"I can't believe I've only got a week left in Paris," Willow let out an over exaggerated groan as she and Tara finally entered the door to one of the most famous art museums in the world... the Louvre, "It feels like I've spent half of it already waiting in that queue."
"It was barely twenty minutes sweetie," Tara smiled at her girlfriend's impatience, "I can't believe you've managed to spend so long in Paris without having been to the Louvre yet. Mr Giles brought me here one of the first days we were in Paris... he was practically drooling with anticipation."
Tara's arm was casually looped through Willow's, her hand resting on Willow's forearm.
Willow patted Tara's hand lightly with her own, "I was just waiting for someone special to share the experience with... and look, you came along! They say you should always come to the Louvre with someone you love."
"No one said that, you just made it up!" Tara giggled as they walked into the foyer and she looked around for a good place to start.
"It's a Willowism," Willow grinned broadly, "My god, where on earth do we start looking?"
"Well, we have all day... let's just see where the museum takes us shall we?"
Willow nodded enthusiastically as Tara lead the way towards the sculpture collection.
Being the world renowned establishment that it was, the Louvre was quite crowded in some places. Much to Tara's relief, Willow had recovered from her earlier lack of patience and they were able to take their time in moving throughout the galleries. Willow was not surprised when she found Tara to be an excellent tour guide. Not only was she knowledgeable about a wide range of art, unlike most tour guides, she was also very pleasant to listen to. Willow enjoyed watching Tara talk about a particular painting, the animation in her eyes, the tiny smile on her face... she couldn't help but be enraptured. Although Willow did had a sneaking suspicion that she would be enraptured by Tara talking about toilet bowl cleaners.
"Eugene Delacroix, Liberty leading the People, one of the more famous examples of nineteenth century French realism..."
"Fascinating," Willow murmured as they walked arm in arm to the next painting when Tara had finished giving a short lecture about the revolution which was the subject of the painting, "How on earth do you keep all the names straight?"
"An infinite amount of memory for infinitesimal facts about obscure dead people... Willow, his name is written on the little plaque next to the picture!" Tara pointed it out with a giggle and poked the grinning redhead in the ribs, "Now this one... am I boring you? Sorry, I tend to get a bit carried away at times... "
"That figure there looks like you," Willow interrupted Tara's apology, there was really no need for it anyway, as she was enjoying every moment of Tara's tour.
"Which? The old farmwife balancing the pitcher and the milk pail?" Tara asked indignantly, "The one with two chins!"
"No, the angel!" Willow laughed and pointed out a winged angel in the painting, "She has blue eyes."
"And she just happens to be wearing barely a stitch of clothing," Tara noted, looking at the gauzy looking fabric draped around the angel's waist, "Exactly what are you trying to tell me Miss Rosenberg?"
Willow had a secretive little smile on her face as she winked playfully. Tara giggled a little loudly much to the annoyance of other museum patrons surrounding them. She clamped her hand over her mouth, giving Willow a mock scolding look.
Tara watched her little redhead closely as they moved from painting to painting and into a quieter area of the museum where the lesser known artworks were kept. Although Willow was clearly enjoying herself, Tara couldn't help but think that this wasn't where she belonged at all. Willow almost bounced as she moved, red hair swishing lightly on her shoulders, green eyes dancing over the artwork. It was as though she were some form of pure energy, barely restrained from flying in all directions at once. Tara had no problem imagining Willow as the child she had described some weeks ago, darting everywhere, unable to keep her hands from reaching out to touch everything she could find. She was ever so grateful Willow's nature had refused to be curbed by any amount of 'good-breeding.'
This was the Willow she loved and Tara wouldn't change her for all the world. That pure energy had come together to create the most beautiful person Tara knew she would ever meet. She fervently hoped she would never know what it was like to lose someone she loved so very much.
In her reverie, Tara had stopped giving her commentary and she now found Willow looking at her expectantly, obviously waiting to hear her views on the next artwork. Tara should have guessed something was amiss by looking at the mischievous look on the redhead's face. When Tara finally managed to tear her gaze away from Willow and looked to the painting... her mouth dropped open.
"My god... it's a-a... it's... a... .um..." Tara stuttered, trying not to look at the painting but at the same time knowing it was perfectly silly of her to not be able to look at it.
The painting was of two young ladies, naked, standing side by side. While the fact that they were naked was not in itself remarkable, the fact that one of them casually had her finger buried between the legs of the other was. Tara couldn't even get any words out, her face had gone a very dark shade of red. Willow was grinning at her, waiting expectantly for a commentary.
"I-I don't know anything about this painting," she managed to say after much hesitation, "T-they didn't show it to us in... art class."
Tara wished for a cool fountain to dunk her head in, her cheeks felt as though they were burning. They had spent most of the morning looking at nudes without a thought but somehow she couldn't look at this one as she had looked at all the others. She kept glancing around as though she expected a museum curator to sweep down and scold them for looking at this particular painting even though it was in a public gallery. When she finally managed to compose herself she looked at Willow out of the corner of her eye. The redhead had since given up on trying to speak to her and instead she had her head tilted at an angle, studying the painting intently. Tara couldn't help but smirk. She knew that look that Willow had on her face, it was her 'very interested' look. When Willow finally realised Tara was watching her she tried to stutter a hastily conceived excuse.
"The painting is very well done... um, I like the style... the impressionism... so realistic... um, or is that realism? Um, nice painting... where's the next one."
"You're so cute," Tara giggled, relieved to have her attention taken away from the painting and back to Willow.
"I am not, you take that back Tara Maclay!"
"And you're blushing..." Tara only just noted the slight flush to the redhead's cheeks.
"Hopefully not as much as you... because you should see your face!" Willow teased, "It looks like the side of a fire engine...the colour though... not the appearance because you're beautiful no matter what colour you are."
Tara ducked her head but it was only playfully. They moved away from the painting and took a seat on a nearby bench to rest their legs. Willow still had a thoughtful look on her face that Tara couldn't help but wonder about. She was about to question her about it when a loud, clanging bell sound suddenly pierced the air. Tara reached for Willow's hand as both girls looked about for any sign of other people. They appeared to be the only ones in that corridor.
"F-fire alarm I think," Tara said standing to her feet, pulling Willow up with her.
The two girls moved quickly from the corridor, finally rejoining the throng of people in the Louvre. They were all moving in an orderly fashion towards the exits and Willow and Tara joined them. Willow however suddenly noticed something missing...
"I left my purse!" Willow exclaimed, "We have to go back for it."
"Willow, we can't..."
"It will only take me two seconds, I'll be right back!" Willow turned and started back in the direction they had come from.
Tara was not going to let Willow go running back into the gallery by herself, she followed closely behind. Sure enough, the purse was sitting beside the bench they had earlier been resting on. Making at irritated noise at her own forgetfulness, Willow snatched it up. She slung it securely over her shoulder and took Tara's hand in their own.
When they reached the main corridor, the rest of the throng had since moved through and it was now completely empty. Willow and Tara felt nervous as they quickly moved towards the exit signs, hoping they weren't going to be locked in the museum.
They were searching for the exit when they rounded a corner and saw two men removing a painting from the wall. One art work already sat on the floor. They were both dressed in black. Willow pulled Tara roughly back around the corner. The two girls hugged close to the wall, peering around nervously.
"It's not a fire alarm!" Willow said with a hint of excitement in her voice, "It's a robbery!"
"M-maybe the thieves tripped the fire alarm to empty the building," Tara added, sharing none of Willow's excitement, "I-I think we should find another way out don't you?"
Willow watched as the two men moved a short distance away from the paintings they had already moved to attend to the next one. A ridiculous plan was running through her mind, one she should have kicked herself for thinking of. She turned to Tara and when the blonde saw the look in her eyes, her blue ones went wide in fright.
"Yes! We can do it... they won't even know if we're quiet enough."
"Don't be an idiot!" Tara hissed, "What if they've got guns... we're two girls, let's go and find someone..."
"It'll be too late!" Willow replied, "They'll be off with the paintings... Tara Maclay, if I didn't know better, I'd say you were scared."
"Why wouldn't I be scared? I'm petrified!" Tara replied in a low voice, "And if I didn't know better... I'd say you were stark raving mad!"
"Come on!" Willow wasn't about to argue anymore, she grabbed Tara's hand and tugged her from behind then corner.
Unless she wanted to struggle and run the risk of attracting unwanted attention, Tara had no choice but to follow Willow. Hand in hand, they slipped out from their hiding place and made their way stealthily across the floor. Willow kept her eyes on the men's backs, praying they wouldn't turn around. Almost there... her hand reached out and curled around the solid frame. She slowly lifted it, thankfully it was a fairly small work. Tara moved cautiously beside her... so far so good...
However, as ill luck would have it, Tara's foot kicked a screwdriver which was lying on the floor. It rolled straight across to where the men were standing and hit one on the foot. He turned around with a startled look on his face.
Willow's eyes shot open wide and she yelped, "Run!"
Willow and Tara snatched up a painting each and sprinted off down the corridor towards the exit sign. Almost immediately however, another black clad man blocked their path and started yelling at them to stop in French. Spinning back around the girls took another route, not having the least clue as to where they were going. Willow felt her heart pounding in her chest as her feet flew across the floor. She kept glancing over her shoulder to check that Tara was right there with her. Although Tara was keeping pace, so were all three of the thieves. They were all gesturing wildly and shouting in French for them to bring back the paintings. Willow would have laughed at how ridiculous the situation looked but she was pretty sure they had weapons concealed beneath their black sweaters. Men dressed in black always had weapons tucked away in the most unlikely places... anyone who watched movies could tell you that.
"Willow, where are we going?" Tara was breathing heavily just over her shoulder, trying her best to run as fast as possible and yet not damage the painting in anyway.
"I have no idea!" Willow looked over her shoulder to see the black clad trio gaining rapidly, "We need an exit!"
Willow slid around the next corner, her feet almost sliding out from beneath her. She hit something solid and fell backwards, knocking Tara over as well. Even as she fell she tried her best to keep the painting from spilling to the ground. As a result she hit her elbows hard. Wincing in pain Willow half expected to be shot on sight. However, no bullet came and when she looked up she saw the uniform of a security guard. Willow breathed a sigh of relief... they were safe.
"Men in black, t-they were trying to steal the p-paintings!" Tara gasped from behind her, badly out of breath and cradling the painting protectively.
The guard stared blankly at her and Tara looked over her shoulder to see the three men come running around the corner. Both girls smiled smugly when Willow repeated what Tara had said but in French. The guard continued to stare, looking at the girls as though they had just escaped from a mental asylum. Willow and Tara exchanged worried looks when the men ran right up to the guard, joining him in standing over them. One of them launched into a furious tirade in French as the other two grabbed the paintings and examined them carefully for damage. Willow could hardly understand what he was saying, it was very rapid and punctuated with much foul language. He finally slowed down before stopping altogether when he saw their confused looks.
"What were you doing with the paintings?" he demanded in heavily accented English, "You are imbeciles, they could have been damaged! Priceless works of art in the hands of teenage Americans! Mon dieu!"
"We thought you were thieves!" Willow replied in a nervous voice, "The alarm..."
"It was only a fire alarm... and a false one at that!" he replied with his hands on his hips, "Thieves! We were removing selected paintings for an exhibition in Vienna... thieves indeed!"
"W-well look at the way you're d-dressed!" Tara finally managed to speak up.
He looked down at his black attire and held out his hands as if to say 'so what? We're French art gallery curators... of course we're dressed in black!'
"Black? Mon dieu! Too many Hollywood movies! It's a disease!"
He sighed and held out his hands to help each of them to their feet. Once standing, Willow and Tara looked sheepishly at one another and then at their feet. They were both expecting to be clamped in handcuffs and lead off to the police station. What is Giles going to say... Tara was thinking in horror, wondering if he would reap the consequences of her actions. Aunt Elizabeth is going to skin me alive! Willow seriously contemplated asking Tara to run away with her and joining the French Legion.
"We're terribly sorry," Willow said with nothing but sincerity in her voice, debating whether or not to unleash her best puppy dog eyes on the curator. She settled for a look which was not so blatant but obviously just as effective.
"Well," the curator said reluctantly, his anger fading now he realised they had nothing but good intentions, "No harm was done... but, for future reference, please remember that when the alarm goes off... exit the building as quickly as possible."
Willow and Tara nodded quickly and the curators left them to be escorted out by the security guard. Willow looked over her shoulder to see them still examining the paintings as though they expected to find holes, rips or smudges on the priceless treasures. She expected they were taking them away to be fumigated after their adventure with the 'teenage Americans.'
The security guard deposited them on the front steps outside just as everyone else was beginning to be allowed back into the museum. The girls found a quiet corner of the entrance and stood in silence for a few moments. Willow sighed and Tara folded her arms across her chest. They finally looked up at one another, matching weary looks on their young faces.
"I've had enough of looking at art for one day," Willow finally spoke up.
"Likewise," Tara exhaled, trying to calm her rapidly beating heart, "Let's go find something a little more sedate."
Their last week passed by as last weeks quite often do, ever so quickly. However, the memories were not jumbled into one big blur of events and outings that neither girl could keep separate. Every moment stood out as infinitely special, each touch highlighted and every single thing they did together was etched into each girl's memory. More time spent researching in the library for Giles, hands resting comfortably together as they read in silence. Yet another party at Aunt Elizabeth's house, not even the stare of the iron lady herself able to put a dampener on their spirits as they danced together and gorged themselves silly on chocolate truffles. Tara suspected that Willow had eaten too much solely for the purpose of gaining herself a tummy rub... which she was only too happy to provide.
As the sun was setting on their last day together in Paris, Willow and Tara went for a stroll along the banks of the Seine river. It was a popular spot for young lovers to walk and they passed many other couples walking hand in hand. Willow and Tara walked, their hands brushing lightly together as they walked closely together but not quite daring to hold one another. Tara's heart thudded in her chest, she couldn't help but wonder what other people would think if she reached out and took Willow's hand in her own. It made her so nervous just to think about it that she didn't even dare to do it.
Willow watched Tara from the corner of her eye, it was hard to believe they had known each other for barely a month. She felt she knew the blonde better than anyone she had ever met... and yet at the same time there were mysteries to her that Willow couldn't fathom. However, despite all her curiosity, Willow knew that Tara would tell her when she was ready. Willow also knew that she would wait for as long as necessary.
Walking so close to Tara and yet barely touching her was beginning to drive Willow just a little bit crazy. While she was just as worried about what people might think as Tara, she didn't let it get to her. Stepping in out in front of the blonde, Willow performed a flamboyant bow and took each of Tara's hands in her own. Striking up a poppy tune in her head, she began twirling Tara around the path to the seemingly silent beat. Her shoes flying across the paving stones in intricate steps.
"Willow!" Tara instantly forgot about anyone watching, laughing happily as she tried to keep up with her enthusiastic dancing partner.
Willow winked and sent her flying out into a spin before drawing her close. Tara tried to focus on Willow's eyes despite feeling a little dizzy. A secure arm held her around the waist, steadying her just when she though she might topple over. They continued their dance, Tara loving the feel of their movement together as Willow lead the way, her steps flowing effortlessly. Breaking the silence, Willow unexpectedly began to sing in a clear sweet voice. One of her hands left Tara's in order to let her fingers click the beat snappily as she continue to dance,
"There never will be anyone else but you, for me,
Willow pointed a finger in Tara's direction and winked,
"...to be my very own
She finished flamboyantly, the last note wildly out of tune but Willow didn't care in the least. All that mattered was the delighted expression on Tara's face.
"Ricky Nelson?" Tara asked quietly.
"The idol of teenage love!" Willow replied.
Willow beamed broadly as she gently guided Tara into a slower dance with her arm around her waist. Dean Martin was crooning 'That's Amore' in her mind, singing just for the two of them. With a guilty little smirk, she reached across to plant a small kiss on Tara's lips... dying just to linger a little.
Tara smiled as Willow pulled back, gazing into the twinkling green eyes and finding within them her heart, well and truly ensnared. She exhaled breathily.
Someone else coughed and the girls looked to see a slightly older couple walking past them with weird expressions on their faces as they stared at the two girls. Willow and Tara didn't spring apart, neither saw any reason for that... yet it was an uncomfortable moment. Tara flushed while Willow responded by giving the other couple an equally intrusive stare in return until they looked away. It took all her effort not to say something scathing about not staring at people. She continued boring holes in their backs with her eyes until they had disappeared into the darkness.
Willow looked back to Tara. She was watching them walk briskly away with a sad look on her beautiful face, as though she pitied rather than hated the people who couldn't accept what she and Willow shared. Willow bit her lip, feeling incredibly guilty for the hateful thoughts that had been running through her mind. Malice and anger were two feelings Willow did not stoop to feeling very often, she was determined not to start now... no matter what.
"It's always going to be like that isn't it Willow... people staring... frowning," Tara said softly, stepping out of Willow's embrace, "Worse even..."
"Maybe not always... the world might change one day," Willow made a small noise of protest, wanting to continue holding onto Tara. As the blonde went to slip completely out of her embrace she tightened her grip on her hand, keeping it firmly within her grasp.
"Not likely..." Tara whispered but she allowed her hand to remain in Willow's. She squeezed it tightly.
Willow sighed in resolution and kept her fingers tightly laced within Tara's as they continued strolling along the banks of the Seine. Lamplight made little pools of light every so often. It was the perfect night in so many ways... and yet it wasn't. Tara looked across to Willow, the redhead's brow furrowed deep in thought. She knew exactly what Willow was thinking, for those were the same thoughts running through her on head... all save one... her family...
Tara Maclay stop being such a chicken and tell her everything, she has to know... she's leaving tomorrow...
Tara spied a bench seat on the side of the path and crossed to it, tugging Willow behind her. She sat, staring out at the lights on the other side of the river. Willow tucked her knees in close to Tara's. All Tara could do was smooth her skirt with sweaty hands... there was one stubborn crease which refused to straighten itself out. She rubbed at it over and over... until Willow's hand finally closed over hers, trapping it in one place.
"You'll wear a hole in your skirt," Willow said quietly, tracing her fingertips over Tara's knuckles, "And that would be a shame... because it's a lovely skirt, it's your colour."
"Hmm..." was Tara's vacant reply.
Willow studied the expression on her girlfriend's face. Tara was staring off into space. The city lights reflected in her dark eyes but other than that Willow could read nothing. She frowned worriedly, knowing that Tara was in a far away place with her thoughts. However, wherever she was... Willow knew she could reach her.
"Baby?" Willow placed a firm hand on the bare skin of Tara's forearm.
Her voice garnered the desired response. Tara finally turned to look at Willow and found calm green eyes looking into her own. Suddenly, any reasons she had been clinging to in order to justify not telling Willow about her family disappeared. There was an unspoken reassurance in Willow's eyes that gave her all the strength she needed.
"W-Willow... there's something I have to tell you..."