waited for her eyes to focus, waited for the spell to finish its transition. It seemed to take longer this time. The world was still shifting and stretching around her. Even the sound of Tara's voice was wrong, rising and falling in pitch.
Where am I?
The room was dark, lit only by candles and she could feel it—magic—all around them strong and sensual and well, kind of hot.
"Willow?" And the world burst into focus with that one word. But it wasn't the word, it was the person forming it. Tara. It's like a drug, well, I mean, if I'd ever done drugs and knew what they were like. So, okay, it's more like chocolate and twelve mochas….my name when Tara says it. It's like…
She thought back to all the times she had been mesmerized by the sound of her name on the blonde's lips. Stuck in a loop as her mind went over and over the way it rolled through her stopping everything, holding her still in place and time. She's like a mini-time machine, the redhead thought with a thin smile.
When she says my name it's like…
The world shifted again and she felt her stomach lurch as if she were going to be sick. And then the warm stillness of the blonde's hand on her arm, centering everything.
"Are you okay?"
"Uh-huh," the redhead looked down at the graceful fingers splayed against her arm and smiled.
Okay, focus. Where are you and…when the heck are you?
She forced herself slowly out of Tara World to find that they were seated cross-legged facing each other in the center of a chalky outline of a circle and pentagram.
Oh, a spell! We're doing a spell. Oh God, which spell?
She froze as she ran through the possibilities.
"We don't have to do this, if y-you're not r-ready?"
Not ready…for what?
Willow wiped her palms on her… what am I wearing this time?
She looked down to find that she was again in cargo pants.
Apparently this is some kind of cargo pants-centered spell. It's all about pockets and…
Then she remembered that Tara had complimented her on this particular pair of pants weeks before. And (what a coincidence!) she had worn them constantly afterward without really making the conscious connection. Buffy had even commented on her monotonous wardrobe and offered her a pile of skin-tight alternatives. She groaned internally at her own transparency hoping that the blonde hadn't noticed.
"No. I'm ready," the redhead said with a deep intake of breath.
"Um, which spell are we doing again?"
She looked up to find blue eyes sparkling with amusement.
"Um, the fairy lights? Kinda your idea."
"Oh, yeah…" The fairy lights spell. Images flashed rapidly through her mind. This was one of their failures. Well, not a failure exactly, more of a disappointment. Willow had found the spell in a book she had 'borrowed from Giles and had suggested it because of the fairy lights in Tara's room. But despite a strong surge of power, the spell had only produced a few sparks, not the room full of dancing lights the book had promised.
She sighed again. Great, I'm stuck in a spell and now I get to do a dud of a spell with Tara. Well, at least it's with Tara.
And then she remembered the rest of the night and cringed.
Another Oz fest, with much whining about Buffy and Xander's lack of attentiveness thrown in to make the miserable evening complete. Her foot began to fidget again and she shifted to stifle it under the weight of her right leg.
No wonder the spell didn't work…but I don't have to do the Oz stuff. She doesn't remember anything. The past isn't affecting the future so…
But she had to admit to herself that she didn't really know anything. She could be in some kind of loop that's effects would only be seen after the spell was complete. Which was an interesting thought that definitely should be included in her notes…
Oh god, my notes! They're in the past. And I didn't even get a chance to copy them over first.
This really is hell, she thought with a shudder.
"Oh, yeah! Fairy lights," she smiled brightly and extended her hands toward Tara. "I'm all about the fairy lights." She gasped as Tara's warm hands closed over her own. "Go fairy lights," she covered hastily and then looked into Tara's eyes to find her center again. The blonde's lips quirked into another lop-sided smile and Willow felt everything melt.
And we're holding hands, she thought with a warm smile. Which is why spells are good. Yay spells!
Tara's eyes held her with an intense, but ultimately patient gaze and the redhead realized with a start that she was waiting for her. The incantation.
Oh, the incantation. But I don't remember! So focus and let her lead the way this time...
She felt the steady blue gaze like a physical pressure and then the unmistakable sensation of the blonde's thumb moving in a light circle over the back of her hand.
Oh god, she's touching me again…and it's not just friendly, spell-casting type touching 'cause this is all with the naughty thumb that's driving me crazy. Isn't it?
She swallowed and realized that everything in the room including her fidgety foot had grown very still, all of her held in the blonde's calm stare.
Let Tara lead the way…
Because she hadn't before. Even though the blonde had a lifetime of experience Willow had rushed the past few spells and the results had been, well, just kind of mediocre. Or rose-rocket weird. And then it began, the two of them speaking the words in tandem as if they had rehearsed it. As if they were speaking with one voice.
She felt one of her hands separate automatically from Tara's as they moved as one to pick up the mixture of sand and herbs and sprinkled it over the small space between them.
Then the overwhelming sensation of heat as the spell built around them. Heat and tension and…arousal? The blonde, she realized with a sudden rush of panic, was sure to feel this through the magical connection they now shared. And she knew then that she had felt this way before when they had attempted this spell. The arousal, the nervousness. And she had shut herself down automatically, terrified. She had never felt that much in that particular way before. Ever. She had discounted it as a by-product of the spell at the time, but now…
The realization brought a new surge of energy and she heard Tara gasp. Her eyes flew open in an instant and she was almost blinded by the lights. Thousands of them floating lazily above them, burning bright.
Every other thought left her mind at the miraculous sight of Tara's delight as she studied the lights above.
"It's so beautiful," the blonde whispered reverently, her eyes still focused above them. But Willow found that she couldn't look away from the blonde's face as the lights danced across the pale planes of her cheeks and made her eyes sparkle. And she had never seen Tara so unrestrained and happy. It was breathtaking.
The blonde pulled them abruptly up and let one of Willow's hands fall so that she could reach out to one of the lights. Willow took that opportunity to entwine her fingers firmly with Tara's as the blonde gently guided one of the brighter lights to hover in the air between them.
"Is it… I mean, are they?"
The blonde just smiled and guided the glowing globe to the side of Willow's face. "Wow, it's warm and…kind of electric," the redhead smiled as her hair began to rise slightly in response to what was apparently a static charge. The blonde's smile brightened even further as she released the tiny light and extended her hand causing a cloud of lights to follow the motion in a glowing figure eight through the air.
"Willow this is the most amazing thing…" she turned without finishing the thought to stare into the redhead's eyes. "Thank you."
"Uh, um," Willow found that she was speechless for the first time in her life, but her face was definitely growing hotter. She knew that if the lights were brighter the blonde would see a scarlet flush on her face.
Okay, I'm swooning. I never understood the whole swoon thing 'til this second. And I probably should be sitting 'cause if I'm all about the swooniness and the weak in the knees…
Because the world was floating and…was it brighter?
"But Tara I didn't…"
She was stopped by the bright sound of Tara's unrestrained laughter as another cloud of pale blue lights erupted into the air around them. But Willow couldn't see anything but Tara's pleasure.
"Why are they getting brighter?" Willow asked absently.
Tara turned to her and took up her other hand, gently entwining her fingers through the redhead's and the room brightened again.
" I think they're re-responding to emotional triggers," she began and then rolled her eyes at her stuffy explanation.
"Like mood lights," Willow began excitedly. "Cool! That's so…and we're…so brighter must mean happier, 'cause we're all with the happy. Right?"
"Definitely with the happy," the blonde beamed in response. Willow watched in awestruck silence as Tara's eyes tracked the lights swirling around them finally landing on the redhead's face with a soft smile. "Oh Wil, you're so beautiful…" the blonde began and then froze, her smile disappearing immediately. "S-sorry…"
And the lights dimmed slightly.
"Sorry?" Willow scrambled for something, anything to bring back the lights and the smile. "Why are you sorry? 'Cause, you know, it's not every day that a beautiful girl tells me I'm beautiful… or anyone really… so, no sorries. And lights, lights need to be bright so…happy? And okay, I'm babbling, but that usually makes you happy. Right?"
The blonde gave her a weak smile, but pulled her hands away gently before looking down. Willow found herself panicking as the lights dimmed again.
"Th-there's some-th-thing I need to tell you," she began and then hugged herself tightly.
Oh God! What did I do? Did I make a pass and I don't know it? 'Cause, hello, not so knowledgeable when it comes to lesbian signals, so…
"Um, I've w-wanted to t-tell…" the blonde took a deep breath to steady herself and Willow felt weak and dizzy. "I'm gay." Tara blurted out suddenly and Willow stood absolutely still afraid that if she said a word it would shatter the tenuous hold she seemed to have on this reality. She could feel that slight stretch and shift she had felt before…this was important. Somehow this moment had everything to do with the spell. Which didn't make sense because there was no big magic, no demons and no Buffy. How could this be important?
But Tara had been in every shift. Every time had involved Tara. Not Buffy.
And that's what you need to be thinking about! The spell, the time shift. Not this. This is a distraction.
She looked up at the lights that were quickly dimming and was reminded again that this wasn't real. This wasn't how it happened. At all. She should be well into Oz weeping by now.
But Tara was looking at her expectantly, terrified of her response. She could see the panic, the fear of rejection and that brought her back to her reaction in the coffeehouse. Pulling away physically from the blonde. No wonder Tara had been so upset….
"I know," she said it softly without thinking and reached out to put her hand gently on the blonde's arm mirroring the gesture of comfort that Tara had offered her so many times.
The blonde looked down, "I just…I d-don't w-want you t-to think that I'm m-making a pass at you or anything 'cause I would n-never do anything to r-ruin our friendship."
Oh no she's crying. How did I make her cry again?
"Tara please…please don't cry. I know you would never…I mean, believe you me it's been made perfectly, totally in every way clear to me that you would never in, like, a million years think of me in that way…you know that wanting-to-kiss-me-in-a-gay-type-way way."
Willow wasn't sure if the blonde's expression was confusion or simple astonishment.
"Um, what for what part? 'Cause I'm kind of confused too and I said it."
"Wait, you knew I was g-gay?" the blonde asked, a deep line forming between perfect eyebrows. Before the redhead could respond, "and who told you th-that…that I d-don't," Tara stopped abruptly and groaned softly in frustration.
"That you don't think of me, um, that way?" Willow finished softly. "Well, see that's kinda complicated with lots of explanation required and I'm not sure we have time…"
The blonde's face fell and she looked down at her hands. "Oh, yeah. You probably need to ch-check on Buffy."
Willow noticed that the room was now lit only by the candles and a few intermittent sparks.
Way to kill a moment, you smooth-talker. So much for the happy, beautiful….
Beautiful. The blonde's beautiful features were now twisted in shame and what Willow now recognized as self-deprecating anger and doubt.
"What? Wait. No." And when the blonde still wouldn't look at her she grew desperate. "No! I mean, I know I've been a drive-by misery kind of friend so far, but that's not this me okay? I'm staying…as long as you want."
She realized that by the end she was clutching the blonde's arms tightly. Her first impulse was to pull away, but she realized that could send entirely the wrong message.
But if I stay here holding her what kind of message is that?
Okay, so don't panic. Just loosen the grip and wait. If she doesn't want you touching her she'll move.
"You'll be here for a wh-while then," Tara said softly with a slight smile and the room grew a little brighter.
Willow returned the smile and guided the blonde back to their original positions on the floor to recount the complicated story of her time-shifting adventures. She finished finally and there were several minutes of silence as the blonde sat deep in thought.
"It's a silver th-thingy with…with stars?" which wasn't what Willow was expecting at all. She watched as the blonde got up and walked over to her desk. After rifling through an immense book bag, she finally removed an ancient-looking tome.
"It's just…" Willow watched as slender fingers carefully turned the cracked pages. "I w-was looking for something in th-this the other day and I saw s-something," she stopped finally and brought the open book and set it between them. "And it seemed really, you know, familiar or something." She tucked a strand of blonde hair behind one ear and turned the page to face Willow.
It was the metal thingy. Exactly.
"Oh my…that's it! That's the thingy! With the stars and…" Willow bent down to read the caption. Occum's Heart—mythical demon device. "Tara how did you…why did you…?"
"I don't know," the blonde shrugged again and smiled. "It j-just s-seemed so familiar…and s-sad." Willow bent down to read what little information there was on the object. Some vague references to demon legend and a deadly and super-powerful spell, but nothing else.
"So you were right about the spell part, Miss Smartypants…although you wouldn't remember it. But you were…and you are," special the redhead smiled.
The blonde shrugged off her compliment, but Willow was happy to note that the room grew a little brighter. "So, I d-did some more research and there isn't r-really that much about it, maybe because of the time shift thing…" Tara drifted off briefly deep in thought. "But in the legend Occum had it made to get a s-second chance to get his lover back." She shrugged again and looked at Willow. "If that h-helps at all."
Willow sat in stunned silence staring at the blonde. It was so perfectly Tara to make such an important and impossible connection and act like it was somehow an accident. Downplaying her contribution. And the redhead was torn between conflicting emotions. She wanted to throw Tara to the ground and kiss her, to show her how much she meant. How important she was. But the other part of her was there with all of the evidence to stop her.
The f-word. She said it. Remember.
And then her stomach turned again and she knew she was at another one of those points. A kind of strange attractor buried in the heart of the spell.
"Yeah, the time shift…" she mumbled absently. "Maybe it kind of erases itself as it goes, you know, changing the past? But what's the point?"
Be very careful…
Because it's a demon spell and that means big bad things if you don't figure it out soon.
And that's why the stretching's getting worse. Soon it'll probably stretch you into nothing.
"Well, maybe…I mean, d-did you want a s-second chance at something?" the blonde asked and Willow felt everything in the universe stop. She studied the sweet smile on those perfect lips, the clear blue of her eyes. The lights circling her head like a halo.
Tara is a Botticelli angel.
A second chance…
"You did," Willow said suddenly, surprising herself.
"I did what?"
Let Tara lead the way…
"You told me that you didn't like me that way," she answered simply and waited. She could feel the spell building around them, turning her stomach in knots. "Back in the real now."
This had to be it. She could feel it, her mind racing through all the moments, circling finally around this point. That moment in Tara's room when everything had gone so wrong and she had…run.
At least I'm looping around Tara….
Looping around Tara…
She smiled at her own thick-headed talent for missing the obvious. Of course it was Tara. It was all about Tara wasn't it? Everything. Always.
Tara who was now shaking her head as she held Willow's eyes.
"That's not p-possible Willow…" the blonde rolled her eyes and smiled. "I mean, unl-less…no it's just not p-possible." And then her face grew very serious. "But it's okay if you don't feel the s-same…I know you're…I mean, Oz and you n-not like liking girls and everything."
She heard the blonde's painful assertion, but her mind had taken off, running through the possibilities.
But what do I have to do to stop it? The looping? Do I have to cast a spell? Or is it some terrible demon thing I have to do? Because no. No demon stuff here. I don't care if I'm stuck like this forever. And I'm not in that moment so, hello, where's the second chance?
And what if I don't get it right? Do I get a second chance at a second chance?
And she felt the stretching begin, cold and terrible this time.
Everything stopped around the beautiful sound of that one word.
Tara. Tara was heat and magic. Stronger than any spell.
"It's all about you," Willow murmured and studied the blonde's lips again, remembering the erotic charge of the spell they had just cast. And the connection. We were connected and that means she felt it too. The heat and the…She felt it…
Tara felt it too.
The blonde licked her lips and Willow felt the world catch fire. I'm kissing her. Now. Demon device be damned!
Willow leaned in and brought her lips to Tara's both of them moaning slightly at the moment of contact. And it was a universe of Tara, warm soft lips against her own, and no stretching. Willow leaned back finally to catch her breath and felt the universe stretch.
The last thing she saw was Tara's smile bright and shining lit by a million tiny stars.
Part VII - Conclusion
The stretching was worse this time. She felt as if she was being pulled apart and reassembled hastily, probably by the slacker guys who worked in the snack bar. And the cold… she was shivering uncontrollably in the black that seemed to go on forever. Slowly, she became aware of her body. Weak knees, head pounding, heart racing everything shaking with the cold and…nerves? Fear?
The world slowly came into focus and through a field of static she saw a laminate door in a familiar beige, carpeted hallway lit by fluorescent lights.
Dorms at UC Sunnydale, she thought absently.
She felt dizzy and sick, gasping for air as if she'd been running. A quick check revealed that her physical self was, in fact, intact even though she felt incomplete. Wrong. And there was something about this door. Even though it looked like every other door in every other dorm on campus it was…Tara's.
And I'm gasping for air like I've been running. So I'm either running away from some big bad evilness or I've run all the way here. Which means I'm here.
She swallowed once and tried again to control her breathing. And if Tara was right that meant she was here. The here. That moment the spell and Willow's universe were circling in ever smaller orbits.
Okay, this has got to stop. I need to get back and… she likes me and I definitely like her. Even if she doesn't know she likes me that much….she does. Or she will. 'Cause the kisses and the smile…and, oh, the lights! Mood lights! And the kiss made them go all supernova. So…
But, as her physics teacher loved to say, theory was so much different than practice. And a large part of herself still could not believe that someone as beautiful and perfect as the blonde would be interested in a quirky computer geek sidekick.
But the lights…
She stood in front of the door for several minutes trying to find the courage to face Tara. Crying, upset Tara. And you made her all upset only, like, an hour ago with your poopheaded-ness in the coffeeshop. She shook her head in confusion for a moment. It had been years hadn't it? Since that terrible moment in the blonde's room? Years of shifting. Okay, well, weeks in one kind of time and probably hours in an another. It was all so confusing. But the important thing was the spell. Breaking it and returning to the present.
If this is the way to break the spell, she thought, her doubts returning.
But Tara had said it. Second chance.
Let Tara lead the way.
And there's still the door that you're not knocking on. It's gonna stay there closed until you find some guts somewhere and knock!
Willow wiped her palms on her jeans before reaching a shaky hand up to knock on the cold hard surface.
Okay, this is it. So don't screw it up, just stay calm and…
She felt the familiar warmth of rush at the sound of her name on the blonde's lips, felt the terrible chill of the spell recede slightly. But there was that subtle break in Tara's voice that cut at a place deep inside Willow. She was crying. Because of something I did.
Tara should never be in pain…
The redhead took a deep breath and began gently. "Hey Tar. Can I come in?" The blonde nodded and looked to the floor as she opened the door, her eyes, red-rimmed and swollen from crying.
Okay Rosenberg, this is it. Keep it short and well… sweet.
"Tara I'm sorry about…you know, before," she fumbled. "I know it seemed…I mean, I know I acted all with the monosyllabic non-touchy weirdness, but it's not what you think."
Tara still stood near the door, keeping several feet of distance between them, her arms closed tightly around herself. Against the world. Against me, the redhead thought with a frown.
"It's okay," the blonde began without raising her eyes, "I sh-should have…" she paused and closed her eyes in frustration. "I sh-should have t-told you. You shouldn't have h-had to find out like… that."
There were tears in the blonde's eyes and Willow felt her stomach turn over at the sight. Felt tears spring to her own eyes as her panic mounted. To distract herself, she let her eyes drift over the comforting contents of the blonde's room finally landing on an open book on the blonde's bed. A woodcut of Occum's Heart dominated the open page. Somehow, without any memory of the events, the blonde was circling her too. Tara's mind working on some deeper level to help Willow.
Breathe. Focus. Do this right and get out of the spell.
But what if she hates me now and I can't get it back?
"Why didn't you?" she finally managed and then remembered: her obsessive Oz babbling, and -my-friends-aren't-there-for-me rambling. When did she have a chance, she thought with bitterness. Everything she knew about Tara came from the device. The moments she had retrieved and recycled thanks to that demonic spell.
That spell that has you trapped here…
Her eyes drifted over the engraving and finally back to Tara.
"Gee I don't know," Tara began with a forced smile, her tone uncharacteristically sarcastic. "I g-guess I thought you'd freak and…n-not want me to touch you or something," she managed through a sob as she wiped away tears. "I just…I c-couldn't stand n-not being friends with you Willow."
The redhead stood frozen in horror as Tara dissolved into quiet sobs, leaning back against the door for support. Her pain was palpable, the air in the room was thick with it and Willow felt the stretching begin somewhere.
No to the stretching…hello, not done yet.
No. I won't. I won't…
"No! I won't!" the blonde was now staring at her and Willow realized that the words had somehow escaped her mind and made it into the room between them. "W-won't ever…not be your friend." And there was that f-word again. F is for friend, and for frown and for totally fucked! Oy vey! Did I just think that? "But, but… I so did not come over here to talk about the friend word…being friendly or whatever." She looked up to find that Tara was frowning again, her forehead furrowed in deep lines.
You're doing it again! Short and sweet.
Let Tara lead the way…
Willow replayed the blonde's statements in her mind finally settling on one statement.
She thinks I don't want her to touch me.
"Willow it's okay…" the blonde began but was cut off as the redhead cleared the distance between them hugging Tara to her tightly. She felt the blonde become stiff in her arms and said a silent prayer to every goddess she could think of:
Please let me do this right. I can't hurt her anymore. It's killing me.
See, I knew you should have spent more time mapping this out instead of being all with the kisses and the fairy lights and…
And at that moment she knew that it was no longer about the spell. She simply couldn't live with the knowledge any longer that the blonde didn't know how she felt about her. Because they were connected somewhere deep and undeniable and their separation was draining them both. Like the spell, Willow and Tara apart was an unnatural state.
"No it's not okay!" She mumbled into long blonde hair. "Because this is all wrong and I don't want you to not touch me…like, every second of every day!"
The blonde grew still in her arms for several moments and then she felt the tentative touch of a hand on her back.
"Um, you know that's a double n-negative," Tara sniffed and mumbled into her shoulder. She could feel the blonde's words resonate through her chest.
"Yep." Willow was tempted to begin a desperate, panicked explanation, but somehow managed to keep her babbling impulse under control.
"S-so that m-makes it a….um, a p-positive?" Tara asked.
"Definitely," Willow murmured back and snuggled closer, sliding her cheek against the wet of Tara's tear-soaked skin. The blonde let out a tiny whimper and Willow pulled her closer. "Positively even."
They stood there for long minutes or hours or even days, time stretching and shrinking around their embrace as Willow held onto the blonde with everything she had.
"Willow, wh-what are you…d-doing?" The redhead went rigid with shock immediately. She hadn't realized she was rubbing her cheek against the impossible soft of the blonde's. Her face flushed hot with embarrassment.
"Uh, sorry… I was," the blonde pulled back gently until they were standing face to face. "um, touching you?"
Tara looked down with a frown, letting her hair fall into her face. "It's o-okay…I mean, y-you don't have…to p-prove anything to me…that you're okay with the whole g-gay thing."
The redhead reached out automatically to tuck blonde hair behind a perfect ear and then froze. Déjà vu. Don't have to prove anything… And she had tucked Tara's hair behind one ear. And worse, the frown. Every thought and action rang out like echoes through time and space.
This is the way it happened before. I can't…
"Okay, see, that's where you're wrong 'cause there is something I have to prove to you." Willow smiled and ducked her head to lock eyes with the blonde.
"What?" Tara sniffed and looked away.
The redhead sucked in an enormous breath and steeled herself for what was sure to be a disastrous admission. "That I'm totally in love with you, like, in the biggest way possible."
Blue eyes met her own with a piercing stare and Willow thought for a moment that she had succeeded. But then the blue became liquid and the blonde looked away. "No. That's not…you're s-straight and… Oz and there's no w-way…because I'm n-no good enough. I could never make you h-happy."
"You already make me happy," the redhead began and then paused. Because it all felt too much like that other moment in this room. Before. When she had argued her case and Tara had fallen deeper and deeper into herself. Away from Willow. Away from the absolute certainty of them. And she wasn't going to lose her again. "Okay, I'm gonna explain something and it's probably gonna come out all wrong, but…okay, see, something's happened to me. Something really big and, well, basically what's happened is that I'm in this place all the time now where there's only you and me. Nobody else."
She looked up finally to find that the blonde was studying her. Deep blue eyes assessing her carefully behind a curtain of blonde. She took another deep breath and felt the tears threaten, felt the terrible stretching begin. "You know, it's like one of those incredible dreams…and it's the most perfect thing ever except that I keep losing you…and we're connected so it hurts." She choked on her words as the tears came freely and all of her rational arguments and reasons disappeared. "Every time. I mean, don't you feel it? The, the connectedness? And I don't want to keep reliving the past…I want, I want everything with you from now! This now!"
As her body was overtaken by huge racking sobs she felt cool fingers on her face pushing away the tears. "It's okay Willow. Shhhh. It's okay. I'm sorry…." Then the blonde's arms encircling her, holding her fast. She buried her face in the everything of Tara, taking what she could from these last moments. The spell was so close.
"Tara I know you're in love with me," the redhead finally mumbled into the blonde's shoulder and felt her freeze in her arms. Willow pulled back slowly still holding tight to the blonde whose breathing was now labored and shallow as she once again hid behind her hair. The redhead reached a shaky hand to push the blonde hair behind one perfect ear. Blue eyes finally met green and blinked slowly before looking down.
"Since the first time I saw you," Without a hint of stutter.
Willow felt a ridiculous grin take over her face and felt the world grow lighter. Everything floating around this helium girl. This perfect point in time and space.
And the blonde was looking at her again with those eyes that didn't speak in hard sentences and judgmental pronouncements like all those others. Their blue was a gentle question. And she knew the answer now.
"I'm in love with you Tara Maclay. Forever. Okay?" A breath-taking smile wrote itself on the perfect line of those lips she knew by heart. "And I know we should have a long important talk about how totally ex Oz is and my definite-lack-of-straightness and maybe even plan a first technical type date… but not at the Espresso Pump. I mean, I know we should and we will, but…." She let her eyes drift over the exquisite pale lines of Tara's face and swallowed back her fear. "Can I just be kissing you now?"
Tara just stared at her for long moments and then without a sound moved slowly toward the redhead, bringing her lips so close Willow could feel the heat on her own mouth.
"Oh yes," she breathed finally and the redhead felt everything melt, felt an incredible silence extend around them. Like a spell. No echoes, just the brand new of this. She closed her eyes and heard herself moan somewhere as their lips brushed against each other lightly and then with more insistence. And this was a first kiss. Impossibly soft and warm and perfect. There was nothing before this moment.
She felt the blonde's lips retreat and whimpered her objection.
"It's so beautiful."
The redhead opened her eyes to find thousand of fairy lights hovering around the blonde's breathtaking smile. "The spell worked!"
Willow watched as the blonde drew her hand carefully through a cloud of lights. "I don't think it was the spell," she said gently and brought her hand up to trace the line of Tara's jaw. The blonde turned back to face her, the lights temporarily forgotten. "I think it's us," she continued lazily, bringing her fingers to trace perfect lips remembering Tara's first stolen kiss. She felt the blonde shiver under her touch and leaned in.
"Magic," Tara whispered and kissed her tracing her bottom lip with her tongue in a warm wet line. Willow opened herself to the incredible warm wet heat that was Tara and felt the universe stretch. Warm this time and soft. Like Tara. And then it dissolved.
There was no stretching this time, just the growing warmth and she was melting. Melting in wet and heat and soft. And she could feel the magic dissipating, fading around her, leaving her in this exquisite place of open mouths and hands and…Tara.
She smiled and pulled back gently.
"Tara is this…" she struggled to find breath as she stared at the blonde's tousled hair, her bright red lips. "Did we have our first kiss tonight?"
The blonde smiled at her through lidded eyes and the world melted a little more. "Um, I think we're still having it….if that's okay."
Willow swallowed. "Oh wow, so totally okay," she murmured, studying the way the lights danced across the blonde's eyes bringing out different shades of blue. Cobalt and aquamarine. She would need a Dictionary of Blue and a world of time to describe it all.
Time. When is this? Because this didn't happen yet. Did it?
She checked her watch. 11:17. And it was the same day. The Espresso Pump. Rachel.
"Willow? Are you okay?" She returned her attention to clear blue eyes and felt the past slip farther away.
"Mm-hmm," she answered absently, mesmerized by the promise of the blonde's mouth. The spell she cast with that one word.
"You p-probably have to ch-check in with… Buffy," the blonde stammered and bit her lip, a frown of disappointment and insecurity marring her beautiful face.
Buffy. That seemed familiar. Buffy was supposed to give her something. Something about a spell. And time. Wasn't she?
A stray fairy light floated between them, lighting up the perfect geometry of the blonde's face and Willow felt the past stretch and blur behind her, felt the pieces of the day slip together. The failed fairy light spell weeks ago. The Espresso Pump today. The epiphany. The run. This room. And their first kiss. The kiss that was everything. The kiss that was…magic.
"It can wait," Willow said and leaned in, bringing her lips to Tara's to start it all over again.
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