Author: Jacks aka WiccanHandprintz
Willow tiptoed out of her study just as the little alarm on her watch alerted her to the fact that it was 10 o'clock at night. She had spent the four and a half hours since coming home locked inside her office, trying to write. Key word: trying. When she'd picked up the gun, the feeling of almost eager power had worried Willow enough to make her put it carefully back, after reminding herself that it was definitely there if she were to need it. Then, she'd been startled by the sound of her own cell phone, and had talked briefly to Harry, explaining nothing of her current circumstances. And then, she had sat down and opened the current chapter of Nobody's Skin.
Now, four hours later, she had roughly a page more than when she'd started.
Which was enough of a clue to Willow that writing wasn't going to come easily tonight.
So, moving as quietly as she could, she crept towards the kitchen to find some food and maybe a drink. Nothing calmed the nerves like hot cocoa, right? Willow smiled at that, a rather more goofy smile than the one she allowed in public. She remembered the time when Xander had found her huddled in her bedroom of the flat the three of them had shared in college, scared out of her wits because of a midnight-special showing of The Ring. He'd laughed at her, she recalled, because she absolutely loved The Silence of the Lambs and The Shining. "I just have a thing about freaky kids," she had said. And so he'd put an arm around her and led her into the kitchenette area, plopping a mug of homemade hot chocolate in front of her and saying, "Drink up, me bonny lass, and the God of Hot Chocolate will protect you from nasty beasties! Arrrr!"
She was actually chuckling a little at the memory as she walked, less sneakily now, into the kitchen. So caught up was she in her plan to make some chocolatey goodness that Willow completely missed Tara's quiet, still form at the kitchen table. For a moment. And then, just as her hand closed on the kettle, her peripheral vision picked up the pale blue shirt and blond hair. She jumped, a small sound of surprise jolting from between her lips.
"Sorry, I d-didn't mean to scare y-you," the blond said apologetically, straightening from her slouched position.
"Were you- were you sleeping in here?" Tara shrugged.
"I didn't w-want to interrupt, or steal y-your bed."
"There's a couch," Willow said uncertainly, her automatic defenses warring with her guilt for making someone sleep in a wooden chair.
"Oh, yeah," Tara said, and she sounded so sheepish that Willow had to duck her head to hide her smile. "I'll j-just g-g-go there, then." She worked so hard to get that word out that Willow felt bad for her, and that must have been why she said what she said next.
"Do you like hot chocolate?"
Did I seriously just do that? Willow pursed her lips, wondering if there was any graceful way to back out of the invitation without being even more rude than she'd been already.
"Yes," Tara said, a soft curve to her lips. Oh, hell.
"Because I'm making some, and I could always... I mean, if you..."
"I'd love some, thanks." She sat back down, probably guessing that if she offered to help, Willow might just turn and run.
Wordlessly, awkwardly, Willow poured boiling water into two porcelain mugs and stirred chocolate powder and a pinch of chili pepper into each. The heavenly smell, warm and inviting, calmed her enough to be steady as she took the few steps over to the table and set the happy-faced-doggie mug down in front of the other woman. She raised the other mug, decorated with a grinning woman on a broomstick and the words 'Sorry, Mom, I'm too busy learning witchcraft and being a lesbian for Church,' printed in large words around the rim. Willow's eyes, shying away from Tara's, fell on this message and she blushed immediately.
"This is r-really good," Tara said, breaking the silence. She sounded a little surprised.
"I always put a little chili pepper in," Willow acknowledged, in the same careful tone Tara had used. "The spicy counteracts the sweet."
Another long period of silence, as they both drank slowly and avoided actually looking across the table.
"I really d-didn't mean to scare you," the blond said suddenly, her eyes finding Willow's. "Or offend you, if I've... d-d-done that."
"No, you haven't," Willow replied, again having her conscience win out over her suspicion. There was no reason to suspect every single person she met of being a lying, heartless killer, right? Right. "I'm like that with everyone," she added, with just the right dose of careless laughter to take away the sharp edges of the statement itself.
"Oh. I like your mug," Tara offered, completely avoiding the usual awkward part that came after Willow's admission of her non-existent social skills: the pity, the curiosity, the questions, the throat-clearing. Willow's mouth opened, and then closed again. Finally, she coughed.
"Um, thanks. It... it was a present." From Buffy, of course.
"I used t-to have one like it. B-but it broke."
"Yeah, well, this one's been cracked up a lot," Willow said, lifting the mug to display the long crack that danced up the handle. "Doesn't spill, though."
"Not t-to big on churches, huh?"
"Oh, I'm Wiccan," Willow said, throwing out her second gauntlet. If people got far enough into a conversation with her for it to actually count as a conversation, she tended to bring up something about her that would make most people uncomfortable. It was a bad, defensive and negative habit, as she was fully aware, but she did it anyway. Weeds out the jerks, at least...
"R-really? D-d-dianic?" Willow blinked.
"Me too," Tara said softly, and this time, that shy smile spread to a grin. Willow was momentarily struck dumb by the wattage of that slow, unselfconscious smile.
"...Wow," she finally managed, looking down into the dregs of her hot cocoa mug and regaining her composure. "Really? That's... nifty." Nifty?
"Yeah, i-it's not too often I r-run into another one, either."
"Well." Tara's grin slipped away, and Willow immediately wanted to bring it back. Damn it, Wills, that is exactly what you were scared of before! Don't get caught up with this girl! It was, after all, dangerous to talk too much on this subject. After all, there was nothing that could bring two people closer together faster than shared religion. Well, that and... But there was no way on Earth that was going to happen! Willow felt her face heat up for a second time, and silently cursed both the drink for soothing her nerves and the beauty across the table for firing them up again.
"S-so, thanks for the hot chocolate," Tara said after a moment, changing the subject. She was, it seemed, quite perceptive. Willow wasn't sure if she thought that was a good thing or not.
"No problem," she responded, giving the other woman a quick smile. Wishing she could give Tara the kind of smile she'd just seen. And that's just because it would be polite, right? I mean, you've been a total psychobitch to this woman, and she's kind of risking her life right now to stay here just so you can be rude to her? Hardly. Right. That's it.
"I'll g-go find that c-couch." The blond stood, reaching over to place her empty mug in the sink. Willow watched her, biting her lower lip, and then called out just as Tara was through the doorway.
"There's a guest bedroom upstairs. First door to your right." Tara looked back over her shoulder, another of those soft, magical smiles giving her face a glow that Willow could almost actually see.
"Thanks, Willow." And then, she was gone, and this time Willow was the one left alone at the kitchen table. Pushing her mug away, she let her head fall onto the table with a muffled thud.
As soon as she was out of the room and walking quickly towards the stairs down the hall, Tara let the smile drop. There was a queasy feeling in the pit of her stomach, one that the hot cocoa had not helped at all. Probably because that feeling wasn't sickness of the physical kind, but rather a more psychosomatic type of illness: guilt.
But she couldn't help it! As soon as Willow started talking, in that falsely calm, inwardly hesitant way of hers, Tara couldn't help herself. It was just too... too...
You are being a bad girl, Tara, her father said inside her head. A very bad girl.
But that smile... She'd finally eeked out a smile, one that Willow gave her willingly and didn't try to hide. It had been fast, sure, but it had also been real. And when the redhead had first entered the kitchen, she'd been grinning! Laughing to herself! I want to make her laugh like that.
The thought didn't bring about the fluttering excitement Tara was used to feeling when it came to thinking about girls. Instead, it brought about a spinning, dizzy, unhappy feeling that made her reach out to the railing of the stairway to keep her balance. Goddess, keep me strong enough to do this.
She was Wiccan, too. Willow Rosenberg was Wiccan. What were the odds?
Don't even think about the odds, Tara Maclay! Don't even!
So Tara found the guest bedroom, curled up on the bed without turning on the lights, and gave a long, heavy sigh. I thought I left this all behind me.
And I did, she added to herself. The lies, the hiding, the fear. As soon as this is finished, it will all be over. Forever.