disclaimer in first part

Lesser Evils
By Matt

Interlude: Breakdown

Tara slipped a bookmark into the psychology textbook she was studying from and rose to answer the knock at the door.

"He-hello?" She called.

"It’s me," Willow answered from the other side of the door. "Can I come in?"

Tara opened the door immediately. "Of c-course," she said.

Instead of bustling in and flittering about the room, complimenting on the pretty things and talking about her day as was her custom, Willow trudged in very slowly and delicately, as if she was very tired or a little sick. The latter seemed more likely—she did look a bit peaked.

"A-are y-y-you okay?" she asked.

Willow shook her head, then winced.

"Hung over?" Tara joked, without even a hint of her stutter. She barely noted it before moving on, but that was happening more and more often around Willow. She didn’t know why it happened, but she liked it.

In any case, she doubted that Willow was. Hung over, that was. She’d seen Willow with minor ailments before, and she always made with the theatrical moaning and groaning, vows to never eat that/drink that/do that again—it might have been annoying if Willow was at all serious about it, rather than playing it for humor to distract herself and amuse her caregivers.

Something more serious was wrong with Willow this time.

"Kinda," Willow answered, sitting down on Tara’s bed.

"S-so you j-just got k-k-kinda d-d-d-drunk last night?" Tara ribbed. "W-as it w-w-worth it?"

"I wasn’t drunk," Willow whispered, looking into her lap. "I was drugged."

Stunned, Tara dropped onto the bed beside her. "Tell me," she said in a voice that had no air in it, taking one of Willow’s hands.

So Willow did. She told of the one drink that she could remember from the handsome, dark-haired young man. She told of waking up in her bed in the morning, wondering why she was still wearing her clothes from the night before. Of Buffy’s account of the night before, of her rescue by Parker of all people. She told of the visit to the Disciplinary Office and of Sung’s weeping flight into the woods.

"So it turns out that third time was the charm for Date-Rape Darren last night," she concluded dully. "And all I could think as I was watching Althea drive away to the hospital with her was ‘Blessed Goddess, that could have been me’. I mean, what kind of person does that make me? Somebody gets raped and all I can think of is ‘I’m glad it wasn’t me’."

"It makes you a p-person kind of p-person," Tara said. "Th-this p-p-Parker saved you from be-being r-r-r-r-r-" The word stuck behind her teeth. Willow relaxed her, loosened her hobble-bound tongue. But the thought of this…word…even coming close to Willow did the exact opposite. "-r-r-r-raped," she gritted out. "Of c-c-course y-you’re re-re-relieved."

"But I didn’t get ‘saved’," Willow protested, her voice full of self-blame and anguish. "Someone got traded for me. Parker helped me instead of staying with Sung and she got raped instead—maybe because Parker helped me. Maybe this Darren wanted to punish Parker for saving me by raping Sung!"

"Th-th-th-that’s n-not your f-f-f-f-fault."

"No, but…it’s terrible…I’m terrible—someone I know and like got raped, maybe partly because of me and all I can think about even now is ‘it could have been me’." She paused, then repeated: "It could have been me."

Pause. Tears welled up in her eyes.

"It could have been me."

The tears overflowed.

"It could have been me."

Tara said nothing. The time for words was over. Instead, she held her arms out.

"It could have been me. It could have been me. Oh, God, oh, God, it could have been me!"

She fell into Tara’s strong, safe, farmgirl arms, and dissolved into tears, sobbing over and over again: "It could have been me. It could have been me."

Tara just held on tight and made the occasional comforting cooing noise. Later, she would say ‘It could have been—but it wasn’t.’ She’d been rescued and relief was a perfectly okay way to feel happy about that. What wasn’t okay was blaming herself, or anyone other than Darren. The real wrong had been done at that party, and anything she might feel just didn’t measure up. Then, she would encourage Willow to be strong and help Sung.

Yes. She would say all of these things. Later.

For now, she would wait, and murmur comforting things that wouldn’t be heard, and hold on while Willow cried herself out into her shoulder.