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 unbidden 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. At least, I hope we will." Sitting up abruptly, she realized that she had forgotten to call Tara 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 who's 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 they 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
Willow wrapped her arms around herself, pretending that she could feel Tara's warmth and swayed slowly to the music.
Open the door
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.