"And should she survive, you ought to know. There's no guarantee she'll be as she was. Willow killed a human being, Buffy. How will she be able to live with herself?" -- Giles, 'Grave'
Tara comes most often at dusk. She slips in as the light leaves and gathers in the corners with the long evening shadows. The colors of her eyes and mouth are bright smudges against the white curve of her face, indistinct. Her hair when she moves is a sweep of light which flutters at the edges of Willow's sight.
Tara likes to sit very still and let the shadows drip through her fingers and she won't answer when Willow tries to talk to her. She looks instead at the wallpaper and the floor and the darkening sky through the window. Sometimes she looks sad, but sometimes she bites her lips to hide her smiles.
If Willow tries to touch her she vanishes silently, leaving behind no flash of light or rush of disturbed air, only a sudden coldness which pools darkly in Willow's stomach.
At night, sometimes, she'll wake to the sound of quiet crying and sit up to see the dim outline of Tara sitting hunched on the floor in the exact spot where the dark pool of her blood had stained the carpet. She is always facing away, her shoulders bent and Willow calls her Tara and baby and sweetheart until her own voice is breaking, unable to fill the spaces between low sobs. The first time, she switched on the light, and Tara's head whipped around before she was suddenly gone, leaving the image of her near-featureless face burned in Willow's mind.
During the day, Willow sits and reads Tara's textbooks, left in her backpack by the door. Carefully traces her fingers over the highlighted sentences, the bright notes of color amid the black and white lines of text. She likes when Tara comes then, because she's warm and hovers close. If Willow's very still, she'll sit at the other end of the bed and hum until the sunlight filling the room seems almost too intense to bear. Willow's almost memorized the contents of the faded blue notebook from the same bag. She reads over and over the hastily scrawled pages of notes taken in class and neater outlines for untaken finals. Drinks in the soft curves of Tara's handwriting. Looks at the doodled runes and designs in the margins, the calendar with jotted notes about Dawn and movies. Buffy's birthday party. Thinks about the sweet give of paper beneath her fingertips, the rush of ink across her skin.
Willow doesn't know how long it is before Tara starts talking to her.
"We need more milk," she says one day, standing beside the window and looking out into the yard. "My mother always loved the name Tara," she tells the curtains when Willow asks her what she said. It's a little like after Glory hurt her, but everything she says makes sense, just for the wrong time. It takes Willow a while to work it out, but when she does it makes her scalp prickle. No matter how carefully she listens, Tara never says anything she didn't say when she was alive.
"This would be a sneaky cat," she laughs when Willow's waking up. "Funny shapes or rounds?" she says when Willow comes back from the shower in the evening.
The evenings are when Xander comes. Not always, but she can't seem to keep track of patterns lately. Weeks slowly bleeding together.
"Hey, Will," he says, with his tentative smile, and sits in a chair across from her. He talks about work, what the foreman said and how they've just moved to a new site, and the movie he took Dawn to see last week. "You should go with us, sometime," he says hesitantly and Willow smiles and says she'll think about it while Tara sits behind him on the desk.
"No, Xander's a sweetie," she says, smiling into Willow's eyes like she knows what she's saying. Xander says they're going to be reopening Sunnydale High and Willow can't stop looking at Tara's translucent fingers twirling her hair.
In the middle of the night she wakes from a dream about Warren to see Tara's eyes widened in terror, her lips sewed unevenly shut by heavy, black thread. It takes her a moment to realize she's the one screaming, and Tara is gone by the time Buffy bursts into the room.
Willow still remembers things she's read about hauntings during research sessions in the library or the Magic Box. Facts are all she has left in the strangely empty void where her power used to lie curled and glittering, and even those don't always make sense. She feels like an engine with a few missing parts, broken somehow. Even when she can draw to her tongue the words of power which used to dance through her mind, they fall flat and lifeless from her mouth, sluggish and unmagical. Sometimes magic itself seems like a pretty dream she once made up. She does remember how to exorcise a ghost, with clarity bred by years of studiousness. The number of candles needed, which herbs to use, the volume with the most easily adaptable spells. She turns to look at Tara sitting beside the bookshelf and knows she would never, never, never.
Dawn comes in some afternoons with the same hopeful smile Xander wears. Chatters away. Janice broke up with her boyfriend. The CDs she got for her birthday.
"Maybe we can go to the mall sometime," she says. "It'd be nice to get out, don't you think?" Willow watches the way her eyes carefully glance away from corners of the room, dart away from where Tara's standing and thinks 'She knows.' She wants to shake Dawn until she admits she can see Tara too, can feel the soft, almost not there brush of her skirt when she walks past.
"I do worry about her sometimes," Tara says from beside the wardrobe and did Dawn's lips tighten? Soon she leaves and Tara laughs and talks about hoppy toads and Willow feels her skin tingling when Tara moves close.
There are things Willow should be keeping track of, she thinks. Days, and how many of them are going by. The voices which talk low in the hall outside her door. Tara giggles close beside her.
She dreams about the sound of skin ripping from flesh, the instantaneous severing of a million infintessimal sinews she knows about in infinite detail from years of honors science classes. She wakes to a familiar, nauseating smell, a pressure on the bed beside her, the low, drawn-out moan of female agony. Her skin prickles and terror freezes her in place until she can't even open her eyes and gradually, mercifully it fades away.
"Fall is my favorite season," says Tara from near the window. She flickers and is beside the bed, talking to the air, to a past Willow. "No, I like your hair like that, sweetie," she smiles.
Willow sits in the bottom of the wardrobe with the doors open, curling her fingers inside the cuffs of Tara's sweater, her bare toes on the carpet. Tara's clothes are softer than hers, which scratch and bind her skin. Tara's clothes smell like she did and hang loose and soft on Willow's body. ("You're getting all skinny," Dawn said with a nervous little smile and Willow almost jumped when she touched her wrist. "Strong like an Amazon," nodded Tara at the kitty picture on the wall.)
"-- unexpected repercussions," says Giles in the hall.
"This is the room where you don't have to be brave," Tara says, and she's sitting cross-legged on the floor almost directly across from Willow. Tara's favorite skirt is soft around Willow's legs. It brushes against her ankles like a kiss.
She hates when people come in, passing between her and Tara, always talking. She tries to listen, but their voices are murky and it's hard to pay attention when Tara is laughing like clear water.
"Willowhand," says Tara in her ear, and Buffy frowns and goes away again.
Outside her door, Giles is talking and talking. Voices humming low and somber. Tara flits around the room, a sparkling pinprick of light and Willow smiles and follows her with her eyes.
If she tells, they'll make Tara go away, with all their spells and chanting. Giles and his books, Anya always ready with supplies.
"I'll never tell them, baby," she swears. "Never, ever."
All the colors of sunset stream and catch in Tara's eyelashes, which blink down and then up languidly, transfixing Willow with their delicacy and detail.
Giles looks different, faded, like soon she'll be able to see the furniture through him. Worn. He tries to touch her face but no, no, no, it's a trick, they want to make Tara go away.
She loves the sound of the door clicking shut behind him more than anything, because it makes the walls whole again, no great, gaping darkness of the hallway outside.
Tara is beaming as she sings about being bathed in light, clear notes sparkling toward the ceiling. In the middle of the room, Willow dances with her, twirling and twirling and twirling.