It is the twenty-seventh time Buffy has said the words. She stopped feeling it about twelve "Sorry"'s ago. Doesn't really matter. It's not like Tara cares.
Everything about Tara is prickly; the world hurts her when it touches her. Things are too bright, too sharp, too painful to contemplate and too wrong to accept. It all hurts.
Tara hasn't told her a word of this. She hasn't had to. Buffy already knows.
"You should have known better," Tara says dully. Twenty-eighth on that, Buffy thinks.
Tara was dead and now she is not dead because when the world almost ended again and Spike and Anya and Amanda and a third of the other girls died, Buffy got herself a wish and didn't think before she made it.
She remembers being so upset with Dawn for trying to bring Mom back. She remembers thinking how dumb that was.
She remembers how much it ached being pulled back to life after having died.
She wishes she could have remembered these things before she wished Tara back to life, back to this.
Tara is trembling, both too hot and too cold, shying away from every wondering touch, every grateful hug. She has yet to let Willow touch her. Kennedy hasn't even tried and no one is surprised about that.
"Your clothes," Buffy says. "Do you need … ?" Tara pulls the sweater --- someone's spare, maybe Rona's, --- around her shoulders and she is repulsed at the touch of the fabric and Buffy knows this because she remembers now. She remembers the way her clothes stank when she clawed her way free from her own grave, how they reeked of her own decay. No matter how many times she showered, she could smell the rot for months afterwards. Tara is freshly showered and Buffy can see her wanting to pull her wet ponytail to her nose and breathe in to see how bad it is.
"I'm so sorry," she says again.
Tara doesn't reply.
The motel is just outside Cleveland. They've scrounged up enough money to rent three rooms: one for the men, two for all the rest to pile in and around each other like puppies. Buffy shares a bed with Dawn and usually another girl. On the hottest nights the floor space is prime real estate if somebody wants to spread out and soak up what cool there is.
The Hellmouth here is a lot closer to a Hellnose. Hellear, maybe. It takes a lot of evil to impress Buffy these days. This barely qualifies. She sends two Slayers to kick the not-impressively-evil asses of the demons who live there.
Still, a Hellmouth is a Hellmouth. Faith and Robin are going to stay with some of the Slayers, those who want to stay in America. Willow and Kennedy are going to South America. Buffy is taking the rest of her ragged band to Europe. Giles thinks he can find the remnants of the Watchers there, the books left in homes, the people like Wesley who weren't there because they were cast out or were on vacation, or forgot. The rejects. Buffy thinks she can work with that.
It is too hot to sleep. Buffy kisses Dawn on the forehead --- a recent habit but one that makes her feel human --- and slips out of the bed and out of the room into the night.
A motel full of Slayers makes nights a lot less scary than they were when she was a child and it isn't like she's been scared at night for years passing into centuries.
Tara is standing in the yellow sodium glare from the near streetlights. It washes her out even more than the dark smudges under her eyes.
Buffy wants to go back inside and can't without being stupid and obvious. Instead she just says "Hi," which is no less stupid and obvious but is the kind of thing normal people do, and Buffy's been practicing.
"So Spike's a ghost," Tara says.
Buffy's heart slams. "Guess so. Looks like he can't stop that whole undead thing."
She wishes she hadn't said it because Tara's mouth is twitching.
Buffy tells Tara, "You're not undead." Her ears catch up to her mouth. "Um. I mean, you're alive."
"That never worked when we told it to you."
"I always was a slow learner."
"Are you going to go see him?"
"No." She's thought about it, but there is a new Watcher's Council to set up, and Dawn to consider, and God she doesn't want to see him again. She's made her peace with his death. That has to be enough.
"Willow's leaving tomorrow."
"Yeah." A pause. "You're not … "
"She moved on. She moved on after Oz left and she moved on after I died. I'm not going to stand in her way."
One of the new Slayers is deaf and sometimes they watch a show with a sign interpreter, and Sarah laughs when the interpreter signs things that aren't quite what the newscasters say because she can read their lips. Buffy feels like she's hearing Tara say something but watching her say something else entirely and Buffy doesn't know which one she means and maybe it's both.
Buffy makes an excuse and goes back to her room and goes back to bed and doesn't know what to think.
The Immortal crumbles to dust in front of her, and Buffy can't make herself feel anything. Once Tara broke the spell --- the same one Jonathan cast way back when or close enough anyway --- all that was left of her lover was another soulless vampire with an overgrown libido. And Slayers are great at one very specific task.
Dawn is safe. That's the important thing to hold onto. Her little sister is hugging Xander, who is unobtrusively checking her neck for damage. He blinks at Buffy, or maybe winks 'cause Buffy's still not used to just the one eye thing, and so Dawn will be fine.
Tara tilts her head and drifts out of the room.
None of them have spoken a word in several minutes. This is the danger of such close company. The occasional mental link has merged into a constant underlying thread of comprehension, or at least that's what Buffy senses when Giles is beside her and thinking too loudly.
It kind of fucks with her when she thinks about it too much. That's why spending time with the Immortal, making love to him, was so easy because it meant she didn't have to think about thinking her friends' thoughts. She could just be.
Now her latest lover was dead, not really uncommon for her, and she had to think again.
Angel and Spike came to find her and she hadn't seen them because she'd been too wrapped up in him. Dawn almost died because Buffy hadn't seen though his glamour until it was nearly too late.
This thinking thing? Going to suck.
Tara is beautiful, honey-colored hair spread over the pillow. Buffy isn't sure how to do this, isn't sure if this is what she should be doing. So many thoughts are swirling in her head, starting everywhere --- the death of Sunnydale, the broken news from L.A. --- but centering on the impulsive kiss she gave Tara last week while she'd been drinking after finding out about Faith's pregnancy.
Jesus, she has to learn not to drink ever.
Buffy is sober now, and the glow from her last orgasm is fleeing. This isn't like it was with Faith, the strange hot fumbling that one night neither of them ever mentioned again.
This is …
They're both dead. It's the weirdness and the problem and their link. It's why she knows what Tara is thinking even when they're not in the same room like she needs to be with the others.
Tara wants her to kiss her, and Buffy complies. With her eyes closed, it's like kissing anyone else. With her eyes still closed she kisses her way down to the place between Tara's boobs --- You still call them boobs? comes the amused thought --- and then she can't pretend anymore because Tara is so soft. Buffy places kisses all over each breast and nibbles at each nipple while Tara giggles.
Buffy's fingers skitter down Tara's sides, tickling and eliciting more giggles. Eyes open, they watch each other and Tara is smiling. Buffy kisses her again. Now she thinks she can do this and if she can't on her own, Tara will let her know.
Her navel is sweet and cute. Buffy thinks about getting hers pierced but Tara doesn't want her to and thinks it looks kind of trashy. Kind of like Kennedy. Buffy knows that last wasn't her own thought.
With Faith, they'd used their fingers, rubbing and touching, fighting for pleasure, and Tara isn't at all surprised. But Tara wants more and Buffy thinks she can do that, thinks maybe she was freaked by Willow when she came out because she'd had those dreams now and then.
Tara's pubic hair is the same honey on her head and Buffy strokes it. She remembers getting hairs in her mouth when she went down on Riley and Spike and Tara thinks that's a bit gross but Buffy is sure that's because Tara doesn't like boy parts in general.
Buffy brushes her knuckle against Tara's clit, just peeking out from between her nether lips. Buffy's doesn't protrude from her own labia, so this is different. Tara shivers at the touch and wants Buffy's mouth right there.
Buffy flickers out her tongue and licks the little pink nub, nestled like a bird's egg among Tara's pubes, and Tara gasps. Buffy grins. It's not what she was expecting, the taste, and Tara lets her know it never is.
Buffy uses the tips of her fingers to spread Tara's lips wider, places a hungry kiss at each one while Tara moans and squirms, trying to position her clit where Buffy's tongue keeps darting away. Then Buffy licks her, taking in a full taste of salty-sweet, and Tara moans louder.
This isn't as hard as Buffy thought it would be. This isn't as bad as Tara thought it would be and Buffy is a little annoyed but not really at finding out Tara thought she would be bad at girl-sex.
Buffy takes Tara's clit between her lips and sucks as she flicks it with her tongue. It's not so different from going down on a guy except for the part where it's completely different. Tara hasn't had a lover since she died, and masturbation can only get her so far. She's riding this and Buffy is pleased to know what effect she's having.
Buffy wants to go exploring. She slides her finger inside while she sucks and licks, and Tara wriggles until Buffy's fingertip strokes just the right spot.
This is so cool, Buffy thinks. Also weird.
Don't stop, Tara thinks and Buffy slips in another finger to press at the same spot and sucks hard. Her other hand dips down and plays with her own clit, hard and wet again.
Buffy feels Tara's orgasm rip through her and she can't stand not to pull her fingers out of Tara and thrust them right into herself. Her mouth is still on Tara's clit and her fingers are in exactly the right places. She sucks hard as she comes and watches Tara come again. Her throat is raw and she realizes she's been shouting.
They are both shaking as Buffy climbs up beside her and kisses her again. There are no words possible but Tara is thinking that orgasms are called "little deaths" and Buffy thinks it's a little funny that they're dying together like this.
Tara is going to England. Buffy is staying in Italy. It is not forever, just for now. Tara can live in England. She can't live here and Buffy doesn't understand why.
So instead she calls Dawn and tells her this will be her last semester in this school because they will be finding her a school in London. Dawn is far away and can't pick up on her thoughts here but Buffy thinks she understands just the same.