life_inshadow: ([neg]  arms folded to block you out)
[personal profile] life_inshadow
It was the worst day in a series of very bad days. Tara's mother had been fading away; today she'd needed a long moment to recognize Tara, and a longer one to say her name. The painkillers made her peaceful, but they also cost much of the spark that made her herself. Tara was losing her ability to just be grateful she had the chance to say goodbye.

And Beth had been over, "helping" Tara's dad with some household project. Beth, her least favorite cousin, who always managed to imply she wasn't quite certain Tara wasn't a demon. She'd set a new record that afternoon; she'd done it twice in five minutes.

It was, perhaps, not Tara's best idea to call Kennedy when she was in a mood like this. But it seemed more likely to distract her than any of the alternatives.

Kennedy was always glad to be that kind of distraction. She'd just gotten back from the house in Scarsdale, and Constance was supposed to come over later to review some stuff with her, but she'd been looking at a couple of hours of downtime with no real plans for how to fill it when the ringtone she'd set for Tara (Sophie B. Hawkins, because it reminded her of that one night at Caritas and made her smile) started playing from her jeans pocket.

She kicked the front door shut behind her and went to sprawl out on the couch as she answered.

"Hey, baby," she said brightly-- trying to keep upbeat was the one thing she felt like she could do from here to make things any better.

Tara Maclay
"Hey," Tara said, sounding considerably less upbeat. "Got any funny stories? Today is ... just kind of sucking. A lot."

"And not in the fun way," Kennedy offered, frowning up at the ceiling as she tried to think. "Funny stories, huh? There was a thing the other day with Constance trying to tell me about some species of demon that turned out to be kinda kinky? Watching her get all flustered when she realized what she was talking about was pretty hilarious."

...probably not her best choice of subject.

Tara Maclay
It wasn't horrifically depressing; it would do. "...kinky like how?" Tara asked. "Wait, do I even want to know? I don't want to, um, ruin my innocence or anything."

Kennedy laughed. "No more ruining than was already my fault, promise, but Constance gets all sputtery when I even bring up makeout sessions, so it was sort of... these demons have a succubus kind of thing going on? Except she totally couldn't come right out and say that they feed on people getting off. There was a lot of throat-clearing and sputtering until she finally came up with 'frisky energy.' And you should've seen the look on her face afterward."

Tara Maclay
"Frisky energy," Tara repeated, a bit of a spark in her voice. "I kind of feel bad for her! There should be a special watcher class for, uh, stuff like that. Especially for her."

She twirled the phone cord around a finger. "Can you tell her hi from me?"

"You kind of would think she'd be used to it after putting up with me all these years, but no," Kennedy said thoughtfully, shifting on the couch so she could dangle her legs over the armrest. "'course I'll say hi. She's coming over in a while anyway, and she asks about you whenever I talk to her."

Why those inquiries from Constance always bore a striking resemblance to the questions she asked Kennedy about how her training was coming along, Kennedy had no idea; she just chalked it up to Watcher-y academic...ness.

"To boomerang back to the previous subject a little, I think she always sounds kinda worried that I'm going to drop some new development of TMI on her? Which... not so much a concern right now, huh?" This long-distance thing was kind of tough, and while Kennedy didn't come right out and say it, something in her tone implied that she was not a fan.

Tara Maclay
"Hmm?" Tara blinked at the phone for a few minutes, uncertain what Kennedy meant. It wasn't that she ;loved the physical side of being alone, it was just ... that felt like a totally different life. "Oh! Oh ... Um. I guess not."

An awkward pause later, she added, "... sorry?"

"What-- no!" Kennedy exclaimed after a confused moment. "Not a 'sorry' thing."

Huh. Normally she sounded more convincing than that.

"Not like we can help that part right now, anyway," she added. "I mean... this is not me complaining, you know? I just kinda... it's been a while, 's all." Wow, Kennedy, talk with your hormones, sure. Way to sound petty.

Tara Maclay
It did sound petty, and Tara pressed down a flash of anger at that.

"Yeah, well ... like you said. N-nothing we can do to help that right now. I'm ... kind of not thinking about it?"

"I'm trying not to," Kennedy said slowly, giving herself a good mental kick in the ass for bringing it up in the first place. Used to be (back in her practically prehistoric by now casual-dating era) she'd have no problem whatsoever fixing that issue whenever it came up, and it wasn't that she resented how that wasn't an option now, but argh. "But... well, you know me."

It was meant to be an apology. Of course, traditionally, apologies tended to actually be worded as such.

Tara Maclay
"I do know you," Tara said, speaking extremely slowly. "And I think ... I think maybe the long distance thing ... maybe I can't do it now. If it's making you, um, not-happy."

It hurt to say it, but it felt true.

"What, are you kidding? I mean, just 'cause I'm--" Kennedy had started to laugh, but the knowing thing went both ways and this didn't strike her as Tara's brand of humor... and Tara's mood not much of a humorous one to begin with.

"My hormone-related issues? So not that big of a deal given the--" She sat up, absently aware of tension in her left hand but not realizing she'd twisted her fingers up into the fabric of her pants. "Baby? You... don't really mean that, do you?"

Sometimes, Kennedy wished she could be more uncertain about things, more often.

Tara Maclay
"No," Tara said. "I just ... my mom is dying, Kennedy. I -- I don't even know if I'll be able to finish high school. And you're in New York and it's November or something, God, and -- I don't want to have to worry about fighting to keep you. It's not in me."

She exhaled, long and low. "Did that even make sense? I'm -- really tired."

"Not really, no," Kennedy replied, digging her fingers harder into her own leg and trying not to sound as hurt as she felt. Did Tara really think she was going to cheat? "Because I can't really believe you'd be ready to completely give up on us just like that."

There was more she could say, about knowing things were bad at home for Tara and maybe they could work around that, but now was the worst time ever for her voice to quit working on her.

Tara Maclay
"I don't want to give up on us," Tara said, and her throat was thick and her mouth was dry, and maybe she should just hang up and get a glass of water.

She made herself press on.

"Just -- when is the next time we'll be in the same place? And you're already thinking with your hormones, and ... I can't be this thing h-h-holding" -- her voice was breaking -- "you back. "

"Except you are." Just because nobody was around to see her cry didn't mean that Kennedy wasn't going to try and stop herself from doing it; she'd shut her eyes by now, and breathing had started to be stupidly difficult to do. "Giving up on us, I mean. You're not holding me back from anything-- god, Tara, that's crazy talk."

Resolutely, she ignored how the long-distance thing was chafing at her.

She swallowed and, in a tone closer to pleading than she'd ever come before in her life, one that didn't sound right for her at all, said quietly, "I want you in my life, you know. I don't care about the stupid time problem. I love you, and just..." She had to stop there, again, and take a breath.

"I don't know."

How to fix this, or if there was any other solution.

Tara Maclay
"This has nothing to do with loving each other," Tara said, and she was grateful Kennedy couldn't see her rubbing at her eyes with the hem of her shirt. "Just, like ... a break. For now. Until the time thing works out. I'm n-n-not -- I'm not a good girlfriend to anybody right now. And I'm just going to be thinking about all the awesome girls you're meeting, and -- "

She stopped there, unable to talk for a moment. When she next spoke, it was in a whisper.

"I can't do this and everything else. I can't."

Kennedy ground the heel of her hand against her eyes and swallowed, or tried to, at least. She could keep arguing her point (that she didn't want a break, didn't care about meeting any other awesome girls, that maybe this was exactly why Tara needed her), around the lump in her throat if she had to, but that whisper kind of broke her resolve a little.

"You can," she finally answered in that stupid choked-up voice. "You can do this."

And you don't need me there, she remembered saying after those same words once-- god, almost four months ago now? Four months of having it pretty good to Tara's few weeks so far of massive, massive suck? Wow. Fail, Kennedy.

She couldn't help sniffling audibly into the phone before she went on.

"Or... you can do what--" Oh, god. "What you need to."

Tara Maclay
Tara sniffled audibly into the phone. "What I -- I don't know what I need," she said, sounding a bit dazed. Sounding as if she was trying to figure out how the hell she'd gotten into this conversation; it just didn't feel real.

"I don't want to do this." Except how she kind of did, how it felt like being a daughter and a girlfriend was one hat too many when both of those things were as complicated as they were right now. How she'd always known Kennedy would have to spin away from her someday, burning too bright for her to keep up. "I just...."

There wasn't more to say, and she let the sentence drop unfinished in favor of more snuffling.

Was this seriously happening? Part of Kennedy's mind was flashing back to how terrified she'd been, when they'd first gotten together, of screwing things up. She'd just... plunged headlong into this relationship full-steam, the way she did everything, and never really bothered to give any serious thought to it ending. Which was exactly what seemed to be happening right now, and she was so lost and unsure what to do that she didn't even feel like herself. More like this was happening to someone else, because there was no way--

Hearing Tara cry did nothing to help Kennedy get her own tears (god, she hated crying but she couldn't stop right now) under control, and the only answer she could manage at first was a ragged little sob of her own.

"Need to be there for her," she suggested, wondering what the hell was coming out of her mouth that felt like the right thing to say... if the right thing to say felt like having something forcibly extracted from her with red-hot tongs. "And I can't be the strong one for you, baby, can I?"

She'd always known that, somehow, even if she hadn't realized it until she asked the question; part of her had always known that the strength Tara possessed (that she believed in, and loved) might not ever fully be realized as long as she was around to lean on.

Tara Maclay
"I wish you could," and Tara also wished Kennedy wasn't crying, crying and Kennedy didn't go together, they were wrong, this was wrong and a bad dream and ... somehow inevitable.

"But ... yeah. This one is for me." A sniffle. "Somehow. I need to be on m-my own for now, baby."

It wasn't because she thought she was strong (though she would have appreciated it if she knew that was what Kennedy thought); it was because she thought she was weak, and people -- even people who loved her and believed in her -- felt like one more obligation she could fail at. For better or for worse, she wanted to be alone with her family and her thoughts until ... well. Until the end.

The hell of it was, Kennedy would still be fighting this tooth and nail if she didn't believe in Tara so much. Maybe they were both coming at this from completely different angles, but they'd ended up at the same conclusion.

I'd do anything to make her happy, she'd told Marie, and she meant it, and if what Tara needed was to be on her own right now then Kennedy could give her that. She didn't want to, but what she wanted really didn't matter at the moment.

"Okay, then." Kennedy doubled over on herself, because conceding that hurt-- she was pretty sure-- worse than all the injuries she'd ever taken in fights back in Fandom. She was vaguely aware of the soft, erratic splash of tears against the hardwood floor as she took a breath. "Then we're... I guess that's..."

The next breath came out more like a pained laugh.

"You know you're never gonna completely get me out of your hair, right?"

Tara Maclay
"You aren't mad?" Tara asked, just because Tara always expected people to be mad. It was almost more powerful than her sorrow and disbelief just then. "If, if you feel like we can be friends that would be ... that would be nice. Because I like you and I really want to keep that."

She paused, shaken but trying for something like normalcy. Or closer to it, since nothing about this was normal.

"And I, um -- I h-have to hear about Bailey sometimes."

"I am, a little," Kennedy admitted, because even now she couldn't keep herself from being bluntly honest, and it wasn't as if she'd ever known how to handle things gracefully when she didn't get what she wanted. "But that's my deal. Not you."

She rubbed at her eyes, looked across the apartment to see Bailey perched on his window seat, and exhaled slowly.

"Besides, I don't know how to do this, so maybe I'm not doing it right, but..." It'd be easier if there was some kind of off switch she could just flip, but Kennedy wasn't big on that idea. "I don't want to walk away from this with both of us down a really good friend, you know?"

She sniffled again. "Never regretted anything about us. It'd be dumb to start now."

Tara Maclay
"Definitely no regrets," Tara said, with what might have been the faintest attempt at a smile ever, even if Kennedy couldn't see it. "You were the best thing that ever happened to me, and I won't forget that, promise."

she thought about saying more, but it seemed like that came closest to being what she meant. Besides, she was on the verge of going all sniffly again.

"Better not; I won't." There was a lot more Kennedy could have said, but she'd never been willing to push too hard where Tara was concerned, and most of the things that came to mind were only likely to make one or both of them cry more.

"Though..." She felt bad about this request, and it showed in her voice. "I kinda want to say it might be a few weeks before I call again or something."

This still didn't quite feel real, but it was beginning to sink in.

Tara Maclay

Well, that made sense. It sucked, but it made sense.

"Yeah," Tara said quietly. "I ... w-wasn't expecting you to keep me on speed dial or anything. Space is ... helpful. Right? I mean, I think I r-read that somewhere."

It wasn't like she'd been in this position before.

It sucked a lot, yeah.

"Tchah," Kennedy scoffed lightly, sounding for a moment like her usual self. "Like I'd take you off speed dial. Besides, a few weeks for me is like what, days for you?"

Maybe it had better be a couple of months on her end, for both their sakes.

"...besides, it's just barely September here, so I get to at least call when it's your birthday for me, right?"

Tara Maclay
"Something like that," Tara allowed, letting herself be distracted by the logistics of time in different universes. "And .. hey, yeah, eighteen. It'll be kind of neat to be eighteen early where you are. Like ... if I ended up there for some reason, I could, um, buy cigarettes and not smoke them."

She was trying to make Kennedy smile for some crazy reason.

It was working; Kennedy briefly wondered if Tara would always have the power to make her smile, if she could manage it now.

"Or just stand outside the liquor store for a second and revel in knowing you could." Okay, the smile faltered as she finished the question, but it had been nice while it lasted.

"Hey," she added, because it just seemed important. "You need me for anything at all, you can still call. That's not gonna change, okay?"

Tara Maclay
"Thank you," Tara said, even as she knew that she probably wouldn't call. Not for a while, anyhow. Not until things were a little more settled. But someday ... someday Kennedy might be a very good person to know.

"And if you need me, call me and I'll do anything I can, promise. It goes with the still friends thing."

Kennedy wasn't expecting her to take up on the offer any time soon, honestly, but just having it out there on the table made her feel a little better; she knew she wasn't going to be taking Tara up on the return offer any time soon, either. Not when Tara was already stretched so thin.

"God, that sounds so cliché, doesn't it?" she asked with a weak laugh. "Like I care; it's still true." Always will be, she wanted to say, but kept that to herself. That way lay nothing but more crying.

Tara Maclay
"Um ... at least I didn't say it's not you, it's me," Tara said, her laugh even weaker. "And that's true too. But ... thank you. Again."

For what? For everything.

She didn't have much else to say, but she couldn't bring herself to start hanging up.

"Hey. Any time," Kennedy answered in a hoarse whisper. "'cause that goes both ways, you know."

They couldn't stay on the phone forever, she knew that... she just wanted to defer the inevitable moment when they stopped talking and this whole breakup thing was really real a few minutes longer.

"...I mean, I could get more detailed, go all 'I'd like to thank the Academy,' but we'd be here forever if I did."

Tara Maclay
"And you probably have stuff to do," Tara said quickly. "I -- I mean, so do I, right? So we should ... you know."

A pause. "I'll miss you. Really-really."

No,. Hanging up was not getting easier.

"Yeah. Constance is coming over soon, so." And she didn't want Tara to get in trouble, either, because she didn't need that on top of everything. Now was the part where Kennedy hated that this was happening over the phone, because it didn't seem fair that this wasn't face to face.

"I'll miss you too," she answered, willing herself not to sniffle out loud and make this even harder. "Really-really-really."

God, she was going to miss how goofy they could be when they talked.

"...wish I could hug you one more time, but... rain check on that, maybe, yeah?"

Tara Maclay
"Probably n-not worth the portal, yeah," Tara said, even though she pretty much believed the exact opposite. (It was a good thing there wasn't a Portalocity booth in her living room, or she'd be in New York right about now.)

"But ... someday. And, um ... "

She was going to start crying again, and she realized goodbye was too final a thing to say.

"S-see you later?"

Mainly, Kennedy felt like the portal would be a bad idea because if they were face to face right now one last hug would have turned into never wanting to let go, and arguing that they reconsider this whole thing. (And she would not have been above using kisses as persuasion, so. Yeah.)

Okay, she didn't think that was a bad idea, strictly speaking. Just, given the case Tara had laid out, it wasn't the right one.

She closed her eyes and took a moment to just breathe, in and out until she was steady enough to speak without setting either of them off crying. No goodbyes; things were just going to be different now. That was all. Right?

"Yeah. Definitely." Why did trying to pull the phone away from her ear feel a Slayer-strength-required thing? "Looking forward to it. Really am."

Tara Maclay
"I know," Tara said, and she knew it because she was, in some weird way, looking forward to it too. And only partially because she figured that, even if it were months and months off, they might just hold on until everything was okay again.

She still didn't believe this was entirely real.

And she couldn't make herself hang up, dammit. She willed Kennedy to do it first.

"Cool," Kennedy replied, not caring if that sounded lame. "So... I'll see you then."

Whenever 'then' would be, she thought as she tapped blindly at her phone screen until her thumb found the End Call button.

"Love you," she said out loud once the line had gone silent; Tara couldn't hear her now, but that wasn't the point.

[OOC: NFB, NFI, OOC welcome. Preplayed with [ profile] brat_intraining, who held my hand through this whole thing.]
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