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Distribution: The Leopard's Lair: http://www.angelfire.com/wizard/wtkissage/theleopardslair.html
The Mystic Muse: http://mysticmuse.net
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Summary: Someone in Willow’s family has died and she discovers a painful secret.
She lifted the white rose to her nose and inhaled the sweet fragrance. Taking in a deep breath, the rose lowered and she placed in on top of the casket, saying a final goodbye.
Wiping the shed tears from her cheeks, Willow turned from the casket and stepped away, back over to her friend who was waiting patiently for her.
Xander put his arm around her shoulders and squeezed her close, as they walked towards the car to leave the cemetery.
"How you holding up, Will?" he asked, in a gentle voice.
"I'm okay. I feel upset that she's gone, but I'm not all broken over it. Does that make me a bad person? I should be all heart achy and…"
"Willow," the carpenter said softly, stopping his friend's worry. Their walk to the car had also paused as he turned her towards him and looked in her eyes. "You're not a bad person. I think it's cause your relationship with her wasn't very close, that's why the grief isn't very bad. You're upset, as you should be. She WAS your mom."
Squeezing her shoulder, he smiled at her gingerly. "Don't be so hard on yourself."
"I know and I-I'm not trying to be. It's just… I don't know. Maybe I shouldn't think about it so much," she decided finally.
Closing the distance between them, Xander pulled her into a strong embrace. Running his fingers through the hair by her neck, he kissed her cheek.
Willow hugged him back and was thankful to have him there for her. His support and presence was soothing, even if she didn't feel that she had been broken up enough by her mother's death.
"You ready to go?" He asked, when they pulled away from the embrace.
"Yeah. Buffy said she'd be waiting for us back at the house."
When they reached the car, Xander held the door open for the redhead and she got in the passenger side. He then walked to his side, climbed in and started the car.
"Do you want me to help you go through your mom's stuff or is Buffy gonna help you?" He asked, as he started to drive.
"She said she would help, but I don't know if I can do that today. I'll have to see later. Thanks, though." The redhead's tone was grateful.
Xander just nodded his head and smiled at her, tenderly. Pulling his attention back to the road, taking them away from the cemetery.
Willow started to feel relaxed, as people finally started to leave. The gathering at her parent's house after the funeral was nice, but she had begun to feel a little overwhelmed. She wanted some space.
Her father was talking to the Rabbi at the front door. He had been very kind to her, offering words of comfort and faith. Rabbi Tudor had been a welcome distraction from Willow's Aunt, her mother's sister, since all she wanted to discuss with the redhead was which belonging's she could take with her.
This was something the hacker never understood. When family members die, why was that always the first priority with people? They should be worrying about how others were holding up, not what they could get their hands on or what was left behind for them in the Will.
Willow had finally told the older woman, in not so many words, to buzz off. She didn't want to think about this right now. What she really wanted to do was go up to her room and just lay on her bed and rest. Somehow, she knew that wasn't going to happen.
Lifting her head off the back of the couch, the redhead turned to Buffy, who was seated next to her and whispered in her ear. "Wanna go up to the attic with me? I wanna look for something."
"Sure," the blonde answered, happily. She had started to feel a little overwhelmed herself. After Xander had left, when he had been paged by work and had to go in, that just left her and Willow there.
"Come on," the hacker said, pulling on the Slayer's arm and getting up. They stopped when they walked by the front door to go the other side of the house. "Dad, Buffy and I are going upstairs."
"Okay, hon." He kissed her forehead and then gave her a hug before she turned to go.
"Uh, Will… what exactly are we looking for?" Buffy asked from her side of the room. She watched as the other girl rummaged through a box, searching for something.
Willow looked up from the box and blew some hair away that was tickling her nose. "A necklace," she said, before turning her attention back to the box.
"A necklace?" the slayer asked, curiously.
"Yeah. It was…" she paused to look up at her friend. "Tara… she gave it to me before she left." Her features took on a sad appearance and she frowned. "I, I left it here on accident before I moved out."
Buffy moved over and sat next to the hacker on the couch she was occupying. "You don't have to explain," she smiled.
Sitting up, Willow leaned back and sighed. "I just…I can't stop thinking about her, Buffy. I try, but… my heart won't let me."
The blonde sat back and touched her shoulder against the other girl's. "Will… she'll always be a part of you," she said, looking in her eyes. "I miss her at times, too. What it's like for you, I can't even begin to imagine."
"… But, shouldn't I be worried? I haven't even been able to have another relationship since she left. I mean; you've seen how it is. A girl likes me, we go out and then it's over. Just like that," Willow sighed and looked down at her hands in her lap.
"Well, you…" Buffy paused and then continued when she met the green eyes of her friend. "They're not Tara?" she raised her eyebrow in question.
Looking down again, the redhead nodded. "Subconsciously, I think I look for her in them. When I realize I'm not gonna find her, that's when I can't do it anymore. It's just…" her voice began to crack. "I hate this, Buffy. I miss her so much. You'd think after 8 years, the pain wouldn't be so bad, but… it's almost worse."
"I know and I understand, but…" The Slayer stopped talking and looked down at the floor.
"…But what?" Willow asked, so she would continue.
Looking back over at her, Buffy spoke. "You have to move on, Will. Tara's gone, there's nothing you can do to change that."
Getting up suddenly, the redhead looked down at her friend, her features hard. "Move on? And how the frilly heck am I supposed to do that, huh? I've tried… goddess, I've tried. You've seen the aftermath of that; so don't act like I haven't been trying. Tara was the most important thing in my life, Buffy." She stopped her rant to catch her breath. "I can't believe you said that to me."
Turning away, she walked over to the window. She crossed her arms over her chest and glared at the white clouds in the sky.
The Slayer flinched at the other girl's words. The hacker had never used that tone with her and she felt very, VERY small at the moment. Closing her eyes, she blew out a deep breath and stood up. Making tentative steps towards the window, she spoke softly. "I'm sorry. I… I didn't mean it like that. I know you've tried to move on, Will and part of me understands why you can't."
Turning her body sideways, Willow kept her eyes averted, but listened to what Buffy had to say.
"To be honest, I… worry… about you," the blonde finally admitted.
"You worry about me?" This time, the hacker looked Buffy in the eyes. "Why?"
"You're family, Will; I can't not worry about you." Taking another step towards her, she tentatively reached out and squeezed her arm. "I love you, you're my best friend. I just want you to be happy."
Nodding, Willow let her know that she understood. "I was once."
"And you will be again." Dipping her head and tilting it somewhat, she asked, "Right?"
Tears started to pool in the redhead's eyes and she shrugged. "I don't know."
When she noticed her bottom lip start to quiver, Buffy pulled her friend into a hug. The blonde felt the other girl squeezing her and she held on with all that she had. "Shhh… it's okay," she whispered.
"W-why?" the hacker stammered the one word.
"I can't answer that. Life just sucks sometimes, but you keep going. That's what you have to do." She felt Willow nod into her shoulder and she rubbed her hand up and down her back, comfortingly before pulling away. Bringing her hands up, she cupped her face in her palms and wiped the tears off the other girl's cheeks with her thumbs and smiled gently.
"You wanna keep looking?" Buffy asked after a moment of silence.
"Yeah." Running her hands through her hair, Willow stepped around her friend and finished looking through the box she had been before.
Sitting on the floor close to the couch, the blonde pulled a box towards her and opened it up. "What does the necklace look like, Will?" She scrunched up her nose at the somewhat musty smell of the box's contents.
The redhead smiled as she pictured the jewelry in her mind. "It's a gold locket, shaped like a heart. On the front it has the word, Always, etched into it. There's a picture of Tara and me inside." She shivered, as she thought back to when Tara had given it to her.
Tara stood by the door to the bedroom; her things packed in suitcases and boxes, sitting in the hallway by the stairs. All that was left to do was actually say goodbye and then she would leave. Saying goodbye, however, was something she never thought she would do and she didn't want to.
As she stared at Willow's bowed head, as she sat hunched over on the bed, crying, her own tears flowed down her cheeks. This was going to be the hardest thing she would ever have to do in her lifetime.
Approaching the bed, she stopped in front of her girlfriend and braved herself for the words she would have to say to her now.
"Willow…I'm ready to go." Lifting her right hand, she intertwined her fingers into the redhead's hair. Kneeling down on her knees, she lifted her other hand to the other girl's face, cupping her cheek.
"I'm so sorry, Tara. Please don't go. Please!" Willow's voice pleaded to the blonde. Her brain understood why this was happening, but her heart was having a harder time accepting it.
When her lover lifted her face and she saw the flood of tears flowing from her eyes, her damn burst open and flowed from her tear ducts. "I have to go. I can't stay, you know that."
Willow buried her face in Tara's neck and grabbed on-to her waist and squeezed her as tight as she could.
The blonde witch froze and remained motionless for a brief moment, willing her body not to give in and to just get up and leave, but she couldn't deny her heart that. Her lover was in pain and so was she. It was something the redhead brought onto herself, but it still hurt to see the other girl in this state.
Going against her better judgment, she embraced the hacker and held her close.
They cried together, releasing all the pain and sorrow that they both were feeling. They didn't want this to be goodbye, but it was inevitable.
Tara had to force herself to let go of the embrace and pull away, but she didn't completely pull away. Cupping the other girls face with her hands, their eyes met. "Do you know why I'm leaving?" she asked.
Willow nodded, as her tears continued to fall.
"I don't want to leave you, but I can't be with you right now. I don't know what's going to happen. Right now this is something I h-have to do."
"I know. I l-love you, Tara." The hacker's voice stammered a bit, as her tears started to fall harder. Her body was trembling and she was suddenly, very cold.
"I do love you, Willow. Always." Taking her right hand from her face, she brought it down and pushed it into her pants pocket, bringing something back out with it. "Here. Keep this and no matter what, I'll always be with you."
Her shaking hand brought the necklace into view and she held it to where, Willow could see it. Pressing it forward, she held it over the other girl's heart.
"Where…are you going?" the redhead asked through her, somewhat labored breathing.
"LA," was all that the blonde offered.
"Will I… ever see you again?" she begged.
"I-I don't know, but… I'll always be with you, Willow. Always." Tara tried to stand. If she was going to leave, she needed to do it now. Staying any longer might change her mind and that was something that couldn't happen.
"Please," Willow grabbed her face and pulled their lips together. Pressing her mouth hard against Tara's, she held her as close as she possibly could as her tears continued to fall down her face.
The blonde witch started to cry and took the other girl's face into her hands again. She didn't want to let go, but regretfully, she did. Pulling away, she pressed their foreheads together. "Goodbye, Willow."
Pushing herself up on her lover's knees, she stood and looked down at the redhead, who would not lift her head. She just continued to sob, the force of her sorrow, shaking her whole body.
Before she turned to go, she cupped Willow's chin in her hand and lifted her face. Bending down, she gave her one last lingering kiss and pressed the necklace into the girl's hand.
Closing her fingers around the cold metal, the hacker squeezed it.
Ending the kiss, Tara pulled away and turned to go. She heard a strangled whisper as she reached the door.
"Tara, I love you."
"Always, Willow," she responded and walked out of the room.
"Will?!" Buffy practically screamed. She had called her friend's name 5 times now and still no response. Willow had just sat there staring into space.
Finally, the redhead snapped out of her daze and when she did, tears started to fall down her face. "Buffy, I'm sorry. I have to go, but I'll be back in a minute."
Pushing herself up off the couch, Willow hurriedly left the attic and went down the stairs as fast as she could.
The Slayer sat there confused. She was torn. Should she go and check on the other girl or just keep looking for the necklace and give the other girl the time she needed?
She decided on the latter and continued to search through boxes.
"Last box, Will." Buffy said, as she pulled the tape back and opened the flaps of cardboard.
The hacker stretched her back, pushing her arms up over her back and rotating her head around in a circle.
Opening her eyes, she was about to look back down and see what her friend had discovered hidden in the last box, but something shiny caught her eye on the bookshelf across the room.
Standing slowly, she walked over to the shelf and took in a sharp breath. It was her necklace. Picking it up, she ran her thumb over the word, Always and half smiled. "I found it Buffy!" she said excitedly.
Getting no response back, she turned around to see what the blonde was doing.
There Buffy sat, on the floor, staring into the open parcel. Her mouth was agape and her features held confusion.
"What is it?" Willow asked, as she walked over to see what her friend was looking at.
Looking up, the Slayer met the other girl's eyes. "Letters… from, Tara."
Those three words sent a tidal wave of emotions towards Willow. The severity of them threatened to knock her over. She felt her knees buckling and her heart started to hammer in her chest.
"What?" the redhead questioned, breathlessly. She wondered if her ears had heard right. Should she even hope?
Buffy watched as the words hit home and carefully watched her best friend's reaction. When she saw her stagger to the right, she reached up and steadied the other girl.
Gently, the Slayer coaxed Willow to sit down beside her on the floor, as she heard the question again.
"What did you say, Buffy?" the hacker asked, pensively.
"Will, I said what you know I said." Lifting the letters from the box, she held them up for Willow to see. "They are from, Tara."
"All of them?" Reaching towards the blonde's hand, her fingers clamped around the slim wrist and pulled it closer to her. Reading the front of one of the envelopes, she saw that they were in fact from her Tara.
"All of them. Only one has been opened though." Buffy looked back into the brown parcel, making sure she hadn't missed any.
"I… I don't understand. Why didn't I know about these?" Willow asked her friend, seeking answers to her confusion.
Turning her body, she positioned herself in front of the redhead. Tucking her legs underneath her, she reached down with her free hand and squeezed the hand that was still holding her wrist. The fingers around her flesh were tense.
Taking the hint, Willow loosened her grip and ultimately let go.
"I don't know, Will. Do you…" pausing, she caught the green eyes with her own and tentatively questioned, "Do you want to read them?"
The hacker was lost in her mental ramblings. She didn't understand any of this. These were her property. They were written to her. So why didn't she know about them until now?
All she could do was nod. She didn't trust her voice right now. It would surely betray her.
Handing Willow the opened letter, she squeezed her knee with her other hand, offering support and the knowledge that she was there if the other girl should need her.
Smiling warmly at the Slayer, she took the envelope from her fingers and stared at it. The return address was for LA, where Tara had told her she was going.
Now that she held the letter, she couldn't bring herself to do anything, but hold it, staring at it blankly.
Another squeeze to her knee brought her eyes back up to Buffy's, who was gazing at her with concerned curiosity.
"It's okay, Will. Do you want me to read it to you?" the blonde waited patiently for a response.
Yet again, all Willow could do was nod. Shakily, her fingers pushed the letter forward into the other girl's hand.
Inhaling a deep breath, Buffy fingered the paper flap before lifting it up and pulling the contents out, from within. Dropping the envelope to her lap, she unfolded the paper and prepared herself to read it aloud.
"I'm sending this to your parents address; you told me this is where you would be. How are you? I'm not doing well; I miss you, so much it hurts. It's been hell being here without you."
Quieting her words, the blonde looked up to check on her friend. She saw the silent tears glistening the other girl's cheeks and wondered if she should continue.
Sensing her apprehension, Willow whispered. "Please, Buffy… go on."
Nodding, she agreed. Reaching over and taking the redhead's hand into her own, she offered her strength.
"I hate being away from you, but I have to be. We both need this right now. Do you understand that? Why I have to be away from you? I hope you do. Please don't feel like I've abandoned you, that's not what this is. Things just won't work, if you keep doing the things you are doing; abusing magic, it's not safe, Willow."
Buffy looked up again, making sure Willow was still with her. She squeezed her hand and continued.
"I'm always with you, sweetie. What I need from you is your understanding. You need to know that what you did is wrong. That's why I had to leave you, Willow. I couldn't let you hurt me like that again. We were always so strong, for ourselves and for each other. I don't know where things went wrong. I just don't understand."
Sniffling brought the Slayer's attention back to the present. Lifting her eyes again, she found her friend sobbing, not being able to keep it in any longer.
"Will?" Her voice was unsure, her concern was for the other girl's well being. Obviously, reading this letter was taking its toll. Should she stop? She didn't have to wait long for a response.
"Please, Buffy!" Willow's voice begged for her to finish the letter.
The blonde nodded and continued.
"Willow, no matter what, I need you to know and remember that I love you. I will always love you. Whatever happens from this point on, you will forever be in my heart and soul, as I am in yours. I'm with you always."
Buffy looked to her friend again. She watched her body shaking with sobs, as she held her free hand over her eyes. It hurt to see her like this, but the letter was almost finished. She knew the rest should be heard.
Gathering the last bit of steeled motivation that she had, she put her attention back into the task at hand.
"I can't be around you right now, but if you need to write to me, please do it. I won't deny you that need. I WILL write back to you, but it might not be right away. I hope you understand. Forever. That's how long I will love you, no matter what. Give my love to Dawnie and tell her I'm sorry for leaving. If she wants to write to me, please give her my address.
"Goddess, I miss you. I will try and write to you soon. I promise. I love you, Willow Rosenberg.
As the last words were read, her silence was broken and she sobbed aloud, falling forward. Willow fell into Buffy and clung to her tightly.
Dropping the letter to the side of her and lifting the redhead up, after prying her arms from her waist, the Slayer pulled the other girl into a hug. Holding her tight, she rocked them softly, letting her grieve.
This didn't feel like 8 years later; it felt like it was happening all over again.
"This is the last letter." Buffy spoke gently to Willow. Reading the letters was like opening up old wounds. She had been somewhat reluctant to read all of the letters to her friend, but all the other girl had done was plead for her to finish them.
"You want me to read it now, Will? Or do you need a break?" she studied the side of her face.
Willow was lying on the couch on her back. Her head was resting on a pillow that was leaned up against the arm of the sofa. Her knees were pulled up, the bottom of her feet resting on the cushions.
Buffy was sat on the floor, facing her, in front of the sofa.
"No. Read it now, please." Stretching her legs out, the hacker rolled over onto her side. Bringing her arms up, she crossed her hands on top of the pillow and leaned the side of her face on them.
Nodding, the blonde did as her friend asked her to. Her eyes skimmed over the date and noticed that it was written about 10 months after the one prior.
The letters varied in time frame. Usually one was written about 4 to 5 months apart. There were 25 total.
"This one was about 10 months after the last one." Clearing her throat, she started to read.
I don't know what to think or say. You haven't responded to any of the letters I have written to you. This is the last one I will send."
Buffy made a brief glance at the redhead, catching her eyes. She smiled gingerly at her, before turning back to the object in her hands.
"I guess your silence, means that you don't want to try to make things work between us. That's what I want sweetie, more than anything, but I can't force you. I couldn't even think about doing something like that to you."
The blonde's voice trailed off at the end and she looked up again, the full recognition of that statement, playing on her features.
"Oh God, Buffy," was all Willow could say. She forced back her tears. She didn't want to cry again. It wouldn't help anyway.
"I know," Buffy said. She reached up and squeezed her friend's shoulder, letting her hand rest there briefly, before looking back down at the hand holding the letter in her lap.
"I miss you, so much, Willow. Why won't you call or write to me? Do you hate me, or are you disgusted with me? I would call Buffy, but I can't betray your confidence like that. I doubt she or any of the other Scoobies would want to talk to me anyway. I just wish I knew that you were all right.
"I've never loved anyone the way that I love you. Yes, I said love and not loved. I still love you very much. I've kept my promise of always and I will forever keep my word. No one else will ever be privileged to the kind of love I have for you.
"Only, I guess I have to say goodbye to you again," Buffy let a small whimper fall from her lips, after she read that. Looking at her friend, she saw the effort she was putting in-to not crying.
She found it somewhat ironic, that tears were slipping down her own cheeks now. Maybe they were tears that Willow wouldn't shed for herself?
She continued, "I don't want to. Goddess, I don't want to say goodbye. It's the only thing I know to do now, though. I hope you will be happy, my Willow. Think of me, if you want. I will always think of you. If you decide that you want to talk and try again, you know where to find me.
"Forever, love. Forever. I love you, so much.
"Love, Tara." Folding the letter up, she placed it back in its envelope and set it beside her, adding it to the pile.
"When was that written, Buffy?" Willow's whisper pierced the Slayer's senses.
"Two years ago," the blonde let out a long breath.
"Two years?" Squeezing her eyes shut, she mentally sobbed. She just couldn't believe all of this.
Sitting up, she stretched her muscles and stood. Walking over to the attic window, she looked outside. When she spoke again, her voice was soft, injured. "I don't get it. All those letters and I never knew of a single one of them."
Shifting her body, she looked at her friend and leaned against the wall. "You know, when she left I was so angry. I couldn't believe she could do that to me, even though she was right by doing it."
Her teeth pulled her bottom lip into her mouth, wetting it with her tongue. When she released it, she added, "For the first time that I could remember, Mom was there for me. Letting me cry on her shoulder, watching the hole in my heart get bigger and bigger. I was actually proud to have her for a mother then."
Tilting her head back, it rested against the wood paneling. "Dad was away on business, remember? He was gone for almost a year. He didn't even know I was staying here."
Willow picked her head up and looked down at Buffy then. "I know Mom had everything to do with this. I know she hid those letters from me. She hated Tara for leaving and for breaking my heart. She never understood that I was the one who had done the breaking to begin with. I never hated Tara, not ever. I still loved her then. Mom didn't understand."
She closed her eyes, letting her chin fall down. She shook her head and as her eyes slowly started to open again, she wondered aloud. "I wonder where she is now?"
Lifting and tilting her head back again, it rested on the wall behind her. Taking in a deep breath, she held it.
"LA," the Slayer replied, closing her eyes hard. Her voice was barely a whisper, but her friend had heard it.
Willow slowly brought her vision back down to the other girl and stared at her, confused, her brow scrunching up. "What?"
Standing, Buffy walked over and stopped a foot away from the window. "She's in LA, Will." Waiting for a response, she steeled herself for whatever was to come.
"You know where she is?" the hacker was even more confused. She pushed off the wall and glared at her friend, walking over to her so they were practically nose-to-nose. "How?" Her voice was flat, cold.
"Angel… he told me." Buffy was suddenly very sorry that she had kept this information to herself.
"When?" the redhead's voice was the same. She crossed her arms over her chest, flipping her head, making her hair fall back over her shoulder.
"Three months… ago. Will, I'm sorry. I thought if I told you I had found out where she was, you would have tried to contact her. I just didn't want you getting hurt again." Her face held a look of total disgust with herself.
"That's not your decision to make, Buffy Summers," Willow snapped and turned away, walking toward the window. Shaking her head, she gritted her teeth and had to hold herself back from screaming.
"I know," Buffy took tiny steps towards her. "I'm sorry. Please don't turn away from me."
Quickly spinning around, she faced the blonde again. She didn't hide her tears, they had free reign of her cheeks.
"Will…" she wanted to comfort her friend, but she also wanted to kick herself in the head for being so stupid. Would her comfort even be welcomed?
"I can't believe you never told me." Willow's tone was calmer now, not hard like before.
"I… I was trying to protect you," Buffy admitted.
"You can't always protect me, Buffy." That statement was true. Living in Sunnydale, you could never predict what was going to happen next or whether there would be some vampire or demon hiding in the shadows, just waiting for you to make the wrong move. It was unpredictable.
"Right." Nodding, the Slayer took another step closer. "Are you mad at me?"
The hacker stepped the rest of the way to her and embraced the other girl. As mad as she wanted to be with Buffy, she could see the good intentions in the act. "A little, but thank you for trying to watch my back. Just, next time, talk to me about it." She squeezed her tightly before pulling away.
"I will," Buffy promised. "What are you gonna do now?" she wondered, curiously.
"Have a talk with, Mom." Sighing, the redhead blew out a frustrated breath, shaking her head from side to side. She still couldn't fathom all of this happening to her. It was like something you watched in a movie, where it was all fiction. Made up. However, now it was true and happening to her.
"You want company?" Stepping to the side, letting her friend walk past her, as she headed for the stairs.
"Thanks, but I need to do this alone, Buffy. Besides, there are still a couple of hours of daylight left." Willow paused her walk when she reached the top of the attic stairs.
"Okay. Call me later?" Buffy smiled.
"Sure. Thanks, Buffy, for everything." She grabbed the blonde and gave her a bear hug.
"You're welcome." Buffy returned the embrace. As they pulled away, Willow shook her finger at her.
"Don't ever do that again," she was serious about the words, her voice held a certain warning. If there were ever a next time, she wouldn't be as understanding.
Patting the other girl's bicep with her palm, the hacker did smile at her.
Her features serious, determined, she nodded while saying, "I promise," the blonde told her.
Pulling her hand back to her side, she started her trek down the stairs, the Slayer close behind. She wouldn't actually be able to talk to her mother, but she had a few things to say to her anyway.
When Buffy returned home, she directly went to the phone and dialed Angel's number. She smiled when the call was answered.
"Gunn, I need you back here, later tonight…" the vampire finished his sentence, then turned his attention to the phone and the person on the other end. "Hello?"
"Angel?" the Slayer asked, tentatively.
"Yeah. Buffy, is that you?" He pulled the chair out from under the desk and sat down.
"It's me. How are you?"
"You know me. How's Willow?" Angel frowned. He had been shocked to hear the news of her mother's death.
"She's okay. That's actually why I'm calling." She paused momentarily, taking a deep breath. "I need to speak to, Tara."
Willow looked down at the freshly covered grave, studying the dirt. There were several floral arrangements surrounding the earth. All were placed in a uniform fashion around the dirt mound.
Glancing back at the gravel path a few feet away, she looked to make sure that no one was trying to get around her car. The path was empty, so she turned back.
A slight breeze blew through her hair and whipped across her face. "Mom," she whispered to the air and eyed the temporary grave marker. It wouldn't be long before it was replaced with a granite head stone.
"Why did you do it? I'm so pissed at you right now." Willow spoke to the air surrounding her. "You know how much she meant to me; means to me, still."
Kneeling down, she dusted some stray dirt off the top of the temporary marker. "I just don't understand, Mom."
She stood back up, pulling the back of her shirt down. "I don't know why you did it, but…I guess I forgive you. I just wish you had said something. I would do anything to go back in time to when that first letter arrived."
The redhead pulled a hair tie from her pocket and reaching up, she gathered the red locks and tied them into a lazy ponytail.
Closing her eyes, Willow sighed; a whimper escaped from the back of her throat. "I would give anything just to see her one more time; anything, Mom. If you can make that happen from where you are, then I would be forever grateful."
A few seconds after the words left her lips, she heard a car door shut. What she felt next, she hadn't felt in years. She knew that feeling and it made her heart start to pound in her chest.
Her palms became sweaty and her stomach started to turn. Turning around, she searched the Cemetery.
Two feet away, parked behind her car, was a new arrival. The woman, the cars driver, stood; she was leaning against her vehicle on the passenger side, a bouquet of flowers in her hands.
She looked back at Willow, keeping her eyes trained on the eyes of the other girl's, and slowly started to walk towards her.
The hacker's mouth fell open and she was stood, frozen in place. When the feeling finally returned to her lips, she spoke the name of the woman she never thought she would ever see again.
Buffy started to panic and she gripped the counter in the kitchen, until her knuckles turned white. "She did what?"
"You heard me," Angel replied. He thought this news might come as a shock to the blonde.
"I have to go, Angel. Thanks for telling me." She hung up the phone before the other party could even respond.
Clicking the talk button on again, she hit the number one for speed dial and waited until the machine greeted her.
"Hi, this is Willow. I can't answer your call right now, but leave me your name, number, and message and I'll get back to you. Thanks."
After the three beeps sounded and she was prompted to start her message, she breathily spoke. "Will, it's me. I need you to call me as soon as you get in; it's important. It's about, Tara. I'll talk to you soon. Love you. Bye."
She rested the phone back in its cradle and tried to mentally plan how she was going to tell her best friend the news.
Tara stepped up beside her and leaned down, placing the flowers on the dirt mound. When she stood back up, she met the redhead's eyes. "Hi, Willow."
Willow opened her mouth to say something, but nothing came out. The blonde had rendered her speechless. The wheels in her brain were turning ninety miles a minute and all she could do was just stand there, staring at this beautiful creature.
She reached forward, following her hand with her eyes, and tentatively and lightly touched the other girls arm, making sure she was real, that her eyes weren't betraying her. At the contact, she yanked her hand back down to her side and her body started to tremble. She is real.
Looking Tara in the eyes was the last straw. Her bottom lip started to quiver, her eyes tearing up and when the other girl frowned and a look of concern washed over her features, she lost it. Her tears started to fall and her shaking worsened.
Out of pure instinct and an overwhelming need to comfort, Tara stepped forward.
Just when Willow thought her knees were going to give out, tumbling her to the ground, she felt two strong arms wrap around her and pull her close.
The blonde sighed softly, when she hooked her arms under the other girl's and pulled her tight against her body. She never thought this moment would ever happen again, just as Willow had, and she planned on taking full advantage of it, even if it didn't mean anything.
This wasn't something she had planned. Willow didn't want her anymore, she had made that perfectly clear, in not responding with her even once, over the past eight years. Now this, this hug, she would support her ex-lover and comfort her, lending her strength until she felt it wasn't needed any longer. Then she would leave. Walk away, as she had before.
That's what she told herself, anyhow, but unbeknownst to her, she hadn't expected what happened next.
A strangled cry worked its way up through the redhead's body and finally landed on her vocal cords. She sobbed Tara's name and latched her arms onto her back, returning the embrace with gusto.
"Easy, Willow," she sympathized with her ex-lover. This moment was something that they both had dreamed about for years, but Tara had pushed it away and hidden it in the deepest recesses of her heart, not letting herself be hurt by the want anymore. "Shhh…" she tried to gently coax her to let go a little.
Willow took the hint and laxed her arms somewhat, but she didn't move.
Tara held her for a few more silent minutes, until the redhead was completely relaxed, and then she tried to take a step back.
Willow, however, had other plans. Her arms tightened around the blonde again and she wouldn't let her move away.
Laughing softly, she didn't even try to censor her words from what her heart told her to say. "Sweetie, I'm not going anywhere. I just want to talk to you and actually look at your face."
For the second time in the past couple of minutes, the hacker couldn't move. That one word, that sweet endearment, she hadn't heard that in 8 years. It made her heart beat loudly in her chest.
Stepping back finally, her eyes took in her companion's wordless expression. "What is it?" Tara asked, concern filling her again.
Willow's voice seemed to magically re-appear and she whispered. "You, you called me, sweetie."
Nodding, the other girl asked, "Is that okay?" Even if it wasn't, she couldn't keep it from her lips; it just wouldn't go away.
"God, yes." Willow smiled a little. "It's just… you haven't called me that, since…" she just lowered her eyes and stared at the ground. "…You left," her voice trailed off to nothing.
Tara didn't understand. She'd called the other girl, sweetie, many times in her letters. Why was she acting like she'd never heard the word before? "I, I've used it since then, Willow. In my letters."
The mention of the letters brought a fresh spring of tears to the hacker's eyes and they slithered down her cheeks. This dear woman had no idea.
"Tara, I… today, I got your letters, today." Willow lifted her head and searched the other girl's eyes.
"What?" Tara shook her head, confused. "No, I sent…"
"Wait," she said gently. "I never got your letters." The hacker waited for the blonde to grasp the recognition of the statement. When she saw it in her face, she spoke again. "I never got them, until today. Mom kept them from me."
Stumbling back a step, at the severity of the confession, she gripped the offered hand to steady herself. Looking down at her hand, after a moment she interlaced her fingers with Willow's, giving in, letting her heart lead her once more.
"I'm sorry, Tara. I would have written you back or called, if I had known. You have to know that?" The last part was a question, which the blonde answered with a nod of her head.
Willow's free hand balled into a fist at the ache. She wanted to touch Tara so badly, make sure that she was real, that it was actually her beloved standing here in front of her, but she didn't know if she should. Finally deciding she didn't care, the hacker un-balled her fingers.
Inching her hand upwards, towards her goal, her skin itched in anticipation. Finally reaching it's destination, her fingers splayed out and she lightly cupped the other girl's cheek.
The blonde witch's eyes, fluttered shut at the touch and she leaned her cheek into it. Her heart had finally won and she made no effort to stop it. This is what she wanted, this other girl touching her; this is what she needed, even if she could never bring herself to say it.
"I just wanna make one thing perfectly clear, Tara Maclay… I could never hate you or be disgusted by you." Her thumb caressed her skin, back and forth.
Opening her eyes, she looked back, perplexed. "I…"
Willow interrupted her before she could say anything. "I don't know how you could have thought that or would ever think that." She untwined their fingers and her now free hand, came up to hug the other side of her face.
"Never. That will never happen."
A teary nod and a smile, was her response.
The hacker started to remove her hands, but Tara stopped her.
Placing her hands firmly over the others on her cheeks, she turned her head to the right and kissed the palm of Willow's left hand. Once her lips separated from the skin, she gripped her digits in between her companions and brought them down to her sides. Stepping forward, she leaned in and left a lingering kiss on the hacker's forehead.
They both closed their eyes and sighed in sync. When Tara pulled back, she caught the green eyes with her blue. "Can we talk? Not here, though."
"Yeah. We can go back to my house." Willow started to turn, to walk towards the car, but Tara stopped her progress.
"I… I want to be alone… to talk," the blonde grinned, shyly.
"My house. We'll be alone," Willow confirmed.
"Good. Let's go," Tara started to walk this time, dropping one of Willow's hands, but keeping the other firmly hugged with her own.
The redhead followed. No more questions or words were needed.
Willow pulled into her driveway, driving in until she was right in front of the garage door. As she was stepping out of her car, Tara had just pulled in behind her and parked.
She walked over and opened the door for the blonde, holding it open until Tara climbed out of her vehicle. Once the girl was well away from its path, she closed the door with a loud slam.
"Thanks, sweetie." Smiling, Tara stood beside her, admiring the front of the house. "This is lovely, Will."
"Thank you. I like it," Willow responded, looking at the other girl's face. "You wanna go in?" She moved to go, but held out her hand.
Slipping her hand into the offered one, the blonde witch nodded and interlaced their fingers.
The house was a one-story home. A sidewalk extended from the driveway to the steps, leading up to the front porch, which covered the front of the house in length. There was a roof over the porch and a swing to the left of the stairway, sitting close to one of the windows.
The home itself was white with a gray roof.
Tara immediately took purchase on the swing, sitting down on it and moving it with her legs.
"You like my swing, huh?" the redhead grinned. She remembered a conversation that they had shared once and the other girl had told her of her love for swings. She had always wanted one.
Stilling its movement with her feet, Tara smiled happily. "I love it."
"Come on," the hacker offered her hand again, pulling the other girl up and out of the swing, when she firmly grabbed on. Going over to the front door, she slipped her key in the lock and unlocked it.
Pocketing her keys, she then pushed the door open. Willow still held tight to Tara's hand. It felt good to be in hers again. She had missed holding hands with the blonde witch.
Tara closed the door behind her, as they went in-to Willow's house.
After a brief tour of the rooms and kitchen, they both settled in the living room.
Willow was sitting on one end of her medium sized sofa, her right arm resting on the back of it.
Tara sat at the opposite end, her body turned sideways, legs crossed and tucked underneath her. She was leaning forward, elbows resting in the bend of her knees as they talked.
They had grown silent for the last couple of minutes, just taking time to reacquaint themselves with each other. Now that they were actually inside, alone, a sudden shyness had crept over them.
"Tara?" the hacker whispered, turning her head to look at her companion.
"Hmmm?" she also looked up, catching green eyes with her own.
"I missed you," Willow's features were saddened, a lump forming in her throat.
"I missed you, too. So much. I, I couldn't stop thinking about you." Tara laid her arm on the back of the sofa, her hand resting an inch away from her ex-lovers, aching to touch her again.
Looking at the blonde's hand, she moved her fingers closer, their fingertips touching. When Willow spoke again, her voice was soft, almost a whisper. She kept her eyes on their hands, as their fingers started to give the others small hugs.
"I've thought about you every day; wondering how you were. You're always on my mind. It doesn't feel like eight years have passed; it feels like it's been longer. A-and it just gets worse everyday. I feel…" Looking away and over, she looked into Tara's eyes, searching deeply; probing. "I feel lost," she finally admitted.
"Oh, sweetie. Com'ere." Tara patted her lap and watched as the other girl, scooted over and lay down, her head resting in the blonde's lap.
Willow was lying on her back, her left hand was up and beside her face, gripping Tara's knee.
Playing with the soft red hair, her fingers sifted through it the best they could from this angle. She sighed deeply before speaking.
"I've felt lost, too, Will… but if you'll let me, I can find you. We can find each other." Tara cupped her face, upside down, with both hands. Her thumbs caressed the supple flesh of the tops of her cheeks.
"Together?" the hacker's eyes fluttered, briefly.
"Together," Tara agreed, smiling gently.
"I wanna be found," Willow said, putting her hands over the blonde's. "Especially if it's you, whose doing the finding."
"Always, sweetie." Tara grinned.
"Tara?" Willow shifted her body somewhat, propping herself up on her right elbow, beside the other girl's left knee.
"Yes?" She knew that tone. The redhead was either nervous about something or just very unsure.
"Can you… will you…" Frustrated with herself, she closed her eyes and blew out a deep breath.
Tara had to fight really hard not to laugh. Willow was just too cute at times. "What do you need, Willow?"
"Will you hold me?" she asked, shyly.
"Of course. Sit up for a second." When she did as asked, the blonde witch unhooked her legs and stretched them out. She placed a leg on either side of the other girl's body and held out her arms, scooting her body forward so she could lay back.
Moving over and turning on her right side, the redhead glided into Tara's arms. She wrapped her arms around the girl's waist and rested her cheek into the crook of her neck.
Tara couldn't keep the moan at bay, which escaped from her vocal cords, once Willow settled. "Mmmm, Willow… I've missed having you in my arms."
The hacker rotated her head an inch to the right and let her lips brush against the skin of Tara's neck. It was a subtle move, nothing more than to show her appreciation, but when she heard the sharp intake of breath from the body beneath her, she went back to her prior position. Her cheek now rested against the blonde's.
"Sorry," Willow apologized, squeezing the waist that she held. "This is nice," she agreed with the earlier statement. "I've missed this, too."
Tara closed her eyes and breathed in and out, calmly.
"I, um… haven't done this since… before," the redhead whispered, nervously. She didn't know if she should be admitting this now.
"You haven't?" Tara pulled her head back so she could look Willow in the eyes.
"No. I tried to find someone else, but I couldn't. They weren't…" she gazed into her eyes, deeply. "They weren't you, Tara." Unhooking her left arm from the blonde's waist, she brought her hand up and her fingertips caressed the girl's cheek.
"Buffy said something today, that I hadn't completely realized before then, I don't think. I think I was looking for you all along and when I didn't find you, I couldn't stay dating those women." Her fingers moved lower, so close to those full lips. She wanted to touch them, feel their softness.
"You don't have to explain." Tara's body shivered at the touch.
"Yes I do." Shifting, Willow now lay on top of her beloved, where she wanted to be. Her right arm still claimed the waist of the blonde witch. "I haven't been with anyone, since you."
Her brow furrowed, she was confused. "You said you dated other women?"
Smiling, the hacker nodded. "For like, 2 seconds." The pads of her digits finally moved over, tracing the supple lips, bathing in their fullness. "I mean intimately, Tara."
Recognition dawning, Tara blushed. "Oh… well, I haven't either… only you. I tried dating, but it just didn't work out. None of them made me happy. My heart was in love with someone else. It's STILL in love with that person." She was having a hard time concentrating with what the other girl was doing.
Grinning, Willow knew exactly the effect she was having on Tara. If the blonde only knew how it was making her feel inside. "You, you haven't?"
"No," she closed her eyes now, succumbing to the touch. She didn't hesitate the next move. Gently, Tara kissed the redhead's fingers, part of her imagining that they were her lips.
It was Willow's turn to close her eyes. As she did so, she contemplated what she would do now. She wanted to say it. She ached to say it, but what would the girl do? Then she remembered the letters, what they had said. Tara had told her, forever, but did she still mean it?
The blonde had just said that she had been in love with someone else; that she was STILL in love with this someone. Could that person be her? Should she even hope for that to be fact?
Taking a deep breath, she went for it, risking everything and diving in for the plunge. "I love you, Tara."
Opening her eyes, she stilled her lips, the fingers forgotten as Willow's words played in her ears. The look of love on the other girl's face was unmistakable. Her heart leapt in her chest. This beautiful woman still loved her.
A tear running down her cheek, she smiled. "Oh, Willow. I love you, too. I never stopped."
"Really? Then it WAS, me?" The redhead wanted to believe it, but couldn't bear the thought that it wasn't true. She whimpered, when she watched Tara's face rising to meet her own.
The blonde decided to skip talking and show this woman, this woman that she loved, just how much she still did in fact, love her.
Leaning down, their lips were in range; so close. Willow could feel Tara's warm breath on her skin and she closed her eyes, anticipating. This was it. It never happened though. A loud pounding on her front door, broke the moment.
The hacker's head snapped up and she grunted in frustration. Whoever had the nerve to interrupt this moment, was going to wish they hadn't. However, the panicked voice that flowed from the other side of the door, replaced all anger she was feeling.
"Willow! I need to talk to you." It was Buffy. "Please, open up!" Her voice was urgent.
Sighing, Willow gave Tara a look of apology and placed her index finger over her lips. "Sorry… I better answer her." Leaning down, she positioned her mouth close to the blonde's ear. "Hold that thought."
Kissing the redhead's finger, she grinned and watched Willow move off of her and start to make her trek towards the door.
"Will?" The Slayer asked again, her impatience seeping from her voice.
"I'm coming, Buffy." She rearranged her shirt, fluffing it down into place. Her best friend had the worst timing, ever. And she planned on telling her just that – someday.
Tara sat up, as she stared at her ex-lover's retreating form. She appreciated the view, if nothing else. Willow was still one of the sexiest women she had ever known.
Closing her eyes, she shook her head, shaking away all the lusty thoughts occupying her mind at the moment.
The redhead felt the other girl's eyes upon her and she grinned, widely. "I've still got it," she whispered, to where only her own ears could hear. Once she reached the door and opened it, Willow couldn't keep the smug look off of her features.
She looked like the cat that had just ate the canary.
Somewhat lunging forward and grabbing onto Willow's shoulders, Buffy tried to catch her breath. She used the strong shoulders her fingers gripped, as support, keeping her wobbly knees from giving out all together.
Scrunching up her brow, the hacker looked concerned and gently walked the Slayer backwards, so they weren't standing in the middle of the doorway. "Geez, Buffy. Did you run the whole way here or something?"
"Yeah… had to," came a breathy reply. Lowering her head, the blonde swallowed and then looked back up. "Need… to talk, Will."
She pulled her best friend's hands away from her shoulders and let them drop, once she knew the other girl was calmed down and could stand on her own. "What's up?" the redhead questioned, curiously.
"I left you a message… on your machine. Tara… it's about, Tara." Her breathing started to return to normal and she sighed. Buffy took a few more steps backwards and sat down on the top step to the stairs leading down to the sidewalk.
"I didn't check my machine yet." Willow smiled at the name of her love. "What about her, Buffy?"
"I called Angel after I left earlier and he told me that she left LA." The Slayer bowed her head and felt ashamed, for not telling the other girl about Tara's whereabouts before it was too late. "I'm so sorry, Will. She's gone."
Willow felt genuinely bad to see the blonde so torn, but she still couldn't hold back the smile that graced her lips. Before she could respond though, she felt a hand on her lower back.
Turning her head to the left, she locked eyes with Tara, whom had been listening quietly from inside the house.
"It's okay, Buffy," the blonde witch spoke, calmly.
Shaking her head no that it wasn't, Buffy didn't seem to notice that it wasn't Willow talking to her.
"Buffy, look at me." The redhead's voice was gentle. She leaned into Tara, taking the hand that was now at her side, brushing her thigh.
Looking up, the Slayer looked at the other girl. She did a double take when she saw who was standing beside her. "Tara?" she needed verification that her eyes weren't deceiving her.
Nodding, Tara smiled warmly.
The next thing she knew, she was being pulled into a strong embrace. Buffy's arms latching around her back, squeezing her for all she was worth. The blonde witch hugged her back, but soon needed to break away. "Buffy, it's nice to see you, but I need to breathe."
"Oh, my God. I'm sorry." She pulled back and gave the other girl a look of apology. "Sorry… got a little carried away there."
"It's okay," Tara reassured her.
Buffy turned her head and looked at Willow, her face suddenly long, sadness stinging her eyes. "Will, can you ever forgive me?" She took a tentative step closer to the redhead, yet again, asking for forgiveness. The fact that she had already asked once and been granted it, that didn't matter right now. Her heart needed it to be given once more.
The hacker's eyes scanned every inch of the Slayer's eyes, probing deeply, accepting her mistakes – accepting her repentance. She knew Buffy had done everything the way she had, out of sheer protection and friendship. Although, she was still angry at the way she had handled the situation, but in retrospect, Willow herself may have done the same thing if their positions had been reversed.
Reaching forward, Willow's fingers gripped around Buffy's hand and she pulled her towards her, letting go of her grip and hugging her with her right arm. Her hand found the blonde's right shoulder and she grabbed onto it, giving the other girl a firm embrace.
The redhead's left hand was again preoccupied, her fingers wedged between Tara's. Their hands were embracing, not letting go. Willow wasn't about to let go of her love, even if the hug she was sharing now with her best friend, was awkward.
Closing her eyes and letting a heavy sigh fall from her lips, Buffy shivered. Willow forgave her. Silently, she made a vow to herself to never deceive the redhead like that again, or Tara. That was an absolute.
Kissing the cheek that had rested on hers, the hacker pulled back, reaching down and giving the Slayer's hand a final squeeze and letting it go.
She locked eyes with Buffy's softer green ones and held them. Her next words flowing forward, marking their claim, not wanting to have to be spoken again. "I forgive you, but Buffy… right now, this moment… it's the last time," her features resolved, sliding into place.
Closing her eyes and nodding her head, the Slayer accepted. When her lids opened again, they locked with Willow's again. "Thank you and I swear… never again."
She blinked and looked away, her vision falling on the still joined hands in between the two women before her. Her heart fluttered at the sight. This is how it should be, should have been. Their hands looked so perfect together, sharing the same space, the same air.
Stepping to the side a bit, she now stood in front of Tara. She wouldn't look at her at first, shame plaguing her thoughts, but when she did finally look up, she was met with a smile.
The blonde witch's full lips were perfect. The smile that tickled her lips was grateful, grateful for this moment.
When Buffy spoke again, her voice was soft. "Tara, I need to ask for your forgiveness, too."
Shaking her head, her eyebrows furrowed, she didn't understand. "For what?"
A heavy breath falling from her lungs, she stepped back just a step, giving the other girl space. "For not telling the truth; for keeping you from, Willow these past three months, when you could have been with her, working things out. I…" she paused to gather her words.
Should she betray Angel's confidence? He HAD told her not to say anything, but Tara was here now, not there. And she should know the truth. That was her final decision.
"I knew where you were and I didn't tell, Willow. I thought I was protecting her, not wanting to see her hurt again." Buffy laughed, disgusted and shook her head, looking over at the redhead. "… But you ended up getting hurt anyway, by me. And I'm so sorry."
Frowning and squeezing her eyes shut briefly, she looked back at Tara, who was waiting patiently, waiting for Buffy to finish. "I'm sorry, Tara."
In actuality, the blonde witch was somewhat glad. She hadn't been ready to see Willow yet. Here, now, being with her ex-lover was more than she could have ever dreamed of, but if it had happened any earlier, there was no telling how she would have handled it.
"Buffy," Tara started, but waited until the other girl looked up at her to finish. "You did what you thought was right and I can't judge you for that, but… from now on, I know you will make the right decisions and won't make the same mistakes over again. Right?" She tilted her chin down, looking her in the eyes.
"You're so right," the Slayer responded.
Stepping forward, the blonde witch embraced the other girl in a firm hug, but kept hold of Willow's hand. She wouldn't let go, never again.
"Thank you for taking care of, Willow," Tara whispered in Buffy's ear, only loud enough for her to hear. "I'm going to take over for you now, though." She gave her lower back a squeeze and let go, stepping back and smiling graciously at the Slayer.
Buffy smiled back at her and gave her a short nod in agreement.
"How's, Dawnie?" She directed her question towards the other blonde, as she settled back into her position beside the redhead, squeezing her hand and leaning their shoulders together. She needed that extra closeness.
"She's good. She's in med school," Buffy beamed, proud of her younger sibling. "She's going to be sad that she missed seeing you." Her smile began to fade, thinking of how heartbroken her sister would be.
Tara's features fell and her voice became a whisper. "I know."
She knew that Dawn was away at school, but she didn't provide that information. Too many questions and she didn't feel she had the strength to answer. Truth was that she had been e-mailing back and forth with the younger Summers over the past couple of years. She had told her not to say anything. She knew it would get back to Willow if she did and that was something she wasn't ready to face at that time.
"I wish I could see her, too." The blonde's words broke off at the end, a lump forming in her throat.
"Hey," Willow spoke softly, pulling her hand out of her loves and reaching behind her to gently stroke her back. "You'll see her soon."
Reaching up with her other hand, she cupped the right side of Tara's face, her thumb caressing her flesh. Leaning in, she left a ghost of a kiss on the corner of her lips and embraced her fully, pulling them together snuggly.
Tara returned the embrace, turning her head so that her lips rested against Willow's neck. She kissed her there once and gave her a firm squeeze, before pulling back and smiling in gratitude at the hacker, pressing their warm foreheads together.
"I know," she answered her, her voice not as broken now.
Buffy's stomach fluttered at what she had just witnessed. Tara was home and Willow was going to be all right. Her day was finally starting to get better. "It's good to have you home, Tara," she spoke aloud and smiled.
They both watched her walk away, making her way down the sidewalk to go home. Once the Slayer was out of sight, Tara was the first to speak, turning towards Willow and taking her hand. "We need to talk."
"I know." She searched the blue eyes before her. She was surprised at what she found there. Tara was afraid of something, but what? "What is it?"
Looking away, the blonde just gripped the hand in hers and started to walk back into the other woman's house.
Willow shut the door behind them and continued to follow Tara, as she was led into the living room.
When they neared the couch, Tara let go of the hacker's hand and motioned for her to sit down. Once sitting, she looked away from her companion and began to pace. Her mind was spinning a million miles a minute and she searched for words, wondering how to say what needed to be said.
Watching the back and forth motion, the other girl was making was starting to cause her dizziness. She kept her eyes on the blonde though, waiting, letting her have the time she needed. "Are you okay?"
Running her fingers through her hair, Tara finally stopped pacing and looked down at Willow, catching her eyes. She stepped over in front of her and knelt down in-between her knees, resting her arms on top of her thighs for support. "No."
"What, what's wrong?" her voice held the panic that her heart now raced to. Reaching up, she tucked some of that blonde hair behind Tara's left ear, letting her fingers brush her cheek before she dropped her hand.
Taking in a deep breath, she began. "Willow, I need you to promise me that you will listen to what I have to say and not interrupt me. I know you… you will probably want to say something, but I want you to wait until I'm finished. Okay?"
Nodding, she gave her word.
Pushing up with her hands, Tara stood again, but right in front of her this time, a few steps back. "There's something I need to tell you about, Dawn." Closing her eyes, she breathed in deeply. "We've been in contact with each other for the last four years."
The redhead's promise to not speak until the end was forgotten as she blurted out, "Huh? What are you…"
"Will," the blonde's voice cut her off. "You said you would wait. Please?"
"… But," Willow tried to protest.
Stepping closer to her, she placed her middle and index fingers on her lips. "Please!"
Kissing them lightly, she nodded.
"Thank you." Tara removed her fingers and sat down beside the other girl on the couch, sitting sideways, her left leg bent at the knee. "Don't be mad at, Dawnie. I was the one who told her not to say anything to anyone. I wasn't ready to talk to you or Buffy or anyone else, here."
Looking down at her hand resting on her knee, she spoke with a very small voice. "I… I thought that you hated me or didn't want anything to do with me. That's another reason why I…"
Willow turned her body around so fast; the momentum almost knocked Tara over, onto her back. Her own right leg bended and her knee touched the blonde witch's. She now sat eye to eye with her, looking straight at her. Her eyes held an intense protest. "Tara, no. Never. I never…"
"I know," she cut her off, leaning forward, their faces just inches apart. "I know that now, but then… then was a different story. I know better now, but you have to understand why I felt that way."
Sadness swept over Willow's face and she bowed her head. "I do. It was all, my fault. I, I violated you!" she said in an angry voice, angry with herself. "I… I mind raped you, Tara." She spat disgustedly and lifted herself off the couch and walked away, turning her back on the blonde, not having the courage to keep looking at her.
Tara's heart started to pound in her chest and her breathing increased. She lifted her head and looked at Willow's back. Her shoulders were shaking and her fists were balled down at her sides. She was squeezing them as hard as she could, wanting to punch something.
Slowly standing, she stepped towards the hacker and hesitated briefly, before moving over in front of her, staring at her lowered head. "Yes, you did. What you did to me was horrible, Willow. You betrayed me."
"Do you have to keep throwing that in my face?" she snapped and pulled her head up, staring into Tara's eyes, coldly. She instantly regretted her words and her tone, when she saw the hurt flash across her ex-lovers face.
Willow closed her eyes, holding back her tears, and she turned away again. "I… I'm sorry."
The blonde just looked at the floor, feeling like she'd been slapped, but the other girl was right. She had thrown that in her face, whether intentional or not. It still hurt though, very deeply.
"No, I'M sorry, but… it's true, Willow. You did hurt me. You hurt me so much when you did that to me." Tara lifted her eyes, looking up again. When she spoke this time, her voice was just above a whisper. "… But, that was 8 years ago. We've moved on from that, learned from our mistakes."
The redhead turned her head a centimeter to the right, but didn't directly look at the other girl. She couldn't; not right now.
Her body stiffened up, when she felt Tara moving closer to her, walking around the side of her and stopping before her. She kept her head turned though, her shame keeping it locked in place.
"I-I betrayed you, too." Tara's voice was starting to tremble. An emotional breakdown was on the verge of erupting.
Willow finally looked at her – everything – and her damn broke, she couldn't hold it back any longer. "No… Tara, you didn't."
"Yes I did. I left you. I left you alone to deal with everything, when I should have stayed to… h-help you. I l-l-let you down…" her voice broke off, tears flowing freely now. She covered her face with her hands, trying to hide, trying to make herself invisible.
Willow's heart broke and her stomach balled up into a knot, as her body shook with sobs. "You… you did what… you had… to do. I… don't blame… you for that."
"You… s-should." Tara's knees gave in, buckling, pulling her to the ground. She let gravity have it's way. She was only half surprised when the redhead followed her lead, dropping to the ground and grabbing her arms.
Pulling on Tara's arms, she yanked her forward, embracing her with all of her strength. She held her as tight as she could and refused to let go, even when the blonde tried to free herself.
Melting, losing the battle with herself, she sank into the hacker's arms. Her own arms wrapped around the slender back of the other girl and she held on, burying her face in the other girl's warm neck.
They grieved together, letting all of their emotions go. The first step had been taken. They still had a ways to go, but they were now closer to getting there together.
At some point, between crying and just sitting in the silence, Willow and Tara had fallen asleep. They had found their way back to their previous positions on the couch, with each girl lying on their back on opposite ends of the sofa.
Legs had entwined; when, it wasn't known.
Tara was the first to wake. Her wake up call was a combination of a full bladder and an outrageously rumbling stomach. She definitely needed some food. Neither girl had eaten since the day before, skipping dinner and heading straight into a very emotional evening.
Rubbing the sleep out of her eyes, she blinked them open. The morning light from the window behind her, causing her to squint her eyes at first.
Lifting her head off the arm, she craned her neck up, looking over at Willow. She smiled when she saw that the hacker was still sleeping. She looked so peaceful.
As gently and calmly as she could, the blonde began to extract her legs from her couch companion's and swung them around, pivoting her body around and sitting up.
Willow whimpered lightly at the loss of contact, but eventually quieted down, resting comfortably.
Standing, Tara made her way to the bathroom. On her way back out, she glanced at the shower curtain and felt the sudden need to refresh herself.
Finding her way back to the living room, she walked over to the sleeping redhead. Brushing some stray hairs away from Willow's eyes with her fingers, she leaned down and deposited a gentle kiss on her lips. It was fleeting, her lips barely making contact.
She whispered, "I'll be back, sweetie," and rose back up. She froze her forward movement when she heard a groggy, sleep filled voice speak to her.
"Mmmm… Tara? Don't go," the girl whimpered, reaching out with her hands to try and grab onto the blonde. Her eyes remained shut and she grunted when, all her fingers grasped were air.
Moving back over, she bent down. She closed her eyes briefly, when the redhead's hands found her face, cupping her cheeks.
Willow's eyes slowly started to open and she yawned. Focusing upwards, she smiled, her eyes finding Tara's.
Placing her hands over those on her face, she nuzzled her cheek to the right. "I'll be back shortly. I'm just going to go and take a shower and change into some clean clothes."
"Okay." The hacker's right hand moved to the back of the blonde's head, pulling her down, closer to her face. "Don't be gone too long."
Their faces were about an inch apart, warm breath tickling flesh. Neither was sure of what to do, but it was Tara who made the first move. She brushed her cheek over Willow's lips before turning her head slightly and leaving a soft kiss on her forehead.
She wasn't brave enough to leave a kiss on her lips, even though she had just a few moments ago. The situation was different now. Willow was actually awake.
The redhead's right hand slid across the blonde's cheek as she stood back up. "You should eat something while I'm gone." Glancing to the table, to the right of the sofa, her eyes gathered up the time. "Its 10:17, sweetie."
Groaning, Willow sat up and stretched her arms above her head.
Tara caught herself watching the other girl as she moved. How her breasts pushed up, wrinkling her shirt. She had to physically close her eyes to look away. When she opened them, she started to turn, to walk away. "I'm going now."
Reaching out, Tara's hand met the other girls when it was offered, and she squeezed it.
"I'll be here," the hacker said, standing. Her hand kept hold of her loves', even as she started to walk away. When their fingers had no choice but to part, she loosened her hold and let go, watching Tara open the front door and then quietly close it behind her, once she reached it.
Stretching again, fully, she stood up on her tiptoes and hopped into a walk, making her way to the other side of the house. She could hear the shower calling her name and she wasn't about to ignore its call.
The wind fluttered over Willow's face, whipping her hair slightly, as she basked in the early sun. She was sitting outside on her swing, with her legs crossed and her head tilted back resting on the back of the swing.
Her hair was still wet from her shower, but a few dry strands kept tickling her features upon her face. She would smooth them back down, but it was useless. Her hair had a mind of its own.
The redhead's mind was running non-stop, her thoughts riding a roller coaster. First stop – Confusion Ville, at least for now, anyway.
She still didn't understand why her mother had done what she had with the letters. Obviously, Sheila had won though. She had kept them away from her daughter, but of course, all deceptions come with a price and must end at some point. In this situation, the price was her daughter's anger and frustration, topped off with a lot of hurt and anxiety.
A small part of Willow would probably never be able to forgive her mother for what she had done, but staying angry with her was useless. Yelling and resenting a gravestone or even a memory, was silly and childish. That was the easy way out. The more adult thing to do would be to move on and find her way past it.
Her mind could remain hurt, but her heart told her to let go.
So, that's what she would do.
There was still the matter of, if her father had been involved in any of this betrayal. She didn't feel he had, but soon she would know for sure.
Not today, though. No. Today was about Willow and what Willow needed. The answer to that of course, was easy. And as she lifted her head off the back of the swing, the sound of an approaching car breaking her thoughts, she smiled. What she needed, the only thing she did and had ever desired, was the blonde goddess that was driving that car, which had just pulled into her driveway and parked.
Now, as that person climbed from her seat and shut the vehicle's door and made her approach towards the redhead, she knew the answer. The person that could help in taking all of her pain and fears away and help her to move on, towards something new, was the woman who wasn't even a foot away from her, gracing the first step of the stairs onto the porch – her, Tara; Or more importantly – her future, or so she hoped.
"Hey, sweetie." Tara smiled at the redhead, shyly. She moved over, to stand in front of the banister of the roofed deck, the crest of her buttocks leaning against the wood, as she looked at Willow.
Willow just smiled at her, as she re-adjusted the bottom of her robe, pulling it tighter over her legs, trying to make it cover as much skin as possible.
"Comfy?" The blonde eyed her attire, not able to drag her vision away from the creamy skin of the other girl's exposed thighs.
Her robe comfortably covered her body down to her knees while standing, but when sitting, it rode up to about mid thigh.
Willow shifted nervously in place, feeling the blue eyes of her companion on her, watching her, devouring every patch of bare cream that she could. "It's kinda… short…" She gulped when she saw, Tara take a step closer to her.
Closing her eyes, she forced her eyes away, finally opening them to look at the hacker's face. As she stepped forward, slowly, she tried to breathe calmly. Silently, Tara begged her heart to stop pounding so loudly.
It was no use though; the closer she got to the swing, the louder and faster it thumped.
Her heart was the mallet, causing a bass drum amount of noise.
Finally sitting down sideways on the cushioned swing, the blonde distanced herself a little from the other girl. She didn't want to be too close. The closer she was; that was all the more invitation her hands needed to accept temptation.
That, she wouldn't do. It was too soon to even think about something like that, wasn't it?
Keeping that in mind, Tara settled on inching her right hand over, letting her lower arm linger and rest on her own left thigh, as her hand paused in mid air. Her flesh was only millimeters away from the hand that rested on Willow's upper, cloth covered thigh.
Feeling the heat radiating off of Tara's hand and onto her own, she moved her hand to the right, brushing it against the blonde's fingers.
Smiling, she looked up and over at the other girl, who returned her smile. Moving her hand more and turning it over, she slid her hand under the blonde Wicca's and their fingers interlaced.
It was a little awkward, due to the way they were sitting, but they were touching. It's what they both needed.
Lifting her left arm up and placing it on the top piece of wood, behind the redhead's head, she laid it there, scooting in just a little bit closer.
"It's okay, Willow. You don't have to be nervous around me. You're safe." She leaned in just a little bit more, resting her forehead on the other girl's temple, her thumb moving over the skin it touched.
Closing her eyes, the hacker breathed in deeply. "Not from myself, I'm not." She squeezed the hand in hers and nuzzled her temple over the blonde's forehead.
"Then we're even," Tara whispered, stilling her thumb, waiting for Willow to catch onto what she meant.
Pulling her head back, she turned her face, looking into pools of blue. "Tara, all I've wanted is you. Now that you're back, it just makes things harder."
Tilting her head, the blonde witch pulled back a little too, looking at Willow curiously. "How?"
The redhead looked away and down at her hand, flexing her fingers, letting them get a tighter hold on those in between hers. "'Cause now it's a reality. You're real and really here. Before, I had accepted that you were gone and that I would probably never see you again." She lifted her gaze again, looking deeply into those in front of her.
"I don't want to hurt you again or disappoint you." Willow's lower lip quivered at those words. That was her worst fear, reliving the past and slipping back into old habits.
Licking her lips, Tara gave her a thoughtful look. "Then don't." Her hand lifted from the back of the swing and came to rest on the back of her love's head, a comforting gesture. Her fingers started to move, brushing through the back of her locks.
"I fear the same things, Willow. We can't let our fear win, though. Things will never work that way. You know that." Her fingers continued to move, massaging her scalp as they went.
Willow couldn't help but close her eyes, lost in the sensation of what the blonde's fingers were doing. "I do," her breathing grew shallower, somewhat and she almost moaned. What Tara was doing just felt so - wonderful.
"Then tell me, what do you want?" the blonde witch's voice was nothing, but a whisper.
Turning her head a little to the right, she still kept her eyes closed. Willow's left hand fell to the seat, gripping the cushion – hard. "I want…" she opened her eyes now, turning her head the rest of the way, her face an inch away from the blonde's.
"To try again," she continued. Now, all that remained was what the other girl wanted. She prayed it was the same thing.
Tara couldn't keep the grin from her features, as she leaned forward and pulled her hand from the girl's hair and wrapping it around her shoulders, she pulled her closer. "Me too. Com'ere."
Letting herself be pulled into an embrace, she untwined her fingers from the blonde's and embraced her fully. As Willow turned her body, so she could hold Tara more easily, she forgot about her robe. In her forgetfulness, the bottom of the material came open, exposing even more of her flesh to the air.
She didn't care though. What mattered right now was this embrace and she wasn't going to give it up for anything.
The blonde hugged her close, putting all of her love into this moment. Her cheek leaned to the right and nuzzled into the other girl's hair. It was still damp enough to leave a trail of moisture on her skin.
Not being able to help herself, she inhaled the scent of coconuts from the red locks. "Mmmm… you smell good, sweetie."
"So do you," Willow replied back, pulling out of the hug a little, to get a better smell of Tara's neck. There was a hint of strawberry there. "Strawberry lotion?" she inquired, taking in another lungful.
Tara laughed softly, when the hacker's nose tickled her sensitive flesh. "Mmmm hmmm… and you smell like coconuts."
"That would be my conditioner." Willow continued to pull back, lifting her face up, brushing her cheek across her loves.
"Well… it… smells good," the Wicca's words slowed, her lips whispering over the redhead's cheek when it passed over them. When the hacker's cheek was out of range, her mouth brushed the corner of the other girl's.
Pulling back completely, Willow searched Tara's eyes. She noticed how shallow her breathing had become and knew what had caused that. It was something they both wanted, needed; dreamed about.
"Tara?" her voice was small, nervous again.
"Kiss me, Willow… please…" there was a slight urgency to her voice. Tara couldn't wait anymore. She wanted this now.
When the redhead reached up and cupped her cheek, she felt a hand descend onto her leg. The blonde's fingers resting on her exposed thigh; not moving, just resting there, basking in the warmth.
Her thumb ran over Tara's lips, gently, as she leaned in. The tip of her nose touched the other girls and she smiled. When her thumb passed to the right, she gingerly covered the remaining part of her lips with her own. She didn't press them together; in fact she barely felt them at all.
This just wouldn't do for the blonde though. When the other girl tried to pull away, the hand that was on the hacker's thigh, cupped it and squeezed onto it, while her other hand found the back of Willow's head and pulled her face in again.
She covered the redhead's lips with her own, feeling their softness, kissing her softly. She didn't try to rush the embrace or deepen it. Tara just simply felt her way along. Her lips kissed the other girl's repeatedly, in short brushes, not staying put in one place for too long.
Her heart began to race even faster, when Willow pulled away from her to look in her eyes, searching for something. Guessing she found it, the redhead leaned back in and kissed her a little harder this time, the hacker's lips pushing over hers with a controlled force, her tongue peeking out to taste them.
Tara couldn't keep the moan at bay that traveled up through her lungs and swallowed itself inside the other girl's mouth. Her hand that was on her love's thigh started to move, her fingers lightly mapping out the area that they occupied, reacquainting themselves with the familiar, yet new territory.
When her fingers had crept up to the bottom of the material and started to try and sneak under it, is when the redhead pulled back.
She had been so caught up in the feeling of Tara's lips on her own, that she had forgotten what she was wearing.
Looking down at her leg, she saw that glorious hand inching its way up. Placing her hand over the blonde's, she lifted it away and tried to cover herself up again. Her nervousness and shyness burrowing to the surface again and overruling her need to be close to the other girl.
"I'm sorry," Tara looked down at her hand, ashamed. Some small part of her brain knew what it had been trying to do, knew what it wanted, but the other part of her kept screaming, ‘Slow down.'
The Wicca's own shyness reappearing now, as she wondered if she had made a mistake. Was Willow mad at her now? Would she tell her to leave?
The redhead seemed to sense her inner questions and fears, as she looked back up at Tara and brought her hands up to her face, cupping her cheeks, making the other girl look at her.
"It's okay. Don't apologize. I do want you, Tara. I won't lie to you. My soul wants all of you, right now, right here… well, maybe not right here, cause we're outside and the whole world can see us and that's just not very…"
The feeling of soft lips on her own shut her up. Returning the kiss, she felt the blonde start to relax, her shyness drifting away. Just when she was about to deepen the kiss, Tara pulled away.
"I love you, Willow. I'll wait for you, for us… when we're ready, we'll both know. We'll just feel it and just know," she paused to lean in for a kiss, before continuing. "I'll be here, waiting for you."
Willow nodded at her and looked down at her hand. It was aching to touch the blonde again. It burned for her, the feel of her skin. She craved it.
"M-maybe I should go…" Tara's voice trailed off. She really didn't want to go, but if she stayed, she couldn't promise that she wouldn't try to step over that line of no return and just take the redhead now.
"No! Please, don't go. I-I'll go change, put some actual clothes on, but please stay. Tara?" the hurt was obvious in her voice. She didn't want the other girl to leave. Part of her was still afraid that she wouldn't see her again if she left now. That was her greatest fear.
"Are you sure?" Tara wasn't sure if she was asking the redhead that question, or herself, but either way, she needed an answer.
"Yes, I'm positive. Stay? Please?" Willow's eyes pleaded with the blue ones of her girl's. When she saw her smile and nod her head, she leaned in and gave her a quick kiss and then got up to go in the house to change clothes, leaving Tara alone with her thoughts.
Those thoughts, they were swimming, all coming together. The blonde knew what she wanted, knew what she needed, but if she gave in would it ruin everything? That was her only question.
So, she sat. Contemplating what to do next.
She knew the answer, or the answer that her heart kept shouting at her, but her brain had a mind of it's own as well and it was being stubborn.
Closing her eyes, she pulled in a deep breath and smiled. She had her answer.
Her heart always won.
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