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 murmured 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 carryon, 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
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.