DISCLAIMER: The characters are owned by Joss Whedon, et al. I care not. All other material is copyright to me. Please do not do the Infringe.
TIMEFRAME: This is set during season 4, prior to New Moon Rising, but doesn't strictly follow canon…
DISTRIBUTION: If you want it, go ahead, but please ask me first.
FEEDBACK: Pretty please? With sugar on top?
DEDICATION: For Cath…more than she knows.
PAIRING: Willow/Tara

Above, Between, Below
By Twisted Minstrel

The Next Bit

She had fallen asleep. She didn't remember doing this and if she had been aware of it, she probably wouldn't have done it. Her eyes remained closed as she listened for the morning birdsong and the sound of the other students waking and preparing for class. This was her favorite moment of the morning, filled with expectation and hope; pale flecks of sunlight spotting her room, warming the air, making her feel all snuggly and cozy and sticky and horny and…

That is NOT my hand

Screwing her eyes shut she prayed to whatever gods or goddesses there were to make the strange hand go away, to never have existed, to disappear, to not be there, vamoose! Skedaddle! Begone! You have no power here!

But it didn't work. The hand remained, firmly embedded between her thighs, within the confines of her underwear, warm, damp and unyielding.

She briefly considered just reaching down and yanking the hand away, unceremoniously, but that might wake the owner, who was still, thankfully, sound asleep…or unconscious.

Worry returned in the form of a deeply-felt fear: what if Willow fell into a coma during the night? Is that why she's –

Waking? Oh God…she's not going to wake up?!

A single heavy lid lifted to reveal a blurry patch of green; a lazy smile followed.


Tara watched, expressionless, tense and with growing horror as Willow's eyes grew wide, and her smile faded, replaced by a quizzical stare, curiosity and –


She felt trapped. Strapped on her side, a strong thigh holding her fast and her hand…her hand….Oh my God…where is my hand???

It was the realization that her hand was lodged firmly, tightly and oh so snugly within the confines of Tara's…um….Tara.

It lasted less than a full heart beat…the calm, before the storm.

Looking back, years later, Willow would remember this moment as the single-greatest panic she ever experienced in her life – greater than any Big Bad she ever faced, even more frightening than her bat mitzvah, and she didn't run screaming from that. In retrospect, she wished she had handled the whole thing better.

At the time, however, she wasn't sure just what 'better' was.

She did, after all, wake up with her hand, mysteriously planted in another girl's crotch…

…Something that in all her 19 years had never happened once before.

What would you do?

Willow did the only thing her brain would allow her to do at the time.

"I-I-I-I…" With all the agitation of a monkey on steroids, Willow made one vain, strained and almost violent attempt after another to remove her hand from its current confines…with increasing levels of un-success heretofore unknown to the young hacker.

"Sorry! Sorry! Really! I just don't know…how this…happened…"

She'd escaped the close clutches of vampires, demons, even her mother once, but this particular predicament was proving beyond her.

For her part, Tara had become frozen in space and time. From the moment Willow opened her eyes, wide with terror, she had lost all sense of self and sensation. She wondered if her spirit was leaving her body, she felt so light and delicate and empty…even as Willow's hand wriggled helplessly between her thighs, trapped, begging for escape.

She didn't know if she should help; how could she move? Something had to be preventing her…she watched, from a distance, as Willow struggled, finally, at last, free, her hand, red, swollen, flopping in the air like a fish out of water….

…and Willow, poor Willow, drawing herself up, apologizing profusely, staggering to her feet, babbling incoherently, almost tripping over herself, wide-eyed, gaping, then…gone.

She disappeared in a whirl of confusion that continued to hover over Tara's head long after the door clicked shut, long after she could hear the mad scuffling of the hacker's shoes echoing down the hall…

That, Tara, is likely to be the end of that.

Her head fell back against the floor with a tiny thud and she closed her eyes and drew her legs up to her chest, now so achingly empty…wishing, not for the first time in her life, that she hadn't been born.

The Rosenberg Uncertainty Principle

"And now good morrow to our waking souls
Which watch not one another out of fear,
For love all love of other sights controls
And makes one little room an everywhere."

        - John Donne from The Good Morrow

"The power of chance is widely underestimated. Our concept of randomness is shaped by quantum theory and thermodynamics, two theories in which chance is essential at the microscopic level, while at the macroscopic level it is insignificant. In the case of natural objects, the importance of chance tends to remain constant at all scales. Irregularity becomes hard to contain when randomness is let in."

Even at her most distracted, Willow Rosenberg took better notes in her classes than anyone. She had been especially distracted today, fidgeting constantly through the lecture on Uses of Nonconstrained Chance, a topic that felt a little too personal all day.

She wandered from one class room to the next all afternoon, still in the clothes she wore from the night before, and feeling altogether unkempt and in need of a wash. She couldn't stop flexing the digits on her right hand, still slightly red from the unusual space they occupied the night before – and much of that morning. Sitting in class, one ear on the lecture, she scribbled aimlessly, catching fragments of what was being said, her head occasionally nodding forward, not from exhaustion, but from a newfound compulsion. She could smell Tara on her hand; a strangely sweet and salty musk, still pungent, assailing her senses like opium. Her mind drifted all day in the fragrance, like a kite caught in the wind, unpredictable where it would land.

An irregular unpredictable…let loose by a seemingly random choice; or was it a choice? She didn't know if she was taking a chance or not, but Tara was not to blame, she was sure of that. She needed to apologize; Tara had become so important, so significant in so short a period of time, for reasons she still didn't understand. Was Tara the unpredictable part? Or was she?

"While we recognize that the notion of chance evokes all kinds of quasi-metaphysical anxieties, we really shouldn't worry about them…."

Once the last lecture had ended, she decided she shouldn't put it off until her own anxieties had calmed somewhat. She had no intention of discussing the situation with Buffy; what would she say? Uh, Buffy, I think I might be kinda gay…No, it wouldn't do. She had no idea what the depth of her feelings might be. She'd never thought about them before. But Tara was more important at this point, she decided. She had made some kind of unconscious assault on her, invaded her most personal of spaces, then completely humiliated both of them, no doubt hurting Tara immensely in the process.

She had arrived at Tara's door without even taking note of her brief journey, and stood quietly, staring at the doorknob.

She wanted to knock, and she raised her hand several times to do so. She would hesitate the moment another student walked by, as if not wanting to be seen, or appear to desire entrance. Shame was nothing new to Rosenberg, she was raised to appreciate shame in all its glory, her mother was great practitioner, but this was something else entirely. She felt small.

"Hey, I think she's still at the studio. You might want to check there."

Willow barely heard the young woman as she unlocked her door, right next to Tara's.

"I'm sorry, what?"

The woman was very tall and very thin, with a frazzled head of curly blonde hair, dressed in a pair of baggy denim overalls with streaks of paint down the front. Willow thought she looked like one of the actors from a production of Godspell she had seen as a kid.

"I'm sorry?"

The woman pointed at Tara's door.

"She's still at the student art studio. You can go down and check. She was still there when I left."

Willow nodded and thanked the young woman, waiting until she had disappeared within her own room before setting off to find Tara.

The studio was sparsely lit from ancient lamps that hung high overhead, embedded in the dome ceiling. The art department held numerous rooms, a large lecture hall and smaller labs for the photography students. The student studio was large and airy, with student work framed along its circular walls. Several moveable screens split the geometry of the room, and it was behind one such screen that she found the only other occupant of the room.

Tara, dressed in a simple t-shirt and a baggy pair of cargo pants both covered in splotches of paint, was focusing intently on her work. A large canvas set on a wooden stand was her object of attention: a larger version of her "Mother and Child Reunion" sketch, incomplete.

From what little Willow knew of art, she could recognize Tara's style as being vaguely reminiscent of John Singer Sargeant, whose portraits she had admired very much in high school. But the painting itself would not keep her interest; it was Tara, so involved and unaware of anything outside the sphere of her activity. In her left hand, she held a messy palette, dripping with color. Her right arm, crooked high like a pale branch, reaching upward to some unknown point in space, waved in front of the painting, a small brush flashing in her fingers, just barely grazing the canvas.

Willow couldn't help but examine her, the curve of her, how her balance would shift from one leg to the other as she moved before her work; the swiftness of her arm as it would dart out to add another layer of color. Her strokes alternated between sharp, staccato stabs to long, smooth arcs of liquid motion. When she would stretch, her shirt would lift so slightly, exposing just scant inches of bare skin. Her long, blonde locks, dancing around her shoulders, grazing her neck, sharp, like soft angles of near-solid sunlight.

Had she ever been entranced by anyone before? She couldn't remember. She took a few tentative steps toward the young painter. Tara was beautiful in thought and movement; Willow was certain Grace had to be a genetic trait in her family.

It certainly doesn't run in mine, she thought to herself, before she hit the floor, face first.


Tara had spun around the moment she heard the jangling cacophonic thud, a shock that nearly had her palette flying right out of her hands.

The young hacker stumbled slightly as she lifted herself painfully off the floor, pausing only to check for any bruises before raising her head to eye level with a curious Tara.

"Tara! Hi! Um…just a little clumsy, huh? Sorry about that, no harm I think, though."

Tara made no move in the direction of the other student, but held her ground, and her brush, firmly.

"W-what are you doing here?"

Willow's nerves made a curlicue as they missed the left turn to Albuquerque; her eyes were dilated and nearly fixed and a painful rigidity had set up shop along her spine.

"Oh! Right, me here, for a reason, that's me. Um, well, you know, I just wanted to, you know, apologize about this morning, I mean, it wasn't very nice of me to go gallivanting off like a robber baron thief-type person, but I was kind of, well, sort of a little, maybe, not so much freaked or anything, I was just a tad unprepared and um, not really myself, you know? What with the head banging and um, sleep-walking or whatever that was, I certainly didn't mean to, you know, do anything, or try anything or try to do anything, I wasn't aware of, anyway, doing anything, I mean. Did that sound convincing?"

Tara was momentarily concerned her brow might never un-furrow; she had not moved an inch since Willow began speaking and she remained still, just in case.

"Um, o-okay? I mean, you don't have to apologize, Willow, I mean, it was just a f-fluke or something. It happens."

Willow did not look convinced.

"Really? Oh. Um, well, I just didn't want you thinking that I was like, um, um –"

"Interested in me?"

Tara's expression melted a little, her eyes had taken on a sad aspect Willow found hard to resist. Stupid!

"Oh! Well, yes, I mean, I am interested in you, friend, you, you, my friend, my interesting friend, very interesting friend…who I like very much. I like all about you, all the Tara bits, which are very nice…not just the girl bits, although they're very nice, too, but that's not the why, because you know, I liked Oz, a lot and he was boy, but it wasn't the boy part that I liked specifically, it was the Oz part, and now I like the Tara part. Did that make sense?"

Tara had never before been taken by anyone who could ramble as well or at such length as Willow Rosenberg. A smile crooked from one corner of her mouth, and she set down her palette and brush, moving slowly in Willow's direction and stopping just short.

"That's okay, Willow. R-really. I like the Willow part, too. But I've got girl parts and your girl parts are nice, too, but especially the whole Willow part is n-nice. I like all of you, all the bits and parts and pieces."

Willow found her smile, involuntarily, unable to look anywhere but Tara's face, so open and sincere before her.

"Y-you said you wanted to kiss me goodnight."

"Oh! Did I? I did, I do, I mean, did I?"

"That would require some of our girl bits, I think."

"Oh! Right! Yes, well, I didn't say that I don't like your girl bits, I like them very much! You have amazing girl bits, I mean they're not bits, they're significantly more than bits, of course, big bits, um, not massively big bits, but nicely proportioned bits, but, you know, I mean, I don't mind your bits. Your girl bits, that is."

Taking a breath deeper than she intended, for she wasn't quite sure what she was doing, Tara stepped closer to the red head.

"That's good. Really. Would you like to?"

The hacker's program was hanging; she couldn't re-boot the system; she just had to wait. Tara was so close.

"Um, like to do what?"

"Kiss my bits goodnight."

For Willow, the world had suddenly contracted into that tiny space that only the two of them now occupied.

"Oh, right! Of course, that's what I said, is it? I wanted to do that, right? Yes, and again, it's night time, so that's okay, because it's okay and fine with me. The kissing thing is –"

She wasn't allowed to finish her sentence; Tara swiftly closed the distance between them, taking Willow's face between her hands, her lips seizing Willow's, wet and warm, with wild, random, unpredictable kisses that left them both utterly breathless.


"Do you think you could invent something that would help us escape?" Klaus asked, looking around the room.

        -Lemony Snicket, The Bad Beginning

In the shadow of an unfinished work, The Kiss that Would Not End continued.

Neither participant had ever abandoned themselves so completely, to anything. Each so individual, so unique in their gifts, their thoughts and actions, so different in their approach to the same things, now insensate, bound to the other, melting, molding themselves anew, joined by the most tenuous yet unrelenting of attachments…

Artist and scientist, true alchemists, turned elemental, the most basic of materials, mere lip flesh, wet, heated tongues that spoke a thousand languages, eager to teach the other what it knew; communicating secrets, spying, seeking out, entrusting.

This was a way out and they both knew it; their eyes, brimming pools of blue and green, shimmering, dilated, read the message, decoded and understood. The mission was relentless, overpowering; what their bodies could not sustain, their hearts held up to the sun like a priceless find: This is ours…mine.

She was holding them up, somehow, for Willow had slipped in her arms; her hands held their purchase in the red head's cheeks, their lips having long since paid the bill. Willow's arms, like an expedition through the wilderness, found their way at last; bold now, her hands roaming through the fields of Tara, her fingers cautiously exploring every hill and valley, narrowing expanses, seeking something without a name, wild, enchanted…

And preferably naked.

"Wait. Wait."

They were tangled now, on the floor, limbs askew, breath for breath, pulses pounding in their skulls like hammers; Tara raised herself away from the melee, her hair falling forward; sweat shining on her cheeks. Willow was flushed, too, speechless and staring. Fine wisps of blonde hair fluttered over her face like butterflies. She shivered at the loss of contact, the room suddenly cold without her Tara-skin, her new self, who was astride her now, legs splayed on either side of her hips, smiling down at her, laughing.

Willow's heart contracted, painfully.

Why is she laughing at me?


Tara was giggling now, a girlish giggle; she covered her face in her hands, her shirt raising slightly, exposing the babyish pink of her stomach; Willow had never found the human navel to be terribly interesting or attractive. She smiled. Everything had changed, so suddenly.

"What's funny?"

Tara stifled herself, shaking her head and nodded at the girl beneath her.

"I hope that's not your favorite shirt."

Willow glanced down at herself; the once-white shirt was now smeared with the colorful paint from Tara's clothes. This was not a concern; she smiled back at the blonde painter; a stamp of ownership had been given. She wasn't about to complain.

"Oh! It's kind of abstract, I think."

"I can have it cleaned for you."

Willow shook her head.

"No! I mean, no, I like it, and who knows, you might be famous one day and I'll have this shirt I can show off, you know…something from your early period. Might be worth something. Never know."

Tara grinned, shaking her head.

"Will you tell them how I did it?"

Willow struggled to right herself, wrapping her hands around Tara's waist so that they now sat, face to face.

"Can I kiss you again?"

The question was asked so simply, with child-like earnest; green eyes wondering and hoping.

"Y-you don't have to ask me, Willow."

Knowing full well she had just been given carte blanche to do as she would, Willow held back. Her lips barely grazed Tara's before pulling away, leaving a wanting wake of desire. She gazed soberly at the blonde in her lap, a look of serious intent creasing her brow.

"I want to know everything about you, where you're from, what your favorite color is, I want to know the name of your first pet, who was your favorite teacher at school, what was your favorite subject…I want to know about your family, when did you start painting, everything. I'm serious."

Tara could not stop smiling. Willow really doesn't need much air – her kisses proved that. She didn't really know how to answer; she wasn't great with words, with explaining things. She believed Willow completely, that she wanted to know everything, but there was so much and words just wouldn't do. Everything she wanted to tell Willow was right in her hands, looking her right in the face, unwavering with a patient certainty, waiting.

"I don't know what to say. You don't ask for much, do you?"

Inwardly, Willow began scolding herself: I'm pushing things, I'm moving too fast, I just had my hand in her pants this morning and now I'm mapping out the rest of our lives…she must think I'm some numpty-headed pemsnit-something…oh God! I've forgotten how to speak English!

Seeing the dejected fall of her companion's face, Tara stood, and offered a hand to her.

"I'm not good with the explaining, Willow. Let me show you something."

Tara led Willow over to her still-drying canvas. She pointed at the maternal figure.

"That's my mother. I told you she taught me magic. My f-father didn't approve of it, so we did everything in secret. She had beautiful hands. I loved it when she would brush my hair; she was so gentle and patient. It was important, see, because my hair would get so tangled and I'd cry sometimes."

Willow nodded, sympathetic to a universal predicament, but her mother had been very different. She was glad Tara's mother was so kind and loving.

"Is that you?"

Tara nodded.

"Do you get to see her very often?"

Tara's smile faded. She continued to stare at the picture, the colors running together in her mind, and another version, already complete.

"Everyday, when I come here. In my mind"

"You don't see her, at home or anything? Do you still talk?"

Another smile, different from all the others, crept into Tara's eyes. There was happiness in it, but a great sadness, too. Willow sensed it, sensed the answer coming, desperately not wanting to intrude, but unable to look away.

"My mother died two years ago. She had been sick for a long time. But I talk to her all the time. She's always with me. Sometimes I can feel her. Like now."

"What do you mean?"

Tara raised a hand to Willow's face, her fingers gently tracing over her forehead, her nose and cheeks, the outline of her lips.

"She likes you."

Willow's eyes cast downward, yet she didn't want the touch to end.

"I'm sorry."

"It's alright. I want you to know everything too. And I want to know everything about you."

Willow took a hesitant step toward the other girl, to this new found land where she wanted to live and explore - a world away from Sunnydale, from California, from hellish landscapes disguised as mystical convergences with demon populations and endless danger. She could be inventive, and Tara was an artist; they could build some fantastical contraption that would carry them away, just the two of them, alone. She could build this, somehow, she would.

"Can we start now?"

The sun had set; they were alone and the night stretched out before them like a road never traveled.

Tara nodded, her eyes closing, slowly, as once again their lips renewed their endless acquaintance.

Chaos Theory

I want to do with you what spring does to the cherry trees.

        - Pablo Neruda, from Everyday You Play

Their limbs betrayed them; every sense was translated, redefined and examined to the nth degree. Their lips had turned traitorous, uncooperative and lazy. Shaking to the last hair on their heads, they fell again and again, writhing like swimmers through the surf, breathing in starts and stops, drawing wet, salty life from the others' tongue, the sweetest sweet, backs arching, fingers grasping, unconditioned and failing.

An ocean canvas, spattered with paint and sweat, their first bed; drowning, they could not remove their clothing, the air, strength and will had gone. Their hair, matted acrylics, blue and purple, stains from one end to the other. This was the meaning of dizzy, rapturous joy, of flight.

Prone on her back, Willow could not feel her toes. It had been hours since she realized all the feeling had left her legs, that she could not make a fist or even turn her head from side to side. Her bones had melted. She was a jellyfish now. Flattened, sticky and slowly drying beneath an overpowering sun.

Tara was not heavy, but she wasn't a feather either. The fetching, unmoving source of her agony was asleep, sprawled over her, on all sides, top to bottom, a multi-limbed mass of cosmic matter made delicious flesh. She was enfolded, bound up in a Tara-shaped cocoon; her circulation long since cut off from the outside world.

No. Not quite.

The itch.

It started at the tip of her big toe on her right foot.

She had not prayed in years.

The itch, the waking rush of blood to her extremities, began to spread. Her toes were stinging now, and the pads of her feet. She could feel the twitching, agonizing, maddening tingle of alertness flexing, demanding action; she wanted to stomp, flail and run like a wild jackass through the desert.

She prayed.

whynowsweetjesusmaryjosephmotherofheaven –


The sun had come out; light spilled through the windows; dust motes frolicked in the morning vapor.

Tara's lids were heavy, obscuring the blue sky underneath, still drowsy with sleep.

"Are you okay?"

At the sound of the voice above her, a low, curious bell sounding the new day, Willow's breathing ceasing. The tremors in her legs halted abruptly, chastised into obedience. The itch, a night creature, slunk back into the darkness.

How many hours since the last kiss? Why did they stop?

Willow's mouth fastened onto Tara's lower lip, dragging her downward, as her fingers, still numb, expectant, kneaded the obstructive material of the painter's clothing. Blighted desire fueled from their lips, tried again; their hips swayed into the other slowly, reaching, friction building from the center and flaring outward, playful arson threatening to explode.

Tara's arms wound over Willow's head, snake-like; the red head could not see or hear, only Tara's breath kept her alive, the salted honey of her tongue providing the only sustenance. Tara's legs were hungry pythons, winding about her ribs, her legs, crushing and devouring. She was surrounded, smothered with Tara; her senses were on overload and heading for a burn-out.

A hand found its way between them, squirming digits seeking entrance to the most exclusive of night spots, burning to dance – only to be rebuffed at the door.

"I can't….your zipper…" Her words stabbed short by Tara's insistent tongue, Willow's hand once again caught between heated extremes, left outside to beg.

A moan caught her off-guard as Tara's neck swooped to one side, her mouth, hot with hunger, devouring an ear, sucking greedily at the juicy lobe, almost sending Willow into a fit of giggles, until –


The world froze in a moment of pure, unfiltered shock; Tara, still writhing over her, dripping wet kisses along her neck and jaw, was oblivious to the sudden change. Willow, however, was not.

She recognized the tall, frizzy-haired girl from the night before – Tara's neighbor. Now dressed in a UC Sunnydale sweatshirt and a pair of skin-tight biker shorts, the newcomer hovered over them, her jaw hanging somewhere between her sternum and her knobby knees.

What the newcomer saw was more than two girls sharing a heated moment on the floor of the art department. Both would-be-lovers were covered from head to toe in drying paint, their clothes rumpled, hair unwittingly dyed several new shades and otherwise resembling a Dadaist-style fresco, only with more layers of meaning.

Sensing something amiss with Willow's sudden withdrawal from their antic endeavors, Tara paused, raising herself up with both hands. Her peripheral vision did the rest, and within a heartbeat, she was staring, wide-eyed at their guest.

"Hey Tara."

"Hey W-wendy."

"Watcha doing?"


"I mean, is this a new piece you're….working on?"

Tara looked down at Willow, whose expression was a curious blend of cuddly and mortified. She sat up, straddling Willow, who remembered she was still a jellyfish and did not move. Deciding insouciance to be the best avenue of escape, Tara crossed her arms over her chest and affected an air of indifference.


Wendy's nose wrinkled with distrust.

"Oh. Like performance art or something? Is, uh, that what you're doing now? You must have been rehearsing, right...all night?"

Still maintaining her composure, despite her current position with a withering Willow beneath her, Tara nodded.

"That's right."

Wendy continued to glare at them, clearly not buying it.

"So…what do you call it?" She asked, a little too politely.

Tara's jaw clenched, grinding her molars noisily over one another. What remained of Willow flinched, wondering if they should just make a wild run for it. Tara's lack of motion dashed her fleeting hopes.

"Girl Bits."

Rising off of Willow, Tara smiled at her frowning neighbor and lightly kicked Willow in the side, urging her to follow.

Painfully, Willow rose, glancing briefly at her paint-smudged watch…

…and panicked.

"It's half past seven. I'm late! I'm late for psych! Tara, I'm late! I've got to go! I'm sorry! Nice meeting you! Again! Nice meeting you again! Girl bits. We'll work on it after…the class, after class, okay? Good?"

She fled, without looking back.

Only when she reached the outer doors of the studio, did awareness finally come to her. She froze, watching the growing gaggle of students, milling around her, off to their classes. Some of them treated her to a sideways glance – her reflection in the door glass revealing a paint-streaked, unruly figure in clothes now two-days without wash.

She had been changed. No, more than that. She was transformed. This was not Willow Rosenberg, erstwhile hacker, budding mathematician and best friend to the local Vampire Slayer – but something else entirely. Years of social abandonment, anxiety and sexual confusion began to collapse down around her, like a house of cards, tumbling away, off the table, scattering to the winds. Oz, Xander, Buffy, Giles, her parents, Cordelia, Angel – anyone who had ever meant anything to her, good or bad, all those who had imprinted themselves on her psyche, molded her, taunted her, ignored her, even - suddenly fell away. It was entropy, the breakdown of design by disorder. Chaos. She had never seen the pattern until now. Everything was so simple, so obvious.

The itch had been scratched.

She wanted to laugh, or burst into tears. A painted clown, alone amidst the oblivious adolescent rabble; smiling, overflowing with joy.

No, not alone. Not ever again.

Turning back to the studio, Willow found her stride and broke into a dead run.


The Proof

For I have lived to wait for you;
My heart was your approaching feet.

        -Paul Valery from The Footsteps

Time is not truly measurable. What we call "time" is merely the linear breakdown of a natural pattern: the sun rises, the sun sets. Points on a dial tell us when the sun is near or on the wane. Without this system, it is possible even our ability to age might be suspended. To be completely unaware of the passage of time – to be suspended from the forward motion of the universe – to be truly "timeless" – maybe the essence of immortality, of a sort, anyway.

Without such awareness, would we merely stay still, at one point, and never go any farther?

Tara's predicament, for her, was no less troubling.

Time had ceased, the entire universe may well have imploded, the moment Willow ran, without so much as a backward glance to the destruction she had been an unwitting accomplice to.

There was no hurt left in the world, only a nagging ache that filled the air around her, like a noxious poison. Endless hours of near-ravishment, shivering delirium, induced by Willow's lips, her hands, everywhere, clutching, shaping her to a new will, her Will? Wasn't she? She'd wanted nothing else for so long, the moment, they met, every particle, every element of water and atom, the fractured building blocks of her very self, cried out for completion.

Let me have this. My one friend, just mine; just for me. Let me have this.

She'd never asked for anything. She'd never wanted anything before. She didn't know what would happen to her if she didn't get it. Everything, the very nature of the universe itself, hinged on a single splash of color, of light. The composition would fall apart, all the colors wasted, the symmetry truncated, disconnected, all her work for nothing. A little stroke of light, to carry the picture; was it too much to ask for?

Why is red the color of danger? The color of endings, stop, yield, desist, verboten? Her hair, like a warning, I should have seen it. I should have paid attention.

During the night her heart had slipped from her chest, abandoned her to up residence with the heart of Willow Rosenberg. She had let it go, freely, easily, without complaint.

She had been so certain, just moment ago. Had she been wrong? How could Willow abandon her so quickly? For a psych class she was already late for?

Wendy was clearly enjoying the anti-spectacle of the multi-colored Tara, unnerved, caught red-handed (red again!), ashamed.

No. I am not ashamed.

She glanced at her work. Her mother, swollen with pride, with her in a moment of perfection, was smiling at her. Would she forgive Willow? Willow, who was constantly running away, off somewhere else, with her other friends, her other life; a life she had no place in.

How painful had it been those days, before anyone knew she existed? When Willow would only nod as they passed in the halls, her gaze, quick to avert, quick to smile at Xander or Buffy, anyone but her?

She told her she wanted something just for herself; that was the excuse. She had been bottling Tara in miniscule increments, opening her now and then to have a sniff or take a sip, then putting her away again, high on the hidden shelf in the back of her anxiety closet. Closed.

Endless hours of staring, maddening touches that grew too tired to explore further. She held onto Willow for dear life, trapping her like something that might get loose if she let up for even a moment.

She had her; she'd held her close, pinning her to the floor, victorious. But only a moment. Willow's escape had been inevitable. Such a force of nature would not be contained. What made her think she could? Was she in love? Was that it?

Am I in love?

I barely know her.

Am I in love with Willow?

What does it mean?

Why can't I move?

What am I going to do?

Wendy had gone, off to her own space, taking her self-righteous triumph with her. Students were entering the labs; she was surrounded now, by her total failure – what else was there to do but pick up the mess?

She knelt, drawing up the mangled tubes of paint, painfully aware of the number of eyes watching her, curious. Eyes of those who never spoke to her, but observed, from a distance; mocking even, or simply indifferent.

Tears were forming, threatening her, as she tried to assemble her kit a quickly as possible. No one would help her, ask her anything. Wendy, not doubt,, was well on her way to starting a salty rumor and Tara wished she hadn't been so distracted, just told the truth.

Willow wasn't a project for her.

"Can I help?"

The voice, at once small and breathless nearly sent her off balance. She didn't look up.

"It's alright. You're late for class, W-Willow."

"I know."

"Then you'd better get going."

The room had become a tunnel now, a black hole: all eyes were being drawn to its center: two young women covered in paint…and something like pain.

"I don't want to go."

Willow knelt beside her, placing a greenish hand over Tara's bluish ones.

"I'm sorry. I wasn't thinking just now."

Tara's eyes closed involuntarily, sending a single tear, running pinkish down her cheek. A Willow thumb moved to intercept, drawing away some of the color, revealing the girl beneath.

She could not look away forever; time held nothing in its hands but the sun. She belonged to someone else now and the whole world, her family, Wendy and anyone else who didn't like it could just get stuffed for all she cared anymore.

Kneeling together, their eyes the only universe to be considered; the only theory to be tested.

Their lips, warm strokes of red, were the only proof.

And before a dozen astonished eyes (in case they didn't understand before), they explained it again and again and again.

Part 3

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