Synopsis: Tara reaches a breaking point.
Author’s notes: Written for the Which Willow Ficathon, 2021. This story takes place in the same universe as "Raising In the Sun," "Necessary Evils," and "A Parliament of Monsters." It takes place after "The Lesser of Two Evils" and "Mightier Than The Sword."
"But we have a lease on the apartment," Tara pointed out, fighting for calm and reasonable, because calm and reasonable was what she did. What she actually felt like doing was screaming and throwing things, but that was something, she'd learned a long time ago, that the Taras of the world didn't get to do. "And I thought you said that Berkeley's post-grad program was perfect for you. And I really l-like my new job." And great, she was stuttering again, which she only did these days when she was really upset, and Willow wasn't noticing.
Outside the casement window sycamore branches tossed in the breeze, dark against the twilit sky. The apartment was tiny, but cozy, perfectly situated between the university and the yerbería where Tara worked. The scent of sausage and tomato sauce wafted up from the pizza place downstairs. Second-hand furniture and cheap rugs, incense and candles, walls decorated in fairy lights. A sanctuary, Willow had said, when they held the cleansing ritual just after they'd moved in. Just for them.
"I'm sure my credits will transfer." Willow's brow crinkled. "I can check with Fred Burkle. It's just, I really think that Angel can help me with the whole vampire-with-a-soul gig. I didn't want to hurt Spike's feelings and make him feel like he was an incompetent sire or anything, and Angel was adjusting to being human again, but he's all adjusted now and I was thinking that helping me adjust might even help him adjust, adjust more that is, and so really this would help everyone – "
Except me. Miss Kitty padded down the length of the sofa, walking over Tara's lap, trailing her tail beneath Tara's chin, purring up a storm. Tara scooped the cat up and gathered her close, burying her face in warm living fur. "Mrrrp," Miss Kitty chirruped unhelpfully, and struggled out of her grasp – cats never wanted to be cuddled when you wanted to cuddle them. "I don't understand why you want to go to L.A. now. It – it doesn't make sense to me. You've been a vampire for over a year. Almost two. Longer than Angel's been human." There was the bullet, waiting to be bitten. "Does this – does it have anything to do with why you went back to Sunnydale?"
Willow's eyes slid to the side, and the manic, I-can-fix-this-really-this-time-for-sure light in them dimmed. Willow's teeth caught her lower lip, canines sharpening ever so slightly. Guilt radiated from her like a halo. "No? Ish. I mean...this has been, uh, building up."
Tara forced her hands to unclench, her shoulders to relax. Two weeks ago, she'd woken to find Willow gone, a cryptic note about Spike needing her in Sunnydale on her pillow. Phone calls to Willow, and then to Buffy and Spike, had at first gone unanswered, and then, just as a frantic Tara was about to file a missing persons report and drive down the Coast herself, Willow'd finally called her back. She'd waited and fretted for days while Willow mostly didn't answer her phone, and claimed to be too busy to talk when she did. And now... "What has been building up? Is it about the biting? Because I'm willing to try it again, just not – "
Willow flinched, paled – which for a vampire meant going from porcelain to a sort of sickly skim-milk color. "What? No! No biting! Nothing to do with biting! What makes you – oh. Oh. The sex biting. Between us. Not... any other kind of biting. Which I have no desire to do, at all, because soul, and morals, and it doesn't matter how much he deserved it – hypothetical! A totally hypothetical 'he' because – honestly, the whole trip was just vampire stuff. Spike needed moral support because..." and her face lit up with what Tara would have sworn was real pleasure, and just as real relief at the change of subject. "Buffy's pregnant!"
Tara almost opened her mouth to say that was impossible, but she didn't even bother to finish the thought, because, well, Sunnydale. Nothing was impossible there. She felt infinitely tired. The last year and a half had been nothing but vampire stuff. When she thought about it, that was really how long the words she'd heard herself saying next had been coming. "No."
Willow blinked, nonplussed by the failure of her Buffy-gossip to divert. "No? No what?"
"No, I'm not quitting my job and moving to L.A. I c-can't do this anymore."
"Can't do what?" Willow asked, very small.
"This. Us." She heard herself talking, but it was as if all the words had been written out for her by someone else, a long time ago.
"But I left a note!" Willow protested.
"It's not about the note!" Tara jerked to her feet, unable to still herself any longer. "It's – I love you. I do. More than anything. But you're –" Glorious, brilliant... terrifying. Terrible. "First you were bringing Buffy back from the dead, and I told myself you just hadn't thought it through. Then you were burning people up to fuel spells, and I told myself it was the First Evil controlling you. Then you forced Spike to make you a vampire, and..." She'd called Willow's soul back from the aether herself, the most difficult and dangerous spell she'd ever attempted. Surely, surely that should have been enough? Surely that had earned them a happy ending? "And now...now I don't know what you've done, and I don't want to know, and you want me to leave my home and my job again and I can't keep doing this."
And it was more heart-wrenching, somehow, that Willow didn't argue, didn't defend herself. Just stood alone on the kaleidoscope of area rugs, bright head drooping, hugging herself with thin pale arms. A sudden sob wracked her. "Do you think I don't know?" She looked up, wet green eyes sparking with gold. "Why do you think I want to talk to Angel? I need to fix myself!"
"That's the problem! You always want to fix things!" Tara gulped back a sob of her own. "You fix Buffy, you fix Spike, you fix Angel..." Made him human again, instead of yourself. You fix everything except the one thing I wanted you to fix. "Sometimes you just have to let things be broken."
And then they were in each other's arms, kissing, sobbing, still kissing, fumbling with clothing, tripping over Miss Kitty, who chose that moment to decide that she was starving, starving,, and would expire immediately if not supplied with tuna. Afterwards they lay together in the tangled sheets, Tara with her hot, salt-stung eyes pressed to Willow's shoulder. Touching pale cold vampire flesh still creeped her out after all this time, but that pale cold flesh was what housed Willow.
"It's still broken, isn't it?" Willow said at last. And Tara said the last words in the universe she wanted to say: "Yeah. It is."
A long silence. Willow stared up at the ceiling, at the cluster of Chinese paper lanterns hanging from the overhead fan, glowing in pink and blue and green. "I still have to go to L.A."
"Maybe I can't fix myself. But I have to try."
"I know." There wasn't going to be any yelling or recriminations, Tara thought. Just the two of them making civilized arrangements about rent and utilities and cat support payments. Because they were grown-ups. And had a lease. Or something. "We'll keep in touch," she said, because she had to say something.
"Yeah," Willow agreed. She laughed, or sobbed, or hiccuped, it was hard to tell which. "We'll do that. Maybe I should set up an eGroups list for everyone."
Day by day Willow's things disappeared into boxes, taking Willow with them. All the spots on all the bookshelves where Willow's books weren't any longer, all the nails on the wall where Willow's pictures didn't hang any more. The newspaper was scattered across the floor at her feet, with likely suspects from the Roommates Wanted section circled in red ink. (Willow had done that, helpful Willow, conscientious Willow.) For so long her life had been defined by Willow's life: Willow's friends, Willow's mission. She'd never resented that; the shy girl she'd been in college had welcomed it. Willow's life had been so much larger than hers. Willow and I are breaking up. Willow is moving to L.A. Tara tried out all the words, trying to memorize phrases in a foreign language. None of them seemed real. Willow is leaving. (But hadn't Willow really left a year and a half ago? Had the Willow Tara thought she knew ever existed at all?) Willow's face a watercolor blur behind the necro-tempered windows of her Prius, her hand a white stencil against the glass. Standing on the curb, waving goodbye. Standing at the window, watching Willow's taillights through the sycamore branches, dwindling red embers in the twilight.
Willow has left.
Willow is gone.
Miss Kitty wove between her legs meowing piteously, as if she'd been abandoned for eight years instead of eight minutes. "If you trip me and I break my neck, there'll be no one to work the can opener," Tara informed her. Miss Kitty, unmoved, yowled again, and Tara fell back on the sofa with a sigh. Her head ached. Maybe she should light a smudge stick, do a ceremony of cleansing. An air-clearing, starting-over ceremony. Or maybe she'd just take an Advil.
The apartment had seemed tiny when they moved in. But it was so much smaller now that Tara had it to herself.
The End Rants Talk to me