DISCLAIMER: The characters are owned by Joss Whedon, et al. I care not. The poems used in this fic are not mine, either. All other material is copyright to me. Please do not do the Infringe.
TIMEFRAME: This is set in the present, season severed, so spoilers maybe inherent.
DISTRIBUTION: If you like, you may have, but please ask me first.
FEEDBACK: Love some!
WARNING: High angst here; this story is about grief and dealing with grief. Tara gets a little of her own back in this one.
NOTE: This is the first W/T fic I've written, and it comes from a place I'm not really sure about, so feel free to slap me around a little. It's just something I had to get out of my system…
PAIRING: Willow/Tara

Arrears of Moonlight
By Twisted Minstrel

Chapter 5

"Call me but love, and I'll be new baptiz'd"

        -William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

She had not looked up from the floor; the strange woman was still glaring down at her, waiting, growing impatient.

"Well? What is it lover? Did I hurt your little feelings?"

The woman knelt down beside her and patted her head as if she were a stray, wet puppy. She might have been, for all she knew anymore.

"You're so cute."

The woman rose and strode carelessly back to the bed, falling into the rumpled bedding with a dramatic flourish bordering on Bronte.

"But it doesn't help, does it? I mean, let's face it baby, only one of us has a clue…and I'm thinking it's probably not you."

Her tormentor had propped herself up on one elbow with her legs curled behind her. She gazed in Willow's direction with a look of lazy malice and smiled. The crooked bow of her lips held a quiver of cruelty waiting to be shot.

Willow's voice broke as some long-hidden part of her brain began to crumble like dry clay.

"Who are you?"

The woman regarded her for a moment, almost thoughtfully. She righted herself on the pillows with her legs stretched out before her and framed Willow's face between her bare feet.

"Who do you want me to be?"

"I want you to be Tara."

The woman on the bed laughed.

"Her? That little pile o' crackers? Tastes like wet granola, with out the flavor? Speaking of which, I am so thirsty. Think I can get a mimosa in this place? Where are my minions?"

The nightmare glanced around the dimly lit room, impatient, before settling herself again against the pillows, her fingertips pulling lazily at her hair strands.

"This is so not my style."

As recognition dawned on her, Willow rose slowly from the floor and began to back away. Her eyes searched the room for a door, a means of escape, anything. There was nothing. Why didn't the room have a door? The woman made no attempt to stop her; only watched her with disinterest from the bed. Willow stopped at the large window, but there was no handle, and the glass itself seemed impervious to damage. Except -

- the small, perfectly shaped hole in the center of one pane.

"Looking for this, honey?"

Willow turned at the sound of the woman's voice, so painfully familiar. In her outstretched hand, the woman held a tiny bullet.

"See? It's engraved."

The blonde tossed the bullet to Willow, who could not help but catch it. She held it for a moment, unsure what to do. When the woman gave her an encouraging nod, she peered closely at it, only the light from the stars above providing her any meaningful illumination.

        With Love, Amy

"Wasn't that sweet of her?"

Willow looked up again at the face of her lost love, a face now seemingly belonging to another. She couldn't speak. What was the point? What do you have to say when you are in hell?

Her soul gone, her heart, gone, Willow felt she had nothing left to lose. What difference did anything make? For all she knew, she was trapped for all time in this place with this thing, who wore the face of someone she had loved too much. Someone she had wanted too much, had tried to hard to keep, to protect, to…yes, why not, now, since it's over? Control. That too, as much as anything. Even saying 'I love you' was about control, keeping her close, never leaving her field of vision for a second. It was paranoia, pure, selfish, unfettered paranoia. She had been terrified of losing Tara.

She'd never felt that way about Oz or even Xander. She had been out of her mind from their first kiss; that night, so long ago now, in a room like this one, as dark and still. Tara had blown out the candle (so shy, even then!) and the darkness had been like a cocoon; they were in their own world and nothing would get in: not vampire, not demon. No memories of past loves and failures: only one future, filled with Tara.

She had felt the slender tips of Tara's fingers on her lips, caressing her jaw, her cheek, those smooth, soft hands reaching around her neck, drawing her in, pulling her close to the source of her breath. She had been nervous, yes, but the dark gave her courage and Tara's hands were like a tether, holding her fast, drawing her back, tying her to an invisible post. The connection was agonizingly slow in coming; she wondered if she would miss her target entirely, her lips landing anywhere but Tara's full, generous mouth. How embarrassing would it be if she had closed her lips around Tara's nose instead?

"Where are you?"

Willow blanched as she the woman had now maneuvered herself around the bed, seated against the edge, with her feet dangling. Her eyes had grown soft again; her long locks falling awkwardly over the left side of her face.


Willow again moved away from the bed, as far as she could go, until she backed into the desk at the far end. She held herself steady, but she was shaking. Her hands felt for the corners of the table and touched one of the leather books instead. Her fingers tapped mindlessly against the cover. She could feel hot tears stinging her eyes and streaming down her cheeks.

"Are you…Glory? Who are you? If you're going to kill me, just get on with it."

The girl on the bed regarded Willow thoughtfully, sadly. She dropped her head to stare at her feet for a moment then turned her face up to the stars overhead.

"I see you there, sometimes. I see you right about there…"

She pointed above.

"Do you know the name of that one?"

She sounded so like Tara. But Tara knew the constellations. She had named them, 88 patterns of light with the witch's designation. But Willow knew them, too.

"That's Mensa."

Willow had followed her gaze to the blanket of stars above, moving unconsciously toward the center of the room.

"How many types of stars are there?"

The question was unexpected; Willow didn't care. Anything was better than sinking and drowning in this empty well of sorrow.

"Well…there are seven classifications of stars: O, B, A, F, G, K, and M. A G-class star would be like our sun, and an M-class would be like Betelgeuse, which is a red supergiant star."

The girl on the bed smiled at her, shaking her head in disbelief.

"How do you remember all of that?"

Willow knelt down on the floor with her hands rubbing absently across her knees. She couldn't help but acknowledge the smile.

"Um, there's one way. The classes become an acronym…Oh Be A Fine Girl, Kiss Me."

The blonde ducked her head again, her hair falling forward.

"I-I can't."

"Who are you? Why won't you tell me?"

Shaking her head, the blonde stood, turning her face back to the night-filled dome.

"I knew when I woke up this morning…but I must have changed since then. Tell me more about them. How many moons does Jupiter have?"


"How many does Saturn have?"


"Mmmm…what about…Uranus?"

Willow smiled.

"Twelve. They're special, you know."

Familiar blue eyes stared down at her.


"They're all named after Shakespearean heroines: Miranda, Belinda, Rosalind, Portia, Desdemona, Cressida, Bianca, Cordelia, Juliet and Ophelia."

"That's only ten."

"Oh, well. There's Ariel and Puck, but I don't think they were female. I mean, they were fairies or something, not, like fairies as in gay fairies, but, like, um, wood nymphs or pixies or something…fizzy soda-like."


"Right! Yes, sprites. Spritely sprites. Magical sprites."

"Like Tinkerbell?"

A moment long-forgotten reached out to Willow and tapped her on the shoulder.

How long have you known your girlfriend was Tinkerbell?

"Did w-we have anything in common, besides magic?"

Without realizing it, something new had entered the room. The single candle danced and jumped, stretching their shadows across the floor, toward one another. Willow felt dizzy as she looked to the blonde, whose face was so familiar, whose sweet, dulcet voice had been so missed for so long.

"What do you mean?"

Tara (who else might she be?) held her gaze as she spoke.

"What else did we do? Did we like the same things? Did we eat the same food? Did we dress alike? W-what did we do together?"

The red head inhaled deeply, sitting back, crossing her legs in front of her.

"We did all kinds of things. We liked reading to each other. We'd find books we liked and we'd pick one every other week. You'd read a book I chose and I would read a book that you chose."

"What did I have you read?"

"Um…you liked fairy tales and stories about magical journeys, like The Wizard of Oz or the Lord of the Rings. You liked Tom Robbins' books, and you hated Ayn Rand. You had to do a paper on The Fountainhead once and it was the only time you really didn't want to do your homework."

"What about you?"

"Oh. Well, I like biographies, and math things. We read about Andrew Wiles and his proof for Fermat's Last Theorem, but you had some trouble understanding things, which was okay, but, you know, I could explain things to you and you liked that, when I would explain and then we'd just, you know…we'd stop for awhile."

"And do what?"

Willow didn't want to answer; she wanted to stop. She could feel how the air had suddenly become thick, heavy with wanting and needing; it made her sluggish and tired, but the clock had not moved. Only the gleaming red eyes of the swooping owl seemed to flicker in the waning candlelight.

"Did we talk?"

"We always talked. We talked about everything. We'd talk for hours. We were always talking."

"Did I ever ask you to go away with me? Would you have left them, W-willow? Would have done that? For me?"

"I chose to be with you. If you had wanted to go somewhere else, do something else, I would have gone with you. You never asked, though."

The heavy air grew tight and oppressive; Tara stood and for a brief moment Willow thought her eyes had gone red. The candle light snapped and trembled.

"Liar. I never asked, because I knew the answer, Will. You'd never leave Buffy. You'd never leave Xander and Sunnydale. You just wanted to be special. Had to be the hero, not just the hero's best friend, because, that was just so beneath you, wasn't it? We were balanced, once. We did everything together. But it wasn't good enough, Will. You just had to have more. More made you better. The better you were, the more you could help Buffy. I had no expectations then. I just wanted to be with you. I was so in love. I can't believe how I loved you."

Tara moved past Willow the desk and lifted the volume without a title. She held it out to Willow, waving it gently until the red head accepted it.

"I'd never had anyone else, Willow. There was nobody but you. You were my first kiss. My first love, everything. I'd never had an orgasm before. I didn't know what love felt like. When you touched me, that first time, you were shaking, but you were so gentle. I couldn't imagine anyone so gentle, not even my mother. Open it."

The pages were thick, cream-colored; each page a moment of their history. Pressed flat, the petal-less rose they had raised together; in her fine calligraphy, all of Tara's spells, ones her mother had passed down to her, spells they had shared, spells that went wrong, and spells that went too right. Pasted to the pages were their first letters to one another. Willow would write hers in class then slip them under Tara's door as she hurried elsewhere. They wrote to each other twice, three times a day. Love letters, sometimes no more than a single I love you, scratched in faded ink. Some of the letters were more exotic and descriptive…they were spells, too.

There were pictures taken at the photo booth at the mall. Small, black and white, no fooling anyone. Taped to another page, a short braid made from entwined strands of their hair, gold and red, pasted beside it, a Tarot card, representing the Lovers. The next page felt heavy. The pocket watch. Willow smiled. She knew Tara would have kept it. Eagerly turning the next page, she jumped slightly as something tumbled out and landed on the floor.

Lethe's bramble.

She froze; her blood had thickened, become chalk in her veins.

Tara crouched down beside her and lifted the tiny sprig, turning it over gently in her hands.

"You know, I didn't hate Glory after what she did to me. People have been messing with my head for years, and she just wanted a snack, really. It wasn't malice. She was disappointed. You can't blame her."

Willow watched the witch's hands caress the dangerous blossom like something precious.

"What did I forget, Willow?"

Chapter 6

She'd never had many friends. She had been pretty enough, the boys liked her, she dressed well and wasn't too nerdy. Her grades weren't special, but, in the end, it didn't really matter anyway. She would never graduate from high school.

Blaming Willow was easy. Willow had been her friend, someone who understood her. They were going to be powerful together. They were going to rise above all the adolescent rabble and create a magnificent maelstrom of magic, just the two of them. She trusted Willow would set her free, else she never would have done it. Willow. So much depending on one person.

And, in the end, Willow did manage it, somehow. Three years too late. Three whole years. Her father had barely listened to her story. His wife had been a powerful witch, and a little evil, too. Nothing surprised him. He was glad, but it didn't matter. She and Willow could start again; Willow, the only real friend left, the only one who would understand.

She shared everything with Will, even Rack, and it didn't matter. Willow, pussy-whipped Willow, who knew? Willow, who was supposed to be her partner. What did this Teri-Theresa-Tara-whatever know? Some blonde hippy chick Wicca too skittish to assume real power.

She'd show them real power. Will just needed a good push and she'd be there. Just a little incentive and they'd be back, they'd do it together.

That was the plan.

That hippy girl out of the picture and Willow would find her way back to the magic.

Take the hippy girl out.

That was her plan.

That was her wish.

Someone was listening.

The word intimacy means "profoundly interior." To be within, not merely exposed to, or experienced, but apart of, like the innermost chambers of the heart, the electrochemical impulses of the brain or the binding seal of a kiss. No mote of air, no sub-molecule or particle to breach and render; intimacy is the path to the soul. The most interior of being, and the most aware: within, then and no farther.

"I'm sorry."

It was Tara who spoke, but Willow could have sworn she'd heard the words in her own head, in a voice she didn't always listen to. The sprig and disintegrated in Tara's fingers, no more than a pile of dust on the floor; she wished for a breeze to sweep it off, take it all away and take it all back. She wanted to shout, but her voice was too small.

"It was me. You know? I wasn't strong enough, for you. I couldn't stand up to you, so I just thought, I'll put it away. Just forget about it. If you forget, then it's not there anymore and it doesn't matter. I wasn't strong. You were like this…extra flamey candle…and I just put you out."

Tara gathered her gown about her tightly and knelt close to Willow. Her face had changed again, gone soft and warm in the moonlight.

"You d-didn't do a very good job."

There was no menace this time. Her voice was like water as if fell and gathered about Willow's feet, pooling there, rising; warm. Willow's tears fell too.

"Why did you come back that night? I'd never apologized. I never said I was sorry. I was being selfish. Wanting you, to see you, to talk with you…but I didn't think you'd come back. Not right away. Not that night. Why did you come back?"

Tara did not answer; gently she removed the book from Willow's hands and held it in her lap. She turned a page over, revealing a small envelope. Lifting the envelope away from the book, she gingerly unfolded a single sheet of paper and held it out.

"Remember this?"

Wiping clumsily at her tears, Willow took the proffered sheet, her eyes blinking rapidly as they focused on the writing, blurry.

"I wrote this."

"Read it."

Clearing her throat, the young witch began to read:

'Dear Tara,

It's been 87 days since you left. That's 88 days since I last kissed you. It's been two years and seven months since we first met and two years, four months since we first kissed. And give or take the two and half months you weren't exactly in your head (although I still kissed you, everyday), and figuring that we kissed everyday outside of that (more than once, of course, because, you know, you can't have just one), I think we've missed about a million kisses since then. Of course, I still kiss you, all the time, only you're not here, so it's kind of a one-way kiss and that's pretty lame. I wonder if you kiss me too, but I can't imagine that you do because I can't imagine you kissing someone like me. You deserve better. I just wanted you to know. It's my fault and you can have all your kisses back, if you want them. But I hope you keep mine. I meant every one and I don't think they're dangerous. I just wanted you to know.'

She had to stop. She couldn't see from her tears. She couldn't lift her head; the flood made it heavy.

"I – I never sent this to you. I wrote this that night...when you came back."

"I know."

The candle had died; the room, only lit from above, a narrow circle of light that surrounded the two, held them in, held them close.

Tara reached out and touched Willow's chin, her thumb grazing wet lips, and turned Willow's face to hers.

Her eyes were no more than streaming pools of blue and light; no anger, no resentment there, all the recent horrors vanished. Willow trembled under her gaze, the small letter shaking in her hands.

"I never loved you better than when you kissed me. We were safe in our kisses, Willow. Glory couldn't take them away. You couldn't. I needed to hate you, Will. You don't know what I've been through. I wanted you to know. I needed you to know. I didn't come back because I wasn't angry, because I wasn't forgiving you. I came back for this."

Tara's fingers covered Willow's mouth, pressing gently against her lips, suspending her breath.

"Do you understand?"

Slight tremors rippled Tara's chin as she reached out her other hand and wiped anxiously at Willow's tears. The gesture was compulsive, familiar; Willow felt like warm, blazing tallow, melting in Tara's hands.

Halfrek considered herself a humanitarian. She loved children. She loved families, really. She didn't have all of Anyanka's little 'issues' with men and rabbits; she believed in order and honesty. She felt the pain of those who reached out to her and reveled in her empathy. She knew she was a good demon. She believed in her work. She made a difference. Why, just look at the Jackson's, how well that whole clan turned out…well, that wasn't the best example, she knew. Kind of missed the mark on Tito, but otherwise, who's complaining?

She understood pain and suffering in a way no one ever could. A cry for help would never be ignored. Never.

She'd sensed the boy coming; he wouldn't call on her, he was too arrogant, too needy. But he was convenient. Two birds with one stone. Easy. She'd been doing it forever. She'd never give it up, not like Anyanka, the little flake. She'd never stop. She was too good.

Besides. She was daddy's favorite, after all. She'd always be a daddy's girl.

Chapter 7

It's like watching a junior high production of Waiting for Godot, only without the snappy dialogue and nervous tension, the demon thought, shaking her head.

Her companion was bored and tired of waiting. The two upstairs had been at it for days, which she thought was just as well; it'll add to the overall effect. She loved a good melodrama. But the girl; what a fidget…pacing like a rat in a cage.

The boy had arrived, at last, like a badly-timed actor, hitting everyone's cues but his own. He didn't even know how to hold a gun.

Halfrek winced at the cheesy dialogue.

        "You think you can just do that to me…and get away with it?"

That boy's seen too many movies.

No matter. All it took was one, a lucky shot, no doubt; so very lucky. Second floor window, and she was right there, so convenient. So perfect.

Amy came to a halt as she saw the stray bullet streak through the upstairs window. She could almost smell the other girl's death. She turned to Halfrek, to thank her but -

Halfrek wasn't one to stick around.

She had an appointment for a French manicure in Paris.

Besides; she was sure that little red head would be calling on Anyanka any minute now and she wasn't about to deal with that.

She had stood and stepped away from her too quickly; Willow sank forward, the sudden retraction of Tara's hands like a wet shock. Pounding furiously in her chest, her heart was crying out, reaching and straining to be held again; to be whole again. Couldn't she hear it?

Tara was shaking, even in the shallow light Willow could see it. She was like a paper doll, dancing at the end of a wire, her movements controlled elsewhere, not her own. She was struggling somehow, to free herself, to drift from her tether and fly away. Knowing she could not help her with this, knowing too well how she had played that roll, the puppet master; Willow could only watch, mesmerized.

"I'm finished, Willow. I'm done with this. W-with them...all of it. I didn't come to school just to be alone, not to fit in again. I didn't come here to be someone else's responsibility. To want impossible things, like being happy or in love or whole. I just wanted to be me, to find out who that is. But there was you and you and you all over again. And Glory. I saw you through her eyes. I was there, too...when you went after her, that night. She just l-laughed at you, swatted you like a fly. I was so helpless."

Dropping to the bed, curled against the covers, Tara gathered the sheets to her chest. Willow stood and watched her, not daring to move.

"And you cared for me. You were so strong, Willow. I didn't fight with you about Buffy, about bringing her back. I just knew you were right. I didn't want to question you. You were always right, Willow."

"No. No. I wasn't right. I wasn't thinking about you or anyone else. I was just selfish."

Their eyes locked for a moment, joined by their tears, by their suffering, yet still detached, unwilling to touch.

Tara sat up, still holding herself to the bed, anchored there.

"There was this girl, when I was little. Jackie. We were friends sometimes. Sometimes she didn't like me, because…I was different. And when she got sick, my dad said that I did it. That we were evil witches - my mom and me. We cursed her or something. He said it was my fault. Because I was a demon…and she died, thinking I did it, that I made her sick. Maybe I did. I tried to make her well, I tried this spell of healing, but it didn't work. Dad found me."

She had never asked Tara about her childhood; after meeting Tara's family, she thought it best to not broach the subject. If Tara had something to say, she would, but she never had. Tara was a mystery again, a strange, sad, beautiful girl she could not translate; she could not take away such pain, cover it with kisses and flowers, distract it until it smiled, or simply moped away. Spells were useless and spiteful; magic, once their most sacred bond, could only mock them here. Tara had never been Tara, really. Magic, sex, her parents, school, love, Glory, Buffy, Xander, Anya, Dawn, all of it, all of them, and then Willow herself. Where was Tara?

Willow shivered; Tara was staring right at her, smiling.

"Do you know when I realized you were the one? Not when I loved you, I loved you instantly. But when I realized there wouldn't be anyone else?"

Shaking her head, Willow clasped her hands; the moon was overhead, full and dazzling with the sun's reflection. If she had been the moon, Willow was certain she knew who her sun would be. She could only whisper.


Tara rose slowly from the bed with her arms folded tightly across her chest and approached the spellbound redhead.

"You w-weren't even there. I went back to my room after we had coffee that afternoon. I went back to my room and I wanted to study for psych, and I took out my notes and I didn't even think about what I was doing."

Willow's brow furrowed, curious.

"What were you doing?"

Tara's eyes began to glisten.

"I started copying them over in these different colored pens. And when I realized what I was doing, I just couldn't stay away for another second. It was dark already and I just ran. It took me five minutes to catch my breath before I went up those stairs. I didn't care anymore. I wanted you so much, Willow. Not even for us. Just for me. I wanted you for me."

She had ceased to exist, she was sure of it. Willow wanted nothing more than to belong to this girl – this woman before her, this amazing woman, who had suffered so greatly in life, yet kept such grace and dignity about her, such a loving soul. She had been all things to everyone around her: a friend and confidante, mother and fighter, a lover and soul mate, but never just for herself alone, been Tara. She had lived for others and now, beyond time and logic and the natural order, Tara was just that. She could see her now, illuminated by the stars, a glowing, passionate being – a sun, even, eclipsing the sky, even Willow, who didn't mind in the least.

Tara's hands reached out and cupped Willow's face within. Her thumbs caressed the drying tears on her cheeks. She pulled the redhead to her, until their foreheads touched, and their eyes met, unblinking.

"You don't owe me anything, Willow...could you just be kissing me now?"

Tara's lips parted slightly as they touched the soft flesh of Willow's mouth, and held there, warm and insistent, until Willow made way for her. Yielding, they coalesced, their lips drawing fiercely from one another, moist tongues alive and writhing, sucking and twisting, as if enchanted. Tara's fingers seized through Willow's scalp, pulling her lover closer, in wild madness, in joy and release.

Willow's arms clasped tightly at Tara's waist, her hands pressing Tara's forward, searching along her spine, her shoulders, running mindlessly along Tara's soft and pliant frame, as their lips danced against one another, their senses on overload. Their hearts raced in the other's chest, their blood, their lungs, no longer separate, but one, vital, pulsing body. Their tongues spoke a new language their hands wrote down on their heated flesh, iridescent symbols of longing.

Airlessness made them lightheaded, made them spin, as they sank to the floor, clutching at one another, drawing breath from the other's lungs, drawing love like water from a well too-long dry. Tara's legs parted beneath her gown and her thighs drew Willow in, like a breath. Winding about her lover like a warm breeze, Tara's arms held to Willow's neck and her legs clasped her waist, a throbbing ache burning and building from her center, moving outwards, around her Willow tree, around Willow, who moaned, softly, quietly, an endless moan of relief, of joy, for her love and for Tara.

Beneath the moon, watching like a spy, revealing the one secret, the one truth that was still left in the world, they held close, melting into the other, utterly absorbed, endless…and safe.

The clock chimed. The red eyes of the owl blinkered as if from a deep sleep and its wings came alive, raising and melting, changing, its shadow like a tall man, with horns atop his head. Like a demon in the moonlight.

D'Hoffryn smiled down at Willow as his hand left her cheek.

Confused, she glanced anxiously around the bathroom, nearly falling over herself. The vengeance demon sighed and folded his hands.

"Well, it's been good seeing you again, Miss Rosenberg. I'm afraid, though, I have some other business to attend to at the moment…oh, I haven't forgotten about Anyanka. I'll sort that out presently. I'm sure we'll meet again."

The demon dissolved before her eyes, leaving no trace, save a faint smell of ozone (a problem he had tried to correct several times to no avail). Willow looked down at the mess on the floor. Gathering a towel, she began to wipe up the remains of her spell.

I wonder what he's going to do about Anya?

For a vengeance demon, the undoing of a wish is not something taken lightly. D'Hoffryn did not tolerate skittishness in his demons and they all knew it. He prized ingenuity and drive among his people and awarded them for their cleverness and chaos. It's what he loved about Anyanka; her mindless appetite for destruction. She had been a powerful demon in her day and he smiled at the fond memories she evoked for him. He could never deny her. She was his favorite, though he'd never admit it.

Thus, undoing a wish for her was not nearly as drastic as it might have been. It gave him an opportunity to thank Halfrek for messing with his plans. He wanted Willow Rosenberg for himself, and he didn't appreciate her granting that foolish wish to that equally foolish witch. Her wish was an inconvenience. A mistake he'd gladly rectify…and besides, he'd deal with her later.

In the meantime…he had to stop those girls from fighting. It wasn't seemly, and D'Hoffryn hated mess. Chaos - certainly. Mess, absolutely not.

As he arrived at the fraternity, he wondered if that's what he liked so much about Willow Rosenberg.

No. That girl was a power unto herself. She would be his one day, of course. Maybe he'd let her girlfriend join as well. Just to be generous, of course.

He was a very generous demon.

Willow left the bathroom, a little dazed, unsure of what had just happened. She could hardly remember a thing the demon said and wondered if she hadn't made a terrible mistake. Why had she summoned him? What would he do to Anya?

"Baby, what's wrong?"

She looked up to see Tara walking slowly up the staircase, carrying her book bag against her chest.

Shaking her head, she regarded Tara closely as she approached. Tara held herself so tall these days, her fair hair swept back behind her ears, her eyes so bright and full of mirth. She was wearing a simple t-shirt today, just small enough to exaggerate the fullness of her breasts somewhat. Her smooth, pale midriff peaking just below, above the swell of her hips hidden underneath a shiny red skirt.

Tara noticed how Willow's eyes could wander whenever she entered a room and smiled.

"Distracted, sweetie? See something you like?"

Forgetting…whatever it was….Willow reached out and grabbed Tara by the waist, drawing her close.

"Mmmm. Me like muchly."

Their lips (now long acquainted, needing no introduction), joined in a kiss that led to another and another, until Tara could no longer hold her books or Willow effectively, and one of them had to go. Willow was only too pleased with her choice as she pulled the blonde toward their bedroom, only pausing to toss Tara's t-shirt over the banister….

Dinner had been cleared away and the girls had decided to retire to the living room so Buffy could finish her story. Anya had put up quite the fight, apparently, but D'Hoffryn's arrival put an end to their useless violence. He agreed to undo her wish, and Anya had been willing to give up her life for it. But D'Hoffryn had other ideas and Halfrek ended up paying the price. No one knew what Anya would do now. She had wandered away, disconsolate, but, perhaps, better for it. Who knew? Xander admitted he still loved her; maybe there was still a chance?

Willow wrapped her arm protectively around Tara as they sat on the sofa listening. She knew too well about second chances and hoped her best friend might be able to find the same thing.

"That's pretty harsh. I mean, I kinda liked her. She listened, you know?"

Dawn felt sympathy for the late demon, which only got her a raised eyebrow from her sister.

"Well, she did…I mean, I know she was just manipulating me and everything, but I think she kinda cared."

Buffy tossed a pillow at her sister's head and rolled her eyes.

"Bed time missy."

Dawn groaned but jumped to her feet, turning toward Willow and Tara.

"Oh! I totally forgot! I made you guys something! You're gonna love it!"

Shaking her hands and giggling, Dawn raced upstairs only to return a moment later, carrying a large, leather book with no title.

Willow and Tara sat up from sofa gazed at the offered gift. Tara accepted it, opening to the first page. Willow and Dawn exchanged smiles.

        For Tara and Willow, love Dawnie

Dawn knelt beside Tara and watched them, anxious. Buffy stood up and joined her sister on the floor, by Willow's knee as they examined the book.

"It's a memory book. A scrapbook."

Willow smiled as Tara turned the pages. Pictures of their trip to the coast the previous summer, the haunted house and their adventure in the wilderness…Dawn and Tara hugging tightly at the beach…Willow and Tara sharing a kiss….Tara dusting sand off her skirt….Dawn doing a cartwheel in front of their hotel.

Buffy pouted.

"Hmph. Wish I had gone."

Dawn shook her head.

"No you don't. Tara made me eat seaweed."

Tara looked down at the teenager in mock astonishment.

"You wanted to try it, Dawnie. I think you liked it."

Another page revealed pictures of the entire Scooby gang: Xander being manly in the garage wearing a tool belt…Anya and Giles in the Magic Box, pointing fingers at one another, looking cross…Buffy, looking perplexed in a chair, reading.

"Oooh…philosophy," Willow cracked. "The horror…the horror."

Buffy swatted at her friend's knee and smiled.

"Nice one of you, Dawn."

The picture showed Dawn, half-awake, emerging from her bedroom, her bed clothes rumpled and hair askew.

A section was dedicated to the two of them and their accomplishments…Willow lecturing to her computer class…Tara smiling, accepting an award at the University.

"The Guggenheim internship…you were amazing that day."

Willow beamed at the recollection; Tara's paintings winning first prize…the entire gang showed up for the ceremony and Giles had sent her a huge bouquet of roses. Tara nearly fell off the podium she had been laughing so hard…

As they flipped through the pages, smiling and cherishing the happy memories they had acquired, Tara regarded Dawn thoughtfully.

"This is really wonderful, Dawnie. I mean it. You really took some time putting this together…but what's the occasion? Not that there has to be or anything."

Pushing away from Tara's side, Dawn sat cross-legged and watched her family.

"I love you guys. And I'm so happy you're my family. I mean, those monks could have put me anywhere, but they didn't. They gave me to you. I know I haven't been the greatest kid to have around, but I wouldn't trade you for anything. You guys are amazing and I just want you to know I love you very much."

Buffy reached for her sister and pulled her into a tight hug, soon joined by Willow and Tara. The four women were silent in their bond, brought together by circumstances none of them would ever fully understand, held together by love, locked by a key…as if by magic.

The End

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