Return to Constants Chapter Nineteen


Author: Jasmydae
Rating: Intended PG-13, but might end up R
Feedback: I'd love any and all; I'm a new writer, so any help you can offer would be appreciated. Please leave feedback on the Constants thread on the Kitten Board.
Disclaimer: Joss / ME / etc. owns these characters. This story is just for fun and not for profit.

"What if we kind of go side by side, and keep it wedged between us?" Beth suggested. The Ellicott Seven team was gathered in a circle, working out their strategy for the upcoming event. On the ground in the middle of the ring lay a weathered basketball, the subject of their planning.

"At hip level, you mean?" Doug asked. "It would have to be kind of low, so it doesn't touch anyone's arms. That might make running difficult."

"Yeah, I guess." The girl shrugged. "I don't know."

Buffy eyed the ball doubtfully. "How would we transfer it between people? Sort of a sideways pass between the pairs?" She glided one foot over the top of the ball, rolling it over the toe of the other, then lifted it to her hands. She casually spun the orb on one finger.

"Oh! I know!" Willow piped up. "We could carry each other!"

Buffy stilled the ball and rested it against her hip. "Huh? Carry how?"

"In front. The bigger people carry the smaller people, and the smaller people kind of cradle the ball like a sling. Then we could just roll the ball from one pair to the other, and we wouldn't have to worry about synchronizing steps or anything."

Mike, who looked like he wouldn't have any problem carrying a teammate thirty yards, shook his head. "It's a neat idea," he said, "but we're unbalanced. We've only got three...uh, bigger people."

"Oh, that's not a problem. Buffy can carry one of us."

Mike gave Buffy a dubious once-over, and the blonde smirked smugly. Willow assured him, "Trust me; she's deceptively strong. Buffy could probably carry me across this field and back again without breaking a sweat."

"Okay, this I've got to see," the young man insisted. He crossed his arms over his chest and waited.

With Willow scooped up in her arms, Buffy asked Beth to place the basketball in the natural pocket created by the redhead's curved body. She took a few test steps, then began to march more quickly. "Jeez, Will, have you lost weight?" she asked. Mike looked on appreciatively. After travelling the race's distance twice, Buffy said, "Okay, let's try a pass."

Brian, the last of Ellicott Seven's three men, turned toward Beth, the closest girl. "Want to team up?" he asked.

"Why sure, I'd love to," Cordelia interjected, squeezing herself between the two, and offering a hand to Brian. Shrugging, the boy swung her up, cradling Cordelia's body against his chest. She wrapped her hands around his neck.

The two pairs practiced rolling the ball from one human pouch to the next-the process was hampered by the noticeable height difference between Brian and Buffy-until they were satisfied that the transfer would be possible. The other four teammates looked on and wondered who they would be teamed up with during the race. While they watched, a fifth person joined them.

"You'll overbalance," Faith called out.

Buffy swiveled, causing the ball to bounce off of Willow's elbow and continue to the ground. She managed to trap it with her foot before it rolled away. "Pardon me?" she asked.

Faith shook her head. "You can't do it that way. You guys'll tip right over once you pick up some speed. You'll end up droppin' her on her ass."

"So, what? You practice the basketball relay in your spare time, now, when you're not too busy purchasing fake student IDs?" Buffy lowered Willow to the grass and approached Faith.

"Hey, I'm just offerin' up some helpful advice," the girl said with a shrug. "Take it or leave it. Your call. But that way will never work."

"Would you care to make a friendly wager?" the blonde challenged.

"Yeah," Faith scoffed, her hands on her hips. "Name it."

"Come on, Tara. Put me down." Willow's voice had a nervous edge as she swayed unsteadily on the waitress' shoulders.

"Fair's...fair," Tara puffed, taking another tentative step up the incline. She pointed ahead, further up the hill, where the rest of the Ellicott Four players labored under the weight of Willow's teammates as they made their way back to the dormitories on North Campus. "Everyone else on the team is paying for Faith's error in judgment. We're expressing..." She paused for breath, reaching up a hand for Willow to grab for balance. "We're expressing team solidarity," she finished. Tara straightened and shifted her hoodie, pulling out a bunched-up section from where it was pinched under Willow's leg. 'Willow's legs,' she thought, 'Willow's legs, which are draped over your shoulders. Would it be so wrong to stumble a little, and clutch at Willowknees while regaining balance? They're probably cute knees, too.' She gave this some additional thought. 'Cute knees? What exactly do cute knees look like? You can't even see her knees, with the sweatpants and all...' Tara's fingertips twitched on Willow's ankle, imperceptibly drifting higher up one cloth-covered shin.

"Well, you really don't have to," Willow insisted. With each jostling step she felt Tara's shoulders rotate under her thighs, and the contact was gradually driving her through distraction to outright insanity. "It wasn't even your bet. I hereby relieve you of your obligation. Now let me down." Willow tightened her stomach to lean forward, and wound her fingers through Tara's when the girl stopped again and offered her a support. Working together, they eased Willow's feet to the ground.

Tara straightened, unconsciously stretching out her back. She dabbed the sleeve of her sweater at moisture that had collected just below her hairline. "Better?" she asked.

Willow nodded. "Much better. Now we are seeing eye to eye." She didn't give the joke much thought; her mind was too busy doing slow motion replays of her body's sliding descent along Tara's back.

Willow's nature was to analyze. She wanted to fit the unusual feelings she had been having for her new friend into a nicely labeled box. She wanted to be able to cite reasons for each one, to generate a numbered list, and to connect them all with arrows. She wanted the entire emotional array of Tara-related thoughts mapped out and cross-indexed. A week had passed since the party, however, and Willow's mental chart of causality was just as cluttered as it had been that first night. Two points were clear: she had a thing for Tara-'No, a Thing. Capital T,' she corrected-and her brain was going to keep going in circles until she had a talk with Oz. 'And Tara, too. I should talk with Tara about the party,' she thought, but her id immediately balked at the notion. 'Okay, maybe it's best to hold off on that one a little bit longer,' she rationalized, 'but I've got to talk with somebody about it. This is...this is kind of big stuff, right? Best friend talk kind of stuff.'

She peered up the hill toward the front of the pack, where Faith was trudging along, toting Buffy piggyback style. Willow couldn't imagine having that conversation with Buffy. Buffy was a wonderful friend, and they'd been through emotional highs and lows together in the past, but when it came to attraction and relationships, Willow wasn't sure they saw things in the same light. During their sophomore year of high school, Willow had become interested in a boy she had been chatting with in an Internet chat room. Buffy had denounced the activity as alarming and creepy, insisting that Willow shouldn't have feelings for a person without at least seeing a picture, first. In the end, Buffy's concerns had been valid, for Willow had gone on to discover a few surprises about her Internet Romeo-namely, that he was fifty-nine, married, and had three kids and two grandkids-but still the experience had left a bad taste in Willow's mouth. Her best friend had made a few shallow comments about potential partners, and now she wondered whether Buffy's views of love even scratched the surface of what Willow wanted for herself.

'No, it will have to be Xander,' she decided. 'He's coming up for Family Weekend two weekends from now, so I'll have the perfect opportunity to talk with him about it.' Willow didn't relish the idea of admitting her feelings for another girl to her friend over the phone. She cast a quick glance in Tara's direction, and saw her looking back, concerned. 'That's assuming, of course, that I can survive the next two weeks without going completely out of my mind,' Willow added as an afterthought.

Tara's hand crossed the span between them, and her fingers closed around Willow's arm. She drew the redhead toward her, moments before a signpost intercepted Willow's path. The furrows on her brow deepened. "You r-really get lost in there, don't you?"

"Sorry," Willow apologized. "And thanks." Her brain reached out and snatched up the first topic it could find. "So, you're really coming to the midnight movie with us, tonight? The late night won't be a problem, with work and all?"

"Yes, I'll go, and I'll probably be a little more tired than usual at work," Tara figured. "Oh, but I should probably, uh, shower, and g-get my medicine and a change of clothes from Faith's," she remembered. "I probably should have thought about that before I hiked all the way up here." She looked back down the hill, across the campus, and frowned.

"Well, you could shower at the dorm, and you could borrow a change of clothes. Uh, and the medicine, well, I mean we have the usual Aspirin and stuff, but that's probably not-I mean, well, I suppose it's bad form to ask about it-I just thought, you know, if it might save you a trip-"

"It's nothing serious," laughed Tara. "Just finishing a course of antibiotics, but I'm not supposed to miss a dose."

"Oh. Well, see? Antibiotics? Yet another reason why you shouldn't be used as a beast of burden. But, yeah, I can't save you a trip, I guess, but you've still got plenty of time before the movie, though, so there's no rush." Willow paused. "Um, your stuff is at Faith's?"

Tara slowed her steps. "W-what?"

"You just said your stuff was at Faith's-your clothes and medicine," Willow said. She was startled by the speed at which Tara's body language could transform. "Oh, I didn't mean to be nosy-well, I never mean to be nosy, it's just that my mouth kind of moves faster than my-"

"N-no, it's fine; I didn't think you were." The blonde shook her head, and relaxed somewhat. "Yes, I stayed over at Faith's apartment last night," she said. Tara peered ahead at the rest of their group, who continued to struggle along. Faith still carried Willow's friend on her back, and she was actually engaged in dialog with Andrew, who toted Beth. Tara couldn't tell the exact nature of the conversation, but from the bits and pieces she could glean-magic spells, catacombs, and ancient artifacts-she thought perhaps they were discussing fantasy novels. Tara had seen Faith's shelves; she knew that in addition to piles of Reader's Digest and White Line Magazines, there were many books by the likes of Kurtz, McCaffrey, and Cooper. "I, uh, I stayed there the last three nights, actually."

"Oh. Are you-I mean, is everything okay?"

"Yeah. Well, n-no, but yes, for now. I'm...I guess I'm not really thinking about it right now. I'm taking a vacation...uh, in a manner of speaking." Tara smiled grimly. "You know, p-pretending everything is good f-for a little while, then freaking out about it all later?"

"Right. Happiness via procrastination and denial," Willow replied. "I'm familiar with the concept."

They walked a few moments in silence.

"...I'm not sure it's the healthiest thing, exactly," the redhead continued, unable to leave it at that. "Not to judge or anything, just, you know, it...well, it only delays the Whatever It Is."

"No, I'm sure you're right."

"So, uh, is there anything I can do?"

Tara looked sideways at Willow, whose eyes were wide and hopeful, and a soft smile crept to her lips. "You are doing something: inviting me come to the movies with your friends. It's the perfect thing, right now. Thank you." She could tell that Willow wasn't entirely in agreement, so she shifted the subject. "What are we seeing, anyway, for the midnight movie?"

"Oh," Willow said. "It's Shine."

The girls were almost back to the quad when Willow heard her name being called.

"Willow! Hey, Willow, wait up!" A male student with a shaved head was hurrying up Farm Drive from farther down the hill. Willow stopped walking, and Tara hovered nearby as the young man approached. "Hey... Ian," he panted when he reached them. "Sorry, I saw you way back there and ran most of the way up the hill to catch you before you disappeared." He paused to spit unceremoniously on the sidewalk and take a few deep breaths. "You're dating Daniel Osbourne, right?"

Willow glanced ever-so-briefly at Tara, whose attention seemed to be on the rest of their party, who were just then reaching the dorms. "Um, yeah. Why?" Willow asked.

"Do you know where the heck he is, today?"

"Yeah, he's at..." Willow paused. "Well, he said he was going to be at the PanUM games, but I couldn't actually find him there, anywhere; I wasn't sure what color his team was wearing. But he was on the Easton Four team, if you can find them."

"That's my team," Ian stressed. He pointed at himself. "Ian Ross. My room's like three doors down from his. You don't recognize me, hm? And yeah, he said he'd be at the games, but he never showed up. We had to cancel our entry since we couldn't field a full team. So you don't know where he's at?"

"No, I thought he was there. Sorry. You,, you have no hair, anymore, huh?" She'd only seen the boy once or twice while hanging out in Easton Hall, but he had always been proudly sporting an unruly tuft of hair atop his head. He looked completely different, now.

"Yeah, lost a bet," he explained.

"Oh. Um, sorry about that. And sorry I can't be more helpful about Oz."

Ian shrugged. "No problem. Not like we were surprised. Hey, if you see him before any of us do, can you let him know that he's starting to piss off some of his floormates?" The way he spoke these words, Willow couldn't tell whether the boy was being serious or not.

"...Sure, yeah. Uh, why? Is he..." Willow hoped her face conveyed the question she couldn't form.

"This is like the tenth time he's shaded out when we had plans. The guy's a freakin' phantom."

Willow nodded. "Okay...I'll, uh, let him know...if I see him. Sorry."

While Ian continued on, passing the turn-off for Ellicott Hall on the way to his own dormitory, Willow sighed and turned to Tara. "Sorry."

Tara grinned. "You're saying that a lot."

"Oh. Yeah. Sor-uh, no. Wait. Guh." Willow gathered herself. "You know, when I signed up for the whole relationship thing? Kinda thought it was going to be more doing stuff together and less explaining to random college people why he's constantly absent."

"Why is he absent?"

"That's the thing, I have no idea! I mean, I have some idea; he spends a lot of time writing songs and practicing with his band. But, I mean, that's not like a-a-a free pass to just skip out on any commitment you've made, right? I thought it was, you know, just me, but apparently not." She waved a free hand in the direction of the departing boy.

"M-maybe he's sick?" Tara offered.

"He'd better be," grumbled Willow. "I mean, if it turns out that he's actually sick, then yeah, I'll feel bad about ranting like that, but...but until then, I'm just going to be angry, 'cause...well, darn it, 'cause it feels like the thing to do." She crossed her arms over her chest and harrumphed. When a smile cracked the corners of Tara's mouth, Willow narrowed her eyes. "What?" she asked.

Tara's smile broadened. "Evil Willow is kind of adorable," she admitted.

Willow Rosenberg stood under the stream of not-quite-scalding water. She had long since washed away the sweat and grime; now, she let the heat burrow into her skin, hoping to ease the aches and pains of muscles not used to such strenuous activity. When she had first arrived at the University, she'd had serious reservations about showering in her dormitory's bathroom; six showers were crammed into a thin, tiled corridor, and only six feet of air and two flimsy curtains separated her from the girl in the adjacent stall. Being an only child, Willow had found the thought of a bathroom being a shared space to be both foreign and invasive. Luckily, it hadn't taken her long to adapt, and by now Willow had found the positive aspects of the situation: she could stay in the shower as long as she desired, and there was a seemingly endless supply of hot water. 'It's not a real shower,' she thought, 'until your fingers turn into prunes.'

Willow's musings were focused on Tara. She had come to accept that some determined corner of her brain was generating a constant stream of Tara-centric thoughts, and that until she figured out what to do about it, they were going to be swarming her mind, sidling up to other musings and blatantly hip checking them out of the spotlight. 'Okay, let's try this one more time. One: do I like Tara? Yes, absolutely. Two: do I like Oz? I do, I'm just not exactly thrilled with how things have been going. Three: does Tara like me? She does, and she even gives looks and says things that come across as...well, kind of flirtatious.'

She heard the bathroom door swing open, and for a moment the sounds of the hallway were amplified. Knowing another girl was in the room, Willow unconsciously shifted her thoughts away from Tara, as though they were being spoken aloud. When she was alone once again, she continued, 'All right, number four: does Oz like me? Well, yeah, Oz loves me. Five: if Oz loves me, why doesn't he realize I'm not exactly thrilled with how things have been going (see two)? Well, for starters, because I haven't told him. Also, because he's focusing his attention elsewhere. Six: do I want to kiss Oz? Yes. But more specifically, I want Oz to kiss me. Seven: do I want to kiss Tara?' She turned so that the water was cascading down her front, offering the skin on her back a respite from the heat. 'Good gods, yes.' Willow closed her eyes and recalled the kiss they had shared at the party. If she concentrated, she could still remember the details: the first fleeting brush of their lips; the rush of air into her lungs at the contact, an automatic reaction to both her surprise and her relief; the second touch, moist and sliding; the way her fingers found their way to Tara's body by their own power...

Willow's knuckles met the tile wall, and she jerked her hand backward. 'Numbers! There were numbers. Um, eight. Eight: do I love Oz? Yes. Oz is one of the most important people in my life, I care about him deeply, and I absolutely do not want to hurt him.' She groaned. 'Which is exactly why I need to talk with him as soon as possible. It's not good to keep him out of the loop when there are...thoughts like these (see seven). Nine: do I love Tara? Well, the sample size is too small; there aren't enough data points to draw statistically significant conclusions. Ten: so what exactly do I feel for Tara? Am I just going all spastic because we kissed at a party?' Willow frowned. 'No, I don't think so. First of all, I kissed Buffy, Andrew, and Cordelia, too, and none of those kisses were quite, wow. But it's not just kisses, anyway. Tara and' Slumping her shoulders, Willow thought, 'And did she have to mention Wrinkle?'

"So what do Andrew and the guys want to get? I mean, for Ellicott Four winning at PanUM?" Willow asked as they reached the dorm. Since they'd lagged behind the group, then stopped to talk with Ian, the rest of their teammates had already headed upstairs by the time she and Tara reached the building.

"With the turtle points, you mean? Or, dollars, I guess? Uh, I'm not actually sure," Tara confessed. "Why? What were you all going to get?"

"We hadn't exactly reached a consensus on that, yet. I thought it would neat to purchase a whole bunch of used books and start a book swap in the lounge. Harmony, Cordelia, and Buffy wanted to blow it all on one big floor party." Willow counted off her teammates on her fingers. "Beth was indifferent. I think that most of the guys wanted to buy an air hockey table."

"I'd vote for the book swap."

"Cordelia said everyone would just steal 'em."

Tara shrugged. "Sure, maybe. But you never know...I think it's good to give people the benefit of the doubt. Maybe it would have been a big hit. And if not, well, all you would really have lost would have been some books you'd essentially gotten for free, right?" She grinned. "It was a cool idea."

"Thanks." Willow beamed. She pushed the button for the elevator. "So, uh, what's your favorite book?"

"Oh, gosh. There are so many that I love." Tara considered the question. "Well, The Egypt Game, for one. The Secret Garden. Oh, that the two children hide out in the art museum?"

"From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler!" Willow gushed.

"That's it!" Tara laughed. "Wow, I never would have come up with that title. Let's see, what others? Oh, there's Watership Down; I've probably read that ten times. Fog Magic is another great one. Oh, and of course-of course-A Wrinkle in Time."

Willow's jaw went slack. The elevator arrived, and Tara stepped inside, holding the door for Willow, but the girl didn't move. Tara looked at her curiously. "Why, what's yours?"

'Of course she loves A Wrinkle in Time,' Willow thought. 'Isn't that just the icing on the cake of What the Frilly Heck Am I Going to Do?' The story was deeply rooted in Willow's heart; before she had Oz, before she'd even met Buffy, Willow had escaped into the pages of the book. It was from the Murray children that Willow learned how to survive the hardships visited upon her by the demons of junior high. She'd given a copy of the book to Oz for his birthday, two years ago, because she considered it a window to her past, and she had wanted him to see where she had come from. The copy had a great deal of sentimental value to Willow; it had belonged to her sixth grade English teacher, who had not only written a personal message to Willow on the inside of the cover, but had literally filled the margins with her thoughts when she'd read the story, herself. Oz had been moved by the gift, but he never read it.

Reluctantly, Willow turned the handle to shut off the water. She wrung out her hair and wrapped herself in a towel. It was an oversized bath towel that she'd bought on an impulse after her first week on campus. Its vibrant blue was a close match to the one Tara had folded around her in Willow's dream. Although the fabric was similar to her other towel, she thought this one felt cozier. 'Why is everything Tara and Oz, Oz and Tara?' she thought bitterly. 'How about some nice, non-confusing thoughts, for a change?'

"Hey, I'm going to see if I can track down Oz," Willow said when they reached her dorm room. Cordelia wasn't there, but Willow guessed that she was down the hall in the bathroom, since her shower kit was missing. Taking her cell phone from her desk, she added, "It should only be a minute."

"Um, actually, I-I kind of thought maybe I should m-make the trip to Faith's now, rather than later," Tara said.

"Oh." Willow paused, her finger hovering over the send button. "But you just walked all the way up here. We could hang out for a while?"

"No, I still w-want to," the blonde assured her. "I'll come right back, I just...well, it'll be dark, soon, and-and I'd kind of like to take a shower, because I feel sort of gross, and it m-makes more sense to shower there, since my clothes are there." Tara pursed her lips to one side in thought. "Really, in hindsight, this itinerary was not well thought out, was it?"

Willow chuckled. "No, I guess not. Well, if you can wait just a few minutes, I'll walk back with you."

"Willow, you don't have to-"

"I want to," Willow stressed. "No 'have to' about it. You're good company," she grinned.

"All right, then. So we go back down the really long hill, and then we get another chance to come back up the really long hill. We're going to be experts at this."

"Right. No piggyback rides this time, though. Actually, you know, we don't even need to wait; I can just call Oz on the way."

"Uh, n-no, that's okay," Tara said. "You can make whatever call you need to. I'll just w-wait in the lounge?"

'Question eleven,' Willow thought, while studying her reflection in the bathroom mirror. Buffy had been wrong, she realized; she had gained some weight since senior year. The milkshakes offered at the dining hall were sure to be her undoing. Willow tucked the corner of her towel in more securely, and tugged a brush through her curtain of damp hair. 'Where was I? Oh, right. Question eleven: what is that look? Why does Tara always get that look whenever Oz is mentioned? It could be that she's envious, but the body language doesn't agree. Is it possible that she's embarrassed about something? Okay, this is speculation. Not helping.' She winced when the brush snagged in her hair, and she carefully worked out the knot.

Willow was brushing her teeth when the thought resurfaced. 'But what if it is embarrassment? What if she doesn't just like me? What if she really likes me (remember number three)? Maybe she feels bad because she's got a crush on...well, somebody with a boyfriend.' Still holding her toothbrush, Willow brought the heel of her palm to her forehead and clenched her eyes. 'In which case, way to be the polar opposite of classy, Rosenberg-continuing to bring up Oz, worrying about Oz, and trying to call Oz, all in front of Tara! Could you get any more dense?'

"Well, you were right; he says he's really sick," Willow reported, when she rejoined Tara in the lounge. She hadn't been able to reach him at his dorm room; the call had gone to a generic voice mail recording-not to her surprise, Oz hadn't even set up his mailbox-and she had hung up without leaving a message. Willow had tried his cell phone, next, and after four rings, Oz had answered, his voice raspy and low.

"I'm s-sorry," Tara frowned. "Uh, healthy thoughts and chicken soup."

Willow smiled weakly. It bothered her that Oz was at Greg's, if he felt as bad as he sounded. Still, if he'd been there when he'd gotten sick, perhaps it was better that he stay put, instead of driving back to campus. 'It would be nice to be able to do something, though. General pampering...I could bring him some tea, or...well...' She looked at Tara. "That's not a bad idea, actually," Willow decided. "Well, tomorrow, though. So...ready?"

Walking downhill used an entirely different set of muscles, and they made the trip slowly, since they were already sore all over. Still, they fell easily into conversation, and before Willow realized the distance they had traveled, they were at the apartment complex. Tara had a key-Faith had made a copy at the Home Depot up the street, the morning after Tara's first nighttime visit-and, once inside, the blonde told Willow she was going to hop in the shower and throw on a clean set of clothes. She rummaged through a bag and picked out a few items, then disappeared into the bathroom.

Willow was sitting on the sofa bed, trying desperately not to think about the thin panel of wood separating her from a showering Tara, when the front door opened and Faith strode into the room, carrying a navy blue sweatshirt and a nearly empty bottle of water. The girl froze in place when she realized the room was not empty. Her eyes flitted from Willow, to the closed bathroom door, and back to Willow. Her eyebrows raised. "Hey," she said.

"Hi, Faith. I-uh-I was-Tara just came back here to shower and get some things, and I thought I should-we'll only be a few minutes-um, I hope it's okay that I'm here; I didn't think to ask if you would-"

"Whoa, easy," Faith jumped in. "No worries. I told T she could have people over whenever." She looked around the room. "Not like there's any junk here worth stealin' or anything, right? Just thought you guys were over on the campus, still." Faith paused, considering the situation. "I'm not interrupting anything, am I?"


Faith chuckled, and tried a different question. "Did you have fun gettin' stomped at the UM Olympics?" She tossed the sweatshirt through her bedroom doorway and headed for the kitchen.

Willow blinked. "The PanUM Games? Yeah, they were fun. Um, congratulations, by the way."

"Thanks," Faith's voice called out. She reappeared a moment later with a pack of cigarettes in hand. "I'll admit it was a trip beatin' up on B, again and again." She grinned. "It's more fun when they care about winning."

Willow smiled nervously, not sure how else to respond. Faith had the kind of personality which set her nerves on edge. She was straightforward, self-assured, and aggressive, and it made Willow want to hide under the covers. Luckily, Faith didn't seem to need any input from Willow's end to carry on a conversation. "Hey, I gotta pick up some more smokes. If you all take off before I'm back, then have a good time at the movies, and tell T not to worry about wakin' me up or anything if she gets back late." She began tugging down her running pants, and Willow quickly reversed her position on her perch. Faith's voice carried on as she wandered into the bedroom. "That is, assuming she doesn't crash with you. Oh, make sure T doesn't forget her pills. And, hey, if you see Andrew there, let him know I'm down for moving this week's game to Tuesday. Wednesday would be okay, too." There was a moment of silence. "For Christ's sake, I'm decent; you can stop lookin' at the wall," she chortled.

When Willow looked up, Faith had donned a pair of black jeans, and she was retrieving a timeworn leather jacket from the back of a chair. "You get all that?" she asked.

Willow nodded. "Uh huh."

"Good. You kids have fun."

Willow dropped her toothbrush into the plastic tote that contained her toiletries. She gave her reflection one last cheeky look, stuck out her tongue, then shook her head at her own goofiness. She poked her head out the bathroom door and, finding the hallway empty, darted four doors down to her room. She slipped through the door, quickly pulling it closed behind her, then turned to-

"Oh!" She jolted.

Tara's eyes widened. "Willow..."

"Tara..." Willow eased herself lower to retrieve the pair of tweezers that had slipped out of her bath tote, careful not to undo the knot in her towel. "Hey, I-uh, I thought you were still in Andrew's room."

Tara swallowed a difficult gulp. "Yeah, they w-were going to the d-dining hall. I thought I'd come up here to let you know, s-so we could meet them there and get some dinner b-before the movie." She knew she shouldn't stare. A drop of water that had beaded at the tip of a clump of Willow's hair loosened, then it dribbled down her bare shoulder, leaving a glistening trail along its descent. "Y-you know, if you're hungry." 'She does have cute knees...'

Willow could feel Tara's gaze melting her. 'I'm hungry, all right.' She nodded. "That sounds...yeah, good plan. So I should, uh, probably not go like this. With the towel. I think they have a strict 'No Shoes, No Shirt, No Service' policy." She meant it lightly, but the hunger evident in the blonde's eyes thinned her breath, so it came out more as a whisper.

Her voice seemed to snap Tara out of it, and she tore her gaze away. "Right. I-I'll just, um, I'll just wash my hands b-before we go," she said. Tara stood and hurried out into the hallway before Willow could utter a thing.

Willow groaned. 'And the sixty-four thousand dollar question-number twelve: how on Earth am I going to keep myself from jumping her the next time she looks at me like that?'

Continue to Constants Chapter Twenty-One

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