DISCLAIMER: I don't own any of the gentle souls in this fic, though god knows I wish I knew them…Mutant Enemy and Joss Whedon get credit for their creation. I'm just fantasizing a little.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Come Away With Me
By Kieli


A repetitious and sharp clickity-clack of her fingers on the laptop keys made an interesting counterpoint to the soft swishing of rain on the windows of the two story coffee shop on South Street that was her favourite haunt. Steam from a rather large cup of cappuccino fogged the window closest to her table, blurring her view of pedestrians below scurrying for cover from the sudden afternoon downpour. Willow stretched languidly, covering her mouth with the back of her hand to stifle a yawn. She'd been in Philadelphia for a few weeks but her body hadn't quite gotten used to the humidity or the three hour time change. Her parents had given her the obligatory warning about the crime rate in Philly but Willow figured that, after living in Sunnydale, anyplace other than it was more exciting. A slow smile crossed her face as she remembered the rather lame argument that her best friend, Buffy had tried to make in an attempt to keep her from moving halfway across the continent.

"How can you be leaving me?! Hello! Xander is nice but he's not so good with the girl talk…and the helpful advice…did I mention that you'll be 2000 miles away…without ME?!" Buffy babbled, hitting minor panic mode.

Willow sighed deeply. "Buffy, it's not like you even need me. You've got Riley and Xander and Giles. Even Anya is helpful...umm…well when she wants to be." She chuckled at that last bit, knowing that Anya would insist on compensation for her efforts. Apparently she learned the lessons of capitalism all to well.

"But that's not the same. You know that sharing with Anya can be evil. Besides, won't you miss our Mocha Madness days at the Espresso Pump? Who else will Bronze it with us on Wednesday nights?" Buffy was employing the whole "Innocent Batting of Eyelashes" routine that normally would have worked in reinforcing the Two Pronged Guilt Trip attack that she was famous for. However, Willow had wanting…no, needed…a change for some time now. She knew that Buffy would take her absence the hardest but Willow felt that it was about time that she does something for herself. In her opinion, having a little alone time was the best way to do that.

"We all gotta grow up sometime, Buffy. I think it's my turn to leave the nest," Willow smiled wryly. Buffy's reply was to pout at her throughout the going away party at the Bronze that Giles has arranged in her honor. "She'll get over it," Willow mused. "We all just need a little time apart." Rolling her eyes in consternation, she realized that somehow she had managed to sound just like her mother.

Checking the battery life in her portable mini-disc player on the table next to her laptop, Willow glanced briefly at the black Movado on her wrist. It was an impulse buy, sure, but she couldn't resist celebrating her new job with Lockheed Martin Technology Group. Frowning slightly at the growing lateness of the hour, she knew she had to pick up the pace and finish the last few lines of her program or she'd get stuck in the hideous rush hour crush at the El station. But somehow….somehow she just couldn't get motivated to keep going. The humid warmth of the shop had practically lulled her into drowsiness; the practically empty cappuccino cup seemed to be laughing at her with its very wide mouth, its promise of caffeine-filled energy totally unfulfilled. "Oh well," Willow grumbled. "May as well get something to eat and some more mocha goodness. It may take a while before I can get outta here." She was forwarding through the minidisc to a particular song, when a light touch on her shoulder brought her out of her haze of contentment. Willow removed her headphones and found herself staring into the clearest blue eyes she'd ever seen.

"Umm, hi. I was wondering if anyone is sitting in this chair," the owner of the amazing eyes said softly. Willow was pretty sure that she'd been struck dumb because her mouth was open but no sounds were coming out. The woman's long blonde hair brushed Willow's cheek briefly as she leaned down to wave her hand in front of Willow's startled eyes.

"Hello? Are you ok?" she asked, a concerned frown passing over her delicate features.

Willow's eyes went wide as she realized how silly she must look. "Oh! Oh, yeah, I'm fine. Sure, you can have the chair…it's just taking up space here beside me." She nudged the chair towards the beautiful stranger, unsure of what to say next. Before she knew it, her hand was flying out of its own accord. "I'm Willow, by the way. In case you were wondering…" her voice trailed off, slightly embarrassed at having rambled slightly.

The blonde blushed slightly, a slight smile dancing at the corners of her mouth. "I'm Tara. Um, Tara Maclay," she extended her hand to Willow and gripping hers lightly.

Willow's answering grin was as bright as a summer sun. "Glad to meet you, Tara." She quickly let go of Tara's hand when she realized that she was staring.

"Um, t-thanks for the use of your chair. S-see you around?"

"Sure! Sure, anytime. I'm always here. It's not like I don't have a life or anything, it's just that I…I really like this place. You know?" Willow knew she was heading straight for full-on sniggle fritz (a Xanderism for her signature babble mode) but just couldn't seem to prevent it.

Tara seemed to be more amused that annoyed at Willow's burst of speech. "I l-like it too, actually. It's kind of cozy. " She paused, her eyes a mystery. "S-so….I'll see you around?"

"I sure as hell hope so." "Yeah, sure. See ya." Willow watched Tara take the chair to a small table at the opposite corner of the room nearest to another fogged window. She tried to watch Tara out of the corner of her eye but she wasn't satisfied with the limited view. Willow moved her laptop and chair over, her back to the window slightly so that she could have a relatively unobstructed view of this newcomer. She slid her headphones back onto her ears, pressed the Play button on the minidisc player and searched through the disc. Upon finding the track she was searching for, Willow pressed play, the first notes of Norah Jones' remake of "The Nearness of You" winnowing their way into her mind. Norah's sultry voice was the perfect backdrop for her daydreaming since all Willow was able to do from that moment on was think about this mysterious stranger that literally tapped her on the shoulder and entered her life.

It's not the pale moon that excites me
That thrills or delights me, Oh no…
It's just the nearness of you

After Tara had made herself comfortable at her corner table, she reached into a large tote bag and removed a leather eyeglass case. "Wow, she even wears glasses," Willow noticed. "You know what they say about a girl in specs." She removed a rather small pair of copper-coloured Eddie Bauer Laguna's from the case and settled them on her rather slim, refined nose. By this time, Willow had completely given up any pretense of doing work. Both elbows were on the table, her head settled between her hands, and total concentration was given over to examining this Tara Maclay in every single detail.

It isn't your sweet conversation
That brings this sensation, Oh no…
It's just the nearness of you

When you're in my arms and
I feel you so close to me
All my wildest dreams come true

It seemed that Tara had this way of giving everything she touched a gentle caress; from opening her notebook, to the gentle glide of the pen in her hand across a page. Her glasses had settled on the bridge of her nose by this time and this gave Willow a chance to view her profile more closely. Tara had skin as smooth as mother's milk, a strong yet delicate jawline which was accentuated all the more by full, pouty lips. Just as Willow thought she could not be driven any more to distraction, a loud beeping came from her laptop briefcase. Her PDA alarm had gone off, signifying that it was time for her to catch the R5 to her apartment in Washington's Crossing, a rather affluent suburb just outside of the Greater Northeast section of Philadelphia. With a heavy sigh and extreme regret, she packed away her laptop and began gathering her things together.

I don't need soft lights to enchant me
If you'll only grant me the right
To hold you ever so tight
And to feel in the night
The nearness of you

"You have to admit, Rosenberg. You're pretty pitiful." Willow shook her head, chuckling inwardly at her blatant ogling of a complete stranger. "What would you say to her even if you had the chance to talk to her? 'Hi my name is Willow, you don't know me, but can I just say that I'd love to just hold you until the world stops moving?' Oh yes, that would go over REAL well." Rolling her eyes dramatically, she shut off the minidisc player, threw it into a side pocket of her briefcase and shut it. As Willow wound her way around the maze of tables, she glanced back longingly at the beautiful vision by the corner window. "Till we meet again…and hopefully we will." Turning back to the stairs, she made her way out into the softly falling rain and afternoon rush.


After picking up her rental car at the train station, Willow made her way home in the quiet near-darkness of early evening. Her thoughts kept meandering during the drive, going to places that, in her humble opinion, no self-respecting woman should be going. She couldn't seem to help herself! There were even moments where she could feel a slow flush creeping up her cheeks. "Ok Rosenberg, get a grip here. You want to get to your apartment in one piece so… the paying attention part? That would be a good idea." Pursing her lips in renewed concentration, Willow gripped the steering wheel tightly and pressed down on the accelerator.

Fifteen minutes later, Willow stumbled wearily through the door of her rather spacious studio apartment in the center of the artists' village of New Hope. She fell in love with the place after a rather talkative realtor showed her around two days after she had landed in Philadelphia International airport. The ceilings were low beamed but Willow didn't really mind that so much. What she adored, however, was the quaint fenced courtyard that opened out to the Delaware River if she so chose. There were windows everywhere it seemed and the sunlight that filtered in gave the whole place a rather open and airy quality. The old fashioned cobblestones and the unique blue tiled fountain in the center of the yard were like a dream come true. The realtor was a little shocked when Willow told her that she would take it right then and there.

Willow dropped her briefcase and umbrella by the door and kicked off her shoes on her way to the living room. She threw her keys on it and pushed the blinking PLAY button on the answering machine beside the cordless telephone.

Beep! "Hey Wills! It's just me, Buffy. Just wondering how you're doing and if you're ready to come home yet. Don't make me come out there and cart you off! Beep!

Beep! " 'ello luv!" "Uh oh," Willow groaned inwardly at the strident British accent speaking in the voice message. "Becca here. I've got a smashing idea for something to do Friday night. Got a friend who's in town and she's givin' a lecture at U of P on Women's Literature or some such like that. I knew the intellectual in you might have a bit o' fun with that. However, there is a nice fancy little to do afterwards at the Tin Angel. Just a few people, nice and cozy like. Figured it would be good fer ya…meet new people and all. Anyhoo, see you at work tomorrow. Give us a ring when you get in, eh? Cheers!" Beep!

Willow had to shake her head at Becca's message. Rebecca Sutor was her rather quirky lesbian co-worker who happily left England for a chance to "party it up" in the States. At first, Willow thought she was simply hilarious, speaking her mind in that rather infectious East End accent and dragging her off on some wild outing whenever the mood struck. However, she'd become more insistent on trying to hook Willow up with any good looking woman that crossed their paths. "I am so not in the mood to deal with this right now. I just don't have the energy," she sighed as she plopped herself down in a rather undignified position on the couch by a pair of sliding glass doors. Flipping idly through the mail, Willow's thoughts were less on paying attention to the bills in her hand but more on filling the clawfoot tub in the bathroom with hot water and bubble bath. She dropped the packet of mail onto the end table beside the couch and started stripping off her clothing, one piece at a time, on her way to the bath. She took great pleasure in just depositing each garment on the floor, on the lamp, anywhere that it was not normally supposed to be. "Oh for this to be someone else stripping me instead of having to do it myself," she sighed wistfully. She wondered idly if Tara liked to be the stripper or the strippee. "Ack! Don't go there…you don't even know the woman, for Pete's sake."

Willow turned on the water to full stream and went into the bedroom to select her current favourite CD from the rack on the wall. "Hmmm…I think this one will suit nicely," she murmured and removed the CD from its sleeve. She gathered up a few candles along with her music selection and made her way back to the nearly full tub. After lighting the candles and slipping the CD into the player on the counter, Willow slid into the mix of heat and bubbles with a contented sigh. The smooth voice of Diana Krall and rapid tinkling of piano keys soon filled the bathroom with mood music.

I know a little bit
About a lot of things
But I don't know enough about you

"Well no truer words were ever spoken," Willow reflected. "I don't know anything and yet, Tara's in my head! Constantly! Over only a few hours time! I really need to do something about this."

Just when I think you're mine
You try a different line and
Baby what can I do?

I read the latest news
No buttons on my shoes
Baby, I'm confused about you
You've got me in a spin and
What a spin I'm in
'Cause I don't know enough about you

Willow bit her lip thoughtfully and paid closer attention to that last line. "Ain't that the truth. Totally in a spin. I wonder if her number is listed. But there's got to be hundreds of Maclays in the Philadelphia area! Where do I begin?" She contemplated doing a web search and possibly asking the owner of the coffee shop about Tara while slowly rubbing a loofah over her tired skin. Satisfied with the course of action that she came up with, Willow rinsed herself and settled back to enjoy the relaxing odors of the lavender scented aromatherapy bubble bath.

You know I went to school and
I'm nobody's fool
That is to say until I met you
You've got me in a spin and
What a spin I'm in
'Cause I don't know enough about you.

A little while later, Willow had toweled off, wrapped herself in a big fluffy bathrobe that was one of many going away presents (actually necessities, according to her mother) and padded down the hall to ring back Becca. She knew that if she didn't get it out of the way, she'd catch hell for it at work in the morning.

"Good evening, Ms. Rosenberg! Glad to see you. Would you like your usual?"

"Hi Mario. Yes, please my usual table. Is she playing tonight?"

"But of course," the maitre'd replied. "I made sure that your table was moved closer to the piano tonight."

"Thank you, Mario. You are far too good to me." Willow patted his hand and made her way to her waiting table. Willowdreams were usually rather odd, even she would admit to that. However, ever since a certain woman came into her life, albeit accidentally, they had taken a different turn. It had been two weeks since it happened and, while Willow had made it a point to be at the café almost every afternoon for her daily Tara fix, she still had not managed to speak to her again, other than a passing "Hello." Her recent dreams made her look suave by comparison and in them, she always seemed to know what to say. The emcee began introducing the main attraction as soon as a waiter helped Willow into her seat.

"Ladies and gentlemen! It is my pleasure to introduce a Club 521 favourite, Ms. Tara Maclay!"

Willow sat completely mesmerized at her place of honour near the piano, as the singer strode out into the spotlight wearing a very sultry black and diamond studded gown that hugged her every curve; her blonde hair fell in silky waves over her shoulder and ample bosom. She carefully removed a microphone from the stand next to the piano, and stood not more than five feet away from Willow.

"Thank you, everyone. Thank you for the wonderful reception you always give me when I visit Philadelphia. It's good to be back in this part of the city especially. " Tara moved to the other side of the piano and sat next to her female accompanist. "I brought a special guest with me tonight…I'm sure you all have heard her a time or two. Please welcome my good friend, Diana Krall."

The audience responded to the introduction with hoots and loud clapping as the band struck up the first few chords of a song. Tara continued speaking.

"Tonight is actually a special night…I think this is going to be an 'All Request' night. I know of one particular fan who's been requesting a certain song every time she sees me." Willow's heart practically leapt out of her chest as Tara turned those crystal blue eyes on her. "I think we'll oblige her. What do you say, folks?" This last bit was again met with enthusiastic cheering and whistling. "This song is called 'Gentle Rain'."

Diana's fingers rippled across the keys and she started out the song herself.

We both are lost
And alone in the world
Walk with me
In the gentle rain
Don't be afraid, I've a hand
For your hand and I
Will be your love for a while

Tara picked up the second part to the song, still holding the connection between her eyes and Willow's.

I feel your tears as they fall
On my cheek
They are warm like gentle rain
Come little one you have me in the world
And out love will be sweet
Very Sweet

Our love will
Be sweet very sad
Very sweet like gentle rain
Like the gentle rain
Like the gentle rain

Willow found herself blushing very deeply at the attention being paid to her. She was becoming increasingly turned on and took a long sip of wine from the glass in front of her to try to calm her shaking hands. Somewhere in the background of the din in the club, there was a persistent buzzing that she couldn't place. "What in the hell is that?!" she murmured, frowning slightly at the annoying intrusion. The room suddenly started to fade and shift. "Oh nooooo…not now!" Willow moaned into her pillow. She reached for the offending alarm clock and threw it into the wastebasket by the bed. Rolling onto her back, she tried to cling to the last vestiges of the dream, a slow smile creeping across her face. "At least I have something to make this day start out right."


Tapping the eraser end of a pencil impatiently on her slightly tanned brow, Willow stared at her monitor screen for what seemed like a century. She'd gone over the same line of code eighteen times and had not managed to fix the bug in it once! "This is not cool, Wills. Get your head back into the game…" Her concentration was indeed severely lacking. Ghost images of that morning's dream were flitting about in her head, making even simple thoughts difficult to maintain. Groaning in frustration, Willow dropped her head to her desk, banging it repeatedly. Whump! Willow practically hit the ceiling as a huge stack of C++ programming books was dropped unceremoniously by her head.

"Well FINALLY! I thought I'd have to strip naked and do the Funky Chicken on your desk before I got your attention. I've only been calling your name for the past five minutes," Becca grumbled, ever so slightly annoyed.

"S-sorry, Bec. My mind is kind of somewhere else today," Willow quickly looked back at her monitor, knowing full well that she was blushing straight up to her scalp.

Becca cocked a curious eyebrow at this reaction. Leaning on the desk, her hazel eyes bored directly into Willow's green ones. "Alright, luv. Spill it. All of it. Leave nothing out. Who is she and is she good enough for you?"

Shifting uneasily under her unwavering stare, Willow knew she had no choice but to fess up. Becca was like a bulldog that way; once she latched onto something, she rarely let go until she had it. "Oh well…best get it all out now. Lord knows, she won't let it go until I do."

"Well, it's kind of like this…you know that coffee place down on South Street that I've been hanging out at after work?"

Becca shrugged noncommittally. "Sure. It's a cool place. Not that you've ever taken me there."

Willow ignored that last bit and pressed on. "Well, one day, I was just sitting there and this girl comes up and asks for the extra chair at my table. I swear to you, I never had a woman give me fever like that before in my life. Problem is, I can't seem to talk to her. I get near her and my face freezes up like the engine on my dad's old Mercury. You know me; I'm almost NEVER at a loss for words. She's in my dreams; she's in my head! 24/7!" She groaned and laid her head down sideways on her desk. "What am I gonna do?!"

Becca stared at Willow for a long moment and shook her head sadly. "Looks like you've got it bad, Red. You've gone and fell in love. Haven't I taught you anything?!"

Willow looked up long enough to give her the evil eye. "You are so NOT helpful here! I need answers, Oh Lesbian Love Goddess! What to do?"

Becca shrugged. "Dunno. Let me ponder on it for a while and see what I come up with. Meantime, we're still on for tonight, eh? I hear there's fun to be had at the Tin Angel after this lecture. All those intellectual types lookin' to let their hair down and such. Perfect for distracting you for a little bit until we can plan your next course of action."

"Oooohhhh noooo…I think I'd rather be dead."

"Hey now! That's what mates are for! To get you lovin' when you need it most!" Becca beamed happily after dispensing this nugget of wisdom. Willow could only hold her head in her hands and moan pitifully.

Later that evening, Willow found herself surrounded by people in the lobby of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. Normally the lecture that Becca had dragged her to would have been held in Logan Hall, home of the College of Arts and Sciences, but a recent fire had rendered the lecture hall unsuitable. She was enthralled by how large the foyer of the Museum really was, as it easily housed the over five hundred students, faculty and guests that had turned out for the evening.

"Fabu, isn't it?" Becca remarked under her breath. Willow was constantly amazed at how she could carry on a conversation without moving her lips.

"Actually it's really cool," Willow replied. "I kind of regret not coming here before."

"No worries, luv. You can have all the time you need later on. Right now, I am in dire need of a whiskey and soda. Plus, we need to find our seats in all of this mayhem."

Willow nodded in agreement, allowing herself to be led by Becca into the Harrison Auditorium where the lecture would ultimately be held.

After several minutes and two minor mishaps, they finally found their seats about three rows from the podium. Willow sank gratefully into the maroon plush cushions, instantly regretting the decision to wear heels instead of more sturdy flats. She was glad they made it in time, as the lights dimmed a moment later and a rather dry, regal looking woman professor stepped up to the lectern.

"Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, esteemed colleagues and guests. Welcome to the University of Penn's Women of Greatness Lecture Series. Tonight, we have a treat in store for you. We were fortunate to be granted a special lecture from a visiting professor from University of California, Sunnydale. She's co-authored several books on women in literature, women in Wicca History and women who've changed helped change the face of history. She is also a practicing Wiccan. I am pleased to introduce, Dr. Tara Maclay."

Willow nearly sprayed her drink all over the guy seated in front of her when Tara's name was announced. Her mouth hung agape and her eyes were so wide, she almost lost a contact lens. She grabbed Becca's arm and began to shake her frantically.

"That's her! That's her! That's the woman from the coffee shop!" she hissed.

"Hey hey, luv! Watch the suit!" Becca managed to untangle Willow's fingers from her aching arm, removing the drink from Willow's hand in the process. "So that's the one, eh? Gotta say, Wills, you definitely have an eye for the ladies," she smirked.

Amid thunderous applause, Tara emerged from behind the curtains at the corner of the podium clad in an attractively tailored black silk Donna Karan pant suit. Her jacket lapels were cut low enough so that her lush cleavage showed through. Her blue eyes sparkled like sapphires in the illumination from the track lighting overhead. It was practically a given that she had the attention of almost everyone in the room.

Willow put her hands over her face, totally shocked at the events that had unfolded before her. Becca smirked evilly and elbowed her lightly. "Relax, babe. Just think, you wanted a chance to tell her how you feel, and now, your prayers may just have been answered!" Cackling wickedly, she sat back, totally unrepentant, as Willow downed her drink as well as Becca's in two gulps. It was going to be a long night.


Willow tried pretty hard to make herself damn near invisible. A little panicked searching revealed a nice quiet alcove for her to hide in. Settling down on a rather ornate bench, she began breathing deeply in an attempt to gain some sort of control over herself. She was barely able to keep her composure throughout the lecture. Tara's voice had wrapped itself around her, cradling her in its softness, lulling her into near insensibility. She was not, however, even remotely prepared to talk to her face to face. Grinding her teeth in frustration, Willow swore that paybacks were a bitch and Becca was about due for some in the worst way.

"H-hi." Willow let out a startled squeak and turned to face the voice speaking to her. She was very surprised to see Tara standing beside the bench. "Do you mind if I sit down with you? It's a little noisy in there and, although I like people, it can be a l-little overwhelming." Willow nodded and gestured for Tara to sit. "Funny, she didn't once stutter during her whole presentation," she noted. After a few moments of awkward silence, Willow decided to take the bull by the horns and actually say something. She crossed her fingers, praying to whatever deity that was listening that nothing stupid would come out of her mouth.

"Heh heh, imagine seeing you here. All this time, there was a bona fide PhD sharing my coffee space and I didn't even know it," she chirped brightly.

Tara chuckled musically. "That's ok. I usually don't go around announcing it. People might think that I'm smart or something."

Willow noticed that Tara had removed her glasses after the lecture, giving her an up-close and personal view of the eyes that have been in her dreams for weeks. "Oh but you are! Smart, I mean." She sighed in exasperation. "Look, it's usually not this difficult for me to do the whole 'put one word in front of the other to make a sentence' thing. I've been wanting to actually talk to you for a long time now. I've just been to chicken to do anything about it." She looked down at her hands and braced herself, sure that she had blown it this time. "Good job, Will. You were so Rico Suave just then."

Tara gently laid her hand on top of Willow's. "That's ok. I-I've been wanting to do the same thing. Just in not so many words," she said, a half-smile sliding across her face. She glanced about at the milling crowd, feeling somewhat closed in. "Why don't we go find someplace a little better than this? I'm not in the mood to talk shop. I-I've got a friend who's the manager at the Khyber Pass. The Indigo Girls are playing there tonight. W-want to go?" Tara asked shyly.

Willow blinked in disbelief, trying with some difficulty to form a coherent reply. "Uh sure! Love to! But I came with a frie-" She paused. "No on second thought, heck with her. Let's go!"

Twenty minutes later, Willow and Tara found themselves outside of the very crowded Khyber Pass Pub on 2nd Street. The street itself was filled with people heading for the various clubs and multicultural restaurants that stretched all the way to South Street and past the Ritz Theater. Willow was very glad that they didn't have to wait long in line as things were getting decidedly rowdy. She was very surprised when she felt a soft, warm hand in hers. Tara had reached behind to make sure that she wouldn't get lost in the crowd. Willow shadowed Tara, reveling in her touch and the nearness of her. Tara deftly maneuvered them through the crowd to a relatively empty passageway to the right of the bar. She opened a door along the wall and led them up a spiral staircase to a small balcony that sat above the crowd, midway between the dance floor and the stage. They sat down at a small table next to the railing in order to see the stage better.

"W-we made it. And just in time, too. I think they're about to start any minute now," Tara said loudly in Willow's ear in an attempt to be heard above the din in the pub. Feeling Tara's breath on her cheek and along her neck made the little hairs on the surface of her skin stand up in response. Just when she thought she was going to faint right then and there, an athletic looking barmaid sauntered up to them.

"What can I get for ya, hon?" she shouted with a nasal Philly accent.

"What would you like?" Tara asked Willow.

Willow shrugged. "Surprise me."

Tara's cocked an eyebrow at her, a sly smile at the corner of her lips. "Two Vodka Collins with a twist."

The barmaid nodded and waded through the crowd downstairs to get their order.

Willow could not believe she was here! Next to the woman that has been in her dreams for the past few weeks. She was even more shocked at how quickly this all had happened. Downstairs, the Indigo Girls had started off their concert with a rather mellow tone.

This is not all there is
It's not a kingdom
It's not an angry god
It feels like her
It feels like no fear
It feels like no doubt
It feels like inside out

She's saving me
I don't even think she knows it
It's a strange way to show it as distant
As last night's dream unravels
She's saving me
I'm a very lost soul
I was born with a hole in my heart
As wide as my landlocked travels

Willow snuck adoring glances at Tara when she thought she could get away with it. The multicoloured lights onstage lit up her face, making her blue eyes look almost translucent. The words of the song floated through Willow's brain, their meanings were dissected in the very same manner that Willow examined all things of interest; searching for some common thread, something in them that she could relate to.

"Maybe she is saving me. I never considered myself lost until now…now, I have no idea what I would do if I were to never see her again."

"Hey…what's going on in there," Tara chuckled, tapping lightly on Willow's forehead.

"Oh, nothing. Just…you know…thinking. It's always busy in my head, whether I want it to be or not," Willow commented wryly.

"Well don't go too far. It wouldn't do to have you leave me here all by myself, now would it?" Tara's eyes sparkled with merriment.

"No ma'am, that wouldn't do at all."

They chatted about nothing much in particular between songs, whenever they could make themselves heard above the noise and revelry. At one point in the concert, Tara had pulled Willow up from her seat to dance during a particularly peppy number.

"Oh no! Not me! I can't dance to save my life. Dancing on me equals spaz. So NOT a pretty sight." The alcohol had made Willow bold, but not that bold just yet.

"C-come on, Willow, aren't you exaggerating just a little?"

"Heck no! I'm as serious as a heart attack."

"We'll just have to see about that."

Tara managed to get Willow very close to her, hip to hip, one arm around her waist, swaying in time to the music. Little electric currents were running through Willow's veins at the contact. "Omigodgottabreatheomigodgottabreathe." Her thoughts were bouncing around her head at a mile a minute. "Geez, if I were a guy, there would most certainly be visible indications that she is driving me wild!" She was concentrating so hard on behaving herself that she barely noticed when the song had ended. Fingers snapped in front of her eyes, bringing her out of neverneverland.

"Hello? Earth to Willow."

"Umm…sorry. I guess I got a little carried away there, huh?"

Taralaughter rang in Willow's ears like tiny silver bells. "Not hardly. The show's over though and I was wondering…well…if you would like to take the train with me. I live in Newtown so we both have to take the R5. I j-just figured that we could do it together."

Willow's eyes brightened at the thought of all the possibilities that the invitation implied. "Sure! Can't let you take the train alone at this time of night. What with all the Big Bads out there and stuff."

Tara chuckled and shook her head. Once again acquiring Willow's hand, they left the Khyber Pass and hailed a cab to take them to 30th Street Station.


By the time the taxi managed to wade through the traffic on JFK Boulevard to get to the 30th Street Station, it was almost 2am. Willow and Tara pretty much had the entire cavernous station to themselves; only a few brave souls were scattered about, either sleeping on the deep brown mahogany benches by the Track entrances or wandering about checking rail schedules. They walked up the ramp that took them to the local R-series trains and waited on the empty platform, a surprisingly cold evening breeze piercing their lightweight clothing. Within five minutes, the R5 pulled into the station.

Once they found a couple of seats by one of the doors in the passenger car, they continued chatting with each other in the easy flowing manner that started back at the Museum. Willow recounted most of her childhood in Sunnydale, sending Tara into fits of belly laughter with some of the more ridiculous stories of the scrapes she and her close friend Xander used to get into as children. Tara, on the other hand, was rather reticent in talking about her childhood, so most of the conversation centered on her life after high school.

All too soon, a conductor came wandering through the cars, yelling "Next stop! Newtown Square, Colonial Heights, Tyler State Park and Washington's Crossing. Please have yer tickets ready fer stamping and thank you for riding SEPTA." They hurriedly removed their tickets from their pockets for stamping and moved towards the exits as the train slowed to a stop. Willow shivered involuntarily as a blast of shockingly cold air hit her as she stepped off the train onto the darkened platform. "Brrr! I don't think I'll ever get used to how cold it gets at night here."

Tara nodded soberly. "Yes, it's odd the things you take for granted sometimes. Luckily I don't live far. Come on." She clasped Willow's hand in a firm grip and headed down the stairs. Tara removed a black keypad from her jacket pocket and pressed a red button. A loud "chirp chirp" sounded from a black Jeep Liberty close to the stairwell. "Good thing I remembered to park close," she muttered. "It's a bit too nipply for walking."

Willow giggled at Tara's choice of words. "Nipply, eh? Dare I ask what that means?"

A mirthful grin touched Tara's lips as she put the key in the ignition and started the car. "It's a long weird story. The short of it is, a friend of mine and I got caught in a cold rain one day wearing very thin T-shirts. We were so chilled that our nipples practically stood at attention. From then on, cold or damp conditions always warranted the term 'nipply'."

Willow laughed so hard she hit her head on the window beside her. "Ow, oooh…that was just evil. Too funny! Buffy has just got to hear that story." Tara chuckled as she wheeled out of the parking lot and headed her apartment.

The lock turned with a heavy 'click' as Tara turned the key in it. She opened the door and waved her arm with a flourish. "Welcome to my humble abode, madam."

"Happy to be invited, milady," Willow replied, bowing slightly.

"Make yourself at home," Tara called as she walked towards her bedroom. "I just w-want to change into something warmer. I really am cold!"

"Take your time," Willow offered. "Yes take as much time as you need. I am ever a patient Willow tree." She walked slowly around the apartment, taking in the simple décor. Apparently, Tara had a liking for handmade hardwood furniture. The dining room table, end tables and chairs all were made of cherry mahogany, burnished a deep reddish-brown. Her diplomas and awards were hung in a little corner near the balcony, almost hidden from view. It was as if she didn't want anyone to see her accomplishments. Continuing her tour about the living room, Willow's eyes were immediately drawn to the sleek Nakamichi stereo system that hung from one wall and the large collection of CDs that lay strewn upon the table beneath it. She had started to check out what artists were in the collection, when Tara came back into the room.

"There! All better now," she sighed. She was now wearing a cream colored silk Patagonia turtleneck and matching leggings. It didn't help poor Willow that the clingy fabric accentuated every single curve on Tara's body right down to her well defined calves. Willow's mouth shut with an audible click as she tried to regain her composure. Tara slid onto the futon couch in the center of the room and patted the space beside her.

"Come have a seat with me. Would you like something to drink? I'm kind of thirsty after all that dancing and sweating."

Willow almost dropped the stack of CDs she had in her hand after that last comment. "U-umm, sure. Thirsty. Yep…g-got any ginger ale?" she stuttered.

"Oh yes, as a matter of fact, I do. Be right back."

Willow took that time to try to calm down. She sat down on the futon, hands beneath her to stop them from shaking, breathing deeply. "Ok, Wills, now's your chance. Think happy thoughts. And for God's sake stop being so nervous! It's not like you haven't been attracted to a girl before. You're as gay as stick!" She winced knowing that this time was different. Attraction was one thing, but straight up, total I-can't-get-enough-of-you love was quite another.

"Here you go." Tara handed her a cold glass of ginger ale and sat down, their thighs touching ever so slightly. Taking a controlled breath, Willow decided it was now or never. She sat the glass down on a coaster and faced Tara.

"Hey," Tara whispered, her features creased with concern. "Are you ok? You l-look kind of pale."

Willow closed her eyes with a sigh, giving herself a few moments before answering. When she opened them again, they were a deep green, focused and clear. Tara searched them, trying to get a sense of what was going on inside Willow's head. She broke the contact momentarily to get up and put a CD in the player on the wall.

At first I was scared
When I opened up my head
And the motor that was runnin'
Was the mind of you

She turned around and looked at Willow, her eyes looking for a sign, anything that said that she was ok. Tara sat back down beside her, took Willow's hand and placed it on her face. She re-established eye contact, crystal blue meeting forest green, hoping that would help Willow feel confident enough to say something, anything.

I was scared when I looked at my reflection
And the shine I saw
Were the eyes of you

When she finally spoke, her voice was ragged, almost near tears. "Do you have any idea how long I've wanted this? How I've waited for a moment just to touch you?" she sighed. "How I've wanted to just be with you?"

I was scared when you touched my lips
And the breath I took
Was a breath that shook me with a shock
Like a flame
as eternal as a song
and the song was you and I

Tara's eyes swam with unshed tears. She wrapped her arms around Willow's waist, pulling her close. Willow placed light kisses on her forehead, her eyes, her chin. They were soft butterfly kisses, tentative and ghostly.

I will let you breathe through me
I will let you be with me

The sound of their breathing filled the room, seeking attention like needy children. Tara pulled back from the embrace, causing Willow to blink at the break in contact.

"You know, you're kissing me everywhere but where I want you to."

"Well, where do you want me to kiss you?" Willow asked, hoping for the answer she'd been waiting for so long.

"Right here," Tara breathed, gently placing her hands on Willow's face in order to acquire her lips, closing what seemed like a chasm between them.

Whenever I'm alone
And you're lost out there
I can feel you breathe
'Cause our lungs we share
When I'm alone
Anytime, anywhere
I can feel your heart beat
'Cause our blood we share

The dam that Willow had so desperately been trying to shore up, finally broke, her passion for Tara spilling over and taking control. Their kisses remained soft and probing even as their desire increased. Their breathing synchronized, almost as if they were becoming one with each other. Willow leaned back on the futon, pulling Tara with her so as not to have one single second where they were not touching.

I was scared when you came into my room
The walls became the sea
Your voice was the moon
Oh, when you rocked me in your arms
Like a song, a wave on the tide of you and I

The mood of the song flowed through them like liquid fire, stirring their intense emotions, coaxing them into plumbing the depths of their need.

My heart beats your blood
My breath fills your lungs
Your heart beats my blood
My breath fills your lungs

Soon, clothing was a barrier that could not be tolerated. "Umm, " Tara moaned. "Off…all of this must come off…"

"Your wish is my command, milady," Willow smirked, leaning back so that she could tease Tara by removing one article of clothing at a time…very slowly.

"At the rate you're going, we could be here all night."

"That's the idea," Willow smirked, her left eyebrow cocked mischievously.

"Good thing that I don't need much sleep," Tara breathed, reclaiming Willow's waiting mouth.

Night bled into the steel grey of early morning. Dawn was ushered in by the soft sounds of desire finally fulfilled.


Slanted rays of sunlight streamed in through the partially closed wooden blinds hanging in front of the bay window of Tara's apartment. What appeared to be one person snoring softly on the futon were actually two persons so enmeshed with each other that it was difficult to tell where one began and the other ended. Willow woke with a start, her bleary eyes staring uncomprehendingly at her surroundings. She sat up, ran her hands through her tangled red hair and stretched. "Wow," she thought. "Talk about a heavy duty night." She brushed her fingers lightly over Tara's sleeping form, fondly remembering the events of the previous evening. Never in her life had she felt more at peace than she did last night. It was like the Powers That Be were finally rewarding her for all of the weeks of waiting, stressing and longing.

Willow kissed Tara's forehead and was in the process of extricating herself from her lover's embrace when her eyes suddenly opened. "Morning, bright eyes," Willow whispered.

Her greeting was met with a slow, sleepy smile. "Hey, babe." Tara sat up and glanced at the Kanji script-style clock hanging on the wall beside the CD player. "Does that say what I think it does?!"

"Yep…we've been very bad. Sleeping in until noon. No wonder I ache all over."

"It couldn't possibly be that you're sore from last night's activities, could it?" Tara smirked.

"Nah…I'm still a spring chicken! There's still lots of pep in my step," Willow grinned.

"Uh huh…whaaaaatever. Hey, I'm in a shopping kind of mood. Want to head to New Hope for a little fun? Or do you h-have work this afternoon?"

"I think I can be persuaded," Willow sighed, leaning down to capture Tara's lips in a brief kiss.

"Is a showering with me and then a hearty breakfast persuasion enough?" Tara asked raising one amused eyebrow.

"Perhaps, so long as it's your treat."



Giggling helplessly, they both retreated to the bathroom to get ready for a day on the town.

The shower took somewhat longer than they had both planned; mostly because they took great delight in each others' soapy body parts, kissing and sucking on various sensitive places. Which, eventually, turned into quite something else altogether. They finally got to the drying off phase around 1 pm; neither was in much of a hurry to put on actual clothing. Tara was in a rather languid mood and decided to pop in a little Alison Krauss to enhance the feeling.

I wonder should I tell you
About all the crazy things I've ever done
I've been searching all my life
And when I should have stayed
I tried to run
I was searching for an answer
In a world full of strangers
But what I found was never real enough
Now that I've found you
I'm looking in the eyes of love

Willow sat on one corner of Tara's bed watching her get dressed, the mellow tone of the song and the sentimental words relaxing her, making her contemplative. She thought of the words that her Zayde (grandfather), rebbe Mischa Rosenberg, had told her once when describing his love for her grandmother, her Bobe, in Yiddish, the only language he was able to share his feelings in: "Libe is wi warem Sunenschein. Dos, dos du lib hobn, is wi dos kil und bakwem Schton. Sei kumn zusamn, jeder in seier eign Weg wunderlech. Dos ken nischt on anderer sein. As du den Schton ihr Harz gefinen, wisst du. Dermonst du dich, a pitsele, nit dos iz sheyn, vos iz sheyn, nor dos, vos es gefelt. "

(translation: Love is like warm sunshine. The one you love is like the cool, comforting shade. They come together, each in their own way pleasurable. One cannot be without the other. When you find the shade of your heart, you will know. Remember, my child, beautiful is not what is beautiful, but what one likes.)

Darling you've been good to me
You are so much more than I deserve
I never thought that I would find
Someone who's so sweet and kind like you
Please believe me when I say
This time I won't run away
I swear by all of Heaven's stars above
Now that I've found you
I'm looking in the eyes of love

Willow hadn't even realized that she was staring until Tara touched her arm.

"What are you thinking about?" she inquired, laying a gentle kiss on Willow's lips.

Willow chuckled and leaned back on the bed. "My grandfather would say that you are a Gutte Neshome, a good soul, even though you are a Shikse (a non-Jewish woman)."

"Is that a good thing or a bad thing?"

"Definitely a good thing," Willow smiled, pulling Tara down on the bed beside her.

Looking in the eyes of love I can see forever
I can see you and me walking in this old world together
Lord, my heart's found a home
I've been dreaming of
Now that I've found you
I'm looking in the eyes of love

She lay staring into Tara's eyes, noticing that they were a particular shade cobalt blue that morning. For the first time in her life, Willow truly believed that she could spend forever with this woman. "Yep, I think my heart has definitely found a home with Tara. One day, I hope she feels the same way."

After having a very late breakfast at a local IHOP, the women headed down the tree-shaded, winding back roads of Newtown to get to New Hope. Willow had turned on the radio for some background noise but they mostly rode in silence, enjoying the sun-dappled Pennsylvania scenery. Since it was the start of the tourist season, finding a place to park was an adventure in and of itself. They both agreed that a visit to Mystickal Tymes, the local magic shoppe, was definitely in order. The day had warmed to a comfortable temperature that was perfect for outdoor wandering, dining and shopping that New Hope was famous for. A few hours later, they returned to Tara's Jeep, loaded down with purchases of various shapes and sizes.

"Whew," Tara exclaimed. "I don't think my credit card will ever get that much mileage again!"

Willow giggled helplessly. "Tell me about it. My totally frugal parents would simply die if they knew how much I spent today. Do you mind if we stop by my apartment? I want to grab the mail and check my answering machine. I'm sure that Becca has probably called a hundred times by now."

"Sure. We've got all the time in the world."

When they reached her apartment, Willow winced at her answering machine's angrily blinking red light. "Oh god," she muttered. "Looks like someone has been trying to find me."

She pressed the PLAY button, dreading what the messages might say.

Beep! "Willow! You little tart! What's up goin' off and leavin' me 'ere? You got a lot of explainin' to do, missy." Beep! Sighing deeply, she picked up the phone and dialed Becca's number. "I at least have to tell her that I'm ok," she rationalized.

A few rings later, the line was picked up by one seriously brassed-off Brit. "Oy! Where the hell have you been?! I've been worried sick after your little disappearin' act last night." Willow let her vent for a little bit before attempting to speak.

"I'm ok, Bec, really. Tara and I just went to the Khyber Pass for a bit and I took the train home with her. So things are cool, no need to worry." There was silence at the end of the line for a few moments and Willow thought that the connection might have gotten cut off. Then she heard Becca chuckling.

"Well I'll be. Good fer you, Red! Turns out, I got lucky meself. Her name is Caitlin and she's got a bit o' cheek in 'er." Becca paused to talk to someone in the background.

Willow shook her head in amazement at Becca's talent for picking up women. "There are days that I am floored by you, Bec. Gotta go. Tara's waiting for me."

"Alright, luv. Hey! How's about all of us meet at tea-time tomorrow? I want to have a look at Tara for meself and I think you might like Caitlin."

"Sure." Bleep Bleep "Oh damn. Someone's on the other line, Bec. Tomorrow then?"

"Right. Take care!" Willow pressed the Call Waiting button on her phone to click to the other line. "Hello?"

"Will! It's Buffy. Listen, you gotta come home right away."

Willow's eyes widened in alarm. "Why? Wh-what happened? What's going on?"

"Will, your mom and dad were in an accident."


Rushing around her apartment, Willow hurriedly checked the list in her hand to make sure that she'd done everything. Her flight to Sunnydale was leaving in three hours but the trip to Philadelphia International would take almost an hour and a half. Her hands were shaking and she silently wished that Tara would come over early. After giving the list a last once-over, Willow went out the courtyard to attempt to relax in the afternoon sun. Leaning back in her favorite wicker chair while sipping a glass of sangria, she replayed the phone conversation with Buffy in her mind.

Buffy had tried to explain to her some of the details of her parents' condition. Apparently, Sheila and Ira Rosenberg were on their way home from seeing Götterdämerung while in Sacramento on a business trip when a drunk driver crossed head-on into their lane, forcing them off the road and flipping their vehicle. She said that their injuries weren't life threatening but they would need extra care as they would not be able to fend for themselves for several weeks. Her mother had managed to get away with only some cuts, bruises, a fractured rib and a broken wrist. Her father was not as lucky as he sustained a head injury that left him unconscious for several hours, a broken leg, a fractured pelvis and the glass from his spectacles partially tore the cornea in his right eye. Willow was a complete wreck after talking with Buffy and it took Tara almost an hour to calm her down. She gave Willow a shot of bourbon from a small bottle that was in her cupboard in order to calm her nerves. Tara went about making the travel arrangements for her and contacting Sunnydale Hospital to inquire about Willow's parents while she rested on the couch. She stayed the night at Willow's apartment, spending the evening just cradling her worried lover in her arms and giving gentle kisses of comfort whenever necessary. Becca had called later that evening to ask where to meet them for tea and Tara informed her of what was going on. She was shocked at the news but offered to help if she could.

"I'm happy you're there to help Willow through this," Becca noted. "I think she needs you now more than ever."

Tara had blushed at the compliment. "That's good because I don't think there is anywhere else I would rather be."

They rang off with each other a few minutes later. Tara promised to keep Becca informed if there was anything she could help out with.

The chiming ring tones of her cell phone brought Willow out of her reverie. She checked the caller id and saw that it was Tara's cell number.

"Hi babe," Willow said wearily.

"Hey yourself. I'm about five minutes from your place. Do you need anything?"

"No, I just need you here with me."

"Happy to oblige."

Shortly thereafter, Tara entered the apartment with the key Willow had insisted on having made for her.

"Are you ready?" she called out.

Willow took a deep breath and stood up to enter the apartment, collecting her empty wine glass and cell phone from the table.

"About as ready as I'll ever be, I guess," she muttered tiredly. Closing the door to the courtyard, she clicked the lock into place. Tara drew will into her embrace and placed a small kiss on Willow's supple lips.

"I wish you were going with me," Willow sighed. "My parents and I barely even notice that we exist to each other. How in the world am I going to take care of them by myself?"

Tara nudged Willow's chin up with her fingers so that their eyes met. "I'm sure that you will find a way. If there's anything that you need for me to do back here, just call me. I programmed my cell number into your cell phone as well my office number. And remember, that I love you madly. I'll still be here. I'm not going anywhere."

Willow let Tara's comforting words wash over her like the balm of Gilead, bringing some measure of peace to her troubled mind.

"I know. I'm just so scared. I'm scared that I might not know what to do and I'm scared that my parents will just push me away like they always have."

"Apparently they don't have a choice now," Tara observed. "It's not like they can afford to brush you off. They need you…almost as much as you need them."

Willow nodded in agreement. "I suppose you're right. We'd better get moving. Airport security is a nightmare nowadays and it will probably take forever just to get checked in."

After one last glance around the apartment, they gathered up Willow's luggage and headed to the airport.

They made it to the USAIR gate in pretty much record time. Willow teased Tara mercilessly about her driving. "If I had known that you were a speed demon, I'd have asked you out long ago," she joked. Tara took her ribbing good naturedly. "That's ok, sweetie. You'll be thanking me one day if we ever have kids," she replied with a wink and a smirk.

"Oh I'll be having the kids now, eh? Hmph. We'll just see about that!"

They continued their light-hearted bantering through Check-In and the interminable wait at the Security Checkpoint while Willow's carry-ons were being searched. Tara knew that Willow was feeling anxious and hoped that a little chit-chat would help ease her tension. By the time the search was finished, they had just enough time to reach the gate before the tinny loudspeaker voice announced the first boarding call.

"Now Boarding USAIR Flight 9613 for Dallas, Phoenix and Los Angeles. Passengers with First Class tickets will be seated first. Please board in the order your seat numbers are called and thank you for flying with USAIR."

"Well, babe. I guess I'd better get moving. Don't want to be relegated to sitting by the bathroom again," Willow chuckled nervously. "Promise that you'll miss me?"

Tara's heart nearly broke into a thousand pieces at Willow's request. She was afraid that she would start crying so she just hugged Willow as tightly as she could.

"I h-have s-something for you," Tara said. The pain at having to watch Willow leave, even if it was for a short time, brought back her stutter. She reached into her pocket, brought out a hand-labeled minidisc and placed it in Willow's hand. "It's not much, but I thought that you might like in for the long flight."

"What's this?" Willow asked curiously.

"J-just something from me to you. You'd better go now. Call me when you get to LAX?"

"I will." They kissed each other lingeringly for a long moment, then broke away; their eyes saying so much when their mouths said nothing at all.

Willow picked up her bag and headed onto the plane. Tara waited until the plane left the tarmac before heading to the airport parking lot. "Please be safe, my love," she thought, her mood pensive. "Come back to me. Come back to us."

The plane had leveled off at seven thousand feet before Willow was able to turn her attention from the window next to her. She thought she could still see Tara down there at the airport, waiting by the window. Waiting for her. Scrounging through her small green Kiva Designs carry-on, she extracted her mini-disc player, a copy of Robert Pinsky's translation of Dante's Inferno which Tara had given to her the previous afternoon, and a pair of Sony wraparound headphones. She slipped Tara's minidisc into the player and pushed PLAY. Surprise registered on her features as the sound of Tara's voice filled her ears.

"My darling Willow. I wish that I could be with you on this long flight into the unknown. I wish I could be there to help you with your parents and deal with whatever difficulties that might entail. I wish so many things that I am not sure will ever come true or even be possible. So instead of dwelling on mere wishes, I made you this disc of songs that reflect my heart. I love you always, whatever happens."

Gentle swishing of brushes on a drum head and the deep twang of bass strings greeted Willow's knowing smile as the minidisc played on.

My love, my love is a mountainside so firm
So firm it can calm the tide
It stands so firm it can calm the ride
That's why my love, my love is
A mountainside

My love, my love is an ocean's roar
So strong, so strong that I can't let you go
My love for you is an ocean's roar
It's grown so strong that I can't let you go
That's why my love, my love is
An ocean's roar

My love is longer than forever
And endless as the march of time
'Till ninety-nine years after never
In my heart, you'll still be mine
Because my love
My love is a deep blue sea
So deep, so deep that I'll never be free
It's grown so strong that I'll never be free
That's why my love, my love is
A deep blue sea

Settling back into the deep cushions of her first class seat, Willow closed her eyes and slept within the warm, sheltering arms of new love.


Eight hours and two layovers later, Willow stepped off the plane at LAX, her eyes were a little wild and she was shaking badly. She didn't particularly like flying to start with and the last leg of the trip from Las Vegas to LAX was just a bit too rocky for her. Stopping by a water fountain, she took a long drink and found a vacant chair to drop herself into. Thankfully, Buffy was late so Willow had a chance to calm down and get over the flight before getting into another moving vehicle. If truth were to be known, it wasn't just the flight that had her all shook up; seeing her parents again after being away for so long just wasn't high on her list of things to do. They did not part on the best of terms, and Ira Rosenberg had even gone so far as to insinuate that it might be a good idea if she did not come home ever again. That had angered Willow more that it hurt her since she never really felt like they wanted her there in the first place.

Taking a deep breath to steady her nerves and rolling stomach, Willow gathered her bags and made her way out to the main gate to wait for Buffy to arrive. As she stepped out into the afternoon sunshine, she realized that all of the surroundings felt alien to her, foreign. It was as if there was any place, any space that didn't have Tara in it, she didn't belong there.

"Willow!" Buffy huffed, a little winded from running all over the airport. "I've been looking all over for you!"

Willow gave her a slight smile. "Well now you found me. I figured you might be late. True to form as always," she chuckled, linking her arm with Buffy's. "It's good to see you."

"You too," Buffy grinned. "We'd better get moving. Giles wanted to give you a little 'Welcome Home' dinner, even if the situation that brought you back was a downer."

"Sounds good to me. How are Clay and Sara?" Willow inquired about Xander and Anya's children as they made their way to Giles' car. While Buffy was a very capable driver, she had felt it would be best that she not buy her own vehicle. Vandalism was rather high in Sunnydale for some reason, and she said she'd go nuts if someone did something bad to a car the she was going to be paying on for the next five years.

Buffy rolled her eyes and sighed. "You know how they are. Just like their parents. Constantly into everything and causing trouble. They'll be happy to see you though," she said, poking Willow in the arm.

"Nice to know that somebody missed me."

"Yeah well, prepare yourself. I've got lots to tell you on the way home."

Willow winced inwardly. She knew she should be asking about how her parents were doing but somehow dreaded even speaking the words. "Have you seen my mom and dad today?" she asked, bracing herself for response she was dreading.

Buffy took a deep breath before answering. "You're mom is doing ok, relatively speaking. She hasn't said a word since the day of the accident. The docs think that she might be experiencing the effects of something called…ummm…DPSB?

"PTSD," Willow noted, chewing her fingernail absently. "Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It's when people who go have particularly bad experiences start to just shut down. They hallucinate and have flashbacks and stuff."

"Oh, sounds like the story of my life," Buffy muttered. "Anyway, the doc said that she just needs to rest for a little while." She started the car and made her way onto the surprisingly empty Interstate 5 highway. Glancing over at Willow, Buffy took her hand and held it gently. "Your dad, however, is another story. He was hurt real bad, Will. They think he might have seizures and stuff for, like, up to two years because of his head injury. His eye is not so good either. " There was a long silence between them as Willow tried to absorb everything that Buffy told her. Unwanted tears sprang into her eyes, making her surroundings look opaque and filmy, like looking through frosted glass in winter. "How could this happen?" she thought. "How could things go so horribly wrong just when they were about to be so perfect?"

Buffy made a worried face. "You ok over there, Will?"

Willow nodded slowly. "Yeah," she sniffed, trying to hold back the tears. "I'm ok." "No you're not, you idiot. But how can you tell Buffy that you badly miss someone that she hasn't even met yet? Oh god, I wish Tara was here because this…this is going to be a toughie."

She settled down into her seat and closed her eyes. They still had a six hour drive ahead of them.

They managed to make it to Sunnydale in record time, thanks to the small amount of traffic on the interstate and Buffy's newly acquired lead foot. "Does everyone but me drive like frickin' Speed Racer?" Willow quipped, cocking an amused eyebrow at her best friend.

"Hey! Keep complaining and next time you get to ride on the roof," Buffy smirked.

They stopped briefly at Sunnydale Hospital so that Willow could look in on her parents, while Buffy waited in the car. It was after visiting hours so she really couldn't speak with them, just peek into their rooms to make sure things were ok. Her chest tightened at the sight of her father's heavily bandaged skull. Bruises covered his face and neck and large cast covered his leg. Willow almost hyperventilated as the thought that she almost lost her parents flitted through her mind like a dark, clingy shadow. Satisfied that they were fine for the moment, she left the hospital with Buffy and headed for the Summers' home.

Willow managed to put on a light-hearted front for her friends, even though her heart was a couple thousand miles away with the woman she loved. Giles regaled her with latest goings-on in Sunnydale, Xander and Anya chattered on excitedly about Anya receiving the "Female Enterpreneur of the Year" award from the Sunnydale Chamber of Commerce, Dawn was chasing rambunctious little Clay and Sara, their squeals of delight filling the house, making it feel like a home. Unfortunately she couldn't enjoy it. There was something missing, something she felt the lack of so keenly. No warm kisses, no loving arms to hold her, no Tara-skin caressing her with every touch. It was positively maddening and depressing all at the same time. She sat on the couch, surveying all of the ruckus with amused interest. "Someday," she mused. "Someday Tara and I will have this." Sitting up abruptly, she realized that she had forgotten to call her upon arriving at LAX. Excusing herself, taking her cellphone into the much quieter parlor.

"Hello?" Tara's sleepy voice answered.

"Hi babe," Willow chirped brightly. "I'm sorry that I'm calling so late. I keep forgetting about that annoying thing called a time difference."

Tara sat up in bed so that she could hear a little better. "Is everything ok?" she inquired.

"Yeah, I'm fine," Willow sighed. "I'm just missing you in the worst way possible. It feels so empty without you near."

"I know the feeling. Do you have any idea how long you have to stay?"

"No," Willow replied, gently extricating herself from the clutches of a rather determined Clay who had run into the parlor and clung tightly to her leg. "I won't know anything until I get to see them during visiting hours tomorrow. Have to talk to the doctors and all that."

Tara listened to the wild screeching of children in the background, half-smiling. She felt a pang of loneliness, wishing that she could share in the love and warmth of friends that apparently Willow enjoyed.

"Well, I'll let you go," Tara felt the pinprick of sudden tears behind her tired eyes. "I miss you."

"I miss you too," Willow moaned. "I promise I'll try not to stay away long. If I can find a home nurse to help them out, I will. I just can't see myself waiting on them hand and foot. We never liked being around each other even when I was living here."

"Take your time, baby. Like I said, I'm not going anywhere," Tara reassured her. "I love you."

"I love you too. Call me tomorrow?"

"I promise. Bye."

"Wow, wonder who you were gettin' all with the cuteness there, Will?" Xander quipped. Willow nearly jumped out of her skin. She hadn't heard anyone come into the room.

"Alexander Harris! Didn't your mother teach you not to eavesdrop?" Willow growled.

"Hey hey hey. It's me you're talkin' to, Will. I have a wife and two kids now. If I don't listen in every now and then, I won't know a thing that goes on in my own house," he chuckled, pulling her in a bear hug. He stepped out of the embrace and looked into her eyes. "How are you holdin' up? You know, I kinda feel bad about all the times we griped about your mom and dad when we were kids. Bad stuff always makes me feel guilty, I guess."

"That's ok," Willow said quietly. "I feel worse than you do but I don't know why. It's not like they ever acted like I existed or anything. What am I gonna do, Xander?" She collapsed into a nearby chair, with arms folded, her face pulled into a frustrated grimace. "I love living in Philadelphia. I love the freedom and I love my job. Plus-" she paused. "Plus, I met someone. She's warm and funny and intelligent. You would love her. Things were going so good. I don't want to lose that."

Xander knelt down on one knee beside Willow and took her small hands in his large, calloused ones. "Will, sometimes we gotta make choices that we don't really like. I mean, we're your friends and you know that we'll help you as much as we can. But sometimes, you have to decide to pick up the pieces and let go of the past. Otherwise, you and your parents will lose out, all the way around."

Willow stared at him thoughtfully. It had never occurred to her that this might be the time to try to mend some fences with Sheila and Ira Rosenberg. "But what about Tara?" she grumbled. "I mean, I just found her!"

"If she's as wonderful as you say, I'm sure she'll understand. I'm sure she'll help you find a way to make your relationship work out, in spite of the distance." He kissed her forehead and stood up. "I'd better get back in there. If I don't watch Sara, she'll tear the house down. Last time we left her and Clay by themselves, we caught her dumping pretzels in the fishtank for the fish to eat. Things will be fine, Will. Trust me. I may not be good at reading people or know much about matters of the heart, but I do trust my instincts. They never let me down." He sauntered back into the living room, picking up a few stray toys in the hall along the way.

Willow got up from the chair and moved to stare out the window. "Why must everything be so damned complicated?" she wondered. Looking out into the inky darkness, she saw one lone streak of light zooming across the midsummer night sky. She closed her eyes and made a wish, her thoughts clear and focused for the first time since she arrived in California.

Some time later, Buffy dropped Willow off at her parents' house. The darkened windows stood out like broken teeth. As she unlocked the front door, all the unpleasant memories that the house gave her came rushing at her like a sudden wind. Willow didn't even bother to turn on the downstairs lights. She just went upstairs to her old room and was vaguely surprised that it still looked the same as when she had left it after leaving Graduate School. Dropping her bags unceremoniously in the nearest corner, she went to her desk, flipped on the radio that was on it and prepared for bed.

"This is KLOVE and you're listening to Delilah. I've got a request here from a young woman whose sweetie is a long way away. The email says, 'Dear Delilah, I was wondering if you could play a song for me. I just met the most wonderful person in my life. Unfortunately she had to go home due to a family emergency rather recently. I just want her to know that, even though she's far away, I still believe. Can you please play a song for my Willow? Yours truly, Tara.' Well, Tara, I think we can do that. Sounds like you might need this as much as Willow does."

Willow nearly choked on the toothbrush that was dangling out of her mouth. She couldn't believe that Tara had made a request for her in public! Rushing to the radio, she turned up the volume so that she could hear the song more clearly.

Come to me now
Lay your hands over me
Even if it's a lie
Say it will be alright
And I will believe
Broken in two
I know you're on to me
That I only come home
When I'm so all alone
But I do believe

That not everything is gonna be the way
You think it ought to be
It seems like every time I try to make it right
It all comes down on me
Please say honestly you won't give up on me

Willow wrapped her arms around herself, pretending that she could feel Tara's warmth and swayed slowly to the music.

Open the door
And show me your face tonight
I know it's true
No one heals me like you
And you hold the key

Never again
Would I turn away from you
I'm so heavy tonight
But your love is alright
And I do believe

That not everything is gonna be the way
You think it ought to be
It seems like every time I try to make it right
It all comes down on me
Please say honestly you won't give up on me
And I shall believe

She turned down the radio after the song ended, light-headed and giddy from Tara's little 'present' to her. "I shall believe too, baby," Willow murmured. "Sweet dreams." She kissed two fingers, touched them to the radio's speakers, and turned out the light.


It had been close to three weeks since Willow had come back to Sunnydale to watch over her parents. To her, it felt like three years. Sheila Rosenberg had eventually gotten back to her usual self, chattering on for hours about everything and nothing, her eyes darting about bright and birdlike. Willow noticed that, while her mother seemed the same on the outside, she could tell that she was damaged even so. At three o'clock every afternoon, Willow would take her mother to Dr. Feinstein, a family friend who was a psychologist that specialized in stress and disassociative disorders. She would sit in the waiting room, clicking away busily on her laptop, catching up on email, doing work assignments, anything to avoid thinking about how difficult things were. Her father's convalescence was a little more smooth by contrast. He was sitting up in bed on his own by the end of the first week and grew more stubborn and impatient with each passing day. He insisted on being allowed to go to his office in the den to complete his work. It was only when Willow suggested that straining his injured eye might induce more permanent damage that he backed down and became slightly more cooperative.

Tara found some way to communicate with Willow almost every day since she left; if it wasn't by email, it was by phone or even by webcam. Willow did her best to try not to show the fatigue she was feeling. However, Tara could sense how overwhelming things were becoming for her. She decided to ask Willow directly during one phone conversation if there was anything that she could do from her end to lighten the load.

"Are you sure that you're doing ok?" Tara asked in a concerned voice.

Willow took a deep breath and rubbed her eyes tiredly. "I'm about as good as I'll ever be considering the situation," she chuckled, trying to sound as chipper as possible.

"Well, please take it easy on yourself. Let your friends help you. You don't have to do everything yourself," Tara admonished. Willow had told her about Buffy and Xander helping her out in shifts initially. They wound up having to curtail their time, though, as the demands of their own jobs and families increased.

"Yes, Dr. Maclay," Willow teased.

"I mean it, Willow," Tara said in exasperation. "I'm worried about you, hon."

Willow was just too tired to argue. She readily agreed with Tara, hoping to get off the subject. They moved on to other things, Willow inquiring about how things were in Philadelphia and how Tara was doing at work. They talked for another half an hour before Willow had to hang up so that she could give her father his pain medication.

Tara sat at her desk in her office for quite some time after she finished talking to Willow. She had this nagging feeling that there was something that she should be doing to help. Chewing her lip thoughtfully, she pulled out the monstrosity that was the Philadelphia phonebook, thumbing through it until she found the number she was looking for.

Seventeen hours later, Tara was wandering through the Byzantine maze that is LAX, trying to find the shuttle stop for the Hertz Rental Car service. Since it was almost 10 pm Pacific Time, the walkways were somewhat deserted, allowing Tara to travel unimpeded to her destination. Her mind was filled with meandering thoughts, half-excited to see Willow again and half-worried that she might only upset Willow with her unannounced visit. Hitching her carry-on bag on her shoulder, Tara put on her resolve face and stepped onto the waiting shuttle bus outside the American Airlines luggage pick-up gate. "It's now or never, Tara. You've got to show Willow that you mean business," she said to herself amongst the bouncing and jerking of the rather antiquated bus. "That your talk of love is real. This is will be one test that you just HAVE to pass." Rummaging around in one of the voluminous side pockets of her bag, Tara located her cell phone and pressed two buttons. Thankfully, Willow had emailed her best friend Buffy's phone number to her, just in case she couldn't be reached at home.

"Hello?" Buffy answered tiredly.

"H-hi! Umm, my name is Tara and I-I'm a close friend of Willow's," Tara remarked nervously. She gripped the phone tightly to keep it from slipping out of her suddenly-sweaty hands.

"Oh hey, Tara. Sorry if I sound out of it. Little sis decided that a Dr. Who all-nighter was in order so I was just vegging out. What's up?"

"Well, I'm in LA. I wanted to surprised Willow but I realized when I landed that I don't h-have any idea how to get to her house!"

Buffy chuckled at the end of the line. "No problem. You still remember how to get to Sunnydale? Duh! Of course you do!" she babbled. "Willow told me you went to UC Sunnydale. I feel like such a doofus. If you want, you can crash here and we'll go pick up Will for brunch or something tomorrow."

Tara sighed with relief. She had no idea how Willow's friend would respond to her just dropping in like this. "T-thank you so much. Umm…so what's your address?"

She tried to write down the Buffy's address despite the bumpy ride. Buffy told her to be careful and rang off. By that time, the shuttle had shuddered to a stop in front of the car rental booth. "Hertz, Avis and Rent-a-Wreck Car Rental Kiosks!" the driver called out in a bored tone. Tara took a deep exhausted breath and disembarked from the shuttle.

She made surprisingly good time considering the reputation of California highways for an almost constant backlog of traffic. Tara figured it was probably due to the fact that it was about 4am and no sane individual would be caught dead on the road at that early hour. She chuckled to herself as a couple of mightily amusing previous Willowcomments on her driving flitted through her mind. An odd mix of anxiety and tingly sexual anticipation flowed mercurially through her as she passed by the "Welcome To Sunnydale! Home of the Sunnydale Trojans, 2001-02 State Champions" dispelling the last vestiges of fatigue from her jet lagged muscles. It had been too long since she'd felt Willow's soft skin under her fingertips, kissed sweet Willowlips or bathed in the adoration from her vibrant green eyes. Tara turned down Rivello Drive, glancing back and forth between her hastily scribbled note and the numbers on the houses lining the street. After backtracking a couple of times, she finally found Buffy's house, set back slightly off the street, surrounded by lush green bushes and trees.

After parking the car across the street, Tara gathered her things, walked up to the Summers' home and knocked very quietly on the door. Buffy opened the door looking slightly disheveled. "Hey," she said sleepily. "Glad you got here in one piece."

"I had great directions," Tara replied quietly, so as not to disturb Dawn, who was gently snoring on the couch. Buffy smiled in response and led her through the house, giving her a brief tour in hushed tones. She led Tara to a rather spacious master bedroom and told her she could sleep there until breakfast. Dropping her bags onto a nearby chair, Tara removed her suit jacket and lay across the bed, her thoughts sluggish with weariness. "I wish that she were here right now. So close and yet still too damn far." She closed her eyes and descended into the realm of Morpheus.

Willow stumbled downstairs as the weak early morning rays of sunshine filtered through the kitchen windows. Her red hair was sticking up all around her head like porcupine quills and she was rather thankful that no one else was up to see her in such a state. Morning was so not her best time of day. She almost didn't hear the phone ringing above the loud whirring of the coffee grinder.

"Who could be calling at this hour?" she muttered irritatedly. "Hello?"

"Hey there, Wills. Rise and shine!" Buffy chirped brightly.

"Sounds like someone is a tad too perky this morning, " Willow groused.

"Now now, a grumpy Willow is no one's friend. How about we go to Shoney's for breakfast after you get your parents all squared away. My treat."

Willow raised an eyebrow in surprise. Buffy was the world's most notorious cheapskate and rarely offered to pay for meals unless she was up to something.

"Umm, Buff, please tell me that you didn't get another virus on your hard drive. 'Cause I TOLD you about downloading things without paying attention," she babbled, about to launch into a full-fledged lecture.

"Whoa whoa, there, pardner. Can't a girl take her best friend out for some happenin' eats?"

Willow rolled her eyes while pouring water into the coffee maker. "Hmph, I seem to remember a certain someone who took us to a place that was supposedly a friend's and we all wound up with botulism."

Buffy huffed in faux indignation. "You wound me, Will, you really do. I'm serious. I'll pick you up in an hour. I've got a surprise for you," she singsonged.

Willow was suddenly very very afraid.


Tara fussed with her blouse for the fifteenth time, glaring at the mirror before her. She was fairly sure that the mirror was taunting her with the most unflattering images of herself in every combination of clothing that she dared parade before it. She was wearing her nervousness at seeing Willow after a relatively long absence like a neon sign; you could read it for miles. Buffy had wandered into the bedroom by this time, was leaning on the doorjamb and silently regarding the fidgeting Tara. They had talked for a little while over their first morning cups of coffee; Buffy asking a few gently probing questions and Tara answering them with a surprising openness considered how Willow described her personality. It was apparent to her that Tara cared very deeply for Willow as her eyes sparkled and danced whenever her name was mentioned. "Practically two peas in a pod," Buffy chuckled inwardly. "I can only imagine what they're like together. One's introspective and the other is talkative. They've got to be like one shy babbling brook. Sometimes getting off track but always wandering together." She winced at a particularly bright blouse that Tara picked up from the bed to model for the mirror. "But man, they really do need better fashion sense." "Ok, toots," she called to Tara, breaking her silence. "Time to pick up 'da Wills'. Think you're ready?"

Tara stared wistfully into the mirror for the last time, checking over the outfit she had finally settled on. Since it was kind of chilly outside at the moment, she decided that a lightweight cream coloured Donna Karan suit jacket would be fine, along with a maroon silk turtleneck, stonewashed DKNY jeans and a pair of black Rockport loafers for comfort. "I-I guess I'm as ready as I'll ever be," she sighed. "Lead on."

Willow managed to get showered and dressed in a relatively short amount of time considering she still felt devoid of energy. She sat at the dining room table under the warm glow of her laptop screen puzzling over her latest work assignment. It seemed that work was her only escape from the tedium of her parents' convalescence. Sure, she and Tara talked pretty much constantly but it was not the same as having Tara there to hold and comfort her if she had a particularly bad day. Willow absently listened to KSUNI 90.3, the UC Sunnydale college radio station through Windows Media Player on her computer for a little background noise while attempting to debug several sections of code at once. After fifteen minutes of dissecting them, line by line, she was about to shut down the debugger in frustration, when a song she hadn't heard before filtered through the tiny speakers on her machine.

Baby, look around
See that I'm nowhere to be found
You wanna feel me near
Then close your eyes and I'll appear

Willow felt a curious warmth under her eyelids and realized that she was about to cry. "Damn it all. Why must I be such a nudgnik?" She shook her head in annoyance at herself but was still drawn to the lyrics for some inexplicable reason.

And dream about me without you
Anything it takes to wish me here
Oh, magic and sweet lullaby
Any lucky penny will do fine
Oh, wish me here

Laying her head sideways on the table, Willow closed her eyes and let the lilting voice of the singer wash over her. So absorbed in the music was she, that she did not hear the front door open and close. Tara had agreed to go into the Rosenberg house to get Willow while Buffy waited with the car running. When no one answered her repeated knocks, she found that the door was unlocked and opened it. The sounds of music greeted her as she stepped inside and, knowing Willow's penchant for all things music related, used it to guide her through the living room.

Your arms are open wide
Waiting for me to run inside
I'll meet you in the clouds
Pleased use your power to bring heaven down

And dream about me without you
Anything it takes to wish me here
Oh magic and sweet lullaby
Any lucky penny will do fine
Oh, wish me here.

"If I only had a magic penny," Willow muttered. "I'd wish Tara was here in a heartbeat."

Tara watched Willow from the entrance to the dining room, all amused at her Willowbabble. She slowly tiptoed behind Willow, surprised that she still had not noticed that there was someone else in the room.

And when we're face to face
The world just fades away
So take me to the place
It's just you and I
Every single night

And dream about me without you
Anything it takes to wish me here
Oh, magic and sweet lullaby
Any lucky penny will do fine
Oh, yeah yeah yeah

Sensing that the last refrain was some sort of cue, Tara leaned down and wrapped her arms gently around Willow's slight frame. Inhaling deeply the fresh honeysuckle scent of Willow's shampoo, Tara kissed her head and leaned down to her ear. "Wish granted," she breathed.

Part 10

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