"Please don’t forgive me…"
Tara says nothing but her heart breaks. She runs her fingers through Buffy’s hair lightly, feels Buffy’s hands ball into tight fists.
A long moment passes between them, Buffy sobbing, not broken but bent into someone unrecognizable, twisted into something wrong. And maybe it’s just a minor change, something in molecular terms that she can’t understand, but it doesn’t feel right, this thing called breathing and moving and fighting and being.
Buffy pulls back, still crying. This was it, the moment of judgement, of being pushed away. She’s not the hero of the story anymore; she’s one of the monsters.
Tara’s hands push the hair back behind her ears and her face is kind, calm and understanding. It reminds Buffy of her mother’s death, of sitting in the hospital next to someone who knew all too well the emptiness inside her, and she cries harder.
Tara’s fingers are soft against Buffy’s cheeks, wiping away tears, and the sensation is foreign to Buffy, the softness of another person. Not a demon or a vampire or a Big Bad, just a human. Tara was so terribly human.
Tara looks at her, her gaze soft, her eyes a deep blue (had they always been so blue?). “It’s okay,” she says.
Buffy shakes her head in protest. “It’s not,” she tries to say, but her voice cracks. She closes her eyes against Tara’s gaze, against her compassion and her non-judgmental humanity.
"It is," Tara insists. "Buffy, look at me," she says, patiently waiting for Buffy to open her eyes again. "It’s okay," she says again. "You’re human and that - well, it means that sometimes you’ll walk through fire just to feel it burn you. Just to feel."
Buffy opens her mouth but says nothing. She feels Tara’s hands on her waist and for a moment think she is going to be pushed away, but then she feels the light tug of Tara’s grip pulling her closer. Her hands are strong but they do not hurt.
"Come sit with me, Buffy," Tara tells her, moving over on the couch and waiting patiently for Buffy to pull herself up. Buffy sits down next to her, their knees touching, and Tara wraps an arm around her. Tara is soft and warm. She feels nothing like the dead things Buffy knows.
Buffy lets herself sink into Tara’s embrace, into her arms. She breathes in deeply, her arm hesitantly moving over Tara’s middle. “How do I stop it?”
Tara’s fingers are in her hair again, massaging the back of her head. “You have to know that it’s okay…to want to burn sometimes,” Tara says. “And then you try and fill your days with warmth that doesn’t hurt you.”
Buffy nods, feels Tara place a warm kiss to her forehead, feels a warm hand on the arm flung over Tara’s stomach and settles in.
When Dawn wakes them up the next morning, she says nothing of how the two of them came to be lying together on the couch. Tara offers to make them pancakes and Dawn teases her about her bedhead. And it feels okay.
Tara serves her a Slayer-sized stack of pancakes with a warm hug that Buffy returns because there’s heat there that doesn’t feel wrong.