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
FEELS GOOD TO BE ALIVE
To say that Willow was completely ecstatic to see Tara is possibly the greatest understatement that could be made. Upon feeling Tara's breath upon her face, Tara's warmth healing her soul, Willow leapt up from her chair and practically crushed Tara's ribs in a bear hug.
"Oh .my GOD!" she shrieked, heedless of the fact that her parents were still sleeping upstairs. "Can I just tell you that I am now the happiest Willow tree on the freakin' planet?!"
Tara's breath came out in a WHOOSH as her lover tried to practically absorb her in her effusiveness. "Well, I'm happy to see you too, sweetie. Ummm baby? Air would be helpful right now," she gasped.
"Oh! Oh, sorry. It's just .wow!" This was probably the first time that Willow Rosenberg was ever at a complete loss for words. Tara leaned over and gave her a gentle kiss. She felt nervous and very turned-on all at once as her lover's emerald eyes gave her that 'come hither' look.
"W-we'd better get moving. B-buffy's waiting outside to take us to breakfast."
"Who needs food when I have you?" Willow grinned lasciviously.
"Honey not now. Later. I promise."
"Ooookay," Willow pouted. "But definitely later."
She shut down her laptop, scribbled a hasty note to her parents and followed Tara out the door.
Willow picked at the remains of her breakfast buffet, while Buffy happily chatted away with Tara. Actually, it was more like Buffy was doing all the talking and Tara was just nodding in the appropriate places. Tara snuck a few furtive glances at Willow and winked at her suggestively when Buffy's eyes wandered now and again. After about twenty minutes of nonstop dialogue, Willow decided that she had enough.
"Ummm, Buff? Could you do me a favor? I left my cell phone in your car by mistake. Would you grab it for me? I want to make sure that Mom and Dad are ok."
"Sure Will," Buffy said nonchalantly. "Be back in a flash."
Willow smirked wickedly as she scooted across a couple of chairs to position herself next to the object of her lustful affection.
"I thought I'd have to pull out all of her hair just to get her to leave," she grumbled.
"Now Willow, behave," Tara grinned. "She was just being friendly."
"Hmph, too friendly for my tastes."
"Well that's ok, baby. I've got a surprise for you for later." Tara paused. "That's not entirely true. I have two surprises for you. And they both involve various stages of unwrapping," she smiled wryly.
"I'm BACK!" Buffy announced cheerfully. "What'd I miss?"
Willow lowered her head to the table and groaned. Bad timing was ever a Summers trait.
Later that evening, Willow and Tara finally managed to shake Buffy. She claimed that she had to work that night and still needed to check in on her sister, Dawn before leaving. They stopped by the Summers home after breakfast and bit of mall-surfing to pick up Tara's belongings to bring them back to the Rosenbergs. Buffy had extended an invitation for Tara to bunk at her house during her stay, which was politely declined.
Willow flopped onto her bed, seemingly exhausted from the day's events. "Good lord, I have never seen Buffy hit more stores in my life! She must've been saving it up or something," she muttered tiredly. Turning over onto her stomach, she kicked her shoes off and tossed them into a corner. "So .whatcha got for me?"
Tara eyed Willow speculatively. She secretly worried if whether or not her present for her lover was a good thing. "Close your eyes," Tara commanded softly. Rummaging through her carry-on, she drew out a longish box wrapped in gold foil and silky red ribbon.
"Oooh I like surprises. Ummm but only if they don't included horses or horse-like things because I'm all with the "big evil horsies bad, evil, not very cuddly," Willow babbled excitedly.
Tara sat down on the bed beside her, placing the box in her hands. "From me to you."
Willow opened her eyes and immediately set to ridding the gift of its constraints. Her jaw dropped when she opened the box and saw two round trip tickets to Las Vegas, reservations for a rental car and a suite at Bellagio for three days.
"Oh .OH! oh honey, you didn't have to do this, really!" She jumped around happily, stopping to kiss Tara's lips between hops.
Tara grinned from ear to ear. "I'm happy you like it. I don't often get to spend money so I was only ready to give you a little break from your nursing duties. It won't be very long and we can contact your parents daily so that you can keep tabs on them-oof!" Her commentary was cut off by a rather passionate kiss.
"I don't think I've said how much I love you," Willow noted.
"I-I don't think you have recently," Tara gasped as soon as she could catch her breath.
"Well you DID mention something about me unwrapping another present."
"Did I now? Funny, I don't see you doing any more stripping of presents."
"Why don't I just take care of that right now?" Willow murmured, closing the door to her bedroom and turning the lock.
OUT OF THE WOODS
Much later that evening, Willow lay with Tara gently snoring on her chest in the deep quiet of her parents' house. Moonlight from an open window filtered into the room, casting their bodies in nocturnal ghostliness, pale and peaceful. She was somewhat surprised at how easy it had been to get Xander, Anya and Buffy to tend to her caretaking duties (though they were becoming less duties than more just simply keeping an eye on her parents) while she was away on a much needed holiday with her sorely missed lover. Tara shifted slightly and her hand brushed Willow's exposed nipple causing her to hiss with a sharp intake of breath. Said nipple raised perkily in response to the touch. She cocked an amused eyebrow at her body's automatic reaction to her lover's touch and returned to her musings. A slight frown creased her features as she recalled her parents' noncommittal reactions to her brief respite in Las Vegas. Ira Rosenberg just muttered something about finally being able to smoke his pipe in peace; Sheila Rosenberg didn't seem to care very much one way or the other. She just said, "Make sure to keep in touch, dear," and went to bed. Willow bristled at the memory but shrugged it off.
"It's not like I expected them to be any different than they normally are," she thought bitterly. "No 'thanks for coming home, Willow', no 'be careful, Willow', no 'good to have you home, Willow'. Nothing."
"And what?" her inner voice asked. "You're surprised by this?"
Willow chuckled silently and closed her eyes in an attempt to get some sleep. Tomorrow was filled with possibilities.
They arose at 5 am, early enough to leave without dealing with Willow's parents. Of course, Willow was somewhat grumpy; she was obviously not a morning person. However, she was glad to be up and out of the house. Tara helped Willow get dressed and moving, gently prodding her when necessary. As Tara started the rental car and drove out of Sunnydale, Willow felt as if an enormous weight that she had been carrying around for the last three months was lifted from her slim shoulders. She sighed contentedly, turned on the radio and leaned back in her seat. The car filled with tinkling mandolins and haunting young voices from a group the radio announcer called Nickel Creek.
I wish you out of the woods
And into the picture with me
I wish you over the moon
Come out of the question and be
If this is going to
Run round in my head
I might as well be dreaming
Run round in my head
I rollercoaster for you
Time out of mind
Must be heavenly
It's all enchanted and wild
It's just like my heart said
It was going to be
If this is going to
Run round in my head
I might as well be dreaming
Run round in my head
Tara reached across and held Willow's hand as Willow drifted into a light doze. "We're not quite out of the woods yet, baby. Here's to hoping this trip will help you decide if us is what you're really wanting," she pondered. Glancing down at her watch, she noted that time was fast slipping away and Los Angeles was still a long way off.
A few hours later, they waited in a surprisingly short line to board Southwest Airlines, Flight 5672 bound for Las Vegas. Though they spoke little on the drive to LAX, nervous excitement moved through their veins like a direct hit of caffeine. Willow was excited because she had never been to 'Sin City' before and Tara was looking forward to everything she had planned to make their trip memorable. Neither of them did a very good job of sitting still throughout the flight. Their restless energy managed to completely annoy their seatmate, who huffed grumpily every time one of them got up to use the restroom or rummaged through their carry-ons. The plane finally touched down in McCarran International Airport after what seemed like the longest hour of their lives.
A ridiculously cheerful Southwest Airlines employee (who looked like he was an aerobics instructor in his spare time) greeted them as the passengers stumbled off the plane.
"Welcome to Las Vegas, everyone! Enjoy your stay."
Tara was tickled pink at Willow's reaction to the ornate opulence of Bellagio's registration area. Turning round and round in childlike wonder, Willow lay on her back in one of the lounge chairs and gazed at the colorful blown glass ceiling sculpture, the only one of its kind in the world. From the Italian marble floors to the intricate décor, nothing escaped her notice. After arranging for their bags to be delivered to their room, Tara practically dragged her to the elevators. Willow had not thought it was possible that she could be more in awe until she saw their accommodations. She practically fainted on the spot when she walked through the door. A 180 degree view of the eastern part of the Las Vegas Strip greeted her as a young bellhop opened all of the curtains to let more light into the room. To say their suite was spacious would have been a gross understatement. What drew both of their attention, however, was the rather large marble Jacuzzi in the center of the suite. One could almost hear the wheels of possibility churning furiously in their heads. Willow turned to face Tara, who caught the wicked gleam in her lover's eyes.
"Not quite yet, darling. Later. I promise," she murmured, still very aware of the presence of the bellhop arranging their luggage in the room. Willow pouted slightly and wandered to the window to take in the view. She was amazed at how much she could see from just this one place. The giant gold lion that prefaced the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino kept watch over the rather congested intersection of Las Vegas Boulevard and Tropicana. Across the street, an amazing recreation of the Eiffel Tower jutted out of the side of the Paris; the larger than life façade of the Statue of Liberty burst forth from the micro-skyline of New York New York. The Arabian Nights theme of the Aladdin seemed to appeal to her the most as well as the Ancient Roman era-style theme of Caesar's Palace. However, it was the riotous colors streaming up and down the Flamingo and Excalibur that practically gave her sensory overload. She was so intent that she barely noticed that Tara had come up and wrapped her arms around her waist.
"So did I do well?" Tara asked in a small voice.
"More than good, baby," Willow beamed. "This is better than I could've hoped for." She leaned her head back; giving Tara unrestricted access to her pale throat. Never one to pass up Lady Opportunity when she comes knocking, Tara nipped lightly along the base of her neck.
"You know," she said between light kisses. "We still have a little time before we need to get dressed for our dinner reservations. What do you say we find an activity to help while away the hours?"
The redhead chuckled musically. "I never thought you'd ask," she said, removing her top and bra in one surprisingly swift movement.
"Wow," Tara laughed. "Beautiful and talented. I'd better be careful. You might just try to steal my heart completely."
"I have to try now?" Willow muttered distractedly. She was very focused on disrobing Tara, one button at a time.
Cobalt blue met emerald green, light fingertips caressed flushed pink nipples, sexual energy flowed through and over them like heat lightning. What had been two, now suddenly melded into one and time no longer seemed to matter anymore.
CHAPTER ELEVEN B
LOOK HEART, NO HANDS
"Ugh! I think you broke me."
Willow got up groaning from the fluffy feather bed and wandered about the room, stretching languidly in an attempt to unknot the muscles of her back from the afternoon's exertions. She was rewarded with a massive washboard-sounding "thrrrrrp" as the vertebrae snapped back into place.
Tara giggled helplessly beneath the maroon silk sheets that only partially covered her lithe, perspiration-slick body. "Well it was your idea to use the ice cubes, after all. I have never EVER been with anyone who used ice that way before," she replied, an arch smile spreading across her face.
"Hmph, little did I know that my technique would work too well. God, woman, you are insatiable!" Willow observed ruefully. "It's a good thing that we're going to something other than stay in bed all day. I'm not so sure that I'm a spring chicken anymore."
"Don't worry, I think you'll like what I have planned for tonight. There is much fun to be had, 'pon my word, milady."
Willow gave Tara a sidelong glance. "Uh huh, that's what you told me three hours ago," she snorted. "Much fun indeed."
Tara touched her chest daintily and batted her eyelashes. "But mah deah," she mocked in a faux Southern accent, "didn't mah ministrations give you pleasure?"
"Ok, Scarlett O'Hara, I get the point," Willow smirked. "I guess we'd better get dressed sometime soon, though." She looked around wistfully at the various articles of clothing that were discarded willy-nilly about the room. "What time did you say you made dinner reservations for?"
Tara picked up her watch from the nightstand beside the bed. "I didn't. We have to be there at 6:30 sharp to get seated. At least, that's what the reservations operator told me. Why?"
"Well, I was thinking that we might just have time for a nice hot shower as well as other things." Willow sauntered over to the vanity and grabbed a handful of ice from the ice bucket on the counter. She grabbed Tara's hand and hauled her up from the bed and into the spacious bathroom. Gripping her tightly about the waist, the lovers drew in to each other close enough so their breaths were like tiny whispers dancing on their lips.
Their pulses quickened with the contact and their faces flushed with heat.
Tara ran her tongue lightly over her lips, tasting the salty beads of perspiration that had formed there. "And just w-what exactly did you have in mind for these 'other things'?" she inquired.
Willow leaned into her lover's ear, catching one baby-soft earlobe delicately between her teeth. "Oh, my dear, I have such sights to show you," she whispered.
A sensual, throaty chuckle escaped from deep within Tara's chest. "Well then," she murmured, "I think you'd better get cracking. We only have an hour."
They finally reached the Egg and I restaurant after dealing with the unbelievably knotty rush-hour traffic on Las Vegas Boulevard. Tara decided it was best that she take over the driving from Willow after a rather snarky cab driver cut them off at the corner of Sahara Avenue and then proceeded to rail at them in some incomprehensible language. Willow turned so red with rage that Tara could almost see the steam coming out of her ears.
"Maybe I should do this, honey," she said calmly, placing soothing hand on Willow's face. "You might spontaneously combust and I don't think a little pile of Willow-ashes would be much fun." Willow nodded curtly in agreement, her mouth set in a grim line.
The restaurant was surprising nondescript considering its reputation for fun and fine dining. A small crowd of diners was gathered alongside of the building, chatting amiably amongst themselves while they waited for the maitre'd to admit them inside.
A skeptical look crossed Willow's face as she waited patiently beside Tara. "Umm, baby? Are you sure this is the right place?" she commented, cocking an eyebrow skyward.
"Of course it is just trust me. You'll enjoy it," Tara grinned, her eyes twinkling with mischief. Suddenly a tall woman in a blonde wig wearing a precipitously short skirt, tube top and the spikiest heels known to woman appeared by their side.
"Hi!" she greeted them brightly. "I'm D.D. We should be opening the doors for seating shortly. Do you have your tickets handy?"
Tara wordlessly handed the woman their tickets. D.D. compared them with a list that was on a podium beside the entrance, gave them back and motioned for a serving woman to show them to their seats.
"Think that skirt could get any tighter," Willow murmured.
"Shh! Willow behave yourself!" Tara giggled.
"I'm just sayin' ." Willow let her sentence hang unfinished.
A different server came to get their drink order and inform them of the menu for the evening. Other couples soon occupied the additional seats at their table and the dining room filled quite rapidly. Excited babble and chatter filtered throughout the restaurant so that it sounded more like a noisy schoolroom. Around 7pm, D.D. reappeared to announce that the show would be starting soon and give details about its purpose to the rest of the audience.
"Okay, a lot of you asked me at the door where the stage was. Well the answer to that is, 'All around you.' This is a murder mystery and the action takes place all through out the restaurant, and the people who are going to be murdering and murdered are seated among you. So shake the hand of a neighbor and say, "Goodbye" because they might not be there in half an hour."
Willow's eyes brightened in excitement when she heard the words "murder mystery". Tara shook her head in amusement as she watched her lover frantically write down all the clues that were being presented by the cast members such as Anita Deadman (whose "My Barbies are Lesbian" T-shirt nearly caused Willow and Tara to fall out of their chairs with laughter) as they each came on and off in turn. D.D. and Lt. Post wandered about the room talking with diners and asking them questions about the "murder" they had all witnessed to help him "solve" the case. Everyone seemed to be enjoying the "interactive theater" experience, including a suddenly child-like Willow. After almost thirty minutes of watching the cast and even members of the audience being murdered and carted off, Lt. Post left to "examine the bodies" and D.D. stepped up to give additional instructions to the crowd.
"Now the next thing we need you to do is to go back out to where you came in tonight and spend a few minutes interrogating other audience members. This is your chance to find see if you can find someone involved here this evening. Ask the same things I asked earlier, name, where they're from, occupation, why and what they'd use to kill someone. The reason for this is so that we can place your salads and hide a few clues. So everybody get up and head outside!!"
As fellow diners wandered about striking up conversations with total strangers as part of the "game", Tara observed Willow unobtrusively from a darkened corner of restaurant patio. The soft orange-red glow of sunset bathed her face, which only served to enhance the green in her eyes. "If I wasn't in love with her before, I sure am now," Tara mused. She couldn't help but fixate on every feature, on every curve. "Here's to hoping she'll be my Forever Girl," she thought, raising her glass of zinfandel in a mock toast. Tara paused, searching for the right words for how she felt at that moment, as the emotions swirled about in her chest, expanding and flowing through her mercurially. What was that Randy Travis song she heard once?
Took a little time to get up to speed
To find the confidence and strength I need
To just let go and reach for the sky
You know sometimes I felt I could fly
No doubts, no fears
Just like when you are near
No chains, no strings
No fences, no walls
No net, just you, to catch me when I fall
Look heart, No hands
How odd that something simple as a song could summarize something so complex as feelings? Across the crowd Willow, who was flanked by two people attempting to get her attention, met Tara's eyes. She slowly winked at her lover and continued to talk with fellow diners although, in truth, her mind was only partially concentrating on the conversation. She had to admit that Tara looked positively stunning, her blonde hair golden in the evening sunlight. Even though she stood in a very shaded part of the patio, the magical blue of her eyes seemed to leap out at Willow from the darkness, caressing her soul and stealing her heart. Excusing herself from the group that had gathered around her, she walked over to Tara and gripped her hand gently.
"Hey," she whispered. "You ok?"
Tara nodded almost imperceptibly. "I-I'm fine. Just you know thinking."
Willow was about to inquire about those thoughts when D.D. came outside to herd everyone back into the restaurant. The night moved rather quickly after that point. Tara remained rather silent for the most part, content to observe Willow and the heated debates she had with Lt. Post and the surrounding diners about who the real "killer" could be. When all was said and done, she had solved the crime and gave Tara a self-satisfied smirk when her name was announced as the winner of a special prize.
As they walked to the parking lot, Tara linked her arm in Willow's and drew her close. "So I take it you enjoyed yourself," she remarked lightly.
"That was just soo cool!" Willow exclaimed. "Did you see that guy get all nervous when I stared him down? I just knew he was the real killer!"
Tara laughed out loud. "Well it's good to see that you had fun. It's good to hear you laugh again."
"I had a lot of help," Willow smiled softly. "Thanks, baby. For everything." She kissed her lover on the cheek and got into the car. "I think you should drive. I don't think I have enough energy to rant and rave." The insistent buzz of the cell phone in her pocket caused her to groan in annoyance.
"Who the frilly heck could this be? I told Xander not to call unless it was really important," she muttered irritatedly. "Hello?"
"Willow!" She recognized the voice at the end of the line as Cole Osbourne, the project manager for the software engineering section of Lockheed Martin in Philadelphia. "I have been trying to call you for hours! Listen, we have a crisis here in Philly. How quickly can you be on a plane back here?"
Closing her eyes, she ground her teeth in frustration. Not now! Not when things were just going so well.
"I'll be there as soon as I can," Willow replied and closed the lid of the phone.
Tara took her attention off the road and glanced at her briefly. "Is everything ok, baby?"
The hacker took a deep breath, not knowing what to say or how to say it. "I've gotta go back to Philly. My boss is having a minor meltdown and says he needs me there." She wiped away angry tears that sprang into her eyes. "Damn," she said under her breath.
"I did my best, Craig but the earliest flight I can catch from here to Philly is tomorrow morning at eight
.I know I know! Tell that to USAIR!
fine, just have Markie email me the module and white box test results so I can go over them. And please tell Marketing not to talk to any of the customers until we can get this sorted out
.yes, I know Craig. Talk to you tomorrow."
Willow slapped her cell phone shut and threw the offending appliance into the back seat of the car. "Great juuuust great. What more could go wrong?" she muttered irritatedly.
She was grateful that Tara had offered to drive because her blood pressure was far too high at that moment to deal with the gridlock that is Las Vegas traffic. It was well past 11 p.m. and it was still bumper-to-bumper on Las Vegas Boulevard.
Glancing over at her very frustrated lover, Tara sighed deeply. "Are you too upset to stay on the Strip or do you want to just head back to the room?"
"Nahh, I'm fine. It's just that there are days that I wish I could turn my boss into George of the Jungle and watch him swing merrily from the ceiling of the Board Room. It takes so little to amuse me sometimes," Willow chuckled at the visual that popped into her head.
"Now now, my dear, behave," Tara smiled wryly. "I was thinking that we could hit this cool place that I know called the House of Blues. It's at the Mandalay Bay Hotel and is the best medicine the I can think of for what ails you."
Willow cocked an assessing eyebrow at the blonde who was maneuvering them through the hideous traffic with a skill she didn't know she possessed. Never in a million years would she have figured Tara to be such a multi-faceted person. "Is there anything she HASN'T done?" she mused inwardly.
"Sure, why not?" was Willow's noncommittal reply. "Is there a concert going on or is this kind of a free-for-all? 'Cause, you know, me and my feet have been known to go their separate ways at the weirdest times."
Tara's warm laugh filled the cabin of the car. "I really don't think that will be a problem, babe. Besides, I have another surprise for you," she grinned, her eyes alight with mischief and mirth.
"What did I do to have the honor of being surprised so much?"
"Oh nothing just being the wonderful woman you are."
"Ah hah. I think you might have sprouted a tail and donkey ears after that one."
"Oh hush. You'll enjoy yourself, trust me."
Willow winced slightly. "The last time someone said that to me, I ended up in a black leather bustier, muttering something about riding people like ponies." Tara stared at her with something akin to mortification. "Hideously long story, SO not worth repeating."
They pulled up to the front entrance of Mandalay Bay and handed the keys to a rather attentive valet. He was so absorbed in admiring the view from behind them, he almost crashed into the car in front of him.
Willow's brow furrowed in concern. "What was his problem?"
"Apparently he thinks that you are more than just passing fair, love."
"Well he can just keep on lookin' because wantin' ain't havin'," she sniffed.
Tara couldn't help but laugh at her lover's quirky sense of humor. As they stepped into the lobby of the hotel, the din of the gambling floor nearly overpowered them. Raucous shouts of success, the incessant clinking of change being cashed out of slot machines and the drunken exuberance of the table game players was pretty close to sensory overload. By the time they reached the House of Blues, the line was surprisingly short but it was apparently a happening place. The tables and barstools were packed with people and the wail of blues guitar flowed out of the open doorway like sweet wine.
"How the heck are we going to find a place to sit around here?" Willow shouted to be heard above the din.
"Not a problem," Tara replied. She pulled aside the bouncer at the door for a few quick words. Next thing, Willow knew she was being gently pulled through the crowd to a suddenly vacant booth by the stage.
"I don't even want to know how you managed that," she said in amazement.
"It's ok. Nothing illegal I promise. Just that I did a favor for the owner once so I decided to collect," Tara smirked. "Wait here I'll be right back." She slipped out of the booth and around the side of the stage before Willow had a chance to protest. Dropping her hands on the table in resignation, she decided that, with the evening she was having, a fizzy alcoholic beverage was in order. She managed to flag down a passing barmaid whose shockingly transparent uniform made her blush a rosy pink. The woman appeared not a day over 18 and the slightly naughty look in her eyes practically dared Willow to comment.
"What'll ya have, hon?" she smirked.
"Um .um .a-a Sloe Gin Fizz, p-please," Willow stammered, trying to hide her nervousness.
"Sure, anything for you. Back in a flash," the barmaid replied with a wink and disappeared back into the swaying crush of patrons. Willow hadn't realized that she was holding her breath until it came out in a great whoosh once the woman had finally gone. She muttered a silent prayer to whatever deity was listening for the redness in her face would be gone by the time Tara sat down. A burst of applause made her jump in surprise as she realized that the music had stopped playing and a female singer was addressing the audience.
"Thanks everybody, I'm Susan Tedeschi for any of y'all that don't know and this is my wonderful band. it's always a kick to be here in Sin City," the musician paused, drawing delighted hoots and catcalls from the crowd. She strummed her guitar absently, smiling broadly to someone off to one side of the stage. "I've got a friend with me tonight who wants to sing a little song to cheer up a certain special someone. Now y'all be nice to my friend Tara. Come on out here, honey."
The crowd erupted with cheers, whistles and raucous applause as a rather bold Tara stepped around the stage, mike in hand. "Hi everyone!" she called out.
"Hi Tara!" the crowd responded eagerly.
"I sometimes think Susan had this next song written with me in mind. See, I was in love with a person I met in a coffee shop. And I had no idea how to convey my feelings for them or even how they felt about me. This song is mostly about what I felt for this person before and what I feel for them now."
Willow stared up at her, totally amazed. It was like everything that had happened in her dreams only better. She considered pinching herself to make sure it was real but decided against it. Having to endure pain was one thing but inflicting it on yourself was a whole different ball o' wax. A hand on Willow's shoulder almost made her fall out of her seat. Standing beside her was the sassy barmaid with her very colorful drink.
"Here ya go, sweetie," she grinned. "Try not to drink it all at once."
"Uh, thanks. Smartass," Willow muttered, glaring darkly after her. She returned her attention to the stage as the band launched into a peppy little number. Her eyes were wide with wonder as Tara started to trade off singing duties with Ms. Tedeschi.
I cry for love that's gone
A love that can't be mine
Well I'll pay every day for loving you
Darling deep down inside
How am I gonna tell you
How am I gonna let you know
That night and day I think about you
And it's killing me slow
Tara strode sensually to the edge of the stage, not ten feet from where Willow was sitting and made eye contact with her. She was making it very clear that this song was her Willow and her alone. Her sultry voice dipped and wailed, keeping pace with the musician's rough and bluesy style. Even the audience was pulled into the women's sexy little world, captivated by two shows it seemed.
The temptation of you is oh so strong
I know I can't have you
Why can't I leave you alone
Oh I know that this trouble
Oh it's here to stay
That's why I'm keeping my distance
Oh I'm praying that you come my way
Praying that you come my way
Oh praying that you come my way
The temptation of you is oh so strong
I know I can't have you
Why can't I leave you alone
Oh I want you to come see me
Oh late at night
That's when we'll pull down the shades darlin'
And we'll turn down the lights
Ooo I don't want to hurt myself
Don't want to drive you away
That's why I'm keeping my distance
Oh I'm praying that you come my way
Praying that you come my way
Oh praying that you come my......
Oh praying that you come my way
Tara's impromptu performance practically brought down the house. People stood on tables, even barstools and pounded out their approval with staccato-like raps using beer bottles or anything that was handy. She bowed gracefully, accepting the accolades from the crowed and was helped offstage by a pair of solicitous young men who were standing close by. They managed to look a little pained as she paid them no mind, her attentions meant for only one woman. Collapsing in a heap next to Willow, she leaned on the table with both elbows, a truly wicked smirk on her face. "So," Tara chirped brightly. "How'd I do?"
Willow stared at her girlfriend, her lips working to form words but no sound was coming out. She finally gave up trying to put a sentence together and shut her mouth with an audible clack. Bright droplets of unshed tears hung from the corners of her eyes like dewdrops.
"I really don't know what to say," Willow whispered hoarsely. "No one's ever sung to me before. I don't even know if I deserve it."
Tara laid one hand gently over her lover's trembling ones and softly stroked her cheek with the other. "No one in the world deserves it more than you. Trust me."
The redhead swiped at her eyes, annoyed with herself that she'd gotten to weepy in front of strangers. "Can we go back to the room? I'm suddenly feeling like having some alone time with you. Tomorrow is going to come far sooner than I want it to."
"Ask and ye shall receive."
CHAPTER TWELVE A
AND ALL THE STUFF IN BETWEEN
Willow sat staring vacantly out of her office window as the early evening sun bathed the Philadelphia skyline in a dusky orangish hue. She'd been trying for hours to pay attention to the pile of project reports on her desk but eventually gave up after a few fruitless attempts at concentration. It had been four months since she last saw Tara and the pain of not being able to be with her was gnawing at her sanity.
Their short-lived trip to Vegas ended with a rather tearful goodbye at McCarran International. Willow had asked Tara if she would fly back to Sunnydale to take care of a few things for her parents and the blonde readily agreed to do so. Little did they know, what was supposed to be a two-day deal would turn into a six-week nursing assignment. Sheila Rosenberg had lapsed into a state of near catatonia as a result of the lingering effects of PTSD that left her virtually bereft of her ability to communicate. Tara stayed on to help take care of the Rosenbergs, lovingly attending to their needs as if they were her own parents. Willow's eyes misted with gratitude when she thought of how much Tara had sacrificed to help them. When the clouds of depression finally lifted from Mrs. Rosenberg, Buffy, Xander and Anya told the blonde that they would be able to take over the watch and for her to go home.
"You have a career to get back to," Buffy had noted seriously one sunny day while they had gathered to have lemonade and a barbecue in the Summers' backyard. "Besides, I'm sure Willow misses you a lot. It's been a while, far longer than I think either of you had anticipated.
"I know. Willow sounded so down when I talked to her last," Tara conceded, absently stirring her sweating glass of iced tea with a swizzle stick. "I think her boss is driving her nuts. Her officemate, Becca, told me that she was practically chewing on the furniture after one particular project meeting."
"Just seeing that would've been worth the price of admission," Anya snorted, deftly hooking her wandering son with one foot while managing to change little Sara's very chocolate stained blouse. Everyone nodded in amused agreement. Later that evening, Buffy helped Tara pack and drove her to the airport in L.A. For Tara, leaving was both a sad and joyous occasion. Willow's friends brought her into the fold and made her feel loved, like the family she never had when she was growing up. She tearfully hugged Buffy goodbye and stepped aboard the plane.
For Willow, that was an eternity ago. It seemed that, no sooner had Tara returned, she had to leave again. They had only two weeks together before her lover had to hit the university lecture circuit. She was coming up for tenure soon and needed to add a bit more padding to her vita. Between the late-night long distance phone calls, the instant messaging and emails; one would think that they had never truly been out of contact. But nothing could ever come close to the electricity that they generated when they touched, skin-to-skin, heart to heart. Willow was feeling the need for Tara's touch most keenly on this day, the day when the software development project she and her team had been working on for the better part of the year would finally be over.
She smiled briefly, recalling how excited and thrilled Tara had been when she'd gotten a huge promotion as a result of her successful hat trick that saved the project. "No one deserves the success more than you," the blonde enthused the night Willow received the news. But the tidings that evening were bittersweet. It was then that Tara had hesitatingly told of her speaking engagements around the country. Oddly enough, Willow hadn't complained.
"Do what you need to do, baby," the redhead had encouraged her. "Just come home to me in one piece." In truth, there was a lot that Willow had on her mind, things she needed to sort out. Most of all, she needed to figure out where her relationship with Tara was going. Though her mind was focused clearly on her intentions but her heart, well it just might lead her into doing something rash. Something that may not really be good for both of them. Their last night together was spent trying to love away the ache of sudden loneliness from each other's hearts.
What was that quote she'd heard once? "Love was the primary magic of the soul it keeps pieces of ourselves from being scattered by the winds or lost among the stars," she murmured in the silence of the room. The black D-term phone on Willow's desk buzzed insistently, pulling her out of her melancholy thoughts. With a long-suffering sigh, she pressed the glowing red button. The line that lit up was Becca's and she wasn't quite in the mood for her friend's forwardness.
"What, no love for your best mate? I'm shocked," she drawled with a bit of her East End accent showing through. Willow detected a bit of snark in her tone and wasn't having any of it.
"Not now, Bec," she snapped.
"Right, right well I thought you would like to know that whilst you were off saving Cole's ever-loving arse in the stakeholder meeting this morning, a certain lovely someone left you a message. I didn't trust that little tart of a secretary you have to give it to you so I took it meself. Now aren't you just all better now?" Becca replied winsomely.
A sudden flush rose in Willow's cheeks and she was thankful that her close friend wasn't sitting across from her just now. She took a deep breath to try to keep the excitement from her voice.
"What did she say?" Willow could practically see the broad grin spreading across Becca's face on the other end of the line.
"Hmm I dunno. I think my handwriting is a little off. It might get better if you were to buy me lunch."
The redhead groaned inwardly, knowing that she'd been conned into taking her to lunch for the fifth time this week. "Fine, FINE!" she said through clenched teeth. "Has anyone ever told you that you haggle worse than my mother?"
Becca's evil cackles filtered through her earpiece. "See you at noon, luv. And don't forget, we're going to that Greek place over on South Street again. They've got the best souvlaki and dolmas in town!"
Tara stepped off the train at 30th Street Station into the massive throng of early evening commuters pushing to board the passenger car she left behind. Normally, she would have avoided rush hour like the plague. However, her flight from Charlotte landed at Philadelphia International Airport surprisingly ahead of schedule, much earlier than she had planned. She'd rung Willow's office earlier that morning to let her know that she would be back that afternoon but Becca had picked up her line to say that Willow was in a meeting and that she would give her the message. Tara wished that her flight had not been so ridiculously early. Now she would have to either stay in the city until Willow got off work or brave the usual crush of people on the R5 and head home to deal with unpacking. Fishing her flip phone out of her carry-on, she dialed Willow's voicemail to leave a message. The blonde smiled warmly when her lover's chipper, pre-recorded voice flowed across the telephone lines.
"You've reached Willow Rosenberg with Lockheed Martin Software Engineering Group. I'm either away from my desk or on the other line. Please leave a message with your phone number, date and time you called and I will get back to you. Thanks!"
"Hi baby. I'm back in town much earlier than I thought. I'm going to head home to dump my bags and maybe take a nap. Call me when you get in. I love you!" She closed the phone and shoved it into her coat pocket. After giving a quick glance around the rapidly filling station, Tara decided she was just too tired from the trip to deal with haggard people and well-worn seats on the R5. She hailed one of the several waiting taxis near the entrance to the building.
"Where to, miss?" the driver asked her in a clipped foreign accent.
"Newtown, please. No rush." She settled back into her seat and closed her eyes.
The driver glanced appreciatively into his rearview mirror at his fare. She shook his head, marveling at how lucky he was to have a polite and, above all, beautiful fare. Pulling down the red flag on his meter, he began whistling to himself. He decided he just might enjoy this ride after all.
CHAPTER TWELVE B
I WANT TO LOVE YOU OUT LOUD
Willow giggled hysterically at Becca's hilarious imitation of their rather anal boss as Becca drove home through the bustling and lively Old City section of Philadelphia. Sometimes the English woman had the tendency to totally drive her mad but there were times when she knew just what to do to ease her mind.
"You know, luv," Becca drawled lazily. "This whole 'stuffy supervisor' bit is starting to be too much old hat for you. That could be a problem, " she finished with a smirk.
"Well I don't see you complaining when I get Cole off your back for being snippy with him," Willow huffed, a slight pout on her slightly tanned face.
"Now I'm not saying that the whole routine doesn't come in handy," her friend commented. "But frankly, dear, you're losing your edge. Missing a certain someone has made you a tad testy lately and, if I may be so bold, it's getting you off your game." Becca's right eyebrow quirked up in concern.
The redhead sighed in defeat, knowing that Becca obviously was up to something. "Ok, ok, I give. What should I do?"
Her friend smiled a wide, toothy grin. "Well now," she smirked, cranking up the music that had been playing softly in the background. "Now that you ask, I think it's time you cut loose."
Willow snorted in derision. "And just how am I supposed to do that?"
"Watch and learn, Grasshoppa." Becca veered off Chestnut Street and headed toward Independence Mall.
"Umm, Bec. What're we doing?'
"Getting our feet wet," she chuckled.
She pulled up to the front of the large fountain that graced the park across from the Liberty Bell Pavilion, managing to dodge flying bicycle messengers and lumbering tourist trolleys in the process. Twangy, vibrant country music poured out the small car, causing more than a few heads to turn their way.
"Oooh Bec, I don't know about this. Isn't this a tow-away zone?"
"Aw c'mon, live a little, Red time to walk on water."
She grabbed Willow by the hand and hauled her out of the car, skipping lightly past onlookers and bathing suited children to the ledge of the fountain. She let go of Willow's hand and cannonballed herself into the water, earning excited squeals from the children within.
Willow just stared after her in abject horror, knowing that she'd be expected to play along.
"Come ON, Will, come play!" Becca jumped out of the water, spraying the redhead in the process. "Dance with me and just let GO!" and with that she tossed Willow into the cool water.
She came up sputtering, her face as dark red as her now soaked hair. "Whawhat in the world are you doing?" she gasped.
"Trying to get you to live a little, Willow," her friend said in a more serious tone, concern showing openly on her pretty face. "How long has it been since you laughed? Since you smiled? I know Tara has been gone for quite a bit now but for heaven's sake, dear. She'd want you to be in better shape than this." Just then, the music that had been blaring out of Becca's car speakers changed to another song. Her eyes lit up suddenly, her lips pouted into a little O. "Oooh I love this one. Come on Will, let's see if there's a bit of an exhibitionist in ye."
She pulled the still-dripping redhead out of the water and began dancing around the children, hand curled around an "air microphone" singing along with the song.
I have always been a little shy
I've always been the quiet type till now
And I never let my feelings show
I never let anybody know
Just how much I was so deep in love
But now that you're in my arms
I'm gonna stand on a rooftop
Climb up a mountaintop
Baby, scream and shout
I wanna sing it on the radio
Show it on a video
Baby, leave no doubt
I want the whole world to know
Just what I'm all about
I love to love you out loud
Willow couldn't help but notice that her friend's joie de vivre was terribly infectious. She found herself bopping along to the bouncy tune and feeling lighter than she had in months. The song made her think of Tara and her girlfriend's smiling eyes appeared in her head, warm and loving. Next thing she knew, she'd hopped onto the stone lip of the fountain and started singing as well.
You keep bringing out the free in me
What you do to my heart
Just makes me melt
And I don't think I can resist
But I've never been one to kiss and tell
A love this true can't be subdued
So I'm gonna let out a yell
Baby I want the whole world to see
Just how good your love looks on me
I'm gonna stand on a rooftop
Climb up a mountaintop
Baby, scream and shout
I wanna sing it on the radio
Show it on a video
Baby, leave no doubt
I want the whole world to know
Just what I'm all about
I love to love you out loud
As the last notes of music died away, Willow could hear sporadic claps around the crowd, with Becca clapping the loudest.
"That's it!" she exclaimed. "That's the ticket! Now, I think it's time I take you home to get dry before you catch a fever and hallucinate that you're an American Idol contestant." Her eyes softened for a moment. "God Will, I wish Tara could've seen you. She's a lucky girl, no doubt."
The hacker was shocked to the core. She'd never had the opportunity to see Rebecca, the person; she mostly just got to see Becca, her office mate or Becca the party girl. This well this seemed so uncharacteristic that she had no idea if her friend was being serious or making fun. Willow didn't trust herself not to ruin this unguarded moment so she simply nodded.
"I'm actually the lucky one, but thanks for saying that."
The Brit narrowed her hazel eyes slightly, as if she'd been daydreaming. "Yeah well, don't get all soft on me, Red. A girl's got a reputation to maintain after all, eh?" She wrapped a slender arm around Willow's shoulder and tugged her towards her car. "Time to go, sweets," she said, pointing at one of Philadelphia's finest, a rather testy policewoman who glared at them and tapped her nightstick impatiently on the ground.
"Why is it that every time I hang out with you, I get into trouble?" Willow murmured to no one in particular.
"Ahh, you love me. Admit it!"
"Heh, whuuutever. Take me home, will ya, Bec. I haven't checked my machine yet and I don't know if Tara got in yet."
"Anything for you, toots," Becca grinned. She tossed the lady cop a rather wicked grin, turned the key in the ignition and pulled out into the evening crush of traffic.
FEELIN' LIKE A RED LETTER DAY
Juggling a half empty Starbucks mug, Philly newspaper and overstuffed briefcase, Willow practically fell through the front door while unlocking it. With the door still half open, she dumped her things in the nearest corner, kicking it closed with her heel. Talk about a long day, she thought tiredly. I feel like I've been ridden hard and put up wet. The redhead giggled a little at the connotation that flitted through her mind. She decided that Becca was far too much of a bad influence on her.
Willow wandered into the kitchen to pour herself a glass of Shiraz, pausing only to toss her keys on the polished oak phone stand near the door on the way and press the blinking red message light on her digital answering machine.
Beep! "Hi baby! It's just me." Oooooh, Tara-voice. "Just wanted to let you know that I'm home already. My flight was earlier than usual (shocker of all shocks), so I decided to ditch the city and relax in a nice hot tub. I've not quite reached the bathroom yet, however. Care to join me? Call me when you get in. Love you!" Beep!
Willow's emerald eyes darkened as she shuddered with pleasure at the thought of being deeply immersed in suds, hot water and smooth, silky Tara-skin. She could feel her own skin tingling at the prospect of being close to Tara again. The months they'd been away from each other had clearly taken a toll on the redhead; she had deep circles under her eyes from stress and lack of sleep and her skin was slightly pale. She hurriedly packed a few things into a leather Kenneth Cole overnight bag, taking small sips from her chilled glass every now and again.
Every second they spent apart had been driving Willow to distraction. She thought she'd be ok with Tara spending so much time away, that she could finally sort out all the confusing feelings in her head. But the separation only helped to deepen the ache she felt when Tara wasn't near. Willow told herself that had to be a sign .of what, she still wasn't sure.
The late afternoon sun filtered in through the clear glass of the patio doors, lending the last vestiges of its warmth to the living room. The erstwhile hacker sat brooding while finishing off the last of her wine, her eyes unfocused and pale green in the gathering gloom. She idly fingered an intricate carved amber & silver necklace that hung low on her chest, a spontaneous gift from Tara while she was in St. Petersburg, Russia. The blonde had been so giving and loving, not only to Willow but also to her friends and family. It was a rare gift indeed to find someone so selfless. Willow berated herself for even balking at committing to Tara. What's not to love? she thought. I couldn't ask for a better lover, a better best friend. Her eyes narrowed as a sudden thought zipped through her head like lightning. Willow placed her wine glass in the sink, quickly gathered her things and headed out the door. Once she left her driveway, she flipped open her cell phone and punched in a few numbers. "Chad? It's Willow. Remember when you said that you owed me a big favour? Well, sweetie, it's time for me to collect," she smirked. Oh yes, this is going to be schweet!
Willow was greeted with a tiny note on the front door of her girlfriend's home when she arrived fifteen minutes later. Come in, baby but make sure you take off your shoes. *ILYTMD* --Tara A loopy grin crossed the redhead's face as she read it, her heart beating fast with anticipation. She pushed open the door and gasped in surprise. Warm candlelight filled the entire living room, reflecting the colours of the mixture of soft red rose petals and gold/red leaves spread out like a trail on a white sheet from the door to the bedroom. The atmosphere was ethereal and Willow turned round and round in wonder. She started in surprise when she heard a woman singing softly in the direction of master bathroom. Tiptoeing quietly up to the door, she gave it a gentle push and uttered a small gasp. Candles were dripping wax everywhere, a bottle of Two Paddocks 2000 Neill Pinot Noir was sweating in a wine chiller by the porcelain clawfoot tub in rather large bathroom and Tara-skin was gleaming in the candlelight, making her seem if she were made of pure silk. Poor Willow, a wicked little voice chortled in the back of her mind. You never had a chance in hell. If you hadn't completely fallen for her before, you bloody well have now. Willow mentally swatted her demon libido and went back to swooning a bit more.
"You know," Tara said archly. "You could come in and wash my back instead of gaping at me with the door open. You're letting out all of the warm air."
"Ahh but what fun would that be?" Willow smirked. "Besides, I really think you love all this adoration stuff, even though you doth protest too much."
"Hmph, I'm a simple girl, dear. And I simply want you to come here and start kissing me. Can't have me wasting away for lack of attention, can we?"
"Nope, that simply won't do," Willow remarked as she stripped down to the bare essentials and slipped into the tub behind her girlfriend. Tara gave a contented sigh as she leaned back against her lover's chest.
"Now this is what I have been waiting to do for months!"
The hacker kissed the blonde's bare shoulders and neck as if distracted. "Baby?"
Tara turned slightly to look into Willow's eyes. "What's up?"
"What do you think we're doing?" Tara's eyebrow quirked up at the question. "I mean, what do you think we are to each other? Are we just casual lovers or is this the real deal for you?
The blonde stared at her with incredulity. "How could you ask me that? Don't you know by now that you're the only one for me?
Willow blushed slightly, almost ashamed at having questioned Tara's motives. "I-I didn't want to upset you or anything. I was just, you know, asking. Just wanted to make sure of you," she continued, hoping the light-hearted reference to a Pooh quote would ease the sudden tension out of the conversation. However, Tara wasn't having any of that. She turned around completely in the water and held her lover's face in her hands.
"If I have ever given you any reason to doubt that I love you and care about you very much, I want you to say so. Ok? No secrets, no hiding. That's the deal."
Willow gave an almost imperceptible nod. "Ok. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to upset you."
"I'm not really upset just concerned. You know, I don't share my bathtub with just anybody," the blonde commented, flashing her trademark crooked half-smile.
"Well then I'm glad you chose me, then."
Both women settled back into the tub and chatted amiably for a little while longer, catching up on the goings on in each other's lives, then later filling the house with warm heat from their lovemaking.
In the early hours of the morning, Willow found she was having trouble sleeping. She got up as quietly as she could, wrapped herself in one of Tara's huge fuzzy robes and walked into the kitchen to make some cocoa. She noticed an insistent green flashing light on the breakfast bar as she opened the refrigerator to get milk. At some point or other, her pager must've been going off like mad because it was still blinking angrily like a discarded lover. She picked it up and pressed a few buttons to see what the message was. All set and good to go. I think you owe me one now, girlfriend.Chad A happy Willow-grin stretched from ear to ear. It was definitely going to be a good morning.
Willow awoke to warm sunshine on her face and somewhat chilly breezes milling about the bedroom. Apparently the bedroom window had managed to open itself slightly at some point. One green eye popped open with annoying enthusiasm despite her best efforts to keep it closed. Normally, she was an early riser but after having awakened a few times in the middle of the night, she finally managed to get back to sleep after some cocoa and very bad late-night television. She rolled over onto her back, groaning at the knots in her neck and shoulders that were making themselves known. With a languid stretch and yawn, the redhead realized that Tara was nowhere in sight. A worried frown crossed her delicate features as she reached to grab the robe she had discarded and put it on.
The front door opened just as Willow wandered into the living room, still a bit groggy and sandy-eyed from sleep.
"Morning, sunshine," Tara chirped breezily. Her skin practically glowed with the exertions of her morning run. Willow couldn't help but stare at how well her lover filled out the maroon tracksuit and mint green Zen top she was wearing.
"How is it that you can have all of this perky energy in the morning?"
"Well, I managed to actually sleep last night," Tara joked as she stopped to give the redhead a quick kiss before grabbing a container of Vitamin Water from the refrigerator.
"It's not my fault you got me so wound up."
"Um hmm likely excuse. I kind of got into the habit of exercising in the morning after a while. Jet lag was getting harder and harder to recover," the blonde commented while absently sifting through a small mountain of mail on the kitchen island counter. "So what do you want to do today? I wasn't planning on dealing with emails or voice mail messages until Monday."
Willow's eyes flashed with sudden excitement. "I've got a surprise for you," she singsonged.
Tara paused in the act of pitching a Publisher's Clearing House advertisement into the trash, her interest clearly piqued. "Oh, really? And what did I do to deserve such a thing?" she said, pulling the redhead into a loose embrace.
"Nothing just being you."
"Uh huh what are you up to Willow Rosenberg?"
"Me? Up to something? Madam, I must say that I am shocked that you would think that I could possibly be up to something," Willow said in mock horror.
Tara gave her lover that "I'm so not buying the Innocent Little Me act" look. "How about trying that again, missy."
"Ok ok but honestly I can't tell you. That would ruin it and I really think you're going to love this. However, we do have to be done with any errands by 7:30 pm."
Tara gazed at the Kanji clock on the wall and did some mental calculations. "Well that means I'd better get showered and dressed. Care to join me or are you still trying to wake up?" she said with an amused grin.
"Uh huh, go ahead laugh it up. Just you wait. No more kisses for you," the former hacker replied, giving her lover a moody pout. "You might want to be nicer to me because, HEY I have surprises and good things for lovely honey bunnies."
"Now now, I'll make it up to you with lots of sudsy goodness," Tara chuckled as she led Willow into the bathroom. "But I'm cutting you off after an hour otherwise we'll never get out of here.
Willow just cackled evilly.
COME AWAY WITH ME
After few hours of brisk shopping and a quick lunch at the Lambertville Station Pub across the bridge in Lambertville, New Jersey, Tara and Willow decided that they each needed to get a little work done before stepping out for the evening. They had returned to Tara's home around 4:30pm and they each had acquired an overstuffed chair in different corners of her living room ostentatiously for that purpose. However, Willow found that it was damn near impossible to pay attention to anything while Tara was so near to her. She caught herself staring at her lover's flowing jaw line as she absently chewed on the end of her pencil, jotting down a line or two in the midst of deep concentration on the notes spread out in front of her. The redhead allowed herself the luxury of a tiny shudder of pleasure because Tara was wearing her glasses to do work. It was ever the turn on in her humble opinion. Try as she might, Willow couldn't concentrate of project timelines and software development metrics. With a resigned sigh, she piled up her paperwork neatly and stacked them in her briefcase.
Truth be told, that night's impending surprise had her more than a little on edge. Willow had briefly gone off on her own during their little spendfest and sought out her favourite shop to make a purchase that was sure to set her back almost a car payment and a half. She smiled to herself, remembering the raised eyebrow Tara had given her when they met back up for lunch. Willow had ambled down the crowded sidewalk, whistling (or at least attempting to whistle Tara wasn't quite sure which) merrily with her hands stuffed in her pockets, looking for all the world like a red-headed Tom Sawyer up to no good. Willow idly fingered the small velvet box in her pocket, her mind reeling with a half dozen details she needed to talk with Chad about before they left for the evening. She stood up, stretching out some of the kinks in her lithe frame.
"Hmm?" Tara murmured distractedly.
"I'm going to head back to my place to get ready," Willow placed a gentle kiss on top of her lover's head.
"You're leaving me?" Tara asked in a plaintive tone.
"Just for a little bit. I left my Palm Pilot at home and need to make calls to a couple of numbers that are in it. You know .annoying stuff for Cole." She rolled her eyes when mentioning her decidedly anal boss.
"Oh well, ok," Tara heaved a resigned sigh. "But don't be late. I'm timing you."
"Yeeees, dear." Willow deadpanned.
"Ah hah, I say this only because I know how you are when you get distracted," the blonde gave Willow a faux innocent smile.
"Do not!" Willow protested, then paused. "Well, only around you. Really.."
Tara just raised an amused eyebrow. Willow glared back at her.
"Honest! Really! No mocking the computer geek. Mocking is not allowed."
Tara chuckled and went back to her work. "Call me before you leave your house, dear."
The former hacker gathered up her things, pausing only to give her lover a brief kiss before heading out the door.
"Are we good to go, Chad?" Willow spoke into the cordless hands-free Bluetooth headset attached to her cell phone.
"Oh grrlfriend, please," Chad's voice drawled on the other end. "I make the Fab Five look like the Drab 5. Leave it to lil ole me, will ya? We'll have your kitten simply purring by the end of the evening."
The redhead was a little worried at Chad's boasting. She loved the good looking, dark-haired programmer to pieces; he had helped her try to feel her way around the "City of Queer Family Love" as he liked to call it, when she was feeling overwhelmed and lonely. The last time she trusted him with an important occasion, he had a straight up hissy fit with Cole who managed to look rather worried that he had gotten Chad's bad side. Willow thought that was strange at the time because no one had been able to drop Cole like the self-proclaimed diva. Chad must have understood what Willow's silence at the end of the line meant, for he gave an irritated huff. "Now look," he said with an exaggerated sigh of patience. "I didn't embarrass you or anything." He paused briefly. "Well not too much at any rate but the point is, you've got a venue and the sparklies and the bubbly. What more could a girl ask for?"
"Who knew," the redhead said with a wry smile, "that a gay man would have all of the secrets to winning a girl's heart?"
"Hmph," Chad sniffed. "Your problem is you think too much. Now get moving, dear! You don't have much time left and I know how long it takes for you to decide on what to wear."
Willow giggled at him, promised to spill all of the juicy bits to him the next day and rang off.
Forty minutes later, Willow pulled into Tara's driveway, thoroughly nervous and excited at the same time. She had to admit that she was looking rather dashing in the dark blue summer wool Brooks Brothers single-breasted blazer, white cotton blouse, light coloured Irish linen slacks and dark blue Kenneth Cole loafers. A slight smirk of satisfaction crossed her face with the knowledge that Chad might just faint on the spot when she tells him that it only took her ten minutes to put her outfit together.
It was with mild surprise that Willow noted the slight trembling in her hands when she was attempting to lock the door to her car. It's ok, Will you can do this. It's just Tara and you have nothing to be afraid of. She chuckled quietly at her own silliness and knocked on the door. The erstwhile hacker almost fell over in awe when Tara came to the door to receive her. Willow had to admit, the blonde definitely had style. "Whoa " was the only word that seemed to be able to come out of her mouth. Her lover was resplendent in a black David Meister jersey dress with matching black Manolo Blahnik slides and an amazingly silken black wrap. Apparently, she did more than a bit of shopping for this occasion. Willow remained hovering over the threshold, gazing with rapt attention as Tara finished putting on her diamond and platinum earrings.
"Willow!" Tara's voice snapped the redhead back to reality.
"Huh?" was her stunned reply.
"I said, are you ready?" Tara asked, repeated her sentence slowly.
"Oh! Oh yeah! Sure. All set," she chattered. Willow stuck out her arm for Tara to take. "Your chariot awaits milady." she drawled.
Tara rolled her eyes. "It seems that someone's been letting you read lesbian romance novels again."
"Hey now, I've been good! Becca only had to confiscate [i]one[/i] novel from my desk this time."
Tara's eyes twinkled with mirth. "I'll bet. We'd better get moving. Traffic on I-95 will be a nightmare even at this time of night. You are going to tell me where we're going, right?"
"Nothing doing," Willow said firmly. "It's a surprise so you're just going to have to deal."
"All right, all right," the blonde acquiesced, raising her hands in mock defeat.
Willow helped her lover into the car and then got in beside her. The drive to downtown Philadelphia wasn't nearly as troublesome as they thought. The car was filled with witty banter and intermittent giggles as they chatted amiably about everything and nothing important. Willow asked Tara to close her eyes just before they pulled up to the front of the restaurant. She got out, handed her car keys to the waiting valet and helped Tara out of the front seat. The blonde took a few tentative steps before she felt her lover's arm wrap around her slim waist. She allowed herself to be guided into the restaurant; her senses soon were greeted with the sounds and smells within.
Willow took a deep breath. "You can open your eyes now."
Tara blinked a few times to clear her vision. They stood in the moody, languid lobby of Warmdaddys, one of the most renowned blues-style/Southern Cuisine restaurants in the city. Piano music tinkled in the background as servers bustled to set up tables and light candles in preparation for guests.
"Willow!" she exclaimed. "Ooh, how did you know that I wanted to come here?"
Willow blushed deep crimson and managed to look slightly ashamed. "Actually, I didn't know. A friend of mine thought you might like it and the owner owes him a favour, soo.." her voice trailed off. Blue eyes gazed into deep green ones. Tara gave Willow a quick peck on the cheek and held her close.
"That's all right, love. I forgive you. Now let's go find a table. I'm starved for some reason."
The former hacker looked around the room, surprised that she and Tara seemed to be the only people there at the moment. A young woman was warming up on the Roland keyboard in the center of one of the two small stages toward the side of the restaurant while her bandmates were busy setting up their microphones, monitors and other assorted instruments. A balding, youngish-looking black man approached the couple just as they found a table closest to one of them.
"Evening, ladies," his deep voice greeted them, giving each of them a firm, yet gentle handshake. "My name is Ben Bynum Jr. and welcome to my place. Chad said you might be a little early," he said as he gave a knowing wink to Willow. She looked a little shocked but recovered easily. Tara was totally oblivious to her lover's reaction. She was too busy looking around the spacious, comfortable dining room.
"It's everything I imagined it would be, Mr. Bynum," she said lightly. "Any bands playing tonight?"
Bynum chuckled. "Was there ever any doubt that there would be? We've got a special guest tonight. I think you'll like her. She's got a little bit of this, a little more of that. Smooth and easy, like a good martini. Speaking of martinis, what would you folks like to drink?"
"I think I'll live on the wild side tonight," Tara murmured. "How about a tiramisu martini?"
"Good choice!" Bynum exclaimed. "And you, Ms. Rosenberg?"
"Hmm?" she asked blankly. "Oh, just a shot of Knob Creek for me. Thanks." Tara stared at her with one eyebrow raised but said nothing.
"Okie dokie," the owner said. "Jana is going to be your server tonight so if you need anything else, just let her know. Enjoy yourselves, ladies and she'll be right along with your drinks."
They both nodded in assent and he left their table to greet other guests coming in the front door.
"What was that all about, dear? And who's Chad?" the blonde queried.
Willow cleared her throat and nervously fingered the blue velvet box in her blazer pocket. She noticed that the restaurant was filling rapidly which didn't help to ease her ragged nerves.
"Hey," Tara touched her arm. "Are you ok?"
The redhead took a deep, calming breath, more to help get her thoughts together than anything. "You know how I've been going on about how Cole has been driving me nuts lately and how I really should just leave and get it over with?"
Tara nodded her head, her eyes silently prodding Willow to continue.
"Well," she hesitated, turning to stare deeply into her lover's eyes. "I got a letter recently from Rupert Giles, CEO of Giles/Berman International. He's a real bigwig in the software development world; his company created the premier cataloguing database for the Library of Congress, among other customers. He's asked me to work for him as Director of Developmental Projects."
Tara gasped in excitement. "Willow, that's great! When do you start?"
"Erm, as soon as possible, actually. But there's a catch."
"What's that?" Tara frowned.
"I'd have to move to England. That's where their corporate headquarters is located."
The look on Tara's face changed from joy to sadness instantly. "So what will happen to us?" she asked, a slight quiver in her voice.
"That's why we're here tonight," Willow said in a half-whisper. The woman onstage was still practicing, it seemed, as she started singing softly so that her voice carried only to the first few rows of tables.
Come away with me in the night
Come away with me
And I will write you a song
Willow removed her hand from her pocket and placed the velvet box on the table.
Come away with me on a bus
Come away where they can't tempt us
With their lies
"This is for you," she remarked as she pushed the box toward Tara. "I wanted this to be so special but I'm a putz. I can't even find the words when I need them most." Willow gazed at her lover with unshed tears in her eyes. "Go ahead, open it."
I want to walk with you
On a cloudy day
In fields where yellow grass grows knee-high
So won't you try to come
Tara reached for it, her hands now trembling visibly. She opened the box with what seemed to be an agonizing slowness. Nestled within the velvety folds was a Diana platinum engagement ring with a half carat solitaire diamond.
Come away with me and we'll kiss
On a cloudy day
Come away with me
And I'll never stop loving you
The blonde almost fainted with shock. "Is this ," she gasped. "Does this mean what I think it means?"
She looked back at Willow who had an almost serene expression on her face. "Yes, I think it does." Willow slid off her chair and got down on one knee beside Tara. She picked up the last strains of the mellow song that had wrapped itself like a comfortable blanket around the pair. Her voice floated clear and low, meant for Tara's ears only.
And I want to wake up with the rain
Falling on a tin roof
While I'm safe there in your arms
So all I ask is for you
To come away with me in the night
Come away with me
"So what do you say?" Willow asked quietly. Her heart was hammering triple time in her chest but she tried not to show it.
Tears were streaming openly down Tara's alabaster skin, a crooked smile on her face. "When do we leave?" she whispered.
Years later, Willow would be hard-pressed to remember a more perfect moment, an event that had changed her life so much as this one had. As the music played on and the world swirled around them, the fire of love rose higher and higher until their happiness filled the sky.
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